Archive for the ‘Open Theism’ Category

Roger Olson recently posted a writing at Patheos under the title of “Why I am not a Process Theologian.”[1] However, if he would change his title like, “Why I talk with process theology, although I am not a process theologian,” it would elicit much productive discussion. In his writing, after summarizing ten “essentials of process theology,” Olson criticized in ten views that process theology is not Christian theology. First, Whitehead’s organic metaphysics is more important and valuable than divine revelation. Second, process theology’s Christology is adoptionistic. Third, Trinity is very weak. Fourth, it denies miracles. Fifth, it depends too much on modernity. Sixth, there is no real meaning of petitionary prayer. Seventh, it has “no realistic eschatology.” Eighth, God necessarily depends on the world, not voluntarily. Ninth, salvation is “actualization of God’s ‘initial aim.’” Tenth, it is too difficult to underand.

With regard to theodicy, Olson argued, process theology’s solution, that because God is not omnipotent and human beings have free will, God is not responsible for evil, cannot explain real evil. This kind of God is “enough to be admirable but not worshipful.” Olson suggested not metaphysically limited God but Moltmann’s self-limiting God and recommended Greg Boyd as an open theist.

Philip Clayton responed to Olson’s writing.[2] Instead of criticizing Olson’s description of process theology, Clayton pointed out his dualistic position or “in and out” attitude, “Christian or process.” As Clayton described, there are two types of process theology, i.e., “pure” (orthodox) versions and “impure” (neo-orthodox) verions. Among Olson’s list, Clatyon would accept some positions, because he is “impure” process theologian. Inter alia, self-limiting God is Clayton’s main topic. Olson needs to know multilayered verisons of process theology. He would need an umbrella of relational theology as a “continuum” between open theism and process theology. ‘Drawing a line in the sand’ to keep one’s own position, as Clayton maintained, blocks dialogue.

Rather Clayton actively suggests that “[D]raw on every resource you can find that helps show how Jesus’ message is relevant to today’s world. If a philosophy or theology helps you to live authentically as a Jesus follower, explore it. Let no authority figure tell you what may or may not count as a redemptive analogy.” Following Peter Heltzel’s prophetic spirit, Clayton suggests that “let’s do theology in the city streets… like jazz improvisation,” having open-ended communicative attitude. In both conservative and progressive, to draw lines in order to have pure position could make them lonely islands which cannot communicate each other. If so, what would it be good? We need open-ended dialogue.

To paraphrase an expression of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream,” open theism’s destiny is tied up with process theology’s destiny, so that they must “work together.” This is why I hope he changes the title as “Why I talk with process theology, although I am not a process theologian.” If so, we may joyfully join in his discussion.


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Thomas Oord argues that the theo-logic of love for Open theism is more important than God’s relation to the world or God’s dependence on the world, God’s openness to the future, and genuine freedom of creatures. The God’s omniscience which means the settled future and God’s omnipotence which controls everything and makes God the author of evil contradict love of God. However, Open theism, honest speaking, also cannot completely answer why a loving God does not prevent genuine evils. With regard to the problem of evil, whereas Open theism respects the process thought of God’s persuasion, it thinks that process thought makes God overly limited by creation and is contradictory with “biblical accounts, the resurrection of Jesus, and eschatology.”
With regard to the origination of Universe, holds Oord, “God is the original and ongoing creator.” Here Oord endorses Nancey Murphy and George Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe. Oord supports creaturely freedom and indeterminacy; rejects kenosis that they and Polkinghorne accept; creatio ex nihilo (instead accept alternative creation doctrine of Griffin and Keller); and concludes divine self-limitation (essential kenosis) which solves the problem of evil and affirms God’s persuasive creative activity at the beginning.
Through a universe finely-tuned theory Murphy and Ellis hold the “hot big bang theory of the origin of the universe.” Although scientists explain the origin of the universe through “the anthropic principle” whch states that since life “required very specific laws and conditions in the beginning of the univers,” if there had been slight changes in these laws and conditions, there would be no life. However, Murphy and Ellis are aware that since the antrhropic principel alone cannot answer the ultimate origin of the universe, it needs “a general theory of design” and fine-tuning theory. Furthermore, it needs “noncoercive, self-renouncing love,” namely, kenosis, that “God and at least some creatures are capable of loving self-giving,” suggesting that “the kenotic ethic reflects the moral character of God, and divine kenosis is the basis for creaturely kenosis.” God’s kenotic plan is already in the structures of universe itself, so that they claim that “while the fine-tuning does not logically require the assumption of a designer,” “the existence of a God provides a suitable explanation of fine-tuning.”
In order for the universe to make free and moral responses, the universe needs order. That is, “any moral response requires an ordered and predictable universe, as well as creatures with free will.” However, they do not explain “how freedom emerged from indeterminacy.” Oord relates this argument to Open theology in that when “creatures are not entirely determined at the micro-level” and “freedom is present among at least humans,” Open theism holds “the necessity of freedom for love.” Freedom is important in love, because love means intentional action, “in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.” Thus coercion is antithetical to love.
Ellis and Murphy claim about Christian theology: God’s action is “the revelation of God found best in Jesus,” that is, “the relevant feature of God’s action is its self-sacrificial and noncoercive character,” so that “Jesus was self-sacrificial and noncoercive.” They reject God’s intervention in the world, because God does not override creatures, but rather carefully planned system.
The problem of evil asks “why God does not occasionally intervene in the natural order by ‘overruling natural processes when greater good will come from the exception than from following the rule.’” They argue that God voluntarily limits divine power (noninterventionist) because of freedom of the creatures. Otherwise, “a free response to God’s action is not possible.” Although this entails divine risks, it is proper to Open theology in that God accepts these risks in order for creatures to cooperate to the divine activity. In this sense, evil occurs by human freedom. This noncoercive God’s action goes well with the freedom of the creatures for “God’s eighteen-billion-year project.”
Paul Davies suggests six main ideas for cosmology:
1. An absolute beginning to the universe and subsequent everlasting expansion; 2. An absolute beginning to the universe followed by the termination of the universe after a period of expansion; 3. An absolute beginning to the universe, expansion to a maximum state, and a return to a state identical to the absolute beginning; 4. An everlastingly cyclic universe, in which expansion and contraction is followed by a ‘big bounce’ into another cycle of expansion and contraction; 5. A steady state universe with no beginning or end but everlasting expansion; 6. An everylasting multiverse in which our universe is one among others.

These lists are not incomtible to the biblical notion that God is creator, although some are more compatible with big bang. Option one through three which have a common ground, “an absolute beginning to the universe,” coheres with creatio ex nihilo. Polkinghorne also argues that the world is “the consequence of a free act of divine decision,” since “the divine will alone is the source of created being.” Jon D. Levenson argues that main concern of creation theology is not creatio ex nihilo but the “establishement of a benevolent and life-sustaining order.” Levenson explains the essence of creation with the word, “mastery,” thereby “God is the victor in combat, but God’s foes continue to survive.”
Oord suggests an alternative with regard to creation, love, and evil. Oord denies creatio ex nihilo, because while it requires God’s power and sovereignty to create the world from nothing, it cannot explain genuine evil in the world. In order to explicate an adequate view of the origin of the universe, Oord needs “divine power that accounts both for the big bang and for why our loving God does not prevent the occurrence of genuine evil.” Oord finds a clue from Griffin and Catherine Keller. God loves perfectly and created the universe, asserts Griffin, not in the sense of creatio ex nihilo, because if God created the cosmos from nothing, God could also prevent any evil. However, because there is evil in the world, God does not have such a kind of power. And creatio ex nihilo denies the cosmos’ own power. Insofar as we insist creatio ex nihilo, we cannot explain the origin of evil.
Instead, Griffin suggests creation “from the relative chaos” (chaosmos) of a previous universe: from a chaotic state to very low-grade serially-ordered societies to more complex societies. With regard to divine power, God cannot unilaterially intervene the freedom and creativity of the creatures even in creation, because God is not coercive. Thus “God’s power is always and necessarily persuasive.” The necessity of God entails the necessity of a world.

Keller also denies creatio ex nihilo and suggests “a tehomic theology of creatio ex profundis,” that is, “the Genesis motif of God creating from the watery depths.” God is “an indeterminate creativity,” which is “never before or outside time and space,” but always relates to others including creaturely suffering. Creatio ex chaosmos does not mean that chaos is essentially evil, but instead, asserts Keller, that the chaosmic other relates to God and chaos is not prevenient, but is created. There is interaction between God and the tehom, which is called to be creatio cooperationis. Creativity is “the active potentiality for both good and evil.” Keller considers the Genesis 1 as “seven days of self-organization,” which is not creatio ex nihilo but “emergence as creation from the chaos of prevenient conditions.” However, self-organization needs divine influence or cooperation. Since this God is described as divine love, maintains Keller, “to love is to bear with the chaos.”
With regard to Davies’ lists above, while Griffin and Keller deny options one through three, “an absolute beginning to the universe,” their ideas are coherent option four, “an everlastingly cyclic universe,” since God always and necessarily relates to the universe. Oord relates this option four to Open theism’s claim that God is creator. However, it does not mean “a Nietzschean eternal repetition of the exact same” in a closed circle, but a model in which the most basic metaphysical characters are transmitted from one universe to a following one. This model entails “the emergence of genuine novelty while maintaing metaphysical continuity.” To that extent, then, Oord affirms a cyclic model which denies both “an absolute beginning from absolutely nothing” and Nietzschen eternal recurrence of the same, since a universe which repeats endlessly does not offer “purposive, proanthropic, and hopeful” transformation.
Attempting to solve the problem of evil with a doctrine of “essential kenosis,” Oord does not follow the concepts of divine power in process theology, since it makes God overly limited.
Essential kenosis affirms both that God is not coercive, with process theology, and that God is the most powerful being, against process theology. Oord indicates the notion of kenosis that Murphy, Ellis, and Polkinghorne suggest, since their kenosis means voluntarily self-limited God and thereby it makes God unable to prevent genuine evils. Thus a voluntarily self-limited God should logically become “un-self-limited, in the name of love, to prevent the suffering and pain.” It does not makes sense to insist God’s self-limitation from preventing evil in order to keep the freedom of the creatures, since insofar as there is evil in the world, a voluntarily self-limited God is culpable and not perfectly loving God.
Essential kenosis means God’s inability to stop the freedom of creatures not because of external conditions but because of “God’s essence of relational love,” so that this God of essential keneosis should not be criticized for failing to stop evil. Essential kenosis means God’s self-giving love. God has been providing freedom to creatures forever, since there was no beginning and will be no end. That is, God can love necessarily both within Trinity and the world. The God of essential kenosis is the almighty God who is expressed in resurrecting Jesus, in biblical miracles, and nonviolent eschatology. Thus Oord’s essential kenosis can be summarized as follows: 1) God does not depend upon creatures to exist; 2) God is not limited by external forces; 3) God’s essence as self-giving love makes God unable to stop evil.

Thomas Oord, “An Open Theology Doctrine of Creation,” in Creation Made Free, 28-52.

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1) “God’s primary characteristic is love”; 2) “Theology involves humble speculation about who God truly is and what God really does”; 3) “Creatures—at least humans—are genuinely free to make choices pertaining to their salvation”; 4) “God experiences others in some way analogous to how creatures experience others”; 5) “Both creatures and God are relational beings, which means that both God and creatures are affected by others in give-and-take relationships”; 6) “God’s experience changes, yet God’s nature or essence is unchanging”; 7) “God created all nondivine things”; 8) “God takes calculated risks, because God is not all-controlling”; 9) “Creatures are called to act in loving ways that please God and make the world a better place”; 10) “The future is open; it is not predetermined or fully known by God”; 11) “God’s expectations about the future are often partly dependent upon creaturely actions”; 12) “Although everlasting, God experiences time in a way analogous to how creatures experience time” (Thomas Jay Oord, ed., “Creation Made Free,” 3-4).

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How could we interpret between Genesis 1:31 (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”) and Genesis 6:6 (“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain”)? Admittedly, while the former is apt to the attribute of the almighty God, the latter seems not to be proper to God since we may ask how the almighty God was grieved that he had done, i.e., how the omnipotent God could repent. Did God not know what will happen in the world? If God did not know, on the one hand, what is this God? If God had known everything that happened, happens, and will happen, on the other hand, why did God create the world and why did God allow these repentant things to happen? If God created the world, although God had known everything of the future, what did God want human beings to know in the world? What was God’s intention? An important factor that we have to remember and to investigate here is the fact that God repented. Moltmann also relates God’s repentance to God’s suffering: although God cannot suffer and change in negative terms, God can repent with passion and mercy in the biblical history, so that God can love and suffer.

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This is a story of a TV insurance commercial. Its background is a village in Eastern Europe. A man carries a cart which contains something important to him. A church member who sees this man carrying his cart rings a church bell. Many people seem to know what this sound means, so that an old man comes out of his home without undershirt. Many people including woman and children run into somewhere, expecting a very exciting event. The music is very lonely. It is on the bridge under which a river is flowing, where they gather together. We see the man carrying a pair of large wings. With a nervous face he seems ready to fly. Many people are wondering whether he can fly or not. At last…. he flies. People become very excited and say over and over “he can fly.” However, an old man who passes by the bridge says, “But he cannot swim.” The old man has foreknowledge and predicts the future of the young man. Then people recognize it, but the man does not realize the fact that he cannot swim. He plunges into the river at last.
What does this commercial tell us about? This commercial not only tells us about insurance but also limitations of humane knowledge in our lives. It says that we need to prepare our future life in advance. That is, we must prepare for our life. However, what can we know about our lives? What can we do for our lives? We have limitations which we can know and do. We do not know about what we do not know. We think that we know everything. However, sometimes our knowledge comes too late. Then we do not know and cannot do. What a feeble human being! Whenever we encounter this kind of situation, we may say, “If only I knew then what I know now.”
When the man flies on the river, he must be very happy. No one doubts about it. He achieves his dream at that moment when he flies. This may be a wish from his childhood. However, is he happy? Yes, he is, absolutely at least when he flies like a bird. His big smile proves it. However, does he really get the happiness without loss? No, absolutely not, because he encounters a new unhappy fact which he cannot swim. If he had foreknowledge of his life, he must have prepared something to avoid the trouble.

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