Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Uncontrolling Love of God", by Thomas Jay Oord: Review & Commentary

(By Guest Blogger/Writer - Michel Weatherall)

I will begin this book review with a spoiler.
Sometimes we hold onto something so tightly, we cannot ever let it go. We become blind and forget we are even desperately clinging onto it. These are blind Sacred Cows.
I believe many religious traditions are guilty of this and thus struggle with the theological problem of pain, suffering, and evil.

The answer is simple but heretical.
God cannot be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

Either God is All-Powerful, but not All-Loving...
or God is All-Loving, but not All-Powerful.
You cannot have it both ways. ("Almighty" and "Omnipotence" are not synonymous. "Divine love preconditions God's almightiness". Pages 188-191).

I personally have come to this conclusion several years ago. I opt with the latter: God's Love trumps God's power. Let me tell you, it isn't a popular position. And not having the theological clout makes this a difficult position to hold.

Thomas Jay Oord sees this clearly.
He expertly juggles herculean theological challenges that - although any serious amature theologian may not know their proper terms or nomenclatures - should most definitely recognize and identify. Christian or not, these challenges are the undertow of our reality, one way or the other, with serious practical implications. They are important questions and should not be disregarded or relegated to the realm of speculative contemplation. 

Personally, I approach these issues from a perspective of 'God' akin to something like the Hindu concept of the Brahman, or the Taoist's Tao, but I still hold onto the Christian belief of God being - not loving - but Love itself. (And in chapter 4, pg. 83, he systematically lists the 'types' of Providence-beliefs, including mine (pg. 94-95). And just in case, my gentle reader, you're curious, my views of God's providence falls somewhere between points 4-5 (God is Essencially Kenotic - God Sustains as an Impersonal Force). My point being, we all begin from a certain paradigm and this book is written with that understanding.)

An old ex-pastor friend of mine used to tell me that I had to be careful how I chose to write about some of the theological concerns and issues I often address. He said, I often had interesting and valid points that certain religious groups would do well to hear and listen to, but the risk was to avoid putting it in such a way as to turn them away.

My friend was right. But sometimes I think there is value in being up front and honest; in thinning out the herd; in weeding out the garden; separating the chaff from the wheat.

This is a book many religious groups would benefit well to study.
Thomas Jay Oord has balls the size of church-bells with some of the theological issues he addresses in this new book. He doesn't shy away or attempt to sidestep some of the most difficult theological challenges there are, but rather embraces them and faces them head-on. No doubletalk, no Christianese, no churchtalk. In fact, he chastises some of these less than satisfactory and submissive answers. This is not a watered down selective theology made to look pretty.

The existence of evil. Free Will vs. Determinism. Libertarian Freedom. A non-all-controlling God. Regularists vs. Necessitarians. Natural Law. Euthyphro's dilemma. Evolutionary Emergence. Divine Kenosis, divine impassibility & mutability, and the list goes on!
This is no light of fluffy read.
I have given his previous book, "The Nature of Love: A Theology" a great review, but my one complaint was that he needed to significantly expand on his concept of Essential Kenosis. This book promises to do just that.

Ultimately, in my humble opinion, this book is a sequel to "The Nature of Love: A Theology". In my review of "The Nature of Love: A Theology" the only real criticism I found was that Thomas Jay Oord's revolutionary concept of "Essencial Kenosis" needed more fleshing out.

In "The Uncontrolling Love of God" he does exactly this, not only going into significantly more detail and exposition, but also summerizing and exploring popular and currently held beliefs and theories that have attempted to address these difficult issues, and ultimately come up short or have failed.

I am an adherent to "Essential Kenosis", have come to these self-same conclusions myself. However, in "The Uncontrolling Love of God", I feel that the author needed to better explain how "Essencial Kenosis" addresses random harmful (genuinely evil) acts.

"Essential Kenosis" adequately explains the existence of pain and suffering in our world while maintaining God's inculpability and inability to intervene when dealing with individuals of free-will or agency. But once "Essential Kenosis" launches into issues of non-agency, or the inanimate, or aggregates, or 'laws of nature', it becomes less than crystal clear.

I admit, part of the fault may fall upon the reader (myself) for I have not given this particular issue thorough thought or exploration. It is definitely something I personally need to better address. But let's be clear here: I am not the one proposing "Essential Kenosis" (even though I edorse it). The burden of onus lied upon the author, Thomas Jay Oord, and I'm not convinced he followed this through thoroughly enough. Maybe this could be material for a new book? (Essential Kenosis, part 3?)

This becomes more problematic and convoluted as he attempts to address the issue of Miracles. Although the section pertaining to divine miracles is detailed, I will do the injustice of simplifying it (it is still worth the read) in saying I feel as if he is dancing and weaving around the problem of divine miracles by redefining it; possibly becoming fixated on 'hammering a round peg into a square hole'. He is attempting to force the Christian criterion of Miracles into "Essential Kenosis" where I am not sure it fits. I think a simple point of its beauty is missed: Essential Kenosis does not have to be exclusively Christian.

There is a near insurmountable challenge present when dealing with Christian Miracles: It is nearly always accepted as God intervening.  The author offers a new paradigm to consider. When free-willed agents (us) interact with God's uncoercive desires and will, this collaborative effort leads to a future closer to God's will or hope for the universe - what we might call the Kingdom of God (not the Heaven of the Afterlife); that maybe, this paradise-like world is within the natural scope of the 'laws of nature'; it is not supernatural, but simply natural; a simply unrealized potential. 

Although I am not a fan of approaching theories based exclusively upon the biblical witness, Thomas Jay Oord goes far beyond this method, building upon observation and evidence from Science, Philosophy and Theology. This book is thoroughly grounded.

"The Uncontrolling Love of God" belongs on any religious, spiritual, or theologian's bookshelf. This is a must read!

Five stars!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

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