Postcards from Claremont: Final Reflections on Process Theology Conference

Process and Emergence in Creative Transformation

Creative transformation is at the heart of process theology.  With the apostle Paul, process theology counsels us, “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing your mind.”  Healthy spirituality involves a constant process of growth and renewal, of growing like young Jesus, in wisdom and stature – in awareness of God’s presence in the small and the large; in ability to embrace as much reality – and novelty and diversity – as possible while preserving your expanding spirit.  Large theology is constantly growing, transforming, emerging, evolving, and enlightening.

Conversation between emerging Christians and process theologians invites us to innovation, growth, and creative transformation.  In the course of the Emergent Village conversation, many emergent folk challenged process theologians to speak in accessible ways and to descend from their intellectual mountaintops to respond to the hard-scrabble challenges of ministry, personal growth, and church life.  Many emergent folk challenged their process partners to move from head to heart and hands.  George Bernard Shaw once noted that “the professions are conspiracies against the laity” with their authority, power, and vocabulary.  While process theologians are seldom authoritarian professionally, the vocabulary of process often confuses and alienates even educated laypeople.  I know a pastor who preaches a full-throttle process sermon once a year: the people smile, nod their heads, and leave murmuring to one another, “Nice sermon.  But, I didn’t understand a word.  Our pastor’s really smart.  He must be, I think.”

Process theologians can take a cue from their evangelical brothers and sisters: without comprising the quest for truth, they can ask themselves “Does it preach?” when they share process theology in public settings.  Process theology is experiential and needs to honor the experiences of laypeople in its language and thought-forms.  It needs to see creative transformation as affecting its language and its relevance to global and personal change.

Emerging Christians challenge process theologians to “make it real” and touch the ground, making contact with real world situations, and transforming lives and healing the good earth.

Process theologians have something to share with the emerging church.  Often emerging Christians have scorned metaphysics and theological visions, preferring a more iconoclastic deconstructionist approach characteristic of the work of John Caputo and Peter Rollins.  While deconstruction is part of creative practice, faith lives by what it affirms not just by what it denies.  Process theology provides a fluid, open-ended, life-changing and constructive vision of God, the world, and ourselves.

Process theology invites emerging Christians to see faith in terms of relationship, dynamic change, possibility, and open-endedness.  Old theological wineskins can no longer contain the new wine of emergence.  Calvin and Barth can no longer provide an adequate theological diet for emerging Christians.  They are far too parochial, too wedded to the past, too supernaturalistic, to respond to the incarnational, sensational, and revelational experiences of emerging Christians.

Process theology helps emerging Christians understand Christ globally as well as locally.  Christ is not the possession of the church, Christianity, or any theological system.  Christ is everywhere, touching everyone in every continent.  Christ’s revelation is unique yet continuous with every other healthy faith experience.  Other faiths are not godless, but emerge from God’s revelation in a particular time and place.  Christ gives us a democracy of revelation in which all of us can become vehicles of God’s inspiration.  Despite greed and error, we live in a god-filled universe where each encounter can place us on holy ground.

Process theology provides a theological undergirding – fluid and growing – for emerging Christianity’s vision of multi-sensory, global, experiential, and grassroots spirituality.  God is sensational – omnipresence means that every sense organ is a window into grace and that human creativity shares in God’s ongoing creativity.   Together, process and emerging Christians can creatively transform each other, bringing forth a holistic and lively vision of human life, worship, ethics, spirituality, and commitment to healing the earth.  Let the conversations continue!

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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