Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action" by Denis Edwards (Pt. 1 - Preface)





I noticed this new and exciting book by Denis Edwards a few months ago on Amazon and found it to be very intriguing. After reading Philip Clayton's "Adventures in the Spirit", I have been very interested in the theology of divine action. I also recently finished LeRon Shults' "Christology and Science" and am in the middle of reading Keith Ward's "The Big Questions in Science and Religion", both of which address this same issue of divine action. This is a very complex discussion that stretches my intellect and imagination, but I recognize that it is absolutely vital for the development of a robust Christian theology. For those of us who find eschatology and even the "bodily" resurrection of Jesus at the center of our theological imaginations, developing a better theology of divine action in dialogue with late modern science and philosophy is deeply important to the overall impact of our faith.

I will be blogging through this book as I can over the coming weeks, starting today with Edwards' Preface to the book. First of all, Edwards is a Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology in the School of Theology of Flinders University in Australia (http://www.flinders.edu.au/ehlt/theology/staff/denis-edwards.cfm). Edwards' is apparently very influenced by Karl Rahner's idea of creation as divine self-bestowal, and he uses Rahner frequently throughout the book. He also credits Ted Peters and Robert John Russell at GTU in Berkeley for helping him develop many of the ideas in this book.

The struggle for a Christian theology of divine action is in dealing with special divine acts - the incarnation, resurrection, miracles, and God's answering of prayer. Can we think about these ideas in a way that doesn't put forth a God who micromanages and aggravates the problem of evil? Edwards believes that we can at least do better than we have done in the past, and he is setting out to develop a theology of divine action that is deeply relational and also noninterventionist. In fact, he thinks that it is due to our limited perspective of scientific knowledge, and impoverished concepts of God that makes us interpret special divine acts as "interventionist." At the same time, Edwards issues a strong caution against believing that we can ever develop a satisfactory theodicy, or that even his integrated model of divine action will remove or explain "the intractable theological problem of suffering, [although] it may remove something that exacerbates the problem." Edwards later issues a similar caution: "The title of this book could be a little misleading. It will become evident to readers that there is a sense in which I believe we cannot say how God acts. We cannot describe the inner nature of divine action any more than we can know or describe the divine nature." Still, Edwards believes that we can do better in our articulation of these special divine acts.

Edwards sets up three requirements for a theology of divine action that properly responds to the costs of evolution: 1) It must be "noninterventionist that sees God working in a through the world, rather than as arbitrarily intervening to send suffering to some and not others." 2) God's act of creating the universe needs to be understood in light of the resurrection and eschatological hope 3) It understands God as "actively waiting upon finite creaturely processes, living with the constraints of these processes, accompanying each creature in love, rejoicing in every emergence, suffering with every suffering creature, and promising to bring all to healing and fullness of life."

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.