Open Theism

Does anyone on this forum know or have an opinion on whether opennenss theology or open theism is an acceptable belief for a practicing Catholic to hold?

To the best of my understanding, open theism is a view that holds that while God is omniscient and knows the future, He granted humans and angels genuine free will to make their own choices and determine their own actions, and therefore the future is not “settled,” but rather, consists at least partly of possibilities which have yet to be determined (and again, as God is omniscient, all possibilities, even an infinite number, are known to Him).

Because open theism was introduced to me from a Protestant perspective, I have my doubts as to whether the Catholic Church would accept such a view. I would appreciate any thoughts on the subject.

I have never heard the term “open theism,” but I can, perhaps speak to the Church’s teaching on Divine providence a little.

It is true that we all have free will. We can do as we choose. In that respect, and from our own perspective, the future is not written. But, as you said, God is omniscient. He knows all there is, was, or will be. He also is eternal. That doesn’t mean He has lived since the beginning of time, and will until the end of time. What that means is that He created time. He lives outside it. To God, all things happen at once, and are always happening. From His perspective, He can see my birth right now. He can see me typing right now. He can also see me dying right now. Because of this, He doesn’t see “possibilities.” He sees actualities. He knows what will be before it passes our thought. He knew us before we were conceived. He knows how you will react to this post, before you even read it. That does not, however, diminish your free will in any way. You still will choose how to react, He just knows you so well, He knows what you will do.

God bless you, I hope that helps.

Thank you for an interesting and insightful response to my question. I hadn’t imagined time from God’s perspective, and this seems like a good way to think about it.

I initially became interested in open theism as an an answer to the problem of evil, and I suppose I should have addressed that in my intial post. I struggle with the idea that evil acts can in any way be a part of “God’s plan,” especially that innocent children should be made to suffer abuse and violence as part of that plan. Certain aspects of open theism, especially as outlined by Greg Boyd, appeal to me for that reason. (I am not promoting Greg Boyd or open theism - rather, I want to make sure that such thinking is not contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church).

The issue of evil in relation to God’s plan is a tricky one. We must understand that God gave us free will, and if we use it for evil, someone may suffer. In that sense, evil is part of God’s permissive will. He allows it to happen because he allows us to choose right and wrong. We can also see that God never allows evil to triumph, he never allows evil to reach its fullest form, and he ALWAYS allows good to come from it. In this way, evil acts of some may actually HELP along God’s plan.

I first encountered this view from a Catholic priest, actually. That being said, he was a rather confused young priest who said a number of odd things (and whom I have tended to use very unfairly as a scapegoat to explain why I didn’t become Catholic).

I currently teach at an evangelical Protestant institution that fired a leading open theist (in fact, I’m typing this in his former office–I don’t feel too guilty about this, since he beat me for a job at another school). This puts me in an awkward position–I disagree with open theism, but also feel the need to champion academic freedom and respectful engagement with open theism (given the loose doctrinal parameters of this school, open theism should not lead to dismissal). Furthermore, my disagreements with open theism are based on a Catholic rather than a Calvinist perspective (please let’s not start an argument over whether Anglicans are Catholics–my point is just that I’m formed by the Fathers and the scholastics rather than by Calvin and Edwards and Hodge), and the open theists are mostly used to arguing with Catholics (though there are a couple of Notre Dame professors who have engaged with them).

Basically, I find most versions of open theism (each open theist is a little different) to be based on an overly anthropomorphic view of God, and a philosophical framework that is hostile to mystery and paradox. One eminent philosopher who is an open theist, William Hasker (an emeritus professor at my institution who still has an office in my building and whom I occasionally encounter and salute with awe), recently wrote a book on theodicy (and generously gave me a copy) in which he argued for what I find to be an overly Deist God. He seems to think that God just set up the order of nature (though He does sometimes intervene in it, so I’m not claiming that this is Deism) and let it run according to certain parameters (which He had designed to produce free beings who would be able to respond to Him in love) without knowing, much less “controlling,” all the specifics of what would happen. He calls this a “natural-order theodicy.”

I don’t see how we can reconcile any version of open theism (though some are better than others) with the patristic, Thomistic, and generally Catholic understanding of all being as participation in God and hence of God as intimately involved with every minute detail of creation. But I continue to study the matter. The open theists certainly raise good issues and are right to challenge the autocratic God of Calvinism and of much conservative evangelicalism.

David Burrell of Notre Dame has written a number of books on freedom in which he addresses many of the concerns raised by open theism. Anthony Freddoso, also from Notre Dame, has responded to Hasker and other open theists directly, though I’m not as familiar with his work. Bruce McCormack, a Barthian Reformed theologian, has a good essay in the volume Perspectives on the Doctrine of God in which he criticizes open theism.



Molinism, which is acceptable for Catholics, teaches that God not only sees all actualities, but also counterfactuals, that is, what we WOULD have done in other circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit