Classical Theology vs. Process Theology

Process Theology is a different way to think about God. It is very different from Classical Theology, and it makes much more sense than Classical Theology. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just trying to make people aware that there is another way to look at reality:

Classical Theology is what we’re all familiar with: God created the world from nothing, controls most things (“What did we do wrong to deserve this…?”), judges souls and sends them to damnation or paradise, is all-powerful (omnipotent), is all-knowing (omniscient), is all good (omnibeneficent), knows the future, in fact, God DETERMINES the future, etc. God runs the whole show, and our role is to try to figure it out God’s will, and hope God is on our side in the end, and hope that God doesn’t have a bad road in store for us in the future. God puts huge obstacles on some people’s paths, while God lets others sail along smoothly. We can’t know or figure out why. That’s just how it is.

But Classical Theology leaves an entire universe of questions unanswered, and even worse, leaves these questions unanswerable even in principle.

One such example is the “Problem of Evil:” It’s a LOGICAL CONTRADICTION to believe that there is an omnipotent and omnibeneficent God, and that evil befalls innocent people in the world. If God was all-powerful and all-good, there’s no way God COULD LOGICALLY permit evil things. And when we say God could not “logically permit” such a thing, and when we say it’s a “logical contradiction,” we mean it in an absolute sense. God cannot logically create a square circle, regardless of God’s infinite power, infinite intelligence, infinite ability and skill, etc. It’s illogical and simply can’t be done by God or anything else. It’s the same with the “problem of evil;” it’s logically impossible for evil to occur, given the meaning of the words “all-good,” “all-powerful,” and “evil.” But clearly evil does occur.

There are a dozen or more fundamental problems like these. These problems are the main cause of atheism today.

Process Theology, on the other hand, conceives God differently from the start, and thus the problems in Classical Theology aren’t found in Process Theology. Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne (and some others throughout history) set this theology out most clearly. The basic idea is that God is not omnipotent. Rather, God genuinely “surrenders” some power to creatures. And because of this, God thus “co-creates” reality along with creatures. This means that God and creatures determine reality together; God doesn’t solely determine someone’s fate. So when someone gets into a car wreck it’s not God’s fault. God is all-good, and all-knowing, and thus God knows you have to replace your windshield wipers. Thus God bombards you with guidance (“replace your windshield wipers…”) and the person ignores it, thus eventually the distorted visibility in the rain causes an accident. God didn’t cause the accident.

God communicates with creatures through what Whitehead called “the divine lure.” At the base of reality, at the sub-sub quantum level if you will, God is continually “feeding” God’s perfect vision of the world to creatures (humans, animals, etc.). We have the ability to pick up on this lure or guidance. “Replace your wipers…Take that job…Don’t take that job…Eat healthy food…Take Elm Street…Treat your co-workers with respect…” Each creature is free to tune into God’s will or to tune God out. In my opinion, the latihan is a way to tune directly into this guidance that Whitehead and Hartshorne talk about.

God isn’t “a being,” but like everything else God is “a becoming.” God is ubiquitous and not locatable in spacetime. God is everywhere, all the time, at the base of reality. This is not Pantheism, BTW. The closest theological view is called Panentheism.

On Process Theology, God didn’t create the universe. The “stuff” of existence (whatever that is) has always existed. Science is a good explanation (although a very limited explanation) of what happened. Our current universe big-banged into existence 15 billion years ago. The wider stuff, “before” our universe was born, and “after” our universe finally dies out, has always existed. Nothing was ever ultimately “created” thus God doesn’t create from nothing (again, it’s entirely illogical and impossible for anything or anyone or any God to create a thing without something with which to create it). There’s no damnation or paradise model, and God doesn’t sit in judgment. God doesn’t control things but guides things and it’s up to creatures to respond to the guidance or not. God is the source of Order and Value in the process. That’s why it’s called “process” theology and “process” philosophy, because there are ultimately no “things” and no “beings” but only “processes” and “becomings.”

God doesn’t know the future because there IS no future to even know. “The future” as an actuality doesn’t exist. All that exists is past and present. God and creatures, together, create the present. The word “future” is just a word and doesn’t point to any kind of reality.

On Process Theology, our task is to be fully in the moment, feeling the divine lure, and dealing with the elements in our experience that work against us actuating that Divine vision. What a HUGE task!!!

Technically speaking, what human beings call “God” is what Whitehead called the three “Formative Elements:” Creativity, Potentiality, and God. The Formative Elements can’t exist apart from each other. But they are not “actual” thus they don’t “exist” like a chair or table exists. (Thus, arguably, there is no issue or dispute about “whether God exists” like there is in Classical Theology.) The Formative Elements are non-actual and non-temporal. Again, I can’t argue this here, but when you do a deep logical analysis of what is actual and temporal, you see there must be something which is non-actual and non-temporal. Whitehead does most of this analysis in a small book called “Religion in the Making.”

Just some thoughts this Saturday night.


10 comments on “Classical Theology vs. Process Theology

  1. Aminah Wrote:

    A few things that capture my attention right now are,,God is more a verb than anything else, that suffering in any form is the result of our actions (and our ancestors actions)and God is not punishing us or rewarding us , and Bapak said there is no evil. only things out of place…

  2. Aliman said:


    Aminah, mahalo for your comment. Please accept my speculations! Maybe they’ll make complete sense and feel right, or maybe you won’t have time to go to Costco to get toilet paper so you’ll print them out and set them next to the toilet. (Heaven knows they’re voluminous enough!!!)

    There are 10 or more ways to get out of the problem of evil, and they all hinge on denying elements of the argument. Bapak is using the “denying evil” argument. If we successfully deny one of the three main premises, then the problem of evil dissolves. This is what causes the problem of evil:

    1. God is all-good.
    2. God is all-powerful.
    3. Evil occurs.

    Denying #1: We can say God is not all-good. (Note that non-theologians get in an uproar when we say God has different attributes, but we can define God any way we want! Our current notion of God was devised in the middle ages by Aquinas and his buddies. It’s simply a human-based definition.) Now, saying that God is not all-good causes another problem: If this is true, then God isn’t “worthy of worship” in theological terms. If a particular notion of God isn’t worthy of worship, then it’s a dead theological concept. So we can forget about denying the first premise.

    Denying #2: We can say God isn’t all-powerful. This is what Process Theology says. God is mind-bogglingly powerful and trillions of times more powerful than anything in the universe, so from our point of view God is nearly the same thing as all-powerful. But God giving some real decision power to creatures and co-creating with us means God doesn’t unilaterally control the details of reality, and importantly it means we have free will. If God is all-powerful, i.e., has ALL the power, then free will for us isn’t possible.

    Denying #3: We can say what Bapak said, that evil doesn’t really occur. This is the Buddhist argument, and the Christian argument. Evil is only apparent. Apparent evil is simply a means to a greater good. If we could see from a higher perspective, we would see that. To fully answer this takes a small book, but suffice it to say two things:

    A) We really have a hard time convincing ourselves, in our felt experience of the world, that there is no evil. Shit happens. And we can cover it over and say it’s OK, and yes we can even learn from it and help nurture the overall situation toward a good outcome, but ultimately it doesn’t make much sense to say the bad situation wasn’t evil and that it was fine that it occurred. Really, it’s not fine. In fact, IT SUCKED, and it could have been better. B) For really and truly Good things to exist, then really and truly Evil things must exist. Otherwise, all actions melt into a Good/Evil Soup, and it’s ultimately OK if a suicide bomber takes out a bunch of innocent school children. Ultimately it’s OK if I cheat on my taxes or take something that belongs to someone else, because ultimately it all comes out fine in God’s giant washing machine anyway because there’s really no evil. But this goes against our intuitive sense that some things are just plain wrong.

    There are many variations on denying these three premises, but when all is said and done, denying #2 is the one that makes sense given our experience of the way the world works.

    All this, of course, is just my opinion and there are huge bodies of knowledge and experience behind all these issues in theology–and plenty of more qualified folks who vehemently disagree with my positions. Sure, maybe evil isn’t real ultimately, I don’t know. Maybe God is omnipotent in the traditional sense, I don’t know. I do know that denying God is all-good certainly doesn’t make sense.

    That leads to your observation of “God as Verb!”

  3. Aliman said:


    I’m so glad you said this! You’re really right on. This comes partly out of my favorite approach, theology informed by phenomenology. What is Phenomenology? Wow, how do I say this in a million words or less? One way to say it: “World disclosure” is a way to get knowledge about the world that doesn’t fall into the normal way we think about getting knowledge. And when we look at God via World Disclosure, we get a very different picture than looking at God in the traditional sense. Again, looking at God in the traditional sense causes a huge amount of atheism. Let me compare the normal way and the phenomenological way:

    The normal way: Usually in logic, getting knowledge is about analyzing a statement that is either true or false and comparing it to a theory of truth:

    We’re trying to figure out of a statement is true or not. Say, “It is raining in Hawaii today” or “God exists.” To discover if it’s true or not, we pick a theory of truth and compare the statement to that theory to find out if the statement is true or false. Correspondence theory is the most popular theory of truth: It says that if our statement actually matches a specific state of affairs in the external world, then the statement is true. And this all depends on definitions of words. Depending on how we define the words in the statement will tell if it matches reality or not. E.g., the process of “rain” could be a drenching thunderstorm, or, a very fine mist on a warm sunny day which you barely notice on your skin. “Hawaii” could mean certain longitude and latitude parameters, certain islands, all islands, etc. So depending on how we define those words, then comparing those definitions with states of affairs in the external world, will tell if the statement “It is raning in Hawaii today” is true or not. (There are other theories of truth besides Correspondence, but we’ll let that go!)

    The main take-away from this whole scenario is that it assumes that there is an external world “out there” and an internal world “in here” (subject vs. object). These are two different “things.” A human being is an object in the world just like a chair or a plant. Further, everything can be “simply located” at a given point in space and time in that external world out there. You, as “in here” are different from the external world “out there.” The world is a collection of objects, and those objects relate to each other only externally (e.g., by banging into each other, or by chemical reactivity).

    The Phenomenological way: “World Disclosure” is a different way of knowing. Heidegger (and others) say we are “thrown” into a “world.” After a year or so of interacting with our environment, we sort of “wake up” and realize, “Oh, I’m here!” But this newly discovered “world” isn’t simply the sum of all the stuff around us, where we try to figure out if it’s raining in Hawaii like I stated above. No! A “world” in the phenomenological sense means that Subject and Object are pushed together and we don’t only look around us and define states of external affairs and compare them to strings of definitions of words. Actually, we interact with “the world” on a feeling-level and intuitively know things because the world, the fabric of which we are holistically embedded in, “discloses” truth to us in this intuitive sense.

    Objects in the world are INTERNALLY related to each other, and are INTERNALLY related to us. We ARE our world which includes the universe. The entire universe, including Creativity, Potentiality, and God, replicates itself AS us. Whitehead says that the green grass “out there” can’t be simply located in spacetime “out there.” It is “bi-located” out there and “in here” simultaneously. But more than that it is NEITHER “there” nor “here,” it just IS.

    The same with God. God is a process, a verb, and is the way that the universe reveals itself to us, through itself. This may sound a little like Mumbo-Jumbo, and I’m sure people who aren’t familar with phenomenology will react badly, but that’s because looking at the world as a process, and through the lens of phenomenology, and eradicating the Subject-Object split, is a radically different worldview, one which takes some work to become aware of. Sorry Aminah, all that from you saying “God as verb.” (!)

  4. Aliman, do I understand correctly that in the Process model God’s perfect vision of the universe is limited to the past and the present? In this case God’s “perfect” vision is informed by perfect information, no? This line of thinking is very intriguing.

    I feel like talking about this phenomenon with the lable capital “G” god is a hinderance, but this is my rule bound hang up. For me words REALLY matter and are tied to frames that we use to understand the world. I will try to substitute The capital “P” Process for God when pondering this stuff.

    In a way this Process God can kind of see the future since it has access to perfect information, or at the very least can make the most informed projections of probability. So, then from the Process perspective, in Latihan we are attempting to get quiet enough that we can percieve what is being whispered to us at the sub sub quantum level. Do I have this right?

    I have to think about this stuff for a bit. It seems like a good framework for more inquiry, and that it posits something that could be compatible with scientific knowledge, and ultimately could bridge the gap. I’m interested in some source material on this. What Whitehead writing would be best?

  5. —-Capital “G” God was a serious problem for me for the better part of 30 years, so I understand.

    —-Yes, about your question only past and present exist. God’s knowledge, like anything else, is limited to prehension. Since there’s no future to prehend, there’s nothing to have knowledge about. It’s not that the future is inaccessible to God, it’s that there’s nothing, in the first place, to be accessible or inaccessible. God, too, has to wait on the decisions of creatures to see what’s happening.

    —-Yes, God makes the most informed projections of probability as God’s knowledge of the past and present is the most extensive.

    —-I love your analogy of getting quiet enough to hear the whisper from the sub-quantum level. Can I use that in a paper that may get published?!?

    —-Yes, there is no contradiction between process theology/philosophy and science. In fact, and this takes some explaining I can’t do here, from the process point of view SCIENCE IS NOT SCIENTIFIC ENOUGH.

    —-Yes, Whitehead’s whole project was geared toward bridging the gap between science and religion and he was convinced there was no gap. Most scientists and most religionists are too closed minded to entertain the middle ground, so they dogmatically stick to their limited view, and the rest of us align ourselves with one side or the other, having no clue there’s a middle ground. One of my favorite Whd quotes:

    “There will be some fundamental assumptions which people of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of the epoch.” (Science and the Modern World, 48)

    Three primary philosophic assumptions we’re all laboring under (and there are others) are that 1) things are only externally related to each other (i.e., prehension can’t happen), 2) the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (things that are only abstract are taken to be final realities), and 3) the fallacy of simple location (any object is HERE in spacetime, and HERE only, and doesn’t require reference to other spaces or times in order to explain it). The simple location fallacy shows clearly how science isn’t scientific enough because non-local effects, a completely established scientific fact, show that simple location is fallacious, but if you ask any scientist (or religionist, for that matter), she/he will maintain simple location as a fact!

    Gotta grade philosophy quizzes!

  6. Sorry to be nit-picky….but the “main cause of atheism” today is that people are increasingly seeing the lack of ANY evidence for God whatsoever. It makes matters worse when believers have uncritical theologies, but even the most well thought out theology in the world suffers from that same absolute lack of supporting evidence.

    • NateP, I don’t believe that there’s evidence for God, where “evidence” is used in a technical or scientific sense. Since God is not an object, nor a construct (in the sense of psychology), the idea of verification of God doesn’t make sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s