On Oord’s Essential Kenosis

Theologian Thomas Jay Oord wrote a guest piece, hosted at the indispensable Biologos.org. In it, he talked about some of his views on God’s nature and action in the world.

I responded on Twitter, “A number of issues; plainest is Bible has explicit divine coercion that must be stipulatively trumped by theory.”

After we fought past a misunderstanding, Oord wrote, “I believe God issued warnings. But I wouldn’t call this coercion.”

Upon re-reading the article, I realized that Oord had gone out of his way to explain what he meant by coercion in his theory, and I wasn’t being fair to that premise.

The remainder of this “Misc.” article is for sharing with Oord my feedback on his theory of essential kenosis, since Twitter is terrible for theological expression.


Professor Oord,

As I said in my initial response, I saw a few issues with some of the arguments made in the article posted on Biologos and,  I suppose, the theory of essential kenosis by extension.

Here are my two most fundamental complaints.

First, I think you’re ascribing-to-God and not-ascribing-to-God through the same avenue, and then using the term cooperation as a toggling local wildcard. Logical wildcards are a metameme that affects nearly all theologians — even some of the most brilliant in history — unless we work really, really hard to avoid them (it’s hard because they seem to solve puzzles neatly). Its use here has a similar “flavor” to libertarian free will, which is also used to, as it suits the theology, break ascription one moment and maintain ascription the next.

Second, you wrote, “Slight changes in the system create the loss of equilibrium. ‘Fiddling’ with the systems would lead to chaotic results.”

I suspect Polkinghorne’s work yielded this assertion, but it’s the exact opposite of how chaos works. Given complete regularity within a nonlinear system — especially with elegant rules and tons of interactive components — natural chaos will ruin the Creator’s initial designs over time (especially if cooperation isn’t compulsory), and only special exceptional interventions can reassert those designs. Those designs “evaporate,” smothered by natural chaos unless reasserted by supernatural fiat.

Put another way, let’s say we define a miracle as remarkable natural emergence through cooperation with the Creator’s designs.

Let’s further say that Earth represents organisms on the order of (roughly) 10^30, composed of particles on the order of (roughly) 10^50, multiplied across time on the order of (roughly) 10^16 seconds.

Somebody comes along and says, “We can ascribe a remarkable recovery today to, in part, the Creator’s initial designs, in terms of provided forms.”

Chaos responds, “No, we surely cannot. The legacy of the Creator’s initial designs evaporated long, long ago; there is no longer any umbilicus of ascription from initial decisions to modern events in specific. It would be more proper to ascribe these remarkable events to happenstance alone, and not call them miracles.”

 

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