God’s Greater Glory

 The Exalted God Of Scripture And The Christian Faith

Ware, Bruce A. God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004. 254 pp. $17.99.

In a day when the works of many theologians are polluted with a self-preserving hermeneutic and misinterpretation of God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures, resulting in an aim to preserve human autonomy over God’s, Bruce Ware’s God’s Greater Glory is a breath of fresh evangelical air. Through dealing with several weighty matters concerning the nature of God and his human creatures, Ware presents his readers with a thorough and well-organized explanation of God’s governing providence and its relationship to responsible personal creatures.

Summary

His book could be classified in two ways. On the one hand, it is a study of what the Scriptures have to say concerning the nature of God’s providence and human responsibility. One could call it a biblical study. Many of the pages in Ware’s book are devoted to systematically unfolding the truth within these particular texts. On the other hand, some of his observations from the Scriptures are woven together with philosophical thought, to aid in making his biblical conclusions coherent. Thus, in places, it could also be considered a philosophical study. Treating the Scriptures with care, and exercising sound philosophical thought are both behind Ware’s search into the depths of God’s sovereignty, the nature of man’s responsibility, and how the two relate for the humble joy of man, to the awesome glory of God.

Ware begins his book by asking thought-provoking questions which are raised from a biblical understanding of divine providence. To help answer those questions, he then provides his reader with ten brief affirmations which summarize what is to be unpacked in his following arguments organized in two main units.

At the beginning of unit one, Ware addresses the danger of what he calls duality reductionism; the idea that “one conception of God should be given the normative status,” while all other theological emphases fall subject to that conception (36). Found in both traditional and contemporary circles, this kind of thinking needs to be avoided so that particular distortions in our view of God do not occur, especially with regard to divine transcendence and divine immanence. Accepting that the whole of God’s revelation interprets the whole of who he is, both outside of creation and involved with creation, will keep evangelicals from portraying God as so high that his care is but an “allusion,” and so low that his majesty is diminished (44). God is eternally existent, self sufficient, and superior to creation (i.e., his transcendence), while he is also intimately involved in covenant relationship with his people (i.e., his immanence).

Maintaining this balance, Ware sets forth three fundamentals concerning God’s providence and its relation to mankind. First to be observed is God’s rule over creation. As the creator and ruler of all things, God, in his “exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty” (67), governs, plans, and determines all persons, actions, and events. Such a view of God’s sovereignty immediately raises the question of human freedom. Ware rejects the idea that humans have libertarian freedom; that is, freedom of indifference, or freedom to always do otherwise. Rather, he upholds a compatibilist freedom; that is, “freedom of inclination” (79), or freedom to always do what one most wants to do. On biblical and philosophical grounds, he proves that this latter view of freedom is what is compatible with divine sovereignty in God’s carrying out of his saving purposes.

Second, Ware observes God’s providence in his rule through creation, or his dealings “through the created order” (98), which means his absolute control over both good and evil. Affirming that everything proceeding from God is wholly good, and that in him there is no evil-though he exercises complete control over evil that exists in a fallen creation-Ware teaches that God’s relation to all the good in the world is quite different from his relation to all that is bad. It is “asymmetrical” (98). Since God is wholly good, goodness in the world is “directly caused” by God (103). That is, it flows forth directly from God. On the other hand, since evil does not flow forth from his character, then it must be so that it occurs in accordance with his “indirect-permissive divine agency” (106). In this way, “God retains full control over evil while not actively, directly causing it to occur” (107). In order to maintain a real distinction between these two affirmations, Ware gleans from Luis de Molina’s argument for God’s middle knowledge. This is his knowledge of what free creatures (i.e., in the sense of libertarian freedom) would potentially do in all possible circumstances. This knowledge is between God’s natural knowledge (i.e., knowledge independent of God’s will), and his free knowledge (i.e., knowledge that is dependent on God’s will). With Molina, Ware affirms that God has middle knowledge; however, contrary to Molina he rejects libertarian human freedom, something Molina sought to preserve (112-13). Instead Ware combines Molina’s theory with a compatibilist view of freedom, and from this explains how God remains meticulously sovereign over all evil and yet how the occurrence of evil does not come from the character of God, but the desires of man to will what they want according to the circumstances provided them. In this way, the reader is helped in comprehending how “God’s indirect-permissive agency in regard to evil can be exacting and meticulous in its regulation while preserving God’s holiness” (130).

In the third fundamental observation within unit one, Ware looks at God’s rule with creation. Here he is directly concerned with how God is relationally involved with his creation. In relation to space and time Ware is critical of classical theism’s tendency to emphasize God’s eternity to the degree that his timefulness is diminished. So he affirms that God is both “transcendent in his eternal non-spatial and atemporal existence” and “immanent in his omnipresent and omnitemporal inhabiting of everything created” (137). Ware is also cautious of accepting the classical argument for divine immutability (i.e., God does not change in any respect), without first considering texts that demonstrate God does change in some sense. With classical theism, he affirms God’s ontological immutability (i.e., God’s being does not change) and his ethical immutability (i.e., God’s words and promises never fail). However, against their “strict sense…of God’s immutability,” he affirms that God is relationally mutable (142). That is, God’s disposition towards his creatures genuinely changes. For example, when a sinner repents and trusts Christ, God’s disposition of wrath becomes only disposition of grace. This also leads Ware to show that though the created order has no affect on God’s glorious nature in itself, it does affect that aspect which he himself has ordained to be affected by the creation (148-9). God actually feels real emotion towards his creatures and the meaningful decisions they make. There is a genuine divine-human relationship. This relationship is by no means one that makes God needful of human beings and their companionship; but one that God, in his self-sufficiency, provides all that we need in order to genuinely relate to his glorious self.   

The second unit of the book moves from the reality of God’s governing providence to its outworking in the lives of God’s people. Ware does this by addressing three practical ways the Christian is to live: behind God, before God, and under God. To live behind God is to live veiled to some of the purposes of God in evil and suffering (163). Though in some circumstances one may not understand why evil occurs, God does, because he ordained it to be so, and is fulfilling his purposes in and through such suffering for his own glory and the believer’s good. Living before God is to do so in prayer. This means that in intimate fellowship with the Holy One, one expresses (and becomes more aware of) his absolute dependence on God in his infinite worth. Prayer is to be seen as God’s means of carrying forth his will through his people in ministering grace to others and in sanctifying those who are his. Living under God is primarily concerned with “God’s generosity…in calling and permitting us to serve him” (196) in the strength that he supplies. That is, what he commands one to do in obedience to himself, he also graciously supplies for one to carry out those commands with great joy. Together, these three practical out-workings of God’s providence give hope for the suffering, build trust in his people, and empower service for the kingdom, all to his own glory.

After applying the truth of God’s providence to the lives of the saints, Ware brings his main arguments to a close with humble doxology and words of exhortation. The task set before the reader is to narrow the distance from majesty (211), in order that he might find his delight in the glory of God’s providential governing of all things.

Critical Evaluation

Ware provides some challenges to the field of study. He has presented a great challenge to the modern process and open theists, rejecting their diminished view of God’s sovereignty at every level. In fact, in his additional appendix, Ware exposes the falsehoods within open theism, and concludes that the self-preserving theology of open theism is outside the bounds of God-exalting evangelicalism. Traditional theists will also find themselves challenged by several things in this work. Most would agree with Ware on many aspects of divine providence-e.g. meticulous sovereignty, immutability, non-spatiality, atemporality, complete other-ness. However, on issues like God’s relational immutability, omnitemporality, and immanence, they might find Ware emphasizing more of a paradox than they would like. For example, in relation to God and time and space, he concludes, “…at creation God became both omnipresent and omnitemporal while remaining, in himself and apart from creation, fully nonspatial and timelessly eternal” (136). Traditional theists have normally argued that God’s omnipresence is not spatially extended, but is transcending space. Ware affirms that both are so. In remaining faithful to his observation that both traditional and modern theism lean towards a kind of duality reductionism, Ware lays forth healthy challenges for both sides with such paradoxical affirmations.

On a more narrow analysis of the field of study, one will find that Ware presents his readers with a softer view of God’s determination of evil than other Reformed theologians. Most of these theologians would find themselves agreeing with Ware in chapter three, where he affirms God’s sovereign control over all things, even all which is evil. However, some would part ways with him in his fourth chapter. In his attempt to explain how God ordains evil though he be wholly good, Ware not only (a) uses language of permission, but from it affirms that (b) God uses middle knowledge-though it be a kind of Calvinist middle knowledge. Concerning (a), Ware writes that “…God specifically permits only those instances of evil to occur that he judges, by his infinite wisdom and in light of his ultimate purposes, will advance and not hinder his designed ends for the world” (108, emphasis mine). This sentence makes it seem as if the evil that does occur is something apart from God’s designed ends. Rather than saying that God decrees the evil for his ultimate purposes, Ware argues that God permits it only if it will advance his ultimate purposes. He is able to argue in this manner because he also holds that (b) God uses middle knowledge (119, 125). Since God uses his middle knowledge “to assist in the formation of [his] decree” (119), he is only giving occasion for evil to occur rather than causing it to occur. John Calvin, however, thinks differently on the issue of divine permission. Speaking of the insanity of Ahab in First Kings 22:20-22, Calvin writes,

If the blinding and insanity of Ahab be God’s judgment, the figment of bare permission vanishes: because it would be ridiculous for the Judge only to permit what he wills to be done, and not also to decree it and to command its execution by his ministers.[1]

It is clear that Calvin has no problem with saying that God commands Ahab’s insanity to be so. With regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, Calvin also comments, “…if to harden denotes bare permission, the very prompting to obstinacy will not properly exist in Pharaoh. Indeed, how weak and foolish would it be to interpret this as if Pharaoh only suffered himself to be hardened!”[2] Again, concerning the war with Satan and the wicked in Ephesians 6, he writes that “…God arms both the devil and all the wicked for the conflict…”[3] Thus, according to Calvin, God does not merely permit evil, but by his decree, commands it to do his bidding through his creatures; whereas Ware is saying that God, in his knowledge of all potential evil that would occur, given various potential occasions of it through God’s creatures, only permits it to be so. Calvin’s view of God’s relation to evil seems to be more biblical, while Ware’s is more philosophical. Calvin stops with the language of scripture, but Ware tries to give answers beyond what the Scriptures provide. Instead of presenting his readers with the theory of middle knowledge, to rescue God from being the author of evil, he should have left out chapter four and said with the apostle Paul, “One of you will say to me, ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Rom 9:19-20). The answer to God’s relation to evil should rest solely on his sovereignty.

Conclusion

Although there are a few places where it seems that he has stepped away from the language of the bible to use philosophical theory to uphold his conclusions, Dr. Ware has provided evangelical Christianity with an important read. Everyone who desires to be a pastor-theologian ought to read this book. With its contents, the church will be well informed of God’s providential rule, and better equipped to live under and with such awesome majesty. It is not enough for Ware to merely analyze the transcendent majesty of God and his relationship to mankind (though his work is exceptional). For Ware, one is to experience its unfathomable riches. This is evident in the doxology that pours out of his heart and permeates his sentences. After reading his book, I am not immediately driven to pick up another, but to worship God.


[1]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.18.1, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20-21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 230.[2]Calvin, Institutes, 1.18.2.

[3]Calvin, Institutes, 1.17.8.

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