Ask Dr. Cobb

Original Sin

Question: 
Traditional theology ascribes sin to a fall from a previously perfect state. Scientific evolutionary theory suggests rather a struggle from an imperfect prehuman but perhaps innocent state towards a more ethically aware and responsible state. The end result is the same; imperfect and fallible beings doing their best in a complex world. As I understand it process theology sees God as experiencing and luring evolving humankind towards the higher state, but scientific materialism sees no purpose in evolution. The process view seems attractive to me as a scientist who experiences God in a way that is somehow beyond the limitations of rational thought. Can you explain how process theology deals with the idea and origin of sin, and the apparent absence of any purpose in evolution?
Publication Month: 
October 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This is an excellent question especially in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All of us agree that the killing of masses of people who have done nothing to deserve death is a terrible evil. Many go on to call the perpetration of this evil a sin. Although "sin" is a theological, rather than a philosophical, term, it is an appropriate term for process thinkers generally to use -- and certainly for process theologians. Nevertheless, it needs to be used carefully.

Openness Theology

Question: 
What is the relation between process theology and openness theology?"
Publication Month: 
February 2001
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Overall, the relation is friendly, supportive, and overlapping. Of course, there are differences and disagreements. I think the difference is primarily that of the context and constituency of the two theologies. The disagreements reflect those differences.

Natural Evil

Question: 
If moral evil is accounted for as the result of the actions of free agents, how does process theology account for the origin of natural evils -- natural disasters, disease, and the like? If God is a persuader and not a governor, is s/he persuading, and not governing, the material cosmos? How can we conceive of God persuading a nonsentient agent? If the material cosmos is simply functioning according to "laws," i.e. is a machine, how do we account for the fact that this machine seems now to be malfunctioning (it seems it must be if it was created by a loving God?
Publication Month: 
July 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Miracles and Mental Influence

Question: 
In prayer, Dr. Cobb said our thoughts can impact another's body—often times these healings are called miracles, although they are not supernatural. Can this effect positive and negative? Did the imprecatory psalms affect the bodies of others? Does this validate the possibility of magic, telekinesis, Criss Angel, and voodoo, among other things? Furthermore, can a human influence the nonthinking physical world? According to process thought, could Jesus have walked on the water. Could Peter?
Publication Month: 
December 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This question raises the question of the limits of possibility. This is a good question for process theology, because this theology rejects the limits on possibility established by the mechanistic, materialist world view. In that world view, still largely adopted by scientists, the sphere of subjectivity can have no effect on what happens in the objective world. This is, of course, contrary to common sense, and extremely few people really believe it. But it has a great influence still on the explanations scientists seek and prefer.

Miracles

Question: 
How does process explain miracles and what is God's role in them?
Publication Month: 
December 1998
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The question as to why miracles occur for some and not for others and how God is involved is an excellent one. I think process thought can throw some light on it, but certainly not dispel the mystery entirely. I'll introduce my answer by saying something about what the word "miracle" has meant.

Marriage Covenant & Process

Question: 
"How does process theology understand the covenant of marriage?"
Publication Month: 
April 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

In what ways can process theology help us deepen and energize the lifelong process journey of marriage? How can we enable our mainline denominations to be in clearer support and ministry to marriage in the 21st century?

Life after Death

Question: 
Can you explain the Process view of our 'life after physical death.' Are our satisfactions resurrected into God and do they grow into what they could be in God's aim? Will we be able then to grow into God's aim?
Publication Month: 
October 1999
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The question asked this month is more specific than the general topic of life after physical death. It is about the Consequent Nature of God and what it means that we are taken up into this. "Are our satisfactions resurrected into God and do they grow into what they could be in God's aim? Will we be able then to grow into God's aim?"

Liberals vs. Evangelicals & Process

Question: 
“In the closing pages of "Process Theology: An Introduction" you state that in the future we (process folks) may find more alliances within evangelical rather than liberal communities. Where exactly would we be more aligned with evangelicals and what exactly has the liberal tradition done to merit what seems like something of a rebuke? Has it been its (exclusive) focus on human nature or is there something else? Furthermore, what is the real difference between talking about the "word" G-o-d and talking about God?”
Publication Month: 
February 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Just War Theory

Question: 
Does process theology call us to be pacifists or to support just war theory?
Publication Month: 
January 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Process theology does not lend itself to absolutes, whereas much pacifism proceeds from the absolute rejection of killing people. Hence, the answer might be a fairly simple No. But there are also forms of pacifism that do not depend on absolutes. Pacifists can argue that war always does more harm than good, that there can be no solution to the escalation of evil and suffering by that means, that we should, accordingly, envision and witness to other possibilities. This kind of argument a process theologian must take very seriously.

Jews Have a Divine Right to the Land of Israel?

Question: 
Do Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel?
Publication Month: 
February 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

A January issue of The Christian Century, a mainstream Protestant magazine of news and opinion, featured articles about this issue. The writers even held that Jews have a “supernatural” right to the land because God promised it to Abraham for his descendants, and Paul confirmed the validity of God’s promises to the Jews. I expected this sort of thing in right-wing Christian literature, but was surprised to find it in this magazine. Of course, the authors did not take this as sanctioning all the policies of contemporary Israel. Some regarded the promise as conditional.

Jesus

Question: 
"What were the special (if any) experiences that Jesus of Nazareth had in his background that enabled him to be so much more receptive to God's aims than the rest of us? If Jesus was 'both the manifest expression of God's character and purpose and the fulfillment of the possibilities present in humankind,' and if Jesus is not ontologically different from other human beings, to what does Process Theology attribute this greater than normal receptiveness to God's aim for his life?"
Publication Month: 
August 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The assumption underlying this question is that Jesus' distinctiveness lies primarily in the fullness with which he responded to God's aims for him. This is the view of a number of process Christologies. Other liberal Christologies have similar ideas, beginning with Schleiermacher. He thought that whereas God-consciousness plays some role in everyone, it was perfect in Jesus.  In the Ritschlian tradition some affirmed that the distinctiveness of Jesus lay in the perfection of his moral character.

Is There a Process Eschatology

Question: 
Is there a process eschatology?
Publication Month: 
December 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Yes there is. Whitehead and Hartshorne both had an eschatology, and insofar as process theology follows them, its adherents adopt that eschatology. However, as usual, qualifications are in order. First, there are several interpretations of this eschatology. Second, some process theologians emphasize other forms of eschatology. Third, if one means by eschatology something that brings an end to time, then there is no process eschatology.

Israel/Palestine Two-State Solution

Question: 
Is the current effort of the U.S. administration to press for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine hopeless?
Publication Month: 
December 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Israel and Palestine

Question: 
President Obama has signaled his intention to make a serious effort to find a solution to the problem of Israel/Palestine. Can process theology throw any light on this?
Publication Month: 
July 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Obama has rightly judged that any significant progress toward world peace must include improvement in the situation in Israel/Palestine. He is a convinced Zionist, in the sense that he fully supports a Jewish state in the Holy Land. He rightly supposes that the attainment of a peaceful situation along with maintenance of a Jewish state is possible only with a two-state solution. These views obviously do not depend on a process perspective.

Is God Incomplete?

Question: 
If God is evolving and changing, is God incomplete?
Publication Month: 
July 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

In one sense, the answer must certainly be Yes. To be complete, one might well argue, one must be completed, finished, unsusceptible of any change. In process theology, we teach that this is not the way to understand God.

But "complete" has other meanings. The first meaning listed in my dictionary is: "Having all necessary parts; entire; whole." By this meaning God is surely complete. God is lacking no "necessary part". God is entire and whole. Another meaning is "Thorough, consummate, perfect." In this sense too, God is complete.

Intrinsic Value

Question: 
It is well known that process thought affirms along with Buddhism the absence of an intrinsic existence, that is, no underlying and eternal substance behind any activity. But how then does it maintain this position and at the time affirm the Jamesian account of intrinsic value?
Publication Month: 
October 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Intrinsic value without intrinsic existence.

Interpreting John 14:8 "No one comes to the Father..."

Question: 
Churches increasingly recognize the need to address the subject of religious pluralism, but the verse from John 14:6 "No one comes to the Father except by me," remains a stumbling block. How do you, as a process theologian, exegete this verse? Can it be understood in a less exclusivist way?
Publication Month: 
June 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Before I answer the question directly, indicating other ways of exegeting the text, let us recognize that there is in fact an exclusivist note in the early Christian writings. The spirit of the early Christians included a strong emphasis on the new reality that Jesus, and no one else, had brought into the world. Jesus was not for them one “savior” or “lord” among others. His coming had changed the situation in which everyone lived, whether they recognized this or not.

Interpreting Jesus: Natural or Supernatural Being?

Question: 
In the Gospels Jesus was doing many miracles. When he heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, he turned and went another way. It almost seems as if there was no emotion. My question is Jesus healed many, brought many back from the dead, why didn't he raise John? I am a born again believer, and I have always wondered this. It may be one of the videos I will have to rent when I get to heaven.
Publication Month: 
April 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Intelligent Design

Question: 
Does process theology support those who are promoting “Intelligent Design” as explanatory of evolution?
Publication Month: 
October 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

A simple answer is possible. No. From the point of view of process theology “intelligent design” is not a scientific theory and should not be presented as an alternative to the dominant theory of evolution. I say this first to avoid confusion about my position, because much of what I will say as I continue expresses a good deal of sympathy for this idea. My sympathy can be expressed by three basic points.

Initial Aim and "Call"

Question: 
Is an occasion’s deriving its initial subjective aim from God the same as a Christian who says they felt God "calling" them to ministry of some sort? (The "calling" being the initial subjective aim for the Christian [occasion].)
Publication Month: 
May 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This question asks how to relate Whitehead’s technical doctrine of the initial subjective aim to the biblical idea of God’s calling. This is important in itself and also as illustrative of the task of this kind of philosophical theology. I like the term “calling” and so use it often in describing how God deals with us. As far as I know, Whitehead did not use this word.

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