Five Honest Questions for Process Theology

This post should be properly titled, “Five Questions for Process Theologians,” because you cannot actually ask a question of a theology, only of a theologian. The problem, as Tripp and Bo explained in their recent and controversial podcast, is that a lot of people whom I consider process theologians aren’t. Or they deny that they are. Phil Clayton is influenced by process, as is Bo. Tripp hedges on whether he’s a process theologian, or whether he’s an open-and-relational-baptist-who-has-proclivities-toward-process. Maybe John Cobb is the only truly process theologian.

The back-and-forth over process started with a rather hamfisted post by Roger Olson, in which he asserted that true process theologians aren’t Christian and, conversely, true Christians aren’t truly process theologians. When the pushback came his way, he responded by saying, “Hey, I’m writing for evangelicals exclusively. The rest of you can listen in, but this isn’t about you.” (He also unfortunately aired some of his personal dirty laundry in the comment section of the initial post.)

Tripp and Bo rightly took up Olson’s post, pointing out that it was both wrong at points and ungenerous in others. But I grew increasingly frustrated as I listened to the podcast because I thought that Tripp and Bo were taking potshots at more classical forms of theism. They even criticized other open and relational theologies as their temperatures rose. And, in so doing, I think they missed some of the more salient points of Olson’s criticisms.

If I had my druthers, I’d go over to Tripp’s garage, open a homebrew, light up a cigar, and talk this out with him in front of a live mic. Since that’s not geographically possible, I offer these five questions and ask those guys and others to respond by whatever medium they see fit. I am definitely a full-fledged member of the “open and relational theologies” camp, and I’m a hypertheist, so I offer these questions as a friend and teammate.

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Scott Paeth Responds to the Process Theologians

Scott left a lengthy comment defending himself. I am hereby promoting it to a post:

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 its 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.

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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.

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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