Newcastle Archdeacon Rod Bower Teaches that God is Not a Divine Being

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In what he describes as “common ground with atheists”, Archdeacon Rod Bower in the Diocese of Newcastle has told a documentary interviewer,

When we explore, perhaps, what I mean when I use the word “God” we can come close to a common ground [with atheists] because I’m not talking about some divine being. God is the very act of existing. And so there’s a point of meeting for atheists and people of faith.

The interview is part of a short film “The Bower Effect” made for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival by Kate Follington. The words cited above begin at 4:20 into the video.

Archdeacon Bower has published the video on his parish’s Facebook page where he was immediately asked about whether his position on the nature of God was compatible with Christian and Anglican doctrine.

Bower’s answer to the question (screengrab also available here) was to argue

First this is biblical. This is the proper translation of the Tetragramme in Exodus 3. The Divine name is a verb not a noun. Secondly this is the view of Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiea. If you want to argue with Aquinas and the writer of Exodus, you my friend are a far greater man then me. Therefore Yes this is the view of the Anglican church and also my personal view.

The Anglican Church’s official view on God is far more than simply “the very act of existing”.

Article I

Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

So where is Bower getting this stuff from?

The language of “very act of existing” is indeed used by Aquinas to speak of God, but in a very particular way. In Summa I.Q44 Aquinas is developing his argument on the existence of God. He uses an argument that can clearly be traced by (not least by his own reference) to Aristotle. Aristotle argued that there must be a “prime mover”, i.e. some origin for all the motion and action we see around us. The only other alternative is an infinite regress. Put even more simply, Aristotle argues that everything came from something or somewhere and he calls that something or somewhere “the Prime Mover”, i.e. God.

Aquinas makes full use of this argument in his Summa Theologica. In the first question of Article 44 (“Whether it is necessary that every being be created by God?“), Aquinas has this to say (my emphasis):

It must be said that every being in any way existing is from God. For whatever is found in anything by participation, must be caused in it by that to which it belongs essentially, as iron becomes ignited by fire. Now it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 4) when treating of the divine simplicity that God is the essentially self-subsisting Being; and also it was shown (11, 3,4) that subsisting being must be one; as, if whiteness were self-subsisting, it would be one, since whiteness is multiplied by its recipients. Therefore all beings apart from God are not their own being, but are beings by participation. Therefore it must be that all things which are diversified by the diverse participation of being, so as to be more or less perfect, are caused by one First Being, Who possesses being most perfectly.

His argument is clear.

  1. Everything has its cause from a related thing and have their being by participation. i.e. one thing leads to another.
  2. This chain of “cause” can be followed back all the way to the “one First Being”.
  3. Since the First Being is the origin of being, that First Being is the most perfect or pure being “possesses being most perfectly”.

Here Aquinas is replying upon an even more basic argument made in Question 3, Article 4, which is well summarised by Jairo Mejia (and here we see a typical use of the “very act of existing” terminology)

1.4.1 God as Existence

Thomas Aquinas says that “God is not only his own essence, but also his own existence” (Summa Theologica, Qu. 3, art. 4) because his nature is to exist, and this essence is not different from his existence. He is the very act of existing, Actus Purus, with no potentiality at all, but just act.

As another member of clergy on the Facebook points out, Bower’s appeal to Aquinas is utterly unfounded. Aquinas is not making an exhaustive claim about the nature of God but simply pointing out that, as opposed to all other things which are reliant on something else for their action and existence (describe as “potentiality”), God Himself is pure existence in and of Himself. Of course as the Summa continues Aquinas will go on to argue for much more about God’s nature and person as seen in His acts nevertheless his focus here at the beginning of the Summa is simply to establish God as different from His creation. But Bower ignores all of this by isolating one part of Aquinas’ argument as though it were his total description of the nature of God.

A similar (and briefer) response can be made with respect to Bower’s appeal to the Tetragrammaton (the divine name יהוה “Yahweh”) in Exodus that “The Divine name is a verb not a noun”. Well yes it is; the verb it derives from is the verb of being, best translated in it’s usage as “I am that I am”. But this “I am that I am” goes on in His own self-disclosure to speak, act, promise and personally interact with human beings (so Exodus 3) in a way that is so very clearly more than a simple “act of existing”. There is quite obviously a divine being at work, personally interacting with His creation rather than the quasi-pantheistic “God” that Bower believes in and so woefully misrepresents Aquinas and Exodus as describing.

This public declaration and defence of heterodoxy by Archdeacon Bower will only add to the controversy over his appointment last year by Bishop Greg Thompson which was met with dismay by many Newcastle clergy and laity, outraged that such a senior position be given to someone who rejects the Biblical teaching on heaven and hell and Jesus’ salvific death upon the Cross. At that time many wrote to Bishop Greg to express their dismay and call him to act.

Bishop Greg Thompson can be contacted via his publicly available email address or the following contact form which I thought would be helpful for readers:

image: Gosford Anglican facebook


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This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Doug Steley

    I was once a Christian but abandoned the faith because of insane unquestioning doctrinal views of the church and how judgemental and inflexible their beliefs were, I always imagined them far closer to the Scribes and Pharisees of the temple than the person of Jesus Christ.

    The letter of the law was more important to them than caring for individuals.

    I will, I believe, remain an atheist for several reasons, but it delights me and renews my faith to see people in the Church like Fr Rod who are willing to both discuss ideas and to accept unbelievers like myself.

    Perhaps if the church concentrated less on the laws and more of the teachings of Jesus they would alienate less people ?

    1. David Ould

      hi Doug. Thanks for commenting. Does that include Jesus’ teaching on the nature of God?

    2. Antinous

      Could not agree with you more Doug (as I have a similar story) and I noticed David’s reply was “letter of the law” in nature.

      I see nothing of Jesus in the the likes of the Sydney Anglican and the GAFCON movement or the ACL ….BUT I do in Fr. Rods ministry.

      I think Jesus cautioned on judging others which seems to be the main occupation of David and these Dominionist groups. They strive to impose rather than live and let live.

      1. David Ould

        no “letter of the law” here. Just wondering how far Doug’s (and your) insistence on the “teaching of Jesus” actually extends.
        My experience is that those who appeal to such things in the face of Christian orthodoxy tend to be incredibly selective as to what they think Jesus taught.

        1. Antinous

          Matthew 22:37-40

          37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

          Does Christian orthodoxy agree Jesus said this?

          1. David Ould

            Indeed. But even that statement (quoted from the Old Testament) assumes a personal God that can be related to and comes in the context of that same personal God having acted in history in such a way as to reveal His nature and person.

            Thus it stands in direct contradiction to Rod Bower’s claim.

            1. Antinous

              Or maybe you don’t understand Fr. Rods claim nor taken time to examine the nuances (which John Dickson values so highly) which could in my view ‘assume a personal god that can be related to and comes in the context of that same personal God having acted in history in such a way as to reveal his nature and person’ especially in light of the works he does. Its it not true that ‘By their fruit you will recognize them’?

              Your judging and hateful Christian orthodoxy looks more like a thorn bush than a grape vine.

              1. David Ould

                well it could be I don’t understand him. But I watched the video and am very familiar with other things Bower has said and written and, to his credit, he is very clear on this matter.
                If there’s a nuance (which I’d be delighted to see) I’d be grateful if you would demonstrate it here.

                As for you closing insult, I’ll just point out that it doesn’t help the conversation at all. But if that’s the tack you want to take I’m happy to put you on moderation.

                1. Antinous

                  Its not an insult but my actual view of your position. I don’t assume for a moment you care or would be concerned about my views let alone insulted.

                  Its honestly the way I see your sect as do many many others. I see your specific sect and its particular orthodoxy as hateful and judging. Your many public comments and those of your sectarian leaders can be seen as nothing else.

                  If you wish to run away and use “moderation” to escape from a statement that represents a very widely held perception in the community that’s an issue for you.

                  1. David Ould

                    No-one’s running away here. I just have a clear policy that once the name-calling or other similar behaviour begins that I switch people to moderation. You can call it whatever you want but plenty of readers can discern the difference between genuine engagement and poor behaviour. I’ve just decided a long time ago that I can’t be bothered dealing with the latter. It leaves the ball entirely in your court.

                  2. James Chik

                    You can never justify insults and name-calling by claiming “but I am only speaking the truth” or “I just call it how it is”. Sorry, an insult is an insult.

            2. Equis

              I’m confused – Matt 22:37-40 is not OT, & the notion of a personal God seems to be at odds with monotheism & the seemingly universal Christian version of God.

              1. David Ould

                hi Equis.
                Yes, Jesus’ words are quoted in Matt 22:37-40 but He himself is quoting from Deut. 6:5. and Lev. 19:18, both of which are in the OT Law.

                I’m afraid I don’t understand the second part of your comment. I’m not sure how you come to that conclusion. Perhaps you could explain a little more?

        2. Doug Steley

          So are you saying that your interpretation of the bible is the only correct one and that anyone else’s must therefore be wrong unless they totally agree with you ?

          Scribes and Pharisees of the temple again mate 😉

          1. Doug Steley

            May I ask are you more offended at Fr Rod’s discussion about the nature of God or that he dares to put up big signes and get publicity on issues that you personally find objectionable ?

            Things like supporting the LGBTI community and Asylum Seekers?

            Do you assist him with hsi work in these fields ? Have you considered puttting up similar signs in your parish ?

            The truthful answer if you would please 😉

            1. David Ould

              I’m not offended by either of those things. So I’m afraid I can’t answer your question.

              As for my work in various areas I’m not going to write about it here. I’m happy for my work in our local community and beyond to be known as and when it happens but I will simply point out that your implied accusation of hypocrisy is unfounded.

          2. David Ould

            No. Not at all. I’m simply pointing out that Bower’s position is utterly outside the bounds of traditional Christian thought. That’s not *my* interpretation – it’s the classical Christian position.

            1. Doug Steley

              So God is an old white man in long with robes, long hair and a beard with flowing gowns and a halo, as is the classical Christian position?

              Or has perhaps that classical position changed ?

              1. David Ould

                No, that was never the classical position. Either you are unaware of mainstream Christian thought on this matter or simply prefer to resort to caricatures. I hope it’s the former.

              2. Fr Jeremy Morgan

                “So God is an old white man in long with robes, long hair and a beard with flowing gowns and a halo, as is the classical Christian position?

                Or has perhaps that classical position changed ?”

                haha… Doug, you jest.

                When did David or Aquinas say anything of the sort? When in the Scriptures, the Nicene Creed, the Councils and teachings of the church say as such?

                Just because you mistook Santa Claus for God doesn’t mean the rest of us have.

            2. Antinous

              Once Jesus the man you convince yourself you follow was utterly outside the bounds of traditional thought. That might be to Fr. Rods credit.

              1. David Ould

                it might be. But then again Jesus was not so much “outside the bounds of traditional thought” as in opposition to the religious leadership of the day who had, themselves, moved away from orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Jesus consistently quoted the OT in opposition to those leaders in order to reprove them.
                He was as conservative as they come.

              2. Fr Jeremy Morgan

                Antinous – Rod Bower’s thinking is very much within the bounds of conventional and traditional thought – it just doesn’t happen to be Christian. But it does have a name – secular liberalism.

                Food for thought.

  2. Doug Steley

    and you are more than happy to openly witness to me that both you and your church are fully accepting of LGBTI people in your church and in your faith regardless of their sexuality and that you call on our government to both release Asylum Seekers and to stop mandatory detention ?

    You have no problems with me sharing your statement when you confirm these things ?

    When will you be joining Fr Rod in protesting these and other injustices and calling for ALL churches in Australia to start spreading similar messages of love and compassion for the outcasts and disadvantaged ?

    1. David Ould

      I’m afraid we’re done, Doug. You appear to be confusing a genuine discussion with a list of accusing rhetorical statements. Manual moderation.

  3. James Chik

    Don’t mix asylum seekers with LGBTI in the same sentence as if they are to be treated with the same answer. You’ve done it twice already.

    Yes, I and many Christians (including even Sydney Anglicans!) strongly object to their treatment at the hands of the current and past governments. So let’s get that out of the way.

    LGBTI – anyone, whether gay or not, who wants to seek God by repenting of their sinful ways and start living God’s way, in full submission to Christ as their lord and saviour, I would gladly welcome as a brother or sister in Christ. Anyone who wants to, chooses to remain in their sinful self can go to church as much as they want, but just don’t expect to be treated as a brother or sister in Christ for they are not. But I’d be glad for them to keep hearing God’s word for maybe, just maybe, the power of God’s word may just pass through one day and they turn to God in repentance and be counted as a forgiven sinner.

  4. Ralph Horner

    Thanks for your article David. I’m still in two minds about Rod Bower. I could never accept his confused stuff about homosexuality, his focus on politics rather than spirituality and his nebulous idea of God and eternal life but he does seem to be a man of compassion and sincerity even though it appears to me to be sadly misdirected. I’d say he’s more a humanist than a man of God but he does have God in a vague and confused way in the background. I tend to think that his heart is in the right place but his understanding needs quite a bit of adjustment.

    He is more concerned with people being happy in this life than the next (our eternal life – which I hope you would agree is God’s main focus). The Christian life as I see it (and as I believe Jesus taught it) is about repentance of the evils/sins/selfishness we naturally tend to and the hard and thorny road of temptation that we embark on when we journey towards a better self. Accepting our sin and spiritual foolishness as OK is not the way to attain a better, God induced life. Fr Bower does not accept that homosexuality is a sin because he has more faith (on that point) in current scientific pronouncements and the prevailing public opinion than in the Word of God.

    It’s imperative to have a clear idea of God because that is the basis of all religion and spirituality. How else can one think if God than as the divine being – the eternal being that is the source of all created things including the pinnacle of creation the human which is potentially (and actually if we choose to believe in and follow God) in the image and likeness of God. A vague idea of existence/existing is not enough.

    It’s important to see the divine as being on a higher plane of existence just as the spiritual is on a higher plane than the natural. Another place where Fr Bower demonstrates his confusion is in his catch attention seeking phrase “Jesus had two dads ..”. This may in a twisted way support his homosexual acceptance but is completely false. All humans have two ‘dads’ – a human, natural one who is the father of our body and a spiritual one (God) who is the father of our spirit. If Jesus had had a natural father he would not be divine – he would not be God.

    1. J Dawes

      Hi Ralph. I have a far more definite opinion on Rod Bower, for the following reason: he is not just unconcerned about people being happy in the next life, he is actively steering people away from eternal life by his teachings.

      I know how important it is to be gentle and understanding, but Bower’s case is one of definite heresy. I don’t know how many are likely to be led astray by him, but I would not want to be complicit in their fall through using equivocal language about him. (Not that I’m accusing you of that; but your opening statement of being “in two minds” prompted me to reply.)

      1. Bruce Lyon

        The matter of being leading astray is indeed important. But let us remember that it is the duty of the Bishop to guard well the faith. Anyone serving under the Bishop of the day whom is teaching falsely, is one thing. Any Bishop who refuses to do his job is a much more serious matter than even the false teaching of an Archdeacon.

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