Quotes & Sayings

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki - "What Is PROCESS Theology?"

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

Alfred North Whitehead

What Is PROCESS Theology?
A Conversation with Marjorie

by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki
©Process & Faith 2003

1. In a nutshell, what did you say it is?

Well, some nuts are hard to crack, but try this: Process theologies are relational ways of thinking about the dynamism of life and faith. Process-relational theologians integrate implications of a thoroughly interdependent universe into how we live and express our faith. We are convinced that everything is dynamically interconnected; that everything matters; that everything has an effect. Such insights can be adapted to many faith traditions, but this particular booklet applies them to Christian faith.

2. Is there a difference between process theology and process-relational theology?

No, I am using the terms interchangeably.“Process” indicates the dynamism in this way of thinking, and “relational” indicates the supposition of radical interdependence.

3. What sources do process (or processrelational) theologians use?

Like many Christian theologians, we draw from Scripture, the long faith tradition, philosophical categories, and our own experience. The philosophical categories we use are those of process philosophy, especially as developed by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. But I caution you to notice (should you decide to investigate further!) that these sources and categories can be used by process-relational theologians in a great variety of ways!

You will find that within Christianity, process philosophy has appealed most to liberals, but there are also evangelicals who find it useful. Some Unitarians use process philosophy without appropriating much from Christian scripture or tradition. Further, Jewish and Buddhist thinkers have made use of process philosophy, operating with quite different scriptures and traditions. My answers here reflect my personal experience as a committed “oldline” Protestant who finds rich meaning in the affirmations and symbolism of the Christian tradition, but sees the need for quite radical revision of some inherited teachings. Thus this booklet presents a Christian process theology that makes the most sense to me, but you will find some of these other ways of developing process theology in the attached bibliography.

4. But aren’t Scripture and tradition clear enough to stand on their own?

To study the history of any faith tradition is to see how that faith adapts to the “common sense” of its particular time and place. Tradition is like a flowing river that continuously carves out new paths. Once I saw a detailed map that showed how the Mississippi River had continuously changed its course throughout its history. It still goes down to the sea, but how it goes down to the sea is a varied story. It’s the same with tradition. It all leads to the expression of God’s work with us, but how it expresses that work varies from age to age. If we stare at a single spot in tradition, and see it as if it were the entirety of it, we get the illusion that tradition stands still. It’s tempting to reduce the whole tradition to what happened at Nicea in the 4th century, or with Aquinas in the 13th century, or Luther in the 16th, or Wesley in the 18th. But the tradition is much richer than any single period! It is constantly moving, and we who are a part of that tradition are responsible for knowing how it has developed, and for contributing to its contemporary flow.

The same is true of biblical understanding. The texts are given, but how they are interpreted varies enormously from age to age. Just think of the way several great streams of Christianity interpret those baptismal texts! The texts are the same; the interpretations are quite varied and even contradictory. So how we draw from Scripture is also an adventure. Scriptural understanding blends studies of the actual texts together with the history of the way those texts have been interpreted in the tradition. Scripture may look like a steady state sort of thing, but it is actually a dynamic story of varying interpretations and applications through history.

Both Scripture and tradition are formative for the Christian tradition, deeply contributing to the changing shapes of Christian theology. But in using Scripture and tradition, we all use other categories to help us interpret them—even when we think we are not! Process-relational theologians join those who claim we should be clear about how experience and philosophical suppositions affect the way we interpret Scripture and tradition.

5. But doesn’t that dilute Scripture and the tradition?

Philosophy (the methodical use of reason to interpret the world and/or our experience within it) has always been involved in interpreting Scripture and creating the tradition. It’s not a question of whether philosophy will be used, but which philosophy will be used! Process people think that Scripture speaks deeply about a relational world to whom and with whom God also relates. So why not use a philosophy that is relational—like process philosophy?

6. And experience, please?

Theology is always filtered through one’s own experience! One of the great differences in theology since the 19th century is that we increasingly began to recognize the role of our own subjective experience in how we develop theology. On the one hand, we always bring a perspective that is shaped by things such as our social location, our gender, our nationality, and so forth. But we also bring our religious experiences into the mix—that is, our interpretation of the presence of God in our own lives. To ignore this experience is to pretend that theology is just some head trip that may or may not relate to the way we live.

So, then: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all enter into the way process-relational theology is formed. It becomes the “stuff” from which we express our faith that God is with us for our good.

7. So you use these four sources, but what exactly is process philosophy?

Process is a relational philosophy. There have been various relational ways of talking about the world since “way back when,” but most philosophers talked as if the ideal thing should be something solid that doesn’t depend on anything beyond itself. To be in relation was considered a lesser value than total self sufficiency. In the 20th century we began to see that the ability to relate to another wasn’t just a happenstance of the way things are, but is the core of the way things are. To exist is to be in relation.

Does God exist? If you say yes, then God must also be in relation. To whom? To everyone and everything!

The philosophy takes relationship a little bit further. Process thinking says that to be related to something is to be internally affected by that something, and to affect something else in turn. Relationship is itself a dynamic process! To exist is to be affected by others, and to have an effect on others. Again, does God exist? If you answer yes, then God is affected by others, and has effects on others. Which others? All others!

Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne are the two major philosophers of the 20th century who most fully developed this kind of philosophy. Process theologies usually draw from either or both of these philosophers.

8. So what does this mean for the way process relational theologians talk about God? Is God still the Creator?

Of course! But as you might expect, how we talk about God as creator in relational categories differs from the “creation out of nothing” that has been so dominant in most of the Christian tradition. If God is in relation, then God is always in relation. Process does not have a way to talk about there being absolutely nothing except God. Process-relational thinkers tend to take Genesis 1 more seriously than does the tradition, for Genesis 1:1 does not speak of God existing independently and apart from anything else. In Genesis, there appears to be a primeval chaos with which God works, and from which God brings order—creation—into existence.

In the relational categories of process thought, God creates with the world. We actually think this is a much stronger way to express God’s power. A children’s fable once told about a rivalry between the wind and the sun. Which one would be able to remove the coat of that man down there on the road? The wind thought that it could, and so it blew and blew and blew with great force. Unfortunately, the strength of the wind was such that the man just drew his coat more firmly around himself. Then it was the sun’s turn. The sun just beamed its rays down upon the man until finally he grew quite warm—and removed his coat. In process terms, the wind worked coercively, trying to force its will upon the man, but the sun worked persuasively, luring the man’s cooperative action. To be able to elicit the willing cooperation of another is a far greater power than simply to force the other to do as one wishes.

God creates through persuasive power. Don’t we experience it that way? We don’t see God yanking things and people around as if they were puppets! The tradition accounts for this by saying that God gave people freedom. Process people think that freedom isn’t an occasional thing limited to just some aspects of creation, but that something like freedom pervades all existence. Every part of God’s creation has some element of freedom. What we call “freedom” ranges from very low levels of indeterminately random events to very high levels of conscious decision-making. And there are many grades in between. God works with each element in existence, in every time and place, offering possibilities for achieving the good. Finally, the world determines what it does with God’s possibilities in every moment. Freedom means the ability to participate at some level in what one becomes.

If we take freedom seriously, then we must talk about three powers of creation. There is the power of the past, which simply means that where we are and when we are makes a difference to who we can become. We must take account of these past influences, because we simply do not exist in a vacuum. We exist relationally. In a sense, we take the creative influences of the past into ourselves in every moment.

But we also take the creative power of God into ourselves at every moment. In this second creative power, God offers us a future, a way of becoming oneself that is not quite like any other way ever achieved before. God’s creativity is the power of transformation, of hope, of a new future. God’s influence toward the future takes account of the past that affects us, offering a way of dealing with that past.

And the third creative power, of course, is ourselves. Finally, we decide what we will become. We are responsible for dealing with the actual past received from the world and the possible future received from God. The world as we know it is, in every moment, the end result of this creative process: the power of the past, which is the power of the world; the power of the future, which is the power of God, and the power of the present, which is our own power to integrate these influences into who we are becoming in every moment. Our freedom is to take these three creative powers and to use them. The choice of how we use them is ours.

So yes, God is by all means Creator, calling the world into existence in every moment. But God creates with the world, not independently of the world. The world enters into something like a creative dance with God, emerging anew in every moment as it takes its past and God’s future into its becoming self.

9. Well, what about evil? Doesn’t evil ruin this notion of a “creative dance”?

Your question comes too quickly! What is evil? Is it the same as what we call sin? Traditionally, evil has been understood to be the destructiveness that seems to be built into the nature of things. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes are not evil in themselves, but they certainly can have evil effects—“natural evil”—for living creatures! Illness and death have also been called “natural evils.” All living creatures are by definition mortal; hence all will die. Is this what you mean by evil? In a process universe, every creaturely becoming takes place in a myriad of other creaturely becomings. There is necessarily a measure of conflict built into the system, particularly given our interdependence. For process thinkers, this is all part of the dynamism that makes existence on our planet possible. Thus, the fact that sentient creatures experience pain is part of the price of our existence.

Sin, on the other hand, has been understood as moral evil, or choices that go against God’s will—“missing the mark” is a frequent biblical meaning for sin. The Christian tradition has often combined these two senses of natural and moral evil by suggesting that sin is the originating cause of all evil, including natural evils of calamity, illness, and death. While process theologians tend to agree with the “missing the mark” interpretation of moral evil, they disagree with the claim that moral evil is the reason why we have natural evils.

10. Do you mean that process theologians don’t hold with ‘Adam and Eve’?

Ah, Adam and Eve. A quick summation of the tradition might be helpful here to highlight some of the differences between process theologies and the long tradition of “original sin.” For much of Christian history, all sin and evil was traced to the disobedience of a first human pair. Their disobedience resulted in a corruption of their very nature. Prior to this failure, Adam and Eve presumably lived rationally, so that their minds always governed what they felt and did. What they felt and did was always orderly and good in a perfect love for God, and love for the world in and through God. Following disobedience, this orderliness was overturned, and proper love lost. Consequently, Adam and all his progeny are afflicted with unruliness. The mind no longer governs the body rationally, and all manner of evils follow.

But process cannot follow this view. All the evidence suggests that humans are part of a great evolutionary process, and that God creates in and through this process. “Creative transformation” is another name for changes that emerge in evolution. Instead of talking about a perfect first human pair existing about 6000 years ago, we talk about the long evolutionary history of our race, and the role that aggression and violence have necessarily played in our development—sometimes for our good, sometimes not. But as relatively weak creatures on the animal scene, it was important for us to live by our wits, and to struggle for our food and shelter. The ability to fight was important to our survival, and we used it—and still use it—to shore up our defenses and build up our own interests. The capacity to do this takes many forms. In positive forms, we blend our own interests with the interests of the wider communities within the world. In negative forms, we secure our own interests against all others—greed and rapaciousness are illustrations of this. Process-relational thinkers affirm that God calls us beyond violence toward communities of well-being.

Another difference between process and traditional views concerns the role of reason. Like the tradition, process thinkers value reason highly, but not in the same hierarchical order. Reason is part of the mind-body integration of what it is to be human. Reason is valued as part of the whole of who we are. What threatens to overwhelm us is not our bodies or emotions—they are who we are!—but our tendencies toward the many forms of violence. The tradition sought to control bodily urges and desires; process thinkers seek to control the human capacity for violence.

What, then, is sin in process views? It is, as the tradition claimed, “missing the mark.” And what is the mark? The mark would be the fullest development of what we can be, individually and communally, in expanding circles of caring to God, self, and neighbor. To talk about sin is to talk about the refusal of love from and to God and from and to neighbor and even from and to oneself. Still another way of talking about sin is to say it is unnecessary violence.

In a process view, one must talk about communal as well as individual sin. We live interdependently, and we act interdependently. Individual sins are magnified when exercised through our communal identities, creating great evils through such things as oppressive systems of exploitation, wars of aggression, economic systems based upon greed, or systematic decimation of our environment for the sake of profit.

Because we believe God is always calling us toward the good, we believe that God calls us toward transformation from violent ways of imposing our wills on other creatures toward ever-new cooperative ways of creating good on this earth. When we fail to heed God’s call, we fail to contribute as best we can to the commonwealth of all. This failure is sin. Sin—whether personal or societal—has ill effects that spiral beyond its origins in this interdependent world.

11. But you said God is related to the world. How does God relate to sin? Is this where traditional notions of “justification by faith” come in?

Process thinking holds that God is the most relational reality of all. If God relates to all the world, then human choices to damage others—be it humans, animals, or the environment—are felt by God. God feels everything that happens in just the way that it happens—God feels victims and violators. Our long tradition thought of God as observing evil, but not feeling it—indeed much of the tradition thought that God could not feel anything at all!

This was what the doctrine of “divine impassibility” was all about. But if God is relational, then God feels, and feels perfectly. The issue is not whether God feels the world, but what God does with God’s feelings of the world!

Think of the traditional Christian image of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One part of the Christian tradition could not imagine that God could experience pain; therefore, it formulated theories of God’s abandonment of Jesus on that cross. The cross then became God’s wrath, poured down on the God-forsaken Jesus because he was bearing the sin of the world. Thus there is a strong element of the Christian tradition that views Jesus death as suffering inflicted by God on the God-Man Jesus instead of us as punishment for our sin. “Justification by faith” was taken to mean God’s action through Jesus of clearing the slate of sin for all who were united to Jesus through faith. Our sins were transferred to him, and therefore would no longer be counted against us.

Process-relational thinking need not go in this direction, for several reasons. First, we cannot separate God’s presence to the world even for a moment, much less for three hours on a cross. God was with Jesus on that cross. Second, to the extent that process-relational theologians view unnecessary violence as sin, violence cannot be that which saves us from sin! To attribute such action to God is like taking the most vile aspect of our own vengeful spite, and projecting it onto God.

How, then, do process-relational thinkers view that crucifixion? The Christian tradition is a many-splendored thing, and while viewing the cross as God punishing Jesus for our sins has achieved some dominance, it is by no means the only Christian response to the cross of Christ. Abelard, living in the twelfth century, argued that God saves us by revealing through Jesus Christ both God’s nature and that which human nature is called to be. This revelation is healing and empowering for us, and Christ becomes our teacher. Process thinkers tend to side with Abelard. Jesus reveals who God is to us and for us. The cross does not represent vicarious sacrifice, but the revelation that God is with us even in our deepest pain.

God feels us. Jesus did indeed suffer the pain of sin—crucifixion is a vile sin. Because it is morally evil to crucify persons, Jesus died because of sin. But this is different from saying that Jesus died for sin. Jesus reveals that the sins of all humans affect God. If God feels the world, then God feels the sins of the world. If Jesus is understood to be a representative of God, then by his crucifixion he reveals that God feels the effects of our sin.

12. So does the process God simply writhe in agony throughout eternity?

While God must feel the world, what God does with the felt world is entirely up to God! Because of the philosophy we use, we relational theologians can maintain that God judges evil within God’s own nature, and transforms evil through this judgment. God integrates the feelings of the world into God’s own self, transforming those feelings in the process until they are conformed to the divine character. If the Christian tradition speaks of God in crucifixion, it does not stop there—it speaks of resurrection. Process theologians think of God as the resurrection in a variety of ways, the most important of which is the creative transformation that God works for the world within the divine nature. Some process thinkers understand this to be the resurrection of the world into God for a judgment that saves, arguing further that this internal transformation within God has an effect on what creative transformations are yet possible within history. Other process thinkers argue that while God feels the world, what can be called resurrection—or creative transformation—happens for the world not in God, but only in history.

13. Is this how you deal with resurrection? What do you process-relational theologians think about Easter? Was there an “empty tomb”?

If we take the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to be a revelation of God for us, then the resurrection is a vital part of this revelation. Resurrection reveals that sin does not have the last word, but God does. God is the power to answer our sins not by succumbing to them, but by transforming them.

Because I see resurrections all the time, and experience them within my own life, I can talk about resurrection confidently. If you push me to say that all the molecules in Jesus’ body were summoned together and the processes of death reversed and Jesus just got up out of that grave and went through a few walls and that’s what resurrection is all about, I think you’re missing the point. I can’t tell you how God raised Jesus within history. I, like most theologians— process or not—am convinced that resurrection is something utterly different from resuscitation. Resurrection cannot be reduced to molecules revivifying! Resurrection is the power of God to overcome evil, to bring hope to otherwise hopeless situations, to make creative transformation possible no matter what. Womanist theologians say that “God makes a way out of no way,” and this is what I think resurrection is all about. The resurrection of Jesus is like a great shout telling us that no evil is greater than God, or can overcome God’s power of resurrection. Because of this revelation— however God brings it about—we know we can trust God no matter how bleak situations may seem. God is there, offering us a future that can change history—whether our own or the whole world’s—toward the good. Resurrection tells us that hope is grounded in the reality of God.

14. So then, for process-relational theologians the importance of Jesus is his revelation of the nature of God? We hate to ask, but how could Jesus have given such a revelation? Don’t you see him as just another man?

One at a time, please! For process folks, Jesus represents God for us, because we see him consistently responding positively to God’s moment by moment call to him. That call is that he live as God would have him live in each and every situation. He conforms himself so thoroughly to the will of God that in and through his person and his actions, we see clearly what God is like. We learn through him that God’s will is toward love, compassion, justice, kindness. Because we trust that God’s character is revealed through Jesus’ life, we can trust God as well!

As for how he could reveal God, the dynamics are the same dynamics operative in every aspect of creation: the power of the given past, the power of God’s call toward a possible future, and the power of subjectively integrating the two. We presume that God used the power of Jesus’ Jewish past to offer him the possibility of living according to the love of God in every moment. So far as we know from the record, Jesus responded freely and positively to the call of God. He lived God’s love, and thus revealed God. This was not a “supernatural” revelation, but a revelation through the natural processes of existence.

It is possible that if it hadn’t been for the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus would have been viewed as another great teacher, or even have been absorbed into the anonymity of history. But he suffered the cruel violence of political torture, which was followed by the amazing stories of his resurrection appearances. All of the gospels are written because of these resurrection appearances, so that Jesus’ life and death are seen through the lens of the resurrection. The resurrection is the vindication of the way he revealed God—in his life and in his death. This revelation becomes the ground of our faith that God is the power of creative transformation in history.

15. Hmmm . . . now you’re too much of an optimist. Look around you! Read the newspaper! How can you possibly say that God is a power for creative transformation in our world? Pretty hopeless hope, judging from today’s news.

And that’s where you’re plumb wrong! Remember, the God of all the universe works with the world, not on the world. God always offers possibilities for a good that the world can bear. That qualifier, “that the world can bear,” is not a disclaimer, just a witness to the threefold power of creation mentioned above: the power of the past world, the power of the future from God, and the power of the present, which is our own integration of these powers into ourselves. If I am being hit over the head with a lead pipe, the only possibilities for my good that are suited to me have to do with how I respond to the blow. The physiological response will be largely determined by the blow itself, but even there, we can count on influences toward healing throughout our bodies if the blow isn’t lethal. Beyond this, God offers me emotional and social responses that will work to my own and to the communal good. I need not get twisted into hatred or bitterness or vengefulness. If the blow is lethal, my earthly life will be over—but God is the power of resurrection. I will experience the resurrection life in God.

But your objection had more to do with social and political realities, not simply an individual experience. Again, God works with us all toward the communal good. We are called to responsiveness to God, to care for the common good. God works with us, and calls upon us to use all our collective wisdom and power in cooperative response.

16. You said God works with us toward our individual and communal good. Does God have a plan for our lives?

I’d have to say that the plan is in process! Because God works with the world, God’s plans are necessarily responsive to the world. Process people can say that God works generally toward greater complexity, harmony, intensity, and beauty in the world. How this applies specifically depends upon the world as well as God. Let me give you an example: years ago I was faced with a vocational dilemma. I was perfectly happy teaching at a seminary, directing its Doctor of Ministry program, and teaching many students. As it happened, one afternoon as I was teaching a class of ministers, I received a phone call: another seminary was asking me to be its dean. I hadn’t sought this other job—it had “sought” me! What to do? I told the class, and immediately one of them put a chair in the middle of the circle, and told me to sit down. Then these pastors gathered round me, touching me, praying for me.

Following their prayers, one said, “Marjorie, you can’t make a wrong decision.” I knew at once what he meant. Because of the faithful presence of God, both options were real possibilities. If I chose to stay at the one school, God would work with me to bring about the best possibilities in those circumstances. But if I chose to leave, the same was true: God would work with me in those circumstances as well! Was one better than the other? Probably. But if I made a mistake in choosing, God would nonetheless work with me toward my own and others’ good! I could count on it! God’s plan for my life, then, was not in the “go here, do this, do that,” but in the overall direction of increasing my openness to God and to others, and acting with the best wisdom I could muster. In the process, I could trust God. Whatever the decision, there was no need to look back, or to second guess. God’s plan for my life is that I become more Christ-like: more deeply loving, more widely caring about life in community, more intentional toward the good in all my acts. And this plan can work in all manner of circumstances.

Our Christian understanding of the way God works both generally and specifically in our lives is grounded in the revelation of God that we see in Jesus Christ.

17. You keep talking about the “communal good.” Some of what you’re saying sounds pretty individualistic to me. Is the church simply a gathering of individuals, each of whom cares about the common good?

The church is much more than that! Process thinking gives a dynamic way of taking seriously such images as being “one in Christ,” and “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

We live in an interconnected world, where we are continuously receiving the influences of others, integrating these influences into our continuous becoming. The church is created as we receive the influence of the revelation of God in Christ into who we are, weaving it into our very beings. We are literally being formed in and through the influence of God as mediated through Christ. But if this is so for each, it is so for all. This means that there is a unique sharing of identity among us Christians, binding us into the community of Christ. We are members of one another, being many and one at the same time.

There is an important ramification to this continuous emergence of the church as the community of Christ. Remember, to be is to have an effect. Each individual influences what other individuals may become. This power of influence is exponentially multiplied through the interweaving of individuals that continuously creates community. It’s sort of like the old image of the difference between a single straw and a broom when it comes to sweeping floors! Woven together into community, governed by the vision of God mediated through Christ, the church can be a more powerful force for good in the world than any single person could be.

A peculiar thing about a community of faith is that it unites people who might otherwise not come together. It usually takes us beyond our togetherness with people close to us, like family and friends, and unites us with all sorts of others. This becomes a “proving ground” for learning to care for others beyond our own circle, expanding the edges of that circle. This openness to one another’s good, and to the common good beyond even our own community, is also openness to God.

18. So which came first, the individual or the community?

Can you accept a “both/and” answer? No individual is born in a vacuum; each person is born into a ready-made community, whether it be toward the good or toward the ill. That community shapes the child’s becoming sense of him or herself. But the growing child is increasingly responsible to some degree for what he or she does with the influence of the community. We recognize this in the church through infant baptism, formally taking the child into the shaping influence of the community called church. But that growing child—or adult, in cases of adult baptism - also shapes the continuing community. In an interconnected dynamic world, one cannot so easily separate out “individual” and “community” so as to decide which came first! It is always an interwoven relationship, so that we best speak of people as “individuals-in-community.”

19. All right, you’ve talked about how processrelational people think—but what about things like prayer, and worship, and stuff like that?

In a process-relational world, prayer is more important than ever. If God works with the world, then prayers are part of what God works with. And think about it. Prayer actually changes the way the world is, and therefore changes what can happen. In the most simplistic of terms, if you are praying, you aren’t not praying! Your praying is an openness to God’s own desires, and this opening is something God can work with. Prayers aren’t some magic-lantern sort of thing, or some “pretty-pleasing” that we present to God. Prayers have a very pragmatic function: they make a difference to the kinds of empowering calls that God gives to us and to others.

As for worship—this is both communal and personal. Communally, it’s a joining of people together through Christ in openness to God and one another. Through this shared openness, our shared offering of ourselves in praise to God, we become woven into one another’s welfare. This weaving isn’t just a present thing—to the contrary, the liturgies that many churches use in worship also unite us to generations who preceded us. These prayers were their prayers; these readings were their readings; these hymns were their hymns. We are united with “the company of the saints” in our worship! And we today, adding our praise and prayer in new as well as in old ways, join that “company of the saints” for tomorrow’s Christians. We anticipate the future, even as we remember the past! So worship plays a peculiar role in uniting the church-past and church-future in the worshiping congregation of the present.

In worship we also cultivate openness to God in love for God and neighbor—human and otherwise!—in all our living. Thus the worship of God involves us increasingly in actions that bring about well-being on this earth. No one person can do everything—but every single person can do something, and together we can do more than we can individually. So the worship of God involves not only our corporate actions on designated days of worship, but it involves us in individual and corporate actions toward the communal good throughout our lives. Worship, then, pervades our times.

20. You keep talking about community, and the communal good, in the context of Christian faith—what about other faiths?

Process-relational people are convinced that God works faithfully throughout the world—throughout the universe, really—toward the good. This means that God is fully involved in all the religions of the world, calling them toward faithful modes of being community together. There’s no essential reason why there should be only one form of human community—to the contrary, all the evidence suggests that God rather delights in diversity. And while Christians gratefully see God for us in Christ and in Christian community, there’s no essential reason why God can’t work in other ways too. In a deep sense, that’s God’s business, and the business of those committed to the form of religious life to which God calls them.

Process-relational Christians tend to think that God is calling us to a new moment in the world’s history—to a moment of friendships developing across religious lines, both individually and corporately as communities of faith. Friends respect one another. They talk to one another, learn from one another, are even transformed by one another. What if God is calling the religions of the world to create new modes of caring in a world still too torn by greed, lusts for power and domination, and a will to destroy others? Our new mission may be modes of friendship through which we cooperate with one another toward the common good. And this common good involves protection and care for our planet, sustainable lifestyles for the world’s people, care for all earth’s creatures. It’s a relational, interdependent world. Perhaps God now calls us to live more fully into this reality.

21. Whew—you’ve worn me out. I have more questions to think about—or “feel” about! But first, will you tell me something about yourself? Who is this “Marjorie” that I’m talking with?

I’m just one more person deeply affected by process-relational ways of thinking! There was a time when I felt like “Humpty-Dumpty.” All the “answers” to questions about how God works with us began to break down for me—they no longer made sense, and I felt as if I were falling off of some great wall into a chasm. But then it was as if the chasm itself were “God”—that I had fallen out of belief in categories and doctrines and into the mystery of God as present. So I looked for new ways to talk about the God I knew through chasm and Christ, if that makes sense to you! I went to school, studied philosophy and the Christian tradition, and was accused of being “just another process thinker” when I didn’t even know what “process” was! Then I discovered Whitehead’s way of thinking about the world, and it was as if he were describing the world that I experienced. So I began to use his philosophy to reshape how I express my Christian faith. And I am deeply convinced that all our philosophies and theologies pale beside the wonder of who God actually is—I suspect God puts up with all our theologies, since none of them can adequately plumb the mystery of God, the love of God. I am a United Methodist, and I like the way Charles Wesley so often says in his hymns that not even angels can comprehend the love of God—even though they spend eternity trying! In any case, I finished school and went on to teach theology—many kinds, not just process—at three seminaries, retiring recently from Claremont School of Theology. I am the director of the Process & Faith Program of the Center for Process Studies, and also the director of the Whitehead International Film Festival here in Claremont.

Want to read more? Here are a few suggestions:

Brizee, Robert. Eight Paths to Forgiveness. St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 1998.

Cobb, John B., Jr. and David Ray Griffin. Process Theology:  An Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1976.

Cobb, John B., Jr. Becoming A Thinking Christian. Nashville:  Abingdon, 1993.

Cobb, John B., Jr. Reclaiming the Church:  Where the Mainline Church Went Wrong and What to Do About It. Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox, 1997.

Cobb, John B., Jr. Transforming Christianity and the World:  A Way beyond Absolutism and Relativism. Maryknoll:  Orbis  Press, 1999.

Griffin, David Ray. God, Power, and Evil:  A Process Theodicy. Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1976.

Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment without Supernaturalism:  A

Process Philosophy of Religion. Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2001.

Inbody, Tyron L. The Transforming God:  An Interpretation of Suffering and Evil. Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997.

Lubarsky, Sandra B., and David Ray Griffin, eds. Jewish Theology and Process Thought. Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1996.

McDaniel, Jay. Of God and Pelicans:  A Theology of Reverence for Life. Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox, 1989.

McDaniel, Jay. With Roots and Wings:  Christianity in a Age of Ecology and Dialogue. Maryknoll:  Orbis Press, 1996.

Mesle, C. Robert. Process Theology. St. Louis, Chalice Press, 1993.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. God-Christ-Church:  A Practical Guide to Process Theology. New York:  Crossroad, 1988 (revised edition).

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. In God’s Presence:  Theological Reflections on Prayer. St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 1996.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. Divinity and Diversity:  A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism. Nashville:  Abingdon, 2003.

Written in consultation with
Many Wise Process People by
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki Director, Process and Faith:
A Program of the Center for Process Studies
Claremont, California
Copyright 2003
All rights reserved.

Process and Faith
1325 North College Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711-3199

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Marjorie Suchocki - The Heart of Process Theology

The Heart of Process Theology
by Marjorie Suchocki

What follows is my abridged commentary of Dr. Suchocki
as I heard and understood her. Enjoy. - R.E. Slater

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"Everything is related to everything else... No thing is an island unto itself. This is the heart of relational process theology."
- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

"A relational, process theology isn't afraid of the sciences, but embraces and delights in the sciences. It enhances the sciences and increases the wonders of this world." 
- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

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What Is PROCESS Theology?
A Conversation with Marjorie

by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

The 21pp .pdf link here - 

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Marjorie Suchocki - An Introduction to Process Theology
Feb 13, 2015

Check out (http://www.whitehead2015.com) -- Seizing an Alternative Conference
Marjorie Suchocki: "An Introduction to Process Theology," Jan. 27, 2004.

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"Because creation is relational there exists a communal well-being throughout the cosmos. A divine, universal, unbounded grace permeating creation with possibilities of future wellbeing. A presentness of care founded and sustained by the Creator-God's relational presence of love and provision of generative wellbeing which can be found everywhere should we allow God's presence not only to be, but to become."
- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

Process theology makes sense through the presence of prayer which is open to the influences of God through ourselves and others and creation. Our prayers are requests for God to act into-and-through the lives of His creation regardless of geography. God hears everywhere and can act everywhere.
- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

God's whispered words of love flows through all, dwells within all, binds all to all else. Everything is relational because God is relational. In God's world it is not the particle which is important but its relationship to other particles which may then propagate the fullness of possible being through the potentiality of possible becomings.
- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

Process Theology makes sense in a world where evil occurs and where redemption may occur. Where the responsibility of creational freedom is placed upon creation itself. And within our freedom God may enter and create redemption from freedom gone wrong - commonly described as the harming affects of sin and evil upon God's creation. God can-and-will take the awful things of life and bring intentional redemption into those living streams of suffering and death. This is how a process God of beneficial relationships works.

- Marjorie Suchocki, Process Theologian [as abridged by R.E. Slater]

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Marjorie Suchocki - The Heart of Process Theology
Aug 30, 2021

Marjorie Suchocki speaks to the key ideas of Process Theology.

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Marjorie H. Suchocki - Prayer in Troubling Times
A Process Perspective, 2010
Feb 9, 2021

In this 2010 video, Marjorie Suchocki discusses the place and relevance of prayer in process perspective. Through personal narrative and concrete examples, she addresses the challenge of God's activity in the face of truly troubling times. Arguing against the notion that there is a God "up there" to which we pray, Suchocki expounds the fundamental conviction of process theology: God is immanently present to all things and in attentive relationship to all contextual experience. The immanence of God is not coercive, but pervasive and persuasive, constantly adjusting experience to the Good. This framework, Suchocki argues, opens up a new way of understanding how prayer influences God and the world in relation to what is possible for both.

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Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (born 1933) is an author and United Methodist professor emerita of theology at Claremont School of Theology. She is also co-director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont.

Suchocki earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Pomona College in 1970 and both Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in religion from Claremont Graduate School in 1974. She taught at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from 1977 to 1983. From 1983 to 1990 she was professor of systematic theology and dean of Wesley Theological Seminary. In 1990 Suchocki returned to Claremont School of Theology, where she held the endowed Ingraham chair in theology and joint appointment at the Claremont Graduate School until her retirement in 2002. She has held visiting professorships at Vanderbilt University in 1996 and 1999, and at the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1992.

Since 2001 Suchocki has been director of the Whitehead International Film Festival. She is considered along with John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin as one of the leaders in the field of process theology.


  • God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology, Crossroad, 1982 (227 p.), ISBN 0-8245-0464-X, revised ed. 1989 (263 p.): ISBN 0-8245-0970-6
  • The End of Evil: Process Eschatology in Historical Context, State University of New York Press, 1988, ISBN 0-88706-724-7
  • The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology, Continuum International, 1995, ISBN 0-8264-0860-5
  • Trinity in Process: A Relational Theology of God, (coeditor with Joseph A. Bracken), Continuum International, 1996, ISBN 0-8264-0878-8
  • In God's Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, Chalice Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8272-1615-7
  • The Whispered Word: A Theology of Preaching, Chalice Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8272-4239-5
  • Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism, Abingdon Press, 2003, ISBN 0-687-02194-4

External links

  • Works by or about Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

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by R.E. Slater

Jesus is the music we seek to hear

What are the four main branches of philosophy?
  • metaphysics - being and becoming
  • epistemology - knowing
  • axiology, and - inherent value pertaining to i) aesthetics and, ii) ethics
  • logic - forms of reasoning

What is Process Philosophy?

Process philosophy is an early 20th-century school of Western philosophy that emphasizes the elements of becoming, change, and novelty in experienced reality. It opposes the traditional Western philosophical stress on being, permanence, and uniformity.

Often times Process Philosophy is equated with Panentheism. What is it?


In pan-en-theism, the Spirit of God is present everywhere (sic, omnipresence) whose universal Spirit in the same instance transcends all things created (thus emphasizing God's ontological difference from creation). Meaning, God is in some sense "greater" than the universe.

Conversely, pan-theism asserts that "all is God" or, expressed differently, all that is (such as creation) is God's very self. That is, there is no difference between God or creation in any way, shape, or form. God is "the All" and "the All" is God. Typically confessed in South & East Asian religions - notably Sikhism, Hinduism, Sanamahism, Confucianism, and Taoism.

It is important to know that though Process Theology distinguishes God from creation ontologically, it also teaches God is within the world sustaining it, imbuing it with possibilities for loving wellbeing, indwelling and urging the world away from its "dark side" and towards its "light side" as provided to the world through Jesus' death to sin-and-evil and resurrection unto light-and-life.


Lastly, the church's more traditional teaching of classic theism leans into God's "apartness" from creation. That is, it emphasizes God's transcendence from the world and can be found in  the Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, as well as Christianity.

Importantly, process theology states the necessity of God's immanence as a requisite "job description" to God being Creator while not denying God's ontological difference from Creation. Though God could be independent from His Creation God cannot be, and will not be, as the Creator. It becomes a philosophically moot question of divine Beingness to the more important observation of God's Love which will never leave but always abide with creation. Unlike the Greek gods who abandoned mankind the Hebraic God of Christianity will not. God is as bound to us and we are to God.

What is Process Theology's History?

Process theology might be described as a neoclassical theology because of its intentional-and-metaphysical differences with popular Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophies supporting Greek Hellenized forms of religious belief found throughout the history of the church... even up to the Modern Era of the 20th Century.

Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and other process philosophers around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It may also be found in the non-Platonic philosophers of Ancient Greece as well as in earlier Semitic cultures such as the Hebrew religion.

How is Process Theology different from Classical Theology?


A criticism of process theology is that it offers a severely diminished conception of God's power. Process theologians argue that God does not have unilateral, coercive control over everything in the universe. However, a process theologian would ask the details of "In how, and in what way" does God not control outcome? Plainly process-based panentheism would state that God is in the very substance of creation itself recharging its freely evolutionary character from stages of darkness to stages of light. Control is a very American word bespeaking forced progress over all obstacles. Divine Sovereignty is unlike American Destiny or the Roman Will of the Caesars and Senate, or the Dominance of the Egyptian  Pharaoh over all other cultures. Divine Sovereignty works with and within a freewill creation; it lends a redemptive kind of weakness which might empower the world towards love and wellbeing; it is measured by God's selfless, sacrificial, servanthood to not only man but all created things in restoring atoning, renewing, healing redemption to all. Control is a very un-sovereign kind of description of God's innate power.


Thus, the concepts of process theology sees God not in terms of controlling omnipotence, in the sense of divine coerciveness, but in non-controlling terms measured in divine love. That if God uses any power at all it would be in the form of a guiding persuasion as versus the church teachings of Calvinism advocating a God who uses a coercive, overruling, dictating force succumbing creaturely will to divine will.

Moreover, process theology's biblical bedrock can be ascribed to Calvinism's opposite, that of Arminian theology, emphasizing a freewill creation born from God's Love (rather than by divine fiat). As God's very Self is love and free, so too is the creation God formed out of His Imago Dei qualified, or measured in, divine love and freedom. Even as God is love and free in Himself, so too creation may love and is free in its own self to determine its own wonderous destiny (or darkest of worlds).


A process-based corollary to these principles is that God will not, and does not, determine creation's destiny. Creation's destiny is as indeterminant as it is free to do how it wishes.

Destiny, creation's future... humanity's future... is determined by our own actions of loving or not loving. Hence, God does not predestine any to hell as 1) If there were a hell we would consign ourselves, but 2) there is no hell as described in the bible (it became a gnostic eschatological teaching later popularized many centuries later by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy of a Catholic purgatory gone extremely wrong).

Let us repeat the above statements: 1) God does not determine a person's eternal fate, we do. And, 2) how the world operates - and how it becomes - is determined by the world itself. We are free to create our own futures. But... importantly... with the caveat that we do so from within the cosmic framework of love and wellbeing.

The God who created in God's own Image... who indwells God's own creation immanently... is the same God who grants to creation (through His Image of Love) the opportunities and possibilities for a free creation to lean into - and become - one communal organism energized by the greater flow and energies of the Spirit of God who is everywhere present urging all things human, or not human, towards oneness, wholeness, community, and peace.


Lastly, another corollary to the outcomes of process theology is that it teaches of a God who moves along the same cosmic time-line as we do. A God who does not know the future even as we do not know the future. A God who cannot force people to behave in a way which compromises their free will however dark or unloving it may be. A strong God who become weak for our sakes that we might become strong in his love and determination... and then become weak in the service of others. A God who keeps the heavens in their orbits while overcoming the chaos of evolutionary freewill inhabited by a creaturely nature of imagination and wellbeing. A God who gave His life for us (and for creation) that God's Love Wins by winning with us, and with creation, as we submit and obey.

Jesus is the script we wish to play

What are the four types of theology?

The four types include:

  • biblical theology - themes, narratives, typologies, continuance, etc
  • historical theology - how God's people respond to God's Love, or not...
  • systematic (or dogmatic) theology - boxing God into various kinds of religious systems
  • and practical theology - the ministration of God's grace to others, or not...

From the works of Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and Ireanaeus of Lyon come the models of moral theology, metaphysical theology, and pastoral theology. This categorization helps students understand the validity and application of all three models in the study of theology today.

Which Comes First, Philosophical Chicken or the Theological Egg?

Though people assume what one individual believes determines the philosophies one follows, more commonly, what a cutural era enacts through its beliefs and deeds will shaped the micro/macro-regional philosophies arising from a civilization's standards and mores.

A good philosophic theology attempts to create the broadest possible philosophic platform upon which to form the broadest kind of theology which might more clearly see our loving God more truly than how God appears in humanity's man-made religion. Bibliotry, God-alotry, Easter-alotry, faith-alotry are ever present dangers humanity will always face in its most sincerest efforts to be true to God. But if all religion is measured in selfless love, leaving all to God to work out, it would be a far better religion than those measured in doctrines, rules, creeds, and confessions.

Conversely, a theology which ignores, and will not examine, its historical philosophic foundations and inherited religious/cultural milieu - including it's own regional beliefs - will always adhere to a (mis-)doctrine of God more akin to its own image of itself than to the God it is attempting to know and follow.

Recent examples of good religion gone bad would be that of Evangelical Trumpian Christianity embracing God, guns, and bible under the banners of White Christian  Nationalism as versus a Post-Evangelical Progressive Christianity wishing to embrace people and races of all colors and beliefs....

A progressive Christianity which is willing to examine its beliefs while discontinuing from any actions or attitudes which cannot be identified with 1) Jesus; 2) Jesus' Beatitudes as taught on the Sermons on the Mount; or, 3) the golden rule of "Loving thy neighbor as you would yourself" (sic, cup of cold water kind of stuff such as provision of food, shelter, kindness, respect, listening well to one another, eschewing differences of color and gender, etc).

Jesus is our Lord and Savior we confess and follow

What does it mean to ascribe to a Toxic Theology?

Theology is toxic when it limits spiritual growth and experience to accepting unhealthy beliefs and practices. These would broadly include: An authoritarian power hierarchy which demands obedience along with internal/external policies of doctrinal separatism.

The key difference between religion and theology is that religion is a specific system of belief and/or worship, often involving a code of ethics and philosophy whereas theology is the rational analysis of religious belief, either of which may turn bad.

What are the 10 Major Categories of Systematic Theology?
  1. Angelology – The study of angels
  2. Bibliology – The study of the Bible
  3. Christology – The study of Christ
  4. Ecclesiology – The study of the church
  5. Eschatology – The study of the end times
  6. Hamartiology – The study of sin
  7. Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit
  8. Soteriology – The study of salvation
  9. Theological anthropology – The study of the nature of humanity.
  10. Theology proper – The study of the character of God

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Systematic theology

Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It addresses issues such as what the Bible teaches about certain topics or what is true about God and His universe.[1] It also builds on biblical disciplines, church history, as well as biblical and historical theology.[2] Systematic theology shares its systematic tasks with other disciplines such as constructive theologydogmatics, ethics, apologetics, and philosophy of religion.[3]


With a methodological tradition that differs somewhat from biblical theology, systematic theology draws on the core sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, ethics, social sciences, and natural sciences. Using biblical texts, it attempts to compare and relate all of scripture which led to the creation of a systematized statement on what the whole Bible says about particular issues.

Within Christianity, different traditions (both intellectual and ecclesial) approach systematic theology in different ways impacting a) the method employed to develop the system, b) the understanding of theology's task, c) the doctrines included in the system, and d) the order those doctrines appear. Even with such diversity, it is generally the case that works that one can describe as systematic theologies to begin with revelation and conclude with eschatology.

Since it is focused on truth, systematic theology is also framed to interact with and address the contemporary world. There are numerous authors who explored this area such as the case of Charles GoreJohn Walvoord, Lindsay Dewar, and Charles Moule, among others. The framework developed by these theologians involved a review of postbiblical history of a doctrine after first treating the biblical materials.[4] This process concludes with applications to contemporary issues.


Since it is a systemic approach, systematic theology organizes truth under different headings[1] and there are ten basic areas (or categories), although the exact list may vary slightly. These are:


The establishment and integration of varied Christian ideas and Christianity-related notions, including diverse topics and themes of the Bible, in a single, coherent and well-ordered presentation is a relatively late development.[6] In Eastern Orthodoxy, an early example is provided by John of Damascus's 8th-century Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in which he attempts to set in order and demonstrate the coherence of the theology of the classic texts of the Eastern theological tradition.

In the West, Peter Lombard's 12th-century Sentences, wherein he thematically collected a great series of quotations of the Church Fathers, became the basis of a medieval scholastic tradition of thematic commentary and explanation. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae best exemplifies this scholastic tradition. The Lutheran scholastic tradition of a thematic, ordered exposition of Christian theology emerged in the 16th century with Philipp Melanchthon's Loci Communes, and was countered by a Calvinist scholasticism, which is exemplified by John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In the 19th century, primarily in Protestant groups, a new kind of systematic theology arose that attempted to demonstrate that Christian doctrine formed a more coherent system premised on one or more fundamental axioms. Such theologies often involved a more drastic pruning and reinterpretation of traditional belief in order to cohere with the axiom or axioms.[citation needed] Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, for example, produced Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsätzen der evangelischen Kirche (The Christian Faith According to the Principles of the Protestant Church) in the 1820s, in which the fundamental idea is the universal presence among humanity, sometimes more hidden, sometimes more explicit, of a feeling or awareness of 'absolute dependence'.

Contemporary usage

There are three overlapping uses of the term 'systematic theology' in contemporary Christian theology.

  • According to some theologians in evangelical circles, it is used to refer to the topical collection and exploration of the content of the Bible, in which a different perspective is provided on the Bible's message than that garnered simply by reading the biblical narratives, poems, proverbs, and letters as a story of redemption or as a manual for how to live a godly life.[citation needed] One advantage of this approach is that it allows one to see all that the Bible says regarding some subject (e.g. the attributes of God), and one danger is a tendency to assign technical definitions to terms based on a few passages and then read that meaning everywhere the term is used in the Bible (e.g. "justification" as Paul uses it in his letter to the Romans) is proposed by some evangelical theologians as being used in a different sense to how James uses it in his letter (Romans 4:25Romans 5:16–18 and James 2:21–25). In this view, systematic theology is complementary to biblical theology. Biblical theology traces the themes chronologically through the Bible, while systematic theology examines themes topically; biblical theology reflects the diversity of the Bible, while systematic theology reflects its unity. However, there are some contemporary systematic theologians of an evangelical persuasion who would question this configuration of the discipline of systematic theology.[citation needed] Their concerns are twofold. First, instead of being a systematic exploration of theological truth, when systematic theology is defined in such a way as described above, it is synonymous with biblical theology. Instead, some contemporary systematic theologians seek to use all available resources to ascertain the nature of God and God's relationship to the world, including philosophy, history, culture, etc. In sum, these theologians argue that systematic and biblical theology are two separate, though related, disciplines. Second, some systematic theologians claim that evangelicalism itself is far too diverse to describe the above approach as "the" evangelical viewpoint.[citation needed] Instead, these systematic theologians would note that in instances where systematic theology is defined in such a way that it solely depends on the Bible, it is a highly conservative version of evangelical theology and does not speak for evangelical theology in toto.
  • Normally (but not exclusively) in liberal theology, the term can be used to refer to attempts to follow in Friedrich Schleiermacher's footsteps, and reinterpret Christian theology in order to derive it from a core set of axioms or principles.[citation needed]
  • The term can also be used to refer to theology which self-avowedly seeks to perpetuate the classical traditions of thematic exploration of theology described above – often by means of commentary upon the classics of those tradition: the Damascene, Aquinas, John Calvin, Melanchthon and others.

In all three senses, Christian systematic theology will often touch on some or all of the following topics: God, trinitarianismrevelationcreation and divine providencetheodicytheological anthropologyChristologysoteriologyecclesiologyeschatology, Israelology, Bibliology, hermeneuticssacramentpneumatology, Christian life, Heaven, and interfaith statements on other religions.

See also

  1. Jump up to:a b Carson, D.A. (2018). NIV, Biblical Theology Study Bible, eBook: Follow God's Redemptive Plan as It Unfolds throughout Scripture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310450436.
  2. ^ Garrett, James Leo (2014). Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Fourth Edition. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 20. ISBN 9781498206594.
  3. ^ Berkhof, Louis (1938). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 17.
  4. ^ Garrett, James Leo (2014). Systematic Theology, Volume 2. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 138. ISBN 9781498206600.
  5. ^ "Categories of Theology"www.gcfweb.org. Archived from the original on 1 April 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  6. ^ Sheldrake, Philip (2016). Christian Spirituality and Social Transformation. Oxford Research Encyclopedias.