Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thomas Jay Oord - Pathways to Open and Relational Theologies

Pathways to Open and Relational Theologies

by Thomas Jay Oord
May 13, 2014


As part of the book I’m currently writing, I’m suggesting four paths people take on their way to embracing open and relational theology. I’m looking for help in developing my discussion of one of those paths: Christian traditions.

The four paths to open and relational theology I identify are these:

1. following the biblical witness,
2. following themes in some Christian theological traditions,
3. following the philosophy of free will, and,
4. following the path of reconciling faith and science.

In this blog essay, I address some Christian theological traditions through which some people have come on their way to embracing open and relational theologies. I am hoping to add resources, ideas, bibliographical references, or figures to this essay (and the book). So please respond in the comments section with your thoughts and suggestions.

Christian Theological Themes

A number of theological traditions – or at least themes dominant in those traditions – have encouraged some people to embrace open and relational theologies. Most of these traditions reside in Christianity, and they include Adventist, Arminian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Restorationist, and Wesleyan.*

*Some might add Latter-Day Saint [Mormon] theology to this list, but scholars debate whether the Latter-Day Saint movement is rightly considered part of the Christian tradition. I will not weigh in on this debate here.

This does not mean, of course, everyone who identifies with, or works from, these Christian traditions embraces open and relational theology. Rather, particular themes in these traditions have inspired some to embrace open and relational theologies.

For example, some contemporary Lutherans have been influenced by Martin Luther’s theology of the cross – especially his emphasis upon the weakness and suffering of God. Consequently, they have rejected classic views of omnipotence and non/relationality and embraced open and relational notions of God’s power and relationships.

Some contemporary Anabaptists draw from Menno Simons’s emphasis upon pacificism, freedom, and peace. These Anabaptists find these themes congruent with the emphasis upon non-coercion re God’s persuasive activity as emphasized in open and relational theologies.

Some contemporary Baptists extrapolate from their view that believers must freely choose to be baptized. This extrapolation leads them to embrace open and relational theology, because of it emphasis upon genuine creaturely freedom.

Some Pentecostals believe we must cooperate with God when exercising the gifts of the Spirit. This concursus or synergy of God and creaturely activity fits well with cooperation themes in open and relational theologies.

The Stone-Campbell Restorationist movement emphasizes Christian freedom and freedom in the Spirit. This emphasis fits well with the emphasis upon freedom found in most open and relational theologies.

And, of course, many attracted to Jacob Arminius’s theology, especially his denial of predestination and his emphasis upon creaturely cooperation for salvation, often find themselves drawn to open and relational theologies. While Arminius retained a more traditional view of God’s omniscience, many of his other themes are identical to themes typical of open and relational theologies.

Theologies of Love

Perhaps the strongest reason some Christians embrace open and relational theologies is their belief in the centrality of love for Christian thinking and living. In their own ways, many Christian traditions say God’s primary attribute is love and God lovingly gives to and receives from creatures. Many say we must cooperate with God by living lives of love if we are to find full salvation.

The Wesleyan tradition is a good example of a Christian tradition whose themes fit well with open and relational theologies. Wesleyans typically follow John Wesley’s efforts to understand divine sovereignty in light of God’s love. Wesley preached that God “strongly and sweetly influenc[es] all, and yet without destroying the liberty of his rational creatures.” He understood God’s power, says Randy Maddox, “fundamentally in terms of empowerment - rather than control or overpowerment.” This means, says Maddox, that Wesleyans believe “God’s grace works powerfully, but not irresistibly, in matters of human life and salvation.”

Many contemporary Wesleyan theologians follow John Wesley’s lead in emphasizing love as the center of Christian theology. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, for instance, wrote her book, A Theology of Love, as an attempt to understand holiness through the lens of God’s relational love. “When each doctrine of the Christian faith is identified and defined by [Wesley],” argued Wynkoop, “the basic meaning invariably comes out ‘love.’”

Using an analogy, Wynkoop says, “Wesley’s thought is like a great rotunda with archway entrances all around it. No matter which one is entered, it always leads to the central Hall of Love…” Love “creates freedom and achievement,” she argues. And love “serves to link every doctrine together into one dynamic architectonic and to show the theological stature and integrity of John Wesley.”

God’s Foreknowledge

Many members of these Christians traditions have wrestled with how to understand God’s knowledge. While most believe God doesn’t foreordain or predestine all things, many think God foreknows all things. For them, God knows with absolutely certainty what we will do tomorrow and yet we are free to do otherwise.

But some in these Christian traditions reject the traditional view of God’s foreknowledge. Because they start with God’s love and creaturely freedom, they believe God experiences time in a way similar to the way creatures experience it. And this means God cannot foreknow - with absolute certainty - the future that will actually come to pass. Their understanding of God’s omniscience does not mean God foreknows all things.

A significant number of theologians in the 19th and early 20th centuries argued that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge. For instance, Methodist theologian, Lorenzo D. McCabe (1817-1897), extensively defended the view that God’s omniscience doesn’t entail exhaustive foreknowledge. “In the divine omniscience,” said McCabe, “there must be an element of growth.”

Lutheran theologian, Isaak Dorner (1809-84), said that a consistent view of God working with us in history requires that God knows future free acts of creatures as possibilities, not actualities. “We cannot be satisfied with the assertion that for God there can be nothing past and nothing future as such,” argued Dorner. God’s knowledge “presupposes a movement, a change, even in the [very] knowing activity of God himself.”

Roman Catholic theologian, Jules Lequyer (1814-1862), followed what he believed the logic of free will should imply about God’s foreknowledge. “I believe that God has only a conjectural knowledge of the acts determined by human activity,” said Lequyer.

Stone-Campbell Restorationist thinker, T. W. Brents (1823-1905), believed God voluntarily chooses not to know some things. Brents says God “saw fit to avoid knowledge of everything incompatible with the freedom of the human will.”

Major Methodist theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected exhaustive divine foreknowledge. One of the best known, Edgar S. Brightman (1884-1953), put it this way: “God cannot be said to have complete foreknowledge. Although a divine mind would know all that was knowable and worth knowing, including the consequences of all possible choices, it would not know what choices a free mind would make.” God cannot know, said Brightman, because God’s “consciousness is an eternal time movement, the soul of the ongoing of all reality.”

Process Theology

Some have followed process theology as their path to embracing open and relational theologies. Process theology is notoriously difficult to define, and scholars debate how best to describe the essence of process thought, if there even is one. But most Christian process theologians have affirmed the centrality of love, genuine creaturely freedom, chance and necessity, values, and the idea that God’s current knowledge does not include all future occurrences.

Many process theologians agree with Charles Hartshorne, for instance, who argues for “growth in God’s knowledge.” Hartshorne says that “the creative process produces new realities to know.” This means “God does not already, or eternally, know what we do to tomorrow, for, until we decide, there are no such entities as our tomorrow’s decisions.”

It’s important to emphasize that open and relational theologies come in many forms. Process theology is merely one form among others. Disagreements exist among those who self-identify with open and relational theology. But the various forms share enough in common to coalesce and promote a particular way of understanding God and the world God creates.


I could list other theological traditions and other theologians. Those who embrace open and relational theologies have taken different theological paths to their common affirmations. But my main goals here are two.

First, because of the ideas central to some Christian theologies, some of their members followed what they saw as the logic of those ideas and ended up embracing open and relational theology.

Second, although open and relational theology, as a general theological emaphasis, is a fairly recent phenomenon, one can find voices in the past championing even its the more controversial ideas. Some championed even the controversial idea that God’s omniscience does not include God currently knowing with certainly all that will occur in the future.

Your thoughts?

- Tom Oord

[1] I am grateful to friends and scholars on Facebook discussion groups for helping me think through ways the themes in some Christian traditions have been used by members to come to embrace open and relational theologies. In particular, I thank David Cole, Chris Fisher, James Goetz, Simon Hall, Randy Hardman, John D. Holloway, Curtis Holtzen, William Lance Huget, Jacob Matthew Hunt, Dave Huth, Richard Kidd, Richard Livingston, Jay McDaniel, T. C. Moore, Quinn Olinger, Bryan Overbaugh, Matt Perkins, David Saleeba, Neil Short, Rod Thomas.

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Tom, my Baptist and Reformed traditions saw open and relational theology as man-driven and not God-given. It taught a closed system with known and expected human failures as anticipated result with divine judgement as necessary outcome.

As such, when discovering open and relational theologies, I approached it in two ways: One, through process theology that immediately made sense to me in terms of the openness of the future and the necessity of God's relational love. And secondly, through Arminianism. But to accomplish this latter I had to first lower Calvinism's stark bleakness by raising Arminianism gracious hopefulness in order to discover divine promise coupled with divine meaning.

When taking these separate paths I immediately found that my orthodoxy began to focus on orthopraxy with a resultant theology of goodness and suffering mandating the necessity for a theology mediated by a very willful human response all in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. But to simply sit on the theological sidelines casting aspersions upon everyone unlike myself or my (evangelical) dogmas was not a viable missional response. Nor did it anticipate recreating the Lord's world by not doing anything except preaching the Word and waiting for heaven.

As such, God's love required acknowledging the legitimacy of both divine, and human, weakness and suffering as the only proper response whereby both man and God were each the means (or solution) for the other's salvation (in the sense of completeness or wholeness with self and with creation).

Too, with the aspect of both God and man working willfully together with one another became the divine means to providing a multi-variable re/creation as a viable outcome  that would be inclusive to redemptive foreknowledge and divine sovereignty. That this divine/human cooperative was a co/dependent process each upon the other actively charged with the redemption, renewal, reclamation, resurrection, and rebirth, of creation. A creation that would heal both the divine self and the human self now broken by a creaturely fellowship of sin and (spiritual) death.

Without the presence of redemptive process coupled with divine/human actors working synergistically together toward salvific outcome, goodness-and-suffering had no legitimate eschatological teleology. Nor meaningful redemptive purpose. Nor even meaningful completion between divine trinity and divine(d) creation.

- R.E. Slater

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Keith: "Tom, as part of your effort to not enter the debate on whether LDS is part of the Christian tradition but at the same time describe the varied paths people follow to reach a relational theology, it might be useful to add an LDS paragraph (what elements of Mormonism have lead some to a more open understanding of The Divine?)."

Thomas Jay Oord: "Good idea, Keith. Among those elements in LDS thought that are congenial to open and relational theologies I’d include the LDS emphasis upon free will and its emphasis upon divine relationality. Many Mormon theologians reject exhaustive divine foreknowledge too. There may be other elements. Given the way LDS theology is done, however, I think the statements from the prophets are considered ultimately authoritative. And I don’t know what the current leaders think about these issues."


Graeme: "The Adventist tradition, stemming from Wesleyan trunk, has taken relational theology a long way. I would say that it has become the dominant discourse in area ministries (women’s, youth, health, foreign missions) and by and largely eclipsed forensic and purity metaphors in theology. All the church’s distinctive teachings (sabbath, second advent, sanctuary, health, trinity ) have been recast in relational terms, even if the formal theo-logy appears traditional. Human freedom and divine foreknowledge have been balanced in the church’s eschatology and Judgment theology, so that coercion as a spiritual force is eliminated from the cosmos."

Thomas Jay Oord: Graeme, Thanks for your report on Adventism. I’ve been corresponding with Rick Rice on this subject, and he suggested I look into the work of Uriah Smith. After doing so, I added this paragraph to the ones above I will use in the book:"

Influential Adventist scholar, Uriah Smith (1832-1903), could write commentaries on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation and yet deny exhaustive foreknowledge. “God made [humans], as he must make all intelligences who are to serve him,” argued Smith, “a free moral agent, that such service may not be mechanical and constrained, but voluntary and free…” Smith says that humans “being free, God knew of course that [humans] might sin; but this would be a very different thing from saying he knew that [humans] would sin.”


Bryan: "Tom, I think you could also add that Pentecostals also have a very real sense of divine love. Amos Yong in his book Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace, goes to great lengths to show that the Pentecostal emphasis on divine power often overshadows the role that divine love plays in the individuals transformation. In short, he posits that divine love is as the heart of the Pentecostal experience."


Ben: "Hi Dr. Oord. In the readings of theology this can be an interesting discussion. Open and classical theology. Perhaps, the 4 reasons listed may have led some to considering the open view. While quoting theological virtues, such as free will, the reconcile of faith and science, traditions of theology, and the biblical witness-it seems that these same themes can lead one to deliberate classical and traditional theology as well. Of course we can quote various theologians and philosophers of several Christian traditions, either in support, or in opposition to open theism. However, among the 4 reasons listed, why not allow theology motif (scripture-biblical witness) to commence?"

Objection 1

“Psalm 139:4 - Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”

As an honest question, how does open theism describe this verse? It seems that the author of this verse insists that God “knows”- “before” human action takes place. Before he speaks “a word is on my tongue” ‘O Lord, you know it altogether’. Here, it seems that the future (before human action occurs) can be known by God.

Objection 2

Another example set forth in the bible is when Jesus forecasts his own death and resurrection (Matthew 20:17-19). He speaks of what humans in the future will do.

Objection 3

The LDS should not be considered for this theology hypothesis- The LDS Church is not Christian. From the very beginning, Mormon worldview condemned all Christian Churches and Christian theology:

“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of the sects was right, that I might which to join…..…..I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong….all their creeds were an abomination…..those professors were all corrupt” –Joseph Smith Jr. (Joseph Smith- History 1:19)- (This is an LDS standard work).

Contrary to the nature of Christian theology (monotheism-(Isaiah 43:10)- (Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox)-LDS theology is polytheistic.

19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (D&C 132:19-20)

“Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-347) Joseph Smith Jr. taught this as living Prophet of the LDS Church-he is also the founder of the LDS Church.

I will note that the LDS appear as good people. Having lived in Idaho for several years among LDS folks, it was enjoyable. They make great neighbors. However, their theology and worldview is not Christian.

Reply by R.E. Slater to Ben: I would take the psalmist's description of God's knowledge more as a knowledge of personal initimacy than one of perscriptive foreknowledge of act and will.

Secondly, as pertaining to Jesus' prophecy of His death and resurrection I would understand this proclamation by the One who was fully acquainted (and fully informed) of His own divine mission. A redemptive mission that was sovereignly enacted before the decrees of creation were put in place. And inasmuch as this is true, than Jesus' proclamation was one of forth-telling as much as it was one of fore-telling. Since God knows His own will He does so "proclaim and predict" with all rightness and authority. But as much as He decrees creation's freewill by divine fiat, He will wait upon creation's response even as He works out His own redemptive will in keeping with His eternal councils of grace and wisdom.

Thirdly, the LDS "church" does have elements within it that behaves towards open and relational theology whether a Christian faith or not. That was the point made and not one of debate of whether it is a Christian faith or not, sectarian or not, or even cultic or not. This is another matter for another day. For those Christians working intimately with the Mormon faith they see aspects of all of these outcomes within the diversity of this people group. Peace.