We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Progressive Christians Are Beginning To Embrace Process Theology

CHAPTER II
The Pool of Tears

Alice Stretches Tall: `Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!' (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). `Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I'm sure I shan't be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; --but I must be kind to them,' thought Alice, `or perhaps they won't walk the way I want to go! Let me see: I'll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.' - Alice in Wonderland

Alice had just entered Wonderland, had taken a magic potion, and immediately began to experience personal changes in the world which she had never experienced before. Notice how she remarked how she had forgotten how to speak, became surprised by the moment, and felt like she was opening up like a telescope

One might aptly describe the world of process theology as a type of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland.... A world in which our spoken language feels quite inadequate; we become overwhelmed by changes occurring within us; and the world we once lived in all of a sudden seems too small as our soul reaches beyond what was once "reality" to what might become a new kind of "reality" or "experience."

Process Theology for progressive Christians may seem like Wonderland and more. Thankfully it is.

What is Process Theology?

Process theology is built upon the English Mathematician/Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's Process Philosophy (circa 1910 & 20's) as a alternative to the traditionalized Greek/Christian view of Platonism and all it's subsequent "isms" over the past 2400 years. Which means the entirety of Christian Theology - both Protestant and Catholic (most probably Greek & Russian Orthodox too) - is orientated towards transcendent eternal objects (thank Immanuel Kant, Rene Descrates, et al for this). From the church's creeds and dogmas to its doctrines and indoctrinated life qualities and characterizations, we think in terms of eternal transcendent, static objects.

Realizedly, Whitehead was not proposing a new thought system for Christianity so much as a different way of thinking about Hegelian cosmology (cosmos = universe = world = creation; its my catchall phrase) in which we live and inhabit. But as a Victorian-kind of Westernized Christian (sic, C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, et al) Whitehead's projections would come to "reconstruct" or "recompose" Christianity through his later students such as Charles Hartshorne, and the generations after Charles like David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Marjorie Suchocki, Catherine Keller, Thomas Oord, and many others.

Process theology is socially and ecologically progressive, and driven by love. But progressive Christianity is not process theology. It may be, or may become that, but is usually composed of a denominational or evangelical mix of Protestant, Orthodox, and missional Catholic faiths. - re slater

What is Process Thought (sic, Philosophy cum Theology)? Well, to ask this is to ask how the Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel thought about life set in his native Germany of the late 1700s. Simplistically, Hegel was tired of looking at the world as set in dualisms: mind over matter, reductionism, nature as a clock-work mechanism, subject v. object, noun v verbs, etc. 

What Hegel proposed was a dynamic, self-determining, self-moving, purposeful, active encroachment of the eternal object into the world of the organic. Let's call him a half-and-half Platonist and perhaps a latent Arminianian ( = Wesleyans, Baptists = Open & Relational Theology). Hegel didn't quite get rid of Plato as he brought its transcendent-forms-above into the here-and-now timeful world below. Again, this is an extremely bare view of Hegel.

Two hundred later Whitehead comes along, is profoundly involved in the Royal British Academy, is conversant with all the science heads-of-state such as Einstein, and is seeing the world about him in astonishingly non-Platonic qualities, features and characteristics. He finishes up Principia Mathematica (1910–1913) with his partner Bertrand Russell and is quite discontent in his person to leave things alone at the age of 62 for the "younger generations" to sort out, if possible.




From age 62-68 Whitehead produces Process & Reality and the rest is history. (PS, do pickup and read a copy of P&R. Do not avoid this task hoping to supplement it's pages through other explanatory publications - or websites - such as here. With the exception of Chapter 4, which is quite dense, most of P&R is readable enough. Then go to additional helps while also returning to Whitehead again-and-again. You'll be glad you did).

Wikipedia - "Beginning in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Whitehead gradually turned his attention from mathematics to philosophy of science, and finally to metaphysics. He developed a comprehensive metaphysical system which radically departed from most of Western philosophy. Whitehead argued that reality consists of processes rather than material objects, and that processes are best defined by their relations with other processes, thus rejecting the theory that reality is fundamentally constructed by bits of matter that exist independently of one another. Today Whitehead's philosophical works – particularly Process and Reality – are regarded as the foundational texts of process philosophy.

"Whitehead's process philosophy argues that "there is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us."[23] For this reason, one of the most promising applications of Whitehead's thought in recent years has been in the area of ecological civilization and environmental ethics pioneered by John B. Cobb."

In sum, Whitehead took Hegel a step further by totally disassociating with any part-or-parcel of Platonism. No longer did he look at "eternal objects" as being the "real reality beyond the phenomenological world of the experienced or, ahem, ...the "known". If anything, such objects became an epistemological archetype (much like Carl Jung's  archetypes) requiring a kind of primal symbol - or image of convenience - for  orthographic etymologies of expression, meaning and reference. That is, our limiting human languages, require ideation of categorical representations.

The "world" of expressive archetypes provide such categories but do not demand them to be real, only referential in epistemological conversation. As example, the idea of God, truth, love, evil, loss of hope. These are expressive, referential qualities of thought within the human breast but are used as forms of symbolic representation in communication without demanding them to actually real, eternal objects.

Don't let God as a non-object trip you up; think in terms of ourselves... are we "objects" or living, transitioning organic entities made up of a universe of microorganisms which are made up of a metaverse of quantum particles? God is so too... a living "being" who is always in process just as is God's creation, which has taken on His ontological qualities.
Too, as Creator, God is the First Primal Process of all subtending processes. Everything existing is in time-and-motion, composed of community in relationality, dependent on one as to the other, like the air we breathe. Hence, process thought may lead to many other kinds of process thoughts, as today's process theologians are rightly exploring.

Symbolic expressions can be helpful or misleading. Philosophers know this and spend quite a  lot of time explaining what they mean by a word, phrase, statement, or descriptor. Which is also why they can be dense to read or listen to. They are asking us to speculate with them towards other metaphysical, ontological and epistemological categories.




Conclusion

To finish up, Whitehead proposed a very quantum-like state of metaphysics. One that flowed via process-and-event. From a former state of being towards a newer state of being which he described as "becoming." Hence, a prehending state of possibility concresces towards a newer state of actuality before it too concresces forwards towards another state of actuality.

All which means that all of creation (er, the cosmos) moves from "eventful being to eventful becoming". Not as static, unmovable, eternal objects but as timeful ontological events made up of an infinite array of past timeful events, each proceeding together prehending from whole to part to whole again-and-again-and-again in a infinite perturbations of cosmological states of organic becoming. Which is why Whitehead's philosophy was known as a Philosophy of Organism before it later became described as Process Thought.

R.E. Slater
December 11, 2021

ps - I try to steer away from cultic-like new ageism, or "circles of life" manifestoes (causality, consciousness, trivium and logic), astrology per se (though not denying aural cosmic "consciousness" re quantum physical forces and energies), etc. Many religions such as Buddhism come closest to Whitehead's thought in its balance, rhythm, harmonies, and symmetries, even as many of today's contemporary quantum sciences including evolutionary theory via chaotic randomness, movement and growth of organism or particle, etc.
Which is also why process thought may also be thought of as an "Integral Theory"  of everything, in a sense (re version 2.0, as I understand it, from Matthew Segall). Even in the earliest ancient cultures, including Greek philosophy, the ideas of process flow-and-rhythmbeing and becoming, were captured in its thoughts and images but not as an entire cosmological metaphysic. Like an elephant being described by blind men, each seeing a part of the whole, other philosophies, psychologies, sciences, cultures, religions, etc., all have seen greater or lesser portions of the process elephant but not as its own categorical entirety. Thus it is reflected everywhere we look... even in the bible, should we be bold enough to rethink Christianity not only in progressive terms but in process terms. Which is the whole import of this post. - re slater

rev. December 23, 2021

I've added the much respected Roger Olson's recent article as he recently thinks about progressive Christianity in historical context. That is, as versus "liberal theology" which at its greatest height of definition for myself would mean a Christ-less theology without divine atonement and redemption. Liberal theology would treat these subjects as mere cultural symbolism. I do not.

However, as a sidebar, I do not consider it a liberal theology to hold that the bible is neither infallible nor inerrant - though do hold to its inspiration if a far broader and more nuanced fashion than my older dispensational, cum Baptist, background would like. For those thoughts google related topics on the sidebar in this website in the white space which says "search this blog." For myself, conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism holds an incorrect, or let us say, "unbiblical" view of the bible itself placing it into the magical corner of "biblicism" by reading it literally. I vote "yes" to reading the bible historically, grammatically and contextually but it is a big, big mistake to read the bible "literally"... it creates misunderstanding, promotes religious idealism, and leans into the paths of anti-intellectualism because of its misuse of individual, religious, denominationalist, or sectarian subjectivism of making the text into its own pretexts.
One last observation... In an ironic twist, I consider conservative's unbiblical misuse of the bible as "liberalism on steroids" and adding to the great divisions in the church today for those followers of Christ trying to be true to Jesus as opposed to those Christians having left the "biblical" faith for guns, a white supremacist Jesus, and an ingenerous, selfish, advocation for individual rights over the sovereign rights of a peaceful civil democracy.

- re slater


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Embracing Process Theology as Theological Lens
for Progressive Christians

by Rev. Dr. Brice Thomas
August 29, 2016

One of the most interesting findings in the data collected during the biblical storytelling worship services for my doctoral research was the evolution of many in my congregation from a “meaning as reference” to “meaning as experience” theological perspective. Throughout many of our journeys from fundamentalist roots to the UCC, we have struggled to find a systematic theology that could easily explain the processes of God from a progressive perspective. Process Theology was the closest interpretive theological lens that I discovered in seminary for doing that. But in the real, everyday life of the spiritual person it can be difficult to appropriate. While the identification of a new systematic theology that evolves out of a biblical storytelling paradigm was far beyond the scope of my research, the desire to begin a process toward that end still existed. Naming performance criticism as a progressive hermeneutic for translating the ancient symbols of our faith into digital culture was an important initial step toward that end.

Relationship as “Process of Becoming”

Process Theologian, Marjorie Suchocki, has helped to clarify Alfred Whitehead’s notion of “relationship of becoming.” Her understanding of Process Theology, that “all reality is relational and power comes from reality through relation,” is liberating.[1] But it is also intensely challenging. Suchocki’s perspective suggests that we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to engage and realize our ultimate spiritual reality by faithfully pursuing relationship with God. However, this honest pursuit in progressive contexts can reveal that the journey no longer has a beginning and an end. The journey becomes a dynamic experience of faith seeking opportunities to discover possibilities. The destination is no longer heaven or hell. The destination is a deeper intimacy with the one who called us into being, and makes us accountable for choosing our spiritual future.

Pastoral theologian Carolyn Bohler suggests that, “while our present reality may be limited by our choices in the past, the possibility of making new choices in the present can lead to a harmonic future compatible with God’s aims for the world, given what it is now. God’s best possibilities for our future, given the present, are available.”[2] While we are not predestined to choose them, God gives us the free will to do so. Our contribution to this progressive journey is making those choices that move us forward, no matter what we chose in the past.[3] This is the essence of Process Theology and a progressive faith.

The application of these theological processes on my research had important goals: (i) to present a God who is present and participates in our spiritual journeys, and (ii) to help participants discern their own decisions and choices for a better spiritual reality. The influence of this presence and participation had the potential to move the congregation beyond passive faith and encourage them to actively trust God’s initial aim for their best reality.

Process Theology tells us that we can trust God because the character of “God as Wisdom” (God the Spirit in traditional theology) knows the infinite possibilities of our future and works consistently to harmonize our past and present toward a transforming future.[4] This transforming future is the achievement of justice. The eminence of “God as Power” (God the Father in traditional theology) assures that this is God’s initial aim. It confirms that God and justice are the same things. Whether or not that justice is achieved, is the responsibility of God’s creation to choose it.[5] It places the responsibility on us, the pilgrims, to seek revelations of God that transform God’s initial aim into God’s best actual occasion. All the while God is there, creating and wanting and offering us the best and ultimate reality.

Jesus as Model of Relationship with God

This disagreement raised other crucial questions in this research: from whom do we receive atonement then, if not from Jesus Christ? Some progressives believe that we can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord without subscribing to a belief in his divinity as defined by a virgin birth, sacrificial act of atonement on the cross, a physical resurrection and final supernatural ascension. But this rejection of the fundamentalist teaching of Christ’s lordship does not pose a problem of loyalty as some suggest it should.[7] Suchocki, however, posits that since all knowledge is conditioned by perspective, then a consideration of God based on a process analysis of the world and accomplished from a Christian frame of reference influences our conclusions.[8] Therefore the vision of a redemptive God of presence, wisdom, and power could be revealed in the testimony of Jesus Christ. 

This question surfaced in my research: Can process thought harmonize the dissonance between the divine Christ and the historical Jesus for progressive Christians?  [sic, for myself as a process guy carrying forward a reformed tradition, I choose the divine Christ as historic God in human form who was virgin born, as discussed in past posts. - re slater]

Another significant perspective of process thought is the understanding that the Jesus narratives are a testimony to the relationship between humans and a relational God. The exploration of the historical Jesus movement in my church challenged participants to deconstruct Jesus Christ as presented in the sacred scriptures. The search for the historical Jesus challenged whether we could tell the story of Christ apart from the concept of a classical theistic God. From our study of this “hermeneutic of suspicion” it became clear that Jesus the Christ was an earthly portrait of the classical theistic God. To reject the image of a classical theistic God also challenged us to reject the image of Jesus as the divine Christ. Process theology reevaluates these biblical narratives from a relational paradigm. In this paradigm, the stories of Jesus reveal the essence of “God as Presence” (God the Son in traditional theology). Yet the “God of Presence” can also be revealed through other faith practitioners, in spite of and because of our own humanity. Historical studies alone can not provide access to Jesus of Nazareth.[6]

I acknowledge that this harmonization may not be achievable for all progressives, especially considering the exhaustive work of the conservative and liberal Church over the last century to keep the spiritual life confined under the canopy of either a classical theistic dogma or academic intellectualism. But Process Theology can provide insight for progressives who desire to make a relationship with “God as Presence” foundational for their Christian formation. Process theology, expressed through the methodology of performance criticism, can provide a way to discover relationship with Jesus outside a classical theistic perspective. It gives the ancient sacred scriptures new authority for pursuing an authentically progressive spiritual life. This new meaning perspective allowed us to experience Jesus again for the first time. And those are stories that we love to tell!

---

You can follow this research here on Vital Signs and Statistics, or view videos and resources of this work at www.ExperientialJesus.com.

[1]Marjorie Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982), 29.

[2]Carolyn Jayne Bohler, Doctoral Defense Notes, (Dayton, OH: United Theological Seminary, March, 2015).

[3]Bohler, Doctoral Defense Notes.

[4]Suchocki, Process Theology, 72.

[5]Suchocki, Process Theology, 82.

[6]Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 104.

[7]Jinkins, Invitation, 120.

[8]Suchocki, Process Theology, 87.


Rev. Dr. Brice Thomas is the Director of Alumni/ae Relations and Adjunct Faculty at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is also called to bi-vocational ministry at Harmony Creek Church in Dayton, an emerging congregation.



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What Is “Progressive Christianity?”

November 10, 2021


I keep hearing this label “progressive Christian.” What does it mean? I answer as a theologian and scholar of American Christian varieties—ecclesiological and theological.

The trouble is that there is no historical tradition of “progressive Christianity.” There are no prototypes to point back to or to now. This is in contrast to, for example, “liberal Christianity” which is a historical-theological tradition well documented and described by theologian Gary Dorrien in his three volume history of the subject. Unfortunately, he uses “progressive religion” as virtually synonymous with “liberal Christianity” in America.

Most people who call themselves progressive Christians do not fit the liberal profile from the father of liberal Christianity, Friedrich Schleiermacher, up through his contemporary successor and interpreter Douglas Ottati. Some do; some don’t.

Unfortunately, “progressive Christian” is like Luther’s “wax nose” that can be twisted to suit anyone’s countenance. The label only has meaning within some particular context. Perhaps it only means something like “more open to change than what was before in a particular context.”

Let’s [look at] an example

A few years ago two Dallas Theological Seminary professors promoted something called “progressive dispensationalism.” They published a book about it. It was still dispensationalism but with a couple of new interpretations. It was just a new style of old dispensationalism.

Some years ago some of us were calling ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” Our heroes were (among others) evangelical theologians and writers Bernard Ramm, Donald G. Bloesch, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, Tony Campolo and Ronald Sider. The “progressive” label meant something different in each case except for one thing—all were evangelicals breaking away from fundamentalism.

[Today's Vernacular Usage]

In the past decade, “progressive Christian” (here in the U.S.) seems to be a label preferred by real liberal Christians (whose Christianity seems dubious to me) but also by non-liberal Christians who are “open” to new ideas such as gay marriage, LGBTQ rights within society and the churches, passionate social justice activism, egalitarianism, etc.

When I hear someone labeled “progressive Christian” by themself, or others, I do not know what is meant—other than [someone who is] open to new ways of thinking and “doing” Christianity within a certain context. However, in my experience, the label is increasingly being “owned” by formerly conservative Christians who are moving toward liberal Christianity but hesitating to go all the way there.

In 2022 Zondervan will publish my 22nd book entitled Against Liberal Theology: Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity. It is scholarly but completely accessible to anyone with a high school education. I use no “big theological words” without explaining them carefully.

The purpose of the book is to explain what “liberal theology” really is, as opposed to how many people wrongly use the label, and to warn progressive Christians against the cliff at the end of the slippering slope of contemporary “progressive Christianity.” That cliff being full-blown liberal theology which is theology centered around symbolic realism—Christianity mostly cut off from history except for transforming symbols such as the cross and resurrection and Parousia. These are treated by liberal theologians as symbols (although most would say the cross event actually happened but was a tragic martyrdom God used to expose the evil powers of this world).

The one thing I am seeing in common, shared by so-called (contemporary) progressive Christians and liberal Christians is a distaste for doctrines except as relics of Christianity’s history. For both, Christianity is largely reduced to spiritual formation and social transformation. Belief in doctrines such as the Trinity (to choose just one example) is largely considered optional for contemporary Christians.


Roger Olson

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*