An Open Theology Doctrine of Creation and Solution to the Problem of Evil

by Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies. He is a best-selling and award-winning author, having written or edited more than twenty-five books. A twelve-time Faculty Award-winning professor, Oord teaches at institutions around the globe, and is the director of the Center for Open and Relational Theology. To find out more about him or view more of his works, visit his website or the Center for Open and Relational Theology.

This article was originally published in the book Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science (Pickwick, 2009), edited by Thomas Jay Oord (Publisher | Amazon


Thomas Oord argues that the theo-logic of love for Open theism is more important than God’s relation to the world or God’s dependence on the world, God’s openness to the future, and genuine freedom of creatures.

Open theology pursues the logic of love.

Open theology is probably better known for affirming an open future without actual content and thus not yet known by God. It is probably better known for claiming that God relates to and thus in some sense depends upon creatures. Open theology is better known for affirming creaturely freedom and the notion that in some sense God takes risks. But less well known is that most Open theists believe all of these affirmations are secondary to the theo-logic of love.

Atop the list of Open theology affirmations is this simple three-word phrase: God is love. Open theists emphasize the first and second commandments to love God and to love others as ourselves. God loved the world so much that God gave Jesus so that the world might find salvation. When Jesus’ disciples express love, all people come to find out who Jesus’ disciples really are. From beginning to end, love is the central theme of Scripture, the core ethic for humans, and God’s reigning attribute.

The logic of love insists that no Christian doctrine or practice contradict love. Open theists argue that some conventional theological beliefs, however, contradict what we know about love from the Bible and personal experience. The problem with the conventional concept that God is an unchanging and unmoved mover, say Open theists, is this concept contradicts the giving and receiving relationality (moving and being moved) inherent in love. The problem with conceiving of God as one who eternally knows the future as actual is this concept means the future is already settled; creatures cannot freely respond to God’s call to love in a future eternally settled. The problem with conceiving of divine power in such a way as to regard God as controlling all things is that God must be regarded a source and cause of evil. The list of conventional theological beliefs that undermine love goes on.

Typical Open theists admit, however, that they have difficulty providing a theoretical answer to the problem of evil.[1] They know that Open theism does a better job with the problem than conventional theism. Open theists blame free or indeterminate creatures for causing genuine evil. But most admit that they cannot fully resolve why a loving and almighty God does not prevent genuine evils.[2]

Open theists are wary of theoretical solutions to the problem of evil some process theists propose.[3] While they admire the process notion that God always acts persuasively, the typical Open theist worries that process theology either makes God overly dependent upon creation or is overly constrained by external conditions such that God is not the most powerful being plausibly conceived.[4] Most Open theists also believe, rightly or wrongly, that process formulations of divine power conflict with biblical miracle accounts, the resurrection of Jesus, and eschatology.[5]

Open theists are careful about how they want to conceive the origination of our universe. They are adamant that God is the original and ongoing Creator. But Open theists are not of one accord about exactly what occurred in the first moments of our universe. Some have affirmed the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing.[6] Others have questioned the biblical basis for that doctrine and are open to creation theories that do not require creation ex nihilo.[7] Greg Boyd has suggested that at the beginning of our universe, God confronted rebellious agents with power of their own to combat God’s good plans. These agents, speculates Boyd, were demonic.[8] Michael Lodahl has fruitfully explored various implications for it means to accept or reject creation ex nihilo.[9]

In this essay, I both offer an Open theology doctrine of original creation and propose that this doctrine coheres with notions of divine love, power, and relatedness that solve the theoretical aspect of the problem evil. To address main points of the creation doctrine, I briefly explore major themes in the award-winning work of Nancey Murphy and George Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe. I endorse the basic scientific aspects Murphy and Ellis identify, and I find their insistence upon creaturely freedom and/or indeterminacy helpful. I reject, however, the particular formulation of kenosis that they and John Polkinghorne accept. I explore the difficulty the doctrine of creation out of absolutely nothing creates for solving the problem of evil, and I examine an alternative creation doctrine that process theologians David Ray Griffin and Catherine Keller offer.[10] The cyclic universe cosmology model developed by physicists Neil Turok and Paul Steinhardt provides a scientific basis for this alternative creation theory. I conclude with my theory of divine self-limitation – what I call “essential kenosis”— that solves the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil and affirms God’s noncoercive creative activity at the beginning (and throughout the history) of our universe.[11]

A Universe Finely Tuned

On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics is one of the best contemporary attempts to address issues in origins, scientific cosmology, divine action, and love. Ellis, a mathematician and physicist, and Murphy, a theologian and philosopher, argue that an adequate overall account of existence must include research in physical cosmology alongside other research disciplines.[12] The scope of their work is breathtakingly expansive: they consult various sciences, theologies, ethics, and philosophies.

Murphy and Ellis assume the truth of major theories in physics that describe both the macro and micro levels of existence. The authors note the formational role that elemental constituents played in the formation of the universe. They affirm the hot big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Hubble telescope observations in the mid-twentieth century show that the rate distant galaxies recede from our planet is proportional to the distance these galaxies exist from us. The red shift observed in star movement is the primary basis for speaking of our universe as expanding. The expansion of the universe was likely much more rapid in its very early stages.

The basic idea of big bang theory is that our universe exploded into existence about 10 to 20 billion years ago. Within the first second after that explosion, basic physical forces and fundamental particles of matter emerged. Over time, fundamental elements of existence were drawn together by gravity and other forces. From this emerged the basic and the massive structures of existence, including nuclei, atoms, molecules, dust, rocks, planets, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and superclusters. The formation of more complex entities gives reason to speak of the universe’s development in evolutionary terms.

Scientists call the question of why life is possible at all “the anthropic question.”[13] The anthropic principle states that life as we know it required very specific laws and conditions in the beginning of the universe. If these laws and conditions had been altered ever so slightly, the evolution of life would not have been possible. Only very particular laws of physics and very specific initial conditions allow the existence of intelligent life.[14] Physicist Paul Davies refers to the anthropic principle as “the Goldilocks factor,” because the evidence suggests that our universe is “just right” for life.[15] In light of the finely-tuned universe, physicist Freeman Dyson suggests that “as we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known we were coming.”[16]

The anthropic principle does not provide a scientific answer to the basic question of why life exists at all. Science alone cannot answer the question of ultimate causation. Ellis and Murphy argue that a general theory of design best accounts for the fine-tuning of the universe: “The symmetries and delicate balances we observe in the universe require an extraordinary coherence of conditions and cooperation of laws and effects, suggesting that in some sense they have been purposefully designed.”[17] The authors are aware that the claim of purpose and design slips into the domains of metaphysics and theology. “The design concept is one of the most satisfying overall approaches,” they argue, but it necessarily takes one “outside the strictly scientific arena.”[18]

Murphy and Ellis believe that cosmology in general and the apparent fine-tuning of our universe in particular “add important evidence to some theories of ultimate reality.”[19] Fine-tuning alone does not provide the ultimate ground for a grand theory about ultimate reality, but it gives weight to some theories and not others. The authors also acknowledge that “fine-tuning alone does not provide a great deal of support for any particular designer hypothesis.”[20] Extra evidence is required to distinguish which designer hypothesis among the many possible is most adequate.

One of Ellis and Murphy’s central claims is that noncoercive, self-renouncing love fits well with the fine-tuning that cosmologists have discovered was necessary for life to emerge.[21] The authors draw upon the Christian theology of kenosis to support their argument. Kenosis is a Greek New Testament word found in Philippians 2:5-11, and it is often translated as “self-giving,” “self-renunciation,” or “self-denying.” A Christian theology of kenosis suggests that God and at least some creatures are capable of loving self-giving. The authors suggest that the kenotic ethic reflects the moral character of God, and divine kenosis is the basis for creaturely kenosis.

God’s kenotic purpose for creating the universe is reflected in the structures and characteristics of the universe itself. This is especially evident in the fine-tuning of the universe. “While the fine-tuning does not logically require the assumption of a designer,” say Murphy and Ellis, the existence of a God provides a suitable explanation of fine-tuning. [22] The anthropic features of the universe can be interpreted as the necessary conditions not only for life but for intelligence, freedom, and morality. “The anthropic universe is … a moral universe,” say the authors. And “once the universe is seen as a moral universe, it becomes possible to explain added cosmological features that other (nontheistic) accounts of the anthropic features cannot explain: Why is there a universe at all and why is it law like?” This suggests that “while the purpose of creating free creatures cannot be ‘read off’ from cosmology alone, both life and lawlike behavior of the nonhuman universe are necessary conditions for freedom.”[23]

If the ultimate purpose of the universe is to make possible free and moral responses, the universe needs to have been created in such a way that ordered patterns of events occur. Without order, free will is meaningless. “We envisage the creator at all times maintaining the nature and processes of the physical world so that a chosen set of laws of physics describe its evolution,” say Murphy and Ellis. We also “assume freedom of action, albeit constrained by many biological, psychological, and social factors, for without this the concept of morality is meaningless.”[24] After all, “any moral response requires an ordered and predictable universe, as well as creatures with free will.”[25]

Indeterminacy at the quantum level of existence – the micro-level – plays an important part in the moral universe hypothesis Murphy and Ellis propose. Contemporary research in quantum physics in part grounds this proposal. And indeterminacy at the quantum level makes possible scientific denial of an entirely deterministic universe. Many cosmologists affirm that indeterminacy is the ontological character of entities at the micro-level, because to claim that indeterminacy is merely an epistemological issue undermines claims about the ontological status of other phenomena scientists examine.

Murphy and Ellis make a claim that moves beyond affirming indeterminacy at the quantum level. They argue that genuine freedom – self-determination – is present among at least some creatures in the universe. They offer no causal explanation in their book, however, as to how freedom emerged from indeterminacy.[26]

The arguments from Murphy and Ellis for creaturely freedom have direct implications for Open theology. To say that creatures are not entirely determined at the micro-level and that freedom is present among at least humans fits well with Open theology’s claims about the necessity of freedom for love. Freedom plays a key role in love, if love is defined, as I have often done, as acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.[27] Complete causal determination contradicts the freedom required for love. Coercion and love are antithetical.

Ellis and Murphy make particular claims about the relevance of Christian theology for their enterprise. They note that the Christian paradigm for divine activity is the revelation of God found best in Jesus. This means, say the authors, that “the relevant feature of God’s action is its self-sacrificial and noncoercive character.”[28] After all, Jesus was self-sacrificial and noncoercive.

A corresponding claim to the notion that God is noncoercive is that God does not overrule or dominate creatures. Murphy and Ellis argue that such coercive action would be necessary for divine intervention in the world, and they reject such intervention. God acts consistently. Cosmology supports this view, say the authors, because “fine-tuning suggests a ‘uniformitarian’ and noninterventionist pattern of divine action – God achieves the divine purposes within the carefully planned system rather than by overriding the natural system.”[29]

The authors conclude their book with a brief look at the problem of evil. The problem, as Ellis and Murphy see it, amounts to why God does not occasionally intervene in the natural order by “overruling natural processes when greater good will come from the exception than from following the rule.”[30] Their proposed response to the problem of evil is that God is voluntarily noninterventionist. “God voluntarily withholds divine power,” the authors speculate, “out of respect for the freedom and integrity of the creatures.”[31] God has decided not to violate the rights of created entities to be what they are. “This mode of action is a voluntary choice on the part of the Creator,” writes Ellis in an article that summarizes the argument, “made because it is the only mode of attaining the goal of eliciting a free response of love and sacrifice from individuals endowed with free will. It implies total restraint in the use of God’s omnipotent power, for otherwise a free response to God’s actions is not possible.”[32]

Voluntarily deciding not to violate the freedom and integrity of creatures entails divine risks and potential costs. The language of risk fits well with some Open theology affirmations. God accepts these risks and costs, say Murphy and Ellis, “in order to achieve a higher goal: the free and intelligent cooperation of the creature in divine activity.”[33] This, too, sounds like something an Open theist might say.

The authors speculate that “at the human level, God action is limited by human limitations but also by free choices in rebellion against God. At the lower levels of complexity, the issue is not sin, but simply the limitations imposed by the fact that the creature is only what it is, and is not God.”[34] Suffering and evil occur because of free humans who sin and because of the long, noncoercive creative process that aims at developing free and intelligent beings.

This cooperative, noncoercive activity of God fits well with an evolutionary picture of existence. The process of creating creatures from recalcitrant matter is slow, indirect, and sometimes painful. But this process, say Ellis and Murphy, reflects God’s “noncoercive, persuasive, painstaking love all the way from the beginning to the end, from the least of God’s creatures to the most splendid.”[35] In fact, the universe’s “fine-tuning can be taken up into a theology that sees God’s noncoercive respect for the freedom and integrity of creatures go all the way back to the initial design of an anthropic (intelligence- and freedom-producing) universe.” For, say the authors, “the freedom of the creature is central to God’s eighteen-billion-year project.”[36]

The emphasis that Murphy and Ellis place upon divine loving persuasion and creaturely freedom coheres well with basic affirmations in Open theology. These affirmations should also play central roles in an adequate Open theology doctrine of creation and an Open theology solution to the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil.

Cosmology, Nothingness, Scripture

Contemporary cosmology suggests a limited number of viable over-arching theories to account for the beginning and expansion of the universe. Paul Davies identifies six main theories: [37]

  1. An absolute beginning to the universe and subsequent everlasting expansion.
  2. An absolute beginning to the universe followed by the termination of the universe after a period of expansion.
  3. An absolute beginning to the universe, expansion to a maximum state, and a return to a state identical to the absolute beginning.
  4. An everlastingly cyclic universe, in which expansion and contraction is followed by a “big bounce” into another cycle of expansion and contraction.
  5. A steady state universe with no beginning or end but everlasting expansion.
  6. An everlasting multiverse in which our universe is one among others.[38]

Each of these theories supports various emotional, theological, and metaphysical preferences.

Open theists are committed to the biblical notion that God is Creator. None of the six main options Davies lists are essentially incompatible with this claim. But some are more compatible than others, and some are more compatible with big bang cosmology widely accepted by contemporary cosmologists. Davies’ option five, for instance, does not fit well with big bang cosmology, because it denies a beginning to the universe. Option six is deemed conceptually incoherent by some, especially when the emphasis is placed upon an infinite number of simultaneously existing universes that have existed infinitely. Other versions of option six may someday prove compelling, but the theoretical issues pertaining to infinity will need to be resolved for it to be viable.

Options one through three that Davies lists share a common commitment to an absolute beginning to the universe. This affirmation coheres well with the notion of creation out of absolutely nothing, a doctrine that has played a principal part in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim creation narratives. Advocates of creatio ex nihilo typically believe the first verses of the Old Testament affirm the doctrine: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2).

We saw at the outset of this essay that Open theists are not uniform in their views on creation ex nihilo. However, one prominent Open theist, John Polkinghorne, affirms the classic doctrine for theological reasons. Polkinghorne argues that Christian theology should draw from research in physical cosmology, but theology should regard “the world as the consequence of a free act of divine decision and as separate from deity. The universe’s inherent contingency is conventionally and vividly expressed in the idea of creation ex nihilo.”[39] The doctrine that God creates from absolutely nothing implies, says Polkinghorne, that “the divine will alone is the source of created being.”[40]

Crucial to Polkinghorne’s view of creation from nothing is the idea that no conditions bind God’s free and omnipotent decision to create. “To hold a doctrine of creation ex nihilo is to hold that all that is depends, now and always, on the freely exercised will of God. It is certainly not to believe that God started things off by manipulating a curious kind of stuff called ‘nothing.’”[41]

Polkinghorne affirms that creatures – at least humans – are not entirely determined by God or others. God’s conveys respect for the integrity of the natural processes by his gift of freedom to creation. “In the case of inanimate creation, the outworking of these principles will not be overruled,” says Polkinghorne. “In the case of animate creatures, there is a much greater degree of autonomy to be respected, and I believe that God will interact with them in ways that are appropriate to their natures.”[42]

Like Murphy and Ellis, Polkinghorne appeals to kenosis theology to account for existence. “God interacts with the world but is not in total control of all its process,” he says. This involves a “curtailment of divine power” that comes through voluntary self-limitation. “God remains omnipotent in the sense that he can do whatever he wills,” says Polkinghorne, “but it is not in accordance with his will and nature to insist on total control.”[43]

Although some Open theologians affirm creation ex nihilo, nearly all know that the opening verses of Genesis do not refer to an absolute nothingness from which God allegedly created. Many contemporary biblical scholars believe that none of the biblical texts support creatio ex nihilo in its literal sense.[44]

Perhaps the most eloquent of biblical scholars on this issue is Jon D. Levenson, author of Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence.[45] Levenson notes that biblical scholars have argued that we best interpret Genesis 1:1 as a temporal clause: “When God began to create the heaven and the earth” [emphasis mine].[46] This temporal clause does not suggest an absolute beginning of time. Furthermore, the phrase translated “formless void” (tohu wabohu), says Levenson, is best translated as “primordial chaos.”[47] Following the biblical reference to the Spirit hovering over this primordial chaos, the author of Genesis speaks of darkness on the “face of the deep.” The “deep,” which is tehom in Hebrew, refers to something nondivine and primordially present when God began to create. Biblical scholar, Brevard Childs, says that “the tehom signifies here the primeval waters which were also uncreated.”[48]

Levenson and other biblical authors argue that Genesis 1 suggests that even in the first moments of creation, God encounters other forces. These forces oppose, at least partially, God’s creative will. The concern of creation theology in Hebrew scripture is not creatio ex nihilo but the establishment of a benevolent and life-sustaining order founded upon God’s demonstrated authority and triumphs over all rivals.[49] “We can capture the essence of the idea of creation in the Hebrew Bible with the word ‘mastery,’” argues Levenson.[50] In that mastery, God is the victor in combat, but God’s foes continue to survive.[51] “Properly understood,” says Levenson in summary, Genesis 1:1-2:3 “cannot be invoked in support of the developed Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.”[52]

The first Christian theologian to use unambiguously the substance and the terminology of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was Theophilus of Antioch. It would be early church theologian Irenaeus, however, who solidified creatio ex nihilo in the Church. The doctrine fit well with the Neo-platonic doctrine of God gaining influence in the early Christianity. Neo-platonism taught that God is eternal, self-sufficient, simple, impassible, omnipotent, immutable, and commands the world through the divine will.[53] The omni-sovereignty of God was an especially important element in creatio ex nihilo.[54] “The will of God must rule and dominate in everything,” Irenaeus argued, “everything else must give way to it, be subordinated to it and be a servant to it.”[55] Open theists have often been critical of the Neo-platonic view of God, in general, and the view that God dominates everything, in particular.

Creatio ex Chaosmos

If God created our fine-tuned universe billions of years ago out of absolutely nothing, God must have a particular kind of power. As we have seen, some theologians defend creatio ex nihilo because of what the concept implies about God’s sovereignty. But creation out of nothing also implies that God has the kind of power required to prevent evil unilaterally. If God can single-handedly bring something from nothing, God can single-handedly prevent genuinely evil events. A perfectly loving God would always work to prevent genuine evil, if preventing such evil were possible. An adequate view of the origin of the universe seems to require a theory of divine power that accounts both for the big bang and for why our loving God does not prevent the occurrence of genuine evil.

Two process theologians have done detailed and persuasive work to show the problems inherent in creation ex nihilo for conceiving of divine power in relation to creaturely freedom. David Ray Griffin has addressed the issues of initial creation, evil, and divine power in several writings. Griffin affirms that God loves perfectly and that God created the universe. But he argues that creatio ex nihilo implies that God has the kind of power that makes God culpable for failing to prevent genuinely evil occurrences. A God who can unilaterally create from absolutely nothing could also unilaterally prevent any genuine evil. Because evil occurs, says Griffin, God must not have that kind of power.

The implication of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, says Griffin, “is that the world has no inherent power, no power of its own, with which it could resist the divine will.” This means that God can unilaterally determine creatures, and God can arbitrarily suspend the laws of nature.[56] But a God with the power to control creatures entirely is culpable for making evil possible in the first place and for failing to prevent genuine evils that subsequently occur. “If God is said to have created the world out of absolute nothingness,” says Griffin, “the origin of evil cannot be explained, at least without implying that God’s goodness is less than perfect.”[57]

As an alternative to creatio ex nihilo, Griffin speculates that our universe began from the relative chaos – what we might call a “chaosmos” – of a previous universe. We can suppose, says Griffin, “that between the decay of the previous cosmic epoch and the beginning of the present one … there would have been no social order, no societies – no electrons, protons, photons, or even quarks.”[58] All finite occasions would have been extremely trivial. “The first stage of the creation of our cosmic epoch,” suggests Griffin, “would have involved the formation of very low-grade serially-ordered societies (perhaps quarks) out of such a chaotic state. Later stages would have involved the creation of more complex societies out of these simpler ones.”[59]

Griffin’s alternative creation proposal is important for what it means for divine power. “There was no stage at which God could unilaterally determine the states of affairs…. Divine creativity can never obliterate or override the creativity of the creatures.”[60] The God unable to obliterate or override the freedom of creatures even at the creation of the universe cannot be held culpable for failing to override creaturely freedom to prevent genuine evil any time in the history of the universe.

Griffin argues that his proposal fits with central notions of fine-tuning most contemporary cosmologists affirm. According to Griffin’s view, God can set the laws and constraints for a particular universe in its initial moments and yet not have the capacity to control others entirely at any time before or after. Divine coercion, even at the big bang, is not necessary to regard God as Creator.

Although God always interacts with others, the competition to God’s activity prior to the big bang is different in degree than the competition thereafter. “Prior to the beginning of our particular cosmic epoch…the realm of finite actualities was (by hypothesis) in a state of chaos, in the sense that there were no societies, not even extremely simple serially-ordered societies such as photos and quarks.” There was “a multiplicity of finite actual occasions, but they were extremely brief events … happening at random.”[61] In the first instant of our particular universe, God’s noncoercive power could be nearly coercive, given the simplicity of occasions that existed in the chaosmos with which God related. “A divine spirit, brooding over the chaos, would only have had to think, ‘Let there be X!’ (with X standing for the complex interconnected set of contingent principles embodied in our world at the outset, constituting its fine tuning).”[62] Before the big bang, during it, and thereafter, God’s power is always and necessarily persuasive.

Griffin is careful to point out that although entities predated the big bang of our universe, his hypothesis does not require any particular world to exist necessarily. “What exists necessarily,” he says, “is God-with-a-realm-of-finite-existents.” Although God is the only being who exists necessarily, God is necessarily related to some world or another. “The necessary existence of God,” Griffin says summarily, “implies the necessary existence of a world – not of our world, of course, and not even a world in the sense of an ordered cosmos, but simply a realm of finite existents, which can exist either in an ordered or a chaotic state.”[63]

Catherine Keller is the second process theologian whose work on creation and divine power is particularly relevant. Keller’s work in The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, is similar to Griffin’s in its denial of creatio ex nihilo. Keller offers, however, perhaps the fullest creation theology available built upon the notion that God as creator does not create out of absolutely nothing.[64]

Keller begins The Face of the Deep by addressing biblical and historical scholarship pertaining to creatio ex nihilo. “The author of Genesis,” says Keller, “assumed that the universe was created from a primal chaos: something uncreated, something Other, something that a creator could mold, form, or call to order.”[65] This assumption was suppressed in early Christian history, however. “The Christian theology that early came to dominate the church,” says Keller, “could not tolerate this constraint upon God’s power: for why should “He” have had to reckon with an Other? This prevenient chaos cramped the growling Christian imagery of mastery – what we may call its dominology, its logos of lordship.”[66] Contemporary theology, says Keller, has largely disregarded the biblical case against the ex nihilo, and it is still coming to grips with the negative realities of union with empires.

Keller calls her alternative to creatio ex nihilo a tehomic theology of creatio ex profundis. The word “tehomic” is a derivative of the Hebrew word tehom found in Genesis 1 and typically translated “the deep.” Profundis refers to the chaos from which God creates. Keller’s creation theology, then, explores and expands the Genesis motif of God creating from the watery depths.

The tehomic theology Keller proposes is relational at its core. Its relational God “remains enmeshed in the vulnerabilities and potentialities of an indeterminate creativity.”[67] This indeterminate creativity, says Keller, is never before or outside time and space. God’s essential relatedness to others means that God is never immune from response to creatures, including creaturely suffering. This integral Creator-creation relationship makes tehomic theology “a theological alternative to the dangerously unavowed amorality of omnipotence.”[68]

To say that God always relates to or enmeshes in the creativity of others undermines the idea that creation is entirely independent of God. A God related to creation also undermines the idea that the tehom of scripture is inherently evil. Creatio ex chaosmos does not require one to say that the chaos from which God creates is absolutely autonomous or essentially evil. Instead, Keller affirms that the chaosmic other from which God creates intimately relates to and depends upon God. “If beginning takes place in the interplay between the possible future and the given past,” she argues, “it presupposes always a tangled complexity of relations. These relations remain largely unconscious, dim, unformed. Thus the nexus of relations may be felt as chaos…. Chaos is not just prevenient; it is also…created.”[69] In fact, says Keller, the interaction between God and the tehom might be labeled in Latin as creatio cooperationis. The creativity with which God relates is “the active potentiality for both good and evil.”[70]

In light of contemporary cosmology, Keller refers to the Genesis 1 narrative of creation as “seven days of self-organization.” Keller notes that scientific autocatalysis makes no such presumption of creation from absolutely nothing: “on the contrary, it signifies emergence as creation from the chaos of prevenient conditions.”[71] But this self-organization requires divine influence. While God does not unilaterally order a world into existence, God does attract multi-tiered cooperation. “Creation takes place as invitation and cooperation,” suggests Keller.[72] She asks rhetorically, “Could what scientists call ‘self-organizing complexity’ now be read as an articulation of divine creativity?”[73]

Conceiving of God as Creator in relation to a God-created chaosmos, suggests Keller, can “also shed light on divine love.” But this love is divine eros. And it neither controls entirely nor guarantees dominion over others.[74] In fact, says Keller, “to love is to bear with the chaos.”[75]

The Science of an Endless Universe

The work of Griffin and Keller provides theological reasons to reject contemporary cosmology options one through three that Davies lists – cosmologies that require an absolute beginning to the universe and can be expressed theologically as creation out of absolutely nothing. I suggested earlier that options five and six are problematic for scientific and conceptual reasons. Option four -- an everlastingly cyclic universe – remains. At first glance, it seems to cohere with Griffin and Keller’s theological proposals, because they argue that God always relates to some universe or another. This everlastingly relational and persuasive God would need to be powerful enough, however, to initiate the big bang of our universe and every universe before and after. Yet this God must not possess the kind of power to be held culpable for failing to prevent genuine evils caused by free or indeterminate creatures.

We need to look briefly at the scientific side of option four to be sure it does not oppose Open theology’s claim that God is Creator. The idea that our universe emerged from the chaos of a previous universe is growing in popularity among contemporary cosmologists. “A persistently compelling picture,” says physicist John Barrow, “is one in which the universe undergoes a cyclic history, periodically disappearing in a great conflagration before reappearing phoenix-like from the ashes.” Our universe would be a singularity, although one singularity in an everlasting succession of singularities. “It is possible for any particular domain to have a history that has a definite beginning in an inflationary quantum event,” says Barrow, “but the process as a whole could just go on in a steady fashion for all eternity, past and present.”[76]

Physicists Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok offer perhaps the most complete cyclic universe proposal. In their book, Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, the authors consider the creation of our universe part of an infinite cycle of collisions. According to them, the big bang was not the beginning of time. The “big bang might not be the ‘beginning’ of the universe after all,” say Turok and Steinhardt, “but instead a physically explicable event with a ‘before’ and an ‘after’.”[77] The big bang is part of an endless cycle of emerging new universes, each with new materials and new entities. “The cyclic tale pictures a universe in which galaxies, stars, and life have been formed over and over again long before the most recent big bang, and will be remade cycle after cycle far into the future.”[78]

The absolute beginning theory of the universe has no answer to one of the most fundamental questions of existence: How did the universe begin, if there was nothing existing before it? Theories that propose an absolute beginning to the universe are problematic, say Turok and Steinhardt, because “there are no rigorous physical principles that dictate how to go from ‘nothing’ to ‘something’.”[79]

The cyclic model builds on several key elements. From string theory and M theory come the ideas of branes and extra dimensions. These theories allow for a big bang where the density of matter and radiation is finite. Furthermore, observations of the present universe indicate the existence of dark energy, and dark energy is ideal for smoothing and flattening the universe. Steinhardt and Turok speculate that the same dark energy acting before the big bang could explain why the universe is smooth and flat on large scales today. Finally, the decay of the dark energy leads to a buildup of energy sufficient to power the big bang. Yet this dark energy can simultaneously generate density variations that can give rise to galaxies after the bang.[80] “A combination of branes and an extra dimension, with regular assists from gravity and dark energy,” suggest the authors, “can cause the universe to repeatedly replenish itself with galaxies, stars, and life at regular intervals while always obeying the second law of thermodynamics.”[81]

The cyclic model offers several advantages to the notion that our universe had an absolute beginning from absolutely nothing. First, instead of the big bang being the absolute beginning of space and time, the cyclic model suggests that our universe began with a collision of materials that pre-date the big bang. According to the cyclic theory, say Turok and Steinhardt, “the big bang was triggered by the decay of dark energy that existed before the big bang.”[82]

The cyclic model says, secondly, that big bangs occur at intervals of about one trillion years, with many big bangs occurring before ours and many yet to come. “Each bang creates new matter and radiation and initiates a new period of cosmic expansion,” say Turok and Steinhardt, “leading to the formation of new galaxies, stars, planets and life. Space naturally smooths and flattens itself after each cycle of galaxy formation and before the next big bang.”[83]

Third, some features of our current universe were present in and influenced by previous universes. “All the physical properties of the universe are the same, on average, from cycle to cycle,” say Steinhardt and Turok. “Some properties thought to be constants, like the masses of elementary particles, the strengths of the various forces, and the cosmological constant, could actually vary over very long periods.”[84] From before to after the bang,” say Turok and Steinhardt, “the fabric of space remains intact, the energy is always finite, and time proceeds smoothly.”[85]

The conclusion of each universe involves a big crunch as the universe completes its contraction. But a new big bang follows this crunch. Some features from the previous universe persist, but “every cycle is different in fine details because the quantum jumps are random and governed by the laws of chance,” say Turok and Steinhardt. The average properties of each universe remain the same. Galaxies, stars, and planets like Earth on which intelligent forms of life may develop will be created anew in each universe.[86]

Contemporary advocates of the cyclic universe model that Turok and Steinhardt propose are quick to note that this hypothesis does not entail a Nietzschean eternal repetition of the exact same. Paul Davies, for instance, argues that we should distinguish between cyclic models for which time is a closed circle occupied by creatures doomed to repeat the same events endlessly and cyclic models in which the most basic metaphysical features are passed from one universe to a succeeding one. The second cyclic model involves the emergence of genuine novelty while maintaining metaphysical continuity.[87]

Affirming both continuity and discontinuity is crucial for the Open theology of creation I am proposing. I argue that the cyclic model that Steinhardt and Turok advocate finds analogies to both the resurrection of Jesus and the Pauline claim that Christians become new creations. Both the resurrected body of Christ and Christians who enjoy new creation enjoy both continuity and discontinuity with their past. What is new, is genuinely new. But the genuinely new also retains some similarities to what has come before. The cyclic universe being advocated is one in which each successive universe both retains metaphysical similarities with past universes and emerge (as created by God) as genuinely novel creations.

The cyclic model I advocate also offers a directionality missing in either the model based on an absolute beginning from absolutely nothing or cyclic universe models supposing an eternal recurrence of the same. A universe with an absolute beginning and headed for an uninhabitable everlasting state sounds ultimately misanthropic and potentially undermines the call to take earth care seriously. And an eternally identical cycle of universes is nonpurposive. A universe bound to repeat endlessly offers no hope for genuine transformation. But multiply successive universes initially created and constantly sustained by God, with each possessing the possibility for something new and actually new life forms, is a cyclic universe proposal that is purposive, proanthropic, and hopeful. And this version of a cyclic universe is compatible with Open theology’s claim that God is Creator.

Essential Kenosis

The final element in this Open theology of creation and the key to solving the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil is a theory I call “essential kenosis.” I noted earlier that most Open theists are unsatisfied with the concepts of divine power they find in process theology. While process theology reformulates divine power in such a way as to resolve the problem of evil, the typical Open theist worries that process theology either makes God overly dependent upon creation or regards God as overly constrained by external conditions such that God is not the most powerful being plausibly conceivable.

In this final section, I propose that essential kenosis resolves these problems. It affirms that God never coerces and is thus not culpable for failing to prevent evil. But it also affirms that God is the most powerful existing being, does not depend upon creation to continue existing, and is not constrained by external conditions or forces. As almighty, the God of essential kenosis is capable of the miraculous, resurrecting Jesus, and a inspiring a triumphant eschaton.

The problem with the notion of kenosis that Murphy, Ellis, and Polkinghorne advocate is that it envisions God as voluntarily self-limited. A God who voluntarily chooses to refrain from controlling others remains culpable for failing to prevent genuine evils. A voluntarily self-limited God should at least occasionally become un-self-limited, in the name of love, to prevent the suffering and pain that victims of genuine evil experience.

It is not plausible that to maintain the freedom of the entire created order, God must refrain preventing any genuinely evil event. To make it personal: it is not plausible that God could stop the rape of someone you know – your wife, sister, or cousin – but God chooses to allow the rape because the overall balance of freedom in the universe requires God to do so. If we can think of one instance of genuine evil that God should prevent (and we can think of many), a God who voluntarily self-limits is culpable for failing to prevent that evil. The voluntarily self-limited God should be capable of keeping the liabilities of creaturely freedom in check to prevent genuinely evil occurrences. But such evils occur. A voluntarily self-limited God is culpable, and this God should not be considered perfectly loving.

Essential kenosis theory provides a solution to this problem. It proposes that God is unable to withdraw, fail to offer, or overcome the freedom and agency God gives creatures in each moment of their existence. God’s inability is not due to external forces or the laws of nature. God’s inability does not arise because of divine dependence upon creation. Essential kenosis suggests that God’s inability to withdraw, fail to offer, or overcome the freedom and agency God gives creatures derives from God’s essence of relational love. And the God not able to withdraw, fail to offer, or overcome the freedom and agency of creation is a God who cannot be held culpable for failing to prevent the genuine evil creatures cause.

Essential kenosis, as its names suggests, is a kenotic theory of divine agency. It says that God gives, self-empties, empowers, and inspires in the sense reflected in the Philippians passage in which the word is found. Out of a nature of love, God gives. Because self-giving love derives from God’s essence, however, God could no more fail to give than fail to exist. Self-giving love is one of God’s essential and, therefore, necessary attributes. Essential kenosis affirms that God’s nature and name is love, to quote the Charles Wesley hymn.

God’s self-giving love provides freedom and agency to all with whom God relates. Because God’s eternal essence has had no beginning and has no end, God has been providing freedom and agency to creatures forever. God is everlastingly faithful to grant freedom and agency to creatures, because God’s nature has everlastingly been love. God has always provided freedom and agencies to the creatures and creation that God creates.

God’s essential nature of everlasting love entails that God cannot not love. To use Old Testament language, God’s love is steadfast. Although God must love because love is in God’s eternal nature, God remains free to choose the particular ways in which God will love others. In an open future, God’s choices about how to express love are decided in relation to creation. Divine love necessarily and everlastingly involves kenosis: the giving of freedom and agency to creatures through God’s empowering, inspiring, and transforming presence.[88]

Some have suggested that the love of God is necessary in Trinitarian relations but accidental in relations with creation. To its benefit, essential kenosis does not require one to exclude creatures from God’s necessary love. God can love necessarily within Trinity and love the world necessarily. Both can be affirmed. To say it differently, the love God expresses is neither arbitrary among Trinitarian members nor arbitrary toward creation. God’s trustworthy, steadfast love never fails to give and receive love in the Trinity nor give love and receive whatever love creatures express in response to God’s enabling.[89]

The God of essential kenosis remains is the almighty God whom Christians should love and worship. This God is the most powerful being one can plausibly conceive (given divine love and creaturely freedom). The God envisioned here is mightier than all others and exerts might upon all others. The almighty God of essential kenosis should be credited with resurrecting Jesus, the primary actor in various biblical miracles, and ultimate ground for nonviolent eschatology.[90]

The God of essential kenosis theory also exists necessarily. God does not depend upon creatures, creation, or any world to continue to exist. And the God of essential kenosis is not constrained by outside forces or external agents. God’s inability to prevent genuine evil results from God’s essence as self-giving love. Rather than others imposing restrictions on God’s ability to control others, God’s very nature is self-giving, others-empowering love.


I have proposed that Open theists should embrace the theory of essential kenosis as part of an adequate Open theology of original creation and as the heart of the theoretical solution to the problem of evil. Both the theology of creation and the solution to the problem of evil I propose are firmly grounded in divine love.

This Open theology of creation adopts a cosmology that affirms the big bang origination of our universe. But it says that God’s creative action to initiate this big bang was also creative action at work prior to our universe. God will continue to create universes after ours runs down. God does not create ex nihilo; God created our universe from chaosmos. Because God’s very nature is self-giving love, God is always creating, and relating to, and loving creaturely others.

The kenotic love of God’s necessary nature is love that gives freedom and agency to all creaturely entities. God cannot fail to offer, withdraw, or overcome divinely-given freedom and agency. When self-determinate or indeterminate creatures use their God-given freedom and agency wrongly, God cannot be held culpable for failing to prevent the evil that ensues. Free and indeterminate creatures should be blamed for evil.

Essential kenosis provides a way for Open theists to follow the logic of love. The logic of love in essential kenosis generates a theology of creation that consistently affirms divine love and provides a solution to why an almighty and all-loving God fails to prevent genuine evil.

For more from the author Thomas Jay Oord, see his website or the Center for Open and Relational Theology


  1. I distinguish between five aspects of the problem of evil: theoretical, pedagogical, empathetic, therapeutic, and strategic. The theoretical aspect refers to the traditional formulation of the problem of why a loving and almighty God does not prevent evil. The solution to the theoretical aspect requires formulating divine power, divine love, or genuine evil in some way as to affirm all three. The other aspects pertain to other important responses by God and creatures to the pain and suffering evil generates.

  2. On the problem with the typical Open theology answer to the problem of evil, see Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2001), 140-151. Perhaps the best formulation of an Open theology answer to the problem of evil from the perspective that God is voluntarily self-limited is William Hasker, Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God (London: Routledge, 2004) and The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2008). My comments in this paper, however, indicate my belief that Hasker does not answer adequately the question of why God does not prevent genuine evil.

  3. For a comparison of similarities and differences between Open and Process theologies, see Thomas Jay Oord, “Evangelical Theologies,” in Handbook of Process Theology, Jay McDaniel and Donna Bowman, eds. (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice, 2006).

  4. See, for instance, David Basinger, Divine Power in Process Theism: A Philosophical Critique (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988).

  5. David Ray Griffin argues otherwise in “Process Theology and the Christian Good News: A Response to Classical Free Will Theism,” in Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists, John B. Cobb, Jr., and Clark H. Pinnock, eds. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000).

  6. This is the position taken by Clark Pinnock and others in Pinnock, et. al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1994).

  7. See Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, ch. 3. Pinnock acknowledges “that Genesis 1 does not itself teach ex nihilo creation but presents God as imposing order on chaos . . .” (Most Moved Mover, 146).

  8. See Gregory Boyd’s essay in this volume, references to his other work, and God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997).

  9. Michael E. Lodahl, “Creation Out of Nothing? Or is Next to Nothing Good Enough?” in Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue, Bryan P. Stone and Thomas Jay Oord, eds. (Nashville, Tenn.: Kingswood, 2001), ch. 9. See also Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian whose work addresses doctrines of creation in “Possibility and Actuality: The Doctrine of Creation and Its Implications for Divine Omniscience,” The Wesleyan Philosophical Society Online Journal [] 1:1 (2001).

  10. The similarities and differences between my proposal and Philip Clayton’s revolve primarily around creatio ex nihilo. For a concise summary of his position, see “Open Panentheism and Creatio ex Nihilo,” in Process Studies, 37:1 (Spring-Summer 2008): 166-183.

  11. I lay out the argument for essential kenosis in various books, most specifically in The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2015).

  12. Nancy Murphy and George F. R. Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). See also, Ellis, “The Theology of the Anthropic Principle,” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, Robert Russell, et. al., eds. (Vatican Observatory/CTNS, 1993).

  13. Key texts explaining the anthropic principle, fine-tuning, and their various features include John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986) and Paul Davies, The Accidental Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

  14. Murphy and Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, 52.

  15. Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe is Just Right for Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

  16. Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 250.

  17. Murphy and Ellis, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, 57.

  18. Ibid., 59.

  19. Ibid., 63.

  20. Ibid., 202.

  21. Ibid., 249.

  22. Ibid., 208.

  23. Ibid., 203.

  24. Ibid., 207.

  25. Ibid., 208.

  26. Some of Murphy’s thoughts on the subject are found in her book with Warren Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  27. See, for instance, Thomas Jay Oord, The Altruism Reader: Selections from Writings on Love, Religion and Science (Philadelphia: Templeton, 2008); Science of Love: The Wisdom of Well-Being (Philadelphia: Templeton, 2004); and A Turn to Love: The Love, Theology, and Science Symbiosis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, forthcoming).

  28. Ibid., 214.

  29. Ibid., 230.

  30. Ibid., 246.

  31. Ibid.

  32. George F. R. Ellis, “Kenosis as a Unifying Theme for Life and Cosmology,” in The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, John Polkinghorne, ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 144.

  33. Ibid.

  34. Ibid., 247.

  35. Ibid.

  36. Ibid., 249.

  37. Paul Davies, “Eternity: Who Needs It?” in The Far-Future Universe: Eschatology from a Cosmic Perspective, George F. R. Ellis, ed. (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2002), 42-44.

  38. For a well-written explanation of the multiverse possibility, see Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006).

  39. Ibid., 73.

  40. Ibid., 74.

  41. Ibid.

  42. Ibid., 79.

  43. Ibid.

  44. Of course, some Hebrew Bible scholars still interpret that Genesis 1 as affirming creatio ex nihilo. But they are in the minority. See Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004).

  45. Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; New York: Harper & Row, 1987).

  46. Ibid., 121.

  47. Ibid., xx. Levenson also notes that nowhere in the seven-day creation scheme does God create the waters; they are also most likely primordial (5).

  48. Brevard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 27 (London: SCM, 1960), 33.

  49. Ibid., 47.

  50. Ibid., 3.

  51. Ibid., 17-18.

  52. Ibid., 121. Many other Genesis scholars agree with Levenson. Claus Westermann argues, for instance, that creatio ex nihilo “is foreign to both the language and thought of P (the unknown author of Genesis 1); it is clear that there can be here no question of a creatio ex nihilo; our query about the origin of matter is not answered; the idea of an initial chaos goes back to mythical and premythical thinking” (Genesis 1-11. A Commentary, John J. Scullion, S. J., trans. [London: SPCK, 1994], 110, 121). Terrence Fretheim writes that “God’s creating in Genesis 1…includes ordering that which already exists…. God works creatively with already existing reality to bring about newness” (God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation [Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2005], 5).

  53. Gerhard May, 164-174.

  54. Ibid., 169, 172, 174, 175, 177.

  55. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, II, ed. W. W. Harvey (n/a), 34:4; May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 174.

  56. David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 137.

  57. David Ray Griffin, “Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil,” in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, Stephen T. Davis, ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 114.

  58. Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism, 143.

  59. Ibid.

  60. Ibid.

  61. Ibid., 217.

  62. Ibid., 217-218.

  63. Griffin, “Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil,” 122.

  64. Catherine Keller, The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. See also Sjoerd L. Bonting, Chaos Theology: A Revised Creation Theology (Ottawa: Novalis, 2002) and James Edward Hutchingson, Pandemoneum Tremendum: Chaos and Mystery in the Life of God (Pilgrim, 2000).

  65. Keller, The Face of the Deep, xvii.

  66. Ibid.

  67. Ibid., 226.

  68. Ibid., 49.

  69. Ibid., 161.

  70. Ibid., 91.

  71. Ibid., 196.

  72. Ibid., 195.

  73. Ibid., 117.

  74. Ibid., 198-99.

  75. Ibid., 29.

  76. Barrow, 30. Other cosmologist finds the endless universe theory attractive. Alan Guth argues that “it seems far more plausible that our universe was the result of universe reproduction than that it was created by a unique cosmic event” (Quoted in Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok, Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang [New York: Doubleday, 2007], 226). Paul Davies also finds the idea plausible, but he remains noncommittal on the options (see Davies material in the Ellis book quoted earlier).

  77. Steinhardt and Turok, Endless Universe, 15.

  78. Ibid., 61.

  79. Ibid., 226.

  80. Ibid., 164.

  81. Ibid., 193.

  82. Ibid., 60.

  83. Ibid., 61.

  84. Ibid., 166.

  85. Ibid., 61-62.

  86. Ibid., 65.

  87. Davies in Ellis, 45.

  88. I have been distinguishing between freedom and agency in this essay as a way to denote both self-determinate and indeterminate creatures. I do this to account for both the evil that free creatures generate and the evil resulting from simple entities that possibly lack self-determination and surely lack conscious intent. While on the one hand, I am attracted to the hypothesis of Ian Barbour, David Ray Griffin, and others influenced by Alfred North Whitehead that subjectivity and freedom should be expected at every level of complexity, I am also aware that physicists and many biologists fail to detect such freedom among simpler entities. I use agency, then, to account for the indeterminate state of these simple entities. The word “indeterminate” accounts for chance actions in aggregates, such as rocks, sticks, and metal bars. Essential kenosis claims that God cannot withdraw, fail to offer, or override the self-determinacy or indeterminacy of any entity whatsoever.

  89. The theory of essential kenosis does not require Trinitarian theories that suppose intratrinitarian relations. Theologians who do not find social Trinity formulations convincing can still affirm essential kenosis for what it claims about God’s essence as relational, self-giving, and other-empowering love for creatures.

  90. I don’t have essay space to defend this claim here. But I should at least say that essential kenosis does not undermine these Christian doctrines, although it certainly undermines those versions of the doctrines that require divine coercion.