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God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of…

God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (edition 2000)

by Bruce A. Ware

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Title:God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism
Authors:Bruce A. Ware
Info:Crossway Books (2000), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Openness Theology

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God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism by Bruce A. Ware



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Bruce Ware, the author of “God’s Lesser Glory” begins section one of his book by examining some of the claims of open theists. Chapter two covers the issues of the view of God held by classical Arminians.

Open theism has risen to prominence in the last twenty years as an another “alternative to the classical Arminian model of divine providence.” Scholars Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger in 1994 authored the book, “The Openess of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God,” which has moved the issue to the forefront in theological discussions.

Ware identifies open theists as quasi-committed Arminians holding to many Arminian views such as God’s love for all humanity and all to be saved, humans with “genuine” freedom, and genuine freedom for properly relating to God. However, open theists diverge from Arminian theology by believing that God’s divine omniscience does not entail “comprehensive knowledge of the future.” Open theists claim that God can only know what is “logically knowable,” which includes only the past and the present. God’s knowledge of the future does not include knowledge of future free choices of human beings.

Open theists examine the Bible and claim that some passages reveal that God changes and adjusts to events that transpire. He can only know portions of the future, which do not involve free human choices. The future is open and unknown to God as it relates to humanity. God does not demonstrate comprehensive understanding of the future because it involves decisions made by free humans over which he does not exercise control. This paradigm shift in orthodox understanding of God has elicited strong reaction even from Arminian proponents who claim that the views of open theists are “nothing short of heresy.”

Those in support of the open theism view many deficiencies in the doctrine of divine providence as espoused by Arminians. The contention arises for open theists in the impossibility of God to know comprehensively all the free choices humans may possibly make. If “libertarian freedom” of moral beings to make different choices at any given time and given the same situation to still make a different choice is true, then the future is unknowable because God cannot know what future decisions will be made.

Arminians may respond by appealing to the mystery of God to know the outcome of free choices. They may also comment that God is eternal and is not bound by time and therefore He can know things in our future because in essence he is not restricted by time. Arminians would say that God is infinite and must not be limited because one cannot begin to grasp the eternal.

A second argument offered by open theists is that simple foreknowledge and future free choices are incompatible. If genuine freedom in choices is true, then divine foreknowledge cannot be true. If God knows the future decisions one will specifically make, then one is bound to make those specific decision because God knows what one will choose and it must take place that specific way. Therefore, “divine foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are exclusive notions.”

Another objection is to the Arminian view of simple foreknowledge as it relates to God’s providential control. Some Arminians might say that God’s knowledge of past, present, and future, enables Him to oversee the future. The open theist asks that if God has eternally known all the choices that He and humans will ever make then how can he exercise providential control? God can only exercise providential control if He does not know the future and then reacts to future free decisions of humans and then makes His own decisions to move to His desired outcome of the world.

Ware takes an excursus to discuss how openness proponents view a variant aspect of Arminian Theology called “middle knowledge” or “Molinism.” Middle knowledge says that God possesses knowledge of all that could be, will be, and would be. God knows all the possible decisions that humans would make in all possible situations and with meticulous providence exercises influence to reach His desired end without compromising human free choices. Open theists object to this theory because it is overly deterministic. Even though people make free choices God so organizes their circumstances that their freedom is limited to an indirect determinism. Another objection arises to Molinism that reveals the impossibility of God to know what decisions humans will make if they are truly free in a libertarian sense.

Classical Arminians, Molinist Arminians, and open theist hold many congruent theological beliefs. However, the major issue for the open theist is the Arminians view of God’s comprehensive future knowledge. Either the future is open and undetermined by God in the open theist view or the future is more deterministic in the Calvinistic sense. At this point, open theists and Calvinists believe similar things about Arminian theology. God’s complete knowledge of the future is not compatible with libertarian freedom. God’s knowledge of the future gives Him deterministic control of the future.

One is left with three choices. One can embrace Calvinism, which teaches that God is ultimately in control of all things and His meticulous providence and human “combatibilist freedom” are able to exist together. However, open theist and Arminians would reject this notion that one is truly free if God exercises comprehensive sovereignty. Arminians may also choose a second option of Molinism, which makes God’s indirect determinism through middle knowledge able to exist with true libertarian freedom. Many Arminians are hesitant to move into this camp because of the compromise of human freedom through God’s indirect determinism. A third option for Arminians is that of open theism. This model reveals that God’s providential oversight is greatly diminished. Open theist claim that this is the only viable alternative for Arminians, which enables God to providentially regulate the future and give humans true libertarian freedom.

Chapter three presented the Arminian theological viewpoint as perceptively insufficient and leaves the door wide open for an open theistic perspective. Chapter four proposes some of the “perceived benefits of open theism.” “Presentism” is a term used by open theist to explain the concept that God and free creatures work together in the present to determine the future. God does not know the future, but God reacts to the present and changes to adapt to the future as He and humans unfold history together in genuine relationship.

There are five tenants of presentism, the first of which will be discussed here. Classical theism presents a God who is too deterministic and controlling to allow true human freedom. In fact, an open theist has claimed the Calvinistic model of God’s irresistible grace makes God guilty of “divine rape” because God’s control is exerted over human freedom. Open theism believes their view presents the viability of a real relationship between God and man. Compared to Classical Arminianism, open theists still believe that through God’s divine foreknowledge true freedom is not present for humans and they will always do what God knows they will do. No real learning and relationship are developed in this Arminian view.

Open theists see God as the supreme “historical player” working together with humans to unfold history that has not yet been written. His complete knowledge of the past and the present enable Him to make the best decisions in the moment and He continually learns in relationship with humans throughout history. Genesis 22:10-12 is one passage of scripture that open theists site where God learns. This story reveals that God did not know that Abraham feared God enough to take the life of his own son until the moment Abraham lifted his knife to slay Isaac. The text says, “for now I know that you fear God.” This text is seen by open theists to reveal that God does not know how free creatures will respond until they decide and after they act God then learns something about that person that He did not know before.

Not only does God not know what will happen in the future, but also the unexpected may occur. The setting in the original Garden of Eden presents a case where human beings were placed to flourish and they unexpectedly sin. God knew they had the potential to sin but did not think they would turn and sin against Him. God learns from this experience and interacts with humans from this point forward.

According to open theism God did not know in advance that Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of humanity. Jesus’ prayer in the garden, “If you are willing, let this cup pass from me,” illustrates that the future was undetermined at that point in time as the reconciling work of the cross. The Father and Son learn together in history that the cross is the appropriate way to deal with humanities sin at that point in time.


Ware deals incisively with open theism from a solidly biblical perspective. Considering some of the passages that open theists pose as representative of their view makes one critically think about one’s perception of God’s omniscience and foreknowledge. It appears that open theists present some key questions concerning the validity of Arminianism as it has classically been presented, which leads one to seriously consider Calvinism. He interacts well with the writings of open theists. Perhaps the most disturbing open theist position is the fact that God and Jesus did not know it would take the cross to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of humanity until the moment in the garden when Jesus prayed about the cup passing from him. Open theists emphasize human freedom over the deterministic will of God. Logic tells this author to prefer the deterministic will of God over and above one’s own determined destiny. One has to make a choice to elevate God or man. Open theism elevates man and diminishes God.

Discussion Questions:

What are the theological undercurrents that have given rise to a view like open theism?

What are some communication principles to consider when discussing the Arminian/Calvinism debate?

How does open theism benefit or harm the position of classical Arminianists?

Do we all have to go through a similar test as Abraham for God to discover our faith?

If God wasn’t sure about the cross until the moment in the garden, then how can I place much confidence in a God who has no control in an unknown future?

Practical Implications to Christian leadership, ministry and Christian life:

Open theism elevates humans to a higher plane and diminishes God. A theology that is true to the Bible will elevate God and place man in his proper place. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the consequences of one’s theological system of beliefs.

If God and me are the determiners of my future, then I’m skeptical of the outcome because of my sinful input. Decision-making and the future are dependent upon a God who can keep His promises by having complete knowledge and control of the future.

Even if Calvinism is more deterministic, then I still have more trust in God than in myself. Where will I put my trust? I must put my trust in God and keep Him the center of all things not myself.
  benphillips | Feb 8, 2009 |
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