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Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: God's Lesser Glory

Ware, Bruce A. God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000. 240pp. $17.99.

Bruce Ware's sensitivity is apparent early on in this book. Foremost for Ware is his sensitivity for the glory of God. Ware views Open Theism as a direct assault against God as it denies his exhaustive knowledge of the future, and as Ware demonstrates, would if true, dramatically lesson our confidence in God.

At the same time, Ware is sensitive to the authors whom he critiques. Ware says, "It is the views of this movement and its advocates that I oppose, not the individuals who advocate them (9)." Ware successfully avoids attacking the open theists themselves, and more importantly undermines the weaknesses in the exegesis and theology of the open theists.

Open Theism proposes that God voluntarily created this present universe with human beings who are free to make decisions regardless of whether they please God or not. Because human beings are created free, God does not know perfectly what the future holds. Open Theists believe that if God knows the decisions of mankind before they actually were made then somehow they would not be free decisions but predetermined by God.

The importance of God's Lesser Glory is significant because many open theologians including Boyd, Sanders, and Pinnock claim to be evangelical Christians. Subsequently, this means that each of these theologians sincerely believe the theologies they espouse are biblical. This point makes Ware's treatment of the subject all the more weightier.
The classical Christian understanding of God's exhaustive knowledge of past, present, and future and open theism, which denies God's exhaustive knowledge of the future, cannot both be true.

In God's Lesser Glory, Ware chiefly interacts with open theologians Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and David Basinger. In chapters 2 & 3, Ware lays out the open theist position chiefly described by the theologians named above. Ware not only describes the theology of open theism but he also expresses the so-called applications and benefits this view of God brings to his people.

The driving contention of open theists, according to Ware is genuine relationship. Open theists reject God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future because it simply eliminates, according to them, any potential for an authentic interaction between God and mankind. Therefore open theists reject the idea that God decreed points about our lives in eternity past before we were born. Open theists also reject doctrines like irresistible grace. Any doctrine which impedes human freedom is rejected.

In chapter 2 & 3, Ware highlights some of the more prominent biblical texts used by open theists as evidence that God does not know the future. God’s comment of “now I know that you fear me,” to Abraham as he is about to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:10-12), God’s repenting of making Saul King of Israel (1 Samuel 15:11, 35), God’s changing of his mind about the descendants of Abraham with Moses (Exodus 32), and God’s word about how he thought Israel would turn back to him, but they did not (Jeremiah 3:6-7) are all discussed through the lens of open theology.

In the minds of the open theologians these texts demonstrate first, that God did not know if Abraham was willing to slay Isaac, therefore it was important for God to establish a test to see if Abraham was trustworthy. Second, open theists declare that God repents like man, therefore he has remorse about his own actions. Third, God can even be wrong about his understanding about what will take place in the future.

Ware even makes note how some open theologians believe that God knew it was a possibility that Adam and Eve could choose to sin, but considering all that God did for them, it was not probable. Furthermore Sanders, as quoted by Ware (46-47) suggests that Jesus’ death on the cross was not fully known by God until after the prayer in Gethsemane.

Ware goes on to show that in the minds and hearts of open theists, the implication of God not knowing the future helps with ministering to hurting people. Ware gives a lengthy example given by Boyd (56-58). But the question that arises in this reader’s mind is: how is it helpful to me to know that God does not know the future and that he is either unwilling or unable to sovereignly counter the choices of his sinful creatures?

From this point in the book, Ware scripturally demonstrates the teaching of God’s perfect knowledge of the future, the very thing open theists claim the Bible teaches otherwise. Ware primarily accomplishes this by diving into the teachings of Isaiah in chapters 40-48. Through many examples (42:9, 44:6-8, 44:24-28, 45:1-7), it becomes clear that God’s claim to being God is inextricably tied to his knowledge of the future. For example, God says in Isaiah 42:9, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”

Ware does move on to other areas in Scripture which also teach God’s exhaustive knowledge of future events. He cites examples from other OT passages like Psalm 139:4, 16 where God is ascribed to have the knowledge to know the number of our days before there is even one. How can this be true under the Open Theism model where God cannot know the future actions of free human beings, decisions that might lead to one’s death?

Ware gives NT examples which ascribe to God the son, Jesus Christ a knowledge which open theists declare he cannot have. In John 16:4, Jesus clearly tells his disciples things that will befall them before they happen. Again, is this so because God is great with odds, or because he really does know the future? Most of us who are familiar with the Bible will quickly recall Jesus’ accurate prophecy concerning Peter’s threefold denial. Again, how can Jesus know how many times Peter will deny him, and in addition to this, know when he will deny him?

There are further texts which speak in favor of the classical position. Texts like Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 clearly teach a predetermined plan, known to God of Jesus’ death. Ware addresses both these as well, in addition to other texts, but Ware does not stop here. He moves on to describe how this theology assaults the wisdom of God. Instead of a God who knows all things, you have a God who can only predict. But in his predictions, as argued by open theists, he can be wrong. As Boyd illustrates in his story back in pages 56-58, God can lead people down a path which he thinks will benefit them in the future, but at any given time, his calculations may prove damaging, and somehow this is supposed to be comforting.

As Ware goes on to say in chapters 7-9, this theology does not drive us to exalt God. Nor does this theology help us to take comfort in God. Open theism diminishes our view of God. The picture of God we see in Open Theism is more like a really wise man rather than a God. The picture we get of God in Open Theism is not the God described in Romans 8:28

Here is the crux of the argument in my mind. It comes down to weighing all the relevant texts. Christians need to honestly weigh the difficult texts in Scripture. We need to seriously consider those difficult texts raised by open theists. But we also need to take the vast amount of texts which undeniably speak of God’s perfect knowledge of the future and consider them. Then we must try to reconcile them if we can. My sympathies are with Ware. I believe the overwhelming support favors the classical view of God. This also means that my explanations might be a little more complicated when dealing with texts like Genesis 22 and 1 Samuel 15. Nevertheless it seems clear to me that the Bible teaches God's perfect knowledge of the future, and if we surrender this truth, we end up with an altogether different God than the one revealed in Scripture. This also is the conclusion Ware comes to as well. He says in conclusion on page 230, “We have here, then, a fundamentally different god, not merely a different version of God. For the sake of the glory that is God’s alone we have no choice but to reject the openness model.”

I highly recommend this text for pastors. While it is not common to meet open theists in my neck of the woods as they say, it never hurts to be prepared. In addition to this, the book is helpful in its analysis of some of the difficult texts raised by open theists. Readers might also want to follow up God’s Lesser Glory by Ware with God’s Greater Glory also by Ware as he lays out a systematic presentation of the doctrine of God’s providence.

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