God’s Lesser Glory: A Critique of Open Theism
Bruce A Ware
Tim Johnson finds an ally in confronting an evangelical heresy.
It’s not often that I finish a book and decide to contact the author to thank him or her for writing such a helpful contribution to the Christian church. However, after reading ‘God’s Lesser Glory: A critique of Open Theism’ by Bruce Ware I did just that.
Open Theism is an ‘evangelical heresy’. It’s main proponents are from evangelical churches, it presents itself as a legitimate variant within evangelicalism, and its influence is growing very quickly in evangelical churches in the Western world. But what is Open Theism?
Some years back I preached a sermon series on the book of Job. In the final sermon I was particularly emphasizing the sovereignty of God even in the midst of great trials and hardship. As Job himself says to God in Job 42:1, ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’ On Monday morning I received an irate email from a member of the congregation. What I had taught was untrue, he argued. God’s purposes can indeed be thwarted because God’s sovereignty and indeed God’s knowledge of future events is limited. So when faced with atrocities in Rwanda or personal trials and sicknesses we must not blame God. God is doing all that he can to prevent these things but sometimes he is blindsided by events and powerless to prevent them occurring.
What this man was articulating was Open Theism, the view that God not only doesn’t foreordain future events but he does not exhaustively know them either. It is driven by a libertarian view of human freedom, that in any given situation causes may ‘influence’ or ‘incline’ us to a certain choice, but they never determine the choice. If this view of freedom is true, Open Theists argue, then the future is undetermined until choices are made by us. God becomes more like a chess grandmaster, who is many moves ahead of people but doesn’t exhaustively know the future. This is a radical departure from the classical orthodox view of God and Ware’s book is an attempt to counter it.
Ware’s book is divided into three main parts. In Part One he outlines the teaching of Open Theism, carefully and faithfully explaining his opponents’ views. He shows how Open Theism has grown out of the perceived inadequacies with Arminianism. He also represents the perceived benefits of Open Theism, that God has a more genuine relationship with people because he is willing to take risks and he is as troubled by suffering as we are.
In Part Two, Ware critiques Open Theism. He examines the biblical evidence in great depth to show that God does know the future exhaustively and that Open Theism’s apparent ‘straight-forward’ reading of the biblical texts is inconsistent and skewed. He also explores the theological implications of Open Theism, that it overemphasizes God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence, that it undermines the sovereignty of God, and that it denies the wisdom of God and casts doubt that he will fulfil his purposes for the world.
In Part Three, Ware does pastoral theology and examines the implications for the Christian life of following Open Theism. Bad theology hurts people. Open Theism affects the Christian’s prayer life, undermines their confidence in God’s guidance and ultimately leads to despair in the midst of pain. While attempting to offer a solution to the problem of suffering, Open Theists end up offering a hope-less solution because if God is unable to prevent certain atrocities now what confidence can we have that he will deal with them in the end?
Ware’s book is a wonderful example of theological writing. He is gracious in representing his opponents’ views but clear and firm in opposing their errors. He is thoroughly biblical, and explores the breadth of the biblical evidence for God’s exhaustive foreknowledge while digging deeply into the meaning of the individual passages. He does critical theological thinking and traces the implications for how an error with this particular doctrine has devastating effects on other orthodox Christian doctrines. And he is pastoral in considering the application of this doctrine in the lives of people. I also greatly appreciated the tone of the book. Ware engages his opponents warmly and lovingly but does not compromise on truth and is not afraid to rebuke and critique. It is an excellent model of speaking the truth in love.
My only frustration when reading this book was that, at times, I wanted Ware to be stronger about Gods foreordaining as well as foreknowing the future. However, to be fair to him, he is trying to tackle a particular doctrine and he is attempting to appeal to both Arminians and Calvinists. He himself believes in God’s foreordaining the future and it sneaks through at times but he works very hard to limit the discussion as much as possible to the foreknowledge of God.
I warmly commend this book for stimulating your own theological thinking, for resourcing and preparing you for a real challenge that may be present in your congregation right now, and for modelling how to do theology in a biblical, critical and pastoral spirit.
Tim Johnson is the newly appointed senior minister of St John’s Diamond Creek.