The Theology of Altizer: Critique and Response

by John B. Cobb, Jr. (editor)

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.

Published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1970. Used by Permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Essays from a wide range of scholars in a thoughtful attempt to understand and clarify Thomas Altizer’s “Death of God” theology, including serious critical statements, followed by Altizer’s responses.


  • Preface

    One purpose of this book is to encourage increased attention to Altizer’s systematic theology with critical essays of high quality, some previously published, some new. The second purpose is to stimulate and embody the living debate with critical essays followed by Altizer’s responses. The tone of both the critiques and the responses is respectful, friendly, and open.

  • Introduction by John B. Cobb, Jr. and Nicholas Gier

    Of all the death of God theologians, Thomas J.J. Altizer was the most prominent figure of the late ‘60s and has been the most widely and heatedly discussed American theologian. Altizer’s theological convictions show not only passionate faith, but incomparable spiritual strength and courage as well.

  • Chapter 1: Thomas Altizer and the Future of Theology, by Theodore Runyon, Jr.

    Theodore Runyon Jr. says: "From Altizer’s standpoint, the God I am advocating, the God who is distinct from man and the world, is a repressive figure who must be killed in order that the God who in Christ is identical with the world might emerge. From my viewpoint, what needs to die, or at least to be relativized, is absolute confidence in the religious intuition of man, which in this form I take to be a deifying of the aesthetic dimension of the creature."

  • Chapter 2: Dialectic or Duality? by William A. Beardslee

    “I would think a more adequate line of theological exploration than Altizer’s would entail the working out of an understanding of Christ and God that views them in a framework of process, but understood in such a way that process involves cumulative enrichment and fulfillment and not simply dialectical reversal. I am sympathetic with, and open toward, the various attempts to restate Christian affirmations in Whiteheadian categories, for Whitehead’s thought seems to me to offer a categorical framework which may express a grasp of process appropriate to Christian faith.”

  • Chapter 3: Response by Thomas J.J. Altizer

    The danger of maintaining traditional styles and practices of faith in a new situation is that their very life and existence will block or reverse an eschatological and dialectical movement of faith.

  • Chapter 4: Catholic Theology and the Death of God: A Response by Eric C. Meyer

    Altizer has not effectively clarified how his death-of-God theology avoids reducing theology to a merely naturalistic and humanistic anthropology. If God now does not exist nor act except in existing and acting men, then faith is only another word for human consciousness.

  • Chapter 5: Man and God Evolving: Altizer and Teilhard by James W. Heisig

    “Despite one’s first impression that a death-of-God theology is hopelessly incompatible with a deeply God-centered theology, there is much that the writings of Dr. Altizer and Père Teilhard share in common. It is my purpose in this paper to compare their thinking in several salient areas, in the hopes that this will help render our contemporary Christian myths more transparent and spell out their consequences more fully.”

  • Chapter 6: Response by Thomas J.J. Altizer

    If God has become man or Word has become flesh in consciousness and experience, then it is precisely the truest or fullest expressions of consciousness and experience that the theologian can identify as “faith.” Then faith could be understood not only as a witness to or participation in the reality of God but also as an actualization and realization of the life and movement of God.

  • Chapter 7: Thomas Altizer’s Apocalypse by Richard L. Rubenstein

    Perhaps especially in the time of the death of God, we must not lose sight of the fact that man does not cease to be a guilty or sinful creature. Original sin suggests an important impediment to apocalyptic enthusiasm at the death of God.

  • Chapter 8: Response by Thomas J.J. Altizer

    If the Christian continues to believe in the gracious and providential love of God after Auschwitz, then not only is he once more denying the humanity of the Jew, but he is also inevitably denying the pain of all humanity, refusing the authentic or ultimate reality of a pain that cannot be relieved or assuaged by a dehistorized or dehumanized God.

  • Chapter 9: Thomas Altizer and the Dialectic of Regression by Daniel C. Noel

    A man who has gone to some lengths to criticize “modern gnosticisms” should be brought up short when he falls into the same heresy. With this in mind, Daniel C. Noel takes a careful look at Altizer’s work.

  • Chapter 10: Process Theology and the Death of God by Nicholas Gier

    If we affirm the death of God fervently enough, a new revelation of the sacred will appear. This is a solution to a Godless world, but is it a viable one? That is the question posed in this essay. It is a critical interpretation of death-of-God theology from the point of view of process theology.

  • Chapter 11: Thomas J.J. Altizer Response

    While I am fully persuaded that the death of God is a Christian phenomenon, and that it promises the Christification of all, I find that Noel’s portrait of “on-goingness” at no point transcends or goes beyond a pre-death-of-God stage of religious evolution.

  • Chapter 12: Zen and the Death of God by Winston L. King

    The question to be raised here is whether Zen (Buddhism) in its rejection of (Buddhist) "Oriental mysticism," and Altizer in his rejection of Christian and Buddhist transcendentalism, do not finally come to approximately the same position — though by somewhat different routes. To this end we shall sketch the rejection-affirmation modes of each party to the comparison and in the third section draw our conclusions.

  • Chapter 13: Thomas J.J. Altizer Response

    God himself negated and reversed his own transcendence in the Incarnation, and the Christian is called to will the death of God as a way of opening himself to the gift or "Body" of God in Christ. Buddhism has never known any form of a truly transcendent realm or deity, hence I concur with the common judgment that from the Christian point of view Buddhism is atheistic.

  • Chapter 14: Notes for a Dialogue by Mircea Eliade

    Mircea Eliade discusses six areas of Eliade’s own positions that Altizer criticizes: 1. His understanding of homo religiosus. 2. The dialectic of the sacred. 3. All of his work was not included (e.g.: works written in Romanian). 4. His openness to the profane. 5. His work as being "prophetic." 6. The dialectic of the sacred as a hierophany.

  • Appendix: Mercy for Miss Awdy, In a Vile Acting of the Sacred by Walter D. Love

    A satire in dialogue form: “A Dissolution of the Many into One Act (Which is indubitably an Epiphany of Eternal Being, Immanent in that Act, which is History, but which inevitably shatters History, and is thus Dialectically Transcendent…)”