Theopoiesis and a process

The temporal movement of theopoetics has been long and rhythmic, pulsing along at some points faster than at others.  And just as its historical lineage is vast, so too are its present-day branches.  From the Biblical hermeneutics of Amos Wilder and Stanley Hopper, to its deconstructive instantiations in John Caputo’s The Insistence of God, to Roland Faber and Catherine Kellers’ theopoetics as a branch of process thought, to Anne Michelle Carpenter’s work on Balthasar’s aesthetics as a theology of poetry, the varieties of theopoetics are great in number and ever-increasing.  Like David Russell Moseley, I am grateful for this plurality of theo-poets and for such diverse conversation partners along this endeavor.

Moseley’s recent post, responding to Callid Keefe-Perry’s interview with Wipf & Stock and to Anne Michelle Carpenter’s book Theo-Poeticsdifferentiates between theopoetics as against theology and theopoetics as an inherent part of theology, siding with the later and taking issue with the former.  Process theopoetics, the form of theopoetics out of which I (mostly) work, is often characterized as anti-theological because it does indeed take issue with the logos portion of theo-logy.  Just as Raimon Panikkar reminds us, theological language cannot be made clear and precise, because such language always misses part of that which it attempts to disclose.  For this reason, process theopoetics seeks to supplement the logos of theology with the poiesis of theopoiesis to denote a continual “making” or creating of the world and the divine-world relation, instead of claiming clear and distinct statements about God as final and complete.  To be sure, the goal is not to get rid of the logos as the ordering function of theology, but to call attention to the fact that something always escapes our theological and philosophical statements about the divine.

In her chapter “Theopoiesis and the Pluriverse” in Theopoetic FoldsCatherine Keller writes at length on the etemylogical origin of the word theopoiesis and the early church fathers who first used this term.  Clement, Iranaeus, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea all understood the term as invoking a sort of deification–literally making divine.  The goal, whether aimed at via mysticism or simply by the work of Christ through the church, was for us to be made divine.  Keller notes here that Whitehead doesn’t disaffirm such a view, but rather takes it and radicalizes it.  In very metaphysical ways, Whitehead understands the world as becoming like God and perhaps even as becoming God.  Through his panentheism (all within God), he envisions a side to God that continually receives the entire content of the world into God’s self as it unfolds.  Moreover, by way of God being the highest exemplification of metaphysical principles rather than an exception, entities in the world become what they are in just the same way that God becomes what God is.  And entities in the world become what they are in response to God’s insistent calling, thereby taking God’s urges and actualizing them in the world.  In process terms, theopoiesis is radicalized because such deification doesn’t stop with humans, but expands to all entities within the world.  Every little “thing” that constitutes the world comes into existence in this way.

This making-divine of the world becomes intensely active and convivial (to use Keller’s word) in process theopoetics because of the relation between God and the world in this panentheistic sense.  God becomes as the world becomes, and the world becomes as God becomes.  God calls and the world responds.  The world responds and God reformulates the call.  If such a process continues indefinitely (barring any cataclysmic end to the world), then one is better to talk of a theo-poetics than a theo-logy, as every attempt to classify, order, or pin down is always just short of the mark, a little too late, or not quite on the spot.


Author: Jeremy

I am happiest outside, surrounded by trees or water. I rarely go anywhere without my camera, and I actively seek ways to connect my work as a philosopher and theologian with regular people who are trying to make sense of this world.

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