Chapter 4: Recent Process Christology
The philosophies of Whitehead and Hartshorne are undoubtedly deeply theistic in intention, but Christians looking them over for possible theological appropriation have often complained that they lack any Christology. Neither has developed any explicit theory concerning the nature of Christ, nor have any of their earlier followers, with one exception. This historical result used to be frequently regarded as evidence suggesting that no real Christology could be developed on process principles. This objection seems to stand refuted, prima facie at least, by the spate of essays during the past few years proposing a variety of process Christologies. We propose to examine some of these proposals to see what they achieve. Are they efforts to show how various christological assertions, derived elsewhere, can be rendered consistent with process categories, or are they genuinely dependent upon, and emergent from, the more distinctive features of process thought? In what ways can they be reconciled with one another? In summarizing the positive results of this survey we hope to prepare the way for the distinctive thrust of our own christological proposal that the body of Christ with the risen Lord as its head constitutes the next evolutionary emergence beyond man.
Before looking at these recent proposals, it will be instructive to take a glance at that one early exception, Lionel Thornton’s The Incarnate Lord. The failure of this ambitious attempt to fuse an evolutionary concept of nature with a high Christology and an orthodox Trinitarianism has won few adherents among either students of Christology or process thinkers, and has probably discouraged others from entering this thicket. Hence the long delay in the emergence of process Christologies. Thornton’s example had to be forgotten before others would venture forth with their own proposals.
Thornton did not intend to write a Whiteheadian Christology, although that is what many who read him were looking for. He is primarily a church theologian presenting a high Christology in conversation with Whitehead’s analysis of experience. He is decidedly not a process theist: "As long as there is genuine religious experience remaining, the religious attitude will never give up its treasured truth that God is the eternal and unchanging Creator, who utterly transcends the changing drama of this present world and all that it contains."1 Nevertheless he was an enthusiastic Whiteheadian, profoundly influenced by Whitehead’s philosophy of nature. This was still possible in 1928, for the dynamic, temporal character of God’s consequent nature was first introduced in Process and Reality (1929). At the time Thornton had closely read The Concept of Nature (1920) and Principles of Natural Knowledge (2d edition, 1925), tended to interpret Science and the Modern World (1925) in line with these earlier works, and was acquainted with Religion in the Making (1926) though somewhat unsure what to make of its doctrine of God.2 He took comfort in Whitehead’s remark concerning the immortality of the soul, and evidently wanted to apply it to all theological issues: "There is no reason why such a question should not be decided on more special evidence, religious or otherwise, provided that it is trustworthy."3 Whitehead’s proposal to develop a strictly metaphysical concept of God with secular functions was not picked up.
Thornton was attracted by Whitehead’s evolutionary conceptions of nature, and particularly by his dissolution of scientific materialism into organic events. Especially in his earlier writings (including the earlier sections of Science and the Modern World), Whitehead develops a theory of overlapping events characterized by reiterated patterns, showing how sub-events may be organically influenced by the patterns of the events within which they are included. Such influence modifies and transforms simpler organisms into component elements of more complex organisms, thereby allowing for evolutionary growth.4 From this Thornton develops a hierarchy of stages: matter, life, mind, and spirit, each as a new emergent from its predecessor.
Yet the doctrine of real emergence in nature is balanced by an awareness of the ancient principle ex nihilo nihil fit: "The new cannot properly speaking emerge out of an existing situation. It may appear as thus emerging; but it must enter from beyond. . . . What cannot emerge out of the process of events in the series enters into that series from beyond it, that is, from the eternal order." 5 This is a remarkable anticipation of Whitehead’s view in Process and Reality that God’s primordial ordering of the world’s possibilities (the eternal objects) is the ultimate source of novelty in an emergent universe, except that Thornton understands these possibilities to be everlasting rather than timeless.6 This reification of what for Whitehead is purely possible, needing concrete embodiment in the actual world, leads Thornton to conceive of the eternal order as absolutely actual in its unchangeableness, identical with God. Then the world becomes an unnecessary appendage to God, a strange reduplication in time of that which is already unchangingly actual in God. The reciprocal interplay and mutual dependence between God and the world, so characteristic of Whitehead, are here absent. Like Hartshorne, Thornton argues that God is essentially self-giving love which must find expression in another, but he uses this argument not to establish the necessity of creation, but to demonstrate the existence of a social trinity of interacting persons.7 This Trinitarianism, moreover, leads to an interesting identification of two of Whitehead’s formative elements in the creation of actual entities, the realm of eternal objects and creativity, with the second and third persons of the Trinity respectively.8
Nevertheless, given these principles, Thornton could have devised an evolutionary Christology such that God’s creative Word, already manifest in each emergent process, has been decisively actualized for man in Jesus of Nazareth. The man Jesus could then be the bearer of that divine activity carrying man beyond himself. Such a view would have been a consistent development of the process interpretation adopted in the first half of the book, integrating both man and the divine activity in the world into the total process of nature. But Thornton can envisage no evolutionary advance beyond man,9 and sees in spirit, the distinctively human characteristic, primarily an openness and receptivity (when not thwarted by sin) to the eternal order. This in turn is tied to a concept of God as ‘‘Absolute Actuality’’ which is the identification of universality with concrete individuality.10 Apparently relying here on F. H. Bradley’s concrete universal, Thornton conceives of divine individuality as an all-embracing unity, and it is this principle of unity which must be incarnate in Christ. Since this divine individuality cannot be gradually introduced into the creative process, that process cannot be allowed to progressively culminate in the Christ, but must be seen merely as the material basis for the sudden irruption of the Logos-Creator from beyond. "Each stage in the incorporation of creative activity produced a new level of the series. But the Eternal Word is very God. His self-incorporation into the organic series does not, therefore, constitute a new level of the old series."11 "The Incarnation brings creation to its true end in God,"12 which constitutes a new creation decisively different from the old creation in gradual evolution. "The Christ whom Christians worship as God is not a product of creative activity . . . . not simply the projection and continuation of the curve of ascent which marks the pathway of creative activity in its incorporation into the organic series,"13 but the descent of God from beyond.
From the standpoint of process thought, this conception of the incarnation presupposes a self-sufficient creator who need not seek fulfillment in creaturely actualization and whose incorporation within the world is wholly discontinuous with its ongoing process. It is strikingly similar to the traditional Catholic doctrine of a divinely infused soul into the first man Adam, who otherwise may be understood as the product of the evolution of the primates, and bristles with the sharp dualisms between creator and creature which process theism has sought to overcome. Norman Pittenger,14 Charles E. Raven,15 and Dorothy Emmet16 have criticized Thornton on this score.
Quite apart from these concerns, students of Christology have objected to the implication of Thornton’s argument that Christ’s individuality must be divine rather than human. Thornton’s defense against the charge that he denies Christ’s humanity is not wholly convincing:
We have not to search, as some have supposed, for a central core which must be abstracted to make room for the eternal Logos. All the principles of unity which exist in any other human organism exist also in Him. But whereas in created human beings the highest law of being [= the principle of individuality] is that transcending principle of unity which is proper to a human organism, . . . the highest law of being in His case is the law of being proper to deity. . . . The human body is not less physical because it is taken up into a spiritual organism and has become an organ of spirit. Neither is the human organism less human because it is taken up into union with the eternal Logos and has become the organ of His deity.17
This overlooks the fact that each new principle of individuality creates a new species, and Christ is here depicted as belonging to a different species from man. Christ is both divine and human on Thornton’s account in the same way that man is both human and animal.18 Jesus cannot be one with us in our humanity unless he is also a man, not a divine being who subsumes humanity within himself.
We may generalize the issues raised by Thornton’s proposal by asking whether any high Christology is possible within a process perspective. Is it possible for the divine subjectivity to become actualized in some way within the man Jesus? Our answer is negative, for none of the alternatives seem to work. Either we adopt a social trinity in which only one of several divine subjectivities becomes incarnate, or the one and only subjectivity of God is realized in Jesus. But a social trinity is impossible on Whitehead’s terms, since "person" in the sense of an individual center of subjectivity must be identified with "substance" as the underlying unity of an actuality. For the unity of an actual entity in its process of coming to be is precisely its unification or growth together (concrescence), which is its subjectivity as experienced from within. Subjectivity and substantial unity cannot be displaced from one another, so the time-honored formula, una substantia in tres personae collapses unless "persona" is understood rather as an abstract aspect or mode of activity of a single concrete subjectivity. If that single divine subjectivity is realized in Jesus, then either not all of God is taken up in Christ, or Christ is identified with the totality of God, or God is in some sense diminished or altered in Christ. The first possibility would treat God the Father or the Godhead as some sort of vacuous actuality devoid of subjectivity; at any rate it would, like the second possibility, ascribe all divine subjective attributes to the subjectivity of Jesus (who can only have one unified subjectivity, not one divine and one human), which is both implausible and heretical. If to avoid such doceticism we adopt the radical kenoticism of Thomas Altizer, accepting a successive trinity such that in Christ God (the Father) died to be received by us as wholly immanent Spirit, then we must explain how universally necessary divine attributes (such as God’s full experience of every actuality) can have such an abrupt and contingent end.
None of the process Christologies we have examined propose that the divine subjectivity has become actualized within the man Jesus; rather, they contend that God was in Christ objectively, the way any actuality can be present in another according to Whitehead’s principles, though with considerably more profundity and richness. J. E. Barnhart comes the closest to articulating the concerns of high Christology as to how God
could become man in Christ.19 "Through empathy with the man Jesus, God did become not a man but, rather, became human. By ‘identifying’ with Jesus, God experienced certain human predicates, especially singular care for a dearly beloved and the dread of being estranged from him."20 God could not become a man without thereby abandoning his divinity (as in Altizer’s Sabellianism), but he becomes fully human in intimately incorporating into his own being peculiarly human experiences and sensitivities, thus accepting an inexhaustible concern for human purposes, achievements, and failures. But in this sense God became human not with Christ but with Adam. "The primordial divine will-to-experience-humanity," which Barnhart identifies with the "potential Christ in God"21 becomes actualized within God with the first emergence of man. It is true that ‘‘in the historical Jesus, God’s will-to-value-and-fellowship"22 met a special fulfillment in a peculiar, reciprocal intensification of mutual involvement, but this in itself is not the way God became human, although from a human perspective it may make accessible to us the richness of God’s concern for us. Christology cannot be the locus for God’s becoming human, although it may reveal to us the depth of his humanity for us.
The stubborn, persistent problem of classical Christology, how one person could be both fully divine and fully human, practically disappears within a Whiteheadian framework. In that framework events and activities are primary, while enduring substantial personhood is derivative. No concrete, actual event, moreover, can be understood as either wholly the work of God or the work of man (or of any other creature). Each event requires the persuasive power of God to provide the lure or possibility or initial aim to be realized, but it also requires the creaturely power to actualize that aim by integrating together the totality of efficient causes derived from the past. Without God there would be simply chaos, for the individual occasion would lack any ordering principle to initiate its process of integration, but without the world, God’s aims for the world would never be realized, since God acts solely by the power of persuasion, which can be effective only so far as it elicits concrete response. This means that every creaturely activity is also a divine activity, incarnating God’s purposes in the world, to greater or lesser degree. Only those actions which are fully responsive to God’s aims, to be sure, reveal God’s action in the world, for only they realize his intentions without distortion. Other events may thwart or frustrate or only partially realize the divine intent, but they still necessarily involve divine action, though with diminished effectiveness. "The world lives by its incarnation of God in itself." 23
Whitehead’s recognition of this incarnational universe is implicit in his high praise for "the schools of thought mainly associated with Alexandria and Antioch. . . . These Christian theologians have the distinction of being the only thinkers who in a fundamental metaphysical doctrine have improved upon Plato. . . . They pointed out the way in which Platonic metaphysics should develop, if it was to give a rational account of the role of the persuasive agency of God." 24 For Plato, the world can only contain copies or images or Imitations of God and the Ideas which he contemplates. The Nicene fathers were faced with the problem of understanding how God could be present in Christ. "On this topic, there can be no doubt that the Arian solution, involving a derivative Image, is orthodox Platonism, though it be heterodox Christianity."25 In contrast the church fathers decided for the direct immanence of God in the world, restricting its application to the one instance of the person of Christ. For all of their advance on Plato, these theologians failed to generalize their results because of an unfortunate presupposition: "The nature of God was exempted from all the metaphysical categories which applied to the individual things in the temporal world. . . . They made no effort to conceive the World in terms of the metaphysical categories by means of which they interpreted God, and they made no effort to conceive God in terms of the metaphysical categories which they applied to the World." 26 Whitehead does, and hence conceives of the Platonic Ideas (his "eternal objects") as directly immanent in each actual occasion as the means whereby God’s directing activity is really present in every creature. In a world where every actuality incarnates God, even if in a very diminished way, the christological problem must be put quite differently: what is the special characteristic of general human significance defining a Christ-event, enabling Christians to confess that they find it decisively realized in Jesus of Nazareth?
Since the degree to which God’s aims are incarnated depends upon the quality of creaturely response, it is not surprising that some process thinkers such as Norman Pittenger, Peter Hamilton, and Ronald Williams have taken Jesus’ total obedience to God as the clue to the specialness of the Christ-event.27 This criterion, however, is entirely too general to describe the specific characteristics which ought to pertain to the Christ. It only describes "sinlessness" or "creaturely perfection" or "saintliness." The Christ may well have all these properties, but are they sufficiently distinctive to single him Out from amid a host of other good and holy persons? Complete human response to the divine prompting may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the Christ-event if we define such response in relative rather than absolute terms. There is creaturely perfection wherever there is optimal achievement of value, given the antecedent causal conditions that creature unifies in its actualization.
Once we take into account the crucial role such antecedent conditions play, we see that there are as many different kinds of possible optimal achievements for persons as there are different situations confronting them. At every moment in our lives we have the opportunity of achieving the maximum value potentially inherent in each situation, but should such optimal realization be classed forthwith as ‘‘Christ-events’’? The question may be put historically: could Socrates, as a fourth-century Athenian, possibly have become the Christ? Not if our understanding of what the Christ is presupposes in any way the historical circumstance of Israel’s expectation of a coming Messiah. If all such historical conditions, on the other hand, can be systematically ignored as irrelevant, it becomes highly problematic on what grounds we award the title of Christ to Jesus and yet continue to withhold it from Socrates or from Gautama.
Let us then specify "Christ-events" as one particular species of human events characterized by the successful achievement of "christological aims," as yet unspecified as to content. In this fashion we may readily grant that Socrates and Gautama and any number of saints or just plain good people have frequently achieved the maximum value possible in given situations without thereby claiming them to be Christs, on the grounds that the aims they so richly actualized were not specifically christological. Such christological aims depend upon the grace of God, and he bestows them on some and not on others. Nevertheless, God’s activity is not arbitrary, since he inexorably seeks the best possible aims appropriate to the circumstances. It is only in certain special situations, however, that these specific aims can embody christological aims.
In A Process Christology, David R. Griffin notes the same difficulties we have raised about these proposals: "They have not made use of the notion that the content of God’s ideal aims for men varies. . . If this notion of Whitehead’s is not used, the resulting Christology has a somewhat Pelagian quality, suggesting that Jesus’ specialness is due solely to human initiative -- if Jesus was God’s decisive revelation, this did not result even partially from any special activity on God’s part in any sense."28
Griffin therefore focuses his attention upon what we have called the christological aim, although he generalizes it beyond the scope of mankind: ‘‘In actualizing God’s particular aims for him, Jesus expressed God’s general- aim for his entire creation." 29 This generalization is possible because of the specific content he assigns to the christological aim: "The aims given to Jesus and actualized by him during his active ministry were such that the basic vision of reality contained in his message of work and deed was the supreme expression of God’s eternal character and purpose." 30
Clearly the event of Christ does reveal to us the personal character of God. Christians have seen, and will continue to see in Jesus as the Christ the supreme revelation of God’s personhood. Surely Griffin’s position is sound to this extent. Nevertheless, we do not feel that he has made full use of the resources available in process theism when he restricts what is revealed in Christ to the eternal essence of God. In classical theism, which insists upon God’s simplicity, immutability, and eternality, the eternal essence of God was all that could possibly be revealed of God. Process theism, on the other hand, makes a formal distinction between God’s abstract, necessary essence and its concrete, contingent embodiment which is responsive to the vicissitudes of the world. Griffin stresses that this contingent dimension is necessarily involved in God’s provision of initial aims, including those which express the special christological aim, since the content of such aims is constantly changing, contingent on circumstance. Clearly there is also additional contingent content in the special aims for Jesus’ life which accompany and embody the christological aim for Griffin, but these are dismissed as only of historical significance. They are relevant only to the particularities of those occasions which gave rise to the supreme revelation of God. Doubtless many aspects of those complex special aims have little systematic import. Yet a third factor may be present in these aims, a contingent component distinct from the eternal aim which, nevertheless, may have significance for the entire human situation.
God’s personal character is revealed in the contingencies of his particular dealings with his creatures. Insofar as God has an eternal, permanent essence, this is exemplified in every interaction where there is an adequate response to God. This is the character of God’s general revelation, and is fully accessible to metaphysical investigation. Theology’s focus, in contrast, should concern the special, contingent dimension of God’s personal relationship to the human situation. Humanity is a contingent species, which need never have existed. If so, the special character of God’s salvific action on man’s behalf must also be contingent. This means that theology has its own intrinsic subject matter, since this contingent dimension can never be discovered by metaphysical analysis, but must await historical disclosure. Metaphysics reveals what God is like for all creatures, as Hartshorne tells us, but religion makes manifest what God is like for us. In our religious faith we are not primarily concerned with the universal character of God’s loving response. We are concerned with the specific way that loving response is directed toward us in our own particular existential predicament. This can only be revealed in contingent historical particularities.
"In actualizing God’s particular aims for him," Griffin assures us, "Jesus expressed God’s general aim for his entire creation."31 We agree, but insist that this is too abstract and general for the purposes of theology. Theology is properly concerned with God’s specific aim for mankind. Since this specific aim must be contingent, it can only be discovered if historically revealed.
This distinction becomes all the more important once we place Christology within the context of possible intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. In Christ God has become incarnate as man, and for man, but is he thereby incarnate for other forms of intelligent life as well? Previously this question could be dismissed as idle speculation, but since the Second World War, there has been a dramatic upsurge of interest in life on other worlds. For many people, particularly those engaged in the natural sciences, the notion of extraterrestrial life is no longer merely an exotic possibility but a virtual certainty. The issue chiefly turns on our confidence in the regularity of planetary development and of evolutionary growth. If both of these occur regularly, spontaneously, then we should expect the universe to be populated with myriads of planets sustaining life, many of which could be technical civilizations far in advance of ours. On the other hand, if the origin of life, or the formation of planets, is a chance, freak occurrence, then we may well be alone in the universe.
Both views of planetary development have been with us for a long time. The French naturalist Georges de Buffon (1707-1788) proposed that the birth of the planets resulted from a glancing collision of our sun with a passing comet. In contrast, Immanuel Kant and Pierre de Laplace argued that planetary development was part of a normal process to be expected in the life of almost every star: they assumed the young sun was surrounded by a thin lens-shaped gaseous envelope (solar nebula) which later condensed into planets. During the late nineteenth century the Kant-Laplace hypothesis was severely criticized by the British physicist Clerk Maxwell, who argued that the forces of differential rotation between parts of the solar nebula would break up any such condensation as soon as it began to form. In the face of this objection, which seemed quite decisive at the time, cosmologists increasingly turned to some version of Buffon’s glancing collision. Forest Ray Moulton and Thomas C. Chamberlin in the United States supposed that the sun, under the gravitational pull of some passing star, erupted gigantic globs of matter which in time formed planets, and a comparable theory was proposed by Sir James Jeans and H. Jeffreys. Yet the collisions or near misses dictated by these theories are inherently very improbable, perhaps only ten for the entire life of our galaxy during the past five billion years.32 With so few planets in existence, we could hardly assume that there would be much life elsewhere, at least not in our galaxy.
Both types of theories developed difficulties, but Maxwell’s objections to the Kant-Laplace hypothesis were overcome toward the end of World War II by C. F. von Weizsäcker, who argued that the original objections were based on the assumption that the chemical composition of the sun resembled that of the earth. We now know that the heavier, terrestrial elements compose less than one per cent of the sun’s mass, the rest being essentially a mixture of the two lightest elements, hydrogen and helium. Von Weizsäcker argued for a differential treatment between the hydrogen-helium and heavier elements with respect to the angular momentum of original solar mass. With the issue thus resolved in favor of a regular formation of planets, the chance of there being other planets capable of sustaining life is so high as to be practically certain. Even if only one planet out of every 150,000 contained life, there would be one million life-worlds in our galaxy, some of which we can reasonably assume contain intelligent life, for whom, we presume, God would also be concerned.
As Paul Tillich has seen:
. . .a question arises which has been carefully avoided by many traditional theologians, even though it is consciously or unconsciously alive for most contemporary people. It is the problem of how to understand the meaning of the symbol "Christ" (or any other man-centered religious symbol, for that matter) in the light of the immensity of the universe, the heliocentric system of planets, the infinitely small part of the universe which man and his history constitute, and the possibility of other "worlds" in which divine self-manifestations may appear and be received. 33
Now what can we say about God’s relation to such intelligent beings on other planets? Here our approach cannot be existential, for we cannot participate in the self-understanding such beings might possess, nor can our reflections significantly influence, or be derived from, our own quest for a meaningful selfhood. The issue is quite theoretical, but it is one which helps us to see the boundaries and implications of one particular faith-stance in the wider context of others. Christian thinkers have reflected on these boundaries with respect to their fellow human beings in other cultures, and even with respect to the other animals which share our planet, but rarely with respect to the rest of life populating the universe.
Moreover, the issue entails cosmological assertions bearing on our scientific understanding of the universe. For we must show the possibility of God’s involvement in the emergence of other forms of intelligent life before any claim can be entertained concerning their existential standing before God, and this task invites dialogue with scientific accounts of evolutionary processes.
While it may not express itself in these terms, the scientific community has become increasingly confident in the tremendous potential inherent in the universe for evolutionary growth. If the proper conditions are present, for example, surface temperatures permitting large bodies of liquid such as water or ammonia or methane, atmospheres permitting of energy-exchange, some source of light, etc., most scientists expect that sooner or later life will emerge. The extreme resiliency and buoyancy of the evolutionary thrust make it unlikely that, if all necessary environmental conditions are met, prebiotic molecules will not eventually emerge to be followed by some form of life.
In 1953, Stanley L. Miller, a collaborator of Harold C. Urey at the University of Chicago, prepared a mixture of methane, ammonia, and water vapor in simulation of the primitive atmosphere postulated for the earth. Stimulated by an electrode discharge passing through the mixture, within a week it yielded a variety of organic molecules: amino acids, acetic acid, simple sugars. Some of these are the building blocks used in the formation of living cells. If such dramatic growth was possible in such a short interval of time, under the proper conditions we can expect the same sort of process to occur on other worlds. This does not mean to imply that precisely these organic compounds must first be synthesized in order to allow life to emerge, but that these could have been the compounds used here on earth for the formation of life. On other worlds it is conceivable that an original atmosphere rich in hydrogen cyanide would have produced other organic building blocks. We anticipate some sort of growth toward increased complexity: increasingly larger organic macromolecules, then the convergence of many macromolecules to constitute a simple living system, either as a cell with its protective wall and vital nucleus or as some functional analogue, then the convergence of many cells to form larger organisms.
Since Darwin, this process of evolutionary growth, whereby levels of Increasing complexity are seen to emerge from simpler ones, has been explained in terms of the double mechanism of natural selection and chance variation. Natural selection affords a measure of stability and durability, for those populations which happen to be best adapted to their environments continue to survive as other populations tend to die out. By itself, however, natural selection provides for no evolutionary advance, for it introduces no novelty, and hence no possibility of anything more than that which already has been. We must recognize that in this context ‘‘adaptation’’ is strictly defined in terms of survival values and that, generally speaking, it is the simpler forms of organization that possess the greatest staying power: living systems, no matter how fantastically intricate- and well organized they might be, have a much shorter span of existence than, say, a rock crystal, or a single stable atom.34
The stability of natural selection must be balanced by the novelty of chance variation, which permits the introduction of new forms of existence. In principle this is as far as a scientific explanation can go if it proceeds by strict limitation to efficient causal explanation. Seen most broadly, any efficient causal explanation restricts itself to that which is traditional, for it explains the present in terms of the past. Efficient causality is the way in which the past persists into the present, and the task of scientific analysis is to discover whatever regularity exists in this transfer from past to present. Everything that happens either follows regularly established patterns or just happens quite accidentally. Ultimately, then, regularity and chance are our only options, and chance signifies little more than the absence of scientific causal explanation. Yet, without chance, nothing new could ever occur, that is, new in the sense of establishing novel causal patterns and forms of organization. If everything happened strictly according to deterministic physical laws, there would be no possibility for the emergence of life, if one assumes that the organization of life, while dependent upon physical principles, is not reducible to them. Fortunately, physical laws are probabilistic, with an indeterminacy that permits the emergence of novelty. Without chance, there can be no evolutionary advance, yet, strictly speaking, chance explains nothing. It is merely the absence of any efficient causal explanation.
Now the evolutionary process is essentially the emergence of new levels of complexity. Given the character of scientific explanation in terms of efficient causes, it is quite understandable that such evolutionary advance should be explained in terms of natural selection and chance variation as the best possible scientific theory. Chance supplies the novelty, while natural selection permits the consolidation of gains. Nevertheless, as an account of the whole story, it is quite incredible.
Essentially, what is lacking is any account as to why new levels of complexity should ever be achieved. Chance variation will produce novel forms of organization which may be more or less complex than that which preceded it. But should there be any greater tendency for the more complex rather than for the less complex to persist from such variation? Random activity should actually tend to favor the less complex for three reasons. (1) The simpler depends upon fewer specific conditions and has fewer, less demanding needs; human life, for example, depends upon so many more factors than single-celled marine life does. (2) The less complex is more in accord with entropy, the principle that any closed system tends to decrease in order over time. (3) With time, the possibility that random variation should produce anything with greater order should decrease as entropy increases.
God’s cosmological function consists in supplying that impetus toward greater complexification that we discover to be operative throughout the natural order. This does not mean that God acts efficiently as one of the causal antecedent conditions out of which the present event emerges. Rather he serves as a lure for actualization, providing novel possibilities of achievement. Persuasion entails response, not conformation, and the response is free either to embrace or to reject the novel aim. We do not mean to suggest that there is much free response in the universe: atoms and molecules are extremely traditional in their habits, behaving largely as they have always behaved. Plants, animals, and even humans are not much better, blindly reiterating that which went on before. Yet if there is to be any emergence of greater complexity, then there must be at least a modicum of spontaneous response possible even on the atomic and molecular levels, occasionally permitting the actualization of some evolutionary advance. Divine persuasion is the urge to maximize the possibilities inherent in such indeterminate response.
In a very real sense this theory of divine initiative and creaturely response commits us to some form of neo-Lamarckianism, for we are affirming that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is fundamental to evolutionary advance. In appropriating the divine possibility as its own aim, the creature is acquiring some characteristic which is then transmitted by means of efficient causality to subsequent generations. Free response becomes blind habit; novelty becomes tradition; final causality passes over into efficient causality. As we have noted, the realm of activity not wholly governed by efficient causal patterns may be vanishingly small on the simplest levels of existence, but that quantitatively negligible amount is all important in furthering any increased complexity. Random mutation is incapable of explaining the directedness of evolution such response can introduce. Once introduced, however, the new characteristic may be simply transmitted through blind habit.35
Generally speaking neo-Lamarckianism, as usually understood, has been properly discredited, but for the wrong reasons. It is not the inheritance of acquired characteristics which is erroneous, but the failure to distinguish properly between "levels" of response. How a given person or animal responds to his environmental situation will not affect the genetic makeup of his descendants, for that genetic makeup is determined on the cellular, perhaps even on the molecular level. If sufficiently original, human response may shape the common culture inherited by our fellows, for every tradition blindly received originally had its purpose and justification, however feeble that might have been. But if we restrict ourselves to biological inheritance, then we must examine cellular and molecular response, ignoring all higher responses on the level of the total organism. Here we can only conjecture, for it is difficult to appreciate what aims DNA molecules may strive to actualize. It may be doubted, however, that such alms would embrace even the relevant aims of the cell to which the DNA molecules belong, let alone the aims of the total animal body. Precisely in this sense, we can say that any gene mutations introduced by novel actualizations by such DNA molecules are random with regard to the future of the total organism in much the same way that the realization of our personal goals is usually random with respect to the future of the human race as a whole.36
Creaturely response through the appropriation of a novel aim supplied by God, on whatever level, whether atomic, molecular, cellular, or organismic, becomes the chief means whereby divine purposes become effective in the world. This does not mean, however, that the created order proceeds according to some set plan. Divine persuasion is highly opportunistic, seeking to maximize possibilities for increasing complexity which are consistent with the actual conditions imposed by the past through efficient causation. Moreover, this persuasion is not coercive, so there is no necessity that every creature must embody the maximum of its potentialities. Whatever happens, happens as the result of the creature’s self-activity in utilizing its causal conditions to achieve its ends, but God is everywhere and at all times seeking that which is best, given the circumstances. Such gracious activity will not always be thwarted, so that evolutionary advance, as actualized through free creaturely response, gradually comes into being.
Thus, for the universe at large, divine persuasion seeks to evoke life wherever possible, in the form appropriate to particular local conditions. We assume that there are comirnon physical laws for the entire observable universe, and these laws yield universal laws of chemical bonding. We can be reasonably certain that the way molecules are formed is invariant throughout the universe, and that the most promising chemical elements for organic evolution will be the lighter elements toward the center of the periodic table capable of very supple and complex co-valent bonding.
From this point on, however, the evolutionary process may branch in many directions, for the macromolecules formed out of these elements will vary considerably depending upon the composition and distribution of such elements in the early stages of that world. One-celled microorganisms, in developing their metabolism, will depend in turn upon whatever macromolecules are available, so we should expect every world to have its own way of organizing simple living systems. As we know from the past history of evolution on this earth, the development of multicelled organisms with or without central coordination (that is, animals and plants) can take many different routes, but these routes might be even more varied if the basic cellular structure were also radically different. The possibilities are naturally enormous.
The increase of freedom may be a divine purpose appropriate to all worlds. Freedom is essentially self-creation, requiring both the absence of restraint and the introduction of order by the free agent. On the atomic and molecular level there is a minimum of spontaneity, for each response is overwhelmingly the product of blind habit, endlessly reiterating the same pattern of activity it has inherited. We may think of molecules as societies of atoms, and molecules have been discovered to have preserved their structures intact for a good billion years. The decisive difference between living and lifeless matter, as Whitehead saw, is the difference between novel and habitual response. This may be a matter of degree, such that what we designate as living may simply be those instances where novelty dominates over habit. Homeostatic adjustment within the living cell requires that it respond to its surroundings in original ways which supersede the customary behavior of molecules.
At a higher level, motility frees animals from spatial confinement and renders them open to a great variety of situations to respond to. Yet without sentience, such motility would simply lead to random behavior; sight and smell and touch enable animals to achieve purposeful results meaningful to them. Intelligence is simply the next step in the quest for greater freedom; imagination increases our field of action by including the possible as well as the actual, while reason enables us to order these possibilities in significant ways.
As the capacity for novelty expands, consciousness emerges. We cannot define consciousness in terms of a centralized nervous system, for there is a great deal of neurological activity lying below the threshold of consciousness. Habitual patterns of response, such as getting dressed, riding a bicycle, using a typewriter, so painfully and self-consciously learned at the time, become quite unconscious.37 A centralized nervous system or its close analogue may be the necessary basis for consciousness, but consciousness itself is the inner concomitant of the presence of some novelty which has not yet faded into the background through incessant repetition.
Once intelligence appears, cultures may develop, varying enormously among themselves, but sharing the common biological inheritance and common general environment for that planet. Thus we should expect cultural differentiation on other worlds, but despite their diversity all would be characteristically stamped by that biological situation, just as all our cultures by contrast will be found to have certain peculiarly "terrestrial" features. We may leave open the question whether intelligent cultures must further develop into technical civilizations, that is, into civilizations seeking to transform environmental conditions to suit their own purposes and needs. It may be that human technology is essentially an accident owing to the fact that man is biologically so poorly adapted to his natural surroundings. It is quite possible, for example, that the dolphins possess a highly refined culture transmitted orally from generation to generation, but that they have developed no technology because they have no need of it. Man is a tool-using animal, but it may not be necessary that all intelligent species must also become tool-using.
With the emergence of conscious alternatives of action, ethics becomes possible, for now some options may be experienced as better and others as worse. What goodness means for other intelligent beings may well be beyond the bounds of our imagination, but it might be just possible to define a general criterion underlying all concrete embodiments. That which fosters the expansion of freedom and the intensity of experience may be regarded as good, although the ways in which freedom and intensity are fostered will depend upon the biological, psychological, social, cultural, political, economic, and possibly religious situations in which particular intelligent beings find themselves.
Throughout this multifarious universe the divine creativity is operative, evoking greater and greater levels of complexity, thereby permitting the expansion of freedom and the emergence of intense conscious experience. With consciousness it becomes possible for creatures to be aware of God’s directing activity, although on earth this seems to be generally rather sporadic and intermittent. In general the basic way in which God acts on the human level is through ethical persuasion; it is by the worthiness, the attractiveness, the importance of specific ethical ends envisioned that God lures us on to actualize a world better than what we have known. Such divine persuasion can be effective wherever man is willing to be ethically sensitive, quite apart from whether he consciously affirms or denies the existence of such divine reality. In this context, we may define God as that dynamic source of values which lures the evolutionary process to an ever-richer complexity productive of increasing freedom and intensity of experience. As such, God is necessarily operative in the development of every life and in every culture, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial.
Now in terms of these speculations, is it possible for us to do justice to the Christian claim that God acted decisively in Jesus of Nazareth for the salvation of all mankind? We have sketched a liberal theology for the cosmos, but is it also appropriate for our existence here and now? Or need we surrender the claim of Christ’s decisiveness in the name of some unproven conjecture?
John bears witness that the Logos of God, by which he created the world, became flesh and dwelt among us. Are we then to conclude that God’s only Son became uniquely incarnate once and for all on the third planet of a rather ordinary outlying star of a thoroughly undistinguished galaxy? Paul Tillich argues to the contrary: "Incarnation is unique for the special group in which it happens, but it is not unique in the sense that other singular incarnations for other unique worlds are excluded. Man cannot claim to occupy the only possible place for Incarnation." 38 Accordingly, we find it useful to make a distinction ignored by our forefathers in the naive assumption of the uniqueness and exalted status of man. We understand by the Logos or divine creative Word the sum totality of all God’s specific creative purposes for all creatures. The Word or speech of God symbolized the divine activity whereby new structural possibilities for the emergence of greater complexity become lures of feeling for further actualization. Yet this creative purpose is hardly invariant in its specific manifestations: what God says depends upon the particular situation confronting that individual in his own world. The speech appropriate to macromolecules capable of converging to form the nucleus of a living cell is characteristically different from the ethical imperative addressing twentieth-century Americans. Both differ sharply from that Word addressing intelligent creatures who may dwell in some super-civilization centuries ahead of our own. God’s dynamic Word knows no single form, but assumes that character expressive of God’s general aim at intensity of experience appropriate to each circumstance. By this Word the worlds were created, and by this Word also God has sought the salvation of his people, Israel.
The Logos, then, refers to the totality of God’s creative aims. We may distinguish this from the Christ, which signifies that one specific divine creative purpose addressed to the human situation, designed to bring about our salvation. To affirm that Jesus is the Christ is to confess that in Jesus of Nazareth we behold the embodiment of the divine intent addressed to mankind. The Word appropriate to our condition becomes incarnate by becoming fully actualized in the words, deeds, and suffering of Jesus. God has spoken before and since to man, with fragmentary success; his Word has come down again and again, but never before has it so taken root and become flesh. For it must be recognized that the divine Word depends upon creaturely response for its actualization. All of God’s urging will do no good unless we act; but then again, we would not be inclined to act at all unless our ethical and religious sensibilities were aroused by God’s prompting.
In Christ we have the promise of God’s salvation for all people, but what does this salvation mean? When the aged Simeon beheld the Christ child who would save his people from their sins, he probably understood the liberation of Israel from Roman oppression, the consequence of the people’s sin against their God. Paul then took this common formula, and transformed the meaning of salvation, so that we are being saved from the sins themselves and not merely from their consequences. In its deepest sense, salvation is that which overcomes our guilt, meaninglessness, and alienation from the creative source of all value, that which saves us from ultimate futility.
Salvation is the application of God’s creative purpose to intelligent life. Everywhere God’s creative urging toward the establishment of increased levels of intensity is present, but only with intelligent life can there be any awareness of this. At the same time, only with intelligent life can there be any sense of alienation from divine creativity, any awareness of our capacity to thwart the divine purpose by self-centered activities randomly conflicting with one another. As the only apparently intelligent creature on earth, man can sense the meaninglessness of his life apart from God. Even though the individual life may be cherished by God forever, its purposes by itself are ridiculously puny. But the individual need not experience his life in and of itself, but as participating in the broad sweep of divine creation, contributing in its small way to the increased intensification of divine experience, making possible the emergence of new forms of existence beyond man. We shall consider what one of these newly emergent forms might be in the next chapter. Here it is important to appreciate the intimate connection between salvation and creation. Creation in the sense of the emergence of levels of intensification in concert with divine persuasion is universal, and the salvation of each (intelligent) level depends upon its participation in the creation of the next higher level. For creation is the ultimate, all-inclusive context of meaning and value in terms of which we can be saved.
Jesus as the Christ is the incarnation of God’s dynamic Word addressed to us as confessing Christians, but should we say that he is the only incarnation for mankind? If we think of incarnation primarily in terms of the actualization of the divine creative purpose creating that which takes us beyond man, we may be tempted to reply affirmatively. But John Cobb, addressing himself to just this problem in Christ in a Pluralistic Age, is teaching some of us to consider "incarnation" in an additional, more extended meaning. Here "incarnation" does not refer so much to the actualization as to the embodiment of divine aims in the lives of people, whereby the very abstract aims conceptually entertained in God’s primordial experience are transformed into concrete possibilities or effective lures for our action and self-understanding. In this sense God is incarnated in every religious tradition through every image or symbol which effectively expresses its deepest response to God’s leading, although the Christian can confess that for him Christ, the incarnation of God, is supremely exemplified in Jesus.
This may be an idiosyncratic reading of Christ in a Pluralistic Age,39 yet it follows naturally from Cobb’s proposal that Christ should be accorded the status of a Whiteheadian proposition.40 Such a proposition is neither an actuality nor a pure possibility but a hybrid of both. It functions normally as real or concrete possibility for the future, sharing with the pure primordial possibilities their unactualized status, yet being also rooted in the actualities of the past which form the causal conditions by which it could someday become actual. Pure possibilities as such are irrelevant to the ongoing course of the temporal world. They must first become ‘‘incarnate’’ in the sense of becoming interwoven with the concrete vicissitudes of historical circumstance in order to become effective lures for the future. Only those possibilities which are realizable under present circumstances (or which may shortly become realizable) are live options for future actualization. The divine Logos, as the primordial mind of God, contains an infinity of pure possibility, but only those possibilities specifically addressed to the human situation can save us. These possibilities are addressed to our situation by becoming incarnate in our living religious traditions, which clothe abstract divine aims with the symbolic imagery which speaks to our concrete needs.
As St. Ambrose has said, it is not by dialectic that God has been pleased to save his people.41 Pure abstract concepts have no saving significance. Religious symbols, not concepts, mediate to us the divine. These symbols are rooted in historical circumstance, not human contrivance; they are ‘‘born,’’ "live,’’ and ‘‘die’’ within the life of the communities shaped by them. We must be wary of reducing the symbols of other traditions to the bare concepts they embody. This may enable us to understand them in terms of our own conceptualities, but it robs them of their particular salvific power. If we see that the very generation of such effective concrete lures is the incarnation (in this extended sense) of divine aims, then there is a deeply Christian reason for affirming the positive valuations of other traditions on their own terms.
While Cobb’s proposals about "incarnation" address the problem of the pluralism of faiths in a most exciting manner, we have deep reservations about his analysis of incarnation in the more usual, restricted sense as applying to how Jesus can be the Christ. For Jesus’ specific individuality, Cobb suggests that the center of his subjectivity is co-constituted by the divine Logos, understood as the unity of the ideals, aims, and possibilities that God cherishes for the world. This theme was first announced in "A Whiteheadian Christology, "42 and here it is carefully developed in terms of the peculiar authority Jesus claimed which contemporary witnesses attested to according to recent New Testament scholars as diverse as Rudolf Bultmann, Norman Penn, Ernest C. Colwell, and Milan Machovec. Jesus may well have possessed this peculiar authority, but can we therefore ascribe to him a unique psychic structure of experience not shared by other human beings? The problem is not the uniqueness of this structure, for Cobb has already argued that humanity has possessed a wealth of such psychic structures in the course of history.43 If there are a great many differing types, all of which are authentically human ways of experience, Jesus could possess a unique type and still be fully human. The problem is rather epistemological: how could we possibly know the inner psychic experience of another to ascertain uniquely differing features of his structure? By an analysis of our own structure of experience we can ascertain its common, generic features, and by the analysis of a large class of human beings perhaps we can postulate the particular features of that group’s psychic structure, but the inner structure of an individual, particularly when it is claimed to be uniquely different from any other, seems beyond our powers. If we cannot know but only believe, then the question becomes whether we can have any confidence that our belief in such a unique psychic structure is even meaningful.
All of these christological proposals with process theology are strongly influenced by the classical problem, how the Christ can be both fully divine and fully human. But as we have seen, this is no longer the central problem within a Whiteheadian framework. Nor was it the central basis upon which the proclamation of the early church was founded. The basis for the early church was the resurrection. Thus Luke records Peter’s speech at Pentecost: "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. . . . Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:32, 36). The classic problem of the status of the Christ came much later. The initial question, which is also the more central question within process Christology, centers on what basis we proclaim Jesus to be the Christ. Our own christological proposal shall follow the lead of the early church, and finds its basis also in the resurrection of Jesus.
1. IL, p. 112.
2. See ibid., Appendix C, "Objects and Events," pp. 456-69, which explores Thornton’s appropriation of Whitehead’s categories.
3. RM, pp. 110-1l; Thornton quotes this sentence, IL, p. 463.
4. SMW, pp. 156-57; IL, p. 460.
5. IL, p. 84.
6. To be sure, he assigns them "an altogether different kind of permanence" (IL, p.459) from that of enduing objects, but this difference is left unexplained.
7. IL, p. 396:
But if the Trinity be understood in a purely economic sense, so that the distinctions correspond only to aspects of God manifested in His activities of creation, revelation, inspiration or the like, then there are no eternal relations of self-giving within the divine life of Absolute Actuality. Thus the principle of self-giving in God, which is acknowledged to be essential, can find expression only ad extra, in relations with creation. But this is to make creation necessary to God, in the sense that the full actuality of God’s life is incomplete apart from creation. This is to place God under a necessity external to Himself. God becomes dependent upon creation for the expression of His nature.
This is meant to be a reductio ad absurdum, but the absurdity is self-imagined One can almost feel Thornton’s horror at the possibility that any aspect of God might be contingent upon the world
8. Ibid.. p. 417:
The created universe is the product of the twofold creative activity of the Word and the Spirit. The Word is the eternal object [= Whitehead’s realm of eternal objects as internally ordered] of the Father’s self-expression, and the Spirit is the Immanent principle of actuality and unity in their mutual relations. So we discern in the organic series a transcendent formative activity of creation weaving patterns of objects upon events, and an immanent energizing activity underlying events, and binding their succession into the unity of series and process upon which enduring objects may be patterned.
9. Ibid.. pp. 158-59;
With man we stand at the summit of the ascending series, where the progression of the universe and of its modes of revelation and mediation can apparently advance no further.
10. Ibid., p. 223.
11. Ibid., p. 228.
12. Ibid., p. 225.
13. Ibid., p. 227.
14. Norman Pittenger, The Word Incarnate (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), pp. 107-9. fly insisting that Christ enters the series from beyond, ‘‘he denies the significance of the whole series as the vehicle of God’s action. For in fact the world is not patient of deity in any real sense, if at the crucial point it is required that God thus break into his own ordering of things" (p. 108).
15. Charles E. Raven, Natural Religion and Christian Theology, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), p. 102: "Dr. Thornton’s own doctrine was rendered inconsistent by his insistence that although the creative process disclosed a series of emergents, life, mind, spirit, and thereby foreshadowed the culmination of the series in the coming of Christ, yet that event differed radically from all its predecessors and signalized not the consummation of the process but the intrusion into it of a Being wholly distinct and independent."
16. Dorothy Emmet, Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism (London: Macmillan, 1st ed. 1932, 2d ed. 1966), p. 254, n. 2:
He can indeed claim Whitehead’s support for the view that our apprehension of the eternal order depends upon the fact of a developing incorporation of that order into the successions of events in Space-Time through an ascending cosmic series [IL, p. 98]. But this has really no bearing on the Christology of the latter half of the book, since he claims that Christ is not a product of the creative organic series but an irruption of the Logos-Creator (or the absolute eternal order) into the series.
17. IL, pp. 237 38.
18. See the criticism of D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (New York; Scribner’s, 1948), pp. 91-93, who suggests that The Incarnate Lord might be understood as a modern version of "the impersonal humanity of Christ" proposed by Cyril of Alexandria. Baillie refers us to a similar critique by J. K. Mozley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation (London: G. Bles, 1949), pp. 146-47.
19. J. P. Barnhart, "Incarnation and Process Philosophy," Religious Studies 2 (1967), 225-32.
20. Ibid., p. 229. Italics his.
22. Ibid., p. 231.
23. RM, p. 151.
24. AI, pp. 214, 216; cf. pp. 166-67.
25. Ibid., p. 216.
26. Ibid., pp. 216, 217.
27. For an extensive bibliography on process Christology, see Ewert H. Cousins, ed., Process Theology: Basic Writings (New York: Newman Press, 1971), pp. 200-2, 215-16, and 226. See also Delwin Brown’s bibliographic discussion in Process Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Delwin Brown, Ralph E. James, Jr., and Gene Reeves (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), pp. 58-61. I have specifically criticized Ronald L. Williams’s article as paradigmatic of this approach in "The Possibilities for Process Christology," Encounter 35/4 (Autumn 1974), 281-94, esp. pp. 283-86. For my additional comments on Griffin’s A Process Christology, see pp. 286-94.
28. PC, p. 218.
29. Ibid., p. 220; italics his.
30. Ibid., p. 218. Here God’s eternal character and purpose refer to his personal attributes which can to some extent be embodied by a finite being sharing the same character and purpose, in contradistinction to God’s metaphysical attributes, which indicate his uniqueness from all finite beings (PC, pp. 191-92). Nevertheless, both are aspects of God’s uncreated abstract essence. Griffin does not avail himself of the distinction proposed by Pailin, whereby God’s personal attributes are those values which God has in fact chosen for all occasions in this actual world, in either case, however, such personal attributes would be knowable in the same way that his metaphysical attributes are, namely, by way of philosophical inquiry. See David A. Pailin, "The Incarnation as a Continuing Reality," Religious Studies 6/4 (December 1970), 303-27, and my response, ‘The incarnation as a Contingent Reality,’’ Religious Studies 8/2 (June 1972), 169-73.
31. PC, p. 220.
32. I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966), p. 166.
33. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 95.
34. Individual cells within a complex organism, to be sure, apparently have a shorter life-span than their host. It may be, however, that the kind of organization whereby the individual cells are knit together is itself simpler than the organization of the cell. Bureaucracies and institutions are less organically structured than individual human beings, yet they can outlast a score of human life-spans. If survival, that is, that persistence of a given state of organization, is our sole criterion of value, then there is a lot to be said for institutional inertia. It is highly adaptive in its ability to survive most anything.
35. Sir Alister Hardy, The Living Stream: Evolution and Man (London: William Collins, 1965).
36. The argument of this paragraph is heavily dependent upon Richard H. Overman, Evolution and the Christian Doctrine of Creation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967), pp. 203-1l.
37. Erwin Schrodinger, Mind and Matter (Cambridge University press, 1959). pp. 4-5.
38. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 96.
39. Cobb’s theory of incarnation is complex, and perhaps best understood by considering it in a simpler version, as presented in chapter 6 of Process Theology, An Introductory Exposition. by John B. Cobb, Jr., and David Ray Griffin (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976). There Christ signifies not only Jesus but any incarnation of the Word or Logos of God. Since the Logos is identified with God’s primordial nature, that is. with the totality of the possibilities God envisages for the world, Christ, its incarnation, is seen in the actualization of any radically new and creative possibilities derived from God. Hence we can see that such actualization must result in creative transformation. This theme of Christ as creative transformation is emphasized in Christ in a Pluralistic Age, but it is overlaid by another account of Christ, namely, as the particularization of divine aims in images or symbols capable of evoking deep human response. There are thus two layers of meaning as to Christ in this work, neither of which allows for the conventional simple identification of Christ with Jesus only.
40. Cobb acknowledges his indebtedness for the idea to William Beardslee, A House for Hope (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972): see CPA, pp. 14-15.
Beardslee reports that the thesis of Donald W. Sherburne’s A Whiteheadian Aesthetic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), that a work of art has the ontological status of a Whiteheadian proposition, suggested the idea to him.
41. Whitehead quotes these words from the frontispiece of Cardinal Newman’s Grammar of Assent, AI 380: ‘Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum.
42. John Cobb, Jr., "A Whiteheadian Christology," in Process Philosophy and Christian Thought, pp. 382-98.
43. John Cobb, Jr., The Structure of Christian Existence (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967) describes eight types for human existence. Now Cobb sees these types as ranged along a continuum.