Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders: Is God Really Omnipotent?

So my friends Tripp and Bo from Homebrewed Christianity have been talking...and talking...and talking...about this thing called Process Theology. In fact, it will be a major topic at this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation, January 31-February 2, in Claremont, California.  

Now, I don’t know much about Process Theology. When folks start to discuss it, I mostly nod and smile and try to keep up. But since it’s become such a hot topic,  Bo and Tripp volunteered to provide us with a sort of introduction to Process Theology, and then to stay on-hand for your questions. 

I haven't done enough research to give my own opinion...so please don't take this post as such... but something tells me this could spark quite the conversation! 


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Omnipotence:  A Compliment Jesus Wants You to Take Back

By Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders 

I (Tripp) have one important rule to guide my theological thinking: God has to at least be as loving as Jesus.  
It seems rather obvious for a Christian, given our confession that Jesus was indeed the ‘image of the invisible God,’ but throughout church history, God, Jesus’ Abba, has been given a very theologically destructive compliment-- namely that God is Omnipotent , All Powerful.  

While this philosophical compliment is absent in Scripture, yet present throughout much theology, it was John Calvin that made God’s power the ultimate theological principle.  I used to be a Calvinist. I read Calvin’s Institutes in high school, used Charles Spurgeon sermons for devotions, and quoted Jonathan Edwards to my crazy Arminian friends in college.  Then I realized the God I had come to know in Christ was way too awesome for my Calvinist theology.  The theology was not simply off, but set against God’s nature, name, and essence being love.  

This isn’t to say Calvinists aren’t Christians (or that I wasn’t when I was there theologically). I am simply saying that omnipotence is a theological compliment Jesus wants you to take back for four reason: 

1. An omnipotent deity is responsible for the evil in the world.  When God can do whatever God wants to do, whenever God wants to do it, everything that happens is either the direct will of God or permitted by God.  Of course Calvin, in his obsession with making God uber-powerful, rejects the idea of God’s permissive will and keeps God as the prime actor in all actions.  That means God has willed genocide, murder, rape, cancer, abuse, and the torture of children.  When God is omnipotent, one can read history as the will of God, and history is way too full of evil, suffering, and violence to imagine it as revelatory of God’s will.  If God ever willed the violent death of an innocent child, then that God is not Jesus’ Abba or worthy of a Christian’s worship.

2. An omnipotent deity is not capable of genuine relationships or love.  Loving relationships require openness, vulnerability, risk, and genuine duration.  We  intuit this. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love-making, it is their freedom vulnerability, and willingness to risk that make their intercourse an act of love and not rape.  If one side of the relationship  is determined, it just isn’t a relationship.  I remember in my Calvinist past thinking that God elected me to love God, but being coerced  sounds much more like a relationship to a gangster than God. There’s a big difference between a puppet and a person, an object and a subject.  The God of Jesus created, sustains, and redeems people, children of God.

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3. An omnipotent deity runs eternity like a tyrannical dictator.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Paul said that, and I think it makes perfect sense.  Of course, if Calvin is correct and God is actually the one in charge, then it becomes a bit odd...or flat our disgusting...to simultaneously think God elects people to suffer for all eternity for their sins.  That’s worse than me spanking my son for eating a cookie I made and gave to him.  This image of God is morally bankrupt and need not be defended.  Instead we could imagine God to be a Woman who seeks out each lost coin until it is found, or a faithful and patient Father waiting to throw a party for the return of his son.  These images sound like a God as loving as Jesus.

4.  An omnipotent deity builds crosses.  The cross and resurrection are the center piece of the faith.  The cross of Jesus was not simply a convenient way for Jesus to die so that God could raise him from the dead, but a symbol of Rome’s power.  Rome and only Rome built crosses and put people on them.  Jesus died with the power of empire inscribed on his cross-dead body.  It is that body that God raised from the dead, and it is the future of the Cross-dead Christ that we as Christians share. Yet for some reason, we so easily speak about God’s power as if God was being revealed in the building of crosses and not in their bearing. God’s self-revelation in Jesus was a rejection of the coercive, determining, and controlling power that the empires of this world love so much for the power of love.  Infinite divine love, the freedom it gives, the risks it takes and the possibilities it continuously creates offer an alternative ultimate theological principle for Christian theology and one I think coheres with the story of Jesus.  

Process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once stated that, “When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers.... The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly.... But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.”  

This observation rings true to me, but Caesar’s lawyers do not have to have the last word and Christian theology does not need to protect an idolatrous image of God anymore.  

Process is a theology that has grown over the last 100 years from the philosophy of Mr. Whitehead. It is a global community (big in China and Europe) that engages both theory and practice with contemporary scholarship. For those who take it theologically, it is a way to address the Bible that is fully faithful to Jesus‘ vision, while integrating modern Biblical scholarship at every level.  

The easiest access point for most is to say that because God IS love, then God’s very nature is loving, and so God’s use of power is not coercive - it is persuasive (almost seductive).

 So God is not omnipotent. 

Secondly, God is omniscient in that God knows all there is to know - but the future is undetermined. 

Thirdly, God is omnipresent in an even more radical way than traditionally thought.

Lastly, God is neither immutable nor impassable - those are concerns of early Greek thought and not from the Christian scripture. 
So quit saying God is omnipotent.  Jesus was just too loving for that to stick.  

To learn more about Process Theology, check out  Marjorie Suchocki's short PDF intro (free), and Bruce Epperly's book, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. 

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Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders are two of the theological brewers at Homebrewed Christianity and are helping to host this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation January 31-February 2 in Claremont, CA.   Their hope is to have a dialogue about the Christian Scriptures that results in a very different vision for the life of the faith lived out in community. 

If you have any questions for Bo and Tripp, they’ll be on-hand today to address some of them! So take advantage! 

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