God’s future actions can only be prospected in light of reliable patterns of past experiences of God’s cooperative action with human beings.A contemporary theology of concursus need not ask if God and human beings cooperate. Instead, the question is whether human beings recognize and identify with God’s cooperative activity.Joshua D. Reichard, ‘Beyond Causation: A Contemporary Theology of Concursus’, American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 34:2 (2013), pp. 117–134; quotations from p. 133
I don’t really agree with the first quotation from Reichard here. If God’s future actions can be prospected at all, then it’s surely only in connection with God’s own revealed promises, in Scripture and through the Spirit’s gift of prophecy, about what God will do. If I understand him correctly, what Reichard’s suggesting seems to imprison God within the web of creaturely causation, such that future divine action can be predicted on the basis of an extrapolation from past events.
The second quotation is more interesting, and it reminds me of Karl Barth’s point in Church Dogmatics III/3 that Christians willingly participate in God’s actions through faith, obedience, and prayer. It means that the more general issue – which could be phrased as: ‘Is there such a thing as divine concurrence?’ – is automatically assumed to have a positive answer, meaning that the precise dynamic of the God–world relation becomes the focus; its possibility, its actuality, is taken for granted. Of course, some might say that this focus has always been a feature of these debates, no matter how they’re framed. And, in many respects, this is why I hold that conceiving of God’s providence in terms of divine presence is a way forward for portraying this dynamic; see my ‘Divine Presence as a Framework for God’s Providence’, which was published online as part of Epworth Review 36 (2009), for my further reflections on this if you’re interested.
Now that that shameless plug is out of the way, I want to pick up on another feature of Reichard’s article: the idea that concursus equals cooperation. Granted, concursus or concurrence is often defined as ‘cooperation’, but I’d suggest that our understanding of ‘cooperation’ has to differ according to the context in which we’re employing the term. For example, Reichard writes that ‘concursus is the cooperation of God and humanity as the causal forces of some particular effect’ (‘Beyond Causation’, pp. 117–18). Leaving aside the causal language, which, I maintain, is ambiguous, and really doesn’t help elucidate the doctrine of providence, the use of ‘cooperation’ piques my interest because I’m not sure if Reichard means it to be understood as a word or more technically as a concept. If ‘cooperation’ here is no more than an abstract noun, I suppose it’s not a huge concern. But if ‘cooperation’ here is a concept, then we push for a deeper outline of what such ‘cooperation’ means in this context. To me, at least, it implies some form of synergism, whereby God and the creature cooperate or work together to bring about an effect in much the same way as my wife and I cooperate when putting together an infernal piece of flat-pack furniture. This is not what the traditional treatment of concursus indicates, and I find it significant that, for example, neither Richard Muller in his excellent Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, nor Ian McFarland in The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, use the word ‘cooperate’ in their entries on concursus. Perhaps concursus needs to be distanced from ‘cooperation’.