Your Granny Is a Process Theologian! (Does God Change?) – Guest Post From Homebrewed Christianity (Tripp and Bo)

This past October I finally got to meet (in person) Bo Sanders and Tripp Fuller of Homebrewed Christianity.  They are great guys and if you do not subscribe to their podcast, well, you are missing out on something amazing.  They’ve interviewed too many names to list them all here, but lets throw down a couple: NT Wright, John Caputo, Peter Rollins, Brian McLaren, and Roger Olson.  By listening to the podcast and having some convos with Bo, I’ve learned that Process Theology is all the rage these days. In fact, it will be a major topic at this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation, January 31-February 2, in Claremont, California.  I personally do not hold to process theology at this time, but have been outspoken about my view of Open Theism.  These two views are similar in many ways, but are also different.  I think the two are certainly good conversation partners, which is why I’m excited to have this article from Tripp (with Bo).

© 2010 | Alan Levine | Flickr | "Granny: Queen to my Pawn" | http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Your Grandma Is a Process Theologian!

Ok, maybe yours wasn’t but mine was and she didn’t know it.  My Nana was a real deal Saint.  Her life was prayer filled and full.  She strove to live moment to moment in the awareness of God, to listen and respond faithfully to God’s call, to join God in other’s pain and struggle, and be ever ready to give testimony to God’s loving presence – even in the midst of suffering.  She may not have read the philosopher Whitehead or Marjorie Suchocki’s amazing book on prayer but she was a Process Theologian and I imagine the the church’s faithful are full of ‘anonymous Process Theologians.’ Living theological legend John Cobb once said that:

Process theology affirms that at the deepest reality of the world is a vastly complex network interrelated events.  Even God is affected by what happens, just as God participates in the constitution of every creaturely event.

A Process vision of the world sees relationships as primary and it is in these relationships that God’s divine initiative and the world’s creaturely response takes place.  Prayerful people like my Nana intuited this even though many theological greats from Church history would have seen her theological intuitions as naive.

Prayer Changes Me.”  I have heard many sermons on how the point of prayer isn’t to change God or what happens in the world but to change yourself.  Implied in this rather depressing sermon is the image of an unchanging and unaffected deity.  The point of prayer is then to resign oneself to the will of God which is being equated to whatever happens in history… even the really nasty stuff.  The pastor will probably quote Jesus in the Garden saying ‘not my will but thy will be done’ and then use the horror that is the cross and God’s redemptive work through it in order to justify whatever injustice, pain, or suffering one is facing is, in fact, the good will of God.

The problem isn’t what is happening in the world but how one experiences it. That is depressing to think about and an image of God not fit for one revealed in Christ. What if, as my Nana taught me, the prayer of Jesus was not a prayer of personal resignation to God’s will… but was instead a prayer for understanding the will of God and the strength and courage to will to join in God’s work – even when it is costly and difficult?

God Changes

Many Christian theologians have wanted to deny that God actually changes but Process theologians, including my Grand Mother, say it loudly and proudly.  God’s immutability (complete lack of change) was even one of the essential divine attributes, part of how God is qualitatively different than the finite world.  There are a number of reasons this divine ideal came into Christian thought but none of them was the testimony of scripture.  Nana’s summary of scripture to me was “God knows, God cares, and God acts because God is Love.”

For many Greek philosophers being unchanged, like the unmoving planets & stars in the sky (lol), was the ideal.  God being more perfect than the heavenly lights was described as the unmoved mover.  Perhaps an unchanging God and the desire for stoic living is an ideal but I don’t think it is a genuinely Christian one. In the Bible God is seen to be active, involved, and invested in the world as well as the people of Israel, and even the lives and struggles of individuals.  The gospels report that when Jesus saw people in need he had compassion on them and was then moved to act.  For many praying Christians the expectation of intercessory prayer is that it does something.  Why then would Christian theologians insist that prayer cannot change God or the world?  They wanted God to be perfect.

One reason they thought a changing God would imply imperfection is that a change must necessarily be for the good or not.  So if God changed then God would either change ‘good’, revealing that previously God was not perfectly good, OR change for the worse which would reveal that God is less than ‘good’.  But should one not see reality primarily as static but necessarily moving, then divine perfection would be affirmed because of the nature and character of God in the movement. There is something inherently risky in loving and there is something moving when you understand and respond to someone.

If loving each other requires change in us then it seems reasonable that the God who is love is always being moved by the reality of God’s beloved. It is in this relational vision of God and the world that a Process thinker can imagine intercessory prayer changing things.  When time is not an illusion* but the on-going interaction of God and the world then our participation, actions, involvement and lack there of have consequences.  Just think of Jesus visit to his home town in Mark 6:4-6 where the people’s lack of faith inhibited Jesus from healing all that he desired.

Love requires real relationships which include the 3 risks of:

  • duration
  • freedom
  • and openness.

God is not perfect by being beyond these risks – but in them. As participants in this open and relational world, we can join God at every moment of the duration of our life.  Regardless of what happened before, if we used our freedom for good (or ill) we are again given the grace of the divine presence and lure.  This lived openness is then the matrix of God’s perfect love.

If you have any questions for Bo and Tripp, they’ll be on-hand today to address some of them! Consider this a “101″ for Process Theism.  I just ask that you be courteous :-) ———————————————————————————————————————————

* [A popular theological move to preserve divine perfection was to assert that time is not real for God.  Sure we experience it as a real sequence of events with causes, effects, and possibilities but in actuality the story has already been written, completed, and was settled by God before we ever make our first appearance in the story. There is a problem with saying that time is not real for God...if it’s not real for God then time is simply an illusion.  Beyond that it seems to me that the scriptures testify to a God that works in and through history, for and with the world.  Divine perfection then must be timely - an ever-present and incarnational activity in which God is lovingly present to all the world and every context, inviting, luring, calling, and empowering the world toward the Good.  Then, regardless of what happens, perfect divine love is faithful and greets the next moment with the same possibility.]

Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders are two of the brewers at Homebrewed Christianity and will be helping to host this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation in Claremont, Ca from January 31-February 2. You can sign up at ProcessTheology.org

Resources:

Print Friendly

  • http://twitter.com/awgonnerman Adam Gonnerman

    I hold to open theism, but not process theology in the classic sense. For whatever that’s worth….

    • http://twitter.com/trippfuller trippfuller

      most of my Process friends call me an Open Theist because my Christology is too High…I take that as a complement for whatever that’s worth!  Thanks for checking it out Adam

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

        Awesome.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @twitter-14347014:disqus … I’d love to hear about the areas that make you hesitant to be a Process theologian!!!!  Say more!

    • Ryan Robinson

      This is what I’d usually say, but it depends exactly on how process theology is being used here and I’m not quite sure I’m pinning down the definition of the author. I’ve usually heard it as that God’s character changes, improving over time as he/she learns and grows just as humanity does. This I’d reject – I think God’s character is consistently perfect. I have no problem saying that God’s mind changes, though, in response to our actions, which is part of Open Theism – the conditional plan changes when the conditions change, but the good character motivating the plan stays the same. I’m not sure the definition of “process theology” being used here is that, though, and it almost seems to me that the definition being used is closer to Open Theism.

  • Mike Ward

    It seems to me that there is a difference between (1) God doing one thing in one circumstance and something else in another and (2) God actually changing.

    Both could be described as God changing his mind, but it seems to me that
    the bible describes God doing the first repeatedly, and specifically says he does not do the second.

    Even if God changes his mind in response to a prayer, it’s still the first situation because God cares about us and his being influenced by our desires does not reflect God actually changing, it simply reflects that God may do one thing when his children ask nothing of him and another when they do.

    So I would disagree with anyone who said that God cannot respond to our prayers because that would mean he changes (though I’m not sure how common that view actually is), but I don’t think I’m an process theologian (and I’m not sure your Grandma is either).

    • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

      Mike – thank you for the thoughtful response. I see what you are getting at. I think it would important to articulate two things here:

      1) God’s responsive relationship to the world is not A) illusionary B) a facade C) God pretending or D) simply  anthropomorphic – it is an actual relationship that really impacts, influences, and affects both parties.
       It is fully mutual (this can not be overstated) – though not entirely symmetrical. 

      2) God does respond to prayer and vice-versa. What many people well intentioned people do, when they attempt to stick up for classic views (or amalgamations) of God end up doing is the exact opposite of what intended to do! By trying to hold to an antiquated conceptual framework in order to preserve this ‘holy’ God of tradition, they end up with a situation where it would actually be impossible for God to respond to prayer … but then they bail themselves out by saying “God can do whatever “He” wants to!” or “God’s ways are higher than our ways”. 

      it’s not good.  It’s part of what we are trying to address 

      • Mike Ward

        Thanks for the response.

        I don’t see anything in it that I disagree with off hand with one caveat I’ll save for them end*.

        I do think some people create a situation where God cannot respond to prayer because they see it as the only way to perserve God’s perfection or omnipotence or as you say holiness.

        But I’m not sure that correcting this misunderstanding is the same thing as process theology. Process theology does not have this same problem (of course it could still have other problems), but that does not mean that correcting this one misunderstand is the same thing as process theolgoy. It seems to me that process theology is more  than just this, but I know very little about what all process theology entails.

        *My caveat is this: it depends on what is meant by God being affected by our relationship with him. I think it is obvious that the bible says the relationship we have with him does affect him, but I do not think it is obvious that the relationship changes him–at least not in any the sense of any transformation or growth. God’s mood changes for instance, but that does not mean that his nature changes.

        • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

          You are right. Process  is a thoughtful, sincere, complex, thorough, elaborate school of thought that puts forward a plausible framework for the Christian endeavor in this century. 

          This topic is simply one arena that allows engagement.  If you get a chance, go up and read Tripp’s response to Ryan B.   Its get to this as well. 

          • Mike

            Thanks. I’ve read Tripp’s response above once, but it will require a couple of more reading to process. I will likely respond to it later.

  • Ryan B.

    Hey Tripp and Bo!  Thanks for making yourselves available for dialogue.  My question is this:  In Process Theology, God cannot violate natural laws….Right?  If this is so, how do we explain events that seem to do so.  I’m thinking specifically of the Virgin Conception, and Resurrection of Jesus.

    Thanks for your consideration

    • http://twitter.com/trippfuller trippfuller

      Hey Ryan….Process thought reframs the notion of natural laws and divine action.  Here’s a couple rules to think about those events from a process perspective.

      1) All events in the world happen in God & God is an active participant within each event.
      2) All events are More or Less responsive to the Will of God for an event.  (Process types call it the ‘lure of God’ which is the contextualization of God’s eternal virtues (good, truth, beauty, adventure, zest, peace, love) to a situation.  So you could say God is the one who gives the Gift of possibility to each becoming event but not the only power involved in what becomes actual)
      3) Natural Laws are not abstract, determined rules God lets go or breaks to be awesome but productivelife-giving habits in the ongoing and evolving God-World relationship. 
      4) God is asymmetrically privileged in each event’s becoming but not solely determinative.  BUT creatuely fidelity to the lure of God makes divine action possible in ways it wouldn’t be otherwise. 

      in this kind of setting different process theologians will answer those two questions differently.  I affirm the resurrection but not the virgin conception.  of course the virgin conception is rejected more for biblicalhistorical reasons.

      • Erin

        Ummm… please forgive  my ignorance – I am really trying hard to understand the process of process theology. To be fair, I am struggling far more deeply with traditional theologies, so it’s a well-rounded battle.

        Thus far, the post only sounds like another philosophy that creates God in our image. We pick & choose how we perceive God, and thus He/She is. Specifically, why reject the virgin conception and not the resurrection? I’m not even talking literal v. metaphor here. Why choose one and not the other? I’m researching process theology, and I can find little basis for the choices God would or wouldn’t make… only the ones we intuit He/She would make.

        Overall, the battle of theologies seems to come down to a matter of serious cosmic control. Traditionalists freak out if God is not in control of all things at all times. Yet, when process theology emphasizes love and goodness, this God apparently chooses not to act on behalf of some of the most heinous acts we (I guess) choose to commit towards one another. So other aspects of God and free will get trashed. Our total free will gets to have free reign for a bit because of God’s self-limitation? That’s about as harsh as damnation theology.

        I’m not trying to sound off-putting, believe me. I’m trying really hard to work through all of this. Maybe I’m jaded. Yet God is more than our theologies, which some traditions would affirm, and we’re imperfect. So is it a sin to believe and preach an Immaculate Conception? Really?

        • participant

          now see this is an example of me being a jackass. immaculate conception
          is different than simply a virgin conception and birth. lol. sorry bout
          that.

      • KingsofZion

        If God is capable of creation, I really don’t think a virgin conception is that difficult a thing for Him. If you do not affirm the virgin conception and birth, then you do not believe in the full experience of Jesus. You may want to rethink that one. It’s one you can’t afford to get wrong.

  • Kurtkjohnson

    I’m also an open theist and I didn’t catch anything in this post that actually differs from open theism.

    • http://twitter.com/trippfuller trippfuller

      yeah there’s nothing in this post that would differentiate the two.  if one explained philosophically there may be a bit when it comes to describing how God was present in a particular event, but that would be for an academic journal and all 6 people who read it would be tempted to sleep.

      • Kurtkjohnson

        Haha.. Maybe. :) So, what does process theology have to say about Trinity and ex nihilo? Could one be process and affirm those doctrines?

        Also, Is process inherently panentheistic?

        • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

          Kurt: Yes – Yes – Yes and No.  

          The thing I can tell you is that Process has a TON to say on the Trinity.  I’m actually blown away by how much. 

          Ex nihilo is a fascinating conversation. Most do not do Ex Nihilo. Some do hold onto it. We have Homebrewed podcast coming out next month about the debate :) it is tons of fun – centering on Catherine Keller and Philip Clayton. 

          So yes – Process has Trinity and some have ex nihilo (although I am not sure that is explicit doctrine per se) 

          Panentheism is a complicated term. It plays a big part in much of Process. It takes on a unique aspect within a Process understanding that is a little different than how it is often defined by its opponents. 

  • KingsofZion

    Surrendering to the will of God is only depressing for Calvinists (smiles).

    Since His will involves our movement on behalf of all that He is, it’s anything but static. Knowing the end from the beginning doesn’t mean He didn’t take all of our responses, prayers, and actions into account in knowing of the end from the beginning.

    Being too wise & holy to be tempted to sin, God interacts and is affected by our experiences whether good or bad. I suppose like Jesus.  It almost seemed from the article that what was being said was that God could have shadow of turning in His inherent holiness.  Is the article saying that God changes things by working through our prayers and our actions? Or is it saying that he simply changes His mind about His plans or judgements as I’ve seen precedent for that? In what way exactly does He change? I want to understand the verbiage here.

    also, this article made me reflect on how Jesus made it possible for us to not have the fear of death we have as humans. Generosity of spirit comes from the hope of eternal life.  I think knowing we have someone there who we may not fully understand, but who gives us some assurances and hope during our life helps us.

    Underestimating God’s intelligence (and supernatural ability to know the future) may make us think His ways are not higher than ours or His thoughts are not higher than ours. And, knowing the future doesn’t mean He isn’t constantly active in the world drawing them to Himself through Christ nor that time isn’t real for Him.

    Sometimes, I think the illusion is in thinking we can get our minds fully around God at least in our current state.  He’s like uh God u know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

      Wow. that was a lot of thoughts strung together :)  I would love to have coffee with you if you ever in LA! 

      I guess the only thing I can say without a specific question is that this article:  http://homebrewedchristianity.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/What_Is_Process_Theology.pdf  is a great starting point if you want to jump in.  Blessings on your journey as you continue to explore  -Bo

      • KingsofZion

        Hi Bo,
        With regard to the statements (in the article) about God changing, my specific question to the persons writing the article: “In what way exactly are you saying that God changes in His experience with us?” Also, “what types of changes (specifically) does God experience in His journey with us?”

        If I’m ever in LA, I think coffee would be great! Thanks!

  • Jeremiahjob

    So what?
    We are called to love, abide in, follow, worship and know the Lord. If we can wax on about different aspects of the Most High, for or against historical understandings of theology yet be dry as an old bone spiritually.  How does this change the way you love those closest to you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

      Mr. J Job – you are right. anyone can wax poetic but be a dry as bones … and not love.   That is a problem and unfortunately not a new one. 

      I can only speak as a pastor and the son of a pastor that some of this stuff makes a VERY big difference  - pastorally too. 
      The concepts of: 
      - expectations
      - definition of sin
      - hopes for the future
      - behavior in a moment 
      - explanations for disappointments 
      - sickness
      - ministry
      - participation in prayer
      - perspectives on planning 
      - definition of salvation 
      - explanations of death 
      - deliverance 
      - exorcism 
      - preaching prep 

      I could go on an on.  Suffice to say: it makes a difference.  There is a big SO what my friend.  -Bo 

      • Jeremiahjob

        There can be healthy and unhealthy ways of aproaching all of those issues from someone who is a process or no-process person. If one is walking in the Spirit and a non-process theologian, I would trust them in all of those areas more than someone who is a process theologian but not sensative to the Spirit.

        • http://www.facebook.com/BoCSanders Bo Sanders

          you seem to work in a lot of either-or this-or-that pairs. 

          People like Marjorie Suchocki and Bruce Epperly are both Process and sensitive to the spirit’s work. 

          You asked ‘so what’ and I gave you some ‘whats’. But you were already looking for a different what. ;)  I love your passion for Spirit life. but that binary thing you do is kinda limiting.  -Bo 

          • Jeremiahjob

            thanks for the response Bo, I was using the binary just as an example and not trying to limit or give the impression that a process person can’t be led by the Spirit at all. It seems the question of God changing or not is not on the radar of the NT believers at least not as we can tell as an obvious one, but more primary things are that I mentioned before hand.
            grace and peace-

  • KingsofZion

    i’d say it’s definitely time for a God change. what has He learned that we need now I wonder. And it makes me wonder.

  • Erik

    Their point is made fuller by “Person and Eros” by Christos Yannaras. Western theologians start with the idea of God’s essence and go from there. Eastern Christianity starts with God as a Person existing in hypostasis– and defines personhood as intrinsically relational (a person is NOT the same thing as an individual). This book says God is not bound by the nature of His essence (as I was taught in Seminary and most all Western, meaning Catholic and Protestant, teach)– rather, His essence is that He is a Person and whatever He does He chooses to do (He is bound by nothing). That’s the only way God’s love can work–because love necessitates freedom: we (and God) must choose to love.   anyway, it is an interesting book and I’m just now trying to read through this dense book.  Sounds like it might jive with the idea in this blog… 

    Very interesting! Thanks!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X