John B. Cobb
9 February 1925|
Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
|Era||20th century philosophy|
|Main interests||Metaphysics, theology, ecology|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Notable ideas||Process philosophy
John B. Cobb, Jr. (born February 9, 1925) is an American United Methodist theologian who played a crucial role in the development of process theology. He integrated Alfred North Whitehead's metaphysics into Christianity, and applied it to issues of social justice.
John Cobb was born in Kobe, Japan in 1925 to parents who were Methodist missionaries. In 1940, he moved to Georgia to go to high school. After graduation he attended a junior college, Emory College (now Oxford College of Emory University) at Oxford, Georgia. He was deeply devout and held strong moral convictions, fighting racism and prejudice among his peers. Joining the army in 1944, he met intellectuals from other religious traditions including Judaism and Catholicism, who showed him new perspectives. It was about this time that he had a religious experience which led him to become a minister.
These experiences gave him a taste for intellectual thought. He entered an interdepartmental program at the University of Chicago, where he tested his faith by setting out to learn all the modern world's objections to Christianity, so that he could answer to them. His faith did not come out intact. Cobb became disillusioned with much of his previous belief. Hoping to resolve his crisis of faith and reconcile the modern worldview with his Christian faith, he went to University of Chicago Divinity School in 1947. He was successful primarily with the help of Richard McKeon, a philosophical relativist, and Charles Hartshorne, who taught him Whiteheadian metaphysics and philosophy, which Hartshorne had integrated into what would become known as process theology. This gave him renewed confidence in the idea of God. Cobb received his MA in 1949 and PhD in 1952 from the University of Chicago.
After graduating he taught at Candler School of Theology of Emory University until 1958 when he moved to Claremont School of Theology, where he stayed until his retirement in 1990. He collaborated with Lewis S. Ford in 1971 to start a journal called Process Studies. In 1973 he worked with David Ray Griffin in founding the Center for Process Studies.
The three trajectories
Cobb came to identify his theological journey as being divided into three trajectories. In the first trajectory, he tried to reconstruct a vision of Christianity applying Whitehead's cosmology. He sought to reconcile the particularity of the Christian faith with the need for pluralism and openness, establishing a christology which demanded tolerance and open-mindedness. He did this by understanding Christ as a "creative transformation," more a process than a person. This creative transformation demanded not just tolerance, but open discourse with other faiths, with the goal of transforming both participants.
The second trajectory, initiated by his son, Cliff, confronted ecological issues from a Whiteheadian perspective. In this trajectory, the two of them collaborated with Herman Daly in writing For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (1989), which constituted Cobb's contribution to economics.
The third trajectory advocated "theology in the service of the church." Here he emphasized the central importance of Christ as the hope of the world, and the church's central importance in proclaiming Christ. He spoke to ethical and communitarian issues regarding the church.
Cobb advocated a theology that managed to be both christocentric and pluralistic in its approach to other faiths. He proclaimed that christocentrism is rooted in Sophia, or divine wisdom, which is the essence of God who is embodied in Christ. He asserted that it requires a Christian to reject arrogance, exclusivism, and dogmatism as obstacles to the christological creative transformation. In this understanding, other religions could approach Christ's essence without actually believing in Christ per se. Cobb saw Jesus as the center of history, but not the whole of history. He saw the need to expand this history to include those of other faiths. Even if the christological creative process leads one to displace Christ's central position in that history with something else, he says, that displacement itself is faithful and true to Christ.
- Varieties of Protestantism, 1960
- Living options in Protestant Theology, 1962
- A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead, Westminster Press, 1965, online edition
- The Structure of Christian Existence, 1967, University Press of America 1990 reprint, online edition
- God and the World, Westminster Press, 1969, online edition
- Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology, 1971 (revised edition, 1995)
- Living Options in Protestant Theology, Westminster Press, 1972, online edition
- Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads, 1973, online edition
- Christ in a Pluralistic Age, Westminster Press, 1975, online edition
- Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, with David Ray Griffin, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, ISBN 0-664-24743-1
- Theology and Pastoral Care, with David Ray Griffin, 1977
- Mind in Nature: the Interface of Science and Philosophy, edited with David Ray Griffin, University Press of America, 1977, online edition
- The Liberation of Life: from the Cell to the Community, with Charles Birch, 1981
- Process Theology as Political Theology, Westminster Press, 1982, online edition
- Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism, 1982
- Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne, edited with Franklin I. Gamwell, University of Chicago Press, 1984, online edition
- Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism, with David Tracy, Seabury Press, 1983, online edition
- Praying for Jennifer, The Upper Room, 1985, online edition
- Christian Identity and Theological Education, with Joseph Hough, 1985
- Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus, with Beardslee, Lull, Pregeant, Weeden, and Woodbridge, 1989
- For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, with Herman Daly, 1989 (revised edition, 1994)
- Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form, Crossroad Publishing, 1990, ISBN 0-8245-1033-X, online edition
- Death or Dialogue, with Leonard Swidler, Paul Knitter, and Monika Hellwig, 1990
- Matters of Life and Death, 1991
- Can Christ Become Good News Again?, 1991
- Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice, Orbis Books, 1992, online edition
- Becoming a Thinking Christian, 1993
- Lay Theology, Chalice Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8272-2122-3
- Sustaining the Common Good: A Christian Perspective on the Global Economy, Pilgrim Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8298-1010-2
- Grace and Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today, 1995
- Reclaiming the Church, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997, ISBN 0-664-25720-8
- The Earthist Challenge to Economism: A Theological Critique of the World Bank, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, ISBN 0-312-21838-9
- Transforming Christianity and the World: A Way Beyond Absolutism and Relativism, Orbis Books, 1999, ISBN 1-57075-271-0
- Postmodernism and Public Policy: Reframing Religion, Culture, Education, Sexuality, Class, Race, Politics, and the Economy, State University of New York Press, 2001, ISBN 0-7914-5166-6
- Christian Faith and Religious Diversity: Mobilization for the Human Family, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2002, ISBN 0-8006-3483-7
- The Process Perspective: Frequently Asked Questions About Process Theology, Chalice Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8272-2999-2
- The Emptying God: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1-59752-421-2
- 9/11 & American Empire: Christians, Jews, and Muslims Speak Out, co-editor with Kevin Barrett and Sandra Lubarsky, Olive Branch Press, 2006, ISBN 1-56656-660-6
- Alfred North Whitehead
- Charles Hartshorne
- David Ray Griffin
- Herman Daly
- Process philosophy
- Process theology
- Religious pluralism
- Uneconomic growth
- Boston University's biography of John Cobb, Jr.
- Center for Process Studies
- Claremont School of Theology
- Sustainable Communities Network
- Progressive Christians Uniting, co-founded by John Cobb with Rev. George Regas