Options in Divine Action

December 13th, 2010 / 89 Comments

A recurring interest of mine is pondering how God acts. It’s an immensely complex subject. I’ve come to think eight main options present themselves to Christians wanting a general framework for considering divine action.

Below is a chart of the eight general options. Some options are more attractive to me than others are. Those nearer the middle of the chart are most attractive.

Less Attractive Options

The options on the far left of the chart presuppose a very controlling God. The universe is virtually a puppet, because God controls everything or almost everything. This view of divine sovereignty, in my opinion, allows little or no room for genuine creaturely freedom or agency. These options fit some Calvinist theologies.

The options at the far right have problems as well. Although I think some degree of mystery should always be present when pondering how God acts, absolute mystery negates the entire enterprise of believing in God. I can’t affirm wholescale negative theology.

Deism is not a viable option for me. My own personal experience, the Bible, and from reports of people throughout history testify to the ongoing activity of God after the creation of our universe. Thoroughgoing deism allows no room to account well for the spiritual experiences of my life and the lives of most people who have every lived.

More Attractive Options

Among the four remaining options, I see strengths and weaknesses. 

Traditional freewill theism fits most of what John Wesley says about God’s action. So I’m partial to that option. God generally gives freedom and only occasionally “interrupts” or “intervenes” the freedom God gives

Natural and/or Supernatural Action fits most of what I read in the writings of important theologians like Thomas Aquinas. His version of divine primary and secondary causation has been influential, although I don’t think it answers some of the most important questions pertaining to theodicy.

What I’ve called the Steady State Divine Influence option has the advantage of an active God whose causal activity is uniform. This option fits well with theologies that emphasize God working in and with the laws of nature. But it has a more difficult time accounting for miracles. And most versions say God is voluntarily self-limited and the gifts of freedom and/or agency God gives are entirely voluntary on God’s part.

The option I currently like most is Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism. It says God necessarily gives freedom and/or agency to others. But the forms of God’s causal influence vary. And the effectiveness of God’s activity depends in part on creaturely responses. It seems to fit best both with the idea that God creates and works with natural laws and the idea that God can act dramatically – miraculously – without squashing creaturely freedom and agency entirely.

I like to think Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism option takes Wesley’s theology of prevenient grace, puts it on turbo charge, and then offers a consistent basis for affirming God’s love. This is the option I develop in the last chapter of my new book, The Nature of Love: A Theology (Chalice Press) and in Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Brazos Press).

We Live by Faith

At the end of the day, of course, there will always be a speculative element to thinking about how God acts in the world. We live by faith, after all. None of our minds can comprehend the universal Mind.

But some divine action options make better sense of what we find in Scripture, in our own experience, and contemporary science. And some do a better job of consistently affirming God’s love.

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Donald Minter

Tom, are you modifying…?

“It seems to fit best both with the idea that God creates and works with natural laws and the idea that God can act dramatically – miraculously – without squashing creaturely freedom and agency entirely.”

So do you now affirm that God at least can ‘limit’ or ‘impeded’ creaturely freedom in some fashion, just not entirely?  And how far toward ‘entirely’ can God move?  I will have to look this up again in your book, but that last phrase sounds like you are backing down from your earlier positions in which God ‘by necessity’ could not impair ‘creaturely freedom’.  Curious if you are backing down from you position in the text which seems to suggest ‘necessity’ does not allow for ‘creaturely freedom’ to be altered… 


Russ Booton

To be honest, I find myself rather attracted to the position on the far right, which doesn’t seem to belong on the far right or anywhere in the continuum, and is at least somewhat related to the position you take when you employ the word “vary”.  I understand your concern about absolute mystery negating the possibility of faith, but some mystery as to how God acts is inevitable, I think.  Furthermore, this position also has the advantage of respecting God’s freedom in God’s actions.  I find myself grounding my faith more in what God has done, not what God will do, so I’m not sure I accept your critique of that position.

Brint Montgomery

I read the table carefully, and thought, “that Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism seems vague compared to the others, since it seems both consistent with a few of them, and entailed by at least one other position.”  Naturally, therefore, you WOULD say it was the one you like…..

Brian Williams

We’ve had an interesting situation occur here in Florida yesterday evening. An armed assailant opened fire in a Panama City school board meeting. The whole thing was caught on tape. The would be killer, methodically raised his weapon, leveled it at the Superintendent of the school board, fired two rounds from about 8 feet away, and missed! The superintendent claimed that, “God stopped the bullets.” However, the bullets weren’t stopped; they found two bullet holes in the wall behind where the superintendent had been sitting.
  When I heard the comments of the superintendent, I wondered, “Did God really stop the bullets, or was the man just a terrible shot?” It is certainly possible to miss from 8 feet, but does that mean I should discount the superintendent’s claim of divine intervention? What if the outcome was a product of both the deranged man’s terrible aim, and God’s intervention?
  This has made me think of Samuel L. Jackson in the movie Pulp Fiction. To paraphrase, he said it didn’t matter if an event was a “miracle” as we define them. What matters most is that God get’s involved, and we feel the touch of God through certain events.
  Is it possible that God “hides” himself within the normal events of our lives, at times making his presence more detectable than at others? At those times when God makes his presence more “detectable,” we invoke the words miracle, or intervention. However, perhaps intervention, and miracle are not the best words. I suggest that revelation is a better word.
  What I am ultimately getting at is this: God reveals his love to us by working within, through, and in cooperation with the natural order he created. His actions are, at times very mysterious, and at other times not so mysterious. Sometimes things happen right before our eyes that we can’t seem to grasp or explain. Other times a neighbor shows up on the doorstep with extra groceries in our time of need.
  If I am understanding the chart correctly, I think this puts me somewhere in the middle of Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism, and Steady State Divine Influence. In the end, we won’t nail down this issue, but it is healthy to contemplate, and discuss. Thanks, Dr. Oord for provoking thought on this subject.

John W. Dally

I have been deeply embedded in Christianity all my life. I have been the company apologist when I was in engineering. I was the focused student when I returned to school to prepare for ministry, I pastored and proclaimed Wesleyan-Armenian theology as the only sound approach to God. I taught college Bible and Theology for 18 years.

I had a second life. I was deeply interested in science, Astronomy in particular. I am widely read and have lectured on science and Astronomy.

A few years ago, when I was taking a class from Tom Oord I decided to pull out all the stops. I pondered what I knew about science and what it told me about God. The result was a paper I titled, “The Theology of Freedom.” I really thought I had come on a way to reconcile what I observed vs. what I read in theology. Then I read “The Most Moved Mover.”  Lo and behold Pinnock had come to the same conclusions I had!  I wrote him and he gave me a list of writers who felt as I did, Hought, Peacocke, Polkinghorne, and Edwards to mention a few. I read their works. I was disappointed that I had not been the first to come up with what I found to be called “Open Theology.” However, I was struck that me, my insignificant self, and come to the same conclusion as these great scholars. This validated my own finding. If I, a common person, could come to the same conclusions just by observations and reason there must be something to this.

Reading about Essential Kenosis Theology in Dr Oord’s book validated many of the things I came to conclude. The tension that remained was, “What do we do about miracles?” This is the sticking point for Christians. If the cosmos is free, any direct intervention by God would not only make him the cause of all things Good, but all things bad, if not by action then by inaction.

Reading Tom’s works shows that his objective is to remove God from any culpability. However this can lead to the concept of the “Unmoved mover.”  I do not find God to be unmoved (Jesus wept).  I see that in my work with the dying that God’s greatest role is helping us cope with the cruelty of a cosmos that creates suffering and the call upon humanity to provide comfort to those suffering from the consequences is living (Love you neighbor as yourself). But what about miracles?  If God can do miracles he is responsible for the people I serve in hospice, They all die! 

Looking at the issue of miracles I find that most evidence is anecdotal, redefined, or interpretative. Testimonies of miracles are usually “Faith statements.”  Add to this that healing is not limited to Christianity we find that miracles are not reliable as a source of evidence of God’s extra-natural interventions. (I knew a nurse who saw “miracles” all the time in her patients and she did not believe in God.)

I can see how Dr. Oord has come to conclude that God will not force miracles. They must include the willingness of the individual. Therefore, miracles can happen but not without the consent of the recipient.

I am left with my own questions. What about miracles that involve “inanimate” objects? (A dead body). I am coming to accept the idea that the higher the life form the more spirituality is possible. This goes in reverse as well. Animals (pets) demonstrate affection and love.  Is that not spiritual? Test mice and rats make judgments of what is a threat and what is not. If we keep going can we carry this into matter itself? Genesis says “Let there be…” This is permission, not command. 

Therefore, I am leaning more toward Essential Kenosis at this time. I still have to work out some old paradigms but this approach comes closest to reconciling the concept of a loving God and what is observed and experience in real life.

Any comments to my tome are welcome.


I must admit that exploring these concepts is certainly stretching my mind even as I look at the intricacies of the same.  As we explore various theological ideologies it is important to possess a solid understanding pertaining to God’s action in the Universe.  Thanks you Thomas for helping to highlight some of these concepts.  However, it is necessary that every concept and or ideology must align itself to God’s Word as much as Divine revelation affords.  In observing the various concepts that seek to reveal God’s action in the Universe I am inclined like you Thomas to lean towards the Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism.  I am inclined to lean towards this concept because it validates the freedom that God allows humanity in the relationship as opposed to a totally externally motivated position.  Essential Freewill Theism also confirms man as a free moral agent.  Additionally Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism makes prayer meaningful thus enabling relationship between God and humanity. 

Brandin Melton

I really enjoyed this brief summary on the different options regarding divine action.  This discussion is very closely related to some of the questions I had this week regarding the events surounding the shooting at the Panama City, Florida School Board meeting.  Many of those present felt like God definately protected them from the harm that was intended toward them.

While I believe that the gunman acted freely and intentionally pulled the trigger with the intent of doing harm, I do not believe that it is beyond reason that God would step in and intervene.  I believe that your “Essential Kenosis Free-will Theism” theory offers a good explanation.  You wrote, “The option I currently like most is Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism. It says God necessarily gives freedom and/or agency to others. But the forms of God’s causal influence vary. And the effectiveness of God’s activity depends in part on creaturely responses. It seems to fit best both with the idea that God creates and works with natural laws and the idea that God can act dramatically – miraculously – without squashing creaturely freedom and agency entirely.”

The question this obviously leads us to is, “If God intervened in this situation to prevent harm, then why not in a billion others?”  I think that is something that we will never know, but I don’t think that we rule out the possibility of God’s intervention and hand of protection in all circumstances simply becuase we can’t explain God’s reasoning.

This will be something I continue to ponder.

Brandin Melton

Emmanuel Reinbold

I have enjoyed reading your brief synopsis, as well as your book The Nature of Love.  As I am processing through the parable of the Talents for a message after the New Year, I am enjoying thinking through the lens of Essential Kenosis. 
The master gave the talents to the servants, but did not force them to do anything with them.  While they understood their responsibility, and two of them sought to invest as they knew they should, the third wasn’t forced into action.  The Master allowed the third servant to go completely against the desired action.  There is a day of accounting, but the actions leading up to that day are based on our own free will. 
This reminds us of the awesome responsibilities that we have, if we choose to accept them!

Jason Caddy

You certainly have defined the different ways in which people see God interacting/or not interacting in this world.  I too have problems with those on the left and right of the chart that you have above.  I also certainly understand the disagreement you have with “Steady State Diving Influence.” 

This idea of Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism, coupled with the Traditional Freewill Theism, is something that I am continuing to explore.  The Essential Kenosis process is truly, as you say a turbo charge to Wesley’s thought on prevenient grace.  However, I still lean towards some coercion at times and am able to see this fit into the character of God’s love.  Just because someone “makes” you do something, does that mean it has to be “unloving?”  Is it right in our thinking to limit God and say that he cannot “coerce?”  I would say that experience, and the Bible, would prove the two ends of your spectrum are not true.  In looking at freewill we must be careful to not wrap the box around God so tight that he is no longer God.

Ultimately, as you say, we are to live by faith with the realization that God’s ways are higher than our own.  Therefore, my comments are my thoughts with the realization that they will develop further as the future becomes reality.  Thanks for the graph and dialogue.


Travis Keller

The one element in the language with which I struggle is that God “necessarily” acts in a certain way. I would suggest that God does act in certain ways but I cannot think that he NEEDS or is mandated to do so unless He limits his own freedom. It would be difficult to consider that God limits his own freedom when granting freedom to humanity. The freedom to love must continue to exist on both accounts. For this reason and many other, I like that idea that God operates in mystery because we are so limited in our capability of understanding and grasping what it is to be divine.

Josh Myers

After reading this book i feel i have a better understanding of this option. I agree with your statements that both alternatives on the far left and far right pose major problems. Your favored option, essential kenosis, is a good balance between traditional and steady state. I find my self between these two options. I believe we are free, necessarily free, however i also know God does act in creation, how this happens without effecting free will is the issue and this is where i lean toward essential kenosis yet also still feel some mystery is necessary for the times unexplainable miracles take place such as a lady in our church diagnosed with terminal cancer after several scans and biopsies they called her in for a new procedure as they had done nothing yet not even chemo. She went in for surgery and there was nothing it was totally gone. These situation i do not see how we can eliminate God from directly stepping in.

Phil Anderson

Well, rereading this short synopsis of your book reminds me of how much I wrestled and am wrestling with the Essential Kenosis.  I have a hard time not feeling that God has/is using coercion for the good of all things.  I think it falls within reason that God needs to work coercively because of the sin of humanity and the inability to do what is necessary for the good of all things because of blindness to, can I say, “righteous good”.  Also I still hold to my thoughts on the needs of humanity, that which is the need to be controlled.  We pray for it, we ask God to move us guide us, lead us.  Divine coercion for the good of humanity and salvation for creation still makes some sense.  (Maybe I’ll work at Essential Kinosis Freedom Divinely Coerced by a Miracle Working God through Utter Mystery)
Thanks again for the very thought provoking material.

Cheryl M. Haney

Where is God when disaster strikes? How does one see God working in illness or suffering?
This blog talks about God in a positive way when it comes to freewill, mystery, laws of nature and love. Yet I do not think God forces anything on humankind. I also think God is still working in and through individuals and creation to bring others into the fold.
If God’s actions are for love, does that mean sometimes that looks like “tough-love”?
Is it a love that has strings attached if human kind does not work with God?
I would agree that we all have to live by faith even when situations come up that we ponder where God is in the situation. Sometimes we may not see it or understand it until sometime later.
I would rather come to God then be a robot who responds to every command.
Experiences move us and help us to grow with a deeper reflection of where God is alive and working in our lives. Sometimes that is found in search the Scriptures while other times it is being guided by the Holy Spirit.
I believe when we get to heaven or the new earth that we will not need our questions answered because there will be a knowing beyond what our human minds could have even pondered.

Hunter Mizar

Tom I agree with you that in that I am uncomfortable with the idea of the world being completely controlled and humanity simply being robots.  It seems much more plausible to me that out of his love for us he has given us a choice in the decisions that we face in life.  When it comes to the idea of God intervening through the form of miracles certainly there are different times that I have witnessed the intervention of God and the only way to explain the things that happened was something greater than the situation at hand stepped in and took over.  I suppose for me the challenge in taking the view that God has given freewill to his creation is that in some ways it limits God knowledge of what is ahead and I struggle with putting different limits on what God can do.  I would rather hold that God may be limited on his knowledge of the decisions that I am going to make and he discovers the future with me rather than believing that everything is already set in place which would include God’s forced decisions that some of his humanity would be separate from him and forever lost due to a life of sin.

Ava Moore


I enjoyed reading this blog. The table format makes it easier to understand various views on God’s actions. While the word “love” is not in any of these views, love should be central to our theology.  The 2 coercion views and Deism leave no room for love. Mysterious Divine Action makes God too different from us for a true relationship. The others could include love, but more secondary. Essential Kenosis is the only one that places love at the center.

Charles W. Christian

I’m not sure that Essential Kenosis is the ONLY one that places love at the center.  Traditional freewill theism’s definition on the chart is not quite complete.  The focus on the “exceptions” in freewill theism is NOT that God sometimes coerces “creatures.”  Rather, it is that God sometimes directly intervenes in events in what some may call a coercive manner (although it is not “coercive” in the popular definition of the word, necessarily).  Traditional freewill theism also emphasizes God’s provision of actual choices based upon God’s desire for love as the key concept or ultimate focus.  There are ways to love that do involve intervention that Tom would consider coercive, and if a child were running out into the street and he or someone were nearby and he or someone grabbed the child and forced them back onto the curb, this would be a loving act, even if it caused temporary discomfort.  This happens in Scripture as far as I can tell.  The fact that we cannot always see why it does not ALWAYS happen does not give us the leeway to suddenly invoke absolute limitations upon God in all cases….

Having said that, I think that Essential Kenosis gives us a good reminder that God would rather love convincingly than coercively….


Vaughn Baker

Divine agency needs to steer clear of “interventionism”  Funny, I myself used to think of divine acts (apart from creation) as an “intervention,” i.e., a disruption of natural causation.  Surely God is greater than needing to “suspend” or interrupt what God has made.

Pete Myers

I wonder if you just like getting us riled up.  After all the frustration and stretching of your minds, here you are showing yourself in a moderate position!  I think I’m in complete agreement with you.  You are obviously in a slightly different position than the Clayton reading that we have covered.  I believe Clayton would fall more in the Steady State realm, if I understand what I read.  This class, along with all of the readings, has truly stretched me.  This particular reading, seems rather tame in comparison!

kristi jennings

I agree with your last two paragraphs.  There will always be a speculative element to our thoughts about God and His actions.  We cannot understand or grasp the entirety of who He is.  In terms of the idea that God will never coerce His creation, but will only persuade, I do not necessarily disagree, but I have questions.

Would we not consider it coercive to swallow up Dathan and Korah in response to their desire not to play second fiddle to Moses? Not only do I not see Dathan and Korah cooperating with the miraculous event, but wouldn’t we consider it somewhat coercive to the people who remained?  If you think about any situation in which people are threatened with death if they don’t comply, wouldn’t we say they are being coerced? 

I do not have answers to these questions, but they cause me to consider carefully whether I can say that God never works coercively.

dan chapman

Out of these options, I would have to say that as of today I agree most with Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism.  The most attractive of essential kenosis is that it puts a responsibility upon the created that the others do not.  Meaning, God has to love at all times, what limits this love is the recipients of this love.  When Jesus says it is your faith that has healed you, He is saying because you received fully my love right now, you are healed.  I must be daily in relationship with God, less of me – more of Him, in order to receive the love God has for me now

Charlene Sorensen

A scientific view:  It was a little difficult for me to compare the eight options as they were written.  I got the sense of the amount of freedom people have and God’s level of ‘control’ and ‘coersion,’ but I tend to want to see things compared by the same ‘criteria’ (sorry) and categorized that way.  So I re-wrote these to have standard comparisons. Here is what I think these mean.  Correction to my understanding is definitely requested!
1.  Incessant Divine Coercion:  God controls all that occurs with His creation, people simply respond to His command and are predestined in their activities, miracles are not necessary as all things work the way God has ordained.
2.  Frequent Divine Coercion: God controls what happens with His creation with the exception of when He decides to provide opportunities of choice/freedom for creatures within His creation.  People may choose to cooperate in such opportunities with their activities, miracles may be necessary to reverse extremely poor choices by creation.
3.  Freewill Theism: God is not controlling, rather He provides freedom to His creation.  People choose to cooperate (or not) though some of their decisions are based on characteristics of people predetermined by God.  Miracles are seen as interventions by God.
4.  Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism:  God is not controlling as He must provide freedom to His creation.  People choose to cooperate or not.  Cooperation is required for intervention via miracles.
5.  Steady State Divine Influence:  God is not controlling as He has creatures of free choice, yet He stays connected to creation.  People (creation too) must choose and live with the consequences.  Thus, miracles do not occur.
6.  Natural and Supernatural action:  God is partially controlling in that He creates situations specifically so that creation will be persuaded to cooperate with Him.  People are affected by this Divine persuasion.  Situations and persuasion reduce and perhaps eliminate the need for miracles.
7.  Deism:  God’s control was in the initial creation of the world and its natural laws and is no longer connected to creation.  People were created to be able to make choices.  Whatever happens is the consequence of choices and natural laws.  Miracles do not happen.
8.  Mysterious Divine Action:  God has control, but the connection He has with His creation is unknown.  People do not know how to cooperate as choosing God’s way is unknown.  Miracles may or may not happen (or be recognized)

edward hill

Thanks Dr. Oord for this great summary of Divine Action.  I was raised in an environment that celebrated what you call Traditional Freewill Theism. It seems to me to be the most consistent with Wesleyan Theology. I still struggle a bit with some of the implications of kenosis which suggests that God cannot control certain events, but the more I process your work and some of the other readings I have done, I am gaining a higher level of comfort with it. It certainly does make perfect sense that God, due to his infinite love, empowers his creation with the privilege to accept or reject him. To think that he would be coercive in making us respond to his prevenient grace clearly is in conflict with his nature. Thanks for helping me consider new and exciting ways of thinking about God that do not necessarily undermine pronouncements of his power, character and glory described in the Bible.

Dennis Trexler

For today’s reading, I have to say that I am nearer the Traditional Freewill Theism, but somewhere between that and Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism.  It comes down to semantics and word definitions.  The word coerces is a bit of a problem for me.  Is it really coercion or is it just influence to make the right decision.  I can say that as a parent and a supervisor of military troops that I have not coerced, but strongly advised and highlighted the consequences for wrong decisions even the consequences for the right decisions.  I haven’t experienced God using this method in my life.  I have felt the uneasiness in my gut and even the regret after the fact, but I still made the decision I felt was right.


Greg Armstrong

So it finally all comes down to a necessary and required element of faith.  The last paragraph says “But some divine action options make better sense of what we find in Scripture, in our own experience, and contemporary science. And some do a better job of consistently affirming God’s love.” I have faith in a God that is more than I can comprehend.  If nothing else this class has taught me that. I get that not everything we think we understand about God fits into a perfect mold. I do not think that affirming Gods love is really at doubt in any “Christian” theology and our ever expanding experience and knowledge of the sciences has made it harder to have a simple faith in God so I guess my biggest concern with all of this is do we still believe we live in a universe that was created by an amazing God or are we trying to redefine a god that fits in our universe without creating too much disruption to what we think we understand?

Sylvia Eguren

As I read through the different “choices” I find myself leaning toward a mix.  I still feel I need to say that God created at some point in time in isolation, so for the first half of the statements I choose to go with Deism.  For the second half my best choice is the Essential Kenosis choice.  I agree that the effectiveness and forms of God’s activity would vary depending on the situation and the co-creators, probably us, who are working with God as well as God providing agency.

Dan Kraynek

I really appreciate this blog and found it very helpful for what I am currently thinking about as I gain a greater understanding who God is and how I interact with Him. One of the main areas that I found helpful pertained to free will and especially eEssential kenosis freewill theism. It really places the emphasis on love being the center of who God is and why we have the freedom to do things we do. Professor Oord states, ““To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.” This is something I’ve felt all along the moment I gave my life to Christ many years ago. Once we understand what love is and that it comes from God, we are able to act in accordance to God’s will for us and we do it freely.

Lisa Outar

As I look at these various options in divine action I tend to deviate from the far left and far right. I don’t believe that God wants to be in such a state of absolute control that we become like puppets on a string. Nor do I believe that God is so mysterious to the point that we don’t even feel like we know anything about him.

I agree that the center makes the most sense to me. I would probably say that Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism seems most appealing to me and I would agree most with that.

God creates and has influence but at the same time creatures have freewill and the ability to choose. God is able to still act but doesn’t interfere with our choices and ability to exercise freewill.

Cody Stauffer

I particularly like some of the practical implications of the essential kenosis freewill theism option, myself. To begin with, it rings true with biblical witness—that God has been portrayed as seeking out our cooperation—and with the witness of our own experiences as well. As a minister, more often than not I find that my counseling situations inevitably come to a point that people are simply afraid to step out and respond. They have no problem accepting that God acts, and that God has a will for the world, and they have plenty of faith in God. Usually what is lacking is the response that is left up to them!
I also think this gives us a much more satisfying way to look at scripture. That is, I am much more comfortable with the understanding that it is a product of divine AND human action, which I think makes many passages that are usually extremely troubling a little less so (not much, but a little).


I think for the standard Christian in today’s typical church, many of them might affirm a number of these descriptions of God’s actions within the universe. Descriptions of God’s activity and interaction with His creation is so commonplace and routine within church these days, no one seems convicted to render a description of His activity that is philosophically consistent.

For example, many people have been taught and truly believe that God is sovereign. In this descirption of God, they seem to find comfort that God has a ‘big plan’ and will redeem even the worst of atrocities experienced on earth today, implying one of the coercions listed to the far left of the chart.

That same person might also affirm a sense of ‘free will’ that man choose his own fate, make her own decisions and has true freedom. This tends to lean toward the two actions described as ‘theisms’ or Steady State Divine Influence.

In other instances, the same person might simply fall back into a “God’s ways are not our ways,” which seems to lean back toward the right end of the chart.

The burden of consistency is felt particularly by philosophers and theologians who wish to develop a framework that works for many or most or all instances. Thanks for helping to clearly define some separation between the existing descriptions that are commonly used.

Brandon W

I subscribe to the traditional freewill theism and believe that it is evident in creation that we have freewill. I read in the biblical texts that God does override the freewill of creation on occasions for a particular purpose. The problem with this view comes from the conversation about evil. If God has the ability to override freewill and is an all loving God then he would want to stop all evil acts. But since evil still occurs we cannot answer why God allows bad things to happen.
I do not like the notion that God had to give freewill because I believe that the most loving act God could have chosen was not freewill. With freewill comes the potential to choose wrong and to choose evil things. I believe the most loving act from God would have been to not give freewill based on the fact that without freewill we would not choose evil.

Anna Gapsch

I have to agree that Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism seems like the best option. If God was a God who controlled every aspect, the world being how it is today, I wouldn’t want to serve that God. He would not be loving if He caused all the pain and suffering. This would also take away all hope, if we had no choice we would never know if we truly were saved, or if at the end of our life living for God, he would simply say, I never planned for you to join me for eternity. If different events were controlled by different forces, as in Natural and/or supernatural action, there would be no consistency. We would not know how to determine if something was miraculous or not. We believe in a loving God who has a plan for our lives, but allows us to make our own decisions.

Kara Schmitt

I find this question very difficult to answer due to the consequences each side has. On the far left side, which I find extremely unappealing, we have no freewill. On the right side, God may not have control which is kind of frightening when thinking about the future and eschatology issues. The two that I most agree with are Natural and/or Supernatural Action and Essential Kenosis. I believe that God does interact with our world but does not coerce ever and thus, works through persuasion with creaturely cooperation.

Dioni Wheeler

I agree with what Brandon said and also agree with Dr. Oord as well. I believe between traditional freewill theism and essential kenosis freewill theism. I believe we do have some freewill otherwise there would not be evil in the world. Some people take advantage of the freewill that God has given us. But I have a hard time in believing that God is all-knowing and all-loving because if he were all-knowing why doesn’t he stop people from doing what they plan to do (sin)? If he is all-loving then why does he let evil happen to innocent children? It seems like these aspects contradict one another. They are hard questions to answer.


I personally find myself on the line of essential kenosis and traditional freewill if there is such a line. I do not think that God created this world to just sit back and not participate in it. To me this is not possible. Instead I would like to consider God to be a God that created the world, mankind, and creation and then gave us free will. For human beings I believe that God gave us the gift of free will so that we could have the ability to consciously make a choice of whether or not we are going to accept or reject him (if that makes any sense).

Olivia B

Essential kenosis is the theory that I most associate myself with. The theories on the far left do not support the loving God of the Bible, and the belief that we have free will is fundamental in Christian tradition. If we didn’t have freedom, then we really don’t have the choice to follow God or not, and the whole concept of salvation becomes irrelevant. On the other side, I believe that God acts on creation and in our lives in ways that we can see. God doesn’t just sit back and leave us to our own ways. He gives us freedom but is present in our daily lives.

David Silva

I have two main questions:
The first: is if the chart above ordered on some kind of continuum? Several of the comments have suggested that a middle line or a varying degree of some of the options is how they believe God acts. Sliding the scale down a bit from Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism (EKFT) toward Traditional Freewill Theism is a little more difficult than tuning up or down the degree of certain beliefs. An important part of EKFT is that God cannot take away freewill and determine any sort of action. God can or God can’t, I don’t see a middle line.
The second: If the chart is a continuum, what two extremes are being put in opposition? Pursuing Aristotle’s golden mean is a practice that I value and I think Dr. Oord does as well. Putting the “best” views in the middle seems to suggest they are a balance between two extremes. The scale is not Determinism-Freewill because then EKFT would be on the far right. It is also not level of God’s action because all the views except the two farthest to the right have God acting in similar amounts, just different places.

Miles Wilson

When between two extremes it’s difficult to associate with a perfect medium – a combination of the two extremes that fits.  Personally, I believe that God set up the universe and let it operate with minimal interaction.  It is hard to say that a God is in control of everything when terrible occurrences happen frequently that seem to be out of anyone’s control.  Additionally, it is not easy saying that God is not involved at all in human interaction, or else there would not be a real relationship between God and His creation.  I feel that humans are given freewill to the extent that there are multiple routes in which God knows are present, however he does not know exactly where we will go.

Austin Jardine

I agree with the theistic approach to kenosis and freedom. I do not believe that God actively coerces us, however I do believe he does take action in our lives as such to benefit and guide us along the most favorable pat and we have that option to follow or to reject, mostly because the other theories (several of them) lack to include free will in their explanation.

Jane brodin

I agree with the essential Kenosis is what I agree with. Those on the far left side with a very contorting. The idea of free will is the basis of Christian theology. If we have no freewill then the chose we make are not our own and our entire life has already been predestined. God then would not be surprised when someone rejects him and Jesus would not have had to come and die for the redemption of our sins. Because if we do not have free will then do sins even exsit anymore if such actions were predestined?

Jared Morgan

We live in a world in which we seem to be able to have a dynamic relationship with each other and with God.  This relationship involves choices and actions whose origins lay in contemplation about individuals’ lives and projected presupposed outcomes of the actions.  Then these actions seem to affect others sometimes in what appears to be positive and sometimes negative ways.  And then in other certain events, individuals seem to experience a force, beyond us acting in assistance, promoting the Divine attributes.  When the reality of dynamic relationship and divine forces in our lives are identified in our lives, it becomes extremely difficult to hold either pole of this discussion as probable descriptions of God and creation.

Joseph Norris

I am a fan of the Steady State Divine Influence because I do not believe that God’s activity breaks the laws of nature. I believe this because who is to say what is natural to God? If God necessarily exists, then wouldn’t God be technically all natural? I mean all natural as in God ought to be. What is natural for him is not necessarily natural for us.

Jen Field

I associate myself with the essential kenosis theory as well. In general I don’t believe that God coerces his creation because he created us with freedom out of love. That being said there are some aspects of the traditional free-will theism that makes sense to me. Essential kenosis theory doesn’t seem to give God the ability to make drastic changes on earth in an instant. When it comes to miracles and certain aspects of eschatology I wonder if essential kenosis theory makes complete sense.

Kris B

I think I will have to also fit in the essential kenosis theory. Freedom is something that everybody has. Especially here in the United States we are blessed to have laws to say that we are free to do whatever we want. I think being a Christian the word free is a little bit different then people who arent Christian. I know as a Christian that my main goals is to follow the ten commandments and to respect those. By the end of the day we defiantly we live by faith.

Jon Hawkins

I still have no idea what to think about God’s action in the Universe. Some days I feel like we are just running in circles by trying to figure out how God operates. I can vision Him looking down on us shaking his head, wondering when will we stop! On other days I am frighten to think that I am going to need a position on this question in which I’ll make myself and God look like a fool. Is this a win or lose battle?

Jarrod Anderson

This blog post is interesting and captures the attention of a lot of those wondering about free will/ God’s action. I don’t like either ends of the chart above. However, with these 8 general statements I cannot find myself agreeing with one completely. I want to dive further into some of the options and expand. These options are great openers in thinking about how God acts in the future. However, these seem like a packaged deal that one picks and doesn’t necessarily wrestle with. I know this post is presenting different views of how God acts in the universe. The views are not exhaustive and not making us pick one, but definitely is great for us to think about how God acts in the universe.

Becca Spivey

I tend to fall into the essential kenosis category, in that I believe that we all have free will, and that God has given us the choice to do what we want; however I also believe that there can be divine intervention, and miracles. I view Christianity as a relationship, in a relationship the street goes two ways. One cannot do all of the work while the other is passive. Which is how it seems the views on the left take. This past week I heard a preacher say that we should not take on the worries of paying bills, and other stresses of life and just focus on Jesus. While I agree we should not worry too much I also believe that we have to do our part. If someone is needing a job and all they do is pray about it and do not apply for one, they will not get a job. God works with his creation, and through his creation. But, I also want to affirm that he can work miracles as well.

Roman Lyon

In situations like this it’s hard for me to really “care.” The reason I say this is because there is no way to ever truly know how God does or does not act. However, I know that this really does matter to certain people and can raise some significant questions that I may need to answer if I am going to go into the ministry. So, while I am okay with not knowing how God acts and it does not control my faith, it is nice to learn about some views so that I can hopefully help others have a better understanding of it in the future.

Kaylee Bunn

As much as it would be nice to bundle the way that God works in relationship to us in one short phrase, this obviously is very difficult to do (though I am appreciative of the easy-to-follow explanations given above). Ideally, we could use reason to explain the way that God interacts with creation, and know that this logical explanation would follow through every situation. At times I would like to view God as working in a “steady state”. However, this is quickly refuted with the numerous times God breaks rule of nature throughout Biblical text. When looking at traditional freewill theology the thought comes to mind, “How do I know if I am deciding something freely, or if God is coercing me?” I suppose all I mean to say is that I feel that from this angle on earth, I have a very limited perspective as to how God moves. And for me, this is a non-essential. I know God moves actively in the world I am surrounded by and in my life. That rules out at least one option. But as for choosing from the middle, I am at a loss.

Emma Roemhildt

Wesleyans see strong views of Divine action as a direct infringement of free will which once taken away sets up a theology based on predestination and election. But if you look close enough, Wesleyan sanctification looks a lot like Calvinist predestination. From a behavioral standpoint, this doctrine barely affects the way Christians behave. Calvinists and Wesleyans alike tend to be pretty good people all around. Their reasons for doing so may come from different places, but not matter how we believe God to interact with the world, salvation through Jesus Christ is still at the core, and I would argue goes unaffected by such beliefs.

Joshua Mast

I wholeheartedly have to take myself as a traditional theological compatibilist, yet that still only narrows it down to the same middle four you had. It would seem that I lean more towards the traditional freewill theist as it can seemingly handle and preserve better the Lord’s providence as well has human libertarian free will.
However, personally, it is more interesting to see the nature of God panned out given each of these types of Divine Actions.

Jordan Liljegren

I like to think that we have free will, but also that God does intervene in situations such as miracles. If we take the view that God cannot completely intervene without cooperation from creation, in my mind that makes God subjective to creation. For example, in class we talked about a person being healed of cancer. If God cannot intervene without cooperation, then he can only heal the person if the cells in the body cooperate and want to be healed. This just doesn’t settle well with me at all. I like the fact that God can intervene and perform miracles, etc. That does present the problem of evil and wondering why then God does not intervene in every evil situation; however, I find it better to wrestle through that issue than to say that God is subject to his creation.

Betsy Hillman

I believe it is very important to understand the actions of God, or how he works in our lives. I just do not know where I fall on this scale. I believe that God gives us freewill and wants us to make our own choices. I also believe in miracles, which in my opinion means that God is acting on our behalf. I think that God can work outside of nature. I think that he can change the course of a hurricane. I do not believe that God can only do things within the laws of nature. That is putting limits on the creature of the universe and that does not sit well with me.

James Hardy

I also lean toward the middle of the chart, especially toward essential kenosis freewill theism. I do have to admit, though, that I am somewhat attracted to the options on the ends.  If God controls all of creation at every moment, then I have little to worry about because I know God is in control (Even though I would not know for certain if I was saved, at least from the perspective of a deterministic five-point Calvinist.)  On the other end, I do not have to worry about how God acts, because if it were true no one would know how God acts, or God would not be acting at all.  Why is this attractive?  It makes evil and suffering more difficult to blame on God.  However, given my personal experiences, these options do not make a strong case past what I have already described. For the options on both ends, we are left with an impersonal God. For this reason, along with my experiences and encounters with Scripture, I believe God probably acts in a way that is related to one of the middle options.

Chris Lee Danielson

I think that you are absolutely right on one thing; there WILL always be a speculative side to this kind of theology. I cannot go the direction that you go- I cannot accept that God is limited so much by our own actions, whether or not it is his personal choice. I suppose that I am less afraid of the problem of evil than I am of a weak God. That is something we will agree to disagree on. However, I would not go near either extreme, either. I don’t find myself in any of the categories you have listed. I would say my belief is probably a hybrid of several. Not that I am trying to be obstinate, but I honestly think that the one-dimensional line doesn’t adequately represent the number of possibilities that are within the scope of reason.
Personally, I think that God is both personal and loving, and immensely powerful beyond our own powers of understanding, reasoning or explaining.

Robby Skinner

I do enjoy the traditional view of freewill Theism. I think it allows for a God who is not entirely grasped, but still allows humans to interact and have relationship with himself. In this model He is capable of interacting on a greater level with His creation, acting in divine ways. My only hesitation with the “Steady State” view is that uniformity can only be viewed from our interactions with God. I do not think that God reveals His whole self to humans. Perceived lack of uniformity in His actions unilaterally throughout time, could be too small a view of God from our point of view.

Lucas Reding

In general I feel like a good portion of people will gravitate towards the middle of the chart. That’s exactly what I am doing at the moment. It’s difficult to choose only one option, I am inclined to pick and choose qualities of each and mash them together as my own option, but as that not being a proper choice I would have to lean towards the Steady State Divine Influence option. It out of the four feels right in my eyes. The idea that God is always present in creation but also gives total freedom to creation makes more sense to me than the other options. It feels better to have a God there in our lives but still gives us total freedom, than one who controls all of creation or one who doesn’t care at all.

Paul Mills

Excellent post.  I too struggle with the idea that God is either completely controlling history or that God is completely removed from history.  In my mind, a balance is needed.  A balance that recognizes humanities freedom, God’s interest and plan in history, and God’s love. It is helpful to begin this process of determining God’s interaction in human history with God’s love.  God’s love means that God cares enough to be involved in human history.  But at the same time, God’s love involves respect for the creation.  From my way of thinking, we have to be free in our response to love, or love is coercion.  I tend to think that God is more at work in creation, than we acknowledge.  James says every “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  Thus, anytime I am somehow blessed, I can say if that wasn’t God, it was just like Him.

Lori Niles

Tom, I’m late to the party and I confess to not reading through ALL the posts, but I do have a couple of questions…
The first is whether is it necessary to use the word coercive (generally a word that is pejorative in tone and carries an unloving connotation…)
The second is why Mysterious Divine Action is further to the right than Deism…
I have some thoughts but I’d like to better understand the context of your thinking. I probably would if I’d read the whole book, right??


Personally I cannot fathom a God that is not involved in the world because I experience His presence with me constantly. This God is not a puppeteer because although He indicates to me the path I should take, the responsibility to follow or walk away is always mine. I am inclined towards Essential Kenosis Freewill. This fits well with what I understand Scripture reveals about God and His work in the world, as well as my experiences with God. God calls me, guides me, empowers me, anoints me, sustains me and uses me. I have the free will to follow this calling or reject His prompting.

Russell H

I feel comfortable in the “traditional Free-Will Theism”, but I am also interested in exploring the “Essential Kenosis Free-Will Theism” as well.  I believe we have a free-will, but it can be coerced at times.  Not sure I like the word “coerced”, but I will go with it.  For instance, my children have a free-will and can choose to do something I want them to do or choose not to.  I may not be able to override their ability to choose, but I can put on pressure that makes it more and more difficult for them to keep choosing the wrong way.  When I go against God’s will, I begin to feel conviction which makes it harder and harder to continue being rebellious.  I can push through of course and harden my heart, but typically I end up repenting and making a change as the pressure builds.  So I do believe I have a free-will, but I also know that God is a Father who disciplines out of love and that my free-will choice tends to go His way after that discipline.

Stephen Hundley

After looking at all the concepts I tend to agree with Dr. O about the extremes on either side. The ones on the left are too puppeteering and the ones on the right show a disengaged God. I think I lean more toward Essential Kenosis Freewill, as Dr. O does. It seems to connect with my thougts on human free will. But I do think it is a little vague when in the divive activity/intervention area. But maybe the vagueness is good and leaves the how, why, when to God.

Garet H

This is an interesting chart you’ve come up with Tom.  I think when you get to the point of incessant divine coercion you actually shoot right over to mysterious divine action.  The two have more in common than we think. 

Recently I read that nothing happens in creation that is not ordained by God.  The statement was made to comfort political supporters in the recent 2012 election.  But the implications of such a statement are huge.  There is evil in the world but God has ordained it (IDC) but we can’t understand why God would do such a thing and can only accept that it was done (MDA).

Walt Wilkinson

Dr Oord wrote, “We live by faith, after all. None of our minds can comprehend the universal Mind. But some divine action options make better sense of what we find in Scripture, in our own experience, and contemporary science. And some do a better job of consistently affirming God’s love.”

Well said. The truth is we have a very big God who chose to reveal himself through the nation of Israel, Scripture, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the church. Despite him revealing himself, he is still too big for us to completely comprehend. I think this is a good thing because if we could comprehend him; he wouldn’t be God.  Thus, I believe that it is not only smart but essential for us to be open to the different views of God.  I say that because the more we seek him, learn about him, and fall more in love with him. The closer we get to him and formulate a biblical and missional theology.

Ryan Pennington

The chart of options regarding God’s action in the universe is quite intriguing.  I like that it quickly narrows down how God relates to us and that it can be used as a tool for anybody to examine this relationship. 

While I do not agree with the far right or left, I grab a hold of aspects from two main thoughts.  In the realm of natural and/or supernatural action I like the division of responsibility between creator and creation and that some events occur through divine persuasion and creaturely cooperation.

However, I believe that I most strongly connect with Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism based on my current relationship with God.  God gave me free will out of necessity and from love.  God doesn’t just want a relationship with me, rather God needs me to respond to love and grace to fulfill the goal of creation!

Brandon W

I believe that God has chosen to give creation freewill because of his loving nature. With that freedom God will not interfere with eternal salvation. That is the ultimate freedom that God has given us. We have the choice between accepting God and going to heaven or denying God and going to hell.

I think God can interfere with creation on other accounts that do not pertain to eternal salvation. I think God is active and engaged in the world helping save it from sins and suffering. This I like to call earthly salvation. This is what God has the called the church to partner in to help God save the world. In helping save the world from sin and suffering God can interfere. Which is how we can account for miracles. When God decides to act stronger on creation.

Jeff Auw

I like how there seems to be an element of mystery in Essential Kenosis Theism as the form of God’s actions vary.  This seems to respect the sovereignty of God.  Yet while this view acknowledges God’s interaction with the world, it also acknowledges God’s desire to work in, with, and through us.  I cannot profess any theology in which my responses to God’s prompting make no difference in the world around me.  I also am cautious about theologies that limit the possibilities of God’s action in our world. 

Essential Kenosis Theism seems to be the best option to me as well as it accounts for my experience as well as what I have learned from Scripture and history.  I also appreciate the mention that there will always be some amount of speculation as we try to determine how God acts.  I believe this acknowledgement helps keep us open to further revelation we may obtain.

Shiro Sumi

My favorite part is your openness to accept valid points of multiple options without demanding a particular one. I too lean toward the middle options.

In general, the more I have thought about the Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism, the more I agree with its conclusions. However, the greatest resistance I have is God’s ability regarding petitionary prayer in this option. How can we trust God will work when God must depend on others’ cooperation? On this topic the other options might not fair greater. Cynically, the “Divine Coercion” options admit a “Why even ask God if he is in control anyway?” and the “Deism” or “Mysterious Divine Action” options would suggest not praying to a God, who can not interfere anymore. It has been four years since I have been introduced to this topic, and I do not believe I am at an end of figuring any of this out!

Mike Goff

I find Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism an attractive option between Steady State Divine Influence and Traditional Freewill Theism. It avoids the abslutism of Steady State Divine Influence that argues that God never intervenes in natural processes. This leaves no room for the miraculous from the biblical account or in our own experience. It also avoids the problem of God occassionally overriding creaturely freedom in a coercive way that represents a weakness in Traditional Freewill Theism. God is engaged with and active in our world and in our lives. However, He does not force us to do things or to respond to His actions. I look forward to learning more about Essential Kenosis Freewill ideas.

Jeff M

We definitely have free will, but also God does intervene in situations (miracles, as one example). If we think that God cannot get involved without cooperation from creation, that doesn’t settle well with me as far as an omnipowerful God, such as we have.  God is only as subject to anything as we make definite choices to obey or disobey.  I would say that it is impossible to know how God really acts in this world.  I probably don’t fit exactly into any of these categories, but I am somewhat in between the Traditional Freewill Theism and Essential Kenosis.  But that doesn’t mean that God will not turn us over to our sinful desires.  He has done it in the past and will and now does it again.

CJ Pankey

Thanks for the chart. I’m probably between Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism and Super/Natural Action, but not Steady State Divine Influence, with a dose of Mysterious Divine Action. I believe in a God who “emptied himself of all but love” (from one of my favorite Charles Wesley hymns) by giving humanity and the rest of creation freedom to act as we were created to act. I think that allows nature to unleash its chaotic energy every now and then through events like hurricanes and earthquakes. That’s not to say that he can’t work through them. I just don’t want to blame him for everything. The reason there’s a dose of Mysterious Divine Action is that I do believe God’s ways are not like ours and I want to be able to be surprised by what he does. To pin him down to specific ways that he has to act in takes the awe out of worshiping him.

Ronald Baker

I find this to be an extremely helpful presentation of the spectrum of how we view God’s presence in the world and more specifically, how God interacts with man’s freewill. The presentation is clear and concise without being simplistic. I will preserve this chart as a reference.

It is too easy for me to say, “I agree, Dr. Oord” and fall right into the middle which seems to be a good classical Wesleyan response.  That would be simplistic and unhelpful in a serious search to understand how God continues to act in his creation. Rather, this will be a helpful reference in my own search to understand the God of love and how the image of that love is reflected in his highest creation. All of creation is an expression of God’s love; believing this will help to understand his continued interaction with creation to save the world.


I was originally taken back by the statement about God’s effectiveness and the inference that it can sometimes be ineffective.  However, I agreed and understood your qualifying paragraph which indicates the possibility that God can be hindered in God’s effectiveness based on our human actions.

Even though this chart represents theologies as you see fit to your beliefs, the centered ones representing those which you are more okay with, it appears to me that Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism and Steady State Divine Influence are not even close to being on the same level. 

Steady State says that “God’s..activity never interrupts creaturely agency or breaks laws of nature.”  Does that mean there would be no room for miracles to happen that would defy the natural order or things? 

Compared to Essential theism in which God finds it necessary to act by providing freedom, but whose effectiveness is dependent on the outcome of that freedom. 

One seems to suggest a denial of action, and one almost mandates it.  Right?

Kenton Lee

This was an incredibly interesting blog post by Tom.  I agree with his affirmation of an Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism understanding of how God acts.  Indeed, this option provides the most room for human free will and a God who is active and caring to humans and the earth.  And I really appreciated what Tom included about how God does things through people as agents and how that interplays in this discussion, too.

I also liked that Tom referenced the mystery of God and the fact that our minds are no equal to His Universal Mind.  We can do our best to understand Him, and it is logical and loving that we can understand Him in many ways.  But at the end of the day, we have to live by faith in the light that we are given and trust in our God.

Shannon T

You’re right when you wrote that explaining God’s action is complex! Coming up with the chart is very helpful in trying to show the varying viewpoints on the subject. Coming from a Wesleyan tradition, I naturally believe that God does give us free will. Within what you described as the theism most accurately aligning with John Wesley’s theology you mentioned that at times God coerces. It would be nice to have more of an explanation about this claim for me to decide in what category I fall. Otherwise, this blog was very helpful and informative.

Cory Bernaiche

Dr. Oord, I liked how you maintained a sense of mystery. For me this is an important aspect in “knowing” God’s actions. I believe we can never fully understand God’s actions. I liked what you did with the Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism, especially the idea that God’s activity can depend on our response. I believe that it is a two-way street and God can act in response to creation, this denies Deism, as do I. I cannot affirm a God who would stand outside earth watching it like a spectator and not be involved with creation. There are too many cases of God acting in scripture and in my own experience. I found your graph helpful in trying to understand some of the many different view points. Although I do not believe it to be exhaustive it does help build an understanding of the different views.

Kaelynn Huwe

The idea of essential kenosis freewill theism is a clever away from believing God is in control of everything in life, but at the same time believe that he can have an affect if we allow him too. This does not mean that God is being controlled by us, that we have to give him the OK to act. It means that he allows us our freewill and is there hoping and loving us along the way, even if we do not surrender situations and ourselves to him. I was once told that the best listeners are those who don’t give their opinion unless asked to, and i cant help but wonder if that is also true for helpers.

Megan Krebs

I most appreciate Dr. Oord’s admission that we ultimately will not know in certainty. We can only believe in faith. I agree that I cannot hold to deism and in freewill, that leaves me in the middle of the chart. I would fall just short of the Essential Kenosis Free Will Theism. I do not think that free will is necessitated by an act of creation on God’s part. But I also believe that God, gifting us with free will, does not circumvent our free will in order to act. If I affirmed that, I would wonder why God does not do it more often, especially when individuals make bad choices that hurt others. This means that we must be intentional in offering up our wills in order to pursue the will of God.

Steven Coles

I think Christians try to understand and know what God knows. I think this is a fatal flaw in our thinking. We need to remember that we are not God, and therefore cannot fully comprehend God’s actions. I do like how to appeal to mystery. I think that is good to remember that we are different from God, and because we are finite, we cannot understand God’s actions as God understands.

Jonathon Wren

I am more inclined to traditional free will theism simply because that what I have always grown up being taught.  I believe our free will is necessary for us to be creatures, and this makes it a gray area.  How do I deal with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus?  Does God take away his free will and essentially make him un-human in that instance?  There are a lot of questions that I think are hard or impossible to answer.  All I know that when I go to bed at night, I am a free acting human that has been given the choice to act and respond to grace and accept salvation.  Through this, I freely act to be loving as God is loving and pursue a relationship with the Lord.

Robbie Schwenck

I think Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism makes the most sense from what we read in Scripture and from what I have experienced in my own life. It seems clear to me that humans have freedom in the choices they make. It also seems clear that God interacts in my life, as well as the lives of many others. How much action God takes and the ways that God takes action are obviously not clear. I like that it is made clear at the end that there will always be a speculative element in thinking about how God acts. It’s important to think about and discuss how God interacts with creation. But it is also important to remember that it will largely remain a mystery no matter how much we discuss it. In the end, it might just be best to believe the option that best portrays God’s love of creation and creation’s response to that love.

Dakota Vails

I love the idea of essential kenosis freewill theism but not its application. What I mean by this is if we take seriously a God who interacts in loving relationship with his creation this is a perfect solution for that. However if we start to talk about God’s power and God being all powerful this idea starts to break down. I care more about God’s love than God’s power but I will not settle for thinking that God has to be either all powerful or all loving. In my opinion I would land closer to the theology of Thomas Aquinas and the Natural and/or Supernatural power theory. I feel like this theory still allows for an interactive loving God and an all powerful God. My main reason for this is simple. The average person in a congregation, wants to believe that God has control over their problems and has the ability to fix them. Of course this is all in my opinion.

Greyson Kilgore

I like the idea of “steady state divine influence.” However, I think this view becomes problematic when we talk about God never doing anything that is outside the laws of nature. it is possible that God only acts within the laws of nature. Yet, this leaves me wondering about the miracles that we have experienced and read about in scripture. Do miracles only happen within the laws of nature? If so, should it be called a miracle, or a simple act of nature?

Joseph Norris

If I had to choose, I would be somewhere between Traditional Freewill Theism and Essential Kenosis Freewill Theism. I’m attracted to God, by nature, gives freedom to creatures. Love requires relation and relation requires two of more things, then God gives freedom to creatures in order to love them relationally. There is a sense, according to that view, that God necessarily gives freedom to creatures. This is cut and dry for non-trinitarian theist. But what about trinitarian theists? One essence and three particulars seems to be sufficient for God to love each member of the Godhead unconditionally. God is unconditionally self-loving. Perhaps agape is extended to each thing within a relation for which each things both have a love of self and the love of others. I think it is and I think this has a profound impact on God’s response to creatures. If God is by nature love and constrained to the laws of nature, does one not take precedence over another in divine activity? The resurrection seems rather miraculous, but happened out of God’s loving nature. What if God, assuming he know the future, prevented something with little threat to creaturely freedom in order to prevent a future evil? Do we not have hope and faith that God’s will prevails by whatever righteous means in order to secure a definitive end? There are events which God is obviously at work according to believers, but there are many other events when God is not so obviously active. I don’t think by arguing that God cannot break the laws of nature at all because he can’t by nature and thus cannot prevent evil by infringing on creaturely freedom isn’t a good enough answer to the problem of evil. I want to explore all the options with serious contemplation before making the claim that the laws we are physically confound take precedence over God’s unconditional love. I don’t mind if God coerces me, even in the slightest, because my lack of freedom can in some cases be the most loving situation.


I agree there must be a sense of mystery no matter where one falls on the spectrum. Often this is overlooked in our attempts to make sense of how God acts. The goal of theology should be to move thought to action. In particularly, understanding how God acts has direct implications on how we act in response. This is highly practical. The danger of any theology, however, is not leaving room for the mystery, and thus not leaving room for God.

Michelle Borbe

It is so interesting to me that there are so many ways that we can view God. The question that always comes to my mind is there a clear answer of who God is? Or is the answer found in more of a conglomeration of a few ideas? I don’t think we will ever truly know. However I feel like I am at peace with not knowing all who God is in every detail. But what does matter to me is understanding the nature of who God is in love.

Aaron Moschitto

I think I like the essential kenosis freewill theism. The word kenosis highlights the self giving nature of God’s interactions with creation which operates within a Wesleyan understanding of God’s love. It is difficult to relate God’s action to scripture because the narrative forms it often takes. The reader is left to ask if this particular miracle is a literary device or if it was an historical event. Given my experience, the essential kenosis freewill theism best fits, however this is a not a hill I am willing to die on.

Nicholas Carpenter

In looking at the eight different perspectives, I can definitely see the dangers in using either extreme. We don’t want to be on the left giving God totally control with humans no more than puppets, but the right side makes God completely absent and makes for certain experiences and interactions with God void. I am prone to choose the “Traditional Freewill Theist” because I do believe God gives a certain measure of freewill to His creations out of love, but I feel God still has a hand in our lives and a plan for what He feels is best for each of us. What that ultimately looks like and how it works out, I will just leave to mystery.

Options in Divine Actions | Apologetics.com

[…] During an afternoon open Q&A session, the students began to ask some questions more narrowly focused in the field of theology, particularly pertaining to divine sovereignty, providence, and action, and human freedom. Here is a chart the lays out many of the options in a nice spectrum, though I am not sure if the options here are exhaustive. All credit goes to Thomas Jay Oord of NNU. […]

Tom Torbeyns

Interesting read but this theology is over my head. 😀

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