The Fatal Flaw of Process Theology

Scott Paeth says it more succinctly that I have:

If God is within the univere or an emergent quality of the univere, then God is contingent as the universe is contingent. Yet, a contingent God is no God at all, for that God is not free of the limitations and constraints of the universe of which he is a part. Rather, God becomes a being among beings. This is the central flaw in process theology, as attractive as it may be on many other fronts. Unless the nature of God is that of a being free from the constraints of the universe, there is no way of conceiving of God salvifically, since God is ultimate bound to contingency with all other beings. Such a God is in fact less than the universe itself, since God is limited by the possibilities of the universe. This might be a good description of Galactus, but doesn’t do justice to the vision of God embraced within most theistic accounts. This is, in an old phrase, a God who is too small. (via Against the Stream: Creatio Ex Nihilo)

This is exactly the issue that I’m wrestling with in my forthcoming book, Why Pray?: Avoiding a God that is impotent on the one hand and contingent on the other hand, for neither is a classical (or biblical) conception of God.

  • Seth

    Yeah. In his book, The One in the Many, Bracken says God’s nature is settled, but the three persons of God are experiencing creation in time. Haven’t got much father than that, so I can’t defend the statement at all.

  • http://www.travismamone.net Travis Mamone

    Hmm, interesting. On one hand I think that, since creation is not stagnant, and neither is the history of Christian thought, then God is not a God of stagnancy. But on the other hand, if God himself (forgive the gender exclusive pronoun, but “God himself” rolls off the tongue easier than “God God’s self”) is constantly changing, then how can we know who or what God is?

    Anybody wanna help a brutha out?

    • Evelyn

      God is whatever you actively believe in. Note the use of the word “actively”. You can pretend to believe in something, like giving away all your worldly goods and following Jesus, but unless you actually do it, your concept of God is disparate from your reality of God and you are a hypocrite.

  • Keith Rowley

    What if “time” is separate from the universe and God is outside the universe but within time? In this view God can still be non-contingent on the universe, but still be effected by things that happen in time. Or does being effected by an event in time that happens in a particular universe violate the concept of being mon-contingent on that universe.

    As a side note given the incarnation I am not sure God can be non-contingent on the universe God chose to become fully involved with and a part of. Maybe at one point God could have been, but after the incarnation that no longer seems possible.

  • Evelyn

    If a tree falls in a forest but no one is there to hear it, does the tree really fall? God only exists insofar as humans can conceive of him. We can’t conceive of something that is outside of our paradigm or system of thought and therefor God is contingent upon it. We can say that God is ineffable but that isn’t very useful beyond saying that there is a lot that we don’t understand. Given that we are limited beings, we can’t understand anything beyond what is based on what we can sense.

    Scott Paeth conceives of a God that is not contingent and just does whatever he wants. That is Scott Paeth’s concept of God to the point that he can’t conceive of a God who is contingent. A contingent God does not exist for Scott. I’m not sure why he bothers with scripture since his God will override, at will, the apparent rules and structure that Jesus outlines. Perhaps Scott should go throw himself off a bridge and hope that his non-contingent God finds it in his heart to save him. God may do this only rarely but it isn’t very dependable.

  • MikeWood

    Can’t God be both within the universe and not constrained by it?! Can’t God be both Omnipotent and contigent?!

    • http://www.RecoveringEvangelical.com Chris LaTondresse

      This is how I usually think of God. God’s omnipotence is revealed in his creation of the world, and setting up the rules of the game (both in the sense of natural laws, and in the sense of a normative vision for humanity that reflects God’s nature, and best hopes and dreams). But God is also contingent, in that God chooses to play within the constraints of the rules he set up. For example, God cannot both create a world in which other agents are able to freely choose to participate in and advance his normative vision for humanity and the world, and also prevent other beings from expresses their agency in a way that goes against his vision. I mean, in a sense, God COULD choose the do the later, in that (in his omnipotence) if he saw someone doing something he didn’t like, he could just take over their body like a robot or wipe them out with a flood. But if he did this EVERY time someone did something he didn’t like, I think its fair to say that it would cease being the world he aspired to create in the first place. God would be playing with plastic army men, rather than relating to real human beings — and relationships are contingent by definition.

      We actually see God doing something like this in the Genesis account of the flood. God tries to hit the reset button on his creation, preserving only those who are doing what he wants them to be doing — which in the case of the Genesis narrative, is limited to Noah and his family. But when the flood ends, and even the supposedly righteous Noah retains the human propensity to do things that go against God’s vision, God discovers that he can’t actually have his cake and eat it too. God cannot create a world in which other beings have agency, while insisting that the do everything he wants them to do. Yet God still remains omnipotent in that God always has the choice to wipe his creation out and start over, and make a new world with new rules — perhaps a world where other agents are a bit more robotic, or a world in which where there are no other agents at all. But so long as God continues to act in THIS world, he is also subject to its rules of human agency — and in this sense, relinquishes some of his power to do whatever he pleases.

  • Keith Rowley

    Tony,
    Could you define “contingent” as it is being used in this context? There seem to be two possibilities that radically change the argument being made depending on which one is being used. “Dependent on” OR “Effected by”.

    I would reject the idea that God is dependent on the universe, but I would also reject the idea that God is NOT effected by the universe. Both ideas seem unbiblical and to present an image of God that is too small.

    So the question for me would seem to be: how do we conceptualize a God who is effected by but not dependent upon our universe.

  • JJ

    Tony, really appreciating your continued engagement in process theology. A few responses:

    Unless you require an eschatological supernatural intervention for God to be genuinely salvific – arguably an untenable, even immoral view of God – then process theism is more than capable of a robust soteriology that privileges the divine initiative.

    It is true that God is in one sense a being for process theologians (though absolutely not an emergent property!), rather than, say, ‘Being Itself’. Against the latter view, process argues that something can and must be said about God that is not symbolic. That is very much a biblical view, it would seem to me. But God is supreme, the most powerful and perfectly good being. God is ultimately Creator. Without God’s creative work, the world would be mere chaos (a state of trivial value). The process-panentheistic God always transcends every particular universe or epoch. God is the one being who never perishes into the past but everlastingly becomes in relation to her good creation in every epoch. As David Ray Griffin points out, the basic monotheistic idea of God is in fact affirmed by the majority of process theologians: God is a personal and purposive being; is perfect in love, goodness and beauty; is perfect in wisdom and knowledge; is supreme, perhaps even perfect, in power; is Creator and sustainer of our universe; is Holy; Omnipresent; Is necessarily and everlastingly existent; is providentially active in nature and history; is experienced by humans; is the ultimate source of moral norms; the ultimate guarantee of the meaning of life; is the ground of hope for the victory of good over evil.

    It is true that God cannot override certain metaphysical principles, such as the freedom of every actuality to respond in its own way to the divine lure, but this requires a careful understanding of what is meant here. God is neither an exception to metaphysical principles (for if this were the case, the problem of evil cannot be solved) nor is God simply a case of such principles that transcend even God. Charles Hartshorne stressed that the eternal metaphysical principles belong to the eternal essence of God. He argued that the eternal essence of God is “the categories in their pure or unqualified meaning, as fixed characteristics of an individual life.” As such, it would make no sense for God to interrupt these principles that describe the way creatures necessarily relate to one another and to God. God and *some* world always exist necessarily. Each *particular* world is totally contingent on God, and a world that exhibits order and value rather than chaos is a world that God did not have to bring into existence. Only by God’s grace do we have such a valuable world.

  • Keith Rowley

    Evelyn,
    That view of God makes God less “real” than you are. You exist independent of what I think about you. Yet you deny God this level of existence as an independent ontoligically existing being. I have to dissagree with your concept of God merly being our mental image of God. I believe God exists indepently of our view of God.

  • Scot Miller

    First of all, I think that Scott really misunderstands process theism (as do many people who only hear that process theism is panentheistic or that God and matter are co-eternal). Process theism does not merely posit that God is a “being among other beings.” Process theism may be better characterized as “dipolar theism,” recognizing that God has both an eternal and a consequent or temporal nature. In other words, God is a necessary being who is exceeded only by Godself in perfection. God supplies the eternal aims and goals for the actual entities in the universe. In process theism, God is the “creator” insofar as God calls actual entities into higher states of harmony and intensity and freedom, but not insofar as the matter was created ex nihilo So God is a necessary being who is internally related to everything else. God’s temporal or consequent nature changes with the changes taking place in the actual entities in the world, but God’s eternal nature with eternal aims of love, harmony, intensity, etc., does not change.

    On the other hand, I think both process theism and classical theism (or creatio ex materia and creatio ex nihilo) are both “fatally flawed” in their reification of God. In their attempt to “understand” or “grasp” the nature of God, both classical theism and process theism turn God into a being (or a Being) whose “existence” is either necessary or impossible. All of this ontotheology purports to describe reality as a whole: Classical theism separates God from the totality, claiming that God exists and that’s why there is a totality of created/contingent beings, while Process theism includes God in the totality, claiming that God and matter exist coeternally, and God draws higher states of harmony and intensity forth from co-eternal matter. Both approaches are equally flawed in treating God as an object or an entity or a being (Being). At best, they are metaphors or ways of thinking of God, but neither adequately grasps the mystery of Being (being as a verb, not as a noun).

    • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

      Scot Miller – you are so good at explaining this stuff it hurts my ego. Nicely done friend.

      The thing that has kept coming up (over and over) is that folks miss the ‘dipolar’ aspect at the beginning then end up reading it wrong in the end.

      Otherwise, with Tony’s quote above, we just have an abstraction contest about who can say the bigger and bigger things about God. “Your god is too small – my God could beat up your God”. Bigger is not better when it comes to theism ;) -Bo

    • Dan Hauge

      Hey Scot–sometime I’d love to hear a more detailed argument as to *why* God as Being (noun) is necessarily problematic, and why conceiving of God in verb-like terms is necessarily preferable. This is an honest wish–I think I’ve come late to that part of the conversation, and when I try to glean out what the problem is there seems to be a sense of “God as Subject = hierarchy, control, Bad; God as Verb = relational, open creativity, Good”. But why can’t a Being be open and relational and non-hierarchical? Anyway, it’s a little bit off topic, but a question that is more and more central for me, these days.

      • Scot Miller

        Dan, sorry I missed your comment. What a great question! I guess I’ve been influenced by the Continental critics of ontotheology following Heidegger (especially Caputo’s The Weakness of God and Kearney’s Anatheism: Returning to God After God), but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually spelled out why I’m persuaded by this. Now you’ve given me a little project….

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Scot (and others), how is the “dipolar” God of process theology not gnosticism?

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

        Tony, in what is generally considered “gnostic” theology, the “dipolarity” is between say, a “good” and “evil” gods (Jesus and the God of the Old Testament), or between spiritual matter (good) and physical matter (corrupted and evil), whereas what process theology is hitting at is not a simple binary, but simply that God has two distinct aspects to her nature, which here are regarded as “poles” but this may be a misnomer if one thinks of poles such as magnetic poles which oppose one another. On a much simpler level, what I see this approach articualting is no different than we may say human beings have a “dipolar” nature in that there is something about us that is more than the sum of our parts, a “soul,” that perhaps exceeds finitude in some respect, and there are the temporal aspects of our being, the physicality that makes us fleshy beings. God’s aims are “eternal” while what other beings do, the beings that God relate to God, are taken up into God’s “consequent” nature as the eternal aims are modified in relation to the contingency that comes with relationship. But I could be wrong, I’m open to correction.

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          This idea that God was one thing prior to creation and something else since seems pretty Gnostic to me.

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

            You were not one thing before you met your wife and before you became a father and now you’re not something different? Obviously not something diametrically opposed to what you were before, it’s not like you went from being “bad Tony” to “good Tony” or vice versa, it’s just that relationships change people (and God)! It seems like an obvious point that God, the ultimate relational being, would undergo change after the emergent creation of the world. If positing a God who is temporal and changes is still “gnostic” then hey, cheers, we’re gnostics! The entailment of a God who is “the same” before and after creation is a non-relational being who does not engage in anyway with the created universe.

            • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

              Yeah, comparing me to God — while it is attractive — is an act of anthropomorphizing. Aka, idolatry.

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

            It’s not equating you to God, but comparing human beings to God is not unreasonable. I argue against Christians on the topic of eternal damnation all the time with the hope that “God is at least as nice as my biological father.” If you reject any human/divine comparison, especially given that we are made in the image of God, I think it’s a slippery slope over to the Calvinist position that God essentially has carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants, whether it be killing infants or damning most of humanity for eternity, because God is God, his ways are not our ways, we are in no position to do anything but worship God even if God seems evil from our human perspective, etc. In sum, I was only pointing out that we think God has relation properties not dissimilar from human beings, not that human beings, even you (Pete Rollins may be another story) are equal to God.

          • ME

            Bo, what is wrong with God essentially having carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wants? You are not in the position of having to worship him if you think he is evil. You can hate him, He gives you that choice. Obviously a lot of people don’t like the God of the Bible (just like lots didn’t like Jesus).

            Are you open to the possibility that God is not the God of process theology? If He was God of Irenaean theodicy would you reject him?

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

    I’m not Tripp Fuller, but I hope that rather than answering someone else’s mail, while we wait for His Processness to arrive, there may be some more to think about.

    I think there’s simply a category mistake here, i.e. Tony is trying to speak of Process Theology as something it just isn’t. Tony is, like many do, using the standards set by his own intuitions and the dominant tradition to evaluate Process thought’s ability to live up to those standards. For example, when I hear that part of the “fatal flaw” is that God is contingent, I think “of course!” But that does not entail that every fact or trait about God is contingent, which would indeed seem to imply a kind of pantheism where God is indistinguishable from the world because God would have no agency. In fact, Whitehead is quite clear about “absolutes,” creativity and God who is an instance of creativity. Thus, process people speak of “Creative Transformation” as the “salvific” thing we recieve from God that Tony via Paeth is claiming we lack. Does CT mean the same thing as God “Saving us” from hell, or nothingness, and taking us up into a personal eternal paradise to be with Jesus forever and ever? Certainly there may be ways to argue for this from a Process perspective, but I wouldn’t and don’t find that desirable anyway.

    To quote Cobb “We seek creative transformation of personal lives, or social structures, and of the global situation. For some of us, the salvation of humanity and other creatures from self-destruction in which we are now engaged is the most important “redemption” of all. When I write about a new economic order, I consider myself to be discussing “redemption.” Whitehead taught us to rejoice in the way that God creatively transforms all that we are, moment by moment, into part of God’s own life. Through this transformation, our lives become everlasting. For him, his is what saves us from meaninglessness.”

    God is ALWAYS in all that is working toward creativity, novelty, beauty, and “redemption,” this is not a contingency. How those things play out is contingent, sure. If you’re looking for the highest being among beings who has coercive power to make eschatological guarantees, or “the ground of being” itself, then, yeah, Process isn’t for you. It’s like walking into a pizza joint and writing a review later that they didn’t serve your favorite sushi roll. I don’t always do metaphysics, but when I do, I prefer Process because it gives a grand account of how we cannot be saved as individuals apart from the entire community, focuses on the liberation creation, and I think, arguably, allows for the possibility of real authenticity and love in the absence of the absoluteness Tony seems to be pining for. Eschatological guarantees and straight pathways rob the universe of novelty and creativity, things that perhaps I value for than Tony. In prayer, for that matter, we are tapping into that persuasive, loving power that Jesus tapped into every second of his life to align ourselves with the most “absolute” creative will working for the salvation of all at all times. It’s not magic, it’s not asking God to do something she wouldn’t do otherwise, it’s not spiritual warfare in which we’re giving angels ammunition to fight off demons with, it’s an existential and conscious commitment and alignment with the source of everything that is good and beautiful in the universe!

    • ME

      Bo, I’m going to be a devil’s advocate here. You list the reasons you prefer process theology. What about the truth? Are you searching for the truth about God, or are you trying to construct a theology that provides the God you like the best? Seems to me more like the latter.

      • Matt

        That’s not really playing “devil’s advocate” so much as it is not engaging in any of the issues under discussion in any meaningful way…

        • ME

          The issue is, why does Bo believe in process theology. The reasons he’s listed so far seem to indicate he’s doing a little of making his own God up (we all do). I’m sure that’s not an accurate representation of his beliefs, which is why I asked the question.

          I will bring up any new issues I want to discuss. Bo can not respond, Tony can ban me, that’s fine. Your comment is personally annoying. In the future I would appreciate it if you attempt to be make constructive criticisms instead of simply throwing stones.

  • http://facebook.com/marshall.peace Marshall

    I would rather think of God as encompassing time. Einstein’s notion was that time was a dimension like-but-unlike spatial dimension. The likeness is that there are laws of perspective, that is how the flow of time appears to you depends on your situation (in a physical, not psychological sense). The difference is that we are in free fall through time, whereas we get to maneuver in space. Since we are stuck with the linear-time perspective, we have problems with concepts like causality/contingency, but if one could witness it as a whole thing, it would appear as … well, a whole thing.

    I was reading somewhere else somebody said that one joy of seminary was no math and science classes, but I think that is a huge problem. Our view of God ought to be “contingent” on what we can understand about his Creation. That means that we have to be continually getting over our simplistic ideas of ourselves and wouldn’t that be a good thing. We don’t have to personally do the math (which is very difficult) but we should be open to being informed by the Godly work of those people.

  • Keith Rowley

    Marshall,
    From a practical perspective most people live like the future is not Pre-decided, that is we act like the decisions we make at any particular point in time can and will change what will happen in the future.
    I choose to believe that this is actually true, that the future is NOT Pre-determined and that our actions can and do change what will happen in the future. I don’t think it is possible to “see” or know the future, because the future does not exist yet, and all the decisions that will change the future have not been made yet.
    I guess this makes me an open theist as I don’t think it is any more possible for God to know the future that does not exist yet than it is for me, and this gives me a sympathy for process theology, though not a full acceptance of all it teaches.

    • http://facebook.com/marshall.peace Marshall

      Whether or not the future exists, the past continues to exist although we have no access to it. Presumably God could have access to it, and therefore you could think of him as building Eternity the way a bricklayer would build a House. So our human purpose is to be a brick. There could be good bricks and useless lumps of dried mud.

      If you want to get fancy, and I do, there is the possibility that “the future” can re-enter the past. The usual objection is that this sort of thing would cause radical instability, but maybe we just need to imagine the whole time thing “Eternity” evolving in some temporal direction we humans don’t perceive. Pretty far out metaphysics, but it solves many of the usual problems. Your life becomes much bigger than you think it is.

      From a practical perspective, no doubt the best way for we time-bound critters to live is as you said, but the point about God is that he (at least) doesn’t share our limitations. If you admit human free will, then evidently God doesn’t entirely control the future … my real point I suppose is that I don’t understand what “contingent” would mean in this context.

  • JJ

    Tony, in what way could dipolar theism be seen as gnostic? In no way do I see that being a possible accusation. I think you must be misunderstanding it. It’s not just process that affirms dipolar theism. Others in their own ways has as well: Schelling, Philip Clayton, Tillich, and even an orthodox theologian like John Polkinghorne.

  • http://scottpaeth.typepad.com Scott Paeth

    Well, this is what I get for opening my big mouth! Having read through the thread there’s no way I could possibly do justice to all of the insights that Tony’s other readers are offering here. Let me offer a few off the cuff remarks to put some of what I wrote on my blog in a bit more context.

    1. First of all, I should clarify that I do appreciate a lot about process theology. I think that it’s emphasis on the divine immanence can be an important corrective to theology that overly accentuate the divine transcendence, and to that degree, it serves an important theological role that I in no way want to deny. It’s also among the most fresh and creative approaches to theology to emerge from the 20th century and I appreciate it if for no other reason than simply that it’s interesting.

    2. My own position could probably be best described as “panentheistic” in the Moltmannian sense of the term, which, at least as I read him, depends on the idea which is rooted in Anselm’s ontological argument that God’s being does not depend on the contingency of the world, but that God chooses to enter into the contingency of creation as an act of divine self-emptying for the sake of creation. What this approach offers is a way of understanding divine immanence that does not rely on a necessary God/world connection as does the God of process theology. God is, as one commentator noted, both within creation and transcendent, and God’s being is not in that sense reliant on creation, but God in love chooses to descend within creation, ultimately even unto death.

    3. That said, I want to make clear that it’s entirely possible that process theology has some compelling responses to this, and Scot offers some insights that are certainly worth considering. However, I have yet to find an argument that I’ve found compelling to convince me that process thought does not, by virtue of taking away crucial elements of the divine omnipotence, seriously vacate the notion of divine providence. If the universe is free to act either in accord with or against God’s plan then it is possible that, contrary to God’s desires or intentions, the universe could propel itself, not toward God’s salvific purposes, but into a cosmic death spiral. Only if God’s intentions for the universe are understood to be implied by divine transcendence, and unalterable in principle except by God, is the idea of soteriology in any cosmic sense possible. This does require, as J.J. suggests, an eschatological reference point for salvation, though I would disagree that this is either untenable or immoral.

    4. Again, I make no claims to comprehensive knowledge of all of the arguments made by process theologians, but I have mostly been interested in the approach offered by Charles Hartshorne (if I had gone a different way at PTS, I might have done my dissertation on him!). As philosophical theologians with a process orientation go, I think he’s fascinating, but again, as I read his interpretation of the subject, ultimately God is, quite explicitly not the Ground of Being or a transcendent entity, but simply the greatest possible being within the universe. Now, other process theologians may have taken a different tack, and attempted to preserve a greater degree of divine sovereignty, and maybe some of them have solved the problems that I’ve suggested, but no process thinker that I’ve read has quite overcome these problems to my satisfaction.

    5. On a positive note, I think that one of the contributions of process theology has been in the theology of science, insofar as it has given theologians of science a way of understanding divine agency in a scientifically understood world in a new and interesting way, but in the end, I think the approach to divine agency in the material world is better described by the view of someone like Austin Farrer than by John Polkinghorne or Ian Barbour (both of whom I love, but both of whom I wish leaned less heavily on elements of process thought.

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

      Scott, if I may, it seems like we’re just throwing a prioris at each other. For instance, in your understanding of Moltmann’s panentheism rooted in Anselm, you say “What this approach offers is a way of understanding divine immanence that does not rely on a necessary God/world connection as does the God of process theology,” but why, other than our intuitions, is this a bad thing? Why is making relationship, rather than sovereignty, inherently bad theology or illogical? You go on to say that you cannot see Process adequately responding without “taking away crucial elements of divine omnipotence” which “vacate the notion of divine providence” but the whole point is that yes, Process sets out to do this! You say that you almost went the Hartshorne route, and his most famous work is “omnipotence and other mistakes!” Omnipotence and sovereignty are theological mistakes Process thought seeks to correct, so claiming that you are not persuaded because they do not leave these “mistakes” in tact leaves no room for conversation! Now, I understand the worry that we could enter a “cosmic death spiral” but I think (and I remember Cobb saying something about this) that IS a bullet we Process folks have to bite. But for me, that just reflects the risk of life. Like is risky business, like Caputo like to riff on in speaking of his own “weak theology,” and with that I agree. In a quote I love from “The Weakness of God, Caputo writes

      “On the classical account of strong theology, Jesus was just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the Father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. … That is not the weakness of God that I am here defending. God, the event harbored by the name of God, is present at the crucifixion, as the power of the powerlessness of Jesus, in and as the protest against the injustice that rises up from the cross, in and as the words of forgiveness, not a deferred power that will be visited upon one’s enemies at a later time. God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and calls across the epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal and defer it and then, in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise, to lay them low with real power, which shows the enemy who really has the power. That is just what Nietzsche was criticizing under the name of ressentiment.”

      Process theologians certainly typically conceive of God as an actuality, not an “event” like Caputo does, however the critique of “strong” theology is the same, in that together we are arguing that when it comes down to it, attributing to God omnipotence kind of cheapens the message of the cross and Christianity. God is an unconditional claim without force, both for Caputo and Process, in that the meaning and significane of Christianity is not that we just worship “the ground of being” but that we fall on our knees before goodness and beauty that is inherently without coercive power! And for us, this is appealing, we are not so much about a God who pretends to be weak for our sakes sometimes. For me at least, the “power” of God is found in powerlessness, meaning comes from not from the fact that ultimately there are guarantees, but that it really is up to us to partner with God and forge ahead. I could go into all the great points existentialists critique religion with, etc etc, but at the end of the day, what I appreciate about Process (and Weak Theology) is that we don’t have to appeal or rely on “magic,” or the “deus ex machina” to save us. We realize that what we thought that kind of God could save us from isn’t real anyway. Immanence gives us a picture and framework to work towards authentic, fleshy, worldly, communal, responsible, revolutionary salvation. At least the way we see it.

      I just think we’re after different things when it comes to religion, hence the immanence/transcendence debate that seems to be driven existentially not logically, scripturally, morally, evidentially, etc. In response to Anselm’s famous proof for the existence of God wherein he invokes the idea of God as the greatest possible being must entail the reality of such a being, and thus we get the omnipotent God of orthodoxy, I would answer simply that I can concieve of yet a great God, a weak one. It boils down to intuition!

      • http://scottpaeth.typepad.com Scott Paeth

        Hey Bo,

        Thanks for the reply. I think your last paragraph is key. I was having this very conversation with a friend on Facebook about this thread the other day. She thought that this kind of theologizing was counting angels dancing on the head of a pin, or theological score keeping of some kind. But what I was trying to convey to her was that these things matter deeply, not on their own, but in light of the overall adequacy of a theological account.

        But, and this what I take away from your final paragraph, the key question is “adequate for what.” For my part, I see the accounts of creation, salvation, consummation, etc. as tied together intimately, so that altering the terms of one dimension of that account (immanence/transcendence) can affect the others in unexpected ways. Those ways may not be bad ways, but they may alter the terms of the conversation in ways that push Christianity off of its historical foundations.

        But the key for me is that the value is in the conversation between me and Tony and Tripp and Scot and Hartshorne and Cobb and others, because by exploring the boundaries of the theologically possible, we come to understand more clearly what is and what isn’t an adequate account of Christian theology. And as I’ve said, my objections to process thought generally amount to a view that they haven’t made a convincing account that their version of the god-world relationship allows Christian theology to do what it needs to do to be authentically Christian theology. The knock-on effects of the theological change on other doctrines is too profound.

        But in order to adequately justify this I’d probably have to write a whole book on the topic, which would necessarily be about three or four books away given my current calendar. For now, I’ll lean on Moltmann’s “God in Creation,” which while not perfect hits a lot of the notes I would.

  • Pingback: Scott Paeth Responds to the Process Theologians

  • JJ

    Tony, process theologians do not really say God was something else entirely before creation. First, there is technically no ‘before’ creation in process perspective since God continuously creates. There are never ending series of cosmic epochs. Now, if you mean that God is affected by creation such that God becomes in some sense, then yes, God is always changing in response to the world in the consequent nature (having new experiences, adjusting divine action in response to the world, etc). But the divine nature or ‘person’ as love is established by the eternal primordial nature. Only the consequent pole changes in empathetic response to creation, not the primordial nature. If you find this disturbing, have you not noticed that Moltmann argues very similarly on this point that God changes, is genuinely affected by creation (especially in Trinity & the Kingdom)?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      God changes, God learns, God evolves. I’m good with all of that.

      God is a primordial being, then becomes a contingent being, I’m not okay with that.

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

        But if God is learning, evolving, changing, etc., how does that not make God contingent? God’s “primordial” nature isn’t going anywhere, he’s not evolving like a pokemon (generational reference), but as I understand it, the more that creation grows, the more there is for God to take up into God’s “consequent” nature. I don’t know what the rub is here with contingency, and why God can’t be both “primordial,” and contingent, transcendent and immanent (Maya Rivera has written a great book on this). THus the “dipolar” nature that I don’t see as historical gnosticism at all. Oh well, perhaps we’re just looking for different qualities in a deity!

      • Scot Miller

        I think in process theism God is thought to possess an eternal nature and a contingent nature simultaneously. There is no movement from primordial to contingent; rather, God has eternal aims that God supplies to actual entities, and actual entities either accept or reject them. (The eternal aims are things like beauty, intensity, freedom, and goodness.) God is changed by God’s interactions with actual entities, and God can be enriched or saddened by actual entities, but God’s eternal aims remain. In this way God is the one necessary being within the totality of beings.

  • JJ

    Tony, that isn’t what process says either. God doesn’t ‘become’ a contingent being at some point because God is always dipolar – there is always some world that God is in relation to (however trivial its order and value may be). It’s not like we can talk about God in the primordial nature existing without the consequent nature.

  • G. Palmer Pardington III

    My first reaction to the Scott Paeth statement is that he has misunderstood panentheism. Other responders set the record straight by pointing out that God is contingent in process theology only in God’s consequent nature, the world-encompassing dimension. So God does not know the future in every detail, but envisons all the possibilities, and can respond creatively to all we do no matter how close it fulfills or does not fulfill God’s initial aims. So God allows God’s self to be acted upon, which actually requires more depth and strength than exercising absolute unilateral power. God on this view is not a being but the One who encompasses all of reality.

    • http://scottpaeth.typepad.com Scott Paeth

      Well, I think there are different accounts of panentheism, and I have no doubt there are nuances to the process version that I need to take better account of. One day, perhaps I’ll be able to drink deeply enough of the subject to take all those nuances into account, but even the way you describe it I think changes the terms of the god-world relationship in problematic ways.

  • Patrick Moore

    “asymmetric bipolar relationality” is embraced by Polyani, James Loder, Thomas Torrance, etc. If you take serious the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Ascension, then there is something “new and novel” about God.

  • Nick Buck

    As an aside, I am with Scot here in asking (Jean-Luc Marion’s question), does God need to be? (in the sense of having being per se.). And I find Kearney’s offerings in The God Who May Be and Anatheism to be quite compelling: God exists, but whether or not God has *being* is contingent upon us.

    Nevertheless this still, like process thought, doesn’t allow for divine providence in the sense of control. And, as Bo said, of course this is the case as process thought says clearly that God’s power is persuasive and not coercive.

    As many have said, in process thought there is an aspect of God that doesn’t change – God’s “character” if you will (the primordial nature). God is constituted of a primordial and unchanging pole and a contingent or consequent pole. It seems to be a way of saying that God’s character remains the same while God is affected by and changed by the world.

  • Davdt

    Cosmological reductionism (CR) is dominate in science, religion and accedemics, there is no external perspective of the cosmos, although virtually every modern cosmologist will swear there is. That dominates modern thinking and is false. I would say your scale of god is absolutely right, but your cosmological scale is infinitely small as thus infinitely wrong. But thats modernity…


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