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

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

Friday, October 28, 2022

Theologian Keith Ward's "God of Love"

 

Pictured L to R: Peter Enns, Tripp Fuller, Adam Clark, Thomas Oord


Keith Ward and a God of Love

by Thomas J. Oord
October 16th, 2022


I recently wrote a chapter for a book celebrating the work of Keith Ward. My argument is that Ward offers a metaphysics that supports both a conceptual basis for love and a basis to view God as loving.
God is Love
Keith Ward believes an adequate account of love requires an equally adequate account of God. He believes God is the chief exemplar of love and the ultimate Mind making creaturely love possible.
Keith believes a Christian description of God is “guided by the key teaching that ‘God is love.’”[1] But just about every Christian believes God loves.
The way many professional theologians conceive of God, however, does not align with love as I have defined it, as we experience it, or as described in much of sacred scripture. Keith Ward’s concept of God is different; it aligns with love so understood.
God Must Love
Unlike the voluntarist God of some theologies, Keith believes God must love. God cannot freely choose evil.[2] In fact, divine freedom is “necessarily conditioned” by love.[3] To put this in my own terms, Keith believes love comes logically prior in the divine nature to will.
We should reject theologies aligned with ancient Greek philosophical notions of a static God, says Keith. Such theologies consider God a timeless substance rather than a dynamic person. They present God as simple, immutable, and impassible too, which fails to align with the dominant biblical portrayal of God or with the personal piety of believers.[4]
Keith agrees with the majority portrayal of God in the Christian scripture, which portrays God as “a dynamic, creative, and relational reality.”[5] This dynamic God changes but is not in all ways immutable. “A general biblical account of God,” says Keith, “is more sympathetic to the view that God changes in some respects than to the view that God is completely changeless.”[6] A changing God “capable of new creative actions is more supreme than are beings that cannot be other than it is.”[7]
Open and Relational God
Keith Ward is what I call an “open and relational theologian,” because he believes God essentially experiences time analogous to how creatures experience it. God’s experience is temporal, but the divine nature does not change. Keith rejects the classic view of divine simplicity because it undermines the personal and relational aspects of God. God does not have a preordained plan that is worked out in a predetermined and precise way.[8]
A relational God suffers with and knows creatures experientially. God’s “concern for the well-being of creatures implies knowledge of their condition,” Keith says. And it implies “pity if it involves suffering, revulsion if it involves the willful causing of suffering, and action to relieve that suffering where it is possible.”
A God who simply contemplates suffering “is not truly love,” says Keith. “The one who truly loves will do something to help.”[9] God is passible, because “affected by the beauties and sufferings of the created world.”[10]
God’s Creative Love
Love compelled God to create the universe. “One who believes in the existence of God,” argues Keith, “will believe that there is an actual case of supreme goodness that has created the world for the sake of good.”[11] And God had a particular aim in creating: “that autonomous persons can come into existence,” says Keith. These creaturely persons would be able to “shape their own lives freely and creatively, and can find their fulfillment in being united to the divine in love.”[12]
In a certain sense, says Keith, God needs creation. “If God’s love is agape love, love of the other and the imperfect, then that love could not exist without a creation containing possibly imperfect creatures.” This does not mean that the universe created God, however. “Creation in no way brings God into being,” Keith says, “and it depends wholly upon God in order to exist.”[13]
Trinity?
A good number of Christian theologians affirm divine love as necessary among members of the social trinity. But Keith thinks “the idea of God as a sort of society is a bad idea.”[14] Christians should not think God is comprised of three persons, each with distinct centers of consciousness, distinct freedoms, distinct responsibilities, distinct wills, and distinct relations between one another.
This formulation of the Trinity is more tritheistic than monotheistic. Keith believes God is one; God has one mind and will. I’ve reviewed Keith’s book on the Trinity here.
The loving Creator experientially loves and relates with the created world.[15] God’s love is ad extra. “If God is a relational being characterized by love,” Keith reasons, “that relation must be to non-divine persons, and not a sort of secret self-love.”[16] 
We can talk about divine love as in some sense trinitarian, Keith says, if we identify a “threefold form of divine love – as creating finite persons, relating in love to them, and uniting them to the divine life.” This activity “is the manifestation of the supreme goodness of God as creative, self-giving, and universally inclusive love.”[17] “If God is agape love,” says Keith, “this is love of what is truly other than God, not just love of the divine beauty and self.”[18]
God and the Future
God’s “plan” for creation is not a detailed blueprint of all that will occur. God does not entirely determine or even foreknow what the future of the universe will be. But “God wills that creatures cooperate in the work to create new expressions of love and goodness,” says Keith, “and that plan can take many forms.”[19] The love plan Keith says God entertains is neither unilaterally determining nor willy nilly.
Creaturely love is derived from divine love. We “must learn to love,” says Keith, “by learning to share in the divine love.”[20] This learning provides creaturely persons with their purpose. “The highest business of life is to live well in a just and compassionate society,” Keith says, “and to see that living well consists in seeking the true, the good, and beautiful for its own sake.” It involves “realizing as fully as possible our positive human potentialities, and then working for a society and a world in which that is a real possibility for all without exception.”[21]
Love after Death
Loving creatures hope to experience even greater love after death. “For those who believe themselves to experience something of a God of love,” says Keith, “the hope of paradise is the hope of closer knowledge and love of God.”[22] But this closer knowledge and love does not come through divine fiat. God wills that persons “attain their end by their own efforts, in cooperation with the divine…” And “if finite persons are to love and realize themselves in God, there must be more to finite consciousness than the often painful and always inadequate sense of union with the divine that is apparent in ordinary lives.”[23]
This “more” is what many theists call “heaven.” Even “the hope of heaven,” says Keith, “is entailed by belief in a God of love.”[24]
Keith Ward’s theistic metaphysics provides a far more adequate account of love, creaturely and divine, than alternatives. Rather than a materialist metaphysics that denies essential elements of love, such as value, freedom, experience, agency, morality, and more, Keith’s idealistic metaphysics not only accounts for these elements but emphasizes them. Rather than a theistic metaphysics that claims God is impassible, timeless, simple, and in all ways immutable, Keith’s theistic metaphysics portrays dynamic love as the activity of a dynamic God in giving-and-receiving relations with creatures.
Keith Ward’s philosophical vision aligns with a robust account of love.

[1] Keith Ward, Christ and Cosmos, 86.

[2] Ibid., 167.

[3] Ibid., 165.

[4] Keith expresses this throughout his book Sharing in the Divine Nature.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] Ibid., 61.

[7] Ibid., 73.

[8] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 77-78.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 49.

[11] Ward, Morality, Autonomy, and God, 208.

[12] Ward, Christ and Cosmos, 231.

[13] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 74.

[14] Ward, Christ and Cosmos, x.

[15] Ibid., 72.

[16] Ibid., 182.

[17] Christ and Cosmos, 62.

[18] Ward, Sharing in the Divine Nature, 77.

[19] Ibid., 77-78.

[20] Ward, Morality, Autonomy, and God, 202.

[21] Ibid., 215.

[22] Ibid., 207.

[23] Ibid., 192.

[24] Ibid., 207.