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


"Process philosophy" is basically a metaphysical position, the view that reality is fundamentally both temporal and creative, and therefore that "becoming" is more fundamental than "being." It can be contrasted effectively with the metaphysics of Being which has dominated Western philosophy and Christian theology. Defined very broadly, process philosophy can be detected in much of Buddhism, at least in Theravada, in the obscure fragments of Heraclitus, and in the sixteenth-century philosophical theology of Faustus Socinus. Some would find it coming to bloom in the idealistic philosophies of Hegel and Schelling. Certainly Bergson, Alexander, Peirce, and James can be called process philosophers. More recently Berdyaev and Teilhard de Chardin have developed views that belong in this category.

In recent years, however, process philosophy has come to mean especially, though not exclusively, the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and his intellectual descendants, most notably Charles Hartshorne. It is this narrower sense of process philosophy — Whiteheadian process philosophy — that provides one pole of the title and content of this book.

Besides the prejudices of the editors, there are at least two reasons for limiting this anthology to Whiteheadian process philosophy. For one, no one has created a process metaphysics as complete, comprehensive, and as suggestive for future developments as Whitehead’s. The sheer greatness of Process and Reality necessarily makes his philosophy the primary locus of modern process philosophy. Secondly, though other process philosophers have been influential within Christian theology, in recent years Whiteheadian process philosophy has generated increasing interest and excitement as a philosophical basis for Christian thought. In America at least, it has become one of the few major options for contemporary theology, and perhaps the only genuine philosophical option.

The reasons for this new interest in Whiteheadian thought are not hard to find. On the negative side it has to do with the general demise of neo-orthodoxy and the relative absence of other theologically relevant philosophical options. On the positive side it can be attributed chiefly to the rise in philosophical stature of Charles Hartshorne and to the growing theological prominence of two of his students, Schubert M. Ogden and John B. Cobb, Jr.

Thus, when process theology is talked about in American (and to some extent British) theological schools today, Bergson, Berdyaev and Teilhard may be in the background, but the work of Whitehead, Hartshorne, Ogden and Cobb is primarily in mind. To us it seems eminently timely and appropriate, therefore, to publish a selection of major works by twentieth-century Whiteheadian process philosophers and theologians.

In the Introduction we have attempted to present a brief historical account of the rise of this point of view, including the place in the movement of the contributors to this volume. Since all of Whitehead’s theologically relevant works are readily available in inexpensive editions, there is very little from them in this book. Victor Lowe’s piece is the best brief introduction to Whitehead’s metaphysics available. Hartshorne’s contribution is an abridged version of the very important first chapter of his Man’s Vision of God. It contains much of both the substance and method of his approach to theological problems and issues. Most of the remaining chapters are a selection from the works of Christian theologians who have been strongly influenced by Whiteheadian philosophy. A few are critical examinations of this approach or aspects of it.

The contributors are philosophers and theologians, young and old, American and British, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and secular. All in all they provide a sound introduction to the variety and scope of Whiteheadian process theology and its place in contemporary Christian thought. The book will be very useful in courses dealing, either exclusively or in part, with process theology. It can also be read with profit by clergymen seeking to know what this "new" option in theology has to offer, or by anyone interested in what happens to a philosophy when it is used by theologians and intimately related to Christian thought.

Credit for the idea of this book belongs to Ralph James. He recruited the other editors for collaboration in what has proved to be an enjoyable and intellectually rewarding effort. All editorial responsibilities and decisions have been shared equally.

All three of us owe a note of appreciation to those who have given financial support to our research for this book: Mr. Brown to Anderson College; Mr. James to the Knapp Fund; and Mr. Reeves to Tufts University. Above all we must express our appreciation to the authors. They have been wise consultants as well as cooperative contributors. Without their work, in some cases presented here for the first time, such a volume on process philosophy and Christian thought could not exist.

Delwin Brown

Ralph E. James, Jr.

Gene Reeves