How (not) to speak (about the power) of God

I appreciated many things about the most recent TNT episode in which Tripp and Bo dealt with some of the questions and common misconceptions of process theology and its differences from other theologies like Arminianism and open theism.  I also enjoyed the exchange between Tripp and Brandon in the comment section.  This podcast and blog is one of the best places out there for constructive theological conversation.  I have read Whitehead and studied process theology in some depth now, and I’m very impressed and challenged by much of it.  Getting to hear from John Cobb in person on a number of occasions was a highlight during my time at CGU.

I am not very interested in making statements about what counts as orthodoxy and what doesn’t, but I am concerned about giving past theological ideas a fair reading.  When treating central doctrines of the faith with scrutiny, therefore, I feel that the burden of proof should be on the innovator more so than on the tradition.  Of course, this does not mean that we cannot innovate.  On the contrary, innovation is essential, but problems occur when we do this without charitable consideration of those who have come before us — as Tripp and Bo know (that’s why they let people like me express somewhat divergent opinions on their blog!).

For guys who are as theologically astute as Tripp and Bo, however, I was a little surprised to hear what I consider to be a rather trite dismissal and caricature of the classical tradition’s way of talking about God’s power.  Specifically, I want to take issue with the claim made by process theology that “Constantinian” Christianity gave bad compliments to God that were better reserved for Caesar – omnipotence in particular.  The trouble is that oppressed Christians with minority and marginalized status under the rule of the Roman Empire gave “Caesar” attributes to God to distinguish themselves from Greek polytheism long before the church’s integrity was compromised by imperial power.  And they weren’t voluntarists (i.e., those who believe that God can do whatever God wants).  Now, this by itself does not mean that the early Christians were right to talk about God in the way they did, but I’m simply making the point that such supposedly misleading “compliments” predated the creeds and the councils, and were not made for the reasons that Tripp and Bo’s comments implied.  Yet the question still remains as to whether the early church was justified in how they conceived of God, and that’s what I want to consider first.

In the podcast, Tripp used the example of parenting to illustrate the problem of evil with respect to God’s power and God’s character.   The scenario was described in which a parent standing idly by watches while his or her child runs into the street, fully aware that a car is coming down the road and not intervening to save the child.  Clearly, by the standards of our finite, human and historical existence, this kind of parenting is unimaginable.  The conclusion is drawn then that if God fails to intervene in the world when God’s children are in imminent danger, God is a bad parent.  Therefore, if God is to remain good, it must be the case that God cannot “intervene.”

In order to arrive at this position, a comparison is made univocally to God’s relationship with human beings in history and space-time in general.  That is, it is assumed that human relationships between parents and their children are similar enough to the relationship between God and human beings for this exact parenting comparison to be used when talking about God.  According to the classical Christian way of talking about God though, and as Brandon Morgan points out, this direct comparison is a mistake.

As finite beings, all of our language is only fit to describe finite reality.  This leads some to conclude that all attempts to say anything positive about God are in vain.  But those like Thomas Aquinas for example, and Pseudo-Dionysius, insisted instead that one could indeed ascribe certain attributes to God by following a process of affirmation, negation, and remotion when talking about God (e.g., “God is like a parent in some respects, but only in limited correlation or proportionality, not directly”). This method of theology became known as the via analogia, or the “analogical predication of divine names.”  Thomas also has an account of God’s agency in the world in terms of secondary causality, which is a non-zero sum way of granting freedom to creation and human agents for participation in the purposes of God without infringing upon natural ends.Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

In other words, while it is fitting to say that God loves us like parents love their children, this love, and this parenthood, are not im-mediately comparable to our finite and human experience of love and parenting.  All the more so when we get into specific human experiences like kids playing in traffic.  The idea that God could intervene to stop traffic is not the same kind of intervention that Christians hope for in the resurrection or in the eschaton.  The same goes for talking about God as a “ruler,” or as anything else.  Thus, when assessing and the nature of God’s character with respect to God’s power, we cannot rely too heavily on any one human analogy.  Only in the resounding overflow or of a plurality of names does the nature of God become even partially revealed.  Thus, whatever one makes of traditional accounts of God’s omnipotence, it does not equal “arbitrariness” or Caesar-style trumping power. 

Secondly, The problem of evil has troubled me deeply, and still does.  I do not feel resolved about it at all.  My dissertation is largely about this very subject.  But I think our refusal to tolerate a fair amount of mystery and childlike faith when it comes to explaining suffering has as much to do with our anthropocentric view of reality as it does with any possible deficiency in God’s character or power.  Much as I want it to, God’s goodness does not necessarily depend on what is good for humans and from our point of view right now.  I say this as someone who is as existentially disturbed by meaningless horrors in history as the next person.

Process folks like to recite the Philippians 2 hymn, but only the first half of it.  Yes, God’s power is most demonstrated in the self-emptying love of Christ on the cross.  In this sense, God can rightly be called a fellow-suffer who understands.  And on this same cross, the power of Caesar is judged, criticized, and exposed as fraudulent.  But only in the resurrection is the power of Caesar truly undermined, which Paul attests in “part two” of the Philippians hymn.  And according to Paul, the power of God is disclosed not as weakness, but in weakness – in becoming weakness, namely.  For without decent, there could be no ascent (metaphorically).

Similarly, the reign of God is known not so much by non-coercive power, but by power from below – power from the fringe.  There is a difference here. I am weary of any dualism between nature and super-nature as well, but if the resurrection isn’t meant to be a coercive rupture of the “as is” structure of reality, I don’t know what is.  I suggest, therefore, that Christians are better off not by taking issue with the idea of God having coercive power as such, but with God having top-down power.  It’s a false binary if we’re forced to choose between a Caesar-God and a persuasive God.  God’s top-down action is weak, but bottom-up, it’s strong, transformative and quite forceful.  This doesn’t need to mean it isn’t loving.  Somewhere herein lies an all-important distinction that might just make a way for a real eschatology without giving up the integrity of the physical universe.

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27 comments
wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

From "Philosophers “doing” theology: pros and cons" by Roger Olson (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/05/1830/):


"To the best of my knowledge and way of thinking (as a theologian) theology uses special revelation while philosophy, AS philosophy, does not.


Now, of course, a philosopher like Wolterstorff can use revelation (as he does in many of his writings), but WHEN he uses revelation as a source and norm in an argument he is DOING theology, not philosophy.


My problem with philosophers doing theology, even if they are orthodox Christians, is that many of them are not trained in theology’s main sources–biblical studies, Christian tradition (to say nothing of Wesley’s “experience”)."


Implied assertions by Olson:

1)Either/or thinking. Either good theological revelatory or bad philosophical nonrevelatory.

2)Theological revelatory thinking  is true

3)Philosophical nonrevelatory is false

4)Therefore theological is revelatory and philosophical is non revelatory.


My own assertions:

1) Both/and thinking. Theological or philosophical thinking may be either revelatory or non-revelatory, neither one is privileged compared to what is revelatory.

2)Therefore whether theological or philosophical, what is revelatory is pre-eminant, primary and foundational.


Clearly the definition of what is revelatory is missing, and that is my point. What is theological or philosophical is not the issue. Who gets to determine not only when we are doing philosophy but theology, not only what is revelatory but that which is not? 


The foundation of self-determining-truth is overwhelming in Olson's blogs and in his very way of thinking, as here demonstrated. He thus represents the self-determining-truth falacy which "orthodoxy" (who gets to determine what that is?) seems to fall prey to.


The last time I checked, revelation is from God alone.

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

Love it Bill!  I believe @jonestonywill agree with you since he's been taunting me on text all day.  I will say that like @CalebDeJongI enjoy back and forth so I will try not to reconcile until I get you on a mic to argue with me!  


I have an observation and hopefully a good enough jab on your points to get you on a mic.


Observation: No one cared about Process outside the academy until the Homebrewed Crew advocated regularly.  That anyone decides it's worth debating is amazing.  That 50k people regularly download our stuff is amazing.  That said, when you say we preformed a "a rather trite dismissal and caricature" I wonder what you would call Roger's initial post.  We didn't tell anyone their theology wasn't Christian, we didn't name individuals in the comment section and mention personal interactions as a form of dismissal, and we didn't say "call yourself (insert school of thought) but you aren't a good one because you are too Christian.  To me that was the much more problematic part of the post.  That an evangelical blogs dismissively about Process isn't new but an Open and Relational friend was the weird part.  I would assume that anyone listening to the podcast would know we regularly publish all kinds of theological thoughts.  If we were just doing propaganda why would we interview people so diverse?  OR why would we be excited to have you push back and share it? I do it because I am a Baptist! Soul Freedom! #TruthWins


1) You said, "the trouble is that oppressed Christians with minority and marginalized status under the rule of the Roman Empire gave “Caesar” attributes to God to distinguish themselves from Greek polytheism long before the church’s integrity was compromised by imperial power."  Why? When were early church theologians concerned about being confused with Greek polytheism? Other than Paul at Mars Hill where the audience understood the 'resurrection' to be a God before clarification I can't think of that being a concern.  I know Christians were thought of as atheists and dumb for their crazy Jesus talk.  They also worked out a Trinity to stay monotheists but that was because the monotheism of the early church was in doubt.  I asked to church history PhDs today if they knew a time the church was genuinely concerned with not being understood as polytheistic and they couldn't come up with one until conversation with Islam. 

I also don't think there was some time the Church's integrity was uncompromised.  I don't subscribe to a "fall narrative" of Christian theology.  The problem of power is an ever present one.  Even Whitehead didn't do the 'fall narrative' and in fact he thought the Cappadocians had one of the 4 great insights of the West in their trinitarian theology.

More importantly.... on the attribution of Imperial compliments to God, Moltmann agrees with Whitehead here. The reason is the philosophical definition of omnipotence was appropriated in a way that was not shaped by God's self-revelation in Christ.  



CalebDeJong
CalebDeJong

I'm totally digging the "let's disagree to disagree" mentality permeating this pod-cast/blog (blog-cast?) lately. There has been some really stimulating back-and-forth going on. Thanks for a great post Deacon Bill. . . . your move Tripp + Bo

_JacquiB
_JacquiB

Well done! Thanks for helping helping me articulate some of the questions I've had about Process that had left me thinking maybe I just didn't get it. Particularly your bit about power. I've long thought I can no longer be on board with "coercive" but "persuasive" on its own left some holes for me. I've thought the had to be a third option. I like your bottom-up thought and and would definitely like to hear more. Especially after your comment to Jonnie about coercion and violence being different. I'm not sure I agree, but am intrigued enough by what you've said to hear you out. 

Jonnie Russell
Jonnie Russell

Great work Bill.

I think these are good critiques (esp. the first half). Regarding your emphasis on bottom-up power towards the end of your post, there has been a lot of interesting biblical studies work on the Philippians 2 so-called kenotic passages that Bo mentions in the podcast, that I think really lends support to your case. The basic idea is that these passage should not be so quickly 'ontologized' in the sense that they are not references to Jesus' nature, preexistence identity, etc. Their import is not necessarily Christological but ecclesiological.  Philippi was obsessively status oriented, extreme in its Romanness and focus on status and the honorific stratification of society. To this end the infamous "form" language of the Phil 2 and the "equality with God" talk is intimately related to status positions. Caesar's association with Godlike status, power, and enactive ability for being put in that position...not having that ontology. In this way, the passage is really giving the church a decidedly bottom up picture of power, subverting the honorific soaked cult context they found themselves in. This of course doesn't disallow reading some ontological implications back into the passage, but there seems excellent reasons to focus on this passage as a version of bottom-up power that lends itself to your reading, rather than the Christological focus.

I am interested also in your distinction between non-coercive and bottom-up power.  Can you say more as to how you think a coercive bottom-up power might work in a way that does not bring the same resultant puzzles and distaste the standard discussions of coercive power does? How does it measure up to Clayton's "not even once" principle, or is the distancing given by the Thomistic analogy distinction the only response?

Perhaps, in light of your argument and the Phil 2 discussion above, it is best to think of God's power are analogous to that of a labor organizer. Bottom-up and primarily connective and persuasive in a relational and empowering sense? But isn't this precisely subverting the coercive element? Not sure how this fudges the binary...or if it really is a way to hold the both together.

Excellent post!

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

my good gracious @wayneschroeder where did you come from? You have come out of the shadows and have begun to rock it.


Hey - can you email me at AnEverydayTheologygmail.com real quick?  I have a question for ya 

bwalkeriii
bwalkeriii

@trippfuller@jonestony@CalebDeJongTripp, thanks for responding to the post.  

You already know that I sympathize with the concerns you had about Olson's post insofar as it draw lines around what he thinks counts as Christian.  What Roger did do with process theism, however, that you guys did not do with classical theism, was carefully try to explain process before criticizing or dismissing it (even if you disagree with his explanation, and even if he failed to recognize a the nuanced spectrum process, which was another problem).  So I stand by the claim that you and Bo caricature classical theism.  The way of analogy is central to the tradition, and it needs to be explained and appreciated on any good theology podcast. 

As for the reasons Christians called God omnipotent, rather than debate that further, let me just reiterate that my point was to challenge Bo's comment in the TNT that did indeed affirm a "fall narrative" in church history, and the comments implying that Christians just wanted their God to be like Caesar -- you didn't call any of that into question, so I'm glad you are now (at least the "fall narrative" part).  

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

2) You said about the Parent and Car accident bit "a comparison is made univocally to God’s relationship with human beings in history and space-time in general." That's stated a bit strongly but what is most interesting to me is you then advocate Aquinas' notion of divine action. Guess what? He is the exact example Moltmann and the Open Theists give when explaining how Christian theology has managed to divorce discourse of divine action from that which is in scripture [& today Aquinas requires a bit of work to fit metaphysically w/ contemporary science]. To say "the idea that God could intervene to stop traffic is not the same kind of intervention that Christians hope for in the resurrection or in the eschaton" has nothing to do with the kind of action Christians pray for every day when their family member is dying.  The eschatological consummation of Creation may be a time when God can give a legit reason why God let the bloody bench of human history get ever more bloody but it sure isn't an analogous action to God participating in Creation for the well-being and in response to God's creation's prayers.

So are you saying that "No Tripp all that stuff that happens and calls God's goodness into question is just stuff that happens.  God could NOT have done anything to change it.... but let me quote Aquinas-secondary causation-etc so I can still say omnipotent but really know God couldn't or was self-limited.  OR are you saying "Tripp God is awesome....like a parent but different.... in a good way but this good way is ok with the letting the kid get run over but don't worry when you see how good it is you would want the kid run over." 


I bet you 50 bucks that if you pick any church in America 99% of the congregation will say that either God could or could not have stopped the kid from getting run over.  They will not think secondary causation was an option or that it makes much sense.   More importantly if you tell them God is like a loving parent but not exactly so it's cool their kid dies they will tell you the God you are describing is not as nice as Jesus, not because God can't be a mystery but because God's mystery is an excess of the very depths of God's love - NOT a logic where kids dying makes sense.


2) Theodicy disturbs me.  I am cool roasting in hell for all eternity if God is a genocide planner or permitter. In fact I assume Jesus is with me. I am confused how saying "God’s goodness does not necessarily depend on what is good for humans and from our point of view right now" does much to answer the question.  I don't think we said God's goodness depends on what is good for humans.  I don't know a Process thinker who does.  I also don't think what is identified as "good" in Process thought has its origin in humanity - WE HAVE FORMS.... eternal ones. They would still be in place if humans were extinct.


Classical theology is obsessed with humans and can't imagine God and the world's future without them.  I know deep ecologists who dig process but none who are into aquinas or calvin.  More importantly, the problem of evil is not just human on human evil and natural evil is more difficult for free-will theisms.  The drowning of thousands of people... is much more a problem for any theologian who thinks God could change the end date of "self-limitation" and get the eschaton on early.  I don't.  Really?  Every time we have a natural disaster and thousands of people are victims to a natural disaster - especially ones resulting from the West's exploitation of the planet -  and God is supposedly holding back Godself from unleashing eschatological bliss I gotta wonder if the God of self-limitation isn't limiting out some of God's goodness.  When I asked Moltmann what would happen if there was a nuclear holocaust, if there was still to be an eschaton, he said God would intervene right then and make it happen.  Why not any of the other times horror happened?  If space for freedom is held out until all human life on our planet manages to kill itself then whatever could have been gained by permitting (or sticking with the self-limitation which you eventually are forced to give up on) the horror is lost and then the next moment you have millions of people who died a tortured death waiting for an explanation.  When you say "from our point of view now" I just hear a piety creeping out that knows the problem but can't shake those old timey hymns from our childhood.  I hear those crappy comments at funerals when people say "don't be sad, God has a reason he took and you will know it in heaven."  I hear someone who at their core knows what they are defending theologically is laden with contradictions so they say "mystery" and "later" in order to fully answer their legitimate questions. 


3) I agree with you on the Phil. 2 hymn part but I have said that to Philip on the podcast before.  Maybe I miss how what we discussed lacked an affirmation of the "undermining power" of the resurrection.  I am pretty sure I said as much the TNT before.  When you say the resurrection is a "coercive rupture of the 'as is' structure' I would just drop the word 'coercive.'  In fact, I have constantly said on the podcast for years that the resurrection is about God's "will be" in the face of the world's "as is" so I love that thought.  I just don't know what is being gained or added or critiqued by the addition of 'coercive.'  It seems you are concerned about a 'real eschatology' but I don't know why God's consummation of creation needs to be coercive. 


bwalkeriii
bwalkeriii

@_JacquiB@Jonnie RussellAlright, I went back to Clayton and Knapp's book, The Predicament of Belief, to see if they could help me with this.  Here's what I get from something they say at the end of the chapter on "divine action and the argument from neglect" in the section addressing eschatology:

Yes, "not even once" does indeed mean that God cannot intervene coercively in accordance with this cosmological epoch.  Based on the hypothesis they put forth, however, that God's ultimate purpose is to bring about the existence of finite persons with the capacity to enter freely into a loving fellowship with God, this does not mean that God as creator is incapable of bringing about such fellowship in another cosmological epoch -- given that creatures have been instilled with a "non-law-like nature of the mental" which also exists in God (i.e., they have life in God after physical death).  

While ushering in such an epoch might otherwise seem to imply violence or top-down coercion, what I'm calling "bottom-up" or non-violent coercion would not be characterized by one new creation "overcoming" the present one, but instead perhaps by a new creation being born from below as the previous age passes away.  What I understand the resurrection to be doing then, is foreshadowing this new creation.  To do this though takes more than persuasion.  It is God grabbing our shoulders, turning us around and shouting "see what I'm going to do?! Come be part of it and prepare the way!"

The chapter concludes: "it is perfectly possible for God to create other and better ["worlds"] without contradicting what, on our hypothesis, was God's purpose in creating this one.  I recommend reading this whole section on your own, however, if you have the book: pp. 66-68.

bwalkeriii
bwalkeriii

@Jonnie Russellthanks a lot Jonnie.  I'm glad you found this helpful.  And I think your point about the distinction between an Phil 2 as ecclesiological more so than christological is very important -- i've learned something from you there, and something would be very important for a discussion about the ethics of church and Christian involvement in politics.


As for the ontology, I think you also right to ask about more clarification.  This idea needs to be further developed if it's going to hold.  As useful as Thomistic analogy is, an ontology that makes use of the language of new physics would be even better.  I can't say for sure whether the "not even once" principle does this -- off the top of my head, I'm tempted to say it concedes too much to modernity assumptions about the universe still -- but I know Philip Clayton could really be a guide here!  I gotta keep thinking about this...


For the purposes of a brief response to your question right now though, let me also suggest there could be not only a distinction between bottom-up coercion and top-down coercion, but also a distinction between coercion and violence.  Again, I look to Jesus for inspiration here.  I think Jesus is coercive, but not violent.  If resurrection and eschatology can be imagined in the same way, we may have found some new territory.  Hopefully I'm not just splitting hairs with that, but I don't think I am. 

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@bwalkeriii @trippfuller @jonestony @CalebDeJong 

Just want to point out that this battle between Classical Orthodox versus Process Relational also brews equally in philosophy along Analytic versus Continental lines. In other words, there is a world of philosophy embedded in these discussions which are parallel with theological concerns (just saying--there are rational issues at stake here). I appreciate how Tripp and Bo are keeping the discussion theological with an emphasis on faith. (P.S, Bill, maybe you can rework that word coercion with something like "breaking through". kind of like lightening breaks through the darkness.)

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@bwalkeriii @trippfuller @jonestony @CalebDeJong 


Since, I'm mostly in agreement with Bill here, I won't put forth an actual response. I only want to quote from David Hart's book The Doors of the Sea, which every Christian should read. 


"Easter is an act of 'rebellion' against all false necessity and all illegitimate or misused authority, all cruelty and heartless chance. It liberates us from servitude to and terror before the 'elements.' It emancipates us from fate. It overcomes the 'world.' Easter should make rebels of us all."


Here is a nod to the resurrection rebellion form of power Bill suggests here...a very promising idea. 


Ok so maybe I will say something. The idea that providence occurs at the level of primary causality (ie as God's willed pursuit of our good) is meant to allow for an account of secondary agency appropriate to created things whose eschatological good is God. This at least means that creatures are true 'others' to God and not mere epiphenomenal aspects of God's will (or his 'persuasion' as the case may be.) This also means that God wills to require our specific secondary actions to complete the primary ends God has for creation. (As Barth would say, God does not will to have the kingdom without us.) To "skip over" secondary means for the completion of primary ends without them is, for Thomas, a miracle. (it is probably safe to say that, for Thomas, the only knowing place this has occurred is the Incarnation and Resurrection,) One need not work this out the precise way that Thomas does in order to get the payoff (nor really hold all of his metaphysical assumptions). One simply needs to see that God's agency employs, by God's grace, the secondary causes of creatures for the primary ends God wills for creation. Thomas calls these "intermediaries of God's providence...so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures." 


So there is a recognition of a sphere of human will which no doubt, can be furnished for all kinds of terrible things. To say that God permitted all the ways human creatures rebel against the goodness God has for them is not to say that God willed those rebellions as necessary means to divine ends. They are rebellious 'acts'--not even actions--they are contrary to nature rooted in the 'nothing' that is evil. This means, perhaps, that Christians have to take seriously a residual 'dualistic' account of the world, namely that much of the world has yet to allow itself to take part in the resurrected life that God wills for creation. It is that world against which easter performs its rebellion. But this rebellion is not ultimately a feat of human progress (the only real alternative to the view of eschaton divine and inbreaking arrival). Our secondary acts, no matter how ordered to their good ends, cannot achieve the grace of the eschaton God wills for creation. That requires grace. 


Moltmann generally agrees with this (selfless plug to my article on Moltmann's eschatology in Perspectives in Religious Studies Jan 2013) He thinks God's arrival will come according to his will. But this does not occur at the behest of the creature's achievements for the kingdom (whatever it is the rebellion achieves). One problem for me, however, is that Moltmann sees democratic socialism as what is most near to the kingdom vision...I think it is the church more so than he seems to. 


bwalkeriii
bwalkeriii

@trippfuller jonestony First, I think some of my comments in response to @Jonnie Russelland @_JacquiBmight be helpful in clarifying a few things -- especially on eschatology.

2. I'm not subscribing to Aquinas's metaphysics.  I'm explaining one thing about it that has been neglected, and that I think is important.

3. As for people in the pew, I get what you're saying.  As Brandon said though, people are smarter than we give them credit for.  I don't think the way of analogy is that hard to understand, and I think it's pretty useful.  Secondary causality was a side comment.  I agree its less than compelling, especially in Calvin.  But we should acknowledge that Thomas saw the problem and tried to deal with it given his metaphysics, so that tradition has always had recourse to this concern.  We are not as innovative as we think. 

3.  Classical theology is not obsessed with humans.  Classical theology is obsessed with God.  Modern theology, however, is definitely obsessed with humans.  Process does a good job correcting this, as you say, except for the theodicy question, where it starts obsessing with humans again.

4.  I don't think God is in control of evil and suffering and that we're going to learn about a legit reason for it some day.

5.  I disagree with Moltmann's answer to your question.

6.  I agree that my comment sounds too pietistic.  No defense there, but we need more mystery and transcendence in our knowledge of God's nature than process admits.

7.  I know you like to talk about the resurrection in a similarly strong way, and that is what confuses me.  The resurrection is not persuasion.  It's non-violent, bottom-up coercion, and the only real reason for eschatological hope.  God's consummation of creation needs to be coercive, because otherwise it will not happen...This does not mean I think it's guaranteed.  I take it on faith, and doubt it three days a week.


Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@trippfuller  

My favorite line: 

"I know deep ecologists who dig process but none who are into aquinas or calvin." 

Seriously though, I made this comment on one of the other threads, that when it comes down to arguments about God (God's power specifically for me), Feuerbach is on to something: the God we are willing to worship is the projection of the human mind. I do sympathize with traditional theists, though, who want to keep God's coercive power intact (top-down or down-up, whatever). I mean, who wants to think about God's power as power as relational and vulnerable, and capable of living with tensions? Lame.

Maybe Mark Driscoll is right, a god you can beat up ain't much of a god. Kevin Smith has some great fun with this idea too. He thinks the Bible should be spiced up with a lot more comic book, butt kickin' action. It would make a way better movie then, at least. Lets stop beating around the bush here and explicitly make Jesus the superhero we always wanted him to be, ya know? HA!

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@bwalkeriii @_JacquiB @Jonnie Russell  


There are infinite reasons why the bottom up approach is indeed the solution to an infinity of problems which have come up in these series of blogs and posts--congrats, Bill, to your discovered path out of the maze--although it is remarkably hard to stay on that path.


Lets consider the concept of God himself a bottom-up, that he erupts from below "characterized by one new creation "overcoming" the present one, but instead perhaps by a new creation being born from below as the previous age passes away" as you say.  This "born from below" is the bottom-up approach.


"What I understand the resurrection to be doing then, is foreshadowing this new creation.  To do this though takes more than persuasion.  It is God grabbing our shoulders, turning us around and shouting "see what I'm going to do?! Come be part of it and prepare the way!" 


Now that is pretty inspiring and what we would wish-- I would simply add that such conditions of God turning us around are grounded in his breaking through our habitual approach to life, and providing genuine opportunity to have our shoulders grabbed, to be grabbed by the conditions of our life, and be energized by the call of God on our lives in the moment, from the bottom up, from the ground of our experience, authentically in what Brother Lawrence called the Presence of God (among the pots and pans of the kitchen).


There is also ontological power in this bottom-up approach, the power of being rather than being powerful, whether of us or of God. When the focus is on what is here and now, present with us rather than over against us, we can pray, trust and be safe, rather than fear, be guarded, act defensively and avoid.


There is epistemological power in the bottom-up approach, in that we can know with our heart rather than just with our head, what is true, what is true relationship, who we are and who we are with Him/Her.


There is spiritual power in the bottom-up approach in that based on this relational basis of trust and security, we can let our worship fly, like the wind which lifts up the wings of eagles.


There is power in relationship, not in power, whether of God or of Man.

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@BrandonMorgan2 @bwalkeriii @wayneschroeder  


Brandon, that was my bad for slinging around undefined terms--was just hoping that the implication would provide some general direction, but that did not meet whatever your goals are.  So let me be most definitive as my secondary post on this issue indicates. 


My point was not to get into philosophy per se, nor to arouse tribal fighting amongst camps, but to delineate the difference between top-down versus bottom-up approaches, which have plagued theology and philosophy equally throughout the ages.


If we define top-down as the 1) belief that there is truth and I/we/whomever know what it is; 2)that it is rationally based on a priori knowledge independent of experience and provable by I/we/whomever; 3) so you better get in line with truth.


Bottom-up says 1) you and I are not God so there is no freaking way either of us are likely to see the truth as God sees it, in fact we are fallible and interpret everything in light of our own fallibility 2) thus we need to include experience as an equal partner to rationality, neither one being prejudiced, both being open to all aspects of life, and 3) In all humility and respect of you and me, here is how I perceive things, what do you think.


Please notice that these are fully my own definitions.

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@bwalkeriii @BrandonMorgan2 @wayneschroeder 


I just mean to point out that there isn't really a comparison to be made. There are also analytic thomists and left wing Hegelian, or derridian whiteheadians. Its a melting pot more than a division, in the way that I actually take anaytic and continental phil. to be one (for good or ill.) I take it to be an actual (though problematic) division. 

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@BrandonMorgan2 @wayneschroeder @bwalkeriii @trippfuller @jonestony @CalebDeJong 

Brandon--the division between Analytic and Continental is actually more sociological than philosophical, but there are enough similar issues that get stirred up when this artificial divide is mentioned as between Orthodoxy and Process. On a good day Analytical and Continental walk together. Metaphysical distinctions would be more precise, and Kant was the last "Analytic" modern philosopher of strict rationalism (although he opens the door to postmodern with the distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal), while Heidegger ushers in the "Postmodern" not based on rationality alone, the metaphysics of being. Whitehead seems to be a great integration between the rational and the empirical, experiential. Orthodoxy runs into all the post Kantian problems (or Process runs into all the Kantian problems).

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@wayneschroeder @bwalkeriii @trippfuller @jonestony @CalebDeJong 

Is the claim here that "Orthodoxy" is analogous to "Analytic" and Process is analogous to "Continental"? Because that would not really make sense. Whitehead taught at cambridge and wrote a book on mathematics with Russell, the inventor of analytic philosophy. Also, many readers of, say, thomas and augustine don many philosophical allegiances to Kant, Heidegger. (Think of Rahner). So the division is in no way a strict analogy here.

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

@bwalkeriii@trippfuller@Jonnie Russell@_JacquiB 

this is fun... I am trying to figure out where you actually disagree significantly or were speaking for yourself.  I bet we could both preach Easter sunrise, switch each other's sermons and no one would know.


2) Aquinas and Augustine etc... did try to deal with evil and suffering but they denied it was genuine evil and thus the protest was tied to our perspective and not reality as such.  I don't think that works like plenty of theologians these days even if Process peeps were early on the band wagon.  Does Bill think evil is genuine?


3) analogy isn't hard to understand. what's hard is that using it means God gets let off the hook for (genuine) evil that a parent wouldn't if the parent could act. there are plenty of places understanding analogy makes sense, i just don't think with my example it addresses the problem but just tries to get around it.  when I have been a minister in those situations of tragedy trying to get around it gets smelled out.  when i was a calvinist i knew what to say with some confidence.  as an open and relational theologian i have something to say as well. So what would Rev. Bill say when a parent who lost their child asks, "why did God let this happen?"


4-6) we agree. 


7) I probably doubt more.  How could something that happens through divine coercion not be guaranteed?  If it happens through divine coercion why should God not do it before humans hypothetically destroy all life or before any of the other giant tragedies in history?  If the relationship God wants with the world is taken by coercive force later down the line, how does that not put God's character in jeopardy?


I think we probably mean different things by coercive and that I like non0violent, bottom-up ******* divine power.  That is why I will keep pressuring you to talk on a mic with me.

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