Friday, March 13, 2009

The Waxing and Waning of Process Theology

Okay, you got me. I don't "actually know what waxing and waning is". But thanks to the folks over at the Transforming Theology Bloggers Consortium do. I was sent some materials with which to interact, and they emphasize a (reasonably) new phenomenon called Process Theology. Today I am going to interact with the presuppositions behind said Process Theology and in other posts will discuss in more depth the actual theological articulations given me. I am working from Process Theology: an Introductory introduction by John B. Cobb Jr.

Let me first direct you to, which is where this conversation is being had.

Here is the key to process theology: "Process theology is a philosophical theology . . . [it] claims to facilitate the recovery of biblical ways of thinking over against their distortion or veiling by the excessive influence of Greek modes of though--and modern ones as well (p7)." In other words, one of the primary goals of process theology is to rid itself of theology's cultural assumptions which distort the search for truth.

My primary question for process theologians is: At what point does tearing through greek presuppositions start tearing through the meaning of the thought? In other words, how far can we divorce greek thought from Jewish thought?

I have no doubt that this goal is an admirable one. In fact, postmodernity's best contribution to the world in my opinion is the attempt to recognize presuppositions and be as objective as possible (while realizing it is impossible to remain entirely neutral). As a result, Process Theology seeks to understand God through a more semitic lense.

The obvious problem here is that by viewing God through a semitic lense, we subject ourselves to semitic biases as well. But there is a bigger problem than even this in my estimation. Process theology neglects to recognize that it is impossible to separate first century ancient near east culture from the greek heritage imposed upon it through the conquest of Alexander the Great. While certain sects of Judaism sought to rid themselves of the greek worldview, by and large the culture of the time was hellenistic.

We must also recognize that greek philosophy had as many variations as any other thought process. What Cobb is really driving at (and I wish he were intellectually honest in this point) is that process theology seeks to take theology out of a platonic duality. In seeking to remove a false binary (recovering a holistic view of theology rather than a dualistic one), Cobb effectively creates a new one (attempting to separate 1st cent. ANE thought from its greek heritage). The idea is nice and clean, in the trenches it's not so much.

Kind of like a home improvement project, ones plans, however elaborate, do not necessarily correspond with reality. To put it another way, if you are working on plumbing on a sunday, you may have to call up Joe and ask him to open Ace Hardware especially for you to finish the job.

Unfortunately, ripping the greek out of theology is as far as process theology goes in its philosophical foundation. If the only purpose is to dissect (or deconstruct) a worldview that is impossible to ascertain in the first place, theology cannot travel far. Process theology is found on many deeper principles, but they are not explicitly mentioned in this little piece. After this point, Cobb demonstrates how process theologians do this, which is a subject for another post.

Things I appreciate thus far about process theology: the attempt at finding truth in the midst of obscurity (clarity with regard to how much our worldviews have influenced us), the practicality of theology (if theology doesn't change our actions, what good is it?), and openness to conversation and tension.

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