Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Uncontrolling Love of God

I recently finished Thomas Jay Oord’s lastest book The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Below, I will first summarize his work (hopefully fairly!) and then provide my personal response.

The world is out of control. That is, to put it bluntly, Thomas Jay Oord’s explanation for the problem of pain. And the world is this way because God is essentially love and love is essentially uncontrolling. By uncontrolling, though, Oord certainly does not mean that God is inactive. Rather, God is extremely active in a non-coercive way. Instead, God partners (but not as a strategy, partnering is simply inherent to God’s loving nature).

Evil is not to be understood as something God needs (in order to contrast or produce good). Evil is the result of both the randomness of nature and the bad choices of free agents. But Oord goes a step further than the classic free will defense to the problem of pain. Classic theology, he says, also must answer why God doesn’t prevent genuine evils from occurring (since, in classical theology, God certainly could prevent such things from happening). Oord’s theology states boldly that God doesn’t because God can’t. It would go against God’s very nature to unilaterally control.

Oord’s view creates (or at least clarifies) some novel ground in the middle of the debate on the nature of God’s providence. Much like the Christian debate on war and peace, some see God’s providence as very aggressively hands-on (overpowering creation) while others see God as an observer (a pacifist, perhaps). But Oord offers a 3rd way to understand God’s providence (parallel to the ‘peacemaker’ approach to the debate on violence). He says that God is essentially kenotic. His position stands between the view that God is voluntarily self-limited and the view that God sustains as an impersonal force.

This is an open and relational theology, but it goes further than most open theists have ventured. The specific point of tension is whether other open theists have taken seriously enough their claim that love comes first. If love really is the truest thing about God, then God couldn’t have made a decision on how controlling to be. God simply is uncontrolling. It’s who God is, not the product of God’s power to choose what kind of God to be. Evil isn’t caused by God, but neither is it allowed by God. Evil is just a reality of the kind of world that, of necessity, exists.

But lest one despair, Oord reminds his readers that God is an active agent in the world as well. God is always partnering (or trying to parter) with agents to bring about good. Most significantly, this happens at the level of humanity, but God even partners with objects on a molecular level. The bottom line is, for Oord, that God NEVER unilaterally controls anyone or anything. Even miracles are best explained as the products of partnership(s).

As an open theist, I knew that there would be areas of agreement between myself and Oord. But I also knew, based on previous interaction with his work, that this book would stretch my thinking. Oord’s goal seems to be to take a theology of love to its logical limits and he’s willing to push the boundaries even within a group already known for doing just that.

For me, the basic tension between this book and other works by open theists is the question of whether or not God chose self-limitation or is simply inherently limited by God’s loving nature. I do believe love comes first (God is love), but I don’t presently agree with Oord that this necessitates his conclusions regarding providence.

I actually wonder if Oord’s understanding of the trinity plays a bigger role in forming his conclusions than his emphasis on love. Though it is not a subject of the book, it seems to me that Oord’s rejection of the social trinity forces his hand, so to speak. Without inter-personal love amdist the members of the Trinity, Oord is forced to locate that love essentially into the nature of that (1-personed?) God. If love is not primarily the relationship that exists between Father, Son & Spirit, then love must be more like the force within (of) God’s self. Nature works out of necessity. Relationships works out of will. For Oord, God had to create, had to give freedom, had to be uncontrolling, etc. For most open theists and advocates of the social trinity model, God willed to create, willed to give freedom, willed to be uncontrolling.

At this point, I’m both out of my depth and dealing with very fine details of like-minded theologies. There was much I liked and much to chew on in Oord’s book. I consider the strength of the book to be his willingness to make love the true center of his theology and to push the boundaries of our thinking (which surely brings fair and unfair criticism his way). From my perspective, the weakness of the book stems from Oord’s rejection of the social trinity and skepticism of the demonic realm (which receives very little attention in a book mostly having to do with the reasons evil exists in this world). In any case, I highly recommend the book and would like to thank Thomas Jay Oord for writing it and for always being willing to interact via social networking. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

5 Questions for Oord

Just some not so random questions I'd like to ask Thomas Jay Oord now that I've finished reading "The Uncontrolling Love of God"...

On page 162, you say "God necessarily loves, but God freely chooses how to love in each emerging moment." My question is, if God necessarily loves, isn't God also obligated to love in a particular way each emerging moment? Is God REALLY free to choose HOW to love?

In your section on the variations of love (165-166), I didn't see much room given to the idea of God's disciplinary love. How do concepts such as divine discipline and wrath fit into your thinking (personally, I think of divine wrath as God simply accepting our relational withdraw, which we then suffer the consequences of)?

Greg Boyd attributes a lot of the non-cooperation (evil) with God in the world to the demonic realm... but your book barely mentions the demonic at all. Do you think Boyd is wrong in his emphasis?

You talk about how God's existence as Spirit is, in some sense, limiting (no 'body' with which to physically act). But besides the incarnation, we also seem to have examples of theophanies in Scripture. Do you reject Old Testament theophanies?

I felt your final chapter (on miracles) was leading toward a guilt-inducing conclusion (if miracles don't happen, it's because we aren't cooperating correctly with God), but then you concluded that your view was antagonistic toward this sort of guilt (pg. 213). Overall, I felt the final chapter was the only chapter that didn't clearly communicate your position (I'm still fuzzy). Do you plan to write more on miracles in the future?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friendship Evaluation Test

1. What is my favorite number?
A. 7
B. 13
C. 27
D. 94
*if the numbers are within 10, you get 20 points
if the numbers are within 25, you get 10 points
if the numbers are within 50, you get 5 points
Carrie Meg 7
Cassie 94 (20 points)
Carl & Joe 13

2.  What is the best season of the year?
A. Winter
B. Spring
C. Summer
D. Fall
*If the seasons are the same, you get 20 points
If the seasons are opposite, you get 10 points
If the seasons are next to each other, you get 5 points
Carrie Carl Cassie Joe Meg Fall (20 points each)

3. Do you want to be friends with me?
A. Yes (20 points)
B. No (5 points)
C. Maybe (10 points)
Meg, Carl, Cassie, Carrie (20 points)
Joe (10 points) 

4. Would you invite me to a terrible party in the woods?
A. Yes, definitely, But I know you'd say no (10 points)
B. Yes, and I think you'd say yes (5 points)
C. No, because I'm a jerk like Joe
D. No, because I wouldn't throw a party in the woods (20 points)
A Carrie, Megan Joe
D Carl, Cassie

5. In exactly 20 years, I see us being
A. Basically strangers
B. Closer friends than we are today (10 points)
C. At the same level of friendship (5 points)
D. Taking another Friendship Test (20 points)
D Carrie
C Meg
A Joe Carl
B Cassie

60% Carl
45% Joe
65% Carrie
90% Cassie

75% Meghan

Friday, June 10, 2016

A List of Evangelical Voting Intentions

Here is a collection of voting intentions I've come across from Evangelical sources in advance of the 2016 Presidential vote.

In no particular order...

I'll vote for Hillary Clinton because...
1. Her platform matches my Christian beliefs
2. She's the lesser of 2 evils (vs. Trump)
3. She's a woman and it's time for a woman

I'll vote for Donald Trump because...
4. He's the lesser of 2 evils (vs. Clinton)
5. He's an outsider and it's time for an outsider
6. His platform is what's best for this country
7. He'll appoint more conservative judges
8. He seems to have a divine momentum

I'll vote for a 3rd Party candidate because...
9. Their platform matches best with my beliefs
10. The other candidates are just unacceptable
11. It'll send a message to the 2-party system

I'll NOT be voting at all because...
12. I just don't care that much
13. I already have a President (Jesus)
14. My vote simply won't make a difference
15. There just isn't anyone worth voting for

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

February Resolution Report

*This year I decided to make 2 resolutions each month

Resolution 1

25 Push-ups or Sit-ups each night. Originally it was going to be just sit-ups, but I took Jeff Cody's advice and alternated. I have to confess that I didn't do any on the weekends (except for the 1st weekend). As for results, even though it was just a small amount of exercise, I did feel like it accomplished something (especially the sit-ups). It was a bit embarrassing that less than a minute of exercise could tire me out a bit (but maybe that was partly b/c I did them right before bed). All in all, glad I did this one.

Resolution 2
Girls in bed by 9:30 each night. We've generally had the girls on our schedule. It was very common for us all to head upstairs b/w 11 and midnight. Again, I will confess that there were some nights that I didn't make the 9:30 cutoff, but I think we did really well. Katie also had me add a "NO TV" after 9:30 for them (they have a TV in their room). This worked remarkably well. Without TV, they fell asleep WAY faster in their beds. They did complain. They kept claiming it wasn't working. But then they kept falling asleep faster and waking up happier. This resolution led to more bed-time reading as well. Definitely a keeper. In fact, if anything, I'd be open to moving the time to 8:30 or 9!