Seminary faculty and trustees adopt proclamation on open theism

Communications Staff — October 23, 2003

Members of both the board of trustees and the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously adopted a resolution affirming “God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge” and condemning open theism as “an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy.”

Trustees acted on the resolution at their fall meeting on Oct. 14, adopting a statement penned by a committee of seminary faculty members. The faculty unanimously passed the resolution earlier this month.

The statement reaffirms the historic Christian teaching on God’s foreknowledge as set forth in both the seminary’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles and the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Proponents of the so-called “openness of God” deny that God exhaustively knows the future, and that God can know only possible future outcomes.

Scripture clearly teaches otherwise, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said. If open theism is correct, then the plan of salvation through the person and work of Christ only took place through God’s “good intentions” and not as His saving act, he said. It also undermines biblical prophecy, he said.

“When Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin and Peter in his day of Pentecost sermon, he made clear, ‘these things happened by the plan and predetermined will of God in order that Christ would die,’” Mohler said.

“If you take this position of open theism seriously and begin to look at it, the entire plan of salvation comes down to God’s good intentions rather than His saving act.”

The resolution reads as follows: “Open theism’s denial of God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge constitutes an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy and poses a serious threat to evangelical integrity. In accordance with our confessional documents—the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message—the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary affirms God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge including the knowledge of all future free choices and actions of his creatures, and thereby denies that open theism is a viable evangelical view.”

Faculty members wanted to make a statement on open theism in light of a pending action on the issue at the upcoming meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).

At the society’s annual meeting set for Nov. 19-21 in Atlanta, the membership of ETS—composed of scholars and theologians from across the evangelical world—will likely vote on whether proponents of open theism may remain within the society.

Southern faculty members have been active in the debate over open theism with theology professor Bruce Ware publishing two major books on the subject. In 2001, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology devoted an issue to the topic.

“I think [it is] an extremely powerful statement from an institution to have a unanimous action by the faculty and by the board affirming this,” Mohler said.

“It’s not as if this is an open question for us, the answer is absolutely and explicitly given to us in the Baptist Faith and Message and the Abstract of Principles. So it’s not like we are coming up with a new doctrinal statement. This is a specially-timed resolution addressed to an issue that is not, by name of course, mentioned in our confessional documents.”

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