Tony Jones said, “It seems to me contradiction to hold that God gets what God wants, and that human beings have near-absolute freedom to love or not love God. Except that process theology may be a way around that (Tripp?).” Well Tony here’s my attempt to summarize Whitehead in 800 words….the short answer is classical Process thought would agree with you and probably identify Rob Bell closer to Open Theism (the biblical based cousin to Process thought) since they preserve Creation Out of Nothing, see God’s power as ‘self-limited’ verses naturally interdependent with the world, and have no problem permitting divine power to ensure eschatological consummation. Hopefully this helps.
First a quote from Whitehead himself….
The sheer force of things lies in the intermediate physical process: this is the energy of physical production. God’s role is not the combat of productive force with productive force, of destructive force with destructive force; it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. He does not create the world, he saves it: or, more accurately, he is he poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.1 – Alfred North Whitehead
For Whitehead nothing just exists, everything grows together. Everything grows out of datum and the datum themselves had their own process of becoming; so for Whitehead “it belongs to the nature of a ‘being’ that it is a potential for every becoming” (22). God plays an essential role in the world’s becoming by being the “actual entity imposing its own unchanged consistency of character on every phase” so that “a definite result is emergent” from the process.2 In Process and Reality he came to describe God as having two natures. The primordial nature, which orders the eternal objects (think Platonic forms) for the attainment of value in the temporal world, and the consequent nature, which receives the temporal world into God. God’s di-polarity enables God to feel, know, preserve, and save the world. As John Cobb puts it, God saves the world by transforming the world.3
In Process and Reality Whitehead recognized the necessity of God’s presence for becoming when he said, “apart from the intervention of God, there could be nothing new in the world, and no order in the world. The course of creation would be a dead level of ineffectiveness, with all balance and intensity progressively excluded by the cross currents of incompatibility” (247). As both the ordering ground for the becoming of the world and the freedom enabling ground for its creatures, God is a constitutive part of each actual occasion. So in addition to the experience of the past actual world, each becoming includes an experience of God. It is important to note that this experience of God is essential for a recognizable temporal existence, but it is not require a subjective awareness. Each moment of becoming is experiencing God, even if the occasion is not conscious of it.
The experience of God in the process of becoming has at least three elements that reveal the fabric of Whitehead’s alternative dynamic of power. The three are the gift of possibilities, the lure for feeling, and the love of the world. It is the past that is actual for Whitehead and yet the past alone is not capable of sustaining life or bringing about novelty. In God the possibilities relevant for the becoming of each new moment are experienced. These possibilities are a gift because they make freedom possible. God is not then uninvested in what possibility becomes actualized through the creature’s freedom, but in the confrontation with a range of possibilities God is advocating for the better possibilities. Whitehead calls God “the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire” which means God’s primordial nature participates in the initial phase of the subjective aim of each occasion (344). After an event has occurred it is experienced by God’s consequent nature in such a way that, “what is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in heaven passes back into the world” (351). At this point one can see that, for Whitehead, God’s power is not something separate from God’s love for the world. The ‘fellow-sufferer who understands’ is found reaching “toward the world both as it is and as it can be.”4
The brief description of the presence and power of God in Whitehead would not be complete if one facet was not made abundantly clear; for Whitehead the persuasive nature of God’s power is not chosen but natural. The nature of reality is such that God has never been nor could have been coercive. God did not chose to limit Godself prior to creation, but “God and the World stand over against each other, expressing the final metaphysical truth that appetitive vision and physical enjoyment have equal claim to priority in creation” (Process and Reality, 348). To say this does not make God less responsive and involved in the World and its history. On the contrary, “apart from him there could be no world, because there could be no adjustment of individuality” (Religion in the Making, 158). For Whitehead, the world is saved from banality and repetition because God is always investing Godself in the world and becoming vulnerable to the diminishment of value as well as the intensification of its expression.
1. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality corrected ed. by Griffin and Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 346.
2. Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: Fordham University Press, 1926), 94.
3. John Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the thought of Alfred North Whitehead 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 102.
4. Marjorie Suchocki, The End of Evil (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 152. (Here’s a free PDF of Marjorie intro-ing Process theology)