Process Theology & Evangelicalism?

I’ve been intrigued to see Process Theology popping up in the (to varying degrees) evangelical blogs lately. I was excited to see it getting some greater attention from evangelicals, but also really confused and surprised by it.

Undoubtedly, the appeal to Process Theology from disenfranchised evangelicals has much to do with theodicy and God’s intervention–or lack thereof–in a world full of suffering and injustice. This is certainly a problem with classical theism, and evangelicalism generally does not deal well with suffering, injustice and crisis theologically. Douglas John Hall’s critique of the “official optimism” of North American Christianity calls into question the silver-lining theology of God’s glorification in all things, and rightly so. This is especially poignant today given the resurgence of Calvinism that dominates the evangelical world in North America. As the awareness of injustice and oppression awakens many young evangelicals, many millennials are reacting against this brand of Christianity and desperately trying to understand a God who they have been told their whole lives is loving and good.

I’m on my own journey of finding the good God in a world of hate, oppression of humans/earth/earth others, exclusion, inequality and greed. Process Theology absolutely offers an understanding of God and the world that addresses the problems of evil and human responsibility. I embrace the panentheism and interdependence within Process Theology. In it God is intrinsically related to the world and all creation and is deeply affected by our pain and suffering and our sin. I heartily endorse the critique of the monarchical model of God and the hierarchical structures that have emerged as a result. I love the openness of God and God’s lack of coercion towards creation, but creation’s influence upon God (I’m really excited to follow what Tony Jones is up to re: Process Theology and prayer). Whitehead called God the “poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness.” This shifts the emphasis from God toward those of us incorporating God’s being into our own. Additionally, I am a big fan of its heavily kenotic Christology. Most of all, though––and I think this is where Process Theology is resonating with evangelicals––is that the God of Process Theology is our “great companion” and the “fellow sufferer who understands.” This is Immanuel, God with us. A theology of the cross is deeply present in Process Theology, and God is not the cause or root of injustice. Process Theology deconstructs an interventionist God.

Evangelicalism is firmly rooted in the reality of an interventionist and personal God, which Process Theology deconstructs, making it incompatible with evangelicalism. Challenging the notion of an interventionist God is by no means entirely problematic, but what does it really mean for God to be personal, and what would it mean if we were to explore an alternative? Is evangelicalism really looking for something more along the lines of Open Theism and a theology of the cross?

I’m by no means an expert in Process Theology, so feel free to correct me if I am making false claims or assumptions about it. Help me understand this stuff better. What are your thoughts on the relationship between Process Theology and evangelicalism? Is there a future here?

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1 comment
  1. Dear ‘Children in the Marketplace,’ this is a wonderful opening to a modern theological discourse and one which I appreciate very much. May I begin by situating myself properly within this discussion; as a Liberationist I have a great deal of sympathy with the tenets of Process Theology, yet would still maintain a firm footing within the classical Incarnational and Logos Theologies. Evangelicalism – in the broadest sense – is not a singular tradition but a ‘broad church’ which tends to a reductionist hermeneutic of sacred scripture and a dangerously divisive relativism in authority. In a more refined appraisal of Evangelicalism one cannot fail to see the over emphasis of the divinity of Christ without careful consideration of the theological ramifications of his full humanity.

    From an Incarnational stand-point one must stress the ontological distinction between the Persons of the Trinity; whilst Father, Son and Spirit are one in Nature they remain three Persons. To this it has to be added that while the human person is met in solidarity by Immanuel (God with Us) in the Person of Jesus Christ, God remains immutable in His transcendence. To my mind, at any rate, this preserves the validity and dignity of eternal and changeless Truth while providing us with an ‘icon’ (“the image of the invisible God”) of God in Christ which is experiences anew in every time and place. My fear is that Evangelicalism, at present, lacks the tools to bring this theology into a lived reality.

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