Ask Dr. Cobb

Financial Crisis, Cobb on the Wall Street

Question: 
Can process theology contribute to our reflection about the crisis in the financial sector?
Publication Month: 
October 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The Wall Street financial crisis seems to be a “teachable moment.” Generally when one talks about economics, and especially about finance, eyes glaze over. But currently there is some desire to understand what is happening.

Evangelical Christianity

Question: 
What are some strengths and weaknesses you see, as a process theologian, in the Evangelical movement and its theologies? What are some concerns Evangelical and Process thinkers share in common?
Publication Month: 
July 1998
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I have personally been preoccupied with the strengths and weaknesses of old-line Protestantism. Its most glaring weakness today is its loss of vitality, and it is this weakness that leads us in that tradition to look with hope, and perhaps envy, at evangelicals. Evangelicals at their best have retained a commitment, a devotion, a fervor that the old-line, on the whole, has lost.

Evangelism & Mission

Question: 
Since according to your biography, you are the son of missionaries to Japan and have spent a great deal of time overseas yourself, I have been looking forward to asking you; how do process-minded Christians like yourself understand the concepts of evangelism and cross-cultural missions?
Publication Month: 
October 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The question of trying to convert other people to Christianity is an important one for progressive Christians generally. No doubt, hesitancy in this regard has been one source of our weakness and decline in recent decades. But our sense of the dangers involved in much evangelism and in cross-cultural missions must be honored. It has been too easy for Christians to ignore Jesus' critique of Jews of his day who undertook to “proselytize”

Evil & Sin Revisited

Question: 
Taken in the broadest way, process theodicy seems to me to be pretty satisfying intellectually, but there is a nagging detail . . . While I certainly wouldn’t wish to posit a literal existence for the devil, I have the sense that there’s something agent-like about evil that seems somewhat unaccounted for by process theology. A possibly related conundrum–it seems to me that God’s proffering of initial aim to occasions must needs in some way conceal that the aim offered is the one to be most valued in the circumstances–otherwise, wouldn’t an occasion’s exercise of freedom in rejecting the aim be mere perversity? And if the value of the initial aim is somehow hidden, then doesn’t an occasion’s failure to take it up come to be mere ignorance?
Publication Month: 
November 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Let me say at the outset that I do not believe that anyone, certainly including process theologians, has ever provided a fully adequate account of sin and evil. Most emphatically, this short response to some thoughtful questions will not provide that. But I agree that the process response is “pretty satisfying intellectually.” I also think that some of the remaining difficulties arise from too abstract an approach. After clarifying my use of the terms “evil” and “sin,” I’ll turn to examples to respond to the questions.

Ethnic Diversity in Churches/Persons-in-Community

Question: 
What would a process perspective suggest in terms of bridging the racial divides in American churches? How could we both support nonwhite churches in maintaining the autonomy of community churches while creating a sustained engagement between predominantly black, white, and latino congregations?
Publication Month: 
October 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Ensoulment

Question: 
“How do you, or how does process thought deal with what is often called 'ensoulment' in stem cell research; i.e., at what point is an embryo a 'person'?
Publication Month: 
September 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The implications of process thought for the view of the embryo fall between the extremes represented by those who consider the embryo, and even the fertilized cell, a person, and those who consider it simply a part of the woman’s body over which she should have complete control. For process thought the living cell is already something of value in itself, for itself, and for God, and should therefore be respected by human beings as well. Organisms composed of many living cells have much greater value.

Eastern Orthodox & Process

Question: 
In reading Bishop Kallistos Ware's, The Orthodox Way, he describes Orthodox theology as having two elements. There is the essence of God which refers to God's transcendence and utter "Otherness," i.e., the complete Mystery of God. Then there are the energies of God, which refers to God's immanence and how God manifests Godself to creation. This seemed to have some strong connections with panentheism and, in some respects, process theology. Are there stronger similarities between Orthodox theology and process theology than from classical theism and process theology?
Publication Month: 
March 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

I agree with the questioner’s sense that there are affinities between process theology and Eastern Orthodoxy. To speak of this in short compass, I will throw all scholarly scruples aside and make some sweeping generalizations about three great families of theologies: the heirs of the Reformation, the Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox. I will then locate process theology in relation to these.

Does God Have a Serial Existence?

Question: 
Does God have a serial existence as we do? Is it correct to think of God as the dominant occasion in the universe?
Publication Month: 
June 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Divine Omnipotence

Question: 
Is God almighty?
Publication Month: 
February 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The question of God's omnipotence arises for individuals whenever they encounter personal injustice and meaningless suffering. The question arises collectively when there are public events that bring home to the public the dimensions of evil in history. The September 11 destruction of the World Trade Towers was an event of that sort. People ask why God caused this or allowed it to happen.

Divine Lures

Question: 
I would like a very simple definition of the concept of "aims," as in "God's aims" for me or us.
Publication Month: 
April 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

What are God's aims? The questioner is not asking what God's aims for us are in their specificity, but rather. what we mean when we say that God has aims for us. It is a good question, and quite central for the practical meaning of process theology. I'll try to explain as simply and clearly as I can.

Divine Intervention

Question: 
In the midst of an online ecumenical dialog last night, there was a discussion on evil and whether G-d is capricious/fickle at times by standing by at times and not intervening. Specifically the discussion turned toward Hitler and Hussein. My understanding of process theology is quite limited at the time, but I'm interested in understanding how it would work with this. The point was brought up that sometimes we just have to learn the hard way and that God works within the limits that we set so we at times 'tie God's hands.' Would this be an accurate statement?
Publication Month: 
May 2003
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Why does God not intervene in the face of historical evil?

Divine Inspiration

Question: 
Is the Bible inspired?
Publication Month: 
January 1999
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Divine Guidance

Question: 
What is the basis for human beings to discern God's persuasion if such a God does exist? How do we reconcile that image of God with a multitude of religious people who are persuaded to do destruction? Why does God not guide us away from dangers that are not humanly knowable?
Publication Month: 
November 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Especially for Christian spirituality of a Whiteheadian sort, this question is central. We process theologians speak of divine persuasion as a crucial factor in our lives. We encourage the cultivation of sensitivity to it and the discipline of acting on its call. All of this assumes that we do, or can, discern this persuasion.

Divine Activity

Question: 
H. Richard Niebuhr said in "The Responsible Self" something to the effect that God acts in all situations upon us. I assume this comment stems from HRN's view of God as sovereign. What would a process take on this quote be? God is present in everything, but does God act on us through other rational agents and circumstances, or does God only act on us directly through our own psyches?
Publication Month: 
December 2002
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Death of God

Question: 
"I am doing research on your understanding of the God-world relationship, namely in A "A Christian Natural Theology" and "God And The World." Through Whitehead I see you reacting to traditional, Greek philosophical conceptions of God. But what role, if any, did the modern conception of God's absence play in the formulation of your thought (i.e. Altizer and the death of God movement?)"
Publication Month: 
December 1999
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The question to which I am responding this month is directed more to me personally than to process theology as a whole. "What role did the modern conception of God's absence play in my thinking about God?" The questioner refers specifically to Thomas Altizer and the death of God movement. It is a perceptive and important question, and my answer will be biographical. I think the experience of others may parallel mine.

Cutting Edge

Question: 
What is the cutting edge of your thought at present?
Publication Month: 
August 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Nelson Stringer has suggested that I answer the question: What is the cutting edge of my own thought at present? That should be fun -- trying to figure out how my concerns fit together and where they are headed.

Creativity and Initial Aim

Question: 
If God offers the occasion an initial aim for its becoming, is any deviation from that initial aim merely a declension from the perfect lure of God? If so, what creativity can there be? —only success or failure to realize a goal presented from without. And that isn't genuine creativity.
Publication Month: 
December 2005
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Creation from Nothing?

Question: 
Did God create ex nihilo (out of nothing)?
Publication Month: 
July 1999
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question is for July and August 1999.

Christians & Metaphysics

Question: 
Metaphysics seems remote and obscure. Do Christians really need to be concerned about it?
Publication Month: 
August 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Obviously many believers of great faith have gotten along very well without thinking about metaphysics. I have emphasized “about” because I do not agree that they are free of metaphysical assumptions. All of us assimilate some ideas about what is real very early in life and these are modified by our studies and additional socialization. It makes a lot of difference what we assimilate and our socialized into believing. But many people get along quite well without thinking about this dimension of their beliefs.

Christianity & Culture

Question: 
Is Christianity a cultural-linguistic system or a socio-historical movement?
Publication Month: 
October 1998
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question is for October and November 1998.

Dr. Cobb's Response

In recent decades there has been a great emphasis on language. We speak of the "linguistic turn" in philosophy. Some who stress the importance of language give the impression that reality consists in nothing else.

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