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God and the Power of Love:

A Process-Open-Relational Conference

Andrew M. Davis

Co-organized with the Center for Open and Relational Theology, the Center for Process Studies recently concluded its “Power and the God of Love: A Process-Open-Relational Conference” held at Crosswalk Community Church in Napa, California (Nov. 4-5). This event brought together a variety of scholars to speak to the viability of “relational” or “persuasive” power over and against “unilateral” or “coercive” power as found across philosophy, theology, politics, spirituality, and interreligious/comparative religious dialogue.


The format consisted in two parallel-running tracks with an academic-philosophical track on the one hand, and a pastoral-congregational track on the other. An opening lecture by Thomas J. Oord and live interviews featuring Tripp Fuller and the Homebrewed Christianity podcast inaugurated the event. A variety of presentations addressed various contours of power and love in current discourse. Speakers included: Daniel Dombrowski, Anna Case-Winters, Jim Brenneman, Pete Shaw, Matthew Segall, Timothy Murphy, Bonnie Rambob, Sheri Kling, Patrick J. Mahaffey, Deanna Young, Karen Winslow, John J. Thatamanil, Curtis Holtzen, and Raj Rambob. The conference concluded with a lecture by Catherine Keller. 

The critique of coercive power remains one of the key contributions offered to theology by process-open-relational modes of thought. This critique is not arbitrarily imposed, but flows from a certain understanding of reality—a certain metaphysics—that stresses the creative and relational foundations of existence. These are foundations that not even God can escape. Where “being is power,” power is an inherently relational category. Whitehead himself revolutionized philosophical theology by insisting (with Plato) that divine activity is always persuasive and never coercive in nature. Divine activity is not that of an “unmoved mover,” or a “ruthless moralist,” but rather an inward, evocative power that is tender, patient, and unobtrusive.


It was this kind of power that Whitehead found revealed in the life of Christ, and this kind of power that Christianity must re-discover if it is to have a future at all. “The life of Christ is not an exhibition of over-ruling power,” Whitehead states. “Its glory is for those who can discern it, and not for the world. Its power lies in its absence of force. It has the decisiveness of a supreme ideal, and that is why the history of the world divides at this point of time.” Stay tuned for a new book featuring the contributions of the conference.