An open theist is someone in the world of Christian doctrine who believes the bible reveals God as not having decided everything that happens in the future so that in a limited range of things the future is not yet decided about: it is unknown by God at this time.
The alternative view that God knows all about the future, and that because He has decided what will happen, means that there is nothing new for God to decide and His interactions are not living and real, but a form of play-acting on His behalf: there is no shock or amazement or surprise for God in that world of theology and nothing new for Him to do: this is the world of the Calvinist.
Arminians differ again in that they mention God's foreknowledge as not based on God deciding everything, but on God foreseeing things in some way which is the official original Arminian position.
This article is not to discuss either Calvinist-like or Arminian-like views of God's foreknowledge, but in there being an open theist view, how can prophecy exist about certain events yet to happen?
The whole matter rests on God's sovereignty.
How does it operate in a free will framework of existence?
The answer is simple, instead of things intended to happen coming about due to direct control of everything, they come about out of indirect control as well as direct input and influence. There is the difference.
In direct control of a string puppet there is no movement observed that has not been controlled by the puppet handler. All the movements are directly related to the movements of the puppet handler, no matter how long the strings are.
With the indirect control of a small flock of sheep to put in a sheep pen, by using a faithful dog, a shepherd gives commands and input to the dog whilst having provided and prepared the pen in the first place. The sheep have no alternative in their make up, but to do the shepherd's bidding via the dog and the layout of their environment: e.g. the gate is open, the pen is accessible and the walls making up the pen are secure and complete, plus they have a healthy fear of the dog.
There is a better way to shepherd for those with time and willingness to relate with the sheep. The shepherd in spending time and talking and whistling is thereby known by his sheep. So that in leading them without a dog and doing so by whistling and giving commands can be followed by the sheep to where he wants to take them. No dog is necessary.
Prophecy in open theism involves God knowing all the circumstances leading up to an event necessary to bring that event about. God then ensures these circumstances are present in time for that event. This is in conjunction with leading, inspiring and instructing those whom God has relationship with to play their parts. All others are directed using the dog and circumstance method.
So that evil men, who in their wickedness are full of unbelief and are found as deceived in many things, God seeing this is their will to be determined to remain in that state, then also adds deceptions of his own choosing, to then cause circumstances to be present to enable the event prophesied to occur. It is not that God wishes these men to be lost, but that in their refusing to believe, after much patience, then uses them in that state of unbelief for His purposes in the nations. God has observed through the centuries there is a regular proportion who will not believe and which he can then 'use' in this manner. So His long term plans involve using these in that foreknown accounting.
The end from the beginning
Prophecy is to be observed as what is declared in advance by the Lord: it is not just an act of fore-seeing being mentioned, but ensuring what He wills to actually happen. This is shown us in Isaiah:
Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,'
God knows the end from the beginning that He declares. This is context specific: it is only what He declares that is in view here. And the example given here is that of the man from the East to conquer Babylon.
Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.
It is clear that what God has spoken to happen, He will bring to pass: what He has purposed to happen, He will make it happen.
But How God does that is the issue in this article.
So, how about some Scriptures to illustrate and provide meat on the bones of the operating principles shared above in regards to indirect control and inputs of influence:
Influencing the wicked - God chooses their delusions
Paul wrote about the cause and effect of those who choose not to believe, then being released to delusion:
. . . for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie . . .
2 Thessalonians 2:11
This delusion is an effect of the cause:
. . . because they did not receive the love of the truth . . .
2 Thessalonians 2:10
And this is confirmed further:
. . . that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2:12
The delusion Paul mentions here is involving the Antichrist, but that God chooses delusions of those who are persistently wicked is clear. It is also seen elsewhere:
. . . Just as they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations, so will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them . . .
They chose wickedness, God then chooses their delusions. In this way God can 'use' these to carry out His purposes in the nations:
. . . God, willing to shew the wrath and to make known His power, did endure, in much long suffering, vessels of wrath fitted for destruction . . .
Romans 9:23 Young
It is important to note that it is after much long suffering that God uses the wicked in this way, but what is often missed in this Romans passage, since it is linked to the following verse about "vessels of mercy", and that the latter are "prepared beforehand", these 2 words "prepared beforehand" are a translation from one (1) Greek verb whilst the "vessels of wrath" who were only "fitted" (Young) is a translation from a separate Greek verb: in other words no one is afore prepared to be a vessel of wrath is explicit in context within the Greek: they only become vessels of wrath due to their own persistent unbelief as per the 2 Thessalonians 2 passage above.
For an example of how something declared in advance - a prophecy - is brought about by the Lord and involving a deliberate delusion to wicked people, let's look at what happened with King Ahab.
King Ahab was a bad king and into idolatry. He nevertheless was helped by the Lord to defeat the king of Syria, but instead of Ahab completing the task and executing the foreign king, Ahab spared him and made a treaty with him against the Lord's purpose. So, it was prophesied:
Thus says the LORD: 'Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life . . .
1 Kings 20:42
Elijah too was given to prophesy against Ahab:
Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free.
1 Kings 21:21
The Lord then made this happen about 3 years later. He used a lying spirit to deceive the false prophets that surrounded King Ahab to believe - as a delusion - that if Ahab went to the town of Ramoth in Gilead to battle against the king of Syria that had taken it, there would be victory. This advice was taken and Ahab was killed in the battle. The false prophets said,
Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.
1 Kings 22:6
But, we know about how these guys got to believe this delusion when Micaiah, a prophet of the Lord, explained what was about to happen:
. . . hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by . . . the LORD said, 'Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?' . . . Then a spirit came forward . . . and said, 'I will persuade him.' The LORD said to him, 'In what way?' So he said, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And the LORD said, 'You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.'
1 Kings 22:19-22
Influencing the wicked - Hardening a heart
For an example of how something declared in advance - a prophecy - is brought about by the Lord and involving the hardening of an existing state of heart, Pharaoh is a good example.
With Pharaoh it is seen that God hardened his heart, but how this all happened is as follows:
I have borrowed this section from the chapter Understanding Romans 9 from my book So you think you're chosen?
"In detail, we have:
(1) Exodus 7:13, 14 (please note here that NKJV & NIV et al. are correct here and not AV - the Hebrew here does not infer God hardened it here - and not only that, but He had no need to do this [so] early in the sequence of events) following the casting down of Moses rod and the serpent sign, 'Pharaoh's heart grew hard'.
(2) Exodus 7:22 following the turning of the Nile to blood, the magicians of Egypt did so also and 'Pharaoh's heart grew hard'
(3) Exodus 8:15 after the plague of frogs had been lifted 'Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them'
(4) Exodus 8:19 after the plague of lice, even though the magicians could not do likewise 'Pharaoh's heart grew hard'
(5) Exodus 8:32 after the plague of flies, despite his assurances to Moses 'Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also'
(6) Exodus 9:7 after the plague of death on Egypt's livestock 'the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go'
Then, and only from then [on] God is seen to step in as regards Pharaoh's heart: (1) Exodus 9:12 After the plague of boils that broke out in sores on man and beast 'the LORD hardened [heb. chazaq to strengthen, help, fortify] the heart of Pharaoh'
So after Pharaoh had (himself) 6 times a hard heart of his own making and once all the support of the magicians had gone (Exodus 9:11) the Lord is then spoken of strengthening Pharaoh's own resolve to not let the people go. And once the Egyptian people were beginning to believe Moses and the Lord (Exodus 9:20) this hardening by God occurred a further 6 times.
(2) Exodus 9:35-10:1 after the plague of hail and fire 'the heart of Pharaoh was hard . . . for I have hardened his heart . . .'
(3) Exodus 10:20 after the plague of locusts 'But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go'
(4) Exodus 10:27 after the plague of darkness 'But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go'
(5) Exodus 11:10 after the impending death of the firstborn 'the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land' This is more of a blanket statement to the preceding 4 times since Pharaoh let the people go after the death of the firstborn. So really the next event is:
(5) Exodus 14:8 after Pharaoh had let the children of Israel go, he decided to pursue them because 'the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel'
(6) Exodus 14:17 Despite the pillar of cloud put in their way and the seeing of the divide of the waters of the sea, Pharaoh chased after the children of Israel on the now dry land right to their own deaths, because 'And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honour over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen'
So Pharaoh hardened his own heart without outside intervention for 6 times prior to the Lord then maintaining it that way a further 6 times. So this is not something that can be said to have occurred against Pharaoh's own will and desire from the start."
This shows the modus operandi for God in hardening.
And what was God's declared purpose here?
. . . But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.
Confusion among the wicked
Let's not forget that to hinder the growth of wickedness, so that God's purpose in the nations could occur, God is into causing confusion in the midst of the wicked. The Lord is seen to first do this by giving languages at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). And, since He had removed the previous hindrance to wickedness following the Flood (Genesis 8:21), by the very Flood He also set up a whole new set of rules to live by and divide up the earth: new mountain ranges, rivers and the continent splits which occurred during the Flood. From then on vegetation was not going to be plentiful enough any longer for food, so meat was permitted to be eaten (Genesis 9:3). Remember the Flood occurred in the 17th century following Creation and this period of time was useful for the learning by God of how evil operates with mankind: since this is not a discussion of open theism itself I refer the reader to my chapter Evil and God's knowledge in which I discuss this element of things from my book So you think you're chosen?
God's servants directed and influenced
When the Lord finds a servant of His not heeding His instructions, then just like Jonah he will send outside influence to effect His purpose. In Jonah's case the Lord sent a storm and a fish to return him to the task given him (Jonah 1:10-17). This is not against Jonah's will in the sense that He was a servant of God in the first place, but reluctant to do the job he had been given to do, so this is a loving discipline procedure (Hebrews 12:5-11), but as the Lord goes on to persuade him He is also careful to teach him too (Jonah 4:5-11).
Sometimes the Lord has to use someone else, like in the case of king Saul who then was replaced by King David (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Since God is explicit that He "would have established your [Saul's] kingdom over Israel forever" it was not a previous plan to have David as king. But the job of king still needed doing since the Lord had agreed to that (1 Samuel 8:1-9). So, sometimes other jobs not carried out will also require a replacement, but sometimes jobs are left undone altogether because no one has taken up the job they should have (Ezekiel 22:30). But this latter point is not related to prophecy as when something is declared by the Lord to happen He steps in and raises someone for the task.
It is better to believe and heed the call just as Mary did and believed. The Lord did not impose Himself on her but in sharing with her she believed and agreed (Luke 1:26-38). Joseph her husband to be, then was spoken to by dreams to not only to go on and marry Mary (Matthew 1:18-25), but also to protect Jesus and escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15) and thus fulfil even more prophecy. There was no control or indirect influence here. These were willing servants of the living God and all that was needed to fulfil these prophecies was to provide direct instruction and requests.
Other prophecies were fulfilled by a conscious act that doing the deed would do just that:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!"
This is a good exposition of how prophecy works. God tells us in prophecy what he has decided to happen and that He will make it happen. This is how He knows in advance those things. This thereby shows no suggestion that this forth telling is incompatible with open theism.