Ask Dr. Cobb

Process Theology Related to Progressive Christianity

Question: 
How is “process theology” related to “progressive Christianity?”
Publication Month: 
August 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The term “progressive Christianity” has come into wide use only in the past fifteen years. When an old Methodist publication, Zion’s Herald, renamed itself The Progressive Christian a few years ago, it became clear that “progressive” will be the descriptor of a new movement in American Christianity.

Progressive Christianity

Question: 
I always enjoy John Cobb's clearly thought out answers to questions and often use them as the basis for discussion in study groups. There has been considerable discussion in Church and secular circles about the writings of such people as John Spong, Don Cupitt, Robert Funk, John Crossan, Karen Armstrong and others. What is your reaction to their approach to organized Christianity?
Publication Month: 
August 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

It is not, of course, possible to respond to these thinkers fairly when one groups them all together. Nevertheless, I think I understand the reason they are grouped by the questioner, and I will respond in terms of that understanding.

Process Theology, Neo-Liberalism, and the Financial Meltdown

Question: 
Can process theology shed light on the financial meltdown?
Publication Month: 
November 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

There is no direct route from how we think about God, the world, and human well being to the interpretation of a complex socio-economic phenomenon. On the other hand, how we understand and respond to such a phenomenon is deeply affected by our whole way of understanding and thinking.

Process Theology & Islam

Question: 
Can process thought help improve the understanding of Islam and build bridges to it?
Publication Month: 
January 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process theologians have been concerned about and involved in dialogue with representatives of other religious traditions for many years. Christians have been in the lead, but today there are members of other faith communities who use process thought as a means of understanding religious diversity and approaching dialogue. David Griffin has edited a book, Deep Religious Pluralism, which includes Jewish, Muslim, Chinese, Buddhist, and Hindu voices of this kind.

Process & the Light/ Dark Dichotomy

Question: 
I have a theological question. I understand the Divine as light, and energy. I understand energy as part of God's healing presence in the world. How does process theology come to terms with darkness? The whole darkness/light contrast contributes to racism, and, living energy still exists in the dark. There is the darkness in which we rest and sleep, the darkness which is the shade from the desert sun, the gentle dark.
Publication Month: 
March 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process Sprituality

Question: 
Is there a process spirituality?
Publication Month: 
March 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process Ethics

Question: 
Does process thought have a distinctive ethical slant?
Publication Month: 
June 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

That's a good question and not an easy one to answer. Like so many good questions, it calls for an answer that says both "yes" and "no." Process thought suggests a distinctive approach to ethical issues, but it does not clearly support any one of the standard ethical theories over against the others. I'll try to unpack this a bit.

Process & Scripture

Question: 
"What role does the Bible have in process-faith/theology?"
Publication Month: 
June 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The questioner assures me that the issue is not how faithful process theology is to the Bible but rather, What does process thought say about the nature and authority of the Bible? Clearly a process thinker cannot affirm of the Bible inerrancy or literal historical accuracy. What does it affirm?

Process & Science

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: 
June 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process thought and the challenge to modern science

Process thinkers are not supportive of "young earth" thinking. That sort of theory requires either the idea of very rapid and dramatic changes taking place in an evolutionary process or abrupt interventions by an omnipotent God. Process thought, on the other hand, is biased in favor of gradual development lured forward by God. A few billion years is not a long time for the extreme richness and complexity of the present order to emerge on a lifeless planet.

Process & Openness

Question: 
"What are the similarities and differences between process theology and openness theology?"
Publication Month: 
March 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

1. Some Agreements

Process Theology & Joe Sixpack

Question: 
What would a church that took process theology very seriously look like, and what would it do? Or, put more specifically, what impact does process theology have on (say) mainline protestant ecclesiology? Process theology is great and all, but how does it see the nature and purpose of the Church, where the "rubber meets the road," so to speak?
Publication Month: 
December 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process & 20th century Theology

Question: 
I've found a lot of synergy between process theology and the works of some neo-orthodox thinkers, particularly Bonhoeffer. Of course, it seems to me any 'theologians of the cross' are going to have a lot of common ground with Whitehead's 'co-sufferer who understands' but when I read Bonhoeffers' 'this-world Christianity' and his God who condescends and allows us the opportunity to get down and suffer with him rather than acts as some divine puppet master or deus ex machina (which he constantly rails against) I am constantly reminded of the whole process movement. I also think in connection with this the Teilhardian John Haught who contends that 'that which is most ultimate is that which is self-emptying', who finds connections between the revelation of God in Christ Jesus and the Tao of philosophical Taoism. Is this Bonhoeferrian and Niebuhrian synergy just my own projection. I know Niebuhr quoted Whitehead positively once, but he was also critical of him in The Nature and Destiny of Man,(but that was probably because Niebuhr was suspicious of any and all metaphysical 'systems', he was a Kierkegaard fan after all). Bonhoeffer didn't know anything about Whitehead, but he WAS a fan of William James, and studied him in the States, and so there may have been more kinship than one would first suspect. Am I just projecting here? Has anyone else written about or thought about Bonhoeffer's 'religionless Christianity' or his emphasis on the God that condescends over the Deus Ex Machina in connection with the conception of God found in process theology?
Publication Month: 
February 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This is a complex question, but it provides an occasion for locating process theology in the context of the major stream of mid to late twentieth-century theology. It was often viewed as an outsider to the central theological discussion. The truth and error of this view are worth sorting out.

Prayer, Intercessory

Question: 
Intercessory prayer does not make much sense in terms of the dominant world view. Is the situation different with process thought?
Publication Month: 
November 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Prayer

Question: 
I desire to say 'thanks' to God, but is the prayer other's directions? Is it still possible to ask something for me and for the others? What meaning has prayer for process theology?
Publication Month: 
April 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Most traditional forms of prayer make good sense from a process point of view, much better sense than from the point of view of classical philosophical theology. But it may be important to make a couple of negative points before beginning the positive. Some popular beliefs about prayer have destructive consequences.

First, the effects of events in which one is praying are much the same as the effects of other events. We should not suppose that the fact that we are praying makes those events discontinuous from others.

Prehension & the Self

Question: 
I am struggling to understand the process view of the person. I understand the notion of the person as a sequence of actual occasions. I understand the concrescence of each occasion, based on the prehension of God, through God of ideals, and of other (past) occasions. This all makes sense. But there is a "core" of it which remains inexplicable: namely that process thought says that in its becoming, the occasion chooses how to take account of God's prompting, of its environment, and of its past; that it is influenced deeply but not determined by these. Very well then: "what" is making that choice, and how? How do we account for this decision rather than that being made? When we look beneath all influences external to the occasion, "what" do we find at its core? A freedom which is ultimately not rationally analyzable. Somehow in the center of the occasion's becoming there is a mystery untouched by the process analysis. What is the uniqueness of the person, beyond its history of becoming, and where and how does that uniqueness subsist?
Publication Month: 
November 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This question goes to the heart of both metaphysical and theological issues. It raises the most basic issues. A good many people use process theology at more superficial levels without coming to terms with the basic conceptual shift that its full appropriation requires. In this short essay I will focus on that. Needless to say, this will be more demanding of the reader than most of what I write in these monthly columns.

Power of Love

Question: 
How does love work?
Publication Month: 
June 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Nelson Stringer has been teaching and preaching about love for many years.  On Easter Sunday the church of which he is pastor was burned by an arsonist. Of course he has felt pain and sorrow about the loss. But, more important, he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that he and others in his church have received. He has discovered that love is an even more powerful force than he had realized. I'll reflect about that this month from a process perspective.

Polkinghorn Response

Question: 
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.

Perfect Love

Question: 
Is God's love perfect?
Publication Month: 
March 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The questioner notes that his or her way of thinking of God is farther from the tradition than is that of standard process thought. That is true. The reality of evil requires adjustment in either the thought of God's love or that of God's power. The questioner proposes that both should be modified. Just in terms of adjusting our thought of God to the reality of evil, that is a reasonable solution.

Patriotism

Question: 
Does process theology have anything to say about patriotism?
Publication Month: 
December 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

We are surrounded by a great resurgence of patriotism. My neighbors have had a flag out ever since September 11. Knowing them, I do not doubt that it expresses a healthy love of our country. But there are good reasons for Christians to worry that patriotism passes over too easily, and too commonly, into a religious nationalism that is unacceptable. There seems to be a lot of that around. Does the process perspective throw any helpful light on this?

Overpopulation

Question: 
What does Christian theology say about population growth, immigration, and zero or negative population growth? Put another way, what would Christ (and the Father-Holy Spirit) say about the commandment to the creation both human and non-human to "be fruitful and multiply" from Genesis One?
Publication Month: 
March 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

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