Thomas Jay Oord has a new book coming out in December of this year: The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. I’ve been reading a pre-publication version of the book and I can tell you that it is well written, engaging and well worth reading.
Dr. Oord is the best known theologian in the Church of the Nazarene — a conservative denomination in the Wesleyan tradition. He has written and edited several books including: The Nature of Love: A Theology, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement, Renovating Holiness, The Polkinghorne Reader: Science, Faith, and the Search for Meaning, Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science, and many others. He is a well known advocate of Open Theism — which he calls Open and Relational theology.
I have been appreciative of Dr. Oord’s work for some time — because of his interest in the issues at the interface of science and theology — and because of his commitment to the Wesleyan tradition. I’ve always been a bit reluctant to fully embrace Open Theism but that may just be my own intransigence. Certainly there are many advantages to this point of view — which Dr. Oord ably demonstrates in his new book.
The problem of evil is, of course, one of the most persistent and troubling problems in the Christian faith. It is one of the most common objections to Christian theism.
And, this is closely related to the idea of God’s providence — God’s superintendence, maintenance, and intervention in the world. Simply stated: if an all-powerful and benevolent God is maintaining and upholding the world as we know it, then why does evil exist?
Dr. Oord says of his new book:
At the heart of the book is my own novel proposal on providence, what I call “essential kenosis.” It represents a truly new way of think about God’s love and power in relation to creation. Although essential kenosis shares similarities with other open and relational theologies – e.g., open theologies, process theologies, Arminian theologies, etc. – it overcomes various criticisms leveled against them.
This is an important new book that addresses an important theological problem — and attempts to show that it is not insoluble.
Many of our ideas about God have grown out of the interaction of Christian faith with Greek philosophy in the ancient world. And, early Christian theologians (generally called the Church Fathers) leaned heavily on Greek philosophical ideas to explain and elaborate the faith. I don’t think they should be blamed for that. It is obvious on every page of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica how indebted he is to the philosophy of Aristotle — and to Aristotle’s early Arab interpreters. He simply reached for the best philosophical reflection that was available to him at the time. But, it creates a problem for those who come after. Are we to accept all the theologizing of the past as being some kind of unchanging “orthodoxy,” or can we make adjustments to Christian theology in the light of new understandings of the world? As philosophy changes, can theology change with it? Is it possible to lay philosophy to one side, and hear Scripture’s witness to God anew?
While the problem of evil may be intractable and troublesome, it is certainly traditional.
It seems sad to me that any new attempt to solve theology’s long-standing problems with new perspectives is fated to be declared heresy by someone! And, this has certainly been the case with Dr. Oord, who lost the position he had held for many years at Northwest Nazarene University over controversies about his theology. While this seems to me (as an outsider) like the result of a resurgence of fundamentalism and creationism — in a denomination where neither really should belong — it is still true that new theological proposals are often met with resistance. It can be difficult to balance faithfulness to the insights of the past with new and creative ways of re-articulate the faith. We can only be thankful for those who seek to creatively re-articualte the faith for our generation — in spite of misunderstanding and opposition.
Oord’s new book is an attempt to show how the Open and Relational paradigm actually solves some of the long standing intellectual problems of Christian theism.
In the opening chapter of his book, Oord writes:
This book explores the big picture with a special emphasis upon explaining randomness and evil in light of God’s providence. By providence, I mean the ways God acts to promote our well-being and the well-being of the whole.
In this exploration, I will not ignore purpose, beauty, goodness and love. But the positive aspects of life are fairly easy to reconcile with belief in God. Randomness and evil are far more challenging. Unfortunately, some believers dismiss the challenging aspects of life as inconsequential or unreal. By contrast, I think we must take seriously these aspects, so seriously that many believers will need to rethink their views of God. We may need deconstruction so reconstruction can occur.
By the end of this book, I will offer answers to some of the most significant questions of life. I take seriously randomness and purpose, evil and good, freedom and necessity, love and hate — and God. I’ll be offering a novel proposal for overcoming obstacles that have traditionally prevented believers from finding satisfactory solutions to the big problems of life. My solutions may even prompt unbelievers to reconsider their belief that God does not exist.
This is a serious and accessible attempt to grapple with a long standing problem in the Christian faith. Yes, it is ultimately an argument for Open Theism — and for a particular perspective on Open Theism — but I think all Christians who are serious about understanding their faith can benefit from reading this book.
Pre-order it now while you are thinking of it.
I’ll maybe say more about this later.