Ask Dr. Cobb

Where is God Not in War?

Question: 
"Where is God and where is God not in war according to your panentheistic doctrine of God?"
Publication Month: 
August 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process theologians generally emphasize where God is. First, God is everywhere in two ways. God is everywhere offering possibilities for the self-constitution of events and nudging them toward better possibilities. Second, God is everywhere absorbing into the divine life all that happens in the world. This is as true in war as it is at all other times and places.
But where is God not? In terms of the second way in which God is present, the answer is nowhere. Whatever the sin and suffering, God is the companion who suffers with the creatures.

Trinity II

Question: 
How can process theologians best think of the Trinity?
Publication Month: 
September 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I need to begin by saying that I believe that the fixation on the Trinity as the distinctively Christian way of thinking of God has done a great deal more harm than good. I stand in the tradition of John Wesley. While he was content with orthodoxy for himself, he did not require acceptance of creedal Trinitarianism by his followers. I appreciate this freedom.

Trinity

Question: 
If process theology rejects the idea of substance, what implications does that have for such doctrines as the Trinity?
Publication Month: 
July 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question calls attention to the fact that much of traditional Christian theology has been shaped by classical ideas of substance. When, as a process thinker, one denies that there are any substances, this clearly means that traditional formulations cannot be affirmed. What then happens to the doctrines?

Tillich and Whitehead

Question: 
I'm a recent 'convert' to Process Theology and find it utterly transforming. The problem is that I also like Tillich (and by extension John Shelby Spong). Is there a way of adequately combining the two, or is that one step too far?
Publication Month: 
July 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I like this question, and my answer is that accepting process theology certainly should not lead one to reject or oppose what one has appreciated in Tillich and Spong. Progressive Christian thinkers need each other, and those who opt for a philosophical theology, being a small group, certainly should not spend their time putting one another down. On the other hand, there are differences of some importance between Whiteheadian theologians and Tillich.

Theodicy

Question: 
Please explain God’s reason and the nature of suffering as defined in process theology.
Publication Month: 
June 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The problem of theodicy is so basic that we need to approach it again and again from different points of view. It may be the theological issue that confronts believers with the greatest personal urgency. If a believer has any sense that God is responsible for what happens in the world, and then encounters suffering in a vivid way, the question is inescapable: why does God allow this?

Synthesis of Prehended Objects

Question: 
I understand that God provides the possibilities in a moment of becoming and that one is the choice. I do not understand how the synthesis of the various prehended objects happens. How does this synthesis happen? To further clarify my question: does God synthesize? Or does synthesis remain a mystery for process thought? From a process perspective, I see God as making novel syntheses possible, but I do not know how a synthesis is actualized.
Publication Month: 
July 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This is an excellent question, or set of questions. I will focus on “Does synthesis remain a mystery for process thought?” And I will distinguish two questions that unpack it: (1) Do we understand why synthesis occurs? And (2) Do we understand how it takes place.

Survival of the Fittest?

Question: 
In your FAQ answer on Animal Rights you make the statement: "If farmers raise chickens and cows and hogs, and if they are treated well so that they can enjoy their lives, killing them for food seems to me in line with the general order of things and not to be forbidden." How does being, "... in line with the general order of things," differ from "maintaining the status quo?" Isn't that the same as saying, "that's just the way things are?"
Publication Month: 
January 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I find this an unusually perceptive and demanding question. One of the reasons, no doubt, is that the question of whether eating meat is ever acceptable is a troubling question to me. But another, is that I certainly would not want to erect "being in line with the general nature of things" into a universal principle without a great deal of clarification of what it can mean.

Study Process Theology First

Question: 
I have a personal question that may apply to other readers. I am a graduate student in a Liberal Studies program that is entirely online. Distance education meets the demands of my life, which include caring for a disabled member of my household while working. During the course of my studies I became interested in and then absorbed by a Christian process perspective. I have done quite a bit of reading on my own--including you, of course, and Whitehead. My program allows me to take a number of courses from other graduate schools, and I am searching online options. My question, then: For someone beginning to study process seriously under my constraints, would you recommend focusing on scripture as a starting point? I know you are a Pauline Christian--would a study of Paul be a good place to start? Or would you recommend starting from a more contemporary viewpoint? I've found a couple of online classes that offer a contemporary process perspective.
Publication Month: 
June 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

You have a challenging situation, and I am in poor position to advise you concretely. I do not know what courses are available. If you found an on-line course that approached the study of Paul or other biblical materials from a process perspective, I would recommend it. But I do not know that such a course exists. Most studies of Paul would not be asking the questions that bring out his process views. That does not deny, of course, that much of great value can be learned about Paul from other perspectives.

Sociobiology

Question: 
I have been enamored but not a serious student of process thought for some time. I appreciate its appeal to greater complexity and integration of life and acceptance of scientific discovery. I wonder how you might reflect upon the growing social acceptance of evolutionary psychology (otherwise known as sociobiology) and the prospect of a more genetically determined existence?
Publication Month: 
February 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process thought supports sociobiology in finding continuities between other living things and human beings. Human beings are fully part of nature. The forces that operate in other parts of nature operate in us too. Pointing this out is a valid and valuable contribution to human self-understanding.

Sinless Jesus?

Question: 
I think that many process thinkers are open to the possibility that during the life of Jesus, there were times when he did not choose to respond to God's initial aims for him. That is what makes him so distinctly human. Yet, there is clearly something about his life and death that created a vast field of force that continues to draw people to him and his life. So, my questions are: 1) To what extent do you think that this field of force is created around the idea that Jesus is unique because he was perfect on earth (which I do not believe he was)? 2) Do you think that the sinless image of Jesus is more real than the Jesus who walked upon this earth? (I am thinking here about Whitehead's tendency to philosophically agree with Aristotle over Plato that actualities are more real than ideals.) I am, of course, also open to hearing other ideas about the sinless nature of Jesus or the current influence he has in human life.
Publication Month: 
April 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

At the outset, it is important to remind ourselves that process thinkers vary greatly, so there is no single position of process thinkers on an issue of this sort. At best we can say a few things that all would reject. We would all deny that Jesus is metaphysically different from other human beings. This is not to deny that God was in Jesus, since God is in every creature. It is to deny that the way God was in Jesus is metaphysically different from the way God is in other creatures. Without qualification, Jesus was a human being.

Should We Try To Get The Economy Back on Track?

Question: 
Should we try to get the economy back on track?
Publication Month: 
April 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

To approach this question, I need to consider, first, a much broader one. Is this the sort of issue that Christian theologians should address?

Science Support Belief in God?

Question: 
Does science support belief in God?
Publication Month: 
September 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Secularizing Christianity

Question: 
In Spiritual Bankruptcy you are very critical of secularism and call for the secularizing of Christianity. How does a secularized Christianity differ from secularism? How would it facilitate the church responding to the global crises?
Publication Month: 
September 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Secular or Religious?

Question: 
Is it better for a Christian to be secular or religious?
Publication Month: 
May 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

To some Christians that question sounds silly. If one thinks that Christianity is a religion, perhaps the one true religion, then of course to be a Christian is to be religious. But the idea that Christianity is a religion is by no means universally held. It was strongly opposed by Karl Barth, for example. In a quite different way, Harvey Cox celebrated the secular as a Christian.

Salvation after Death?

Question: 
“In talking to some of my fundamental Christian friends the claim has been made that physical death holds the finality of acceptance of salvation, i.e. salvation must be attained prior to physical death. I just can't see physical death as being the absolute final 'chance.' I've looked and have not found anything in the Bible that says that death is the final point of acceptance or rejection. I know that this is the tradition in many denominations but I wonder if this also holds true in process theology.”
Publication Month: 
January 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Salvation

Question: 
If Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, who is Gautama Buddha?
Publication Month: 
September 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

For a long time Christians viewed religious traditions as inherently competitive. This was true of alternative forms of Christianity. If Catholics were right, Protestants were wrong. If the magisterial Reformers were right, the Baptists and Quakers were wrong. If Calvinists were right, Lutherans were wrong. If the high Calvinists were right, the Arminians were wrong. And so forth.

Religious Experience

Question: 
It seems to me that when we strip theism of the fallacy of "argument from authority", the only proof we have left for God is in religious experiences. There has been some recent scientific research on Religious Experiences done by neuroscientists like Andrew Newberg (Why God Won't Go Away). Newberg and other researchers have been able to study them in laboratory conditions using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). His research concludes that religious experiences are real, observable events in the brain. I know it has often been the position of religious people to deny science's ability to explain the mystical using reductionist, scientific methodology... but his findings, it seems to me, are very reconcilable with a panentheistic view of God. During religious experiences, it has been observed, the flow to the "object association area" in the brain's left parietal lobe, which is responsible for drawing the line between the physical self and the word, is reduced. Is this not consistent with the belief that the divine is all around us, and can only be experienced when we stop focusing on the material and on our narrow selves and begin to see the vast interconnectedness of all things, those rare moments we call "religious experiences." Abraham Maslow made a similar claim, years earlier, when he stated that B-Cognition (in his peak experiences) was a momentary melting away of Ego. He also stated that these peak experiences are "the core religious experience." Do you think that Andrew Newberg's research can be reconciled with a panentheistic view of God?
Publication Month: 
November 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The Physiology of Religious Experience

Before tackling this question, I should acknowledge that I have not kept up closely with the recent research to which the questioner calls attention. My answer will, therefore, be somewhat general. But I hope it will not be irrelevant to the particularities of recent discoveries.

Redemption

Question: 
A central tenet of Christianity, it would seem, is redemption. I have searched for a process theology elaboration on that theme but not found it. Does that mean that for somebody to whom redemption is an indispensable as well as priceless part, one is left with orthodox Christian tenets (God is reconciling himself to mankind through Christ, who bears all sins)?
Publication Month: 
April 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This question caught my attention because, if, indeed, process theology does not address the topic of redemption, broadly conceived, it is hardly a theology at all! To respond to this challenge, we must distinguish two questions. First, is the word “redemption” commonly used by process theologians? On this question, the problem of the questioner in finding sustained treatment strongly suggests that the answer is negative. I realize that I have not thematically treated it in my writings.

Process Philosophy & Economic Theory

Question: 
Does process philosophy have a particular leaning toward an economic theory (Marxian, Libertarian, Keynesian)?
Publication Month: 
October 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I especially appreciate this question since, as a process theologian, I consider economics the most important of all topics. Economic theory has become the “theology” that actually affects global affairs. The fate of the Earth depends more on our economic thinking and practice than anything else. That dependence has led to very discouraging results.

Psi Phenomena

Question: 
I wonder if humankind hasn't limited God by our insistence (for the past 100 years or so) on the scientific method and our negating as real anything that could not be repeated in a controlled test. I am wondering whether, if we gave more credence to psi phenomena, this might result in more "miracles" or "answers to prayer." I am also wondering if the development of psi abilities might not characterize an evolutionary step for human beings and for God. Do these speculations fit with process theology?
Publication Month: 
February 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process theologians generally strongly agree that Westerners have impoverished themselves by their narrow view of reality. Against the still dominant dualistic and mechanistic understanding, we insist on a holistic and organic one. Whereas relations play a secondary role in most Western thinking, we emphasize that they are constitutive of all actuality.

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