What’s at Stake in the Doctrine of Creation

(photo by Courtney Perry)

A week from now, I’ll be canoeing through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with ten Fuller DMin students, Brian McLaren, Courtney, and a couple guides from Boundary Waters Experience. Our conversations will center on Christian Spirituality and the Doctrine of Creation.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the doctrine of creation in preparation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the doctrine of creation is like an onion: you peel away one layer, and you find an equally significant layer underneath. Another metaphor is dominoes: knock the first one down, and lots more begin to fall.

I’m so intrigued by this that I think my next book after Why Pray? will be on creation. And I see my thoughts falling under these major categories:

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Scott Paeth Responds to the Process Theologians

Scott left a lengthy comment defending himself. I am hereby promoting it to a post:

Well, this is what I get for opening my big mouth! Having read through the thread there’s no way I could possibly do justice to all of the insights that Tony’s other readers are offering here. Let me offer a few off the cuff remarks to put some of what I wrote on my blog in a bit more context.

1. First of all, I should clarify that I do appreciate a lot about process theology. I think that its emphasis on the divine immanence can be an important corrective to theology that overly accentuate the divine transcendence, and to that degree, it serves an important theological role that I in no way want to deny. It’s also among the most fresh and creative approaches to theology to emerge from the 20th century and I appreciate it if for no other reason than simply that it’s interesting.

2. My own position could probably be best described as “panentheistic” in the Moltmannian sense of the term, which, at least as I read him, depends on the idea which is rooted in Anselm’s ontological argument that God’s being does not depend on the contingency of the world, but that God chooses to enter into the contingency of creation as an act of divine self-emptying for the sake of creation. What this approach offers is a way of understanding divine immanence that does not rely on a necessary God/world connection as does the God of process theology. God is, as one commentator noted, both within creation and transcendent, and God’s being is not in that sense reliant on creation, but God in love chooses to descend within creation, ultimately even unto death.

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The Fatal Flaw of Process Theology

Scott Paeth says it more succinctly that I have:

If God is within the univere or an emergent quality of the univere, then God is contingent as the universe is contingent. Yet, a contingent God is no God at all, for that God is not free of the limitations and constraints of the universe of which he is a part. Rather, God becomes a being among beings. This is the central flaw in process theology, as attractive as it may be on many other fronts. Unless the nature of God is that of a being free from the constraints of the universe, there is no way of conceiving of God salvifically, since God is ultimate bound to contingency with all other beings. Such a God is in fact less than the universe itself, since God is limited by the possibilities of the universe. This might be a good description of Galactus, but doesn’t do justice to the vision of God embraced within most theistic accounts. This is, in an old phrase, a God who is too small. (via Against the Stream: Creatio Ex Nihilo)

This is exactly the issue that I’m wrestling with in my forthcoming book, Why Pray?: Avoiding a God that is impotent on the one hand and contingent on the other hand, for neither is a classical (or biblical) conception of God.

A Whole Podcast about Nothing

Homebrewed Christianity

Tripp has done me a great favor by posting a new HBC podcast from AAR last year — a debate in the Open and Relational Theologies Group about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It follows up on our debate of last week. I tend to think that Phil Clayton’s opening remarks are spot on: this is really about the very nature of God — but if it can be proved that creatio ex nihilo is really responsible of monarchial monotheism, misogyny, and governmental hierarchies, then I’ll abandon it.

Here’s a teaser for the podcast, and a link:

Get ready for a theological treasure chest! Here you get not one or even two theologians but SIX theologians ready to throw down theologically over Creation Out of Nothing. The audio was harvested from the Open and Relational Theologies group at the American Academy of Religion of which I am a very proud member!  This episode will include the panelists arguments for or against Creatio Ex Nihilio and later this weekend we will post the Question & Response portion of the session.  The initial panel includes:

Download their papers and listen to the podcast at: The Creatio Ex Nihilio Debate!.

Finally, let me just say that if I had to write my syllabus for next month’s DMin cohort again, I would include Keller’s Face of the Deep.


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