Open and Relational Theology: An Introduction to Life-Changing Ideas, Thomas Jay Oord, 2021, Grasmere, Idaho, SacraSage Press, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-948609-37-1, $14.95.
This, I believe, is the third book I have reviewed written by Thomas Jay Oord. All of them have been in one way or another about what Oord calls an “open and relational theology.” In such a theology, God’s “pluriform love” resides at the center. “Pluriform love,”* according Oord changes both our human perception and theological understanding of the nature of God.
Of all of Oord’s work on open and relational theology, I think this is his most theological in approach. In it he sets out to demonstrate that God is both an “open” and “relational” God.
To be “open” means that God experiences the flow of time. Thus, God is not timeless. If God does face an open future, God cannot have foreknowledge, be all-knowing, and changeless. An “open” God cannot orchestrate changes in events, or manipulate events “for our good.” Although “open,” according to Oord, God is steadfast and stable (and this, Oord believes, is a better. understanding of those biblical passage that imply God is changeless). While God is not changeless, God is steadfastly present.
Oord suggests that our prayers do not change things, but provide God with information that is needed for our spiritual well-being. Thus, not only does God not have foreknowledge, God does not have knowledge of our needs and cannot help without our prayers.
To be “relational” means that God feels with us. God is not impassive. God enters into community with all creatures. Although God can’t do certain things, God can and does love us unconditionally. It is not improper to say that God IS love, in other words, equals love. God loves in a way that never excludes, always relates; feels our joys and pains, delights in successes and is saddened by our failures. A relational God is not a God who condemns. God, according to Oord is the perfect friend who is steadfastly, always there.
If the open and relational God is not omnipotent is God impotent? Oord offers a third alternative, claiming that God is amipotent. [Oord coined the word from the Latin prefix for love, “ami,” and the Latin word for power, “potent.”] God power then, does not lie in force or coercion, but in love. Such love is receptive, but not domineering. Such love nurtures, but can’t control*. Although Oord directs attention to “evil” in his other works, he is content to simply say that an open and relational God is not a God who causes evil or uses evil to control. Nor is such a God a God who permits evil for some greater good. That doesn’t mean though, that God doesn’t work to wring good from bad, as well as to heal us, Oord writes.
It does mean, we’re reminded, that God needs us to be the divine body, to work alongside of God. If there is a place that I might disagree with Oord, it is over the role of prayer. I believe that primarily our prayers should be a request for divine wisdom – nothing more -- to know how to wisely discern how we should act in a particular situation, or in general living and interacting.
Thomas Jay Oord (PhD) directs the doctoral program in Open and Relation Theology at Northwind Theological Seminary. He also directs the Center for Open and Relational Theology. Tom’s website: Open & Relational Theology | Facebook Group Page.
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