Book Review: God’s Lesser Glory by Bruce A. Ware

November 16, 2013 5:53 pm

 

Currently Reading:

A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption

by Jay E. Adams

Category: Church and Ministry / Pastoral Care & Counseling

Zondervan, 1979

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Christian author and speaker STEVE CHA and his book Hollywood Mission: Possible, watch the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EgDR4i1_EI

 

One of the timeless doctrines of the Christian faith is God’s sovereignty, particularly His foreknowledge and unshakable control of human history. But what if God could not really control or foresee the future? This is the dilemma put forth by open theism, and this is the issue that author Bruce A. Ware tackles in his apologetical book, God’s Lesser Glory. Open theism claims that God does not and cannot impinge on human free will to receive or reject His offer of salvation and relationship. Furthermore, God does not know the future, as He can rely only on His wisdom of the present and the past to understand and respond to what occurs in the future. In response, author Ware refutes this doctrine as unsound teaching of Scripture. Through his book, Ware explains the doctrines of open theism and how it is flawed, but most importantly proves that God is sovereign and controls and understands the course of the history, even at the expense of libertarian human freedom.

Ware’s book is structured through three main sections. The first one deals with a general summary of the central tenets of open theism. Ware presents a fair and commendably accurate presentation of open theism that seeks not to mislead audiences with false presuppositions. The author begins with the rise of open theism, identifying the roots of this belief in Arminianist theology and the most popular adherents such as Clark Pinnock and David Basinger. This section also describes how open theists differ and detract from classical Arminianism in that, unlike Arminianism, open theists do not believe in God’s omniscience and His ability to know or plan aspects of the future.

Section Two presents the open theists view further by delineating theological arguments supporting the open theist view of God and His providence. Formulation of open theist beliefs begin with the hermeneutics, in which open theists come to their conclusions by reading certain texts (such as Gen 22:12 and 1 Sam 16:7) at face value and in a straightforward manner. The author debunks this practice, stating that this method of Scripture reading does not take into account the other Bible books and passages that teach the greater and more glorious truth of God’s foreknowledge of and ability to guide the course of progressive history. The final Section presents issues that arise from an openness understanding of God and how that affects Christian practices such as prayer, guidance, and the complex issue of pain, evil, and suffering. Ware offers hope to the reader based on what Scripture teaches about God’s sovereignty. The author’s final aim is to affirm the glory and incomprehensible power of God and to equip the reader to not only trust in Him, but defend His eternal attributes against threats such as open theism.

The author presents his message very well in the ordering, structure, and exploration of the topic. As previously stated, he is fair in how he treats the doctrines and threats of open theism in that he does not misrepresent or hide key points of open theism that are challenging or may seem valid. Ware exhibits good discernment of the issues and problems raised by openness theology and sets forth the differences between open theism and traditional views of God. However, Ware ultimately sets out to accomplish his goal, which is to expose the major weaknesses of open theology.

The author engages heavily with open theist Greg Boyd in chapter 4 and 5, taking his rebuttal into consideration and examining his straightforward reading of passages such as Isaiah 5:1-7 for support of God’s ignorance of human decisions. Although such readings at face value make it seem that an openness view of God is correct, Boyd tackles such challenges of interpretation by examining the whole of Scripture to get a clue as to how to read open theology-chosen passages. The major strength of Boyd’s work comes in when he analyzes a great number of prophetic passages such Isaiah 45:1-9 (which speaks of the future coming of King Cyrus) and books such as Job to speak of God’s immeasurable wisdom and guidance of people’s future. Such passages show themselves to be irrefutable proof of God’s omniscience and foreknowledge, and they even show themselves to be so when read at face value! The final section of chapters 7 through 9 are immensely practical for Christians, because it is in these pages that Ware describes the dangerous effect that open theology can have on a Christian’s discipleship life and how readers are to react, which is the main reason why Ware should write a book refutting open theology. There is not only the knowledge, but the final application.

God’s Lesser Glory is a book I would highly recommend, especially to pastors and laypeople who may have encountered the effects of openness theology in their lives. There is a great temptation to dismiss the topic of open theology because it seems like a peripheral issue of debate among Christian denominations. Upon reading this book, one comes to an understanding there is much more at stake. Prayer life, confidence in God, reaction to unexpected pain and suffering, exaltation of man’s ability and lowering of God’s glory are all beliefs that can be significantly shaped by an identification or rejection of openness theology. This is why God’s Lesser Glory should be a book that is widely read, considered, and reflected upon in a Christian’s life.

 

Book Review: The Future of Justification by John Piper

November 13, 2013 8:46 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels

by Robert L. Thomas

Category: Biblical Studies

Kregel Publications, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Christian author and speaker STEVE CHA and his book Hollywood Mission: Possible, watch the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EgDR4i1_EI

 

Amongst the many soteriological themes to consider and defend, the question is: Just how important is the doctrine of justification? Is it a minor quibble, or is it a major doctrine that needs to be contended for? It seems significant to author John Piper, who devotes an entire book to the subject matter. The Future of Justification is most specifically a response to and a critique of scholar N.T. Wright’s take on justification. Wright’s view of justification, in Piper’s eyes, is a flawed and perhaps a heretical take on the issue. Because of the scope of Wright’s influence in the evangelical world, Piper takes the necessary step to openly challenge Wright’s interpretation of justification for the sake of biblical truth in modern Christendom. Justification is a topic that is worthy of faithful exposition and clarification, which is why Piper sets out to write about this important salvific truth. In The Future of Justification, Piper documents the errors in N.T. Wright’s view on justification and proposes an orthodox solution that is both timeless and true to the intent of the New Testament writers and what has been defined by the Reformers.

The book follows a fairly simple structure of identifying the topic of discussion (justification), the problems raised by an alternative view of justification (N.T. Wright), the true interpretation of the topic (by John Piper), and the implications on Christian living. It begins with Piper commenting on Wright’s so-called illuminating discovery concerning the nature of justification, and makes the important point that not all such discoveries are enlightening and true. In fact, this particular one is problematic and detrimental to the Christian faith. The author describes the core meaning of Wright’s interpretation of justification by describing Wright’s proposal that the righteousness Paul spoke of in the book of Romans really stands for “covenant faithfulness,” and not imputed righteousness as the evangelical world understands it. Piper describes in chapters 2 and 3 how Wright comes to this conclusion by subordinating the law-court analogy as merely a tool to affirm that a believer is in God’s covenant family, and not the means by which someone is declared righteous and fully qualified to have eternal life.

Piper also quotes Wright’s understanding of what the gospel message is: that it is not about an individualized faith of saving one’s soul from sin and hell, but rather about the coming of God’s kingdom and a submission to the Lordship of Christ. Wright’s reasoning, as Piper explores in Ch 9, is that Paul wrote his epistles with an understanding that Christian soteriology is really an extension of the salvific message apparent in Second Temple Judaism: that the Jews did not teach salvation by works or adherence to the Law, but rather that they believed in God’s grace through faith but acted in error when they tried to impose ethnocentric ideas (ex. Sabbath, circumcision, dietary laws) on the Gentiles as a means of salvation rather than faith in Christ as sufficient for salvation. The book ends with an appropriate discussion by Piper on the truth of imputed righteousness and why it is important to hold to this doctrine in contrast to the one proposed by N.T. Wright.

As a book critique on another scholar’s theology, Piper does a respectable job in writing out his response and upholding the orthodox belief about justification and defending the gospel as a whole. Although the book is a firm opposition to the theories proposed in the recent years by N.T. Wright (and perhaps others who have held to similar theories of the New Perspective on Paul), it is never condemning or slanderous, as Piper takes moments to defend unjust criticisms against N.T. Wright’s theology. A good example of this is in page 44, when Piper defends Wright from critics who accuse Wright of missing or minimizing the forensic dimension of justification. This gives some measure of academic integrity to the intent of the book, because the author does not set out unfairly or unjustly slander and attack the opposing camp (though their theology may be wrong), but to represent them as truthfully as possible so that their views, and Piper’s, can be more accurately assessed and taken into consideration, especially as it regards this important, soteriological topic.

One of the strengths of this book is how vividly Piper quotes Wright’s material and interacts with his views through sound exegesis of selected texts. Because the book revolves around the idea of solving the meaning of “righteousness,” it is Piper’s task to state what Wright’s understanding of the Greek term is (“covenant faithfulness”) and what that means. Piper’s extensive use of the Greek language and defining its meaning also proves to be helpful in the author making his case for the orthodox interpretation of this issue. Piper’s proposed definition of righteousness as “God’s unwavering commitment to the honor of His glory” establishes a foundation for what righteousness is, in contrast to how it merely acts as Wright believes. Piper is also reasonably thorough in his analysis of Wright and his theology, linking Wright’s justification theory to Wright’s understanding of the religion of Second Temple Judaism, which informs his understanding of the idea of a future justification of the saints based on their remaining in the covenant through faith and works. This proves to be a tremendously strong case for Piper’s conclusion that Wright’s view of justification is unbiblical, and even dangerously close to the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification discussed in Chapter 11. No matter how much Wright thinks his idea to be enlightening, innovation, or truthful, the fact is that it has no basis either in the Bible, amongst the early church fathers, or in the teachings of the Reformation, in which Piper hints that Wright’s view of justification is nearly identical to the process of sanctification and is essentially makes salvation a works-based system.

Though this book gives a good overview of the issue at hand and gives a clear-cut presentation of Wright’s understanding of justification, there are a couple of themes that could have been touched on. Chapters 2 and 5 discuss Wright’s understanding of the gospel as the narrative of Christ and the need to submit to Him as Lord, but they do not really give an explanation of what Wright thinks about the issue of Jesus as “Savior,” and what that means. How would this relate to his understand of salvation through grace by faith alone? How would this relate, in any way, to his theology of justification? Another issue that could have used further elaboration was Wright’s theory about how one stays within the covenant family after his inclusion into it by repentant faith. In other words, how much faith, works, or fruit does the believer need to bear in order to testify of the security of his inclusion in the covenant family? Is there any assurance of final salvation? How does this relate to other soteriological themes such as perseverance of the saints, apostasy, or salvation by works? These are some questions that Piper could have included (if such things were in his immediate knowledge) in the book so as to give us a better picture of whether or not N.T. Wright is a false teacher or not (if that was the intent of Piper to begin with), but it is a commendable thing that Piper extends the invitation for N.T. Wright to respond to difficult questions he has concerning Wright’s integrity as a scholar.

In conclusion, The Future of Justification is a noteworthy book that sets out to accomplish its goals and is a sound commentary on the nature of biblical justification. It takes an unorthodox idea, such as the one set forth by Wright, and demonstrates how it is unbiblical and why such theories need to be refuted. Piper does not see this issue as a secondary one, but a primary one since it deals with soteriology and the foundation of Christian theology that traces its roots back to the Reformation. I thoroughly recommend this book as a good introduction into topics such as the New Perspective on Paul and the importance of what justification by faith entails. The foundations of the Christian faith must always be contended for and preserved, which is why even defenses like these against professing Christian scholars are absolutely necessary so as to inform the evangelical public who need to exercise discernment.