Methodological Alternatives in Process Theology

by Delwin Brown and Sheila Davaney

Delwin Brown is Harvey H. Potthoff Professor of Christian Theology at Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO. Currently he is writing a theology of tradition, to be entitled Boundaries of Our Habitations.

Sheila Greeve Davaney is Associate Professor of Theology at Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO 80210. She is author of Divine Power (Fortress, 1986) and is currently editing Theology at the End of Modernity (Trinity Press International, forthcoming 1991).

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 75-84, Vol. 19, Number 2, Summer, 1990. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The authors give a broad overview of process theology and its methodological alternatives. Whitehead and process theology, rationalist process thought, and empirical process theology.


The term "process theology" covers a variety of viewpoints and interests. This is true even when the term refers exclusively to contemporary Christian theologians whose thinking draws on the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. The work of these Christian process thinkers focuses variously on such topics as the question of God, theological method, human nature and history, moral and ethical issues, or on the physical sciences. The primary context for some process theologians is current political and liberation theology, whereas for others it is liberal or evangelical Christianity, classical Christian thought, philosophy, or comparative thought and the history of religions.

In many instances the differences between process thinkers are grounded in personal history, personal disposition, and the interests of a particular theologian at a particular moment. But many of their differences seem traceable to differing judgments about what theology is and how the theological task should be carried out. That is, they relate to differences over method.

The purpose of this conference is to test this apparent difference over method in process theology. The motivation is partly a desire for greater clarity about what really divides us, but it is also motivated by a sense of what we share and the importance of this general perspective for contemporary theology and its broader cultures. In other words, understanding better where we differ will clarify, too, where we agree in contrast to some current alternatives.

The purpose of this paper is introductory. In it we want to provide a general understanding of process theology and the methodological alternatives it seems to us to represent. This "general understanding" is of course simply our understanding. Few of the conference participants, if any, fit precisely the abstract methodological categories we will outline. But the purpose of our analysis is less to describe particular people than to suggest different methodological types. The papers and discussions to follow will undoubtedly modify our initial and quite abstract distinctions.

Both for this presentation and for the conference in general we have selected three terms to represent what we take to be three methodological alternatives in process theology today. The terms are "empirical," "speculative," and "rationalist." None of these terms, however, belongs exclusively to the alternatives we outline; in fact, all three positions are in some essential sense empirical, speculative, and rational. But we think these terms are useful labels for the three positions we shall discuss because they indicate that which each position emphasizes, or emphasizes in distinctive ways, in comparison to the others.


All three methodological alternatives in process theology draw upon the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Before we indicate the particular element of Whitehead’s thought to which each appeals, however, we want very briefly to characterize Whitehead’s philosophical viewpoint, again for the lay listener.

The most important thing to be said is that both process and relationality are fundamental to reality, in Whitehead’s view. To make this claim about process is to say more than simply that things change; it is to say that there are no essentially constant things at the most basic level of analysis. There is change, succession, flux; there are no more basic realities that are the subjects or agents of this change. As one writer put it metaphorically, in Whitehead’s view the world fundamentally is a dance, and there are no dancers.

The permanence or identity through time that we observe in daily experience, however, is also real in a sense, of course. There are dancers, really, but at a secondary level. Permanence is a generalization, or what Whitehead once called an "average fact." Things are permanent at a derivative level; the primary truth is that of process.

What we have said of process must also be said of relationality. Everything is related. The processes of activity that constitute things fundamentally are open and affected by the rest of things. So true is this, in fact, that what happens in one part of the universe impacts, however minimally, everything that comes after it. In this cumulative fashion, all things are interconnected. Separateness or individuality, like permanence, is also real, but it, too, is real at a secondary or derivative level.

In his examination of the processive and relational character of things Whitehead reached a number of conclusions quite suggestive for theological reflection. For one thing, Whitehead’s conception of selfhood is highly critical of the pronounced individualism and essentialism of modern Western religion. "No one is an island" in Whitehead’s philosophy, and that is an important resource for theological analysis and reconstruction. In addition, Whitehead understands personhood in terms of dynamism and openness rather than static continuity. That, too, is bound to recast significantly the way theological anthropology develops.

Whitehead’s view of nature is also suggestive for theology. Whitehead argued that the temporal process constituting nature, including humans, is a valuational process manifesting a faint but persistent drive toward higher and richer forms of order. This means that reality is not a mechanical display of inert, valueless matter, not even at the level of physical processes. At every level the temporal process surges forward bearing certain values and valuations that must be received in some fashion by each present moment. In human experience the past is efficacious, too, of course, but Whitehead maintained that the manner of its power in human experience is primarily non-sensory. Indeed, he thought that something like "felt" connections obtain as the basic mode of relatedness throughout the universe, whether in subhuman processes or in human experience. We shall soon return to this point.

In a developing, never completed way Whitehead talked about God, primarily as the lure toward richer forms of order in the temporal process. To the extent that Whitehead did develop a notion of God, it was a God different in important respects from the deity of the Western theological tradition. Whiteheadians have argued that the so-called process view of God is in fact more consistent with Western, particularly Christian, piety than is the God of classical theology. Be that as it may, Whitehead’s God is not omnipotent or omniscient as classical theology construes these terms. Whitehead’s God works within the temporal process, interacting with the genuine autonomy and freedom of the creatures, without guarantee that the divine purpose in the world will be achieved.

This neo-classical conception of God, as it is sometimes called, is reflected by all process theologies, but in different ways. In fact, we could identify different types of process theology in terms of their different conceptions of God. But when we look at the underlying reasons for these differences we usually are led to alternative views of theology and the theological task. That is, underlying differences about God in process theology are often differences about method. Thus we turn now to these differences, first examining what we have called "empirical" process theology.

Empirical Process Theology

Empirical process theology can be understood primarily in relation to Whitehead’s account of the character of relationality. For our purposes we can concentrate on human relatedness. Whitehead maintained that sensory experience is the highly refined and abstract outcome of another more fundamental mode of our relatedness to things. Underlying the five senses is a rich yet chaotic and vague pre-conceptual mode of perception wherein the given world enters the organic unity of chemical, visceral, and psychic processes called the human body. Two brief excerpts from Whitehead convey something of what he is saying:

. . . [Sensory] experience is handy, and definite in our consciousness . . . . [But] the other [more primitive] type of experience. . .is vague, haunting, unmanageable. . . , heavy with the contact of things gone by. . . . (S 43f)

. . .The irresistible causal efficacy of nature presses itself upon us; in the vagueness of the low hum of insects in an August woodland, the inflow into ourselves of feelings from enveloping nature overwhelms us; in the dim consciousness of half-sleep, the presentations of sense fade away, and we are left with the vague feeling of influences from vague things around us. (PR 176/267)

Whitehead’s view of the pre-cognitive character of our fundamental relatedness to the world led him to warn against an "excessive trust in [the] linguistic phrases" (PR 12/17) with which we attempt to describe the world. He wrote:

Philosophers can never hope finally to formulate.. metaphysical first principles. Weakness of insight and deficiencies of language stand in the way inexorably. Words and phrases must be stretched towards a generality foreign to their ordinary usage; and however such elements of language be stabilized as technicalities, they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap. (PR 4/6)

It is this focus on the non-cognitive character of our relatedness to the world, and consequently this caution about the adequacy of language for elucidating that relationship -- it is this focus and this caution that form the basis of what we term "empirical process theology."

According to the empirical process theologian, the task of theology is to attend to the precognitive dimension of experience and to the realities given therein. Among that which is given preconceptually, there is an ultimacy to which the various religions, and their broader cultures, give witness.

The methodological point, however, is that theology can never extend itself into a "total vision of reality" (FFS 49). To quote from Bernard Meland, one of the most influential of the empirical process thinkers, language is inadequate to convey the "depth and surplusage of experience" (FFS 48) to which theology attends. There is within experience a "persisting dissonance" that defies "our efforts [to establish] rationality and coherence" (FFS 67). Experience gives structures, but they are local and fragmentary; evident in "lived experience [is] a depth of reality that exceeds and often eludes. . . conceptualization," and calls into "question all presuppositions of an underlying coherence as a given . . .which may answer to our studied and carefully designed formulations" (FFS 112).

Against modernist pretensions to intellectual self-sufficiency (FFS 142), the empirical theologian denies that the reason characteristic of the human level of emergence "is definitive of reality beyond its own level . . .or even indicative of what is ultimate" (FFS 129). As a response to the precognitive depth of our experience, Meland says, the rational quest

is legitimate when it becomes a way of expressing wonder.. .before the mystery that holds us in existence. . . . But whenever [reason] takes on the semblance of literal understanding, fortified by meticulous logical argument, it becomes illegitimate. . .precisely on the grounds that it is no longer simply pointing or reaching toward realities that form the depths of existence, but is presuming to define, describe, or characterize them in logical terms. . . . (FFS 129)

For empirical process theologians -- certainly for Meland -- the construction of comprehensive theological systems is suspect if not wholly indefensible, on methodological grounds. System-building may also be morally misguided, for it tends "to preclude the possibility of a more sensitive encounter with realities at the edge of our being" (FFS 129f), and these are precisely the realities to which theology in particular ought to attend.

It should be noted, however, that the empirical theologian’s strictures against system apply primarily to the theological enterprise. Theology’s concern is with the unmanageable, elusive depth of experienced reality. Philosophy’s aim, by contrast, is to elucidate the region of clarity accessible at the distinctively human level of existence (FFS 134, 1360. As long as philosophy precinds from generalizations beyond that region, remaining content to analyze and hypothesize about that which is available to conscious awareness, its systems are legitimate.

Theology can benefit from philosophy, moreover, by taking from it certain of its categories to illuminate the depths of experience. The philosophical concept of emergence," for example, can be employed to illuminate what theology has sought to witness to in its talk about "revelation," namely, "what it means to have an innovating mystery break forth from a given structure of existence" (FFS 133). In this way theology’s effort to introduce a "margin of intelligibility" (FFS 133) into its talk about the depths of experience is assisted by philosophy, without pretending that the philosophical category captures that depth "without remainder" (FFS 134).

From this standpoint, then, theology is perhaps best understood as the effort to nurture awareness of the depth dimension of human experience as it comes to expression in the myths and symbols of particular religious traditions and their broader cultures. Meland writes:

The constructive use of reason in theology is not that of bringing life and faith into a domesticated … reasonableness; but to provide us with vistas of the mind by which we can best apprehend and be responsive to [those immediacies that constitute] the circumstances of reality as lived; to provide an orientation . . . within which we can respond to these immediacies with a sense of their depth and ultimate import, as being constituent of the Creative Passage, which in religious language is to speak of our life in God (FFS).

If theology’s task is not to create coherent systems, how then are its claims to be tested? The answer is two-fold. First, claims to truth must always be returned to the concreteness of our lives, there to be tested for their "fit" with experience in its depths. But because experience at its base is non-cognitive, the claims we make, in theology as elsewhere, must also be tested in terms of their consequences. Thus empirical process theology has consistently allied itself with pragmatism; truth has to do with the particular and the pragmatic, not with that which is general and supposedly necessary.

Speculative Process Theology

Those whom we are calling "speculative" process theologians do not deny the depth dimension of experience emphasized so effectively by their empirical colleagues. They maintain, however, that the precognitive depth of experience no more disallows systems in theology than in philosophy. Systems in both are possible as tentative empirical generalizations, a possibility Whitehead himself defended.

Whitehead compared the development of the speculative system to the flight of an airplane (PR 4f; cf. 7-9, 203-5). Its point of departure is always some particular "analytic observation of components of . . . experience." Its flight is the "imaginative generalization" of ideas drawn from that particular domain of experience into the lofty sphere of logical, coherent principles. The end of the speculative flight is the point where the scheme of ideas thus generated descends upon another range of experience, there to be tested in terms of its applicability and adequacy. The speculative system, so conceived, is never finalized and never absolutized. It cannot be, for its aim is always generality, general applicability. This means that systematic thought is obligated always to seek new landing points, new regions of experience, and thus obligated always to subject itself to renewed tests and the possibility of further revision.

This kind of speculation is hardly the absolutistic undertaking of traditional system building. Systems of the past have ignored the inadequacies of language and they probably have stultified our sensitivity to the deeper reaches of experience. But it is wrong to suppose that the only alternative to an absolutistic system is no system at all. A more modest quest for systematic generality is possible, valuable, even necessary. It not only locates our particular experiences, it also subjects what we say about them to the criticism of comparative analysis. In that way systematic generality provides us with fallible but crucial support in any of the spheres important to life about which we might wish to speak.

Speculative process thinkers, therefore, attempt to develop provisional, general schemes of ideas in terms of which all else can be adequately interpreted. Understood in this way, speculative thought is simply the tentative effort to draw the broadest possible relevant connections. The truth of these conceptual connections is to be tested by their adequacy to our experience, their coherence, their consistency with our other ideas, and, as we shall see, by their consequences.

Among speculative process thinkers, the philosophical framework of Whitehead in particular is taken as the resource for analyzing a broad range of issues. The work of John Cobb is the pre-eminent example of this undertaking. Drawing on White-head, Cobb has addressed topics in and between enormously varied areas of inquiry -- philosophy, theology, the encounter of religions, social problems, political thought, economic theory, ecology, biology, and theoretical physics. In one of his most recent endeavors Cobb collaborates with Herman E. Daly, the economist. Employing what Whitehead called the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," and relying at least implicitly on Whitehead’s entire organismic worldview, Cobb (with Daly) analyzes the deleterious abstractionism of virtually all modern economic theories. Whether of the left, right, or center, these theories, Cobb and Daly contend, have become tied to an abstract concept of money flow "regulated by a perfectly competitive market" conceived mechanistically (EC 5:2-4). "There is nothing in economic theory that requires" such narrowness (EC 5-5), but having captured their imagination this abstraction now leads all economists to discount "the effect of one person’s welfare on that of others through bonds of sympathy. . . , and the physical effects of one person’s production and consumption activities on others through bonds of bio-physical community" (EC 5-3).

Speculative explorations, such as Cobb’s, are never aimed simply at description; they seek to be critical and reformative, to reveal the conceptual inadequacies in our assumed ways of thinking that distort and destroy life. The conceptual mistakes in Western culture that have contributed to anthropocentrism, mechanism, patriarchy, individualism, materialism, and parochialism -- all of these have been subjects of extensive analyses written from this methodological standpoint by Cobb and those who follow him. And beyond their critiques, these speculative process thinkers attempt to set forth alternative models and to place these better models in a comprehensive relationship to other fields of thought.

The assumptions operative in this approach are that systematic thought is, first, possible, and, second, essential to the effective criticism and overcoming of that which inhibits the fruitful quest of the just and good life. A third assumption is that systematic explorations are tentative. As imaginative and comprehensive as these efforts can be, the claims they make are proposed provisionally to be tested pragmatically. They are tentative efforts to make illuminating connections within the realm of contingency. Indeed, it is because they speak about the contingent that they can also speak about transformation, for it is precisely because better alternatives are possible that these alternatives ought to be envisioned and pursued.

If these are the common features of speculative process thought, as we understand it, they are accompanied by differences within this methodological perspective. These differences have to do with the nature of theology. For some speculative process thinkers, such as John Cobb, theology is "any coherent statement about matters of ultimate concern that recognizes that the perspective by which it is governed is received from a community of faith" (CNT 252). Matters of ultimate concern, of course, can have urgently to do with survival on the planet, the eradication of racism and sexism, the search for a viable economic order, etc. And while the analysis that addresses these issues can be indebted to Christian tradition, the theologian who thinks about such issues may well be so innovative in relation to historic Christian reflection that his or her work on these topics is indistinguishable from that of the ecologist, the secular ethicist, or the economic theorist (cf. CNT 253). On this view, therefore, Christian theology can be anything said about matters of ultimate importance by those who call themselves Christian. Similarly, Christian process theology can be anything said about ultimate issues by those who call themselves Christian and employ the conceptuality of process philosophy.

In contrast, other speculative process thinkers (in addition to the rationalists whom we shall describe in a moment) hold that "Christian process theology" is a misnomer for much of what is done by their speculative colleagues, as valuable as this work may be. For these speculative thinkers, Christian theology is a distinctive mode of discourse with its own sources and criteria. Christian theology can be enunciated in the conceptuality of process philosophy, just as Christian theology can be articulated in some natural language such as English. But what is Christian about Christian theology, process or otherwise, must be indicated according to appropriate definitional criteria. A systematic perspective is not Christian simply because it is enunciated by a Christian or, for that matter, simply because it is insightful, transformative, or even true. There is a difference in principle between philosophy and theology, and hence there is a difference between process philosophy and the Christian theology that employs process thought as an ally and vehicle of expression.

This argument leads us to the third methodological alternative in process thought, one that draws the distinction between philosophy and theology even more sharply by virtue of what it wishes to add to the foregoing. Rationalist process theologians, like speculative thinkers, affirm the fundamental reality and importance of the precognitive depth of experience, to which the empiricists are particularly attentive. The rationalists affirm, too, the importance of tentative speculation about contingent matters of fact. But, uniquely, the rationalists (as we use the term) insist -- albeit with the same tentativeness that is required by the fallibility of all human reflection -- that some of the elements of an adequate philosophical system are properly speaking metaphysical, i.e., they make claims that are said to apply to any possible world because they are thought to be universally and necessarily true.

Rationalist Process Thought

There are aspects of Whitehead’s work that provide precedent for the rationalists’ project. Although Whitehead warned against "the merest hint of dogmatic certainty" (PR xiv), he also endeavored "to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas" (PR 3; emphasis added), and at least some of the elements of his system Whitehead himself called "categoreal conditions which flow from the final nature of things" (PR 222).

Be that as it may, the process philosopher who has most fully developed what we are calling the rationalist standpoint, and who has argued most vigorously for its importance, is Charles Hartshorne.

Hartshorne is convinced of the capacity of human reason adequately to grasp the general nature of reality, in its divine as well as non-divine forms. Underlying this confidence in reason’s capacities are Hartshorne’s assumptions that reality has an intelligible and coherent structure, that human reason can know that structure, and that there can be a basic congruence between reality and human ideas or formulations about that reality.

For Hartshorne, it is precisely the task of metaphysics to attend to the universal features of reality. In Hartshorne’s words, metaphysics is "an attempt to describe the most general aspects of experience, to abstract from all that is special in our awareness, and to report as clearly and accurately as possible on the residuum" (RSP 175). Hence, in contrast to an empiricism that focuses on the particular, the unique, and the contingent, Hartshorne proposes a mode of philosophical analysis whose concern is that which is universal and necessary, and knowable apart from any particular experience.

The method Hartshorne proposes for carrying out this analysis, he labels the a priori method, in distinction from an empirical or a posteriori method. It is essential to note what Hartshorne means by a priori. It does not mean "having nothing to do with experience." For Hartshorne, all ideas are grounded in experience. However, metaphysical ideas -- those that refer to the universal and necessary aspects of reality -- are exemplified by all experiences and thus not by any experience more than another. Thus, a priori does not mean "in distinction from all experiences" but rather "in distinction from the particularity and uniqueness of individual experiences."

But how does one discern these general, common features of reality? Hartshorne suggests two complementary methods. One, most commonly associated with a priori claims, is that of logical analysis. Presupposing the congruency of thought and reality, it seeks the most general and abstract ideas, scrutinizes them in terms of the norms of coherency and consistency, and explores whether their denial would be self-contradictory. For, Hartshorne argues, metaphysical claims or truths must by nature be logically necessary ones and therefore their denial will be incoherent. Hartshorne’s most important contribution in this area has been his metaphysical analysis of the idea of God and his development of arguments, especially a revised ontological one, for God’s existence. Such matters are logical or metaphysical issues, not historical or empirical ones. Hence, Hartshorne declares, "not warm emotions, but cold logic and intense intellectuality alone can ever resolve [them]. Here I am an ultra-rationalist" (IGE).

While much of Hartshorne’s work has focused on this dimension of logical analysis, Hartshorne has also explicated another, more experientially-grounded aspect of his metaphysical method. Arguing that all basic ideas are derived from experience, Hartshorne proposes that we examine specific experiences in search of the generic features exhibited by all reality. This approach is what David Griffin has called Hartshorne’s deep empiricism, his conviction that on the most fundamental levels of experience, the universal, necessary and common features of reality are embodied and careful attention to those basic experiences can yield general metaphysical truths, including those about God. Hence, in relation to this element of his thought, Hartshorne’s rationalism can be seen to share some commonalities with certain versions of radical empiricism. It is important to keep in mind, however, that both approaches, logical analysis, and abstraction and generalization, provide metaphysical truths that are necessary and universal.

Finally, while Hartshorne has committed himself to a life-long analysis of what he takes to be the constant and necessary aspects of reality, he also affirms the need for exploring and explicating the unique and novel features of social and personal experience. Such features escape metaphysical inquiry; they can only be revealed through a posteriori methods. It is to others that he leaves such also important tasks.

If Charles Hartshorne has been the leading process philosopher to articulate the rationalist perspective, Schubert Ogden has been the central thinker to contend for the necessity of metaphysical analysis for theological reflection through the development of his notions of faith, religion and theology.

Ogden argues that a basic faith, or confidence in life’s value, is constitutive of experience on its deepest levels. Such a faith or confidence is the basic presupposition for existence as a self at all, and the central task of philosophical theology is, in Ogden’s words, "to lay bare the faith by which every one exists simply as a human being, together with the structure of reality as revealed to such faith" (OT 75). The philosopher does this through what Ogden calls the transcendental method by which "the basic beliefs that are the necessary conditions of our existing or understanding at all," are raised to full self-consciousness (OT 77).

Ogden’s analysis of faith is relevant to religion and religious belief in at least two ways. One has to do with belief in God. Having argued that faith, or a fundamental confidence in the ultimate value of our lives, is shown by any complete and consistent analysis to be unavoidable, Ogden contends that there must be an objective ground of this trust, which Ogden calls God. Thus, "God" is conceptually necessary in order to make sense of our basic faith. But God is not only a conceptual necessity; Ogden also holds that an adequate analysis of faith discloses that constitutive of our fundamental, presensory experience is a dim awareness of the infinite whole, or God. Hence, both conceptually and empirically God is a necessary component of Ogden’s system.

However, while Ogden is convinced that faith is unavoidable and a ground for faith is necessary, he also maintains that it is impossible to develop a coherent understanding of this divine ground utilizing the categories of traditional Western theology and philosophy. The strength of process thought is precisely the fact that it provides an adequate understanding of experience and a coherent concept of God free of the incoherence of traditional theism.

Ogden’s analysis of faith also bears upon our understanding of religion and the nature of theology. Faith does not lie only in the deepest recesses of nonsensory experience. It finds expression as well in the manifold religious traditions; all religions in some manner embody this basic faith in their beliefs, rituals and symbols. They do so, however, in diverse, historically relative ways. Hence, while the faith that is the presupposition of all religions is the same, the historical traditions which manifest this faith cannot be reduced to one another. Moreover, because religions are distinctive historical developments, a central task for theology within each particular tradition is the assessment of how well any theological claim coheres with the normative witness to faith of that unique tradition. Thus theology in each of its particular forms is a discipline with its own internal criteria. For this reason theology is distinct from philosophy

While Ogden insists that theological assertions must be judged according to their cohesion with their particular tradition’s normative witness, he insists with equal vigor that each theology must also be assessed according to broader norms of truth not tied to particular religious traditions. This is important in our day when, in order to be credible, religious claims must make sense in a basically secular society.

But there is another reason for subjecting theological claims to more public tests of truth. Religious assertions, of whatever tradition, include an at least implicit claim to universal relevancy and truth. In Ogden’s words, "whatever else a religion is or involves, it crucially is or involves conceptualizing and symbolizing a comprehensive understanding of human existence that claims to be true" (OT 110). Hence, because religious concepts and symbols entail claims about the nature of reality, metaphysical analysis is not only permissible but imperative according to the very logic of these claims. What is important here is that theological claims are to be tested in relation to the philosophical rendering of basic faith, not directly in relation to that basic faith itself.


If our lecture ends with what we have called the rationalist alternative in process theology, that viewpoint is not likely to represent the unanimous conclusion of the discussions that will follow throughout this conference.

Speculative thinkers might argue, for example, that what is said to be universal and necessary is inevitably a function of each thinker’s relative perspective and thus is no more than a disguised report of what is presupposed by that limited point of view. Empirical thinkers might insist, in addition, that the longing for generality, whether necessary or contingent, represents a patent distortion of the testimony of -our immediate human experience.

These differences should not obscure what process thinkers hold in common. All are convinced that the heretofore dominant forms of Western thought, including their modern and postmodern variations, are inadequate, and that a processive/relational interpretation of reality holds far more promise for the present situation. All are convinced of the reality and fundamental importance of nonsensory, precognitive experience in life and, therefore, for the task of theology and philosophy. But this commonality, of course, is also the point of a major disagreement. Empirical, speculative, and rationalistic process thinkers differ, we suspect, on the nature of this dimension of experience, the proper ways of analyzing it, and in their conclusions concerning what can be accomplished by referring to this level of experience While all turn to this depth dimension of life, it is not clear that the "deep empiricism" of the rationalists, which yields universal and necessary truths, is the same as that form of "radical empiricism" whose adherents focus on the particular and the contingent. Add to these the voices of the speculative position who are wary of claims to universality and necessity, but who nonetheless believe over-arching interpretive frameworks are essential, and it becomes clear that while much is shared, many differences remain to be discussed.

Moreover, in the conversations ahead, other viewpoints than those represented here will also stand as challenges to our work together. Premier among those absent but felt perspectives will be that of postmodern thinkers who question whether either thought or experience can provide us with some common "foundation" in terms of which our ideas can be constructed and our differences adjudicated.



CNT -- John B. Cobb, Jr. A Christian Natural Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965.

FCG -- John B. Cobb, Jr. and Herman E. Daly. For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Towards Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

IGE -- Charles Hartshorne. "Is God’s Existence a State of Affair?" Faith and the Philosophers. Ed. John Hick. London: MacMillan, 1964.

RSP -- Charles Hartshorne. Reality as Social Process. Boston: Beacon Press, 1953.

FFS -- Bernard Meland. Fallible Forms and Symbols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

OT -- Schubert M. Ogden. On Theology. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986.

RG -- Schubert M. Ogden. The Reality of God and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.