John Webster on Divine Providence and Concurrence with a Christ Concentrated Edge

God’s providence is a doctrine referred to often, but explicated less. John Webster offers a nice description of the entailments that make Divine providence what it is relative to God. He writes:

The modes of God’s providential activity are often identified as preservation, concurrence, and government (the three modes are not three separate divine works but the one work of pantoc23providence variously apprehended and conceived). In preservation God acts upon and within created reality to hold it in being, maintaining by his power and goodness the order of nature and history that he has established at the act of creation. Concurrence specifies this preserving activity by speaking of how God’s providential work is not simply a force brought to bear upon creation from outside, but is integral or interior to creation: providence works through creaturely working. In his acts of government, God directs creation to its goal, ensuring that the fulfillment he has purposed for it will be attained. In these acts, God operates medially, that is, through the power that he has himself bestowed upon creation. Created reality is not merely passive, for it has been given a movement of its own by which it maintains itself and moves toward its end. Providence does not eliminate but enables this creaturely movement; providence moves creation to move itself, working “interiorly” rather than as an extrinsic impulse. Providence is not merely to be thought of as maintaining a static creation, a set of unchanging natural or cultural forms. It concerns the teleology of creation: created reality is purposive or historical. Accordingly, providence is related not only backwards to the initial act of creation out of nothing, but also forward, to the saving work of God and to the eschatological future of the new creation.[1]

Concurrence as one of the prongs of providence is very intriguing to me. It conjures up thinking about theories of causation, and how those relate to God’s providence. What is more interesting to me though is how concurrence gets thought into human agency. I see this type of thinking bearing most fruit (because of my prior commitment to a particular theological-anthropology) when tied into the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; when we understand that the Domain of His life is indeed both the protological (backward looking) and eschatological (forward looking) context in which medial and thus creaturely agency finds its scope and/or range of movement. In other words, when we think of concursus Dei (God’s concurrence), to think that from within the relational frame provided for by the inter-relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we begin to see a dynamic in regard to creaturely agency and movement that is at once both mysterious and yet witness bearing to creation’s inner-reality in the covenant of God’s life for us and with us.

[1] John Webster, Providence, in eds. Kelly M. Kapic and Bruce L. McCormack, Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction (Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, April 2012), 306 Scribd.

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