In my last blog I layed down a few of the positive implications coming out of a process-relational theology. I also promised in that blog that I would follow it up with a few of my reservations about process theology. This is me doing just that.
A quick preface is needed before I get started: Over the past couple of years I’ve moved in a more open direction with my theology, a move inspired mostly by books like Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible as well as Jerry Paul’s Old Testament Theology course here at Columbia. When I heard about process as another option in terms of an open perspective on God, clearly I was excited. The reality is, however, that I still don’t know a lot about it. It makes sense, then, that the following “reservations” are really questions that have yet to be answered for me surrounding process theology.
With that having been said, let me dive into a few of these questions. One of the things that was so attractive to me about open theism over against classical theism, that is, the notion that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable (or unchanging) and, in some cases, impassible (or without emotion), was that it seemed to take the biblical narrative more seriously. What I mean is that when classical theists read passages about God changing his mind or getting angry or feeling sorry that he ever made humanity, these things are usually excused as anthropomorphisms (which, in my view doesn’t actually get rid of the problem because the anthropomorphism is still communicating something about the nature of God). Strict classical theists who hold to the notion that God has predetermined everything would say that he can’t actually be changing his mind. There is, then, an a priori commitment to the philosphical presuppositions of classical theism rather than the biblical text itself. Open theists, on the other hand, affirm what the text says at face value. If the text says that God changed his mind then God must have actually changed his mind. This attempt at doing theology bibically instead of philosophically is admittedly very attractive to me.
Here’s where process theology enters the picture. It, like classical theism, is an attempt at doing theology philosophically rather than biblically. Clark Pinnock, in his book The Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, says it well:
“Process theology is a natural theology based on the metaphysics of Whitehead, where as openness is a biblical theology not obliged to a developed philosophical schema. Process theology is a philosophical theology that explicitly draws its way of speaking about God from Whitehead and Hartshorne (cf. core doctrines such as naturalistic theism, the idea of spontaneity rooted deep down in the universe and a non-sensationist doctrine of perception). The openness model, on the other hand, is more revelation based and less dependent on philosophy” (144).
My question, then, is this: what is the advantage of doing theology philosophically rather than biblically? Marjorie Suchocki makes clear (and, I think, rightly) that “it is not a matter of whether philosophy will be used, but which philosophy will be used.” I agree, then, that it is beneficial to have a relational philosophy while reading a text that discloses an inherently relational God. However, the philosophical presuppositions of Open Theism are also relational in nature. It becomes clear at this point that my real question is this: what are the inherent advantages of having a process philosophy rather than just an open one?
My second question has to do with the nature of Christ’s crucifixion. I’ll quote Suchockie again:
“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.”
I’m fine with process theology’s critique of penal-substitutionary atonement (which Suchocki tackles just prior to this quote in her article) and I’m fine with saying that the cross was a revelation of the nature of God as well as his commitment to be with us in our deepest pain. I don’t like, however, process theology’s reduction of the cross to merely revelation. Process theology posits that Christ merely suffered because of sin instead of dying for sin. There seems to be too much biblical evidence that would suggest otherwise (cf. pretty much all of Paul). Herein lies my question: how does process theology get around passages that discuss Jesus dying for sin (a specific example would be 1 John 2:2). This is where process theology seems to be more committed to its philosophical presuppositions before it is committed to the text which, at this point, I am uncomfortable with.
Those are my thoughts for now. It’s very possible that, upon further reflection, a pt. 3 to this reflection may occur.