Sunday, July 08, 2018

Is the Process Theology Version of God Impersonal?

Image result for Schubert M Ogden
Schubert M, Ogden, I took two
classes with him at Perkins (SMU). 

Process Theology is the most popular  God concept alternative that is an alternative to classical theism. I have always rejected process theology because I was under the impression that the God of process is impersonal. I should have realized that is a too easy dismissal. One day after class spoke Dr, Schubert Ogden  (a  major process theologian) he dismissed that criticism  as "that's just jargon for the journals." We did not really have tie to go into so now I am taking time.

Process theology came into currency as a label in the 1950s. It was first used in relation to certain theologies at University of Chicago. These theologies had been influenced by Alfred North Whitehead. The phrase can also be used specifically of theology based upon the works of Whitehead and Hartshorne, (Schubert M. Ogden was at Chicago but he is really more into Hartshorne). It is not generally known but the term can  also apply to a boarder scene, John Cobb,a major figures in process the guy who coined the term in relation  to the Chicago school "Process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasize event, occurrence, or becoming over against substance. In this sense theology influenced by Hegel is process theology just as much as that influenced by Whitehead. This use of the term calls attention to affinities between these otherwise quite different traditions." [1] In this context I've seen Tailard de Chardin called a process theologian but this is a  sense mot people don't think of or use,In this paper I will be largely speaking of the other two senses as though they are one, I will ignore broader sense.

In a nutshell process theology says that God is bipolar, the one poll being "potential" the other being "concrete." In the potential poll God is unchanging. In the consequent or concrete poll God is in process and changes with creation. This is going to be a very simplistic account because it can get really complex fast. In process theology God is not omnipotent God is not "impassable" bit changes with and can be affected by the world. Process theology views the world  not as enduring permanence but reality itself is made of serially ordered experiences or experiential  events.[2]

Process theology makes such a big thing of  God's "passability" (God feels the pain can be affected by the world) it's hard to see why they would see God as impersonal. [3] Criticisms of process as having an impersonal view of God are often made by  evangelicals and are not backed up. Here is an example of a Dallas theological Seminary student who now teaches mathematics,  Josh Wilkerson:

Pre-existence: Process theology regards the Logos as an impersonal principle. It is what gives the appearance of stability in a world that remains in constant state of flux, or constant state of becoming. Logos is defined as the totality of the divine aims. Since this Whiteheadian Logos is not a discrete person within the Godhead, it hardly can be reconciled with the historic Christian explication of the eternal pre-existence of the second person of the Trinity (Isa 9:6; John 1:1-2; Rev 21:6).[4]
He extends the same criticism to incarnatiomn:
Incarnation: The process understanding of the incarnation is also unacceptable. Process theology views the Logos being immanent as the Christ in the whole of creation. The incarnation connotes that the impersonal Logos (also defined as the power for creative transformation – what that means exactly I am not entirely sure) was simply maximally immanent (not uniquely immanent) and operative in the man Jesus of Nazareth. This denies that the incarnation involves the eternal second person of the Godhead entering space and time and becoming man for us and for our salvation (John 1:1, 14; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:6-8; 1 Tim 3:16).....
Two Natures: The process claim that two natures cannot relate except by displacement prompts Whiteheadians to insist that the orthodox belief in Jesus’ deity necessarily vitiates his authentic humanity.... [5]
The problem here is this is just an ideological response. First of all Neither Whitehead nor Hartshorne were Christian. Whitehead was a do-it-you-selfer and Hartshorne was a Unitarian. No reason to expect either of them to have been orthodox on the Trinity. That is not news, one is not obligated to follow them on that path just to be a process theologian, since Ogden was a Methodist,(they are Trainitarian) and major process theologians such as Norman Pittinger and John.Cobb belonged to Trinitarian affiliations.. Pittinger (1905-1997) was Anglican priest and the major popularizer of process in Christian circles.Cobb was protestant but has led the way in Christian pluralism seeking dialogue with  other faiths. These theologians as individual thinkers are not  necessarily  Triamitarin, even through they have affiliations that are Trinitariamn and their theologies don't rule that out. There are expressly Trinitarian theologies.[6][7][8]

Secondly, being non Trinitariamn does not equate to God being impersonal. One could fail to be Trainitarian and still hold to a personal view of God. Notice that Wilkerson's criticisms were based upon Whithead,I think there is a dichotomy between Whitehead and Hartshorne in this regard. The former is said to see God as impersonal and the  latter aw God as a person,thus "personal." For one thing  "human selfhood is better understood in Whitehead’s system as a continuously developing series of events or actual occasions, rather than in terms of a substantive soul."[9] Even on this score I wold not say that his view reduces God to impersonal force.He just recognized that God is so  far beyond us. The clue is the dipolar nature of God. In the potential Pol God is unchanging but that; not actual. Cob descries his view in ways that imply both,

God is a society of occasion but to understand that one must understand Whithead's ontology,

The consciousness which is individual in us, is universal in him: the love which is partial in us is all-embracing in him. Apart from him there could be no world, because there could be no adjustment of individuality. His purpose is always embodied in the particular ideals relevant to the actual state of the world. Thus all attainment is immortal in that it fashions the actual ideals which are God in the world as it is now. Every act leaves the world with a deeper or a fainter impress of God. He then passes into his next relation to the world with enlarged, or diminished, presentation of ideal values.[10][11]
"Whitehead explicitly sets aside the personalist perspective in Religion in the Making, considering its
claims beyond the possibility of being established."[12]Whitehead's occasionalism is too complex to go into at this point. Hartshorne, minus Trinity, does accept God as a person. Thus, one would think,as personal in some sense. "It has been noted from time to time in the literature that the thought of Charles Hartshorne has a number of affinities with personalism, and this is a special case of the relationship between process and personalist thought."[13] "Hartshome’s solution ascribes to God personality and transcendence, which is contrary to pantheism. Contrary to Thomism, Hartshome acknowledges that God does depend on the world because the world is his body. Hartshome also says that we have positive insight into what God is. In this aspect Hartshome is more optimistic than Aquinas."[14]


[1] John Cobb, "Process Theology as Political Theology," Religion Online [no date listed]
(access 7/7/18)

[2]Philip A. Pecorino, "6. Process Theology and Philosophy," 6. problem of Evil. Philosophy of religion. Online Textbook, class notes, copyright Philip A. Pecorino,  2001
(access 7/7/18)
Philip A. Pecorino: prof Philosophy, Queensborough Community College, CUNY.

[3] Ibid

[4]Josh Wilkerson  (access 7/7/18)
Josh Wilkerson, Th.M. high honors, Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, May 2010 Ph.D. Mathematics Education, Texas State University, May 2017 (San Marcos)
Orthodox Christians cannot accept such a heretical, docetic Christology (that is the belief that Jesus only appeared to be human). The full humanity of Christ must be maintained (Matt 13:55; John 1:14, 19:5; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 2:14).The process belief that Jesus was simply the supreme example of responding to God’s calling moves in the other direction and seems to deny his complete deity. At best the process view can be considered on par with the heresies of Adoptionism (the spirit or christ comes upon the human Jesus and adopts him as a carrier vessel) and Arianism (Jesus the Son was the first thing created).,,,
In a 1977 paper entitled, “The Historical Shaping of the Foundations of Mathematics,” Dr. Robert Brabenec (professor of mathematics at Wheaton College) introduced the beginnings of the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences and the motivation behind their conferences. He outlined the major areas of mathematical study in which Christian thought simply must have an influence 
[5] Ibid

[6] Joseph A. Bracken "Trinitarian Theology from a Process Perspective," Homebrew Christianity (Nov 3, 2009)
(access 7/7/18)

"Dr. Joseph A. Bracken, S.J. is a retired Xavier University professor of theology, and author of many books on philosophical theology, including God: Three Who are One, which we discuss this week. I got a chance to read it for the Transforming Theology Theo-Blogger Consortium last spring."

[7] Joseph A. Bracken, "Process Philosophy and Trinitarian Theology," Religion Online, no date listed
(access 7/7/18)

[8] TJ Humphrey,"Relational Personhood, Process Theology and The Trinitarian Monarchia," Conciliar Post:Meaningful Dialogue Access Christian Traditins, (July, 2016)
(access 7/7/18)

[9] Amos Young, "Personal Selfhood(?) and Human Experience imn Whithead's Philosophy of Organism," Paideia. no date.  (access 7/7/18) 
Young is at Bethany College.
[10]Alfred North Whitehead, "Preface," Religion in the Making,Lowell Lectrues1926, Corner Stone Books, profit site, Original Publisher Cambridge University press 1926.  

(access 7/7/18) 

Corner Stone non profit "dedicated to providing free access to some of the very best inspirational/self-improvement books ever written. Featuring the full texts of over 100 complete books available to read free online!"

[11] Mathew T. Segall, "Occasionalism in Whitehead and Harman," Footnote2Plato (Nov 28,2011)
(access 7/7/18) 

Adjunct Lecturer in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies

[12]Randall E. Auxier
(access 7/7/18) 

Auxier is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute of Liberal Arts at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma City, 


[14] Ibid
(access 7/7/18) 


Joe Hinman said...

come on and say something

7th Stooge said...

TO be personal, I think you have to be able to experience emotions, and to really experience emotions, you have to be able to experience time as the future being open and uncertain, the past as fixed, etc. So as far as I'm concerned, for God to be personal, he'd have to have an aspect or pole of his nature that experiences time in this way. this isn;t to say that God is time-bound completely. there could be a timeless aspect as well. But for God to really suffer with us, it seems he'd have to really enter into time as we do, even if this sense of time doesn;t map onto the deepest physical truths, phenomenologically I think it would still be real.

Joe Hinman said...

that is an excellent post Jim. I agree with you completely. I think it is possible to meet the concerns of process without giving up the things that process is noted for abandoning,such as Transcendence, perfection, Trinity, so on.

Certainly a Christian mystical view understands God as octave and not static, I will be wright on that very soon.
I find process attractive but it has some real problems to get past Such as occasionalism.

7th Stooge said...

If you mean Whitehead when you say "occasionalism," process thought doesn't have to be coming out of Whitehead.

Joe Hinman said...

Hartshorne assumes Whithead's Occasionalism.

7th Stooge said...

- That's funny, because I said basically the same thing when you were arguing for the "timelessness" of God, and you vehemently disagreed with me when I said it.

I'm not arguing for the position that God cannot be timeless, or not bound by temporal categories. I'm saying he can't be entirely timeless if he is personal and can interact with creation.

Joe Hinman said...

that's how I took your comments Jim, not an anti-God argument but argument that God must be immanent well as transcendent.

im-skeptical said...

that's how I took your comments Jim, not an anti-God argument but argument that God must be immanent well as transcendent.

- You see, the problem seems to be that you don't actually listen to what I say. You just assume it is all the opposite of what you believe. So I could say anything at all, and you would automatically disagree with it. In fact, that's exactly what we see.

Joe Hinman said...

first of all yu are still manned,Secondly Jim understood it the same way I was agreeing with him.

7th Stooge said...

Hartshorne assumes Whithead's Occasionalism.

But does all of process thought come out of Whitehead and/or Hartshorne?