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.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade underscores the need for the Christian church to shine light in a culture of death, writers in the latest issue of Southern Seminary Magazine conclude.
The magazine tackles such life-and-death issues as abortion, euthanasia and cloning in view of the Jan. 22 anniversary of the controversial 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states.
A publication of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the magazine includes feature articles by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the seminary; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and William Cutrer, a Southern Seminary professor who is also a practicing medical doctor.
Sadly, abortion has become an accepted part of the American culture, Mohler writes.
“The nation’s conscience is no longer seared by the scandal of abortion, and abortion on demand has become a routine part of everyday life,” he writes. “... Thirty years later, can we rebuild and recover? The signs are not hopeful. Three decades of post-Roe v. Wade experience reveal a downward spiral from abortion to euthanasia, from embryo research to human cloning, from assisted suicide to advocated infanticide.”
The church, he asserts, must promote a pro-life message.
“The believing church is now perhaps the last outpost of moral sanity in the culture of death,” Mohler writes. “If recovery is to come, it must arise in a new generation who sees through the moral insanity and possesses the courage to reverse course before all moral knowledge is lost. Let us pray that God will give us that generation -- before it is too late.”
“Christians, in particular, have an obligation to confront these critical moral and ethical issues with a scriptural response,” he writes. “These are hard questions, but God’s Word gives the simple but indisputable answer: Human life from conception onward should be protected, not endangered.”
Land tells the story of how, as a high school student, he was confronted with the realities of abortion in biology class. A classmate brought in a 12-week-old fetus, displayed in formaldehyde. Land protested to an administrator and it was eventually removed.
“The little baby was so undeniably human that I was deeply disturbed to see him displayed in such a casual, callous, disrespectful way,” Land writes.
Cutrer, professor of Christian ministry and a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist, serves as medical director of a pro-life crisis pregnancy center in Louisville. He notes that while the unborn child is an obvious victim of abortion, others also suffer, including the mother.
He describes “post abortion syndrome” (PAS), which affects women with symptoms of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and even suicide.
“For those like me who have invested our lives as caregivers into the broken realities of these women and their partners, we see PAS as a dangerous, sometimes subtle and confusing collection of problems,” he writes. “PAS may remain repressed with women in denial for years or even decades as they cope with apparent ease. Then, for perhaps 20 percent or more of abortion survivors, various symptoms appear.”
The church, Cutrer argues, should reach out to such women.
“[T]here is hope in Christ,” he writes. “These women, and the men who have fathered their children, can benefit from sound spiritual counsel. The pain is profound but forgiveness is real. Their understanding of ‘self’ -- often expressed in phrases such as ‘I killed my baby’ or ‘I am a murderer’ -- can be rebuilt by the power of the Holy Spirit. Healing comes in community. Thus, the church, while speaking boldly and clearly against abortion, should become a safe place for those who have chosen abortion.”
Land says he sees “shimmering rays of hope” for pro-lifers.
“Today’s pro-life movement is without precedent in American history,” he writes. “Never before has a grassroots movement grown to such proportions without the sponsorship and support of any of society’s elites. We have succeeded in making abortion a frowned-upon procedure by most Americans, even if they are not yet prepared to make it illegal in most cases.”
The church, Mohler asserts, must not remain neutral in sanctity of life debates.
“We must let light shine in darkness,” he writes. “This means, in part, that the church must be a culture of life, in the midst of the culture of death and the death of the culture. The church must contend for life -- life in the biblical sense -- at every level. This means contending for life in the womb and in the nursing home, in the hospital ward and on the streets. Everywhere, we must be those who stand for the culture and sanctity of life, for we know that the culture of life can never be predicated upon the authority of man, but only on the authority of God.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Seventy-three-year-old Charles Williams is the embodiment of the famous “never surrender” speech which Winston Churchill delivered during the darkest hours of World War II.
Williams’ commitment to those well-known words bore fruit yet again in December. The Monticello, Fla., native graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, receiving a doctor of ministry (D.Min.) degree in church consultation. He now holds seven degrees alongside more than 40 years of experience in ministry.
“I adopted Churchill’s advice a long time ago,” said Williams, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict. “And that is to never give up. I think the secret to success is not necessarily intelligence but perseverance.”
Williams’ story is one of perseverance and accomplishment. In his seven-plus decades of life, Williams has served as pastor for eight churches in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, attended six different colleges, receiving degrees from five of them, and held seven different positions within Christian education.
The veteran minister now holds the honor of being the oldest person to receive a degree through Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.
“When I first asked [an official] at the Graham School if I was too old to enroll in the program, their reply was the only way that my enrollment would be a problem is if I were too young and inexperienced,” Williams said. “So I went into the program with 40-plus years experience.”
Williams’ list of degrees reads like the synopsis of an academic catalog. It includes bachelor, master of theology and doctor of theology degrees from Luther Rice Seminary, a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern College, a master of arts degree from Pepperdine University and a doctor of education degree from Nova Southeastern University.
Williams began his educational pilgrimage in 1961 and by 1978 had earned six degrees. His decision to add a seventh from Southern Seminary came as a result of a new direction in ministry.
After serving as a pastor and Christian educator for many years, Williams is now putting his vast pool of knowledge to use for local churches, offering consulting services for congregations that are in decline both spiritually and numerically.
Williams is presently working with eight small rural churches that are in decline. He does not charge small churches for his counsel. He recently bought a motor home that he and his wife use to travel for consultation visits to these small churches.
“Since I have this motor home we are able to park at the church, so the churches do not have to pay for a place for us to stay,” he said. “Many of these areas are somewhat remote and don’t have hotels or motels.”
Williams and his wife, Georgia, have two children, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
At the outset of his ministry, Williams’ only goal was to spend the remainder of his life as pastor of a rural church. But while attending Luther Rice Seminary, then located in Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1960s and pastoring a church there, Williams realized God had also called him to work in Christian education.
In the years since, he has served as a teacher, dean and executive vice president for Luther Rice. In 1981 he organized the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies in Jacksonville, of which he remains president. The school offers theological education for ministers who desire to remain in the fulltime pastorate.
Williams hopes his decision to work for an additional degree later in life will serve as encouragement and inspiration for fellow ministers.
“If I can use this to encourage and inspire others, that will be great,” he said.
Thom Rainer, dean of Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School, said Williams’ vast knowledge will be of great use to local churches.
“Charles has vast experience in the local church,” Rainer said. “He is the first to complete the consultation emphasis in the doctor of ministry in evangelism and church growth. He will be able to apply his experience and training to help churches all over America.
“I am impressed with his work and tenacity. I really think he can be an invaluable asset to many churches.”
Williams does not have any plans for retirement. Genealogy says he may have many years left in ministry, with Williams noting that his mother is 93 and still strong and healthy.
“I feel that I have 15 to 20 years of active ministry left in me,” he said. “I am starting my third career within ministry now and don’t plan to retire anytime soon.”