Why Turn to Process Theology? #WhyPray

 

Maybe Alfred North Whitehead was right...

I haven’t.  I’m not (yet) a full embracer of process theology. But, I’m writing a book on prayer, which has me thinking a lot about the interaction of God with creation. That interaction, from any rational perspective, is highly problematic.

On the one hand, I want a God who is Other, with whom I can have a differentiated relationship. There seems to me little reason to pray unless this is the case.

However, a God who is differentiated Other seems, by all empirical evidence, to act in arbitrary ways. One might even say unjust ways. How does our prayer effect that kind of God? That’s the sticky wicket I’m trying to get through.

Process theology has solved that, but in a way that is difficult to jibe with the biblical narrative, and with classical orthodox theologies.

Anyway, I’m just working this through and thought I’d float it out there. Surely this post will give Tripp a little thrill.  If you’re interested, you can learn more about process theology at this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation (unfortunately, I can’t attend).

Leave your thoughts here, or follow the hashtag #WhyPray on Twitter.

  • Greg Wack

    When I first encountered process theology, while in seminary, I liked the sense of God-alive-and-active-in-the-world it gave. This perspective seemed to make a lot of sense Biblically to me. Life is fluid and God is able to be active under any circumstance nudging us toward His vision of the best. Process and prayer is a great subject. I’m looking foreward to your book. Thanks for sharing your perspective on things the way you do.

  • Dustin

    Since you’re friends w/ Tripp, you may already have seen this. But Marjorie Suchocki has a great little book on prayer from a process perspective–In God’s Name.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Thanks, Dustin. I’ll read it — after I write mine. I am avoiding all books on prayer and theology while I write this book. I don’t want to be tainted.

  • Scot Miller

    Process theology may not be “orthodox,” in that it rejects the omnipotent, omniscient, eternal (i.e., outside time), impassible, immutable God inspired by Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic philosophy, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that process thought is “difficult to jibe with the biblical narrative.” I think the God of traditional orthodoxy is far more difficult to jibe with the biblical narrative, since the biblical narrative presents a God who is in a give and take relationship with human beings and who actually identified with humanity so much that God suffers and dies on the cross. Process theology is far more biblical than the nonsensical God of traditional orthodoxy. (And not to beat a dead horse, but Lewis Ford’s book The Lure of God: A Biblical Background to Process Theism does a great job of showing how process philosophy is compatible with the biblical narrative.)

    • Dan Hauge

      I’m finding the conversation interesting myself, Scot–so maybe you can answer this question. I agree that the process view of God does come closer to portraying a God that is “in a give and take relationship with human beings”, which many Bible narratives depict. However, many of those same biblical narratives also depict God as taking specific action within creation (like Jesus ‘interacting’ with his followers by healing them, or rising from the dead). But process theology also seems to insist, pretty strongly, that God does not do anything outside of the rules and laws and processes established by the latest science. So, is it consistent to completely adopt one aspect of biblical narratives (God interacting with creation) while completely rejecting other aspects of those same narratives (God performing dramatic actions outside of the normal patterns of nature) and say that it’s still “more biblical” overall?

      Maybe. I’ll be heading to the EV conversation in a month, so maybe I’ll get to chat with some of you about this there!

      • Scot Miller

        Wish I could make it to Claremont. Sounds like a good meeting.

        I think you’re right that classical process theism (unlike open theism) understands God as metaphysically “limited” by the free choices of other actual entities, which means that God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive. (God may be the greatest conceivable being, but that means that God is exceeded only by Godself in goodness and power and knowledge.) That leaves little room for “miracles” in which God somehow breaks or suspends the laws of nature.

        I’m happier thinking that God is constantly at work in the world, seeking to redeem and reconcile all things to Godself. Through prayer, I make myself open to the possibility of becoming a part of what God is already always doing (but of which I am never always fully aware). In that way I become a co-creator of the kingdom of God in this world (or not).

        My understanding requires me to interpret the parts of the narrative where God is somehow “in control” and intervening in natural processes as not objectively true, but expressions of the confident experience that God is already always at work in the world.

        Then again, I’ve always thought that orthodoxy was overrated, and enjoy being a heretic.

        • Dan Hauge

          I get that–for me, I just have even more problems insisting that our current scientific understanding of the universe can serve as an absolute boundary defining what God can and cannot do. I also think you can look at God doing unusual events within the universe, and this doesn’t necessarily require God to be in full control of everything that happens. (We can still have free will, that God is limited by, even if God has power to heal.)

          And, I think there’s some interesting possibilities for looking at miracles, not as supernatural invasions from outside nature, but simply more rare (much more rare) ways in which God can interact with the complex natural universe. As quantum theory progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that how the universe works is much more mysterious and complex than our previous scientific models (Newtonian, and even Einstein’s) can account for.

          But at the end of the day, my own experience of how God works through the everyday is very resonant with the process perspective, so I see plenty of room for adding that perspective (or at least key parts of it) to my outlook.

        • http://coachsusan@quixnet.net susan frederick

          I so agree.

    • http://www.theologyunderconstruction.com Brian Gronewoller

      @Scot: I’m not part of the larger process theology discussion, so please forgive my ignorance. Your comment above spurred two questions within me: 1) I’m curious whether you feel that a commitment to process theology requires a denial of the first seven ecumenical councils (‘orthodoxy’)?; and 2) Does a commitment to process theology require a commitment to the interpretation that early Christian theology is wrong because it is influenced by Plato and Stoicism (likewise the Medieval Church and Aristotle)?

      • Scot Miller

        Brian– Good questions! Before I answer, let me just say that while I like process theism, I really question most metaphysical (onto-theological) systems that try to describe reality as it “really” is. For me, metaphysical systems are useful fictions that tell us stories about how things make sense to us. So I think process theism is a more helpful way of making sense of God than traditional theism. Now to your questions:

        1) I’m not sure if a commitment to process theology logically entails a denial of the first seven ecumenical councils, but it does require a reinterpretation of the theological developments. Process theism takes particular aim at the doctrine of God (who seems to have more properties in common with Platonic Forms than to the character of “God” in the Bible). But process theism can actually make more sense of the doctrine of the Trinity, since process theism recognizes a dynamism within the Godhead. Traditional theism really has a harder time with this with its commitment to divine immutability.

        2) I know that Charles Hartshorne would say that early Christian theology and Medieval theology are fundamentally flawed because they appealed to Plato (or Aristotle) rather than Heraclitus. (To give you an idea of Hartshorne’s position, consider the title of one of his books: Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes.) Theology, of course, isn’t some static, timeless Truth, but the ongoing account of how people attempted to make sense of their experience of God as mediated through the Bible in a community of faith. Theological insights can be gained and lost through time. So I would not say that early Christian theology or Medieval theology are “wrong” (or “right”), but elements in them are better and worse. (For what it’s worth, process theologians could argue that they are providing a metaphysics that is more ancient than Aristotle or Plato, and more consistent with the biblical narrative.)

  • Dan Hauge

    I also agree with Tony that having a God who is in some way Other than us is pretty important in terms of relating to God, or prayer. It seems to me that most process theologians I have read actually do affirm some kind of Otherness, or even transcendence, to God–though this often gets lost in all of the strong emphasis on God’s immanence. It’s the difference between pantheism and panENtheism, basically. (Now the Rollins/Caputo crowd, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the time of day for any kind of actual God who is other, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation)

  • http://www.anglobaptist.org Tripp Hudgins

    Um…Traditional orthodoxy is reflective of the Biblical narrative. Late Medieval Western Catholic theology on the other hand reflects a firefight in the pews and the battlefields of the European countryside through the seventeenth century. Sorry to be a crank. I like process theology because it’s very orthodox. The Fathers would have dug it. We have a relationship within the Trinity as the Body through our baptisms by grace. Anyway…

    Prayer changes us. It changes our relationship with God. That we can wrangle with God is part and parcel of the free will we’ve been given (Chrysostom) by the Creator at the beginning of all things. It’s a reflection of God’s own image. The Trinity is a dance and a wrestling match. Lots of good stuff there.

  • http://limature.disseminary.org Trevor

    This link goes to Kathryn Tanner’s discussion of prayer beginning on p. 97 of God and Creation in Christian Theology. This lets you do what you need to do without process theology. I don’t have anything against process theology, but it is wrong.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=PcYjvAV-72cC&lpg=PP1&dq=kathryn%20tanner&pg=PA97#v=onepage&q=prayer&f=false

  • Larry Kamphausen (@priestlygoth)

    What do we mean by “Traditional orthodoxy”, is that realy a strawman in these conversations. Catholic orthodoxy is a thing but it is much more dynamic than much current conversation recognizes.
    If there is a difficulty or heresy in process theology I think it is in where and how it places God’s connection to change and the universe. Catholic thought places it in that God has become matter in Jesus of Nazareth, and is forever joined with creation through the person of Jesus Christ. That is in God’s loving act, process theology as I have understood it places it in God’s mutable character, God can’t help but be pulled along, it has a form of necessity to it. Process theology has the appearance of having a relational God through having a changing God, but God must change along with the universe, or so this is how I read Whitehead years ago in seminary.
    However, I think Teilhard De Chardin does a better job if one is to go in a process and evolutionary direction and keep to a Christo-centric and Trinitarian theology.
    As I see it Whitehead and Process Theology mix the apophatic and kataphatic ways of theology, Teilhard de Chardin weaves them together but keeps the strands separate knowing when and how not to speak. Tony if you haven’t read Chardin I very much recommend you pick him up in this line of study.

  • http://joeboydblog.com Joe Boyd

    Tony,

    I am reading Bruce Epperly’s book now with a mixture of agreement and confusion. I thought you might be interested that I tweeted Greg Boyd for his opinion and got this response yesterday:

    @JoeBoyd I appreciate relation-process ontology, but I hold to a necessary God-God relationship over necessary God-world relationship.

  • pete garcia

    I think the immanence and openness of God in process is a bit too radical for evangelicalism, but necessary if we want to develop theologies that encourage care for the earth and attention to deep injustices and suffering while empowering followers of God to heal creation. The sovereign God of traditional orthodoxy is not sustainable in our context.

    Prayer and process is definitely interesting and offers some serious challenges to our models of God. Certainly an area I’m challenged in. Anxious for more about this.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com tripp fuller

    Oh Buddy! Glad to see you are prehending some awesome theology.

    Here’s John Cobb to tell you how Biblical Process thought is…prepare yourself to come to Jesus…. http://www.ctr4process.org/media/audio/pt_intro.mp3

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    This is simply a “like” of Tripp’s link. I have all the zealousness of a recent convert. (Also, Tony was a bit dismissive of Process theology in general when I asked him about it at Wild Goose during his session on prayer in the Dome… hopefully not so much so in the future ; )

    • http://homebrewedchristianity.com tripp fuller

      was he more or less dismissive than the Reformed doctrine of God is to the prayerful concerns of God’s people?

      • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

        Definitely less. That puts the issue in perspective! haha

  • Charles

    I do not understand why we must, must, try and fit our way of thinking about The Creator into some framework. That exercise seems to point to man creating God, rather than God creating man. Why can’t we just live and think about being constantly in the presence of the living Creator? All the little man-made boxes drive me nuts.

  • http://www.anglobaptist.org Tripp Hudgins

    Another fun definition: ‎”Prayer is a practice of getting over oneself.” Margaret Miles

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Charles, the irony of your frustration is that I think Process Theology, by in large, is a meditation on “Why can’t we just live and think about being constantly in the presence of the living Creator?” Otherwise, I’m not sure if you just mean that we should take the most obvious reading of the Bible (to you) and work around that? Should we forget knowing anything about God? We all want some kind of picture, however blurry, of what God is like, and I think process thinkers are no less guilty of your accusation than any other theological school or system!

    • http://homebrewedchristianity.com tripp fuller

      the unexamined ‘little man-made boxes’ are not worth having. in fact, they may be pretty dangerous.

    • Charles

      Bo, I’m a laymen with no formal theological study. I don’t know much about Process Theology but I’ll look into it further. My frustration is with all the theological categorizing that goes on this site and others – it presents itself to me as theological masturbation. Everyone seems to be looking for the correct orthodoxy to wrap around themselves, all the while criticizing the rejected models. To what end? So they can feel good about themselves?

      By the way, tripp, the” little man-made box” that makes the most sense to me is Quantum Theology. O’Murchu’s book opened a whole new world to me.

  • c.k reyes

    Process seems to layout a latent divinity that is experienced but misapprehended in contrast to a patent divinity that is apprehended but not experienced.
    I think the absence of god is at the root of the matter.
    Process thinks god was never absent, but just unrecognized at the big dance.
    I believe god never bought a tux and her name was never on the guest list.

  • Marshall

    Why does it upset you that God acts in arbitrary ways? “I am what I am!” Sorta what Charles said. This would be a God that can hear prayer.

    Curiously, the Gnuthiests are asserting that because God always keeps his promises meticulously, there is no free will, personal responsibility, morality, even self. Certainly no God.

  • Jay

    Yesterday, I had a discussion about whether an “untimely” death can be considered the will of God or not. As the discussion continued I thought to myself, how odd it is that once when in seminary I had a strong opinion against process theology, but now I find myself liking it more and more. One friend of mine recently said, “When we don’t know what else to do we pray.” Why do we do that, I don’t really know, yet I still find myself doing it frequently. I am looking forward to your thoughts. “In him we live and move and have our being”

  • http://www.anglobaptist.org Tripp Hudgins

    Okay, one last quotation from a classic on prayer, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster…

    To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. – Richard Foster

  • Charles

    When we pray aren’t we sitting in the presence of God?

  • Zach

    Forgot how much I missed these conversations. I may be a bit rusty, and I am definitely behind a couple years, but the phrase in Tony’s original post that I am sitting with was his bold-type “God who is Other.” This is an understanding I was raised on, but…how is God other? Is God really “known” without embodiment? What does that mean for an apophatic connection to the divine, or are we fooling ourselves by sitting in silence with our cognitive mediations of who we only know in face of our neighbor? I have more questions than answers and you all who are commenting seem pretty damn smart. :D

  • dopderbeck

    I don’t think process theology answers the question you’re asking at all, even aside from any concern about scripture or orthodoxy. It leaves you with a being who is not really able to respond except as some particularly strong person might respond — that is, as a creature just as bound as you are to the contingencies of the created world.

    I also don’t think classical theism leaves you, at all, with a God who is arbitrary or indifferent. What you have in mind seems to be the God of voluntarism and nominalism — the God of Ockham et al. True, aspects of that vision of God were inherited by us Protestants, but that means our vision of “classical theism” is mistaken. (Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity offers an interesting, if a bit ham-handed here and there, genealogy of nominalism; also, my Doktorvater Conor Cunningham’s Genealogy of Nihilism shows how nominalism helped produce nihilism; and there are many other similar sources).

    The God of voluntarism and nominalism isn’t at all the “Greek” version of God some of your commentators (or many modern process thinkers) refer to above. The Patristic God of the Platonic-Christian synthesis is a being who is transcendent of His creation but in whom His creation does participate — that is, a Triune God of relational fellowship who creates and sustains out of the love that characterizes and proceeds from His being. But He is not a God who is in esse changeable and thus He is not, like our unpredictable teenage daughter, subject to whims, fits, and fancies. This means there can be real truth, real love, real peace, real justice, in which the particulars of our experience participate and which promise the sure hope of eschatological fulfillment. None of this is possible with the god of process theology — that god, like the Greek and Roman and other pagan and ancient near eastern gods, turns out to be but an emergent epiphenomenon of the universe and thus no god but only the universe itself.

  • dopderbeck

    Submitted a comment here that I think got caught up in the spam filter. Here it is without links.

    I don’t think process theology answers the question you’re asking at all, even aside from any concern about scripture or orthodoxy. It leaves you with a being who is not really able to respond except as some particularly strong person might respond — that is, as a creature just as bound as you are to the contingencies of the created world.

    I also don’t think classical theism leaves you, at all, with a God who is arbitrary or indifferent. What you have in mind seems to be the God of voluntarism and nominalism — the God of Ockham et al. True, aspects of that vision of God were inherited by us Protestants, but that means our vision of “classical theism” is mistaken. (Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity offers an interesting, if a bit ham-handed here and there, genealogy of nominalism; also, my Doktorvater Conor Cunningham’s Genealogy of Nihilismshows how nominalism helped produce nihilism; and there are many other similar sources).

    The God of voluntarism and nominalism isn’t at all the “Greek” version of God some of your commentators (or many modern process thinkers) refer to above. The Patristic God of the Platonic-Christian synthesis is a being who is transcendent of His creation but in whom His creation does participate — that is, a Triune God of relational fellowship who creates and sustains out of the love that characterizes and proceeds from His being. But He is not a God who is in esse changeable and thus He is not, like our unpredictable teenage daughter, subject to whims, fits, and fancies. This means there can be real truth, real love, real peace, real justice, in which the particulars of our experience participate and which promise the sure hope of eschatological fulfillment. None of this is possible with the god of process theology — that god, like the Greek and Roman and other pagan and ancient near eastern gods, turns out to be but an emergent epiphenomenon of the universe and thus no god but only the universe itself.

    • Scot Miller

      It is true that that the Christian synthesis is different from Greek philosophy insofar as pre-Christian thought could not conceive of anything beyond the totality of everything that exists. (Even the platonic Form of the Good is not “separate” from the totality, but is the source of the being and intelligibility of the totality). Christian thinkers like Augustine made the radical move of separating God from the totality: God is the uncreated, necessary reality that is ontologically prior to created, contingent reality.

      But it is a misunderstanding to imply that process theism really just turns God into something like a mercurial teenage girl, or that “real truth, real love, real peace, real justice” are not possible in process theism. Quite the contrary. Process theism could also be called dipolar theism, in that God has both an eternal and temporal nature, an absolute and relative nature. God supplies reality with the eternal aims of truth, peace, justice, etc., and reality prehends these aims and either works with God or not. Ultimately this means that God is the source of all possibilities, that God’s being is the womb of the future, but because human beings (if not nature as a whole) is free to advance God’s aims or not, God’s eternal/absolute will is not always achieved. So process theism, unlike traditional orthodoxy, holds that the future is open and not fixed. There is no eschatological resolution in process thought, only God’s ongoing redemptive work. So you are correct that there is no “sure hope of eschatological fullment” in process theism.

      But it may be the case that traditional theism (like Augustine’s) is actually not as faithful to the biblical story as is process theism. The first account of creation in Genesis 1 does not indicate that the deep was created ex nihilo, but that God called light and darkness out of the deep. It’s not even clear that the creation account in John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word….”) implies creatio ex nihilo. Maybe God is far more intimately involved with the other actual entities in the universe than classical theism admits but the Bible seems to affirm in Genesis 1.

      • dopderbeck

        Scott, I don’t think your understanding of creation ex nihilo is as the Fathers would have understood it (or Aquinas). They recognized what your saying about Gen. 1, and understood ex nihilo more in terms of a necessary and contingent procession rather than in terms of an absolute beginning in “time.” The fixation on “time” is something of a modern one, also in part a legacy of nominalism. (An Aristotelian “first cause” doesn’t imply a first moment in time, it implies a trans-temporal absolute without which there cannot be causes “in time.”)

        To me, it makes no sense to speak of “God’s ongoing redemptive work” without eschatological resolution. Really, it makes no sense to speak of “redemption” at all. It seems to me that what you have is a kind of “becoming,” a movement from one state to another, but without a transcendental Ideal it is just movement, not any kind of “progress.” The world’s future may or may not be “God” — God may or may not be “all in all.” This is a point at which I personally think the theology of, say, Ted Peters, or even Moltmann (I’m not saying Moltmann is a process theologian BTW) kind of falls apart. Creation “groans” in the certain but as yet unrealized hope that God will be all in all because of the sure faithfulness of Christ.

        Re: this reference to Christology, I don’t understand your statement that “Maybe God is far more intimately involved with the other actual entities in the universe than classical theism admits.” In classical Christian theism, God is deeply involved with His creation — in the second Divine Person, He is in fact incarnate and kenotically shares in the limitations of creation. And the Eastern Fathers spoke of a distinction between God’s “essence” and His “energies,” which seems helpful to me in many ways. In any event, for classical Christian theism — and again, by “classical” I am moving back past the depradations of nominalism and voluntarism — God is both radically transcendent and immanent. And given this, I don’t see what process theology adds, and why anyone with the heritage of Christian theology would want to pay the price of admission for it.

        • Scot Miller

          I don’t think I implied anything about creation ex nihilo as being a temporal beginning. God may be ontologically prior to creation, but for Augustine (for example) it doesn’t make sense to say that God created anything at a particular time, but that time is a property of the creation. That was the whole point of my initial comment, that Christian theology argued that God was “beyond” or “beneath” or “transcendent to” the created temporal order. My point is that process theism is more naturally compatible with Genesis 1 than traditional theism, which had to do some funny hermeneutical maneuvers to account for what’s going on in Genesis 1.

          I know you don’t want to believe it, but process theism does have an eternal and absolute aspect to the creative process. (That’s why process theism is sometimes called dipolar theism, as it affirms divine transcendence/immanence, being/becoming, absolute/relative, etc.) That’s why the process isn’t mere “becoming” without transcendence. Process theism argues that the transcendent, eternal aspect of God holds the values of freedom, harmony, and intensity as intrinsic goods, and lack of freedom, disharmony, and triviality as intrinsic evils. God is the lure of the future inviting actual entities into greater freedom, harmony, and intensity. So as freedom evolves, the possibility for greater harmony and intensity evolve… as does the possibility for grater disharmony and triviality. (Notice that the metaphysical categories in process theism tend to be aesthetic.) Creation isn’t ex nihilo, but God draws actual entities from chaos into order. So insofar as the world enjoys greater freedom, harmony, and intensity, the world is being redeemed. I know this isn’t what you understand redemption to be, but to the extent that the world comes to embody God’s eternal aims of freedom, harmony, and intensity, they are being redeemed from the intrinsic evil of disharmony and triviality. And so this means that God’s eternal nature is to redeem the world to Godself, that redemption is an ongoing process. And because God is always already at work, my prayers do not as much change God as they change me to become open to be a part of what God is doing. As St. Francis of Assissi prayed, “Make me an instrument of thy peace.”

          As for my last statement that puzzled you, I was trying to say that process theism is better than classical theism insofar as God is ontologically or necessarily or organically related to actual entities in process theism, whereas classical theism holds that creation is an act of God’s will, that the world is contingent, and that whatever relationship God has with actual entities is artificial (i.e., a creation by God). Process theism puts all actual entities, from God to the smallest atom, lepton, or quark, within the same framework, thereby making God far more intimately involved with other actual entities in the universe than classical theism would admit. I think that’s a good thing; my hunch is you would consider this a defect.

          I have to admit, I don’t really consider myself a process theologian, mostly because process theology simply replaces a classic onto-theological system with another. I’m not a huge fan of classical metaphysics. But if metaphysics is not a description of reality, but a poetic and suggestive fiction to make sense of human experience, I still think the dynamic, becoming God of process theism is superior to the static, immutable God of classical theism. But, hey, if classical theism floats your boat, then good for you!

          • Dan Hauge

            Looks like this conversation may be over, but just in case you visit, Scot, I want to ask one more question: You say that process theology is better because “God is ontologically or necessarily or organically related to actual entities in process theism”, and that this necessary, organic relationship makes God more intimately involved with creation than a view in which “whatever relationship God has with actual entities is artificial (i.e., a creation by God)”.

            Now, I am all for conceiving of God as more intimately involved and related to creation. But why is it better to insist that this relationship is necessary, rather than voluntary? I don’t see any sense of God choosing to relate to creation in process theism, and to me that actually seems less intimate than a relationship where there is an actual desire and choice on God’s part to create, and an actual choice and desire to relate intimately with creation and interact with it.

            Let me put it this way: My head is necessarily and organically related to my arm. But I as an individual am related to my best friends by choice, and by love. In some ways you could argue that the relationship between my head and arm is more intimate because it is organic and necessary, but I would argue that there is an even more valuable intimacy in the relationship between me and my friend, because choice, and therefore love, is a part of it.

            Is a God who had no other possibility but to create, out of organic necessity, really more intimate and better, than a God who chooses to create, and intimately relate, out of love?

          • Scot Miller

            Dan–

            I certainly didn’t express myself very well, and you are right to insist that I clarify my rather ham-handed remark about God’s relationship with the world. I was trying to praise the approach of process theism to this issue over, say, “open theism” or traditional theism, which views creation as an act of God’s will. In other words, there is no metaphysical necessity for God to act as God does. Process theism, in contrast, argues that God is subject to the same metaphysical rules as everything else in reality. God in process theism is the greatest conceivable being, in that God has maximal power and knowledge: God is exceeded only by Godself in power and knowledge. This means that God has all power he can logically and metaphysically possess, so if there is one actual entity with the power of self-determination, then God’s power cannot override the free decisions of actual entities in the universe (“actual entity” is Whitehead’s term),. Neither could God know the future decisions of a free actual entity. God may know the limited range of possibilities open to an actual entity, but even God can’t know what an actual entity will choose until it chooses. So what I was trying to say is that process theism recognizes that God cannot be related to the world in any other way, that it was not a choice.

            But you bring up an interesting point about God’s choice to love us. Does God have the power to choose not to love us? Could God be God an choose to hate us? This was a bit of a conundrum for classical theism, which overemphasized the omnipotence of God, and wanted to say that God could do anything that is logically possible. Or, to paraphrase the dilemma in the Euthyphro, “Is something good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good?” If something is good because God loves it, then goodness is arbitrary, but if God loves something because it is good, then God’s power is somehow limited by “goodness.” While Ockham may have taken the horn of this dilemma (something is good because God loves it), Aquinas went though the horns of the dilemma by arguing that God wills or loves in accordance with God’s nature, and God’s nature is good, therefore Goodness is identical with God, not external.

            I take this rather lengthy digression because I recognize that my answers have been more philosophical than theological. If I were arguing theologically, I would say that process theism begins with the assumption that “God is love.” That is God’s nature. Love is patient and kind, never haughty or boastful… and love does not demand its own way (1 Cor 13). The philosophical gobbledygook of process theism is a wordy way to get at the reality that God is by nature love . God is always already at work in the world, loving the world, luring the world into closer fellowship with God. God cannot be other than love, and that entails that God does not interfere with our freedom, just as the surprising father of the prodigal son does not interfere with his freedom.

          • Dan Hauge

            Scot–that’s pretty helpful, for the most part. I think I can agree with most of what you say here. It is interesting to me–the emphasis that God is love (agreed), therefore God can do no other than to love, because God’s nature is necessarily love. I’m pretty sure I agree, though I still wrestle with my notion that love, by nature, requires some kind of choice to love. You note that the nature of God’s love requires that God not interfere with our freedom–which I basically agree with. But does that imply that we have more freedom than God? God’s love respects our freedom, but God as love requires that God can do no other than to love (and by extension, to create, and relate to creation). I’m not necessarily opposed to this, but I’m not sure where it takes my understanding of what love is.

            Anyway. I’m probably done here, cause I’m not sure how much farther my brain can take this conversation :). Thanks for the engagement.

  • dopderbeck

    Argh — unintentional italics above.

    BTW — distinguish carefully between “process philosophy” and “process theology.” There are some elements of process philosophy that can be helpful and that don’t necessarily diminish God.

  • Pingback: TNT: Prayer and Process reaction

  • http://www.fellowtravelerblog.com rob

    Personally, I think many people are confused about Process theology. The attractive features it brings out (prayer, God’s relation to the word, etc.) are fully available within the cannon of historical Christianity. Why drink from waters of Whitehead? Further, the foundations of process theology so different from Christian ideas as to really be a different religion, or religious philosophy. I’m exploring these themes at website I just put up: http://processtheologyandbible.com. I’ll appreciate your visits and comments.


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