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Toward a Process-Relational Christian Eschatology

by David L. Wheeler

David L. Wheeler is Associate Professor of Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, KS 66102. He is the author of A Relational View of the Atonement:(forthcoming, Peter Lang Press). The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 227-237, Vol. 22, Number 4, Winter, 1993. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The Christian vision of reality sweeps from creation to consummation. The story line is that Godís good creation fell away, that God entered into creation to restore and renew it, and that this restoration will be accomplished in the end of history when Christ comes again. (WCB 415)

This pithy summary of doctrine comes from two apologists for conservative, evangelical Christianity, North American style. It is based on the conviction that the Christian scriptures give a unified, consistent account of the nature and destiny of humanity and cosmos, that is at once existentially true (it speaks to our subjective need for order and meaning in our personal existence) and cosmologically true (it gives a true and adequate picture of the way our world objectively is and will be).

The value of process-relational philosophy for many Christian apologists has been both existential and cosmological. The work of its seminal figure, Alfred North Whitehead, is cosmology par excellence. Indeed in his magnum opus, Process and Reality, he sets out to elaborate "a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in which every element of our experience can be interpreted" (PR 5). This cosmology takes into account the critical epistemology of David Hume, the relativistic physics of Einstein, and the broad, post-Darwinian paradigm of our world as evolutionary phenomenon. At the same time, Whiteheadís thought has been existentially attractive to Christian thinkers, whose understanding of the world is already attuned to what Whitehead calls "the brief Galilean vision of humility" that "dwells upon the tender elements in the world which slowly and in quietness operate by love" (PR 404). Such thinkers affirm Whiteheadís vision of a God who is characterized by responsiveness to us and reciprocity with us, and rejoice to find this vision in writings less sectarian than their own scriptures. For such thinkers are not content to impose Christian categories on the world by fiat, as some apologists tend to do, but look for verification of their vision in the "public" world round about them. They seek to find "ontological mooring," as it were, for the grammar of their faith. Thus Whiteheadian process-relational philosophy has yielded an impressive harvest of theological speculation in the doctrinal areas of God, Godís action in the world, Christology and, most recently, soteriology.1 Can process-relational thought function similarly in the area of Christian doctrine called "eschatology"? For this area of doctrine is particularly beset with thorny issues for contemporary thinkers.

Baptist pastor and theologian Val J. Sauer describes "biblical eschatology" as dealing with "Godís final acts toward his creation, the last days, the promise of the future, and the hope which grows Out of this promise." This Christ, already once revealed, will "appear a second time . . . to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Heb. 9:28) (EH 3). This statement, as does the citation with which I began this essay, reflects the uncritical belief that the biblical scenario for earthly, and indeed, cosmic history, will be surely and literally fulfilled. And yet it is precisely this confidence which seems so unrealistic, even fantastic, to many modern people, who nevertheless long for some ultimate justice, some ultimate affirmation of life over death.

At first blush it might seem that process-relational thought is not suited for ontological foundation work in this area of classic Christian doctrine, regardless of its successes elsewhere.

ē Christian eschatological systems are based on a literalistic hermeneutic. Christian scripture provides privileged information which is presupposed to be true. All assertions of process-relational thought are to be judged by the criteria of "coherence," "applicability," and "adequacy" with respect to our experience (PR 6). Thus, there is no privileged information, and process theologians are free to sift the scriptures, as they do all experience, for reflections of that "brief Galilean vision" which prescribes a canon within the canon.

ē Christian eschatology speaks of "the things that must soon take place" (Rev. 22:6). Process thought manifests "an inability to participate in this confident anticipation of a consummation of the historical process. Indeed history is really open." (PTP 77)

ē Christian eschatology declares that "the end will come, when [Christ] hands the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power" (I Cor. 15:24), what Sauer calls (above) ĎGodís final acts". Process-relational thought describes as "the ultimate physical principle" the creative advance whereby ceaselessly "the many become one and are increased by one" (PR 26). In other words, process cosmology describes the world simply as it is -- open-ended becoming -- and the questions of beginning and ending, "Alpha" and "Omega," would seem to be out of bounds. As cosmology, process-relational thought means to reflect and illumine a world system presupposed as in place. Christian protology/eschatology is more properly a cosmogony, i.e., an explanation of the origin and purpose of the world system, which must, in the nature of the case, come from beyond the system if it exists at all.

The underlying issue in all of these areas of conflict is the issue of ultimacy, which is the issue in contention between process-relational thought and historic Christian orthodoxy. For instance, with reference to the issue broached above of the certainty of scriptural assertions -- their character as "privileged information" -- that certainty is derived from the ultimacy of the One who is their presumed origin. For Whitehead, "creativity" as universally characteristic of reality, so that reality simply is "creative advance," is ultimate, and God is creativityís "primordial, non-temporal accident," that is, the original, pervasive exemplification of creativity (PR 10,25-8). In contrast, the Bible begins majestically, "In the beginning God created . . ." (Gen. 1:1), and Christ, Godís paradigmatic self-embodiment within the created process, is both "Alpha" and "Omega" (Rev.1:8, 22:6, 13). This issue of Godís ultimacy is focused with unusual clarity in the area of eschatology, where God is traditionally presumed to have "the last word." Thus it may be that the Whiteheadian vision, in which God brings about nothing unilaterally, is fundamentally unsuited for dialogue with Biblical eschatology. On the other hand, if one can bracket the cosmogonical question, the reference beyond the God-world system, and focus upon the journey within the system toward "the maximum attainment of intensity compatible with harmony that is possible under the circumstances of the actual situation" (PS 18:116), then perhaps one will find that the biblical images and the process-relational concepts are richly mutually illuminating after all. We shall now attempt such a "synoptic" reading of selected biblical images and relevant process-relational concepts to try this conjecture.

I. "Already and not Yet"

First of all, let us note that even many very conservative Christians recognize that alongside the predictions of a cataclysmic future in biblical eschatology, there is a strong element of what has been called, in C. H. Doddís classic phrase, "realized eschatology." That is, the fitting climax to human and cosmic history predicted in scripture is already, partially and incompletely, but unmistakably present in this present age. To quote Sauer again:

The type of eschatology that maintains the tension between the present reality of the kingdom of God [Lk. 10:23-24, Lk 9:22-23, Mk 1:15] and its future consummation [Lk 17:26-30, Mk 13:24-26, Mt 25:31-32] is "inaugurated eschatology." In the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the kingdom of God has come to men in history, bringing to them the knowledge of Godís kingly rule. (EH 5)

If process-relational thought can point our perceptions accurately to a pervasive presence of God in the world, ever with worldly occasions for human good, in spite of humanityís sometime revolts and deviations from the divinely envisioned good; and if Jesus of Nazareth and the community that gathered around him and the history that flowed from him can be seen as exemplifying this divine presence in the world; then, in fact, process-relational thought, insofar as it is persuasive on its own terms, can be seen as giving ontological mooring to the "already" side of what Sauer calls "inaugurated" eschatology. It is just this sort of correlation that runs through John Cobbís Christ in a Pluralistic Age, where he describes Christ as "creative transformation" and as grounding a community of creative transformation (CPA 21-4).

The process-relational model of God as the most extensive exemplification of primordial creativity, with every worldly occasion in its own process of becoming; the process-relational concept of God as the principle of order channeling the worldís becoming toward ever richer and more harmonious experience (the primordial nature); and the process-relational concept of Godís preservation of every worldly occasion in Godís own everlasting becoming (the consequent nature), with each such occasion evaluated and positioned for its greatest possible contribution to the divine life -- these perspectives on divine reality which process-relational thought claims to find exemplified in the very nature of things are separately and together congruent with and supportive of the biblical images and events which describe the "already" in inaugurated eschatology. "[I]n fact the kingdom of heaven is among you" (Luke 17:21). Like leaven in the loaf, this "already" makes its presence known in an unceasing flow of increments. The eschatological "not yet" is "God as the power of the future" -- the image lifted from scriptural faith and engraven in contemporary consciousness by Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenburg -- an image also very congenial to process thought. Indeed, Lewis Ford has said:

Instead of actualizing a determinate past, which is the basic activity of present entities, I propose we conceive God to be a future activity creating the conditions of the present. As an activity located in those spaciotemporal regions lying in the future of present occasions, God could nevertheless be in "unison of becoming" with them. God then "influences" them when her future activity passes over into their own present activity. (PS 11:172)

Again, the sticky wicket appears when we press the image of God as the future to ask if there is an absolute, pre-determined future toward which God is drawing us. The answer of Sauer and other traditional Christians must be "yes." The answer of a Consistent Whiteheadian must be "no." I have written about this impasse before (PS 18:11:110 ff.). and will return to it below.

II. The Creative Advance

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him... (John 1:1-2)

The biblical God is not a static reality. This type of God is, as many process thinkers have noted, an import from classical Greek thought. Rather the biblical God is ruíach -- wind, breath, spirit -- drawing the primordial chaos into form and fruitfulness (Gen. 1:1-2) and bringing to life the very dust of the earth in forming Adam (Gen. 2:7). At the same time this God is Logos -- not a mere vocable or a static logical structure, but a structural, structuring dynamic. Whitehead claims that it lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity (PR 26). Again we are reminded of the fundamental divergence between traditional Christianity and process-relational thought on the issue of ultimacy. But whether the "nature of things" be grounded in God, or whether God be the primordial exemplification of "the nature of things" with respect to an independent, abstract "category of the ultimate," it is the case that both the biblical record and process-relational thought recognize a pervasive movement toward greater richness of experience as a generic feature of reality. And in this sense protology (the theory of beginnings) grounds eschatology. For God is relentlessly active, persistent and ubiquitous.

Whither shall I go from thy Ruíach?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Shed, thou art there! (Ps. 139:7-8)

God makes the best of everything, including
human lovelessness and the failure it entails. (LT 59, my emphasis)

We know that in everything God works for
good with those who love him... (Rom. 8:28, my emphasis)

He shares with every new creation its actual world... (PR 406)

God is the great companion -- the fellow
sufferer who understands. (PR 413)

The Lord is...not willing that any should
perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)

God in process-relational thought is the most extensive exemplification of the primordial creativity. In biblical thought God is its source and ground. Either way, the nature of things displays a ground of order and a relentless creative advance. This dual character of order and creative advance is at the same time before all things, with all things, and after all things. Strachan Donnelly says:

A grand, everlasting, ever-growing cosmos is experientially realized in and by God. Worldly actualities and the significant enduring societies they fashion objectively take their place as essential constituents within this final designing. Their individual characters, emotionally felt and woven together, form the vital harmony, which is God in his immediate concreteness. (PS 12:9)

Before eschatology is about the end of things as finis -- a concept that must appear mythological to many moderns, and contradictory to Whiteheadians, it is about the end of things as telos. That is to say that despite the refusal, misconstrual and failure to actualize Godís aim which characterize the world as we know it. God perseveres, and in God all things move toward "the vital harmony" (Donnelly) which is the divine purpose, ". . . that God may be everything to every one" (I Cor. 15.28). God is with every worldly occasion, and God is good. This is the beginning of eschatology.

III. The Kingdom of God

A central New Testament eschatological image is that of the "kingdom of God." If a king or monarch is one exercising unilateral power, then immediately there are problems for process-relational thinkers (not to mention the sexist connotations of the terminology). However, if the kingdom of God -- or alternatively, the kingdom of "heaven" -- means the state of affairs in which the love and justice of God become the norm rather than the exception in the social actuality that is the world, then there is a fruitful area for dialogue. Indeed, Whitehead himself uses the term "the kingdom of heaven" to describe Godís everlasting preservation of worldly events in Godís own ongoing actualization (PR 412-13). "This divine life is neither eternal," say Cobb and Griffin, "in the sense of timeless, nor temporal, in the sense of perpetual perishing. Instead it is everlasting, constantly receiving from the world but retaining what in the world is past in the immediacy of its everlasting present" (PT 122).

Jesus in his "inaugural address" in the synagogue in Nazareth quoted the prophet Isaiah, claiming that

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good
news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

Then he concluded, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). And then he began travelling through the towns and villages of Galilee preaching, healing and "bringing the good news of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:1). When his opponents asked when this kingdom was to appear, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed [e.g., as a cosmic catastrophe];...for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" [or alternatively, "within you"] (Luke 17:20-21).

In the midst of the contradictions and the suffering of this present age, and given the "perpetual perishing" which carries away even the best of our tenuous arrangements, God is (again). "the great companion -- the fellow sufferer who understands" (PR 413). God, whose primordial vision of maximum intensity of experience combined with maximum harmony is offered to each individual occasion of experience in terms of its particular relevance for that occasionís possible becoming, subsequently receives the occasionís partial realization of this vision into the ongoing divine experience. Then "God transforms evil by experiencing it (together with the worldís goods) in everlasting perfect perspective, and he then passes this perfect vision back into the world for its benefit" (PS 11:177). On this model, Jesus as the Christ can be conceived as a focus of Godís offering back to the world this perfect vision. The kingdom of God is both present (in the words and deeds of Jesus and those in his train who strive to live it out in the world) and transcendent (in the divine reality which catches up our partial actualization of the divine will, preserves it, and offers us anew the readjusted vision of the kingdom).

For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world, and qualifies this world so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience. For the kingdom of heaven is with us today. (PR 413)

Is not Godís inclusion of every worldly occasion in Godís own everlasting actuality a sort of "judgement"? And yet perhaps a very benign judgement, in comparison with some of the apocalyptic images in scripture in which, for instance, the rich man is in torment in Hades with no possibility of surcease (Luke 16:19-31), the unrepentant evil are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 10:11-15), etc.? But the biblical record itself preserves a very profound tension at this point. For instance, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel says:

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so I will seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. ...I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. (Ez. 34:11-12, 16; see also Luke 15:1-32, 19:10)

And the Apostle Paul sings of the time when

every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord...(Phil. 2:10)

And again, he predicts the coming of the kingdom through which "God may be all in all" (I Cor. 15:28).

Whitehead, for his part, puts it this way:

The results of destructive evil, purely self-regarding, are dismissed into their triviality of merely individual facts, and yet the good they did achieve in individual joy, in individual sorrow, in the introduction of needed contrast, is yet saved in its relation to the completed whole. The image, and it is but an image, under which this operative growth of Godís nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be lost. (PR 408)

IV. Resurrection

The preservation of past actual occasions in the divine life takes the form of "objective immortality." Worldly occasions are "perpetually perishing." This is, in Whiteheadís words, the "ultimate evil in the temporal world" which is "deeper than any specific evil" (PR 401). In the "consequent nature" of God, each occasion of the temporal world is preserved as a datum for Godís everlasting self-actualization. These occasions, including human occasions, are thus as everlasting as is God. And in a sense Godís everlasting harmonization of all worldly occasions is the eschaton (PTP 79-81). God literally is "all in all."

But this part of Whiteheadís cosmology, which seems relatively straightforward, has unleashed a firestorm of controversy in the technical literature, centering around that most delicate and personal of all issues for us humans, our own personal survival. Is the Whiteheadian "eschaton" Godís only, or ours and Godís? Schubert Ogden declares that our obsession with our own subjective immortality

obscures the witness of Christian faith to the essential difference between God and man -- the Creator and the creature, the Redeemer and the redeemed....It is the very refusal to live, finally, solely from Godís love for us that I find involved in the setting up of our own subjective immortality alongside of our objective immortality in God. (USQR 161-2)

Marjorie Suchocki objects:

If God is to overcome evil wholly, there must be some "present" in which the individual fully realizes his/her redemption from evil in the depths of experience. The biblical writers use imagery of both realized and final eschatology to convey the assuredness of this present....(JR 291)

In a similar vein, Robert C. Neville says that

. . .the merely objective presence of the worldís events in the everlasting memory of God is not what Scripture means by resurrection.... (CG 95-6)

In the biblical tradition, our resurrection is a participation in Christís resurrection, construed as an historical event which contravenes the historical reality of his death, and thus -- in Whiteheadian terms -- interrupts the perpetual perishing of occasions. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). In company with Christ, "the dead in Christ will rise" (I Cor. 15:51; I Thess. 4:15); certainly they are presented in the New Testament imagery as "living," and not merely as "having lived."

Is this a hopelessly supernaturalistic intrusion into a naturalistic Whiteheadian worldview, an unassimilable "strange body"? I have elsewhere represented the resurrection of Christ as his assimilation into the consequent nature of God, in view of his entire obedience to and fulfillment of Godís ideal aim for his life, without the extensive negative prehension which must accompany the objective immortalizing in God of "sinful" human lives (RVA 214). If the consequent nature of God is in some sense the eschaton, an ongoing eschaton to be sure, then are we and Christ included in it as "living," or as "having lived"?

To even attempt to settle this question takes one into an area of the Whiteheadian worldview where many interpreters suspect that fundamental incoherencies lurk, the effects of which might extend far beyond the eschatological questions we are considering here. If Whitehead considers Godís becoming as that of one universally comprehensive, everlasting actual entity, then it would seem that God never reaches the satisfaction through which any of Godís data are determinately known. How then is there any "kingdom of God among us" in any definite sense, if God hasnít reached satisfaction? It would seem that God canít know it for Godself and we canít have it definitely available as datum for our successive instances of becoming. It is this problem that has impelled some process thinkers to envision God as a "society" -- a togetherness of occasions in terms of a mutually prehended form -- and furthermore, a society with "personal order," that is, in which the members are related serially. The human self or "soul" is an example of such a personally ordered society; God on this model would be a vastly more extended -- spatially and temporally -- selfí analogous to us. But this brings its own problems, for God as a society does not have everlastingness in the sense Whitehead has described it.

Gingerly, I approach this problem of the subjective immortality of the "resurrected" into an everlasting God by envisioning Godís continuous process of becoming as comprehending the regions defined by all of the processes of becoming that are Godís creatures, even as the spacio-temporal regions coordinated by and responsive to the "presiding occasions" of our bodies include the regions defined by our various bodily occasions. It might then follow that Godís experience would include our creaturely experiences in their subjectivity by virtue of Godís including the regions in which those occasions form themselves. But does this model violate the privacy of subjective becoming as Whitehead defines it? Given that privacy, whether God is construed as a society or one actual entity, it seems that she and her included occasions would "know" one another only at the spacio-temporal thresholds of their respective satisfactions. Or does "unison of becoming" allow for shared, concentric interiorities?

At any rate, if process-relational thinkers can work through fundamental systemic problems relating to the nature of the self and the God-world relationship, perhaps we might solve as a by-product the question of a realistic envisioning of the resurrection life; if we canít, then this mode of thought has problems more foundational than those at issue in this essay.

I should mention how ironic I found it that a title-search for material relating to eschatology in a process-relational mode yielded a plethora of titles dealing with the question of personal immortality, but a relative dearth of material dealing with the eschaton as a new corporate order. In biblical eschatology, the personal survival of the individual does not depend on any generic metaphysical traits of human souls themselves, but rather on the cosmic change of state that ushers in the new age. "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangelís call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (I Thess.4:16). At this point, process-relational thought should be in its milieu. All actual occasions on this model are social to the core; they emerge as the occasions they are from their specific environments. If that environment is conditioned by the risen Christ and his continually expanding mystical body (I Cor. 1:15-20), as preserved in the consequent nature of God, and from thence re-presented to the world as principle of its possible apotheosis, then individual "survival" is radically relativized. As the individual has an identity in her brief span of time within this cosmic epoch relative to the quantity/quality of her relatants, so the individual will have an "everlasting" existence relative to the quantity/quality of her everlasting relatants -- the members of the mystical body of Christ, the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1), socially ordered through common positive prehension of the risen Christ. The controlling question should not be "Will the individual survive?," but rather "What sort of cosmic order will be promoted by the generalization of Christís relationship of supreme congruence with Godís loving aim for creaturely existence?"

V. The End

In an essay appearing in Process Studies 18/2, I attempted to speak to the latter of the pair of questions above under the paragraph heads "The Expansion of Christ," "Christ and the Building of Godís Body" and "Christ and the Eschaton" (PS 18:lO6ff.). David Basinger, in a thoughtful response to this essay, remarked that attempts to correlate/integrate biblical soteriology with Whiteheadian thought founder on the issue of whether or not God can unilaterally transform any person or thing (PS 18:117). The eschaton, under any guise, would seem to be a divinely determined transformation. If we take seriously the co-creative roles of God and world taught by process-relational thought, we cannot in truth say that there will be such-and-such a transformative constellation of events. But if Christ and his community of "creative transformation" (Cobb) are an embodiment of Godís love in the world, and therefore exert causal efficacy within it, they will tend to produce the kinds of changes in the world expressed in some biblical images of the eschaton. And the new aeon will be "present with a power and certainty as great as the size of God and the constancy of the divine love -- that is to say, as great as our understanding of real contingency in the divine-human ecosystem will allow" (RVA 216).

In full awareness of the above qualifications from a Whiteheadian perspective, I offer in conclusion a brief attempt to save and illumine the future, finis dimension of the already/not yet eschatological dialectic introduced above. As an exemplar in this attempt to envision the eschaton in a process perspective, we adduce Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, though we must take care to dissociate ourselves from the symptoms of divine determinism he manifests due to his classical view of God. Teilhard is helpful at this point because he does bring together in his thought an understanding of the world -- if not God -- as a thoroughly processive reality and a positive use of biblical imagery of the eschaton as finis. In The Future of Man Teilhard says:

If Man organizes himself gradually on a global scale in a sort of closed circuit, within which each thinking element is intellectually and affectivity connected with every other, he will attain to a maximum of individual mastery by participating in a certain ultimate clarity of vision and extreme warmth of sympathy proper to the system as a whole. (FM 278)

Thus Teilhard interprets the apocalyptic passages of the New Testament (viz., Mt. 24, Mk. 13) in terms of his image of the immanent Christ slowly unifying the world about himself. In this progressive unification, a new "organism" is created, the "Body of Christ" (I Cor. 12, Col. 1:15-20), with Christ as head and humanity as members. It is created incrementally -- the Churchís global mission of evangelization, explicit and implicit -- but it finally emerges explosively.

One day, the Gospel tells us, the tension gradually accumulating between humanity and God will touch the limits prescribed by the possibilities of the world. And then will come the end. Then the presence of Christ, which has been silently accruing in all things, will suddenly be revealed like a flash of light from pole to pole. (DM 133)

Teilhardís imagery here implies the well-known reality of quantitative change, incremental in nature, ultimately producing qualitative changes, which seem to appear relatively instantaneously. (Again we note that the Bible itself presents us, alternately, with images of incremental change [leaven, seeds] and cataclysmic change [the last trump].) Water is heated, gradually, gradually -- 150į, 180į, 209į -- until, suddenly, it is vapor. Mental activity, presence-to-self, increases ever so slowly along the evolutionary axis of increasing physical complexity -- in particular of the central nervous system -- until, voila, we are thinking subjects. What these examples exemplify macrocosmically, quantum mechanics seems to find rooted microcosmically in the very nature of the physical world. And so, in the eschaton, we find a quantum leap into a new kind of divine-human relatedness.

Let us note that Teilhard, in faithfulness to biblical imagery, presents two contrasting models for this cosmic cataclysm. Either there will be a final, ultimate "convergence" (cf. Phil. 2:9-11) in which evil and discord reach the vanishing point, or there will be a "final ramification," an "ultimate paroxysm, involving the final discarding or rejection of some and the apotheosis of those who affirm God/Christ/Omega (PM 288). Whiteheadians might encounter a dilemma at this point, wishing to affirm, on the one hand, Godís "tender loving care that nothing be lost," and wishing to uphold, on the other hand, the tendency of creaturely freedom to resist any kind of ultimate unanimity. At any rate, the persistence of creative advance, and the living patience of God, would seem to bode well for a progressive enrichment of the cosmic environment as a whole even if some contribute to that enriched environment largely through being negatively prehended!

For Teilhard, the Christian church as (ideally) a universal community of human/divine love and shared idealism is the prototype of the movement of humanity as a whole toward a superhuman social reality organized around Christ/Omega as the ultimate attracting and unifying principle. This social reality can be construed, in a very real sense, as the body of God in the world. But we must not forget, as we track Teilhard on this point, that biblical images of the ultimate harmonization of the created order include the non-human elements of that order as well (cf. Isaiah 11:1-9, Rom. 8:19-23, Rev. 22:1-5). The eschaton is both the reparation of the human ruin created by estrangement from God (e.g., the "fall" of humanity, Gen. 3: 17ff) and a pan-environment renewal and transformation.

To imagine the eschaton as a radical change of state of the cosmos might imply finis to this "cosmic epoch," to return to Whiteheadian terminology, but would not necessarily imply any sort of ultimate finis. Rather, it could simply represent cosmic/human openness toward some now unimaginable newness on "the other side." This has been the epoch of self-realization through constant struggle, of the "fall" from innocence and undisturbed unity with God. What new model for history might present itself to a cosmos so harmonized with its creative ground that radical proximity and radical independence with respect to God will coincide rather than conflict?

 

References

CG -- Robert C. Neville. Creativity and God: A Challenge to Process Theology. New York: Seabury Press, 1980.

CPA -- John B. Cobb, Jr. Christ in a Pluralistic Age. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

EH -- Val J. Sauer. The Eschatology Handbook: The Bible Speaks to Us Today About Endtimes. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981.

DM -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Divine Milieu. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

FM -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Future of Man. London: William Collins Sons, 1964.

PM -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.

JR -- Marjorie Suchocki. "The Question of Immortality." Journal of Religion 57/3 (July 1977): 288-306.

LT -- W. Norman Pittenger. The Last Things in Process Perspective. London: The Epworth Press, 1970.

PS 11 -- Lewis S. Ford. "The Divine Activity of the Future." Process Studies 11/3 (Fall 1981): 169-79.

PS 12 -- Strachan Donnelly. "Whitehead and Nietzsche: Overcoming the Evil of Time." Process Studies 12/1 (Spring 1982): 1-14.

PS 18 -- David Basinger, "Response to Wheeler" and David L. Wheeler, "Toward a Process-Relational Christian Soteriology." Process Studies 18/2 (Summer 1989): 114-17.

PT -- John B. Cobb, Jr. and David R. Griffin. Process Theology. An Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

PTP -- John B. Cobb, Jr. Process Theology as Political Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982.

USQR -- Schubert M. Ogden. "The Meaning of Christian Hope." Union Seminary Quarterly Review 30/2-4 (Winter-Summer 1975): 153-64.

RVA -- David L. Wheeler. A Relational View of the Atonement. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.

WCB -- Alan F. Johnson and Robert E. Webber. What Christians Believe: A Biblical and Historical Survey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989.

 

Notes

1The literature in the process doctrines of God and Christ is vast. In the related areas of soteriology-ecclesiology, I would mention Marjorie Suchocki, God, Christ, Church (New York: Crossroads, 1982); Norman Pittenger, The Christian Church as Social Process (London: The Epworth Press, 1971) and my own A Relational View of the Atonement.

2This material is presented in expanded form in RVA 218ff.


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