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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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Author Bruce Ware sets about in no uncertain terms on a course to make sure readers know the debate about open theism is not a peripheral issue but is central to Theology (9). The book is a summary critique of a leading contemporary reconstruction of the doctrine of divine providence often called “Open Theism” (26). Ware lays out this critique in a threefold division
1) Open Theism's arguments and perceived benefits (31-62),
2) Open Theism's fallacious view of God (65-160)
3) Examining how these theological differences manifest themselves in the believer’s life (163-216).
Author’s Exegetical and Theological Strengths and Weaknesses
Ware is exceptionally detailed and careful to work to represent Open Theism properly. The author takes great care in avoiding building a “straw man” of the opposing view point by taking nearly a third of the book to fairly review their theology. Ware’s strength here makes the book worth reading because one believes and hopes that while an Open Theist advocate may not agree with his arguments, they would feel accurately represented by them. He writes, “Practically, open theists argue, if God knows in advance all our thoughts, feelings, and actions, then our real relationship with him is called into question. How can our ideas, prayers, or decisions make a difference to God if he knows all of those things from eternity (19)?” When Ware pulls the curtain back on open theism and uses classic texts that they use to argue for God’s limited involvement in actually bringing circumstances to pass, he puts forth some texts forward without much comment or exegesis that one could almost be sympathetic to their view. However, Ware circles back around with theological and exegetical exactness to help understand those text in their proper place.
Another of Ware’s strengths is his ability to write with both piercing theological accuracy and biblical charity. This can be seen when he writes, “While claiming to offer meaningfulness to Christian living, open theism strips the believer of the one thing needed most for a meaningful and vibrant life of faith: absolute confidence in God's character, wisdom, word, promise, and the sure fulfillment of his will (21).” Ware even notes his desire to be accurate, but acknowledges limitations when he notes about section one of the book, “Fairness and accuracy will be sought in this description, though its brevity will require that some aspects of the openness model be neglected (26).”
Ware quotes directly from Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and others who use witty and sometimes brash language to describe God’s limitations and lack of omniscience. In doing this Ware exposes the irreverence and lack of logical and biblical arguments in their writings. For example, in writing about Sanders’ comments of God’s promise to Noah Ware says, “Here, then, God second-guesses his prior decision. 'Perhaps this is not after all the best way to deal with despicable human evil,' God apparently reasons… God must have felt very badly about what he had done (54).” He exposes the fallacies this thinking for Christian living when he writes, "What confidence can we have in a God who must second-guess his own actions? ... If God is not sure that what he does is best, can we be sure that he really knows what he is doing (159)?"
Ware does not disguise his intentions in any part of his work and writes early on, “I will endeavor to demonstrate that, in the end, open theism suffers from serious and fatal problems (26).” In my opinion he accomplishes that goal and in the process shows that, contrary to the openness agenda, The God of ages past possesses comprehensive knowledge of the future. The use of Ephesians 1:11 and the idea that God is a “risk taker” is shown to be inadequate and the consequences of pursuing those ideas are shown to be dangerous.
Ware also notes Open Theism's inability to account for certain texts like Joseph’s statement in Genesis 50:20. He says, “The openness insistence that God is not involved in evil, and its firm rejection of the notion that God ordains and then uses evil to accomplish his good purposes, are both flatly denied by the story of Joseph (199). To further advance the theology of pain and suffering and God’s involvement in it Ware quotes Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, Isaiah 45:5-7, and Ephesians 1:9-11. Ware does not always deal in great detail with texts when he puts them forward, but he does sufficiently deal with the grammar and historical context when the occasion shows need. In dealing with Jesus role in God’s glory Ware uses John 3:16, Acts 2:23, and Isaiah 53:10 to demonstrate again that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive and nothing can be done to thwart it. His use of these texts is helpful in showing that God uses human instruments to bring about His eternal purposes. He uses Acts 4:27-28 correctly to note that God works through evil people and uses evil decisions and actions, “but God never, never, never himself does evil (212).”
Ware’s writing has few if any weakness. It is possible he does at times rely on anecdotal evidence and speculation of the impacts of open theism rather than hard evidence from Scripture. For example he writes, “Fear of the future will grow as people begin to realize that God may be just as taken aback by the unexpected as we are. In short, then, both the undiminished glory of God and the unqualified good of Christians are at stake in this new and deeply flawed vision of God and the Christian life known as open theism (26).” On the other hand, Ware could be relying on evidence from Christian he has seen go down this road since he is publishing in a time when openness writing and theology is near its climax, but if he is he does not mention it and his concerns come off, at times, as speculation. Another potential weakness is appealing to the readers desires by setting up a scenario by asking the readers, “would you rather?” This Ware does when he says, "What it comes down to is this: Would you rather see your life as being at the mercy of the God of all knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and love, who is in control of all that occurs? Or would you rather see your life as being at the mercy of Satan, demons, wicked people, and natural forces who have control over much of your life, bringing disaster and suffering upon you, some of which is entirely pointless in the great scheme of things, while God watches, unable to intervene? (213)
When declaring theological truths in polemic fashion the question of “would you rather” seems to have little place. What God has declared is always best whether the Christian would prefer it or not. Ware other places makes this know, as in his discussions of Romans 9:14, 18, 19 but may fail to avoid the same trap that open theist make when they make God according to their own image and desires instead of deriving his character solely from the pages of Scripture.
Ware also sites a number of “spectrum texts” that he says, “Make clear that darkness as well as light, death as well as life, calamity as well as prosperity, sickness as well as healing, are all under the sovereign and providential regulative control of God.” His use of these spectrum texts is apt and being lucid as they are he does very little exegesis on them (213).
A glance at the Scriptural index at the end of the book will reveal that Ware did not avoid difficult texts such as the “divine repentance texts of Jonah but sought to deal with the whole weight of Scripture on the subject. I agree with explanation of relational mutability and his understanding of God interacting with His creatures in time and his example of this with Isaac is well founded. His exegesis and theology throughout are comprehensive, readable and most importantly biblical.
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.