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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Listening to the Gospel of Christ over the Airs of Church Teachings

The following article below is the kind of discussion evangelicals always seem to be speaking among themselves using popular terms and concepts which have taken on a life of their own within their circles of theology. Doctrines which must be continually re-examined lest they go too far, or don't say enough, about Christianity's central biblical tenants and beliefs.

From a process perspective I would like to think of the atonement of Christ as a necessary and good result of the love of God for humanity bound by sin and needing release from its burden. Evangelicals would also agree to this concept but always seem to come at it from a "divine wrath" perspective with hell as the condition upon which every man or woman must confront.

True, evangelicals will admit to God's love as being a motivating factor for atonement, but I often suspect it never seems enough as they preach the judgment of God upon man for his/her sin condemning each to the fires of hell if not received. It seems God's wrath is evangelicalism's primary motivation for God's offer of redemption to mankind (I can still hear Billy Grahm's crusades echoing in my ears). At which point they begin splitting hairs as to whom God redeems or condemns (sheep vs. goats; or the tares (weeds) illustrations); whether His salvation is effectively for all or practically for some (the predestined or elect); whether salvation can truly be known or not (the Catholic angst); how efficacious salvation's effects might be (faith and works); and so on and so on and so on.

The doctrine of salvation is part of the many doctrinal labyrinths whose mazes spin this way and that having begun ages ago in the histories of the early church attempting to decipher salvation's effectiveness against persistent evil, oppression, persecution, and the death of God's people before corrupt and evil human agencies.

It's like looking at a cup of water and wondering whether the glass is half full or half empty. From an open-and-relational process perspective its a "half full kind of thing" which would more readily admit the need for atonement as an extension of God's love and fellowship back to all things created rather than to approach salvation from the wrath and judgment side of the divine (which pretty much is closed and determinative according to Calvinism's Reformed doctrines). And if this former, can then more easily speak to the need for sin to be resolved within the personage of Christ Jesus as evidenced in the Gospel narratives rather than attempt to drive it out of us by fear, threats and intimidation.

Christ moved among us not because of the hell we see or live through everyday but because of God's need to imbue wholeness within us who are unwhole, unwell, broken. Who need a Savior who can move us from our binds and burdens back into His fellowship, love, care, sustenance, and healing. Where heaven might be a reality now... not later. Because God and His love is a reality now. Who sees us as worthy of the hard work of redemption which may be started in our lives now rather than later. A reality whereby this sin-held world might be released one soul at a time from its evil. For love, not for wrath, Christ came into this world to redeem.

Having grown up in evangelic doctrine I find more satisfaction having stepped away from its "cup is half empty" perspectives back into the simplicities of Scripture's plain teachings. That God loves us and must reach out to us because of His great love. Not because we are doomed to hell and divine wrath because of our sin but because divine Love is the grace which explains and drives all of life.

I prefer to place the emphasis where it needs to be. This is not to discount sin which is plainly everywhere about. But for myself, a God who is all Judge and Jury seems less attractive a gospel than a God of all Grace and Majesty. And when it comes to how He deposed Himself within Himself on the Cross when taking on the sin of the world - it is enough for me to know that He came as a holy sacrifice willing to take our sin upon Himself without causing His Being to be any less than it was before He had undertaken this atoning act. Though rent by our sin He remained wholly in fellowship with Himself while remaining unrent ontologically. That as God, He could bear sin - and sin's penalty - and still be God in the act and the outcome. But I would expect God to be this kind of God, wouldn't you?

And so, while the article below can provide a provocative read it can also provide a narrowing of the human understanding of the Cross of Christ on Calvary's hill of Redemption when over-concentrating on the what, why, or how of its transaction. A divine transaction between a holy God reaching out into a broken world offering completeness, release and rest, from its daily burdens and hardships when continually confronted by the sin and evil present within its broken provide.

Lastly, and with a word of caution, I urge readers not to be drawn away into useless arguments of the Cross or of God but to always learn to discern where God would place the emphasis of His gospel - rather than how our own human hearts might hear or think of it. We've all listened to music stripped of its beats, tempos, or rhythms from the original score, making it into something else. But when this latter is brought into the music it can soar under the hand of the composer who had wrought it. This is as true of the bible, of God, of our lives, as with anything else. Sometimes we need to listen to the heart of God over our own hearts which would misread or misinterpret God's soaring music of the Good News of the Gospel which is  found in Christ Jesus our Savior and Risen Lord.


R.E. Slater
April 4, 2018

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Is the Wrath of God Really Satisfying?

God’s anger against sin is real on Good Friday, but he doesn’t “turn his face away” from the Cross.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words come from the lips of Jesus as he hangs on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). They are powerful and haunting, and they are surely very important. But what do they mean—how are we to understand them?
For many who hold this view, the Trinity is somehow “broken” as the communion between the Father and the Son is ruptured in the darkness of that Friday afternoon. And this is said to be good news and the heart of the gospel because Jesus absorbs the wrath of God in taking the exact punishment we deserve. God is changed from wrath to mercy and can no longer justly punish those for whom Christ died.Here is one line of thinking that has recently become very popular in some circles. According to C. J. Mahaney, this cry from the lips of Jesus is the “scream of the damned.” He takes this line from R. C. Sproul who exclaims that when Jesus is crucified it is “as if a voice from heaven said, ‘Damn you, Jesus.’” This is because Jesus becomes the “virtual incarnation of evil” and even “the very embodiment of all that sin is.” Thus God abandons Jesus, turns his back on him, “curses him to the pit of hell” and “damns” him.
Such preaching is very powerful. But is it right? We should, of course, want to proclaim all that the Bible says about the work of Christ (at least as much as we are able), and we should be committed to affirming all that this teaching implies (what older theologians called “good and necessary” consequences). But we should also be very cautious about going beyond what is explicitly taught or implied— especially where the Christian tradition warns us. And we should strive to avoid anything that goes against biblical teaching and theological orthodoxy. So what are we to make of such teaching?

The Scream of the Damned?

We should be faithful to proclaim all that Scripture teaches, but we should be cautious about going beyond it. And here we must be blunt: Scripture nowhere says that Jesus’s cry of dereliction is “the scream of the damned.” Sproul says that “it is as if” there is a voice from heaven that says “Damn you, Jesus,” but in fact, there is no such voice. Jesus Christ is nowhere said in Scripture to be the “virtual incarnation of evil” or “the very embodiment of all that sin is.” To the contrary, he is the incarnation of goodness—he is holiness incarnate as truly human.
There is no biblical evidence that the Father-Son communion was somehow ruptured on that day. Nowhere is it written that the Father was angry with the Son. Nowhere can we read that God “curses him to the pit of hell.” Nowhere is it written that Jesus absorbs the wrath of God by taking the exact punishment that we deserve. In no passage is there any indication that God’s wrath is “infinitely intense” as it is poured out on Jesus. Such statements may pack a lot of rhetorical punch, but they go far beyond what Scripture teaches.
Of course, not all “going beyond” is going against, but sometimes the tradition warns us that “beyond” has become “against.” I have argued elsewhere that important patristic, medieval, and Reformation teaching denies these claims, but consider these statements (from theologians well known for their defense of a version of the doctrine of “penal substitution”). John Calvin says that “we do not admit that God was ever hostile to him, or angry (iratum) with him. For how could he be angry with his beloved Son, ‘in whom his soul delighted?’”
Similarly, Charles Hodge denies that the atoning work of Christ “consist[s] in an exact quid pro quo, so much for so much,” and he says that Christ “did not suffer either in kind or degree what sinners would have suffered.” It is tough to argue against Hodge here, for if sin deserves eternal separation from God and eternal conscious punishment (as traditional Reformed and much evangelical theology insists), then clearly this is not what Jesus receives.

One Triune God

Just as we must be cautious not to go beyond what Scripture says, so also we should not proclaim anything that goes against biblical teaching (or its “good and necessary” entailments). I have made the case elsewhere that while it is clear that the Father abandoned the Son to death on the cross, there is no good reason to think that this causes a rupture— or even a “strain” or “tension”—within the Triune life.
Not only is there no biblical text that says that the Father “turns his face away” from the Son, the passage that most plausibly speaks to the matter actually says that God did not do so. For if we take Psalm 22 to be important for our understanding of the cry of dereliction (as both Mark and Matthew clearly do), then we find these words: “he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Ps. 22:24). And the steady drumbeat of the apostolic preaching of the gospel has this consistent refrain: You killed him, but God raised him from the dead.
Finally, the “broken Trinity” and “God against God” views run aground on the doctrines of divine impassibility and simplicity as well as the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Christian orthodoxy, it not even a possibility that the Trinity was broken. If we know anything about the Trinity, we know that God is one God in three persons, and we know that God’s life is necessarily the life of holy love shared in the eternal communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To say that the Trinity is broken—even “temporarily”—is to imply that God does not exist.

The Just For the Unjust

We must not go beyond or against Scripture, but we should do our best to affirm all that Scripture says. So then, what can we say of the cry of dereliction? First, we should see that the biblical depiction of the human condition makes it clear—painfully and depressingly clear—that we are sinners. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we are helpless to rescue or repair or somehow save ourselves. We have the problem of what we’ve done and the wreckage we’ve caused; our sin and guilt and shame are undeniable and unshakable. But this isn’t all, for we have the further problem of who we are, what we’ve become, and what we will continue to do if we are not radically transformed. To use the language of older theology, we are both polluted and guilty.
Death is the consequence of sin (Rom. 6:23). And because of our sin, the wrath of God is being revealed (Rom. 1:18). Our days “pass away” under God’s wrath (Ps. 90:9). God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5–6). Indeed, we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3, ESV).
Second, we should understand the work of Christ on our behalf within the storyline of Scripture: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). His work addresses our condition— both the guilt and the pollution. Jesus Christ reverses the disobedience and unfaithfulness of Adam and Israel. Drawing on an ancient theological insight, we can say that in becoming human the divine Son of God “recapitulates” (or “re-heads”) humanity. The incarnation is itself redemptive, and it is his entire life, death, and resurrection (as well as his ascension and session—Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven) that brings salvation to us.
In becoming fully human as Jesus Christ, the Son enters our brokenness and takes upon himself the “curse” caused by humanity’s sin. Thus the incarnate Christ unites himself to those under the wrath of God and suffers death. Christ’s work on our behalf is thus grounded in his incarnate person; it includes his teaching and example (1 Pet. 2:21) and culminates in his glorious defeat of sin and death (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:54–57; Heb. 2:14).
To say that Christ “died in accordance with the Scriptures” is to see his work within the broad biblical storyline that begins with Adam and focuses on Israel. More precisely, this includes seeing it in light of the Old Testament witness to both the wrath of God and the sacrifices offered for sin. The New Testament draws these connections, and it presents Jesus as the one who is both priest and sacrifice, both representative and substitute.
Jesus has come to ransom others (e.g., Mark 10:45). His suffering is not merely physical (Matt. 26:38), as his intimate union with humanity makes him deeply aware of their sin and its consequences. His death was “the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to be a “sin offering” and to “condemn sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He redeemed us from the curse of the law by “becoming a curse for us” in his death (Gal. 3:13). We are “saved from God’s wrath” by Christ (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). The one who was sinless (e.g., Heb. 4:15) and who “had no sin” became “a sin offering” (not a sinner) on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, “‘bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24; compare Isa. 53:5–6).
Note carefully the statement “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” We cannot afford to miss the union and participation here—Christ lived with and for us and died for our sins so that we might die to our sins and live with and for him. Nor can we afford to miss the intention; it is so that we might be transformed, so that we might be truly righteous.
Christ was a sacrifice for us so that we might live as people who are holy (e.g., Eph. 5:2–21). His sacrifice was to “do away with sin” (Heb. 9:26). It was to cleanse us from sin—the “acts that lead to death” (Heb. 9:14; 10:10). Christ was a “sin offering” precisely so that we will “not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4)—so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). As a result of Christ’s work, we can be “freed from our sins” by the one who loves us (Rev. 1:5).
We should be committed to proclaiming all that Scripture says about what Christ did for us. So we should not shrink from clarity about sin and its awful and horrific consequences. Indeed, we should be faithful to point out that “wrath remains” on all who reject the Son (John 3:36). At the same time, however, we are not at liberty to restrict our understanding of the intents, purposes, and breadth of Christ’s work.
Narrowing Christ’s work to the limited sense of taking the punishment for our sins can cause us to miss (much of) the point. Yes, Christ came to get us out of hell, but he also came to get hell out of us and to make us holy as we walk in communion with the Triune God. We should be faithful to proclaim that while Christ’s sacrificial work saves us from the wrath of God, it does so precisely as it radically transforms and changes us.
To say or imply that the Trinity is broken is to say or imply that God does not exist. This is exactly what we should seek to avoid saying on Good Friday and every other day. To the contrary, the holy love of the Triune life is the ground and wellspring of salvation: God “demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “God is love,” and “this is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world ... as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:8–10). This we joyfully proclaim.
Thomas H. McCall is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and professorial fellow in analytic and exegetical theology at the University of St Andrews. His most recent book is An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP Academic, 2015).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thomas Jay Oord - Strong Passibility, Trinity & Theocosmocentrism

Strong Passibility, Trinity, and Theocosmocentrism

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 19, 2018

An increasing number of Christians believe God is relational. To be “relational” is, in the classical language, to be “passible.” It means that God is affected by others.

I’ve written an essay for a new book on im/passibility, and I defend what the editors call “strong passibility.” In my language, I call this God’s essential relations with others.

In this essay, I lay out two ways we might think relationality is essential to God. And I mention a third way, which is really a combination of the first two. I’ll also point to concerns with these ways, although I think at least some of these concerns can be overcome.

Strong Passibility/Essential Divine Relations

The strong divine passibility view I defend says being affected by others is a necessary attribute of God’s nature. God doesn’t voluntarily choose to be affected; God is necessarily affected. I have been using the phrase “essentially relational” to describe strong divine passibility.

I take the biblical phrase, “God is love,” to mean that love is an essential divine attribute. If God is essentially loving and love always involves relational giving and receiving relationships, God must be essentially relational. Strong divine passibility says God is necessarily and everlastingly passible.

God Essentially Relates in Trinity

There are two ways (and a third that combines them) to affirm strong divine passibility. The first says God essentially relates in Godself. This view is typically associated with a vision of God as a social Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or other names we might use) have everlastingly related with one another. Some call this relating a perichoretic dance. This Trinitarian view affirms that God everlastingly and necessarily relates in Godself.

There are several downsides placing all one’s emphasis upon the Trinity to affirm strong passibility. One downside is that saying divine persons relate to one another sounds to many people like tritheism rather than monotheism. Real relations require real differences; real relations among persons require more than one person. Few Christians want to say three Gods exist.

Those who affirm the social Trinity also typically affirm the idea that God once existed alone and then created the universe out of nothing. They say God necessarily loves and relates in Trinity but contingently loves and relates with creation. The downside of this view, however, is that God’s love for creation is arbitrary, in the sense that there is no essential divine attribute for love of creaturely others. God by nature does not love nondivine others.

The view that God only loves necessarily within Trinity can sound like God is inherently selfish. After all, God necessarily loves Godself and contingently loves creatures. By contrast, many believe love promotes the well-being of those beyond the lover. And imitating God involves loving others not just ourselves.

Those who affirm God as essentially related in Trinity respond to these criticisms. The most common response says it’s a mystery how God can be both one and essentially self-related as three. Some regard this as the highest of holy mysteries. And we should simply believe God will always love creatures, despite there being no love-for-creation attribute essential to God’s nature.

God Essentially Relates with Creation

The second way to affirm that God essentially relates with others says God essentially relates with creatures. This way denies that God once existed alone and at some time decided to create the universe out of nothing. Instead, God always and necessarily relates with creatures, because God always creates others with whom God relates.

I call this view “theocosmocentrism,” but some forms of panentheism also affirm it. Theocosmocentrism says we make the best sense of reality if we refer both to God and creation. The strong passibility version of theocosmocentrism says God necessarily loves and relates to creation, but the particular ways God loves and relates with creation are contingent.

One disadvantage to the theocosmocentric way of affirming strong divine passibility is that many people cannot fathom how God everlastingly relates to creation. Most Christians accept that God had no beginning, although they cannot fathom that view. They also accept a big bang cosmology that says our universe had a beginning. So they cannot fathom how God everlastingly creates and relates to creation. Affirming both requires believing God was creating before the big bang. That’s difficult for many to conceive.

God Essentially Relates in Trinity and with Creation

Another downside to the idea that God always relates to creatures (at least in the minds of some) is that the idea isn’t explicitly Trinitarian. Some theologians want to keep the Trinity front and center. Saying God essentially relates to creatures doesn’t require belief in Trinity, at least not obviously so.

But this downside can be overcome. One can affirm that God essentially relates in Trinity and God essentially relates with creatures. Both types of necessary relations can be true simultaneously. We might even consider Jesus’ revelation of a relational God as evidence of this doubly essential divine relatedness.

A God of Strong Passibility Exists Necessarily

One can affirm any of these versions of strong divine passibility and think God exists necessarily. Strong passibility and divine aseity are compatible. God can necessarily exist and essentially relate to divine others or creaturely others or both. There is no logical contradiction.

With the Psalmist, we can affirm that the steadfast love of the Lord can literally endure forever. And that enduring can be within Trinity, with creation, or both (Ps. 118).


This argument is part of my much longer essay defending God’s relationality in general and essential relations in particular. Look for it in a 4 views book next fall.

In my next blog essay, I’ll offer reasons it’s better to affirm strong divine passibility/essential relations than weak passibility. My goal in this essay, however, is to lay out two ways to say God is essentially relational.

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Why We Should Believe God is Essentially Relational

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 25, 2018

It seems that most Christians believe God is relational. I agree. Theologians call this “divine passibility.” But some Christians think God chooses to be relational, while others think God is relational by nature. Does it matter whether we believe God is relational by choice or by nature?

Five Reasons to Affirm God is Essentially Relational

In my previous post, I described two forms of strong passibility, or what I usually call God’s “essential relations.” One form says God essentially relates within Trinity. The second says God essentially relates with creation. A third combines them to say God essentially relates in Trinity and with creation.

So what? Does it matter that we affirm the strong version of divine passibility? After all, biblical writers don’t explicitly endorse one version of passibility instead of the other. I think it does matter, and there are good reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not by an arbitrary choice. Saying God is essentially relational makes better sense than saying God is contingently relational.

1. The God Revealed as Relational is So by Nature

I am among many who believe it wise to unite conceptually how God self-reveals with who God truly is. We should believe the God witnessed to in Jesus, the Bible, and in other forms of revelation is who God truly is by nature.

While this argument isn’t a proof, it makes sense to think that the God revealed as relational is who God is by nature.

2. God’s Essence is Love, and Love is Relational

Affirming strong passibility provides a consistent view of divine love. If love is an essential divine attribute and God essentially and everlastingly expresses love in relations with others, strong divine passibility makes sense.

Strong divine passibility does not force us to do apophatic gymnastics when speaking of God’s love. It doesn’t balk at speculating about God’s nature. Strong divine passibility provides a coherent framework for conceiving of God’s love.

To affirm that love is an essential attribute of God, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

3. Only an Essentially Relational God Can be Trusted to Love Us

If God’s love is essentially relational and God necessarily relates with creatures (theocosmocentrism), we have assurance that God always loves us. God loves us no matter what, because that’s the kind of being God is.

Weak divine passibility cannot affirm this, because it says God’s love for us is contingent. The weak view cannot say God necessarily loves creation. And those who deny divine passibility altogether cannot speak coherently about God being compassionate or expressing love in giving-and-receiving relations.

To affirm unambiguously God’s steadfast love for us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

4. An Essentially Relational God is Best Conceived as Uncontrolling

I’ve argued in other publications that God’s love is uncontrolling. Strong divine passibility fits nicely with the view that God’s love is necessarily uncontrolling, because divine love necessarily gives and receives.

Believing God cannot control others solves the central issue in the problem of evil: the God who cannot control is not culpable for failing to prevent evil. I call this “essential kenosis.”[1] Although one could affirm weak divine passibility and the uncontrolling love of God, the strong divine passibility view fits uncontrolling love better.

To affirm clearly that God is not culpable for evil, we should affirm strong divine passibility.

5. An Essentially Relational God Will Never Leave nor Forsake Us

The theocosmocentric version of strong divine passibility provides grounds for believing it is necessarily true that God will “never leave you or forsake you” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5).

Other views cannot affirm that God necessarily relates to creatures. If those views are correct, God may choose to leave us and forsake us. There’s nothing to prevent God from giving up and abandoning us. Those views provide no confidence God will always be with us.

To be confident that God will never leave us or forsake us, we should affirm strong divine passibility.


To my way of thinking, these are powerful reasons to believe God is relational by nature and not merely by choice. But I know that some will disagree. In the final post of this series, I’ll show that even most who think God chooses to be relational actually think God is necessarily so.


*See my arguments in The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Theory of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Academic, 2015) and various essays in Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Uncontrolling Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, Chris Baker, Gloria Coffin, Craig Drurey, Graden Kirksey, Lisa Michaels, and Donna Ward, eds. (San Diego, Ca.: SacraSage, 2017).

Thomas Jay Oord - A Process View of God & Creation

Creatio Ex Nihilo and Creation Care

by Thomas Jay Oord
April 2, 2018

A growing number of Christians see the need to care for creation. But most of these Christians affirm the ancient idea that God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Does care for creation fit well with creatio ex nihilo? I don’t think so…

I’ve been writing a book chapter for a new book on the influence — for good or ill — of Christianity’s creation doctrines on climate change, ecological degradation, and species extinction. In that essay, I address four creation theology issues, one of which is the creation from nothing view.

Implicit in these issues are three questions: Does God’s love entail plans, desires, and purposes for creation? Does God have the power to control creation to accomplish those purposes? Do creaturely actions – for good or ill – ultimately matter to God’s purposes?

Ex Nihilo?

Since the third century, most Christians have said God initially created our universe from absolute nothingness.[2] The Bible doesn’t explicitly support this claim.[3] Instead, biblical writers speak of God creating out of or in relation to creation (water, invisible things, chaos [tehom], the deep, and more) rather than from nothing. Nevertheless, the doctrine of creation from nothing prevails among liberal and conservative Christians.

Historians argue about the origin of the creation from nothing view. Gerhard May’s widely influential thesis is that two Gnostic leaders introduced the idea. Gnosticism typically regards matter as inherently evil, so Gnostics would understandably be averse to the idea a holy God used unholy materials when creating. Most Christians reject the Gnostic belief that matter is inherently evil, but they retain the creation from nothing view.

In the second century, Irenaeus proved influential in establishing creatio ex nihilo among Christians. “[God] was influenced by no one but, rather, made all things by his own counsel and free will,” argues Irenaeus.[4]“God made those things that were made in order that all things might exist out of things that did not exist, just as he willed, making use of matter by his own will and power.”[5]

The sovereignty of God was especially important for Irenaeus’s claim that God created from nothing. “The will of God must rule and dominate in everything,” he argued, “everything else must give way to it, be subordinated to it, and be a servant to it.”[6]

Alternatives to Ex Nihilo

Christians propose alternatives to creatio ex nihilo. Some of yesteryear and some today suggest that God creates from Godself or ex Christi.[7] The idea that God creates out of Godself seems to lead to pantheism, however. Most Christians want to distinguish between the transcendent Creator and creation, believing God differs in important ways from creation and alone is worthy of worship. Consequently, creatio ex deo/christitheory has few adherents.

Other Christians argue that God creates out of chaos, possibilities, profundity, love, previously created things, eternal matter, and more.[8] The motivations they have for proposing these theories vary, but some appeal to their favorite theory for its fruitfulness for ecological concerns.

These theories also often provide a middle way between an entirely transcendent or entirely immanent God. Labels such as “panentheism,” “a sacramental universe,” “theocosmocentrism,” or “deep incarnation” describe this middle way.

Ex Nihilo Implies Creation is Insignificant

Those who offer alternative theories to creatio ex nihilo note two problems the traditional view presents for motivating Christians to care for creation. The first problem is that creation from nothing implies creation is ultimately insignificant. That which comes from nothing is finally superfluous.

Proponents of creatio ex nihilo typically regard creation’s lack of necessity as positive. Creatio ex nihilo tells us, they say, that creation is a free divine gift from a transcendent God. God could have decided not to create, and God could decide, at any moment, to send creation into nonexistence. Creation is a wholly divine gift bestowed and supported by God’s omnipotence.

Thinking God created the universe from nothing, however, easily leads to thinking creation does not ultimately matter. Michael Zbaraschuk puts it this way: “If the world is created out of the nothing in a free expression of the divine power, its radical contingency means that it is, at the end of the day, not very important. If God made it once unilaterally, so God can make it again.”[9]

It’s understandably difficult for some Christians to feel motivated to care for and protect what ultimately doesn’t matter. The lack of motivation becomes especially problematic when caring for and protecting creation requires considerable self-sacrifice.

Does the Bible Explicitly Teach Creation Care?

Some respond to this charge by arguing that earthly-oriented motivations ought to be secondary. Christians ought to be primarily concerned with what God commands, they say, not with whether creation is radically contingent. “Who cares how the universe was created or if it ultimately matters,” they say, “we must obey God and not worry about understanding our world.”

Making a biblical case that God commands care for creation, however, requires interpretive moves not obvious to many Christians.[10] While important scholarly work has been done, much of the biblical witness seems unconcerned with creation care. Anthropocentrism reigns.

Ecologically-oriented theology would find strong scriptural justification had Jesus said, “Love all creatures great and small, care for the earth and its ecosystems, and learn to live sustainably with creation!” While biblical writers say God cares for nonhuman creatures, explicit commands that humans love animals, ecosystems, and the planet are rare if present at all.

Ex Nihilo Implies God Could Singlehandedly Prevent Ecological Destruction

The traditional creation from nothing view implies a second problem: If God has the power to create something from nothing, it stands to reason God has the power to prevent ecological degradation singlehandedly. Such prevention might mean overpowering humans to stop them from harming creation, or it might mean creating from nothing obstacles to thwart such harm.

If God has creatio ex nihilo power and yet allows environmental degradation, one might even assume God wants that degradation. If God really cared about creation, the God with ex nihilo power could prevent ecological disaster singlehandedly.

This problem leads some Christians to adopt noninterventionist theologies, whereby God either can’t or won’t interrupt natural processes or creaturely free will. The “God won’t intervene” option doesn’t solve the problem, of course. After all, “won’t” retains the idea God could prevent ecological degradation unilaterally.

The “God can’t intervene” view is conceptually stronger, but it requires a more radical reformulation of divine power. I recommend that reformulation, however. In either case, however, theologians who believe God can’t or won’t prevent ecological degradation unilaterally should find alternatives theories to creatio ex nihiloattractive.

An Alternative to Ex Nihilo that Supports Creation Care

I suggest Christians set aside the view that God created the universe from absolute nothingness. Rather than follow the logic of Irenaeus, Christians should follow the logic of biblical passages, which consistently speak of God creating through, with, and alongside creation.

A more adequate creation theory might say God lovingly creates something new in each moment from that which God created previously, and God’s creating has always been occurring. Our universe began at the Big Bang, but it was preceded by previous universes and will be followed by more.

We might call this theory “creatio ex creatione sempieternaliter en amore,” if we thought the Latin mattered. The everlasting God who everlastingly creates is the ever Creator.

This view not only fits the dominant biblical views of God creating from creation, but it also supports the idea God creates through self-giving, others-empowering, and therefore uncontrolling love. And it says the God who creates from creation cannot prevent environmental evils singlehandedly. (Click for more on this alternative creation doctrine.)



[2] For essays focusing on particular advocates of creatio ex nihilo in history, see chapters in David B. Burrell, Carlo Cogliati, Janet M. Soskice, and William R. Stoeger, Creation and the God of Abraham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) and “Creation ‘Ex Nihilo’ and Modern Theology,” in Modern Theology 29:2 (April 2013).

[3] Among the many biblical scholars who say creatio ex nihilo is not explicitly found in the Bible, see Joseph Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (London: T & T Clark, 2011); William P. Brown, The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999); Brevard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 27 (London: SCM, 1960); Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005); Rolf P. Knierim, Task of Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995); Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; New York: Harper & Row, 1987); Keith Norman, “Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity,” BYU Studies 17/3 (1977): 291-318; Shalom M. Paul, “Creation and Cosmogony: In the Bible,” Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1972), 5:1059-63; Mark S. Smith, The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2010); David Toshio Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989); Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974); Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, John J. Scullion, S. J., trans. (London: SPCK, 1994); Frances Young, “Creatio Ex Nihilo: A Context for the Emergence of Christian Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991): 139-51; John H. Walton , The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009).

[4] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Ancient Christian Writers Series, Book 2, Vol. 64 (New York: Newman, 2012), 1.1.

[5] Ibid., 10.2.

[6] Ibid., 34:4.

[7] For biblical support for creation out of Christ, see 1 Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:15-20, John 1:1-3, and Heb. 1:2.

[8] Find arguments for these vies in Theologies of Creation: Creation Ex Nihilo and its New Rivals, Thomas Jay Oord, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2015).

[9] Michael Zbaraschuk, “Creatio Ex Deo: Incarnation, Spirituality, Creation” in Theologies of Creation, 85.

[10] For examinations of the biblical claims about creation care, see Richard Bauckham, The Biel and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2010), Norma Habel, ed., The Earth Story in Genesis (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 2000).

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My Alternative Theory of Creation

by Thomas Jay Oord
April 3, 2017

In three previous blogs, I explored 9 reasons many Christians affirm the theory that God initially created our universe from absolutely nothing. Although some of the reasons have validity, I found none of them to be ultimately convincing.

In this blog, I want to offer my alternative to creation from nothing.

The Basic Idea: creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore

My new theory of creation says God, in love, always creates out of what God previously created. As the ever Creator, God has everlastingly been creating.

That’s it in a nutshell. But there’s a lot packed into those phrases. So let me explain a bit more…

My theory says God never creates out of absolute nothingness. Each moment of creation history begins with God creating something in relation to what God previously created. God always creates something new from something old and never ex nihilo.

This theory says God has always been creating. God’s work to create in relation to what God previously created has always been going on. To put it another way, God’s creating is everlasting. That’s why I call God the “ever Creator.” God’s creating activity had no absolute beginning and is new every moment of a history without beginning or end.

This implies that God has never existed absolutely alone. God has always related to creatures, whether those creatures be complex or simple, whether creation be ordered or disordered. In fact, I believe God essentially relates to creation. God does not just relate within Trinity but also with the creaturely entities God creates. God’s relationality derives necessarily from God’s essence.

My theory says God must create. Creating is a necessary activity for God, because creating is an essential attribute of God’s nature. God has always existed and always creates, because creating is indispensable to the necessarily creative God.

Perhaps most importantly, my theory says love is God’s motive for and means of creating. And love is God’s creative goal. God’s nature is first and foremost love, which means God always loves, and this love is creative, self-giving, and others-empowering. To the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” my theory says, “because God always loves, and this love always motivates God’s creating.” From my perspective, love is the key to understanding reality.

One could describe my alternative theory with the Latin phrase creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore. This phrase means “creating out of creation everlastingly in love.” To put it differently: God always and lovingly creates out of that which God previously created, and this creating has always been occurring.

What My Theory Does Not Mean

My creation theory that God always and lovingly creates out of what God previously created needs further explanation. Like all theories – especially new ones – it is prone to misunderstanding.

In my next blog, I’ll address four misunderstandings. As a teaser for that blog, I’ll conclude by mentioning the four misunderstandings I suspect many will have when first encountering my alternative theory of initial creation:

  • My theory does not say or imply that our universe is eternal.
  • My theory does not mean God is without freedom.
  • My theory does not mean creation pre-exists God.
  • My theory says that for God to exist, God does not need creation.

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Overcoming Misunderstandings of
My Creation Theory

by Thomas Jay Oord
April 19, 2017

My new theory of initial creation denies that God creates out of nothing. It says God always and lovingly creates out of that which God previously created. God is ever Creator. But I recognize that my alternative view is open to misunderstandings. So I want to address the most common.

Upon first hearing my view (here’s a link), some people will jump to wrong conclusions about what it means. That’s understandable. We typically make sense of new ideas in relation to old ones. We naturally make assumptions – right or wrong – about what new ideas imply.

Below I list four common misunderstandings people have when first hearing of my view…

My theory does not say or imply that the universe is eternal.

My view that God always creates out of what God previously created implies that God never exists alone. God always creates and relates with creaturely others, whether complex or simple. This could sound to some like our universe is eternal.

My theory does not, however, require one to think our universe or any other universe exists eternally. In fact, I don’t believe any universe exists eternally. Instead, my theory simply says that whatever new God creates is done in relation to the old God previously created. Creatures and universes come and go. They are temporary.

In my view, only God exists everlastingly. Neither our universe nor any other is co-eternal with God. A succession of entities, creatures, and universes has always been, but no particular entity, creature, or universe has always been.

On this point, it’s important to remember that all created things have beginnings. I affirm this. Most if not all of them come to an end. Remembering this can help us avoid the misunderstanding that my theory requires an eternal universe.

While God always creates and relates to creatures, no universe exists eternally.

My theory affirms that God is free.

My alternative theory of initial creation says God must create, because creating is a necessary aspect of God’s nature. God would not be God if not Creator. Just as God does not voluntarily choose to exist but simply does so, God does not voluntarily choose whether to create. God cannot choose not to create, to use the double negative. God is not free, in this sense.

But my theory says God is free in choosing how to create, given creaturely conditions and God’s love. God chooses in relation to an open and not predetermined future. God freely creates in relation to creation and a host of possibilities. God is free when creating, in this important sense.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

We are each human, and we are not free to be something else. We cannot breathe exactly like fish, for instance, nor can we fly exactly like eagles. But we are free as humans to act in various humanly ways. Our human freedom is real. Because of our humanness and the conditions of our world, however, our freedom is limited. We are not free to be nonhuman. We must be human.

Similarly, God is not free to be something else. God must be God, which includes having particular attributes and eternal character. The Bible tells us that God cannot lie, for instance. The apostle Paul says God “cannot deny himself.” In fact, the Bible lists several things God is not free to do. In short, God is not free to be nondivine, because God must be divine.

God is free, however, to create in relation to creatures and creation. God’s freedom is real in determining how God chooses to create. God’s freedom is limited by God’s own self-giving, others-empowering love, which creates while giving and then respecting the freedom and integrity of creation. But this leaves open a wide range of options for God freely to create in love.

My theory does not imply that creation pre-exists God.

When God began creating our universe at the big bang, God created in relation to or “out of” what God created previously. What God created before the big bang must have been incredibly diffuse and chaotic. This realm of “stuff” must have been highly disorganized and simple, the chaotic elements of a dying universe that had come before.

The very simple elements out of which God created our universe were also created by God. In other words, God created something new at the big bang from that which God created before the big bang.

God always creates in each moment out of that which God created in previous moments. Consequently, no universe, world, creature, or thing pre-exists or pre-dates God, because God acts first in each moment when creating each creature.

My theory agrees with the common Christian concern that an adequate theory of creation not say God creates from stuff “laying around” that God didn’t first create. In my view, God didn’t “stumble upon” some stuff that God had not first created. In each moment – the present moment, at the Big Bang, and before – God acts first to create in relation to what God previously created. Nothing pre-exists God.

My theory says that for God to exist, God does not need creation.

Some Christians embrace creation from nothing as a way to say God exists essentially independent of creatures. My theory affirms that God is independent of creation in several respects. But it also says God depends upon creation in other respects.

Like most believers, I think God exists necessarily. God does not need or depend upon creation in order for God to exist. Ancient people use the word “aseity” to describe the idea that God exists “in Godself.” This means that to exist, God does not require anything beyond the divine being. I affirm this understanding of aseity.

Unfortunately, some ancient people and Christians today think aseity means God must be independent of creatures in all ways. God’s self-existence, they say, implies that God is independent from others in all respects.

But aseity does not require this belief. It can simply mean God necessarily exists: God relies upon Godself to exist, and nothing could prevent God from existing. I accept this positive respect of divine independence and aseity.

My view says God does depend upon creation in other respects, however. The most important of the ways God depends upon creatures pertains to love. While I think God loves necessarily, I also believe love is inherently relational. Relational love takes at least two, because love is never solitary.

As I see it, God’s nature of love includes always loving creaturely others. In fact, God essentially loves and relates with all God creates. Consequently, God depends upon creation to exist as the recipients of relational love. And because my theory says God necessarily creates out of that which God previously created, it overcomes any doubt that creatures will exist whom God will relate with and love.

Because God’s love has both receptive and creative dimensions, God also depends upon creatures in the creating process. This dependence is not about whether God will create. God’s creative motivation comes from within; it derives from God’s nature of love. But God does depend upon creatures in choosing how to create.

The “materials” God uses when creating come from outside God. God does not create from Godself. God depends upon creatures to exist and join in, to whatever extent possible, the creative process. Creatures are created co-creators. Consequently, God is always motived internally to create out of creaturely others who are external and whom God created previously.


I suspect there other misunderstandings emerge in those who first encounter my theory. It takes time to think through the view that God always and lovingly creates out of what God previously created.

In the book I’m currently writing I plan to address other misunderstandings. And I’ll argue in greater depth for the cogency of a view that says love comes first in God, including in God’s creating.

If for some reason this is the first of my essays you’ve read on an alternative to creation from nothing, I invited you to read through previous posts on the issue in the Science and Theology tab of my webpage.