Instead of a “monarchal” model that views God as a king in absolute control, he offers a “parental” model of God working in the world “in which the parent does everything possible for the benefit and the good of the parent’s children.” “The God that we know in Jesus Christ always does the most that God can do in the cultural and historical and realistic circumstances within which humans experience crisis, suffering, pain and death,” Tupper said. “God is not simply an observer, but God does everything that God can do using the resources in that context to effect the most positive outcome that God can do.”
A Baptist theologian who spent a quarter century reformulating the Christian doctrine of providence says most mainline theology about evil, suffering and God’s goodness is wrong.
“We’re still living in the 21st century with a vision of God in relationship to the world that was hammered out in the Patristic period, that was reaffirmed in the Protestant Reformation, that characterized the life of the church in the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century,” E. Frank Tupper, distinguished professor of divinity emeritus at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said in a Dec. 24 podcast at Homebrewed Christianity.
“And those theological responses to issues and providence are so outdated and so unrealistic that there needs to be a revolution among theologians and in the church about understanding how God works in a modern scientific understanding of the world,” Tupper said in a two-and-a-half-hour interview discussing his book A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God, first published as a work-in-progress in 1995 and re-issued in 2013 by Mercer University Press.
Tripp Fuller, a self-described theology nerd and Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University, said he had been trying to get his former professor, mentor and friend to appear on the podcast network born out of his pub theology group since its launch in 2008.
Tupper, who before becoming a founding faculty member at Wake Forest Divinity School in 1998 taught 23 years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., recalled the peril of being a young theologian thinking outside of the box.
“I must admit that to challenge the traditional understanding of providence in my personal context teaching in a Baptist seminary meant that I was going to experience significant opposition,” he said. “The two leading lines for interpreting providence was, ‘Well, we do not understand why this had happened’ or ‘This is in some sense the will of God and we must accept it.’ I rejected both of those ideas.”
His academic resolve grew even stronger, he said, in the crucible of his wife’s two-year battle with terminal cancer, leaving behind two small children.
“Betty Tupper’s experience of suffering with cancer and dying and the enormous impact that it had on our family gave me the courage to say ‘I’m going to write and interpret providence in a way that is consistent with my understanding and my faith, and I’m going to accept the challenges and opposition that I experience,’” Tupper said.
Tupper’s study and experience led him to reject platitudes on suffering such as “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.”
“I do not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world,” he said. “Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world.”