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What Is the Proper Conception of God? As stated in the previous class, in this course, we shall proceed in the “Spirit of Toledo.” Part of that Spirit.

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Presentation on theme: "What Is the Proper Conception of God? As stated in the previous class, in this course, we shall proceed in the “Spirit of Toledo.” Part of that Spirit."— Presentation transcript:


2 What Is the Proper Conception of God? As stated in the previous class, in this course, we shall proceed in the “Spirit of Toledo.” Part of that Spirit is the conviction that Philosophy can be used to help explicate whatever a particular religious tradition has received as Revelation.

3 For 500 years before the School of Toledo was founded, Islamic and Jewish scholars had been using Philosophy to explicate what they took to be Revelation. With the advent of the 12 th and 13 th Centuries, Christian scholars, aided by their Jewish and Islamic predecessors, began to do the same. Actually, they began to do again what they really had not done, at least in the West, for 600 years.

4 A consensus among scholars from all three of the West’s monotheistic religions emerged about how God should be conceived. This consensus conception of God can be summed up in a phrase taken from the work of an 11 th Century Christian theologian, St. Anselm of Canterbury. In his book Proslogion, Anselm maintained that God should be conceived as The Being than Whom none greater can be conceived.

5 – God is the maximally perfect Being. – God is as perfect as any Being possibly can be. – God possesses, to a maximal degree, all the perfections a being can possess. – God is: Omnipotent (i.e. all-powerful) Omniscient (i.e. all-knowing) Omnibenevolent (i.e. all-good) Incorporeal (i.e.without a body)

6 Eternal (i.e. existing beyond time) Immutable (i.e unchangeable) – This is a logical consequence of God’s eternality. – God freely created from nothing (ex nihilo) everything that exists besides Himself. Over the centuries, this way of conceiving God became known as Classical Western (Mono)Theism. Process Theism – Beginning in the late 19 th Century, some theologians and philosophers became very dissatisfied with Classical Theism’s Conception of God.

7 – These theologians and philosophers claim that Classical Theism’s conception of God is the unhappy result of forcing the scriptures and pieties of the West’s three great monotheistic religions into the box of Greek philosophy, especially Platonic metaphysics. “[I]t is our contention that [Classical Theism’s conception of God] give[s] the word God a meaning which is not true to its import in sacred writings or in concrete religious piety.” Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes

8 – Process Theists propose another conception of God they believe to be truer to the scriptures and popular piety of Western Monotheism. God is – Limited in power, knowledge, and goodness – Corporeal (i.e has a body, namely the visible world.) – Temporal (i.e exist in and is limited by time.) – Mutable (i.e. changeable)

9 » Mutability is the logical consequence of temporality. God does not create everything from nothing; rather, God is the “Super Consciousness” that continually emerges from the material world, which has always existed. As a consequence, God grows and evolves as the material world grows and evolves.

10 “God alone has enjoyed the entire past and will enjoy all the future. He-She is both physical and spiritual, and the divine body is all- surpassing and all-inclusive of the creaturely bodies, which are to God as cells to a supercellular organism. His-Her spirit embraces all the psychical there is with all- surpassing, unstinted love.” Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes

11 – Process Theists argue that, in order to embrace everything with “all- surpassing, unstinted love,” God must suffer with anything and everything that suffers. “The Old Testament seems to give ample proof that [God] not only is passible [changeable] but that He also indeed suffers. God revealed Himself to be a personal, loving, and compassionate God who has freely engaged Himself in,

12 “and so ensconced Himself within, human history. He mercifully heard the cry of His enslaved people in Egypt and determined to rescue them. Moreover, God revealed Himself, especially in the prophets, to be a God who grieved over the sins of His people. He was distressed by their unfaithfulness, and suffered over their sinful plight. So disheartened was God by their hard-heartedness that He actually became angry.

13 “However, ‘my heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not mortal; the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath’ (Hosea 11:8-9). Thus, God in the Old Testament suffers on account of, with, and on behalf of His people.” Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?”

14 Process theists maintain exactly the same can be adduced from the New Testament as well. Which conception of God (Classical Theism’s or Process Theism’s) is really truer to the scriptures and pieties of Western Monotheism? – God’s relation to the everything else that exists Classical Theists maintain that God created ex nihilo everything besides Himself that exists.

15 – Process theists maintain that God emerges from the material world and evolves and changes with it. – Two critical scripture passages: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.” Genesis 1:1-2a (KJV)

16 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by Him, and, without Him, was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1,3 (KJV) Both of these critical scripture passages – one from the Hebrew Scriptures and one from the New Testament – both seem to be much more consistent with a God who creates ex nihilo than a God who emerges from and evolves with the material world.

17 – Process Theists maintain that the eternal, changeless God of Classical Theism is incapable of love because to love requires that one suffer with the ones one loves. – Is this true? “While God and rocks may both be impassible [unchagable], they are so for polar opposite reasons. A rock is impassible because, being an inert impersonal object, it lacks all that pertains to love.

18 “ God is impassible because His love is perfectly in act (‘God is love’) and no further self-constituting act could make Him more loving. God is absolutely impassible because He is absolutely passionate in His love. Thus, creatures, and particularly human beings, through the act of creation are immediately and intimately related to God as He exists in His perfectly actualized love.” Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?”

19 Weinandy’s point is that, being eternal and unchangeable God’s love is always as perfect as it can be. God’s love does not wax and wane as must the love of any temporal being who changes. – But, how can Classical Theists handle scripture passages that seem to indicate that God changes?

20 “[Such passages] are predicated not upon a change in God but upon a change within the others involved. God is sorry that He created human beings (Genesis 6:6-7) and that He appointed Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11,35) because they have become sinful. He relents of His anger and threatened punishment of the Ninevites (Jonah 4:2) and of the Israelites (Exodus 32:14) because they have repented.” Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?”

21 Since who’s clearly changed in these passages are people, not God, it’s possible that God remains always the same. Perhaps God remains always the same and people’s experiences of Him differ from time to time, given how they, not He, differ from time to time.

22 “If God did need to adapt and re- adapt and re-adapt Himself again to every personal situation in every momentary instance, He would be perpetually entangled in an unending internal emotional whirligig. Correlatively, human beings are able to... experience the various facets of God’s fully actualized love in accordance with their personal situation.

23 “In sin they experience God’s love as rebuke and admonishment. In repentance they experience God’s love as compassion and forgiveness. But, it is God’s unchanging love that is moving them and they experience that unchanging love in various ways as they [not God] move.” Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?”

24 – In the end, whose God is truly worthy of worship as the Supreme Being – the God of the Classical Theists or the God of the Process Theists? “[I]f God, having lost His singular transcendence, is now infected by evil and suffering, then He too is immanently enmeshed in an evil cosmic process from which He, like all else, cannot escape. God may now suffer in union with all who suffer –

25 “and those who espouse a suffering God boast this to be of singular value – but in so suffering, humankind, and even God Himself, are deprived of any hope of ever being freed from evil and so the suffering that it causes. There is no hope of divine justice ever setting things right nor is there any hope of love and goodness vanquishing evil.

26 “The transcendent One, All-Holy God... who, as Creator, is present to all creation, and who, as Savior, acts immanently within that creation, vanishes. Thus, a suffering God is not only philosophically and theologically untenable, but also religiously devastating.” Thomas G. Weinandy, “Does God Suffer?”

27 A Process Theist would probably respond that the hope Weinandy speaks of is an illusion, the product of Platonic dreams of a prefect, eternal world beyond the imperfect, evolving world in which we all live. Still, the scriptures to which the Process Theists claim they are true do seem to speak of an ultimate triumph of good over evil and an eternal and perfect world.

28 – “I also saw a new Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming down out of Heaven from God.... I heard a loud voice from the throne cry out: ‘This is God’s dwelling among men. He shall dwell with them.... He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.’” Revelation 21:2-4 (NAB)

29 – Similar passages can be cited from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Koran. Final Thoughts – Process Theists often complain that Classical Theism’s conception of God is merely “empty abstractions.” – But, is their conception of God any less so? – Isn’t any CONCEPTION of God nothing more than an abstraction?

30 – If Process Theists find Classical Theism’s conception of God “empty,” it’s because it’s a conception, not because it’s Classical. – The “meat and potatoes” of a satisfying religion is not its conception of God, but the actual experiences of God it provides. – Still, conceptions of God are not without value.

31 “Merely learning and thinking about... [God], if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got [experiencing God] in the desert. [Conceptions of God] are not God; they are only a kind of map. But, that map is based upon the experiences of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or

32 “pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.... [Y]ou will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea, nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.” C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

33 Lewis’ point is that conceptions of God help people make sense of personal religious experiences. Lewis values conceptions of God derived from the actual experiences of believers, for example, Classical Theism’s conception of God. This conception of God is derived from the philosophical reflection of hundreds of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scholars upon the actual religious experiences of themselves and of their co-religionists.

34 This cannot be said of Process Theism’s conception of God, which is derived from the recent philosophical musings of a small, rather elitist, group of academics. Next Time – The Problem of God-Talk – How can we use language designed to describe imperfect creatures to talk about the perfect Creator?

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