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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Robert B. Mellert - What Is Process Theology: Chapters 11 & 12



What Is Process Theology?


Dr. Mellert is an assistant professor in the department of theological studies at the University of Dayton.

Published by Paulist Press, New York, Paramus, Toronto, 1975. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

Summary

(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Meller writes about Whiteheadian thought, without the jargon and technical intricacies, so that the lay person might have better understanding of the thinking of the founder of process philosophy.

Chapters

Few libraries had any books on Whiteheadian thought in 1947 when he died. Today libraries of all sorts have shelves laden with books trying to explain, interpret and apply his thinking, but these authors are inclined to talk to each other. The author attempts to make process thought understandable to the rest of us.

The core of process thought: Rather than a “substance theology” based on static, spatial models, process thought “switches gears” to a concern with spatial-temporal models such as change in God, Christ becoming divine and the on-going process of revelation.

Some basic Whiteheadian concepts: becoming, actual occasions, eternal objects, prehensions.

The author contrasts Whitehead’s thought with traditional religions which start with proof of God. Whitehead inverts the process, starting with the experience of religion and grasping the truth that there is more at issue in the world than the world itself.

God is constantly changing as he includes more and more reality in his consequent nature. What we do on earth makes a difference in the very reality of God.

Dr. Mellert discusses the relations both of God to the world and the world to God.

Process thought is being compatible with the presumptions of Christian faith and is friendly with Christian ideas regarding body and soul.

Jesus is unique because in his humanity he presents a more perfect model of ideal humanity than has ever existed, or will ever exist. He is divine because of the realization of that divinity within him.

The Church is a process whereby individuals come to believe in Jesus and add the weight of their belief to the furtherance of the process that is the Church. The Church is not a stable, immutable institution that has existed since the time of Jesus.

In the process perspective, each sacramental action is both created by the community and creative of the community. Concrete experiences of the past contribute positively to the present and are immanently incorporated in what the present is becoming.

The new and the old morality are both inadequate. Process thought can make important contributions to the old and new because it is both metaphysical and flexible.

Process theology as a provider of a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief. It therefore is helpful in synthesizing the diversity of interpretations of immortality.

The notion of relativity that process theology employs is discussed. All reality is inter-related in space and time, and no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole.


* * * * * * * * * *



Chapter 11: Immortality

The ultimate mystery of life is death. Science and philosophy can tell us a lot about life, but when the final moment of life has passed us by, they must abandon us to our faith. Death transcends the powers of reason and shrouds itself in ineffability. Despite this eternal verity, there is presently a surge of interest in death and in the speculation about what, if anything, occurs after death. Inter-disciplinary courses are being taught in colleges and numerous new books and articles are being published dealing with the topic. What makes this enterprise so fascinating is that there are no criteria for determining which opinions are right and which are wrong. Spiritualists and rationalists both contribute their evidence and compare notes, but in the final analysis the mystery always remains.

Traditionally the Church has answered this question for its faithful with its teaching on the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. At the moment of death, each soul is called to a particular judgment by God. As a consequence of the way one lived on earth, the soul is then determined for a heaven of eternal happiness with God or a hell of everlasting fire. Since the presence of God is reserved only for the worthy, imperfections and lesser evils in one’s life have to be “worked off” before the beatific vision is possible. This intermediate state of purification is a place of temporary suffering, called purgatory. Finally, for those souls never officially admitted to membership and grace in the Church, a fourth place, called limbo, allows them the fullness of natural happiness, but without the vision of God.

There is, of course, no way to dispute the Church’s teaching, nor is there any way apart from faith that it can be proved. For many theologians today, however, the doctrine is too intertwined with ancient culture, tradition and myth to be literally credible. Their recent reflections on the subject have resulted in drawing together ideas from anthropology, psychology and philosophy, as well as theology, in order to profit from new insights regarding the counsel that reason can offer to faith in clarifying the issue for the individual believer.

In the absence of indisputable evidence, the theologian too must ultimately make up his mind about an issue according to what he believes. If he is honest with himself — and hopefully most theologians are — his belief will be formed from the best evidence he can muster. But in the matter of death and immortality, none of his evidence can be verified. It is not surprising, therefore, that theologians, even within a single school of thought such as process theology, will argue a variety of positions regarding death and immortality. In fact, among process theologians such a diversity does indeed exist.

Whitehead himself was somewhat ambiguous on the subject. He does deal with death in a way that is logical and coherent in his theoretical synthesis and in a way that is open to a variety of imagery for pastoral purposes. The question of the afterlife, however, is left unresolved. For Whitehead, dying (or to use his term “perishing”) is the antithesis of emerging, and each is continually occurring in every moment in every bit of reality. Only in the constant ebb and flow of emerging and perishing is change and enrichment possible. Perishing, therefore, is just as essential to the world as emerging.

In his essay on “Immortality”1 Whitehead says that there are two abstract worlds, the “World of Value” and the “World of Activity.” Neither is explainable except in terms of the other. Value can only be explained in terms of its realization in concrete actual occasions as they emerge and perish. Thus, “value” is always experienced as “values.” Values are concrete, individual and unique contributions to future actualities. The realization of a particular moment of actuality is likewise the realization of a particular value, and this becomes part of the data for the succeeding moments of actuality. Values derived from the past are thus immanently incorporated into each emerging occasion. This is what Whitehead means by “immortality.” Nothing that is of value is ultimately lost. Apart from such immanent incorporation, nothing could be preserved, and “value” itself would have no ultimate meaning.


This understanding of value is exactly parallel to Whitehead’s notion of God. God, like every actual entity, is di-polar, reflecting both the mental and the physical, both the World of Value and the World of Activity. These two aspects in the divinity are, as we have seen, called God’s primordial and consequent natures, lust as God, if he is to be actual, must be really related to the world and allow it to be incorporated into himself, so also the World of Value, if it is to be more than pure abstraction, must be realized in the World of Activity. That is why value, in its concrete reality, is none other than the concrete elements of process. God embodies this in himself in his consequent nature, and offers it back to the world in each emerging occasion. To put it another way, the world adds activity to God and God adds value to the world.

The perishing of an actual occasion, therefore, need not be its extinction. Rather, it can be understood as a kind of switching of modes. Whereas in the emerging of an actual occasion God’s immanence is felt in the incorporation of value, in its perishing that actual occasion is felt immanently in God as a fuller realization of the divinity. In this way the occasion continues to be felt in the formation of the future. Death, then, is emphatically not a passing into nothingness. Instead, it is immanent incorporation into God, in whom each actuality is experienced everlastingly for its own uniqueness and individuality. In dying, one “gets out of the way” of the present in order to be available to the future in a new way.

Does this doctrine of immortality, which Whitehead calls “objective immortality,” correspond to the faith expectations of those who seek the reassurance of an afterlife, a place of eternal happiness, or a heaven? In some fundamental ways, at least, I think that it does. The basis for their belief is the impossibility of man’s conceiving of himself as not being. The one absolute and certain experience that endures throughout his entire life is the experience of being in the present, recalling the past, and anticipating a future. One experiences a profound continuity with oneself in space and time.

Everyone has moments of unconsciousness where his experience of the world around him is temporarily interrupted. The most common example is sleep. But one always awakes to find himself the same person he was when he slumbered. There is an experience of the continuity of the self as far back as the memory permits. To think of this continuity as being abruptly and completely terminated is almost impossible to imagine or accept. This is the reason why man so often seeks to find a place and a time for himself after his death. That place can be a paradise free from the evils and insecurities of earthly existence, or it may simply be a place in the records of history or the lives of one’s offspring. However he imagines it, it gives him some extension in time in which to maintain the continuity of self into the future.


This problem is acute in Western culture where one must reconcile death and immortality with lineal time. For lineal time, unlike cyclical time, implies an ending, termination or death, or at least a state of permanence, where time (and therefore change) is no more. Hence the common Western belief that once the final state of man has been reached, the world of activity is effectively excluded from his existence. This is just as true for those who believe that their personal extinction is permanent in death as it is for those who anticipate personal salvation in a heaven where suffering and sin are no more. In both cases, death is a permanent thing, and the forces of change are no longer relevant. The alternative to total annihilation for Western man is bare existence in an absolutely unchanging condition!

The belief of permanency after death has always been one of the difficulties of the Christian doctrine of heaven. On the one hand, Christian tradition holds that at the moment of death the eternal fate of the person is irretrievably sealed. Heaven is eternal happiness and hell is eternal punishment. In traditional thought this is necessary, because if the happiness is to be perfect, it cannot be threatened by change. Since the possibility of change is itself the cause of insecurity, perfect happiness is realizable only in the state of total security and stability. So, the Christian believes in the permanence of his final state.

But what possible meaning can be assigned to experience if it does not involve change? To experience is to take account of things outside the self and to allow them to affect the self, and this implies undergoing some change in the self. What we experience becomes a part of us. This necessarily alters the reality of the continuity that is the self, and it implies an absence of certitude about the future. Consequently, when personal experiences are admitted as part of the belief in heaven, the belief in the absolute changelessness of the afterlife is put into serious question. Thus, the dilemma. Either personal experience is retained, in which case the series of actual occasions constituting the self continues, and change is still possible, or personal experience is abandoned in favor of permanency, in which case immortality can only consist in a completed and non-experiencing self, whose existence consists in being experienced by another as an objectively immortal actuality.

The openness of Whitehead’s thought on this point permits an explanation of the religious hereafter according to either possibility, and this is why process theologians often differ among themselves without abandoning their fidelity to the process system. We will begin with an explanation of the latter possibility, since this is a more direct application of Whitehead’s own doctrine of ‘‘objective immortality.’’ Here the emphasis is on permanency. What one was during life, especially during the final moments of life, determines what one is eternally. In this interpretation, the series of actual occasions that constitutes the continuity of the self throughout one’s personal history culminates in one final occasion in which that history is synthesized. The entire continuity, but especially this final synthetic occasion in the continuity, is experienced by God and becomes a part of the data of God’s own actuality. In this way each person is immortalized everlastingly in God, retaining permanently his own uniqueness and individuality, and contributing that uniqueness as data to a fuller appreciation of value and novelty for the future. However, this interpretation does not allow for any further subjective experiences or subjective change.

One can also argue for the possibility of “subjective immortality” using the thought of Whitehead.2 In this interpretation the series of actual occasions that constitutes the continuity of the self is not interrupted or terminated by death; it only changes the environment in which it does its experiencing. The ordinary environment for the experiencing self is the body. However, there is no necessary reason why the series of actual occasions that constitutes the self cannot continue in some other non-material environment. Hence, death can be understood as the detachment of that dominant series of actual occasions we recognize as the self from the many supportive material series which constitute the human body. The new environment is the consequent nature of God, where the serial reality of the self continues to experience and to change, but without any direct attachment to the material world.

Given the Whiteheadian frame of reference, both of these interpretations are philosophically consistent within themselves, even though they may not be reconcilable with each other. Therefore, the decision which to choose in articulating one’s belief depends upon the belief itself. This can actually be a significant advantage to the process theologian. Unlike other theological questions, which can be studied and discussed at leisure, the issue of immortality often arises in the context of a sudden personal tragedy. At such moments, the theologian would like to be able to provide an immediate, clear and definitive answer to comfort the dying or the bereaved. But in fact he must embarrassingly reply that there is no certain knowledge about what happens on the other side. There is only the assurance of one’s personal faith.


Even the assurance of faith, however, must demonstrate a certain credibility. This means that it must seem reasonable to the one who believes. At this point the theologian can perhaps be of some practical help. Even while not being able to offer certitude, he can suggest reasons why the faith of the believer is plausible, whether that faith be in the literal continuance of subjective experiencing in a heaven or hell, or in some kind of objective permanence in human history. Thus, in those cases where the person does not want a reaffirmation of the traditional symbols about life after death in his particular circumstances, the appropriate theological explanation is Whitehead’s “objective immortality.” This option can be illustrated by religious statements suggesting that a goodness is never lost, that the world is permanently enriched by the past, and that God himself is magnified because of the goodness of each human person. On the other hand, process theology can also assist one who is committed to a more literal belief in the traditional teachings. Since his major concern is an anxiety about the future, he can be offered some assurances about his personal continuity within the framework of “subjective immortality.” Here some possible religious statements may — with an underlying theological consistency — suggest that when a person dies he is taken up into God for an evaluation of his life, that he will be able to experience the effect that his life had on the world, and that he will have the opportunity to enjoy the good he helped to realize.

Is this a theological cop-out? Is it honest for a theologian simply to provide a set of reasons for whatever faith-option is proffered him? The answer to that question is both yes and no. Insofar as he attempts to be of service to human needs, the theologian may well decide that a moment of personal tragedy or crisis is not the moment to expose the differences between mystery and myth. In this capacity, the theologian is acting as minister, or as the scholarly aid to the minister. As such, he may in certain situations need to call upon theological reasons that are possibly not in accord with his own belief. The service function of the theologian, therefore, may include the formulating of a rationale for theological positions that he would not personally hold.

This need not compromise the theologian in his capacity as pure scholar. He can and should speak out honestly, in the ordinary course of his work, regarding the conclusions that he has come to in his quest for a theological understanding of the issue. The theologian, therefore, actually functions in two capacities: as a scholarly aid to the minister and as a ruthless seeker for truth. The advantage of process theology is that both functions can be adequately discharged in the matter of death and immortality from the single perspective of Whiteheadian thought.

The richness of process theology is such that it provides a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief, and it is a helpful means of synthesizing them in interesting. creative new ways. It can account for, and indeed deepen, the thinking of traditionalist and liberal alike. Sometimes it can also be a useful instrument for translating between their different interpretations of their experiences of reality and their options of faith. These are the fundamental responsibilities of theology on behalf of faith: to understand, to support, and to deepen. For this task, process theology is very well suited.


Notes:

1. Published in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Paul Arthur Schilipp, ed. (New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1951), pp. 682-700.

2. Cf. David Griffin, “The Possibility of Subjective Immortality in Whitehead’s Philosophy,” University of Dayton Review. VIII, 3, pp. 43-56.


* * * * * * * * * *



Chapter 12: Theology and Relativity

For many theologians any talk of relativity as adding something significant to their work is immediately rejected as a professional “no-no.” Theology deals with what is most absolute in reality — God, man, and the eternal truths. If theology cannot offer man the absolutes of life, then no absolute standards of truth and morality are possible at all. Man is left hopelessly at sea, with neither rudder for direction nor a final port in which to drop anchor.

As one can see from the previous chapters, the process theologian does not share this anxiety about relativity. Indeed, many of the concepts with which he works are based upon the assumption of relativity. This does not mean that everything is arbitrary and man can believe and act on his whim or fancy. The notion of relativity that process theology employs is that all reality is inter-related in space and time, and that no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole. Relativity thus contrasts with absoluteness in that it rejects the availability of any privileged moment or point of view from which everything can be finally and objectively evaluated. For the relativist, there is no way to set up criteria by which one moment or perspective can be more objectively valid than any other. The closest we can get to such objectivity is the judgment of reality as a whole upon any one of its parts.


What makes a moment or perspective privileged, then, is not any intrinsically determinable superiority, but the wide acceptance of its claim to privileged status. If or when that acceptance is eroded, the special status is diminished at the same time. According to this interpretation, then, the basis of Christianity is not found in the absolute uniqueness of Jesus as second person of the Trinity, but in the acts of faith that Jesus inspired and has continued to inspire in his own person throughout the centuries. The significance of Jesus can only be understood in relation to his followers.

The same is true of God. If he is serious about the reality of God, the process theologian will want to explain how God and the world are inter-related and how the significance of God is derived from the world. Process theologians, therefore, generally hold that God is in some sense dependent upon the world and that in that sense he is subject to the changes that take place in the world. Hence, God, like the world, is temporal.

These are the two most important instances where process theology causes difficulty for the Christian believer. It seems to do violence both to his affirmation of the divinity of Jesus and to his belief in the absolute immutability of God. The reason for this difficulty, however, is probably more a question of philosophy than a difference of faith. The traditional Christian belief regarding both the divinity of Jesus and the immutability of God is formulated in a set of static, non-temporal categories that give the impression of a certain absoluteness about these matters which is heedless of their relation to the temporal. Jesus, if he is God, has to be God eternally, and God, if he is truly God, has to be perfect eternally. The philosophical presuppositions implied in these statements have come to be accepted with the same act of faith that affirms the reality of God and the importance of Jesus.

The underlying philosophical position of traditional theology and its difference from the presuppositions of process thought can perhaps best be illustrated when we analyze the meaning of “perfect” and see its application to the Christian idea of God. For ages of Greek-educated Western minds, “perfect” referred only to a being in which there was no further possibility of improvement. The perfect being was one that could not be surpassed in any way with regard to its perfection. Change was therefore antithetical to perfection. It was the admission that imperfection existed either before the change or after it. Thus, a being that changed could not be called perfect, because it had not reached the optimum of its perfection, or because it did not have the guarantee of the permanence of its perfection.

The difficulty with the traditional interpretation is that improvement and growth are also perfections. That is, something that can grow or improve is more perfect than one that cannot. If, therefore, something is perfect in the traditional sense of being unchangeable, then it has lost the perfections of growth and improvement. There are, in other words, processive perfections as well as static ones. If God is truly perfect, he must exemplify both kinds of perfection. This means that a God who can grow and improve upon himself is more perfect than a God who remains static and unchanging, while other elements of reality are growing and improving.

The incorporation into God of both the static perfections and the processive perfections is the great achievement of Charles Hartshorne. In his writings he distinguished between absolute perfection and relative perfection. The former is applied to a being that is “unsurpassable in conception or possibility even by itself”; the latter obtains when the being is “unsurpassable except by itself.”1 It is the latter concept that is important for process theologians. It means that, in addition to imperceptible perfections, which are static, there are also perfectible perfections, which are dynamic. Given the temporal frame of reference, relative perfections do not and need not imply imperfection, which is the absence of a perfection that should be present at that time. It simply means that something which reaches a perfection relative to the rest of reality in one moment of time can be further perfected at a future moment of time.


When we apply this distinction to God, we can describe him as perfect if he has absolute perfection and/or relative perfection in all respects, and imperfection in no respect. This is another way of saying that God is perfect at every given moment of time. There is never anything imperfect in him at any moment, and at no time is he ever surpassable by any other being. However, he is capable of improving upon and surpassing himself. This is the way in which he relates himself concretely to the world: the realization of its values increases the values in him. It is also the way in which the world can relate itself to God: it can call him a “living God” because he can love, suffer and change. What happens in the world does make a difference to God, but without gainsaying his perfection in the process.

Traditional theology has always had a difficulty reconciling this belief in the personal nature of God with its belief in his absolute otherness, precisely because persons are relational realities and never absolutely other. This has created a series of questions that are literally unanswerable in the philosophical framework of that theology. For example, how is an absolute or “Supreme Being” really able to love in a personal way? If God loves each of us individually, must he not share our helplessness and powerlessness to deal with the forces of evil with which we must struggle in our lives? Yet, if he is perfect, how can he really be affected by the consequences of the imperfections and evils of the world?

The contribution of process theology to Christian faith is that in its perception the Christian does not have to compromise his belief that God is personal and loving for the sake of his belief in the perfection of God. Because of its philosophical presuppositions, it can explain divine love in terms that are fully compatible with our human experience of love, and it can explain divine perfection in terms that correspond to our own experience of change and growth.

The process theologian sees God’s love as personal, extending to each actual entity individually and freely. God does not impose a particular destiny as a condition for proffering his love. Instead, by reason of his love, he offers the full range of possibilities without moral or religious imperatives, so that each entity can choose for itself what it will become. Freedom is essential to love, and when conditions are attached to the giving of love, they compromise the fullness of that love. God, as the perfect lover, does not attach any such conditions. Furthermore, genuine love not only wills the freedom of the beloved. It also accepts the consequences of that freedom It must be willing to suffer and rejoice, initiate and acquiesce, give and receive. It must allow itself to be changed by that love. The God who truly loves, therefore, is a God who must also suffer and rejoice, initiate and acquiesce, give and receive. He must allow himself to be changed by that love.

Traditional theology sometimes speaks of God as suffering, rejoicing, or interacting in other ways with his creatures. The use of such terms is justified as anthropomorphisms – man’s way of speaking about God in the absence of any language adequate to divine things. But while such language is tolerated, it is not applicable to God as he really is, because God cannot be affected by what happens in the world.

Process theology takes a different position. As the late Daniel Day Williams has written,2 the very essence of love requires individuality, freedom, action, suffering and causality. The fact that biblical images attribute such love to God requires that Christians give them serious consideration as actual characteristics of God. Indeed, the biblical insight about God is precisely that he is more than an abstract, philosophical Being. He is the God of love, the God that Jesus called “Father.” To maintain that the essential qualities of love are merely anthropomorphic ways of speaking about God questions whether God’s love is truly love in any human understanding of the word.

If God is truly personal and living, his love for us must correspond to the way in which we understand love for each other. When a person takes on the personality of God, therefore, divine love is realized and incorporated into human affairs. This, as we have seen, is the explanation for the divinity of Jesus. Divine love had to grow and develop in him, much as it does in each of us. But unlike us, this love in Jesus continued to increase at every moment of his life, so that at every moment he was as perfect as he could be at that moment. He was like us in all things but sin.

In this context, it is not necessary to locate Jesus’ divinity in an eternal pre-existence with God. This doctrine was important to the Greek-oriented theologians and Church Fathers who were unable to explain the perfection of Jesus in any other way than absolute perfection. Their decision to dogmatize this teaching reflected their concern for the uniqueness of Jesus, not for a philosophical statement about the nature of perfection. Since that time, however, many new insights have been added to human thought. If, for example, we accept relativity as an appropriate explanation of reality, then God is related to the world as a changing Becoming, and Jesus is related to God as a changing, growing person. The divinity of Jesus is thus located in the fact that his change and growth always realized concretely the most complete incorporation of divine love in his life. Thus, he was always perfect: as a human person he was unsurpassable in divine perfection in conception or possibility, except by himself. That is, he had relative perfection in every respect.

Do we do violence to Church doctrine and our traditions when we interpret God and Jesus in this way? Are we not taking rather bold liberties with the pronouncements of popes and councils down through the ages? For many, the answer will undoubtedly be in the affirmative. And for this reason, they will reject process theology and its explanations of the faith. For others, however, fidelity to the Church and to its traditions is not attained by faith in formulae, or even by the exigency of reconciling new ideas with old formulae. For these latter, fidelity consists in adherence to the fundamental experience of the early Church about Jesus and the God he proclaimed. Expressions are indeed important, but they are never more than expressions. The faith of the Church is found in the souls of Christians who from time to time try to articulate what they believe in various expressive forms. The Spirit speaks to man’s soul, not to his verbiage. What man has written in the past as his Scriptures and as his dogmatic statements were expressions that more or less captured the experience of faith that was his at a particular moment in time. For this reason they are respected and reverenced, but they are not definitive expressions of the faith experience. The Spirit is always free to do what it will.

If our God is living, surely the Spirit is living also. It still speaks to the soul of man, but it speaks in new ways and with new words. This means that doctrine and tradition must be expected to grow, take on new forms, and find expression in new ideas. The discernment of spirits is not in the comparison of one set of words with another set of words, or even of oneidea with another idea. The manifestation of the Spirit is to human experience, not to human expression. Discernment, therefore, is in the comparison of one faith experience with another faith experience, and in the concrete way in which that faith manifests itself in living. By their fruits you shall know them.

The process experience of Christian faith is certainly not alien to the experience expressed in the tradition. It is basically the experience of the inter-relatedness of reality through time. God, Jesus, the Church, and the other elements of Christian theology are understood and interpreted in that perspective. Love is central to the process perspective, much as it has been for all Christians since the time of John the Evangelist. Significantly, love is itself a relational concept. Love is not possible, or even conceivable, in isolation. It requires relatedness. To say that God is Love, as John does, implies that his fundamental character is that of relation to the world. If God is Love, he can exist only with a world and in a world. He is not possible, or even conceivable, in isolation from the world. And if indeed God actively manifests himself to the world through a man or through a Church, that manifestation will be characterized by love and thus by relatedness. This is what Jesus is, and this is what, hopefully, the Church continues to become.

But this is not yet the end of the story. Life goes on. The Church is still living, just as we are and God is. Process is still operative, and the world is still in labor as it struggles to bring forth the Christ in new ways. We are, in our century, very much aware of that process and very committed to new ways. It is the spirit of our age. Perhaps it is also the Spirit inspiring our age. It is in this spirit that process theology is born and offers its contribution to a continuing and deepening understanding of our Christian faith.


Notes:

1. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964), p. 7.

2. Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and Forms of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).


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