Three Types of Divine Power

The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly . . . But the deeper idolatry, of fashioning God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar. — Alfred North Whitehead (PR 520)

The creation of the world . . . is the victory of persuasion over force. — Whitehead (AI 25)

The novelist is still God, since he creates . . . . What has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority. . . . There is only one good definition of God: one freedom that allows other freedoms to exist. — John Fowles1

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The initial words of the Apostles’ Creed testify to the prominence of divine power in Christian theology. Placing omnipotence first, even before divine goodness and wisdom, is the preference not only of Christianity but also of Judaism and Islam. Anna Case-Winters observes that in Judaism “power becomes a paraphrase of the divine names, a kind of euphemism for God” (GP 27). In these Western religions, more so than in the East, divine power has been conceived in terms of political power. In Islam, Judaism, and Christianity God is seen as a cosmic king, exerting absolute and uncontested rule over the universe and everything in it. Political terms such as “pantokrator” (“all-ruling”), “sovereignty,” and “kingship” dominate western descriptions of God. In his book, Kingship of God, Martin Buber argues that Yahweh is different from the other middle eastern gods in that he demanded control in all areas of human life, not just the religious.

The epigraph from Whitehead suggests that our views of the divine nature are a reflection of our social and political systems. A widely accepted view of omnipotence, explained below, appears to be an uneasy mixture of ancient authoritarianism and classical liberalism. This view, I maintain, is an unsuccessful synthesis of power monopoly and power sharing. I contend that process and feminist theologians are correct in their exclusive commitment to the power-sharing model. They agree with John Fowles that God must be a “freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.”

In Section I, I lay out three types of divine power. I reject the view of divine omnicausality because of its denial of free-will and its imputation of evil to God. I then use Kant’s moral theory to criticize the second view of divine power, the contemporary favorite among philosophers and theologians. In Section II, I assess Nelson Pike’s attempt to make divine power-sharing intelligible without giving up God’s ultimate control. I argue that Pike fails, and that the first two divine powers essentially collapse into one another. In Section III, I argue that David Basinger’s reformulation of divine power is incompatible with the Christian orthodoxy he firmly defends. I conclude that these two philosophers have not demonstrated a way in which God can share power and yet retain the control that tradition demands.


In the history of Christian theology, at least three views of divine power can be discerned. First, there is the belief in divine omnicausality (I abbreviate it DP1), which holds that God is the only subject of power — the active, immediate, and originative cause of all things and events. William of Ockham, Martin Luther, John Calvin, neoorthox theologians, and contemporary evangelical Carl Henry believe that this is the correct view of divine power. Let Luther speak for them all:

By the omnipotence of God . . . I do not mean the potentiality by which he could do many things which he does not, but the active power by which he potently works all in all. . . . This omnipotence and the foreknowledge of God, I say, completely abolish the dogma of free choice.2

Luther would be dismayed to learn that the option that he rejects – “the potentiality by which he could do many things which he does not” — has become the most prevalent conception of divine power in contemporary theology and philosophy of religion. Although God could exercise all power, God instead chooses to delegate power to a self-regulating nature and self-determining moral agents. (This type of divine power, attributed historically to Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Arminius, Leibniz, and Kant is abbreviated DP2.)In the current literature, this God is described as having the power, if he chooses to use it, to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. In traditional theology this delegation of power is sometimes called God’s “permissive” will. In addition, this deity possesses what Nelson Pike calls “over-power” — “veto” power, I call it — or the coercive power of traditional theology. This is a direct power (as in DP1) for God to perform miracles, to “harden hearts,” to make himself a man, and ultimately, to bring nature and history to an end, and to judge the righteous and the damned.

Evangelical Carl Henry believes that DPis too speculative, too philosophical, and too humanistic. It is unbiblical, because it is incompatible with God’s absolute sovereignty. Henry contends that the biblical God does not act through secondary causes (but, for example, sends down hail directly from heaven), and he does not appear to share power with any creature. Alvin Plantinga ‘s proposal that God ponders alternative universes is, according to Henry, a most alien philosophical invention. Following Calvin, Henry’s God is not an abstract potentia absoluta but a real porentia ordinata. Furthermore, God cannot share or delegate power because, Henry uses Barth approvingly, God is the only subject of power. Henry also praises Barth for returning divine omnipotence to its proper, preeminent place in Christian dogmatics. Finally, Henry rejects the assumption of DPthat God is limited by the laws of logic. He states that logic does “not set limits to which God must conform; God himself wills the law of contradiction as integral to both divine and human meaning” (GRA 5:325). Although Henry can find support in Augustine, Calvin, and even Descartes for this idea, most philosophers would be very uneasy about making the laws of logic dependent on any will, even the divine will.

Henry would have no sympathy at all for the position advanced by the process theologians and accepted by feminists and Alvin Plantmga,who insist that genuine freedom requires complete immunity from divine control. (This view is abbreviated DP3) J. L. Mackie has described a crucial aspect of this position: “If men’s wills are really free, this must mean that even God cannot control them. . . .”5 If one takes seriously that idea of a universe composed of actual things in real relations with other actualities, then the idea that all power is concentrated in one actuality is nonsensical. As David Griffin states: “If the world is an actual creation, and not simply a complex idea in the divine mind, or simply aspects of modes’ of God, then all-powerful cannot mean having all the power” (GPE 269-70). Feminist Sheila Davaney says that “in an interdependent universe, power . . . must be seen as social in character, entailing both the capacity to influence and the ability to receive the influence of others.”In such a universe God can be the preeminent cosmic agent, but not the all-controlling power.

The process theists believe that the only way to solve the problem of evil is to assume that human wills and nature as a whole have their own autonomy. This view entails a complete dismantling of traditional Christian doctrine, including: creation out of nothing, the finite duration of history and nature, miracles as direct divine acts, and the final triumph of good over evil. In process theology, God is intimately related to the world, but his power is always persuasive, never coercive. Process theists believe that both DP1 and DP2 are simply projections of the absolute power once invested in, but no longer given to, patriarchs and kings.

The three types of divine power can be expressed nicely by an analogy with driving a car. This analogy does not come out very well for DP1. Here God is the driver and each of us passengers have kiddy seats with plastic steering wheels, clutches, brakes, and accelerator pedals. We are all going through the motions of heading in our own directions, but God obviously is still in complete and direct charge of our destination. In DPthe vehicle is a driver training car equipped with dual controls. I am at my wheel and God is letting me drive, but he can intervene and take control of the car at any time. In DPI have an ordinary car and God is a very persuasive “back seat” driver; or, as one of my students suggested: God is in the trunk and hersuggestions are barely audible. My student’s quip embodies a common criticism of the process God: that it is a godling who has been marginalized and made insignificant. If the God of DP3 is a tyrant, then the God of DPis a wimp. I will attempt to defend the process God against this charge.


If we are committed to the freedom of the will and the concept of individual moral responsibility, I believe we must reject divine omnicausalism outright. DP1 is not mentioned in contemporary discussions in philosophy of religion, but I believe that it is important to include this alternative. It is after all the position of the Reformers, their neoorthodox followers, and a major evangelical theologian. Many Christians rightly contest their claim that this is the biblical view of divine power, for the Bible has no monolithic view on most all theological issues. As Erasmus pointed out in his debate with Luther, God would not have called us to choose him if Luther’s position were correct. One would have to agree, however, that divine omnicausality certainly dominates in many biblical narratives.

I will now focus our attention on what I believe to be major shortcomings of DPI. My argument in part will be based on Immanuel Kant’s moral theory. Kant’s second form of the categorical imperative states that we should always treat persons as ends in themselves never merely as means to our ends. I propose, then, that the existence and ultimate use of divine “veto” power in DPconstitute a violation of this form of the categorical imperative. I am assuming that we can appropriate this principle from Kant’s moral theory without assuming the rest of it as true, including his restricted view of what a person is. In addition, a process view of self-determination, for example, will be quite different from Kantian doctrine.

My argument has its best chance if Augustine and Aquinas were right about the reasons for creation. They both believed that God created the world to glorify himself. If this is true, then one could conclude that God does use nature and creaturely wills as simply means to his own ends. William T. Jones phrases Augustine’s position aptly: “It was a greater demonstration of God’s power and glory to create a sinful man and then to use this creature as an instrument of his larger purpose than it would have been to create a sinless man.”The categorical imperative obviously allows us to use other people for our own ends, but only if there is sufficient respect for persons. But if Gods real intention for creation is self-glorification by using his creatures, then it is difficult to see how this condition can be met.

The best biblical support for this argument is the story of Job. Even the evangelical New Bible Dictionary has to admit that Yahweh does not give a moral justification for his actions against job.Yahweh’s answer out of the whirlwind is essentially an expression of raw cosmic power, not a compassionate response to Job’s legitimate concerns. In effect, Yahweh has used Job as means to win a wager with Satan. In the end Job’s fortunes are restored twofold, but his original children were lost to him forever. Using Kantian terminology once again, a price could be placed on his livestock, but his children had dignity as persons and were irreplaceable. They, too, were sacrificed for Yahweh’s own ends.

There is, however, a neo-Platonic justification for divine creation: God created the world out of unbounded love for creatures themselves. Catherine of Siena is especially eloquent on this point: “So it was love that made you create us and give us being, just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good.”10 The claim of divine self-glorification contrasts sharply with Catherine’s emphasis on God’s humbling himself in the Creation and the Incarnation. “In name of this unspeakable love,” God emptied himself of his glory and became a human being. I cannot imagine a traditional theist who would not choose Catherine over Augustine-Aquinas on this point. If Catherine is correct, then there does seem to be sufficient respect for persons in God’s plan for creation.

The primary difference between DPand DPis that the classical God has the freedom to intervene or not, while the process God cannot intervene, even if she wanted to. Proponents of DPcan then draw some moral implications from their view, which initially seem quite attractive. The God of DPcan exercise power in all things and events, but, for the most part, chooses not to. Using my own argument to their advantage, my critics would say that God does this primarily because he has a Kantian respect for persons. This God, then, is like mature, loving parents who allow their children to choose freely and allow them to make their own mistakes. One could say that this requires enormous restraint on God’s part, as well as, of course, allowing the development of virtue in human beings. Furthermore, the traditional God can insure the final triumph of the good and the defeat of evil. Process theologians openly admit that their God, while totally committed to goodness, truth, and beauty, cannot bring about the perfection of these values unilaterally.

In traditional theism nature has no intrinsic value, so the fact that it exists merely for God’s purposes and is then destroyed is of no moral consequence. Under DPGod has created a self-regulating nature as a predictable framework in which we can freely choose our destinies. But in the end, according to traditional beliefs, nature will have only instrumental value and will ultimately be discarded. Again the Platonic view appears more acceptable. In the Timaeus Plato assures us that the world is everlasting and contends that only an evil being would ‘undo that which is harmonious and happy” (36e;41b).

In the medieval period, God’s absolute dominion was expressed in the concept of private property as the right to create and destroy — to use and abuse — the fruits of the earth. This is a philosophy of property that, unfortunately, is still being practiced today. In a world in which Earth Day has become a major world holiday, such a theology of nature is simply no longer acceptable. A process theology of nature, in which every occasion of experience has some power of self-determination, is one of the best options for environmental ethics today. It requires that we not only give up the notion of divine ownership of the earth, but also divine ownership of our souls as well.

Proponents of DPmight respond by quite gladly giving up the view that nature has just instrumental value. This is a definite possibility, but the full implications of DPmay force them to give up far more than that. The main reason that nature lacks intrinsic value is necessarily linked to the orthodox idea of creatio ex nihilo, a view that essentially makes all created things completely contingent upon divine power. Staying within a religious view of the world, there are at least two ways to conceive of nature having intrinsic value. First, pantheists believe that the being of the world is divine, so it would obviously be absurd for God to destroy it. Second, there is the Aristotelian-Whiteheadian view that God and nature are equiprimordial. One might say that Moses Maimonides escapes my critique, because, as he says: “We do not consider it a principle of our faith that the universe will again be reduced to nothing.”11 But Moses’ cosmos still lacks intrinsic value, because it is completely contingent upon God’s sustaining power. I believe that self-determination and value are necessarily related, so it is only the Aristotelian-Whiteheadian view, coupled with DPthat can ground individual inherent value. More argument on this issue is obviously needed, but we can provisionally conclude that an acceptable theology of nature must reject creatio ex nihilo. It is safe to say that giving up this doctrine is tantamount to giving up classical theism.

The initial superiority of traditional theism over process theism erodes even more quickly when we look at the problem of evil. The implications for DP, for the origins of evil are clearest in Luther’s claim that Satan is a “mask” of God. This provocative view is expressed in many biblical passages where God is cited as the direct cause of evil (Ex. 5:22, 32:12; Jer. 18:11; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12, 2:3; 1 Kgs. 22:20-22; Job 42:11). The theology of these accounts is summed up in Second Isaiah: “I form light, and I create darkness: I produce well-being, and I create evil, I Yahweh do all these things” (45:7, Anchor Bible). When confronted with this verse, most Christians try to mitigate its prima facie meaning.’2 But Carl Henry criticizes those who wish to soften its meaning and reasserts his Calvinist view of absolute divine sovereignty and the implication that all evil is by divine commission rather than permission (GRA 6:293-94).

Returning to Job, the traditional reading of this story assumes that God delegates power to Satan and allows him to persecute Job by divine permission. However, if one reads the story carefully, Job, his wife, and his friends all clearly acknowledge God as the source of Job’s woes. They seem to be unaware of both the existence of Satan and the wager he and God have made. At the end of the story the author explicitly speaks of “all the evil that the Lord had brought upon [Job]” (42:11). Whether this is DPor DP2, evil by commission or permission, clearly, both views imply that God is responsible for evil.

Let us look at our driving analogy again. (This particular example is derived from Nelson Pike.) Let us say there is a car with dual controls and Arthur is the driving instructor and Bailey is the student driver. Let us imagine that Bailey is approaching an intersection at which he is required to stop. Out of inattention, Bailey fails to stop, and is just about to run into a school bus loaded with children. Arthur quickly takes over the controls, stops the vehicle, and averts the impending disaster. If Arthur had not done this, we would have condemned him for his inaction and would have held him jointly responsible for the great loss of life.

Pike’s scenario is obviously designed to show the mechanics of DP2 — i.e., the delegation of power to free creatures — but also the direct complicity of God in the evil these agents do. (Pike’s attempt to resolve this by an appeal to Augustine’s view that there is ultimately no real evil is unconvincing.) Responsible earthlings, such as Arthur, do attempt to intervene when they are able, and within reason, to prevent harm to others. Even though the traditional God has the power to extend aid in an eminent way, it appears as if he has not and will not intervene to prevent unnecessary evil. Why does not the traditional God do much more? Why doesn’t God do what Arthur could do in our example, or others in similar positions do everyday? This is the principal moral challenge to the God of DP1 or DP2. Friedrich Nietzsche expressed the point most provocatively: “As a father, God does not care enough about his children: human fathers do this better.”13 We can blame the classical God because, according to DP2, God can intervene if he chooses to. But we cannot blame the process God because she cannot intervene. Initially, the classical God’s option of unilateral action appeared to be a virtue, but now it is looking more like a deficiency.

All of us know the evocative phrases of the Lord’s Prayer very well: “Our Father who art in Heaven/Hallowed be Thy Name/ Thy Kingdom come/ Thy will be done/ On earth as it is in Heaven. . . (Matt. 6:9-10). Viewed in the traditional apocalyptic way, this prayer appears to be a request for God to discontinue the system of DP(the implication of the permissive will is clear), and replace it with a DP1 regime. It is also a recognition that the latter is the preferred state, and that the former is simply a means to the full exercise of God’s sovereign power. The Lord’s Prayer is a request for God to substitute his direct power for his permissive power. It is a petition for God to use his “over-power” all the time, rather than just some of the time. If we phrase the preceding conclusion in Kantian terms, we realize that the Lord’s prayer is a request that our lives be fully heteronomous, not autonomous. To put it more provocatively: we are praying that our autonomy, the noble badge of Kantian morality and the grounds for the value of persons, be taken away from us.

Our return to Kant at this point reveals a troublesome inconsistency in his moral theory, one that I intend to pursue in a separate study. Kant’s moral argument for the existence of God requires divine “over-power” to make our souls immortal and to actualize the fulfillment of justice. Here his conception of the Kingdom of God appears to be thoroughly orthodox. On the other hand, the third form of the categorical imperative requires full autonomy to join the Kingdom of Ends. Kant’s moral argument for God demands a deity who exercises power in the traditional manner, but his principal moral theory requires that he become a process theist on the question of divine power.

Another analogy suggests itself at this juncture. Let us imagine a child learning how to ride a bike. In my own case, I held my daughter’s bike while she got a feel for the right balance. Within a couple of weeks she was happily riding on her own, so free in fact that she had an accident and got a big bump on her head. According to traditional theology, God will ultimately take full control of our bike-wills. This biking analogy is especially apt for Erasmus’ view of divine power. In his famous debate with Luther he proposes a

doctrine which attributes entirely to grace the first impulsion which stimulates the soul, but which leaves to the human will … a certain place in the unfolding of the act. Since all things have three parts, a beginning, a development, and a completion, those who hold this doctrine ascribe the two extremes to grace, and admit that free will does something only in the development.14

Erasmus’ view is very elegant, but it simply does not conform to our strong preferences for autonomy over heteronomy. This is especially true if I think of the advisability of intervening in my teenage daughter’s “biking” now or later on in her adult life. My intervention seems not only inappropriate but also immoral. As John Cobb and David Griffin have so eloquently said: “If we truly love others, we do not seek to control them” (PT 53). One could argue that, paradoxically, we ultimately have more power by gentle persuasion than by overbearing coercion.

You may have noticed that at this point I have ceased distinguishing between DP1 and DP2. Both views preserve God’s essential monopoly of power, and, in the end, according to the implications I have drawn from traditional doctrine, DPcollapses into DP1. Divine over-power is the preferred state of affairs. If lam correct, then we should reject both of them for the same reasons. First, in these views nature has only instrumental value and this conflicts with the strong moral intuitions that we now hold from environmental ethics. Second, the logic of divine over-power makes God responsible for all unnecessary evil in the world. Third, the ultimate value of individual wills has also been undermined. I believe that we must agree with Mackie that the only will worth having is one that is immune from external control. Free-will does require an originative power — an “uncontrollable. . . freedom,” as John Hick says, that secures “a degree of freedom and independence over against [God]” (EGL 302, 31l).15

One might say that the foregoing argument hinges too much on the assumption of a traditional Last Judgment. Classical theists might hold instead that God brings about the triumph of good without punishing the wicked and destroying nature. But this “kinder and gentler” view of divine justice would still require a substantial reordering of both human wills and nature. Some classical theists are now saying that natural evils — such as famines, floods, and earthquakes — are due to the constraints of any created world, not to acts of divine intervention. On this view such events might be called “necessary” evils. David Basinger and Bruce Reichenbach contend that God could not have, for example, created water to quench thirst and clean without it also drowning mammals and eroding the foundations of buildings (DP 65, IPQ 179-98). But if Basinger and Reichenbach believe that God can unilaterally cause the defeat of evil, then their God will have to use his “veto” power not only to restrain evil wills, but also to eradicate natural evils as well. David Griffin has made the keen observation that creating a liquid that quenches thirst and cleans but does not have negative consequences is a logically possible state of affairs (ER 91). The classical God, while being prevented from creating a round square, would have no trouble creating completely “good” water.


In an article “Over-Power and God’s Responsibility for Sin,”16 Nelson Pike has produced the most innovative defense of DP2. Using ingenious analogies from electrical circuitry, Pike attempts to make divine power sharing intelligible and compatible with divine “veto” power. The first circuit is one in which Arthur (A) has complete control over the light bulb. Bailey (B) can use his switch all he wants, but he does not have any control over the light. Pike says that this circuit models the way Calvin views divine power and it obviously represents DP1. The

second diagram represents a circuit in which Bailey has the possibility to light the bulb. If Arthur leaves A, open but closes A2. then Bailey is now able to light the bulb. At the same time, Arthur has not lost any power, or possibility of acting, by sharing power with Bailey. Indeed, by closing A,, Arthur can assume full control in the operation of the light. Clearly Pike wants us to assume that Arthur is playing the role of God in these circuits. Therefore, it seems as if Pike has successfully explained a previously unclear aspect of DP2, the idea of divine power sharing. If God distributes power as we distribute electricity, then we can see how he could delegate power without losing any of it, and still maintain the control that orthodox theology demands.

There is, however, a fatal weakness in both the electrical and driving analogies. They essentially beg the question about the source of power in both the circuits and the cars. We must also ask how the agents themselves are empowered to operate the switches. To complete the electrical diagrams above, a central power source must be attached to the lead wires at the left; furthermore, additional wires must lead from this source directly to all agents and their switches. God’s veto power is maintained by direct lines to each agent. Using a main switch for all of creation would not allow God specific discretionary power — e.g., to control the will of Judas, but not John and the other disciples. Finally, in my expanded circuitry there is no main switch; or if there is one, it would be closed all the time. Without this provision the universe, by analogy, would fall into nothingness. The result is that Pike’s attempt to salvage DPactually collapses into a form of DP1. Another way to see this collapse is to imagine God, as he would during and after the Last Judgment, permanently closing switch A, and leaving Aopen forever. The second circuit would then be essentially the same as the first Calvinist one.

Following my lead, Pike’s diagrams naturally lead one to think of God as a power plant, upon which many autonomous systems draw their current. In such a system, it would be absurd, for example, to blame the power plant for a disastrous fire caused by a short circuit in one of the appliances. But the notion that God is some passive source of power is totally alien to all revealed religion as well as most natural religion. If one adds the divine attributes of active will, intelligence, beneficence, providence, and foreknowledge to the source of power, then our conclusion about the hypothetical fire is a very different one. Our power plant God with these attributes, just like the driving teacher above, would not allow such a disaster to take place. Furthermore, if such an agent was also the creator of the appliances, then it would also be responsible for the defect that caused the fire. The complicity of the classical God in evil is now even more fundamental than before. Not only can such a deity be blamed for not intervening, but also held responsible, by virtue of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, for natural defects as well as deficient wills.17


Next, I consider David Basinger’s critique of DPin his book, Divine Power and Process Theism. Basinger believes that he can have all the advantages of DPwithout giving up the concept of God’s unilateral control. Basinger believes that process theists, and by implication many traditional theists, have misconstrued how God is able to coerce. God does not veto our decisions by making us completely impotent (coercion.); rather, God simply makes it impossible for us to fulfill our self-determined desires (coercionb).18 In the terminology of the free-will debate, God can prevent us from acting freely by obstructing our open alternatives, but he cannot disempower us from making the choices in the first place. Basinger believes that he is endorsing a type of DP3, but he is actually still within the framework of DP2. His two types of coercion lead me to distinguish between two subtypes of DP2 — DP2a and DP2b — with the latter not collapsing into DP1.

Basinger implies that coercionb is easy to comprehend because it is analogous to the ways in which we can physically restrain others without determining their desires in any way. Indeed, Basinger appears to expose process theists to an embarrassing inconsistency: we can exercise the power of coercionb, but the process God is impotent in this regard. David Griffin, however, has explained away this oddity in a compelling response (ER 108ff.). We humans can coerceb primarily because we can use our bodies (or technological extensions thereof) to restrain the actions of others. The process God is fully embodied in the universe and is obviously unable to exercise power in this way. The classical God is not embodied at all, so it is exceedingly difficult to imagine how this God could use coercionb either.

Not only is Basinger unable to make divine coercionb intelligible, he also appears to be wrong in implying that the traditional God does not exercise coercion in the strong sense of unilateral determination. If we understand creatio ex nihilo, the Incarnation, miracles, and the Last Judgment in orthodox ways, then these doctrines seem to require divine coercion.. Creating the universe from nothing, forging a union of human and divine natures, and causing the defeat of evil — each of these events would involve full ontological determination by God. (I have already argued that conceiving of divine justice in less traditional ways does not alleviate the need for divine over-power.) God could restrain the Pharaoh from jumping into the Nile after he had freely formed the desire to do so (coercionb), but he could also harden the Pharaoh’s heart so that he could not form a desire to free the Hebrews (coerciona). Clearly, orthodox Christians want to support the possibility of both types of divine action.

Concerning miracles, one might say that one kind, such as restraining a person from falling off a cliff, requires only coercionb. But if we look at the major type of miracles found in the Bible and claimed by popular piety, we are dealing, for the most part, with unilateral divine action. Furthermore, there are at least two problems with the first type of miracles. (1) It is virtually impossible to tell whether these are really miracles. Divine acts of this sort could be happening all the time without our ever knowing it. (2) It is difficult to conceive, as wehave seen above, of the mechanisms by which God could exercise power in this way. How, for example, did God make the earth stand still so that Joshua could finish his battle? Did he physically hold it in place (coercionb) or did he fail to give it impetus (coercion.). If such a God exists, it seems eminently more reasonable to assume the latter. (If God made other heavenly bodies hold the earth still, then that also required an act of divine over-power.) Attributing coercionb to God would be making him into the deus ex machina that has long been rejected in philosophical theology. As David Griffin observes: “Although traditional theism insisted verbally that God is incorporeal, it in effect regarded God as a ubiquitous Superman” (ER 104). The superman deity uses Basinger’s coercionb, and he must realize that the disembodied God of classical theism can, if he is actually able, only coerce in the strong sense (coercion.).

Returning now to Pike, we can see that there is yet another problem with his driving analogy, as well as his other example of a government commission with a veto power analogous to divine over-power. He says that the driving instructor is different from God because unlike God, Arthur cannot control the desires of his students. (Similarly, I could force my daughter to get on her bike, but I could not force her to form the desire to do so.) Arthur can only prevent his students from acting on the driving decisions they have freely made. Pike has to acknowledge that both the instructor and the commission have the power to coerce in the weak sense only, while clearly the traditional God must have the power to coerce in the strong sense. Therefore, we must conclude that both Pike and Basinger have failed to make intelligible a view in which God can share power and at the same time maintain the over-power that orthodoxy demands. Power sharing must be conceived in John Fowles’ new theological image: “with freedom our first principle, not authority.”


DP — David Basinger. Divine Power in Process Theism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

EGL — John Hick. Evil and the God of Love. London: Macmillan, 1966.

ER — David Ray Griffin. Evil Revisited Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

GP — Anna Case-Winters. God’s Power: Traditional Understandings and Contemporary Challenges. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.

GPE — David Ray Griffin. God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy Lanham: University Press of America, 1990.

GRA — Carl F. H. Henry. God, Revelation, and Authority. Six Volumes. Waco: Word Books, 1976-1983.

HCG — Charles Hartshorne’s Concept of God Ed. Santiago Sia. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990.

IPQ — Bruce Richenbach. “Natural Evils and Natural Laws: A Theodicy of Natural Evils.” International Philosophical Quarterly 16 (June, 1976): 179-98.

PT — John B. Cobb, Jr. and David R. Griffin. Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.


1John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (New York: New American Library, 1969), p. 82.

2Luther’s Works, eds. N. Pelikan and H. T. Lehman (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-76), Vol. 33, p. 189. I certainly am not implying that there are not differences among the theologians listed in this group. Anna Case-Winters has done the best job of sorting out the nuances (GP 22-24). For example, Ockham is alone on this list in holding to the distinction between a potentia absoluta and a potentia ordinata.

3David Griffin would object to my placing Augustine and Aquinas in this category. See his God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (GPE), chapters 6 & 7. The following passage from Augustine is especially telling: “Since no one can will unless urged on and called. . . . itfollows that God produces in us even the willing itself” (Eighty-three Different Questions, question 68, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 70, p. 164). For a defense of Aquinas holding DPsee W. Norris Clarke, “Charles Hartshorne’s Philosophy of God: A Thomistic Critique” (HCG 106-8); and also Matthew Lamb, “Liberation Theology and Social Justice,” Process Studies 14(Summer, 1985), Pp. 122-3, fn 25. Interestingly enough, John Locke appears to support DP, when he insists that there can be no passive power in God. See his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, chap. 21.

4See Plantinga’s firm rejection of DPin “Reply to the Basingers on Divine Omnipotence,” Process Studies 11/1 (Spring, 1981), p. 25. David Griffin points out that while Plantinga is indeed an incompatibilist with regard to divine control and human freedom, he remains a compatibilist with regard to omniscience and freedom (ER 82). Because process theists believe that every actual entity is self-determining, they are the only proponents of DPwho can avoid the inconsistency of God using DPto empower parts of nature that are externally determined.

5J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, vol. 64 (1955); reprinted in Baruch A. Brody. ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice-Hall, 1974), p. 165.

6Sheila Greeve Davaney, “God, Power, and the Struggle for Liberation” (HCG 64).

71n what follows the orthodox God will be referred to as “he,” and the process God will be referred as “she.” Most preferable, I believe, would be the pronoun “it,” but this leads to some very awkward locutions, awkward only because we are so ingrained in thinking of God as having gender. Most classical theologians do not object to the characterization of God as a divine male, but most process theologians, as well as all feminists firmly reject this characterization.

8As Aquinasstates: ‘Now God wills and loves His essence for its own sake: and it cannot be increased or multiplied in itself, as it appears from what has been said: and can only be multiplied in itself, as it appears from what has been said: and can only be multiplied in respect of its likeness which is shared by many. Therefore, God wishes things to be multiplied, because He wills and loves His essence and perfection” (Summa Contra Gentiles I, 25; as quoted in William T. Jones. A History of Western Philosophy: The Medieval Mind, 2nd ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969], p. 107).

9The New BibleDictionary, ed. 5. D. Douglas (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2nd ed., 1982), p. 637.

10Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O. P. in The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 49.

11Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlander (New York: Dover Publications, 2nd ed., 1940), p. 201.

12The most successful attempt has been made by Dwight van Winkle of Seattle Pacific University in a paper entitled “Isaiah 45:7: Yahweh, the Creator of Darkness and Evil,” presented at the Pacific Northwest American Academy of Religion meeting, April, 1987.

13Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1954), pp. 293-94.

14Desiderius Erasmus, “On Free Will,” trans. Mary M. McLaughlin in The Portable Renaissance Reader, ed. James B. Ross and Mary M. McLaughlin (New York: Penguin Books), p. 686.

15I have deleted “gift of” from “uncontrollable gift of freedom” to eliminate Hick’s implication that free-will is derivative rather than originative. Because of this and other elements of Hick’s theology, it is doubtful whether Hick has a consistent commitment to DP3. For example, he refers to God as “the Source and Lord of [our] life and Determiner of [our] destiny” (EGL 300).

16Nelson Pike, “Over-Power and God’s Responsibility for Sin” in God and Temporality, eds. Eugene Long and Bowman Clark (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1984).

171n The City of God (XIV, 13) Augustine states that Adam and Eve were already secretly corrupted in the Garden. Initially, it appears that they were already evil because of their pride, but a more fundamental reason reveals itself in Augustine’s discussion: “Now, nature could not have been depraved by vice had it not been made out of nothing.”

18These two types of coercion correspond exactly to Basinger’s own options 1a and l b (DP 36).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *