Does RFE imply deism?

Howard J. Van Till (
Sat, 28 Mar 1998 10:21:39 -0500

Hi Bill (Hamilton),

Nearly every time I present the concept of the 'Robust Formational Economy
Principle' someone expresses the concern that it "smacks of deism." So,
Bill, I guess it was your turn to be the spokesperson this time.

I find the frequency of this concern very intriguing. I suspect that it is
telling us something about how we Christians today are inclined to think
about divine action. Are we, in reacting to the Naturalism so often
preached in the name of natural science, overly concerned to preserve a
protected and "special" place for that action? Do we think that, in order
for God to be able to act, there must some sort of empirically discernible
gap in either the formational or operational economies of the Creation? I
don't know the answers, but I think we Christians need to reflect on this

Bill, you know that I am not a proponent of deism. And I know that your
question was meant simply to demonstrate that. Please take my response in
that same friendly light as well.

One thing we should note at the outset is that the only gaps relevant to my
earlier post on the RFE Principle are gaps in the formational economy of
the Creation--gaps created by the absence of particular creaturely
capabilities for self-organization or transformation. If there were, by
God's choice to withhold certain creaturely capabilities for
self-organization or transformation, such gaps in the Creation's
formational economy, then a corresponding set of episodes of gap-bridging,
form-imposing, extraordinary divine action would be _necessary_ elements in
the Creation's formational history.

The question raised by Bill's post is this: Would the absence of these gaps
imply the deistic concept of a distant and inactive God? Or, to state it
differently, Is it the case that, "If no gaps, then no divine action?"

I think the quickest way to dispel that fear is to ask the following
question: Has orthodox Christian theology ever suggested that God is able
and/or willing to act in the world only within gaps in either the
formational economy or the operational economy of the Creation?

To the best of my knowledge the answer is a resounding, NO.

Therefore, if the presence of such gaps is NOT required to "make room" for
divine action, then the absence of such gaps is no loss whatsoever. End of

which the Robust Formational Economy Principle is true, God is still as
free as ever to act in any way that is consistent with God's nature and
will. The fully-gifted Creation, complete wth a gapless formational
economy, does not in any way hinder God from acting as God wills to act. As
I have said on numerous occasions, the question at issue is not, Does God
act in or interact with the Creation, but rather, What is the character of
the Creation in which God acts anw with which God interacts?

A closely related and equally important question is, What is the nature of
divine creative action? How does it differ from creaturely action? By what
marks would we recognize it?


Howard Van Till