Polkinghorn Response

This month I am writing in response not to a question but to comments by John Polkinghorne as interviewed by Michael Fitzgerald published in the January 29 issue of Christian Century. Polkinghorne is a theologian who was once a physicist and does theology with physics constantly in view. This makes his work quite parallel to process theology. The similarity is evident in the passages below. But Polkinghorne takes the occasion to criticize process theology. Since I think his criticism is rather widely shared, I will discuss it. (Fitzgerald) In light of Darwinian science, theologian Philip Clayton has suggested that God should be thought of not as the cosmic lawgiver but perhaps as the on guiding the process of creativity. (Polkinghorne) I’m very sympathetic to the idea that God is the one who holds the world in being, the creation of the world is not the performance of a fixed score, but more like an unfolding improvisation in which God, as the great conductor of the orchestra, and also the individual creature players each have their roles. I think that’s what the world looks like. It is also very much what I think you might expect the God of love to be like—not to be the chap who pulls every string—and also very much like the God of the Bible. A sort of cosmic puppetmaster doesn’t seem at all the God of the Bible. (Fitzgerald) You have written about God as a self-limiting God. Where do you see this in scripture? (Polkinghorne) I think you see it implicitly in a great deal of scripture, starting with “God is love.” It seems to me that the nature of love is not to be tyrannical. You see it in God’s patience with Israel, for example, and you see it in the prophet Hosea. In a different way you see it in the passion of Christ. This topic is a good example of how scripture plays a role in giving basic accounts of divine disclosure without giving the full interpretive apparatus, which you have to discover for yourself. Of course, there are also scripture passages about the power and authority of God. That must be part of our understanding of God. My criticism of process theology is that its God is too weak. God has to be both the God alongside us, the “fellow sufferer” in Whitehead’s phrase, but also the one who is going to redeem suffering through some great fulfillment. To put it bluntly, the God of process theology isn’t the God who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
Publication Month: 
March 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Although one might quibble with some of the language, the first paragraph above could have been written by a process theologian. Although the questioner brings up the idea of God as self-limiting in his next question, an idea that process theologians consider misleading, Polkinghorne’s response in the first two paragraphs could also have been written by a process theologian. Clearly we have an ally here.

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