A Newbie Response to Roger Olson

Roger Olson blogged about why he is not a Process Theologian.  Since I am a newbie to Process Thought, I thought it would be fun to respond to the post point-by-point.  My responses are in bold.

In the days to come, people who do this for a living (instead of a hobby) will respond more deeply and more accurately than I have here. 

 

First … let me say that many, many people I know who think they believe in process theology really don’t. Like many theological labels and categories, over time, “process theology” has been stretched to cover much, much more than it originally covered. Many people who claim to believe in it simply don’t know what it is, historically-theologically, or what it entails logically.

I am up for the challenge. I might be who you are talking about. Let’s see how this goes. 

When I talk about “process theology” I mean the type of (so-called) Christian theology based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (sometimes as modified by Charles Hartshorne) and expressed above all, prototypically, by John Cobb, David Griffin, Norman Pittenger, Delwin Brown, et al.

Good so far – that is what I thought it was.  

In other words, “process theology” is not just any relational theology. It is a type of relational theology, but not the only one. And, I would add, not the best one. (For example, Jürgen Moltmann’s is a relational theology and, in my opinion, much better than process theology.)

Sure. We know plenty of people who prefer Moltmann or the Open Theology of someone like Greg Boyd. No worries there. 

Many people have taken a course that included a little process theology or have read a book by a process thinker or just heard about process theology and jumped on the bandwagon without really knowing all that it involves. So—just because you call yourself “process” doesn’t mean you are.

Agreed. We try to say this all the time. Of course we say from a purist sort of qualification and you mean as as dis-qualification – but so far so good. 

So what are the essentials of process theology? My description will be of an “ideal type” based on the consensus of the most noted and influential process theologians (some of whom are mentioned above).

Let’s do this! 

First, process theology assumes that to be is to be in relation. It is a relational, organic worldview.

Yep. In fact, I would ask, “what was the other option?” 

Second, process theology avers that God is not an exception to basic ontological rules but is their chief exemplification.

This is a major distinction and one that I find very attractive. But you are right – it is a significant departure. This is why I talk about Process Thought as a not just a new program to download but a new operating system that reformats ones’ theological hard-drive.

Third, process theology asserts that omnipotence is a theological mistake; God is not and cannot be omnipotent. God’s only power is the power of influence (persuasion).

Right. The nature of God’s power is not coercive but persuasive. God’s power is not unilateral but seductive.  No problem so far. Hand_ofGod2

Fourth, process theology is a form of theistic naturalism; it does not have room for the supernatural or for divine interventions (miracles).

Umm … yes and no. This is true to the degree that the super-natural is based in a pathetically antiquated metaphysics and a three-tiered universe. But ‘no’ in the sense that there is room for the miraculous – especially as testified to in the Gospel accounts. So we are 4 in and we start to get a little shaky. 

Fifth, process theology denies creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing, and affirms classical panentheism—God and the world are mutually interdependent. There is a sense in which God is dependent on the world (beyond self-limitation).

Ya – read the two creation accounts in Genesis. There is no creation ex nihilo. Read church history. No Jewish person, including Jesus,  would have believed ex nihilo until two centuries after Christ. It is a greco-roman reading imported and imposed on the Jewish text. 

Sixth, process theology refers to God as “dipolar”—having two “poles” or “natures”—one primordial and one consequent. God’s primordial pole is potential only and consists of ideals. God’s consequent pole is actual and consists of God’s experience. The world contributes experience to God. God has no primordial experience. (Theologian Austin Farrer referred to this as process theology’s lack of “prior actuality in God.”)

Right. And doesn’t a classic Trinitarian understanding speak of the immanent and the economic Trinity? Am I wrong on this? If I am someone will tell me … 

Seventh, process theology regards God as radically temporal; God learns as history unfolds and how history unfolds is ultimately up to creatures (actual occasions). (“God proposes but man disposes.”)

Umm … isn’t there evidence of this in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments? I mean, it’s not completely unprecedented. I mean, you can go the Openess route and say that it is a ‘self-limitation’ or you can go the Process route and say that it just the way it is (God’s nature / the nature of reality).  

Eighth, process theology reduces God’s creative activity to bringing about order and harmony insofar as possible. God is not the actual creator of the world or any actual occasion (the basic building blocks of reality). God can only create, however, with creaturely cooperation.

Right – the interventionist notion of God is shed. This will become important as we move through the 20th century (let alone the 21st). 

Ninth, process theology views Jesus Christ as different in degree but not in kind from other creatures. His “divinity” consists of his embodying the self-expressive activity of God (“Logos”) which is “creative transformation.” He is not God incarnate in any absolutely unique sense that no other creature could be.

Ugh. This is overstated. I would venture to say that the last sentence is not well represented. If one listens to the latest Barrel Aged Podcast with John Cobb on Advent, you will hear a more nuanced and ‘orthodox’ presentation of this concept of incarnation. Jesus IS unique. 

I   would go as far as to say that Olsen gets this one wrong. 

Tenth, process theology denies any guaranteed ultimate victory of God or good over evil. The future is “more of the same” so far as we know. Ultimately, that is up to us, not God. God always does God’s best, but he cannot guarantee anything.

Half Right. Is the future guaranteed? No. It is 100% up to us? No – there is still a God in the universe. Does God work with us to bring about a preferable set of possibilities and open up options yet unseen? Yes. 

Now, if that is an accurate brief summary of the essential points of process theology, which I believe it is (allowing that there are people who call themselves “process” who may disagree with one or two points and who may add to it something others would not), here is why I think it is not a form of Christian theology.

I would give it a 90% – but let’s see where this goes. 

First, process theology’s ultimate authority for belief is not divine revelation but philosophy and, in particular, Whitehead’s organic metaphysic (sometimes as altered by Hartshorne). That becomes the “Procrustean bed” on which revelation must fit. It is not merely influenced by or integrated with that philosophy; that philosophy is its very soul and foundation.

Dr. Olson, you have to know that all of Christian theology is both in concert with and based on some set of philosophical frameworks. That is part & parcel of every theological project through the centuries. Process’ explicit reliance on this is not a disqualifying admittance. In fact, it is better than the implicit nature of other historical expressions. 

Second, process theology’s Jesus Christ is not God and Savior in any recognizable sense. Its Christology tends to be either adoptionistic or Nestorian (as in the case of Norman Pittenger).

What?  Oh my. Really? Oh no. We are going to have to do a TNT on this one.  The beauty of  ‘christology from below’ the subtle way that Cobb does it in the pod on Advent is masterful. 

Third, process theology has very little, if any, room for the Trinity. Attempts by process theologians to include the Trinity in their theology have been weak and mostly modalistic. (Catholic process theologian Joseph Bracken has attempted to develop a trinitarian process theology, but I’m not convinced it works.)

Now you are swinging wildly. Would you say this about the parichoretic view? 

Fourth, process theology denies miracles including the bodily resurrection/empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

Not exactly. 

Fifth, process theology constitutes radical accommodation to secular modernity.

Because Evangelicalism has made no accommodation to modernity or changed anything since the Apostles?

Sixth, process theology denies the efficacy of petitionary prayer.

There is no interventionist God in Process. 

Seventh, process theology has no realistic eschatology.

Realistic? Did you mean that? Did you mean ‘real’? Otherwise you will have to show me a ‘realistic’ one. 

Eighth, process theology makes God dependent on the world and not as a matter of voluntary self-limitation (as in the case of Moltmann, for example).

God’s nature versus decision -  a slight distinction. Certainly doesn’t need to be a matter of disqualification.  

Ninth, process theology reduces salvation to actualization of God’s “initial aim” and thereby falls into a kind of Pelagianism (except that for most process theologians everyone is or will be “saved” in the traditional sense of reconciled with God).

Now this is an interesting point – one worth fleshing out in throwdown. Having said that, I hope you are prepared to have your view of salvation scrutinized. 

Tenth, process theology is so esoteric as to be impossible for most people to understand. It uses conventional Christian language but means something so different that only people steeped in process philosophy could possibly guess at its meaning. The meanings bear little resemblance, if any, to orthodox Christianity.

Oh come on! Is that a real accusation? You just said esoteric. Big words and new concepts are not a problem. People learn new words all time: “I’ll have a venti Caffè macchiato barista”. 

Added:  This happens when people join denominations of change expression of church.  You can not become Lutheran, Episcopal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Catholic, charismatic, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox , non-denominational  any other from without learning new words.

Sanctification, liturgy, vestry, sacrament, diocese, cruciform, stole, christen, laity … it just goes on and on.

SO the learning of  new words and concept thing is not a big deal. We do the same thing when we go seminary: soteriology, annotation, attribution, attestation, primary source, ontology, Turabian.

None of that is prohibitive. People do this all time when it A) benefits them (barista) and B) they enjoy it/ feel it is necessary.

If you talk to someone in the military, medical or legal fields … it is ubiquitous – then it come to religion and ‘Oh NOO! the average person in the pew has to understand EVERYthing  immediately’.   Why is that?

Is there anything redeemable in process theology? Not that I cannot find elsewhere.

Nothing redeemable? Is that a play on words because of the salvation thing earlier? 

Why is process theology so popular? I think it’s because it seems to solve the theodicy question. If process theology is true, there is no theodicy question. Evil exists because God is not omnipotent and creatures, having free will and some degree of self-centeredness, often resist God’s initial aim for them. I’m not sure that begins to explain evils such as the holocaust.

  1. It’s popular?  Nice. 
  2. You are right about the theodicy question. 

But process theology solves the theodicy issue at too high a cost. The God of process theology is hardly worshipful. In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good (but not one at the expense of the other). The God of process theology is not great enough to be worshipful. He/she/it is great enough to be admirable but not worshipful.

No. Wrong.  You sound like the person who says “Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Christmas isn’t even worth celebrating!”  Just because it isn’t the way you were taught it or previously understood it – doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. You should walk in the woods or come to church with me sometime.

A better solution to the theodicy issue may be found in God’s self-limitation in creation. This is the alternative presented by Moltmann, among others. I highly recommend Greg Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? for those attracted to process theology but wanting a more orthodox alternative. (For those who object that Boyd is an open theist, this particular book does not depend on that.)

This should get interesting. 

 
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99 comments
troy_vanderhule
troy_vanderhule

Hey, sorry about my lengthy post before, I got lazy and didn't edit it down.  I write a lot in at my job and other pursuits, where I always have to be terribly concise.  So I indulged myself here at everyone else's expense.


In a nutshell (hopefully), I understand that the crowd here feels that Olsen was a little dismissive or didn't fully engage with PT in a way that gave it a fair shake.  Which also seems to reinforce the feeling here that evangelical theologians are simply uncritical and reactionary.  I don't necessarily disagree. 

However, even with an uncritical and reactionary approach I think there were some valid points made about PT as a whole.  And Bo's responses didn't seem to address those points as much as dismiss them with the notion that PT just needed to be better understood.  


It seems to me the issue at hand is where PT fits on the theology spectrum.  Olsen seemed to argue that it wasn't on the biblical spectrum, and Bo's seemed to argue, not that it was on the biblical spectrum, but rather, that the biblical spectrum needs to be redefined. 


And that's where the rub seems to occur: PT seems to spend a lot of time re-defining and retro-fitting its God-talk into a loosely-defined -and somewhat perpetually being re-defined- "biblical" context. (I believe that's what Olsen meant by PT being "esoteric").     


So probably what I don't understand is why PT doesn't doesn't embrace Olsen's critique, which is this: PT wants to be a theology, but it doesn't want to be a biblical theology. I would think PT would be fine with that assessment.  Unless PT wants the legitimacy of being a biblical theology, as long as "biblical" is completely defined to mean something that much more reflects modern ideologies.  

It reminds me of discussing theology with Mormons, who will strongly argue that they are Christians, they believe in Jesus, and they believe in the bible.  However, Christian, Jesus, and bible have all been radically redefined to a point where they don't mean Christian, they mean Mormon, and I simply need to change all my definitions and I would understand.  

At some point all the theological words mean something or they mean nothing.  I don't even mind if all of PT's definitions are the correct definitions.  But one of the things about an open-ended theology is not that it wants to redefine everything, but rather that it never wants anything to really be defined.  Because definitions are close-minded and reactionary. 

It seems to me that PT lives in the space of reducing Christianity to symbols ("Salvation", "Christ", "heaven", "God", "nature", etc) and then being unable to actualize those symbols into an objective, real, or actionable meaning.  The symbols will always be subjective, and never able to escape personal prejudices and/or environmental conditioning (or, of course, willful capitulation to modern philosophies). And ultimately these symbols become only good for bumper stickers. 

And I think this happens just as much in evangelical or mainline theologies.   


 

Thanks, and hopefully that was more nutshell-ish. 

    

CindyBourgeois
CindyBourgeois

I am always amazed at folks' need to affirm omnipotence. This seems to be the most important divine quality. Maybe we can call it omniomnipotenceimportance. But we can't do that because all words have been invented already. Is that Maxilexicality? O diddley-poop. Wait, is that a word?

Mark Farmer
Mark Farmer

Fascinating, Bo. Thanks. In your response to "sixth," you mean "immanent," right?

Jason Mnrqz
Jason Mnrqz

So grateful for this post Bo. Thanks for keeping the conversation moving and relevant!

Jez at unhappyhippy
Jez at unhappyhippy

I worry about the tone of some of this, both here and in Olson's comments feed.

Is it possible to hold differing theoretical positions on some aspects of this, in a type of Rabbinic dialogue, or an Anabaptist style dialogue of discernment, in which no-one needs to definitively prove they're right and others are wrong, and where we enrich each others perspectives, about issues we can never absolutely prove - e.g. creation ex nihilo???

Different paradoxical perspectives help us/me to think through the complexities of our existence and relationship to God, but to start trying to prove who's right and who's wrong on some of this can become toxic and distracting from our calling to be followers and lovers, learning to follow Jesus. 

Do we sometimes claim too much about what we can know, and even more about what the other can't know?

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

Bo I have now heard from 7 non-Process theologians teaching at ATS accredited seminaries thanking me for your post.  I guess they thought I wrote it.  I would have posted something but I was busy working with 9 high schoolers on their confirmation worship service.  Weirdly enough they have found their process minister helpful and are excited to confirm the process of their baptism. I really have no idea what the big deal is about Process theology.... here's a secret..... PROCESS THEOLOGIANS ARE THE ONLY BIG SCHOOL OF LIBERAL THEOLOGIANS WHO DON'T CROSS THEIR FINGERS WHEN TALKING ABOUT A REAL GOD IN A REAL WORLD WHO REALLY ACTS & DID SO IN A UNIQUE AND REVELATORY WAY IN CHRIST.


Philip Clayton (who the author you are commenting on threw under the bus in his comments with loving gusto) and I hosted a conference with 40 Mainline Theology Seminary Professors. Two observations... 1) All the professors taught Process & half self-identified with it in some way. 2) The Process fan ladies and fan boys were the ones most likely to be serving at their church in different capacities and the ones most likely to quote the Bible.


The post you are worried about seems to be really be an evangelical who is intending to call the Christian identity of other theologians into question so his super conservative friends don't get mad at him for being an almost-open theist.   I guess both of us have decided that it's not worth writing posts like his to stay in the good edgy favor of people who don't ordain women, marry our gay friends, insist on economic justice, and care for our planet's ecosystem.

Latest blog post: The Gospel According to J.E.W.

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

(Edit: Sorry, deleted my previous comment because I edited it in favour of this slightly revised one.)

Olson's post in so many ways is nothing truly surprising. Committed evangelical that he is, his commitment to predetermined foundations and tenets is on show throughout. For example, 1) a basic misunderstanding and ignorance of the necessity and prevalence of "natural theology" (he has a metaphysics somewhere, and my guess is that it's unreflectively substantialist), 2) a terrifying, intellectually masochistic, ideological bias ("I refuse to accept a theology that actually resolves orthodoxy's antagonisms, e.g. regarding theodicy"), and 3) a flat-out wrong, or at least un-Christological, notion of revelation.

In regards the third, he writes "In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good." Who said that? Where has that ever been a formal means of establishing God's value? What do these words even mean? Spending anytime working this out in a manner beyond the pre-determinations Olson brings to the post point to conclusions so antithetical to what he holds as necessary that he only shows himself to be ignorant.

John Cobb, in the barrel-aged re-podcast, sums up the confusion of Olson's dilemma nicely, I think,

"The notion of revelation sometimes appeals more to the mind, at least when talking about what makes us know about God. But it is important in Christianity to say that what makes us know about God is the actual presence of God – not information about God. We actually experience God in Jesus."

Also, there is a hilarious irony present in his post. When he states that process is "esoteric" and difficult to comprehend etc. He did a rather admirable job of summarising in his initial 10 points PT for his audience. If he can master the terminology on a basic level, I fail to see how others could not. Yet, even then, it is important to repeat, much like revelation – or theology in general, I would hope – the truly significant moments for any theology (Arminian, process-relational etc.) is how it is experienced. Who actually wants to demand that every person become a philosopher and metaphysician, familiar with any and all jargon and neologisms? (Does every layperson in the Roman Catholic church have a working knowledge of Thomism?)

I'd suggest, experience here becomes, and is always already, its own category of "truth." Evangelicalism sets parameters for truth based on the nature of the experience it generates – bad ones at that. Process sets wider parameters based on what it is retroactively open to and considers for experience. In this way, for process to begin to make sense, a lot of classical and traditional presuppositions need to be discarded (re. God, the Bible, religion and science), along with the story that one has established within oneself to hold how they are each and all experienced together. Process, thus, points to and requires an expansion of experience.

In all of this, Olson, more or less, betrays himself as rather typically evangelical – from his intellectual ghettoisation and ideological entrenchment, to his faltering understanding of historically significant Christian doctrines. Which is to say, given all this, I for one am not surprised by what he has written – it certainly fits the dismissive soapbox rhetoric he has been employing for a longtime on his blog.

troy_vanderhule
troy_vanderhule

Just read Olsen's post, then read Bo's response.  Two from-the-hip observations:  1) Olsen's post pretty accurately describes PT's main tenets, and 2) Bo agrees with Olsen, with exception that Olson should have more been more nuanced. 

What I don't understand then is the growing persecution theme in the responses here.  Olsen didn't seem to be defamatory, he was explaining why he's not a Process Theologian.  Obviously he's not a Process Theologian because he thinks Process Theology doesn't add up, not because he doesn't like Process Theologians.  Thinking PT is incorrect or wrong is not tantamount to defamation. 

It also feels like Bo's responses were evasive, particularly starting at why PT is not a form of Christian theology: 

1.  The fact that one's theology may have philosophical influences can be true.  But also true is that fact that there can be lesser degrees of influence, and that some philosophical influences are worse than others.

2. "Christology from below" does not rule out a Nestorian Christology, or a Christology that does not understand Christ to be God in any substantive way.

3. I don't think it's a stretch to say that PT does not have a Trinitarian theology, or even a place for a Trinitarian theology.  I don't think most evangelical theologies have a well-developed theology, but they do have a place and necessity for it.  Deferring to a "parichoretic" nuance here seems to be another way of saying panentheistic, at which point they are significantly different. 

4. PT does deny miracles (including bodily resurrection)...unless you want to re-define the idea of miracle.  But don't hide behind the "not exactly".

5. The accusation that PT has radically accommodated secular ideologies is not mitigated by the counter-accusation that other theologies have also accommodated secular ideologies.  

6. This wasn't exactly a dodge, but the idea that God will not do anything via prayer does fly in the face of anything that would constitute a biblical theology.  It may be a theology, but not a biblical one.

7.  Either meaning of the word "realistic" could have been addressed because PT lacks both /either meaning.  PT has no "real" eschatology in that it doesn't have an eschatology.  PT doesn't have a "realistic" eschatology because it doesn't have a real eschatology.  Real /realistic doesn't mean credible or believable by your standards, it means that the theology has to culminate in the future from what preceded it in the past.

8.Don’t be afraid to say that PT’s God is dependent on nature.  And God being dependent or not on nature is a reasonable criterion for disqualification.

9.Again, the rebuttal that PT’s view of salvation is just as bad as many other views of salvation seems evasive.The salvific notion of PT is that one can self-actualize their salvation.This may not be wrong, but it can’t be squared with a theology from the bible as canonized currently.

10.Obviously “esoteric” doesn’t mean big or new concepts, it means using words in such a way that only your group can understand them and/or re-define them as necessary.PT uses a lot of God language and theological terminology in a way that is far outside of standard usage.

Theodicy: I get it that a lot of people (ie, evangelicals) don’t have a critical grasp on their own theology.But that doesn’t mean that PT’s theodicy doesn't come at too high a price, ie, you have to throw everything else away (or redefine it completely).

It would be more honest to say that “Yes, we threw everything else away (or redefined it completely), but on the upside we solved the theodicy problem,” rather than continuing to say, “No, you don’t understand, nothing means what it says it means, your theology is probably contaminated too, but on the upside we solved the theodicy problem (whatever that means now).”       

 

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

Bo, great responses despite your understated:  "Since I am a newbie to Process Thought." What is complex is not merely  theology nor philosophy, but the nature of faith.  Theology and philosophy are good companions in trying to understand faith, but hardly the culprits. Thanks Bo for helping sort through these issues, not only in this post, but in the whole project of Homebrewed Christianity.

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

I'm always leery of anything that starts out "Why I am not" (fill in the blank). What is presented as a "why this doesn't work for me" turns out to be a dualistic diatribe condemning (fill in the blank), not just why they are not a (fill in the blank). There's no inquiry going on, just reformulations in the light of the author's preconceptions.


I once happened upon a blog post "Why I will never do contemplative prayer," which could have also had the subtitle "Why I choose to remain a close-minded fundamentalist." Of course there's numerous versions of this tactic relating to Emergent Christianity.

DouglasHagler
DouglasHagler

This is the only compelling criticism, to me: 


"Tenth, process theology is so esoteric as to be impossible for most people to understand. It uses conventional Christian language but means something so different that only people steeped in process philosophy could possibly guess at its meaning."


This is much more than your example, Bo, of the new terminology for ordering coffee. Those words have a one-to-one correlation with everyday experience of sense-objects, and they do not require what you describe as a 'new operating system.' I don't agree that PT is impossible for most people to understand, but I do agree that it is impossible for most people to understand without a great deal of work and some of that new operating system you talk about. I mean, I'm not going on a limb to say I'm a reasonably smart person, and I have a lifelong interest in religion and philosophy, and periodically PT comes off to me as jargony nonsense. I realize that is likely because I have not put in the work to understand it better, I'm just pointing out that it's a lot of work we're talking about - much more than learning new words for "coffee."

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

I don't have much at stake in this battle (though I am very unsympathetic with process theism), but I don't think the suggestion that creation ex nihilo is a late philosophical greek accretion holds water. You say 


"Read church history. No Jewish person, including Jesus,  would have believed ex nihilo until two centuries after Christ. It is a greco-roman reading imported and imposed on the Jewish text."


This is false. You should read your apocrypha 2 Maccabees 7:28


So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. 


No doubt this becomes more developed in the early church, but this text seems to imply that the idea was in development within Jewish circles prior to the NT. 


Of course, the doctrine was the theological means of differentiating Christianity from emanationist plotinian neoplatonism and other philosophical schools who believe in the eternality of the world with God. You suggest that process philosophy is needed because the prior philosophical framework of ancient christianity was outdated. But to the extent that process theism rescinds on the specifically Christian novelty of creation ex nihilo as a radical divergence from plato/aristotle/ neoplatonism, it would seem that process thought is the more outdated option. So you are begging a lot of questions in this argument. You are going to have to read your Augustine more carefully here and notice why the doctrine comes about, namely as a way to reject specific entailments of his current philosophical environment. 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@troy_vanderhule @BoSanders

I think I am beginning to see a big underlying issue here.

The use of a spectrum as an attempt to locate PT is fine, I think, and I would label PT as a philosophical theology, very much in close approximation to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Theology. Now that's not to say PT is not "biblical" in the sense that it's ideas cannot be found in and supported by scripture and tradition, they certainly can be.

But here's the rub, Troy: I think, in their aim to be "biblical" Protestants become weary of anything openly employing a systematic use of metaphysics, especially Neo-Reformed types (even though, ironically, they are actually using metaphysics the whole time). John Cobb says it well:

"Theologians who claim the heritage of the Reformation often interpret the Bible through the classical creeds and later theological developments. Their understanding of God and of incarnation is often informed by traditional ways of thinking that are heavily influenced by Greek thought. They sometimes read Anselmian views of the atonement back into biblical texts. The insistence that they are not philosophical often makes them more resistant to criticism of their philosophical assumptions."

People should understand this (especially Evangelicals): philosophy and theology are like an old married couple and they aren't getting divorced anytime soon. (See Tony Jones great post on this: http://goo.gl/pCytTE)


As for the comparison to Mormonism (gotta admit, a new one or me), I'm with Clayton about drawing lines in the sand: we shouldn't do it. We should take Jesus' words to heart and know those who follow him by their fruits. Postmodernism has shown us that we must accept value relativism, but that doesn't mean we don't put stakes in the ground. The question then becomes: Where are we putting our stakes?

 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@troy_vanderhule   I understand that the crowd here feels that Olsen was a little dismissive or didn't fully engage with PT in a way that gave it a fair shake.  

- I think that it clear.  The bigger problem, however, was that he said A) folks who think they are process are not really B) Process folks can’t be christian. 

That is the real contention. 


Which also seems to reinforce the feeling here that evangelical theologians are simply uncritical and reactionary.  I don't necessarily disagree.  

- I’m not sure that IS what people said. I know plenty of Evangelicals who are critical and not reactionary.  I went To George Fox EVANGELICAL Seminary. I am ordained evangelical. I’m not sure I would agree with you here.  Most people were commenting on Olson specifically. 


However, even with an uncritical and reactionary approach I think there were some valid points made about PT as a whole.  

- I would totally agree. I have no problem with that. 


And Bo's responses didn't seem to address those points as much as dismiss them with the notion that PT just needed to be better understood.  

- Are you sure that you are reading me right? I took his points line-by-line and contested the points I thought he was erroneous on. 


It seems to me the issue at hand is where PT fits on the theology spectrum. 

- Philip Clayton would agree with you. 


 Olsen seemed to argue that it wasn't on the biblical spectrum, and Bo's seemed to argue, not that it was on the biblical spectrum, but rather, that the biblical spectrum needs to be redefined. 

- I am saying that it IS on the Biblical spectrum and that that HIS spectrum is too small. Sorry if I was not clear about this. 


And that's where the rub seems to occur: PT seems to spend a lot of time re-defining and retro-fitting its God-talk into a loosely-defined -and somewhat perpetually being re-defined- "biblical" context.

- Ummm kind of ... you may be missing the inherent and intrinsic critique of Process thought which is that ‘truth’ or something is not a once and for all settled issue but because of the nature of the ongoing and expanding reality of experience/history/revelation/what is know ... that the very nature of the theological endeavor is expanding and evolving. 


 (I believe that's what Olsen meant by PT being "esoteric").  

- No. Olson’s point about being esoteric was about it’s popularity. Not it’s viability. 

So probably what I don't understand is why PT doesn't doesn't embrace Olsen's critique, which is this: PT wants to be a theology, but it doesn't want to be a biblical theology.

- No no no no. You are way off in the bifurcation. That is not what is happening at all. Sorry. 


 I would think PT would be fine with that assessment.  Unless PT wants the legitimacy of being a biblical theology, as long as "biblical" is completely defined to mean something that much more reflects modern ideologies.  

- Whoa. now you are doubling back on yourself. I would say biblical as in faithful to the scriptural account. Modern is very different than ‘biblical‘. Your terms are getting confused. 


It reminds me of discussing theology with Mormons, who will strongly argue that they are Christians, they believe in Jesus, and they believe in the bible.  However, Christian, Jesus, and bible have all been radically redefined to a point where they don't mean Christian, they mean Mormon, and I simply need to change all my definitions and I would understand.  

- I will have to take your word for that ;) 


At some point all the theological words mean something or they mean nothing.

- Right. SO do you want to go back and clarify your Biblical and Modern wordings? 


  I don't even mind if all of PT's definitions are the correct definitions.  But one of the things about an open-ended theology is not that it wants to redefine everything, but rather that it never wants anything to really be defined.  Because definitions are close-minded and reactionary. 

- Alright... now I am seeing where you are getting turned around. Process means thing by the words that it uses. It is not a free-for-all. It is just that an evolutionary and expanding historical understanding gets that words and concepts need to be both revisited and revised on occasion. It’s not that that nothing means anything. 


It seems to me that PT lives in the space of reducing Christianity to symbols ("Salvation", "Christ", "heaven", "God", "nature", etc) and then being unable to actualize those symbols into an objective, real, or actionable meaning.  

- You seem like a smart person. Would you be willing to read the Process chapter in vol. 2 of Modern Christian Thought (the twentieth century)?  It is not written by a PT person so I think it would be a fair request.  I don’t know who you learned Process from but I don’t wonder if they did not negatively re-present it to you. 


The symbols will always be subjective, and never able to escape personal prejudices and/or environmental conditioning (or, of course, willful capitulation to modern philosophies). And ultimately these symbols become only good for bumper stickers. 
And I think this happens just as much in evangelical or mainline theologies.   

- Ya. I’m sure that is true ... but I just want to say again that I am not sure you accurately getting what Process is saying.  


I will look forward to hearing back from you.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@dccramer Hey thanks for the link!   That was interesting.  I'll have to mull that over a little more.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@CindyBourgeois If Whitehead has given us anything in Process it permission to innovate with words!   You seem to have a gift for it.


and the omnipotence thing ... roger olson came back to it this morning and had to reinforce it - so i think that you are right in your observation.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Jason Mnrqz Thanks! I am somewhat encouraged actually by both the response here and with some emails that I have been getting. Sometimes a thing like Olson's post can give your opportunity to clarify things that would not have come out in a different format - like if I wrote a post from scratch.   -Bo 

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@Jez at unhappyhippy

"Do we sometimes claim too much about what we can know, and even more about what the other can't know?"  Good grief, if that isn't true.


I think Bo has set the standard here, both presenting his concerns with Olsen, and respecting those who object, like BrandonMorgon2, with great sensitivity.


The purpose of PT and RT is not to blow up, or do a drive-by-shooting of those who have a confessional theology (as if the alternative is non-confessional), but to add depth and dimension.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Matthew McCracken So I came back and re-read your comment here are Olson's post of clarification this morning.  You should take a bow or pat yourself on the back.  You nailed it.  


I'm impressed.  I am also discouraged. I grew up evangelical. I very much view myself as capable of teaching at an evangelical school should the opportunity present itself.  Then I read Olson and ... I wonder if Baylor/Texas is just an extreme example of the 'condensing' or if it emblematic and I am being overly idealistic.    

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

I should also have added, following the Cobb quote, that:

JC's quote challenges what we actually import into Olson's, "In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good." The actual content of these can only be worked out a posteriori. Who doesn't want God to be "great" and "good"? But what the fuck do they even mean? Those words – if they are even the best words; why not "weak" and "subversive"? – are not, for the Christian, their own a priori starting point – that would be, as Cobb says, the actual life of Christ (for me, being all radical etc. the God's-actual-presence bit doesn't matter so much, but I gather for some Christians that it does. Haha).

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@troy_vanderhule Troy - take a step back. Olson constructed a post and its content. I simply replied line to line from him.  My post would have been very different if I was constructing it from scratch. 


2) the angst you are sensing is from the comment section on that original post - not the post itself. 


3) I'm not being evasive. I stopped reading at 'evasive'. You only get 3 strikes (let alone before you start bullet points)  


Feel free to switch to decaf and try again. There is no way I can cover everything in a line-by-line response. It was already at 1,900 words 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@wayneschroeder It is my pleasure and I thank you for the kind affirmation. 

As you know,  this will not the last response-post to this so I felt no need to cover everything - so thank you for getting that.   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Brother Corey That is an excellent point. Starting in the negative is by necessity going to contribute to a certain tone and texture. 


I always attempt to begin in a constructive manner but it is the nature of deconstructive posts to take on that flavor. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@DouglasHagler DUH :)  I was being cheeky.  I was using a benign example. 

BUt if you want a more specific set then look at when people join denominational expression of church. 

You can not become Lutheran, Episcopal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Catholic, charismatic, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox , non-denominational  any other from without learning new words. 


Sanctification, liturgy, vestry, sacrament, diocese, cruciform, stole, christen, laity ... it just goes on and on.  

SO the learning new words and concept thing is not a big deal. That is my point. 


We do the same thing when we go seminary: soteriology, annotation, attribution, attestation, primary source, ontology, Turabian. 


All I am saying is that it is not prohibitive. People do this all time when it A) benefits them (barista) and B) they enjoy it/ feel it is necessary.   


If you talk to someone in the military, medical or legal fields ... it is ubiquitous - then it come to religion and OOOHHHHHH   NOOOOOOOO the average person in the pew has to understand EVERYthing.  


Does that help?   -Bo   

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

we have already :p  they were good. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 BRANDON MORGAN!!!   We have not heard from you in so long!  


Well friend, you had a good point (as usual) but over-ran your coverage (unfortunately as usual) 


You bring an amazing point to the table with the 2 Maccabees find - that was a wonderful addition!  and had you left it there, it would have been SO welcomed. 


But then you proceed to extrapolate that single point into an over-arching condescension that betrays .. no belies your true voice :)   We have been through this before. 


anyway. I appreciate that you have moved the ex nihilo notion up into the inter-testimental period by this singular find - but in the end the fantastic idea still remains a 2nd century novelty - no matter why Augustine did this or that. 


Here is the thing: in Olson's post (and you know him right - or studied with him or something? - so you are not exactly removed ...) that was ONE of 20 points that I engaged. So not that much hinges on this ex nihilo thing anyway in the big picture. 

Jez at unhappyhippy
Jez at unhappyhippy

@BrandonMorgan2 I'm a Massive fan of the "Of course" in this sentence of yours:
"Of course, the doctrine was the theological means of differentiating Christianity from emanationist plotinian neoplatonism"
 

Magnificent!

troy_vanderhule
troy_vanderhule

@Jesse Turri@troy_vanderhule@BoSanders 

Hi Jesse, thanks for the thoughts.  And overall I agree that too many people don't understand their own metaphysics, assumptions, or theology.  


I'll have to think about the "line drawing" idea.  On the surface I'd agree with it, but it seems like it can become self-serving in a discussion like this.  Because, again, all theologies and metaphysics have lines somewhere.  So whether it's a few lines or a lot of lines, ultimately a line has to be drawn or a definition set.  

And the lines or definitions need to avoid being arbitrary, I suppose, if you're worried about any kind of integrity or reason.  (Which many people aren't worried about.  They primarily have emotional beliefs systems.)    

 

So I'd further agree that a fruit-based system is more important than a line-based system.  However, I can only imagine what PT fruit would be defined as?  Tolerance, peace, and love?  Truth, freedom, and equality?  

I'd be very interested in hearing more about this from a PT perspective.  From what I can discern about PT as a theology/ philosophy/ metaphysics it seems like a very involved system for a very generic outcome/fruit.  


Can't you just take the shortcut and be a "good person"?  

So at the end of the day how would you know your fruit isn't just self-justifying reflection of the prevailing ideologies around you?  So ultimately what I don't understand is that PT has positioned itself is the critical rejection of an uncritical orthodoxy...by accepting (uncritically) the modern ideologies around it.     

 

I appreciate your thoughts, this is where I'm trying to sort PT out..

Thanks.

troy_vanderhule
troy_vanderhule

@BoSanders@troy_vanderhule


Hi Bo, thanks for the reply. Somehow I managed to screw up this reply box, so I may have half a response that surfaces somewhere, sometime.

But in the meantime, I will read the PT chapter in Modern Christian Thought sometime over Xmas break.  

To your response, I'll accept that I need some better grounding in PT.  But that's also part of my struggle: the whole progressive revelation thing keeps everything a moving target. Almost by design.  

Perhaps to clarify my discussion of modern vs biblical language it would be better stated from my viewpoint as this: PT seems to have crafted a theology/ philosophy/ metaphysics that is critical of orthodoxy and traditional theologies, but surprising uncritical of modern ideologies. So, (per my response to Jesse below), how do you know if you’ve developed a good theology or just adapted a theology to the secular ideologies you’re immersed in?

Thanks, maybe the PT chapter in Modern Christian Thought will clear this up.

 

troy_vanderhule
troy_vanderhule

@BoSanders@troy_vanderhuleHi Bo, thanks for the response.  I will read the Modern Christian Thought over Xmas break.  

Probably one of the things I'm trying to figure out here is how PT views itself as a theology.  I understand that a lot of theology is an interpretive event, and that most people (and entire movements) don't understand their own theology.  Most people either inherit a theology or are reacting to the theology they inherited.   Not a lot of people sort it out and develop a consistent theology that adheres to something larger than what they want it to say.

That being said, I think most theologies (like Calvinism, evangelicalism, many orthodox strands) find the main tenets they .    

Jez at unhappyhippy
Jez at unhappyhippy

@BoSanders@troy_vanderhuleSorry to interrupt - just to comment that this dialogue is extremely helpful for someone like me, with no background or schooling in PT. Friendly clarification and exploration of perspectives and definitions and misconceptions is helping to slot some things into place.

So thanks to you, and I guess ultimately thanks to Olson for kickstarting the dialogue.


Dialogue is very productive.No surprise if you take the Biblical truth that God created with words and speech, and we're made in His image.

dccramer
dccramer

@BoSanders @Matthew McCracken


Be careful not to paint "Baylor/Texas" with too broad of brushstrokes, please. (And I'll promise not to do the same of "Claremont/California"!) For one, the Religion Department, where Brandon and I are housed, is a completely separate entity from Truett Theological Seminary, where Olson is housed. Truett primarily trains aspiring baptist ministers (with exceptions such as Brandon who jumped over to the PhD program), while the Religion Department trains aspiring theologians from across the spectrum: baptists, Anglicans, Anabaptists (like myself), Presbyterians, Methodists, and all varieties of theological and ecclesial muts. For another, those in the Religion Department are in no way associated with "Texas" or whatever it's supposedly "emblematic" of. We have folks here from all across the US and Canada (including California!) as well as some international students. It's true that the Religion Department is committed to catholic orthodoxy, broadly construed, but it would be an outlandish mis-characterization to associate it with evangelicalism--especially the kind you and I grew up with. Thanks!

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

@BoSanders Ha. I'll be sure to take a bow, definitely. I didn't read the original on his site, but skimmed his qualification post. On the whole it's pretty depressing – too much "Orthodoxy" and pre-established language games chat and rehashing. At some point, fidelity to reiterating the Creeds etc. is giving way to fidelity to all that you have made them mean. I guess he's happy with that.

The little I check in on the Evangelical ghetto, via Pete Enns say, tends to leave me scared for others who even think of putting up with it. It's really 1984-style stuff: i.e. "Orthodoxy is unconscious." I'd feel bad to suggest you might be idealistic, but that's what I'd run with.

cammoblammo
cammoblammo

@BoSanders Get Olsen AND Phillip Clayton on the podcast. 


Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea, apart from the unresolved question of the Pannenberg compilation. I got the feeling from the comments that he hasn't read Clayton's 'Predicament of Belief'---he said a few things about Clayton's theology that don't quite square with what I remember of the book.

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@BoSanders @BrandonMorgan2


Sorry for the absence but school keeps me busy. Do I get some points for showing up to the claremont aar reception? 


I am good friends with Olson, but I won't say we often agree (though we do about PT). I certainly don't always agree with his rhetoric but his new book lays out a more balanced view of PT. Nevertheless, the existence of scorched earth rhetoric does not entail falsity, as you sometimes seem to assume about Olson's take here. I imagine I can quote some Cobb critiques of Nicea that would be highly offensive but I imagine not any less convincing for you. 


I'll have to credit my wife who is a NT phd student for pointing out the Maccabees text for me. It shows some complexity that I thought your strange dismissal of "novelty" due to its second century roots seemed to imply. I was simply taking for granted your apparent assumption that theological novelty about creation ex nihilo was somehow paramount to a faulty accretion, in which case the Maccabees text would have placed the implication of the doctrine much farther back than you seem to have assumed and thus would not necessarily need to appear as alien to Jewish theological development. The irony here though seems to rest in the fact that you do not think philosophical influences are paramount to negative alien accretions because, well, then PT would fail such a criteria through and through. Even if it were the case that creation ex nihilo came completely from greek philosophy (which is absolutely false by the way...no greek philosopher held such a view), that would not discredit it as a logical outworking of Christian theological development. Presuming that it would in your critique seems to beg the question of what counts as negative theological development. If you think any development after the NT canon is bad or if you think you can neatly differentiate between "Jewish" elements and "greek" elements in the intertestamental and NT eras so as to distinguish "true religion" from "false accretion" then, again, these are just methodological questions that you are begging. 


I respond to this point (recognizing there are other points you raise) because it seems to me the topic that gets all the press (because a TON of what Christians say about God hinge on it, contrary to what you may think) and one that I think always concludes with fundamental misconceptions about Christianity's relationship to ancient philosophy and Judaism (read Boyarin on this). You cannot hold at the same time the claim that  "It is a greco-roman reading imported and imposed on the Jewish text" AND  "all of Christian theology is both in concert with and based on some set of philosophical frameworks" without implying a criterion of how to judge which philosophical imports are positively inferred from Christian theological development and which are not. If you hope to suggest that Christianity is always in concert with and at some moments fundamentally based on philosophical commitments, then why would the idea that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo was imported two centuries after Jesus (or any time after Jesus) count as a criticism? (Did Jesus believe in Whitehead? No. But that does not matter does it?) It doesn't seem to count because what is required by such a critique is an argument about why the importation and development of a doctrine (any doctrine ) somehow disconfigures what Christian theology fundamentally claims about God. That is a different argument that you did not make which require criteria you did not implement. There is no avoiding this by calling me condescending. If we care enough about whether or not what we say about God is true, then we aught to take these kinds of concerns into account. 


To be honest, the most compelling issue to me is not the ex nihilo issue, but the difference between metaphysical versus ordinary theological discourse. This relates to the esoteric concern. Someone posted a brilliant response which questioned your comparison of PT to learning coffee and how that does not mesh with your claim about downloading a whole new theological OS. This concern, I think, is the most troubling because it places PT into close proximity with a set of ailments that other academic theological discourses suffer, namely the sense in which to truly understand Christianity's comportment to the world, one has to be educated into an immense metaphysical system which externally polices what Christians mean by what they say. There is a place for semantic investigation and growth in Christian discourse (this is what I think creation ex nihilo is), but this should not arrive unnaturally from the outside, as if what we ordinarily say and mean are at all points in need of supplementation by the imposition of a complete metaphysical overhaul. Christian language is not in such dire straits so as to need this kind of help. Even if we were, that would be proof that we would not know we were. The same goes for Radical Orthodoxy, Nouvelle Theologie, Analytic Theology, Radical Theology, Right Wing Hegelianism and any other purely academic theological exercise that attempts to clarify the difficulties of Christian speech through theorizing its correspondence with a universal theory of everything. Theology does not have special keys to unlock special doors. PT often comes off as such a key, as if my mother can not possibly know what she means by saying "God is Love" unless she also believes that God is dipolar or ontologically dependent on "the world" (whatever we mean by that). She cannot possibly know what she means when she says "God created everything" or "Jesus will return as he said he would" unless she can be schooled into the metaphysical reordering of Christian language that PT offers. If it is true that Christian language needs our help to this degree...that our concepts are at every point misguided, then we are in deeper shit than PT can get us out of. The fact is, my mom knows what she means by those things--she knows how to use those phrases--without the academic exercise of PT. I would risk suggesting that "making" her words mean all the things PT says she must mean by them would amount to a colonization of her everyday speech by philosophical presumption. Paraphrasing Stanley Cavell (someone every theologian should read), by assuming that our knowledge of what we say is fundamentally indexed to metaphysical problems in need of complete metaphysical overhaul, theologians forget how practical a problem ordinary language often is and how amazing it is that we can communicate at all. There is no end to the difficulty of Christian talk and by suggesting that so many metaphysical questions are answered by PT, one risks avoiding the truly ordinary (dare I say practical) difficulty of talking at all. I cannot help but feel analogous to the response of someone I love dying with the claim that God planned it that way. (Would it help to say then that God cannot plan?) The problem is not that that is not the right theological answer, but that that is not why I asked you why this person died. I wanted my pain to be acknowledged and all i got was metaphysics...avoidance. 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@troy_vanderhule@Jesse Turri@BoSanders  

Troy,

Thanks for the reply.

You say:
"all theologies and metaphysics have lines somewhere."

That's why we need a theology and a metaphysic that's generous and ever "evolving!"

You say:
"I can only imagine what PT fruit would be defined as?"

I dunno, I'm definitely not the judge of this. The Fruits of the Spirit might be a good place to start: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Do process people exhibit these things? Sure. Do Mormons? I'm sure many do.

I guess the question I had to ask myself is this: does my worldview/metaphysic allow for growth and change? Does it allow for new perspectives, new concerns, and new values to be generated? Does it allow for greater, deeper levels of beauty, truth and goodness to be realized by allowing me to analyze, tease apart and include the healthy while, at the same time, transcending the pathological?

PT allows this (for me).

You say:
"Can't you just take the shortcut and be a "good person"? "

Of course we can, and I would have if it wasn't for the rigorousness of PT. Again, as we've already established, we've all got a metaphysic. If I wasn't nonviolent Jesus follower with anarchic tendencies who is into process thought, I'd be a hardcore Marxist materialist looking to bring about a violent revolution (as Tripp would say), or maybe a Buddhist.


You say:
"So ultimately what I don't understand is that PT has positioned itself is the critical rejection of an uncritical orthodoxy...by accepting (uncritically) the modern ideologies around it."  

I would phrase this a bit differently: PT has positioned itself as the critical rejection of an uncritical orthodoxy…by examining the modern ideologies around it, critiquing them, and then innovating endlessly, all while at the same time including the healthy stuff that has come before.

dccramer
dccramer

@castaway5555 @dccramer @BoSanders @Matthew McCracken 

"
training for pastors differs radically than training for scholarship … in one, faith seeks understanding; in the other, faith closes its eyes."


Ha, you don't specify which is which here. Seems it could go either way sometimes.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2@BoSanders  

Brandon, I think some of your arguments are beginning to make sense to me. Sorry it took so long! For while there, trying to read your comments was like trying to read a Dr. Bronner soap label :)   (jk) 

I think you're right, though, we have different ways of seeing/understanding these traditions/philosophies/theologies. Again, I'm not an expert on…well anything really, but you seem to be pretty confident in your understandings of both classical theistic Christian theology and process panentheism. So I'll just present my laypeson understandings here for ya.

You say (regarding self-actualization):
"If you go all the way with it and suggest that the world is a part of God's nature, the world as God's body etc., then it seems like we are not our bodies. We are not separate from God, which is the nod to the tyrannical I made. It's God's body...so this puts the whole notion of the self in question it seems to me..."

There are a lot of presuppositions here, I think, about God and about the nature of humans and about how the universe works. Again, it's both: we are separate from God (autonomous individuals), but yet we are part of the Divine Existence--the same way I mentioned the observer and the observed are entangled in quantum mechanics. Cobb here on "fee-will" might be helpful to you: http://processandfaith.org/writings/ask-dr-cobb/2006-05/free-will

As for the "notion of the self" you speak of, this gets into the full conceptual shift that is required for PT (the different OS Bo talks about). Human experiences are not experiences of an underlying self. They constitute the self. Buddhists talk about pratitya samutpada, which is often translated “dependent origination.” The experience is the integration of the whole world. The important part for Christians, which Cobb (via Whitehead) points out, is that there is not just one way in which the integration can occur. The past does not decide which possible path will be taken. This is decided only in the occurrence itself. God presents possibilities, but the actual occasion of experience (the person) makes the decision and can only come into being through that decision. This is a simple (and obviously inadequate) explanation of prehension and concrescence, as I understand them.

Creation. I would disagree with you here and want to affirm that PT's conception of creativity is indeed unique among popular Christian theology (but not unique in the sense that it can't be/isn't found in scripture or tradition). Whitehead says, “It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.” You've have rightly pointed out that in PT, God is not the only creator--God is a co-creator with us. I think your fear of God being precariously linked to creation in PT is a misplaced one, however. As far as I understand it, PT and traditional theism agree here. To quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philo:

"God's existence is everlasting, but the existence of any particular creature is not. Nevertheless, the creatures, being lesser creators, create something in God, if only the knowledge of their own activity. For process theism, the activity of the creatures makes no difference to God's existence, only to God's experience of them." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/process-theism/#GodCre)

Science. My comment about PT adapting to scientific understandings was simply meant to point out that science matters to me (as it does to most people in the industrialized world). All theology that I've encountered in my life (again, I'm just going on my own experience here) doesn't necessarily take science into account when making truth claims. For instance, science could very well shed light on what (if anything) existed before the singularity and the big bang. Another example would be supernatural miracles. Yes, in light of scientific understandings, we either need a new understanding of miracles, or a new understanding of supernatural/natural. I think theology should take this kind of stuff into consideration. After all theology, according to Anselm, is faith seeking understanding. If this is so, we have to say understanding can indeed be found in scientific inquiry (among other places of course).

Anyway, I'm sure my simplistic comments don't come close to addressing your wonderful criticisms (which again, I really do appreciate--anything that makes me think can't be that bad), so I'll leave it to the learned experts to address these legitimate concerns and criticisms of PT in greater detail (which I will look forward to). 

Rock on.

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders


Thanks for this. I think your preference to an account of creation as continual is right. But this is true of Christianity more generally...the alternative is Deism (that God just gets the thing going and leaves it alone). This is not a unique feature of PT. Meaning, its not what makes a PT creation account what it is. For that, you need to push the logic to the ex nihilo question. 


I do think self-actualization is a problem with PT actually. If you go all the way with it and suggest that the world is a part of God's nature, the world as God's body etc., then it seems like we are not our bodies. We are not separate from God, which is the nod to the tyrannical I made. I have to see my body as not being me, not mine. It's God's body...so this puts the whole notion of the self in question it seems to me, but that may just be our different ways of seeing it. 


About the power issue, again it is not a unique feature of PT to claim that humans have power and agency vis-a-vis God. God's agency is the ground of human agency, but humans are rightly claimed as secondary causes, and thus having agency relative to their created status. What is unique in the PT position is to see God's agency in contradiction to human agency, thus establishing a zero-sum game in which power needs to be forfeited (like divine self-limitation...Moltmann) or conceptually forgone, like in PT. 


I won't spend more time on the ex nihilo thing, but only to say that no amount of scientific theories will help us with this. It is not something one argues to empirically. It is a doctrine of faith, and so cannot be proven or disproven or fleshed out better with scientific theories. This is not to say it cannot be argued for logically, inferentially etc. That is how it was initially argued for as a doctrine. "Given all this other stuff we say about God, this is a natural, though unprovable entailment of those statements." 


Panentheism is mostly a problem if you argue that the world is a part of God's nature...that it has always been a part of God's nature. God is not God without the world. God's being is insufficient without a world. There are version that include panentheism as a part of creation ex nihilo, which would entail a different discussion. Again, Panentheism is not a unique feature of PT. The uniqueness arises with the claim that God's own freedom in the matter goes unacknowledged...that God and the world have always been related like this by nature. This, in essence, eternalizes the world, which is how Aristotle and Plato initially saw the matter. I'm still under the impression that what we mean by love cannot be applied to that kind of relationship...one in which relation is necessarily the case. Like saying that me and my wife are metaphysically related by nature and so our relationship is so close as to constitute true love...I think most would called that fate and not love. 


So maybe you're not so PT after all. I think the EO direction is a good one, but they are not going to be different than the western tradition on the issue of creation from nothing, divine freedom from the world etc. 


I am curious about the commitment to "reliable scientific knowledge." What/Who do you have in mind here as the opposite? It seems like you are implying that non-PT theology struggles with this in certain ways (it is a rather perennial issue) that PT doesn't. If you mean Fundy's then im on your side on this one. If you mean the suggestion that incarnation, resurrection, etc are not "realistic" or do not count of reliable scientific knowledge, in which case we should update these by demythologizing them, then you definitely don't need PT for that. Any old liberalism will do (that's partly tongue in cheek...partly). 





Virgil Tikhon
Virgil Tikhon

(This is just a slight change/addition to my post.  I was in the middle of editing and it posted on me, and then wouldn't let me edit anymore.)


To add to @Jesse Turri, the divine energies are just as divine as the divine essence because the divine energies are God the same way the divine essence is God.  In other words, the EO believe the divine energies are not an extension of God, they are God.  The divine essence is what makes God, God.  The divine essence is completely unknowable in the EO opinion, and it is the only aspect of God "distinct" from the rest of creation.  The divine energies can be inadequately described as God's intimate interaction within, and through, and part (or in) of all of creation.  The EO believes the divine energies are knowable, in part because we experience them (Him) just by being, and the very being of all of creation is saturated and sustained by the divine energies (God).  So it is absolutely correct to call the EO panentheistic.    


Loving all this dialogue by the way.   

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders @Jesse Turri


Brandon, sorry if I have not been clear that all of this is being taken very seriously and will be dealt with. I'm certainly not gun shy about any of these topics of conversations.  I enjoy them very much.  All will be covered in due time ;) 


  • Love the practical stuff - but If that last part is what you wanted to know, why didn't you just ask that in the 1st place? 
  • Tripp and I are recording a TNT on this topic this week. I never intended to cover the entire issue in one post & comment section. 
  • The longer comments are, the more elaborate their winding path, the accusatory and/or condescending they are ... the longer they take to respond to. It's just the nature of the medium. 


Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2@BoSanders

First off, I'm really appreciating the dialogue here with everyone.

Brandon, thanks for all the thoughtful replies. Honestly though, I am still having trouble following you (talk about academic exercises!). But I genuinely do want to understand your criticisms better.

Since I don't really get what you're saying, I'll just respond personally.

Creation. I like the PT idea that "creation" is not a one time thing. I like it a heck of a lot. I like that PT posits an amazingly immanent God, one that is constantly bringing new entities into being and calling them into novel self-actualization. God has power, but not all the power. We're autonomous, but we're also connected. It's both.

Ex Nihilo. I could go either way on this (I like Oord's ideas, I like Keller's ideas). Not a huge deal for me. I think contemporary scientific theories may have more to offer us on this in the future, actually. Which brings me to another thing I like about PT/PP: it's committed to adapting itself to the most reliable scientific knowledge.

Panentheism. I don't see a problem here (but again, I don't quite get your argument about the tyranny that follows if God is necessarily part of  the world). Eastern Orthodox flavors of panentheism  are very similar to PT (so PT folks are not the only "Christians" who favor a God who is intimately connected with the world). In the Orthodox tradition, God has two modes of Divine Existence: divine essence and the divine energies. EO stresses that the Godhead is distinct from the world but that it is the "divine energies" that are part of creation. The crucial point, though, is that the divine energies are just as divine as is the divine essence.

Griffin points out, in relation to EO panentheism (http://www.anthonyflood.com/griffineasternorthodoxy.htm), that Harshorne's concept (via Whitehead) of God as subject (with primordial and consequent natures) and superject, get at the same issue. Namely, creatures can be "deified" without doing away with the categorical difference between creatures and God.

Anyway, it's been fun. Peace out.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@dccramer @BoSanders @Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2 I should have been more clear. Here is my line of reasoning that I should have stated in my response to Jesse 

  • It’s not like I am going to talk Brandon in to Process 
  • Tripp and I are going to record a TNT all about this topic this week. I never intended to cover everything in one post and comment section.
  •  I was merely attempting to explain to a friend why he may be having trouble following a commenter. I was not even attempting to address Brandon’s content. 

Sorry for the misperception. We will deal with content soon. 

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@BoSanders @Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2


Come on Bo. I'm not playing Jedi mind tricks here. And I have attempted to paint a picture as to why an account of creation already gets you a more relational God than process...freely and not necessarily relational, which to me makes all the difference.  Do you want to have this conversation or don't you? I assume you do not post these kinds of things so that all of your fans boys can just pat you on the back for it. These are real arguments that theologians have been having for the last 100 years and they entail real positions that process adherents need to own up to. Don't forget Bo that on most of this stuff, the burden of proof is on you to show why the rest of Christianity is just flat wrong about it...why even theologians you may admire (Moltmann, Pannenberg, etc) would very forcibly reject the claims Process makes about creation (not to mention the blanket critiques of western Christianity for the last 2000 years). who again is drawing lines in the sand here?


I never made an argument against using Whitehead to read the bible. Go for it. But just remember that there comes a point when what Christians say about God will compel you to make a distinctions between Christianity and Whitehead. To use my former analogy, Augustine was compelled to reject the conclusions of Plotinus because he had no room in his philosophy to affirms that the Word became flesh and that the liberation of the soul included the resurrection of the body. All this required the claim that what is is good, and created through a graceful and loving act by God who is the creator. Some of my critiques have suggested that swallowing process whole will force one to attenuate one's ability to say those things with sincerity, which I find potentially alienating  to Christians who believe them. No one has spent as much time and words as me in these comments in the attempt to defend the position that process is actually right about its accusations. For instance, I brought out the fact that Process reaffirms aspects of platonism that Christianity, despite its love for platonic thought, had to reject. Whitehead and Cobb agree with me here. 

"In Whitehead's approving description of Plato's thought, God's influence 'is always persuasive, and can only produce such order as is possible.'" (intro to process theology p.64. "Process theology affirms instead a doctrine of creation out of chaos (which was suggested not only by Plato but also by more OT passages...)" p. 65 "This idea, of a supreme power that is persuasive and not coercive, had been attained by Plato, waveringly, late in his life." p95. "


Now I don't agree with Cobb that creation out of nothing is coercive and I have tried to describe why I don't. But Cobb and Whitehead both seem to see process thought as returning to forms of platonism that, as I claimed, Christianity rejected, not because of what it believed about God, but because of what it believed about the world.(that is perhaps the difference btw Cobb and me).  Going back on this is going back on those particular advancements of Christian doctrine and subsuming western Christianity to a blanket critique about God and the world...that it is necessarily coercive because of its account of creation. Who is making the absolute claims here?


Perhaps the reason it has been so easy for your readers to follow you on the benefits of process is because they have been given a false picture of the alternatives that process rejects. That does not mean the alternative is perfect and not, at times complicit in violence (I'm not idealistic here). But it does mean that readers should have to attempt to reject that best cases and not caricatures. 


You're a smart guy Bo. Part of my comments have been to query whether someone so attentive to Christianity on the ground as yourself could afford what process costs...could afford alienating Christians from their words in ways I've attempted to say here. 

dccramer
dccramer

@BoSanders @Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2 

Bo,

As a lurking third party to this discussion*, I've followed Brandon's comments quite well so far and think he has laid out his objections quite clearly and has responded to the criticisms of traditional theology pretty clearly as well. I am waiting to hear some kind of similarly clear and robust response from the PT folks. So far all I've seen in response to Brandon is obfuscation and thinly veiled ad hominems. I understand y'all have some kind of history, but that doesn't absolve the need to respond to these potentially devastating criticisms. So I'm hoping that 
at some point the repeated tu quoques will give way to something more substantial. 


Peace,
David

*Full disclosure: I do not claim to be an entirely neutral third party. I'm a colleague of Brandon's at Baylor. I've learned from personal interaction with him that he's usually better read than me in my own areas of specialty or, if not, is capable of offering fairly prescient immanent criticisms. (I had to accept that before I could recognize that he's a genuinely good and even humble dude, who makes a great conversation partner and friend.) I've also had lunch from time to time with Brandon and Roger Olson and can confirm that they disagree as often as they agree (and the same could be said of myself in relation to the both of them).

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@Jesse Turri I can now not find the comment I want to respond to... Let me just say that one of the reasons that you have trouble following @BrandonMorgan2  sometimes is because he plays some fancy word games at points. 

He will set something up as absolute ( tyrannical, platonic, etc) then argue against it - all the while neglecting to address how his position accounts for the same short-coming. 

I don't say this to be mean (Brandon is a tough guy so even I was  being critical he can handle it) but just that I have been keeping an eye on his comments (and thank you for those Brandon) and noticed a pattern. 

Permit me to just clarify one thing: the criticism of insisting the Bible be beholden to the philosophical work of one man in the 20th century. That gets the order wrong. 

Remember 2 things: a) Whitehead had a BIble. b) His philosophy was a natural approach in order to more closely align to creation, experience and reality, distancing from the rampant empiricism of his day. 

To then circle back around and say that this is ironically beholden to the very same thing the scriptures were against all while neglecting the assimilation and accommodation of that very thing throughout church history ... it is a fancy dance word trick :)  That may explain why it can be tough to follow. 

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Jesse Turri


I recognize the appeal (gives us a way to argue for connectedness). But we must be aware of the entailments of this mode of argument, not only the ones I mentioned about attaining what amounts to a simulacrum of relation, but also about what is at stake in the claim that the world is not somehow distinct from God as a part of its nature. Its as if we already bought into the "deadness" of the world--that there is nothing about it that is wonderful or amazing or cohesive or living--such that to posit God's nature as necessarily one with the world will give us a way to say that creation is good. Again, this is ironic, because the doctrine of creation is meant to affirm just that...that creation is good...but in a way that references its own integrity as good. The reason I think it is a philosophical exercise that is ultimately alienating is that is belies the very many ordinary ways we are related to and separate from each other. If you already fail to recognize those ordinary ways in which our lives gather and distinguish themselves by the concepts we use and the language we maintain as human creatures, then positing an account of God as metaphysically one with the world is not going to fix your problem. It will turn the practical difficulties of human speech and life into a metaphysical problem about God. It comes off as a way of dodging the responsibility we have in maintaining human relations and instrumentalizing a doctrine of God in order to do it.


So this also makes me troubled by the claim the we are not separate...that the world is not in any real way an other to God. I cannot think of anything more tyrannical. Of course, PT solves the implied tyranny of God's oneness with the world by saying God cannot really do anything with it or in it, but that simply betrays an underlying recognition of what such an account could entail...that the world is simply an epiphenomenon of God. It would seem that in trying to affirm the connectedness of being and the grace of the world, one sacrifices the sense in which the world is present to us as world...as something in which we discover ourselves and our attunment with others. This I think is what PT wants, but in its theoretical flailings in order to achieve it, the conclusion it hoped to gain is obscured by metaphysics...again, the world is bought at the price of avoiding its separateness from God and thus God's freedom from (and therefore for) the world. 


So

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@austinroberts13 @BrandonMorgan2


Thanks for this. The Maccabees reference was not meant to argue for a fully formed account of the doctrine during the NT or pre-NT period, but simply to show that the recognition of the need for such a doctrine was not foreign to Judaism or Christianity...that the questions to which the doctrine responds are natural ones for Judaism and Christianity (and for that matter Islam) to raise. They are not reducible to accommodation to a totally foreign philosophical commitment, which was Bo's reason for discounting it (ironically, as I also pointed out).


For me, it is not a problem for doctrines to come about post-biblically (most of them have). But this is not to say that their development is somehow foreign to the conversations surrounding what Christians said in the first century. Creation ex nihilo is a natural way of going on given monotheism. 

austinroberts13
austinroberts13

@BrandonMorgan2


I really appreciate your comments on this post but wanted to respond to your use of 2 Maccabees 7:28 in favor of creatio ex nihilo.  In Gerhard May's excellent book "Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of Creation Out of Nothing In Early Christian Thought," he translates the passage as speaking of creation out of "nonbeing." However, both Xenophon in the 4th century BCE and Philo in the 1st century CE also used the word nonbeing without affirming creation out of nothing.  The former said that parents bring forth their "children from nonbeing" without literally meaning absolutely nothing while the latter spoke of God creating "out of nonbeing" but explicitly affirmed that God created out of a preexistent matter alongside God.  May concludes that speaking of creating something out of nonbeing was once a common way of generally speaking about the creation of something that came forth that did not previously exist.  He also argues that creation out of nothing is foreign to the NT as well and arose in response to Marcion's dualism, sometime in the second half of the 2nd century CE.  Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria both assumed the biblical and philosophical basis (via Plato) for creation out of unformed chaos.  If May is correct, as I think he is, creatio ex nihilo is decisively post-biblical.  Interestingly, May is a Christian who still affirms the doctrine on other grounds, much like my former professor Philip Clayton, who is very sympathetic with process theology. 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

Brandon,

Thanks for the reply. I wasn't being tongue and cheek. Like I said, I'm an autodidact and a struggling dilettante. I'm honestly trying to learn from you.

That being said, I am having difficulty following you. I don't necessarily know where you're coming from, theologically.

Question: is your big hang up that in traditional PT God must be part of creation, and not separate from it? The whole Panentheist thing? (I'll assume this is part of it)

I really like your case for ex nihilo. I like the metaphor of God as mother, birthing a world that doesn't have to exist. Very poetic.

Tom Oord (who has strong process leanings) in his book "Nature of Love," doesn't seem to think God necessarily has to be part of creation, but Oord also says God necessarily does create out of love and because of love. Of course, even Calvinists will say God became part of the world in Jesus.

I admit though, I like the idea that God is necessarily part of creation. When I say relationally is built into process thought, what I mean that the fundamental elements of the universe are relationships, i.e. no entity, no woman, no man is an island. Every time we move, or think, we disturb the whole universe (like the Jewel Net of Indra). We effect each other. We're not separate from each other, we're connected, we're related. This all fits well with the quantum mechanical view that the observer and the observed are entangled into one, even while they possess unique personal selves.

Anyway, I'm still losing you on the part about PT not being "open." This sounds like a really valid criticism, I would like to understand it better. You'll have to dumb it down a little for me I think. I was in remedial math.

Thanks for the chat, man.

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@BrandonMorgan2 @wayneschroeder @Jesse Turri @BoSanders @Matthew McCracken

" (a perennial problem with Christian theology as a whole I suppose.) "  Thanks for that. For me, rather than seeking "freedom from orthodoxy," I'm looking for "freedom of othodoxy," in other words how best to value that which is orthodox or purely between God and I, and between God and you.


Apparently your well-walked journey with PT didn't go too well, which I can certainly respect. Catherine Malabou has centered her philosophy on Plasticity as a metaphor for how she sees reality. She means plasticity not only as neuroplasticy, the ability of the human brain to create new neural pathways, but also plasticity in the sense of the plastic which has the power to blow up as with C4. I think theology/philosophy/faith all have this dual aspect as flip sides of the same coin. My experience with PT and RT are that they help me develop new pathways that increase my faith, and blow up pathways that destroy my faith.  I am certainly not interested in blowing up any one else's pathways, and I commend you for the pathway you have obviously chosen--With all respect, Wayne

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@wayneschroeder @BrandonMorgan2 @Jesse Turri @BoSanders @Matthew McCracken


So far I've only professed a belief in creation from nothing, which most every Christian group affirms...save PT and maybe one or two others. I'm not sure how you could come to believe those same things about all of Christianity through history, but if you only read Process Theists' take on their opponents (everyone else?), then I can imagine you might get an attenuated version of some of the more convincing accounts of creation. In some ways this is the problem with descriptions from non-adherents (and thus why Olson's descriptions are perhaps untrustworthy to many PT folks...for relevant reasons) . I wouldn't be able to claim anything negative about PT if I had not tried it on for so long and drank deep of Cobb, Keller et al. (The same goes for "radical" theology).  No doubt, its attraction to me was its cavalier approach to our Christian theological heritage, giving off the impression of "freedom from orthodoxy" and all that came with it (not a bad thing sometimes. Aquinas was accused of the same thing in his own day). But this, I think, is also its weakness. It emphasizes too greatly the constructive aspect of theology and forgets to be adequately self-critical or effectively responsive to criticism (a perennial problem with Christian theology as a whole I suppose.) 

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders @Matthew McCracken


"I'd be interested to hear about which things you think Christians tend to say about God that hinge on a correct understanding of creation ex nihilo. I guess one of those things could be making sure God remains the unmoved, all-powerful, patriarchal, alpha male, right? ;)"


I will assume this is tongue in cheek. Otherwise I'll have to assume that you just haven't ever read a theological account of creation. (I want to give you more credit than this.) I wont be able to respond thoroughly to this (im sorry) because my semester is coming to a busy head, but I think the doctrine has nothing to do with underwriting divine power. The reason the doctrine is important (and remember it is a doctrine of faith and not something proven or observable...it is not a scientific account to which an alternative physics could then respond to and refute) has less to do with the power of God than it does with the claim that all of reality arrives and continues to be as a fundamental and primary act of gratuitous grace. We did not have to be because at one point we were not. The reason we are is as an outflow of divine trinitarian erotic love. This is why God's eroticism is different than ours. While ours responds to the grace of the being of others, God's inner-trinitarian eroticism creates as a form of grace which grounds those beings to which we respond to in love.  The alternative would be to say that the relationship between God and the world is necessary, in which case the world is a fundamentally necessary thing, unopen to a primary act of creative grace. This is why PT cannot have an account of an independent trinity, because it cannot think of God as sufficiently erotically loving without also positing a necessary world to which that love must, by nature correspond. So the simple question is, is that what we call erotic love...a response to a relationship that is necessarily the case? No it is not. Love does not have to be, which is why it is grounded in God's life, whose relationship to us is a divine bestowal of the love which God in Godself is. That is why the comparison to birth is helpful. We do not have to be anymore than all of creation does. That is what furnishes the metaphor of God as mother...as one who births a world otherwise not having to exist. And that world is birthed as "other"...as a form of existence with its own integrity and wholeness who participates in the naming of itself(think of Adam naming the animals here...giving them identity). Contrary to what you seem to assume about creation ex nihilo as somehow primarily an intonation of some divine alpha male (a description every theologian worth reading would be just as offended by as you), creation is birthed...it is pure divine overflow of a God whose trinitarian life is sufficient to itself and whose love is perpetually perfect relation. I cannot think of a more beautiful way of saying that everything that is is grace... not susceptible to an ontologically primordial necessity. 


So this is why I think the openness of PT is a false openness. It posits an account of evolutionary change already radically determined by an account of necessity regarding both God and the world which bespeaks the kind of Plotinian account of being that Christianity attempted to distance itself from...because the world amounted to fate, which is a world in which love as self-gift cannot rightly exist. So who in the end is more open here? Why can I not say, as scripture does, that Christ was raised from the dead as a firstfruit of how the world is coming to be? Why can I not say the God will one day be "all in all"? Because this is an account of finality? This is not true. If God's life is eternal, then our final participation in God is a continual engagement of eternal erotic response to God's initiating act of the graceful bestowal of being in creation. We can love God because God first loved us...which means created our very being as love. This is why our love of God is true...we cannot love that to which we necessarily must be related. Relationality cannot be "built in" by philosophy anymore than true political unity can be "built in" by tyranny. To "build in" relation necessarily is to forgo true relation...it is the simulacrum of relation just like tyranny is the simulacrum of political unity. 


You find this kind of description all over the place in the ancient fathers. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, but most other more recent theologians. "Jesus manifests a creator who works in, not against, our limits, our mortality: the creator who, as the one who calls being forth from nothing, gives without dominating." Rowan Williams 



I can't imagine why else Christianity would be worth holding onto if its most compelling and interesting parts (creation, incarnation, redemption) must be attenuated so fully by a philosophy so utterly foreign to it. There are so many things I cannot sincerely say as a Christian in Process that makes me doubt why anyone would want to still be a Christian if what it has apparently become requires this kind of overall. Because I do not think Christianity suffers from the kind of "totalitarian" temptations any more than other religious or political commitments, it would seem that PT is just an academic exercise not directly arising out of the worshiping community's needs. This is most certainly true of the history of PT, though some denominational affiliates have tried to take process to church.  I think that will eventually fail, mostly because it is so constricting on what Christian speech is allowed to mean. It is forced to mean something so foreign to what it has ordinarily meant for Christian believers...most certainly the first Christian believers. 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2I'm generally interested in your criticism here. 


I think I understand your fear when you say: "a framework that develops a foregrounded theoretical articulation of being to which our Christian language responds" is in danger of not being open.  


I think that's why I like process philosophy so much though: it has change and relationality built right in. 


Whitehead says it best: "There remains the final reflection, how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly."


And for the record, I'm one of those people Olson's talking about--a non-acedemic who barely made it through high school, and on his way out of the Christian faith. I didn't fully understand PT--let alone liked to think very much/rigorously--but liked it because of how it creatively treated theodicy. Because PT engages philosophy and science, as well as other religions, I'm  able to seek truth in places that were off limits to me as a Christian before.


Peace.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders


Brandon,

I agree with Bo, you have a deep understanding and give a thorough engagement. Good comments.

Creation ex Nihilo. I'd be interested to hear about which things you think Christians tend to say about God that hinge on a correct understanding of creation ex nihilo. I guess one of those things could be making sure God remains the unmoved, all-powerful, patriarchal, alpha male, right? ;)

Anyway, just like theoretical physicists, process thinkers don't necessarily agree on this stuff, as evidenced here: 

http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/05/25/the-creatio-ex-nihilio-debate/

Me, I'll stick with the participatory eroticism of Elohim’s creative persuasiveness (Keller), over the monotonotheistic god (Nietzsche) of ex nihilo.

As for the OS analogy, I think it works. Someone doesn't have to know how their OS works in order to check their email. Similarly, we don't have to understand quantum physics in order to appreciate the benefits of lasers. We could even say things like 'lasers are light' and sort of know what we mean by saying that. But if we ever want to get a deeper understanding--a more fuller, clearer picture--well, there is always more to learn, isn't there?

(Side note, @Matthew McCracken billiantly points out the hilarious irony in Olson's post that, although he states process is "esoteric," he does a pretty good job of summing up PT for his audience.)  

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@wayneschroeder @BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders


I suppose we see these discourses in very different ways, I disagree that they are not about a "what" but about a "how", If that were the case, they would not continue to survive in the purely academic ways that they do. They are thought experiments and, as i suggested, potentially alienating ones, which is not greatly alleviated by suggesting, as you do, that they may help in a crisis of faith. I would guess any true crisis of faith would find a lecture on these theological systems a failure to acknowledge what faith and its crisis entail...that is what I meant to describe above. If PT and RT are animated only by existential crisis (much less the bland need for "openness"), then they are not worthy to be called theology. Since i don't agree with you about not needing PT unless such a crisis was present, I do think they are worthy to be called "theology" and I do think their practitioners are worthy of the title "theologian", which entails granting them much more credit then assuming that their work is only necessary if something about my faith is unhinged. I don't think they would suggest that the pragmatism you've implied here is what animates their discourse. 


Im not an evangelical so I am not concerned about "opening" up that discourse. The being said, the methodological strictures of both PT and radical theology feel to me to be the confining ones. Frameworks that explicate, as PT does, a foregrounded theoretical articulation of being to which our Christian language responds is destined to be a policing discourse and not an open one. RT bears a similarly universal account of being, whose temporal instantiation necessitates its own denial and death...left wing hegelianism in its most brutal form. 

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders


Brandon: Until Bo can respond,  What PT and radical theology has to offer to evangelical confessional theology is humility and therefore openness and intensification of true faith. 


It is not about the "What" so much as about the "How." The openness of PT and radical theology is merely attempting to open up theology to a more realistic faith which is thus more robust, more of what we are here for. 


Perhaps you could call PT or radical theology a more practical or pragmatic approach to faith.  Your Mom would have no need of PT unless she had a problem with faith, and then it might come in handy/pragmatic, though it would not have to be in PT language, just meaningful in faith and thus in reality. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders Let me just say 3 quick things before I go to bed:


1) I will approach all future interactions as if we would be good friends should we ever have the fortune to be in the same room. I have been told by several people to give you the benefit of the doubt and ignore any online bravado because you are a really good guy. I see that in this comment and want to acknowledge your deep heart. 


2) in these 1,200 words (keep in mind that original was 1,900) you have shown a deep understanding and thorough engagement with the content. I don't want to lose that. I LOVE your response and very much look forward to responding in time and in kind to this rigorous and thoughtful address. 


3) I know pain. I know it personally. I have also experienced it vicariously in 17 years of pastoral ministry. There is no issue to which I give greater and sincere concern than the type of matters that you have raised here. 


All in all I want to say thank you - I am with you - I look forward to future conversation with you.  

My deepest appreciation  -Bo 

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