On Wednesday, February 14th, Dr. C. Stephen Evans will be presenting his paper “Accountability (to God and to Other Humans) Understood as a Virtue.”
I’ve known Tom Oord (through the twitter-sphere & blogosphere) for a little while now. I’ve read some of his books and I have seen him speak on numerous occasions. So when I heard that Tom was coming to our Analytic Theology Seminar I was really looking forward to hearing what he had to say about Divine love. As I imagined it would be the case, my expectations were fulfilled; Oord presented an interesting and provocative (to say the least) lecture to our seminar.
Oord’s provocative thesis concerned Divine love and a rejection of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. His thesis, Creatio ex Creatione Sempiternaliter en Amore (CSA), goes something like this:
CSA: God creates moment by moment something new from that which God previously created. God’s moment-by-moment successive creating had no beginning and will have no end. Love is God’s motive, method, and goal when creating.
Calling this proposal provocative is an understatement! But provocative isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Sometimes the church needs someone to be provocative. The provocative actions of some saints in the past have sometimes led to greater faithfulness to God and praxis which is more in line with the gospel. Again, provocative isn’t always a bad thing.
So is this provocative thesis one that we ought to adopt? I’m not sure. Before deciding, let’s look at two of Oord’s assumptions.
Assumption 1: Love is logically prior to all other of God’s attributes.
Assumption 2: God’s love is responsive, creative, and uncontrolling.
Working with these two assumptions Oord asked what the doctrine of God as creator might look like. The most common version of the doctrine of creation is creatio ex nihilo. However, Oord thinks this doctrine does not well support the idea that love is central to God’s creating the universe. Oord thinks this because he thinks that love is relational and uncontrolling, but creation ex nihilo is unilateral (and, thus, by Oord’s lights, controlling). Under this model, God has no relation to creation prior to. The model also implies that God could have chosen not to create out of love. However, given the two assumptions above, Oord suggests that a right view of creation affirms that God must create because God is love. Thus, for Oord, creation ex nihilo is a non-starter.
So with what shall we replace this classic doctrine? Well whatever one replaces it with needs to be doctrine which states that God creates all things, God does not depend upon creation and creation depends upon God, that only God exists everlastingly and creatures have a beginning, and most importantly that God always creates with loving motives, loving relations, and loving aims. In short, it must affirm the priority of God’s love. So what is this doctrine concerning creation? It is a doctrine that Oord called “Creatio ex Creatione Sempiternaliter en Amore.” It is a doctrine in which God always and lovingly creates out of creation.
So what are we to make of CSA? Let me start by saying that I may be misunderstanding some of the moves that Oord was trying to make. If that is the case, I would really appreciate clarification from Oord. I would really hate to critique a position that I am misrepresenting!
Here are just two issues I would appreciate some clarification on before I can accept CSA as a viable alternative to Creation ex nihilo.
(1) I am left wondering about God actions in the world if God’s love is relational and uncontrolling. One example that was given during the talk concerned God’s ability to stop a rock from hitting somebody. Oord recounted the true story that a semi-truck kicked up a rock on the road, subsequently the rock went flying through the air and went through a nearby drier’s windshield, killing the driver instantly. According to the notion that God’s love is relational and uncontrolling, it is impossible for God to stop that rock because that would be a controlling action, thereby violating the rock’s unique substantial integrity. I am not sure that controlling non-agential objects is a problem, but lets say we buy this premise: God cannot unilaterally act in relation to created things. In order for an action to happen God must co-act with the created object. This makes me wonder how God creates at all. It seems to me that this view would lead to something like co-creation as opposed to creation. Creation in this view is synergistic, which in my mind cannot accurately be described as creation. Furthermore, this seems less like creation from moment to moment and more like change in created objects, a change in which the created objects participate in bringing about additional sturctures. We could use some clarification about how this view does not reduce to a view about how objects change over time as opposed to how objects are created.
(2) I am left wondering whether we should accept the premise that God cannot unilaterally act, at pains of God committing an unloving action. Again, to use the rock example, it is claimed that on this view God could not stop a rock from hitting somebody because that would be an unloving thing to do. You might imagine a case where I see a rock flying at my daughter’s head. As a good and loving father I would immediately step in to knock the rock out of its trajectory, ensuring that it misses my daughter. If I, a fallible father would do such a thing, how much more would a loving God! The reason I say this is because my intuition is that my action of swatting a rock out of the way would not constitute my performing an unloving action towards that rock, even though it violates the rock’s integrity (in some sense). So if we would be hesitant to say that my unilateral action against the rock does not constitute an un-loving action, why should we think that God’s unilateral action always constitutes an un-loving action? Again, I invite clarification on this point.
Given these two issues I am left unconvinced by CSA; nevertheless I appreciate Oord’s proposal which called upon his readers to examine carefully his modal claims and perhaps question their intuitions about what constitutes an unloving action.
Christopher Woznicki is a PhD student in the Analytic Theology Project at Fuller Theological Seminary. He received a MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and a BA in Philosophy from UCLA. Christopher has written several journal and encyclopedia articles on Jonathan Edwards.