Thoughts on Process Theology Pt. 1

Because most of my classes have been less than riveting this semester I’ve had to satisfy my hunger for good theology by exploring the vast expanse of the interwebs. Thanks to Dalton I was introduced to the sweetest theological podcast on the net a few months ago, Homebrewed Christianity. Process theology is a common discussion topic on the podcast and I recently began to do a bit more reading on it because I liked what I was hearing on the podcast. For those who are unfamiliar with Process theology, here’s a sweet little introduction to it by Marjorie Suchocki, a process theologian from Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. There are a number of positive things that emerge out of a process-relational theology as well as a few things that I have reservations about (which I’m eventually going to explore in another post).

First, I like that process theology takes evolution seriously. For too long has the church held to the notion that Genesis 1 is incompatible with evolutionary thought. There have been far too many young Christians who, upon their discovery of the overwhelming evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, have been forced to choose between either the faith or the facts.  It needs to be made clear that this is an unnecessary choice. Process theology emphasizes the fact that to exist is to be in relation with. To imagine a time when God existed without another to relate to is inconceivable in process thought. God has always been creating and continues to do so. Moreover, Genesis 1 presupposes a world ruled by the primordial chaos prior to God’s creative action. Creation ex nihilo falls by the wayside at this point. I’ve already explored the implications of God creating out of the “stuff of chaos” in a previous blog.

Additionally, process theology holds to a panentheistic understanding of God’s relationship to his creation. What’s attractive to me about panentheism is that it is a happy middle ground between deism and pantheism. God is neither the absentee landlord who is utterly transcendent nor is he limited to or synonymous with his creation. Instead, he is both intimately connected with his creation as well as greater than the created order. A panentheistic understanding of God’s relationship to the cosmos allows us to affirm both the natural laws that govern our world as well as God’s divine creativity in everything and, what’s more, the universe’s dependence on his continued creative activity.

Thirdly, I love process theology’s emphasis on God as primarily a relational being. Rather than being a totalitarian god who predetermines everything in history, process theology holds to the notion that God has granted us free will and remains open to the different possibilities that can emerge out of an ultimately free creation. The pastoral implications of this are huge. Prayer becomes a necessary part of our devotion because God actually listens to and moves in response to the prayers of his people. He is not the impassible being that classical theism has made him into. Instead, he is the always vulnerable, responsive, and open God that we find revealed in the biblical narrative. The notion that God is affected by the decisions we make–that is, he feels the pain that we feel and experience, cries when we cry, is saddened when we disobey–makes him, in my view, more worthy of worship than the utterly transcendent, Stoic god of traditional Christian orthodoxy.

Fourthly, process theology understands sin as violence. This idea puts words to something that I have already begun to believe over the last few years. The commands of Jesus are not arbitrary commands. In other words, God does not exhort us to refrain from certain behavior, for example, because there are some things that break an arbitrary law that God has made. Rather, we are exhorted to refrain from certain behaviors because they are harmful to our neighbor.

Anywho, those are my thoughts. More are coming in terms of my reservations but for now I’ll suffice it to say that I’m currently enjoying all the possibilities that emerge from such an outlook on God and the world. This changes everything!

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4 responses to “Thoughts on Process Theology Pt. 1

  1. Hi Garrett, too bad your classes are not “rivetting”, but at least you’re motivated to explore.
    Regarding your comment, “To imagine a time when God existed without another to relate to is inconceivable in process thought”, the Genesis account creates no problem, as the Father, Son & Spirit have been in fellowship eternally. And, God is continuously and continually creative, which is perfectly compatible with the Genesis account. We’re not a spinning top – Paul wrote the Colossians that “in [Christ] all things are held together”, so each new cell division of each organism is within God’s creative scope.
    Glad you’re having fun.
    Brian

  2. Brian,

    Thanks for your comment. Genesis 1 can indeed be read through a trinitarian lens. To say that God has eternally existed in relationship with himself is in keeping with the idea that to exist is to be in relationship with. However, I don’t think you need to read the text that way in order to create an “other” for God to be with prior to the creation account. I referenced my previous blog in this post and there I talk a bit about verse 1 of Genesis 1 which presupposes the fact that matter exists before God “creates.” God takes the “stuff of chaos” and orders it so that it is inhabitable. The theological implications of this are huge. God takes the stuff that is chaotic and brings order out of it. When read this way, Genesis 1 becomes less of a text describing a one-time event in the past and more about the nature of God which we see manifested in our lives each day if we have the eyes to see. I think this is why the creation account became so important to the ancient Jewish community exiled in Babylon. They were a people who found themselves in the midst of chaos and in need of the creative ordering of Yahweh.

  3. This may (probably even) not apply or be relevant, but your post reminded me of some fiction I read years ago. Out of the Silent Planet and its companion books by C. S. Lewis are more or less set in parallel creations that have different timelines, either predating or postdating our own. Reading them left me all kinds of room to think about God being big enough for things like evolution to be of little or no threat to him or my faith.
    Thanks for the post.

  4. Pingback: More Musings on the Process-Openness Debate | garret menges blog

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