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God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism Paperback – November 7, 2000
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About the Author
Bruce A. Ware (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and has authored God's Lesser Glory, God's Greater Glory, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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Top Customer Reviews
Many Christians are unaware of the open theist position and how it is seeping into the very fabric of what we call, "conservative evangelicalism." They find it rather odd to hear things like, "God isn't sovereign," or, "God isn't in control." Sure, open theists might use such phraseology, but mean something completely different. The problem is, many Christians have already come to embrace a form of libertarian freedom that seeks to "get God off the hook" when it comes to theodicy (i.e., the "problem" of evil). They reason that because God is all-loving, He cannot be "responsible" for evil. Thus, God "allows" evil, but doesn't "cause" it. The only thing that the Christian can do without being an open theist is to still affirm God's exhaustive knowledge of future events. This keeps God in the realm of being in control. As long as God knows the future (though He didn't actually decree it), we can still attribute "control" to Him since He knows the outcome and knows what's best for His children.
However slippery this slope may be for the Arminian who still affirms God's exhaustive knowledge of future events, Bruce Ware argues in such a way (for the most part) that the Arminian will be able to refute the open theist position. But why should the follower of Jesus Christ be concerned with such an argument? Because the manner in which we conduct our Christian lives are at stake. If God does not know the future, does this not have the most profound implications on how you live your life? As Bruce Ware points out, the future becomes a guessing game that depends solely on the free actions of men. God may desire and do the best he can to preserve the greatest good, but in the end we just can't know for sure what is best; not even God.
Throughout much of the book, Bruce Ware spends a great deal of time explaining the open view of God. I confess to never having read a book by an open theist, but Ware explains their position in such a way that it seems the open theist spends a lot of time explaining the benefits of their position. I have no reason to doubt that the author was accurate in his portrayal of the open view, so I can say that their position was explained in detail and well documented. The two proponents that Ware seemed to focus on the most was John Sanders and Gregory Boyd.
If anything can be said about this book, it would be that it is very "meaty." That is, most of the book was devoted to lengthy exegesis of the key passages; in particular, those which are used by the open proponents to defend their view. Ware's explanation of these texts couldn't have been better. Rather than divert from the texts with responses like, "This text might seem to support your position, but it can't mean that because of this text over here..." the author faces the text head on and offers sound exegesis.
One of these texts included Genesis 22:12. In this text, God says that he learns the state of Abraham's heart. If you are unaware of the open view, keep in mind that they believe that God doesn't actually know everything; he is in a constant state of learning. The author rightly points out the implications if the open position is correct. Ware argues, "First, if God must test Abraham to find out what is in his heart (recall that the text says, "for now I know that you fear God"), then it calls into question God's present knowledge of Abraham's inner spiritual, psychological, mental, and emotional state." (p. 67) Next, Ware points out the irony in whether or not God really needed this text to prove whether Abraham fears God. "That is, while it is significant that the openness interpretation implicitly denies God's present knowledge (the first point), even more telling here is the implicit denial of the specific content of this present knowledge, that is, knowledge that Abraham fears God." (p. 68) Thus, the author refutes the open position by their own standards.
After spending more than enough pages in refuting the open position through their key texts, the author goes into the exegesis of the texts which establish God's exhaustive knowledge of the future. For those of us who have read Pink's, "The sovereignty of God," and other standard works within Reformed theology, Ware was only stating the obvious. That is, it is difficult to imagine how one can read through Isaiah and miss the fact that God not only knows all things, but is in control of all things. Unfortunately, the open theist abandons the clear teaching of Scripture in favor of the freedom of man. This turns God into the divine reactor rather than the divine initiator.
The last section of Ware's book is perhaps what I appreciated most, for he offered the benefits of the classical theistic position in light of the weaknesses of the openness position. One of these benefits that I found to be noteworthy is that of prayer. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road in refuting the so-called "benefits" within open theism. Ware rightly summarizes the issue with, "Your will be done," rather than, "Your will be formed."
In conclusion, I cannot recommend Ware's book enough. Even if open theism is not on the rise in your area, you will find Ware's book to be a refreshing breath of fresh air as he establishes a sound case for God's sovereignty. If you are an Arminian, I would recommend this book to you as well, as you will see that the Reformed position offers the strongest refutation of the open view available.
Mr. Ware begins his book by explaining why his readers should be concerned about the rise of open theism within the Church. He provides a short overview of what open theism proposes, centering on the philosophical foundations of open theism's belief system. He then considers two results of open theism; the result on the nature of God, and the result on living the Christian life. Several specific cases are used to illustrate the inroads open theism has made into the Church at large, including the adoption of a resolution by the Baptist General Council allowing open theism to be within the bounds of Evangelical thought, and the decision by several Christian publishers to publish books supporting open theism within their portfolios. Once beyond the introductory material, Mr. Ware divides the book into three central parts. The first part examines the foundations and beliefs of open theism, the second provides a critique of these foundations, and the third examines the practical issues believers encounter when accepting the open theism view of God.
The first section begins by explaining the origin of open theism as an alternative to the classical Arminian view of the nature of God. Mr. Ware sets up the problem presented by open theism; how can God know the future, if the course of the future is dependent on the choices of morally free agents? He defines the concept of libertarian freedom as contra-causal freedom, or the ability of a morally free agent to decide between two choices freely. The result of working through this problem is the dichotomy: "Comprehensive foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are mutually exclusive notions. You cannot have both together." He then states that if you step out of this dichotomy by stating that knowing doesn't imply controlling, you've simply stepped into another dilemma. If God doesn't control history, then how can God be said to providentially guide history to His ends? The open theism solution to this pair of problems is that God simply doesn't have comprehensive foreknowledge.
The author continues by assessing the perceived benefits of open theism, primarily that understanding God in this way allows for a truly personal relationship with God. In the open theism view of relationships, trust must be built in both directions, rather than in one direction only. In order for a true relationship to exist, then, God must learn to trust people, just as His people must learn to trust in God.
Once finished with describing the beliefs of open theism, Mr. Ware turns his writing to undermining the basis of this theology from the Scriptures. He begins with an examination of the problems with the hermeneutic used by the proponents of open theism, using specific passages identified by these proponents to show how this hermeneutic cannot be applied uniformly. God shows knowledge of the future even using the reading they propose. He then spends a chapter discussing various Scripture passages that show God does have exhaustive foreknowledge, including middle knowledge, or the knowledge of things that might have been, but were not. Mr. Ware then discusses the concept of risk in open theism, and how this idea undermines the wisdom of God.
The final section focuses on the impact open theism, and the beliefs held in this theology, have on the everyday life of Christians. Mr. Ware argues that there is no comfort in following a God who grieve with us, and who does not know the future perfectly, even if that God faces the future with more knowledge and wisdom than we can muster as humans. He shows that unless God can truly control circumstances, then He cannot truly answer prayer, and He cannot truly fulfill the promises of working all things to the best for the individual believer. He shows how open theism weakens our confidence in God's ability to guide us; God may make mistakes on our behalf because of his imperfect view of the future. Mr. Ware returns to the theme of suffering and evil in the world to drive his points in this area home.
Mr. Ware's analysis of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, in Genesis 22 is an example of the excellent reasoning that marks portions of this book. The problem revolves around the words of God in Genesis 22:12, where God states He "now knows," that Abraham loves Him. The implication is that Abraham didn't, before the Akedah, know that Abraham loved Him, so God couldn't have had knowledge of the future. The problem for open theism in this passage is three-fold. The first is that if God truly knows all current things exhaustively, then how could He not know whether or not Abraham loved him? The second is that if God doesn't know the future, then how could this one test prove that Abraham will always be faithful to God's calling? Wouldn't future tests be needed as well--in fact, wouldn't moment by moment testing be required for God to know this for certain? Finally, how could Abraham go into the test knowing God would restore his son to life if he really did go through with the sacrifice, as described in Hebrews 11? None of this makes sense in the view of open theology.
Mr. Ware outflanks the openness belief system in this case by arguing God can change His relationship to humans without changing His nature. He uses the example of a mother taking her daughter to the dentist for the first time. She knows what is about to happen, and in a sense experiences the pain and fear with her daughter. But this doesn't decrease the mother's knowledge of the future, or ability to control the situation. The author's argument against the mutable nature of words our modern culture, and the deep concern with self-esteem, are well argued and powerful in the face of open theism theology.
There are a number of points, however, where Mr. Ware's arguments fall flat. The underlying theme is that if God doesn't control the actions of individual humans, then He cannot control history; a God that cannot control the course of history is a "lesser god." This is, however, a false dichotomy; there are two responses the author does not consider.
The first possible response is that the statement itself has an implied everything built in. That in order for God to control the course of history, He must control everything, down to the last detail of the lives of every human being. This is a clear leap in logic that needs much more support to be accepted.
The second possible response is to note that only in God do the will to act, the knowledge to act, and the ability to act exist in equally balanced proportions. In other words, only in God does the will to act automatically translate into action. It is perfectly reasonable to propose that while God controls history through controlling human action and maintaining control over some part of human will, God does not need to control every corner of human will to achieve His ends, because human will does not (and in fact cannot) always translate into action. The author ends up placing God's will in a position of pre-eminence over His knowledge and love, resulting in the same unbalanced view of God he decries among the open theist.
In spite of these flaws, however, this is a well-argued book, and well worth the time required to read and digest. Mr. Ware's refutation of open theism is well grounded, and total.