Friday, February 11, 2022

More Progressivist Heterodoxy


(Grand Haven, Michigan)

(This is from my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.)

Are you ready for some more progressive God-talk? The current trajectory in [progressive Christianity] towards panentheism, also called process philosophy. In panentheism God is more like an “event” (the process word is “occasion”) than an independent, self-sustaining Being. I’m sorry to use big words like ‘panentheism’. But I must, since a number of progressive Christians are affirming panentheism as their metanarrative of choice. When I learned of this, it surprised me, because I am familiar with panentheism. My doctoral advisor at Northwestern was a process theologian, who studied with the great process scholar Daniel Day Williams. Under my advisor’s tutelage, I took one of my PhD qualifying exams on process theology.

Process theology emerged from Alfred North Whitehead’s book Process and Reality. That book is ridiculously hard to comprehend (or “prehend,” as Whitehead might say). Do progressive Christians know and understand Whitehead’s metaphysical system? I don’t know. My guess is most do not. By “most,” I mean 99%. If you hear a progressive talk about their interest in panentheism, ask them to describe it. Then take a sip of coffee, sit back, and enjoy.

It’s important to understand something before you affirm it. Affirmation without understanding is foolish. I’m not saying I’ve never done this. I have, and from experience I’m trying to avoid as much of it as I can. Now, I have become a slow-cooker for ideas to marinate in...

Greg Boyd, who did his doctoral dissertation at Princeton on process theology, writes,

“I am very concerned that so many progressive thinking evangelicals are flirting with Process Thought. It’s really not a friendly home for anything like orthodox Christianity. While many find the dynamic and relational ontology of process thought, compelling—I can see how this is attractive— the intrinsic nature of the system is hostile to the Christian faith.”  

How is panentheism hostile to the Christian faith? The unorthodox implications, according to Boyd, are these.

  • In PT [Process Theology], God exists eternally in relation to a non-divine world. So PT denies “creation ex nihilo”  
  • In PT, God is bound to metaphysical principles that govern both God and the world. So God isn’t able to really interact with the world as a personal being. God must always, of necessity, respond in ways that the metaphysics of the system stipulate. This means…  
  • In PT God can’t intervene in unique ways, like personally answering prayer  
  • In PT God can’t intervene and perform miracles  
  • In PT God can’t become uniquely embodied, as he is in Christ.

(For more explanation, see pp. 88 ff.)

(If you want to try to understand process metaphysics, look at, and go slowly with, Donald Sherburne's A Key to Whitehead's Process and Reality.)