Chapter 3: Divine Sovereignty

The Lure of God: A Biblical Background for Process Theism
by Lewis S. Ford

Chapter 3: Divine Sovereignty

With respect to the question of divine power, as we saw in the last chapter, classical theism came to accept the model of efficient causation. This model can make good sense of many of the biblical traditions, but not of all: God’s particular involvement in human history, his apparent lack of knowledge concerning the future in some of the earlier narratives, his suffering, his willingness on occasion to change his mind. These traditions could be comfortably suppressed as crude anthropomorphisms as long as confidence in the model of divine efficient causation remained strong, but that model has become vulnerable in recent centuries because it cannot do justice to the problem of evil or account adequately for creative freedom. An alternative, now emerging in theism, is the model of divine persuasion.

Given these two philosophical perspectives, the coercive and the persuasive, the biblical witness to divine power seems inconsistent. Each can explain what the other cannot. Between them they can account for all the texts, broadly speaking, but they seem mutually incompatible. From another perspective, however, this mixture of persuasive and coercive elements becomes readily intelligible. One of the basic biblical images, particularly with respect to the symbolization of divine power, is the figure of the king. A king does not rule by being the efficient cause or maker of anything. His rule is largely persuasive; it is effective insofar as his subjects are obedient to the royal commands. That rule, however, is not purely persuasive, for the king has access to coercive measures to apply to those who refuse to comply.

In a discussion of power and obedience in the primeval history, George W. Coats has recently outlined the logic of this position.1 He emphasizes the element of persuasion involved in the divine commands given to the man and the woman in the garden. This element of persuasion respects their freedom and integrity. "So, as long as the human creature can be persuaded to obey the limitations placed on him by his creator, creation will be in its proper order. Yet, what happens when the human creature remains unpersuaded?"2 "God kicked man out of the garden to his death, away from the tree of life. And he made it impossible for man to get back in. There is no divine persuasion here. There is only divine coercion, a divine sentence of death for the disobedient creature."3 Later on, he concludes:

Thus, the God who persuades and the God who judges the unpersuaded stand in tension. This tension is an integral part of creation theology. Moreover, the grandiose, prideful, vain, and egotistical man lives in tension with the call to obedience and its corresponding limitations on power. If he goes too far in obedience, he may lose his freedom, his maturity, his necessary grandiosity. If he goes too far in his freedom, he loses his source of power, indeed, his life. The mature son celebrates those tensions before God as a responsible king who rules God’s creation. And in the celebration he receives both his life and his power.4

Persuasion and coercion stand in tension, but the same God can apply both if he is primarily conceived of as a king exercising his royal authority. In the Priestly creation story, persuasion was sufficient. The cosmic ruler commanded, and the world faithfully executed those commands. Because of this faithful obedience, the created order could meet with God’s full approval: "behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). But as Coats points out, problems arise with disobedience, particularly when man oversteps the limits of his power. God may be patient and long-suffering, but sooner or later he must intervene to vindicate his rule. As king God is judge, the one charged with maintaining justice by overthrowing the oppressor and rescuing the oppressed.

There is no question but that this image of God as king poses serious difficulties for process theism, for it not only highlights elements of divine coercion but offers a coherent account of their presence. In moving back from philosophical to biblical concepts, however, we find ourselves in a domain of shifting and fluid patterns, and the image of God as king is no exception. Generally speaking, this poses no problem as long as both the persuasive and the coercive elements are balanced against one another, and the only issue concerns the relative importance of each. But the inner dynamic of Israel’s experience of God’s sovereignty over history leads inexorably to the view that he exercises absolute control over the future. In that moment there is no longer any divine persuasion remaining, nor logically any creaturely freedom. At this juncture, however, just when it appears that there is no room at all for any affirmation of divine persuasion, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God introduces a radically new way of experiencing God’s sovereignty as the power of the future. As the power of the future, God’s activity is not only purely persuasive but does not need coercive measures to achieve its purposes. Thus while process theism can only do partial justice to many of the images of divine kingship in the Bible, and none to some, it may be the model most appropriate to the final image emerging from this tradition.

The shift from a prophecy to apocalypticism gave an important stimulus toward views of divine determinism. As long as God is conceived as operating by persuasion, he must effect his purposes indirectly, through the agency of historical forces. For persuasion depends upon obedience, whether that obedience is freely given, or unwittingly exacted as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. For this reason divine persuasion must work with existing historical realities to shape them toward desired ends. Once, however, God is conceived as exerting his power directly, or by means of heavenly creatures wholly subservient to his will, the actual deployment of historical forces becomes irrelevant to the realization of divine purposes. Thus the imagination of the apocalyptic seer is freed from the constraints imposed upon the prophet. He is freed to dream of God’s decisive, unambiguous act to eradicate all evil, as the ambiguities of divine action in the historical process recede into the background. History becomes simply an interval of waiting, negatively contrasted to this coming, glorious day. But it is fully known and measured, else why should it endure so long? Since God is fully in control, he should vindicate himself right early. The apocalypticist’s task is only to explain the delay and indicate signs of its coming.5

The seeds of this transition from prophecy to apocalyptic may be found in part in the trial speeches in Second Isaiah.6 In these scenes the gods of the nations are brought before the ultimate judge, the Lord of Israel:

Set forth your case, says the Lord;

ring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.

Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen.

Tell us the former things, what they are,

that we may consider them,

that we may know their outcome;

or declare to us the things to come.

Tell us what is to come hereafter,

that we may know that you are gods;

do good, or do harm,

that we may be dismayed and terrified.

Behold, you are nothing, and your work is nought;

an abomination is he who chooses you.(Isa. 41:21- 24)

At stake here is the reliability of divine promise and threat. The Lord declared to Israel ‘‘the things to come" in his threats to destroy Israel and Judah for their sins, and he made good on those threats. Now he is about to fulfill his promises and bring the captives back to Jerusalem. The Lord has the power to bring about the aims he envisages; he accomplishes his purpose. These other gods may declare what they are going to do through their prophets, but nothing ever happens. They don’t come through on their promises.

So interpreted, Second Isaiah’s message remains wholly within the prophetic framework. We can rest content in the reliability of God’s promise, while also looking about to discover what will be the instrumentality for achieving this purpose. God can bring about his goals by one means or another as he seeks to exercise his persuasive powers.

But the passage can also be interpreted another way. The gods of the nations cannot declare the future because they do not know it, and it is this lack of knowledge which proves that they are not gods. Moreover, God knows the future because he has the power to control it, and the future must conform to that control. God’s declaration of what is to come is them a prediction based on certain knowledge, not a promise he intends to fulfill. Omnipotence here becomes the foundation for omniscience, and the groundwork has been set for a thoroughgoing determinism. This never occurs in apocalypticism, however, for in that vision God only controls the major events of history. He does not interfere with the freedom of those addressed, who are urgently summoned to repentance and obedience.

The very human yearning for vindication in the midst of ambiguous circumstances thus generates an inexorable pressure upon the logic of divine sovereignty. We seek to be sure of God’s actions, and not to rest content with his promises. This pressure undermines the unstable balance that existed between persuasion and coercion, leading ultimately to the elimination of human freedom, at least theoretically, in the face of a completely determined future. And yet, paradoxically, the apocalyptic contains within itself the seeds of human freedom, which achieved their decisive breakthrough in the proclamation of Jesus. For the apocalyptic transposed the decisive locus of divine sovereignty from the present to the future. As we shall see, this understanding of God as future, or more precisely, as the power of the future effective in the present, permits a renewed appropriation of divine persuasion and human freedom.7

Apocalyptic Judaism acknowledged God’s lasting, ever-present sovereignty in his lordship over Israel, but in a rather perfunctory way. This sovereignty at best was a limited and hidden one, for Israel was in slavery to the Gentile nations who reject the reign of God. God’s reign and the reign of the Gentiles over Israel form an intolerable contradiction. So all hope and concern was directed toward God’s future reign, when Israel would be freed, and the whole world would see and acknowledge God as king.

Jesus shared this focus of concern toward God’s coming, future reign. Jeremias reports as an assured result: "Nowhere in the message of Jesus does the basileia (kingdom) denote the lasting reign of God over Israel in this age." 8 But unlike Jewish apocalypticists before him, and Christian apocalypticists after him, he refused to speculate concerning the signs of the end that must be fulfilled. He does not seek to explain why God’s kingdom has been delayed so long, for he was grasped by its immediacy. With John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 3:2), Jesus proclaimed that ‘‘the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15 par.) "God is coming, he is standing at the door, indeed, he is already there." 9 He promises his disciples that some of them will "see the kingdom of God come with power" in their lifetimes (Mark 9:1). The incident concerning the barren fig tree (Mark 11: 12-14) may portray this expectation of an imminent end even more vividly, if Jeremias is correct in suspecting an Aramaic imperfect with an originally future significance behind the Greek text. Then Jesus, in finding the tree merely in leaf, uttered not a curse but a prediction: ‘‘No one will eat fruit from you again" because the end-times will be upon us even before those figs become ripe.10

The consummation of the kingdom is a purely divine act. Only the Father knows and decides when that will be. When it comes, it will come suddenly. We can do nothing to hasten its day, nor avert its coming. Jesus scorns those who would try to bring the kingdom about through their own efforts: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). Nonetheless, the very imminence of this coming great event exerts tremendous power over the present moment, endowing it with extreme urgency. Elisha was allowed to say farewell to his family (1 Kings 19:20), but Jesus does not grant his disciples this permission (Luke 9:61-62). Nor can he permit a son to fulfill the elemental duty of mourning his father the customary six days: "Leave the dead to bury their own dead" (Luke 9:60). Those who fail to heed the call, who are not galvanized into action by the presence of this errupting kingdom, are simply dead, perpetuating the existence of this old age. Every hour is precious, too precious to be taken up with mourning. The dead must be called into the world of life before it is too late.11 When the crunch is on, we must act quickly, and decisively, taking extraordinary measures. Even conniving old stewards about to be thrown out of work know this (Luke 16:1-7). Jesus’ instructions when he sent forth the disciples to preach the kingdom also express this urgency to lose no time. "Salute no one on the road" (Luke 10:4): do not tarry in exchanging greetings, or join caravans traveling the same direction. This command was more offensive then than now, because of the deeper significance of salutations then in communicating the peace of God.12 Likewise each town was given its chance, but if its inhabitants do not respond, move on quickly. "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes" (Matt.10:23).

Something momentous did happen shortly with the resurrection of the living Christ as the dynamic, coordinating agency energizing a radically new communal reality,13 but this was not the expected consummation of the kingdom. Insofar as Jesus’ expectations are to be understood out of the traditional apocalyptic which he undoubtedly shared, they went unfulfilled. But Jesus also spoke of the present immediacy of this future kingdom, for this future reality exerted its power upon present actions. The kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching cannot be interpreted as either simply future or simply present; recent New Testament scholarship has abundantly shown this. It is in this peculiar tension between the future and the present that Jesus introduces a novel element ultimately destructive of the apocalyptic framework within which most of the New Testament is articulated.

Jesus proclaimed: "The kingdom of God has come near,"14 which means more than simply that it was expected to arrive at some not too distant date in the future. Its nearness is also a qualitative measure of its power in affecting the present, a power which has already come to be felt. This future reality exerts its own power, more or less felt in varying degrees of nearness or distance. As this nearness was experienced in all of its power and poignancy, it was natural to assume, given the apocalyptic expectations of the day, that the long awaited kingdom of God was also chronologically near as well. But the experienced nearness of the kingdom may be independent of its chronological date, since it applies directly only to the power which the future exerts in the present.

This proclamation is also coupled with a summons to repentance and faith. The power of this nearness does not affect us indifferently, shunting us to and fro in the manner of a physical force acting in terms of efficient causation. This power addresses our freedom, eliciting a response of acceptance or hostility. Its power lies precisely in its capacity to call forth our freedom, for it stirs us to our very depths. The possibilities of repentance and faith require the fullest exercise of freedom, as they involve the transformation of our own selfhood.

For the purpose of a fuller analysis, we introduce a threefold distinction between the power of the past, the power of the present, and the power of the future. These three powers interpenetrate; they require each other, as all contribute to the actualization of each action or event. These are the ways process philosophy sees the three modes of time to be ingredients in causation. Whitehead conceives of the actuality as producing itself out of the way in which it appropriates its antecedent causes. The locus of productive activity thereby shifts from the past causes to the present event, which is active in virtue of its own power. The past causes determine the content of the present actuality, but only as this content is appropriated and unified by the present activity. Causation is here understood on analogy with perception: nothing is perceived unless we actively engage our attention in perceiving, yet what we perceive is dependent upon content derived from our environment. The power of the present selects and unifies this past content, so that the past is effective in the present only insofar as it is taken up into the present by the power of the present. Not all past actuality can be appropriated by the present because it contains conflicting and incompatible tendencies. Our freedom lies in the power of the present to select and to organize that which we inherit from the past.

In the absence of direction, however, such freedom would merely effectuate random combinations of the past. Freedom is responsibly exercised in the light of future possibilities, which become lures insofar as they are valued. Thus we may describe free actualization as the bringing of the past into the present by the power of the present responding to the lure of the future. The future is just as causally effective as the past, though each in its own way. This would be denied on the ordinary assumption that causes produce their effects, for all productive agency must be vested in actualities, and there can be no future actualities. But in Whitehead’s reversal of our ordinary assumption, productive agency is vested in the actuality presently coming into being, so that its causes are merely passive objects to be appropriated. Future possibilities are just as objective as such past actualities, and hence are equally capable of exerting causal power to the extent that they are taken up into the present. The particular valued possibilities which shape our actions come from many sources, but ultimately, Whitehead argues, they derive from the creative activity of God. God is the ultimate power of the future, rescuing the world from degeneration into chaos by the relentless provision of ever-new creative possibilities for the world to actualize.

The interacting roles of these three powers may be seen in Paul’s contrast between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:16-24). The flesh cannot simply mean the body, since the works of the flesh include idolatry, enmity, jealousy, and the like -- passions not obviously rooted in our biological makeup. Yet the word "flesh" indicating our biological heritage is enormously suggestive. It embraces all of our habits and "natural" desires, and constitutes the power of the past as effective in our lives. Spirit, in contrast, testifies to the power of the future. Flesh and spirit are forever in tension with one another, for in every decision we determine whether our fi4ure goals will shape our past inclinations, or vice versa, and to what extent. They require each other, for without the past, there is nothing which can come into being in the present, while without the future, there is nothing for the present to become. Their constant struggle, moreover, indicates that these two powers alone do not determine what is. There must also be the power of the present, which is our inmost being, by which we respond to the future by means of the past, and to the past by means of the future.

The power of the future does not reside in some future actuality. This is a contradiction in terms if, in our freedom, we face a genuinely open future, such that nothing is actual until it has been actualized in the present. Moreover, it is not as if this awaited actuality first exerts power when it becomes actual in the present. For any power it exerted then would be the power of the past or the present, not the power of the future. To understand the power of God, then, we must focus our attention on how the future can be effective in the present. It is precisely on this point that Jesus’ teaching is liberating, for it portrays this future kingdom as it impinges upon the present. Both dimensions are crucial. If the kingdom is simply a present reality, then it is just one more actuality among others in our present world, mysteriously hidden from view. If the kingdom is simply future, then it exerts no power to which the present must respond, but remains merely an inert possibility we hope someday might be realized. It is the energizing of possibilities by divine appetition that constitutes the power of the future in the present, the nearness of God’s reign.

In the controversy concerning Beelzebul, Jesus declared: "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). This manifestation of divine power signifies the nearness of the kingdom, which in the apocalyptic expectation Jesus shared might be imagined to be casting its shadows before it, if not already breaking into their midst. Apart from the association of experienced nearness with chronological nearness, however, this saying takes on almost the character of an analytic truth: the exercise of God’s power is the way in which he reigns among us. The kingdom of God is not a political commonwealth but signifies rather God’s active ruling, which must be present where the divine power is manifest. By using the term "kingdom of God," with its indelible future orientation, however, Jesus implies that God’s power is this power of the future, for it is this future reigning of God which is actualized in the present by means of this ministry of exorcism.

If this future reigning is already effective in our world, then we may anticipate the conditions of the age to come here and now. The experienced nearness of God’s reigning power justifies Jesus’ anticipatory actions: his table-fellowship with the lost sheep of Israel looking forward to the messianic banquet; the gift of God’s forgiveness, reserved for messianic times (Mark 2:5); his preaching of a new, eschatological Torah designed for this new coming age. This was a time for new wine, for new garments, bursting through the limits of the old (Mark 2:21-22). While this power is near, this is not a time for fasting, but for the feasting of the wedding (Mark 2:19).

The apocalyptic hope powerfully expresses our very human longing for an unambiguous display of God’s activity. Israel characteristically looked for a future Day of the Lord, but Isaiah may have had the discernment to recognize that a Day of the Lord may have occurred in the events surrounding Sennacherib’s attempted invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.15 But it is difficult to discern the decisive action of God in the vicissitudes of this life. If our analysis of God’s reigning as the power of the future is correct, it is not hard to see why this is so. The power of the future is effective only insofar as it is responded to by the power of the present, and that response is usually highly fragmentary, since it is also colored by the power of the past. None of these three powers actualizes anything independently of the others. This means that God as the power of the future is necessarily effective in all things, but it also means that nowhere is he the sole agent. If so, the straightforward apocalyptic hope is an idle dream, resting upon a misconception of how God acts.

There is also another difficulty. If the kingdom of God were to become a present reality, it would no longer be future. Thus the reigning of God is forever future, never capable of surrendering its futurity to present realization. This emphatically does not mean that the kingdom is infinitely distant and therefore unrealizable. It means rather that it is precisely as future that God’s reign exerts its power, affording the opportunity for its realization here and now, however fragmentarily. We can confess, however, that God’s sovereign majesty did draw nigh unto man in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ faithful response to the Father, his human activity became the vehicle for divine activity, for Jesus’ own power of the present allowed the divine power of the future to be fully effective.

It is our contention, then, that Jesus’ response to the present power of the coming kingdom implicitly undermined the apocalyptic expectation for an unambiguous display of divine majesty in this world, although he continued to share that hope. If so, what then happens to the consummation of the kingdom and the last judgment? Are these simply mythological accompaniments of this now unfounded apocalyptic hope?

The final judgment, which Jesus conceived as preparatory to the consummation,16 cannot be lightly dismissed in our time. The possibility of major human catastrophe, whether by nuclear holocaust or by irreversible ecological disaster, is all too real. Seen in a wider perspective, the threat of destruction has always been present in a world containing a vast multiplicity of free centers of power potentially in conflict with one another. These are all held together in loose harmony by the pervasive influence of God as their coordinating agency. "If he should take back his spirit to himself . . . . all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust" (Job 34:14-15). The entropic forces toward increasing disorder would take over to reduce this cosmos into chaos. If this coordinating activity is God’s universal function, then it is by God’s power that our own catastrophe has been averted this long. Jesus understood that God could both shorten (Mark 13:20) and lengthen the present time, as the parable of the barren tree indicates (Luke 13:6-9). "All human existence, hourly threatened by the catastrophe, lives in the interval of grace: ‘Let it alone this year also, in case it perhaps bears fruit’ (Luke 13:8f)." 17

Catastrophe as such is the result of destructive causal forces existent in the world; its power derives from past actuality as it impinges upon us, and not directly from God. Nevertheless, these destructive forces may on occasion be acting in response to divine directives.18 They express the wrath of God, insofar as God judges existing orders and structures as worthy of destruction.19 Existing structures may be obstructing the realization of new relevant values, and to that extent be evil, deserving to be destroyed. The revolutionary fervor of the oppressed may be inspired by a holy zeal. But the judgment of destruction is always ambiguous; many values only possible in terms of the old order will never be realized, even though the destruction of that order permits other kinds of value to emerge. The destruction is experienced as disaster by those who cling to the values of the old order, but is welcomed as liberation and opportunity by those seeking the new order. Because God’s judgment is always for the sake of some further ideal, it can never be final in any absolute sense. His is always the power of the future, and therefore cannot motivate any absolute termination beyond which there is no future. Nevertheless, divine judgment may be final with respect to this present age and the ideals it seeks to exemplify.

God’s judgment takes place through the instrumentalities of this world, but the consummation of the kingdom we long for must be an unambiguously divine event. For that very reason it cannot be a future event, as every event in this temporal world requires the conjoint activity of both God and creatures. Our irreducible freedom, moreover, means that we finally determine, through our own present power, how effective God’s future power will be. This is a paradoxical and intolerable result from the standpoint which assumes that all power is measured in terms of the capacity to produce results, and God’s supreme power is manifest in his productive creation of this world ex nihilo. Denying God the power to replace this world by another would be tantamount to reducing him to impotence and inactivity. On the other hand, if productive activity is vested in becoming, in our present power to produce ourselves, then God’s supreme activity lies in his creation of himself, not the world. Rather than seek the consummation in some future event in which God affects the world, we should find it in the continuing way in which the world affects God.

Apart from the world God has neither past nor future, but is pure presence. Nontemporal, he creates himself as the envisagement of the infinitude of all pure possibilities.20 Just as the world acquires a future from God, so God acquires a past from the world. Each individual creature receives its past from the other creatures of the world, and its future ultimately from God, and out of these creates a new present. God’s presence is internal to himself, derived from his nontemporality, but out of that and the past which he receives from the world he creates a new future, as he transforms his pure possibilities into real possibilities, that is, realizable possibilities under the conditions of the world. Thus we do not say that God is a future reality which does not yet exist. Most properly, he is a nontemporal actuality who influences us by the future he now creates; by means of the real possibilities he persuades the world to actualize.

To be sure, the existence of nontemporal actuality is different from that of temporal actuality, for temporal actualities influence us as past efficient causes. That does not make him any less existent, but it does mean that his presence is felt through an entirely different mode, the future.

Moreover, this creation of the future provides God with a way of achieving the final consummation. For it is by means of the conceptual richness of his inexhaustible pure possibilities that God is able to absorb into himself the multifariousness of the world, overcoming the evil of its destructive conflicts through the higher harmonies this infinite imagination provides. God experiences

every actuality for what it can be in such a perfected system -- its sufferings, its sorrows, its failures, its triumphs, its immediacies of joy -- woven by rightness of feeling into the harmony of the universal feeling. . . . The revolts of destructive evil, purely self-regarding, are dismissed into their triviality of merely individual facts; and yet the good they did achieve in individual joy, in individual sorrow, in the introduction of needed contrast, is yet saved by its relation to the completed whole. The image -- and it is but an image -- the image under which this operative growth of God’s nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be lost.21

This weaving together of the actual and the ideal is the consummation of the world in God’s experience,22 but it is also our future, since the Ideals used to bring the actuality experienced by God into harmonious unity thereby also become ideals and lures for actualization in the temporal world. "For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world, and qualifies this world so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience. For the kingdom of heaven is with us today. . . . It is the particular providence for particular occasions." 23 The kingdom of heaven, as Whitehead understands it, is the perfected actuality of God as incorporating within himself the ongoing process of the world. It also provides the power of the future as operative in the present as the source of those aims we seek to realize in faith.

This sense of the kingdom of God is eloquently evoked in another passage from Whitehead’s writings. Its explicit topic is religion per se, but perhaps it describes more accurately the epitomization of religion that we find in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom:

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.24

Jesus’ proclamation of the coming kingdom of God was open-ended, although clothed in the specific apocalyptic imagery of the day. In this particular form the kingdom has not come with power, at least not as soon as the early Christians eagerly awaited it. Yet the sovereignty of God was effectively manifest in those days. This Jesus, who was killed, God raised up and made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32, 36). The resurrection of Jesus whereby he became the dynamic directing agency of a new corporate reality, the body of Christ, exhibits the creative power of God for man in a way never before achieved. This was a new biological emergence, a vital breakthrough in the evolutionary history of the world, made possible by the creative order made available by God in that specific situation. In the resurrection Jesus became the Christ as the incarnation or actualization of the divine Word addressed to the human situation, thereby realizing the kingdom or sovereignty of God in our midst.

This is our theme in chapter five. It is also our Christology, specified in terms of the resurrection. We understand by the Christ the realization of that specific aim or future possibility appropriate to our human condition, an aim which Christians confess was fully actualized in Jesus of Nazareth. Since this christological proposal emphasizes the contingent specificity of the divine aim in Christ, it is not an aim given to everyman, nor is it an aim which primarily reveals to us the character of God rather than his specific address to man. On these counts it considerably diverges from other proposals in process Christology. Thus we shall preface our examination of the resurrection by a consideration of several other Christologies formulated in a process vein, indicating the strengths and difficulties of each. In this way we shall see more clearly the criteria proposed for an adequate process Christology, and be in a position to judge how well they apply to an interpretation of the resurrection, the central event in the life of the church, both then and now.

Our proposal also entails a distinction between the Christ, that Word or creative possibility specifically addressed to the human situation and actualizable by a man, and the Logos, which is the totality of creative possibilities inherent in the primordial or nontemporal nature of God, actualizable by the diverse creatures appropriate to them, including intelligent living beings on other worlds. In limiting their concerns to man, the church fathers made all too quickly an identification between the Christ and the second member of the Trinity. It is difficult to persuade ourselves of the untenability of this identification without a full exploration of the problem of extraterrestrial life, so we shall undertake this as well in the next chapter in preparation for our christological proposal. In this way, too, we shall see the close correlation that exists between creation and salvation.


I. George W. Coats, "The God of Death," Interpretation 29/3 (July 1975), 227-39.

2. Ibid., pp. 230-31.

3. Ibid., p. 231.

4. Ibid., p. 238. For a vigorous defense of the claim that a process model of divine power includes both coercive and persuasive elements, see J. Gerald Janzen, "Modes of Power and the Divine Relativity," Encounter,’ 36/4 (Autumn 1975), 379-406. Janzen’s essay originated as a response to an earlier version of this chapter. Its exegetical insights, particularly concerning Job and Romans 8, are daring and challenging. Although we differ on at least one point in the interpretation of Whitehead’s philosophy (he holds the system to require that God acts efficiently by mediating to present events finite efficient causes derived from the past), I do not see how his God acts coercively in any of the senses outlined in the previous chapter. To act coercively God would have to restrict the range of real possibility otherwise available to a given event. Since past events already restrict this range, it is not further restricted by having these events mediated to the present event through God. Other than mediating the past, his God seems to act in a purely persuasive manner.

5. The apocalypticist typically believes that God must come quickly because he cannot any longer tolerate the evil of the world. As we shall see, this was not Jesus’ reason for proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom.

6. See Isa. 41:1-5, 21-29; 43:8-15; 44:6-8, 21-22; 45:20-25.

7. The phrase, ‘‘the power of the future effective in the present," is borrowed from the writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg, though perhaps I use it in a different sense than he intends, As Pannenberg correctly notes, Whitehead himself gives no constitutive role to the future in his philosophy: see John Cobb’s Theology in Process, ed. David Ray Griffin and Thomas J. J. Altizer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), p. 136. Pannenberg convinces me that he should, and I believe such an extension of Whitehead’s philosophy is not inconsistent with its basic principles. See my proposal, "A Whiteheadian Basis for Pannenberg’s Theology," Encounter 38/4 (Autumn 1977), 307-17, and my conversation with Pannenberg, ‘‘A Dialogue about Process Philosophy,’’ ibid., pp. 318-24.

8. Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus (New York: Scribners, 1971), pp.101-2.

9. Ibid., p. 102.

10. Ibid., p. 132.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 133.

13. See Chapter 5.

14. Luke 10:11; cf. Luke 10:9; Mark 1:15; Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7.

15. See Isa. 22:1-14, interpreting the perfect tense as past rather than as "prophetic future." See also A. Joseph Everson, "The Days of Yahweh," Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (1974), 329-37.

16. See Jeremias, New Testament Theology, pp. 122-41.

17. Ibid., p. 140.

18. God’s activity may be understood as indirectly coercive, but it is directly persuasive, becoming coercive only insofar as his aims are actualized in creaturely response. Here we diverge somewhat, perhaps, from Daniel Day Williams, who writes; "Certainly it is true that God does exercise coercive power. We cannot escape the fact when we look at the way in which the structures of life coerce us, smash our plans, seize us in the grip of their inevitabilities. God is not identical with those structures but His wrath is in then, as they are related to the ultimate structures of value which is His own being’’ ("Time, Progress, and the Kingdom of God," in Process Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Delwin Brown, Ralph E. James, Jr., and Gene Reeves [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971]; p. 461.

Williams’s qualification, that God is not identical with those structures, indicates that the coercion itself ultimately comes from that which is not God, though perhaps mediated by him. It is true, however, that these structures themselves may in turn be derived from the actualization (at least in part) of values provided by God.

19. "Wrath" here is most appropriate, for as our minds feel and transmit the anger (and other passions) of our bodily feelings, so God internalizes those destructive intentions which conform with his solemn sense of justice. Otherwise his judgments would be cold and unfeeling, not drawing upon a rich undercurrent of passion ultimately derived from the world itself. On this point, see my essay on ‘‘Our Prayers as God’s Passions,’’ pp. 429-38 in Religious Experience and Process Theology, ed. Harry James Cargas and Bernard Lee (New York: Paulist Press, 1976). Yet as I. Gerald Janzen has masterfully shown in a careful exegesis of God’s speech in Hos. 11:8, which he translates as "My heart transforms itself upon me/My change of mind grows fervent," God’s love can overwhelm and transform such wrath, although preserving and including it within a greater integration: "Metaphor and Reality in Hosea 11," Society of Biblical Literature 1976 Seminar Papers, ed. George MacRae (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976), pp. 413-45.

20. See chapter 7 outlining a process trinitarianism, note 5. The nontemporal act whereby the Father begets the Son ‘‘before all worlds’’ can also be conceived as the act whereby God creates himself.

21. PR, p. 525.

22. 1 have explored this theme more fully in "Divine Persuasion and the Triumph of Good," pp. 287-304 in Process Philosophy and Christian Thought, especially in the final section.

23. PR, p. 532.

24. SMW, pp. 267-68.