Archive for the ‘Process Theology’ Category

Pannenberg Podcast


Check out this fun interview with Phillip Clayton on Panneberg and process theology over at HC. Clayton studied with Pannenberg for awhile in Germany, and he recalled having a meeting with Pannenberg while he was in the process of writing his magisterial Anthropology in Theological Perspective. Panneberg admitted to being exhausted because he was reading over 1000 pages/day in preparation! I’m just finishing this podcast, and Clayton also believes that the two greatest influences on 20th century theology have been Barth and process thought. Not sure I buy that.


More Thoughts on Theodicy


Process theology (grounded in Whitehead’s metaphysics) or open theology (a more conservative variant) in many ways seems to be a response to age-old theological conundrum of suffering. Both theologies challenge the idea of a sovereign God preferring to think of a God who remains open to the future and does not pull the strings controlling nature, history, etc. I have many objections to these theologies, but one of my chief complains is that both seem to be intent on making apologies for God. They make the necessary moves so people can no longer protest to God in the midst of their suffering. It’s not that God willed things to be this way, but rather he is caught up in the process and unfolding of history. I’ve been thinking about the historical contexts in which these theologies have emerged and have become convinced that their development is contingent on a world that has become increasingly technologized and explained scientifically. In the past a tribal, omnipotent God who took sides in war made sense when man did not have the technological capacity to fight wars the way we do now. Also, in the past man was utterly dependent on mother nature for rain, but now we’ve grown smart enough to manufacture food year round. We no longer need a God to occupy such a position of power so he’s been displaced in these theologies as a friendly, relational Being who has revoked that place in the cosmos. God as an explanatory hypothesis is no longer needed so these theologies have re-thought the Godhead to make space for him in our scientific world.

I’m still working through thinking theodicy, but I thought I’d included an excellent quote from J Kameron Carter on theodicy and Haiti (I’ve borrowed the quote from Halden’s blog here)

By coming at the issue of God and suffering, which this Haiti crisis compels us to do, from the vantage point of the God not above our pain but the God known in and who is identified from our pain, the classical theodicy question comes to an end. We step beyond theodicy and into a “Christ-odicy.” That is to say, we address suffering from Jesus Christ. And to approach suffering from him is to approach those who suffer, not as those merely needing our charity (which positions us above them), nor as those who trigger our intellectual and aesthetic capacities to glean the beautiful from the tragic (which also positions us as masters, above the fray), but as those who witness God to us, the God who is the Neighbor—the one and only Neighbor—who has come to us (cf. Luke 10:25–37). They are neighbors in whom God is known and is present to us. And thus, Haiti is the witness to our redemption. The script is Christologically flipped: they are the missionaries to us. To neglect them, to position ourselves above the fray and thus above them, to not work to change the social conditions that make natural disaster worse—these are all signs of the refusal of salvation.

Finally Bonhoeffer writes

“So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering” (Letters and Papers from Prison, 360-361).

Religious but not Spiritual Part II


I’ll admit being sincerely jealous of Christians who experience the joy of God daily. Of course, I’m mostly cynical of their experiences, but a part of me is envious of that spiritual intimacy. I can only recall a handful of experiences where I’ve felt the “presence” of God. It’s really difficult for me to take religious experience seriously. Much of that has to do with the psychoanalytic lens through which I look at religion. The idea that theological beliefs and religious experiences are a byproduct of wish fulfillment is one of the most important critiques Freud ever leveled at religion in his great work Future of an Illusion. Let me re-post a quote from Clayton Crockett concerning wish fulfillment:

“As someone who has studied theology and psychoanalytic theory, I struggle with the conflation of theology with idealistic wish-fulfillment…Yes, it is good, yes, mommy and daddy love me and God loves me. Yes, the USA and democracy are good and yes, love and hope and faith are sustained and rewarded now and forever, amen. I want to affirm that too, but I also know better, which means that I know differently, and it seems faithless to disavow that knowledge, which is also an ethical form of knowledge” (Crockett, The Sublime and the Messianic: A Reply to Agata Bielek-Robson, 55).

This really resonated with me. I think this is why I’m so suspicious of process theology and Calvinism. I mean really, don’t they just fit so perfectly into our lives? If you’re a Calvinist, oh great you’re elected from the get-go. Well that’s that. People that believe in process theology conceive of God as a friend who isn’t judgmental, but playful. He loves us, and he is gentle. He lacks omnipotence and omniscience and he does not determine the future. He’s our buddy. I think that’s what scares me so much about process theology. It’s just a view of God that is too convenient and comfortable. Well that, and I don’t see the Biblical support.

The other day I was at a bar with some friends from graduate school, and a friend asked me if I believed in God. I hesitated and could only respond with a “sometimes”. I didn’t feel like going into how the God I believe in is not the God I experience. That perhaps I’m a Christian atheist who reads Christianity through an Altizerian lens. Or if I do believe in God, it’s not a creator God. Nor do I ascribe to the idea of a Heaven or Hell. I also think the Fall is a worthless doctrine considering it has no place in history. The Trinity? I have no idea about that one. Sometimes, I think it’s important, at other points I think it’s one of the greatest hindrances to Christianity. I really think I have to acknowledge that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the only reason I even bother with religion. But was he even God? I think historical research has demonstrated he didn’t claim to be the Messiah much less the incarnate Son of God. Does it all come back to the truth of the resurrection? Perhaps, the resurrection was God’s eternal “Yes!” to Jesus or maybe it was merely a myth. No one will ever know for sure. I mean man’s been on earth for over three million years long. Why did God only incarnate himself once? Why did he wait so long? Is it really possible to believe anymore? The more I think about it, the more studying science, history, and psychology make it increasingly difficult to believe in a certain conception of God.

However, I hate the idea that when one reaches this impasse the only thing that remains is a simple decision. As if it all boils down to a single choice, a leap of faith into the abyss of the unknown. I want to resist such a simplistic option. Faith cannot merely mean blind belief. I don’t believe in providence. I don’t look towards religion for meaning. I’m not even sure I would live much differently if God existed or not. Moreover, I would claim that only an atheist could be truly ethical. Otherwise you fall into the temptation that the gospel of Matthew offers us with the promise of a heavenly reward for our earthly deeds. As Simone Weil says beautifully, sometimes it’s a sin to think of God when we see our neighbor in need.

I think Crockett’s right. The knowledge I have is an ethical knowledge. This knowledge does not make my spiritual journey an easy one. However, around three years ago I made a resolution that if I was going to take religion seriously, that meant that I was not going to ignore any evidence that might challenge orthodox Christianity. This began with me studying other religions seriously especially Islam. Then I moved on to philosophy and psychoanalysis and more recently historical Biblical studies. I won’t lie, sometimes its hard to engage all of the great atheistic critiques of religion offered by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud and not come out of the fight with many doubts and unsettling questions. The space for what I consider to be an intellectually and ethically justifiable form of religion shrinks by the day. However, I remain resolute that there is a part of religion that can resist oppression, ideology, and dishonesty. A part of religion that is redemptive good news. The good news is the apocalyptic message of the Kingdom of God that Jesus of Nazareth announced over 2000 years. Even if God is dead, the apocalyptic good news still resonates loudly in my ear.

Derrida and Keller


One thing that never ceases to frustrate me is when philosophers caricature Derrida as a nihilist who believes that we can make texts say anything we want. Right now, I’m reading S. Shakespeare’s new book Derrida and Theology. It’s a fairly even-handed presentation of Derrida’s work, and I really enjoy that he spends the majority of time actually in Derrida’s text, teasing out the theological gems. I’m looking forward to the end where he discusses theological appropriations of Derrida ranging from Altizer to Taylor to Caputo to Milbank to Keller. The diversity of interpretation of Derrida’s theological insights ranging from a death of god theologian, to a negative theologian, to a secular postmodern nihilist, to a radical atheist speak volumes of just how complex and dense Derrida’s corpus is.

Much of Derrida’s critique of onto-theology stems from his belief in theology’s penchant for being a totalizing system that suppresses all difference for the sake of unity. Hence, God is inextricably linked to the primary arche from which all of creation beings. That is to say creation ex nihilo. This is where Catherine Keller’s magnificent work The Face of the Deep comes in handy. While I don’t generally like process theology as I am suspect of most natural theology (here Barth was certainly right). Keller argues that lurking beneath the text rests a different interpretation, one that has been ignored by theologians for thousands of years. As opposed to typical picture of God hanging out in outerspace playing checkers with Jesus in the dark, until he decides to “Let there be Light”. Keller unearths in the text a new understanding of creation where matter was always already there. God does not create being out of nothing, rather his job like a beloved caretaker is to call creation good and bless it. He paints creation and breathes life into it.

Read Keller’s book if you want to see a fascinating mixture of post-structuralism of Derrida and Deleuze with Whitehead and some superb literary studies of Moby Dick and the book of Job, along with her re-fashioning of the creation myth.

Liberation Theology Part III


Why God became Man?

Anselm answered this question in his provocative book that outlined an alternative understanding of the atonement. Ruether addressed a similar question in her masterpiece Sexism and God-talk that focused on whether or not a male savior could save woman. I’ve never heard too many discussions on why the Word became male as opposed to female. Considering God isn’t male there’s no ontological reason for the necessity of Jesus’ maleness. I’ve heard a slightly more sophisticated answer that the most effective way to spread the message of the gospel was through a male, because of the patriarchy of Jewish culture at that time. Again, while it is obviously true that being male would facilitate the spread of the message, if concerns of dissemination or broadcasting were the reason then why was Jesus often hesitant to preach the coming Kingdom outside the Israel? Also, why didn’t God wait 2000 more years so we could just twitter everyone the news? This frame of question also runs into difficulty considering all of Jesus’ proclamations about letting only those with ears hear. Or after the resurrection why didn’t Jesus present himself to Herod or Pilate to prove his Lordship over death?

I really haven’t an answer, but I would like to challenge some theologians’ response to the issues of the maleness of the incarnation. Hartshorne, the famous process theologian, argued in Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes that he refused to believe that God would have come down as a male because it perpetuated chauvinism. In a similar fashion other feminist theologians have denied Jesus’ divinity because it encourages patriarchy and hence must be denied. This line or argument bothers me because of its rather simplistic logic. For one, if God really entered history as a human, wouldn’t it be important to at least consider the possibility that he might have taken on the flesh of a male? Secondly, how many other ideas that encourage male privilege would we have to discard without proper consideration? I would be more concerned with the sex of Jesus if I found him to be a blatant misogynist. However, Ruether and other feminist theologians have argued that Jesus exemplified many proto-feminist qualities in his ministry.

That argument aside, I don’t mean to lapse into any sort of male privilege in theology. I don’t want to advocate Barth’s ridiculous view that man was made in God’s image, but woman was made as man’s companion (i.e. not in God’s image). I don’t believe it’s important these days to rehash the misogynistic aspects of the second creation story in Genesis 2 & 3. Not only is woman made from man (weird idea, huh?), but also God only creates her after he discovers that the animals aren’t sufficient partners for Adam (is that a compliment or an insult to Eve?).

Can a male savior redeem women? I’d like to think Jesus’ kingdom ushers in a new era where our identity in him renders our old identities secondary. So, I’d agree with Paul that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). However, this should not allow us to neglect the importance of class, gender, race, and sexuality. But rather, we should recognize the egalitarian nature of the coming Kingdom and work to make that equality and freedom more of a reality on earth because of our union in Jesus.