No Oord-inary Account of Creation

May 26th, 2017 by

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.

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4 responses to “No Oord-inary Account of Creation”

  1. Thomas Oord says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for your kind response to my lecture. I appreciate your openness to my views, even though, as you rightly note, my views are not the usual fare. I welcome this chance to clarify.

    An appropriate response would require a lengthy essay. But I’ll keep my response brief and focus only on your two questions.

    1. I think God and creatures always play a role in the creation of any entity. God never unilaterally creates; creatures never unilaterally create. I don’t see this as stretching the meaning of “create,” however. I know of no explicit claim in the Bible that “create” involves unilateral determination. And I know of no instance in more common examples that eliminates any creaturely causation. We create babies, art, food, political structures, etc. So my use of “create” is aligned with both biblical and everyday use. I do admit, however, that many people who affirm creation from nothing define “create” in terms of bringing something from nothing. Obviously, I find this problematic.

    1a. I assume an event ontology. This means I can talk about every moment of every entity’s existence as a new creation. Some continuity in form and history carry over from moment to moment, of course. But there is never a mere “rearranging” of what is always present. Every moment is new; God’s creating (in relation to creation) always involves some novelty. Each entity is unique.

    2. Your second question is one I addressed briefly in my lecture. But I can understand why it may not have sunk in at that time, so I’m not surprised you’d like clarification. I also address this issue in my book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, when I talk about the importance of God being a Spirit. The implication is that your stopping a rock may be possible, because you have a localized physical body. God is an omnipresent Spirit (ruach, pneuma), so God doesn’t have the kind of localized physicality necessary to stop rocks. God cannot exert localized bodily impact using a divine body, because God doesn’t possess a localized divine body. Consequently, what might be loving for you pertains to what you can do, and what might be loving for God pertains to what God can do. To put it differently, your corporeality affords you certain opportunities to act (given constraints, of course). With most in the Christian tradition, I think God is incorporeal. I think we must take divine incorporeality into consideration when pondering analogies between divine and creaturely action.

    2a. By the way, I try NOT to say God can’t “unilaterally act.” I think God unilaterally acts. God doesn’t have to wait for cooperation before acting, in other words. But I don’t think God “unilaterally determines.” Any actual event is a consequence of God acting first in relation to creatures who respond or contribute (appropriately or inappropriately) in some way. That difference has been lost on many people, but I find it important to emphasize.

    Again, thanks for your kind note. Perhaps you won’t be convinced by my responses, but I hope to have at least added some clarity.

    Thanks for your friendship,

    Tom

  2. Thomas Oord says:

    After posting that response, I remembered a blog essay that I posted some time ago (but didn’t promote). It addresses the God as spirit issue a bit more. Here’s the link: http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/neglected-issue-explanations-evil

    Tom

  3. John W. Dally says:

    In your assessment of the illustration of the rock you’re assuming that God could alter the trajectory of that rock. However God is spirit. God has no arms legs or physical existence. God would require a third-party like yourself to knock the rock out of the way. In the given situation there would be no time to call upon a person to interfere with that rock.

  4. Hi Tom! Thank you for the clarifications and the link. I’m sure people are consistently asking you to clarify what might seem to be counter-intuitive positions, so I appreciate your willingness to clarify your position once again!

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