by John Culp
John Culp is Professor of Philosophy at Azusa Pacific University, 901 East Alosta, Azusa CA 91702. E-mail:email@example.com.
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 132-146, Vol. 30, Number 1, Spring-Summer, 2001. 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.
Dr. Culp describes several discussions between evangelical theologians and process thinkers. Wesleyan theology is neither exclusively liberal nor evangelical, thus this discussion revolved around the more specific relationship between Wesleyan theology and process theology.
I. Background of the Dialogue between Process Thinkers and Evangelicals
The publication of Pinnock’s Theological Crossfire (1990) signaled a significant change in the tenor of evangelical responses to process thought. In effect, it initiated a third phase of the process/evangelical dialogue. Cobb and Pinnock’s Searching for An Adequate God (2000) and Stone and Oord’s Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love (2001) build upon that change to further the dialogue between process thought and evangelical theology.
The first phase of dialogue was friendly. Throughout the early 1900s, traditional Christian thinkers such as Lionel Thornton,1 J. Scott Lidgett, and Charles H. Malik responded appreciatively to Whitehead’s newly published writings by making careful use of Whitehead’s concepts in their theological writings. However, the situation rapidly changed. Process theologians leveled trenchant criticisms at the traditional Christian understanding of God as unaffected by the world. Traditional Christian theologians responded by sharply critiquing process theology. Evangelical theologians such as Royce Gruenler and Ronald Nash challenged the claim of process theology even to be "Christian" theology
Even during this second phase of public conflict, informal contacts took place. Individual process thinkers such as John B. Cobb, Jr. visited evangelical institutions such as Wheaton College in Illinois. Evangelical graduate students studied the thought of Whitehead, Hartshorne, Williams and other process thinkers at Chicago, Claremont, Union in New York, Southern Methodist University and other universities. These informal contacts led to the publication by individuals such as Richard Rice, Stephen Franklin, James Mannoia, and David and Randall Basinger of several articles and an occasional book with a more reflective understanding of process theology and some appreciation for process concepts.2
Utilizing the format of an essay, questions about the essay; replies to the questions, and a responsive essay, evangelical Clark Pinnock and process theologian Delwin Brown initiated the third phase of evangelical/process relations. Although Theological Crossfire as a title sounds adversarial, Pinnock and Brown agreed that Christians needed to move beyond sniping to conversation. As moderates, they began a dialogue by examining major theological doctrines with the hope that an accurate understanding of the other side would prove helpful to both sides.
In 1994, evangelicals3 who agreed with some of the process critique of traditional Christian theology and sought to reformulate the tradition to take account of that critique without accepting the process alternative published The Openness of God. It challenged the traditional Christian understanding of God as unaffected by the world on scriptural rather than philosophical grounds, but the description of God sounded very similar to that of process theology. In order to retain credibility with evangelicals, the authors carefully distinguished their understanding of God from a process concept of God. The Openness of God contributed indirectly to the evangelical/process dialogue by developing the evangelical perspective. The characteristic evangelical distinction was that God’s limitation by the world was based upon God’s choice to be self-limited rather than upon the metaphysical necessity of the world.4
Two conferences at Claremont provided important opportunities for dialogue between process and evangelical thinkers and contributed to the publication of two additional books: Searching for an Adequate God and Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love. The 1997 conference grew out of a shared concern by process and evangelical thinkers to respond to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The participants in this conference included Clark Pinnock and Delwin Brown, three of the authors of The Openness of God, the editors and authors of Searching for an Adequate God, and six of the contributors to Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love. Further conversations between process and evangelical thinkers took place in a session at the Whitehead Centennial celebration in 1998 at Claremont.
Many of the contacts between process and evangelical theologians in the third phase of the relationship have involved individuals identified as Open or Free Will theists. But, the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition has also supplied occasions for discussions between evangelicals and process thinkers.5 Because Wesleyan theology is neither exclusively liberal nor evangelical, this discussion has revolved around the more specific relationship between Wesleyan theology and process theology. The presence of evangelicals and process thinkers who have a common tradition in Wesleyan theology provides another perspective in the dialogue between process and evangelical theology.
II. The New Dialogue
(a) Theological Crossfire
Theological Crossfire brings liberals and evangelicals into conversation. Brown speaks for the liberal side, primarily process theology, and Pinnock speaks for the evangelical, or conservative, side. They dialogue in the midst of crossfire because they share a commitment to the Christian faith and a conviction that the contemporary division of the Christian church into two parties needs to be addressed. Rather than seek to arrive at a common understanding, they hope to hear and be heard. Although giving different descriptions of the two sides, they do, in fact, agree in their description of the parties involved in conflict. For example, Pinnock says that evangelicals seek to maintain doctrinal continuity with the apostles and the early church while liberals work inductively from contemporary experience (13). Similarly Brown, in discussing Scripture, distinguishes between those who emphasize the past and those who stress judgments characteristic of the present (22).
Brown and Pinnock each present their side in chapters on theological method, God, human nature and sin, Christ, salvation, and Christian hope. While agreeing on a number of issues in each topic, differences do arise. Theological methodology and the doctrine of God elicit the clearest differences between the two positions. The other differences tend to follow from these. Further, the other differences are held much more tentatively with a willingness to consider alternative positions.
The difference in theological methodology relates to the use of the past and the use of contemporary experience. While Brown acknowledges that liberals have often failed to listen to the Bible and tradition, he challenges the evangelical claim that there is uniformity in Scripture. Because of the diversity of Scripture, Brown rejects absolutizing any specific understanding of the tradition (25-27). For Brown, the Bible has the power to create Christians, but this does not result in uniformity and occurs in an on-going conversation with contemporaries (28-29). Pinnock appeals to absolutes revealed by God as the final authority in theological reflection. The heart of this revelation is the proclamation of Jesus in Scripture as God’s saving action (36). This does not result in a simplistic methodology because it recognizes that theology arises out of Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason (39-40). Pinnock acknowledges the diversity in Scripture as the ultimate authority but appeals to continuity within diversity and the early creeds as the basis for theology. The continuity in the midst of diversity consists of recognizing the existence of an infinite, personal God, the brokenness of the world, God’s decisive action in the Anointed One, and the Trinity (49-50). These methodological differences show up in the understanding of Scripture. Pinnock understands Scripture to be the source of truth (13), but Brown understands Scripture to be the source of transformation (28).
Liberal and evangelical differences with regard to the concept of God grow out of different understandings of the relationship between God and the world. Evangelicals base the relationship between God and the world upon God’s transcendence, or independence from the world (63). Because of God’s independence, God can and does choose to create and to continue to be related to the world. This on-going relationship is such that God is vitally related to the world and affected by the events of the world (67). In contrast, the liberal understands the relationship between God and the world as a relationship characterized by God’s involvement in the world (88). Even efforts to speak of God in distinction from contemporary experiences are affected by those contemporary experiences. This does not reduce God simply to contemporary experience. Liberals retain a concept of God’s transcendence in that God cannot be identified with any one understanding of who God is (93-95).
Pinnock’s utilization of the doctrine of the Trinity expresses the evangelical emphasis upon God’s transcendence. The doctrine of the Trinity provides Pinnock with a way to reconcile God’s loving relationship with the world to God’s independence from the world. Pinnock agrees that it is meaningful to speak of God as love only if there is something to love. This appears to make the world necessary for God and thus to qualify God’s independence. But God’s independence is preserved if God exists as three persons in a relationship of love because then God loves without needing the world (64). Brown, consistent with the liberal emphasis upon God’s relatedness with the world, finds this understanding of God as self-related, self-communicating, and self-loving inconsistent with the New Testament understanding of God. For him, the concept of God as eternally related to the world more adequately describes God as love (73).
The different understandings of God’s relationship to the world also result in different understandings of God’s power to change the world. Pinnock holds that God’s power is self-limited and that this allows room for human influence upon God (70). However, since God’s power is self-limited, God can both act independently from the processes of nature in the present and will act independently of human agency at the end of time in a final judgment (71, 76). Brown rejects the concept of God’s self-limitation. If God is self-limited, then evil, even if allowed rather than caused by God, is still the result of God’s action, or inaction. A more adequate understanding of God’s power views it as supreme in relation to other powers but not as an irresistible power now or at the end of time (74, 86).
Theological Crossfire made several important contributions to the process/ evangelical dialogue. It initiated a meaningful dialogue between the two parties. In doing so, it increased the understanding that each side had of the other. It also identified an issue that has proved central to the ensuing stages of dialogue. Pinnock’s utilization of the doctrine of the Trinity in order to avoid God’s dependence upon the world has been developed especially by the Open concept of God to differentiate evangelical theology from process theology. Theological Crossfire continues to be significant for the current dialogue through the model it provides for dialogue. It expresses both an awareness of differences based on the other side’s own understanding of its own position and an appreciation for the alternative position. For example, Pinnock challenges, with process theology, the Reformer’s concept of God as manipulating the world (67). Brown agrees that Scripture is crucial to the Church as a source of transformation and that evangelicalism’s emphasis upon transformed individuals gives it a valuable vitality Pinnock accepts the liberal effort to recognize the diversity in Scripture and the importance of Christians speaking to the contemporary situation.
(b) Searching for an Adequate God
Searching for an Adequate God continues the discussion initiated ten years earlier in Theological Crossfire. John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark Pinnock provide essays introducing the discussion by describing the basic difference between the Open view of God and the process concept of God. The structure of the volume involves two sets of articles and responses with interesting differences between the two sets. One set consists of an initial essay by Griffin with Hasker’s response and the final essay in the volume by Hasker with Griffin’s response. Essays and responses by Howell, Wheeler, and Rice compose the second set.
The Griffin-Hasker exchanges provide insights into the similarities of the two positions, critiques of the other’s position, and responses to critiques of their own position. Howell, Wheeler, and Rice write and respond to one another as individuals who have been influenced significantly by process thought and an evangelical heritage. Drawing on their own experiences, they discuss how process thought has been helpful to their theologies. For Howell, process thought along with her evangelical heritage provides important resources for her position as a feminist. For Wheeler, process thought provides a metaphysic to support, articulate, and challenge his position as an evangelical. For Rice, process thought provides important resources, which must be modified, in order to be consistent with his evangelical position. While all of the authors in the volume share a concern for the integrity of both perspectives, Griffin and Hasker seek to show the adequacy of their own position. Howell, Wheeler, and Rice, however, seek to show how both process and evangelical thought make important contributions to their individual Christian theology
The two types of dialogues point to some significant similarities between process and evangelical theology. Griffin lists the similarities between Open free will theists and process free will theists as agreements that (a) the criteria for judging theological positions are broadly biblically based, rationally consistent, and consistent with the best knowledge of the contemporary world, (b) God is the supreme power and is perfect in power, (c) God created our universe, (d) God is active in nature and human history, (e) God is a personal, purposive being involving temporality and response to the world, (f) God is essentially love rather than power, and (g) there is salvation after death (10-14). Griffin recognizes that the latter point, which he himself strongly affirms, Is controversial within process theology. The most significant agreements involve understanding God as love and the nature of God’s action in the world. And yet, these agreements lead to differences on two points when examined closely.
God as love provides the basis for the relationship between God and the world. Both sides in Searching for an Adequate God understand love as an involvement with an other in which the other significantly affects and changes the one who loves. Hence, the world affects God. This contrasts to the traditional Christian understanding of God’s relationship to the world, which holds that God affects the world but is not affected by the world. The Open view explicitly affirms that love involves being affected and that this applies to God as love (See Rice, "Process" 183-84 and Hasker, "Adequate" 216-17).
The basic agreement about God as love becomes disagreement when the primary object of God’s love is specified. Process theists hold that the world is metaphysically necessary in order for God to be a God of love (See Griffin, "Process" 12-14 and Howell, "Openness" 74). If there is no object of love, love is impossible and God as love is impossible. Because it is metaphysically impossible for God to be love without the world, traditional Christian doctrines such as creation from nothing, God’s power to act unilaterally, and God’s foreknowledge of future events as actual are logically inconsistent with understanding God as love. The Open view responds to this process perspective by developing Pinnock’s utilization of a doctrine of the Trinity in Theological Crossfi re. God is essentially love in the relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because God is necessarily related to God as Trinity, God does not require the world. Since the world is not necessary for God to be God, God can choose to create and to love the world (Rice, "Response" 91-92). Griffin questions the adequacy of basing God’s love upon choice. The existence of evil in the world indicates the absence of God’s love. Thus God chooses not to love all the world but rather to love the members of the Trinity Practically, God chooses to love some and not others, and this limits God’s nature as love (Griffin "Process" 17-18).
David Wheeler proposes overcoming the difference between understanding the world as necessary or as contingent by recognizing the point of the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather than focusing on the Trinity as internal or external, as God as love in the Trinity or God as love requiring the world, he suggests recognizing the Trinity as expressing diversity in unity ("Confessional" 117-18). However, this suggestion will require significant development in order to be satisfactory to each side of the discussion. Evangelicals are likely to find it too general to be helpful while process thinkers will hesitate to accept it as a description if there is no recognition of the metaphysical necessity of both diversity and unity.
Howell suggests that the identification of the difference between the two positions be refined. It is not that one side holds to a necessary world while the other side holds to a world that is the result of divine choice. Instead, she points out that different understandings of where necessity and contingency occur in the relation between God and the world give rise to the disagreement ("Response" 204, 206). From the process perspective, a world is necessary but this or any other specific world is contingent upon God’s choices with regard to that world (Griffin, "Response" 251). On the other hand, the Open view maintains that the existence of a world depends upon God’s decision to create from nothing but that having created this world, God is bound to this world by God’s love for the creation (Rice, "Process" 199). Howell finds the different understandings of necessity and contingency creative ("Response" 207) while Rice finds the difference between the world as necessary or contingent unresolvable ("Process" 200).
The second point of general agreement, which becomes disagreement in the details, is the nature of God’s action in relation to human existence. Both dialogue partners agree that God’s action in the world takes into consideration the reality of what God has created, namely that there are realities that exist without being the direct result of God’s will (See Rice, "Process" 185). God’s action in relation to these realities can be understood as involving mutual interaction (persuasive), unilateral (coercive) action, or some combination of both mutual and unilateral actions. In spite of the common understanding that process theists limit God to persuasive action and evangelicals affirm that God acts coercively both sides agree that God ordinarily works in human experience through mutual interaction, or persuasion (Hasker, "Response" 41). Hasker and Rice both acknowledge the destructive nature of unilateral action for human freedom. In fact, Hasker states, "In this age of the world, God does indeed persuade but he seldom compels" ("Adequate" 237-38). However, in contrast to process theology, evangelical theology does affirm God’s capability of unilateral action and the actuality of God’s acting unilaterally. God’s unilateral action is present in creation (See Rice, "Process" 191 and Hasker, "Adequate" 228-29), in occasional events in individuals’ lives, and in God’s final triumph.
Although the majority of process theists have asserted that God is able to act only in a mutual manner due to the reality of other agents, there is some recognition that some of God’s actions involve less mutuality or are "quasi-coercive." Griffin states that in the original conditions leading to a specific world, God’s action is quasi-coercive because no past exists to compete with the divine purposes ("Process" 30). Howell affirms that God acts unilaterally in unifying the multiplicity of the world in God’s being ("Response" 205). Process theists do not conclude in these cases that God acts coercively, but they do recognize that in God’s own becoming and in events of creation, God’s actions take priority over the actions of others. It can be said that God initiates, but that does not mean that God is the sole agent because God is responding to prior events in the unification of multiplicity and subsequent events respond to God’s purposes in moments of creation.
Part of the Open view’s interest in retaining the concept of God’s unilateral action grows out of the concern that God’s actions be unique to specific situations rather than constant and universally the same. The Open view’s criticism is that the process understanding that God presents possibilities to events misses God’s provision of specific salvation for individuals (Rice, "Process" 185, 192). God’s ability’ to choose to create and love makes it possible for God to relate to events in the world as individual events making a personal relationship possible if God chooses to enter into a personal relationship. While the process concept of God presenting a unique purpose to each occasion is a metaphysical generalization, it does not preclude a variety of possible aims for further feelings of God, which would be unique depending upon the response of each event. Cobb (xiii) and Griffin ("Process" 12-13) explicitly affirm the variability of divine action. This appears to provide for God’s specific action in relation to specific events. Rice, however, still finds that process thought is not helpful in thinking about God’s relationship to the world at the level of God’s involvement in specific events. His objection appears to be that the generality of metaphysical description in process thought imposes limits upon God’s action that are not necessary. Although Open theists and process theists both hold that God acts in various ways that are appropriate to specific situations, Open theists hold on to the importance of God’s unilateral action.
The identification of differences even in similarities that results from the dialogues in Searching for an Adequate God clarifies the foundational difference between process theology and Open theists. Cobb identifies this foundational issue most clearly. He characterizes process theists as holding that God’s actions flow from God’s nature while Open theists emphasize God’s will over God’s nature (xiii). Griffin in his response to Hasker provides some additional delineation of this foundational difference. According to Griffin, metaphysical principles describe the nature of God and the relationship of God to the world rather than being imposed by a reality’ other than God. Thus metaphysical principles are linked to God’s nature. In contrast to that, Hasker expresses a completely voluntaristic perspective by deriving both the existence of a world and the characteristics of this world from God’s choices (Griffin 251). Understanding God primarily in terms of God’s nature as love or understanding God primarily in terms of God’s will to love distinguishes process theism from Open theism. This distinction leads directly or indirectly to the other differences between the participants in this dialogue. For example, the evangelical rejection of the necessity of the world for God is based upon the affirmation of God’s unlimited expression of will. If the world is necessary for God, God cannot act without the world.
Searching for an Adequate God has made important advances in the dialogue between process thinkers and the Open view of God. A much more complete and precise identification of similarities has been accomplished. Differences between the two perspectives, which were identified in Theological Crossfire, have been examined and defined more clearly. Several important issues for future dialogue, such as whether God should be understood primarily as nature or as will and the issue of how to account for God’s saving action in the events of an individual’s life, have arisen out of the process of clarification. Finally, the theologies of Howell, Wheeler, and Rice demonstrate the possibility of creative interaction that goes beyond either perspective by itself.
A review cannot convey all the riches of this dialogue. Reading these essays and the give-and-take that occurs in them will enrich anyone seeking to better understand both the differences between process thought and the Open expression of evangelical theology and the potential for significant development in theological responses to the contemporary religious and intellectual context.
(c) Thy Nature and Thy Name Is Love
Thy Nature and Thy Name Is Love examines the relationship between process thought and Wesleyans in the last half of the twentieth century. During this time, those such as United Methodist Paul Mickey and Church of the Nazarene Mildred Bangs Wynkoop drew upon process concepts.6 Recognizing also that many process theologians have been part of the Wesleyan/Methodist theological tradition, the editors seek to show how an explicit interaction between process theology and Wesleyan theology leads to distinctive contributions to contemporary debates in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. To this end, the editors have included essays dealing with the historical connections between Wesleyan and process theology, the God-human relationship, the doctrine of the Trinity, concepts of divine power, epistemology, aesthetics, and the appropriate human responses to divine grace.
The presence of four themes throughout the essays manifests the impact of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition upon this volume. The first theme is the priority’ of divine grace as the basis for human freedom, vital to human knowledge, and enabling transformed living (Ogden, Stone, Cobb, Culp, Moore) The second theme is the importance of human response to divine grace culminating in Christian living (Suchocki, Stone, Cobb, Young). The importance of human response leads to the theme that human experience and praxis are vital to theology (Ogden, Suchocki, Stone, Walker, Moore, Young). Finally; these essays fit the title of the collection in that they express the theme that God is characterized by love, which responds to humans (Stone, Maddox, Lodahl, Moore, Young). However, these essays do not simply restate Wesley in a contemporary context. They include critiques of Wesley’s and the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition’s acceptance of simple foreknowledge (Maddox), basing human freedom on God’s self-limitation (Oord), a soteriological understanding of the Trinity (Powell) and homocentrism (Odgen, Stone, Walker, McDaniel, Farthing).
The clear presence of theological themes that are central to the Wesleyan theological tradition makes dialogue possible between process and Wesleyan theology in this volume. The awareness of the distinct identity of each tradition enables the participants in this dialogue to recognize both the similarities and the differences between these two theological traditions. Stone and Oord, Ogden, Suchocki, Moore, and McDaniel and Farthing offer lists of the similarities between process and Wesleyan theologies. These lists and specific references in other essays identify six similarities: (a) God is understood as love involving God’s presence in human experience and God’s response to that experience, (b) human existence depends upon God’s grace and that grace makes humans free, (c) humans respond to God resulting in the fulfillment of God’s intentions in the concrete experiences of individuals, (d) knowledge involves more than subjective sensory experience, (e) experience broadly understood is crucial for theology, and (f) reality is characterized by diversity and relationality.
The awareness of differences results in concerns about process theology that are similar to some of the concerns expressed by evangelicals in Searching/or an Adequate God. Padgett’s warning about comprehensive metaphysical systems and Powell’s critique that process thought does not sufficiently recognize the difference between God’s being and other beings make specific the concern in Searching that God not be limited by metaphysical categories. Maddox’s uneasiness about the process limitation of God’s action to luring creatures and Lodahi’s concern that the process rejection of creation from nothing limits God’s ability to save all reality offer additional statements of the concern in Searching that God does not relate personality to individuals.
The Wesleyan/process dialogue in Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love contributes to both partners. Generally, process thought provides a theoretical basis for Wesleyan theology. Often process thought supplies a metaphysical basis for Wesleyan convictions. Cobb finds that Whitehead enables Wesleyans to avoid any human boasting regarding salvation. Culp finds that process epistemology challenges the dominant epistemological reliance upon sensation and provides an explanation for Wesley’s discussion of spiritual senses. In body, in conceptualizing the Trinity uses process thought to account for God’s nature and power as social in a challenge to substantialistic metaphysics. Stiles uses process insights to broaden Wesleyan theology by recognizing the role of the aesthetic in theology. Other essays draw upon process thought to challenge homocentrism in contemporary thought. Process thought enables Walker to appreciate the other including the other of non-human existence. Moore draws upon the process recognition of human responsibility for the ecosystem. Process concepts also support responding to social injustice and consumerism in Young’s and McDaniel’s and Farthing’s essays.
But there are also points at which Wesleyan concepts assist process theology. Oord takes Wesley’s concept of God as Spirit and explains how God as provider of initial aims is not responsible for the evil that results from human action because God does not have the control that humans have over human bodies. Lodahl develops the idea of God’s nature as love to identify God’s love as eternal, the world as the result of God’s eternal loving, and God’s ability to save all reality as an alternative to the either/or response of process theology to the doctrine of creation from nothing. Rather than appeal with the Open view to God’s will to save, Lodahl bases God’s saving action on God’s eternal nature as love. The essays by McDaniel and Farthing and Moore point out how concrete Wesleyan expressions of process theoretical positions make abstract concepts actual.
Finally, several essays go beyond contributing to the dialogue partners theology by providing examples of mutual transformation. Stone brings together the Wesleyan expectation that God will be personally present to those who respond to God’s initiative with the process awareness of relationality, creativity, and freedom in order to reappropriate the theological sense of God’s presence in the world in both cosmic and individual aspects. Cobb utilizes Whitehead’s understanding of the immanence of God in each occasion to resolve the tendency to oppose grace to freedom and to make Wesley’s insight of God’s mutual relation with humans a consistent reliance upon God’s grace as the source of human freedom. Lodahl seeks to move beyond the rejection of creation from nothing without breaking the relationship between God and the world by focusing upon God’s eternal love in order to show the necessary effectiveness of divine love.
While this volume focuses upon the process/Wesleyan dialogue, it also contributes to the broader process/evangelical dialogue in two ways. One contribution comes through making the Important similarities between Wesleyan and process theology evident. Awareness of these similarities or compatibilities assists in keeping the discussion alive because it helps the partners recognize shared grounds for conversation. This volume also provides specific examples of the value of the dialogue. Specific examples of metaphysical support and mutual transformation encourage the search for additional ways that process and evangelical thinkers can assist each other in responding to the contemporary situation.
The vitality and insight of the essays in Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love demonstrate how process theology can help evangelicals broaden their recognition of God’s presence from being limited to God’s presence in the world in Christ. This volume persuasively argues for God’s presence In understandings of being, epistemology, practice, anthropology, and Christian life.
III. Conclusions and Possibilities
The diversity among the evangelicals in these three phases of the new dialogue leads to an important conclusion regarding the continuation of the discussion While the evangelical participants can generally be described as moderate, they come from a variety of traditions. Baptists, Free Will Theists, and Wesleyans have found process thought helpful in communicating God’s love to the world. Being aware of the diversity present within evangelical theology will help process theologians recognize that there is a basis for discussion even though many evangelicals reject process theology. For their part, evangelicals need to recognize the diversity within evangelical thought in order to avoid narrowing the evangelical tradition in a way that loses its vitality. To focus upon propositional understandings of truth and a concept of God as controlling narrows evangelical theology and loses the evangelical concerns for Scripture as living and for commitment to Christ as expressed in daily life. The broader understanding of evangelicalism will enable evangelicals to recognize that there are commonalties making dialogue possible.
Future discussion among process and evangelical theologians will need to deal with four issues raised by these three recent publications. Rice raises the issue of God’s personal relation to the world. He fears that descriptions of God’s general relation to the world do not do justice to God’s specific saving events in individual lives as part of salvation history ("Process" 192, 197). Process theologians will need to develop the theoretical structures in process thought that acknowledge the personal nature of God’s action for salvation in an individual’s life in order to respond to this concern. In developing that response, process theologians may also find the concrete concerns of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition helpful in linking actual experiences to theoretical structures.
The other three topics for future discussions constitute a nest of issues beginning with the debate about the status of metaphysical principles. Evangelicals understand the affirmation of metaphysical principles as limiting God. While evangelicals accept the validity of logical limitations in understanding and describing God’s action, they reject identifying these logical limitations as metaphysical principles. They understand logical limits as arising out of the limitations of human understanding rather than being based upon the nature of existence (Griffin, "Response" 257). In responding to this understanding of logical limits and metaphysical principles, process theologians will need to recall the concern of evangelicals to hold metaphysical principles tentatively But that is consistent with Whitehead’s understanding of metaphysical principles as generalizations.
The issue of whether God should be understood primarily in terms of God’s nature or God’s will underlies the different understandings of the status of metaphysical principles. Historically, the emphasis upon God’s will stressed divine sovereignty rather than love. Process theologians have argued that an emphasis upon God’s will makes the problem of evil insoluble and thus conflicts with understanding God as love (Griffin. "Response 251). Lodahl points to the importance of God’s nature and will in his discussion of creation from nothing. God’s nature establishes God’s identity as love, which God expresses through God’s will to save not God’s will to control. Careful reflection on the relation between God’s nature and God’s will by both sides can prove fruitful, but the priority of God’s nature appears necessary in order to resolve contemporary questions about what God is doing in the world.
The final issue involves methodology, which has not explicitly been part of the discussion since Theological Crossfire. The specific issue is how God’s identity is recognized in the world. Evangelicals identify God’s presence in the world predominantly through difference. God to be God must be different from the world. God differs from the world even in God’s presence and activity in the world. Identifying God through differentiation tends towards understanding God’s sovereignty in terms of control rather than cooperation. Furthermore, it results in understanding persuasion as psychological rather than metaphysical and thus missing the point that it is the nature of God to persuade rather than an externally imposed requirement that God use persuasion. A process methodology understands identity as a unique synthesis. This synthesis involves an actual event including the presence of Love in relation to all and novelty or newness for each situation. Thus God as love is not identified by means of differentiation but by means of inclusion.
This difference in methodologies has implications for the evangelical/process dialogue. This dialogue cannot conclude with a clear identification of difference. Instead, there needs to be an ongoing utilization of the insights of both sides in the dialogue that transcends either side. That will challenge the contemporary emphasis in postmodern thought upon God as Other. While identity through distinction, identity as Other, cannot be overlooked neither can it be final. Both process thinkers and evangelicals agree that God is love and active love in the world. The identity of the presence of that Love in the world is never complete when it is defined exclusively in terms of difference from the world.
1. See Lewis S. Ford. "Response: Lionel S. Thornton and Process Christology," 479-83. See also John Culp, "Modern Thought Challenges Christian Theology: Process Philosophy and Anglican Theologian Lionel Thornton," 329-51.
2. For both critical and appreciative critical responses, see the Center for Process Studies bibliography, "Process Thought, Anglo-American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism."
3. While the Open view is most commonly identified as an evangelical understanding of God, there are evangelicals who challenge that identification. For the sake of accuracy, "Open" will be used rather than "evangelical" to describe the partner in this phase of the evangelical/process dialogue when all evangelicals would not hold to a specific position.
4. This basic distinction has been maintained in the development of the Open view of God. See David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence; and Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God.
7. See the Introduction to Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love, and the Center for Process Studies bibliography "Wesleyan Responses to Process Theology."
8. For Paul Mickey see "Toward a Theology of Individuality: A Theological Inquiry Based on the Work of Alfred North Whitehead and David Rapaport," and Essentials of Wesleyan Theology. For Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, who was influenced by Daniel Day Williams, see her A Theology of Love.
Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Theism. A Philosophical Assessment Downers Grove: InterVarsity P, 1996.
Boyd, Gregory A. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Cobb, John B. Jr., and Clark H. Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
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____"Toward a Theology of Individuality: A Theological Inquiry Based on the Work of Alfred North Whitehead and David Rapaport," Th.D. Dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary 1970.
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