Contend Earnestly: Resurgence Conference Review

Monday, March 26, 2007

Resurgence Conference Review

This past weekend my Pastor, Justin and myself headed off to the Resurgence Conference at Mars Hill in our home city of Seattle. We were all very excited to go and yet wondering what we would encounter in a church that is so different from us and our conservative ecclesiology. The conference was called "Where the Hand of God and the Hands of Men Meet" and the guest speaker was Dr. Bruce Ware from Southern Seminary. The three different sessions were to discuss the Providence of God in Process, Open Theism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology. Since I had read Ware's book on Open Theism, I was excited to hear him speak on the topic and was excited that I was going to have the opportunity to ask him some questions on some of his conclusions on this "theology."

I used to attend Mars Hill back in the early 2000's before they bought and moved into their new warehouse, so I was excited to see their new building and see Driscoll's passion for a facility in the downtown area come to life. As we walked in to the building we were immediately welcomed by a young man in his, you got it, mid 20's. Which is what I was expecting since that is exactly the type of person Driscoll first desired (not saying this is bad) to see saved in our unchurched area up here in the great northwest. As we looked around the foyer there was little difference between this church and any other mainstream church in any city in America. As we moved into the sanctuary it was apparent that there was some difference here though. The warehouse is very "raw" in that it looks like a concert venue, which is exactly what Driscoll was aiming for. The video equipment and sound system is top of the line and in Driscoll's book I found out that the church was GIVEN this equipment by a major manufacturer and it was worth $500,000. Not only that but the one who designs Disney's sound came in and donated his time as well to design the sound and video for Mars Hill, amazing. (If you would like to learn a little more about Driscoll, Adrian Warnock has a great interview with him and also some good articles at the bottom of the interview)

As we sat down, we were welcomed and we started worship. I found it, as I did back in the early 2000's a little "showy" instead of worshipful but that is probably just cause I am not used to it. What I do not question is the love and spirit that Pastor Tim (their worship pastor) and the congregants have for our Lord. I could tell that I was in the middle of a crowd whose main concern was Jesus Christ and His name exalted.

The first night of the conference Dr. Ware started to speak on Process Theology and Open Theism. Dr. Ware hammered on this for about an hour and half and had some great points and refutations straight from Scripture. Let's just say that it became so ridiculous in our minds (the thought that Open Theism was orthodoxy) that people in the crowd started to laugh at some of the points being made by Dr. Ware when explaining Open Theism. One of the key points that Dr. Ware made against Open Theism was Isaiah 41:21-24 which explains that to prove one is a god, they must be able to tell us of all the past events and also pronounce what is to come. But because YHWH is the only God who can do this (Open Theism denies God can do this), all others are false. So, Isaiah states that if you believe in these false gods that cannot predict the future YOU are an abomination. This, Dr. Ware stated, was basically a definition of Open Theism and even said that he has told those whom he has debated that they must be careful because this is describing them.

Then came the Q & A. One gentleman got up and simply asked. Dr. Ware, as pastors should we warn our flock that Open Theism is heresy and that the teachers are wolves in sheep's clothing? I will tell you that I thought this was almost an absurd question. This seemed like a question that Dr. Ware would just say, "yes" and then turn to answer another question. He had led "this horse to the water." I was ready to drink, my mouth was dry and knew that Dr. Ware would satisfy my thirst of thinking this was heresy. Then Dr. Ware said, "no, I am not ready to call this heresy. There are too many similarities in our beliefs." I was floored. I had to refute this. I had to ask him how he could come to this conclusion. So, I stood and simply asked, "Dr. Ware I was surprised that you said this isn't a heresy. Did you not state that Isaiah 41 is a description of Open Theism?" He agreed. I then asked, when in the Bible does God ever call the elect an abomination?" Further I stated that Mormons also believe a lot of the same doctrines that we hold but it isn't our similarities that make us call them brothers, but it is our differences that make us call them heretics and a cult. He wasn't able to give me a satisfactory answer in my opinion and he did say that he felt like he was "waffling" because of him calling Open Theists brothers when calling the Mormons heretics. I did probably "outstay my welcome" at the mic and probably pushed too much, because I do respect Dr. Ware. But, the next day when I asked another question I did apologize if he felt he was disrespected. He said he was not, and so I continued to ask my question on double predestination.

The rest of the weekend went very well and I really enjoyed, not only Dr. Ware and his explanation of Arminian and Reformed view of providence, but also enjoyed the people of Mars Hill. I was expecting some more "heated" questions that were against the reformed position but most of the questions were sincere "clarity" questions by people just simply wanting to learn. Dr. Ware has some interesting views on compatible freedom and the atonement but both are going to cause me to make sure that I study more before coming to my conclusions.

I believed before this conference that Open Theism is heresy and, whether Dr. Ware likes it or not, he just solidified this thought. Open Theists believe in a false god that cannot ordain nor foreknow the future and Isaiah 41 tells us that those people who "chooses them are an abomination."

There will be free MP3 downloads and video from the conference coming in a couple of weeks and I will link there when they become available. I have the outlines from all three sessions, and if you would like to download the notes click below:

Session 1 - Process Theology/Open Theism

Session 2 - Arminianism

Session 3 - Reformed Theology

I respect Dr. Ware greatly and thank him for his studies in this area and pray that God would continue to use him. I also thank God for Mars Hill church and their love for the gospel and to see people's lives transformed by its power. I just read Driscoll's book on the biography of Mars Hill and you can check out that review here. May God transform all of us to loving Him more so we can love others more and show them the grace that God offers.

15 comments:

Kymanika said...

Thanks for taking the time to post this, Seth.

I have enjoyed Ware's work as well.

Any, any news from the GREAT Northwest is always welcome. :-)

Barry Dean said...

Wow. Thanks for the review and heads up. It is a shame that Dr. Ware was not as bold as to proclaim open theism as heresy. I am definitely interested in checking out the audio from the conference. Nice work Seth.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, I think the fact that Ware (of all people) does not condemn it as a heresy should make us think twice before throwing around the "h" word....but, I guess the term "heresy" is relative to the user, so you are free to use it as you please.

Just a thought, though. From my study of Open Theism it is evident that two things are true:
1 - God is able to accomplish future events because he is all-powerful and also much smarter than anyone else. Hence, in Isaiah 40-48 it is not God's knowledge of the future that is on display. Rather, it is God's power: God can do what he wants in the future because he has the power to do so. As a bib-studies guy I really don't have a problem with this interpretation.

2 - Open Theists do reserve for God the right to override free will and accomplish what he wants to accomplish. (Of course, they rarely actually exercise this privilege unless backed into a corner!)

All things said, I would urge an open ear to the Open folks. I think there is much to learn from them even if we do not agree with them. Again, I think Ware's hesitancy to use the h-word is probably due, in part, to this fact.

Jake said...

I wish I had the quote from Edwards at hand, but unfortunately the book that has it is at home. Basically, Edwards argued that God gives us light in order that we may hold ourselves accountable in our pursuit of him- not so that we may judge and condemn others. I'm also reminded of similar words from John Newton, which were recently posted at Justin Taylor's blog: "It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our day, when errors abound on all sides, and every truth of the Gospel is either directly denied, or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which at most are but of a secondary value."

Beyond that, I think we should be very reluctant to go where Ware himself would not. If he won't brand them heretics then I don't think we should be either.

Out of curiosity- have any of you actually read any of Pinnock, Sanders, or Boyd's work? You wouldn't want an Arminian Southern Baptist getting their definition of the Reformed faith from a fellow Arminian, why then is it fair for you to get your definition of open-theism from a non-open-theist?

Oi, I feel like I'm always arguing here. I hate that, but I hate that so often Christians stab each other in the back with inter-faith bickering when there's a world to be loved and redeemed.... If you wish to calmly discuss issues, awesome. I've spent great amounts of time discussing eschatology, baptism, missiology, and evangelism with some friends and it's been helpful for each of us. There's one friend in particular with whom I almost always disagree but we respect and appreciate each other's views and we don't engage in calling each other names even though I'm sure there are times where he may think I'm a heretic.

There's nothing to be gained in throwing around words like "heretic" and "false teachers." I'm guessing this will make some nervous, but this is why one of my heroes is Rob Bell and another one is John Newton. They both shun controversy while clearly teaching through controversial topics. I think it's beautiful b/c if you avoid controversial issues there isn't much left but if you teach your beliefs about controversial issues while avoiding the controversy surrounding them (IE preach on the doctrines of grace without railing against Arminian theology) you're able to preach biblically rich, exegetically solid sermons that promote greater passion and listening skills within the church.

Seth McBee said...

Jonathan and Jake...

thanks for stopping by and commenting, I always like discussing topics in a worthwhile manner, which I feel you both are trying to do as well.

I will tell you I am not one to just throw around the "h" word either, but I am also a leader in my church and feel as though I need to warn the sheep of the wolves and call out those that I feel worship another God. This is how I feel with the Open Theist.

Jake, Bruce Ware is very read and good friends with those you mentioned and didn't misrepresent them from what I know. Based on their writings and based on just Isaiah 41 they are very much worshipping a God who cannot tell the future, that is a false God.

This also flies right in the face of Christ's acknowledgement of who He was in John 13:19

“From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He."

This is a direct teaching of Christ on WHY He was God, because of his future predictions of events.

Open Theists take this away from our Messiah, saying this cannot be.

Again, read very clearly in Isaiah 41:24

...He who chooses you is an abomination

If they are saved, you have to define abomination for me...cause in the Hebrew it meant "unclean and wicked"

We, as the elect, are described as righteous and washed clean...not because of who we are but because of Christ.

Anyway...I hope you guys don't see this as a "rant" but I think that those that teach Open Theism, just as those that teach Mormonism, are an abomination.

I must warn the sheep.

Jonathan Erdman said...

To clarify the Open Theist position I might make two more points:

1 - Open Theists claim that God does not "look into" the future because the future is not knowable. This is a philosophical commitment of theirs. So, on their view it is not a weakness of God that God cannot see into the future because the future is not something that can be seen ahead of time. However....

2 - God can predict the future. He has access to the knowledge of people's hearts, and he can see various possibilities and different possible outcomes. He can see what is likely or highly likely or highly unlikely to happen and can generally tell what may or may not come about. Additionally, God has the power to make things happen as he sees fit. Hence the Isaiah 40-48 passages (according to an OT interpretation) show that God will bring certain things to pass because he has the power to do so.

In regards to the passage you cited on Jesus it seems to me that Christ was not making a highly specific prediction, but was simply making a general statement of things to come. I would think that an Open Theist would not have a problem with that. The passage of the prediction of Peter's three-fold denial, however, is something that I think is more problematic....On balance I think Open Theism works with Scripture, but it definitely seems to have some trouble spots. However, I think this is true of any theological system, Calvinism/Reformed thought not withstanding.

I'll have to have a look at that specific passage in Isaiah 41:24 sometime when I have a bit of time to reflect on it.


Blessings,
Jon

Jake said...

Thanks for responding Seth and further explaining your position. I have a better idea where you're coming from and I can certainly understand the desire to protect. Do you think there might be other ways to approach the issue though? I think it is a bit reductionist to make some of the statements you do about open theists. I feel like Jon already explained what an open-theist would likely say in response to your points. And in regards to Mormons- there's a very monolithic consensus amongst evangelicals toward the LDS movement. But I think the jury is still out on open-theism, I think it's a significant enough issue that I'd need to spend long hours in prayer before joining with an open-theist in ministry together, however I'm not ready to put Clark Pinnock or Gregory Boyd in the same camp as Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Thanks again for further clarifying, I appreciate your response :).

Seth McBee said...

I want to be careful here knowing that this kind of discussion can be taken as being "heated" when in reality it is not. So, Jon and Jake please be patient with me.

I really just don't understand how we can say that the God from the Bible doesn't know what is going to happen, but reacts to what humans do. In fact, our Arminian brothers would deny this as well.

Further, if we are to say that the God of the Bible, as Jon states, "He can see what is likely or highly likely or highly unlikely to happen"

Then God is extremely lucky with all of His guessing He did in all of Scriptures. I am not going to go into detail in all the prophecies, but we do know that a true prophet is said to be stoned if he makes one untrue prophecy. Why? Because true prophets come from an omniscient God, that knows all things passed, present and future, as Isaiah 41 tells us. As well as Isaiah 43.

Was God lucky that Jesus decided to go to the cross? Lucky that Jeremiah decided to be His prophet? No, He predetermined these things as is plainly stated in Scripture.

We could go on forever but I don't think that is the point...but I will ask both of you as I asked Dr. Ware...

How would you define abomination? And find me a time when those who are the elect and have repented are called this?

Again...please note that I do not mean anything besides discussion. So, please don't take this as anything besides sharpening each other...

May God bless

Jake said...

Thanks for the way you're writing as you process this, Seth, I appreciate the disclaimers added. It's one of the perils of blogging that you cannot detect tone, facial expressions, etc.

Anyway, I'm not attempting to defend open-theism, I disagree with it too. But I think the issue is more complex than, "they don't believe in God's sovereignty." (and I would say the same is true of our Arminian brothers- if open-theists are heretics, how do we avoid labeling Arminians the same way?)

All I'm arguing is that we need to table all the judgments and assumptions we have about people with a different theological view. From the perspective of an open-theist, they are not at all undermining God's sovereignty. It's not that there is something God doesn't know, because the future, from my understanding of open-theism, is a non-entity. So asking the question does god know the future is nonsensical to them, you may as well ask what does green smell like or what color is 4?

Again, not saying I agree, just that I'm reluctant to divide.

Seth McBee said...

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, and I am not here to defend Arminianism either, but Arminians do not deny that God foreknows ALL things, they apporove of this.

Openness completely denies this...they deny that the future is fixed. The closest they come is believing that "some" future events are fixed, but most are not. I have read, and now heard from Dr. Ware the exact same thing. By the way, Dr. Ware is "close" friends with Pinnock and Boyd, so I don't believe that he would misrepresent them in view of charity.

Plus much has been quoted of their work and much can be gleaned from those quotes. Again, Dr. Ware was explicit that what he was saying and wrote (as far as the beliefs of the open theist) the open theologian would not disagree on or refute. Again, as I have seen the major difference between Arminian and openness is that one believes in predetermination and foreknowledge and one denies it. Again, I don't agree with Arminian theology on their thoughts on those subjects and could argue that their theology doesn't make sense in them actually believing these things, but that is for another time. But, there is a vast difference between Arminians (who I believe are my brothers) and open theologians, which I believe in a false god.

thanks for the discussion Jake...and keep it coming...

Justin Evans said...

Having been to the conference to hear Dr. Ware and the research that he has done, I wholeheartedly agree with Seth on the evaluation that Open Theism is heresy.

I have also heard several expositional messages from some of the Professors at The Master's Seminary deal with the same subject. They would agree with Ware that it is not the God of the Scriptures (based on his comments, and the title of his book "Their God is too Small").

We can arm wrestle how to interact with specific men who profess such beliefs. But as a system, we cannot embrace its tenants without sacrificing the glory of YHWH.

Bob said...

Some things never seem to change. Even among those who profess to be Christians the depravity of man still seeps through. Many still cannot humble themselves to the soveriegnty of God.

Jake said...

I guess I have just a couple questions left: First, why do you think Ware wouldn't attack it as strongly as you do? Second, how will you avoid falling into the errors Newton warns of while attacking open-theism so strongly? I'm not saying it's wrong, but I do think Newton raises some good points in his writing and I'm curious at how you respond to what he's saying.

Seth McBee said...

Jake...great questions...

I will answer these in order:

1. I don't think Ware "attacks" them as strongly as I because Ware has some close friends that are Open Theists, namely Pinnock and Boyd. I think we all get blinded when we have close friends caught up in something this serious. Ware even admitted a lot of his counterparts that he respects DO call it heresy...but he wasn't ready to yet. I believe it is because of friendship.

2. From what I get from Newton's quote is that you are saying that Open Theism is a secondary issue...where I find this to be of prime importance and base my strong attacks on it because of God's proof of who He is throughout Isaiah 40-48 and also Christ's words in John 13 (both sited in previous comments). So to me this is not secondary but primary doctrine.

But, I don't want anyone to think that I feel as though I have "arrived" or that I am absolutely confident about all my doctrine. But in the absolute doctrine of God, I find no escape for Open Theism as heresy.

Bob said...

After further research on "Open Theism" and reading what the proponents Pinnock, Boyd, Sanders et. al. say their positions are, I come to the conclusion that this movement is not just heresy, but full blown apostasy. The apostate is perfectly described in 2 Tim 4:3-4. These people have invented a new god which is not of the Bible, and it's not by error or mistake as they indicate that they are fully aware of what they're doing. A thoughtful reading and study of "The Sovergeinty of God" A.W. Pink with all its Scriptural references should suffice to clear up any mis-understanding of who God is and his relation to man.

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