October 5-6, 2007
We live in a culture profoundly suspicious of power, and theologians have seemed to share this ambivalence. Can theology rehabilitate a notion of God’s power that, rightly understood, grounds rather than subverts the proper exercise of human power integral to our mutual flourishing?
Over the last five decades, theologians have increasingly voiced critiques of power—critiques of prevalent conceptualizations of divine power in relation to God’s attributes (and God’s omniscience, in particular), as well as of the ways in which humans appeal to divine power in order to underwrite grave misuses of human power. At the same time, theologians, along with many others, have stressed the importance of empowerment. It is obvious that human life will wither rather than flourish without the possession and exercise of power. Moreover, those who have been on the receiving end of power’s misuse must exert power not just to live and flourish but to free themselves from dominance.
It is essential to overcome our cultural and theological ambivalence about power and to find ways to embrace and foster “good power.” The theological challenge with which consultation participants grappled was to conceive of God’s power and of human creaturely power such that it is clear that both have the capacity for good—and that a proper understanding of God’s power can ground rather than subvert good human power.