Tag Archives: Openness of God

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.

Richard Beck on the Risky God of Open Theism

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post responding to Richard Beck’s series from a few years ago on divine apatheia: Divine Freedom, Apatheia, and Gentile Politics. Richard Beck engaged the post in the comment section,

“Thanks for engaging those old posts of mine. I think your criticisms are very valid and in the seven years since I wrote those posts I’ve come to a position very similar one you articulate here. Also through reading theologians like Moltmann, Cone and Gutierrez.

In my wrestling with the problem of suffering in 2007 I was writing from a place that envisioned God as an impersonal force. I was reading a lot of Buddhism, Spinoza and stoic philosophy. The series I wrote reflected those influences. I was probably more Buddhist than Christian in 2007. But I think about those things very differently now.

What I find potent in your critique of stoicism is how it mutes the prophetic cry and struggle for justice. The oppressed are asked to accept their fate impassively, stoically. That is hugely problematic.

In the end, that’s the reason I moved on to embrace the passionate God who suffers alongside the oppressed in their struggle toward liberation.”

In a recent post by Beck, he “experiments” with relational theology, while discussing both process and open theisms: Empathic Open Theism. While I will keep re-reading this post, I think I agree with most of it, and I may engage it in the near future after my Anabaptist Theology and Black Power series this week. My friends Tom and Dwayne over at An Open Orthodoxy have started a series engaging Beck: Beck on Empathic Open Theism and Experimental Open Theism Part 1, even bringing some questiosn to Beck’s own questions of libertarian free will.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Beck, whose arguing for God’s Otherness / Transcendence while affirming the Incarnation:

“Let me add this to the discussion.

Open theism is often associated with God taking “risks” with humanity. I agree, but my view changes this a bit.

Specifically, in my view the “risk” God takes is less about prediction than Otherness. That is, what makes the human/divine interaction a relationship isn’t God being unable to predict what a free agent will do. That’s not what makes for a relationship. What makes for a relationship is a sort of “unknowing” that exists between two people, an “unknowing” that both partners work to overcome in the act of deepening relational intimacy. True, when you don’t know someone well they are “unpredictable” to you, but the deeper issue is the lack of intimacy rather than the other person having free will.

So what I’m suggesting is that when God created humanity God gave us experiential space that was uniquely our own. And by giving us this space we became, to some degree, “strangers” to God. That was the risk God took, granting us that relational autonomy, to enter into a relationship with some “unknowns.” To allow us to start off, to some degree, as “strangers.”

And more, in creating this situation God knew that the only way to fully and finally “know us” God would have to enter into and participate in the fullness of human experience “from the inside.” Which meant that to fully know us God knew God had to suffer. Thus the love song of the Incarnation, God’s ultimate act of “coming near” to close the gap.

In sum, God’s risk wasn’t the risk of unpredictability–“What will they do?”–but the risk of intimacy–“Here am I. Who are you?” “

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.