From: george murphy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the approach of process theology (P), that limitation is due to
the very nature of God and God's relationship with the world. A more
traditional kenotic approach (K) sees God as indeed able to do all things,
including miraculous intervention that violates the usual pattern of nature,
but as voluntarily limiting divine action to what can be accomplished
through natural processes. This is the scholastic distinction between God's
"absolute power" and God's "ordinate power." The latter is limited while
the former is not (except by the requirement of non-contradiction.) The
process view, OTOH, amounts to the claim that even God's "absolute power" is
I think that's a correct representation of process theology, in which
supernatural intervention is absent as a consequence of the very nature of
God and the God/world relationship. God is "supreme in power," but not
Both of these approaches are consistent with the ideas of creation's
functional integrity and from the standpoint of the natural sciences may be
indistinguishable. But there are some important theological differences. In
K, God's not superseding natural laws is due to the fact that God does not
choose to do so, while with P it's due to the fact that God can't do so. K
is a view of divine action that is modelled on the Incarnation and cross, in
which Christ "emptied" himself, while with P Incarnation and cross are
examples of a general pattern: It's a difference in starting points.
I'm not sure about the "examples of a general pattern" comment, but it
certainly is true that K and P represent two quite different concepts of
God, fundamental concepts on which one's theology is constructed.
P does not have to answer the question "Why does God so limit divine
action?" because he must in the nature of things. K can of course simply
fall back on "Because he wants to," but can also argue that limitation of
divine action to what is in accord with rational laws of nature makes it
possible for creatures to understand & have some control over their world.
It is seldom noted, OTOH, that P does not really explain why there is a
rational pattern for what takes place in the world.
I presume the answer lies in the metaphysics on which process thought is
founded. Perhaps it might also be argued that K does not really demonstrate
that this particular form of divine self-limitation is morally optimal.
It may seem that P has the edge when dealing with the theodicy
question: To put it crudely, bad things happen to good people because God
can't help it. God can't intervene miraculously to keep cancer cells from
multiplying, &c. K, OTOH, has to say that God could intervene but chooses
not to. That may not seem a very attractive answer. This impression may be
mitigated, however, by (a) the argument that this is the price that has to
be paid for a rational world and (b) the claim that not only creatures but
also God pays this price on the cross.
One of my reasons for suggesting that P deserves a sympathetic consideration
is its handling of the theodicy issue. Given traditional supernaturalism's
difficulty with this matter, I still think some exploration of other
theological systems is in order.
Finally, K is more open to the possibility of miraculous
intervention than P. Howard speaks consistently of his view of creation as
ruling out "form-conferring interventions" but what about other kinds (e.g.,
redemptive) interventions? I have said before that I don't think it's
necessary to insist that any given action, up to & including the
resurrection, must be of such a character. OTOH, I wonder if it's wise to
adopt an approach in which such interventions not even possible.
OK, but sympathetic exploration is not adoption. One can learn from views
without adopting them.
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