The Lure of Divine Love: Human Experience and Christian Faith in a Process Perspective
by Norman Pittenger
Chapter 14: Conclusion
This book has been an attempt to present and explain a way of looking at ourselves, our world, and God which is characterized by an emphasis on "process." We have distinguished, of course, between such process and the idiotic and superficial notion of inevitable progress. Our concern has been to emphasize the way in which the world, ourselves in that world, and the supremely worshipful reality we name God are all best understood in terms of movement, becoming, belonging, and significant decision. And we have sought to show that in many fields of human experience this perspective provides helpful and important insight into what is going on in every range of experience.
It has not been possible to discuss each and every aspect of our life in the world. Some areas of that experience have been selected in the hope that these may be illuminated by the adoption of this process conceptuality. Many other areas have not been mentioned, since I have neither the ability nor the knowledge to discuss them. In my book The Vision and the Way (the Stephen Keeler Lectures at the University of Minnesota, published by Forward Movement Publications in 1973), I made some comments on such matters as social responsibility, race relations, family life, and so on, but these were necessarily tentative and at best only suggestive. Nonetheless, I am convinced that acceptance of the process conceptuality -- whether in highly intellectual terms or in simpler ways -- will help us greatly in our effort to live humanly in the world as we now know it to be.
In this book my stress has been on such areas as education, the arts, humanities, science, morality, and above all on religious issues. The second part of the book has focused attention on the way in which Christian faith may be illuminated and its basic affirmations made intelligible through just this conceptuality. That is the best I can do. It is for others, better informed and more instructed than I, to continue this enterprise and show more adequately the ways in which process thought enables us to see "things entire" and in a new light and thus enables us to live more richly and meaningfully.
As we come to the end of our discussion, I wish to return for a moment to the specifically Christian concerns which seem to me, as one who wishes to be integrally Christian in every aspect of my existence, of great importance to those of us who inherit the Christian tradition and, sometimes almost in spite of ourselves, live within the Christian culture.
I am convinced that what we need today is a radical reconception of the Christian tradition in which we stand and from which we look at things. This means that we are desperately in need of a new approach to and a new statement of the abiding Christian conviction that God is made known to us through the "Galilean vision," or what has been styled in this book "the event of Jesus Christ." In earlier chapters I have made some suggestions about such a reconception, and here I shall not develop the matter in any more detail. But in Christian worship the same necessity is present. Our inherited services of worship -- our prayers, our hymns, and many of the other things that are part of that worship -- are not only less than fully Christian in statement but also impossible for us to accept if we have any regard for intellectual integrity, for honesty, and for relevance to the concrete situation in which we find ourselves. Furthermore, our understanding of Christian moral principles and their application again requires just such a thorough revision. No longer can we live as if we were in an earlier age, when ethical teaching was either ignorant of what we now know to be the case or unwilling to give due recognition to human existence as we have come to understand it.
In other books, those of us who are process thinkers have endeavored to work out a theological or religious position, an interpretation of Christian prayer and worship, and a moral attitude, which will take account of what we have learned but which will also be in genuine continuity with the past we have inherited. Here I can only say that without some such awareness of novelty, coupled with a profound loyalty to the deepest intention of our inheritance, we shall be either last-ditch defenders of impossible positions and ideas or victims of the cult of the merely contemporary. How we should now proceed must be worked out with devotion and with intelligence. It is for others to make suggestions and to experiment in these areas.
So I conclude this book with a plea that our new situation, with its challenge to adventure, with its openness to change, and yet with its inescapable relationship to our inheritance from the past, requires us to think again, to work through once more, the things that are both human and Christian. I am not pessimistic about the future, not only because I have come to feel great confidence in the integrity of the younger generation now coming to maturity but also because I am convinced that in the whole enterprise the divine reality we call God, which is nothing other than supreme, enduring, indefatigable, indefeasible, and unfailing Love, is calling us to be (in Whitehead’s words) "co-creators" who respond, however faltering and defective may be that response, to the divine imperative. In any event, in the receptive nature of God our efforts will find their acceptance, and we may hope that they will be genuine and enriching contributions to God rather than disappointing and negative contributions. In God is our basic trust and confidence, not in ourselves and our feeble efforts. Thus we may be both encouraged to do our utmost and comforted in our failures. So the next-to-last word is this: Thanks be to God who is the unfailing dependability in all things.
Yet piety for the saintly founder of my college in Cambridge, King Henry VI, leads me to let him have the very last word. King Henry wrote a prayer that he was in the habit of repeating in his devotions; and we repeat it often in our services of worship in his glorious chapel in the college he founded. The prayer is addressed to the "Lord Jesus Christ," and in being thus addressed it reflects the theology (to which King Henry of course would have subscribed) that regards the Jesus of history and the eternal Word of God as so much identical, so much one, that prayer may properly be spoken to Jesus. One could wish that King Henry had followed the line taken by Thomas Aquinas and prayed (as Aquinas says is correct) to God the Father, through the mediation of God as eternal Word, and in the Holy Spirit -- this, in Aquinas view, was the norm for all Christian prayer, devotion, and worship. As we ourselves have urged in discussing the significance of Jesus Christ, for Christian faith the eternal Word or God’s Self-Expression worldward is focally and decisively active in the man Jesus -- in traditional idiom, the Word is incarnate in his manhood.
But this theological qualification of Henry’s prayer does not make the prayer itself any less moving or any less appropriate as the last word in this book. Here it is: "O Lord Jesus Christ, who hast created and redeemed me; thou hast brought me to where now I am. Thou knowest what thou wouldst make of me; do with me as thou wilt, for thy loving mercy’s sake. Amen."