Sure, process theology solves one problem, but at what price?

August 25, 2016

This is the third and final part of my response to a blog post by fellow United Methodist pastor Jason Valendy.

Here’s the heart of his second response to me:

When I take up the struggle you ask me to consider, I come on the side that no one, not even God, is “in control.” Just as there is great comfort in your responses about God being in control, I find comfort in believing that no one is in control. In the language of the “omni’s” of God, I yield the omnipotence of God to the divine goodness of God (omnibenevolent). I see there are many scriptures that point to God in the way you speak of and understand this theology and even respect it. I also find there are scriptures that point to God not being all powerful and thus the role of intercessory prayer changes from trying to get God to intervene to God being the companion that walks with us and is able to take the berating that comes in authentic prayer (see the Psalms that call God out on all sort of reasons).

I find the most powerful thing that God can be in a time of suffering and pain is companionship. We are never alone. God does not abandon us or leave us wondering if God could correct the pain then why would God not do such a thing…

Now his cards are on the table: Rev. Valendy “yields the omnipotence of God to the divine goodness,” presumably because he believes that, in this world of evil, God’s power is in conflict with his goodness—just as David Hume famously did:

Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

While Valendy believes that God is not quite impotent, he does believe that God’s power is severely limited: As much as God might want to prevent evil and suffering, he can’t.

This is process theology, in other words. Yuck! What comfort does it bring Valendy to believe that “no one is in control”? Only this, I imagine: God is off the hook for evil. It was somehow already there before he started creating. He doesn’t have the power to defeat it. In which case, how can God ensure the eschatological promises that are writ large across Old and New Testaments? How can God ensure his kingdom will come in all its fullness?

Elsewhere in his comments, he writes that if God were in control as orthodox Christianity has maintained, then that would mean that God doesn’t “needs us to companion with God to help usher in the Kingdom.” Given that this flies in the face of the doctrine of God’s aseity—that God is utterly self-sufficient and needs nothing from anyone or anything—I thought Valendy might have been speaking carelessly. Given his words above, however, I now believe that he meant it literally.

From his perspective, God does need us human beings to ensure God’s promised future. If that were true, well… we would be in deep trouble.

I wrote the following in response to his comments. If I’ve misrepresented Valendy, I hope he will correct me:

I sense that you are ready for this conversation to end. At the risk of wearing out my welcome, I have a few more thoughts I’d like to share.

My original challenges to you assumed that you and I share the classically orthodox position that God is all powerful. I’m guessing you don’t, as you indicate when you write that God’s (mere) companionship never leaves us “wondering if God could correct the pain then why would God not do such a thing.” By this, you imply that God doesn’t always (or often) have the power to change our circumstances, even if he wants to.

But you’re O.K. with God’s not being all-powerful because, you believe, this attribute conflicts with his goodness. No all-good and all-powerful God would allow human suffering or evil without doing anything to stop it. This is the old Hume argument.

I’m sure you’ve heard the classic theodicies (there are many) defending God’s goodness in the face of evil without, at the same time, sacrificing God’s omnipotence. I’m guessing you don’t find them persuasive? Still, I would love to see you engage the arguments some time.

You say there are scriptures that indicate that God isn’t all powerful. Which ones? And how are you reading those scriptures?

You told your other commenter that you don’t take scripture “literally.” Why, then, are you reading those scriptures that suggest God isn’t all-powerful in such an overly literal way? “I don’t interpret the Bible literally,” you told your other commenter. “But when it comes to this verse here and that verse over there, I’m going to take them very literally, because they happen to support what I already believe.” That doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

After all, even inerrantists believe in progressive revelation (see Article V of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy), and we understand that God is sometimes portrayed anthropomorphically. We also read scripture “literally” in the sense that we read it with respect to genre and the author’s intentions. Poetry, metaphor, parable, figurative language, hyperbole… we inerrantists believe that these aren’t meant to be taken as literal history.

With these things in mind, I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that scripture as a whole affirms anything other than God’s omnipotence. Even the few scriptures I cited for you (2 Cor 12, Gen 50, Rom 8:28) should be enough to challenge what you’ve said about God’s sovereignty or providence. But you didn’t engage my argument. You told your other commenter that you take scripture seriously—yet you don’t argue from scripture? Why?

You also told the other commenter that you don’t believe scripture is the Word of God; Jesus is. That’s fine. I know where you’re coming from. But can you name even one thing that you know about the Word of God that is Christ, which isn’t also revealed in the word of God that is scripture? [ed. note: Or put another way, one thing that we know about Christ today that is contradicted by the Christ portrayed in scripture?]

Finally, when you pray an intercessory prayer, do you believe that God might do something other than “be present with” the person you’re praying for? If so, how does that do justice to Christ’s own words about the power of prayer?

Again, he says he takes scripture seriously. I see no evidence of serious engagement with scripture in this blog post—or others of his that I’ve read.

5 Responses to “Sure, process theology solves one problem, but at what price?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Not too surprising he does not respond to this–what could he say? Taking just such scriptures as fit your preconceived notions is “easy,” but results in “easy error.” There is simply no way to read scripture as a whole and conclude that it does not teach omnipotence. As you say, without that, to what end are prayers and prophesies?

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    Turning to Narnia, and the Genius of C.S. Lewis:

    “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

    Our God is not a “safe God”, for those who do not know Him.


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