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
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, March 12, 2019

A Premier on "Open & Relational Theology " - Part 1. The God of Evolution


I am participating in Homebrewed Christianity's course discussing Open and Relational Theology over a six week period. It is hosted by Thomas Jay Oord and Tripp Fuller. Those interested may go to their website to join. Below is a small part of our opening discussion from the evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock who began writing in this area in the 1980s. His backstory is that of a fundamentalist become overtaken with a new outlook on the bible from his former days of seminary training and teaching. In many ways Pinnock's story mimics my own as I came to realize there was more to God and the bible than what I had carefully crafted and learned over many years. I've taken the liberty to update Pinnock's thoughts while adding my own language and understanding within its discussion. As such, this is an abridged commentary of Pinnock's discourse.

R.E. Slater
March 12, 2019
revised March 14, 2019


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Thomas Jay Oord – Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science

Chapter 6 – Clark Pinnock – Evangelical Theology after Darwin

Abridged Commentary by R.E. Slater

INTRODUCTION

Accepting evolution does not require abandoning belief in God. As a scientific theory it is the best scientific model out there for making sense of observable phenomena from every direction we turn our minds. Anti-Intellectualism is evolution’s chief opponent. Historically, evolution is generally accepted by Catholics after the Galileo debacle of the 17th century yet Protestants are still debating its plausibility.

Pure Reductive, Scientific Materialism opposes God-based evolution (theistic evolution). It has problems with creaturely freedom, an open future with free choices, self-transcendence, creativity, perception of the aesthetic, moral and religious values, and so forth.

1 THEISTIC EVOLUTION

Any doctrine of God must immediately account for the general theory of evolution. This is a basic axiom. If it does not it is incomplete. In the paragraphs which follow some of the major (doctrinal) themes of the bible will be interwoven into the discussion to illustrate how this might be done.

Preliminary thoughts regarding Theistic Evolution state: i) God does not impose a rigid plan on creation’s development; ii) God does, and will, experiment with different and sundry possibilities. In fact, it is built into evolution’s DNA; iii) God remains the source of all creaturely possibilities; iv) There is no coercion (or pre-determined “plan”) placed upon creation or upon its ultimate destiny (sic, its “telos”) – evolution is free to create on its own. As example, consider the corollary of raising children – they may be taught but they will usually create on their own with no fixed outcome of the parent; v) The process is adaptive. It is, and is becoming, a reality other than Godself; vi) Lastly, it has no divine constraint on its process.

Consider Natural Theology which was formerly focused on divine design (example, the human eye) rather than being focused on grander outcomes (example, quantum physics) which sees the universe unfinished, always evolving, always indefinitely in progress/process without end, and requiring a lot of time to realise its promise. God has seeded the world of evolution with possibilities; He has given the cosmos, the earth, and humanity a vast potential for life.

Evolutionary Creation must work together with both i) invariant lawfulness and contingent happenings along with ii) randomness with corresponding new possibilities. Each of these spectrums all held in-tension with one another. It could be said that evolution’s process is composed of fundamental elements such as lawfulness, contingency, randomness, and possibility all mixed together in the batch of deep time. This process can be known yet unexplained; studied yet a mystery; but always held in deep relation to each other’s orbit. Throughout all of evolution’s unfolding process as the cosmos, the world, and life unfolds, we may expect to find the mutuality and relationality of the Social Trinity of the God of love in continual partnership, guidance, and engagement. In essence, God experiences creation much as we do but in an infinite sense.

2 EVOLUTION & DIVINE PROVIDENCE

Evolution should not lead us to deism (sic, the absent Creator model) or to a form of Calvinism which regards God as ever-tinkering with His divine model - or disrupting or adjusting it – with regards to creation’s initiating process. Rather, God has both a vision and a hope for what the world may become and does not need a fixed divine “plan” to sovereignly overrule creation’s unfolding events. Because of this, the Open and Relational model (OR/ORT) understands evolution as God’s sovereign design of embedding an open and dynamic ontological character into creation itself through the process of evolution. This ontological character then bespeaks of the very nature of God Himself which is embedded in evolution as it morphs and changes and creates ever new possibilities. In itself evolution has no choice but to move forward on its own without need for a determinative outcome to which other theological systems subscribe. It is complete in itself without requiring divine interventionism or coercion as it began from the heart of the God wishing to share Himself.

This then should bring a solace to the human breast. That God’s love is neither forcible nor coercive in relation to His creative design within the foundations of evolution. Consequently God’s sovereignty is at once undergirded by His grace and love which partners and participates in redemptive engagement with His creation. In contrast, the determinative model requires forcible divine omnipotence (power) to rule whereas the Open and Relational model disclaims divine omnipotence in favor of divine non-coercive love (or, non-omnipotence) to guide, participate, and engage creation’s processes.

This means then that we and creation may shape our own future fully and freely within our bounds and abilities to create. In this sense evolution is biased in the direction of complexity and consciousness. God allows for experimentation, risk taking, room for novelty, and flexibility. God may have a purpose but He does not predetermine the future. It is truly open without determinative outcome. Divine purpose does not imply divine determination.

Firstly, Divine Providence does not guarantee orderliness. Rather, disorderliness is very much a central part of creation’s process. It is good but unfinished. Some creatures adapt, some do not. A static cosmos is a lifeless/mindless cosmos.

Secondly, what we call “accidents” in nature are actuality instances of adaptation, novelty, and freedom to try something different from the present order of things. Novelty must include and allow for trial-and-error. Ontological chance thus allows for real randomness with infinite possibilities.

Thirdly, evolution can be orderly though complexly organized yet allowing for an intensification of consciousness over the course of its process as its Creator-God guides the cosmos towards a positive future. This divine direction is most likely imbued within the very fabric of evolution itself rather than as a moment-by-moment “directive” feature. As the Spirit of God breathes life into creation it lures the world to greater and greater complexity and consciousness. God is ever guiding the emerging universe and is the source of serendipitous creativity everywhere.

Evolution is compatible with the (essential) kenotic model of providence in which God self-limits Himself for the sake of love. God does not coerce obedience but participates with creation while respecting its freedom to be and to become. Open and Relational theology understands this idea as the God who is always willing to risk.

3 THE GOD OF EVOLUTION & SIN

The argument of evolution by design, though popular, is spurious. Creation is as much orderly as it is disorderly. The role of predation and violence is a necessary part of its becoming. This process is otherwise known as a necessary and imperfect adaptation within evolutionary creation which has a long history of wasteful experimentations. Paradoxically, the present orderly façade of nature masks epochs of suffering alongside epochs of amazing creativity. Then why does God allow such suffering and waste in the process of evolution?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that sin is a part of the freedom God has endowed creation with… Divine justice (theodicy) allows for sin while adjusting to its presence for optimal outcome over sin. Thus God’s self-sacrificing love is ultimately bourne through His redemption of the world in Christ Jesus. His grace becomes His suffering. It is not done in divine isolation but in full relationship to all of creation’s being, hope, and promise. In this way does divine imbuement of creation through divine redemption provide creation with a future of completeness and fullness with its Creator God. All living and dying things readily share in the suffering death of our living God as well as the redemptive hope this death has provided.

The gospel is about a new creation which will end violence, suffering and death. Not only for man but for all of creation. We live in an unfinished world with a future full of unrealised possibilities. Evolution opens the future up as God calls to the cosmos to reach beyond itself to become a fully new creation without sin in its substance. As such, the cosmic journey is heading somewhere – it is not a pointless process. That somewhere is towards a cosmic redemption. Christianity’s mission is to share this hope for a better world.

4 GOD AND HUMANITY

Evolution is the story of the emergence of the soul gradually producing creatures more self-conscious, free, and able to love. God’s Spirit is present in all life proportionate to its complexity. The emergence of the human soul is not an exception to the animating process of evolution but an intense example of it. At this point in evolutionary history humans may be the only species endowed with heightened qualities more distinct than animals - some of which bear these same qualities in a less heightened state. But this should not be expected to remain the same as homo sapiens as a species comes, and goes, and is replaced in the long history of evolution.

Regarding morality, “survival of the fittest” may be part of a reductive, materialistic theory but it doesn’t take us very far along the pathway of God as a theistic theory of evolution does. The rise of cultures and religions represents a new evolutionary stage is the cosmic story. We may therefore expect it to reduce the power of natural selection for a time as social institutions, laws, customs and beliefs act to protect (or not protect) the weak, the unfit, etc. In the area of ethics even the unfit get the opportunity to survive.

Regarding original sin, we can recognize the concept without purporting or ascribing to it its biblical legacy recounted in the story of Genesis. Unlike many other biblical doctrines, sin, as a concept,  is a truth well attested to empirically throughout the cosmic and human story. Essentially, the doctrine of sin testifies to the truth that creation - as well as humans - are estranged from God and need a Savior. That all things everywhere are deeply flawed because of sin. Only God can save us. Or rather, redeem us. This is the concept of original sin without requirement for a single human couple, a garden, a possessed snake, and so forth.

Unlike Reductive Materialism, Theistic Evolution requires the need for a cosmic Christology, whereas Reductionism or Materialism does not. Jesus has defeated the powers of darkness and has begun to set the universe right. God’s power and love are radiating throughout the whole world revealing the magnitude of His redemptive love. Hence, theistic evolution should stimulate us to recover the themes of a cosmic Christology. It can be the occasion for a renewed and expanded Christology. In short, Jesus is the guarantee that the self-transcendence of creation will come to pass because it has already come to pass in Christ. Jesus is therefore the start of a new cosmology. Restated, history is headed towards redemption with-or-without the human species.

5 EVOLUTION AND THE CHRISTIAN HOPE

Evolution is a very big story. The universe has been advancing and evolving in the direction of increasingly organized complexity for a very long time. It has passed through many stages over many aeons and is now at work guiding human communities towards a redemptive future. During its course societal consciousness has grown in proportion to the increase in organized social and physical complexity (such as a social/spiritual morality, ethics, the human body and mind, etc.).

The end goal of evolution is what Teilard de Chardin called the Omega Point: Essentially, “things are going somewhere.” In theistic terms, God is drawing the whole universe to Himself. Historical time is always moving towards a good and redemptive ends. It began with the physical geo-sphere, has continued through the biological bio-sphere and is moving towards the heart of humanity, the soul of man – the noo-sphere. This is the direction to the story of evolution even though the text will meander in its long journey.

Creation is becoming newer and newer in its unstoppable process of becoming whatever it will become both in the near future and the far future beyond. It is restless. It is pregnant with hope. We must not expect that God will preserve some state of “status quo” nor be a deity of coercive rather than persuasive power from which order and novelty arise. God’s world is a world open to possibility yet ever driving towards a new creation in Christ. We may then see in evolution an intensification of God’s consciousness into the cosmos. This is a most salient point full of possibilities. But within this divine consciousness God has left the future undetermined. Creation is free to create any future it wishes to move towards. We live in a truly open future moving towards the redemption God has provided the cosmos through Christ.

Nor does God force the universe into a rigid design but calls creation to listen and follow His voice. God has made a world in which chance and randomness exist alongside order because God values order and novelty. Even random occurrences play a role in an unfinished and open universe. The present order is continually moving away from its older order to make way for a newer order. True, suffering, pain, death, are a part of this journey but as Christians we trust and believe that the power of God’s love will prove more influential than coercive, deterministic power. Nature’s beauty, vitality and creativity are intimations of this new creation and the promises of God’s love.

Lastly, ours is a world that gives joy to God while giving joy to creation itself. In giving Himself away God has added valuable experiences from His life to ours. God’s love is self-giving. It is also self-realizing. His love grants new kinds of value, freedom, and community. Certainly such a world adds value to God’s divine experience even as it does to creation itself or to our experiences. Ours is a world capable of becoming the Kingdom of God. The purpose of our lives is to carry forward the values of the divine spark of creation. Sin is the refusal to participate in this arrangement. We may think of the Omega Point not as a rigid goal but as God’s vision for the world and what it may become as He calls forth the possibilities that are inherent in the very fabric of the cosmic order He has created.


Abridged Commentary: Clark Pinnock by R.E. Slater


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