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Process Theology
A Short Course
Michael A. Soderstrand
Mayflower Sacred Scriptures Class
August 29 – November 7, 2010
Based on the textbook:
C. Robert Mesle, Process Theology A Basic Introduction,
Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO, 1993 (final chapter by
John B. Cobb, Jr.)
1
Lecture 3
Ch 4: Freedom, Time, and
God’s Power
Part II: The World and God
Ch 5: Time
Science
now
confirms
that
our
experience of Time is very different
from what Time REALLY IS. How does
this relate to God’s experience of
Time?
2
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
Traditional Theology states that God experiences
no passing of time.
1. God exists in a timeless eternity.
2. All of time is spread out before God like a
picture, so there is no difference between
past, present, and future.
3. These conclusions about God and time are a
result of the insistence that God has perfect
unilateral power.
3
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
Aristotle shared with Traditional Christian Theologians
the idea that God has perfect unilateral power.
1. God is the Unmoved Mover.
2. God causes the world to move and change, but
God is totally unaffected – unmoved – by the
world.
3. Aristotle saw a very important implication of this
view of divine unchangeability – God has no
knowledge of the world. (Since the world
changes and God is unchanging, God could not
have knowledge of a changing world).
4
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
Christian Traditional Theologians recognized
Aristotle’s problem, but came up with a different
solution.
1. God is the Unmoved Mover.
2. God, however, DOES NOT CAUSE the world to
move and change, God sees the past present and
future perfectly and thus God sees NO CHANGES.
3. Thus God has PERFECT knowledge of the world,
but from God’s vantage point, the world does not
change.
5
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
However, the solution provided by Christian Traditional
Theologians creates its own problems.
1. Many Protestant Theologians, such as Calvin,
conclude that everything is predestined – there
is no free will.
2. Others argue that God’s perfect knowledge does
not eliminate free will – but for many their
explanations seem convoluted and difficult to
understand.
3. Thus God must exist in a timeless, absolutely
unchanging eternity – only in this way can we
retain God’s perfect unilateral power to remain
totally unaffected by the world.
6
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
Christian Traditional Theology’s insistence on a model of
complete control by God also results in the Grace vs.
Works controversy.
1. Scripture implies that Grace and Works go together:
8
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not
your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so
that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created
in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to
be our way of life (Ephesians 2:8-10).
2. Traditional Christian Theology is often interpreted in a
way that puts Grace and Works at odds.
3. Traditional Christian Theology should remind us we
are saved through grace in order to do good works,
but often is interpreted that we are saved by grace
whether or not we do good works.
7
Freedom, Time, and God’s Power
Because Process Theology does not insist on complete
control by an unchangeable God, most of the problems of
Traditional Theology go away.
1. Scripture implies that Grace and Works go together:
8
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not
your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so
that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created
in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to
be our way of life (Ephesians 2:8-10).
2. Process Theology sees this as evidence of God working
with people to do God’s work.
3. Also of importance is Process Theology sees time in
a very different way and sees reality in interaction –
not in the material or spiritual world.
8
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
Let’s look at what modern physics has to say
about two very important concepts:
1. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity
gives us a view of time as the fourthdimension in what is called the space-time
continuum (also known as Minkowski
space).
2. The interaction of observer and
observed in quantum theory (Copenhagen
Interpretation and Multiverse
Interpretation).
9
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity:
1. There is no absolute reference frame for
time and space.
2. Any inertial frame can be used as a time
and space reference (An inertial frame is
one that experiences no acceleration – it
moves with constant velocity).
3. Two inertial reference frames that differ by a
constant velocity will experience both time
and space differently (clocks in the other
frame always look slower)
10
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity describes space and time as a fourdimensional Minkowski space with distances (x, y and z) and time. Inertial
reference frames (ie: frames that experience no acceleration) that differ
only in velocity, represent rotations of the time axis in the 4-dimensional
Minkowski space. This is called “Time Dilation”.
11
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity gives us an
alternate model of time:
1. Traditional Theology models time like a
phonograph record – stamped out by God
all at once in a single instant of creation.
2. Physics offers time that is relative to the
reference frame.
3. Anyone, including God, who travels at the
speed of light would experience all time as a
single point – a single moment.
12
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
The idea that God might be in a reference frame
traveling at the speed of light has sparked some
interesting models of God outside Process Theology:
1. This is the message we have heard from him
and proclaim to you, that God is light and in
him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
2. T. Lee Baumann, God at the Speed of Light:
Melding of Science and Spirituality, A.R.E. Press,
2002.
3. Gerald Schroeder, The Science of God: The
Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom,
Free Press, 1997.
13
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
In Process Theology, God contains the universe,
but is not identical with it (panentheism, not
pantheism or pandeism):
1. God contains everything that travels at the
speed of light.
2. Everything traveling at the speed of light is in
touch with all time (omniscient) and is also
everywhere simultaneously (omnipresent)
3. However, the essence of God is relational,
not material or spiritual in the sense of
Traditional Theology or pre-quantum physics.
14
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
Relationship of Observer and Observed in Quantum
Physics:
1. The state of particle to be observed is a set of probabilities
expressed mathematically as the wave function.
2. Mathematically, an observation collapses the wave function
thus forcing the observed to take a specific state.
3. It is the interaction of the observer and the observed that
collapses the wave function.
4. In the Copenhagen Interpretation, it is the act of observation
that collapses the wave function into one real object.
5. In the Multiverse Interpretation, it is the act of observation
that splits the universe into all possible objects in proportion to
their probability.
15
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
Relationship of Observer and Observed in
Quantum Physics:
1. Physicists argue over what is “real,” the wave function or
the observed state after the collapse of the wave function.
2. In Process Theology, what is real is the interaction
of the observer and the observed.
3. It is the interaction of the observer and the observed
that “collapses the wave function” and it is this
interaction that is real – not the wave function and
not the observed state of the particle!
4. Both the observed and the observer are affected by
this interaction.
16
Key Ideas from Process Theology
and Modern Physics
In In Process Theology, God is always changing:
1. Because God loves perfectly, God is always changing in
response to the decisions and needs of the universe.
2. Because God has perfect knowledge, God is always
changing adding new knowledge as the universe is
constantly becoming.
3. God has always had perfect knowledge of all the
possibilities for everything in the universe and their
probabilities, but because everything in the universe
has free will to choose among those possibilities,
God’s knowledge of the actual choices is constantly
changing as those choices are made.
17
Part II: The World and God
How does God act in the world?
1. Most Theologies have no answer to this question other than
to deny the need for an answer.
2. God is said to be supernatural, above the laws of
nature and hence – not bound by them.
3. However, as science explains more and more of what goes
on in the universe, less and less of what goes on seems
supernatural.
4. Deists concluded that God set everything in motion, but
then left it alone to run on natural laws.
5. Process Theology brings back the idea of a God active
in the universe – but not by supernatural means, but by
natural means.
18
Chapter 5: Time
It is important to keep in mind the difference
between “Pantheology” and “Panentheology” as
used by Process Theologians:
1. Pantheology states “the universe, taken or conceived of as a
whole, is God; the doctrine that there is no God but the
combined force and laws which are manifested in the existing
universe.” This is also called cosmotheism. (Webster’s Online
Dictionary http://is.gd/eUT2c)
2. Panentheology states: “that all is in God, … The universe is
God's body, but God's awareness or personality is greater than
the sum of all the parts of the universe.” (C. Alan Anderson
and Deborah G. Whitehouse, New Thought: A Practical
American Spirituality, The Crossroads Publishing Company,
1995, pp. 89-92, http://websyte.com/alan/pan.htm).
3. Process Theology is a Panentheology.
19
Chapter 5: Time
In Process Theology:
1. The Universe and the Laws of Nature are Part of God.
2. Thus unlike Deism (where God set the Universe in
motion but has no further interaction), in Process
Theology God is constantly in contact with the
Universe and constantly influencing the Universe.
3. Furthermore, unlike Pantheism (where God is the
Universe), in Process Theology God is also an observer
of the universe (which from modern physics means God
is at least partially responsible for “collapse of the wave
function” that creates the observation).
20
Chapter 5: Time
Process Theology and Time:
1. In modern Physics (and Process Theology), at every
instant of time, the future is being determined by
“collapse of the wave function” which chooses one
possibility from the many possibilities available for the
future.
2. This “collapse of the wave function” is a complex
combination of the dependencies on the past, the
probabilities for the future, and the observers (all
entities in the universe – including God).
3. Thus at every instance of time, God (along with every
other entity in the universe), is partially responsible
for the future event.
4. God’s primary force for influencing the future is
God’s perfect love.
21
Chapter 5: Time
Connectedness:
1. Life is lived out in the present moments that
we experience as arising out of our past and as
preparing the way for a range of possible futures.
2. Memory and anticipation are our human
expressions for those causal connections that we
directly experience between moments of time.
3. The world “hangs together” with enormous
continuity over time, and is usually pretty
predictable.
4. The past largely determines the future.
22
Chapter 5: Time
Freedom:
1. Determinism is not all that we experience.
2. In that instant of time we call “the present,” the
past determines the set of possibilities for the
future, but free will is involved in the actual
selection of the future possibility.
3. Everything in the universe experiences this “free
will” – from the most elementary particles to the
most complex systems.
4. However, the more complex a system is the
more opportunity the system has to exercise
free will.
23
Chapter 5: Time
Time and Eternity:
1. Traditional Christian Theology has been strongly
influenced by Plato’s idea that the fleeting passage
of time is not real – what is “really real” is the
timeless Being – the permanent, unchanging,
eternal ground of being.
2. Process Theology sees no timeless Being
underneath the reality of Becoming.
3. In Process Theology Reality is the Becoming that
occurs at each instant of time.
4. In Process Theology this Becoming is dependent on
the past with free will making the choice of the
future while being influenced in the present by all
entities in the universe including God.
24
Chapter 5: Time
Process Theology view of God and Time:
1. God shares with the universe this adventure of time.
2. Because true “free will” exists for every entity in the
universe, God does not live in a timeless eternity in
which all of time is known, actual and present.
3. However, God’s experience of time is different from ours:

God is everlasting – thus God is not threatened by time
as we are.

There are features of God that are unchangeable:
God loves perfectly, God knows all there is to know
(including viewing time from all time frames), God always
does everything within his power to work for good.

Other aspects of God are constantly changing in
perfect relationship to the universe.
25
Chapter 5: Time
Process Theology view of God and Time:
1. God and the Universe are co-eternal.
2. God always has existed and always will exist.
3. There has never been and never will be a time
when God is not creatively working.
4. The universe as we know it probably began with
the “big bang,” but this is only one episode in
the infinite history of time and God.
5. There will never be an “end of time.”
26
NEXT WEEK
• Chapters 6 and 7 of the text
• Now time for discussion
27
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