Guest Post Responding to My Essay about “Relational Sovereignty”

Guest Post Responding to My Essay about “Relational Sovereignty” December 7, 2019

Guest Post Responding to My Essay about “Relational Sovereignty”

I asked a friend if I could post his response to my blog essay about God’s “relational sovereignty” to my blog and he agreed. It’s a bit long, which is why it is not a comment to my blog. However, I find it such a valuable response that I want to share it with everyone. The author is my friend Warren Holley.

Here it is, below the usual disclaimer…

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

The post concerning Divine Determinism and Relational Theology, I thought, was — to put it simply — outstanding in both expression and scope. (Could you be building a book upon these assertions?) With your usual gentle and respectful touch, you explain the central issues pertaining to God’s sovereignty that sadly divide the Christian community into, what I take to be, competing camps.

Over the past few years, with your guidance and recommendations, I have become able to ‘see’ (what I now understand to be) a more coherent and comprehensive path to defining ‘God’s Being’ and ‘God-with-us’ (God’s relationship to reality). In the course of a few sentences, you succinctly elucidate ‘relational theology.’ (You once described your theology, generally, as ‘relational.’ Initially, I was puzzled by this term but with your help I am less so now.) This path of ‘understanding’ (though I readily admit that I never truly ‘grasp’ anything by cognitive means exclusively) seems best encapsulated in your composite phrase: non-process, narrative-based, relational view of God’s sovereignty. This approach, though not without its own pitfalls (horrendous and inexplicable suffering, for instance), has helped me avoid some of the frustrating dead-ends of “Classic Theism” with its conundrums over divine omnideterminism, presumed impassibility and, in particular, the (often overlooked) legacy of medieval voluntarism which still influences our theological debates today. {The long shadow of John Calvin looms in this regard, even stretching into our political disputes: “God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever He wills [i.e., whatever is given in reality, ‘whatever-is-the-case’] by the very fact that He wills it, must be considered righteous [i.e., good, right, correct, beneficial]”( Institutes: III.xxiii.2).} The emotional and intellectual allure of what you designate non-process narrative-based relational ‘theology’ has strongly captivated my imagination. Your precise description of the main claims of relational and narrative theology resonates deeply with me, and I am certain, many others like me, who have found many of the assertions of ‘Classical Theism’ too dissonant to which to assent (even when scolded that these claims are only ‘apparent contradictions’ or mysteries beyond finite ‘sinful’ minds).

Moreover, I have continued to search for, what you term, a synoptic, canonical, holistic vision of God [with-the-world] drawn from biblical narrative.” I don’t recall a summary of beliefs designated this way before (!). This sounds like a rule of faith (regula fidei) or a creedal construct secondarily derived from ‘the biblical story.’ I am not averse to narrative-based creeds, for they are only story summaries or encapsulations or distillations of the larger, more sprawling and rambunctious ‘biblical story’ (see Richard Bauckham, “Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story” and Michael Goheen, “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story” for superb examinations). Even so, I would like to ask: what is your particular cognitive content of this synoptic, canonical and holistic vision to which you are referring? I think your post implies one more than it articulates one. Even though implied, it seems to be a summary to which I am strongly drawn, and desire to see this in a more detailed version. (Perhaps it is already there embedded somewhere in your voluminous writings, and I have just overlooked it.)

One summary which has influenced me is taken from N. T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God (Volume I: pp. 97-8). There he wrote, “I find myself driven, both from my study of the New Testament and from a wide variety of other factors which contribute to me being who I am, to tell a story about reality which runs something like this. Reality as we know it is the result of a creator god bringing into being a world that is other than himself, and yet which is full of his glory. It was always the intention of this god that creation should one day be flooded with his own life, in a way for which it was prepared from the beginning. As a part of the means to this end, the creator brought into being a creature which, by bearing the creator’s image, would bring his wise and loving care to bear upon creation. By a tragic irony, the creature in question has rebelled against this intention. But the creator has solved this problem in principle in an entirely appropriate way, and as a result is now moving the creation once more toward its originally intended goal. The implementation of this solution now involved the indwelling of this god within his human creatures and ultimately within the whole creation, transforming it into that for which it was made in the beginning.

You and I (and many others, of course) might disagree with Wright’s specific assertions and particular details, but as Christians, we all ascribe to a ‘basic story’ concerning God, God in and with the world, and what that story ‘means’ or ‘signifies’ for our everyday lives. The expression (the ‘translation’ or ‘interpretation’) of this basic story lies within the purview of theology — the ‘retelling’ or interpretation of the basic story has been going on since the Apostle Paul was writing his letters. But there seem to be more than one ‘retelling’ of ‘the story’ circulating about. To which version of the narrative do we ascribe? Are there ‘competing’ Christian narratives? And, if so, which one adheres ‘best’ to the ‘basic’ unified biblical story? How do we assess ‘best’ in this endeavor? Based on which criteria?

I do not think that God, our Creator and redeemer, intended us, his creatures, to be divided over ‘competing biblical narratives.’ Nor do I think that God intended His story to be used in a tyrannical and oppressive fashion, bludgeoning alternative narratives into submission or oblivion. Because of a myriad confluence of factors, we ‘confessing Christians’ increasingly have constructed slightly different metanarratives utilizing the same cast of characters — God, creation, Adam, Moses, Israel, David, Jesus, Paul, the Church, etc. — but with alternative emphases, expectations and outcomes.

Today there is a purported ‘evangelical’ narrative (I realize that this term has a special and personal meaning for you, but I use it in the common socio-political sense) that begins somewhat similarly to the previously quoted summary but transforms itself (ever so subtly) into a story of the establishment of self-important privilege whereby God ‘blesses believers’ (those who ascribe to this particular narrative) and ‘punishes unbelievers.’ One variation of this narrative is put forward to justify the establishment of this country (the Pilgrim Calvinian version) as God’s Kingdom for the primary purpose of perpetuating the ‘believers’ inherent rights of membership to this kingdom to the exclusion of all others who do not ascribe to this variant of the narrative.

We, as confessing Christians, are no longer competing with the metanarratives of Marxism, Islam or secular humanism (whatever that comprises) as we are now battling one another over the specifics and priorities of the ‘Christian narrative.’ It seems to me that the most central and unassailable core of the biblical story, or the story of Christ, has been forgotten, ignored or misplaced, or even deliberately twisted: which is, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Have we forgotten that the OT mentions our obligations to the stranger, the poor, and the alien hundreds of times? See Ezekiel xxxiv.3-5, and in the NT, Matthew 25, as great examples.) The current version of the ‘evangelical Christian narrative’ on public display seems to openly deny the primary and overriding biblical mission to the truly impoverished and destitute, the half million homeless on our city streets, and those desperate thousands who approach our borders who beseech us, not for charity per se, but for safety. How can Christians condone the despicable policy which separates families at the southern border? How can we stand silent?

To me, the mission of Christ, and thus our inescapable mission as Christians, is to the truly poor, the destitute, the forlorn, the forgotten, the abandoned, the forsaken, the broken, the sick, the disabled, the outcasts — in short, to all those excluded to whom The Master came to include in the benefits of God’s Kingdom. Our mission is not primarily to ourselves and our needs alone: we who have so much material wealth and comfort. There seems to be a vast sea of self-described ‘evangelical Christians’ who seem to be blinded to this false narrative whereby they consider themselves the outcasts of ‘secular society, ‘ that they and their values (‘our Christian way of life’) are being systematically persecuted by a hostile and intolerant humanist government, and that they are being excluded by some faceless ‘liberal establishment ‘ — that they are in essence ‘the poor’ whom Christ came to rescue. And, moreover, that the current political regime ‘has been sent’ by the Providence of God ‘to ‘vindicate the righteous’ and ‘to afflict the unrighteous’ — a concept almost too odious to contemplate.

I strongly believe that this narrative (of many self-described ‘evangelical Christians’) mocks the utterly forsaken and abandoned death agony of Jesus, and openly denies the redemptive efficacy of His resurrection but aligning to such a repugnant canard.

*Now, I do not expect Warren to respond to any comments. If you have a constructive comment go ahead and post it, but don’t expect any response. I will decide if it is worthy of being posted here. Read my “Note to commenters” below before posting any comment.*

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

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