Tag Archives: Clark Pinnock

infant lowly, infant holy

originally posted at Toy Adams’ Imagining Jesus blog

These days, there are a lot of Christians that like to talk about being “Incarnation,” and even to some extent “The Incarnation” itself. There are even some Christians who prefer to talk about multiple incarnations. When it comes to discussions of the Incarnation, we love the neat,cleaner, more respectable adult version, where we talk about Jesus as a Grown-Up, as he is able to walk  with us, talk with us personally. This perspective is a highly individualistic, it is self-centered, and exclusive of children’s subjectivity in the life of The Church.  As a Liberationist and an Open Theist, I am all for defending many (not all) relational approaches to understanding God. During Advent, this is the time where we must affirm God’s openness and freedom in choosing to reveal Godself in Christ Jesus, and at the same time we must affirm God’s particularity, the specific choice that God makes, God’s chosen location and positionality.

Let us not fool ourselves. Almost everyone remembers that famous scene from Talledega Nights, where Ricky Bobby proclaims that he loves to pray to Baby Jesus,. “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we’d also like to thank you for my wife’s father Chip. We hope that you can use your baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. It smells terrible and the dogs are always bothering with it” or “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lying there in your…your little ghost manger, lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental…videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors.” The hypermasculine shaming by our general culture was not the beginning of neglecting Baby Jesus as LORD. That all began when Christians throughout history appropriating philosophies that were inconsistent with the idea that YHWH himself became a child. In his book, In the End—The Beginning: the life of hope, Juergen Moltmann notes that the greek words for slave and child have the same root, that even the inspired New Testament authors use the term “childlike/childish” disparagingly (Luke 7:32/1st Corinthians 14:20, for ex.).

Unfortunately, Moltmann does not extend this logic to the Advent image of the Trinity, Mary our Theoktos, her husband Joseph, and Baby Jesus in the manger. In this lowly infant, God has once and for all united divinity with the class of human beings on the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. Children cannot speak. Babies cannot change themselves, feed themselves, OR WALK! Christians desire to solely talk about Jesus as an autonomous, able-bodied male-privileged Jewish subject. The idea that God was dependent upon a woman to nourish Him (in the womb) for His well-being is offensive to us. There are some Christians caught up in debating how the Son of God really could not become a human zygote because that means he was unconscious, and therefore could not reciprocate the love of the Father. This abstract and meaningless debate is one in which God’s sovereign choice at choosing risk and vulnerability is ill-recognized.  If the Church Fathers and Mothers agreed in line with the Gospel narratives that the Second Person of the Trinity did indeed become FULLY human, then the Son experienced fully and completely all things involved in human development and growth. As the Gospel according to Luke informs us, Jesus grew in both WISDOM and STATURE (Luke 2:52).

In agreement with James Cone, we as The Church must recognize continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the creeds. God in the hypostatic union has reconciled marginalized humanity and emancipatory divinity. “For [the early church], Jesus is certainly a unique person, but the uniqueness of his appearance reveals the Holy One’s concern for the lonely and the downtrodden,” argues James Cone in A Black Theology of Liberation. By starting from the bottom-up, God’s salvation works for the benefit of all: God’s Triune love travels from least of these all the way to the top in order to raise up all of humanity at the New Creation (some people will choose judgement, others, reconciliation).This is the logic of the Resurrection, a theo-logic that finds itself as the result of the Incarnation of YHWH as Holy, Lowly Infant.

Following the arguments of the late Clark Pinnock, I can co-sign on the idea that Scripture presents us with a paradox of strength and vulnerability. “Though ontologically strong, God can be vulnerable because of the decision to make a world like this. The Lord of the universe has chosen to limit his power by delegating some to the creature. God gives room to creatures and invites them to be covenant partners, opening up the possibility of loving fellowship but also some of the initiative being taken away from God and creatures coming into conflict with his plans”- The Openness Of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Clark Pinnock gets the general description of God’s nature basically right but what his analysis ignores is the particular circumstances that YHWH reveals Godself. God invited the Hebrew children that YHWH delivered from Pharaoh to be covenant partners first. God chose to covenant with King David, Israel’s greatest king, to be God’s specific vehicle for the Logos’ embodiment. The loving fellowship that YHWH invites humanity to partake in is the story of the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings: the very narratives that reveal YHWH’s justice & preferential option for the widow, the stranger, and the poor. 

This Advent season I have also been working my way through Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Black Boy is Richard Wright’s autobiography about his childhood, or his lack thereof. It is a miserable tale in many instances, with stories about the brutality of an impoverished life, White supremacy, and religious fundamentalism. Wright shares a story of one Christmas day where he received nothing but an orange, and he describes the pain he felt while all the other kids in his neighborhood were playing outside, having fun. It was experiences such as these that taught Wright how to live in solidarity with those who are afflicted. “The spirit I caught had gave me insight into the sufferings of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely feel tender and cruel, violent and peaceful” (chapter 3).

The title Black Boy itself is filled with irony IMO.  When Black men are referred to as “boys,” it is an insult going back to African enslavement. Black people were/are considered to be at the bottom of White Supremacist hierarchy. On one hand, “boy” is pointing towards Wright’s experience of oppression under Jim/Jane Crow imperial domination.  On the other hand, “boy” is also being reclaimed with Wright taking back his ownership of his own childhood and his own story in spite of being robbed of it by organized religion and structural injustice. I am now contending that we Christians do a reclamation projection of our own, that of revisiting this notion of the Divine Baby more than once a year, to allow God’s choice for risk and vulnerability to define God, and not our own speculations. Once the Church returns to the childhood of the Triune God, we will be better able to join in the bottom-up Resurrection movement of the Logos. 

In The Mail: The Openness Of God

PinnockOpenness[1]

I have read a number of texts on Open Theology before, including my favorite, The God Who Risks by John Sanders. I finally decided to order from Amazon, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. I hope to review the book, chapter by chapter in the coming month.

Thomas Jay Oord's The Nature of Love: A Theology

Disclaimer: This is a review of Thomas Jay Oord’s The Nature of Love: A Theology. Full disclosure– I personally know and have met Professor Oord on a couple of occassions at the annual Wesleyan Theological Society. Also, as a part of a mutual agreement via Facebook whereby I received this work at no cost, I am reviewing this book as a Christian Open/Relational Theist. Hence, my review reflects my theological preference as such.

Part 1: Oord Addresses A Major Blindspot in Theoloogy:

Love is viewed as an afterthought for systematic theologians, Oord argues (page 1). Usually when professional theologians discuss love, its about issues relating to marriage and sexuality. Oord believes that love is THE central message of the Bible and his goal is to portray God as lovingly relational (i.e., not impersonal) against thinkers like Paul Tillich, as well as the necessity of love (contra Karl Barth) (pages 6-7). Oord defines love as “To act intentionally in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others to promote overall well being” (17). I especially appreciated the potential of “promoting overall well being” as well as Oord explanation of that portion as linking love to justice. “Justice and love are not enemies” (20). Part of being loving is working for the common good–a notion that could potentially be compatible with liberation theologies, especially ones that begin with reflectons on love (see Gustavo Gutierrez’ A Theology of Liberation). The empathy/sympathy portion of the definition means that in a loving relationship, the relational bond partly determines the existence of each party (22). Oord finishes his introductory chapter arguing that God calls all complex creatures to love according to the light given to them, and that God’s love is solely not self-sacrifice, ala feminist theology (26-28).

Part 2: Oord Problematizes Past Theologies of Love

Oord goes on to criticize Anders Nygren’s theology of love, for stressing agape love, one that makes human beings passive recipients of God’s love in Christ. Nygren avoids the Hebrew Bible in his arguments, and prefers the language of master and slave. Oord finds Saint Augustines view of love as primarily acquisitive desire, enjoyment for short. Oord says, “God is not entirely egoistic” (81). Lastly, Clark Pinnock, while Oord uses the Open Theology framework that Pinnock and others proposed a few decades ago, Oord says that any idea that we have to believe in Creation Ex Nihilo, that God created everything starting from nothing. Not only is this an unbiblical idea according to Oord, it is advancing a god who coerces contrary to the nature of love.

Part 3: Oord Makes A New Proposal for a Theology of Love

Oord argues that God must be Essentially Kenotic, that is necessarily self-limiting. This commitment is involuntary (125-127) since a voluntary kenotic God can still be blamed for the existence and prevalence of evil in the word (124). Oord proposes a new Open doctrine of love for Creation: creation ex creatione a natura, something he states is better than creation ex nihilo or creation ex deo. An essentially kenotic God is not “weak, uninvolved, or inactive” but at the same time, there is no guarantee of victory since there is no possibility of coercion (156). He concludes the text, “I think good theology must be be lived. Just as practice informs theology, good theology must be live in practice.”

Part 4: My Criticism from a Liberationist & Postcolonial Perspective

Oord states that his constructive proposal for a Creation Ex Creatione a Natura has “nothing about the view logically problematic.” For starters, while I enjoy works in constructive theology, there is such thing as having a text filled with too many neologisms. In my view, in light of the purpose of the text, which was to construct a theology centered on love, Oord hides behind obfuscation, creating a neogolistic word cloud, concealing clarity of thought. I think it was over the top, for example, when Oord randomly renames his brand of panentheism, “theocosmocentrism”(147). It was really quite unnecessary and there is not really an explanation for the preference, or any background. Oord’s Creation Ex Creatione a Natura reads more like Creation Continua, a combination of process thought in biblicist garb. There is a problem with the logic of Creation Continua, that it promotes politically essentialism and permanence. As Willie Jennings in The Christian Social Imagination noted, Creation Ex Nihilo affirms the fundamental instability of all things. “When view through this hermeneutical horizon, peoples exist without necessary permanence either of place or identity. This kind of anti-essentialist vision facilitates a different way of viewing human communities” (28).

My second problem with Oord is his excessive biblicism; the text itself is a rather odd blend of philosophical theology and citation of scripture with very little background or exegesis given (a lot like one of my favorite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann). Oord believes that the Bible’s metanarrative is centered on love, and that it is the Bible that is “the supreme love witness” (119). Does this not make the Scriptures more of a revelation of the divine over Jesus? Christ, creation, and the church are all put on equal pairing in terms of ethics, but the Bible is at the top of the hierarchy according to Oord’s logic. If you are going to do a book on philosophical theology, stay with philosophical theology. I guess I could say the same of most evangelical theology, which, outside of those like Stanley Grenz, theology becomes nothing more than the Bible Wars being played out all over again.

Lastly, I felt the tone of the book made it read like Oord did not want to disagree with anyone, and therefore caught in a controversy of some sort. It is an utter contradiction to argue on one page that God’s kenosis (self-emptying) is involuntary, and then a couple of pages later, claim that God is self-limiting. This is theological-double speak. You are either advancing process theology or you are not. Don’t try to appeal to divine voluntarism, but then criticize God following through on God’s promises as assurance God will be loving (page 145). Oord would neatly fit the description of a process theist (but alas, what person fits neatly into any category?) if it was not for his (correct) orthodox view of God as personal. This is where Oord could have aided his own argument, using Christian tradition to support his views. Yet, Tradition is the part of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that Oord neglects (he gives us a healthy dose of Christian Experience, the Bible, and Christian Reason).

I hope my criticisms are helpful in Oord’s future texts, and that Oord’s view of relational theology reaches a wider audience and changes theological determinist hearts in U.S. American Evangelicalism.