Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: "Creation Made Free"

Creation Made Free is a book edited by Thomas Jay Oord that explores the intersections of open theism and modern science. Thirteen different theologians reflect on different aspects of this topic, so this book is beautifully nuanced. (I'm very biased in favor of edited books because of the diversity of thought.) While this book diverges from its focus on science from time to time, it's theological reflection is refreshingly insightful and evocative without being overly academic or pedantic. Therefore this book is worth a brief-yet-comprehensive review/overview.

Karen Winslow argued that "the earth is not a planet" in the Bible (26). When the authors of Genesis write about "all the land" they are not talking about planet earth. Instead they are describing the limited part of the world that they knew.  So, for example, the big flood would not have destroyed the entire earth in a global sense, it would have simply destroyed the entire world of the author. Winslow uses this info to make her ultimate point: the scientific knowledge of the authors of Scripture was very different than the scientific knowledge of modern people. The authors were writing out of a different context as well as writing for a different context. Therefore Winslow said: "To try to force the Bible into categories of modern science creates an unnecessary opposition between theology and science" (24). After removing the awkwardness between the science of the modern and ancient worlds, she drives home her point about what that means for our reading of Scripture today: "Recognizing and appreciating what the Bible does not say is as important as understanding what it does say" (27).

Thomas Jay Oord tried to reconcile science and open theism by suggesting that God works through the process of evolution in a way that is "slow, indirect, and sometimes painful" (36). He suggests that Jesus revealed a God who is "self-sacrificial and non-coersive" and therefore "does not overrule or dominate creatures" (35). God gives humans - and all living things - freewill and agency. This freedom brings with it the risk of evil happening since God doesn't force anyone or anything to do the right thing. While God is the most powerful being in the universe, God doesn't invade the integrity of other creatures out of God's self-giving love for the creatures. Here Oord tried to walk a fine line between process theology and his own open theism.

Michael Lodahl wrote about how Christianity is more open to the scientific worldview than Islam due to Islam's higher understanding of God's sovereignty. Islam tends to be committed to the absolute sovereignty of God. While the Quran gives humanity some agency over their lives (58), the Quran is also understood as a perfect revelation by an all-powerful God to a passive people. Lodahl then argued that such an understanding of God "surely undercuts the scientific endeavor" (65). He then went on to argue that Christianity is able to support the view of open theism because the incarnation (God in the form of a dynamic human) and Holy Spirit (God's presence in our midst). For Lodahl, open theism makes Christianity more supportive of modern science than theologies like Islam that hold to the idea that God's power is absolute.

Anne Case-Winters argued that God's ongoing presence in the world means that the world is continuing to be created and re-created by God. For her, the "incarnation is not the exception to the rule but the sign of what is really the case about God's relation to the world" (71). God has been and always will be present and active in the world. This point is important for Case-Winters because she argues that God creates and sustains the world through "the processes of the natural order" (82). In and through all things, God beckons each creature way from evils and toward their best potential. In some ways, this essay seemed to be suggesting that process theology is better than open theism.

Brint Montgomery wrote about how "God functions as Cosmic Mind after the creation of an ordered, material universe" (97). This essay was the least relevant and evocative in the book.

Clark Pinnock argued that God creates and re-creates the world through the process of evolution. He rejects the idea of "episodic divine interventions" because it brings back a "god of the gaps" (103). Instead he upholds the idea that God is continually active and creating. He wrote: "Evolution is opening the future up as God is calling the universe to reach beyond itself to a new creation" (108). Because God is always re-creating the world, each moment is "pregnant with hope" (110). Pinnock ends with an evocative thought: "Ours is a world capable of becoming the kingdom of God. The purpose of our lives is to carry forward the values of the divine project. Sin is the refusal to participate in it. One can think of the omega point, not as a rigid goal, but as God's vision for the world and what the process can become" (110).

Craig Boyd suggested that the earth isn't a perfect, static world, but instead, it's a good, dynamic creation where God is continually at work. For him, evolution is the story about how God creates and re-creates the world. As creatures act and react, God needs to adjust and readjust the vision for the journey forward. He ended by writing: "Creation is more like a song that begins with a simple melody. As it continues, the musicians improvise here and there with variations on the theme...God's song of creation is a song open to possibility, novelty, and ever-increasing goodness and beauty" (124).

Gregory Boyd argued that "evolution may be seen as a sort of warfare between the life-affirming creativity of an all-good God, on the one hand, and the on-going corrupting influence of malevolent cosmic forces on the other" (127). Boyd's reflections were the most judgemental, including two places where he said readers need to agree with him in order to be biblical (132, 139). This essay went too far down the doctrinaire rabbit hole.

Alan Rhoda wrote about God's decision to give humans freewill and the subsequent openness of the future because of that choice. Instead of a determined future, there is a "branching array of possible futures" (151). Rhoda goes on to propose analogies that describe God's relationship to the world: Theatre Director (brings out the best in the actors), Discussion Leader (helps students explore wisdom), Persian Rug-Maker (adapts the design as needed), Master Composer (helps autonomous musicians to find harmony together), and Expedition Leader (brings tools and resources - including the ability to change plans). Rhoda then used game theory to suggest that God plays games with many different people, with many different skill levels, so the strategy that God uses to play the game is different in each new game. The one constant feature in this game theory analogy is that God wants to find a win-win for every game. Clearly all of these analogies are used to illustrate the creativity and rationality of God with humanity.

Alan Padgett argued that God's knowledge is supreme (without knowing the future) and God's providence is powerful (without being coercive). In this essay, Padgett adds some much needed nuance to the discussion of God's foreknowledge and sovereignty.

Richard Rice used his essay to suggest that God's forgiveness of humanity demonstrates God's ability to resourcefully bring about transformation. God isn't naive. Bad things happen. But God is able to forgive people for their sins and then bring about change for the better. This means "the future is always open to new possibilities" (214). By emphasizing God's ability to bring about transformation, "Open theism keeps open the possibility of a future in which God's purposes for all God's children are fullfilled" (217). In the end, forgiveness is the foundation for hope.

John Sanders wrote about how we come to know, understand, and describe God through our embodiment as creatures. There are many different kinds of metaphors for God in the Bible but most of them are personal, relational metaphors. He then argued that "mutual relationships are the ideal form of relationship between God and humans" in Scripture (233). People seem to relate best to images of God as personal. Sanders used a quote from John Calvin to make his point: "God cannot reveal Godself to us in any other way than by comparison with things we know" (219). Humans relates well to a humanly God.

Dean Blevins argued that the continuously emerging world is a result of the ongoing transformations that God brings about through God's loving relationship with the world. Out of God's love for the world, God is intimately involved in the world, even at the quantum level. Our relationship with God is based on "co-relationality" and a "co-determinative" process whereby the world is co-created with God. In this process, God is aways leading us toward creative transformations in the future.

Creation Made Free is a great book for exploring Christianity's relationship to science, introducing open theism in general, or comparing process theology to open theism. If none of those topics seem worth exploring, then this would be a very boring book. But if any - or all - of those topics sound intriguing, then this book just might be an edge-of-your-seat theological thriller. Since I experienced this book as a thriller, I hope there will soon be a sequel!

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