"The Century is Over" - Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth-Century Architecture with its attractor basins,
by Charles Jencks, Architectural Review, July 2000, p. 77 (see link here)
Rather than discussing Dr. Roger Olson's list against process theology (sic, "Why I Am Not a Process Theologian), I thought I might approach this subject from a sideways direction. Mostly because this website contains within it many good responses to process theology, but in a more positive form than Dr. Olson's list - while not ignoring the complaints of classical orthodoxy in lists like this. In essence, we have discussed on many occasions each of Dr. Olson's orthodox concerns in an effort to "update" classical Christian's folklores and dogmas by applying either relational theology or open theism as our tools of rejoinder and expression when writing on process subjects.
Thus, rather than work through a point-by-point response to Dr. Olson's list perhaps the more helpful avenue of discussion would be to re-contextualize the concerns of non-process theologians bounded as they are within their own closed systems of what they think Christianity should, and should not, be. Though we each would like to think we hold open systems of thought that are centered-set in Jesus, in actuality when discussions like this arise we find ourselves describing a Christianity that has difficulty in approaching unfamiliar, non-traditional subject matter. One that is mostly closed and closed-minded.
Whereas the better response would be one of attempting to re-integrate the many helpful directions of process theology back into the folds of Christian orthodoxy so that it might remain relevant to societal needs and perceptions rather than closing any-and-all discussions made upon it. As good examples of this I think Bruce Epperly, Thomas Jay Oord, and Homebrewed Christianity (see sidebar under Emergent resources), each do a yeoman's job in bringing out the practicalities of process thought. Moreover, an open system of thought will approach a closed system of beliefs to help open it up and prevent it from establishing overly strict, uncrossable, epistemological borders. Hence, a by-product of this effort will be seen in an attitude of a future forward movement within one's own epistemological maturity correspondent to a coincidental rise in confidence and personal relevancy to the topics of the day.
Setting the Table
Firstly, process philosophy is to process theology as early Greek philosophy (Hellenism) was to early church theology... a theology that continued well into the Middle Ages until latterly replaced by the Western philosophy of Enlightenment which consequently birthed modern secularism.
What this means is that there was no period of time in the theology of the church (including the New Testament period) that wasn't subjected to the philosophies extant around itself in the lands, people, and customs that it met and interacted with. This was as true of Jewish theology of the Old Testament as it formed and competed against the ANE philosophies of the Akkadians and Sumerians, or Egyptians, or even the Babylonian philosophies of their day. From Jewish creation stories, to flood (Noah) and worship stories (Babel), to its deliverance from Egypt (Moses), and its subsequent deliverance from Babylonian exile (the Prophets). The Bible is replete with Jewish theology examining, absorbing, integrating, reforming, and rejecting surrounding worldly philosophies into its ancient faith.
So too was this true of the early church in the Apostle Paul's day under the many pervasive philosophical influences of the Greeks and Romans as it updated its inherited Jewish theological center of covenant-and-promise (sic, people, worship, land, community) around a Christological center that would re-center everything it knew and believed about God against the prevailing amalgamation of Greek and Roman cosmological and anthropological beliefs and mindsets. Hence, Jewish monotheism soon became nuanced by an understanding of Trinitarian monotheism and Christological atonement schemas; lengthy discussions took place about the effects of Pelagianism, antinomianism, and the nature of the hypostatic union of Christ - including the problem of sin and evil (theodicy); the nature of God's grace and human free will; and a variety of competing apocalyptic eschatologies covering various sorts of anthropological hermeneutics describing the nature of divine revelation as received by the church. Which community of believers were as inherently different in constitution and charter from its predecessor Israel, as it was similar to its earlier communities of God-fearing believers. But underneath, or around, all these newer (Christian) theologies came with it the many fragmented forms of not only Greco-Roman philosophies, but incipient global philosophies as well, which underlay inside, underneath, and around, the church's "gospel" as it spread outwards to the four corners of the trade winds - north, west, south, and east.
As such, it would be naïve to think that postmodernism is not influencing today's 21st century church no less than yesteryear's Enlightenment philosophies which had similarly birthed modern secularism and its influences upon the "orthodox" church's doxological life-and-theology over its past 500 hundred years of historical church movement. In response, denominationalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism, have each arisen to provide numerous religious answers and attitudes to the deep philosophical questions of their day. Even as today's postmodernism (in reaction to modernism) has bourne its own correspondent rectitudes of analyticism (logical positivism) and continental philosophies via seminal studies in existentialism and phenomenology by the likes of Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche's Nihilism, Ricoeur, Tillich, Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida.
From this hotbed of ideas in correspondent study of societal event re the turmoil-and-clash of cultures has come the church's reciprocating Christian reaction of liberal theology (19th-20th century), process theology (20th-21st century), and radical theology (the Death of God movement in the 21st century). Certainly the church is not beholden to the belief-sets of philosophy - as can readily be seen by its struggle of theology with prevalent ideologies (whether locally, regionally, nationally, or globally). Which doesn't mean that it isn't affect within its espoused theologies by philosophy either. For no church through the generations of man can be insular from the culture and climate of the nations around itself, no matter its protestations that it is not. It would be naïve to think so. For instance, Western Civilization is rife with ideas and systems to which the church must respond or withdraw. But to withdraw is to become bounded by exclusive, unmitigating ideas, that can no longer communicate with the larger world of ideas that it is tasked to do. It loses its sense of mission when become isolating to its own bounded sets of belief. And once this is done it loses its sense of purpose and fulfillment. A cold, antiquated, orthodoxy does no one any good... least of all its own congregants.
However, to the degree the church understands that "philosophy is like the air we breathe" even as "theology is like the food we digest", to that degree must theology work to stay open and expressive. The liberal theology it once thought so useless long years ago is now the basis for most biblical work today. It took years and years and years for liberalism's concerns to be understood but once grasped the church then re-worked those ideas into its religious charters and institutions (with varying degrees of success or non-success). So too must postmodernism's process theology be re-computed into the life-and-theology of its many denominational expressions. The best vehicles to do this is a maturing anthropological hermeneutic that opens up and enlarges language constructs, communication, and community; an acceptance of, and concerted effort towards purposefully assimilating, polypluralism within the attitudes of the church; an enlarged idea of how a good narrative theology based upon contextualized resourcing can help with this assimilating process; a scientific mindedness eschewing anti-intellectualism; and an open and relational theology that stretches the boundedness of classic theology; to name a few.
Hence, the church needs to become conversant with all philosophical epistemologies and any derivative theologies spinning from these movements. Which means that the church's definition of orthodoxy must always be in the process of self-examination if it is to remain conversant with the burgeoning societies of the 21st century united in global commerce and exchange, communication, and cooperation.
Good, Bad, and Great Listening Skills
Thus, syncreticism is a fact of life in the church. Accordingly, the church's embrace of orthodoxy cannot be expected to remain static. It must grow and expand in order to accommodate newer ideas and discoveries. Not all accommodations will be biblical, but not all biblical theologies will be as fully expressive as they could be without certain strategic re-thinking (Christian think-tanks and braintrusts). As the church reacts and develops newer theological expressions, time-and-attendance will mediate all false expressions of the Christian faith by death's ever remorseful relent. What seems so certain today to the orthodox traditions of the church may rapidly become decidedly unhelpful and untrue all in one breath at the hand of God (remember Ezekiel where God uses the bowl, to then wipe it out and discard its remains, when done?). Hence, creating lists can only be helpful to those fearful and threatened by newer ideas. And, they can also be harbingers to a dying faith no longer relevant to the church's mission and witness.
Why? Because lists can cause stakeholders to cling to their religious boundaries a bit too tightly to their own demise and death. Or they can help forward-looking, progressive individuals and institutions to respond appropriately by enlarging older, more sacrosanct, theological concepts which have become overly retardative, restrictive, and outdated. There is no harm in conversing with ideas like process theology so long as it helps one's biblical understanding of God, self, and creation, to become more fully enriched and biblically insightful. Today's process theology tells the church that it must reconsider what it means when declaring equality to all but rendering equality to none outside their own circles of impaling beliefs. Or by preaching respect for all persons and religions when remitting time-and-again its generosity to those unlike itself by resisting the necessary of assimilation of cultural pluralism incumbent upon its outreach of the Gospel.
Rather than calling everything foul and digressing from further discussion it is this author's opinion that as mankind mature's in his postmodern societies - especially in the sciences and technologies - so too must we allow reciprocating movement within church doctrine. As science is not static, so too is theology not static. Newtonian physics passed away with all mechanistic, classical philosophies when atomism climbed forward in molecular chemistry and quantum physics. So too must today's postmodern church find that it must update its own theological ideas of "God, man, and the gospel" in the face of societal evolution as it lurches forward in newer discoveries, disciplines, ideas, and language. It would be naïve to think that we must not.
Reading Lists through the Book of Deeds
Thus the warrant to consider process theology and its philosophical underpinnings in light of the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. Lists, like the one Dr. Olson has provided from a non-process basis, can only be helpful to those apologists unwilling to move forward in conversation with a postmodern generation of youth and ideas. Rather than forcing restrictive boundaries and dilemmas upon the church we should be examining how to relate those newer discoveries with what we think we know already. And should our past, more ancient traditions change, than we must know how and why they must change, rather than arguing those changes away in the flotsam of denial and argument.
At the last, I do not fight to hold onto my ideas and definitions of who I think God is. It would be far better if I were the more willing to asking myself why I must believe why God is the way that I want Him to be. Or, to be more content in pursuing better questions of my Christian faith than in demanding better explanations of my faith. Or, to be more content in leaving a little mystery around the God I think I know who in essence has become held hostage as an idol of my imaginations and desires.
As example, at the behest of yesteryear's classicisims, God was declared as far removed from us as a transcendent heavenly Being can be, who was primarily bent on excising His righteous judgment and ire upon a creation gone to hell (per Reformed Calvinism). However, under relational thought, God is primarily re-described as a God who is near to us in presence and person, grace and forgiveness (per relational-process theism). Perhaps had the church held these latter (newer) ideas than perhaps centuries-old inquisitions, crusades, genocides, wars, famine, cruelty, slavery, discrimination, and suffering might have been avoided. If classic Christian orthodoxy is so vaunted than I (and others) do suspect its more tattered message of hypocrisy and greed when reviewing its faith based upon its historical works and deeds.... (what is known as the priority of an orthopraxy over orthodoxy - the practice of one's beliefs).
The respected British historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, once said in his treatise [Great] Civilisations, that "Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art. Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." Even so do I when reviewing church doctrine taking precedence over human tragedy and pathos. Consequently, the works of art by artist's like Banksy seems to shout our present generation's ills and fates when left in the hands of the more civilized, Christianized, man whose ethos of beliefs have caused so much grief and harm when left in the hands of a less tolerant, more ignoble society of men motivated by doctrine over deeds, disruption over community, ideals over life, liberty, and freedom.
by R.E. Slater
December 7, 2013
updated: December 13, 2013
updated: December 13, 2013
From Homebrewed Christianity -
A reply from a Process Site (albeit, a "conservative" Process Site)
A Newbie Response to Roger Olson
A Newbie Response to Roger Olson
December 5, 2013 by 107 Comments
Roger Olson blogged about why he is not a Process Theologian. Since I am a newbie to Process Thought, I thought it would be fun to respond to the post point-by-point. My responses are in bold.
In the days to come, people who do this for a living (instead of a hobby) will respond more deeply and more accurately than I have here.
First … let me say that many, many people I know who think they believe in process theology really don’t. Like many theological labels and categories, over time, “process theology” has been stretched to cover much, much more than it originally covered. Many people who claim to believe in it simply don’t know what it is, historically-theologically, or what it entails logically.
I am up for the challenge. I might be who you are talking about. Let’s see how this goes.
When I talk about “process theology” I mean the type of (so-called) Christian theology based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (sometimes as modified by Charles Hartshorne) and expressed above all, prototypically, by John Cobb, David Griffin, Norman Pittenger, Delwin Brown, et al.
Good so far – that is what I thought it was.
In other words, “process theology” is not just any relational theology. It is a type of relational theology, but not the only one. And, I would add, not the best one. (For example, Jürgen Moltmann’s is a relational theology and, in my opinion, much better than process theology.)
Sure. We know plenty of people who prefer Moltmann or the Open Theology of someone like Greg Boyd. No worries there.
Many people have taken a course that included a little process theology or have read a book by a process thinker or just heard about process theology and jumped on the bandwagon without really knowing all that it involves. So—just because you call yourself “process” doesn’t mean you are.
Agreed. We try to say this all the time. Of course we say from a purist sort of qualification and you mean as as dis-qualification – but so far so good.
So what are the essentials of process theology? My description will be of an “ideal type” based on the consensus of the most noted and influential process theologians (some of whom are mentioned above).
Let’s do this!
First, process theology assumes that to be is to be in relation. It is a relational, organic worldview.
Yep. In fact, I would ask, “what was the other option?”
Second, process theology avers that God is not an exception to basic ontological rules but is their chief exemplification.
This is a major distinction and one that I find very attractive. But you are right – it is a significant departure. This is why I talk about Process Thought as a not just a new program to download but a new operating system that reformats ones’ theological hard-drive.
Third, process theology asserts that omnipotence is a theological mistake; God is not and cannot be omnipotent. God’s only power is the power of influence (persuasion).
Right. The nature of God’s power is not coercive but persuasive. God’s power is not unilateral but seductive. No problem so far.
Fourth, process theology is a form of theistic naturalism; it does not have room for the supernatural or for divine interventions (miracles).
Umm … yes and no. This is true to the degree that the super-natural is based in a pathetically antiquated metaphysics and a three-tiered universe. But ‘no’ in the sense that there is room for the miraculous – especially as testified to in the Gospel accounts. So we are 4 in and we start to get a little shaky.
Fifth, process theology denies creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing, and affirms classical panentheism—God and the world are mutually interdependent. There is a sense in which God is dependent on the world (beyond self-limitation).
Ya – read the two creation accounts in Genesis. There is no creation ex nihilo. Read church history. No Jewish person, including Jesus, would have believed ex nihilo until two centuries after Christ. It is a greco-roman reading imported and imposed on the Jewish text.
Sixth, process theology refers to God as “dipolar”—having two “poles” or “natures”—one primordial and one consequent. God’s primordial pole is potential only and consists of ideals. God’s consequent pole is actual and consists of God’s experience. The world contributes experience to God. God has no primordial experience. (Theologian Austin Farrer referred to this as process theology’s lack of “prior actuality in God.”)
Right. And doesn’t a classic Trinitarian understanding speak of the immanent and the economic Trinity? Am I wrong on this? If I am someone will tell me …
Seventh, process theology regards God as radically temporal; God learns as history unfolds and how history unfolds is ultimately up to creatures (actual occasions). (“God proposes but man disposes.”)
Umm … isn’t there evidence of this in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments? I mean, it’s not completely unprecedented. I mean, you can go the Openess route and say that it is a ‘self-limitation’ or you can go the Process route and say that it just the way it is (God’s nature / the nature of reality).
Eighth, process theology reduces God’s creative activity to bringing about order and harmony insofar as possible. God is not the actual creator of the world or any actual occasion (the basic building blocks of reality). God can only create, however, with creaturely cooperation.
Right – the interventionist notion of God is shed. This will become important as we move through the 20th century (let alone the 21st).
Ninth, process theology views Jesus Christ as different in degree but not in kind from other creatures. His “divinity” consists of his embodying the self-expressive activity of God (“Logos”) which is “creative transformation.” He is not God incarnate in any absolutely unique sense that no other creature could be.
Ugh. This is overstated. I would venture to say that the last sentence is not well represented. If one listens to the latest Barrel Aged Podcast with John Cobb on Advent, you will hear a more nuanced and ‘orthodox’ presentation of this concept of incarnation. Jesus IS unique.
I would go as far as to say that Olsen gets this one wrong.
Tenth, process theology denies any guaranteed ultimate victory of God or good over evil. The future is “more of the same” so far as we know. Ultimately, that is up to us, not God. God always does God’s best, but he cannot guarantee anything.
Half Right. Is the future guaranteed? No. It is 100% up to us? No – there is still a God in the universe. Does God work with us to bring about a preferable set of possibilities and open up options yet unseen? Yes.
Now, if that is an accurate brief summary of the essential points of process theology, which I believe it is (allowing that there are people who call themselves “process” who may disagree with one or two points and who may add to it something others would not), here is why I think it is not a form of Christian theology.
I would give it a 90% – but let’s see where this goes.
First, process theology’s ultimate authority for belief is not divine revelation but philosophy and, in particular, Whitehead’s organic metaphysic (sometimes as altered by Hartshorne). That becomes the “Procrustean bed” on which revelation must fit. It is not merely influenced by or integrated with that philosophy; that philosophy is its very soul and foundation.
Dr. Olson, you have to know that all of Christian theology is both in concert with and based on some set of philosophical frameworks. That is part & parcel of every theological project through the centuries. Process’ explicit reliance on this is not a disqualifying admittance. In fact, it is better than the implicit nature of other historical expressions.
Second, process theology’s Jesus Christ is not God and Savior in any recognizable sense. Its Christology tends to be either adoptionistic or Nestorian (as in the case of Norman Pittenger).
What? Oh my. Really? Oh no. We are going to have to do a TNT on this one. The beauty of ‘christology from below’ the subtle way that Cobb does it in the pod on Advent is masterful.
Third, process theology has very little, if any, room for the Trinity. Attempts by process theologians to include the Trinity in their theology have been weak and mostly modalistic. (Catholic process theologian Joseph Bracken has attempted to develop a trinitarian process theology, but I’m not convinced it works.)
Now you are swinging wildly. Would you say this about the parichoretic view?
Fourth, process theology denies miracles including the bodily resurrection/empty tomb of Jesus Christ.
Fifth, process theology constitutes radical accommodation to secular modernity.
Because Evangelicalism has made no accommodation to modernity or changed anything since the Apostles?
Sixth, process theology denies the efficacy of petitionary prayer.
There is no interventionist God in Process.
Seventh, process theology has no realistic eschatology.
Realistic? Did you mean that? Did you mean ‘real’? Otherwise you will have to show me a ‘realistic’ one.
Eighth, process theology makes God dependent on the world and not as a matter of voluntary self-limitation (as in the case of Moltmann, for example).
God’s nature versus decision - a slight distinction. Certainly doesn’t need to be a matter of disqualification.
Ninth, process theology reduces salvation to actualization of God’s “initial aim” and thereby falls into a kind of Pelagianism (except that for most process theologians everyone is or will be “saved” in the traditional sense of reconciled with God).
Now this is an interesting point – one worth fleshing out in throwdown. Having said that, I hope you are prepared to have your view of salvation scrutinized.
Tenth, process theology is so esoteric as to be impossible for most people to understand. It uses conventional Christian language but means something so different that only people steeped in process philosophy could possibly guess at its meaning. The meanings bear little resemblance, if any, to orthodox Christianity.
Oh come on! Is that a real accusation? You just said esoteric. Big words and new concepts are not a problem. People learn new words all time: “I’ll have a venti Caffè macchiato barista”.
Added: This happens when people join denominations of change expression of church. You can not become Lutheran, Episcopal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Catholic, charismatic, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox , non-denominational any other from without learning new words.
Sanctification, liturgy, vestry, sacrament, diocese, cruciform, stole, christen, laity … it just goes on and on.
SO the learning of new words and concept thing is not a big deal. We do the same thing when we go seminary: soteriology, annotation, attribution, attestation, primary source, ontology, Turabian.
None of that is prohibitive. People do this all time when it A) benefits them (barista) and B) they enjoy it/ feel it is necessary.
If you talk to someone in the military, medical or legal fields … it is ubiquitous – then it come to religion and ‘Oh NOO! the average person in the pew has to understand EVERYthing immediately’. Why is that?
Is there anything redeemable in process theology? Not that I cannot find elsewhere.
Nothing redeemable? Is that a play on words because of the salvation thing earlier?
Why is process theology so popular? I think it’s because it seems to solve the theodicy question. If process theology is true, there is no theodicy question. Evil exists because God is not omnipotent and creatures, having free will and some degree of self-centeredness, often resist God’s initial aim for them. I’m not sure that begins to explain evils such as the holocaust.
- It’s popular? Nice.
- You are right about the theodicy question.
But process theology solves the theodicy issue at too high a cost. The God of process theology is hardly worshipful. In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good (but not one at the expense of the other). The God of process theology is not great enough to be worshipful. He/she/it is great enough to be admirable but not worshipful.
No. Wrong. You sound like the person who says “Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Christmas isn’t even worth celebrating!” Just because it isn’t the way you were taught it or previously understood it – doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. You should walk in the woods or come to church with me sometime.
A better solution to the theodicy issue may be found in God’s self-limitation in creation. This is the alternative presented by Moltmann, among others. I highly recommend Greg Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? for those attracted to process theology but wanting a more orthodox alternative. (For those who object that Boyd is an open theist, this particular book does not depend on that.)
This should get interesting.