According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Listening & Understanding - "Why I Don't Follow God Anymore"

When people open up to share reflective questions and observations from their deep past it is always good to shut up and listen. These are times to simply be there for those who have very personal things to share. Not to comment, interpose personal observations of self, or say something stupid which would close down this time of intimacy between soul to soul. Just listen. And having listened to reflect with the one sharing where they may wish to go with the information they just shared with you. It is a time for deep wisdom and for asking the Spirit of the Lord to guide minds and hearts what's next. Where to go. How to go. To be. Perhaps, just to be. - re slater


Oftentimes when I here conversations like the one above I remember my own feelings and judgments of my past - many good, some not so good. Hell was one of those topics I didn't understand but deeply felt about and feared to share in.

Especially of a God I didn't understand. Of a God who said He loved me but then said I was condemned to hell if I didn't live up to His standards. Most of it I think I got right - in a twisted sort of way - but a lot of it I didn't understand. Especially this fear thing which was undeniable to the truth of hell. That sin and evil resided in its bowels and it was a place I did not wish either to reside or to reproduce through my life.

Many decades hence I have come to a re-visioning place in my life which has greatly helped my youth's fears and admonitions with the God who says He loves me but may condemn me. It required relearning the right things about God and removing the wrong things I had learned about Him or through my own bible readings.

Here's what I learned...

And it are things like this I could wish to share with others...

Firstly, under an open and relational theology the old concept of God condemning the planet and casting everyone into a fiery hell is abandoned.

Under this theology the planet and humanity's future is seen as a joined partnership with one another responsible for creating
i) loving communion with each other; 
ii) for fellowships of nurturing and thriving for the common good to the fore; and,
iii) for dissenting and resisting economies and theologies of profiteering to the harm of both earth and man.

It is not a loving God who has given to us the "fiery" or "terrible" gift of freewill who determines our outcome - but we, ourselves, and how we determine not only our own future but how we influence and affect the futures of all our fellow men and women - including this planet - by the use of our freewill.

The fiery hell of older theologies are now the hells we maintain within ourselves and persist by our actions upon this earth by choices for evil over good; for sin over loving actions; for selfishness and greed over sharing, respect, and thoughtfulness to one another and our planet.

And if, in the end, the world comes to its Armageddon or we, to our own, then it results not because of God's condemnation upon us but because we have lived lives of damnation refusing to allow or accept God's forever love into our lives to create actions and fellowships for good, for love, for hope.

Hell comes as much now, in this life, as it portends later in some life-after-death schemata which many like to think as true. And if you ask me, personally, of ultimate ends, I will say I cannot envision a forever hell as many think of it as.

For me, I see hell's reality or "state of condition" as much at the beginning of life - and persisting through every life in every kind of form - across the backdrop of the constancy of God's loving communion everyday present with His creation.

And at death, rather than being cast into a fiery hell, there will be those who join the ranks of one's who had enjoined hell in some everyday form of their lives in refusing (e.g., this freewill thing again) God's loving guidance and presence in every helpful situation they had faced and been asked to stop, fix, reform, aide, or help.

More so, in the end, it is not God's love which casts us into hell, but our refusal of God's love offered through Jesus who came as sacrifice, savior, and everyday guide we call the Holy Spirit.

That in the end, hell is not a place, but a condition better described as a state of annihilation, which is present with us from birth to death. And if there is an afterlife, as the bible teaches, then it is in this state of annihilation to which our souls finally die into a state of non-existence where torments cease from God's loving call to come, be healed, and there find wholeness.

It is this form of hell better described as annihilation which find us thrown about across erratic (or chaotic) states of spiritual death from God, from self, from others, and from creation. That is in this state of hell/annihilation which separates us from God, self, others, and creation.

We live with different kinds of deaths everyday in our lives unless we allow God's love to stop and rectify these daily deaths that are there calling us away from His love and community.

At the last, these interim states of deaths (or conditions of annihilation) finalize/coalesce at our death unless we actively choose to accept God's love and presence in our lives each and into everyone of those days we chose live as lives bourne across personal seas of death, chaos, and ruin.

For myself, as for many others, we can live life comforted by the fact that God has never abandoned us nor condemned us to hell but that He is present in our lives now, everyday, guiding, loving, caring. Not condemning, harming, or judging! This God I was taught was just the opposite of everything He really is... that His force of life had gotten turned around into something awful rather than being something really good. Really helpful. Really life changing.

And it is also why I and others say that rather than damning, God's holy presence sanctifies, redeems, reclaims, restores, and renews His creation everyday to be holy vessels bearing His divine love into a worlds of sin and destruction. Worlds of self-annihilating ruin and separation.

Though the older theologies had the sentiments right they had spoken it wrong.

It is not the God of the bible who condemns us but He who saves us.

The condemnation comes from within us unless we understand God alright as a loving presence seeking always our good in a world gone mad.

A God whose salvation through Jesus a'rights those chaotic seas of hell, calms the storms, and allows us to walk across the dark, troubling of waters of life unto renewal and reclamation of fellowship with Creator, ourselves, others, and creation, forever and always.

R.E. Slater
January 23, 2010
* * * * * * * * * *

As an aside to the above discussion, let's read Isaiah 66's chapter and try reading it in the light just described above - in the light of a theology teaching the goodness and constancy of God's love over older theologies using God's love and light as threat, dictum, and judgment of hell into our lives.

As evidence, the Israelites also commonly understood God as judge which is why the old theologies have held on so long. Yet looked another way, these scripture passages are describing the judgment of God as the sentence men have passed upon themselves in persisting in not loving one another while holding to the belief that their religious activities protected them from evil.

Those self-same religious activities but condemned hearts already committed to evil. Unrepented hearts hiding under covers of religiosity and churchliness. Covers that hated others, loved self over others, ruined the earth as caretake for flourishing, and refusing God any entry into lives of perfidy.

As such, they brought judgment upon their own heads which the bible describes as judgment from God. Yet used in another way, it is the judgment of God and of our ourselves in our observations, that should we, or any, persist in unloving ways, those ways will overcome us under their own condemnations. Condemnations which assure choosing darkness over light is surely the way to death by a thousand deaths heaped upon by a thousand more.

R.E. Slater
January 23, 2010

Isaiah 66 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Heaven Is God’s Throne

66 Thus says the Lord,
Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that [a]I may rest?
“For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.

Hypocrisy Rebuked

But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man;
He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck;
He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood;
He who [b]burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol.
As they have chosen their own ways,
And their soul delights in their abominations,
So I will choose their [c]punishments
And will bring on them what they dread.
Because I called, but no one answered;
I spoke, but they did not listen.
And they did evil in My sight
And chose that in which I did not delight.”
Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word:
“Your brothers who hate you, who exclude you for My name’s sake,
Have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.’
But they will be put to shame.
“A voice of uproar from the city, a voice from the temple,
The voice of the Lord who is rendering recompense to His enemies.
“Before she travailed, she brought forth;
Before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
Can a land be [d]born in one day?
Can a nation be brought forth all at once?
As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.
“Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?” says your God.

Joy in Jerusalem’s Future

10 “Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her;
Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her,
11 That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts,
That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom.”
12 For thus says the Lord, “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river,
And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
And you will [e]be nursed, you will be carried on the [f]hip and fondled on the knees.
13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
And you will be comforted in Jerusalem.”
14 Then you will see this, and your heart will be glad,
And your bones will flourish like the new grass;
And the hand of the Lord will be made known to His servants,
But He will be indignant toward His enemies.
15 For behold, the Lord will come in fire
And His chariots like the whirlwind,
To render His anger with fury,
And His rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For the Lord will execute judgment by fire
And by His sword on all flesh,
And those slain by the Lord will be many.
17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens,
[g]Following one in the center,
Who eat swine’s flesh, detestable things and mice,
Will come to an end altogether,” declares the Lord.
18 “For I [h]know their works and their thoughts; [i]the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. 19 I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, [j]Put, Lud, [k]Meshech, Tubal and [l]Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. 20 Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.
22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord,
“So your offspring and your name will endure.
23 “And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All [m]mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord.
24 “Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have [n]transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all [o]mankind.”


  1. Isaiah 66:1 Lit is My resting place?
  2. Isaiah 66:3 Lit offers a memorial of incense
  3. Isaiah 66:4 Lit ill treatments
  4. Isaiah 66:8 Lit travailed with
  5. Isaiah 66:12 Lit nurse
  6. Isaiah 66:12 Lit side
  7. Isaiah 66:17 Lit After
  8. Isaiah 66:18 So with Gr; Heb omits know
  9. Isaiah 66:18 Lit it is coming
  10. Isaiah 66:19 So with Gr; Heb Pul
  11. Isaiah 66:19 So with Gr; Heb those who draw the bow
  12. Isaiah 66:19 I.e. Greece
  13. Isaiah 66:23 Lit flesh
  14. Isaiah 66:24 Or rebelled
  15. Isaiah 66:24 Lit flesh

* * * * * * * * * *

Aaron Rodgers Opens Up About Religion to Danica Patrick: ‘I Don’t Know How You Can Believe in a God’
The Green Bay Packers quarterback sat down for an interview with girlfriend Danica Patrick
By Jason Duaine Hahn
January 22, 2020 03:05 PM | People Link here
In an intimate conversation with girlfriend Danica Patrick, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is discussing his Christian upbringing and how he first began to question his faith.
In a video posted to Patrick’s YouTube page for her Pretty Intense podcast in late December, Rodgers — who was raised as a Christian from a young age — said he had trouble connecting with his religious community as a child.
“Most people that I knew, church was just … you just had to go,” the Super Bowl XLV champion recalled.
It was his time with the youth group, Young Life, that he felt the most sense of community — which he said he didn’t experience during typical Sunday mass.
“We went to Mexico during two spring breaks and built houses,” he said of volunteering with the program. “We put together homes for these folks who were living [with] garage door sides thrown together and stuff, that was meaningful. That was really meaningful work.”
But it wasn’t until Rodgers was exposed to other religions as a young adult that he began to question his own.
“I just didn’t find any connection points with those things,” said Rodgers, who played at the University of California, Berkeley, before being selected by Green Bay in the 2005 NFL Draft. “I started questioning things, and had friends who had other beliefs — I enjoyed learning, that’s kind of a part of my life.”

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers

“I had some good friendships along the way that helped me to figure out exactly what I wanted to believe in,” he added. “Ultimately, it was that rules and regulations and binary systems don’t really resonate with me.”
This realization eventually led Rodgers down a path to a “different type of spirituality,” he explained.
“I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell,” he said. “What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”
Though Rodgers did not specifically refer to himself as an atheist — someone who does not believe in the existence of God or gods — his statements seem to echo those of a growing contingent of people in the United States. According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who identify with being an atheist has increased over the last decade (from 2 percent to 4 percent).

Danica Patrick shares sweet birthday message for her ‘favorite person in the world’ Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers and Danica Patrick | DANICA PATRICK/INSTAGRAM

RELATED: ‘Fame Can Change Things’: Aaron Rodgers’ Family Opens Up About Their Rift
For the two-time NFL MVP, it was the “us against them” attitude he observed that ultimately changed his views on organized religion.
“Religion can be a crutch, it can be something that people have to have to make themselves feel better,” Rodgers continued. “Because it’s set up binary, it’s us and themsaved and unsavedheaven and hell, it’s enlightened and heathen, it’s holy and righteous … that makes a lot of people feel better about themselves.”
Patrick confirmed to the Associated Press that she was in a relationship with the NFL star in January 2018. Rodgers and Patrick made their red carpet debut at the ESPYs in July 2018 — when Patrick was the show’s first female host.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Process Theology & Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many thanks to Jay McDaniel for assembling the thoughts and accompanying post from process theologian John Cobb along with Jay's own diligence and observations on Process Christianity and the help it brings to enlivening the Christian faith, message, and community of Jesus to the world we live in today.

R.E. Slater
January 20, 2020

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Process Theology ​and
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ref: Open Horizons

Seven Similarities

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a process theologian in any formal way. Still, his approach to religion and life resembles that of many process theologians in seven respects:

  • King had an appreciation of liberal theology as he learned it at Crozer Theology School, preferring it to Barth's biblicist approach. In this he resembles process thinkers with their apprecation of natural theology.
  • King wrote his dissertation on Tillich and Weiman, critiquing both for not understanding for not affirming God is a person with consciousness and intentions, thus preferring the liberal theology of Boston Personalism. In this he resembles many process thinkers with their emphasis on a personal God who "feels the feelings" of all living beings and responds with love by offering fresh possibilities for wisdom, compassion and creativity.
  • King believed in God and evolution, understanding God as a source of novelty in the universe. In this he resembles process theologians with their appreciation of a God who works cosmically and not just humanly.
  • King believed in non-violence. In this he is close to process theologians with their emphasis on persuasion not coercion.
  • King recognized that the non-violent life includes how people think and feel as well as how they act. In this he resembles Gandhi and process theologians, who likewise recognize the important of subjectivity in human life (emotions, intentions, subjective aims, subjective forms) and who, as committed to persuasation not coercion, recognize that the life of relational love has an inner dimension.
  • King believed that the religious life rightly requires helping build communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, egalitarian, and spiritually satisfying with no one left behind. In this he shares the hope of process theologians, who likewise seek such communities and add that are part of what is involved in "ecological civlizations."
  • King was an ecumenist, interested in inter-faith harmony. In this he resembles process theologians who, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, are likewise drawn to interfaith cooperation and mutual transformation through dialogue.
  • King would disagree with process theologians in their rejection of creatio ex nihilo, emphasizing instead that God is self-limiting rather than limited by the power of the world. But he was not very interested in debates on such matters, having his mind and heart focused on what he took to be more important matters: e.g. social justice.

*Note: Process theology generally agrees on the idea of creatio ex continua. - res - Keith Ward, Theologian

The term creatio continua refers to God's continuing creative activity throughout the history of the universe. In a sense, most theologians accept creatio continua, since creation is the dependence of the whole of space-time on God. But more traditional views hold that because God is timeless and immutable, there is only one divine creative act, which originates the whole of space-time from first to last. Those who speak of creatio continua think of creation taking place in many successive acts, partly in response to events in time. Thus, at any particular time God's creation has not been completed, and the future is partly open, in some theological views, even for God.

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for "creation from nothing") refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some preexisting material or out of the divine substance itself. This view was widely, though not universally, accepted in the early Christian Church, and was formally defined as dogma by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Creatio ex nihilo is now almost universally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Indian theism generally holds that the universe is substantially one with God, though it is usually still thought of as a free and unconstrained act of God.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and in 1957 became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. The following year, he and the SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.

In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting. Sentenced to 99 years in prison for King's murder, effectively a life sentence as Ray was 41 at the time of conviction, Ray served 29 years of his sentence and died from hepatitis in 1998 while in prison.

King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The remainder of this post is attributed to Open Horizons - res

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lessons from a Baptist Preacher

Life is a process

potentially guided by
an arc of Love and Justice

and a personal God

whose heart is the arc
and whose hands are our own.

​“I am many things to many people; Civil Rights leader, agitator, trouble-maker, and orator, but in the quiet resources of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher,” he said. “This is my being and my heritage. … The Church is my life and I have given my life to the Church.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965: from the Black Church to India: The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Early Theology

King's Understanding of God and Evolution 
​in his own words

With "the rise of the scientific interpretation of the origin of the world and the emergence of the theory of evolution many thought that the basic Christian view of creation was totally destroyed. This belief might be right in seeing the invalidity of the older view of a first creation, but it is wrong in thinking that all views of creations were destroyed with the rise of scientific interpretation. It seems quite possible to get an adequate religious view of the world in the light of emergent evolution and cosmic theism. Is it not possible for God to be working through the evolutionary process? May it not be the God is creating from eternity? Emergent evolution says essentially that in the evolutionary process there is a continuous incoming of the new. The question arises, from whence comes this emergence of new elements in the evolutionary process. The religious man answers, with a degree of assurance, that God is the source of the new emergents. In other words, God is working through the evolutionary process."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.: Written Exam at Crozer Theological Seminary, sometime between 1949 and 1950.

King's Appreciation of Liberal Theology

"I have been greatly influenced by liberal theology,
maintaining a healthy respect for reason
and a strong belief in the immanence
as well as the transcendence of God."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

About King's Dissertation on Tillich and Wieman
"King passed his final doctoral examination in February 1954, and his dissertation outline was approved by Boston University’s graduate school on 9 April, shortly before he accepted the call to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King’s letter of acceptance to Dexter’s congregation specified that he be “granted an allowance of time to complete my work at Boston University,” though he would be “able to fill the pulpit at least once or twice per month.” He also asked that the church cover his expenses during the completion of his dissertation, “including traveling expenses” (Papers 2:260).

King chose to focus his dissertation research on Tillich and Wieman due to their status as influential religious thinkers and as representatives of divergent views on the nature of God. King’s comparison of Tillich’s and Wieman’s concepts of God reflected his adherence to personalism, which proceeds from the belief that God possesses a personality and can therefore have a relationship with human beings. King’s analysis of Tillich’s and Wieman’s theological concepts as “unsatisfactory” and “inadequate as philosophical and religious world-views” followed from his belief that God was a living force, “responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart; this God both evokes and answers prayer” (Papers 2:532; 533; 512). He found that both Wieman and Tillich rejected the conception of a personal God, which resulted in “a rejection of the rationality, goodness, and love of God in the full sense of the words. An impersonal ‘being-itself’ or ‘creative event’ cannot be rational or good, for these attributes are of personality” (Papers 2:506). In the end, King pointed out the two theologians’ views of God are not “basically sound” because they “render real religious experience impossible” (Papers 2:532)."

Research and Education Institute

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Boston Personalism and Whiteheadian Theology

​by John B. Cobb, Jr. for Phillip Fletcher

If, in my quest to see whether, or to what extent, what is now known can support, or even allow, the faith of my youth, I had gone to Boston University instead of the University of Chicago, I would no doubt have become a Personalist. When I encountered Personalist theology in my reading, I found it, in general, quite satisfying. Indeed, it was much more fully and systematically developed than anything that the Divinity School of Chicago offered. While at the Divinity School I imagined teaching philosophy of religion to college students, and I remember thinking that I would use a book of Brightman as the text.

If I had not studied Whitehead, I would probably not have asked the questions to which Personalist philosophy’s answers were less developed than Hartshorne’s or, especially, Whitehead’s thought. Probably, when I did begin to encounter the questions not as adequately dealt with in Personalist philosophy, I would have felt that the needed development was possible without giving up the philosophy overall.

However, I now consider myself fortunate to have come to Personalism after having encountered Whitehead rather than the other way. Personalism developed in the context of German Idealism. That developed from Immanuel Kant’s acceptance of the limitations Hume had shown in British empiricism. The key point was that Hume showed that when we examine very carefully what we actually see, we cannot discover any causal relation. It seems, then that the causal relations, so important to the sciences, must be imposed on the data by habitual expectations generated by repeated occurrences of sequences.

Kant carried this further and, noting the limitations of what we actually see in relation to our scientific understanding of the world, he attributed the construction of the scientific world to the human mind. The whole German Idealist tradition adopted this view, which gave a decisive role to the constructive activity of the mind. Personalism developed as one expression of this tradition.

As a Whiteheadian, when confronted with the acute problems resulting from the way we had treated nature, I was embarrassed by how little attention I had given theologically to the natural world. But change was easy. The philosophy I was using provided me with all I needed in order to change. With German idealism, the situation was different. In my view Kant’s thought still blocks many people from treating the problems in nature as just as objective, just as real, as problems in human relations. Breaking out of anthropocentrism requires breaking out of Kantian idealism.

Correcting the mistakes of David Hume is far from easy, but it has been done for us, quite intentionally and successfully by Whitehead. Much of the strength of Personalism can be incorporated into a Whiteheadian system, but I do not think that a fully realistic view of the natural world can be incorporated into Personalism without fundamental philosophical changes.

As a problem of German Idealism’s understanding of nature, I have noted only its difficulty in responding well to the ecological crisis. But the problem is broader. Whitehead’s philosophy can be useful in science as well as in theology. Personalism can show how theology and science can coexist without conflict, but I do not see how it can assist science to develop. Quantum physicists do often find Whitehead useful. I think that Whitehead can also help us to understand the continuity and discontinuity between the animate and the inanimate as well as the whole process of emergence that we call evolution.

Most of what I have said above about the advantages of Whitehead is not particularly controversial. I will add that, also, specifically in the doctrine of God, I prefer Whitehead. I appreciate Personalism’s affirmation of God as personal, but I think the understanding of persons, when they are viewed in contrast to their natural contexts, is not adequate. Being personal then means too exclusively, like the minds or selves of human beings. Since Personalism does not have as clear a doctrine of “internal relations” as Whitehead, being like a human mind meant being primarily external to other minds. The relation to God is certainly I/thou rather than I/it, but the Pauline understanding of how God is in us and we are in God is hard to envision.

For Whitehead, every entity or event is to some extent inclusive of what has already occurred. Human beings include and reenact much more than do amoeba. God’s difference is the fullness of inclusion. Alongside God’s inclusion of us is the assurance that God is included in every experience. Whitehead’s God is a necessary participant in the coming to be of every creaturely event, but God is not the sufficient cause of any creaturely event. The occurrence of evil and injustice in the world is, of course, an enormous problem, but it is not an intellectual problem, and therefore not an inescapable existential problem. The fact that God works creatively in everything for good does not lead us to expect that everything will work well or that human beings will respond well to God’s gifts. God is included in us, but so are our personal past and indeed much, much else, that does not support God’s purposes.

Most Protestant theologians chose from the philosophical tradition Schleiermacher or Ritschl rather than Lotze, the leading Personalist. Some renewed Aristotle, who had remained important for Catholics. Many insisted that there was no need for philosophy, one could base one’s beliefs directly on the Bible.

In my opinion the choice by Christians of Personalism, and specifically of the Boston School of Personalism, was, in the second half of the nineteenth century and, down to World War II, an excellent choice, probably the best available. Personalism blended beautifully with the Social Gospel, which was the best available response to the social issues of the industrial era. Knowing that this combination was profoundly relevant to the intellectual and social problems of the time gave those who adopted it, including most Wesleyan leaders, a strength and assurance that we now sorely miss.

However, in a world in which German Idealism is no longer the leader in the philosophical world, and when the problems we face are all bound up with what is happening in the natural world, we cannot solve our problems by returning to that which worked so well in the recent past. I personally wish that the church would seek the same wholeness in the philosophy of Whitehead and the commitment to ecological civilization. It seems to have decided, instead, to largely abandon philosophical and theological commitments. I fear that this is a fatal mistake. 

- John Cobb

Speeches & Lectures
by Martin Luther King, Jr