Wm. Curtis Holtzen. The God Who Trusts: A Relational Theology of Divine Faith, Hope, and Love. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.
Wm. Curtis Holtzen teaches philosophy and theology at Hope International University.
To quote the back cover of the book (and, yes, I read the whole book): “The Bible resounds with affirmations of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God. But might God also exhibit faith and trust?”
Holtzen argues in the affirmative, making a biblical and a theological case. Throughout the Bible, God entrusts things to human beings, particularly things pertaining to stewardship, dominion, and mission. But Holtzen also seems to define faith as hope: God hopes that his loving overtures towards human beings will persuade them to love him back and to behave righteously, even though he is not sure that they will. The plethora of “perhaps” passages in Scripture, in which God states that “perhaps” something would happen, confirms Holtzen in this thesis. Holtzen also appeals to I Corinthians 13, in which love is said to believe and to hope all things. Since God is the embodiment of love, would that not mean that God believes and hopes? And Holtzen looks not only at the hope and faith of God transcendent, but also that of God incarnate: Jesus Christ, who, on earth, trusted his Father even amidst trials.
Although Holtzen is more of a philosopher and a theologian than a biblical exegete, and that is evident in the emphases of this book, it is his biblical case that undergirds his theological case. Holtzen essentially argues for open theism: that God does not know the future. This contrasts with the view that God absolutely and with certainty foreordains or foresees what people will do. After God in Genesis 22 tests Abraham and proclaims that “now I know” that Abraham fears God because he was willing to sacrifice his beloved son, Holtzen takes that literally: God, prior to Abraham passing the test, did not know that Abraham would prove faithful. For Holtzen, the hope that God expresses throughout Scripture makes sense when it is interpreted as real and as literal, rather than as accommodationist language about a static God who absolutely foreordains or knows everything that will happen. God’s love is a charade and a ruse if humans lack authentic free will, and if God has absolute knowledge about everything they will do.
The “charade” argument is a significant part of Holtzen’s presentation, but Holtzen occasionally engages arguments to the contrary. One argument to the contrary is that humans are depraved, so God has no illusions that they will do the right thing; that is why God has to take the initiative and regenerate them. Holtzen appears to acknowledge the importance of humans being born again, but he downplays human depravity. If humans were that depraved, he argues, then how would society hold together? His view may be that humans, even apart from regeneration, are able to respond to God’s loving overtures, on some level, but regeneration is needed to carry them further.
The gaping hole in this book is that, overall, Holtzen fails to engage adequately the biblical passages that run contrary to his position: passages about human depravity, divine foreknowledge, divine providence, and God causing people to do things. Indeed, Oltzen’s view that such concepts make God’s loving overtures and expressed hope a mere ruse is understandable. Still, Christians who embrace such concepts do so, not simply on the basis of the influence of Greek philosophy, but also because they believe they are taught in Scripture.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.