Essential Kenosis

I have always leaned toward ‘Open Theology’, ever since meeting Gordon Olson who taught in many YWAM schools in the 70s. I visited him in California in 1976, stayed in his house and used his library. He had in those days the best library on Charles Finney and many books on Open Theology. Clark Pinnock, who moved from being a Calvinist to being a key figure in articulating Open Theology likewise influenced my thoughts. However, for me, the best writings to date are from Thomas Jay Oord, and his articulation of God’s love as uncontrolling is both releasing and challenging (in what sense is ‘God in control?’).

Oord has made a short introductory video of ‘Essential Kenosis’. If it whets your appetite then his book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ you just know is the one you want for Christmas!

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9 thoughts on “Essential Kenosis

  1. Thank you this recommendation. I look forward to reading the book. It is just the message I need to hear at the moment as have been struggling with the issues it covers quite a lot lately.

  2. Oh my. I have not read this book however I’ve read the things you have written about this guy and read his blog. I suppose to be fair I should read the book. I have wrestled with what I understand this guy is saying and if anything has led me near to atheism it is this theology. I just don’t get it. I don’t get it in terms of prayer. What is the point of prayer if God loves us so much he won’t do anything? What is the point of a God who loves us so much he lets us sit in terrible situations, suffer from them, even die from them because he cannot be moved to intervene? I don’t get it.

    I feel like Oord wanted to deal with the problem of God and evil. The classic question of how does a good God allow evil if he isn’t evil and has the power to act. Either God is not good or not powerful. Oord came up with a theology that gives God an out. God loves us too much to intervene if it means offending someone’s agency. Essentially God self-limits his power out of love which makes God not powerful enough to intervene but still good. So why bother with God? What use is He?

    I am not interested in the other theology of a God who controls everything. That doesn’t cut it for me either. I remember, before I escaped the church, of evangelicals praying relentlessly that God sovereignly do things. They essentially ordered God to act and act according to their wishes and to override everyone else. That seemed pretty off to me as well. But the answer cannot be a God who Himself has no agency because he loves so much other than to love us (beam good thoughts at us, cheer us on tell us he loves us but do nothing to change a bad situation?).

    How would we feel about a parent who allowed someone to abuse his child and refused to intervene because the parent did not want to interfere with the free will of the abuser? We would find that parent abhorrent. It seems to me that Oord has not freed God from the responsibility for evil at all, God has just become more passive or powerless by His own choice. In other words, He has the power but will not use it for good reason.

    I hope I have completely misunderstood this theology. But it has led me into despair when coupled with an ongoing situation in which I am abused by 2 people who would tell you they are exemplary Christians. No amount of prayer has changed anything, at least as far as I can tell. Nothing I have done, in love, has had any effect. Likewise with getting a job where I am not abused and paid what I am worth. Along with other situations in my life. Nothing. I feel abandoned by the God that loves me too much to intervene because other people need freedom of will respected.

    So please correct me. Where have I misunderstood this new theology? I am happy to be corrected. But from my point of view, this theology, more than anything I have learned or lived in my lifetime, is the thing that has led me into despair and pushed me pretty darn close to atheism. Sometimes I feel like any prayer I engage in is simply habit because it certainly appears to be meaningless. I need to understand what is the point of God other than good feelings and what is the point of prayer in this theology. I know these are difficult questions but many people have huge struggles in life and a God who appears to abandon them out of love or not love, doesn’t feel like much of an answer.

    1. Hi Ann. Wish I had nice point by point answers, but here is where I am at. God is all-powerful and then the issue is why does he not intervene? I see the ‘all-powerful’ as starting at the wrong end of things. It almost becomes meaningless if by all powerful means God can do anything. He cannot… cannot deny himself. Cannot be untrue to who he is etc., he is love. That is the starting point for me. He pours out his life and gives away his life, and pours it into human form in abundance. If we shut him out then comes with us to the extent that he can. Israel is shown favour so that the nations might be blessed – again this is not too ‘successful’ with Israel shutting God out. ‘Woe to you…’

      Our task – and this should be exemplified by the body of Christ – is to give God a way in to intervene through answered prayer. And all standing in the right place and seeing no shift, sows in to the age to come. Faith in God and who he was I think is what demanded the Jews see an age to come, and the necessity of the resurrection so that all who died in faith, many of whom were ‘sawn in two’ would be rewarded. Hebrews 11 seems a vital perspective on true faith: God shut the mouths of lions, and the lions devoured them. They are both manifestations of faith. One saw something from the future break in, one exemplified how a person lived because of the future.

      This has pushed me to think that the inbreaking of the age to come has not yet occurred because we have not provided enough of the right material for it. God’s awesome power will then be revealed as the whole of creation is regenerated. His love will then manifest in judgement, in the sense of bringing all evil to an end. The ultimate intervention. His intervention then will be because of his love. His apparent non-intervention now is so that we have an adequate preparation for then.

      Your exemplary colleagues. Of course who are we to judge? How exemplary am I? But what is termed exemplary sadly often falls so far short. That day to come will be somewhat revealing for us all… were we that exemplary?

    2. I really understand where you are coming from being in a situation where my physical limitations are huge since a stroke 8 years ago which left me with debilitating symptoms which leave me very very limited and struggling to see any answers to prayer and now my 17 year old daughter having severe, crippling OCD too for the past 2 years which is almost impossible to deal with without going completely insane particularly when combined with my very poor health. Leading me to desperation and to behave in a way I hate at times as I struggle to support and care for her. This combined with the state of the world and the suffering everywhere has led me almost to become an atheist too as I struggle to understand how God doesn’t intervene. I pray and I pray and I pray and nothing seems to work it even seems that the enemy infiltrates my prayers and I feel powerless. The only thing that keeps me a Christian is the idea of sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings whatever that means – I don’t fully understand this at all at this point or ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ but I try and imagine how much Jesus suffered although that I know that this is impossible to comprehend and that is how I hold onto my tenuous failure of a faith! It is only the suffering human Christ who I can relate too. Still nothing changes in my situation – yet! I think Martin’s response of use praying into the age to come maybe beyond our lifetime makes sense. I just often think of Psalm 139 that ‘even the darkness is as light to him’ – that helps sometimes too. I feel that many Christians have abandoned me and given up on me as a hopeless case which doesn’t help either – not that I blame them!

      1. Thanks Joanna. We all search for answers to the ‘why’ and the ‘why not’ of God’s intervention / non-intervention. And there is certainly some connection between now and then. What happens now makes a real contribution to what will take place then.

      2. Oh Joanna: my goodness. So many people live with such difficult daily struggles. And most of the time we don’t know. Maybe that is part of the problem – so many of us trying to get through without being a burden on others. But perhaps the issues are bigger than us individuals. We live in an economical and political context that has negated much of community as it would have functioned years ago. It leaves us all adrift, unmoored, often required by our jobs to relocate and live apart from family and any real community we have known. Then the government has to intervene and provide more or less some of the supports we have lost. And this can be anxiety provoking because then we are dependent upon the good will of politicians who are often led to promote austerity measures to appease the wealthy they prefer to serve. Most of us live a single small event from disaster. No wonder anxiety diagnoses proliferate and mental illnesses become common. Everyone just wants to feel some agency and security in their lives.

        Unfortunately the church appears to be more of a problem than a solution as it too is frequently corrupted or the price of acceptance into the community means parking one’s brain and the truth at the door. I can’t go there any more.

        Where is God in all of this? How is he/she entertaining herself/himself? What is he/she actually accomplishing at the moment? No idea. I don’t hear much from God these days. Maybe that’s my fault though it takes two to build a relationship and maintain it.

        I was reminded recently of a former community activist in Toronto who died years ago. She was known primarily for caring for HIV patients and getting palliative care for them. Upon her death-bed she was asked if she believed in God. Her answer was that she believed in ‘kindness’. While evangelicals might recoil in horror because she failed on her deathbed to say the magic words that might ‘save’ her, I actually think it might be a good answer. I cannot answer for God and his/her actions or intents. I cannot answer for other people. But I can answer for myself. And I can, even when the context is difficult, choose kindness. And perhaps, that is all that is necessary.

        I teach at colleges and universities. I am one of those sad, underpaid, exploited, oppressed adjunct professors. I run around trying to cobble together sufficient income while watching the privileged elite of administrators and full-time/tenure track profs swan around with paychecks double of mine though they are no more and often less qualified than I. Everyday I have to walk into classrooms and focus totally on the well-being of my students. It is exhausting because not only must I deal with the content (and present it in engaging ways) but I must account for the emotions and needs of over 200 people per week. I try to meet them with kindness even when I know they might be trying to take advantage of me. Their opportunism is their issue not mine. My kindness is my issue and I choose it all that I can. Whether that makes the world a better place or advances the Kingdom or plays into God’s narrative I don’t know. I do know that everyone needs kindness.

        I’m not sure what you need to improve your situation Joanna but I hope it does so. That kind people will come into your life and help you meet your needs and the needs of your daughter. I have no clue where they will come from but I do hope they will come because all of us need kindness.

        1. Thank you Ann for empathy and understanding. I’m sorry things are so tough for you too. I think that what you said about kindness above all things is true and I do think still with my tenuous faith that this is the very essence of God made manifest in the person of Jesus. I do know some kind people so that is good. May God help us in our struggles and lead us to understanding.

  3. Thanks Martin: again, I have not invested the time to read Oord’s work so I comment only on what I’ve seen. The issue for me is that he appears to leave us with a God of good intentions and that, in light of so many injustices in the world, dire events and climate change (if there ever was an injustice, allowing that to go forward certainly qualifies) seems inadequate. I guess the issue for me is at the moment I cannot see a future much, either for myself as my situation remains unsettled and unresolved, nor for our species and many others who will go extinct because of our actions. And being able to imagine a different future and then work towards it appears to be the key point.

    I am very aware of history of how God has allowed, quite frequently, for whole communities to die out for various reasons. I guess I don’t know why He would intervene to change things in light of the choices we are making now. If the age to come depends upon us (isn’t that the foundation of that 7 mountains theology as well – we have to establish the Kingdom?!) then I don’t feel very confident. What happens if we fail to do what we need to do to bring about a new age? That seems quite possible to me.

    Perhaps some of my angst comes from teaching young people. Every day I am aware of their future. Everyday I have to answer one or another about their own personal issues and about a collective future. I try to instill hope in them, I really do even as I also try to be very honest about the situation. But I find it more and more difficult to speak of hope to them. I even tell them that they will be the ones to craft a new way of living and that is an amazing opportunity. They get to think of a new economic order, a more just one. I hope I am not just stringing them along. Most teachers I know just ignore the realities of climate change and adaptation or of escalating economic inequality. I think that is easier but not really helpful to the students. They need honesty and clear answers so they can plan who they will be and how they will live in the midst of such great change and chaos.

    All I know is, that at this point I feel a profound lack of agency in my life, on many levels – personal, employment, and collectively for the future. It is difficult for me to understand what a loving God must and will do in this situation. I do know this – if a parent sees a child is depressed and about to make a potentially fatal decision, they intervene in love. To be a good parent God must do likewise. We as a species are making very possibly fatal decisions about how we live and the impact on the planet. How does a good and loving parent respond to that? Good intentions, really loving good intentions, don’t seem enough to me at this point.

    Re: exemplary. well I think the issue is to humbly realize you are not necessarily exemplary. Its the bragging about it that is the problem. Just saying.

    Thanks for your response. I will study it further.

    1. Ann – tx. Yes bragging does not seem to be one of the central fruits of the Spirit but often high up the list of what sustains a whole host of sad behaviour patterns. Faith is faith, in the sense that it goes far beyond proof. It might be reasonable (I remember all those apologetics!!) but a good look at our world raises all kinds of reasonable doubt. We often say that we understand why people are atheists, and that it is not unreasonable to proclaim there is no god. Then the ‘God’ that some believe in… well f that one is the only option count me out.

      Just for the record (!!) my approach and the 7 mountains – quite a large valley is between the two. We cannot establish the kingdom, and to establish it through a top-down is an oxymoron. In the midst of suffering and what we claim as answered prayer the substance (gold, silver, precious stones) are banked in heaven, the building blocks for that age. This is a position I have come to in the past 3-4 years.

      Good intentions won’t cut it – agreed!! I think the issue is how God works toward the future. And how does he do that in the context of free will. There is a way through it which resolves it with ‘God has a higher purpose that we do not understand…’ but Oord is setting his stall out that the crap is not the will of God, period. He would say ‘we’ the collective we, are allowing those things to happen, and being the agents of such things.

      I guess into this then comes the suffering of God, in Jesus but not simply in Jesus, And the resolution of all things in the age to come. I would also add that there is a spiritual power(s) element, whether understood as ‘demons / devil’ or the interiority of what is expressed in and through corporate. And of course adding that dimension (as well as other factors) suggest that ‘free-will’ can never be an absolute.

      Complex… and how we try to resolve the issues. What seems central to any genuine ‘Christian’ faith is whether or not ‘God’ is ‘Christ-like’ or not. That is, for me the watershed. That view then also challenges some Scriptures head on – particularly the genocidal ones.

      And the ‘Christ-likeness’ has to be the watershed over any claim to be a follower of Jesus too. That one challenges me pretty much head on!!

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