The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord (PhD., Claremont) is an attempt to propagate a logical explanation for randomness and evil in light of divine providence. The Uncontrolling Love of God seeks to wrestle with two weighty and important questions: (1) if a loving and powerful God exists, why doesn’t this God prevent genuinely evil events?, and (2) how can a loving and powerful God be providential if random and chance events occur? (p. 16). Oord finds the traditional answers to these questions largely unsatisfying and assumes that most Christians do as well. The Uncontrolling Love of God attempts to offer the reader an alternative explanation found within open and relational theology.
Oord begins his investigation by emotionally framing the discussion around four seemingly random and evil current events. It is here that Oord effectively brings the reader into the wrestle of his heart as he seeks to struggle with such questions openly and honestly. However, it also appears as though Oord is attempting to undercut the confidence of the reader in the traditional ways such situations and questions have been addressed. It’s an effective and commonly used tactic for getting the run-of-the-mill reader oriented to receive his proposal with open arms, but largely unhelpful for the learned reader who is familiar with the debate and is simply seeking to evaluate his arguments.
Because the traditional understanding of providence has been abandoned as unsettled in his evaluation of the world, for Oord, the explanation of tragedy and calamity is first to be understood as dependent upon the existence of randomness and chance. Unfortunately, Oord seeks to build a case for the existence of randomness and chance primarily through philosophical and scientific evaluation, rather than an evaluation of the Scriptures (p. 28). This is unfortunate because the questions that Oord seeks to answer are primarily theological in nature, and thus an appropriate understanding of such must be yielded from a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Oord begins from the wrong start point and his conclusion appears to be previously decided rather than discovered. Surprisingly, no meaningful interaction with the biblical text is found to substantiate the assumption of the actuality of randomness. In fact, Oord actually concludes, “If dominant views in science and philosophy are correct in their affirmation of randomness and chance, theologians . . . are wrong” (p. 41).
Still, Oord rightly recognizes that if he is going to succeed in his projected remedy to the proposed problem, he is going to need to establish more than the existence of chance. As expected, Oord seeks to further found his case in the autonomy of the will of man—specifically libertarian freewill. Still, similar to the previous section, Oord does better at presupposing his conclusion than establishing it within the biblical text. In fact, a biblical case for libertarian freewill isn’t even attempted by Oord. This is a tragedy given the theological nature of his concerns. Unfortunately, philosophy and science continue to function as Oord’s support group, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if the concern of his questions didn’t require a theological starting point. Furthermore, the attentive reader is likely to wonder if libertarian freewill, as Oord suggests, really allows him to escape the difficulties of the mess that he is so desperately running away from in the first place—especially if libertarian freewill is simply a theoretical scapegoat lacking any substantial biblical support.
When it comes to the specific concerns of divine providence, Oord argues for a position he coined Essential Kenosis. According to Oord, God is involuntarily self-limited because his nature of love logically precedes any inclination of his sovereign will (p. 94-95). Oord appears to understand the role and actuality of divine providence through the lenses of three tenants: (1) God is relational, (2) the future is open, and (3) love matters most (p. 107). Of course, when it comes to establishing the reality of these three tenants, the interaction with the biblical text is minimal at best, and persuasive exegetical argumentation is completely absent. For example, after briefly discussing 2 Chronicles 7:14-20, Oord states simply, “God is not sure which action will be taken until creatures respond” (p. 110). This would have been an appropriate place for Oord to establish his case with persuasive exegesis of the text, but the reader gets a mere assertion of a presupposed conclusion.
For Oord, open and relational theology functions as his movable framework for wrestling with life’s biggest questions and Essential Kenosis becomes the unique outpouring of that intentional thought. A number of important observations can be gleaned (more than room permits here) as the reader analyzes Oord’s thought—specifically in chapter seven, The Essential Kenosis Model of Providence. For example, for Essential Kenosis to work, Oord is required to hierarchically reorder the nature of love and God’s sovereign will. Oord views divine love as absolute and foremost to the person of God, and as his primary attribute, love has limited God and constrained him from overthrowing the autonomous will of man. In other words, for Oord, any overthrowing of the will of man would be contrary to the nature of God’s love in giving them such, and thus genuinely evil events occur not because God didn’t want to stop them or couldn’t stop them, but rather because God’s love makes it impossible to thwart the will of man. Still, despite its importance to the overall thrust of Oord’s argument, the attentive reader will at this point remain wondering how it is possible to attribute a hierarchical order to the attributes of God apart from philosophical reasoning.
The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord is a stimulating attempt to wrestle with some of the most difficult questions that life brings our way. Oord is moved by a sense of dissatisfaction in the responses that are traditionally found anchored in the person and work of a sovereign God. Unfortunately, Oord seems to be moved more by experience and observation than a grounded understanding of the person of God revealed in Scripture, and his methodology proves such over and over again. This is unfortunate because the questions that Oord seeks to answer are primarily theological and first require an answer from the source of theology—the Scriptures—before looking to philosophy and science. Oord is an excellent and engaging writer, and The Uncontrolling Love of God exemplifies this well. Still, despite the unsatisfied tenor that sparked the exploration of this book, many readers will assuredly and ironically walk away unsatisfied, or at least unconvinced that Oord has solved anything.
I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.