Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: God's Lesser Glory by Bruce Ware

“Readers will find this book unkind to open theism” (9). To what extent? “We have [in open theism], then, a fundamentally different god, not merely a different version of God” (230). Such are the opening and closing remarks of a devastating analysis of open theism. Bruce Ware, Senior Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism. The book is organized in three main sections: (1) What is it? (2) What’s wrong with it? And (3) what difference does it make? There is one question asked and answered on virtually every page of this book. It is the very question concluding a series of questions presented in the first chapter: “is such a God the God of the Bible?” (18). The answer returns again and again as an emphatic “No.”

The introductory chapter provides the motivation for the reader to be concerned about the issue. Ware details some of the influence open theism has had in Baptist General Conference as an example that this issue is not fortified in the walls of academia, but is in fact finding refuge and strength in congregations around the country. Not all churches have opened their gates to this teaching, as exemplified by the Southern Baptist Convention. Publishers such as InterVarsity Press and Baker Books along with Christianity Today have provided a platform from which open theism has reached the Christian church at large. Though this chapter is focused on understanding the importance of this issue, the analysis of open theism throughout the book solidified this theme.

Theologies usually have some measure of foundation in formerly existing doctrines, and Arminianism turns out to be the foundation of open theism. Ware explains how Arminianism in its traditional expression is seen as faulty in the eyes of open theists because it does not allow for true libertarian freedom. Therefore open theism begins with the Arminian foundation of God’s love, human freedom, and genuine worship, and seeks to be consistent in its understanding of the relationship between God’s omniscience and man’s free will. The reconciliation of God’s omniscience with man’s freedom is the root issue in open theism. Ware explains from the open theist perspective how they perceive traditional models of understanding as faulty, and their own model as viable.

The “perceived” viability of open theism is presented in chapter three as Ware brings forth the primary tenets that open theism attempts to derive from Scripture. The first major principle is that God’s openness allows for real relationship between and people. Because God learns and can be surprised by human actions, he can have a real relationship and not one based on absolute foreknowledge. Secondly, because God does not know the future, everything he does involves some measure of risk. God risked rejection when he created the world for the sake of relationship, and he lost the bet, so to speak. Third, because God cannot always know the outcome of his decisions, it is not uncommon for him to repent as in the decision to flood the world. Fourth and perhaps most important, because God does not know the future and allows people to have libertarian freedom, he is not to blame when tragedy strikes. Here in summary form are the primary issues which Ware addresses in detail throughout the rest of the book.

If one could conclusively demonstrate the fallacy of open theism’s rejection of the doctrine of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, the debate comes to an abrupt end. This is exactly what Ware has accomplished in chapter four. Walking through the biblical texts used by open theists Ware clearly shows how the “straightforward” readings by open theists are invalid, either by immediate context or by other texts which directly relate to the issue. The careful attention to the whole counsel of God reveals how open theism must ignore or deny one text in order to affirm a certain understanding of another. At times Ware appeals to logical conclusions using the narrow straightforward interpretation to show how one cannot maintain such ideas without denying other explicit teachings about God.

Contrary to open theist ideas, Scripture has a lot to say about God’s exhaustive foreknowledge regarding the breadth and the depth, the extent and the content of what God knows. Many of these texts are treated in chapter five as Ware unleashes the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge. Though space does not allow extensive commentary on each passage, Ware shines the light of the glory of God as demonstrated in his foreknowledge. Open theists claim that often these texts refer to a specific situation, or are limited instances of foreknowledge, and it is going too far to attribute exhaustive foreknowledge. The former claim is certainly true, however Ware demonstrates that in order for God to foreknow and control one, two, and the many situations and prophecies laid out in Scripture, it would take exhaustive foreknowledge because of the infinite number of variables which could alter the future.

In attacking God’s foreknowledge, Ware demonstrates how open theism indirectly attacks God’s wisdom. Chapter six gives a clear and thorough argument against the attack of the only wise God.

The effect of all this in our daily lives is devastating. It actually creates a different kind of Christian; one who can’t pray with confidence, need not ask God for guidance, and does indeed have reason to blame God for tragedy. Chapters seven through nine are dedicated to this and one cannot help but grieve for Christians under open theist pastors.

Reading this book has two effects for the Christian who believes strongly in the deity of God. First, it creates anger and frustration over a doctrine which makes God in man’s image. Second, it causes us in the depth of our soul to worship the God of Romans 11:33-36.