Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: "The Nature of Love" by Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord has written a theological gem with this one. Having read about this book on his blog, I picked it up and read it within a few days of receiving it in the mail. First of all, the writing is accessible and clear, and Oord never wanders far from his main thesis that a robust theology of love must be at the center of the Christian faith. In fact, Oord could easily have written a longer book on this topic, but instead packed his ideas into a concise 157 pages. What emerges is, first of all, a holistic definition of love (see the product description). After making a convincing case to return love to the center of Christian theology on biblical and philosophical grounds, Oord defines love around "agape", "eros", and "philia" and offers an excellent critique of Augustinian love theology. He then moves into a chapter length discussion of Open Theism, offering a brief history, overview, and critiques/modifications in light of difficult questions of theodicy. The final chapter is where he puts everything in place for his version of open/relational theology. Calling it "essential kenosis" (a kind of panentheism), it occupies a middle ground between Clark Pinnock's version of Open Theism and Process Theology. He maintains that essential kenosis is not only more philosophically satisfying for questions of love and theodicy than usual forms of process theology, but also more biblical than Pinnock's Open Theism. In what will surely be one of the most discussed sections of this book, Oord holds to a traditional orthodox (bodily/physical) view of the resurrection of Jesus, but explains its occurrence as participation between non-coercive divine resurrecting activity and the creaturely and divine aspect of the person of Jesus. Oord argues that even dead bodies retain a measure of agency and responsiveness to stimuli, and that it is thus conceivable to maintain that God never coerces, while also believing in a bodily resurrection of Jesus. He argues in similar ways for actual miracles and eschatology. His view of eschatology will certainly spark debate, as he asserts that belief in a non-coercive God requires us to hold to a participatory eschatology. This is a logical step in his theology of essential kenosis, because if God never coerces but always requires creaturely participation, a guaranteed final victory at the end is out of the question. In other words, Oord believes that the end does not justify the means. We cannot be absolutely certain of a final glorious outcome, but instead must put our hope in "the steadfast, kenotic, and noncoercive love of God." Overall, this is a fantastic contribution to contemporary Christian theology. Highly recommended.

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