What is Process Theology?


I'm continuing to blog on various publications for a project Tripp Fuller is in on.

This pamphet is entitled: WHAT IS PROCESS THEOLOGY?

A Conversation with Marjorie

by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki

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In a nutshell, what is Process Theology?

"Process theologies are relational ways of thinking about the dynamism of life and faith. Process-relational theologians integrate implications of a thoroughly interdependent universe into how we live and epxress our faith. We are convinced that everything is dynamically interconnected; that everything matters; that everything has an effect." (p.2)

How do Scripture and tradition function in Process Theology?

"To study the history of any faith tradition is to see how that faith adapts to the common sense of its particular time and place. Tradition is like a flowing river that continuously carves out new paths... tradition is much richer than any single period! It is constantly moving, and we who are a part of that tradition are responsible for knowing how it has developed, and for contributing to its contemporary flow." (p.3)

"The same is true of biblical understanding. The text are given, but how they are interpreted varies enormously from age to age... how we draw from Scripture is also an adventure. Scriptural understanding blends studies of the actual texts together with the history of the way those texts have been interpreted in the tradition. Scripture may look like a steady state sort of thing, but it is actually a dynamic story of varying interpretations and applications throughout history." (p.4)

What is Process Philosophy?
"Process is relational philosophy." In the past, "most philosphers talked as if the ideal thing should be something solid that doesn't depend on anything beyond itself... in the 20th Century we began to see that the ability to relate to one another wasn't just a happenstance of the way things are, but is the core of the way things are. To exist is to be in relation. Does God exist? If you say yes, then God must also be in relation. To whom? To everyone and everything!"

Some More Process Food For Thought

  • In relational categories of process thought, God creates with the world.

  • God creates through persuasive power, rather than coercive power.

  • There are three powers of creation: power of the past (what has been), power of God (power of the future) and the power of self (our own actions and abilities).

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I like the idea of God using persuasive, vs. coercive, power. The analogy is used of Wind and Sun fighting over which one could remove the coat of the man "down there," walking on the road. The wind blows and blows, but the man just clings more tightly to his jacket. Then the sun simply beamed warm, gentle rays down on the man until he was forced to remove his coat. The greater force was persuasive, not coercive.

In the 2nd question (p.3) above, suggests that the history of faith is a history of faith adapting to the "common sense of the time." Really? Faith adapting to common sense? Isn't faith, and the traditions it often brings with it, REGULARLY countercultural? Isn't the wisdom of God foolishness to humankind? (1 Corinthians 1) To suggest that all human faith is doing is chasing common sense seems - to me - to be a discredit and even a little patronizing. As people of faith, we simply validate ourselves by aligning with popular notions of the time...

Yes, yes, yes, I know if you read this blog and think I (and the rest of "pomoEmergianity") are just a bunch of culture-worshipping hipsters, then you're probably saying: "aha! Aha! There it is: he admits the danger of cultural alignment."

Well, yes and no. I believe that the underlying movement in faith-evolution involves a convergence between Holy Spirit and humankind. Humankind usually gets it wrong - a lot wrong - but the Holy Spirit is persistent enough to keep pushing us toward a greater redemptive truth.

The problem with accusing emerging strains of Christianity of being culturally-biased or culturally-compromised is that it assumes a slightly older model of Christianity isn't culturally-biased or compromised.

I don't think "common sense" is a bad thing. I think it's helpful, and often it's absolutely true. But common sense isn't everything. Neither is intuition, or "gut-feeling," or emotion/spiritual experience, or even historical trends. It's an... aha... an interdependent confluence of all these factors (and more) that reveals inklings of God's truth. Truth for today. Truth-basis for tomorrow.

The beauty of Process Theology is that it doesn't exist in isolation - relational, spiritual or ideological.

1 comment:

James said...

I love the persuasive vs coercive distinction. I think that the evangelical church does a poor job of talking about how God uses persuasion more than coercion. I remember growing up and hearing "you better do what God says or you may be swallowed by a whale" and rarely did I hear about the people that had a relationship with God that relationship persuaded him or her to seek after God. I think that an overwhelming amount of the biblical narrative consists of God persuading people through relationship and in that respect Process Theology is right on the money.

The problem that develops for me is that, if who God becomes is dependent on what humanity does, doesn't that make God kind of the unwitting evolutionary outcome of the whims of humanity? It takes the actions of humanity and elevates them to the role of creator. In the end this becomes not about a relational God but a God who exists to be formed by humanity. I think that this can be a convenient way to think, it certainly makes me feel pretty important but I don't think that I can get behind it.

"The beauty of Process Theology is that it doesn't exist in isolation" is that really possible? I think that most theological frameworks would strive to say that they do not exist in isolation but aren't frameworks in and of themselves isolating? The framework tends to frame or dictate the way spirituality, ideology or relationships happen thereby causing creating isolation with those whose ideologies differ.

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