The anti-Piper

Process theologian John Cobb’s reflections on the earthquake in Japan make for an interesting contrast with John Piper’s recent statements. From the perspective of process thought, not only human choices, but even inanimate nature enjoys a certain autonomy:

For process thought, however, the contrast of human events and natural ones is not quite this sharp. Indeed, we think that God has even less of a causal role in earthquakes than in dropping atomic bombs. That is because God’s role in the world is persuasion, and divine persuasion plays a much smaller role in inanimate objects than in human experiences. One can imagine that, against all odds, the American president might have decided not to permit the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. That could be a response to divine persuasion. One cannot, at least I cannot, imagine that the continental plates that occasionally slip in relation to one another could be persuaded not to do so. Events that involve only inorganic entities, and those in unimaginable numbers, are the least affected by God’s role in the world.

I do not say that they are unaffected. With respect to the real individual events, the momentary bursts of energy that constitute quantum events, we believe that God plays a persuasive role. It may seem trivial, but over the eons, we believe that out of very elementary events God called into being more complex ones. However trivial the effects of God’s persuasion in individual natural events, over billions of years, God’s work in these individual events has brought into being a very varied and rich nature, including the human species. We are right to thank God for God’s achievements. We owe everything to them. The power that worked persuasively through billions of years and accomplished so much is not a trivial power! But it does not prevent volcanic eruptions on massive earthquakes. They bear witness to the many other powers that are at work in determining what happens in the world.

Read the rest here. As I’ve said before, I don’t agree with the entire process metaphysics, but it’s good to know there are alternative Christian views out there.

4 thoughts on “The anti-Piper

  1. John Piper is to John Calvin what John Cobb is to John Wesley. That is, Piper and Cobb have both latched on to part of the truth of their theological ancestors, while distorting other parts.

  2. Lee

    Would Cobb even claim to be a Wesleyan in the same way that Piper claims to be a Calvinist, though? Cobb’s thought is far more indebted to Whitehead (for better or worse).

  3. Cobb would not claim to be as strict in his Wesleyanism as Piper is in his Calvinism. Cobb will readily admit his differences with Wesley in a way that Piper would probably not do with Calvin. However, Cobb does try to show that Wesley had the seeds of later process thought at work in his theology. Cobb sincerely believes that process theology is a natural extension of Wesley’s theology. See, for example, John Cobb’s book, Grace & Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today. Also, see Cobb’s essay, “Wesley the Process Theologian” at

  4. Years ago, I attended a debate between John Cobb and Norman Geisler. I was more on Geisler’s side for orthodox theology. But I found myself liking Cobb quite a bit better. I got to meet Cobb afterwards, who was very happy to talk. He illustrated points from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which surprised me. As out there as his own work may be, there is a lot more continuity with the past in certain aspects of his thinking than people would expect. Claremont seems to do theology like an old German university. They consider themselves Christians, but can do theology from a very philosophical perspective, riding very light—or should I say very critically—on the history.

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