|The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis|
John Polkinghorne, Michael Welker
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The development of kenotic ideas was one of the most important advances in theological thinking in the late twentieth century. Now a diverse group of acknowledged experts brought together by the Templeton Foundation presents a stimulating interdisciplinary evaluation of these controversial ideas.
|In October 1998, a group of theologians and scientists met in Queens' College, Cambridge, under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation, to discuss the insights afforded by a kenotic view of creation, understood as being brought about by the action of the God of love. The meeting had as its initiating inspiration the writings of Jürgen Moltmann and W. H. Vanstone, and both of these scholars were able to take part in the discussions. It was agreed to develop the theme further by preparing the series of essays that are the substance of this book. Drafts of these writings were further discussed at a meeting held in New York City in November 1999. Sadly, between these two meetings Canon Bill Vanstone had died. It is the unanimous wish of the contributors gratefully to dedicate this volume to his memory. Each chapter is prefaced by a quotation from his seminal book, Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense.|
The backgrounds of the members of the group are very diverse, varying from systematic theology to neuropsychology. It is hoped that the resulting breadth of perspective will be found to be helpful for the exploration of the doctrine of creation. In our view, the kenotic approach to that doctrine represents the most insightful development in recent thinking about these issues.
Ian Barbour gives five reasons why he finds the classical concept of God's unqualified omnipotence to be problematic today. They are: the scientifically discerned integrity of natural process; the widespread presence of evil and suffering in the world; the role of human freedom; Christian insights derived from the cross of Christ; and feminist critiques of patriarchal models of control. Barbour sees process theology as presenting important responses to these criticisms. He acknowledges that process thought understands limitation of divine power as being inherent in the divine nature and not a kenotic act of self-restraint. God acts through persuasion and this is held to offer the ground for sufficient transformative power. Barbour's essay concludes with some thoughts about process approaches to cosmic and eschatological issues.
|Arthur Peacocke places before us the dynamic epic of evolution, with its continuous emergence of new forms of life. God is immanent within this process, which is, therefore, capable of unfolding through the naturalistic powers with which the Creator has endowed it. Peacocke identifies what he calls 'propensities' for the coming to be of such phenomena as complexity and also, significantly, pain and suffering. An evolutionary world must involve both predation and death. Just as we may believe the Creator to take delight in the rich diversity of living forms, so we must also believe God to share in creation's suffering and travail. The God revealed in human form in Jesus Christ is consistent with these deep insights.|
Holmes Rolston presents us with a carefully nuanced meditation on the processes of nature. Talk of 'selfish genes' must be tempered and corrected by talk of self-actualizing organisms. Lineages are generated by the sharing of genetic information, and adaptation is an ecological word, not a genetic one. Sexual reproduction involves the merging of the self with the alien, in the bringing into being of the next generation. In Rolston's opinion, "Redemptive suffering is a model that makes sense of nature and history." Yet true kenosis is not found in nature, because voluntariness is not present there either. Only humans can choose the truly altruistic preservation of the interests of the other at the expense of one's self.
Malcolm Jeeves takes a neuroscientific approach to discussing the presence of self-giving behavior in the animal and human worlds. He argues that human beings are not to be understood in dualist terms but as psychosomatic unities. "I do not have a soul, I am a living being or soul." Some form of non-reductive physicalism is his favored approach. Jeeves discusses the evidence that brain damage can lead to stark changes in moral behavior. He is inclined to see signs of 'soulishness' in non-human primates. We are given a careful discussion of the relationship between genetic endowment and behavior, including altruistic activity. Jeeves emphasizes that considerations of bottom-up instincts need to be complemented by the top-down consequences of conscious choice.
|John Polkinghorne seeks a middle way between classical theology and process theology, in which God interacts with creation but does not overrule its divinely granted freedom to be itself. Such a concept of continuous creation is helpful in facing the perplexities posed by theodicy. The death of mere mechanism in modern scientific thinking offers the metaphysical possibility of an appropriate concept of divine action within the cloudy unpredictabilities of physical process. Divine kenosis can then be understood as having four dimensions---relating to the self-limitation of divine power, of divine eternity, of divine knowledge, and of divine participation in the causal nexus of creation. This last possibility leads Polkinghorne to question the theological assumption that it is improper to consider divine providence as acting as a cause among causes.|
George Ellis sees kenosis as being a unifying theme, expressing God's character and capable of generating an overarching understanding embracing both the ethical duties of human life and also a meaningful interpretation of cosmic process. The master exemplar is the life of Christ, kenotic in its character from the temptations in the wilderness to his sacrificial death on the cross. Ellis considers the evidence for this primacy of kenotic love and he gives a careful discussion of its implications for praxis, including political action in the face of an oppressive regime.
Michael Welker sees Western society as being caught in the tension between expectation and disappointment that results from its concentration on love as a reciprocal relationship of a one-to-one kind. Release from this trap can come from resort to the biblical sources. In their understanding, the scope of love is greatly enlarged, finding its focus in attention to the commandments of God. When God's name is made known---that is to say, when the divine power and identity are revealed---growth into a covenantal relationship is made possible. The kenotic love of God made known in Christ is of the widest possible scope, embracing the whole of creation.
Jürgen Moltmann gives us an account of kenotic ideas in Christian and Jewish thinking. Lutheran theologians from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries applied Philippians 2:1-11 to their thought about the incarnation. In the twentieth century, Hans Urs von Balthasar took the step of locating kenosis withing the inner life of the Trinity. Jewish thinking has centered on the Shekinah, God's indwelling glory present with his exiled people. Kenotic thought in relation to creation can find expression through the Kabbalistic concept of zimzum, a divine contraction making way for the created other. Moltmann tells us that "It is not God's power that is almighty. What is almighty is his love." He urges us to replace a metaphysics of reality with a metaphysics of possibility, emphasizing the role of the future.
|Keith Ward presents us with a vision of truly cosmic scope. He believes that God suffers because God has affective knowledge of creation. In creation, God realizes possibilities that are eternally present in the divine being and comes to experience new forms of value that otherwise would not have been actualized. For Ward, kenosis is also pleroma (fullness), involving self-realization as well as self-giving. It is concerned with divine creativity as well as with the incarnation. "There are necessities in the divine nature which mean that God cannot exist in a state of unmixed bliss, all-determining power and unrestricted knowledge, if there is to be a world of free and creative personal agents." This is the way in which power is exercised by love, so that "the lesson of kenosis is a moral one." The incarnation is the expression of these timeless truths about the divine nature, revealed within history. Kenosis is the first stage of a threefold creative redemptive process, to be followed by the enosis (the unity of divine and finite personhood) and theosis (the ultimate sharing of the redeemed cosmos in the life of God).|
For Paul Fiddes "The claim that love is at the heart of the universe is both problematic and immensely illuminating." He is emboldened to say that God needs creation, defending this by an analogy with human love, with its mixture of agape and eros. God's perfection is dynamic, not static, and divine desire finds satisfaction in creatures. But do not these considerations threaten freedom, both human and divine, for might not the necessity of divine love constrain creaturely contingency? Fiddes believes that the answer lies in God's free choosing to need a particular creation. The context is the Trinitarian movement interweaving love. The God of love will act through persuasion. This involves both risk and the possibility of creaturely co-creativity. Fulfillment is attained through suffering, and not despite it. Tragedy and victory intermingle, in that "While creatures will know blessing in the contemplation of their Creator, God may know that they are not all that they could have been."
Sarah Coakley helpfully analyzes the various ways in which her colleagues have employed the concept of kenosis, distinguishing three broad categories of use: Christological, Trinitarian, and God's general relationship with creation. She links these differences with differing approaches to theological method. Coakley emphasizes how much of the discussion has turned on an incompatibilist concept of human freedom, and she urges that the resources of classical theology should not be abandoned too readily. Finally, three gender-linked issues are discussed: the masculine character of incompatibilism, the role of self-sacrifice, and the significance of 'otherness.'