Living Options in Protestant Theology

by John B. Cobb, Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is

Published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1972. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Cobb provides an overview of contemporary Protestant theology. This theology is confronted by a wide variety of ideas that sometimes agree and sometimes do not. If we are to judge ideas intelligently, we must learn why each theologian affirms them and how he justifies them. Then we can consider both the soundness of the method and the care and consistency with which it is employed.


  • Preface

    A survey of the responsible decisions concerning the present status of Protestant theology: These decisions can only be done if their bases rest upon methodology. Therefore this survey is oriented to the critical study of the methods employed by major theologians.

  • Chapter 1: The Historic Role of Natural Theology

    The great body of American thought that still looks to natural theology stands between these polar positions: the Thomist, which thinks of God as transcendent and supernatural; and that of Wieman, which presents God as a process immanent in nature.

  • Chapter 2: The Thomism of E. L. Mascall

    The fundamental Thomist vision of finite existence as pointing to its self-sufficient cause is fully compatible with a doctrine of God that can embody the real strengths of the Thomist position without entailing its religiously and logically unsatisfactory conclusions.

  • Chapter 3: Boston Personalism

    The Personalists have achieved a remarkable synthesis of philosophy and theology that satisfies their own criterion of comprehensive empirical coherence. In this way they have shown the reasonableness of the Christian faith and the absence of any necessity of absurdity and paradox in its formulation.

  • Chapter 4: Henry Nelson Wieman

    For Wieman, we devote ourselves to the service of God because God produces the good. His theory of value has a remarkably wide range of relevance but fails to achieve the universality he seems to claim for it.

  • Chapter 5: The Nineteenth-Century Background

    "Theological positivism" reaffirms the hostility of the Reformers to the Scholastic confidence in philosophical reason, and it employs this hostility more systematically as a methodological principle than was possible or necessary for the Reformers themselves. Responsible theology is not essentially different from Biblical exegesis. It can have no second norm beside the revealed Word of God. Since that revelation is self-authenticating and self-interpreting, it needs no second norm.

  • Chapter 6: Emil Brunner

    Brunner’s theology rejects both liberalism and orthodoxy, both subjectivism and objectivism. Liberalism, he declares, has become man-centered and has sought to subject the mystery of God to human reason. As a result, it has become an expression of human religiosity rather than of Christian faith, and its spokesmen have substituted the science of religion for Christian theology.

  • Chapter 7: Karl Barth

    If despite all objections, Barth shows the possibility of a theology of revelation that receives its principles from revelation and applies them in turn only to revelation, then all criticism ceases. We must stand either within or without the closed circle of revelation.

  • Chapter 8: What Is Existentialism?

    For the thoroughgoing existentialist, the death of God means the absolute aloneness of the existent individual and the absence of any given structure of meaning whatsoever. Hence, the question of sin and forgiveness in the Christian sense cannot even arise. The all-important quest is for meaning, and this quest is foredoomed to failure in so far as meaning is still conceived as something given for the individual. Since God, the objective source of meaning, is dead, the only possible source of meaning is the self. The existentialist finds himself, finite being as he is, in the lonely and sovereign role of God, the author of purposes.

  • Chapter 9: Rudolf Bultmann

    God can never be introduced as a factor into the explanation of this-worldly events. He is radically transcendent, and his acts can never be placed alongside other causal influences in the interpretation of what occurs. From this principle there can be no exceptions, whether we are dealing with events recorded in the Scripture or with the religious experiences of mystics. These events are all subject to explanation in terms of this-worldly causes.

  • Chapter10: Paul Tillich

    In his ontology, Tillich places himself in the main stream of Western thought from the pre-Socratics through the great Christian philosopher-theologians down to the German idealists and especially Schelling. His intention is not to develop speculatively a particular form of ontology and defend it against all others. He seeks rather to lift out certain basic features indispensable to philosophical thought.

  • Chapter 11: H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr

    H. Richard Niebuhr has proposed that Christian affirmations should be understood as the confession of how that which is in itself absolute has been experienced from a conditioned and relative perspective. The suggestion of Reinhold Niebuhr is that the distinctive prophetico-Christian faith as found in the Bible provides an illumination of the socio-historical situation that other faiths and philosophies distort and obscure.

  • Personal Conclusions

    Those who would support the Christian vision in our time must develop new approaches to meet a genuinely new situation fraught with profound peril to the human spirit but possibly offering also hope for reversing the long decline of faith. One of the major tasks that confronts our generation is the development of a phenomenological-existential history of man’s emergence into various dimensions of consciousness and self-consciousness.