Tag Archives: process theism

Open and Process Theologies: A Few Essential Differences

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).

Creation Made Free: A Theological Reflection

Creation Made Free is a book of edited conference papers and articles from a conference on Open Theology and Science.  Thank you to Dr. Thomas Oord for my free copy.

It is my understanding that the purpose of the conference and book is to engage in a dialogue between evangelical-leaning Open Theists and more “mainline” process theists.  I found Michael Lodahl’s “The (Brief) Openness Debate in Islamic Theology” to be quite informative and interesting.  Each of the articles in the first section of the book seemed to be written by those in favor of Process theology generally.  Process thinkers see themselves as challenging the way that Christians have traditionally viewed God’s activity in the world, and in particular, God’s power/sovereignty.  From my perspective, it seems that much of the constructive theology I have read seems to lean process theology as the solution to “genuine” evil in the world.  In order to adhere to process theology, one must submit to its definition of evil, notions of “natural” and “genuine” evil as well as agree with a definition of divine love that excludes justice.  This is why process theology does not have an eschatology, judgment, or a soteriology in the traditional orthodox Christian sense. The driving force behind process and open theologies is theodicy, the question of why God does not/chooses not/cannot PREVENT suffering.  The blind spot behind persons who take up this approach can be that there is a particular class bias, that persons who really have not lived a life of suffering imposed on them speculating on the question of why.  Rather than give an analysis of human agency and subjectivity, process thinkers in particular, choose rather to take away God’s agency, limiting God’s freedom, while at the same time avoiding conversations about God’s power, human power relations, divine justice, and justice between humanity.  This is because God’s justice is separated from God’s love, simply put.  As a postcolonial thinker, perhaps the most unhelpful part of process theology is process ethics.  Besides the fact that there is not a work on process ethics, the moral implications behind the idea that humanity’s unrestricted freedom without any word of judgment (limitations) on their agency is obviously that the status quo gets a pass.  Injustice  happens  because, well, God really can’t do anything about it. So, much like Calvinism, evil is God’s direct will by  default. Is it possible that process ethics, which leads to relativism, goes literally no where (no end, no telos, no determined goal) because process theology begins without a reflection on Old Testament texts outside the book of Genesis.  God’s giving of the law, the logos in Clement of Alexandria’s theology, on Mount Sinai, both presupposes human libertarian free will as well as a burden of responsibility.  God is free to hold human beings responsible because God has revealed what is right and wrong according to the divine perspective. Human beings do not know what evil is apart from a personal gracious God communicating with them.  Yes, open and process theologians are correct to a limited extent, God is “essentially” relational. However, relationships imply both a chosen form of agency , duties, and promises. God is just not Creator, as I read time and again in articles and books on process theology; God is a promise-making Creator ala Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope.

I may seem harsh towards process theism, but open theism is not without its problems.  From my perspective, Openness thinkers lack a consistent hermeneutic in regards to interpreting Scripture.  Besides the claim that they take “anthropomorphic texts so-called” more seriously than classical theists, there seemed to be a presupposition that their interpretation of a passage was correct without any justification (Valla! Abracadabra!); I found this problem especially in regards to Greg Boyd’s “Evolution as Cosmic Warfare.” It’s hard for me to understand Boyd’s pacifism and reconcile it with his warfare view of the creation narrative.  If war is at the beginning, war must be the nature of things.  There must be some understanding of an ontology of peace that was at the beginning of creation before this divine struggle happens. Thus, we find a second blind spot in Open Theism. There is a lack of engagement with philosophy (going back to the problem of the lack of a hermeneutic) outside of the natural science.

I would extend this review longer and have a conversation about the lack of cultural plurality endemic in this work, but I reserve the right to keep my peace.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

Notes from WTS 2010: Part Two

An Open Conversation with John B Cobb Jr. Posted with permission by Dr. Cobb.

A special thanks to Thomas Jay Oord for inviting me to ask a question and putting this discussion together.

Q: What do you think of Natural law? How do you conceive it? (in an Ethical context).

A: Not made se of natural law.  Quite possible. The word law, not happy use it.  Against absolutizing any human formulation. Can’t get past limits of human knowledge.

Q: Have political views/experiences changed your theology?

A:  Can’t give an exact answer.  Parents missionaries in Japan.  Attitudes about race changed.  Very conscious of race.  Well aware of social issues (general liberal political background).  Wanted originally to be a government agent in an international capacity.  Does not know how it shaped his theology.

Q: Follow up; What lead you to your embrace of process theology?

A: Growing up Wesleyan.  Learning the primacy of love over power.  Accidental.  Army experience was first experience with intellectuals.  In the process of studying Japanese, mostly New Yorkers, hurried to study Japanese to go another route than just the “bang bang” group.  Mostly Catholic and Jewish.  Went to Chicago to test his faith against what he called the modern world.  Hartsock helped Cobb, had reasons to go beyond modern questions about God.

Q: How do you think of eschatology?

A: Diverse Meanings and different patterns.  No guarantee that our decline will be reversed.  Cannot make use of apocalypse; a prophetic eschatology.

Q: How do you understand God initiating creation? Out of nothing?

A: Ex Nihilo and Power go hand in hand.  God does not unilaterally determine things.  Redefining nothing; not biblical.  Understandable, but stick with the biblical understanding.  God is always calling creatures to do what is best for them (Love). Daniel Day Williams! Wesleyan features of Whitehead.

Q: Doctrine of the trinity. Relativize it?  Does the Trinity help us?

A: Process theology emphasizes relations.

Q: What are the different ways process folks talk about Trinity?

A: The trinity should not be a litmus test.  Can be destructive to good theology.  Does not want to pass the litmus.  Threeness is the worship of mathematics.

(Scientists are badly socialized into materialism, etc.)

Neo-Darwinism has done great damage. Value of mechanic model falls short.

Q: What is your view of telos?

A: Biologists who do not believe in a telos are just disinterested in telos.  We behave purposefully.

MY Question: 2 parts— In patristic theology, God is transcendent and unknown in the work of persons such as Clement of Alexandria; what is your process view of transcendence? What is the good, common good, good action in process theology?

His Answer: I transcend him, he transcends me, in a finite sense even though we both participate mutually in the lives of each other.  The good: loving God in the neighbor, not a radical separation.   Both human and non-human.