Re: The state of suburban theology

From: Steve Petermann <>
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 10:17:54 EDT

Howard wrote:
> Correct. I was not at all trying to defend deism. Rather I was trying to
> understand its relationship to the rise of interventionist concepts of
> divine action, especially the various forms of episodic creationism that
> flourish today.

Most strong swings in ideology seem to be a reaction to something else. I
suspect the resurgence of interventionist views is a reaction to the
prominence of materialist and eliminativist views in the media coming from
the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, Stinger, Pinker, etc. Teleology in
traditional religions is one of the non-negotiables. In order to maintain
this notion of teleology requires some grounding and connection with
ultimate reality. I think it appears, although imo unwarranted, to many in
traditional religions that science threatens this telic view.

> As I noted recently, perhaps traditional Christian theology
> suffers from having a severely underdeveloped concept of non-coercive
> action. (In place of 'non-coercive' I prefer the positive term
> 'contributive,' in contrast to 'determinative' divine action.)

I think you are right. Faced with the threat of loosing a teleological
footing, the easiest (non-systematic) way to hang on is to posit
supernatural interventions. The intellectual and systematic price, however,
is high. Question is, are there alternative approaches that remain faithful
to the essence of the faith without bankrupting the intellect?

George wrote:
> What has been "underdeveloped" until recently is an
> explicit emphasis on the idea that God does so limit divine action as an
> expression of divine kenosis.

It is my opinion as well that this kenotic view have been neglected far too
much. However, while both process theology and forms of kenotic divine
action may offer solutions to the "problem" of coercion, they may both also
be destined to be unsatisfying if they embrace a form of dualistic ontology.
By dualistic here I mean drawing a *strong* ontological distinction between
the material and divine realms. A strong ontological distinction
necessitates some form of "interactionism" and with it explication of terms
like coercion, non-coercion, cooperation, synergism, etc. This also
necessarily raises the issue of a causal joint for this interaction which
has been a particular scientific sticking point for this ontology. However,
I do not thing this *strong* ontological distinction has to be posited to be
faithful to tradition. There are ontologies in Christianity that do not
strike this strong distinction, Pauline Christ mysticism for one. Other
"monistic" or mystical variations have been expounded by theologians and
philosophers as well.

Sustaining interventionist views requires an emphasis in preaching and
teaching of ontologies that drive an ontological wedge between God and
humanity. With those ontologies in place, the intractability of issues like
interventionism and theodicy seem inevitable. Christianity has a long
history of "non-dual" mystical and kenotic traditions that might offer
alternatives to this dichotomy. However, when was the last time anyone
heard a sustained exploration of them in suburban theology?

Steve Petermann
Received on Tue Jun 15 10:40:59 2004

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