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 4: The Question of Destiny and Some Concluding Comments
In this concluding lecture we begin with a discussion of the views of two process-thinkers, Whitehead and Hartshorne, in respect to the destiny of man and what is usually called "immortality". In what way does man and his personality have for these thinkers a permanent place both in the on-going process of creation and in the Divine Activity which undergirds and works through that process? Is it possible to speak in their language of an assurance of "life beyond death"? More generally we shall consider whether a process-thinker can make room for some sort of immortality for men. Or in a better way of putting the question, "Does eternal life have any meaning in terms of process-thought?"
On this subject, there is in fact a great variety of opinion among thinkers whose writing can be placed in the category of process-thought. For example, there is Père Teilhard, who spoke as a convinced Roman Catholic although he was also a distinguished representative of the sort of evolutionary thought we have been expounding. It has been said that Teilhard could not accept in any genuine sense the position of his communion on these matters. I do not believe this to be accurate. Both in The Phenomenon of Man and in The Divine Milieu, Teilhard indicated his conviction that the "end" for which man is intended -- and not only man in the racial sense but each man specifically -- was a relationship with God, conceived as the Omega-point or the goal and end of the creative process as well as the transcendent origin and initiator of that process. This relationship, he claimed, would establish for personality an existence through and beyond the termination of the particular finite existence it now enjoys. He envisaged this destiny for persons as accomplished through union with, but not (as some seem to think he meant) absorption in, "the Christ who is to be". The cosmic Christ will "include" within himself all things and all persons who thus become his "body", but they will not be "lost" in him; in "the end" they are to be the truly personal means through whom he expresses himself as the fulfillment of all in all.
Again, Lloyd-Morgan, who was also an avowed Christian, in the last chapters of his Gifford Lectures affirmed that the individuality which emerges at the human level is not an ephemeral phenomenon in the cosmos. On the contrary; for through the ongoing Nisus of the creation, which for him is the work of the Eternal Word or (in our language) the Divine Activity, there is a realization of the full potentiality of each individual. Lloyd-Morgan did not discuss the problem at length but it may be said that his view certainly leaves the door open for some conception of immortality. How the conception would be spelled out we do not discover.
We turn now to Professor Whitehead. We find a fairly full statement of his views in the Ingersoll lecture on Immortality, which has been included in the volume Essays in Science and Philosophy. (A.N. Whitehead: Essays in Science and Philosophy (Rider & Co. London. 1948).This lecture we shall summarize in a few minutes. But we should note that Professor Charles Hartshorne, the outstanding contemporary exponent of Whiteheadian thought, is himself not prepared to concede that Whiteheadís position, nor his own development of that position, lead necessarily to the belief in a personal immortality. Hartshorne cannot be said to rule out this belief, but he feels that there are serious problems in it; we shall also speak of these later. His considered treatment of the question of destiny and immortality may be found in his contribution to the Tillich festschrift(["A Philosopherís Assessment of Christianity" in Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, Ed. W. Leibrecht (S.C.M. Press, London, 1959; Harper & Row, New York]) and in a chapter entitled "Time, Death, and Everlasting Life" in The Logic of Perfection.
Whiteheadís approach to the question is made through an analysis of the two "realms" of "activity" and of "value". We have seen in a previous lecture that process-thought is not content with the kind of dichotomy between fact and interpretation which has long been popular in some rationalist circles. Whitehead is clear on the point. He insists on the importance of the "feeling-tones", the aesthetic element in all experience, and the reality of human experiences of value. For him these are a genuine part of total experience, quite as real and quite as significant as the experience of the so-called primary qualities. Furthermore, he is highly critical of the sort of philosophical procedure which would abstract these interpretative elements from our confrontation with given fact. In the sheer given-ness of presentational immediacy coupled with causal efficacy -- in things as we actually experience them -- both fact and meaning are given together. Or as he puts it, there is no such thing as entirely uninterpreted fact, any more than there is any such thing as an "action" in the world which has no valuation judgement attached to it in the complex reality of human experience.
Since this is true, it is also apparent that when the occasions which appear or occur in the world-process make their contribution to the divine experience, by being received into the consequent aspect of deity, they are received as much more than mere abstractions or bare data without valuational warmth. In the actual and concrete event of their occurring, they have carried with them in their organic richness the worth that they have been thought or found to possess: that is intrinsic to their very occurrence. They have been "valued" because in some sense they were "valuable". ĎThey have served a purpose which included an aesthetic element. Further, they have known some genuine satisfaction of their subjective aim. When therefore they are taken into the consequent aspect of deity, to be used in the furthering of Godís purpose in creation, they are not bare "things", but full and rich and "valuable" occasions -- and routing of occasions -- in one degree or another. It is true that the world is characterized by what Whitehead called "the perishing of occasions"; that is, the specific concrete events of which the world is made up do not abide as such. They have played their part in the process and have been employed to provide the opportunity for further advance; they no longer can be said to "exist", once this task is accomplished. Yet there is something that does abide. This is the worth of such occasions; and it must be remembered that that worth is itself not abstract or "ideal". Value is not, so to say, naked or unclothed -- for all value requires factuality for its existence, just as all factuality is possessed of value.
Thus Whitehead can speak of what has been called by Hartshorne the "divine memory". There is of course "objective immortality" in the sense that the several occasions, as they have come into being, realized their aim, and then "perished" as the process moves on, have made their specific contribution to the enrichment of the whole process and have been used by the Divine Activity in establishing fuller good in wider participation. Beyond this, in the life of God himself -- that is, in his consequent aspect which is always in deepest inter-relationship with the world in its becoming -- these several occasions or events, with all their worth or value -- and also with recognition of whatever "unworth" or dis-value may have marked them -- are not altogether lost. They are "remembered", and this in the most serious sense. For God to "remember" does not mean anything like a simple recollection of that which is now past and done with. On the contrary, it means that those events and occasions have so much entered into and so much become part of Deity in his consequent aspect -- providing new possibilities for relationship, new opportunities for creative advance, new chances for the bringing into actuality of genuine and richer good- -- that they are in some deep and real sense integral to the divine life itself.
The further question, of whether this kind of "memory" which preserves the reality of such valued data in the divine life, also carries with it what we might describe as subjective immortality, is not discussed in Whiteheadís essay. It is true that in Religion in the Making Whitehead remarked that his doctrine "is entirely neutral on the question of immortality" in the subjective sense.(Religion in the Making, p.111.) It is also true that in the Dialogues, Price quotes Whitehead as saying,
"Insofar as man partakes of this creative process does he partake of the divine, of God, and that participation is his immortality, reducing the question of whether his individuality survives the death of the body to the estate of an irrelevancy."(Lucien Price: The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, pp. 370f. [Frederick Muller Ltd. London]).
But as we shall see, a more positive view is possible.
Something of this sort does come under consideration by Professor Hartshorne. He accepts the Whiteheadian position that in the sense we have noted occasions never wholly perish and that they make their specific contribution to the ongoing process as this is gathered up in, and used by, God in the furthering of his purpose of shared good. He feels that there are no compelling philosophical arguments which would lead one to move on to, or on the other hand to reject, the conception of subjective, or as he calls it "personal", immortality for men. But he is himself inclined to reject personal immortality on the ground that to wish for it is to indulge in a kind of selfishness which refuses to accept and rejoice in any accomplishment of goodness or truth or beauty unless "I" can have a personal share in its triumph. For Hartshorne, much of the usual argument for personal immortality seems to reduce to a sort of "dog-in-the-manger attitude to the universe; and since the basic drive through the entire created order is unselfish action towards fuller good, this attitude appears to him to be in flat contradiction to the purpose of creation. The sheer fact of the achievement of the good, linked as it is with the wonderful enrichment of the divine experience through such achievement, ought to be enough. The achievement is "for the greater glory of God" as being himself supreme and all-inclusive love. A man who sees this accomplished and delights in Godís "greater glory" should be sufficiently satisfied, Hartshorne thinks, without wishing that he himself "continue" and thus that he too may enjoy the beatitude which has been achieved.
It seems to me that Hartshorne has here permitted his justifiable dislike of certain popular ways of envisaging the possibility of immortality to dominate his thinking. The sort of approach which he condemns is indeed self-centered to an unfortunate degree and may even be said to be self-condemned. Yet there may be other ways of thinking of immortality. May not "eternal life" provide a better conception? In any event, keeping entirely on the level of speculative discussion, is it not possible to follow consistently the line of thought advanced by Whitehead and accepted by Hartshorne himself and then go on to say something like the following? Precisely because God is love and precisely because the achievement of greater good, especially through the activity of such personalized occasions as man may be said to be, is in itself a good, may not the achieved good include the agency by which it was achieved? May not the satisfaction of the subjective aim which is specifically human include as a necessary consequence some sort of persistence of the creaturely agent, and cannot this persistence itself enhance the ongoing process? Will not this in fact provide more ways in which the creative good can be both expressed and enjoyed?
This certainly should not mean a crudely individualistic notion of "glory for me", such as we associate with some sectarian Christian groups. It might very well suggest the rich conception of a "communion of saints" in which there is a joy that is shared in "widest commonalty", in and with God, as he rejoices in the growing good that thus becomes the further occasion for delight not only to himself but to other subjects of experience.
However this may be, it is apparent that there is not now, there never has been, and there never will be, any strictly logical demonstration of what the Christian is talking about when he speaks not so much of immortality as of "eternal life" and above all when he declares his faith in "resurrection". Process-thought, however, has made a very useful contribution by indicating that in one sense at least "there shall never be one lost good", since God accepts into himself, distils the worth or value from, and is able to use for his own loving purpose, every actual occasion in the created world. God participates intimately in his world and his world makes its contribution to God. This double movement delivers the creation from frustration and futility. Obviously (so I think) Christian faith must say something more; but the more that it says is not in contradiction to this conception of human and cosmic destiny. Rather it gives that conception an even fuller significance and a wider application.
Finally, what can be said of "the end of all things"? The insistence of process-thought on the ongoing movement of creativity, with the new emergent occasions and the accomplishment of good in every part of the world in spite of (and even in a way because of) the lags, the backwaters, and the maladjustments, would suggest that there is in fact no end. As it is the nature of God to be creative and as it is the nature of the world to offer a creative possibility for the Divine Activity, we may conclude that for process-thinkers to speak of an "end", in the chronological sense, would be to deny the very presuppositions from which they start. But that this epoch -- this particular given process known to us in its particular configurations -- will come to an end would seem indeed to be highly likely. If and when this particular epoch has reached its conclusion, with all the good extracted from it that a living and loving God can put into it and get out of it, we might well envisage other epochs in which other kinds of good are to be achieved. All this, however, is in the nature of sheer speculation. What we know here is the "increasing purpose" which runs through our epoch; we may rightly presume that this purpose is the same as that which will run through any and every epoch which could or which may appear. For God is God, whatever his particular activity in this or that place and time, or epoch, may be. To say that God is God is to say that he is always active, living, "moving out" to express his nature, rejoicing in every expression of it, tenderly and compassionately entering into relationship with every finite occasion to give it a similar joy in actualizing all that may possibly be available for it, and accepting into himself all that is achieved in the world. If something like this may legitimately be asserted on the basis of a philosophical world-view such as process-thought has developed, we have reason to be grateful. If we are Christians, we have reason to think that such assertions have a very important bearing on the validity of the faith by which we live: that God is indeed Love and that he has manifested this love in Jesus Christ, to the end that we may live through him.
In these lectures we have been attempting a presentation of some of the major assertions of contemporary process-philosophy which have particular relevance for Christian faith. Our presentation has sought to be objective, so far as this was possible; at any rate no effort has been made to twist these assertions in a specifically Christian direction. Our concern has been simply to indicate what process-thought in a general way has to tell us about God, the world, the nature of man and society, coupled with some discussion of its references to the historical figure of Jesus and its way of envisaging the destiny of man both in and beyond his present mortal existence. It has been our contention, however, that this way of looking at things is of special interest to the Christian theologian; and now and again this has been noted in the context of some given assertion of process-thought. In concluding the lectures, I should like to suggest that process-thought requires supplementation from at least three other areas of contemporary study and to urge that this supplementation will make it even more interesting to Christian thinkers.
First, I believe that it must be related to the existentialist outlook which is so prominent today both in Europe and in North and South America. Here I have especially in mind the insistence of existentialism on the involvement of the self in every interpretation of the meaning of the world, a point with which existentialist thinkers from Kierkegaard to Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre, and Heidegger have been much concerned. We have all come to see that theoretical detachment or the attempt at that sort of "objectivity" which includes no personal commitment is not in fact possible for man in any of the ultimate situations of life. Now this necessity for commitment is in no way alien to the general line taken in process-thought. Professor Hartshorne, for example, in a notable essay(In the American Journal of Religion, April 1957.) has shown that there are many points of similarity between the thought of Whitehead and that of N. Berdyaev, the Russian existentialist thinker of the period between the two great wars. Furthermore, it can be shown, I think, that the insistence of process-thinkers on the "aesthetic" aspect in the world and in human experience, as well as the stress they put on the place of "decision" (at all levels from the sub-atomic to the human and divine) in bringing into actuality the various conceptual possibilities available for the world, represents a sort of metaphysical grounding for the more experiential insistence of the existentialists to whom we have referred. Teilhard is interesting here, with his talk of the "outside" and the "inside" of events. The importance in process-thought of inter-relationship and participation -- or an organic and societal view -- is another indication of similarity of outlook, for existentialism today (as in Heidegger) is emphatic on the "with-world" of our experience. We may conclude that in any use which is made of process-thought by Christian thinkers, due recognition must be given to the centrality of commitment for a viable statement of the meaning of manís existence and the significance of the world of nature and history in which that existence occurs. Existentialist ideas are so well-known today that we need not dwell longer on this first point.
But the second emphasis, again one with which process-thought has many points of contact, will require longer discussion. I am now referring to the newer ways of understanding the meaning of history. There was a time when history was regarded as a cold and detached recording of events in the past; the job of the historian was to discover, so far as possible, "what had happened" and then to set this down in an appropriate series of entries in what really amounted to a kind of account-book. Today we find, however, that the nature of history is interpreted very differently indeed. History is no longer understood as a collection of dates, a dry series of chronicles; it is "the story of how we got this way", as I have often quoted from my old teacher Professor Frank Gavin. It is an entrance into the past, a re-living of the past, an imaginative participation in all the occurrences which have brought a given group or society, a given nation or culture, even the whole human race, to the place in which it now stands.
Still more interesting is the fairly recent discussion of the meaning of history which has pointed to something very like the ancient Jewish idea of "remembrance". We have known for a long time that the ancient Israelite believed that through certain actions or rites he was able to be present at, and actually share in, the events of the past which had created his peopleís life and thus had made him what as a member of that nation he was: a man who belonged to "the chosen people of God". Thus at the annual Passover meal, for example, he did not simply join with his family to "look back" at the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Egyptians, with all that this may have involved as a matter of chronological record. Rather, at that meal he himself, as a member of the Jewish people, was being delivered afresh and was made a living participant in the event in the past which, as he understood it, God had wrought for his people. Much contemporary treatment of history has put just such an emphasis on anamnesis; much is said about the vital entrance of the historian into the past, a participation which has the effect of making that past come alive again in the present. This is not taken to mean that the historian need not at all concern himself with what were actually the facts as they occurred. He must endeavor to discover, so far as this is possible, the precise way in which those events in the past did take place. But the events are never "bare" events; they always have a meaning. Hence once he has recovered the events, the real historian must himself seek to enter into and live through those events, and in his writing about them he must seek continually to relate the meaning which they contain to the life of those who followed and indeed to manís continuing experience up to the present day.
Furthermore, the contemporary historian is aware, as never before have historians been, of the remarkably complex nature of historical events. Indeed he may be said to share something of the process-thinkerís view that events are organic societies. No event has occurred in isolation. The sound historian must take account of what went before the event, of what was environmental to the event, of what was consequent upon the event. All this enters into the constantly expanding historical picture. It is impossible to understand in a serious fashion a specific historical occurrence -- say, the Norman Conquest of 1066 or the American Revolution of the 1770ís -- without the fullest awareness of the rich variety of contributory factors which provided the preparation for, were related to, and resulted from this or that particular or "dated" moment or happening. This is why the historianís job is never completely finished and why new insight into historical events is continually leading to the writing of new "history". Once again, we are coming to see that events, in their remarkable richness, are societal in still another sense. Man is a "social animal" and what happens takes place in his social situation, with his fellows. Nothing in the realm of history happens to man as a "rugged individual", for no man is ever that. But it is also the case that events have a natural setting; there is, so to say, a geography of events. This cannot be neglected by the historian. Historical occurrences do not appear like the acting out of a drama on the neutral stage of nature, whatever certain recent biblical theologians may have seemed to suggest to the contrary. History and nature, nature and history, are inter-related most intimately and directly; and although much may be wrong with Professor Toynbeeís discussion of history, he is surely right in insisting that climate, situation, and natural phenomena in all their great variety have played a genuine role in what he describes as the "challenge-and-response theme which for him is the basic historical motif. It is hardly necessary to point out how all this is intimately related to the general position which, as we have seen, is adopted by process-thinkers.
Finally, as a third field of study with which process-thought must be related, I mention the new psychologies stemming from the work of Freud and Jung. Here I venture on a more detailed consideration, because these psychologies, despite their present differences and disagreements, have opened up to us a whole new dimension of experience and understanding which has to do with the profound depths of human existence in its emotional, valuational, conational, and intellectual aspects. We know a good deal more today about "what is in man" than we could claim to know half or even a quarter of a century ago. We have a better grasp of human motivations, the complex nature of human emotions, the development of personality and its dynamics, and the like. This new knowledge can be very disturbing, since it will not permit us to rest in older judgmental attitudes and demands of us new ways of evaluating the actions which spring from and are related to these startling "depths" in each human life.
Yet it is clear that any attempt to speak meaningfully of man and his place in the world must take this new material most seriously into the reckoning. And here again we find striking similarities with certain aspects of process-thought, especially in the stress which we have noted on "feeling-tones" and on the aesthetic element both in our experience and in the world at large. Furthermore, the portrayal in process-thought of man as an organism, inclusive of mental and emotional as well as physiological functioning, has a close relationship to the psychosomatic picture of man universally held by modern psychologists. It is impossible here to develop this theme more fully, nor is the lecturer competent to make the attempt; but we know that quite revolutionary changes in our traditional notions about human behavior have already taken place and even more revolutionary changes are likely to take place when the discoveries of depth-psychology and psycho-somatics have been given their proper recognition.
As a single example, we may mention one area which is already undergoing change. I refer to the meaning and modus operandi of manís sexuality, to which we referred briefly in our last lecture. Our understanding of sex in the narrower sense of genital activity and in the wider sense of relationship with others has been so altered in recent years that the assumed fixity of thought in this area, with reference to auto-erotism, homo-erotism, and hetero-erotism, along with the related fixity which has been traditionally accepted in respect to judgements upon the right or wrong ways of sexual expression, has been shown to be indefensible by any intelligent standards. In consequence we find ourselves in a period of great fluidity in our understanding of moral criteria and their reference to manís sexual life.
We have already discussed in our last lecture the emergent nature of man, the meaning of his subjective aim, and his intended destiny in terms of his self-realization under the loving action of God -- all this as understood in process-thought. A few comments may now be made about moral standards, as depth psychology illuminates that process portrayal of man; and our illustration, as we have indicated, will be from the area of manís sexual expression.
The conception of God as primarily loving creative activity, so strongly emphasized in process-thought, fits in admirably with the dominant motif of much that psychology tells us about manís sexual drive. If God is love, and has demonstrated this by his loving action in the world, the responsive action of men is also characterized by love. This love is indeed a response to God, but it is expressed not only and perhaps not chiefly directly towards him, but in human relations with fellow-men. Such relations have of necessity a sexual quality; this is made abundantly clear by psychological study.
The emphasis on love, with its sexual overtones, does not rule out the usefulness of moral law, but it most emphatically restricts such law to the role of guidelines or to a generally agreed consensus on ways in which love may best be expressed in human behavior and human relations. When one couples this with what we have said earlier about manís freedom, the openness to the future which is before each of us and all of us, and the importance of decision as to choices made, the moral question is radically transformed from obedience to arbitrary command to willing acceptance of the invitation of love. In other words, much that is said by the so-called "new morality", so much denigrated by traditionalists, is closer to the facts about man in his actual human and cosmic situation than a morality which is essentially restrictive and negative. Recent writers on "situational ethics" and "contextual ethics" seem to have understood this; and we are much indebted to them for taking the first step in a reconception of the meaning of morality, a task which is as important and necessary as the reconception of Christian theology.
As we have said, it is very likely that the area of sexual morality is central here, not only because it has to do with a problem of such striking contemporary relevance but because it follows from the significant role which sexuality plays in the total pattern of human life. We have noted that we are witnessing today a violent revulsion from traditional sexual morality which it is felt did not do justice to the nature of man. It is inevitable that there will be confusion and uncertainty, perhaps for a number of years, before some agreement can be reached on what should replace that older morality. The meaning of sexual relations, within and outside marriage, as well as more unusual sexual attitudes and behavior, like homosexuality, will need to be reconsidered. What will be the final conclusion is by no means clear as yet. However, some points seem already to be obvious. The human expression of sexuality is always indicative of the personal quality of those who engage in such activity; and sexual acts which help to develop genuine personal life, but without destroying or damaging healthy human social relationships, must be evaluated in terms of the tenderness, mutuality, and faithfulness they display, even if they may seem to violate some inherited code. Such codes, like the Sabbath, were made for man, not man for the codes; and the final criterion of "rightness" must be the degree to which sexual self-expression in mutuality can play its part in freeing man from bondage to that which holds back or prevents his movement to realize the subjective aim of full manhood. Certainly in this context the family is always to be regarded as a means for the enhancing and not the restricting of human personality-in-relationship.
In other areas of human behavior, similar principles are beginning to emerge. The "welfare state", for example, is an expression of a wide concern for love in relationship, but always with freedom guaranteed to the persons who constitute the society. In still another area, the treatment of criminals and the steps necessary to remove delinquency (perhaps especially among young people), we see once again an awakening of the spirit of loving understanding, with the intention of amelioration where there cannot be some prior averting of antisocial conduct. The role of punitive justice and retribution is more and more rejected. Here, as elsewhere, many will say that this means that modern society is removing all rules and becoming merely "permissive". But as we are taught by our deepening insight into the dominant role of love in the world and the central place of manís response to that love, and as a consequence of our better understanding of human nature in its psychological depths, we are beginning to see ever wider implications of the truth that God wills and works for men to become men and in freedom to act like men. This means to become and to act like God, who himself is love-in-action. The contribution of the psychological experts has been enormous here, and any sound statement of the meaning of human life, like any implementation of that meaning in personal existence and in social relationships, must be influenced by this contribution.
As we now come to the end of these lectures, let me then reiterate my belief that Christian theologians who are prepared to use process-thought in the task of reconception of Christian faith are required also to give due recognition to the three emphases with which we have just been concerned: to existentialism, to history in its new meaning, and to the insights of modern psychological enquiry. Perhaps it is fair to say that as a matter of fact it has been the theologians who adopt an evolutionary perspective who have also been most inclined to welcome this newer knowledge, although it is of course true that theologians of other persuasions have also been prepared to employ (to a greater or less degree) the findings of one or other of those schools of thought.
What is needed today, I believe, is the radical attempt to work Out a theological pattern for Christian faith which is in the main influenced by process-philosophy, while at the same time use is made of what we have been learning from the existentialistís insistence on engagement and decision, the understanding of history as involving genuine participation and social context, and the psychologistís awareness of the depths of human emotional, conational, and rational experience. It is to be hoped that those who engage in the task will remember that this attempt would necessarily be an essay in reconception, making no pretence to being conclusive or exhaustive. But a considerable number of such experiments would be of great value in furthering the perennial task of thinking-through once again what it means to "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
Now what is this Christian faith? Here we must acknowledge our indebtedness to the work of theologians like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and others of the so-called "neo-orthodox" reaction of the years 1930-50. Some of us -- certainly I myself -- feel that their position is disastrously one-sided and their dismissal of philosophy incredibly narrow. Yet we must admit that through their work we have learned to take very seriously the total biblical story, reading with deeper insight the truths which are there stated not in propositions but in the events of history and in the response made to those events in the experience of men and women immersed in the ordinary affairs of daily life. And again, through the work of other scholars like Bultmann and Buri, with their frank recognition of the mythological element in the biblical story, we have come to see that the affirmations of Scripture have their abiding significance, not in spite of, but precisely because of their being stated in language which can only be described as highly metaphorical. We have learned to read with sympathy and understanding the meaning that is in and behind the "myth". We cannot rest content with the myth itself, in its literal sense; but we can get at what the myth was saying, and saying in a manner appropriate to its time and place. We have come to see, as a matter of fact, that religious assertion by its very nature is inevitably couched in such metaphorical, symbolical, if you will poetical, language; and that all deep faith must express itself in this way if it is to express itself at all.
Thus we are prepared to grant that the Christian faith is told through a story or drama. It is a story that has to do with the human life of Jesus Christ, understood in the light of all that preceded and prepared for his appearance, and apprehended for what it really signified through an awareness of what followed upon it and was nourished and empowered by his appearance in history. This faith, which sees Jesus as revelation of God in action in history, rests upon the commitment of men to the life which the story unfolds, or rather, to the person of Jesus himself -- grasped in the depths of each man s existence as being what Whitehead said it was: "the revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world".
The fact of Christ, thus known in total commitment, has led to a way of thinking, of feeling, of doing, of living, which is marked by his Spirit and informed by a sense of his continuing presence and power in the world. The implications of this commitment in faith to fact, or (as we might say) in engagement of life with the historic, crucified, and "risen" Lord, have been worked out in Christian theology within the context of the communal life of the Christian fellowship and through the worship and obedience which are the expression of Christian discipleship. It is this faith which requires theological reconception in our own day; and some of us are convinced that process-thought, coupled with the other contributions to which I have referred, is most likely to help us in this task.