A Counterpoint Challenge
By Dr. Michael Glenn Maness
I felt Bush erred in his two letters to the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), and I challenged him and sent copies to the ETS Executive Committee. In the direct context of the public ETS controversy on Open Theism, Bush was on the forefront. His eleven-page letter had only a few paragraphs on Open Theism itself and so helped perpetuate the myth that Open Theism believed in the absolute openness of the future. That myth had caused much confusion (as seen in so many writers). Bush conceded that,
You are correct that my statements may not have clearly acknowledged that Pinnock does not affirm absolute openness. Your point is well taken. I also affirm a living God who is interacting with us in time.
Compare what Bush actually said in his letter, using definitive language, where he said Open Theists “do not believe that God can speak inerrantly about the actual future because the future is truly and fully open.” To me and nevertheless, that was significant and an honorable step forward—real progress. After that, I had determined some closure.
We were able to dialogue, but the e-mails seemed strangely overcooked. I was a Southern Baptist, and I deftly stepped back with a degree of caution when he alleged that I was making God after a human image. How did I do that? After our dialogue had ran its course, and in the interim, Bush then asked me not to publish our dialogue, as though it would have been fine to publish if his invectives had had adhesion. He called my attention to his new book, The Advancement, and how in that book he had now gone on record acknowledging that Open Theism did not believe in the absolute openness of the future. That was more progress, or so it seemed. I ordered a copy.
I had decided not to publish our dialogue, but since I had taken a good amount of time to address concerns at the heart of the ETS Open Theism controversy, and since Bush had chosen not to remove his two ETS letters (or correct them), I chose to leave our dialogue on-line at my web site until perhaps the controversy ended.
If Bush could be mistaken and even chose to continue to perpetuate that myth (even after admitting his aberance), then how many others? Bush and others of his caliber influence how the controversy unfolds. The genuineness of our relationship with God is something that truly demands better attention. At least Bush and I had had this time together, and I learned from it and was thankful for it. See Bush’s Letters,
First letter to ETS members from his post at Southeastern, March 23, 2003
Second letter to ETS President Howard for web site posting, May 12, 2003
Bush knew of the ferocious and acrimonious attacks on Open Theism, and his two letters to the ETS membership were the longest letters of any previous president responding. Bush’s own ETS letters forwarded careful articulations that meant to exclude Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. Bush based that exclusion upon only a scintilla of biblical implication and upon a reference to a belief that neither Pinnock nor Sanders held (about 5 paragraphs), and Bush knew they did not hold that view at the time of his letters (as his book was in the printer’s office at the time of his letters). What manner of confusion is this? And the reputation and influence of good people were on the line.
Bush has been the president of both the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the larger Evangelical Theological Society. In addition to those circles, doubtlessly, Bush had assuredly perused some of the literature and was aware of the acrimony exemplified in Piper’s and Wilson’s heresy, Nicole’s cancer, Wilson’s Thor or God who can be killed or new strain of liberalism, Joost Nixon’s open idolatry, Highfield’s “greatest possible evil,” and even Timothy George’s more sophisticated “seminiscient.”
When I received my copy of The Advancement, I was shocked to see that Bush had taken us to a new level when he asked about Open Theism, “How can one find meaning in a world where even God does not always know what is true or right or best?”; that’s a valid question, and that is another misrepresentation of Open Theism, as Open Theism does not truly say that God does not know what is true or right (obviously referring to how Open Theism takes the repentance passages seriously); then he went lower and referred to Open Theism as accomplishing the above “by taking a position in some ways similar to the garden serpent of Genesis 3. The serpent [Satan] said God was wrong in that he lied.” This was a new level of acrimony against Open Theism, especially since Bush did not document the proof or rationale behind his allegation that Open Theism believes that God lies. It was that precise thing that Millard Erickson had warned us against doing.
There was no call for relating Open Theism as the veritable spawn of Satan. Bush’s allusion was placed with zero academic support or rationale. That was shocking enough, and shocking twice over that Bush gave more academic space to evolution in his refutation (as though many Christians were really duped more by evolution than Open Theism). Bear in mind that Bush’s book was a defense against the Advancement that in so many words had duped Advancement theologians into moving away from the true God. Would that Bush could have addressed that more forthrightly. Bush did not even use the garden serpent or any invective at all to refer to evolution. One wonders as to the purpose of such a satanic reference to Open Theism and to those that Bush himself said trusted the Bible. How can atheistic evolution be less satanic than those who trust the Bible? That was confusing.
Truly, we need to address and even correct the spawn of Satan when we see it. It would have been nice to have had that clarified—biblically, theologically, and philosophically. That was the greatest weakness of Bush’s book. Just how the Advancement theologians followed the serpent’s perspective would have been a good book to read.
I understood then why Bush did not want me to publish my dialogue with him.
Furthermore, Bush’s entire book was an essay on how he believed that we had moved from the post-modern world into what he dubbed the Advancement. In a fashion, Bush offered the term Advancement to describe our age as a term comparable to the Enlightenment or the Modern Age, meaning for the Advancement to be considered as a successor of sorts to the worn out term, Postmodernism. Yet he offered that term without much reference or distinction from the other more common designations throughout history as with the Axial Age, the Dark Ages, the Reformation, the Industrial Age, the Atomic Age, and the Information Age. Even Billy Graham’s “Age of Quest” is more clear in his first chapter on why we are so empty in a world searching for answers, even for answers in scientific advancements, even similar to Bush’s own thesis. Bush’s subtitle was not flushed out, in that “Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age” implicated an Evolutionary Age, and had Bush stuck with that term it would have made for easier reading (rather than his use of Advancement).
Bush’s The Advancement was a tough little book to ride out, and one would have expected so much more clarity from an academic vice president of a prestigious and world-class Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bush’s credentials were sterling. Bush essentially philosophized that the modern age had degraded in its technological advances (and Advancement sciences) into a kind of post-Christian era. I began to think that he was wanting to say Post-Christian Age several times. What was sadly lacking was the model from which he felt we had departed, as though it was intuitively understood. Just when was there a truly Christian majority? Or best of all, a truly Christian majority truly living the Christian life? Or just when was there ever a time in which we saw the true church? Is the Southern Baptist Convention the only true church (in 1845?, pre-1978?, or now?)? I am a Southern Baptist, and yet I resented that logical implication. Though Bush certainly articulated a large number of points, if he did not mean the SBC as the example (then or now) from which the Advancement had taken us, then his entire book gets even more complicated to understand. According to his book’s format, one truly needs a clearer reference point for the Advancement Age to depart from; without that reference point being cleared up, the flow of the book is so very cloudy, even philosophically obtuse.
Bush intimated that a great departure began in the free-Love of the 1960’s which, with other spotted references, could have led the reader to assume that the ideal was a post-WWII Christian majority. Surely we are not talking about I Love Lucy, Roy Rogers, Leave It to Beaver, and the Lone Ranger audience. That’s over simplistic, to be sure, but many times Bush was implicit in his preferences for an older or more pure time: he just did not make that reference point or time period or religious body or church or denomination clear enough to identify (that is, if he did not mean the SBC).
Bush took a powerful and positive word—Advancement—and complicated it by adding vague philosophical attendants and complicated it further with a somewhat pejorative meaning loosely tied to the naturalistic bent of some of science’s progress. Did he mean Evolutionary Age after all? Evolutionary science (and other appellations) would have made for more clear reading than his strained and unclear imposition of Advancement sciences that carried no clearer distinction. Inevitable progress was not sufficient enough to burden the reader. Some science progress was good, he noted, and some of the results were bad—yeah—but the difference between what was good and bad was too muddled to see clearly. And just how can one decide when a burgeoning development will bode bad or good? Or more importantly—who should decide the course of the Advancement sciences? That was a little scary, as it implied a kind of a need to check the advancement of the Advancement sciences.
Doubtlessly, we have some problems, and Bush outlined several. But it was very hard to see just what the age of Advancement was supposed to encompass, most especially as Bush led us along a trail that indicated that the Advancement sciences had led us away from God. From a theological perspective—given Bush’s documented and near simultaneous passion against Open Theism—there were subtle overtones that led one to think Bush was trying to attach Open Theism to the Advancement so as to dodge biblical apologetics. Side-by-side with Bush’s pejorative overtones against the Advancement’s move away from the true God, Bush seemed to argue rather forcefully that such a movement away from God was not a real advancement at all. That made his thesis on the Advancement age of the 21st century that much harder to follow.
A central tenant of advancement thinking … is the idea of inevitable progress. Progress, however, does not characterize every technological or historical advance. The twentieth century saw the greatest advance in scientific knowledge ever known by mankind, together with an unparalleled rise of existential despair. Existentialists themselves often attributed the rise of their viewpoint to the rapid growth of technology and the accompanying depersonalization of modern life.
One cannot ignore the implications of the rise of modern art and rock music. Loss of meaning, random abstraction, dissonance, and pagan eroticism are not signs of advancement even upon advancement assumptions. It signifies rather the loss of order, a return to randomness, the destabilization of life, a degeneration from the past. Do advancement theories adequately explain this widespread phenomenon?
Many of the technological advances are ethically neutral in themselves, even “marvelous advances” in medical treatments. Yet how can evolutionary medical science continue to advance along side with their loss of valuing human life in allowing abortion? Bush was vague on how that was an inconsistency. He rightly assumed most Christians would generally be against abortion, certainly most all of his own readers, yet the vague inconsistency was with respect to the true advancing of medical science. Who on the planet does not want medical science to advance and progress and continue to find solutions to diseases? That kind of advance is not an easy thing to side-step with generalized deprecations. Bush relegates this shifting advance to have some origins in the 1960’s away from something nebulous (like maybe creation science advancement maybe—I don’t know) to today’s evolutionary science advancement as a turn to a higher degree of selfishness and other kinds of existential observations.
Bush was hard to follow: not because he was philosophizing with Kantian or Kierkegaardian abstraction and finesse, but because he jumped from one cliff to the next and asked us to follow on faith. Sometimes the jumps were in one paragraph.
Near the end, Bush gave two sections on the “End of Historical Advancement” and the “End of the New Beginning.” In the latter, Bush intimated that Advancement thinking had mutated into theologians who applied Advancement thinking to Scripture; he further intimated that a lack of spiritual unity (1 Cor. 12:14-26) was a direct result; then he had the audacity say that “Today Love is a key word for the secular world.” We know that Bush was aware that Open Theism made Love the supreme attribute of God. So in that context and in the larger context of the Advancement itself (his own book and the philosophical/theological territory of the book), does not Love itself and the Love of God play a greater role in stemming the juggernaut of this new Advancement age? Is not Love more than a mere secular value? I should think so. In accord with the sub-title of his book, “Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age,” surely Love, God’s Love, and how we Love are keys to keeping the faith. But that was not the case in Bush’s book.
Was not Bush’s book a call to get back to the basics, even philosophical basics?
Bush directed us away from secular and theological Advancement thinking, but did not truly clarify just what that was other than a moral drift away from God. Clearly, he implied that we jettison modern theology which was tied to naturalism and process theology and return to a biblical base. But what was the modern theology we were supposed to jettison? What was Advancement theology? One would have expected a cleaner and clearer line of reasoning for the scope intended in this book.
In the light of Clark Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover alone, Bush did not do justice to those he himself said trusted the Bible. Bush’s work was not even good sleight-of-hand. I had so much respect for Bush because of his Baptists and the Bible. Bush’s The Advancement (109 pages of text) did not compare to any similar number of pages in Pinnock’s work. Moreover, Bush’s theme ended up becoming a snake that coiled back upon the author. The normal Christian soldier could not follow most of his esoteric meanings or take up his purpose of defining the 21st century as the sad dawning the Advancement Age, much less find much clear guidance and a coherent corrective.
Worse still, Bush did in fact reference Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover, and Bush did write two extended letters to ETS members with careful concern to thwart a perceived heresy. He carried on dialogue with this fellow Southern Baptist and ETS member who questioned, and he even conceded. In the light of his two influential letters as late as March and May of 2003 and in the light of his book that came off of the press in 2003, what are we to believe? In his letters, Bush led the readers astray on a core value to Open Theism, and then in his book Bush granted to Open Theism the very value he denied in his letters. That was destructive of good theological development.
That was bad enough. I was then shocked and felt betrayed by the low level of argument and inconsistent development of a categorical theme—the Advancement—meant to characterize an entire age and even sub-plant the well-worn term Postmodernism. This was no theological or philosophical advancement. But worse still, how in the world Bush had the audacity to characterize Open Theism as the veritable spawn of Satan’s deceit—my God in heaven! … that was a new guttural low.
Classical Theists need to stop that.
What actually happened was that his occasional obtuse manner and his scattered categorical references—side-by-side with his scattered (and true) observations of science’s sometime hostility to God—caused his Advancement to become more of an impediment to theological clarification of whatever age we are in. For L. Russ Bush, his book turned on him and took a huge bite out of his purpose—kind of like a snake—for Bush used Advancement thinking to say that the common Christian soldier really could not discern what was good and bad scientific advancement, nor discern the corruption of the biblical God by naughty Advancement theologians (even Satan’s emissaries who forward a lying God). Bush offered up a term that confused his agenda, for the true God can hardly be discerned without the help of learned theological elites leading the way.
Bush’s conclusion: God exists, the world exists, and Jesus is Lord. True enough. But no Christian has disputed that for 2,000 years. Bush’s indications of truancies from those over the decades was one thing, as rightfully truant as they were. But Bush discerned a new threat in Advancement theologians who have been beguiled by Advancement-New Age-perpetual progress/process theologies. These devils and serpents had the gall to say that God lies. Who were these people who say that God lies?
More importantly, just what lies were these New Age or these Advancement theologians attributing to God? One thing was for sure, “Even our Preachers no longer seem to know for sure what a biblical passage actually teaches.” That became the evidential overtone throughout. So much for 1 John and trusting God to be sometimes the teacher of His own children. We really do not have much about trusting God in this entire book, to say nothing of the genuineness of our relationship with God championed by Pinnock in his Most Moved Mover—clearly one of the theologians to whom Bush makes a satanic reference.
I ask you again! Please, from his book—who are these people who say that God lies? He says the Open Theists are the ones who have been following Satan’s example. He should have given some clear and unambiguous examples. That would have been a book to read, heed, and even lead us into a formidable defense. That Bush did not specify his satanic allusions was degrading, but very much in line with the low-level humming of many others throughout appendices, especially 1 and 6. So disheartening.
I hope every Christian in the country reads Bush’s little book—at least try to read it. The obtuseness will say more than the substance for the common Christian soldier. Outside of a very vague reference to Jesus as Lord, I did not see Jesus or Jesus being Lord in the entire book. You see, even though I know with confident sincerity that Bush knows and Loves the God of the Bible, it sure did look like Advancement thinking had overtaken him in his own book. What was conspicuously missing was the heart of Christianity—the genuine loving relationship that a Christian can have the God of the universe. He claimed it in couple of statements, but there was no understanding of how the God he referenced related to us inside his book as he attempted to checkmate the emissaries of Satan.
Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover shines like a new car and is as refreshing as a convertible on the open highway. Whatever Open Theism truly means or shall come to mean, there is much in Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover that is clear and cogent throughout. There is no comparable difference between Pinnock’s clarity and Bush’s The Advancement struggle. Bush dropped the gauntlet with his satanic reference, yet any ten pages in Pinnock stands over Bush and begs Bush to answer—I say begs Bush to answer—for Bush is the academic vice president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the past president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and the past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. I ask this as a fellow Southern Baptist who was schooled in two SBC schools. That Bush would dare indicate that stuff like Pinnock’s book was the spawn of Satan—my God! … have mercy, and tell us plainly what it is satanic and who said it!
Bush should come clean with what Love means. That Love had nothing to do with keeping faith in an evolutionary age slapped the SBC—especially nothing to do at the philosophical level. We should submit to Christ as Lord and do what He said, do what He prioritized for us, do what He said and exemplified for us: the greatest command is to Love God and Love others, and the greatest example of Love was to lay down one’s life for a friend. Acknowledgement of Christ’s lordship means nothing without Love.
Bush’s The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age would have been something to read if he had showed us the faith that we were supposed to keep. Pinnock forwarded a genuine loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ that—in many ways—has been undermined by obtuse theologians who have made extended arguments about how only the elite can understand God and about how the common Christian soldier needs the elite to help them along. Pinnock forwarded a simple reading of the Bible, and Bush said—again—that “Even our Preachers no longer seem to know for sure what a biblical passage actually teaches.” Excuse me?
Is Clark Pinnock one of the evil Advancement theologians and the spawn of Satan for encouraging us to take the simple readings of the Bible as truth? That is what Pinnock did! And that is what Bush hid or failed to see or purposed not to address. Does Pinnock (along with most new Christians and the Christian soldier) become satanic liars when they read that God is like the father of prodigal who stands at the gate with a longing for the lost child to come home? Are those who take the basic reading of Bible serious, seriously the veritable the spawn of Satan? It does not get more twisted than that, and Bush should have known better than to think no one challenge him on that.
Remember Bush’s sub-title? Hey! … I cannot think of a better way of keeping the faith in an evolutionary age than in a simple return to a New Testament era where we truly try to come to God as children and glean truth from simple Bible readings. Can you?
Bush complicated the living faith of the Bible and slighted good people, evening misrepresenting them. The battle for God should not proceed in the manner of Bush’s tactics in his letters or in his book. The Christian faith is not obtuse, the majority of its preachers are not ignorant, and the Bible can be read with great confidence and profit.
Here is an outline of our dialogue, including the original Counterpoint Challenge to Bush’s two letters that I sent (along with the Hezekiah letter and George’s Counterpoint Challenge) to several theologians. Note that I sent this for a response and for preparation for this book, and I reaffirmed that in my immediate response to him in D.2 (that I had planned to include my dialogue with him in this book). I our dialogue below, I freely admitted to some misconceptions myself. I wish I had had space to include it all here, but several cuts had to be made to make room for more important material.
My challenge to Bush’s first letter and our extended dialogue is placed on line here:
See Bush’s first letter, March 23, 2003, to ETS members from his post as Vice President of Academic Affairs at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary:
See Bush’s second letter, May 12, 2003, to ETS President Howard for web site posting:
Here is the outline of the orginal counterpoint challenge.
C. Counterpoint Challenge to L. Russ Bush’s Letters
1. Future Not Absolutely Open in Open Theism
2. L. Russ Bush—a Titanic Champion
3. Pinnock and Sanders Do Not Believe in an Absolutely Open Future
4. Bush’s Rhetorical Set Up
5. Bush on Open Theism & His Trail to Error
6. Exhaustive Foreknowledge the Real Issue & Hezekiah’s 2nd Chance
7. Destroying the Faulty Myth of “Absolute Openness” in Open Theism
8. Highest Element of Biblical Integrity
D. Openness of God in Open Theism & Counterpoint
1. Bush’s Response to Maness September 2003
2. My Immediate Response September 2003 with Attachments
E. Bush-Maness Dialogue Continued
1. Bush: Does Maness Transform God into a Person?
2. Maness: Do Relationships with God Have Substance?
F. Bush-Maness Last Dialogue … Thanks
1. Maness Follow-up Query 10-06-03
2. Bush: Open Theism Not a True View of God
3. Maness: Wish We Could Have Been Shown Error
~ TOP ~
 Q.v., appendix 5, C.1, Bush Response.
 See the letter here dated 12 May 2003 to President Howard and the ETS membership in the section for such letters by previous ETS presidents (Bush was president in 1994): http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/presidents/1994-Bush.pdf.
 Bush, The Advancement (Broadman & Holman, 2003).
 Piper’s compilation Beyond the Bounds and Wilson’s compilation Bound Only Once.
 Most familiar with the ETS materials and brouhaha originating from Nicole’s materials are aware that Nicole has used cancer to refer to Open Theism. He may have finally abrogated his position after his recent meetings with Pinnock and the ETS executive committee on Pinnock’s books, Most Moved Mover. Nevertheless, that has been the recent history, and that history still carries forth with some needlessly negative reverberations.
 David Wilson, Bound Only Once: 23, in his lead article.
 Joost Nixon in David Wilson’s Bound Only Once.
 Ron Highfield, Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience, Inerrancy, and Open Theism: An Evaluation,” JETS 45:2 (June 2002): 299.
 Timothy George, “What God Knows,” First Things (June/July 2003): 7-9. George’s term does not really reflect Open Theism’s understanding, but can reflect George’s own view of Open Theism: George believes in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, and so from George any view that denies God that knowledge could be seen as seminiscient.
 L Russ Bush, The Advancement: 63.
 Millard Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?: 256. Erickson encouraged us not to question the “motives of the parties involved” … and said “It is not helpful for traditionalists to suggest that open theists are being insincere or for open theists to suggest that the issue is control.”
 Billy Graham, How to Be Born Again (Waco: Word Books, 1977): 27.
 L Russ Bush, The Advancement (Broadman & Holman, 2003): 5, he warned us that “Traditions are set aside; cultural toots are forgotten and ignored. In more ways than one, this is a new age, but the ‘new’ is really ‘old.’ Nevertheless, the obvious technological progress must be recognized.
“The challenge to divine authority is growing, and yet among Christians, a spirit of renewal is also growing. It is as if the wheat and the tares are nearing that anticipated final ripening stage, and a divine harvest is near. Intellectual leaders who guide the Christian community through these final days before the harvest must be able to discern the dangers of intellectual compromise….
“We Christians living through the era of the Advancement no longer have the luxury of a majority consensus in Western society. We can no longer rely upon civil authority to defend us or to protect our religious rights.”
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: ix, “Where did this new approach to life come from, and why did things change so drastically from one generation (pre-1950) to the next (post-1975).”
 And footnoted several powerful sources.
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: 87-88.
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: 88.
 Yes—the titles themselves makes one wonder, don’t they?
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: 94, making a sweeping even categorical statement that stands alone in the context and begs the reader: “Modern theology has only diversity within the consensus of relative and changing critical opinion.”
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: 94, which was fine in itself, but that was all he had to say about Love in his entire book.
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: 98-100, Bush closed with a small section outlining “Three Fundamental Truths”: God exists, the world exists, and Jesus is Lord.
 His book had to have been in the printer’s offices by March or May of 2003.
 Most of Open Theism’s greatest champions believe some of the future is absolutely settled. That irrevocably separates it from Process Theism and much mush.
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: ix.
 Even Boyd or Sanders for that matter. Hasker’s philosophic finesse shines too.
 L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: ix.
 See Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism (NY: Ballantine Books, 2001, 442p.) for a scholarly presentation of the struggle, though hardly as evangelical, still packs in the insights and documents with force and clarity.
 Appendices 3 & 4.