Process theology

Process theology

Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947). While there are process theologies that are similar, but unrelated to the work of Whitehead (such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) the term is generally applied to the Whiteheadian school. Process theology is unrelated to the Process Church.

History

The original ideas of process thought are found in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Various theological and philosophical aspects have been expanded and developed by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000), John B. Cobb, Jr., and David Ray Griffin. A characteristic of process theology each of these thinkers shared was a rejection of metaphysics that privilege "being" over "becoming," particularly those of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.

Process theology soon influenced a number of Jewish theologians including Rabbis Max Kadushin, Milton Steinberg and Levi A. Olan, Harry Slominsky and, to a lesser degree, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Today some rabbis who advocate some form of process theology include Lawrence A. Englander, William E. Kaufman, Harold Kushner, Anton Laytner, Gilbert S. Rosenthal, Lawrence Troster, Donald B. Rossoff, and Nahum Ward.

Alan Anderson and Deb Whitehouse have attempted to integrate process theology with the New Thought variant of Christianity.

Thomas Jay Oord integrates process theology with evangelical, openness, and Wesleyan Arminian theologies. Oord argues that it is part of God's essence as relational to provide freedom to others. This loving act means that God cannot withdraw or override the freedom of others, but this inability is part of who God is and not imposed by outside forces or conditions.

The work of Richard Stadelmann has been to preserve the uniqueness of Jesus in process theology.

Major concepts

  • God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion. Process theologians interpret the classical doctrine of omnipotence as involving force, and suggest instead a forbearance in divine power. "Persuasion" in the causal sense means that God does not exert unilateral control.
  • Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. These events have both a physical and mental aspect. All experience (male, female, atomic, and botanical) is important and contributes to the ongoing and interrelated process of reality.
  • The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot totally control any series of events or any individual, but God influences the creaturely exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. To say it another way, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God's will.
  • God contains the universe but is not identical with it (panentheism, not pantheism or pandeism). Some also call this "theocosmocentrism" to emphasize that God has always been related to some world or another.
  • Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid.
  • Charles Hartshorne believes that people do not experience subjective (or personal) immortality, but they do have objective immortality because their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was. Others believe that people do have subjective experience after bodily death.
  • Dipolar theism, is the idea that God has both a changing aspect (God's existence as a Living God) and an unchanging aspect (God's eternal essence).

Process theology and liberation theology

A liberative theology is very easily constructed in process thought. C. Robert Mesle, in his book Process Theology, outlines three aspects of a process theology of liberation:

  1. There is a relational character to the divine which allows God to experience both the joy and suffering of humanity. God suffers just as those who experience oppression and God seeks to actualize all positive and beautiful potentials. God must, therefore, be in solidarity with the oppressed and must also work for their liberation.
  2. God is not omnipotent in the classical sense and so God does not provide support for the status quo, but rather seeks the actualization of greater good.
  3. God exercises relational power and not unilateral control. In this way God cannot instantly end evil and oppression in the world. God works in relational ways to help guide persons to liberation.

Process theology and pluralism

Process theology is more open than traditional, conservative Christian thought. Process theology affirms that God is working in all persons to actualize potentialities. In that sense each religious manifestation is the Divine working in a unique way to bring out the beautiful and the good. Additionally, scripture and religion represent human interpretations of the divine. In this sense pluralism is the expression of the diversity of cultural backgrounds and assumptions that people use to approach the Divine.

Process theology and the doctrine of the incarnation

The Christ of process theology does not represent a hypostasis of divine and human persona. Jesus’ existence is not paradoxical; it is not the full expression of two completely different substances. Rather God is incarnate in the lives of all humans when they act according to a call from God. Jesus fully and in every way responded to the call of God and so the person of Jesus is theologically understood to be “the divine Word in human form.” Jesus was not God-man in essence, but had to at all moments of life fully identify with God.

Process theologians

Further reading

  • Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki's God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology, new rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1989, ISBN 0-8245-0970-6) demonstrates the practical integration of process philosophy with Christianity.
  • C. Robert Mesle's Process Theology: A Basic Introduction (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8272-2945-3) is an introduction to process theology written for the layperson.
  • Jewish introductions to classical theism, limited theism and process theology can be found in A Question of Faith: An Atheist and a Rabbi Debate the Existence of God (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994, ISBN 1-56821-089-2) and The Case for God (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8272-0458-2), both written by Rabbi William E. Kaufman. Jewish variations of process theology are also presented in Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Anchor Books, 2004, ISBN 1-4000-3472-8) and Sandra B. Lubarsky and David Ray Griffin, eds., Jewish Theology and Process Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, ISBN 0-7914-2810-9).
  • Christian introductions may be found in Schubert M. Ogden's The Reality of God and Other Essays (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-87074-318-X); John B. Cobb, Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form (New York: Crossroad, 1990, ISBN 0-8245-1033-X); and Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984, ISBN 0-87395-771-7). In French, the best introduction may be André Gounelle, Le Dynamisme Créateur de Dieu: Essai sur la Théologie du Process, édition revue, modifiée et augmentee (Paris: Van Dieren, 2000, ISBN 2911087267).
  • For essays exploring the relation of process thought to Wesleyan theology, see Bryan P. Stone and Thomas Jay Oord, Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue (Nashville: Kingswood, 2001, ISBN 0-687-05220-3).
  • The most important work by Paul S. Fiddes is The Creative Suffering of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); see also his short overview "Process Theology," in A. E. McGrath, ed., The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Modern Christian Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 472–76.
  • Norman Pittenger's thought is exemplified in his God in Process (London: SCM Press, 1967, ), Process-Thought and Christian Faith (New York: Macmillan Company, 1968, ), and Becoming and Belonging (Wilton, CT: Morehouse Publications, 1989, ISBN 0819214809).
  • Constance Wise's Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought (Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7591-1006-9) applies process theology to one variety of contemporary Paganism.

See also

References

External links

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