Re: divine action/creaturely action

From: george murphy (
Date: Tue Jun 12 2001 - 08:05:01 EDT

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    "Terry M. Gray" wrote:

    > George,
    > I think we agree but you are a lot more supportive of Howard's
    > viewpoint than I am, so I'm thinking we're not exactly saying the
    > same thing.

          I am largely in agreement with Howard here but he is generally content to base his
    arguments on an understanding of the doctrine of creation itself while I think they need to
    be grounded in christology and, in particular, a theology of the crucified. & that theology
    does lead to some differences with traditional (& I think especially Reformed) ideas of
    divine sovereignty.

    > Two points to quibble on.
    > 1.) You wrote that God "grants a kind of relative autonomy to
    > creatures in that God does not (at least in the vast majority of
    > cases) make them do things which are inconsistent with their
    > natures." With this I can agree, but I'd probably shy away from using
    > the word "autonomy" here.

            I'm not entirely happy with the word either - hence the phrase "relative autonomy"
    (which, I note, Howard attributes to Christ Kaiser).
            Though he does not use it in his discussion of providence, the way Tillich uses
    "autonomy" in talking about the use of reason can be noted. "Autonomy does not mean the
    freedom of the individual to be a law to himself ... [but] the obedience of the individual to
    the law of reason, which he finds in himself as a rational being." He distinguished autonomy
    in this sense from "heteronomy" and wants to give a proper grounding for both in "theonomy."
    It might be worth exploring whether or not these distinctions would be useful in talking
    about providence.

    > 2.) Your distinction between mystery in the reality of the Trinity
    > and mystery in the formulation of the doctrine escapes me a bit. Can
    > there be antinomies in our formulation? "Fully God and fully man"
    > seems to be such and reflects the reality and mystery of the
    > Incarnation. My sense in the sovereignty/responsibility debate is
    > that there is a belief that sovereignty (in the sense I am
    > advocating) makes free agency and authentic creaturely activity
    > *impossible*. In my mind this is like saying that it is impossible
    > for Jesus to fully God and fully man. No doubt, our human categories,
    > definitions, logic, etc. suggest that it is impossible. But
    > revelation says otherwise.

            Official doctrinal formulations generally should not claim to be complete
    explanations of the matter in question. They may have to say at some point, "This is
    something we don't understand." But to the extent that they do explain things, they ought to
    make sense. To take a caricature as an example, a doctrine of the Trinity which says that
    God is 3 and is 1, meaning 3 & 1 _of the same thing_ is nonsense & isn't improved by saying
    "it's a mystery."
            Such official statements should be understood as setting boundaries, telling the
    church where the edges of the road are. We have to avoid both tritheism and modalism, but
    within those boundaries theologians may, with appropriate modesty, try to to develop fuller
    understandings of the Trinity.
            The church has never set out an official dogma of divine action corresponding to
    those of Trinity and christology. With divine action I think what must be ruled out are the
    following are the ideas that
    everything in the world takes place by God's action alone (as if God simply moved inert lumps
    of stuff around) and the deistic idea that God doesn't act in the world at all.
            The traditional idea of divine cooperation with creatures is one way of speaking
    about divine action within these boundaries. Apropos this, Howard says in a parallel:

             "In _The Fourth Day_ I made frequent reference to the concept of divine
    governance. However, I have stopped doing that because of the way in which
    terms like 'governance' and 'sovereignty' are taken to imply 'control.'"

            "Governance," the idea that God's action accomplishes his desired ends, is one
    component of traditional doctrines of providence, but it isn't complete without the ideas of
    "preservation" and "concurrence" (cooperation). & it's really in explicating the latter with
    some understanding of how God acts with creatures that the rubber meets the road both
    theologically and scientifically.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Dialogue"

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