Ok, so I finished the book, typed up 10 pages of quotes from the book to harvest from when I wrote about the rest of the book, and then decided to look up "process theology" based on a teeny little aside on page 74 where Dr. Suchocki mentions that she is a process theologian. I swear my intention was only to find out what that was... but reading about it has pretty much derailed me from further commentary on the book for now. Gotta dig into this problem first.
I know everybody and their dog probably already knew what process theology was, but I didn't. Really. Still not sure I do, to be honest, but I'm a lot better informed after a couple of hours of google searching and pawing through my bookshelves trying to figure this out. I realized I'd read about Alfred North Whitehead in one of my undergrad philosophy courses, broke out my beloved (if largely incomprehensible) W.T. Jones A History of Western Philosophy:The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre, and doggedly slogged through the pages on Whitehead. One quote from Whitehead stands out both for its beauty as well as how thoroughly it misunderstands most people's lived experience of religion:
"...religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realised; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present fact; something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest."
Yeahhhh. Dude... have you ever been inside an actual church??
Ok, I'm being a grouch... it's a lovely passage, if completely detached from reality. But in my defense, I'm reading this book on prayer, and when I get back to actually talking about the book, you'll see that I continue to be wooed by the beauty of the language, particularly the language on repentance, and by Dr. Suchocki's concept of how God is in relationship with us in prayer. I dig these ideas... but they're hanging on a conceptual foundation that I am having real issues with.
I've read/skimmed several articles on process theology (I particularly recommend D.W. Diehl's detailed yet very readable explanation here [mostly because I think it's among the most balanced articles I've grabbed off the net today], as well as John B. Cobb's article here, which is not particularly neutral but does a really good job of explaining the view of God in process theology), but for the purposes of this blog, I'm gonna stick with good ol' Wikipedia to list the main points with which I am struggling. Wikipedia lists some of the main characteristics of process theology as the following:
- God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion. Process theologians interpret the classical doctrine of omnipotence as involving force, and suggest instead a forbearance in divine power. "Persuasion" in the causal sense means that God does not exert unilateral control
- The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot totally control any series of events or any individual, but God influences the creaturely exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. To say it another way, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God's will.
- God contains the universe but is not identical with it (panentheism, not pantheism or pandeism). Some also call this "theocosmocentrism" to emphasize that God has always been related to some world or another.
- Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid.
- Dipolar theism, is the idea that God has both a changing aspect (God's existence as a Living God) and an unchanging aspect (God's eternal essence).
So what I'm struggling with is that my received idea of God as unchanging is really, really deep within me and within my understanding of my faith. As I mentioned yesterday, it's always struck me as incredibly awkward that I believe God is immutable and omnipotent but I also pray to Him AND I possess free will and am accountable for my sins. It's one of those tensions I just live with, though... one of those good ol' paradoxes of the Christian faith that you just don't kvetch about too much... the sort of thing that I file under "Mystery" and that keeps my faith faith rather than science or math.
In terms of my lived faith, though, I often do live and act as though God could change at any time, or at the very least as though God is constantly present to me and with me. One tenet of process theology is that our actions affect God... that He actually feels all the events in the world and everything that is done in the world is done to Him, since the world is part of Him. I tend to extrapolate from the verse that mentions the Spirit "interceding with groanings too deep for words" to my lived belief that God does feel what I feel, but through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, who is God's presence living within me.
Some of the articles I read state that process theology is non-Trinitarian... it denies the divinity of Christ, and in some of its expressions chucks out the Holy Spirit, too. How is this Biblical??? I haven't dug into that too much to see which process folks would argue that they DO in fact defend the Trinity, but the thought is greatly disturbing to me.
In trying to sort through my visceral reaction to this, I grabbed the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechism of the Catholic Church off my bookshelf. These two books form the bedrock of my formal theological training (what there is of it), and so my first instinct when I bump up against some theological idea that "just ain't right" is to look it up in these books. I know that these two documents are supposed to be diametrically opposed, but I swear that in my experience they have so very much in common on the basics. When I was in the process of considering Catholicism, one of the real selling points to me was the remarkable amount that Catholicism and the Reformed tradition had in common (admittedly my expectations on this point were low). This is true on the topic of God's immutability. The Westminster Confession of Faith states at the beginning of Chapter II, #1
"There is but one only iving and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable,(emphasis mine) immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free,(emphasis mine) most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will,(emphasis mine) for his own glory."
and in #2
"God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made...(emphasis mine)"
In Part One, Section Two, Chapter One, Article I of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catechism quotes the Fourth Lateran Council:
"We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal, infinite (immensus) and unchangeable, (emphasis mine) incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple."
Ok, maybe this is boring... my point is that this idea of God as changeable may have echoes in how I practice my faith, but it doesn't work for me as a concept. The assumption that God Himself is unchangeable is just too deeply embedded in my ideas of God and how God works in the world. He is however, infinite, and so the things I may see as God's "attributes" are really my attempt to make God seem like me, like something I can understand. The fact that He behaves differently than I expected doesn't mean He changed, it means I was wrong to think I could understand Him as I understand another human being or myself. And I can live with that. I can live with the fact that "He works in mysterious ways" because He is Mystery... far far far greater than my ability to conceive of Him, and yet relating to me intimately second by second through the Holy Spirit.
Phoooo. Is anyone reading this? Am I making any sense?? Anybody wanna tell me that I'm totally wrong about process theology and it's really the Coolest Thing Ever?
I promise I'll get back to the book (hopefully tomorrow night), despite the struggle I'm having with its premise.