A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Process Theology and Questioning the "Omnies"

Delving into different perspectives on Christianity, this week I have been pondering Process Theology. Lynn and I may have mentioned Process Theology in past blogs  but I thought it worth revisiting in order to address another set of assumed beliefs: the "omnies."

It is often assumed all Christians believe God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent as well as immutable.  To break it down into less intimidating language, it is assumed all Christians believe God is everywhere, all knowing, all powerful and unchanging.  

I stumbled upon an audio recording of John B. Cobb Jr. pointing to the logical fallacies of such notions and ways in which the bible does not assume these things to be true of God.  Cobb does this in the context of introducing Process Theology, (check it out under Process Theology: An Introductory Introduction here).  He points out common approaches to prayer and worship do not support the idea of immutability since even if we merely think God is pleased by our praise this is in some sense a change. He goes on to say scriptures do not support the idea of immutability.  Rather scriptures indicate God is unchanging in relation to the promises God has made and God's character.  

Cobb also addresses the idea of God's transcendence as God being "out there".  Processs Theology rather ascribes to panentheism which says everything is in God (and in Process Theology God is in everything) but does not equal God and thus God is transcendent but also immanent and, I suppose, omnipresent. 

On omniscience, Process Theologians believe God is omniscient in that God knows the past and present but not the future.  The future is open and hasn't happened yet and thus cannot be known.   

The idea of omnipotence, on the other hand, Cobb believes is harmful.  The idea God has all the power would mean God willed and caused all the horrors of history.  Even if God limits God's power for the sake of free will, this implies God could intervene but chooses not to.  If God will not intervene even in things such as the holocaust then we have an absentee God and more why questions.    Process Theology says God acts "within us and through us,"  that there are multiple causes for every event and God is one of those causes.  

Cobb summarizes Process Theology by saying we are all members one of another, God is working through all of us, and all that happens becomes a part of the experience of God.  I guess I think of it like this: Process Theology is about our interconnectedness and how God works within humanity and all of creation to bring about the Kingdom of God.

This theology intrigues me.  I may return to it again in the future.  Do you believe in the "omnies" (God's omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and immutability)?  Why or why not?

by Sheri Ellwood


Charlene said...

Well, I found out that believing in them all at once can make for a pretty monstrous deity. Especially when combined with some of the "unquestionable" tenants of conservative evangelicism: biblical inerrancy and a literal hell, for starters.

Dan Bryan said...

Great post! I was raised believing in every one of the "omni's"! Like Charlene, I eventually saw Omni-God as too diabolical to worship. I also learned, as you point out, that there is in fact no consistency of theme concerning divine omnipotence in the bible. Even so, I think the years of indoctrination have "ruined" me from embracing a god that is only partially in control. Though beneficent and kind, such a god is as subject to pitiless circumstance as I am and though I might admire such a being, I cannot hope that it can “save” me from said circumstance or impart any meaning to my existence. As Agamemnon said out about Zeus, if he’s at the mercy of the “The Fates” like the rest of us, then he ain’t THE God. Ok, my paraphrase leaves something to be desired, but hopefully it’s understood. Thanks!

Sheri Ellwood said...

Charlene and Dan, thanks so much for your comments. Dan, I do think you point out one of the weaknesses of Process Theology. This God can seem a bit wimpy. Yet I still find hope in thinking within the complexities of the universe God might be at work in ways more powerful than we can comprehend. You mention finding meaning and I think this is a strength of Process Theology as it emphasizes our interconnectedness, that what we do matters. I think their is some wisdom to be found in the theology but it certainly doesn't answer all questions. Thanks again for your comments!