Monday, December 11, 2006

Book Review - Their God is Too Small by Bruce Ware

Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God
Bruce A. Ware
Crossway Books, 2003
Category: Theology / Contemporary Issues
ISBN: 1581344813
129 pages plus General Index and Scriptural Index
$10.99 MSRP

Although I have been a Christian now for almost twelve years, it was not until these last five years that I have really begun to develop spiritually. I thank the Lord for His sovereignty and for His infinite wisdom and planning that moved me half way around the country to get me to the point where He wanted me to be. It was at this point in Birmingham that He led me to a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church, friends who feared the Lord, and a place where I eventually met my wonderful wife. This is a right and God-glorifying response to His activity in my life. However, according to the “Open View” of God (also known as Open Theism), I should not thank God for these occurrences of events, for He was just as surprised as I was to see how things have turned out. The Open View of God is the belief that God does not know the future, nor can He predict it. Instead, He watched history unfold with his limited involvement in divine initiatives (unless prompted by a human to do so). We ought not to think this way, and our brothers and sisters who do have done so to their own detriment as they serve a deflated and powerless God.

Bruce Ware serves as the Senior Associate Dean of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and is revered as an expert in the area of God’s sovereignty. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Ware speak at the Living Truth Conference hosted by Hunter Street in September (Order Audio CD's Here), and I was impressed first by his humility and second by his apparent grasp of God’s sovereignty and its interaction with man. During this time, Dr. Ware defined God’s sovereignty as this: “God plans and carries out His perfect will as He alone knows best, over all that is in Heaven and earth, and He does so without fault or regret or defect.” I had purchased Their God is Too Small before the conference, but it was not until the conference’s end that I realized my great need to read this book.

In somewhat of a twist, I would like to quote from the conclusion of this book in order to set the stage for what is to follow. Dr. Ware is quoting AW Tozer from his book, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 11-12) when he writes,

“The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are
unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of
worship has taken place…So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God
that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and
her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church
is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

Thus is the reason why it is so important for us to think rightly and highly of God. Dr. Ware is clear to point out that those subscribing to the Open View, simply create a god in their own image who is more human, and more manageable. According to Ware, we are to be concerned with the new wave of open theists because “first, the very greatness, goodness, and glory of God are undermined by the open view of God” and “second, the strength, well-being, faith, hope, and confidence of Christian people in and through their God are undermined by the open view” (17, 19). Dr. Ware then begins to examine the Open Theist’s arguments of God’s Foreknowledge, Suffering, Prayer, and Hope with a chapter devoted to each in this short work.

What I appreciate most about Their God is Too Small is Dr. Ware’s use of scripture as the basis for all of his arguments. He does not delve too deeply into all of the philosophical questions and that lie behind this worldview, but rather he attacks it head on from the supreme source of all authority – the Scriptures themselves. In light of an elementary understanding of the Scriptures, I am still puzzled as to how Open View proponents bolster their arguments. And according to their view, neither does God.

I was encouraged by Dr. Ware’s arguments the Christian who prays to a sovereign God may have much more confidence in his prayer life than can the one who holds the open view. According to the Open View, “for the sake of dynamic and real relationship with God, and to underscore the authenticity of prayer that really matters...we must move from any model in which God knows in advance all that we will ask or think” (88). According to one proponent of the Open View, Greg Boyd, through prayer, “[God] graciously grants us the ability to significantly affect Him…He enlists our input, not because He needs it, but because He desires to have an authentic, dynamic relationship with us as real, empowered persons” (88). This makes me want to vomit.

Contrast this view of prayer with that of Christ Jesus Himself when He gave His disciples the model prayer: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mat 6:10). Apparently Christ believed that the Father had a perfect will that was pleasing in His sight and best for all creatures. Dr. Ware asks us then, “Whom should I believe: Jesus, or John Sanders?” (90).

Well, Dr. Ware, I think you would be right in choosing Jesus. The Open View of God offers no hope in suffering, no confidence in prayer, and no hope for a future because this small god has no capability of knowing, predicting, or affecting the future. Those who worship the god of the Open View, worship a god who is limited, man-made, and completely un-scriptural. I heartily agree with Dr. Ware in stating that, indeed, their god is too small!


Anonymous said...

It's perfectly acceptable for there to be debate about this in a healthy, God-honoring context. But one should critique only from a position of some knowledge, or else disclaim openly that one does not know much about the position being critiqued prior to critiquing.

For instance, your introduction to the Open View contains this assertion: "The Open View of God is the belief that God does not know the future, nor can He predict it."

Some simple research into Greg Boyd's position yields the following introductory sentence in the section, "What Is Open View Theism?": "Open view theists believe that the future exists partly as actualities (future events which God sovereignly determines to bring about) and partly as possibilities (aspects of the future which God sovereignly allows his creatures to bring about)." (Source:

You don't have to agree, but at least be somewhat informed. (Incidentally, that section of Dr. Boyd's site is a good starting point for insight into the View. Again, you don't need to agree, but it would be easy to gain some understanding.)

Such blatant disregard for the other position is unbalanced, academically ignorant, and in the end, unhelpful. It's one thing to disagree and critique from a position of humility and grace. This one-sidedness comes across as spiteful and attacking and takes the debate away from the arena of seeking to serve and worship a God who cannot be fully known, to ugly political partisanship.

Let's grow the Kingdom in our unity, even where we disagree!

In Him,

Bryan L said...

Agreeing with Billy I would say you've either misunderstood or misrepresented Open theism (or unknowingly followed Ware into doing this).
Try reading a couple of books from the open theism side and you'll see this. Greg Boyd's "God at War" and "Satan and the Problem of Evil" are good places to start (as well as his website or his more popular level books). It's not always best to read the reactions and arguments against a position first to get a feel for what a certain view believes. Often they just group everyone in a particular movement together creating a caricature out of all of the different and nuanced views that ends up being a straw man that no one believes.
Sure we can have disagreements about the nature of God and what his sovereignty looks like but lets be careful that we're accurately representing those we disagree with.


KC Armstrong said...

Mr. Wingnut and Bryan,

My apologies for the delay in responding to your comments. I am not the best blogger-by-day kind of administrator. Thank you for visiting and for posting your thought provoking comments. I must first be clear that the this article was never intended to be an exhaustive critique of the Open View, however, given the nature of the book being reviewed, this does lend itself to such a discussion. Having said this, I do see where my thoughts should have been more thoroughly traced.

In regards to your question concerning my definition of the Open View, I agree – after consulting with the web page you referenced – that my definition should be revised to read: “The Open View of God is the belief that God does not know [all of] the future, nor can He predict it [that which He does not already know.]” I believe this to be conducive to the definition offered by Greg Boyd, and for you I am thankful. However, adjusting my definition of the Open View still does not cause me to come into an agreement with its position, but has stirred a desire for continued reflection. I also thank you for the understanding that we do not all have to agree; but as brothers in Christ, we are to be respectful and approach this (and all things) with humility and grace.

I understand that according to the Open View there are certain events that God has set in place that MUST occur such as the incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session of Christ. However, I am obviously unclear as to the extent of the events that are settled. Does any open theist really know? Was my salvation settled before the foundation of the earth? Was my wife the one that was chosen for me to be paired with for a lifetime long before I ever knew? Did God know that today I would type this response or is this purely a product of a random series of events that have come about by haphazard circumstance. Thus, at what point do I confess that God is in control versus hoping that I make the right decision?

According to Boyd, “While Classical theists believe that the future consists entirely of settled realities, Open theists believe that the future is partly settled and partly open to possibilities, and thus that God perfectly foreknows it as such.” Thus my question again becomes, well, which parts? How do I know when to trust that He is in sovereign control and when I am in control? I response to “Misconception #4: How can people who believe the open view trust a God who doesn’t control the future and doesn’t know for sure what will happen?” Boyd replies, “It’s true that according to the Open view things can happen in our lives which God didn’t plan or even foreknow with certainty (though he always foreknew they were possible). In this view, trusting in God provides no assurance that everything that happens to us will reflect his divine purposes” and then several paragraphs later adds, “The Open view affirms that whatever happens God will work with you to bring a redemptive purpose out of the event (Rom. 8:28).” There is a remarkable contradiction here.

The real question is whether we desire to see God exalted as almighty and sovereign, or if we choose to exalt as almighty the ability of our own choices and influence. When you exalt man, God becomes small.

Anonymous said...

To K.C. Armstrong,

You asked, "How do I know when to trust that He is in sovereign control and when I am in control?"

To those of the classical view, it is boggling to the mind that Almighty God would ever limit himself in the slightest degree. To the open theist, God has limited his sovereignty by allowing humans the freedom to choose sin or love, but note this: our reach is very small. Not a single act of ours bypasses his scrutiny and his ability to blunt it completely. Not a single act or thought of ours sneaks by God's all-wise weighing mechanism of love, mercy and justice and His response to it.

If God can limit himself to be born as a baby who needed his diapers changed, what is so difficult about understanding that God did not design us to be preprogrammed robots in order to assure His complete sovereign control?

"Thus, at what point do I confess that God is in control versus hoping that I make the right decision?"

To answer your question, God must be trusted to do the right thing. He is the potter and we are the clay. I am well aware that since I have limited wisdom, I will often make foolish decisions even though I have the best of intentions. What I can count on is that the Lord will work all things out for good because I love him and am called according to his purpose. Sometimes He will completely close a door to protect me; sometimes He allows me to learn the hard way, from experience, but the beautiful thing is, we walk in fellowship together. No goof of mine is beyond His repair or protection.

We must listen to Him, dear Armstrong, and walk with Him in our choices, and trust Him no matter what happens, rather than finding our security in fatalism where we are merely wind-up toys going through pre-set motions.