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Basic Christian Doctrines II: God in the Process of Creation.

Updated: Sep 12

A Modern Response to Substance and Immanent Cause

During the Age of Enlightenment (the 17th and 18th centuries), Science began to dispose of the theological consensus of Substance and Immanent Cause. As Substance, God is timeless perfection beyond any change and being and is absolutely unaffected or influenced by any other being. Thus, God is inherent and is the only cause of every change in every being. Science, however, proved that the universe is not changeless but is always moving in an ever changing state of existence.

The dilemma for theologians of the day and into the twentieth century has been to re-define the Doctrine of Creation in light of the failed concepts of substance and immanent cause. Many of these theologians moved from substance to an immanent moral Teleology such as Process Theology.

In Teleology, God has a purpose in all that occurs in creation. In Process Theology, God is the supreme instance of creativity. Creativity is part of our reality because of God and what God supplies the world is not energy or being, but intent and relative order. God participates in the life of every being and God's caring is inexhaustible, resourceful and infinitely tender. God savours the achievements of every entity, no matter how small or inconsequential humanity may think it is.

Swiss Protestant Theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), describes creation as God's singular act by which the world comes to be. The reality of God's action is set forth in literary genre of Saga, which is the foundational narrative of Scripture. Barth admits that there are mythical and legendary elements in the Bible, but he insists that Saga is neither myth nor legend.

To Karl Barth, Scriptural Saga reveals Jesus Christ as the creative and redemptive Word of God. According to Barth, science is unable to grasp the essential nature of the Creator; science can not penetrate the phenomenal order of existence and history. Humanity is disclosed only in Jesus Christ and it is in Christ alone that God's design for our history is manifested and accomplished.

Just as Faith in the Creator can not be supported by an appeal to both modern science and scientific world views, so also our potentiality is not ascertained or actualized by any humanistic science. Possessing Faith in God springs from an inwardness, a unique subjectivity of personal existence. Barth believes that scriptural teachings about creation, providence and reconciliation are true, once and for all.

German Lutheran Theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), who embraced existentialist philosophy for his theological work, believes that a non-mythical Gospel of Jesus Christ can be made out of the Gospels. In contrast, German-American Philosopher Paul Tillich (1886-1965), holds that all religious language is symbolic. For Tillich the real intent of the Doctrines of Creation and Providence is to provide a symbolic expression to experience. Symbols are true insofar as what they symbolize shines through them and produces an apt response to reality.

Thus, the Creator itself does not name or conceptualize a specific being that acts upon other beings. Paul Tillich believes, that the Creator is an historically conditioned symbol of creativity as a root power of being; and thus, the Creator is the One who is the God beyond the Gods of Theism and Atheism.

According to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), Mathematician and Philosopher, God possess no coercive power at all, limited or unlimited. Such power is incompatible with Devine perfection. He complains about the deep idolatry of the Church by fashioning images of God in the image of Egyptian, Persian and Roman Imperial Rulers. Because of this, the notion of Devine coercive power both in its pure and altered designs has led to difficulties in our perception of God.

Lewis S. Ford (1933-) an expert on Whitehead's Process philosophy, uses the example of God as a Master-Potter molding the clay of the world with creative force, except that God has no need of any clay because God already possess the clay. The analogy now breaks down because the potters vases asserts its own reality apart from the human potter, precisely because it had already existed separately as clay.

Could a world molded completely by God's coercive power assert any independent existence of its own? To do so, the world must possess some power. However, the world could never enrich God's experience, because He can fully experience any world He wishes to create or imagine. So, for God to be coercive, creaturely experience would be restricted, the reality of the world greatly diminished and Devine experience poor.

Creaturely experience is important, for without it God is deprived of the one thing the world can give that God alone can not possess: a genuine social existence. Ford suggests that Devine persuasive power heightens creaturely Freedom, respecting the integrity of each creature in the very act of determining the creatures development toward greater freedom.

The Image of God as the craftsman must be abandoned because God creates by persuading the world to create itself. One function of Devine Creativity is to drive every creature toward fulfilling in actuality, what is beyond potentiality and actuality in the Devine life. The rationale of Providence is to see to it that this fulfillment occurs. Providence is a quality of inner directness, a courage of Faith, that can not be deterred by situations which frustrate the fulfillment of a persons ultimate destiny, that nothing can separate them from the love of God.

Theologians have struggled since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to bring about a new explanation about Creation and Providence. Fortunately, many thinkers continue to view God, not as a Devine coercive despot apart from the world, yet lording over it, but as the persuasive God of creative loving openness, allowing creation to develop and grow in a movement toward the Creator. This is truly an existence with purpose and with a freedom to explore both just exactly who we are and who has created us. For the faithful Christian, science can only expose the things which God has created.


Originally entitled

God-In the Process of Creation: A Modern Response to Substance and Immanent Cause

was submitted to Dr. William Close

as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement

511v-Basic Christian Doctrines

Published on November 3rd, 1996.

{Revised September 7th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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