Tag Archives: Open Theology

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. 

The Cross, Predestination, and Emmett Till

One of the interesting things about the academy is in the way Black Theologians strive to engage Hip Hop culture. While I personally don’t do so, I think this move is necessary for a few reasons. Priests and prophets in the Hebrew Bible as part of their vocation were to help God’s people remember God’s story correctly, and live it out faithfully. Unfortunately in the 21st century, “secular” corporate-driven hip hop is used as a tool to colonize children from all backgrounds. One instance was the case of a rap “artist” who made a rhyme sexualizing the lynching of Emmet Till. I believe this is where Black Liberation theology needs to intervene.

In James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree, he discusses Till’s story at length and its impact on radicalizing black youth to protest Jim/Jane Crow segregation. Contrary to the criticism that Black theology is too academic and thus disconnected from black churches, James Cone reflects on the religious experiences of Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley. As Cone put it, “She exposed white brutality and black faith to the world and, significantly, expressed a parallel meaning between her son’s lynching and the crucifixion of Jesus. ‘Lord you gave your son to remedy a condition,’ she cried out, ‘but who knows, but what the death of my only son might bring an end to lynching.’ ” Young black teens like John Lewis who would grow up to be Civil Rights heroes, were shaken at the news of Till’s monstrous fate. It was “a horror etched in black memory forever.” (Page 67-68)

Part of what lead Mamie Till Bradley to crusade was her belief that her son’s lynching had become part of God’s plan. “Mrs. Bradley was not left alone in her agony. She spoke about a strange experience, a voice said to her: “Mamie, it was ordained from the beginning of time that Emmett Louis Till would die a violent death. You should be grateful to be the mother of a boy who died blameless like Christ. Bo Till will never be forgotten. There is a job for you to do now.” (P 68)

A few things to take away from this mysterious experience. First, like Martin Luther King Jr., God spoke personally to Mamie Till Bradley. The Christian God of suffering love is a personal God who communicates with humanity. God had called Mamie to preach the Good News of Christ’s triunph over death, and eventual victory over White Supremacy.

This leads me to my second point: “the job” Bradley was called to do was to serve the White Supremacist system on notice. White Supremacy and lynching are not part of The Triune God’s good plan for humanity. Emmett Till’s death is interlocked with Jesus’ sacrifice, the blameless victim made Victor. In one of the THREE places the New Testament bothers to mention the mystery of predestination, Acts 2:23, it only mentions that Christ was predestined to be crucified. Christ’s death alone brings salvation, and so predestination must be understood Christologically as well.

Predestination isn’t about us being saved or depraved. It’s about God’s goodness and grace, that when God has a plan, God remains faithful and keeps His promises. Unfortunately in Christian culture, in the Holy Hip Hop industry, there are Calvinist artists who have made predestination about human beings. They also have adopted an ideology where black women should be made second-class citizens in the name of a “new manhood.” Indeed, this is where Black Liberation theologians need to stage an intervention. By remembering and teaching correctly the story of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Bradley, may the Church realize that the Execution of the Exodus God is the birth pangs of the Church Militants.

transcendence in open view perspective

“So the open view of God draws some important parallels between the divine and human experience, but it does not by any means equate the two. God is like us in being sensitive to the experiences of others, but radically different from us in the profound depth of his feelings. Like traditional theism, the open view of God affirms divine transcendence, the radical difference between God and all things human, But whereas traditional theism seeks to safeguard God’s transcendence by denying divine sensitivity, the open view of God does so by maintaining that his sensitivity and love are infinitely greater than our own.”- Richard Rice in The Openness Of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, pages 42-43.

The Open Theism movement as Greg Boyd has argued, is not about the nature of God, but about the nature of time as God has freely chosen to create and interact with it. I think this is a very important distinction. There are excellent conversations going on about Open Theism online now, like with my friend Jacob over at Open Theists.com. My friends Tom and Dwayne have been fairly active this month at An Open Orthodoxy, and I have engaged them a few times here and on Facebook, and plan to do so in the near future. One part of the discussion they having is on Vulnerability and God’s Glory, an intriguing argument, but I want to direct you to a comment left by Jeff in the comment section, relevant to our discussion on divine transcendence and the Open View:

“I don’t have a problem with the notion, per se, of disinterestedness. It’s just that we have no analogy of a free action resulting from zero motivation. But motivation is the opposite of disinterestedness. So the philosophical problem seems to be this: No interest, no libertarian choice. No libertarian choice, no validity of induction even. In short, no interest, no way to account for warranted belief of the kind there is a consensus for amongst people who believe in a rational moral order.

So given that scripture never talks that way in the first place (indeed, it talks just the opposite), I’m not seeing the reason to embrace a huge philosophical problem while additionally rendering scripture of no value in terms of authorial-intent hermeneutics. Without authorial-intent hermeneutics, we don’t even have historical evidence for the best (only?) otherwise explanation of the rapid rise of Christianity in a resistant Roman empire. History is a science that uses warranted belief when it says anything pertinent at all.

At the other extreme of “motivation,” you don’t want a motivation that requires us to believe that God is continuously creating from a non-regulated motivation to expand His bliss creation-ward. Because then you basically have a necessary God-world relationship which is necessary BECAUSE of His seemingly necessary motivation. How, IOW, do you explain a contingent ORIGIN of such a motivation such that we can still conceive of a pre-first-creation God? For without that, the Christian godhead isn’t/aren’t the only necessary being(s).

Divine risk of sympathetic suffering with created, sentient beings is what coheres with authorial-intent-exegeted scripture as well as renders creation analogically-explicable as a free act (which renders explanation of our experience finite/final and therefore consistent with the existence of bona-fide distinguishable warranted beliefs about explanations qua explanations).”

Jeff, in the comment section on Tom & Dwayne’s post “Vulnerability: The Capacity of Finitude to bear God’s Glory.”

Part of God being radically different from human beings is God’s freedom to be God, to freely choose to love humanity and creation, and to free others to love God. Just as the truth of the Holy Trinity points to the fact that God is intrinsically covenantal, so to are the divine attributes, including divine alterity.