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ICS 120803/220803 F15: The Divine (at) Risk: Open Theism

Classical Theism, and Beyond
Dr. Nik Ansell
Seminar Presentation on Jeffrey S. Hocking’s Freedom
Fisseha Feleke
November 18, 15
A preliminary note:
Surely, the views and paradigms we have been examining so
far (including Hocking’s) are developed within Western
Christian traditions. But we know Christianity is bigger and
wider than the West. Could the Eastern and African Christian
traditions also shade some light on what is at stake here? Let
me start by saying few words about the tradition that informs
my viewpoint.
 To speak of Churches of the Miaphysite family, I recall that
Alexandria (Egypt) and Antioch (Syria) were once major
centers for deep theological learning, and to some extent
Nisibis and Edessa as well (Syria).
 Later, with Islam conquering the area, the Churches in
those lands were pushed to the edge of survival. Hence:
theology there stagnated ever since! Moreover, the people
developed different life styles. Which makes it difficult to
find direct responses from these traditions to modern
 With Ethiopia, the story is a little different: theological
learning has in fact continued to thrive—it lacks
philosophical refinement, though, as it is almost entirely
biblical in nature [So I do feel great ease with what we
have been doing here (in this class)!]
To the matter:
This in fact is not a review. Nor is it a summary. What I would
like to do here is highlight few points that strike me as
remarkable, due partly to the fact that I found them fully
supported by the biblical tradition I came from, but also to their
attractive novelty. I shall also raise a particular concern that I
think is worth discussing. The points I am focusing pertain to
the issue where Hocking engages Pinnock at the very root of his
motivation for embracing libertarian freedom: theodicy.

and a hill does not become the handmaid of a woman. [and I too include myself in this] any justification of evil is unacceptable. The fall is an ‘accident waiting to happen’” (50). but some people are friends in name only. better. the differences come with the proposed solutions. the verses I have in mind at this moment are in fact not from texts commonly considered to belong to the canon but from the Book of Sirach and that of Enoch. who seems to be troubled by the presence and spread of evil: Anyone can claim to be your friend. When I say the Bible. Hocking sets out to “articulate an alternative understanding of the origin of evil that centers upon the human capacity to create. 2 . “For many Christians (myself included). but are presented with the possibility of choosing otherwise” (49). that the kind of freedom Pinnock adopts—libertarian freedom—implies “a position of moral indifference” (52). As a mountain has not become a slave. however. In order to avoid such a difficulty. God takes more than a risk that someone will choose evil at some point. both belong to the canon. So let me first quote Sirach (37:1-3). According to Hocking. according to which “we are by nature given not only the ability to choose.” is “a more robust form of the free will defense” (22). As Hocking nicely puts it. Indeed. ye sinners. fundamental possibilities” (50). and not just realize. however. The grief caused when a close friendship turns sour is as bad as death. Notice. This indeed is a very deep insight and it attracts me so strongly as it is fully supported by the Bible. This evil impulse we have! Why was it ever formed? How did it manage to cover the earth with deceit? We may now direct ourselves to the Book of Enoch (98:4) for a possible answer: I have sworn unto you. Problem is. there seems to be no misunderstanding with respect to the task. in the Ethiopian tradition. Pinnock’s “alternative to the multitudes of theodicies constructed in classical theology. even if this requires compromising or. re-articulating the concept of omnipotence” (23). Even so sin has not been sent upon the earth. This means: “In creating the world in this way.The challenge of evil is a serious matter. following Ansell.

itself creating primordially the condition of its own possibility. no Fall before the Fall” (50). it is not that something which had been logically possible eventually became actual. came to be real. In this model. freedom is found on the path of life” (67). by men. what makes his position so attractive is that it allows for speaking of evil in such a way that. even the possibility of its origin cannot be traced back to God. that is. let alone the reality. which sin came out of its own being. If this is so. and under a great curse shall they fall who commit it. as evil has no legitimate place in the order of things” (55). “Freedom is not found at the fork in the road… Instead. Which path Hocking tells us “leads to ever abundant freedom for all of God’s creatures. Hocking’s framing of the topic as: “The (Impossible) Anthropocentric Origin of Evil”. in other words. And hence. I want to continue pondering with Sirach over the why and whence of evil. Nevertheless. transformative and unlimited. I am fascinated less by the answer than by the inquiry. “The origin of evil is deeply mysterious. Hocking established his position by appropriating ideas from theologians 3 . I want to keep the question open. This means: with the Fall. so Ansell. which is the original sin. After all. and even for God” and which enables us “escape the zero-sum game that the understanding of the divine/human relationship has become” (67). To come back to Hocking. We may now ask: what would a philosophically and theologically responsible model look like? Hocking claims that his alternative model of freedom is at once responsive. “to uncritically accept this libertarian model of freedom is philosophically and theologically irresponsible” (52). Cyril concurs with Enoch when he says: For we are ruined due to a big sin that persisted on us because of our will. Evil had never been possible until it was made real. To refer to at least one Church Father of the Miaphysite tradition.but man of himself has created it. the biblical theologian St. “There is. but rather something for the possibility of which no prior condition was set. as Ansell sincerely acknowledges.

but it is given to them to “make their own”” (95). Hocking maintains. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. which has “you may participate… our participation” instead of share/fellowship/partnership/communion] Now such freedom. divine power also should be unlimited. trans.” I think the always already givenness of power should continue to have for its correlate the kind of distance Kraus has nicely captured. Speaking of “Israel’s response” as a dialog partner to God. (1 John 1:2-4) [Cited from CEV. We are telling you what we have seen and heard. so that you may share in this life with us. Further question: 4 . is this: as much as I like the emphasis on the participatory nature of freedom. even in the hymns and invocations offered on the prominent heights of the sanctuary and from the peaks of religious life. Keith Crim. but it is the true power of each individual. who says: “Then freedom means the unhindered participation in the eternal life of the triune God himself. And what this new model helps us avoid is conceiving human freedom in such a way that it requires limitation on divine power. p. is participatory freedom. However much it is “made their own. We are writing to tell you these things. however. true power is found. Not only freedom. this is the closest to the Ethiopic version. Hans-Joachim Kraus demands that “It must be stressed clearly and unequivocally that Israel’s praise and prayer rise out of the depths (Psalm 130). This indeed is what we are called for: The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen. But Hocking goes further: “In each instance of participation. My concern. This is always a distance that cannot be ignored” (Theology of the Psalms. Now we are telling you about this eternal life that was with the Father and appeared to us. Yes.of various schools. and we are witnesses to what we have seen.12 emphasis mine). and in his inexhaustible fullness and glory” (100). I wonder whether it did not remain prone to overlook a distance that should not be overlooked. One such theologian who clearly emphasizes the participatory nature of freedom is Juergen Moltmann. they participate in God’s power. Augusburg Publishing House: 1986. because this makes us truly happy.

”] 5 . genocide.” but rather “in the malice of rage”… Yet no individual deed ever reaches the evil of the “malice of rage” itself. Peter Trawny: “The “essence” of evil consists. Genuine evil is violence. etc. This holds for every deed. I would like some more elaborations on this.In what does the essence of evil consist? Indeed Hocking has already pointed to an answer when he says: “Genuine evil is associated with ultimate choices against the other: rape. “not in the mere baseness of human action.e. [Cf. and it is violence because it is a valuing of the self at the expense of all else” (45). i.. however. murder. even for the most un-imaginably bad.