Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Book Review: "God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism," by Bruce Ware
When attempting to refute a disagreeable position, many seek to do so at the expense of offering a positive response. This leaves many with a similar attitude that Peter had when challenged by the Lord Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68) Bruce Ware, in his book, "God's Lesser Glory," does no such thing. Not only does he offer a solid refutation of the open theist position; he explains why the classical theism position is better.
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.
*This review also appears on my Amazon.com review page.