Re: Providence

George Murphy (
Wed, 08 Apr 1998 17:05:50 -0400

Garry DeWeese wrote:
> At 08:58 AM 4/8/1998 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> >Allow me to jump in here with a modern Lutheran comment-
> > It seems to me that both modern science and basic theological
> >insights (i.e., christological & trinitarian) demand an important
> >revision of the _ordering_ of doctrines of creation & providence.
> >Traditionally one was supposed to start with creation as origination, &
> >then see providence primarily as divine sustenance of what God had
> >created in the beginning.
> > But both Luther's & the Heidelberg Catechisms, in explaining the
> >First Article, actually emphasize providence. We begin with belief that
> >God is active in our lives today & then extrapolate that belief to God's
> >origination of all things - just as science begins by studying our
> >space-time neighborhood & then tries to extrapolate what it learns to a
> >scientific cosmology. Thus I would suggest that in a sense providence
> >be given precedence over origination.
> One reason why the doctrine of providence was separated from the doctrine
> of creation in Reformed contexts (thus perhaps inadvertently reversing the
> natural order in which we come to recognize them) was to avoid any hint of
> _creatio continua_, which is suggested by some medieval theologians, and
> notoriously finds a central place in the theology of Jonathan Edwards.

Whatever the reason for this emphasis, it seems to me to have
set up both Reformed & Lutheran theology for a fall when evolution came
on the scene. If only origination is viewed as creation in the fullest
sense, & providence is seen as secondary, then one will have to resist
the idea that there can be mediated creation, which is essentially what
evolution is. With all respect to the theologians of both Lutheran &
Reformed orthodoxy, we have to be willing to undo their mistakes when
they made them. & this is not just a matter of having our theology
dictated by science: Genesis 1 clearly teaches mediated creation of

> > & within the doctrine of providence, we need to move away from
> >the idea that what God _primarily_ does is to maintain static structures
> >of the world - because the structures of the world _aren't_ static.
> >Within the classic division of providence into
> >sustenance/cooperation/governance, cooperation - God's activity with &
> >through the dynamic natural processes of the world, should be given
> >precedence over sustenance. Not that God doesn't sustain creatures, but
> >that they are sustained precisely by God's cooperation with the
> >processes which (in physical terms) make them what they are.
> > Shalom,
> > George
> The Reformed tradition (represented by Bavinck, Kuyper, Hodge, Berkouwer),
> as well as Barth, do not see sustenance and governance as two distinct acts
> of providence, but rather as two sides of the same coin. Sustenance is
> always teleological, but the emphasis is on the continuation of the
> creature. Governance more explicitly accents the purposes God achieves in
> and through his creatures.
> Concurrence or cooperation, although viewed with suspicion by Kuyper and
> Berkouwer, is generally developed to explain how God can be the primary
> cause of everything and still accord some kind of reality to secondary
> causes. Bavinck claims that concurrence distinguishes Christianity from
> pantheism, in which secondary causes are identified with God, and deism, in
> which secondary causes are separated from God as prinary cause. Berkouwer
> says that "the term concurrence has to do with the relation between Divine
> and human activity," and so, at least in Reformed theology, is not
> primarily related to what George calls "static structures."

Lutheran theology has generally been less hesitatnt about
concurrence or cooperation than has Reformed - something connected with,
among other things, different views of sacramental instrumentality. I
think "cooperation" is a better term because it means that God actually
"works with" natural processes, & not just that God & natural processes
go alongside one another. One reason I urge some precedence for
cooperation is that the concept is fundamentally dynamic. & it doesn't
have to do just with divine & _human_ activity, but with divine action
with & through _all_ creatures.

> Surely Howard Van Till is right in stating his belief that "each generation
> of Christians must work with diligence to rearticulate the historic
> Christian faith in its own historical/cultural context and in its own
> conceptual vocabulary." In connection with the doctrine of providence I
> think it is crucial that theologians and scientists and philosophers work
> together to develop an understanding of God's actions in the world that
> avoid the Scylla of panentheism and the Charybdis of Deism and at the same
> time account for such features of modern science as indeterministic laws.

> My own observation here is that the common evangelical pre-theological view
> tends towards panentheism, while the view of some scientists who are
> Christians tends towards deism. (Although Howard has been read this way,
> he denies that his views are deistic; others, especially some Roman
> Catholic scientists/theologians, certainly seem to verge on deism, with
> God's direct action confined to the creation of the initial constituents of
> the universe, together with their properties and capacities, along with the
> initial conditions and the laws.) Bob Dehaan rightly identifies providence
> as the doctrine which can guide us through these waters.

To get farther here we would need to have clear mutual
understanding of "panentheism", "deism" and "direct action".

George L. Murphy