Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Thu May 22 2003 - 09:41:15 EDT

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    >From: "Dr. Blake Nelson" <>

    > I am interested in Howard's take on something he
    > promised to get back to me about probably over a year
    > ago (if he did, I missed it)

    No, you didn't miss it. You have a frightfully accurate memory.

    > and that is what sort of
    > eschatological hope is offered by the sort of deity
    > that is posed by Griffin and PT. As I understand (and
    > I could well be wrong since I am not that well read
    > vis-a-vis Griffin), Griffin has come around to the
    > position that the continuation of the person as a
    > subjective center of experience after death is
    > necessary (a position he earlier rejected), but
    > doesn't that involve supernaturalism on some level?

    I certainly don't know all of Griffin's perspectives, but this sounds

    > If God is able to act in a redemptive manner in that
    > way, why isn't "supernaturalism" (however poorly
    > defined) legitimate otherwise? (Isn't communication
    > between God and creation as a persuader or lure in
    > itself supernatural?)

    No. In process theology, non-coercive divine action can be effective (and
    variable) without needing to be supernatural. (See my comments to Rich B)

    > Is a god that can only persuade and lure creation a
    > proper source of eschatological hope if he is not the
    > Creator of the universe?

    Griffin retains the reference to God as Creator (the Giver/Chooser of the
    Creation's particular character), but strongly rejects creatio ex nihilo for
    theological reasons.

    On eschatological hope, I can only say that I have no doubt that I am
    privileged to experience life in the active presence of a loving God. I work
    daily to find better ways to experience that loving presence 24/7, an active
    presence not limited to or focused on occasional supernatural interventions.
    I find life to be good, and I am at peace.

    What I have long found difficult (impossible) to understand, or rest
    comfortably with, is the concept of an omnipotent God who "can do anything"
    (several on this list have used language of this sort) but then chooses not
    to exercise supernatural intervention and thereby allows unspeakable human
    suffering that could have been prevented. For me, no amount of clever
    theologizing can undo the theodicy problems introduced by the doctrine of
    divine omnipotence. W. H. Vanstone's book, Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense,
    rings true for me.

    > (of course I am also ignorant
    > as to why there should be or necessarily is a
    > relationship between a self-existing god and an
    > eternally (self?) existing universe; is this an
    > accurate characterization Griffin's view that both are
    > eternally existent?)

    As I understand Griffin on this, a) it is essential to God's nature to be in
    a loving (non-coercive) relationship with a world, b) this relationship to
    God is essential to the existence/being of any world, c) the world's freedom
    from coercive divine action is essential to its character, d) hence God and
    a world have always been, and their loving relationship excludes coercive,
    or supernatural, divine action.

    > Second (which I have not asked Howard about before),
    > as I recall, Griffin has defended as legitimate,
    > "natural" phenomena lots of areas that most scientists
    > reject, including a wide variety of parapsychological
    > phenomena. I would presume that this is a way of
    > naturalizing stuff that normally gets lumped into the
    > supernatural.

    Yes, as I noted somewhere else, Griffin's concept of the "natural" goes far
    beyond the more familiar materialist concept; it is enriched by non-coersive
    divine action as an essential aspect of all natural events.

    > However, I am curious on what Howard's
    > take on these phenomena are. It seems to me that
    > Griffin alternately suffers in this position depending
    > on one's view in one of a couple ways. By naturalizing
    > things that are generally thought to be in the realm
    > of the supernatural, Griffin is admitting that we
    > don't have a comprehensive understanding of what is
    > "natural".

    Right. As noted above, Griffin calls for a radical modification of what the
    term "natural" signifies.

    > How then is he in a position to say that
    > the supernatural is out of bounds for God? He doesn't
    > accept mainline definitions of natural (most
    > scientists seem to think parapsychology is bunk and/or
    > hocum), and admits that we don't have a complete
    > definition of what is natural in order to make
    > categorical distinctions that he tries to make. It
    > seems that either he is wrong in expanding
    > naturalistic explanations to include the phenomena he
    > wants to include, or he artifically excludes phenomena
    > he defines as supernatural.
    > What is Griffin's current position on
    > parapsychological phenomena? How does it fit into PT?

    For all of these questions you will simply have to read Griffin. I suggest
    either his _Religion and Scientific Naturalism_ or _Reenchantment Without

    Howard Van Till

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