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How “Process Theology” Brings “Opposites” Together for Me

February 1, 2013

I got an invitation earlier today to explain more of what I meant by this sentence in a comment I’d made on another blog, speaking of my own development of faith and understanding:

It’s been a difficult thing to connect “perennial philosophy” with Christianity but I feel that Process theology has done so adequately, on the way to doing so better.

Buddhism

Buddhism (Photo credit: shapour bahrami)

The blog post I was replying to was a moving poem and comment made by the Christian blogger, Mike Morrell, titled “Karma Unbound” and can be found here.

With this lead-in for context, I thought it worth posting my entire reply as a post here on my own blog.  I realized it covers some of my thinking and my personal “story” that I may not have expressed as clearly or from the same angle in other posts.  So here it is (with a few variations in formatting):

“Thanks for that invitation Mike. (Doesn’t take much to launch me, so watch out. 🙂  First, I’m not sure what all defines “Perennial Philosophy” so let’s just say, for present purposes, that it either is or is closer to “Eastern” pantheism, with its cyclical view of history and personal destiny than to typical “Western” theism and its linear, often-apocalyptic/Utopian “ending” (into the “eternal state”).

Now Christianity builds upon and is closely tied to ancient Israel’s prophetic coming kingdom (as supposedly inaugurated by King Jesus, per early Christians, and who was/is expected to return bodily to consummate the Kingdom, bring in the Millennial reign and then the eternal state). This clearly is NOT “perennial”, at least that I can see.  So CS Lewis (with others) is right: as to major worldviews, there are 2 main options (forgive my possibly distorted memory): theism and pantheism (or Christianity and Buddhism/Hinduism, or West and East, oversimplified).

Christianity is the predominant theistic system. Justifiably so (per orthodoxy) because it is divinely revealed by God in an authoritative, reliable (if not inerrant) Scripture. Also it is supposedly “perspicuous” (clear). (The more I’ve studied it, the less clear I’ve found it, to which my brighter-than-me-but-not-as-studious “orthodox” sister says I’ve studied way too much.) 🙂

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, in the period of about 20 down to 15 or 16 years ago, ongoing theological and biblical studies (some, but not primarily “higher critical” studies) combined with a deeper look at physical and “paranormal” sciences led me into movement toward the “perennial” side. This was after almost 3 adult decades (age 18-44 or so) of serious study of the Bible, theology, apologetics, etc. (with pertinent creds like M.Div., apologetics and church ministry, PhD theology, etc.).

From age 40-44, I was in PhD coursework at Claremont School of Theology (theology, psych, and edu.) so got exposed to a bit of Process theology (John Cobb, Mary E. Moore, etc.). I remained basically orthodox Christian – Evangelical, tho probably left-of-center because of my psych/counseling degrees (BA, MA) and practice. Then enter that period starting almost 20 yrs. ago, after finishing coursework at Claremont, in which I relatively quickly (meaning perhaps months vs. years) took all my extensive biblical knowledge and ran it through a new paradigm (not truly “process” yet, but one which allowed God to NOT be “supernatural”, especially in revealing truth solely or primarily through the Bible.) Among other things, it allowed that maybe reincarnation is a viable alternative to the view of one lifetime as a test, so to speak, to pass or fail as to one’s eternal destiny.

Low and behold, there appeared LOTS of evidences, from multiple sources in many forms, of a broader-than-Christian spiritual cosmology, of a longer-than-conventional history of advanced civilizations ON EARTH (plus a good likelihood, via visual evidences on Mars, etc., probably even earlier in the solar system or elsewhere).

Add to that that I discovered a fast-increasing amount of scientific (or approaching scientific and weighty) evidence for reincarnation, not as “automatic” but as at least one soul-development option. Of course, there has “always” been the assumption by over 1/2 the world’s population, that reincarnation took place, one way or another. But the plusses of Western science were now nailing down some pretty irrefutable indications of not only its reality, but also some of its potential mechanisms.

Well, this is too long already, so fast-fwd. ahead: Process theology allows for and encourages further investigation of things like reincarnation and the broader “paranormal” category. In so doing, it also leaves not only room, but the “central” place for God. God as creative “mind” and persuasive love; not as coercive or omniscient power. The Bible is one of God’s revelations; Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love and lure-toward-growth.

Dialog with Buddhism (primarily but not exclusively among other religions) is welcomed and pursued. Incidentally, Buddhism has a very well developed approach to psychological/spiritual self-development and self-management, while it speculates less on the reality and implications of God. Thus it can prove a good complement to Christianity and vice-versa; and other major Christian systems don’t recognize or pursue this.

So, in that waaaay-oversimplified version, I think you can see that Process helps me account for the aspects of Scripture and Christian influence on societies that are positive, with now a long history. The clearly negative inputs of Christianity can often be explained as the “supernaturalist” and overly-literalist versions of the faith which remain in the “magical” and “mythical” (not to discount the positive power of myth) levels of human development. The less God is “used”(!) to justify our fears and hatreds and the more God is seen and celebrated as the intelligent, intentional (and even “personal”) force of evolution and human love, the better we thrive, personally and as humanity. To me, that’s the power of Process, in a small nutshell.”

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