In the late 1940’s the Sultan of Morocco Muhammad V said American actress Virginia Mayo was tangible proof of the existence of God. Maybe he was right. It’s understandable if you agree. After all, Dostoyevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” And though we think he had something else in mind, we’d agree up front to the presence of God in the perceivable beauty of the world—Virginia Mayo included. But we’d like to begin exploring transcendence, and to that end we’ll share those objections we have to the two competing theisms we’ve been considering—classical and Process theism.
We’ve said classical theism’s defining claim is that God is actus purus (in whom there is no potentiality), while Process theism stands on the other end of the spectrum viewing God as processu operis (a “work in progress”), that is, as One whose existence and perfections are constituted in and as his unending ‘becoming’ via relationship with the created order. We’re convinced both of these views are wrong.
As for our objections to the classical position of actus purus, we find the belief that there is absolutely no potentiality in God—
- Difficult at best to reconcile with authentic God/World interactivity as described in Scripture.
- Difficult at best to reconcile with any genuine ‘becoming’ within the world; that is, the distinction in God between ‘actuality’ and ‘possibility’ is lost and all becomes actual.
- This arguably entails a necessity that undermines the gratuity of the world expressed in the belief that God created the world unnecessarily.
There are also we think problems with the Process view of God as processu operis (a “work in progress”). Given this view—
- God is in a necessary relation of becoming with the created order.
- God is not self-sufficient.
- Unilateral exercise of divine power is impossible, making other orthodox beliefs (incarnation for example) either impossible or extremely implausible.
- The Trinity is either unnecessary or, if believed, ill-conceived.
- Unorthodox Christologies ensue.
- The Christian hope (Eschatology) of certain, final victory is impossible to ground.
We’d like to suggest that behind these two competing views of God lies the more fundamental question of ‘divine transcendence’. Process lacks a proper sense of divine transcendence while the classical view lacks a proper sense of divine relatedness to the world. Hence it is with respect to transcendence that we feel the most fundamental theological errors derive. Either God is so related to the world’s process and becoming that his own essential, necessary attributes are identified with this process, in which case there is no God apart from God related to and in process with some world, or God is so independently actual in his self-sufficient fullness that no room remains within God for unactualized potential, for free and contingent expression. Open theism in our modern day emerged as a debate over divine foreknowledge. But John Sanders immediately suggested that the real debate wasn’t about foreknowledge at all but rather about competing views of providence (risky or risk-free). We’d like to suggest that open theism now develop along a third more fundamental front, transcendence. It’s clearer now that this is the more fundamental issue at stake between classical and Process theisms, and it’s our conviction that what stands behind the relevant disagreements between classical and Process theisms, and open theism and Orthodoxy (to the extent Orthodoxy rejects actus purus) has to do with one’s understanding of and motivation for embracing or rejecting the reality one believes is named by the word “transcendence.”
The question is how to preserve a necessary, orthodox sense of divine transcendence from the world (including self-sufficiency) while preserving a theologically workable sense of divine/human synergy and interpersonal relationality. We think an open worldview exists that avoids the problems of standard Process and classical theisms while preserving the advantages of both. Our objections to actus purus get at the ‘synergy’ aspect while our objections to Process get at the ‘transcendence’ aspect.