I have been burning through my Summer reading list and I seem to have stumbled onto a rich vein of form! The odd thing is that they are all books with ‘God’ in the title. There are 5 (out of about 20) but they seem to have all ended up in the middle of stack. Here are the 5 I am chewing on right now:
- The PostModern God edited by Graham Ward
- God & Religion in the PostModern World by David Ray Griffin
- God : a guide for the perplexed by Keith Ward
- The Named God and the Question of Being by Stanley J. Grenz
- God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero
What is so fascinating to me in all of this is how widely dispersed use of the word ‘God’ can be. You can mean a whole bunch of different things when you say ‘God’ and only a fool would assume to know what another means when they invoke that title/name. [I touched on this a while ago in 'I'm not sure most Christians know that']
It made me think back to a section in John Cobb’s introductory book when he clearly outlined what he didn’t mean when he said ‘God’. What follows is a verbatim reproduction of that section. What I would love to hear is what you don’t mean when you say ‘God’. This will be a fun little experiment in clarification done negativa,.
1. God as Cosmic Moralist. At its worst this notion takes the form of the image of God as divine lawgiver and judge, who has proclaimed an arbitrary set of moral rules, who keeps records of offenses, and who will punish offenders. In its more enlightened versions, the suggestion is retained that God’s most fundamental concern is the development of moral attitudes. This makes primary for God what is secondary for humane people, and limits the scope of intrinsic importance to human beings as the only beings capable of moral attitudes. Process theology denies the existence of this God.
2. God as the Unchanging and Passionless Absolute. This concept derives from the Greeks, who maintained that “perfection” entailed complete “immutability,” or lack of change. The notion of “impassibility” stressed that deity must be completely unaffected by any other reality and must lack all passion or emotional response. The notion that deity is the “Absolute” has meant that God is not really related to the world. The world is really related to God, in that the relation to God is constitutive of the world— an adequate description of the world requires reference to its dependence on God—but even the fact that there is a world is not constitutive of the reality of God. God is wholly independent of the world: the God-world relation is purely external to God. These three terms—unchangeable, passionless, and absolute—finally say the same thing, that the world contributes nothing to God, and that God’s influence upon the world is in no way conditioned by divine responsiveness to unforeseen, self-determining activities of us worldly beings. Process theology denies the existence of this God.
3. God as Controlling Power. This notion suggests that God determines every detail of the world. When a loved one dies prema turely, the question “Why?” is often asked instinctively, meaning “Why did God choose to take this life at this time?” Also, when humanly destructive natural events such as hurricanes occur, legal jargon speaks of “acts of God.” On the positive side, a woman may thank God for the rescue of her husband from a collapsed coal mine, while the husbands of a dozen other women are lost. But what kind of a God would this be who spares one while allowing the others to perish? Process theology denies the existence of this God.
4. God as Sanctioner of the Status Quo. This connotation characterizes a strong tendency in all religions. It is supported by the three previous notions. The notion of God as Cosmic Moralist has suggested that God is primarily interested in order. The notion of God as Unchangeable Absolute has suggested God’s establishment of an unchangeable order for the world. And the notion of God as Controlling Power has suggested that the present order exists be cause God wills its existence. In that case, to be obedient to God is to preserve the status quo. Process theology denies the existence of this God.
5. God as Male. The liberation movement among women has made us painfully aware how deeply our images of deity have been sexually one-sided. Not only have we regarded all three “persons” of the Trinity as male, but the tradition has reinforced these images with theological doctrines such as those noted above. God is totally active, controlling, and independent, and wholly lacking in receptiveness and responsiveness. Indeed, God seems to be the archetype of the dominant, inflexible, unemotional, completely independent (read “strong”) male. Process theology denies the existence of this God.
I find it so helpful – once in a while – to see something stated in the negative so that I have a clear contrast in my mind.