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“God” of open theism not God of Scripture, new book argues

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The “God” of open theism is not the God found in Scripture, a new book by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor argues.

In the book “Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God” (Crossway Books), Bruce A. Ware helps Christians understand what happens when they accept the “God” of open theism.

Open theism, often called “the openness of God,” asserts that God does not know in advance the free actions and choices of His creatures. According to the belief God is not only surprised often by those actions, He is also unable to ensure that suffering and evil work for good.

Historically, Christianity has held that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive and perfectly accurate, and that He works in and through all events of history — even suffering — to His own glory.

As the title — a play on J.B. Phillips’ classic work “Your God is Too Small” — suggests, Ware argues that the deity of open theism is too small. Openness views are not only distorted, but also dangerous, he writes.

“Clearly, the proponents of open theism are commending their view as both biblical and enhancing of our understanding of how we should live as Christians,” Ware writes in the first chapter. Ware is associate dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology and is also professor of Christian theology.

“But it is my deep conviction, and the conviction of many other evangelicals, that the open view distorts the Christian portrayal of God and his relations with his people so much that open theism must not be viewed as ‘just another’ legitimate Christian understanding.

“In other words, this issue is not like our differences over questions of the nature of the millennium and the timing of the return of Christ…No, the open view of God represents a departure from the church’s uniform understanding of Scripture and a distortion of the biblical portrayal of God.”

In the five-chapter work, Ware deals with open theism as it relates broadly to the Christian faith and specifically as it affects God’s foreknowledge, suffering, prayer and hope. Ware also authored a book on the same topic in 2001, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism” (Crossway). While that work interacted with openness literature on a scholarly level, “Their God” is intended for a popular audience.

Why do open theists seek to reformulate the traditional understanding of God? Ware offers three reasons:

— They view one’s relationship with God as being more vital and “real” when God does not know all their actions in advance.

— When suffering and affliction enter the lives of believers, open theists believe their view of God provides genuine comfort. They believe this despite their argument that there is often no divine purpose for suffering, Ware points out.

— Open theists argue that their theology better accounts for Scripture’s teaching about God.

Best-known among openness teachers and authors are Clark Pinnock, who penned “The Openness of God,” John Sanders, author of “The God Who Risks,” and Greg Boyd, author of “God of the Possible.”

Open theists seek to establish a genuine “give-and-take” relationship between God and the believer, but Ware argues they rob God of His power instead. Open theism empties passages that admonish the believer to trust wholly in God of their meaning and leaves the Christian with no compelling reason to rest in God. If open theists are correct, then passages such as Proverbs 3:5-6 make little sense, he asserts.

“What happens to these admonitions and assurances if the God of open theism is considered to be the true God?” asks Ware. “For one thing, the extent to which we can place our full trust in God, simply put, is demolished.

“Yes, the God of open theism will always want our best, but since he may not in fact know what is best, it becomes impossible to give him our unreserved and unquestioning trust? What are we to conclude?

“Can we say with confidence, ‘These hardships are all part of the plan God has for me by which his good purposes will be accomplished?’ If the God in whom we trust is the openness God, the answer must be a resounding no.”
“Their God is Too Small” can be purchased online at:
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WHAT DOES GOD KNOW?

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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