Process-Thought and Christian Faith by Norman Pittenger
Dr. Pittenger, philosopher and theologian, was a senior member of Kingís College, Cambridge for many years, then Professor of Christian Apologetics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, before retiring in 1966. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York, 1968. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 1: Introduction
A contemporary poet has written of the dilemma of the modern man who, with his sense of confusion, lack of meaning in life, and anxiety about the future, comes to a church service in the hope that something may be said there which will speak to this condition:
I come to you in anxiety, and you give me uncertainties.
Whatever we may think of the literary quality of this bit of verse, we can have no doubt that the un-named writer is expressing a widely felt attitude to the preaching and teaching given by many of those who today speak for the Christian faith. It may well be that only the sophisticated -- or those who in some lonely moment have felt what Thoreau called "a quiet sense of desperation" -- would wish to say that their condition is properly described as compounded of anxiety, meaninglessness, and confusion. Yet as one reads much that is being written and listens to much that is being said these days, one is more and more inclined to think that some such awareness is much more general among our contemporaries than surface-appearances might indicate. In any event it is plainly the fact that the way in which Christian faith has been and is being presented in many quarters has seemed and does seem to vast numbers of people simply a mixture of uncertainty, nonsense, and "miracle", the last of these in the sense of an appeal sometimes made by Christian apologists and preachers to what strikes the modern man as an absurd and unintelligible violation of the pervasive regularity which he has come to believe is a mark of the universe as he knows it to be. It is also the fact that the choice frequently offered him is between being "a Christian" of a very narrowly "orthodox" type or being "a modern man"; I need cite here only a recent English publication, H. A. Blamiresí little book The Christian Mind, as a popular, if extreme, expression of this supposed dilemma.
In Honest to God the Bishop of Woolwich has said that he himself is both a modern man and a Christian believer. There is no escaping the former for a man living today, he has rightly told us; and there is no reason why such a man should not also be a Christian. He was entirely correct in saying this, but the difficulty, as Dr Robinson also recognized, is that the way in which all too often we are given to understand Christian faith makes the combination impossible. It is my own belief that the explanation for the enormous sale of Honest to God is simply that great numbers of men and women who wish to be both modern and Christian found in that book a presentation of Christianity which on the one hand they felt was absolutely honest and which on the other hand (and for the first time) opened to them the basic meaning of what we may style "the religious question": what man is, what his world is like, how one can find significance and dignity for living, and the like. It did this, they thought, in a fashion which was not in outrageous contradiction to everything else that as persons living in the mid-twentieth century they believed to be true.
Dr Robinson relied very largely on the philosophical theology of Paul Tillich for his suggestions about the reconception of Christian faith. There can be no doubt that Dr Tillich was outstanding among the distinguished thinkers of our day who have been working towards a reconception of the faith in the light of contemporary knowledge and contemporary experience. No one, least of all myself (who would acknowledge an enormous debt to Dr Tillichís work and a valued personal friendship with that great and good man), would wish to question his pre-eminence in this field. However, it is my own conviction that there is another kind of thought which is even more suitable for use in the task of Christian reconception. This is the line taken by what in North America today is frequently described as "process thought"; its greatest exponent was the late Professor Alfred North Whitehead in his works Process and Reality (his book has been re-arranged, and provided with excellent explanatory notes by D. W. Sherburne, under the title of Key to Whiteheadís Process and Reality), Science and the Modern World, Modes of Thought, Adventures of Ideas, Religion in the Making, and Symbolism, all of them written after Whitehead had joined the faculty of Harvard University in the United States in the 1920ís.
But Professor Whitehead was only one of a number of thinkers in the years 1920-35 who were taking the same general approach to an understanding of man and his world. Professor C. Lloyd-Morganís Emergent Evolution and Life, Mind and Spirit, Professor Samuel Alexanderís Space-Time and Deity, General Jan Smutsís Holism, and other works of a similar nature were appearing during those years. While there were many differences among them, there was also a consistent use of evolutionary ideas which gave them a genuine unity. In our own decade, the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the noted Jesuit palaeontologist, have been published posthumously; they too follow the same general line as the English writers I have mentioned. Furthermore, in the United States, for over a quarter of a century the writings of Professor Charles Hartshorne, including Beyond Humanism, The Vision of God, Reality as Social Process, The Divine Relativity, The Logic of Perfection, and A Natural Theology for Our Times, as well as many occasional articles and essays, have eloquently argued the case for "process-thought". Happily Professor Hartshorne is still at work among us and further books from his pen may be expected in the next few years.
None of these books, nor the metaphysical position which they advocated, has received in recent years the attention which they deserve in Christian theological circles. One reason for this has been what Dr H. J. Paton in The Modern Predicament styled "the linguistic veto" on all metaphysical speculation. The linguistic philosophers, whether in their earlier phase of "logical positivism" or in their later phase which would confine philosophical enquiry to an examination of "language games" (in Wittgensteinís phrase), have somehow contrived to make the older philosophical task of metaphysical construction appear silly or pretentious-although things are changing today, as may be shown by a remark made to me not long ago by one of the leading British empirical philosophers. This thinker, whose name I shall not disclose, said that he was becoming more and more convinced that there was "something in the older metaphysical -- he called them "ontological" -- claims; at the moment he was much concerned, he said, to find a way of giving more than linguistic status to such propositions as "personal God", for it appeared to him that these statements somehow pointed to a truth about the universe, about the nature of things, that must be reckoned with in any honest description of the "way things are".
Another reason for the neglect of Whitehead and the other process-thinkers, especially among theologians, has been the long period (from which we now seem to be emerging) when philosophical theology itself, and especially such philosophical theology as employed scientific data as part of its material, was looked upon as a highly dangerous and even sinful intrusion of non-biblical and secular thought into the Christian faith. What some call "biblical theology" has been taken to rule out, once and for all, any such philosophical approach to faith. Not only has it been thought that this is improper; it has been suggested, as I have just noted, that to engage in philosophical theology is even blasphemous or sinful. God has revealed himself either in the pages of Holy Scripture or in the events which the Bible records; nothing else is needed and anything else diminishes or denies the unique adequacy of biblical revelation. This attitude, which has been widespread in non-Roman and non-Orthodox theological circles, is responsible for the contemptuous dismissal of those theologians (sometimes conveniently tagged "outworn liberals" or "old-fashioned modernists") who attempted in the past or who still attempt in the present to employ in their work the insights of the process-philosophers.
For example, during the twenties and thirties of this century, a group of theologians at Cambridge University was engaged in the task of re-conceiving and re-stating Christian faith in the light of what was then called "emergent evolution". I refer to such men as Professor
J. F. Bethune-Baker, Professor A. Nairne, Canon C. E. Raven, all of whom are now dead, and Dr J. S. Boys-Smith and Dr A. C. Bouquet, both happily still with us. At the same time Father Lionel Thornton published The Incarnate Lord and Dr W. R. Matthews The Purpose of God and other books; while in the United States Professor E. W. Lyman produced his great work on The Meaning and Truth of Religion, and other writers, far too numerous to mention, were attempting the same task. But for a variety of reasons, not least among them the growing influence of Karl Barth and the continental theologians who at the time were associated with him, this entire effort was rejected in the mid-thirties by a large number of Christian scholars. A sermon preached at that time by Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and later reprinted in Cambridge Sermon (Cambridge Sermons, pp. 34-35 (Faith Press, London, 1959) may perhaps be taken as the symbolic moment of the change. In that sermon Sir Edwyn remarked in effect that while the Lady Margaret Professor (Dr Bethune-Baker) was urging that the task of theology was to bring about a reconciliation of evolution and faith and to re-state faith in terms congruent with such evolutionary ideas, in his (Hoskynsí) opinion the theologianís task was precisely the opposite: it was to show the inadequacy of such ideas and to make clear the incongruity between evolutionary thought and Christian faith.
The recent publication in French, and then in English translation -- and this some years after his death -- of Teilhard de Chardinís The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu, and the avid reading which these and other writings by the same French Jesuit have received, may be said to mark the return in many circles to the possibility of a philosophical theology which is prepared to employ evolutionary motifs. As the publication of Teilhardís work has continued his influence has grown. There are sections- in his The Future of Man, which is a fascinating collection of papers, essays, and lectures given by Teilhard during the years 1924-50, which clearly point the theme and purpose of the present lectures. For example, Teilhard spoke of the "general and growing state of dissatisfaction in religious affairs" (P. T. de Chardin: The Future of Man, p. 260 [W. Collins, London, 1964]) -- he was writing in 1949. "For some obscure reason he wrote, "something has gone wrong between Man and God as in these days he is represented to Man". The italics are Teilhardís own; and the succeeding pages of the essay from which the quotation comes show that for him "what has gone wrong" was the failure of much traditional Christian teaching and preaching to see that the world -- the whole created order in its materiality, along with manís grasp of the importance of secular effort and achievement -- is an ongoing movement in which significance is given to human life. Teilhard pointed out that it has been the rejection by many modern men of "an Ďextrinsicalí God, a deus ex machina whose existence can only undermine the dignity of the universe and weaken the springs of human endeavor", which poses Christian thinkers with their problem. He asked if they were prepared to reject such a false conception of the meaning of Deity, not only because the rejection was forced on them by honesty but also because such a "pseudo-God" was a denial of the profound Christian rootage in Incarnation.
It would appear that evolutionary or process motifs are again being forced upon our attention; and Christian thought will neglect them to its own peril. Yet we reiterate that throughout the earlier period in question -- from 1935, say, to 1960 -- a few theologians such as Canon Raven in England had continued along the lines laid down in the twenties, while Professor Hartshorne and some others in the United States (notably E. E. Harris, in such books as Revelation Through Reason) were carrying on the work on the strictly philosophical side. Professor Tillich himself, to whom we referred at the beginning of this lecture, although not at all identified with process-thought, was insistent on the necessity for the development of a modern philosophical theology and was increasingly finding himself in sympathy with many of the conclusions of thinkers such as Hartshorne; and more recently, as he himself acknowledged in the preface to the third volume of Systematic Theology, he associated his own views with those of Teilhard.
It may be said, I believe, that once more the enterprise of reconception in the light of process-thought is at least a "respectable" one in theological circles. The linguistic and biblicist vetos have been seen to be both arbitrary and unwarranted -- which makes it all the more pathetic that Dr Paul van Buren in The Secular Meaning of the Gospel still seems to accept them as valid and to rule out "God-statements" as "meaningless" while at the same time his excessive Barthian christocentrism and bibliocentrism turns the patent intention of scriptural statement into a parody of their proper meaning. On the other hand, the work of other younger theologians like Schubert Ogden, in his book Christ without Myth and more recently (and admirably) in The Reality of God, has shown a way of employing the insights of a soundly based biblical hermeneutic within the context of a specifically process-thought understanding of the human situation and the world in which manís existence is set. Furthermore it is to be noted that through the years that have passed since 1936, Professor Daniel Day Williams, Professor Bernard M. Loomer, and Professor Bernard Meland, all three teaching in the United States, have written extensively in theological journals and occasionally in books, all of them engaging in this same task of employing the main tenets of process-thought for the explication of Christian faith. Professor Williamsís recent book entitled The Spirit and Forms of Love is a sustained application of the concepts of process-thought to the Christian understanding of love as the cosmic ground and the basic meaning of all existence.
Finally, two or three very recent books may be mentioned which are valuable as attempts to state Christian belief in terms of the conceptuality provided by process-thought: John B. Cobbís A Christian Natural Theology, Peter N. Hamiltonís The Living God and the Modern World, and F. H. Petersí The Creative Advance. Professor Cobb has also written another volume, which will be published before the present book appears, in which he explores the historical claims of Christian faith with relation to Whiteheadís philosophy; this is entitled The Structure of Christian Existence.
The present lectures are intended to present, in brief outline, the main emphases of process-thought as one theologian has understood them and to argue for the use of these emphases in the reconception of Christian faith today. It makes no pretence to be exhaustive; it is at best suggestive, perhaps provocative. If the job is done, and when it is done, much in the commonly understood picture of Christian faith may be altered; but I am convinced that nothing that is centrally important will be lost. A former student of Whiteheadís once reported in my hearing that the philosopher himself said, when questioned, that Christian "orthodoxy" could not be reconciled with his philosophy. The meaning of this reported remark depends upon what one understands by "orthodoxy". If one means, as Whitehead seems to have done, a rigid adherence to the letter of past formulations of the Christian faith, what he said is of course true. If one means, however, an insistence on the great affirmations of God as love, God revealed in Christ, God the sustainer of human life and the upholder of manís destiny, then the situation is different.
But it. seems to me that we should be wiser if we did not here use the term "orthodoxy" at all; rather, we should speak of the truth which Christian faith grasps and by which the Christian believer is grasped. In that case, to repeat, nothing will be lost and much will be gained, both for the understanding of the faith in God self-revealed in Christ and for the Church which with all its imperfections and inadequacies has proclaimed this faith to the world through twenty centuries of history.
In any event, the task of reconception is required. Whitehead himself has some telling words about this:
Those societies which cannot combine reverence for the symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay either from anarchy or from the slow atrophy of a life stifled by useless shadows.(A. N. Whitehead: Symbolism, p. 88 (Cambridge University Press, 1927).
What are the assumptions with which process-thought begins? And why should Christian thinkers be interested in process-thought? Here are two preliminary questions to which we should turn before we begin our exposition of the attitude which process-thought in its wider significance takes towards problems such as the nature of deity, the meaning of divine activity in the world, and the nature of man and society.
The first and perhaps the basic assumption of the kind of interpretation of the world which we are here considering, is simply that we are confronted, both in our own human experience and in the description of things with which modern scientific enquiry has made us familiar, with a dynamic rather than with a static reality. Those who take this view would say, for example, that it is absurd to speak of "human nature" as if it were an entity that could be described in categories of substance, if by substance we mean immutable and unchanging thing. Man is "on the move"; he is a living, changing, developing creature. If he is to be described at all, the dynamic quality of his existence must be recognized and grasped, even if it is also the fact that through all the changes there are persistent qualities which preserve his identity as human. Likewise the world of nature is not a static affair in which things "continue in one stay"; on the contrary, it is evolving, changing, "in process". Down to the lowest levels of matter, if we may so style them, this capacity for and presence of change and development is to be seen. Indeed Professor Whitehead was prepared to go so far as to say that the electron itself is a "society" or an "organism", marked by movement and dynamic activity. Of course the sense in which such words may be used to describe the various levels in the world will vary according to the particular level which is under consideration at any given time and by any particular science. An electron is not a dynamic society or organism of the same order as an amoeba; certainly it differs vastly from the activity which we note in a living cell, in a plant, in a dog, and a fortiori in a man. Yet the world as a whole is in process and is a process; it is not a finished and settled system composed of discrete entities which are inert, changeless, static.
We are led then to a second assumption which is basic to process-thought. Not only is the world and all that is in it a dynamic movement; it is also an inter-related society of "occasions". Nor is there the possibility of isolating one occasion from another, so that each may be considered in itself alone. On the contrary, it would be a "false abstraction" from the deliverance of experience and of observation to attempt to do this. Into each of the given occasions there enter past events as well as the surrounding and accompanying pressures of other occasions, not to mention the "lure" of the future. To illustrate once again from the area best known to us, this is obvious enough at the human level. A man does not and cannot exist in complete isolation from other men, or from his present environment, or from his own past history and the more general history of the human race of which as man he is a part, or from the natural order to which he and his whole race belong, or from the possible developments which are before him and mankind in general. Each man is a focusing, a concretizing, of all these. Thus in being "himself" he is not himself alone; he is all that has gone to make him up, all that surrounds him, all that presses upon him, all that he himself enters into and in which he shares, all which he may be. And that which is true of man, is likewise true in its appropriate way throughout the universe. We live in and we are confronted by a richly inter-connected, inter-related, inter-penetrative series of events, just as we ourselves are such a series of events. Whatever is our own specific identity, it can be asserted of us only when this fact of our sociality, of our organic nature, is grasped and given due emphasis. The same must be said of the world as a whole.
This means that we are not able to make sharp distinctions of an ultimate and definitive kind. We cannot do this between "selves", for (as we have seen) they are inter-penetrating. It also means that in the rich experience which we possess, as we grasp it in that kind of double awareness which Whitehead calls "presentational immediacy" and "causal efficacy", we are given a full and compresent encounter with the world. Hence it is impossible, for instance, to reject the aesthetic and valuational elements in experience, as if these were to be seen as merely "subjective", while the primary qualities of hardness, etc., are taken as genuinely "objective". The fact is that our experience gives us all this together, as being profoundly one in impact upon us; we cannot cut up the world of experience, after the fashion of an earlier philosophy, and speak as if that which in its aesthetic quality has subjective appeal must lack any genuine reality in the world itself, simply because it does not lend itself to a particular kind of analysis by measurement or testing. It is of course true that we can and do make abstractions. We are obliged to make them for practical purposes as well as for a theoretical understanding of this or that special question; but they are exactly what they are called, they are "abstractions" from the richness of experience as we concretely know it.
This many-sided experience as it presents itself to us in its immediacy carries with it the corollary of "causal efficacy". By this, process-thought (as expounded by Whitehead) means that there is given to us, in our experience at all levels (including our "bodily" as well as our intellectual awareness), the sense of a variety of relationships which have played upon us and brought our experience to us in the particular way in which in fact it has been brought. Causation, then, is to be taken as another word for describing the way in which given occasions are brought to a focus and in which they make their impact upon those to whom they are presented. This rather than that particular occasion is known; we experience this, not that, possibility. The converging process, whatever it may be, that brings this rather than that to a focus is a genuine and necessarily given factor which is present in whatever it is that we are experiencing, sensing, feeling, knowing, understanding. What in an older kind of philosophy would have been called the chain-of-cause-and-effect is here seen as being very much richer; it is a congeries of occasions, events, pressures, movements, routes, which come to focus at this or that point, and which for their explanation require some principle that has brought and still is bringing each of them, rather than some other possible occurrence, into this particular concrete moment of what we commonly style "existence".
But what secures such persistence or identity in occasions as we do in fact know, both from observation and from our own experience of ourselves? The answer to this question is given in the concept of the "subjective aim" which is proper to each series of occasions. This aim, which has always about it a directive quality, is to be understood as the goal or end towards which a given process moves, yet it must also be seen as in some sense immanently at work in that process moving it towards its goal or end or actualization. There is an element of teleological concern in all process-thought, whether or not the particular description we have offered is accepted. But this does not mean that each set of occasions is "conscious", in anything like our human sense, of the aim which is before it and which gives it the distinctive identity that it possesses. An acorn is certainly not aware of the aim which keeps it moving towards its proper development into an oak-tree. But none the less, what does thus keep it moving towards its proper development is the given subjective aim which is proper to the acorn. And so, in appropriate measure and of course with vast differences at each level, throughout the cosmos. Thus we are delivered from a purely mechanical view of the universe, in which nothing is going on but the re-shuffling of a series of originally given entities. Yet we are not delivered into the hands of the vitalist who would wish to introduce some kind of mysterious psyche or entelechy or spirit (or whatever equivalent term he might use) as an addition to the process. God himself is possessed of a subjective aim; and every entity in the process, understood as dynamic, inter-related, inter-penetrative of every other entity (and hence better described as an occasion or instance along some "route"), is also characterized by such an aim. This is a truly organic and hence integrative view of "the way things go".
Finally, because of the nature of the world as we know it, we cannot grasp it with that kind of absolute clarity which a Cartesian type of thinking would demand. Indeed we must always seek clarity, as Whitehead once said; but he went on to say that at the same time we must always distrust it. For the difficulty is that simple explanations, which tend always to assume an omnicompetent knowledge, are likely to give us falsely simple explanations. If we accept experience as we know it, there will be some things which will appear relatively clear, but they will be set in contexts which are not so clear. Hence the picture of truth is much more that of a small area of fairly straightforward knowledge which shades out into more and more mysterious and unclear, knowledge or intimation or hint or apprehension, than it is that of "clear and distinct ideas" which leave no room for doubt and presume to give a simple and direct explanation of any given moment of experience.
A consequence of these assumptions is the rejection of all those dualisms which would make simple divisions or disjunctions between subjective and objective, between man and his world, between mind and matter, between natural and supernatural, and the like. This is one world, however diversified it may be; it is all held together in the kind of unity which we know in ourselves -- as beings who are not "souls" or "minds" inhabiting "bodies", but who ourselves are the rich unity of all those ranges of experience with which we are familiar, so that (if this kind of language is permissible at all) we must recognize that we are minds and we are bodies -- or better, we are ourselves as we know ourselves in the uncomplicated immediacy of our experience of ourselves as being precisely ourselves and not something other or less.
A concluding comment may be appropriate here in respect to our first question. The use of human language is for process-thinkers not restricted to the games we play with words. On the contrary, there is for them a more "realistic" insistence on the use of language as being of necessity the symbols for that which we experience or observe. Of course words are arbitrary in one sense, for other terms and other languages are possible. But in another sense they point towards and alone make possible some grasp of that which is really there to be known. They are not empty sounds but have acquired and now convey meanings; they possess an evocative and denotative quality. Inadequate as they are, subject to modification from time to time, needing correction and supplementation, our various human languages (verbal and pictorial, aural or graphic) are both necessary for us and useful to us; they help to make sense of, and they help to give sense to, the richness of experience and the given-ness of the world as we observe and grasp it. Man is a symbol-making and symbol-using animal, but his symbols are not merely subjective. The activity of symbolization is part of his equipment for understanding himself and his world. It is possible therefore -- and it is entirely legitimate -- to engage in the metaphysical enterprise with the use of such languages as we possess. To refuse to engage in this enterprise, or to reject it as an impossibility, is equivalent to denying to man any capacity to understand who and what he is and what his experience tells him about the world in which he lives.
Our second preliminary question concerned the reason or reasons why Christian thinkers should be interested in process-thought. An approach to an answer may be found by mention of a particular insistence found in one way or another in all the thinkers of this school. Professor Whitehead has used the term "importance" to describe this insight, but there are many other possible ways in which it may be stated and other process-thinkers have their own terms to describe it. But using Whiteheadís word, we may say that "importance" is appropriately employed to indicate the fact that some specific occurrence, some particular event or series of concrescent events, some particular stance or attitude, provides for any responsible thinker the "clue" which he takes for his understanding of "how things go". For example, we are all aware of the way in which a moment in the life of a man which to him seems to have decisive importance will give him his criterion of interpretation for all that happens to him. Some historical event, as we well know, can have a determinative significance for our comprehension of a whole series of preceding and succeeding historical events. That which in this sense is "important" not only seems to sum up or to crystallize (so to say) our prior experience, but also opens up for us new avenues of possibility, leading to future interpretations which will be enriching and deepening in our experience. Even more significant, the "important" will actually inaugurate a new level of understanding and thus give rise to a new level of experience for us and for those who follow us. It has an objective as well as a subjective quality. To this concept of "importance" we shall return in other contexts. At the moment it is helpful in our endeavor to see why process-thought has interest for Christian theology.
The point is of course obvious. The Christian believes that in the events of which Scripture is the record, and supremely in the events which find their focus in the life and activity of Jesus Christ, there is a disclosure of something which in the highest degree is "important". Since the Christian is convinced that this is the case, a kind of philosophy which is congruous with such a conviction should be very welcome indeed. Furthermore, if it can be shown that there are many points in which the Christian conviction of what is "important" is illuminated by such a philosophy, the Christian will inevitably have more than academic interest in the way in which that philosophy interprets the world and human experience.
Many of us are certain that this relationship of congruity and illumination which we have noted in respect to the concept of "importance" is true also between many other assertions of Christian faith and the conclusions of process-thought. Of course to say this is also to say we are certain that the biblical narrative and witness demand a metaphysical interpretation. In other words, it is to say that we believe that implicit in the pictorial language of the Scriptures and the historical events to which the Bible points and with which its language is concerned, there is a basic view of the world which is grounded in reality itself. It is obvious that the Hebrew mind Aid not think about and certainly did not handle this view in conceptual terms such as the Greeks, for example, were ready to employ in their philosophy. But despite the assertions of certain biblical scholars, this does not mean that no metaphysic is implicit in Hebrew thinking; it means only that the language in which the implicit metaphysic was stated was for the Hebrew highly imaginistic, pictorial, symbolical. The Hebrew mind, as represented in the Scriptures, did its thinking in a metaphorical fashion; indeed it might be said that the Jews thought mythologically, if by this word we mean that they thought in pictures and in stories, rather than in abstract concepts and Greek philosophical ideas. But they thought.
Granted this difference, It would seem that there is a remarkable correspondence between the biblical insistence on the living God who is active in nature and in the affairs of men, and the recognition by process-thought that the world is a dynamic process of such a kind that whatever explanatory principle or agency there may be must be of that sort too -- it also must be dynamic and processive. The Jewish-Christian tradition has never really been content with an "unmoved mover" as the final principle of explanation, however often the notion has been found in classical theologies. It has been uneasy when the God about whom it talks is described in substantial terms of a kind which leave little room for his boundless energizing activity in the world; it has been obliged to seek all sorts of verbal devices for putting life into such language. Process-thought in fact is much closer to the biblical way of seeing things, with its recognition of the profound importance of activity, movement, and development.
Furthermore, the whole creation itself, both what we call nature and also the realm of historical happening, is for the biblical writers open at every point to the action of the living God. They do not see it as a fixed entity, already made and finished; for them the creation is a directed movement in which novelty occurs, in which the unexpected may and indeed often does happen, and in which great ends are in process of achievement. A view of the world which regards it as a finished product has little relation to the world as the Bible sees it; while a world that is nothing but a complicated mechanism, like a machine which grinds along engaged in nothing but repeating standard patterns of behavior, is not the world of movement and change of which the Scriptures speak. The Bible tells us of a faithful God whose purpose is unchanging; hence whatever he does will be consistent with his ultimate objective, while the created world will not be the scene of irrelevant and meaningless intrusions. But with all his faithfulness God is living and active, and the creation is not a "finished" world, much less a dead and inert substance. Granted once again that the biblical witness is in highly pictorial terms and that its "science" is outmoded, the fact yet remains that the biblical witness is to what we have styled an "open" world in which new things occur; that biblical witness always recognized the possibility of novel as well as significant developments.
Once again, the insistence of process-thought on interrelationship as basic to the world should be welcome to Christian theologians. The great biblical affirmations about God are always made with reference to "God-and-his-world". Whatever is said in Scripture about "God-in-himself" is always to be understood as inference from what is known of his activity in creation. And if he is indeed, what the Christian believes him to be, a loving as well as a living God, then it is obvious that he cannot be seen in abstraction from the world which he loves; for love signifies relationship, and the richest perfection possible is perfection in relationships and not "absolute power" or unchanging substance. An approach to the world and God in terms of process-thought can bring one very close to the Christian conviction that God is genuinely, not simply verbally, describable as "love" -- and as love which participates, shares, and even suffers.
The emphasis (to which we shall turn later) of process-thinkers on what Whitehead called the "consequent nature" of God -- that is to say, on Godís being affected by and actually enriched in his activity by that which occurs in his world -- can provide some "secular" confirmation for the Christianís conviction that God not only "cares" for the creation but also finds satisfaction in his world. As Hartshorne has insisted, God is not made more divine by that satisfaction, but his deity is given a real enhancement and a genuine delight by what happens in creation; furthermore, the implementation of his purposes is made fuller by these happenings. In other words, the creation matters to him. Contrariwise, failures in the creation and a turning-away from its purpose of augmented good are equally real to God, although in the ongoing process he is able to absorb them into himself and to make them serve his ends in ways which would not otherwise be available.
All this should be of interest to the Christian thinker, for it enables him to find (as we have said) a "secular" confirmation for his belief in the God whose suffering love shares in the worldís pain while at the same time his triumphant joy is in part derived from the happiness which the world can know. The reality of evil and of good, of pain and of joy, is recognized. But it is seen in relationship to the basic activity which is God himself who is able both to bring good out of evil and at the same time to rejoice in the good which is achieved in the creation. God is vulnerable and shares the worldís pain, yet he can use evil (once it has occurred) to accomplish good. The Cross, in itself an "evil" thing, was used by God; and Christians believe it was used by him to bring about greater good than would have been possible without it. If at this point they go beyond process-thought, they do not contradict its insight.
Again, the insistence on the societal nature of the world, and on manís genuine participation since he himself is organic to that world, illuminates the Christian belief that man belongs to the creation and that the whole natural order, as well as human history and personal experience, is integral to the purpose of God. This applies both to creation and to redemption. A false spirituality which would try to remove man from his material and embodied situation and regard him as an "angel" is seen for the blatant absurdity which it is; on the other hand, the attempt to think that God purposes to "save" man out of the world is seen to be a denial not only of the Christian gospel but of a sound understanding of human nature. Man is a body, as he is a mind and a spirit. He is, in fact, man; and as man he is a developing unity in relationship with his fellows, with history, and with nature. Therefore what happens in society, in the historical process, and in the natural order of events, has significance for him, because he is participant in this total pattern. God deals with him in this fashion, not as if he were an isolated "soul".
Finally, the stress of process-thought on experience, and the richness of "presentational immediacy" coupled with "causal efficacy", should interest the Christian because it demonstrates that in what nowadays it is fashionable to call "meeting", participation in life, and genuine acquaintance by sharing, we come to the fullest knowledge both of ourselves and others and also of the world and God. God is not "up there" or "out there". He is here, in the immediacy of our experience; and it is here that he is to be known, obeyed, and adored.
Whatever may be said about transcendence must be said with all this in view. The transcendence of God is his inexhaustibility, not his remoteness. He is richer and fuller in his life than any awareness of him which is possible for us, yet he is not far off but close at hand. He is the "depth" of things, as he is the "depth" of ourselves; but he is more than that -- he is himself, yet always himself in relation to that which he is doing, loving, using for the world whose final explanation he is. Even when he is not recognized under some conventional name -- even when he is not "named" at all he is the inescapable energy which moves through all things and which works in all things for the richest possible good. Hence men do not need to be introduced to him as if they had never met him; what they need is to identify him where he is, to recognize him as being what he is, and to see him as doing what he does -- which, in Christian faith, is to see him as the dynamic, living, loving "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".
I have not exhausted, by any means, the reasons for a Christian interest in process-thought. But I hope that I have indicated a few of the reasons and thus have prepared the readers for the consideration of some of the main emphases in process-thought as they have relevance for the task of Christian reconception.