Open theism ‘damaging’ to faith, prof says in radio interview

Communications Staff — January 13, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Those who say God’s knowledge of the future is limited are proposing a dangerous view that counters 2,000 years of Christian belief, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware said recently on a Boston radio program.

Ware appeared on the Chuck Morse Radio Show on WROL-AM Dec. 18 to discuss open theism — the belief that God does not and cannot know the future free choices people will make. Open theists propose that God, in seeking free responses from people, neither determines nor “foreknows” what they will do.

A vocal critic of open theism, Ware has written a book titled, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism.”

Open theism was the subject of much debate at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in November when members voted to challenge the membership of open theists Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. The vote at the Toronto meeting was 171-131 against Pinnock, 166-143 against Sanders. An ETS committee will review the motion and present its report at next year’s meeting — possibly recommending their expulsion.

The Evangelical Theological Society is composed of theologians who affirm biblical inerrancy, and Ware is a member.

“They [open theists] are very aware of the criticisms that people like me have raised, but they don’t accept them,” Ware told Morse. “… I view the implications of the open view to be very damaging to the faith of Christian believers — to be told that the God in whom they trust can make mistakes, and [that he] looks back on his own actions and says, ‘I’m not sure I would have done that if I knew then what I know now.’ It’s a very man-like God to me.”

Christians throughout the centuries have embraced the view that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, Ware asserted.

“This is the classical tradition of the church, and of course this predates all the way back to the early church theologians,” he said. “… The view has been that, yes, God created people with freedom and, yes, God knows every detail of what the future holds before he creates the world. So there’s no surprise to God in terms of how it all comes out in the end.”

Ware said the Bible is full of passages attesting to God’s complete omniscience (or, his knowledge of all things). Ware read Isaiah 46:10, in which God says he declares “the end from the beginning.”

“When God tells us that he wins, that good wins over evil and his Kingdom will triumph, that’s not guesswork, that’s not probability, that’s not hopefulness — that is God’s knowledge of what will be,” Ware said. “Scripture is filled with examples of and direct teachings about God’s knowledge of and direction of all of history.”

In explaining the balance between God’s direction of human history and human freedom, Ware discussed the Genesis story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.

“No one would question the fact that they chose to sell their brother in Egypt,” he said. “And they did so in a jealous manner and they were held morally accountable for that. But then we find … Joseph [saying], ‘It was not you who sent them here, but God sent me.’

“The language is not, ‘God made good out of what evil you did,’ [it is instead,] ‘It was God who sent me here.’”

Ware said open theism is a belief system that evangelicals of all stripes reject.

“It’s not like the Arminian view or the Calvinist view or other views that have been held within evangelicalism,” he said. “This is one that most would say is not acceptable.”

Ware discussed several passages open theists often quote. One involves the story of Jonah, another the story of Hezekiah.

In the first example, Jonah tells the people of Nineveh their city will be destroyed in 40 days. But they repent, and Jonah 3:10 says that “God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.” In the second example, found in Isaiah 38, God tells Hezekiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” Hezekiah prays to God, and the Lord adds 15 years to his life.

“The whole point is to elicit a response,” Ware said of the two passages. “Isn’t God telling them what he does for the purpose of the response so that then he can do what he intended all along to do, and that is, in the case of Nineveh, bring forgiveness to them, and in the case of Hezekiah, extend his life?”

Even Jonah himself believed that God would have mercy on Nineveh, Ware said.

“The whole point of the story was Jonah’s reluctance to go there in the first place [and that is] exactly what he said at the end of the book,” Ware said. “Jonah said, ‘I knew that you were a gracious God, compassionate, slow to anger….’ Jonah knew that from the very beginning. That’s why he didn’t want to go. Are we to think that God didn’t know what Jonah knew?

“I think it’s just a superficial reading of those repentance passages to think that God learned something new and changed his mind because of it.”

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