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

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Thomas Jay Oord - 7 Models of Divine Sovereignty

Models of God’s Action


by Thomas Jay Oord
March 1, 2020

A few podcast hosts have asked me to “locate” my theology in relation to other views of God. This is natural, and I like to compare views of God. Comparisons help me explain my Uncontrolling Love of God theology, which I also call Essential Kenosis.

In my book The Uncontrolling Love of God, I explore seven models of God and sketch out their implications. I don’t claim they are the only possible models. But they represent major options for understanding divine action in Christian theology. Here are the models…

In the book, I describe in some detail how each model of God portrays creaturely randomness, free will, goodness, evil, and God’s love and power. Below I’ve excerpted descriptions of each as they address evil. Find a fuller account in The Uncontrolling Love of God.

Amazon Link

1 - God is the Omnicause

This model says God causes all things. What appears to be random or activities of free-will creatures are in accordance with God’s will, in such a way that God ultimately makes them happen, as they happen. God is in complete control.

According to this model, all occurrences are part of the “secret providence of God,” to quote John Calvin. “The great works of the Lord are carefully crafted,” says Calvin, “so that in a wonderful and ineffable way nothing happens contrary to his will, even that which is contrary to his will!” Paul Kjoss Helseth, a contemporary advocate of the model, calls it “divine omnicausality.”

This model sounds to critics like God promotes sin and evil. It is hard – in fact, impossible for me – to believe God perfectly loves while also being the ultimate cause of every rape, torture, disease, and terrorist act. To me, this model makes little, if any, sense.

2 - God Empowers and Overpowers

This model of God is most common among “average” Christian believers. It says God creates and empowers humans by giving them free will, at least sometimes. But God sometimes overpowers human freedom or interrupts the causal regularities of existence. God’s will is sometimes permissive and sometimes controlling.

Some versions of Arminian theology embrace the God Empowers and Overpowers model. Arminian theologian, Jack Cottrell, says that “even though [God] bestowed relative independence on his creatures, as Creator he reserved the right to intervene if necessary. Thus he is able not only to permit human actions to occur, but also to prevent them from occurring if he so chooses.” This allows God, says Cottrell, to “remain in complete control.”

Those who embrace this model typically say God does not cause evil. They usually blame human freedom gone awry, chance, or demonic forces. But they believe God permits or allows evil. After all, the God in this model has controlling power.

Although this model may allow advocates to say God is not the source of evil, it makes God responsible for failing to prevent evil. It’s hard to believe God loves perfectly when God can prevent genuine evil. This God may not cause evil but is culpable for failing to prevent it.

3 - God is Voluntarily Self-Limited

This model starts with the premise God essentially has the kind of power to create something from nothing and control others. Despite having the capacity to be controlling, God made a voluntary decision to give freedom to at least some creatures. In doing so, God voluntarily gave up total control but can intervene to control if God desires.

John Polkinghorne is an advocate of the Voluntarily Self-Limited God model. God’s “act of creation involves a voluntary limitation,” says Polkinghorne, “in allowing the other to be.” This means “God does not will the act of a murderer or the destructive force of an earthquake but allows both to happen in a world in which divine power is deliberately self-limited to allow causal space for creatures.”

This model says God could withdraw, override, or fail to offer freedom/agency to creatures. God could momentarily overturn the regularities/natural laws of the universe. But God rarely does so.

I can think of numerous evil events a voluntarily self-limited God should have prevented. This God should momentarily become un-self-limited to prevent those evils. A perfectly loving God should and would prevent genuine evil, if it were possible. Consequently, I cannot believe the God described in this model loves perfectly.

4 - God is Essentially Kenotic / Uncontrolling Love

The God is Essentially Kenotic model says God’s eternal nature is uncontrolling love.

Because of love, God necessarily provides freedom/agency to creatures in each moment. God works by empowering and inspiring creatures of all levels of complexity toward well-being. And God necessarily upholds the regularities of the universe, because those regularities derive from God’s eternal nature of love. God is not a dictator, mysteriously behind the scenes pulling strings.

Although this model says God never totally controls others, it claims God sometimes acts miraculously in noncoercive ways. Miracles occur when God and creatures work in tandem. God providentially guides and calls all creation toward love and beauty.

God’s nature of love logically precedes God’s sovereign will. Kenosis derives from God’s eternal and unchanging nature of love and not from voluntary divine decisions. And because God’s nature is love, God always gives freedom, agency, and self-organization to creatures and sustains the regularities of nature.

This model says God can’t prevent singlehandedly, because God’s love is always uncontrolling. God loves everyone and everything, so God can’t control anyone or anything. I explain this view in The Uncontrolling Love of God and God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils.

5 - God Sustains as a Steady State Force

This model says God exists as an impersonal force creating and sustaining all creation. God’s steady-state influence never violates the integrity of the universe. The divine presence never varies, and God never interacts in give-and-receive relationships.

Paul Tillich advocates this model of God. “It is an insult to the divine holiness to treat God as a partner with whom one collaborates,” says Tillich, “or as a superior power whom one influences by rites and prayers.”

Overall, this view affirms divine constancy. God sustains the natural laws, creates conditions for creaturely freedom, and makes chance possible. But it fails to offer support to the idea God is personal, interactive, and involved in relations with creation. It fails to give hope that God will act any differently to help when we encounter evil.

6 - God is Initial Creator and Current Observer

This model says that after creating the universe, God did not stick around or stay involved. God created all things, set natural laws in motion, and has since withdrawn. God is now, to quote Bette Midler, “watching us from a distance.”

Historians identify several thinkers during the Enlightenment with this model. It typically goes under the name “deism.” Deist Michael Corey says, God’s creative activity “is confined to the initial moments of creation,” and afterward, God “allowed [the first atoms and molecules] to develop on their own entirely according to natural cause-and-effect processes.”

Corey believes “a God who continually has to intervene to accomplish His creative purposes is clearly inferior… in the same way that a car-maker who is clever enough to design self-building cars is far more impressive than one who has to be directly involved during each step of the creative process.”

Putting God’s action only at initial creation means this model has difficulty explaining how an omnipotent God would have created a world with so much evil. One wonders: is this the best God can create? To use Corey’s illustration, Couldn’t a really clever car-maker design self-building cars that function more reliably?

This model offers no hope God acts to overcome evil eventually or console those in pain now.

7 -God’s Ways are Not Our Ways

Versions of this final model vary widely. Each shares the fundamental belief we ultimately have no idea what God’s actions are like. No language, no analogy, and no concepts can tell us the nature of divine providence. All is mystery.

The technical word sometimes used for this model is “apophatic theology.” It says we cannot describe God or divine activity positively. We can only talk about what God is not.

This model of God obviously cannot provide a satisfying answer to why a loving and powerful God fails to prevent evil.

Advocates of most other models of God resort to this mystery card when their views make little sense. “Remember: God’s ways are not our ways,” they say. In fact, the “God’s Ways are Not Our Ways” view is not probably a model of God’s action at all. But I included it, because many who talk about God and evil eventually appeal to this model.


This is not an exhaustive list of models of God. But I consider these the main ones. These brief sketches give a taste of what each thinks about God’s actions in relation to evil.

I have argued in various publications that the “God is Essentially Kenotic – Uncontrolling Love” model best accounts for evil. This brief essay shows how this model compares to other models of God.

Amazon Link