Bruce Ware is a guy that I really didn’t know too well before the end of last year, but is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. His passion for teaching come out in this and other books that I have and it’s kind of infectious. I’ll start out by saying this is a deep book. It may only be 256 pages, but the complexity of Dr. Ware’s arguments will have you pondering for days after you set the book down.
In its briefest summary, this book is about God’s providence and how God relates to us. Dr. Ware has been a critical opponent of open theism, which is essentially the belief that you have so much free will, God does not know what decision you will choose next. Therefore, God does not have complete foreknowledge and time functions literally in the moment as you make a decision. This book contains some critique of this understanding and relates on how to rightly interpret the providence of God.
Before I go any further, we must flesh out some of the basic understandings of God’s providence with terms that some theologians have postulated in order to come to the conclusions that Dr. Ware postulates. There are two basic ideas about free will: libertarianism and compatibilism. Libertarianism is the idea that man has complete free will over every decision he makes, in the vein of Arminian theology. Compatibilism states that you do what you are most inclined to do. As an illustration, if a gun man comes up to you on the street and tells you to give him all of your money, you would be forced to make a decision that you don’t really want to make. On the contrary, if your wife came up to you on the same street and asked for some money to finish her Christmas shopping, you would want to give her the money. In this way, compatibilism is the idea that you do what you are most inclined to do: for the unregenerate sinner, this means you are most inclined to sin. For the Christian, you are most inclined by the glory of God. Mollinism is the belief that, like string theory, they are an infinite number of decisions you could make, yet God does not know which you will make. Dr. Ware then suggests that compatibilism and Mollinism could be combined to form “Compatibilist Middle Knowledge” (Mollinism is middle knowledge). This means that there are an infinite number of decisions you could make (and God knows them all) and yet you will make the decision that you are most inclined to make. This does two things: it preserves man’s free will in the sense that he is making the decision, and yet it also preserves the sovereignty of God because he knows which decision you are most inclined to make. An interesting thought.
Dr. Ware moves from God’s providence in human affairs to providence in nature. The argument here is complex: we want to say that God is immutable, but this is only true in what Dr. Ware calls “ontological immutability”. This means that from eternity, God remains unchanged. However, it is not right for us to say that God is immutable ever since the creation of the world. For example, Christians were under God’s wrath in pre-salvation (Romans 1:18) but now we have the peace of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Dr. Ware calls this relational or ethical mutability. Another example could be the city of Nineveh, where God said He was going to destroy them and yet, the Prophet Jonah took the message of salvation to them and He spared them. Dr. Ware states that God is omnitemporal as he enters into the affairs of humanity and yet His essential attributes are unchangeable. This may be radical to those who hold to the blanket statement, “God is immutable” but I agree with Dr. Ware that a distinction must be made. This also is a polemic against open theists, even though it may not be stated the implications, if true, hold that the open theists’ views on how God changed His mind are faulty.
The last section is on how this plays out in our lives and what benefit that knowing this holds for Christians. It’s all very interesting. I really enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it for maybe some of you scholars out there. Thanks to Pastor Mark for this !