- The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord
For some time now, I have written and talked about Thomas Jay Oord as the most "cutting edge" person on the theological scene today. This may sound like a bold claim, but what Oord has accomplished in bridging the gap between evangelicals and liberals is remarkable both in terms of background and personal commitment. He has a foot in the evangelical camp, yet as a product of Claremont Graduate University, he has another foot solidly in the liberal camp. Intellectually, at least, Oord has had an easygoing relationship with both camps.
As a result of his indefatigable efforts, the Open and Relational Theologies Group of the American Academy of Religion has been one of the best attended and most successful groups within the AAR. Twenty or twenty five years ago, such a group attempting rapprochement between evangelicals and liberals would have been inconceivable. Much of Oord's effort in this regard has been in the context of the religion and science dialogue. He has had considerable success in receiving funding from the Templeton Foundation for a number of projects. One of these was a marathon two-week religion-science conference at Eastern Nazarene University in Quincy, MA. The participants were evangelical theologians and scientists along with liberal theologians who came from evangelical backgrounds. The conference wrestled with the ramifications of science for evangelicalism.
Much of Thomas Oord's scholarship has been devoted to the subject of love. His latest, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence, is his best. While such Oord-authored books as Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement and The Nature of Love: An Introduction are excellent and thorough, they are not quite as original as is Oord's notion that God's love is "uncontrolling." Extremely well written for a wide audience, it is usable as a college or seminary text or in adult classes in churches. It is an excellent stimulus for further discussion.
For Oord, the greatest stumbling block to affirming the plausibility of the existence of God is the theodicy question: if God is all good and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? He begins with a consideration of randomness and chance, which he affirms. No less does he affirm the regularities of life. He also considers agency. In doing so, he leads up to a consideration of models of providence that is, on the one hand, a model of critical thinking, showing the problems within the positions he considers. Yet Oord also exhibits a pastoral [End Page 102] sensitivity within that critical thinking that is supremely responsive to the tragedies to which they respond and from which they emanate.
Oord considers seven historical models of divine providence in order to illustrate problems with the idea of Providence: (1) "God is the Omnicause" (one of the most typical stumbling blocks; this sees God being the cause of everything, including monstrous evil); (2) "God empowers and overpowers"; (3) "God is voluntarily self-limited"; (4) "God is essentially kenotic"; (5) "God's Providence is an impersonal force"; (6) "God is initial creator and current observer"; and (7) "God's ways are not our ways." As mentioned previously, the author analyzes the problems with each with great sensitivity. Most of the problems he mentions have to do with divine determinism and the affirmation of a God who could have prevented the occurrence of evil and did not.
The heart and soul of Oord's position is what he calls essential kenosis. The author is very careful and precise in his use of these words, neither of which is very congenial to the Whiteheadian process thought he uses. Oord states that "the model of God as essentially kenotic says that God's eternal nature is love" (94), which for him means that God's self-limiting is derived from the eternal and unchanging nature of God (the primordial nature of...