Fortress Press

The Mystery and Agency of God: Divine Being and Action in the World

The Mystery and Agency of God

Divine Being and Action in the World


There are two philosophical commitments requisite to Christian belief: that God is the ultimate mystery and that God is present and active in the world. Attempting to avoid the trappings of a radical distantiation and the immanent collapse of God and world, Frank Kirkpatrick argues for a theory of agency and action that preserves the mystery of God while providing a philosophically robust account of divine action in created time and space. Kirkpatrick proposes a way around the stalemates that have stymied thought on divine agency and enters into conversation with significant figures in systematic theology.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451465730
  • eBook ISBN 9781451479775
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 192
  • Publication Date February 1, 2014


1. Otherness and Oneness: Rival Conceptions of God
2. Establishing the Primordiality of the Agent, Act, and Agency
3. Edward Pols and the Metaphysics of Agency
4. The Metaphysical Conditions for God as Agent
5. How Can God Act in the World?
6. Theology and the Discernment of Divine Acts in History
7. Coda on the Mystery of God as Agent


“Frank Kirkpatrick takes on one of the most daunting and perennial theological problems—what does it mean to speak of divine agency? With his customary cogency, lucidity, and sensible judgment, Kirkpatrick argues for the primordiality of action, showing how a master teacher writes philosophical theology.”
—Gary Dorrien
Union Theological Seminary

"There is perhaps no question more fundamental than the action of God.  Frank Kirkpatrick in this outstanding study brings insight, originality, and clarity to this important debate. The Mystery and Agency of God is not simply a solid contribution to a continuing debate, but it is also exactly right in its conclusions. A remarkable and monumental achievement."
Ian Markham
Virginia Theological Seminary

"The Enlightenment, modern science, and fears of being linked to creationism and intelligent design challenge traditional thinking about how God acts. In The Mystery and Agency of God, Frank C. Kirkpatrick rigorously makes sense of real divine agency and appropriate mystery held in tension rather than conflicting with each other. We don’t have to be anti-science or anti-reason to speak about how God influences directly without interfering in the world. What evolves is an agent view of God as ‘standing alongside,’ reflected in a commonality of field shared by human agency.  We are drawn into understanding how God presides over the greatest mysteries of life, encountered in divine and human love."
James Kowalski                                                              
Dean, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine 

"Frank C. Kirkpatrick takes on the vital, but often dismissed, question of God's action in the world. Is there such a thing? And if so, how can it be conceived? He sees God as a personal Agent in our history—large and small—and grounds his case in 'the primordiality of agency.' His respect for modern science and philosophy as well as for the wisdom in the mystical tradition is transparent. This book is contemporary, clear, critical and inclusive. In his dialogue with Ekhardt, Pols, Macmurray, and others, Kirkpatrick creates space for fresh conversations on how God and the world must be taken together."
—John E. Costello
Regis College

"The Mystery and Agency of God uniquely brings into conversation the thought of John Macmurray, Raymond Tallis, and Edward Pols to support Kirkpatrick’s brave, new proposal that God's agency makes sense as primordial action. By methodically critiquing the usual problems that arise when speaking of God as a personal agent, Kirkpatrick carefully argues that God supervenes on rather than intervenes in the laws of nature. Through his clear yet demanding exposition, Kirkpatrick charts a course from philosophy to theology that respects reason and science, presenting a nuanced and exciting development in the field."
—Esther McIntosh 
York St. John University

"In this important study, Frank C. Kirkpatrick tackles the problem of divine agency with his characteristic clarity and insight. Drawing upon some neglected twentieth-century resources on human action, he presents an account of divine action that aims at philosophical coherence and theological adequacy. He has provided us with a measured and attractive set of proposals which will repay close scholarly attention."
—David Fergusson 
University of Edinburgh
"Frank C. Kirkpatrick has written a profound, original, and scholarly work in philosophical and metaphysical theology. He convincingly argues that his twin concepts of the primordiality of action and God as personal agent can effectively resolve the perennial theistic conflict between God's transcendence and immanence."
—Walter G. Jeffko
Fitchburg State University
"Frank C. Kirkpatrick has presented us with a clear and credible interpretation and defense of the view that God is a personal agent whose agency is expressed in acts of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the world and in general and particular acts of providence commensurate with his or her intensions. A must read!" 
—William L. Power
The University of Georgia