God’s Power Is Collaborative, Not Coercive

God’s Power Is Collaborative, Not Coercive December 22, 2011

Jeremy Fackenthal details three ways in which process theology is compatible with feminism.  Here’s one:

Process theology views God’s power as collaborative, not coercive.

Discarding the dominant view of power as power over some other subject, process thought adopts instead an understanding of power as power with another subject.  God does not coerce the world, but rather attempts at persuading the world through God’s patient and loving call.  Humans then have the freedom in each moment of their lives to respond to God’s call or not.  The reason process thinking is able to present this altered understanding of divine power is because it see’s God’s power as necessarily limited (not self-limited, but inherently limited).  While lots of people don’t like this and see it is a weakened form of God, process theology holds the idea of God’s collaborative power as far more worthy of worship than a God who acts unilaterally in the world through coercive force.  I see this reconceptualization of God’s power as compatible with feminist thought because it breaks down deleterious power relations that promote the power of the one over the many, offering instead the opportunity to be collaborators in the on-going creation of the world.  God’s collaborative power promotes justice, equality, and the value of human life.

Read the other two HERE.

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  • This is really a good insight. Don’t let Tripp know, but I have struggled with Process a bit. When it comes to what you have said and quoted here, I am generally in agreement- God’s nature is relational and collaborative. But I think you can get there from fairly traditional Trinitarian thought. Moltmann said it beautifully when he talked about a Kenotic Perichoresis, or Self-Giving/Limiting interaction.

    I joke with some of my history students who have just taken a Process introduction that Process took the problem of Theodicy and made a theological system out of it by rejecting a premise- ie that God is not Omnipotent. So I am not sure where I stand in the process stream since I really do think that God doesn’t act “unilaterally in the world through coercive force.”

    Thanks for the intriguing quote.

    • I’m with you, Joshua. I think you can get to the same place with Moltmann. I’d like to hear a Process critique of him.

      • Alright Tripp…its all you!

        • hmmm….no problem! Just remember Moltmann came to this notion of power decades after Process types. He of course he has said that Process thought had a big impact on him here. The great thing about Moltmann is he helped make Process theologies notion of power much more mainstream. Now it isn’t near as controversial unless you are hanging out with Calvinists….

          As an aside Process theologians would agree with Tony’s critique of Bell’s book. You can’t have it both ways! Moltmann tries to have it both ways too.

          • Ok, now I’ll go back and read TJ’s piece on Bell. Yet, I’ll push back on Moltmann having it both ways- Doesn’t kenosis to some degree imply potency, albeit by negation? Granted, that isn’t necessarily Omnipotent, but it still has the sense of self-limiting.

            But like I’ve said in some places, I am a little more Neo-Platonic than I am Process. Just sayin’….

          • Here’s an awesome post by a Claremont student explaining the Process and Moltmann relationship: http://austinroberts13.blogspot.com/2011/12/is-moltmann-process-theologian.html

    • Dan Hauge

      I’m in a similar vein–overall I agree with the emphasis that God doesn’t act ‘unilaterally through coercive force’ (although it might depend on how one defines ‘coercive’, as I do believe in God’s miraculous actions). However, I stumble a bit on the part where God’s power is “necessarily limited”. To me, a God with the ability to control creation, but chooses not to out of love and respect for it, is more awe inspiring than one who simply is incapable of exercising any such control. I remain curious as to why process thought wants to emphasize God’s *necessary* interdependence with creation, as it seems to me it chips away at God’s free loving initiative in creating and relating to creation.

  • Scot Miller

    I’m of two minds when it comes to the question of God. On the on hand, I’m drawn to the apophatic tradition (Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, Paul Tillich, John Caputo), which calls into question all onto-theology. On the other hand, whenever I’m in the mood to speak cataphatically, the only plausible philosophical/theological tradition is process theism, for the reasons listed at Homebrewed Christianity. I would also add that process theism is much more consistent with the biblical tradition than the theologies which come out of Platonic or Aristotelian traditions. (See Lewis Ford, The Lure of God: A Biblical Basis for Process Theism (1978), available online at http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2217.)

    • That Lewis Ford book is awesome!

      Have you read any of the Process mystics? I’ll have to get one on the podcast for you.

      • Scot Miller

        I’m not familiar with Process mystics. Sounds interesting.

        (I read Ford’s book when I took a Doctrine of God class with Frank Tupper at Southern Seminary. Got Ford to sign my copy when I met him in Boston at an AAR meeting.)

        • Frank Tupper is the coolest person in the world!

  • I don’t know if I would be considered a 100% process theology guy, but one of the reasons why process theology fascinates me is the idea that God leads through collaboration, not coercion. When a lot of Calvinists talk about “the sovereignty of God,” they make it sound like God’s a dictator. Don’t think I want to worship a God like that!

  • Austin

    I actually just wrote a paper showing how close Moltmann is to process theology. Even where he departs from mainstream process thought, it’s clear he’s been deeply influenced by Whitehead and Cobb (he admits this, actually). From the late 70’s until the early 90’s, there is a progressive shift towards more holistic thinking in Moltmann’s writings – a move away from the negative dialectic so characteristic of his earliest writings (much to the dismay of some liberation theologians!). “god in creation” shows some of the clearest indications of process thought, as does “spirit of life.” Most process thinkers strongly disagree with Moltmann’s neo-apocalyptic eschatology, even though many (e.g., Cobb) admire the work he has done to overcome certain problems inherent in that framework. It’s there that he is seen to sharply diverge from relational thinking and consistently persuasive power. But while Moltmann’s doctrine of creation ex nihilo is a departure from process as well, he actually appropriates the Whiteheadian creation out of chaos in a creative synthesis of the two models. This doesn’t satisfy most process thinkers, but they tend to view it as a very positive transformation of the traditionall view.

  • And of course when speaking of process and feminism we cannot forget the inimitable Catherine Keller, particularly in works such as “The Face of the Deep” and “Apocalypse Now and Then.”

  • Interesting discussion. It’s been long ago now, 90-94, when I was at Claremont ST and had courses with Mary E. Moore (and one co-taught by John Cobb in his “retirement”). She had just published “Teaching from the Heart” which is a great book, definitely coming from a Process point of view. As to Moltmann, I confess to having struggled just to comprehend the only one of his classics I read (can’t even recall the title for sure–and think I read only part of it). So the comments on him encourage me to give him a try again.