Process-Thought and Christian Faith
by Norman Pittenger


I must begin with a brief account of my growing appreciation of what in recent years has come to be called process-thought or process-philosophy. As long ago as the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, a reading of certain Cambridge theologians of the time introduced me to this sort of understanding of human life and the natural world. The work of Professor J. F. Bethune-Baker, Professor Alexander Nairne, Canon Charles Raven, Dr A. C. Bouquet, and the Reverend J. S. Boys-Smith -- all of whom were members of an informal group in Cambridge which was developing this line of thought -- opened for me the possibility of a re-conception of Christian faith in terms of what was then being described as "emergent evolution". Later in the 1930’s when I became a theological teacher, I found the opportunity to read C. Lloyd-Morgan, S. Alexander, Jan Smuts, and above all A. N. Whitehead; it was in those years that I began to work out my own version of this re-statement of the Christian faith. Finally, in the 1940’s and thereafter, Charles Hartshorne’s books came to be for me the most valuable explication of the process background for my Christian thought.

In 1944, when I published Christ and Christian Faith, I was already wrestling with the doctrine of Christ in the light of process-philosophy. Eleven years later in Theology and Reality (1955), I sought to apply its concepts to certain other areas of theology; and in the following year, publishing lectures originally given to parish clergy conferences on Rethinking the Christian Message (1956), I urged the use of these ideas in the necessary and thorough re-working of the popular presentation of basic Christian themes. My large study in christology, The Word Incarnate (1959), was an extended essay in interpretation of the person and work of Jesus in process-terms. Finally in The Christian Understanding of Human Nature (1964) I used process-thought, along with some of the insights of existentialism, the new approach to history, and some of the findings of depth psychology, to elucidate the Christian view of the meaning of manhood.

With this continuing interest and with my enormous respect for what Cambridge theology had been attempting in the years before what Canon Raven called "the great blight" (which followed the exaggerated biblical theology of the 1930’s and later years), I was delighted to be asked by the Divinity Faculty of that university to lecture for them in November 1964. My public lecture in that year was followed by other invitations, three in Britain and one in the United States, to give a brief and popular account of process-thought and its importance for Christian theology. The result was the expansion of the original lecture into four lectures which in varying forms were delivered as the Lightfoot Lecture for 1964 at the University of Durham, at the Episcopal Theological College in Edinburgh in 1964, at St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury in 1965, and as the Beattie Lectures at the University of the South in the United States in April 1966. I thank the authorities of these institutions for their invitations to lecture and for the kind hospitality shown me when I was their guest.

This book might have been, perhaps should have been, much longer and more detailed; and unquestionably it may be faulted as being altogether too much a reporting of what one theologian has found interesting and useful in his study of the process-philosophy. In extenuation I should plead that in a series of four lectures, intended in each instance of delivery for a general educated public rather than for philosophical and theological experts, of necessity one must be brief and must deal with the topic in a broad way; furthermore, I have not intended to claim that every representative of process-thought would agree with what I have selected as significant nor would find my use of what in fact has been selected compatible with his own particular approach or his own individual conclusions. I have not attempted a thorough analysis of all the available material but have sought to give a survey which conveys my own impressions of a body of literature that I have studied over many years. Nor should I have published the four lectures had not many who heard them urged that they be made available to a larger public which knew little or nothing about process-thought and its availability for Christian use. My original intention in the lectures and my hope in the publication of this book has been and is that I may stimulate younger colleagues in the theological world to pursue the task with more competence and greater discernment, and perhaps much more radically, than I have been able to do.

In conclusion, I am grateful to Professor D. D. Williams of Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and Professor D. W. Sherburne of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, for reading the typescript and making many valuable suggestions; and above all to Professor Charles Hartshorne, who has not read the typescript but who, during a recent short visit to England, discussed with me many of the ideas which are found in this book. I have ventured to dedicate to him this introduction to the Christian use of process-thought, as a token of my gratitude for his help and also for the enormous resource that I, with many others, have found in his long years of work in the development of this philosophical conceptuality. Of course none of these persons, but only I, have responsibility for what is said in these pages.

Norman Pittenger

King’s College Cambridge