A podcast worth watching

Here is a podcast of Mike Morrell and Thomas Oord… Worth digging into as Mike posts a set of questions to Oord. From a list of questions three are picked out:

  • Can faith traditions actually help reverse our runaway climate catastrophe, or do they only hurt the cause of ecological healing?
  • Can I affirm the wisdom found in other faith traditions while being rooted and grounded in the Way of Jesus?
  • How can I embody a counter-cultural faith in light of rising Christian nationalism, and the worship of power over love?

Helpful – also to get into Oord’s mind if anyone has never read his books or found it difficult to access.

Omnipotence challenged

Thomas Jay Oord is creating a few waves with his writings and studies, throwing the net somewhat wider than ‘Open Theology’. His book ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God’ is certainly more than worth a read. I am not able to buy into every argument that is advanced in ‘God Can’t’, but the push back against classic God is omnipotent is something to be ehgaged with. Here is a short video on that push back and his choice of ‘Amipotence’ over ‘Omnipotence’.

We are probably instinctively taught to react to an idea that challenges ‘omnipotence’ though of course even the most conventional have to nuance what they mean, such as ‘God cannot make a four legged tripod’, or the classic ‘?’God cannot make a stone bigger than he can lift’ (and always a ‘he’ in classic understanding!).

It is hard to know exactly where to place Oord on the theological spectrum (he is not classic ‘Open’) but he is far from alone with respect to omnipotence / control. The reason of course is that of the problem of evil:

  • God is all Loving
  • God is all Knowing
  • God is all Powerful
  • Evil exists.

Frank Tupper (1941-2020), a Baptist theologian (yes Baptist) also denied that God is omnipotent. In his view power and love are incompatible—divine love requires the reduction of divine power and control. He said in an interview:

I do not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world. Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world . . . God chose not to be a do anything, anytime, anywhere kind of God.

There is a strong resonance between Oord and Tupper though their approach has some significant differences, I am convinced we are invited to participate with God in a God-like manner: that of not forcing a path through dominance but to open up possibilities through love. God and humans in loving partnership.

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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An Open Future

Uncontrolling LoveI have for long leaned toward what is termed ‘Open Theology’, and perhaps Thomas Jay Oord’s book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ is one of the best presentations of it, presenting some fresh perspectives even beyond those of Pinnock et al. Of course there are always Scriptures that can be quoted with a loud voice that will denounce any opposing theology. This post is not to defend Open Theology as a theology but to suggest that we are at least to live as if we can shape the future.

Narratives (beliefs) shape the world we live in. I have no doubt that the Western world is going through a major shift, and the one who can predict what it will look like in 15 years time either has some incredible insights or are rather naïve. I have many times written about the predominant spin of the fear narrative as something we must reject. We see this so strong at this point in time: create a fear scenario which then allows / legitimises an authoritarian response which leads to the ‘state of exception’. The political realm is awash with this, in some places so visible, but in other places just under the surface. And sadly the extremes are pulling what was once more moderate increasingly in that direction.

At a time of crisis (the 30s) the oft-repeated phrase of ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself’ was spoken in the inaugural speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am suggesting (as I write as a believer) that maybe now we need to say:

We have nothing to fear except a church that has bought into the fear narrative.

There are those who draw on the research of, for example, The Fourth Turning, which suggests a cycle of 80-100 years, the final stage being that of crisis which opens the door to war and then a rebirth. This writing is apparently fuelling the ideas being fed into the current administration in the USA. War – inevitable in this stage? Dayesh (ISIS) holds to the eschatology of a Middle Eastern Armageddon so the drawing of the major powers into that arena is not something to be avoided as eventually once that takes place this will precipitate the return of Jesus… and not on the side of the ‘Christians’. Others of the Christian faith also hold to such an eschatology, so the idea of working for peace is to be avoided also. Interestingly ‘Woe to those who say peace, peace’ would have been a reference to the Pax Romana, the false peace that was offered to all who complied and was implemented and sustained by war. No different to the current peace and safety being offered in the West.

There are myths that abound, and narratives that sustain the myths. We have been instructed to be armed! I was once told in no uncertain terms that ‘Pacificism will not cut it these days!’ (BTW pacificism is not the correct term for a non-violent position.)

We have to live from a different narrative. Here is where at least the outcome of an Open position should help us. We do not have to adopt that view theologically. Even if we are of the most hard line ‘all things have been predestined’ we are still to live from faith in God and live out our lives trusting God and living as though we can affect the future.

I believe we are responsible for the politics, but we are never to put our faith in the political system or those elected. We are responsible for the world we live in – the buck stops here!

So back to where I started. The fear narrative is linked to a fatalistic one. It is pessimistic in the extreme but with a twist – there is a human / political saviour who will steer us through this. Believe the narrative, let increasing authority and therefore power flow to the top and we will get through this. Such a narrative is sadly antiChristian.

The crisis in the West is secondarily a political crisis. It is primarily a crisis of faith. This season will polarise things increasingly with respect to what it means to follow Jesus. Either the cross will be emblazoned on the sword or we will recognise it as the symbol of a life laid down. ‘As often as you do this do this in remembrance of me.’ Amidst all the narratives we cannot afford to forget him.


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Uncontrolling Love

uncontrolling_loveNot everyone enjoys what I enjoy, but read this book and of course you will love it! Oord is one of the leading ‘relational theologians’ and this is the first book of his I have read. It is well written and easy to read – I read it right through in a few hours. I have been heavily influenced by Open Theology, ever since having a connection with YWAM and the teaching of Gordon Olson, then the works of Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd (and… and…), and of course the main sticking point for those who come in the opposite direction is that of ‘but God has absolute foreknowledge of all things’.

Oord begins with a strong defence of Open Theology, that the future is not predetermined in terms of its details, and is defensive of ‘accidents’ as being ‘accidents’ and not part of some ‘mystery’. I have never been comfortable with the inevitable (sorry for the illustration) that the drowning of tens of thousands in the Med is part of God’s allowed (or predetermined) plan that we do not understand, so his full-on attack of such explanations resonated strongly. Nothing new in that area but his breadth of apologetic was appreciated.

He, however, moves beyond some Open Theologians (he uses John Sanders as his dialogue partner in this) where he posits that we have to understand God kenotically. God is not to be understood as sovereign in the sense of ‘all-powerful’ but his government is one of self-emptying love. This to me, of course in resonance with Roger Mitchell’s works, was where the book became very exciting and provocative. The ‘core’ of God’s being kenotic – from this a position that he cannot act differently other than to pour Godself out. For many Open Theologians freedom is before love… but Oord seems to reverse this. God is love, he creates and gives freedom to creation.

In a very real sense – and here is where I am most exercised – God cannot ‘do’ certain things in this world. He needs our co-operation. Now then ‘come on intercession’, stand in the gap, act as a conduit for change from heaven to earth.

An easy read, harder to process the implications. I probably need to read it again to let it get deeper under my skin as (a very important area) it could really provoke also some fresh thinking on the atonement, prayer and miracles.

PS: For those who advocate ‘God is all powerful’ this always has to be qualified with what that means. He cannot make a four-sided triangle, a stone heavier than he can lift (logical fallacies), through to moral issues – ‘he cannot deny himself’. The ‘but God is all-powerful’ is not a good fall-back position as it is at best a theoretical position. Hence, for all, other than the real extremists the omnipotence of God will always need to be a qualified position.

PPS: Link to Thomas Jay Oord’s website.


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