REVIEW: The Uncontrolling Love of God

Tom-Head-on-Hands-2How refreshing it was to read from Dr. Thomas Jay Oord! This was the first published work of his that I had read and I felt quite comfortable reading it, as if he and I were on the same side of the debate on theodicy. I have a few disagreements with him, but some of the important agreements were present: the belief that freedom entails an indeterminate future and that some actions that occur do so not because God orchestrates them to occur.

One of the disagreements I found was that Oord affirms the notion of gratuitous evil (what he calls “genuine evil”). This also seems to be true of Greg Boyd. While I am sympathetic with their robust view of human freedom I find myself affirming a fine distinction on the gratuitous evil debate. This distinction is nicely made by Ross Inman in his article linked here. In my own words, if humans have free will to commit heinous actions, such actions are not actually unnecessary or unjustifiable on the basis that their general reason for being (that a creature have free will) is necessary. There may be no specific reason why God allows such a supposedly gratuitous action but there are general reasons. That said, this is but a minor point from Oord and not detrimental to his thesis (in my humble opinion).

My favorite chapter of the book was the fourth one, wherein Oord deals with a spectrum of models on providence. I appreciate his research and contemplation to consider an exhaustive spectrum of models on divine providence. His fine distinctions and nuances do not go unnoticed and I praise them, too. The following chapter (five) provides a great overview of thinkers, both theologians and philosophers, who have rejected exhaustive divine foreknowledge. For those unfamiliar with Open Theism this is a great introduction (perhaps even as a standalone chapter for a theology class exploring divine foreknowledge).

Oord - Uncontrolling Love of GodThe thrust of the book is that our sense of divine sovereignty must be couple with love. If we recognize that God’s essence is love, and that his love limits certain actions he can do (because he creates free creatures so that He might be in a loving relationship with them), then this very same love limits what God can do to prevent (at the very least) some evil. This is in contrast to even other Open Theists such as John Sanders who gives attributive priority to divine sovereignty over love: “The point Sanders makes is that nothing essentially constrains God’s decisions, at least when initially creating. God’s sovereign freedom is unconstrained. This fits his view, which we saw earlier, that God has the power to prevent genuine evil but instead allows it.” Oord, on the other hand, says that God cannot prevent evil in at least some circumstances because of the love he has for his creation; this view he calls an essential kenosis model.

Chapter seven details Oord’s model of this (I won’t spoil it for you here!) and the final chapter is left to respond to potential objections, chiefly as it pertains to how divine providence and miracles work within this framework.

Although I am not an Open Theist, I agree with Oord on many points pertaining to a relational God, free will, and even an indeterminate future. I’ve even had to give some serious consideration of my own position on that matter. Perhaps Oord’s main thesis is correct, that there are some evils that God cannot prevent (not that he merely chooses not to prevent on the basis of his love but that he cannot prevent on the basis of his love). I found the book to be very beneficial to my theological reflection of God and to expanding my knowledge of the Open Theist position. I appreciated Oord’s careful distinctions between logically possible models for any given issue and commend his charitable & humble tone. For someone who reads numerous Calvinists, this is a fresh of breath air! I would recommend The Uncontrolling Love of God to the astute, theologically minded reader.

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Kurt Jaros is the Executive Director of Defenders Media. He is currently a Ph.D. student at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He holds two Masters degrees in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, and Systematic Theology, from King’s College London. He also blogs at Values & Capitalism a project of the American Enterprise Institute. He likes systematic and historical theology, philosophy of religion, and issues in Christian pop culture. His theological interests include theological anthropology, hamartiology, soteriology, divine providence, and other issues in Christian pop culture. Additionally, he enjoys political philosophy, economics, American political history and campaigns. He currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago with his lovely wife and daughter.

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