Re: The state of suburban theology

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 09:19:31 EDT

I had written:
>> 1. As I read various forms of episodic creationist literature, I find that
>> anything short of form-imposing supernatural (coercive) intervention is
>> commonly rejected as just not sufficiently impressive. The idea of divine
>> kenosis would be hard to sell in most YEC & ID communities.

George replied:

> This is true but it's no harder than selling a process view - &
> perhaps less so since it is (IMO) more closely tied to scripture.

My response: Agreed. Process metaphysics differs from that which the
biblical writers (steeped in Ancient Near Eastern religious tradition)
generally assumed.

To the extent to which I understand it, process theology is saying something
like this: Look, the supernaturalism assumed by most writers of the biblical
text just doesn't work. It generates all sorts of serious theological
problems, and it has no support in contemporary human experience. Let's
admit that and start over; let's not be content to do no more than repeat
what the biblical writers said. With all respect for their best efforts,
let's do as they did: experience The Sacred as fully as we are able and
reflect on that authentic experience in our own vocabulary and in our own
times and places.

>> 2. As I reflect on various proposals for kenosis -- voluntary divine
>> self-limitation -- I soon run into the theodicy problem again. If God's
>> self-limitation is a free choice, then would God not be equally free to
> make
>> an occasional exception whenever it would prevent horrendous human
>> suffering? Is sticking with a freely made choice more important, for
>> example, than sparing millions of lives (as in the Holocaust) or thousands
>> of lives (as in the 9/11 episode)?
> As I noted, this is indeed a critical difference, one which we've
> debated before. In the kenotic view, God doesn't intervene to stop the
> Holocaust &c - but also doesn't intervene to save himself from the cross.

But perhaps the cross, as traditionally understood (paying the blood price
for human sin that would not be forgiven, by divine choice, any other way)
is a misunderstanding of God that has been drawn from the New Testament text
as written and interpreted against the background of Old Testament
supernaturalism and Ancient Near Eastern concepts of blood sacrifice,
atonement and scapegoat rituals, and the like.

> Consistently sticking with the freely made choice of kenosis is a condition
> for creatures to be able to understand the world - a gift to creation which
> indeed has a price, one which both creatures & God pay.

I'm afraid that those humans who paid the high price would find the "gift"
vocabulary trite and offensive.

> In the process view
> OTOH there is first of all no reason to believe that things in the world
> _have_ to obey regular laws, they just do. & God's observance of those laws
> isn't really a gift because God couldn't do anything else.

Not by imposition of any other power, but by the very natures of God & world
in relationship. We all start with deep metaphysical assumptions. These, in
turn, must be subjected to the test of human experience. And when some long
held assumptions fail the test, humans must be courageous enough to
challenge them, even if one's religious community puts up a howl because
revered (or idolized) tradition is being criticized.

> By the same
> token God doesn't freely choose to suffer with the world, he's forced to.
> I admit that process theology provides a neater solution to the
> theodicy problem - evil happens because God can't stop it, to put it
> crudely - than does kenosis but that doesn't mean it's more profound. One
> ought to be wary of solutions that are too easy.

... or too costly in terms of what kinds of action, or willingness to act,
one ascribes to God.


Received on Tue Jun 15 09:35:27 2004

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