Chapter 17: A Christological Assessment of Dipolar Theism by Thomas W. Ogletree

Process Philosophy and Christian Thought
by Delwin Brown, Ralph James, Gene Reeves (eds.)

Chapter 17: A Christological Assessment of Dipolar Theism by Thomas W. Ogletree

Reprinted from The Journal of Religion, XLVII, 2 (April 1967), by permission of The University of Chicago Press and Thomas W. Ogletree. Thomas W. Ogletree attended Garrett Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt University. He is Assistant Professor of Constructive Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and has published Christian Faith and History and The Death of God Controversy

For over forty years, Charles Hartshorne has been clarifying and defending a conception of God which he has variously termed "panentheism," "surrelativism," "dipolar theism,’’ or ‘neoclassical theism," depending upon which aspect of his understanding he has been concerned to emphasize. The distinctive feature of his viewpoint is the contention that notions of relativity, contingency, and change, rather than being incompatible with the nature of deity, must themselves be essential components in an understanding of God which is both coherent and religiously adequate.

Hartshorne’s work has long received appreciative attention from persons who interpret reality in terms of a metaphysic of process, especially along the lines worked out in Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Doubtless this general perspective does provide the most natural "home" for interpreting and assessing his achievement. However, it is the contention of this essay that Hartshorne’s thought has a significance which cannot be limited to the confirmed "Whiteheadians," but which also has relevance for styles of thinking that are more explicitly historical and self-consciously theological, including even the anti-metaphysical attempts of the "secular" theologies to speak of God in a political fashion.

In arguing this thesis I will first describe the most salient features of Hartshorne’s neoclassical or dipolar understanding of God. Consideration will be given to the method he characteristically uses in establishing his case. Stated briefly, I will show that he identifies abstractly the various conceptions of God which are logically possible and argues by means of a rigorous analysis and criticism of the alternative views that his own position is the one which handles most coherently the elements that belong to any adequate understanding of God. Second, I will seek to defend Hartshorne’s conclusions by means of a reasoning process that is at variance with the one he develops in his own writings. In essence, it will consist of a critical explication of the peculiar logic of the Christian’s confession of Jesus Christ — the primordial source of the distinctively Christian vision of God. I will contend that such a procedure not only confirms Hartshorne’s basic understanding but also that it enables us to assess more adequately the nature of the truth claim which can appropriately be made for that understanding.


Of the various terms Hartshorne uses to describe his position, the one which is immediately most revealing is "dipolar theism."1 Hartshorne argues that the most coherent and adequate way to conceive of God is to view his being in terms of two contrasting aspects or poles, one abstract and the other concrete. The abstract pole embodies the being of God insofar as he is the absolute. It concerns that which God necessarily is, regardless of the particular course of the world process. Special attention is given in Hartshorne’s writings to the necessity that pertains to God’s existence, a necessity which excludes not simply his non-existence but even the possibility of his non-existence.2 Though this pole points to that aspect of God which is independent of all contingencies whatever, its significance is not to isolate God from the world, but to interpret his reality with reference to the "neutral universally common element of meaning" in all propositions whatever, ordinary and scientific.3 Hence, it identifies God with those ultimate metaphysical presuppositions which make possible a rational interpretation of reality.

The concrete pole points to the aspect of God’s being that is dependent on the world process. It is in connection with this pole that contingency, relativity, mutability, and multiplicity are attributed to God. Hartshorne’s view involves not simply the idea that God in one of his aspects is shaped and conditioned by the world, but also that God incorporates the totality of the world into his being at each stage of process. The term Hartshorne uses to identify this conception is "panentheism," which conveys the idea that God, though more than the world, includes the world as an element in his own reality. Hartshorne summarizes his position by saying that God is being in both its opposite aspects: "abstract least common denominator, and concrete de facto maximal achieved totality."4

It should be noted that there is a sense in which the concrete pole of God’s being can be identified with his totality. Hartshorne’s concern is to make clear that God in his concrete actuality, as including the particularity and determinateness of the world process, is not less than the absolute. While the absolute is that which God necessarily is, independently of the world, it is as such a pure abstraction, having no reality apart from its embodiment in the concrete reality of God. So God in his concreteness includes both these absolute and necessary principles which are the precondition for everything whatever and also the actual, contingent realities which have in fact emerged in the course of the world process.5

How does Hartshorne justify his conclusions? To what does he appeal for support, and what precisely is the structure of argument he uses? In his numerous writings on this subject, many different lines of thought have entered into his work at one point or another. His most concise and rigorous defense of his position, however, is contained in the essay, "The Logic of Panentheism," an essay which embodies the style of reasoning upon which his case most fundamentally rests.6 The initial task of the essay is to construct a rigorous system of logical possibilities. Such a system is particularly crucial for Hartshorne’s purposes since the dipolar theism he advocates has usually lost out by default, by failing to receive consideration even as a possibility. We are in no position, he contends, to judge whether theism is true or even meaningful until we first know its possible forms.7

In this particular essay, Hartshorne classifies the various conceptions of God in terms of two considerations: God’s independence or dependence with respect to the world and the nature of his perfection, the former of which receives further analysis by means of the categories of causality and totality (i.e., the sense in which God does or does not include the world in his own being). The result is a scheme containing nine basic possibilities ranging from a view of God as the independent cause of the world, absolutely perfect in all respects, to a view of God as pure relativity, wholly bound up with the world process and having no element of independence, necessity, or self-existence.8 Hartshorne’s position proves to be the perfect embodiment of the "golden mean," incorporating all the positive features of the various possibilities, but excluding their (arbitrary) negations. Thus, there is one sense in which God is an independent cause of the world and another in which he is an effect of the world. He is an independent cause, because he embodies those common elements which are the precondition for any world whatever. He is an effect, because his concrete actuality is always in part a consequence of the fact that the world in its particularity and determinateness enters into his being. There is also a sense in which he can be called a dependent cause of the world, for his function as a concrete causal agent in the forward movement of process is itself shaped by the way he has appropriated previous stages of the developing world into his own reality. Likewise, there is one sense in which God is absolutely perfect or unsurpassable and another in which he is only relatively perfect and, hence, ever able to surpass himself. Where the qualities which express the perfection of God are given an abstract form, they direct our attention to the sense in which God’s perfection is absolute. Where our concern is with the concrete actualization of these qualities in relation to the world process, our attention is directed to the sense in which God’s perfection is relative to each stage of process, for God continually surpasses previous states of his being, as new developments in the world become a part of his concrete actuality.9

Hartshorne’s discussion of the divine knowing can illustrate the last point. Abstractly considered, God’s knowledge is perfect, that is, completely adequate to its object. God knows the possible as possible and the actual as actual. Since this assertion holds regardless of the particular nature of the known object, it states something which is true of God absolutely. However, concretely considered, God’s actual knowing is dependent on the specific character of what is known. As more and more possibilities are actualized in the course of the world’s development, what God once knew as possible he comes to know as actual. The result is the continual enrichment of the divine knowing, and hence also of the divine being.10

Hartshorne’s basic claim is that his own position constitutes a synthesis of the positive features of the logically possible conceptions of God. He finds in contrast that the remaining alternatives get into logical difficulties at one point or another, usually because they are ill equipped to handle some of the positive elements that have been a part of man’s thinking about God. Dipolar theism emerges, therefore, as the conception which is able to handle most coherently the features which are essential to an adequate view of God. It should be added that Hartshorne’s highly formal analysis gains added weight from his careful examination and criticism of the writings of actual spokesmen for the most important among the logical possibilities he identifies.11

Hartshorne undergirds his basic argument by an appeal to what Morris Cohen calls the "Law of Polarity."12 The law states that ultimate contraries, such as being-becoming, actuality-potentiality, necessity-contingency, are mutually interdependent correlatives, so that nothing real can be described by an exclusive reference to only one of the contraries. Hartshorne’s contention is that classical forms of both theism and pantheism violate this "law," since they characteristically attribute one side of the basic polarities to God while wholly denying him the contrasting term. The assumption seems to be that one of the poles in each set of contraries is superior to the other and, hence, more appropriate for interpreting deity. Hartshorne raises two basic questions about this procedure. First, he suggests that it is far from apparent that any single pole in the various sets of contraries is even intelligible without reference to the other. Second, he challenges the assumption that either of the poles can legitimately be considered superior to the other. To be specific, he argues vigorously that we have erred in depreciating notions of contingency and relativity to a status unworthy of God. Rightly understood, such notions can indicate God’s responsiveness and sensitivity to the world. Indeed, if we attribute to God the "categorical ultimate" of relativity ("surrelativism"), it distinguishes God from finite creatures just as decisively as the notion of absoluteness, for it expresses the conviction that God relates himself to the world and appropriates the contingent actualities of the world into his own being with such complete adequacy that the significance of all things is fully appreciated and preserved.13

Clearly Hartshorne’s dipolar theism represents his attempt to embrace both aspects of the "ultimate contraries" in conceptualizing God. It is noteworthy that his extensive use of the via eminentia for interpreting the meaning of divine perfection likewise embodies the "law of polarity." The via eminentia involves attributing to God the "categorically ultimate," or at least the categorically superior," form of the positive qualities and attributes used in interpreting experience.14 Since Hartshorne insists that all the qualities we value in human experience be utilized in the attempt to describe the nature of God, notions of relativity, contingency, becoming, complexity, etc., figure just as prominently in his thinking as absoluteness, necessity, being, and simplicity.

Before leaving the direct consideration of Hartshorne’s viewpoint, some brief comment is in order regarding the role of religious experience in his thought. Though Hartshorne has never given a great deal of attention in his writings to concrete religious phenomena, he has always been concerned about the religious significance of his work, He advocates the neoclassical conception of God partly because he believes it is more in keeping with religious experience than classical formulations of either theism or pantheism. In his recent attempts to interpret and defend the ontological argument for the existence of God, he has stated explicitly that his thought requires for its cogency some sort of intuitive element beyond "mere formal reasoning."15 His study of the ontological argument has convinced him that the only defensible alternative to theism is positivism, a view which denies the intelligibility of the idea of God. Presumably, if the idea of God is to be even minimally significant, some sort of religious experience is necessary.16 This appeal to religious experience is itself a qualified one, since Hartshorne is prepared to argue that positivism cannot exhibit a coherence in its basic life principles that is comparable to a theistic position.17 So he operates in general on the assumption that the crucial issues involved in man’s attempts to conceptualize God can and must be adjudicated by a rigorous analysis and criticism of the various views of God which are logically possible. His judgment seems to be that, even though some kind of faith or intuition is a formal requisite for critical reflection on the nature of God, the specific content or character that faith has as a concrete, historically conditioned phenomenon does not materially affect the reasoning process which is both possible and appropriate in such reflection. Not surprisingly, where he does speak of the religious basis of his thought, he is usually content to do so in terms of the rather abstract idea of a being "worthy of worship."18 Even this idea does not receive its content from a careful description and analysis of concrete religious phenomena. Rather, it gains its meaning from his use of the via eminentia, where qualities judged to be valuable in human beings are attributed to God in the supreme degree. Hartshorne does not give much weight to the fact that men can and do diverge significantly in their understanding of what is worthy of worship. Nor does he consider the possibility that these divergencies may have roots more elemental than human rationality so that they cannot be resolved or overcome by a critique that is purely logical. It is at this point that the thesis to be developed in the remainder of this essay is most sharply at issue with Hartshorne’s work.

To sum up, Hartshorne advocates a dipolar conception of God in which the being of God is interpreted in terms of an abstract and a concrete pole. The abstract pole refers to the fact that God embodies the universal common element in all experience whatever. The concrete pole refers to the actuality which results from God’s appropriation of the world process into his own being. While Hartshorne recognizes the presence of an intuitive element in his understanding, he bases his case primarily on the contention that his position among the various logical possibilities expresses most adequately the positive elements that have been present in man’s thinking about God.


Assuming the adequacy of this sketch of Hartshorne’s understanding of God, the present task is to examine his conclusions in light of the Christian’s confession of Jesus Christ. The intent is to show that a critical explication of the central motif of Christian faith confirms in general the results of his own inquiry. If this intent is successfully realized, it will in part lend support to Hartshorne’s claim that the dipolar conception of God is more compatible with religious experience than views which conceive God primarily in terms of the category of the absolute, or pure actuality, or being, etc. At the same time, the present discussion is aimed at challenging Hartshorne’s views about the style of reasoning that is appropriate for critical reflection on the nature of God. Instead of believing with Hartshorne that man’s convictions about the ultimate character of reality can and should be determined by allegedly neutral logical principles, the understanding here being argued is that man’s thinking about God is and should be governed by a vision emerging in the context of faith, a vision that is itself decisively conditioned by its rootage in history and in the prereflective levels of consciousness.

It must be emphasized that the latter view does not necessarily imply an assault on reason, though in actual practice it has often been understood in that fashion. Instead, it implies that on the question of God reason properly functions, not neutrally or independently of a faith commitment, but in the service of the explication of the vision of faith which makes thinking about God possible. The assumption is that the vision of faith always has a particular and determinate form which materially conditions the way we think about God.19

In order to clarify this point, it is necessary to make some comment about the kind of situation that gives rise to a notion of God. A notion of God emerges because a certain happening or complex of happenings in ordinary experience undergoes a transfiguration that gives it a paradigmatic role in man’s perception of reality. To say that a happening functions paradigmatically is to say that it provides the determinative clue for man’s interpretation of what reality is all about. The assumption is that the fundamental character of reality, which is not apparent in ordinary experience as such, not even in its totality, has become manifest in this happening. Because this happening discloses what is most essential for our understanding of reality, it enjoys an importance in human thought and behavior that sets it apart from all other happenings, for it is precisely in relation to the real that man finds fulfilment in his own being. At the same time, because this happening has the power to illumine the totality of experience, it has a positive relation to all other happenings, involving and encompassing their reality, too.

The term "transfiguration," or we might say "transformation," points to the process by which a phenomenon that is a part of ordinary experience comes to assume a controlling interpretative role in man’s understanding of himself and his world. This process is complex and highly variable, and it is beyond the range of this essay to analyze it in detail. It should be emphasized, however, that it does not come about simply because a conscious and rational decision has been made to elevate a given happening to a paradigmatic status. The transfiguration of experience with which we are concerned itself precedes critical reflection, even making that reflection possible. The point is not that we decide or act blindly, but that we find ourselves claimed by the reality disclosed in a certain set of happenings — perhaps because of its manifest relevance to issues which are of immediate concern to us — before we have begun to grasp all that it means or implies.

It is in relation to happenings that function paradigmatically in our experience that we are obliged to deal with a notion of God. The term "God" at least means that reality or dimension of reality which cannot simply be equated with ordinary experience, but which yet discloses itself concretely in ordinary experience as the source of its reality and value. This formulation taken by itself is highly abstract, encompassing a variety of contrasting views of God. It is an attempt to indicate the minimal implications of granting paradigmatic significance to given phenomena in human experience. The possibilities of saying more about God come largely from the concrete character of the happenings that disclose his reality. In the specific case of Christianity, the happenings in question are those bound up with the name Jesus. Christian thinking about God is, therefore, christologically determined. It grows out of the attempt to interpret the significance of the confession of Christ for man’s understanding of himself and his world.20

The role of reason in critical reflection on the meaning of God is to unfold the basic understanding of reality expressed in the paradigmatic happening and to explore that understanding in relation to the totality of experience. Though the primary function of reason is explication, the critical comparison of different views of reality is not ruled out, for it is by setting our own perspective alongside of others that we come to the clearest awareness of its distinctive meaning and significance. Besides, living perspectives are never so well defined or fixed as to exclude the possibility of their modification or enlargement in a process of interaction with one another. The construction of a scheme of logical possibilities, such as those found in Hartshorne’s writings, can perhaps facilitate the comparison and interaction of different positions. Even so, it is doubtful that schemes of this kind can ever be neutral. Invariably they embody the vital concerns of one particular viewpoint, so that positions having a different focus of interest suffer some distortion in the scheme.21 By defining the role of reason in relation to paradigmatic happenings, we take clear cognizance of the fact that we do not think about God in a neutral and detached fashion but in a way that is conditioned by our own particular history and by our total experience as selves.

Man’s thinking about God, in spite of its historicity, has within it a thrust toward universality. The very logic of a paradigmatic happening pushes us in that direction, for such a happening embodies the claim to illumine the totality of experience. Since this is the case, it should not be surprising that men generally tend to absolutize their own position as the only true one, or at least as the one superior to all others. However, by keeping in view the historicity of our own perspective, we are able to acknowledge that other perspectives may have equally serious claims to a totality of understanding. We need not assume, as Hartshorne seems to do, that differences in understanding reflect differences either in the capacity to reason or in the degree of respect accorded to reason.22 Such disagreements may simply indicate differences in the basic visions which inform the reasoning process. Where this is recognized, conversation between contrasting viewpoints can take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect with genuine openness on both sides to the possibility that the conversation will lead to a mutual enrichment in understanding, or even to the development of a common understanding.

Though Hartshorne’s conception of the reasoning process appropriate to reflection on the nature of God has been challenged, his labors are, nonetheless, relevant to the attempt to think about God christologically. They are relevant because his formulation of dipolar theism seems to express the understanding of God that is implied in the distinctive logic of the Christian’s confession of Christ. My present task is to justify this claim. If the attempt is successful, the way can be opened for a fuller theological appropriation of Hartshorne’s exploration of the idea of God.

The most striking thing about the Christian’s confession of Christ is the thoroughgoing way in which it links God with flesh, earth, time, process, history. Old Testament materials prepare the way for this understanding by naming the name of God in connection with historical events and by interpreting his reality, partly at least, in terms of his involvement in the fortunes of Israel. Indeed, it would not be amiss to characterize the whole of the Old Testament as incarnational in its basic thrust. Yet ills in the affirmation that the Word became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth that time and flesh are most decisively related to the being of God. Mircea Eliade’s studies of archaic religion have highlighted the uniqueness of the biblical perspective at this particular point. The characteristic orientation of the myths and rituals of archaic religion, he notes, is toward a primordial time and a primordial reality. To be sure, these myths are expressed in a spatio-temporal form. They also presuppose hierophanies that utilize the materials of ordinary experience. At the same time, their logic is to surpass time and flesh in order that men may participate more immediately in that reality which is prior to the earthly and the historical. The result is a devaluation of the earthly and the historical to a kind of second-level reality or even to unreality.23 In contrast, biblical faith, but especially Christianity, "valorizes" historical time. In Eliade’s words: "Since God was incarnated, that is, since he took on a historically conditioned human existence, history acquires the possibility of being sanctified."24 In this frame of reference, flesh and history are not simply transparent media for linking us to a primordial reality. They are rather disclosed as constitutive factors in the nature of the real.25 Thus, the paradigmatic happening which governs the distinctively Christian vision of God prohibits us from perceiving God as a self-contained, immutable Absolute. Whatever the term "God" means, it must encompass the reality of the historical process, which means it must encompass contingency and relativity. While Hartshorne’s analysis of the place of contingency and relativity in the divine being may not reflect a neutral and universal reason, it still expresses a view which is compatible with biblical faith, especially the notion of incarnation.

It must be granted that Christian theologians have repeatedly denied the logic of their central conviction, as if the happenings which disclosed for them what reality is all about could not be trusted. They have spoken of how the Word became flesh, but in such a way that God in no sense becomes other than what he has been from eternity — a "becoming" which does not ‘become."26 Or they have spoken of how Jesus Christ took on flesh but in a manner that did not influence or condition his being in the least.27 Such assertions cannot, however, be considered expressions of the meaning of the paradigmatic event upon which the Christian understanding of God is based. Rather, they suggest an uncritical acceptance of the assumption that to be God means to be immutable and independent of all contingencies and relativities. Hartshorne rightly shows that this assumption cannot be held without qualification if we are to speak of God’s love for the world an affirmation which is at the center of the Christian’s celebration of the Incarnate Word.28

It is no longer unusual for Christian theologians to portray the God of the Bible as a changing God. However, much less attention has been given to the possibilities of using Hartshorne’s conception of panentheism for unfolding the biblical understanding of God. Yet there is good reason to suppose that the logic of the Incarnation can be most adequately grasped if God is perceived as one who appropriates the totality of the world process into his own being. In part this suggestion simply reflects the way a paradigm functions. If a happening is genuinely paradigmatic, constituting the decisive point of reference for interpreting the totality of experience, the reality it discloses in some sense encompasses the reality of all things. Where the paradigm which shapes man’s vision of God has the effect of reducing the actualities of the world to a status of unreality, their participation in the being of God implies their dissolution as concrete phenomena. However, where it expresses an affirmation of the earthly and the historical, the reality it discloses can encompass all things only if the actualities of the world so shape and condition its being that their full significance is preserved in the divine life. The latter position is essentially what Hartshorne means by panentheism.

There are some New Testament passages, especially in Colossians and Ephesians, which explicitly present Christ as one who encompasses all things. Paul’s statement that Christ "is before all things, and in him all things hold together" has certain affinities with Hartshorne’s contention that God is both the "supreme source and the "supreme result" of process.29 More to the point is the assertion in Ephesians that the purpose of God set forth in Christ is a "plan for the fullness of time to gather all things together in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10). The key word is anakephalaiosasthai, literally, recapitulation or, we might say, a "summing up" of all thing. If all things have a share in Christ, then we cannot speak of the fullness of Christ’s reality apart from the actualities that have their being in him. It is noteworthy that the writer of Ephesians later speaks of the church as the "fullness of him who fills all and all," suggesting not only that all things have a share in Christ, but also that the community of faith, if not the whole world, contributes something to his fullness.30 In this respect, the last thing to be fully known and understood is Christ, for knowing Christ involves knowing the world. Then it is no longer enough to say that Jesus Christ is the interpretative key for our understanding of the totality of experience; our understanding of worldly actualities also enriches and completes our grasp of who he is. Following Hartshorne’s terminological suggestions, we might classify this viewpoint as "panenChristism," keeping in mind that the term Christ accents the concreteness of God, his involvement with the world, his activity of drawing the world unto himself.

The confession of Christ equally points us to considerations that correspond roughly with Hartshorne’s analysis of the "abstract pole" of the divine being, the pole that expresses God’s independence of process. Interestingly enough, it is this pole rather than the concrete one which has become problematic at the present time. Thomas J. J. Altizer, for example, has vigorously argued that the Incarnate Word attests the total self-emptying of God into flesh and history. As the transcendent, immutable, and sovereign Lord, God is "dead." Henceforth, the Word has its being solely in flesh, undergoing continual transformation in the forward movement of process. Since the Word now has only a fleshly being, any suggestion that the divine transcends the world is wholly negated.

Altizer’s position represents his attempt to grasp the inner logic of the Incarnation, though he is fully conscious of the fact that the profanity of contemporary culture plays an essential role in his formulation of a radically immanental interpretation of Christ.31 He presents a telling case against attempts in Christian theology to conceive God as an immutable Absolute wholly unaffected by the contingencies of history. However, it is not so clear that he has dispensed with all meanings of transcendence whatever, provided these are positively related to the forward movement of process. When Hartshorne speaks of the absolute pole of the divine being, his intent is not to isolate God from process, but to identify one of his aspects with those factors which are the precondition for there being anything whatever. Abstractly considered, God is the "reason" that there is something and not nothing. In this function, he is independent of the contingencies of process, even while he is embodied in them.

To confess Christ as the paradigm for interpreting the totality of experience is to link him positively with the elemental principles which make possible the actualities of the world. This connection is made explicit in the prologue to the fourth Gospel: "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made."32 The significance of understanding Christ in this fashion is not that we find in him some ready-made clues about the nature of the elemental principles underlying the reality of the world. In this respect the Christian’s confession of Christ does not provide much specific assistance in the construction of a metaphysic. The point is, rather, that the concrete meanings and purposes disclosed in Christ are not incompatible with the actualities of the world process. The unequivocal way the Word is actualized in flesh directs us to see that the Word, far from being fundamentally alien to flesh, is itself the source and ground of fleshly realities within which we find ourselves. As a result, the world, regardless of its particular shape at any given place or time, is disclosed as a suitable context within which man can enter into the possibilities of existence set forth in Jesus Christ.

The divine transcendence or independence of the world has a second meaning that is even more central to the Christian’s confession of Christ. It indicates that God, though he is continually being shaped and conditioned by the world, nevertheless remains sufficiently free of the world so that he can ever be true to himself in the fulfilment of his purposes for the world. Apart from this element of transcendence, God would be so completely bound to process as to be unable to be a creative factor in it. The "transcendental" symbols used in celebrating Christ, especially the resurrection and the ascension, dramatize this aspect of the meaning of Christ. These symbols have at times been understood as indications of Christ’s removal from the travail and humiliation of the flesh, of his restoration to an immutable and transcendent realm of glory. Viewed in that manner, they unquestionably reverse the force of the divine movement into flesh.33 They must, rather, be interpreted in relation to the positive involvement of God with the world. In that relation they express the divine freedom from the world process which enables God to be effectively and steadfastly present in it. Jesus’ going away, the writer of John reminds us, is for our advantage, for it frees him to come to us in ever new forms, ones not so restricted by the particularity of Jesus’ spatio-temporal existence.34 In short, the positive significance of God’s responsiveness to the contingencies of the world and his appropriation of the world into his own being requires that he be sufficiently free of the world to be a creative and constructive factor in it regardless of the actual contingencies that may arise. Here too, Hartshorne’s analysis of the abstract pole of the divine being contributes to an elucidation of the Christian’s confession of Christ.

I have been arguing for the fruitfulness of Hartshorne’s dipolar conception of God. I found it necessary to challenge his attempt to justify his conclusions on the basis of an allegedly neutral and detached analysis of the logically possible doctrines of God. I contended instead that reflection on the meaning of God grows more properly out of the attempt to explicate critically the import of certain happenings having a paradigmatic significance in human experience. With the latter approach, we remain more cognizant of the historicity and relativity of our own perspective even while we attend seriously to its implications for the totality of human experience. As a result, we are less tempted to make undue claims for our own "rationality" in contrast to the supposed "irrationality" of others.

Even so, I found Hartshorne’s work to be highly suggestive for unfolding the distinctively Christian vision of God, perhaps because his own value assumptions have been significantly conditioned by the impact of biblical faith on Western thinking about God. I argued that the attempt to explicate the Christian’s confession of Jesus Christ points in the direction of dipolar theism. On the one hand, it suggests that God is conditioned by the relativities and contingencies of the world process, even to the point of appropriating that process at each of its successive stages into his own being. On the other hand, it indicates that God also has a relative independence of the world, so that he is able to remain true to himself and his purposes even in his involvement with the changing world. Insofar as this argument is convincing, it presents a challenge to process philosophers and theologians to be more sensitive to the historicity of their own thought processes. At the same time, it opens the way for theologians more decisively guided by the distinctive character of biblical faith and of Christian symbols and images to appropriate the achievements of process thinkers into their own understanding.


1. The basic features of this position are given careful formulation in a number of Hartshorne’s writings, among them Men’s Vision of God (Chicago: Willett, Clark, 1941), The Divine Relativity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948, 1964), and the introductory and concluding essays of Philosophers Speak of God, edited by Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 1-25, 499-514. The essays referred to in the last volume, both by Hartshorne, are entitled: "Introduction: The Standpoint of Panentheism" and "The Logic of Panentheism." Two recent volumes embodying his attempt to restate and defend the ontological argument for the existence of God also include careful statements of his conception of God: The Logic of Perfection (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1962), especially the title essay, pp. 28-117; and Anselm’s Discovery )LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1965).

2. This is the key issue in Hartshorne’s analysis of the ontological argument for the existence of God (see The Logic of Perfection, 49-57, 58-61; and Anselm’s Discovery. 33-36, 41-44, 88-98).

3. Anselm’s Discovery, 43.

4. The Divine Relativity, 88.

5. Ibid., 83, 86-87.

6. Philosophers Speak of God, 499-514. Also published in an earlier form under the title "A Mathematics of Theism," Review of Religion, VIII (1943), 20-38.

7. Philosophers Speak of God, 499.

8. Ibid., 512. In Man’s Vision of God, Hartshorne’s classification is made with sole reference to the idea of perfection. By listing the various combinations of absolute perfection, relative perfection, and imperfection, he identifies seven possible views, three of which have serious claim to consideration. See especially pp. 8-12, though the entire first chapter is aimed at developing and analyzing the basic scheme. In Philosophers Speak of God, Hartshorne’s classification of the various conceptions is based on five questions: Is God eternal? Is he temporal? Is he conscious? Does he know the world? Does he include the world? On the basis of these considerations, Hartshorne identifies nine views as in need of careful attention. Of course, many others are logically possible in terms of the five principal factors, but the nine all have one or more significant historical spokesmen (see pp. 16-17). The interesting thing to note is the increasing precision and sophistication which Hartshorne’s successive schemes of classification have.

9. Philosophers Speak of God, 512.

10. See The Divine Relativity, 120-124.

11. Philosophers Speak of God, 312. The book consists of selections from major philosophers, Eastern and Western, dealing with the nature of God. Hartshorne and Reese subject the materials they include to searching analysis and criticism. In each case, they argue the panentheist position in evaluating their sources.

12. Ibid., 2.

13. See The Divine Relativity, 49-51.

14. Philosophers Speak of God, 4-5. See also The Divine Relativity, 77.

15. Anselm’s Discovery, 54.

16. Ibid., 53.

17. Logic of Perfection, 112. Hartshorne does not claim to have demonstrated the truth of this assertion. He realizes that his case for theism requires a fully developed speculative philosophy or metaphysics (ibid., p. xiii). He promises to undertake a systematic statement of his total perspective in a later volume.

18. Logic of Perfection, 91, 113, esp. 113. Cf. also Anselm’s Discovery, 26.

19. In view of Hartshorne’s extensive discussion of the ontological argument for the existence of God, it must be emphasized that I am not suggesting that faith affects the operation of formal logic. Where the validity of an argument is in question, formal considerations alone are relevant. It should be clear, however, that the focus of this essay is not on the ontological argument as such — though I do find Hartshorne’s defense of that argument illuminating and, within limits, convincing. The issue for us is the reasoning process by which we arrive at our basic understanding of the nature of God. Since an understanding of God provides the key premise of the ontological argument, this process is prior in significance to the logic of that argument. I am suggesting that we do not and cannot establish and defend our view of God by a neutral and detached use of reason. At this point, the way we think is materially conditioned by non-rational factors.

20. Cf. Gordon Kaufman’s Relativism, Knowledge, and Faith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 105-110, with the line of thought here being developed. See also Van Harvey’s discussion of "paradigmatic events" in The Historian and the Believer (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 253-258. While the Christian’s confession of Christ has provided the principal model for the present analysis, it also finds support in Mircea Eliade’s discussion of theophanies or hierophanies in archaic religion, especially in their function as ontophanies, manifestations of the "real." See The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1959), 21-22, 64-65, 94, and 117.

21. Hartshorne’s discovery that his own position is the "golden mean" in his scheme of possibilities does not necessarily indicate the rigorous neutrality of his reasoning; it may simply show that his scheme embodies the considerations which are most crucial for his particular vision of God. It is far from evident that the scheme he presents can adequately represent all possibilities; for example, classical expressions of mysticism or the highly dialectical position of Hegel. Hartshorne does not discuss Hegel, but it is noteworthy that the questions he presses against Sankara reflect a preoccupation with issues which Sankara considered so ephemeral and lacking in substance as to be unworthy of the term "real." It is beside the point to argue that Sankara’s treatment of these questions is irrational, since from Sankara’s standpoint the very putting of the questions reflects an even more profound expression of irrationality. Hartshorne merely proves that he is unable to entertain seriously a conception of God like Sankara’s (cf. Philosophers Speak of God, 173-175).

22. See, e.g., Logic of Perfection, ix, 29.

23. Eliade’s studies may help explain the strong association which is commonly observed, even among Christian theologians, between the notion of God and ideas of immutability and absoluteness. The more characteristic religious vision apparently portrays reality in precisely these terms! As a result, the high valuation placed upon the concrete and the temporal both by Hartshorne and biblical faith calls for a reorientation in fundamental attitudes which men cannot easily achieve.

24. The Sacred and the Profane, 111. Italics Eliade’s.

25. It is for precisely this reason that Christian faith cannot relieve itself of the agony of dealing with the problem of the historical Jesus. While the paradigmatic happening that shapes the Christian perspective cannot be reduced to the life of a historical figure, it always includes that life as an essential element in its own reality. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see my Christian Faith and History (New York: Abingdon, 1965), 202-219.

26. Cf. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, trans. C. T. Thompson and Harold Knight (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), I, part 2, 136, 159-160.

27. Martin Kahler, for example, asserts that Jesus in his "kingly character" was "complete in Himself." He lives out of Himself and takes nothing from His environment but only gives" (Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche biblische Christus, ed. E. Wolf [2d enlarged ed.; Munchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1956], 77).

28. Cf. The Divine Relativity, 14, 16-17.

29. Ibid., 59. See Colossians 1:17. Passages having a somewhat similar force might include I Cor. 15:20-28, esp. 25-28: Eph. 1:15-23: Phil. 2:9-11.

30. Eph. 1:23. It is striking that the New English Bible completely inverts the clear meaning of this text. It speaks of how the church receives the fullness of Christ. Apparently the translators could not bring themselves on dogmatic grounds to suggest that the church somehow "fills up" the reality of Christ!

31. Cf. Thomas J. J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 46-47, 82-83, 103-105, 113, et al. Cf. also his "Word and History," Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966) 121-138. For my analysis of Altizer’s work, see The Death of God Controversy (New York: Abingdon, 1966), 75-108.

32. John 1:3. Cf. also Col. 1:15-16 and Heb. 1:3, 10-12, 2:10.

33. Altizer interprets the resurrection and ascension in this fashion (The Gospel of Christian Atheism, 39, 43-46).

34. John 16:7-8.