ORIGINALLY posted at the Open Theism facebook group:
Critics on the Calvinist side say that these theologies are the same, as do some relational theologies themselves. This is understandable, since both Open and Process theologians affirm:
1. Libertarian Free Will
2. God’s omnipresence within creation rather than misguided views of transcendence that completely separate God from creation. And therefore, God has real relationships with the world.
3. God is affected by the world and responds to events within creation. God is able to suffer with humanity (passible).
4. Both models work as a critique against classical theism, whether it is Arminian, Calvinist, or Molinist in nature.
That being said, a close investigation into the differences between Open theism and Process theologies means that any honest thinker should take these particularities as real and by no means inconveniences.
1st Difference– Revelation
1. Through my reading of both process and Open theisms one key difference is the centrality of revelation, that is Special Revelation as a category for Open Theists. Perhaps this is due in large part because of Open Theism’s evangelical roots, which places a heavy emphasis on scripture. But what defines an evangelical Christian, well, all Christians, is the importance of the life of Christ Jesus, the 2nd century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Know Jesus, know who God is. It is this strain of God’s disclosure to creation and history (time, place, and space) and the particularity thereof that remains of the utmost crucial importance for Open Theist’s understanding of the divine.
In stark contrast, (and know, just as not every Open Theist believes the same things, that there is diversity among process theists) process thinkers such as Marjorie Suchockie and and Robert Mesle. Both represent two different forms of process theism, one (Mesle) process naturalism, and the other theistic process thought. However, creation vis-a-vis science is viewed as the form of revelation which we know God. There is nothing wrong with Natural theology/Natural revelation, but this is approach means a real difference in the conclusions we reach about God. In both Mesle’s and Suchockie’s texts, as well as other texts in process theology that I have encountered, the writers encourage their readers to discard with the differentiation between natural and special revelation.
This does not happen in Open Theist texts generally; our encounter with Special revelation shapes the way we engage Natural/general revelation.
2nd Difference– God as Personal Divinity
2. What does it mean for God to be Personal? How does one contrast an impersonal divinity from a personal one? It is not a matter of Jesus becoming our Privatized Savior for the sake of the few who get to keep all the profits, I mean get to heaven. The category of personhood for God is a very controversial one these days, especially since people like to invoke ideas that God is on their side, no matter how horrible their ideas are. The category of a personal God comes from both biblical precedent and philosophy. In the United States of America, in the latter half of the 19th century was a school of thought called the Boston Personalism, since it was first systematized by Methodist thinkers who were philosophers at Boston University. Personalism first and foremost, affirms unique subjectivity in the life of the Divine. makes a distinction between God’s experiences and our experiences (meaning, they are not the same, God’s tears are NOT our tears), and the idea that God freely chooses to limit God’s self.
What does belief in an impersonal God consist of? From process texts, God is limited INvoluntarily, God’s experiences are our experiences, and God as simply the name of the natural process that sustains creation, or creativity.
3rd Difference–Histories of Communities
3. Each theological community in Christianity has a history and backdrop from which it comes forth. If the Neo-Calvinism that has arisen today sees itself in the context of (after an honest look) of historical white conservative evangelical churches and preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, this must be the case for Process and Open theology camps. Process theologies have a better awareness of their own histories and sources, coming from mainline churches and seminaries such as Charles Harthshorne. Unfortunately, because of the shape that the debate has taken place over issues such as free will, Open Theists are still trying to find their history. Perhaps a possible way forward would be to look at sources and historical thinkers outside of white Christianities, Major J. Jones would be one example. And still another, Kazoh Kitamori. Although not specifically evangelical, their theological projects do have more in common with relational/open theologies.
For more information regarding this topic, please see Thomas Oord’s contribution to The Handbook of Process Theology, “Evangelical Theologies” and the 3 volume set by Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology (the parts on Personalism).