God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism

One of the most important things one must remember when dealing with a controversial issue is to look at all sides. If we are ever to assess the validity of a proposition, we must look at it from the proponents’ point of view and from the opponents’ point of view. This is one of the reasons most materialistic evolutions are not critical thinkers when it comes to the origins issue. They don’t really look at the science creationists have to offer. Instead, they believe the caricatures promoted by those who do not want to think. As a result, the miss out on what science really says.

So now that I have read one of the main books that promotes open theism, I decided to read a book that diametrically opposes it. A friend of mine who I respect and admire quite a bit told me of God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism by Bruce Ware, so I thought I would start there. Since there are aspects of open theism that bother me, I was hoping to find a solid defense of classical theism and a solid rebuttal of open theism. Unfortunately, I found neither of them in this book.

It started off badly near the beginning, because Mr. Ware doesn’t want his reader to consider open theism in any meaningful way. This is clear by the way he tries to paint a caricature of open theism rather than really discussing what it says. For example, early on he says

God not only learns moment by moment (as we do), but he also realizes moment by moment which of his beliefs about the future have been wrong. Yes, the God of open theism is mistaken about much. (p. 19) [emphasis his]

This is simply not true. If you want to engage in an honest rebuttal of someone’s views, you need to present those views properly, and Mr. Ware clearly hasn’t done it here or in most of his book. The God of open theism DOES NOT learn “as we do.” The God of open theism is so powerful that He is not afraid to choose to limit His knowledge of the future. Thus, He does learn some things about the future as it happens. However, it is certainly nothing like the way WE learn things. He learns things that He chose not to know in the first place. Obviously, then, it is on an entirely different plane than the way we learn things.

More importantly, the God of open theism IS NOT mistaken about MUCH. As you can read in my my post on The Openness of God, the Bible does seem to indicate that SOME things that happen are unexpected by God. However, those instances are RARE, as the times such things are mentioned in the Bible are RARE. Also, as open theism clearly states, God knows SO MUCH about the present and past that much of the future is simply a logical deduction. As a result, there are FEW things the God of open theism is mistaken about. Nevertheless, just as the Bible seems to indicate, every now and again, IT DOES HAPPEN.

Ware also makes nonsensical statements about open theism. For example, he says:

While claiming to offer meaningfulness to Christian living, open theism strips the believer of the one thing needed most for a meaningful and vibrant life of faith: absolute confidence in God’s character, wisdom, word, promise, and the sure fulfillment of his will. (p. 21)

This is profoundly untrue, and it calls into question whether or not Mr. Ware actually understands open theism at all. In fact, open theism describes a God of much greater character than Calvinism (which Mr. Ware professes), as Calvinism describes a God that causes pedophiles to commit their evil acts, Hitler to kill the Jewish people, etc. The character of the God of open theism is much better than the God of Calvinism. In addition, the wisdom, word, and promise of God are not affected at all by open theism, and open theism specifically discusses when God exerts absolute control, so the sure fulfillment of His will is not an issue, either.

There are many other things that indicate Mr. Ware doesn’t grasp open theism well at all. For example, one of open theism’s excellent points is that God’s test of Abraham is totally meaningless if God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. What is the purpose of the test, since God already knows Abraham will remain faithful? Mr. Ware tries to claim that this calls into question God’s PRESENT knowledge of Abraham. After all, Mr. Ware claims, if God really KNOWS Abraham, He would know that Abraham will remain faithful. However, that is completely wrong. God knows that Abraham is currently fully faithful, but the test implies that He doesn’t know how faithful Abraham will be in the future. Thus, God knows Abraham now, but doesn’t have exhaustive knowledge of Abraham’s future. The test allows God to see that Abraham WILL sacrifice much to follow God.

Probably the best indication that Mr. Ware doesn’t understand open theism is when he claims that open theism exalts human beings. He says:

Along with open theism’s view of God’s limitations comes a corresponding exaltation of human beings. God is lowered while man is elevated…We feel that we are almost peers with God, in a relationship in which we are encouraged to have an elevated view of what we think and feel, struggling along together with God while we are both subject to many of the same limitations… (p. 148)

Actually, it is classical theism that has an exalted view of man, not open theism. Classical theism says that I am so important to God that He planned out my life before the foundations of the earth were laid. Indeed, the CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE was “put on hold” until God mapped every aspect of my future. I know of NOTHING more arrogant than to say such a thing, but that is exactly what Calvinism teaches. In Calvinism, not open theism, we find the exaltation of man.

Now, even though Mr. Ware doesn’t offer any seriously good arguments against open theism, he does bring up a couple of good points. First, he points out something that should be obvious to everyone: no matter how much we would like to take all of the Bible literally, it is simply impossible to do so. For example, when God is speaking with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, He asks things like, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11). If you took this literally, it would indicate that God doesn’t even know what happened in the past. That obviously cannot be true. Thus, one must be careful about when to take a verse literally.

Of course, Mr. Ware even turns this excellent point into a silly conclusion. He says that since verses like this cannot be taken literally, then ALL verses that indicate God might not know something must not be taken literally. That, of course, is untenable, since this leads to God lying. Jonah preached THE WORD OF THE LORD in Ninevah, and that word was, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4). If God KNEW this was not going to happen, then God told Jonah to LIE to the people of Ninevah. Personally, I am more comfortable with God freely limiting his knowledge of the future than I am with God LYING to people.

Probably the only fully excellent thing Mr. Ware includes in his book can be found on page 91. There, he attempts to explain how a classical view of God can still lead to a God who experiences joy when His people do right and disappointment when they don’t. He says:

…when God is said to repent, it indicates his real experience, in historically unfolding relationships with people, of changed dispositions or emotions IN RELATION to some changed HUMAN situation. Just because God knows in advance that some event will occur, this does not preclude God from experiencing appropriate emotions and expressing appropriate reactions when it actually happens. (p. 91) emphasis mine

This would be much like me giving my wife a gift I know she will love. I essentially know that she will be overjoyed, but nevertheless, I experience REAL joy when what I know is coming actually happens.

Aside from this gem, I found little of merit in Mr. Ware’s book. That certainly doesn’t mean I am an open theist. As I said at the beginning, there are aspects of open theism that bother me. However, this book did nothing to turn me away from open theism. In fact, by seeing the poor logic and even poorer understanding of Scripture exhibited by an opponent of open theism, I am more inclined to believe it now than I was before I opened this book.