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
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)
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

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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).

No comments:

Post a Comment