I recently finished Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed by Bruce Epperly. This wasn’t my first exposure to process theology, but it was the first systematic overview that I’ve read. Instead of a summary overview, I share instead a random assortment of thoughts, responses, and questions:
What’s more compelling to me about process theology?
I’m someone who wants for there to be some Grand Theory of Life, the Universe, and Everything that integrates science, philosophy, theology, religion, spirituality, physiology, metaphysics, quantum mechanics, etc. Process theologians enthusiastically share this view and eagerly look for ways to integrate knowledge from a wide range of topics.
Process theology posits a God who is passable, who is emotionally affected by us and by the universe and is responsive and changing to our actions as we’re responsive to God’s actions. This relationship of mutual reciprocity and need is more compelling and exciting, I think, than the neo-orthodox position that we need God but God doesn’t need us. Further, the idea that God can feel joy as well as heartache in response to us and the universe is extremely important, but perhaps I find this compelling because of the theologies of my upbringing.
“God does not cause all things, but creates in, through, and with all things. Divine power, accordingly, is relational rather than coercive” (pg 45). This helps with the Problem of Evil question, in my view. A theology where God causes pain and suffering is less compelling to me. For process theologians, God is surprised and saddened along with us when we suffer.
“The afterlife is not characterized by individualistic isolation as some suggest, but relational living and acting in the context of an evolving community” (pg 152). Again, a compelling belief that jives closely with the theology of my home church.
What’s less compelling to me about process theology:
I’ll admit that taking a bird’s eye view of this theological paradigm, it looks something like a secular scientific worldview combined with a New Age-ish focus on “energy,” “vibrations,” etc. to talk about the Divine with some Christian words thrown in here and there. According to Epperly’s book, Christianity is one of a variety of cultural representation of God’s presence in the world. I wonder then, what’s the “added value” of process theology over secular scientific humanism with a dash of spirituality tossed in?
Process theology argues that God is a more limited being than the traditional orthodox view would have it, that God is evolving and growing and increasing in complexity and beauty along with the rest of us. Therefore, God doesn’t know the future, is often surprised by the present, and is (as I understand it) limited to the same laws of the physical universe as the rest of us. This does make me wonder, then: where did this God come from? What was its origin? How did this God enter into a relationship with the Universe? Did this God precede the universe or is this God a product of it? The orthodox position that God created the universe also has its shortcomings, but there’s some sort of answer to grapple with. I didn’t find much by way of what answer process theologians would give to this question.
Oddly, when I finished the book I felt like this was a more intellectually defensible theology than some others, but mostly because it’s not all that different than a secular scientific worldview. And despite myself, I’ll admit that it left me wanting. My objections, I realized, are more intuitive than intellectual. That said, there are elements of process theology that are compelling and exciting, and I don’t begrudge anyone for adopting process theology as their primary theological worldview.