Ask Dr. Cobb

How does Process understand Tillich's "virtues"?

Question: 
I am reading of Tillich's book, Courage to Be, and wondered how courage and other "virtues" are thought of and/or explained in process theology?
Publication Month: 
November 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Whitehead did not write a book on ethics, and some of his followers have tried to supply what is missing. In A Christian Natural Theology, I even developed a deontological basis for a Whiteheadian ethics. I thought when I wrote that book, and I think now, that one can formulate in a very abstract way how we should decide to constitute ourselves, moment by moment. Whitehead assumed that we should so constitute ourselves as to increase value in the world and therefore for God.

How can grace operate in a religiously pluralist world?

Question: 
I am interested in the relevance of prevenient grace to Christian interaction with non-Christian religions. Can religion itself (however it is defined) be a means of prevenient grace through which a person experiences salvation?
Publication Month: 
October 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Prevenient grace is not a Wesleyan monopoly, but I am going to refer in my answer to Wesley. Wesley’s understanding of prevenient grace was clear, and the doctrine was important to him. In many ways, Wesley’s teaching flows into process thought, or perhaps process thought flows into Wesley. For both, God works graciously in everyone. That gracious working can lead to justification and sanctification, and as it does in takes on new names. That is, it is no longer prevenient but, instead, justifying and sanctifying.

Is Bill McKibben right?

Question: 
Is Bill McKibben right?
Publication Month: 
September 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Is Bill McKibben right?

Thomas Jefferson & the Bible

Question: 
What is your opinion of the way Thomas Jefferson edited the Bible?
Publication Month: 
August 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

We can be grateful to Jefferson for his experiment. In my book, Spiritual Bankruptcy, I argue for secularizing the great traditions, and as a Christian, of course, I deal chiefly with Christianity. I contrast this secularizing with secularism, which tries to create knowledge anew out of what is indubitably given. I argue that the massive experiments with secularism, beginning with Descartes, have had disastrous consequences, whereas beginning with the accumulated wisdom of a culture and subjecting it to thoroughly critical analysis is highly productive.

Christian faith watered down?

Question: 
When Christians adopt beliefs from other traditions, does this water down their Christian faith?
Publication Month: 
July 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

My answer is, of course, that this depends on what beliefs are adopted. There are beliefs in other traditions that certainly “water down” Christianity. For example, in some Jewish traditions Jesus is viewed as a false claimant to being Messiah. Adopting that belief in an unqualified way would water down one’s Christianity. Some Buddhists quite flatly assert that there is no God. To adopt that view flatly would water down one’s Christianity.

God & Anger

Question: 
"Process theology presents images of God which are very positive (God works by love, encouragement, persuasion...) but are there others images too? How does process theology understand the anger of God, the notions of devil, Satan...?"
Publication Month: 
September 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

It is quite correct that process theology emphasizes the goodness of God. God is that which can be completely trusted. We can take this position because we believe there is a great difference between what happens in the world and in our individual lives on the one side, and what God aims at moment by moment, on the other. Those who believe that what happens is what God causes to happen must, of course, adopt a much more ambiguous view of God's character.

Tax spending by Governments

Question: 
Should governments spend only what they collect in taxes?
Publication Month: 
June 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

“Common sense” seems to tell us that just as we as individuals get in trouble if we spend more than we take it, so it must be with governments. Many believe that the ever growing federal debt is so large that our descendants will be in very serious difficulty because of it. As I write, people with this understandable concern are threatening to prevent the government from increasing its debt.

Theologies and the Persistence of Racism

Question: 
After a thorough study of all the 'alternative' theologies [womanist, liberation, black liberation, queer, etc,] I come across process. I have this question of all of these people: how is it no one has yet taken on the task of countering the global institution of racism and its siblings: classism and sexism. How is it that white male [and female, of course] Christian theologians can move so smoothly from one 'school' of thought to another and ever so blithely continue to ignore the evils that they [their forefathers, ancestors, etc] have created, which still exist, under which people try so hard to prosper? This is my question. I hold these people responsible and summarily reject these peoples ideas, ideals, their declarations, in all forms.
Publication Month: 
May 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question would be easy to dismiss as being too much like the question to an innocent husband, “Why don’t you stop beating your wife?” The similarity would disappear if our questioner listed only mainstream Euro-American theologies, including process theology. We Euro-Americans could claim that we have repented of our neglect of racism and now include it in our concerns. But the fact remains that most of us most of the time proceed along our several ways with a primary focus elsewhere.

Is it possible to be a Wesleyan and a Process thinker?

Question: 
Is it possible to be a Wesleyan and a Process thinker? If so... How?
Publication Month: 
April 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question reflects a widespread concern that adopting a philosophy that emerged only in recent times cannot be easily united with acceptance of biblical authority. I will briefly address that broader question before dealing with the specifics of the relation of process thought to that of John Wesley.

Is the Universe a Giant Information Process?

Question: 
What does process thought say about the current trends in some corners of physics to think of the universe as a giant information process, or as in some sense made up of information? There was a recent experiment that succeeded in transforming information into energy, and it has me thinking.
Publication Month: 
March 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Let me first express my pleasure at receiving a question about physics. Although I am certainly not a physicist, I believe that Whitehead’s contributions in physics are becoming increasingly relevant, certainly in quantum theory, but also much more broadly. This gives me a chance to talk about one way in which this is so.

Process Theology & Buddhism

Question: 
I have recently discovered Process Theology and I find it very challenging, as it seems to solve some of the contradictions inherent in Buddhism. As far as I can understand, unlike in Buddhism, we do not owe our existence to past human existences and our mental life is not reactivated in new forms according to karma in future human or non-human existences. But is there any continuity of conscious existence after death since there is no permanent self to sustain it? What does Process Theology teach in this respect?
Publication Month: 
February 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

All of our religious traditions witness to the inclusion of elements from cultures whose ideas are not in full agreement with the central insights of the tradition. This is true of most forms of Buddhism. This tradition arose in India where certain ideas were deeply entrenched. These included the notion of an enduring self, a self that could even survive death and reappear in new forms. They also included the idea that what happens in one’s life now is the consequence of what one has done in the past, whether in this life or a previous one.

Process Thought & Current Trends in Physics

Question: 
What does process thought say about the current trends in some corners of physics to think of the universe as a giant information process, or as in some sense made up of information? There was a recent experiment that succeeded in transforming information into energy, and it has me thinking.
Publication Month: 
January 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I am glad to get a question about physics even though I am very far from being well-versed on this topic. Looking at the world through Whiteheadian glasses I develop opinions on many topics on which I have little background. I am happy to share those opinions. But I hope very much that readers will understand that what I say is a largely untested hypothesis. “Largely untested” is the main point here. Everything I say is a hypothesis, just as all scientific doctrines are hypotheses.

Does God Have the Power to Protect Us?

Question: 
Does God have the power to protect us? If not then what is the point in believing in a God who cannot protect or take care of us?
Publication Month: 
December 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

It is good to have this kind of question posed directly. Probably the first answer from the perspective of process theology should be a quite simple, No, God does not have the power to protect or take care of us. This is the right answer to the question if it means, can God prevent us from being killed in a battle, contracting cancer, committing suicide, being persecuted for our beliefs, or losing our jobs, etc.

Process Theology & Teen Suicide Prevention

Question: 
Is process theology's Christ intimate and approachable to youth? How can process theology's Christ help prevent teen suicide?
Publication Month: 
November 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I am sure that Christ is doing what is possible to discourage youth from killing themselves. But we in the process community know that many other factors enter into what actually happens. The question is whether understanding Christ in the process way might help some youth overcome their despair and endure the misery of their situation.

Young-Earth Creationism?

Question: 
The "young earth" folk and others have made great efforts to have their point a view on creation accepted. They believe modern science is incorrect in many ways, which is disconcerting. What does process thought have to say on the creation?
Publication Month: 
February 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The first and most obvious response is that process theology has little interest in the young earth hypothesis. The process cosmic vision is of slow evolutionary changes over long periods of time. It is even in tension with the idea of the Big Bang!

Who is a Whiteheadian?

Question: 
Who Is a Whiteheadian?
Publication Month: 
March 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Who Cares?

Question: 
How is process theology an improvement on any other theology and do people in the pew really care about theology anyway? Isn't it all about "programs" today?
Publication Month: 
March 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

It may well be that most people in the pew think they do not care about theology. The word "theology" is a turn off. Most people think of it as something a few professionals busy themselves with -- quite irrelevant to the life of the church. So the answer is that most people in the pew are not especially interested in a different theology.

Whitehead's Distinction in Relation to Process Theologians

Question: 
What is distinctive of Whitehead in relation to other process theologians?
Publication Month: 
January 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This question reminds us that “process theologian” is a term that can refer to a wide range of thinkers. The recent publication of Gary Dorrien’s third volume on the history of liberal theology in the United States reminds us of the central role that the Chicago School has played. It received extensive attention in the second volume, dealing with the first half of the twentieth century, and it starts off the account of the subsequent history in the third volume. This volume also gives a full chapter to the Whiteheadian version of process theology.

Whitehead and Buddhism

Question: 
It is well known that process thought affirms along with Buddhism the absence of an intrinsic existence—that is no underlying substance behind any activity. But how then does it maintain this position and at the time affirm the Jamesian account of intrinsic value? Please clarify.
Publication Month: 
September 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This is an excellent question, because it brings out the difference between some forms of Buddhism and the implications of Whitehead’s similar vision. Both standard Buddhist thinkers and Whitehead reject any notion of substance as something that underlies the succession of events. Events do not happen to things. Human experiences are not attributes or possessions of underlying subjects.

Where is the Past?

Question: 
Where is the Past?
Publication Month: 
August 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

At one level, this is a silly question. The past, of course, is in the past. But if you are willing to be teased by a question, stick with it. It leads to some important philosophical and even religious consequences.

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