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No Other God: A Response to Open Theism Paperback – October 1, 2001
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Open theism is bad news. The appearance of this book is good news. Precisely because God is closed and not open to the nullification of his purposes (Job 42:2), he has opened a future for believers that is utterly secure no matter what we suffer. The key that would open the defeat of God is eternally closed within the praiseworthy vault of His precious sovereignty. John Frame delights to show when it is good to be closed and when it is good to be open. And the Bible is his criterion.
About the Author
John M. Frame (A.B., Princeton University; B.D., Westminster Theological Seminary; M.A. and M.Phil., Yale University; D.D., Belhaven College) holds the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and is the author of many books, including the four-volume Theology of Lordship series.
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Seldom have I read a book with which I find I disagree so strongly on some issues, while agreeing adamantly on others. Frame pulls no punches and is unafraid to make sweeping generalizations and assertions. Due to the fact I pretty much split the book in half as far as things with which I agree or disagree, I shall proceed by noting these areas and close with a few conclusions.
Areas of Agreement
One of the strengths of Frame's book is how clear his thinking is. His style of argumentation is precise, and he clearly lays out what he considers evidence for his positions. He is unafraid to make statements with huge implications.
A particularly interesting aspect of Frame's work was a brief historical look at the roots of Open Theism, leading it back to the Socinianism. Frame points out that advocates of Open Theism tend to portray their view as the "new theology on the block" despite the fact that it has been around (and rejected) for quite some time.
I believe Frame is correct when he argues against the centralization of any one attribute of God. Specifically, the centralization of love on Open Theism tends to ignore other important attributes of God (49ff). (Interestingly, Frame's own account of God unnecessarily over-emphasizes Sovereignty, though he disguises this by calling it "Lordship.)
Frame levels strong critiques against Open Theism's reading of Scripture. Open Theists tend to advocate the "straightforward" reading of texts which help their case. One of Open Theist's favorite passages is God testing Abraham. Yet Frame rightly notes that if there is a straightforward reading of the text, then God did not know the present truth of Abraham's heart, whereas Open Theists attempt to use this to support God not knowing the future (47). Further, if God was trying to figure out how Abraham would act in the future, then He was trying to do something He couldn't (determine what the libertarian free choices of humans would be) according to Open Theism. So the story's straightforward reading does not work to support Open Theism. Frame urges a similar examination of other passages, though he doesn't expand on it.
Areas of Disagreement
Despite these areas of agreement, I vehemently oppose Frame's position on several issues. Most notably, on theistic determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism.
First, libertarianism. Frame correctly notes that the core of Open Theism is the assumption of libertarianism. Yet his critique of libertarianism is wrongheaded. He caricatures libertarians as believing that choices are made in the absence of any motivation. He writes, commenting on the libertarian view, "if our decisions are caused by anything or anyone (including our own desires), they are not properly our decisions... to be responsible, we must be able to do otherwise" (121). Yet this is explicitly not libertarianism. Peter van Inwagen, for example, explicates libertarianism by saying "...that someone's acts are undetermined does not entail that they are uncaused" (van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will, Oxford: 1983, p. 14).
But Frame explicitly centers his critique of libertarianism on a contra-causal account of freedom, saying, for example, "If guilt presupposed libertarian freedom, then in order to show that Hubert [a man accused of robbing a bank] is guilty, the prosecutor would have to show that his decision to rob a bank had no cause..." (126). But again, libertarians deny this very type of contra-causal freedom, so Frame is arguing against a straw man. Because Frame thinks libertarianism is so utterly central to Open Theism, this means that the core of his critique fails to hit home.
The problem with Frame's counter against libertarianism is that it barely touches the surface of the philosophical arguments for the position. He correctly rails against the idea that our actions are just random occurrences, but incorrectly assumes that this is libertarianism.
Finally, the greatest area of disagreement I have with Frame is on his view of omnidetermination. Consider the following two quotes:
"The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God" (140).
"...[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding" (68).
I'd be curious to see how Frame reconciles these assertions with the constant witness of Scripture that God is just; fair; good; opposed to evil; etc. Frame utilizes several verses to support his position, but he makes primary those which say God uses "all things" and verses which say calamities are from God. But regarding the former, this can easily refer simply to permissive will, and regarding the latter, the verses he uses are out of context (and even were one to grant the "straightforward reading," one could counter by saying the calamities are not every evil action, but merely those things which God uses-i.e. storms, other nations, etc.-to instruct His people). Frame, like many theological determinists, is not building even on sand, but on a void. Literally saying that God causes evil is so utterly repugnant and contrary to Scripture that this view overshadows all the good things Frame has to say.
Ultimately, No Other God is on target in a few ways, but it is wildly gunning the wrong direction on too many issues. Frame's philosophical case against libertarianism is off the mark, he fails to deal with the strong philosophical arguments for libertarianism, and his view that God literally causes evil is baseless. Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.
He wrote in the Preface to this 2001 book, "The purpose of this book is to describe and evaluate biblically the theological movement known as open theism... in my judgment, their position is deeply unbiblical, and their movement has caused division and confusion..." (Pg. 11)
He admits concerning the Problem of Evil that "There is no perfectly satisfying solution to it. Some have tried to solve it by appealing to libertarian freedom, but ... such an appeal is inadequate, since freedom in the libertarian sense is both unscriptural and destructive to moral responsibility." (Pg. 68)
Concerning John Sanders The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, Frame agrees that God allows his will to be "thwarted" because of the nature of the creatures he has made, because of their integrity and the integrity of his plan. But he adds, "integrity is one thing, and autonomy is something else." He adds that if God brings about everything that happens, then there is no room for autonomy; "God has planned and foreordained everything that happens, so nothing takes him by surprise." (Pg. 113)
He points out that since in Heaven, we will not be free to sin, "the highest state of human existence will be a state without libertarian freedom." (Pg. 125) He responds to biblical passages that seem superficially to show God "changing his mind," and explains, God's "relenting" is based on his eternal plan, "which incorporates his appropriate responses to events in the created world." (Pg. 196)
Frame's critique is another valuable addition to this controversy.
While some Arminians (myself included) may find some of Frame's arguements based on his Calvinistic presuppositions, all orthodox Christians will find Frame does wrestle with the Bible for all his answers. His strong view on the authority of the Bible shines forth in his solid critique. While I disagreed with Frame on his view of divine determinism, I found that he answers nearly every major passage that Open Deist often appeal to try to prove that God is open to change based on the decisions, prayers, and actions of men.
Overall this book was a great read. Theological works often can be a bore to read, I found that not to be the case with Frame's book. In fact, reading this book by Frame made me want to purchase his other theological books as well. He is good writer and who keeps the focus on the subject while keeping the reader interested in the teaching at hand. A good read even before you go to bed.