Process Theology: Not (Quite) Convinced

Danielle Shroyer leads the Emergent Village council, and was present at the Emergent Village Theological Conversation last week. She went with an open mind toward process theology, and she left as a fan, if not a convert:

On the plane ride home, I mentioned on Twitter that my conclusion for now is that I’m a process thinker but not a process theologian. Here’s what I mean. After the first day and a half of the conference, I was trying to sort out what it was that wasn’t sticking for me. If I agree with the content, for the most part, what seems out of place? I think it’s the fact that process began as a philosophy, not a theology. And you can tell the difference. That’s not meant to be a judgmental statement; it’s meant to be a clarifying one. Because a whole host of questions arise when I consider process theology. We seemed to bat around a number of them, with no real conclusion, such as Christology and eschatology. (Granted, it’s a lot to cover in a few hours.)  Mostly, my inner nerd theologian was dogged by questions about how they could prove this or that by the narrative of Scripture or the tradition of the Church or where and how, exactly, process flows out of the history of Christian thought. Honestly, I felt that much of what was spoken as process theology could not be discerned as much more than a hunch or a hope, or maybe both.

READ THE REST: Process Thought and Process Theology | Danielle Shroyer.

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  • I share Danielle’s interest but unease with Process Theology. There is much to like about Process, but something doesn’t stick on me either. It answers some questions, but raises others. I think what is true of many of us is that we’re not really wanting to be boxed in. We borrow a little Barth, a little Moltmann, a little Cone, and a little Ruether, a little Volf and maybe a bit of Calvin and Wesley, Aquinas, and Augustine. It’s sort of messy, but it reminds us that no theological tradition or position has a corner on the market. And so, we tend to be a bit eclectic. At least that’s true for me. I have my heroes, and as with Danielle, Moltmann is one, but there are points where I don’t follow, nor should I. But thanks for putting into words what probably many of us feel!

  • Have you gotten to the part in God in Creation where Moltmann responds to Process Theology? Actually, you must have since it’s pretty early in the book. Moltmann’s whole point of newness in the midst of creation (and his strong support of creatio ex nihilo) really pushed back at Process. That his core concern is also the problem of evil as part of his theological project (Where was God in Auschwitz?), it makes for a good critique and alternative approach even while sharing similar goals on other issues.

    Both Pannenberg and Moltmann really have an affinity with some process themes, but both really seem to ultimately reject it pretty strongly. It’s a particularly American form of theology, it seems (though I might be wrong about that–I just don’t know any non-American theologians who fall into the process camp… well, I’ll concede there may be a few Canadians).

  • Danielle’s concern about proving “this or that by the narrative of Scripture or the tradition of the Church or where and how, exactly, process flows out of the history of Christian thought,” is a legitimate concern. That’s why I personally see Process and Open Theology working together as close cousins on these issues.

    That last statement cracks me up though. Isn’t all Theology a “hunch or a hope, or maybe both?” HA! Give me a break.

  • Greg Gorham

    The biggest hang-up for me has been the eschatology of process theology. From all I’ve read, it seems quite vague and almost entirely undefined, essentially a kind of blind, totally unsubstantiated hope or some sentiments about living on through the life of God. I’d feel much more confident with it if that could be articulated more concretely.

  • Scot Miller

    I have become increasingly suspicious that any metaphysics or any theology can somehow “describe” or give an account of the way things “really are” with regard to God, humanity, nature, etc. At best they are convenient fictions (Plato may have called them “noble lies”) that help us make sense of things. Nevertheless, process theism is infinitely superior to classical theism in terms of making sense of the relationship between God and everything else. In particular, I like the idea that God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive (or, God’s power is the power of love, not force). I like the idea that creation is an ongoing process, that God is constantly at work in the nature, luring the universe to higher states of harmony, intensity, and beauty. Theologically, I think Christology makes more sense in a process framework, as the incarnation teaches us not only that God’s power is the power of self-sacrificing love, but that God suffers with us. I also find process theodicy makes more sense than most other answers to the problem of evil.

    I understand that people convinced of some traditional theological categories couldn’t buy process theism: process theism rejects creation ex nihilo, Whitehead and Hartshorne denied self-conscious immortality (we cannot survive death, but become a memory in the mind of God), and eschatology is entirely open (the future is not fixed, nor is there an end or final resolution to the eternal process of the universe). I think it’s interesting that some process theologians are willing to accommodate some of these traditional doctrines, and others pick and choose those parts of process theism which they like (while rejecting or ignoring the parts they don’t). I’m not sure if a theology or metaphysics holds together in a coherent way if you just pick and choose what you like and ignore what you don’t, but it may not matter so much if theology and metaphysics are noble lies, anyway.

  • Jason Derr

    I am a fan of Process Theology. In fact it really whirls my dervish. But I understand her concern of it being a philosophy and not a theology (though, we should say, that all theologies have been impacted by philosophy). I think the major failing of process thinking is that it did not team with poets and liturgists to answer the question: how do we pray this (work has been done now in this regard, but much later than it should have been). In my book – Towards A theopoetic Of The cross – (progressive christian alliance press) I argue that theology should be done from 4 tables: the acadmeic, the worshipping community, the hungers/desires of the poor and the mystical/poetic and in this way things become responsive to inner and out dimensions and ccan respond to both the academic and the communal.

  • rob

    I don’t know, how many people actually understand process metaphysics? It seems to me that Christian theology and process are somewhat random bedfellows. They happen to land on similar questions but for entirely different reasons (and I think that distinction applies to open theism as well, which is not at all the same thing as process theology/philosophy). I have to admit I enjoy Whitehead’s ideas about time, freewill and “actual occasions”, but I think I enjoy them in the same way that I enjoy far out ideas in science fiction. Interesting, but not something to put my faith in, you know? And not by any stretch in the same category as the biblical story. Well, I think this is going to be a growing question.

  • All theology is done through the lens of some type of philosophy. Like a 12 step program, admitting it is the first step.

    Even the Bible was written by human beings, writing down their experience of the Divine, through the lens of a philosophy. Actually, through various ones.