Putting God at Risk: A Critique Of John Sanders’s View Of Providence -- By: A. B. Caneday
TrinJ 20:2 (Fall 1999) p. 131
Putting God at Risk:
A Critique Of John Sanders’s View Of Providence
A. B. Caneday is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Northwestern College, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
I. Making It Safe To View God As A Risk Taker
John Sanders gained recognition in this decade by association with other “evangelical” philosophers who dispute the “traditional” view of God and argue for the “openness” of God to the future. Sanders contributed to The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.1 Alone, he has published two sizeable books that explore an “open” view of God in two crucial areas. In his first book, Sanders contends that God “takes risks and leaves himself open to being despised, rejected, and crucified” as he works toward the salvation of every person, making “salvation universally accessible even though not all hear about Jesus” (No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992] 112, 216). In The God Who Risks (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), he attempts to “develop a constructive proposal for a risk-taking God” in relation to the massive subject of God’s providence “to carry out his project” (pp. 280, 282). He insists, “God has sovereignly decided not to control everything that happens,” because “there is no eternal blueprint by which all things happen exactly as God desires” (p. 280).
Sanders has an emotional aversion to what he calls a “no-risk” view of God. He recounts, from his youthful days, his brother’s tragic death:
I went to my room and prayed, “God, why did you kill my brother?” As I look back on that prayer, I am fascinated that I asked God such a question. I was a nominal Methodist at the time, and I did not believe that God caused everything that happened. Perhaps I had picked up from the broader culture the belief that God was the cause behind all tragedies (“acts of God,” as insurance
TrinJ 20:2 (Fall 1999) p. 132
companies call them). In years to come many a Christian attempted to provide me with “good” reasons why God would have ordained my brother’s death. Those discussions served to spur my reflection on divine providence for over twenty years. (p. 9)
Sanders has forged his view of God in the crucible of his deep personal pain. He describes a similar experience about fifteen years after his brother’s death, when he was struck by a pastor’s words beside the grave of an infant girl, “God must have had a good reason for taking her home” (p. 10). Sanders explains, “Of course ‘taking...
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