John B. Cobb is one of the world’s most renowned theologians and philosophers, noted especially for his Christological pluralism and work across many disciplines, and lately in major ways in ecological sustainability circles. His writing and thinking are marvelously clear and powerful, continuing even today at age 92. We are thrilled that just last week he agreed to sit down with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and great friend of the show and frequent panelist James McLachlan for a brief discussion of his life and the development of his thought, and then a much more extensive focus on his latest book, Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed.
Jesus consistently referred to God the Father by the Aramaic term, “Abba,” which is very intimate, indicating an unconditionally loving stance from the father to the child. Shortly after Jesus’ death, Christianity began to employ monarchial titles to God—Lord, King, King of Kings, etc.—emphasizing God’s sovereignty and power. This shift, coupled with all the wrong turns brought on by modernity (individualism, industrialization, professionalization, rationalization, pervasive technologies), have all but eliminated the use and feel of “Abba” in today’s world. For Cobb, Jesus’s “Abba” understanding led him to begin to look at others in the world through God’s eyes. Abba is a God who loves ALL of us, not just those on “our” side. As such, we must meet the world with radical love; we must love even our enemies. God loves even sinners. Living out of this consciousness, Jesus rejected the compromises involved in accommodation of Roman rule in Palestine, but he likewise rejected the path of revolt, rightly predicting what eventually happened in Jerusalem when that strategy was tried. Instead, Jesus lived out a “third” option. And he lived it right on through to the cross. It was so powerful, many people were moved then, and throughout history (think of someone like St. Francis of Assisi), and even more recently (Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with many, many Christians who have an Abba understanding of God). They live powerfully even as they live counter-culturally. In them, and should society shift its values away from money, power, and all the other distractions and selfishness of this world, Abba God has not failed.
Tune in to hear from this most powerful thinker who has been and is changing the world person by person, book by book, and whose work and influence is growing in places as far away as China and is inspiring great movements in ecological activism. It’s a wonderful treat to have him engaging us in Mormonism.
Note: This was recorded on a single digital recorder rather than in the normal way Mormon Matters connects with guests, and is therefore a bit more uneven in volume, and also contains some small distortions we couldn’t eliminate as we’d move the recorder to face whoever was speaking. Still, we believe it is very listenable.
John B. Cobb, Jr., Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed (Fortress Press, 2016)
John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology, Second Edition: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007)
Herman E. Daly, John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Beacon Press, 1994)
John B. Cobb, Jr., David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Westminster Press, 1976)