Process theology

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Process theology is a type of theology developed from Alfred North Whitehead's (1861–1947) process philosophy, most notably by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and John B. Cobb (b. 1925). Process theology and process philosophy are collectively referred to as "process thought." Process theology is unrelated to the Process Church.

For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.[1]

Although process theologians all share certain similarities (particularly a stress on becoming over being and on relationality), there continue to be ongoing debates within the field on the nature of God, the relationship of God and the world, and immortality.

Construed in a wide sense, process theology might be understood to refer to all forms of theology that, for the metaphysical foundation of existence, look to creative activity rather than passive matter, and to evolutionary becoming rather than changeless enduring. Such a construal would include, for example, the theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or theology influenced by Hegel.[2][3] Nevertheless, the term is generally understood as referring to the Whiteheadian/Hartshornean school.

History[edit]

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. Hartshorne was deeply influenced by French philosopher Jules Lequier and by Swiss philosopher Charles Secrétan who were probably the first ones to claim that in God liberty of becoming is above his substantiality.

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 Bradley Shavit Artson, Lawrence A. Englander, William E. Kaufman, Harold Kushner, Anton Laytner, Michael Lerner, Gilbert S. Rosenthal, Lawrence Troster, Donald B. Rossoff, Burton Mindick, and Nahum Ward.

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

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

God and the World Relationship[edit]

Whitehead's classical statement is a set of antithetical statements that attempt to avoid self-contradiction by shifting them from a set of oppositions into a contrast:

  • It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.
  • It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.
  • It is as true to say that, in comparison with the World, God is actual eminently, as that, in comparison with God, the World is actual eminently.
  • It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World.
  • It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God.
  • It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.[4]

Process Theism's Themes[edit]

  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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. Other process theologians believe that people do have subjective experience after bodily death.[7]
  • 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).

Relationship to liberation theology[edit]

Henry Young combines Black theology and Process theology in his book Hope in Process. Young seeks a model for American society that goes beyond the alternatives of integration of Blacks into white society and Black separateness. He finds useful the process model of the many becoming one. Here the one is a new reality that emerges from the discrete contributions of the many, not the assimilation of the many to an already established one.[8]

Monica Coleman has combined Womanist theology and Process theology in her book Making a Way Out of No Way. In it, she argues that 'making a way out of no way' and 'creative transformation' are complementary insights from the respective theological traditions. She is one of many theologians who identify both as a process theologian and feminist/womanist/ecofeminist theologian, which includes persons such as Sallie McFague, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki.

C. Robert Mesle, in his book Process Theology, outlines three aspects of a process theology of liberation:[9]

  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.

Relationship to pluralism[edit]

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.[10]

Relationship to the doctrine of the incarnation[edit]

The Christ of process theology does not represent a hypostasis of divine and human personae. 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 fully identified with God at all moments of life.[11]

Process theologians[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bruce G. Epperly Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (NY: T&T Clark, 2011, ISBN 978-0-567-59669-7) This is "perhaps the best in-depth introduction to process theology available for non-specialists."
  • 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); Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984, ISBN 0-87395-771-7); and Richard Rice, God's Foreknowledge & Man's Free Will (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; rev. ed. of the author's The Openness of God, cop. 1980; ISBN 0-87123-845-4). 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 2-911087-26-7).
  • 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, LCC BT83.6 .P5), Process-Thought and Christian Faith (New York: Macmillan Company, 1968, LCC BR100 .P615 1968), and Becoming and Belonging (Wilton, CT: Morehouse Publications, 1989, ISBN 0-8192-1480-9).
  • 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[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Viney, Donald W. "Process Theism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Cobb Jr., John B. (1982). Process Theology as Political Theology. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 19: "Process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasise event, occurrence, or becoming over against substance. In this sense theology influenced by Hegel is process theology just as much as that influenced by Whitehead. This use of the term calls attention to affinities between these otherwise quite different traditions". ISBN 0-664-24417-3; ISBN 978-06-6424-417-0. 
  3. ^ Cyril O'Regan, Cyril (1994). The Heterodox Hegel. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 448: "Any relation between Process Theology and Hegelian ontotheology needs to be argued. Such argument has become more conspicuous in recent years". ISBN 1-438-41516-8; ISBN 978-14-38415-161. 
  4. ^ Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 348.
  5. ^ Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (Albany: State University of New York, 1984), 20-26.
  6. ^ John Cobb and David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 14-16, chapter 1.
  7. ^ Hartshorne, 32-36.
  8. ^ http://processandfaith.org/writings/article/process-theology
  9. ^ C. Robert Mesle, Process Theology: A Basic Introduction (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1993), 65-68, 75-80.
  10. ^ Mesle, 101.
  11. ^ Mesle, 106.

External links[edit]

Reference works