Interview with Thomas Jay Oord on “The Uncontrollable Love of God”

Thomas Jay Oord is a professor at Northwest Nazarene University who is perhaps best known for his theological approach to the topic of God’s love.7-300x300 He is also the author of the upcoming book, “The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relation Approach to Providence.” You can watch this video to see the basic thesis of Oord’s new work or read this blog post to see his theology “in action” after the Paris terrorist attacks.

I had the privilege of asking Thomas a few questions about his upcoming book. I hope you enjoy the interview and I encourage you to order the book as soon as possible!


Thomas – first let me say thanks for agreeing to let me ask you a few questions about your upcoming book “The Uncontrolling Love of God.” We are still a week away from the official release of your book and it is already #1 on the following Amazon lists: Systematic Theology, Science and Religion, and Christian Death and Grief. Did you expect such an amazing (and early) response to this work?

Every author I know dreams about having his or her book being widely read and showing up on best-selling lists. So I am obviously pleased the book is being received so warmly. I didn’t expect a response this big! Perhaps one reason for its best-selling status is that it address big and complex questions using language understandable to the masses. I am a scholar who writes technical theological and philosophical material. But I worked very hard to write this book in an accessible way.

Your book will likely create controversy, particularly among conservative Christians outside of the academy. What would you say to someone who might initially feel like passing up your work based on their assumptions about both their views and yours?

I had dinner with Juergen Moltmann recently. During the conversation, he looked me in the eye and said, “Theology is supposed to be controversial!” I took him to be saying that the ideas about God — theology — should always stretch us, because a total grasp of God is always beyond our reach.

I recognize that some people will feel uncomfortable when I address big and complex questions and then pose plausible but novel answers. I hope my proposals will be helpful to many people. And I never expect everyone to agree with me. I appreciate robust dialogue when done in love. I hope to offer winsome and persuasive reasons for the hope within me.  When some readers find my proposals helpful, I’m deeply satisfied!

Your conclusions in The Uncontrolling Nature of God might be very different from what many readers learned growing up, believe, or are maybe currently teaching. Why do you think so much of Christianity has missed this key insight into the nature of God and his interaction with the world?

Too many people start their theological reflection with the idea that God is a sovereign king or ruling Lord. This starting point is one some theologians consciously affirm but many others affirm it unconsciously. This goes for Christians and non Christians.

For instance, we have Hollywood blockbusters titled “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty.” But I doubt film producers thought even once about a movie about God with the titles “Bruce All-Loving” or “Evan Omnibenevolent.” The default for many is absolute omnipotence.

But I think Christians ought to be first to say, “When we do theology, we’ll start with God’s love and then work out the other attributes in light of love.” Maybe if we imagined God as the ideal parent instead of the controlling monarch we could do theology in ways I think are more faithful to the broad biblical witness.

Your book brings together theology and science in a unique way. How does science influence your theological work? Do you think that there is a shortcoming in theology when it comes to letting the conclusions of science interact with theological issues?

In my view, contemporary experience, in its various forms, inevitably influences our reflections about God and theology. To think about God well, therefore, we need to think about the world well.

Science is one of the most powerful expressions of human existence. Theologians ignore science at their own peril. In my view, overall proposals for explaining existence must include what we think are the best in theology, science, philosophy, and more. The most convincing theology is multi-disciplinary.

Your book also has a uniquely pastoral tone to is as you deal with the problem of evil and suffering in our world. Is this a purely academic exploration for you or are there personal experiences that drive your work as well?

We all deal with evil. But some people deal with it more directly and deeply than others. My own life is not much different from most who experience pain. And my own questions about God’s activity in relation to evil are similar to the questions others have. So I’m not unusual in that way.

I think Christians too often focus either on pastoral responses to evil or theoretical proposals to the problem evil. Most pastoral responses fail to address adequately the question, “Why didn’t God stop this evil in the first place?” Most theoretical proposals fail to take seriously the personal and therapeutic dimensions to suffering and tend to focus on some version of the best of all possible worlds defense. Few solutions to the problem of evil address both pastoral and theoretical aspects. I try to do both, although there is always more that could be said!

I’ve personally been keen of your formulation of “essential kenosis” since I first read “Nature of Love.” I know that stands at the center of this book as well. If you had to pick one or two ideas other than essential kenosis that serves a foundation for your thesis, what would it/they be?

You’re right that the notions of essential kenosis form the heart of the book. They do so, because questions of the nature of God’s love and power are central to essential kenosis. And getting clear about what we mean by God’s love and God’s power is crucial for so many aspects of theology.

On a technical side, I think one of my major contributions in the book is my explanation for why love is logically prior to power in God’s nature. This view entails, for instance, that we rightly say God cannot do some things, because love does not allow God to do them. To use the Apostle Paul’s language, “God cannot deny himself.”

Another key idea in the book is that randomness, chance, or indeterminacy are real for us and for God. God cannot foreknow the entire future, either the free actions of complex creatures or the random events in the universe. Few theologians have admitted that randomness is real even for God and then worked this into their understanding of God’s providence. For someone like me who thinks love comes first in God’s nature, however, it is natural to think God is not cannot control creaturely freedom but also cannot control random events at the micro or macro levels of life.

I know that the process of writing often is a time of clarifying ideas and connecting new thoughts. Did any of your conclusions in “The Uncontrolling Nature of God” surprise you once you had finished the book?

Two things come quickly to mind.

1) When doing additional research, I discovered that many theologians in the Christian tradition have said that God cannot act in certain ways. In other words, they thought God’s omnipotence is never absolute and always has limits. Jacob Arminius even goes so far as to list many thing God cannot do!

2) I gained far greater clarity than I had before on the relation of God to the so called “laws of nature.” I came to realize that it makes little sense to talk about “laws of nature” and more sense to talk about “law-like regularities” in the world. My novel proposal, consequently, is to argue that these law-like regularities derive from God’s steadfast love for all creation, including the smallest entities of existence and the most complex. Because God must love all others, God cannot interrupt the law-like regularities in the universe that originate from God’s steadfast love.

Thomas, thanks once again for taking the time to answer my questions. Blessings on you and your work!


Book Review: “The Five Times I Met Myself” by James L. Rubart

I’ve never reviewed a fiction book on this site before, but I recently received and read a review copy of the new novel, The Five Times I Met Myself, by James L. Rubart. The book is a fairly compelling story about a man, with regrets about his relationship with his dad, a bad relationship with his brother, and a failing marriage, who is given the chance to go back and give advice to himself as a younger person.The-Five-Times-I-Met-Myself

I mainly read non-fiction books. Perhaps this is the reason why I find myself somewhat of a snob when it comes to fiction literature – I only read a handful each year and I expect it to take me into another world, one where I am so engrossed in the narrative and characters that I am saddened when it is over. Unfortunately, Rubart’s latest book did not accomplish that for me.

If you’re looking for a decently interesting story that will keep the pages turning, The Five Times I Met Myself, might be worth your time. However, I found the narrative and characters both underdeveloped and unnecessarily complicated. The book spends the majority of the time taking the reader through a time-traveling experience fueled by the art of lucid dreaming. While there were interesting moments in the story, I couldn’t help but think of the grandfather paradox the entire time. I was also never sure what the heart of the book was – the main characters relationship with his father, brother, business, or wife. The real let-down comes at the end where apparently none of it really mattered as it was all a trap-door into an altar call for a pseudo-stoicism version of Christianity. The book was best when it explored the concept of how small decisions in life have the ability to affect your future. The book was laborious when endless plot-lines where added, each more unlikely or pointless than the previous. The book was worst when it felt like a gimmick for an evangelistic presentation.

This is actually the first book review I’ve published where I haven’t been super impressed. But, as the note at the end of each book review blog states, I received a free copy of the book by Thomas Nelson in exchange for my honest review.

Video: John Barclay on Paul and Grace (Gupta)

Mike Skinner:

Great little summary of what sounds like a remarkable book. Itching to start reading it!

Originally posted on Crux Sola:

If you missed the great SBL review session on John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (or even if you were there), and if you haven’t read his new book, here is a nice, short summary of some key thoughts on grace in Paul’s thought.

View original

All is Gift (Theology for Thanksgiving)

“Where did you come from?”

This basic, almost childish, question of ontology is perhaps the basis of all right thinking about our lives. For Augustine, in his classical work Confessions, it grounds his ability to understand his life as completely and fully dependent on God.* We did not create our own lives. Our existence, and all of the different parts of that existence, are complete gifts from God.

This is a truth made clearer when one is in relationship with someone will special needs such as autism or down syndrome. I made no choice, and exerted no effort, in order to be given the physiological or biological abilities to walk, talk, think, speak, create, work, or relate to others. Accordingly, I didn’t choose my gender or my ethnicity. I didn’t choose my family or my location of origin. Upon reflection, I could have just as easily been born to a teenager in Syria who is now a refugee as to a well-to-do American family in a suburb who discusses the plight of refugees. I could have just as easily been born without the ability to think critically or communicate effectively.

Everything in my life, at the end of the day, is a gift.

It is only when I come to grips with this fact that I am able to live as a creature and express the most basic, yet most satisfying, instinct of a creature: thanksgiving. 

I offer to you, then, two poets’ reflections on the creatureliness of life and the inherent gift of gratitude that flows from it:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put ignorance into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in his toil – this is God’s gift to man.” – Solomon, King of Israel [Ecclesiastes 3:9-13]

The colors of a sunrise,
a morning suprise,
the love you find in another’s eyes.
The hand that helps you up, when you’ve fallen down;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

The changing of the seasons, life is born anew.
Laughter and smiles and birds that sing;
that hope that we cling to when the darkness comes;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Memories of a yesterday, tears that flow,
broken dreams, broken hearts we learn to grow.
A God who will let us know we’re not alone,
we’re not alone.
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Hearts that unite, a friendship born,
in sacred earth seeds are sown and we are fed.
Hands unafraid to reach and souls that touch;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.
Kathy Sherman

  • Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Augustine’s thought: “That we are dependent beings is self-evident if we acknowledge as we should that we cannot remember our birth. Augustine, like Wittgenstein, emphasizes the significance of birth as a definitive human experience that makes impossible our temptation to ignore the fact we are bodily creatures. Our bodily character makes us mysteries to ourselves inviting us to ask the childish question, “Where did I come from?” It is Augustine’s willingness to risk appearing childish by probing the ontological implications of that question that Rees argues makes the account of his life in the Confessions so compelling.”


A Wold of Terror Needs the Longer Ending of Mark

This past Sunday I was asked to preach the last section in the Gospel of Mark. Mike then asked if I would write a blog post that would serve as a response to his earlier post on the original ending, which stops at verse eight.

See Post Here

Mike and I are in agreement about one thing, verses 9–20 are most certainly not original to the Gospel of Mark. The question that I hope to answer in this post is this:

Do these verses, nonetheless, have something to say to our terror filled world?

My humble answer to that question is yes, or more specifically, we need both endings and we need their differences pushed together side by side.

As I was researching for my sermon I was only able to find one blog post that had anything positive to say about this text: See post

Everything else I found either defended the text’s originality or advised the readers to ignore this section altogether. Since it is not part of the original gospel why bother stirring things up for your congregation. Better to leave it where it ends, nice and neat.

Both of these approaches in my opinion are problematic. Even if virtually everyone agrees that it is not part of the original gospel,  this does not mean that it is not scripture or that it does not have anything for us today.

This longer ending was not the only addition to the Gospel of Mark. There was a shorter ending that was also added after verse 8. This addition however did not stand the test of time. For some reason this longer ending that we now have in Mark was very popular with the church and so it was kept. This alone should give us pause and make us more willing to receive what this text would say to us.

So what can we learn in this longer ending of Mark? Why did the church keep it preserved for us?

In this addition, unlike the original ending of Mark, we have the record of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene. She is the first apostle. Though she is female the later scribe did not airbrush her out. It is important that Jesus chose to appear first to his female disciples. Here, ever so subtly, we see a subversive element of the gospel. The privilege of being the first witness is given to the ones whom at the time are seen as unprivileged. Centuries later the church has not lost this edge. It keeps this shocking detail in full focus.

The disciples refuse to believe Mary, which remains consistent with the other gospel narratives. Jesus then appears to two followers who again are not part of the original eleven. And again the disciples refuse to believe. Lastly, Jesus appears to his disciples and rebukes them for their hardness of heart and unbelief.  He then commands them to go into all creation. The anonymous author has upped the ante here and made the Great Commission even more universal in nature.

Jesus promises that signs will accompany their ministry and aid in their mission. This includes that weird bit about being able to pick up snakes and drink poison without being harmed. This is not a command as some denominations have taken it to mean, nor is it a test of a person’s faith or commitment. All the signs that Jesus gives indicate that his kingdom has indeed come and evil has been defeated.

The church believes that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection served as an apocalyptic event. It was the end of a certain world order–the reign of sin, death, evil, sickness, and oppression. The powers of the world have been defeated in an unlikely way, through the sacrificial love of it’s own Creator. The tide has unquestionably been turned, the decisive battle has been fought and won. This is the message the Church carries and must carry to a world that either has not yet heard or refuses to hear this good news.

If there is no longer version of Mark, this message remains hidden. The world is left to its fear and doubt and hardness of heart.

N.T. Wright in Simply Christian likens salvation to waking up to the reality of God. (1) The hope of the Christian message is that the world of pain, terror, and suffering is not the truest form of reality. Christians speak with bold faith that the evil which seems victorious is deceptive. For we believe that evil is a defeated enemy, that it will not have the final word, that good triumphs over evil and love ultimately wins. It sounds naïve, arrogant, and possible insensitive in light of our terror filled world. What Christians must do is live in the uncomfortable tension of claiming victory while we still experience suffering. We can understand that tension only by looking at our cruciform God and victory through the lens of loss, pain, and sacrifice. We cannot agree with the world that evil has won. If we do, we run the risk of being like the children in Narnia whom the White Witch convinces that there is no sun.

The last part of the section ends with the disciples preaching, Jesus ascending to the right hand of God, and promising to work with us. This beautiful addition to Mark gives us one last piece of hope as we continue to live in a world of terror….We do not work alone. Jesus is Immanuel, the one who is with us. We do not derive our energy from our own power but are filled and equipped by his Spirit. This last statement also means there is still much work to do. As the church, while we mourn with those who have endured unspeakable pain, we cannot simply grieve at a distance. We, like the disciples, share the commission to preach this radical good news.  For it is at the heart of suffering that the church must always be.  For the heart and mission of the church mirrors the heart and cruciform mission of Jesus. In this longer addition to Mark, we find comfort in the one who shares our sorrow, works with us, and seeks to redeem our deepest darkness through sacrificial love.

  1. Wright, N.T.,  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), 2006.