According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids

The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids

In the past week, I’ve read several studies that are scary to me… it’s the scary truth about what’s hurting our kids. We all know that what our kids hear becomes their inner voice, but it’s hard to control what they hear from others, isn’t it?

CNN recently interviewed Dr Jean Twenge, author of iGen and her interview really worried me – because I saw the truth that I would be facing in just a few short years. Dr. Twenge started doing research 25 years ago on generational differences, but when 2011 -2012 hit, she saw something that would scared her to the core. This is the year when those having iPhones went over the 50% mark.

The results of that should scare all of us.
  • This was the year that more kids started to say that they felt “sad, hopeless, useless… that they couldn’t do anything right (depression).”
  • They felt left-out and lonely.
  • There is a 50% increase in clinical level depression between 2011-2015.
  • Suicide rate goes up.
  • Substantial increase in suicide rate.
  • Before I give you anymore, I want you to look at these graphs and look at how the correlate to the iPhones being released.

They aren’t hanging out with friends nearly as much.

They aren’t dating as much.

They are more likely to feel lonely.

They are getting less sleep.

She goes onto say that we are on the worst mental health crisis in decades. You can get her book, iGen, with my Amazon affiliate link here, to read the rest of her findings.

Why is this happening? Why are kids more depressed because of electronics?

Think about when we were in school – we didn’t know every time that there was a get-together that we weren’t invited to and we didn’t see pictures of each outing, game, or party.

We didn’t care what we looked like when we were hanging out with friends, because we were the only ones that were there- I can remember sitting around with my best friends in our sweatpants, just laughing – I didn’t wear makeup or care if I had my hair fixed just right, because the worry of a phone or camera wasn’t there.

Think about bullies. When we left the school, we left them. If teasing happened, it didn’t happen at home. It didn’t happen so publicly. Everyone couldn’t see it or know what they were teasing other kids about. Now, it’s all public knowledge and anyone can join in or watch. It’s horrifying.

I can’t imagine being a tween or teenager now. Although- as the parents of children, we have to imagine it, because we have to help our children navigate it.

According to Victoria Prooday of, “There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels – our children... Researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:

She goes on to say that “Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood:
  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

Instead, children are being served with:
  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments”

How true… and how sad.

You can read the rest of her story at

I couldn’t agree more. According to, “Despite the rise in teen depression, the study, which analyzed data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, reported that there hasn’t a corresponding increase in mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Researchers said this is an indication that there is a growing number of young people who are under-treated or not treated at all for their symptoms. ”

The article goes onto say that it’s not just teenagers, it’s young kids- in elementary school. “Counselors like Ellen Chance in Palm Beach say they see evidence that technology and online bullying are affecting kids’ mental health as young as fifth grade, particularly girls.

“I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t to come to school and they are cutting themselves and becoming severely depressed because they feel outcasted and targeted.” She says she now sees cutting incidents pretty much weekly at her elementary school, and while they vary in severity, it’s a signal that not all is right.”

So… what can we do about it?

Get back to what we did before phones (back to what our parents did when we were young)… spend time playing games with our kids.

-- Spend dinnertime talking.

-- Drop everything that you are doing when your kids get home from school to TALK to them.

-- Make dinner without having the TV on, the phone close by, or the tablet tuned into something.

-- Use any ‘car time’ to talk to our kids (maybe even by not allowing electronics in the car)

-- Have your kids do chores: Responsibilities increase their self worth. Example: if you don’t set the table, we can’t eat. If you don’t wash your clothes, you will have nothing to wear tomorrow:

“To develop a high self-esteem a person needs purpose. A key component to high self-esteem is built on how you view yourself in terms of contribution. In other words, in the child development process, chores are a big role in a kid’s self-esteem.”

-- Be sure that your child is getting enough sleep. This is a huge contributing factor.

-- Don’t keep a lot of junk food in the house. Limit junk food & replace it with fruits & vegetables. If your child is picky, they can certainly find a fruit or vegetable that they like. (I’ve taught our kids to make smoothies, too, but they have to clean up after themselves or they lose the privilege of making them… they LOVE to make them).

-- Take away electronics and tell your kids to “go play!” Don’t feel the need to always play with them. My job, as a play therapist, is to teach parents how to play with their kids to help them, so while I always think that playing with your kids is a good idea, but I also want them to play alone. I want them to learn how to keep themselves entertained.

From the time that our kids were very little, I gave them time to entertain themselves and now they are are all good about finding ways to keep themselves busy (drawing, playing, building, etc..)

- Don’t rescue your kids. Here’s a recent example that happened in our house:

I’ve started having our kids pack their own lunches (with my supervision), but yesterday one of our sons decided to wait.. .and wait… and wait. When it was down to 10 minutes before leaving, he asked me to pack it. I said no and he then asked for lunch money. I said “I think it’s upstairs in your piggy bank, if you have some in there.” His face said it all. I wasn’t going to buy him out of this. It was his responsibility.

IT is NEVER easy to teach our kids these lessons, but they serve our kids well. He quickly made himself lunch and was on his way. He learned an important life lesson about preparing himself for the day.

–Talk to your kids about why they need to come to you if something is wrong. I talk to our kids about all of this and they know that I would do anything to help them. I say it daily…

“If you are every feeling sad or left out about something and it becomes too big for you to handle easily, come to me. I want you to know that if you ever hurt yourself, you would be hurting your whole family. My happiness would go away with yours.”

Yes, it’s a lot to tell them, but it is the truth. I need them to know it. It’s not a joking matter and it’s not one to take lightly. Talk to your kids TODAY.

Make a rule with yourself that you will limit YOUR online distractions when your kids are home. Make 3:30-9:00 a no-tech time for you, the parent. (or whatever hours your kids are home). It will not only benefit your kids, but it will help you, too.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Biologos - Evolutionary Creationism vs. All Other Christian Schemes

Leafs in Decay. A Lesson for the Christian Faith where Rebirth evolves continually.

Years ago as I was working through what it meant to be a Christian while holding to Darwin's Evolutionary Science. During this time I had to accept some very hard things about my faith, my bible, and how I thought about the God I loved and adored. What I learned is that God is amazing. And wonderful. And wonderfully complex in His Creatorship.

It allowed me to find an integration with the bible I couldn't find earlier in my university training of applied mathematics, organic chemistry, and classical physics (sadly, quantum physics hadn't been embraced yet by my college; this I had to later learn and teach myself). It brought reconciliation to my faith. And it deeply changed both me and my faith.

Basically, I had to let go of the old paradigms I grew up with which weren't working anymore as my world expanded and got more complex. Old bible teachings were out of date. Old traditions were too easily toppled by poignant academic studies. But when I did let go, I found a livelier bible, an open theology no longer closed off to the world, and a God who blew my mind and no longer was trapped in the box of religious belief I had accepted and allowed to stay too long.

This, among many other fundamental discoveries, began my journey towards an open and relational faith which brought a level of integration with the world I had never imagined before. It allowed the complexity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to live-and-move amongst a world become foreign to them in my belief system. For the first time I could see God's handiwork, actions, love, and presence all around me as if the bedroom curtains had been lifted to allow the morning's strong sun into my illumined sleeping eyes.

It was beautiful.

And it brought a kind of soul-healing I dearly needed.

Which brings me to the organization of Biologos. For many years I thought I labored alone (as you can tell from the vast array of articles I had worked on under the "Science section" found along the topic list on the right). But I was not alone. Many others were hashing this adventure out with me as well. One group which was has come to be known as Biologos. Unlike myself, as I tried to make sense of the subject within a wider matrix of theological truths, Biologos was simply concentrating on the one subject of Evolutionary Creationism.

Not Theistic Evolution. That was a different theology for an older time using an out of date theological system (that of Calvinism, mostly) as I've pointed out many times in the past. But a system which would place an emphasis upon God being fully involved and present in the process of chaos and random natural selection we know as evolution. An oxymoron if ever there was one. But this I have discussed many, many times as well. That the sovereignty of God, and His decree of creational indeterminism and free will, allows for the fullest explanation of how He has worked through the Divine process of evolution.

A process always tilted towards the evolutionary creation and survival of life against the worst environmental hazards of the earth's geologic ages as they come-and-go. When the world breathed in methane air, life survived. When the deadly gas of oxygen evolved, so did biologic life as we know it today. When the seas changed in their salinity content, so did the life within them. When the sun could no longer penetrate earth's atmospheres and species died off, new life went underground and thrived in the darkness.

There was always a deep longing within evolutionary life to live, to survive, and to evolve, according to the environment it was presented. This was the wisdom of God.

After discovering Biologos it allowed me to move from the basics of the subject to the complexity of the subject. And when I do, I no longer need to re-create the wheel, but may plow ahead into what evolution was, is, and is becoming in the world of science. Especially within the context of a developing corpus of contemporary, postmodern theologies as it does the same with the church's past, present, and future traditions and belief structures.

Biologos allows me to be more hard core. Perhaps less Christian while being more fully Christian. I don't have to explain subject ideas as much any more but may leap into the pile of gathered ideas, discoveries, and known facts to make sense of them all. Or, mostly, to elucidate what these new ideas now means to an open and openly complex faith as it too evolves in its permutations and labyrinths of thoughts and ideas.

I love it. And I love the world of theological imagination as it re-embraces God in dynamic ways of fullness and meaning in a world of beliefs which too often live in lands of fear and defense. These latter outcomes was never a help to the church. Mostly, it held back the church's mission to the world which might grant a holism of spirit with a holism of living.

But a living God heals. He heals the mind, the soul, the spirit. He breathes His divine breath upon mankind and says "I AM" the ONE who evolves with you in the symmetry of creation seeking life in  its disorders and chaos. It means my life may also be chaotic and out of order but that my God of Shalom will bring me into fellowship with Him through the redemption He has provided in Christ, and in this world He has made, if we but look and imagine His grace and wisdom.

R.E. Slater
October 12, 2017

At BioLogos, we present the Evolutionary Creationism (EC) viewpoint on origins. Like all Christians, we fully affirm that God is the creator of all life—including human beings in his image. We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. We also accept the science of evolution as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.

But while we accept the scientific evidence for evolution, BioLogos emphatically rejects Evolutionism, the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discussion. Evolutionism is a kind of scientism, which holds that all of reality can in principle be explained by science. In contrast, BioLogos believes that science is limited to explaining the natural world, and that supernatural events like miracles are part of reality too.

According to Young Earth Creationism (YEC), a faithful reading of Scripture commits Christians to accepting that the earth is young, between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. YEC claims that Scripture is not compatible with the idea that humans share common ancestry with other life forms on earth, and most YEC proponents feel that evolution is a direct threat to Christianity.

According to Old Earth Creationism (OEC), the scientific evidence for the great age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and universe (13.7 billion years) is strong. This view typically maintains that the days of creation in Genesis 1 each refer to long periods of time. OEC does not accept the common ancestry of all life forms, often opting instead for a theory of progressive creation in which God miraculously created new species at key moments in the history of life.

We at BioLogos maintain that the scientific evidence from many branches of modern science would make little sense apart from common ancestry and evolution. We also believe that the cultural and theological contexts in which Scripture was written are key for determining the best interpretation of the creation accounts.

In contrast to EC, YEC, and OEC, Intelligent Design (ID) does not explicitly align itself with Christianity. It claims that the existence of an intelligent cause of the universe and of the development of life is a testable scientific hypothesis. ID arguments often point to parts of scientific theories where there is no consensus and claim that the best solution is to appeal to the direct action of an intelligent designer. At BioLogos, we believe that our intelligent God designed the universe, but we do not see scientific or biblical reasons to give up on pursuing natural explanations for how God governs natural phenomena. We believe that scientific explanations complement a robust theological understanding of God’s role as designer, creator, and sustainer of the universe.

While Christians differ on their views of the age of the earth and evolution, we all agree on the essentials of the faith: that all people have sinned and that salvation comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We agree that the God of our salvation is the same God we see in the wonders of his creation. Whether we ponder the intricacy of DNA, the beauty of a dolphin, or the vastness of the Milky Way, we can lift our hearts together in praise to the divine Artist who made it all.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Sense & Sensibility of Process Theology Combined with the Gracious Orthodoxy of Church and Liturgy

What happens when church and liturgy meet real life the way it is meant to be? When we discover fellowship, service and ministry are the bedrocks for relational enjoyment, identity and being? When community opens up to embrace the fullness of its members, their cultures, and religions? Welcome to the healing lands of process theology which imbues all things with spirit of the living God flowing through the lands of the living like air, water and light as each flows through the connectedness of creation as one symmetry underlying all as music upon the heart of God.

R.E. Slater
October 7, 2017

Wings Of Love by Marilyn Biles. Posted in Episcopal Art Blog
by C. Robin Janning on May 11, 2013

What is Missing in Process Theology
by Jay McDaniel
What I Learn from Process Theology
by Teri Daily 

* * * * * * * * *

What Is Missing in Process Theology

by Jay McDaniel, Editor of JJB

Something's missing in process theology and I've known it a long time. Teri Daily helps me put a name to it. Process theology is not orthodox enough, at least in the way that Teri Daily is orthodox. Let me back up:


For me process theology is not a metaphysical philosophy but rather a set of sensibilities: a cluster of motivating intuitions, values, and attitudes. When process theology is reduced to a mere set of ideas to which people adhere -- or worse than that, a metaphysical system that seems to answer all important questions -- it lapses into a fundamentalism of its own. I've seen it with my own eyes, a couple of times while looking into the mirror.

That's why I say that, at least for me, process theology is a set of sensibilities rather than a system; and these sensibilities can be internalized by people from different religious traditions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian, Taoist, Confucian, and Bahai, for example.

Process theology is now a multi-faith tradition. Most of us in the process community trust and hope that the sensibilities important to us will be concretized and particularized in different kinds of communities, which will add distinctive richness and wisdom of their own. As I write this I am reading an advance copy of a book called God of Becoming and Relationship by Rabbi Bradley Artson, of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, to be published by Jewish Lights Publishing, in the Fall of 2013. It will be Jewish process theology. Hindu and Buddhist and Muslim process theologies are now being developed.

Teri Daily has named many of the sensibilities that are important to me and other process thinkers of different faiths:

  • Generosity of spirit embodied in the embrace of diversity
  • Common ground for interfaith dialog
  • The call to humility
  • Playfulness and imagination as part of the spiritual journey
  • Novelty in the face of tragedy
  • The tender nature of God

These are good things about process theology. It is what draws us to process theology and to the philosophy of Whitehead.

It is noteworthy to me that only THE second one -- common ground for interfaith dialog -- implies a reference to Whitehead's philosophy as a framework for appreciating the different yet complementary forms of beauty and wisdom that can be embodied by different religious traditions.

But it seems to me that the others can well be embraced, and are embraced, by people from different religious traditions and no religious tradition. You don't really need Whitehead to be humble, or to face tragedy in a spirit of novelty, or to trust in the tender nature of God. Many orthodox Christians -- and people of other faiths and no faith as well -- were doing these things long before process theology was ever conceived. That is good news.

Moreover, even the second item Teri names -- common ground for interfaith dialog -- presupposes an attitude of welcoming interfaith dialog, which likewise need not be based on Whitehead. Whitehead's philosophy is an invitation to have a hospitable heart and open mind, but [it is] not a precondition for those qualities. This is good news, too. And this is why process theologians rightly recognize that it would be a sad world indeed, all too devoid of diversity, if everyone became a Whiteheadian. In our world there needs to be competing worldviews, many of which can elicit the sensibilities identified above from radically different and opposing points of view. Teri has it right: "Agreement is overrated."

As I see things, Whitehead's philosophy is helpful because it offers a way of affirming these and other sensibilities, showing how they are all connected. It helps with many other topics, too:

  • It helps with a dialogue between religion and science;
  • it helps in affirming the value of aesthetic as well as ethical experience;
  • it helps with appreciating the intrinsic value of all living beings, not humans alone.

Perhaps most importantly,

  • it offers a powerful alternative to mechanistic ways of thinking that emerged in the West in the seventeenth century.

It is a philosophy of organism which helps people re-claim and also advance organic ways of thinking that have been part of many cultural traditions: Middle-Eastern, South Asian, African, East Asian, and American. Nevertheless, the verbalized propositions in Whitehead's philosophy are not the heart of the matter. They are, in his own words, lures for feeling and appeals to intuition. What is important about Whitehead's philosophy are the sensibilities to which his words point and the feelings they can help evoke.

Here is the problem. We humans cannot live by sensibilities alone. We need practices and traditions, community and rituals, meditation and prayer. We need stories, too, and opportunities for service. These offer wisdom and substance to a life that cannot be provided by theology alone, much less metaphysical systems. And this is one of the many things that I myself am reminded of, when I learn from orthodoxy, Teri Daily style.

How to put this? Teri Daily often uses two words as an abbreviation for practices and traditions, communities and rituals, meditation and prayer, stories and service: Church and Liturgy. Of course she has in mind the Christian church and Christian liturgy because, after all, she is a Christian priest. But if we widen our sense of church and liturgy to include other forms of community and tradition, then my point is that most of us -- maybe even all of us -- need something like church and liturgy, something like community and practice, to become the people we probably want to be: carriers of God's love: love of other people, love of the earth, love of heaven and, yes, love of ourselves.

Buddhists tell us that wisdom and compassion are the two most important virtues. I think the sensibilities are vessels for these virtues. But how do sensibilities gain a foothold in history, or even in a local community, unless they are enlivened, enriched, and deepened by church and liturgy.

Most process theologians know this. Many belong to churches, synagogues, sanghas, and temples. Or at least book clubs and maybe bowling clubs. But their weakness -- our weakness -- is that we too often focus on worldviews or, in my case, sensibilities, at the expense of the nitty-gritty of the incarnate life. We fall into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Especially if we are Christian (but not as much if we are Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu) we fall into the bane of white, western, male-dominated Protestant Christianity [with an] an overemphasis on belief and worldviews. We dwell too much in our heads. The orthodox Christianity which Teri Daily so well represents is a healthy and wonderful antidote to head-based Christianity and, for that matter, head-based process theology.

There is something else missing in process theology, and that is a recognition that, as meaningful as the process idea of God is to many people, there's more to God than is contained in the idea. It is important to orthodox Christians not to reduce God to a being among beings who can be encapsulated within a philosophy and thus reduced to an object about which people have convictions. I will say more about this in closing, but first a further word about sensibilities.


I want to add two sensibilities that are also important to many process thinkers, and that Teri doesn't list but are quite evident in her life and also entailed in orthodox Christianity as she understands it. The first is relationality.

Many turn to process theology because it emphasizes that we humans, while delightfully different from each other, are also formed through our relationships with each other and, for that matter, with other animals and the surrounding world. We process-influenced pilgrims agree with Teri Daily; these relationships can be deeply loving. She believes that the God is the perfection of love and we do, too. She believes that this love is deeply relational and we do, too. Indeed, what she says of the Trinity we say of the universe as well. Process theology affirms the primacy of what Buddhists call inter-being and propose that even the Soul of the universe -- even God -- is formed through loving relationships with the world. This is why we also call ourselves relational theologians.

Teri Daily finds a similar perspective in the Trinity, which for her is not simply an idea that is reflected upon but, more deeply, a reality that is felt and also, in the liturgy, danced. She speaks often of a space within the Trinity in which all beings, not Christians alone and not humans alone, are held, which seems to me very much like the spacious love of God as understood in process theology.

I see with her help that the Trinity -- as felt -- is both the reality of, and an invitation for, the kind of difference-respecting yet destiny-sharing love that is important to process theology. I find myself believing very much in "the space within the Trinity" and I hope that orthodox Christianity can help me better walk within this space. I do not ask people of other paths to be Trinitarian; I know that one in whose love I want to walk, Jesus, was no Trinitarian. But I suspect that his heart was opened in a Trinitarian way and I'd like for my heart to be opened in this way, too. Still, think he must have felt the Trinity. I suspect he danced it, too, at weddings, when he beheld lilies of the field, and when he suffered little children to come unto him. I learn from Teri Daily that the Trinity is not simply something we feel, it is also something we do.


The other idea that is so important to process thinkers is creative transformation. It's the idea that we walk with God by being open to novelty, not only in times of suffering but in all times. As I read what she has written I know that she has this in mind with two of her emphases: playfulness and imagination as part of the spiritual journey and novelty in the face of tragedy.

But what strikes me about her essay, and what I find helpful and inspiring, is that she herself so vividly exemplifies the spirit of creative transformation with help from, not despite, her orthodoxy. Hear the last line of her essay: "Perhaps there will be more changes along the way, and another installment of 'an orthodox-oriented Christian encounters process theology.' I look forward to it."

She explains earlier that this hospitable approach to being changed by the voice of other people and other ideas comes, not from process theology, but from orthodox Christianity itself. Hers is not a rigid or fixed orthodoxy. It is a creative orthodoxy that nourishes her with a freedom to listen and be changed, and with a freedom, if needed, to leave orthodoxy behind in fidelity to the very God to whom orthodoxy points. I can only hope that I have the courage to be changed in just this way, to listen to orthodoxy and a range of other perspectives in an open way, and to leave process theology behind if Wisdom calls. May those of us in the process community be as receptive to creative transformation as Teri Daily is.

But she knows and we know that the deepest forms of creative transformation are not exactly mental but more holistic. Hear these words of hers:

We encounter the Holy in brief, life-changing moments that can’t be described with words, that can’t be mapped out, that can’t in and of themselves be organized into an over-arching system of thought. Such experiences often don’t lend themselves to an adequate construction of meaning, and so we need the experiences of others in order for us to make sense of our own.

A danger of having a theology that means too much to you is that you will use it to organize the moments of your life into "an over-arching system of thought.." There is a resistance in orthodox Christians of the kind she represents to fall into such systemolatry. For orthodox Christians in her tradition, the liturgy and sacraments are much more important than systems; and this freedom from dogma, this freedom from system-worship, is at the heart of creative orthodoxy. In this and in so many other ways, orthodoxy offers a prophetic word to process theologians, and it is called liturgy. Liturgy opens us up into the possibility of life-changing moments in ways that systems can never understand. It opens us up into novelty or, as process theologians like to say, creative transformation.


We process-influenced travelers speak of God as the spirit of creative transformation in the world. We say that God is not a created good but is instead the creative good. This creative good is like a third person in an otherwise binary relationship, who perpetually unsettles pre-existing habits of thought, feelings, and actions by proposing new possibilities that the first two [individuals] never thought of. But the truth is they are third persons, too. Teri Daily helps me see that three is better than two, because it opens all partners involved into [a] newness [of imagination, living and worship.]

If this newness is part of what orthodox Christians mean by threeness, then process theologians of many faiths can learn from orthodoxy. We believe in threeness and call it the spirit, the creative good. There is a space within the three that is always moving and never still, productive of novelty and surprising all parties involved, changing them from who they have been into who they can become. There's an important social lesson here. Threeness takes us beyond binary thinking into multiplicity thinking where each particular is preciously odd, preciously unique, preciously queer, because not reducible to any other or any "system of categories" we might impose upon ourselves and the world. In a certain sense threeness is a metaphor for deep and creative multiplicity, both heavenly and earthly. It makes space for differences.

We process travellers know that we cannot contain the spirit of threeness and pretend that it is an object in our minds. We know that the spirit is like the wind, blowing wherever it will. At our best we remember that the spirit flows from a mystery that can never be contained by our minds or ensconced within our systems. It is not "the primordial nature of God" or "the consequent nature of God" or any such nature that fits within a conceptual whole. The very idea of "natures" is problematic, if hardened into fixed essences in the imagination.

I suspect that one of the deepest lessons we can learn from orthodoxy is that we have been far too sure of ourselves and insufficiently humble in the presence of mystery. The more we know our unknowing, the more we can dance freely, without pretending we have all the answers, in the space of the Trinity, however understood. And then we will better understand that transcendence belongs, not only to the creative good, but also to each finite being - each person, each plant, each animal -- who forever transcends whatever worldview we might bring to the world, thanks be to the mystery of life.

Objects congeal around little specks of Cosmos. Some objects hide and protect us from this immensity.
Some objects may form points of access to this immensity. Many are both – we need them to be both.

Images above, top: Altar of St. Francis; and, bottom: Bronze Altar #7356
by David OrthWords above from Threshold Objects by David Orth.
Read more HERE. And a special thanks to the Episcopal Cafe Art Blog
for sharing: Originally posted by
C. Robin Janning on May 6, 2013

* * * * * * * * *

 What I Learn from Process Theology

by Teri Daily, Episcopal Priest

Image by Jeanelle McCall. Originally posted
by C. Robin Janning in Episcopal Art Blog,
 April 9, 2013.
When Jay McDaniel suggested that I write an article for JJB along the lines of “an orthodox-oriented Christian encounters process theology,” I was pretty much immediately onboard. But some disclosures might be in order at the outset. I am not an academic theologian; I am a parish priest. And one with a fairly limited knowledge of process thought. My experience with process theology in seminary was limited to the following three occasions: 1) a brief encounter with Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming while making an argument myself for creatio ex nihilo, 2) reading Proverbs of Ashes by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in a Feminist Theologies class, and 3) using an in-depth look at Catherine Keller’s Apocalypse Now and Then to suggest that a process understanding of eschatology might have a prophetic word to offer the Anglican Communion in the midst of conflict.

Recently, I have resumed my relationship with process theology. For the past eight months I have read JJB faithfully. I have also read Bob Mesle’s book Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead, The Handbook of Process Theology edited by Jay McDaniel and Donna Bowman, a few other books by Jay, The Metaphor Maker by Patricia Adams Farmer, and (with John B. Cobb Jr.’s Whitehead Word Book by my side) Whitehead’s Process and Reality. But that, I confess, is the sum total of my lifetime experience with process theology.

Finally, I consider myself an “orthodox” Christian who is deeply drawn to the sacraments. I say the creeds without embarrassment and without crossing my fingers behind my back, I find my life shaped by liturgical seasons and the rhythms of worship, and I accept (sometimes more easily than others) the meaningful and authoritative role of tradition in my own faith journey. That being said, I also find myself drawn to process theology—not despite, but precisely by way of, my orthodox understanding of God and my sacramental view of both religion and the world.

Let me try to make this connection—not meaning to imply that it is the only pathway from one to the other, just that it happens to be mine. For orthodox Christians, metaphysical (or analogical) transcendence—with God as source of all being and not one being among many—is the very means of intimacy with God. It allows God to be present with and in the world without competition between God and creation when it comes to agency, power, dignity, or will. By virtue of God’s transcendence, we participate in the life of God not as something separate from or reducible to our experience within the world, but as a dimension within our daily lives that is, at times, revealed unexpectedly to us.

We encounter the Holy in brief, life-changing moments that can’t be described with words, that can’t be mapped out, that can’t in and of themselves be organized into an over-arching system of thought. Such experiences often don’t lend themselves to an adequate construction of meaning, and so we need the experiences of others in order for us to make sense of our own. According to William Countryman in Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, this is where the priesthood of all humanity comes in.

My own ordination to the priesthood is really a sacrament of sorts; my presence as a priest is meant to be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” that is, in reality, the priesthood as it exists in all humanity. The priesthood we see in religion is a reminder that we are all meant to be priests to one another—to share our experiences of the Holy and to help one another make sense of them in ways that bring meaning to our lives. Countryman describes this priesthood of all humanity beautifully in this passage:

Since we are, by nature, finite beings, each of us limited by time and space, none of us will ever experience directly more than one life’s worth of God, of Truth, of Reality. What each of us comes to know are fragments of something immeasurably larger than we can grasp. My neighbor knows other fragments, which may well be the ones to make sense of my own. Therefore, I must turn to my neighbor in search of understanding, in search of the priestly ministries that can flow from that person’s experience. And my neighbor will need to turn to others, too—perhaps to me.[1]

Image by Virginia Wieringa. Originally posted by
C. Robin Janning in Episcopal Art Blog, June 16, 2013.
Those interested in process theology may well want to expand this universal priesthood to include other aspects of creation—such as animals, rivers, trees, and distant galaxies. And rightly so. But the point I want to make is this: If I believe that all creation directly participates in and experiences God, that God is much greater than any single one of us (or even all of us together) can comprehend, and that the priesthood is both sacramental and universal in nature, then I have to acknowledge that truth can be found outside my well-constructed system of beliefs and practices. In short, I have to be willing to seek and honor truth as it is found in process theology, too.

There is an irony here: It is my own understanding of what it means to be an orthodox Christian that pushes me to explore process theology, and yet the exploration itself may ultimately change the very faith that brought me here. It already has. In fact, the willingness to be changed by an encounter is the defining characteristic of true and holy hospitality. As Scott Bader-Saye writes,

"The true practice of openness to the other, of hospitality, means that “we must be ready to let our identities morph over time, allowing the stranger to become friend and in so doing change in some way how we see ourselves.”[2]

Sometimes my encounter with process theology has felt like the collision of two theological tectonic plates, resulting in a radical change in the landscape.[3] At other times this encounter has seemed more like a blowing wind, slowly changing the landscape in subtle ways. Sometimes this encounter has been priestly in nature, revealing new understandings and ways of seeing. At other times it has borne the marks of the biblical prophetic tradition, calling me back to aspects of my faith that I have neglected or forgotten. But almost always this encounter with process theology has been a source of balance and grace within my own spiritual life.

So here are just a few aspects of process theology (as I have experienced it) that have enriched my own faith:

1) Generosity of spirit embodied in the embrace of diversity – I have found in process theology a generosity of spirit, embodied in its embrace of diversity. Perhaps this is one of the strongest pulls for me. An explicit distinction between contrast and incompatibility, a desire for contrasts (even contrasts of contrasts), an understanding of beauty that requires as much difference as can be harmonized, God as lure toward greater beauty—all this presents diversity not as a threat, but as an essential element in a beautiful life. In the Church, we often understand diversity through the lens of Paul’s description of various spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ—“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). There is definitely beauty in the harmonic, cooperative nature of community, no doubt. But can’t difference be beautiful in its own right, apart from the work it makes possible? Can’t we delight in the very existence of diversity, in a harmonization that is not purely functional? Process theologians would, I think, say “yes.”

2) Common ground for interfaith dialogue – While embracing diversity certainly stirs the desire for interfaith dialogue, I’m not sure that it alone makes such dialogue possible. Perhaps process thought is so conducive to interfaith dialogue because it allows conversation from the perspective of a philosophical system rather than a particular faith narrative. Of course, it can be argued that there is an embedded narrative within all systematic thought—in process thought, it’s a story of change and permanence woven throughout time, of the ever-present promise of newness, of a Love that always remembers. But when an explicit and dearly-held narrative alone is what undergirds one’s faith, such as the incarnation and the resurrection for many Christians, a starting place and common language for interfaith dialogue can be challenging to find.

3) The call to humility – In a world where contradictory certainties in the form of “talking heads” flood every twenty-four hour news channel, I find Whitehead’s humility in the preface to Process and Reality to be a prophetic reminder for this and every time:

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.

For my own spiritual path, it is a reminder that faith and mystery go hand-in-hand, and that any absolute claim to truth is a form of idolatry.

4) Playfulness and imagination as part of the spiritual journey – Once we let go of the oppressive idea that we should or ever could grace the world with the complete knowledge of absolute Truth, playfulness and imagination quite naturally become part of our search to know God. I see it all over JJB—finding God in fudge, mashups, the self-dependence of cats, and everything in-between. Why in our culture do we always associate linear, rigid logic with truth and imagination or fantasy with falsehood? Maybe the storyline of modernity keeps us from seeing the crucial role imagination plays in the world. Maybe that’s why this statement from Whitehead in Process and Reality (Part I, Chapter 1) was, for me, a freeing revelation of sorts:

After the basis of a rational life, with a civilized language, has been laid, all productive thought has proceeded either by the poetic insight of artists, or by the imaginative elaboration of schemes of thought capable of utilization as logical premises. In some measure or other, progress is always a transcendence of what is obvious.

Image by Melissa Strickler. Originally posted
by C. Robin Janning in Episcopal Art Blog,
 June 16, 2013.
5) Novelty in the midst of tragedy – I admire process thought for its profound appreciation of novelty and hope, held in tension with its refusal to trivialize the tragic dimension of the world in which we live. It’s precisely this tension that resonates with my own understanding of the beauty of resurrection. Grace is not found in denying or trivializing the loss, suffering, and pain that are part of our story; instead, grace is found in the new life that comes through it.

6) The tender nature of God – I find the tenderness of God in process theology to be like a mother who meticulously gathers up the pain and joy of her children like pieces of glass scattered on a hard tile floor. She then creates from those shards of glass a totally new piece of art that embodies (in Whitehead’s words) “truth, beauty, and goodness.” In this work, all the sufferings, pain, joys, and triumphs are redeemed, made whole, and offered back in an act of love. To label this mother as “all-powerful” or “not all-powerful” is not something I feel compelled to do, for I can’t imagine anything more deeply powerful or salvific than a love like this.

Of course, there are other elements of process theology that have also influenced my spiritual life, and there are some that do not resonate with my own experience. Agreement is overrated. I suspect that there are as many understandings of God/Truth/Life as there are people on this planet (and maybe even beyond). At the end of the day, I trust that God is found in the journey itself and not just in the end, in the seeking and not just in the finding, in fellow travelers we encounter on the way and not just in those who have already arrived.

I am grateful to have the JJB community as companions on the way, as priests and prophets in my own spiritual journey. And I’m grateful to Jay McDaniel for a friendship of holy hospitality. Perhaps there will be more changes along the way, and another installment of “an orthodox-oriented Christian encounters process theology.” I look forward to it.

You might also enjoy these articles by Teri Daily:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Robert B. Mellert - What Is Process Theology: Chapters 11 & 12

What Is Process Theology?

Dr. Mellert is an assistant professor in the department of theological studies at the University of Dayton.

Published by Paulist Press, New York, Paramus, Toronto, 1975. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Meller writes about Whiteheadian thought, without the jargon and technical intricacies, so that the lay person might have better understanding of the thinking of the founder of process philosophy.


Few libraries had any books on Whiteheadian thought in 1947 when he died. Today libraries of all sorts have shelves laden with books trying to explain, interpret and apply his thinking, but these authors are inclined to talk to each other. The author attempts to make process thought understandable to the rest of us.

The core of process thought: Rather than a “substance theology” based on static, spatial models, process thought “switches gears” to a concern with spatial-temporal models such as change in God, Christ becoming divine and the on-going process of revelation.

Some basic Whiteheadian concepts: becoming, actual occasions, eternal objects, prehensions.

The author contrasts Whitehead’s thought with traditional religions which start with proof of God. Whitehead inverts the process, starting with the experience of religion and grasping the truth that there is more at issue in the world than the world itself.

God is constantly changing as he includes more and more reality in his consequent nature. What we do on earth makes a difference in the very reality of God.

Dr. Mellert discusses the relations both of God to the world and the world to God.

Process thought is being compatible with the presumptions of Christian faith and is friendly with Christian ideas regarding body and soul.

Jesus is unique because in his humanity he presents a more perfect model of ideal humanity than has ever existed, or will ever exist. He is divine because of the realization of that divinity within him.

The Church is a process whereby individuals come to believe in Jesus and add the weight of their belief to the furtherance of the process that is the Church. The Church is not a stable, immutable institution that has existed since the time of Jesus.

In the process perspective, each sacramental action is both created by the community and creative of the community. Concrete experiences of the past contribute positively to the present and are immanently incorporated in what the present is becoming.

The new and the old morality are both inadequate. Process thought can make important contributions to the old and new because it is both metaphysical and flexible.

Process theology as a provider of a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief. It therefore is helpful in synthesizing the diversity of interpretations of immortality.

The notion of relativity that process theology employs is discussed. All reality is inter-related in space and time, and no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 11: Immortality

The ultimate mystery of life is death. Science and philosophy can tell us a lot about life, but when the final moment of life has passed us by, they must abandon us to our faith. Death transcends the powers of reason and shrouds itself in ineffability. Despite this eternal verity, there is presently a surge of interest in death and in the speculation about what, if anything, occurs after death. Inter-disciplinary courses are being taught in colleges and numerous new books and articles are being published dealing with the topic. What makes this enterprise so fascinating is that there are no criteria for determining which opinions are right and which are wrong. Spiritualists and rationalists both contribute their evidence and compare notes, but in the final analysis the mystery always remains.

Traditionally the Church has answered this question for its faithful with its teaching on the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. At the moment of death, each soul is called to a particular judgment by God. As a consequence of the way one lived on earth, the soul is then determined for a heaven of eternal happiness with God or a hell of everlasting fire. Since the presence of God is reserved only for the worthy, imperfections and lesser evils in one’s life have to be “worked off” before the beatific vision is possible. This intermediate state of purification is a place of temporary suffering, called purgatory. Finally, for those souls never officially admitted to membership and grace in the Church, a fourth place, called limbo, allows them the fullness of natural happiness, but without the vision of God.

There is, of course, no way to dispute the Church’s teaching, nor is there any way apart from faith that it can be proved. For many theologians today, however, the doctrine is too intertwined with ancient culture, tradition and myth to be literally credible. Their recent reflections on the subject have resulted in drawing together ideas from anthropology, psychology and philosophy, as well as theology, in order to profit from new insights regarding the counsel that reason can offer to faith in clarifying the issue for the individual believer.

In the absence of indisputable evidence, the theologian too must ultimately make up his mind about an issue according to what he believes. If he is honest with himself — and hopefully most theologians are — his belief will be formed from the best evidence he can muster. But in the matter of death and immortality, none of his evidence can be verified. It is not surprising, therefore, that theologians, even within a single school of thought such as process theology, will argue a variety of positions regarding death and immortality. In fact, among process theologians such a diversity does indeed exist.

Whitehead himself was somewhat ambiguous on the subject. He does deal with death in a way that is logical and coherent in his theoretical synthesis and in a way that is open to a variety of imagery for pastoral purposes. The question of the afterlife, however, is left unresolved. For Whitehead, dying (or to use his term “perishing”) is the antithesis of emerging, and each is continually occurring in every moment in every bit of reality. Only in the constant ebb and flow of emerging and perishing is change and enrichment possible. Perishing, therefore, is just as essential to the world as emerging.

In his essay on “Immortality”1 Whitehead says that there are two abstract worlds, the “World of Value” and the “World of Activity.” Neither is explainable except in terms of the other. Value can only be explained in terms of its realization in concrete actual occasions as they emerge and perish. Thus, “value” is always experienced as “values.” Values are concrete, individual and unique contributions to future actualities. The realization of a particular moment of actuality is likewise the realization of a particular value, and this becomes part of the data for the succeeding moments of actuality. Values derived from the past are thus immanently incorporated into each emerging occasion. This is what Whitehead means by “immortality.” Nothing that is of value is ultimately lost. Apart from such immanent incorporation, nothing could be preserved, and “value” itself would have no ultimate meaning.

This understanding of value is exactly parallel to Whitehead’s notion of God. God, like every actual entity, is di-polar, reflecting both the mental and the physical, both the World of Value and the World of Activity. These two aspects in the divinity are, as we have seen, called God’s primordial and consequent natures, lust as God, if he is to be actual, must be really related to the world and allow it to be incorporated into himself, so also the World of Value, if it is to be more than pure abstraction, must be realized in the World of Activity. That is why value, in its concrete reality, is none other than the concrete elements of process. God embodies this in himself in his consequent nature, and offers it back to the world in each emerging occasion. To put it another way, the world adds activity to God and God adds value to the world.

The perishing of an actual occasion, therefore, need not be its extinction. Rather, it can be understood as a kind of switching of modes. Whereas in the emerging of an actual occasion God’s immanence is felt in the incorporation of value, in its perishing that actual occasion is felt immanently in God as a fuller realization of the divinity. In this way the occasion continues to be felt in the formation of the future. Death, then, is emphatically not a passing into nothingness. Instead, it is immanent incorporation into God, in whom each actuality is experienced everlastingly for its own uniqueness and individuality. In dying, one “gets out of the way” of the present in order to be available to the future in a new way.

Does this doctrine of immortality, which Whitehead calls “objective immortality,” correspond to the faith expectations of those who seek the reassurance of an afterlife, a place of eternal happiness, or a heaven? In some fundamental ways, at least, I think that it does. The basis for their belief is the impossibility of man’s conceiving of himself as not being. The one absolute and certain experience that endures throughout his entire life is the experience of being in the present, recalling the past, and anticipating a future. One experiences a profound continuity with oneself in space and time.

Everyone has moments of unconsciousness where his experience of the world around him is temporarily interrupted. The most common example is sleep. But one always awakes to find himself the same person he was when he slumbered. There is an experience of the continuity of the self as far back as the memory permits. To think of this continuity as being abruptly and completely terminated is almost impossible to imagine or accept. This is the reason why man so often seeks to find a place and a time for himself after his death. That place can be a paradise free from the evils and insecurities of earthly existence, or it may simply be a place in the records of history or the lives of one’s offspring. However he imagines it, it gives him some extension in time in which to maintain the continuity of self into the future.

This problem is acute in Western culture where one must reconcile death and immortality with lineal time. For lineal time, unlike cyclical time, implies an ending, termination or death, or at least a state of permanence, where time (and therefore change) is no more. Hence the common Western belief that once the final state of man has been reached, the world of activity is effectively excluded from his existence. This is just as true for those who believe that their personal extinction is permanent in death as it is for those who anticipate personal salvation in a heaven where suffering and sin are no more. In both cases, death is a permanent thing, and the forces of change are no longer relevant. The alternative to total annihilation for Western man is bare existence in an absolutely unchanging condition!

The belief of permanency after death has always been one of the difficulties of the Christian doctrine of heaven. On the one hand, Christian tradition holds that at the moment of death the eternal fate of the person is irretrievably sealed. Heaven is eternal happiness and hell is eternal punishment. In traditional thought this is necessary, because if the happiness is to be perfect, it cannot be threatened by change. Since the possibility of change is itself the cause of insecurity, perfect happiness is realizable only in the state of total security and stability. So, the Christian believes in the permanence of his final state.

But what possible meaning can be assigned to experience if it does not involve change? To experience is to take account of things outside the self and to allow them to affect the self, and this implies undergoing some change in the self. What we experience becomes a part of us. This necessarily alters the reality of the continuity that is the self, and it implies an absence of certitude about the future. Consequently, when personal experiences are admitted as part of the belief in heaven, the belief in the absolute changelessness of the afterlife is put into serious question. Thus, the dilemma. Either personal experience is retained, in which case the series of actual occasions constituting the self continues, and change is still possible, or personal experience is abandoned in favor of permanency, in which case immortality can only consist in a completed and non-experiencing self, whose existence consists in being experienced by another as an objectively immortal actuality.

The openness of Whitehead’s thought on this point permits an explanation of the religious hereafter according to either possibility, and this is why process theologians often differ among themselves without abandoning their fidelity to the process system. We will begin with an explanation of the latter possibility, since this is a more direct application of Whitehead’s own doctrine of ‘‘objective immortality.’’ Here the emphasis is on permanency. What one was during life, especially during the final moments of life, determines what one is eternally. In this interpretation, the series of actual occasions that constitutes the continuity of the self throughout one’s personal history culminates in one final occasion in which that history is synthesized. The entire continuity, but especially this final synthetic occasion in the continuity, is experienced by God and becomes a part of the data of God’s own actuality. In this way each person is immortalized everlastingly in God, retaining permanently his own uniqueness and individuality, and contributing that uniqueness as data to a fuller appreciation of value and novelty for the future. However, this interpretation does not allow for any further subjective experiences or subjective change.

One can also argue for the possibility of “subjective immortality” using the thought of Whitehead.2 In this interpretation the series of actual occasions that constitutes the continuity of the self is not interrupted or terminated by death; it only changes the environment in which it does its experiencing. The ordinary environment for the experiencing self is the body. However, there is no necessary reason why the series of actual occasions that constitutes the self cannot continue in some other non-material environment. Hence, death can be understood as the detachment of that dominant series of actual occasions we recognize as the self from the many supportive material series which constitute the human body. The new environment is the consequent nature of God, where the serial reality of the self continues to experience and to change, but without any direct attachment to the material world.

Given the Whiteheadian frame of reference, both of these interpretations are philosophically consistent within themselves, even though they may not be reconcilable with each other. Therefore, the decision which to choose in articulating one’s belief depends upon the belief itself. This can actually be a significant advantage to the process theologian. Unlike other theological questions, which can be studied and discussed at leisure, the issue of immortality often arises in the context of a sudden personal tragedy. At such moments, the theologian would like to be able to provide an immediate, clear and definitive answer to comfort the dying or the bereaved. But in fact he must embarrassingly reply that there is no certain knowledge about what happens on the other side. There is only the assurance of one’s personal faith.

Even the assurance of faith, however, must demonstrate a certain credibility. This means that it must seem reasonable to the one who believes. At this point the theologian can perhaps be of some practical help. Even while not being able to offer certitude, he can suggest reasons why the faith of the believer is plausible, whether that faith be in the literal continuance of subjective experiencing in a heaven or hell, or in some kind of objective permanence in human history. Thus, in those cases where the person does not want a reaffirmation of the traditional symbols about life after death in his particular circumstances, the appropriate theological explanation is Whitehead’s “objective immortality.” This option can be illustrated by religious statements suggesting that a goodness is never lost, that the world is permanently enriched by the past, and that God himself is magnified because of the goodness of each human person. On the other hand, process theology can also assist one who is committed to a more literal belief in the traditional teachings. Since his major concern is an anxiety about the future, he can be offered some assurances about his personal continuity within the framework of “subjective immortality.” Here some possible religious statements may — with an underlying theological consistency — suggest that when a person dies he is taken up into God for an evaluation of his life, that he will be able to experience the effect that his life had on the world, and that he will have the opportunity to enjoy the good he helped to realize.

Is this a theological cop-out? Is it honest for a theologian simply to provide a set of reasons for whatever faith-option is proffered him? The answer to that question is both yes and no. Insofar as he attempts to be of service to human needs, the theologian may well decide that a moment of personal tragedy or crisis is not the moment to expose the differences between mystery and myth. In this capacity, the theologian is acting as minister, or as the scholarly aid to the minister. As such, he may in certain situations need to call upon theological reasons that are possibly not in accord with his own belief. The service function of the theologian, therefore, may include the formulating of a rationale for theological positions that he would not personally hold.

This need not compromise the theologian in his capacity as pure scholar. He can and should speak out honestly, in the ordinary course of his work, regarding the conclusions that he has come to in his quest for a theological understanding of the issue. The theologian, therefore, actually functions in two capacities: as a scholarly aid to the minister and as a ruthless seeker for truth. The advantage of process theology is that both functions can be adequately discharged in the matter of death and immortality from the single perspective of Whiteheadian thought.

The richness of process theology is such that it provides a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief, and it is a helpful means of synthesizing them in interesting. creative new ways. It can account for, and indeed deepen, the thinking of traditionalist and liberal alike. Sometimes it can also be a useful instrument for translating between their different interpretations of their experiences of reality and their options of faith. These are the fundamental responsibilities of theology on behalf of faith: to understand, to support, and to deepen. For this task, process theology is very well suited.


1. Published in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Paul Arthur Schilipp, ed. (New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1951), pp. 682-700.

2. Cf. David Griffin, “The Possibility of Subjective Immortality in Whitehead’s Philosophy,” University of Dayton Review. VIII, 3, pp. 43-56.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 12: Theology and Relativity

For many theologians any talk of relativity as adding something significant to their work is immediately rejected as a professional “no-no.” Theology deals with what is most absolute in reality — God, man, and the eternal truths. If theology cannot offer man the absolutes of life, then no absolute standards of truth and morality are possible at all. Man is left hopelessly at sea, with neither rudder for direction nor a final port in which to drop anchor.

As one can see from the previous chapters, the process theologian does not share this anxiety about relativity. Indeed, many of the concepts with which he works are based upon the assumption of relativity. This does not mean that everything is arbitrary and man can believe and act on his whim or fancy. The notion of relativity that process theology employs is that all reality is inter-related in space and time, and that no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole. Relativity thus contrasts with absoluteness in that it rejects the availability of any privileged moment or point of view from which everything can be finally and objectively evaluated. For the relativist, there is no way to set up criteria by which one moment or perspective can be more objectively valid than any other. The closest we can get to such objectivity is the judgment of reality as a whole upon any one of its parts.

What makes a moment or perspective privileged, then, is not any intrinsically determinable superiority, but the wide acceptance of its claim to privileged status. If or when that acceptance is eroded, the special status is diminished at the same time. According to this interpretation, then, the basis of Christianity is not found in the absolute uniqueness of Jesus as second person of the Trinity, but in the acts of faith that Jesus inspired and has continued to inspire in his own person throughout the centuries. The significance of Jesus can only be understood in relation to his followers.

The same is true of God. If he is serious about the reality of God, the process theologian will want to explain how God and the world are inter-related and how the significance of God is derived from the world. Process theologians, therefore, generally hold that God is in some sense dependent upon the world and that in that sense he is subject to the changes that take place in the world. Hence, God, like the world, is temporal.

These are the two most important instances where process theology causes difficulty for the Christian believer. It seems to do violence both to his affirmation of the divinity of Jesus and to his belief in the absolute immutability of God. The reason for this difficulty, however, is probably more a question of philosophy than a difference of faith. The traditional Christian belief regarding both the divinity of Jesus and the immutability of God is formulated in a set of static, non-temporal categories that give the impression of a certain absoluteness about these matters which is heedless of their relation to the temporal. Jesus, if he is God, has to be God eternally, and God, if he is truly God, has to be perfect eternally. The philosophical presuppositions implied in these statements have come to be accepted with the same act of faith that affirms the reality of God and the importance of Jesus.

The underlying philosophical position of traditional theology and its difference from the presuppositions of process thought can perhaps best be illustrated when we analyze the meaning of “perfect” and see its application to the Christian idea of God. For ages of Greek-educated Western minds, “perfect” referred only to a being in which there was no further possibility of improvement. The perfect being was one that could not be surpassed in any way with regard to its perfection. Change was therefore antithetical to perfection. It was the admission that imperfection existed either before the change or after it. Thus, a being that changed could not be called perfect, because it had not reached the optimum of its perfection, or because it did not have the guarantee of the permanence of its perfection.

The difficulty with the traditional interpretation is that improvement and growth are also perfections. That is, something that can grow or improve is more perfect than one that cannot. If, therefore, something is perfect in the traditional sense of being unchangeable, then it has lost the perfections of growth and improvement. There are, in other words, processive perfections as well as static ones. If God is truly perfect, he must exemplify both kinds of perfection. This means that a God who can grow and improve upon himself is more perfect than a God who remains static and unchanging, while other elements of reality are growing and improving.

The incorporation into God of both the static perfections and the processive perfections is the great achievement of Charles Hartshorne. In his writings he distinguished between absolute perfection and relative perfection. The former is applied to a being that is “unsurpassable in conception or possibility even by itself”; the latter obtains when the being is “unsurpassable except by itself.”1 It is the latter concept that is important for process theologians. It means that, in addition to imperceptible perfections, which are static, there are also perfectible perfections, which are dynamic. Given the temporal frame of reference, relative perfections do not and need not imply imperfection, which is the absence of a perfection that should be present at that time. It simply means that something which reaches a perfection relative to the rest of reality in one moment of time can be further perfected at a future moment of time.

When we apply this distinction to God, we can describe him as perfect if he has absolute perfection and/or relative perfection in all respects, and imperfection in no respect. This is another way of saying that God is perfect at every given moment of time. There is never anything imperfect in him at any moment, and at no time is he ever surpassable by any other being. However, he is capable of improving upon and surpassing himself. This is the way in which he relates himself concretely to the world: the realization of its values increases the values in him. It is also the way in which the world can relate itself to God: it can call him a “living God” because he can love, suffer and change. What happens in the world does make a difference to God, but without gainsaying his perfection in the process.

Traditional theology has always had a difficulty reconciling this belief in the personal nature of God with its belief in his absolute otherness, precisely because persons are relational realities and never absolutely other. This has created a series of questions that are literally unanswerable in the philosophical framework of that theology. For example, how is an absolute or “Supreme Being” really able to love in a personal way? If God loves each of us individually, must he not share our helplessness and powerlessness to deal with the forces of evil with which we must struggle in our lives? Yet, if he is perfect, how can he really be affected by the consequences of the imperfections and evils of the world?

The contribution of process theology to Christian faith is that in its perception the Christian does not have to compromise his belief that God is personal and loving for the sake of his belief in the perfection of God. Because of its philosophical presuppositions, it can explain divine love in terms that are fully compatible with our human experience of love, and it can explain divine perfection in terms that correspond to our own experience of change and growth.

The process theologian sees God’s love as personal, extending to each actual entity individually and freely. God does not impose a particular destiny as a condition for proffering his love. Instead, by reason of his love, he offers the full range of possibilities without moral or religious imperatives, so that each entity can choose for itself what it will become. Freedom is essential to love, and when conditions are attached to the giving of love, they compromise the fullness of that love. God, as the perfect lover, does not attach any such conditions. Furthermore, genuine love not only wills the freedom of the beloved. It also accepts the consequences of that freedom It must be willing to suffer and rejoice, initiate and acquiesce, give and receive. It must allow itself to be changed by that love. The God who truly loves, therefore, is a God who must also suffer and rejoice, initiate and acquiesce, give and receive. He must allow himself to be changed by that love.

Traditional theology sometimes speaks of God as suffering, rejoicing, or interacting in other ways with his creatures. The use of such terms is justified as anthropomorphisms – man’s way of speaking about God in the absence of any language adequate to divine things. But while such language is tolerated, it is not applicable to God as he really is, because God cannot be affected by what happens in the world.

Process theology takes a different position. As the late Daniel Day Williams has written,2 the very essence of love requires individuality, freedom, action, suffering and causality. The fact that biblical images attribute such love to God requires that Christians give them serious consideration as actual characteristics of God. Indeed, the biblical insight about God is precisely that he is more than an abstract, philosophical Being. He is the God of love, the God that Jesus called “Father.” To maintain that the essential qualities of love are merely anthropomorphic ways of speaking about God questions whether God’s love is truly love in any human understanding of the word.

If God is truly personal and living, his love for us must correspond to the way in which we understand love for each other. When a person takes on the personality of God, therefore, divine love is realized and incorporated into human affairs. This, as we have seen, is the explanation for the divinity of Jesus. Divine love had to grow and develop in him, much as it does in each of us. But unlike us, this love in Jesus continued to increase at every moment of his life, so that at every moment he was as perfect as he could be at that moment. He was like us in all things but sin.

In this context, it is not necessary to locate Jesus’ divinity in an eternal pre-existence with God. This doctrine was important to the Greek-oriented theologians and Church Fathers who were unable to explain the perfection of Jesus in any other way than absolute perfection. Their decision to dogmatize this teaching reflected their concern for the uniqueness of Jesus, not for a philosophical statement about the nature of perfection. Since that time, however, many new insights have been added to human thought. If, for example, we accept relativity as an appropriate explanation of reality, then God is related to the world as a changing Becoming, and Jesus is related to God as a changing, growing person. The divinity of Jesus is thus located in the fact that his change and growth always realized concretely the most complete incorporation of divine love in his life. Thus, he was always perfect: as a human person he was unsurpassable in divine perfection in conception or possibility, except by himself. That is, he had relative perfection in every respect.

Do we do violence to Church doctrine and our traditions when we interpret God and Jesus in this way? Are we not taking rather bold liberties with the pronouncements of popes and councils down through the ages? For many, the answer will undoubtedly be in the affirmative. And for this reason, they will reject process theology and its explanations of the faith. For others, however, fidelity to the Church and to its traditions is not attained by faith in formulae, or even by the exigency of reconciling new ideas with old formulae. For these latter, fidelity consists in adherence to the fundamental experience of the early Church about Jesus and the God he proclaimed. Expressions are indeed important, but they are never more than expressions. The faith of the Church is found in the souls of Christians who from time to time try to articulate what they believe in various expressive forms. The Spirit speaks to man’s soul, not to his verbiage. What man has written in the past as his Scriptures and as his dogmatic statements were expressions that more or less captured the experience of faith that was his at a particular moment in time. For this reason they are respected and reverenced, but they are not definitive expressions of the faith experience. The Spirit is always free to do what it will.

If our God is living, surely the Spirit is living also. It still speaks to the soul of man, but it speaks in new ways and with new words. This means that doctrine and tradition must be expected to grow, take on new forms, and find expression in new ideas. The discernment of spirits is not in the comparison of one set of words with another set of words, or even of oneidea with another idea. The manifestation of the Spirit is to human experience, not to human expression. Discernment, therefore, is in the comparison of one faith experience with another faith experience, and in the concrete way in which that faith manifests itself in living. By their fruits you shall know them.

The process experience of Christian faith is certainly not alien to the experience expressed in the tradition. It is basically the experience of the inter-relatedness of reality through time. God, Jesus, the Church, and the other elements of Christian theology are understood and interpreted in that perspective. Love is central to the process perspective, much as it has been for all Christians since the time of John the Evangelist. Significantly, love is itself a relational concept. Love is not possible, or even conceivable, in isolation. It requires relatedness. To say that God is Love, as John does, implies that his fundamental character is that of relation to the world. If God is Love, he can exist only with a world and in a world. He is not possible, or even conceivable, in isolation from the world. And if indeed God actively manifests himself to the world through a man or through a Church, that manifestation will be characterized by love and thus by relatedness. This is what Jesus is, and this is what, hopefully, the Church continues to become.

But this is not yet the end of the story. Life goes on. The Church is still living, just as we are and God is. Process is still operative, and the world is still in labor as it struggles to bring forth the Christ in new ways. We are, in our century, very much aware of that process and very committed to new ways. It is the spirit of our age. Perhaps it is also the Spirit inspiring our age. It is in this spirit that process theology is born and offers its contribution to a continuing and deepening understanding of our Christian faith.


1. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964), p. 7.

2. Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and Forms of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).