DOES GOD KNOW FUTURE?
God is omniscient. To God all things in the past, present and future are at all times fully known. God knows everything that ever was, everything that now is and everything that is to be; all that is actual and all that is possible. Therefore God knows in advance all the free acts of all free creatures.
Â— John Alexis Edgren, "Fundamentals of Faith" Chicago, BGC Press, 1948
God's ability to know every detail of the future has been a 2,000-year-old view held by church leaders in virtually every segment of the Christian faith: Catholic and Protestant.
But a new wave of teaching, which claims that God does not know in advance the free choices and actions of moral creatures, is being debated heavily among evangelical scholars and pastors today, a professor from Louisville, Ky., said in La Grande this week.
Bruce Ware, a professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former resident of the Northwest, has been on the forefront of the debate, refuting the view known as "open theism."
Ware, who gave four lectures on the providence of God at First Baptist Church this past weekend, said he became concerned about open theism when he read the 1995 book, "The Openness of God," written by Clark Pinnock, a former professor at McMaster Divinity School in Toronto, and others.
"When I read this book I was deeply grieved," said Ware, a Spokane native who received degrees from Whitworth College in Spokane and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland.
Ware said he is concerned about what open theism does to a person's understanding of God.
"It diminishes God by portraying Him as one who makes His plans on the run. This is a God who acknowledges He cannot give perfect advice. He may view His own actions as mistakes," Ware said.
Open theism, he charged, amounts to a "humanizing of God."
The topic has been debated for the past several years at annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, which is made up of scholars from seminaries, Bible colleges and churches.
The issue took the spotlight at a society meeting in November 2001, when John Sanders, a professor at Huntington College in Indiana, and other supporters of open theism read papers at a plenary session. Ware also read his paper, refuting the open theism view of God before approximately 1,500 members.
The following summer, Ware's paper was published in the "Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society." Sanders and Pinnock along with Greg Boyd, who had supported open theism as a professor at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minn., wrote responses to Ware's article in the journal.
In 2000, Ware, whose sister is Bonnie Pickens, wife of La Grande First Baptist Pastor Wayne Pickens, published, "God's Lesser Glory." This was the first book-length critique of open theism.
Ware said this coming November's meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society could be critical in the open theism debate.
Ware said Roger Nicole, a charter member of ETS, has brought charges against Pinnock and Sanders, alleging that the theologians have violated one of the society's main tenets Â— the inerrancy of Scripture, a belief that the Bible is true in all its teachings.
He said the society's executive committee will examine the charges to see if they should be brought before the full membership. Expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders from the organization could lead others who support open theism to resign.
If the matter comes to a vote, Ware said he will assist in making the case refuting the open theism view of God.
"I think a case can be made that is compelling," he said. "If it comes down to a vote, and they (the membership) vote to keep them, this could be viewed as a complete endorsement of the open view.
"For our generation, this is clearly one of the biggest doctrinal issues that we have faced. It is even bigger than the charismatic" discussion, he said.
A few years ago evangelicals debated whether the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, that were practiced in the First Century church, should be part of Christian experience today.
Ware, who earned a master's in philosophy from the University of Washington and a doctorate from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said adherents of open theism are attracted to the view because they feel "only if the future is open are people really free. And only if the future is open, can people have a real, responsive relationship with God.
"They also think it gives them a better answer to the problem of suffering," Ware said.
But open theism, the theology professor said, is a departure from the classic position held through the centuries that views God as knowing everything Â— past, present and future.
"The church has uniformly held that Scripture teaches God's exhaustive, definite foreknowledge," he said.
Â— Story by Dave Stave