Bruce A. Ware. God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001. Paperback, 240 pages, $15.99.
Reviewed by Brian G. Hedges
This is the first full-length book written by a classical theist to combat the menacing theological plague of open theism. Bruce Ware takes on the issues with both respect for the opponents and reverence for Scripture. He sees the stakes as high: "Divine providence as a doctrine is in great turmoil. Theological earthquakes shake its foundation…As goes the doctrine of divine providence, so go vast portions of our entire doctrine of God and with it our conception of God's glory" (13). The title really does encapsulate the issue at stake.
Ware introduces the book with a look at the issues and why they should concern us, asserting that our "overall conception of God and our broad understanding of living the Christian life are both deeply affected by the openness view" (19). Considerable space is also given to exploring the rise of open theism, especially within the Baptist General Conference.
The author deals honestly with the criticism of classical theism advanced by openness advocates, and gives us a whole chapter on "The Perceived Benefits of Open Theism." It was in this chapter that I first began to see the attraction Openness theology holds to some people, namely, in its response to human suffering. Citing both John Sanders and Greg Boyd, Ware shows that "when human tragedy, injustice, suffering, or pain occurs, open theists stand ready with their words of comfort and pastoral counsel: God is as grieved as you are about the difficulties and heartache you are experiencing, and he, too, wishes that things had worked out differently" (56). This concept of a God who can be surprised by our suffering, and yet remains empathetic, probably does appeal to some people--those who would rather have a grandfatherly-like God who feels sorry for them than an All-knowing and All-powerful Sovereign to whom they must submit. In reality, I have come to think that at least one of the reasons openness theology attracts people is because it shortens the distance between man and God and makes fewer demands of faith and submission. But this view of God leaves you bankrupt, because in the final analysis, the god of open theism is nothing better than a crippled king who, though his heart is sympathetic, can not or will not help us. Gratuitous suffering and evil have no purpose. They merely reflect upon the limitations of a god whose creation project went awry and is desperately trying to remedy the situation without violating the all-important freedom of his moral creatures. Open theism assigns God to a wheel chair.
Part two of the book assesses open theism from a biblical perspective, working through various proof-texts--and pointing out the multitudes of texts that open theists never reckon with. Of great value is Ware's exposition of a whole string of texts from Isaiah (Isaiah 41:21-29; 42:8-9; 43:8-13; 44:6-8; 44:24-28; 45:20-33; 46:8-11; 48:3-8; and 48:14-16). He also addresses questions of God's immutability and divine "repentance."
Having exposed the shaky foundation of open theism, part three of the book focuses on its crumbling structure by examining several practical implications. Openness teaching impacts three different areas of life: the Christian's prayer life, his confidence in God's guidance, and his suffering and pain. In this section, Bruce Ware turns the guns of openness advocates against themselves, deftly using their own arguments to expose open theism's weaknesses. The perceived benefits are nothing but a cloud of dust hiding the devastation of a theology bereft of omniscience. There are no gains, only losses.
This book ends with a rhapsodic, John Piper-like chapter on "God's Greater Glory and Our Everlasting Good," the two great things secured by a biblical view of God. Adding to the value of the book are both a general and a Scripture index. Every pastor, professor, and theologian needs to read this book. Let us be equipped to defend the precious biblical doctrine of omniscience!