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The Mystery and Agency of God

Divine Being and Action in the World

By Frank G. Kirkpatrick

Publication Year: 2014

There are two philosophical commitments requisite to Christian belief: that God is the ultimate mystery and that God is present and active in the world and therefore accessible to creatures. Attempting to avoid the trappings of a radical distantiation on the one hand, and the immanent collapse of God and world on the other, Frank Kirkpatrick argues for an underdeveloped theory of agency and action that preserves the mystery of God while providing a philosophically robust account of discernible, personal divine action in created time and space. Drawing on the often neglected philosophical work of thinkers like John Macmurray, Raymond Tallis, and Edward Pols, Kirkpatrick proposes a way around the stalemates that have stymied the attempt to think divine agency coherently. This is then brought into conversation with systematic theology, where it is critically tested by, and critiques, accounts in Barth, Pannenberg, Torrance, Jenson, and the recent work of Kevin Hector.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. vii-xvi

Philip Clayton, contemporary philosopher and theologian of science, claims “theologians have so far paid scant attention to what it means to speak of a divine agent.”1 This does not mean that theologians have not tried to make sense of the notion of divine agency, but the notion of God as an agent who actually acts in the world has had a checkered career. It is a view of...


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pp. xviii-xix

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pp. 1-22

One of the most problematic dimensions of religious belief is the conviction that God is so utterly mysterious that God cannot be comprehended by the human mind and, at the same time, is so utterly personal that our lives are incomplete without the deepest kind of relationship with God. Religious belief is often caught between the allure of the mystery of God and our desire for a...

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1 Otherness and Oneness

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pp. 23-60

The twin desires for a personal God and a transcendent God, a God who is in the deepest possible relationship with me and a God who is not limited by relating to something “less” than God has led many thinkers in three different directions in forming a concept of God. One is toward what some have dismissively called an anthropomorphic view of God (ontological pluralism) in...

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2 Establishing the Primordiality of the Agent, Act, and Agency

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pp. 61-78

Let us begin our task of establishing the primordiality of conceiving God through the categories of agent/agency/action by where we start any metaphysical reflection. Let us start with the immediate experience we have of ourselves as agents. If you have been following my presentation so far, you have been actively engaged as an agent. You have done or performed a whole variety of actions. You have held a book in your hands, you have sent your gaze...

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3 Edward Pols and the Metaphysics of Agency

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pp. 79-96

Completely congruent with both John Macmurray’s and Raymond Tallis’s views of the agent, the late Edward Pols developed a conception of agency that does three significant things: one, it establishes the ontological primordiality of agency and of the agent who exercises it; two, it rejects the notion that agency can be reduced to its constituent or atomic parts fully explained by...

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4 The Metaphysical Conditions for God as Agent

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pp. 97-108

To be a personal agent, God must be capable of acting in the world. A fuller exploration of how God acts will be taken up in the following chapter. But first we need to establish the metaphysical conditions necessary for God to be an agent while also being the source of the agency and being of all other agents. If Edward Pols is correct, the reality of God as agent must not conflict with...

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5 How Can God Act in the World?

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pp. 109-128

If Edward Pols is right, then we must start our understanding of divine action with his claims that God’s power “must pervade the inner complexity of the act—must, that is, pervade its infrastructure—if the act is to be capable of producing or necessitating something distinct from itself . . .” The divine act must preside over, ramify in, unify, deploy, pervade, supervene, be...

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6 Theology and the Discernment of God’s Acts in History

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pp. 129-150

So far, I have tried to lay out an essentially philosophical or metaphysical case for understanding God through the primordiality of the concept of action or agency. I have tried to show how such a concept can comprehend God acting in the world without either “violating” the laws of cause and effect or being subsumed under them. But the question remains: if God is an agent, and if...

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7 Coda on the Mystery of God as Agent

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pp. 151-154

Thomas Torrance has said that the field of space-time is to be referred to as “the dynamism and constancy of a living Creator.” As such, it is “linked with an inexhaustible source of possibility, because of which created and historical existence is so full of endless spontaneity and surprise that there are no rules for the discovery of its secrets.”1 If we are truly looking for mystery in our understanding of God, how can there be anything more mysterious than an...


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pp. 155-160


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pp. 161-164

E-ISBN-13: 9781451479775
E-ISBN-10: 1451479778
Print-ISBN-13: 9781451465730
Print-ISBN-10: 1451465734

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2014