The plan of salvation: Is it worth the risk, my Son? What, risk! Ask Jacques Derrida, CS Lewis and Thomas Oord

”Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies.  He is the author or editor of a dozen books and professor at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.  Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, relational theology, science and religion, Wesleyan/Holiness/Church of the Nazarene thought, Evangelical theology, and postmodernism” (From his biography).

Oord quotes CS twice in his “Imitate GodTake Risks!”

The two Lewis quotes are from Lewis’s lion character, Aslan, “(he is) on the move,” (describing Aslan), and what another Narnia character says of Aslan, “He’s not safe.  But he is good.” Oord applies these descriptions of Aslan to a “missional God.” A bit of Lewis that would have slotted in well into Oord’s “Imitate God—Take Risks!” is Lewis discussion about the risk that God took in giving man “free will.”

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. … If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

(C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity).

Reminds me of Pascal’s wager addressed to man: risk choosing God, you’ve got much more to gain than to lose. The boot, for Lewis, though, is on the other risky foot (addressed to God): God risks choosing man. With this difference to Pascal’s wager.

“Granting free will to man (I’m ad-libbing,like a good libertarian) is an extremely risky business; who knows how my plan is going to turn out. But hang on, isn’t one of my attributes the ability to see ahead (pro-vidence)? Of course it is; and, although I don’t get everyone to do my pleasure, in the end I do win some; but, alas, also lose some – in fact, I lose a lot. Now you might quote my favourite prophet, Isaiah, who said – correctly – what I told him to write, namely, ‘Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).’ Now, you (have to understand, indeed, uberstand – I’m speaking sub specie aeternitatis (from my eternal point of view) – that my pleasure will never interfere with the greatest thing I have, and also the greatest thing I have given my untermensch: free will.

Let’s come back to  earth, to Oord’s orchard.

“… God took the ultimate risk in the self-giving love of Jesus. In our everyday language, “risk” is often preceded by “foolish.”  Unfortunately, this combination of words – “foolish risk” – occurs so frequently that we may assume risk-taking and wisdom are antithetical.”

Oord is referring to the “Kenosis” (self-emptying) in Philippians:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Here is Alva J. McClain on the ” Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8:

“Nothing beyond a cursory review of the astonishingly numerous interpretations of this Philippians passage is enough, as someone has suggested, to afflict the student with “intellectual paralysis. This is especially the case in regard to that section (v. 7) which speaks of the self emptying”, or kenosis, of Christ. Some make of this a mere skenosis (see note); Deity was veiled, but was limited in no important or essential respect. Others think the self-limitation was real, though very inconsiderable. A third view holds that the Logos, in becoming man, retained full possession of His divine attributes, and that the kenosis consisted in His acting as if He did not possess them. Another school supposes that He actually gave up certain of his attributes, ones designated by theologians as relative, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Still others go farther in asserting that He gave up all the divine attributes, so that Deity was stripped to a bare essence. Finally, there are those who, excluding from the passage all reference to a pre-existent state, regard the kenosis as having taken place wholly within the earthly life of the man Christ Jesus.”

[Note: Skenosis Christology is the opposite of, and a reaction to kenosis Christology. While kenosis Christology emphasizes “emptying,” skenosis Christology emphasizes, “divine indwelling” in incarnation. The biblical basis for skenosis Christology is the Gospel of John, especially 1:14. The verse states that in incarnation the Logos “indwelt” (translation on contextual ground) the flesh (or indwelt humanity). This indwelling is the relationship where God graciously indwelt man (in Christ), and he in turn fully submitted to Him (God).”]

We can now add yet another theistic take on this keynote Kenosis passage: a risk-taking deity. 

Risky interpretations, besides the pleasure it affords, leads me to the philosopher and literary theorist, Jacques Derrida. Here is an excerpt from a broadcast interview with Derrida:

Interviewer – In your text, one always feels a lot of pleasure, a pleasure in writing, even a certain playfulness. For you, is the pleasure of philosophizing or the pleasure of philosophy essentially a pleasure of writing?

Derrida – Yes , if one uses this word “writing” very carefully. I don’t believe, for example – and perhaps contrary to what certain people might tend to believe – that I have a lot of pleasure in writing, that is, in finding myself before a sheet of paper and in devising sentences. I probably even have a certain immediate aversion for the thing. On the other hand, and also contrary to what certain people might think, I love to “talk” philosophy. Of course, it is also a writing, it is a certain form of writing… So pleasure, yes, but, you know, pleasure is a very complicated thing. Pleasure can accumulate, intensify through a certain experience of pain, ascesis, difficulty, an experience of the impasse or of impossibility; so, pleasure, yes, no doubt, but in order to respond seriously and philosophically to your question, we would have to open up a whole discourse on the pleasure principle, on beyond the pleasure principle, etc.

Then the interviewer mentions “risk.”

Interviewer – What is more your taste for philosophy also always takes a path through risk, adventure, high stakes . . .

Derrida – To have the very complicated pleasure we were just talking about, to have this pleasure, I suppose one must, at a given moment, stand at the limit of catastrophe or of the risk of loss. Otherwise, one is only applying a surefire program. So, one must take risks. That’s what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk. But for the risk to be worth the trouble, so to speak, and for it to be really risked or risking, one must take this risk with all the insurance possible. That is, one must multiply the assurances, have the most lucid possible consciousness of all the systems of insurance, all the norms, all that can limit the risks, one must explore the terrain of these assurances: their history, their code, their norms in order to bring them to the edge of the risk in the surest way possible. One has to be sure that the risk is taken. And to be sure that the risk is taken, one has to negotiate with the assurances. And thus speak . . . in the mode of philosophy, of demonstration, of logic, of critique so as to arrive at the point where that is no longer possible, so as to see where that is no longer possible. What I am calling here assurance or insurance are all the codes, the values, the norms we were just talking about and that regulate philosophical discourse: the philosophical institution, the values of coherence, truth, demonstration, etc.

(An interview broadcast in the program prepared by Didier Cahen over France-Culture, “Le bon plaisir de Jacques Derrida,” (“The good pleasure of Jacques Derrida”) on March 22, 1986 and published with the title “Entretien avec Jacques Derrida” (Interview with Jacques Derrida in “Digraphe” 42 (December 1987).

There’s the God of the gaps and now there’s the God of the risks. And surely, it would be anything but blasphemous – indeed it would be very fitting for a God who is not only the creator of language, but the supreme master of style – to put Derrida’s striking remarks on risk into the mouth of such a God, who does all things – as the Bible says – for his pleasure.

“To have this very complicated, I suppose I must, at a given moment, stand at the limit of catastrophe or of the risk of loss. Otherwise, I would merely be applying a surefire program. So, even though, indeed exactly because I am almighty and sovereign, I must take risks. That’s what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk.”

Derrida’s risk, like his faith in philosophy, is not blind. And I would hazard this to be true of Oord as well. God – please keep in mind I’m talking about the “God of the risks” and not the God I find in the Bible – also doesn’t, of course, do anything blindly, that is, without some kind of insurance. 

In CS Lewis, love implies the freedom to love. God took the risk by giving man the free will to choose Him. And Oord: this risk demonstrates the humility of God.

What do I explicitly think of these sentiments? Lewis was no postmodernist. For one thing, he left the world in the early 1960s. Oord is interested in postmodernism and teaches it, but I don’t know whether he is a postmodernist. He is also a Wesleyan, which explains his risk-taking God. Derrida is a postmodernist. In a postmodern universe everything is up for grabs, everything is open, nothing final, including the Messiah. In open theism, God has to take risks with his libertarian creatures. No, no, never; God never takes any risks. God said so, and that’s final:

‘Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).’

And that applies to salvation, surely? Most assuredly. To return to Isaiah 46:9-10: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said, I’m now saying it twice: “Thats why you need a (respectful and reverential) kick in your Arminian pants.”

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