Tag Archives: Free Will

Origen, the Bible, And Free Will

How One Early Church Father Coped With Paradox

Origen, traditionally considered a 3rd century...

Origen of Alexandria is known for “not taking Scripture literally.” That is, his interpretation of the Bible that he had was an allegorical style. However, I do not think that is the end of the story. In fact, I would say that another secret to understanding his reading of the text is his unique ability to reconcile apparent contradictions in Scripture (especially the New Testament). One of the passages that Calvinist Christians rely upon to silence critics of their vision of predestination is the Apostle Paul’s use of “the Potter” and the clay language. What is the clay to talk back to the Potter? What Origen creatively does is respond in kind, rejoindering that it was Moses who spoke back to God, and YHWH answered Moses with a Voice (The Plilocalia,XXI ,21). It is the person of “confidence, as a man [sic,] of faith and good life” who does not have to fear to go before the throne of the Creator. It is here that Origen argues in favor of God’s relationality as he sought to reconcile the paradoxical testimony of the Scriptures.

“Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”? or “Your work has no handles”?” Isaiah 45:9

“In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”

Origen also makes use of the metaphorical language of “the Potter” and “the clay/vessel” by pointing out that Pauline theology not only has what seems to be a determinist bent, but that there is a choice given to each person, to clean themselves, as they become prepared to be used by God. This cleansing is what Christians call repentance, an important concept for free will theologians yesterday and today. Origen concludes that neither is the case that our choices help us to make progress apart from God or that God works unilaterally to make us advance in goodness, rather, it is God’s power with our choice, a both/and paradoxological tradition that free will theology has long held.

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Creation Made Free: A Theological Reflection

Creation Made Free is a book of edited conference papers and articles from a conference on Open Theology and Science.  Thank you to Dr. Thomas Oord for my free copy.

It is my understanding that the purpose of the conference and book is to engage in a dialogue between evangelical-leaning Open Theists and more “mainline” process theists.  I found Michael Lodahl’s “The (Brief) Openness Debate in Islamic Theology” to be quite informative and interesting.  Each of the articles in the first section of the book seemed to be written by those in favor of Process theology generally.  Process thinkers see themselves as challenging the way that Christians have traditionally viewed God’s activity in the world, and in particular, God’s power/sovereignty.  From my perspective, it seems that much of the constructive theology I have read seems to lean process theology as the solution to “genuine” evil in the world.  In order to adhere to process theology, one must submit to its definition of evil, notions of “natural” and “genuine” evil as well as agree with a definition of divine love that excludes justice.  This is why process theology does not have an eschatology, judgment, or a soteriology in the traditional orthodox Christian sense. The driving force behind process and open theologies is theodicy, the question of why God does not/chooses not/cannot PREVENT suffering.  The blind spot behind persons who take up this approach can be that there is a particular class bias, that persons who really have not lived a life of suffering imposed on them speculating on the question of why.  Rather than give an analysis of human agency and subjectivity, process thinkers in particular, choose rather to take away God’s agency, limiting God’s freedom, while at the same time avoiding conversations about God’s power, human power relations, divine justice, and justice between humanity.  This is because God’s justice is separated from God’s love, simply put.  As a postcolonial thinker, perhaps the most unhelpful part of process theology is process ethics.  Besides the fact that there is not a work on process ethics, the moral implications behind the idea that humanity’s unrestricted freedom without any word of judgment (limitations) on their agency is obviously that the status quo gets a pass.  Injustice  happens  because, well, God really can’t do anything about it. So, much like Calvinism, evil is God’s direct will by  default. Is it possible that process ethics, which leads to relativism, goes literally no where (no end, no telos, no determined goal) because process theology begins without a reflection on Old Testament texts outside the book of Genesis.  God’s giving of the law, the logos in Clement of Alexandria’s theology, on Mount Sinai, both presupposes human libertarian free will as well as a burden of responsibility.  God is free to hold human beings responsible because God has revealed what is right and wrong according to the divine perspective. Human beings do not know what evil is apart from a personal gracious God communicating with them.  Yes, open and process theologians are correct to a limited extent, God is “essentially” relational. However, relationships imply both a chosen form of agency , duties, and promises. God is just not Creator, as I read time and again in articles and books on process theology; God is a promise-making Creator ala Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope.

I may seem harsh towards process theism, but open theism is not without its problems.  From my perspective, Openness thinkers lack a consistent hermeneutic in regards to interpreting Scripture.  Besides the claim that they take “anthropomorphic texts so-called” more seriously than classical theists, there seemed to be a presupposition that their interpretation of a passage was correct without any justification (Valla! Abracadabra!); I found this problem especially in regards to Greg Boyd’s “Evolution as Cosmic Warfare.” It’s hard for me to understand Boyd’s pacifism and reconcile it with his warfare view of the creation narrative.  If war is at the beginning, war must be the nature of things.  There must be some understanding of an ontology of peace that was at the beginning of creation before this divine struggle happens. Thus, we find a second blind spot in Open Theism. There is a lack of engagement with philosophy (going back to the problem of the lack of a hermeneutic) outside of the natural science.

I would extend this review longer and have a conversation about the lack of cultural plurality endemic in this work, but I reserve the right to keep my peace.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

Fridays With Fanon: Universalism

Or Universalism as Imperialist, Take Two

On a previous post, I labelled Christian universalism as essentially imperialist.  Quite a few persons will disagree with me and argue that universal is a tool to fight empire, such as the limiting of salvation to a select few individuals (and therefore, consequently, the control of the world).  If Christ is for everyone, then, some would say, that it can only mean that a political system open to everyone is preferable. However, this is not my beef with universalist views of salvation.

In eschatological as well as moral terms, the idea that the entire human population shares a common fate presupposes, on the part of those who generally agree, that all human beings will someday make the same religious, moral, and political choices, and thus denying the possibility of diverse outcomes in the future.  When giving an example of the political struggle between two separate African nations and the French colonists, Franz Fanon asserted, “There is no common destiny between the national cultures of Guinea and Senegal, but there is a common destiny between the nations of Guinea and Senegal dominated by the same French colonialism. […] they would not be absolutely identical since the people and the leaders operate at a different pace.”[1] In a theological context, I would argue that there is no common destiny for each religious culture because each religious community makes various decisions; therefore, the purpose of each missionary/religious devotee differs according to each context.  This position, in my opinion, leaves room for a diversity of experiences when the new creation brought about by God occurs.  The secret behind Christian universalism is a general moral determinism, and therefore limiting the wide options of possibilities that come with human being who are created in freedom.  For both Fanon and Spivak, the indeterminancy of human agency is vital to resisting colonizing and overdetermining discourses.[2] Hence, it is essential that Christians develop an eschatological vision where God’s reign is understood as both a heterochronic and heterotopic event (i.e., taking place at a range of times and places) while developing a missiology that takes both human freedom and plurality seriously.

I prefer the logic of  Baptist theologians E.Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs, who also advocated freedom in the New Creation :

“Indeed, our dignity of free choice reaches even beyond this life. If by one’s own choice he [sic] rejects Christ as Savior, he [sic] alone is responsible for being in hell for eternity.  But even there, the Bible teachers degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48).  Paul said that both Jew and Gentile (pagan) who reject Christ will be judged by the degree of opportunity  against which each sins (Romans 2:11-16).  It is proper to be concerned about the heathen who never hear the gospel.  But in light of degrees of punishment in hell, we should be even more concerned about the man [sic] in a community filled with churches who regularly hears the gospel and yet never chooses Christ as Savior.  Furthermore, the Bible teaches degrees of reward in heaven (Matthew 24:14-23; Luke 19: 12-19)”


[1] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 169. (underline emphasis mine)

[2] Cf. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” 302-305 as well as Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 7;18.  Gayatri Spivak takes aim at the discourse used by the British colonists to describe the “good Indian wife” as the one who burned herself after her husband’s death.  The British reductionist account excludes the other possible ethical options that Indian women could have chosen.  Frantz Fanon rejects determinist philosophies with my favorite quote found on page18: “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion. Fatalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God.  The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”  The colonized subject, with all of her choices limited according to the ideology perpetuated by the status, acts according to the possibilities that she accepts.