Re: Process problems from Re: Evolution: A few questions

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Tue Jun 29 2004 - 09:09:09 EDT


Thanks for the comments. I'll write a quick reply before heading out of the
office for the rest of the day.

> As I think I commented at your talk at the KSU ASA meeting,
> "traditional" Christian orthodoxy has nature permeated with the
> active presence of God. In several contexts I've argued that the
> traditional view is also non-coercive (but you seem to reject this
> because, if I understand you correctly, you think that if an action
> is guaranteed that is must be coercive).

I can see a couple of issues that have made it difficult for me to be
attracted to your approach.

1) The Calvinist emphasis on a radical distinction between God and world has
had the effect of placing great emphasis on supernatural (coercive) action
as REAL divine action. Supportive evidence: Nearly every time I presented
the "Fully-Gifted Creation perspective in traditional Christian circles, the
accusation of deism was thrown at me. When I say, "No supernatural
(coercive) divine action is necessary for the actualization of new
creaturely forms" most traditional Christians hear, "There is no such thing
as divine action." As I have suggested before, I think traditional
Christianity (or the contemporary expression of it) operates with a severely
diminished and inadequate concept of non-coercive divine action. If you
think you can repair that, go for it!

2) Yes, the distinction between "determinative' and "contributive" is
essential to me. As I explained extensively in my (private, but not answered
:) response to your ASA presentation, I cannot see "determinative" as
anything but "coercive." It seems to me that once God unilaterally
determines an outcome, creaturely freedom vanishes. As I see it, talk about
God being "in (determinative) control" with creatures "acting freely" at the
same time is pure double-talk.

> Ontological, radical
> distinction of Creator/creation in no way prevents a "nature" that is
> permeated with the active presence of God.

Perhaps not in principle, but in practice.....? The rhetoric of the ID
movement, for example, strongly implies that "natural" phenomena are
identical with materialism's radically godless action.

> Several "traditional"
> attributes of God lend themselves to this idea: His spirituality,
> omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, in my understanding of
> Reformed (and other) orthodox, lead to a Creator/creature interaction
> that is fully as rich as anything Howard or process theology has
> suggested. [I will concede that the solution to theodicy is our chief
> difference. As we have discussed our differences over the past
> several months, it seems to me that theodicy has become your primary
> reason for exploring process theology.]

Important, but not primary. There are several issues that come together to
encourage my sympathetic exploration of process theology. Some of that is
explained in my Foreword to Griffin's next book, Two Great Truths.
> In his subsequent post in response to George, you write:
>> OK. Would I be justified, then, in expecting the broad Christian community
>> to recognize the way in which the meaning of "natural" in process thought
>> differs significantly from what it traditionally means? :)
> In traditional systematic discussions of providence, concurrence,
> etc. "natural" comes very close, I think, to what the process
> theologians are getting at. I agree that this is a much richer view
> of "natural" than is commonly postulated by the "natural" vs.
> "supernatural" distinction. That's why I've often argued that there
> is no such thing as "natural"--I much prefer to speak in terms of
> God's regular and irregular manner of governance.

Fair comment. My own next step was to drop the word "governance" from most
discussions because of its coercive action connotations.
> I continue to think that your rejection of a "traditional"
> theological framework is more informed by the shallowness of more
> fundamentalist systems rather than the full richness of
> Augustinian/Reformed (okay--Lutheran too) systems--unless theodicy
> really is driving the differences.

I think what you call the "shallowness" factor is a significant part of it,
but my ontological picture is also under transformation.
> I have some of the same problems with "traditional" views that you
> do. But I would argue that they are not really "traditional" views.
> They are a shallow caricatures of orthodoxy and we must work to
> return the church to orthodoxy on this point. Just because Phil
> Johnson calls my view vacuous (I guess I'm still stinging from that
> bizarre accusation), doesn't mean that it is. Unfortunately, most
> evangelicals seem to think in these shallow, problematic terms.

...which make it difficult to converse with many in the contemporary
Evangelical camp.


Received on Tue Jun 29 09:28:29 2004

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