About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Double Agency, Eschatologically Speaking

The regular reader of this blog will know that I’m not the greatest fan of the concept of double agency; that is, of the concept of primary and secondary causation. But in The Spirit of Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), Amos Yong has given me pause for thought. Assuming libertarian human freedom and the reality of supervenience, Yong writes,

We can say both that divine agency respects the integrity of creatures but is irreducible to creaturely agency …, and that such a view of “double agency” may be coherent only if we think about the freedom of God as working proleptically in history prefiguring God’s eschatological future. In sum, I propose that God’s activity supervenes upon human agency and does so proleptically according to the shape of the coming kingdom. (pp. 95–96).

On this account, divine agency supervenes on creaturely agency but cannot be reduced to it. Arguably, more traditional accounts of double agency do in some sense reduce divine agency to creaturely agency, in so far as the reality of divine agency can only be recognized by faith in and through secondary causes. In saying that divine agency supervenes proleptically on creaturely agency, Yong seems to be suggesting something a little more exciting than the usual approach. He suggests that ‘divine action can only be discerned proleptically from the perspective of Christ’s inaugurating the kingdom, rather than protologically in advance.’ (p. 97).

I must confess that I’m attracted to this approach to double agency, though at the moment it might just be because of the high generated by talking about double agency eschatologically. But if, eschatologically speaking, we can speak of God’s agency as supervening on creaturely agency, and so recognize divine agency in creaturely agency, isn’t there a sense in which all creaturely agency, including agency that leads to evil actions, must negatively implicate divine agency? In interpreting double agency eschatologically, I’m not sure Yong has avoided the charges usually levelled by those opposing double agency. To be fair, I’ve not read the whole of The Spirit of Creation, so perhaps Yong will elucidate his position.


  1. I must admit that I'm confused by this. I haven't fully understood the terms, proleptic, protological and supervenes.

  2. Use a dictionary, my friend. ;p

    This is how the Chambers Dictionary defines the terms prolepsis:

    prolepsis noun (prolepses) 1 a debating device that involves the speaker putting forward arguments or objections before they are raised by someone else in order to detract from their possible effects. 2 a rhetorical term for treating an event of the future as though it has already happened. proleptic adj.

    Supervenience can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supervenience

    And for protological, just read 'in the beginning'...

  3. I did all that before the putting the comment my friend :) . It takes time for it to conceptually settle. The distinctions seem to make it quite a linguistic gymnastic performace. But I suppose that's what most theology is.


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