John Macquarrie and process theology

I’m currently re-reading Scottish Anglican theologian John Macquarrie‘s marvelously lucid Principles of Christian Theology (first published in 1966; I’m reading the substantially revised version that was published about 10 years later). I first read it as an undergrad when my interest in existentialism was at its height. In the first part of the book, Macquarrie draws on the work of philosophers like Sartre and, especially, Heidegger to develop an “existential-ontological” natural theology. It’s existential in that it uses an analysis of human existence as its jumping-off point; it’s ontological in developing the idea of God as “Holy Being.” By this Macquarrie means that God is not a being among beings in the world, but rather the very possibility of anything existing at all. God is the power of “letting-be.”

One thing that struck me upon this reading, though, was how close some of Macquarrie’s ideas are to the process thought of A.N. Whitehead and his followers. In particular, Macquarrie’s description of human selfhood, while obviously owing a lot to the existentialists, emphasizes how the self incorporates what is bequeathed to it by the past with its apprehension of future possibilities and creates something genuinely new. This is very similar to the model of selfhood that lies at the center of Whitehead’s “philosophy of organism.” Further, Macquarrie develops what I think could be fairly called a “di-polar” version of theism which sees God as having both an eternal, unchanging nature and an aspect that is involved in and affected by what happens in history. One key difference is that Macquarrie preserves God’s ultimacy, while for Whitehead and most (but not all) forms of process theism, God is not properly speaking the ultimate creator or origin of everything. From a Christian point of view, Macquarrie’s view seems much more satisfactory.

I just ordered Macquarrie’s In Search of Deity, which was the published form of his Gifford Lectures deliverd in 1983 and 1984. Looking at the subtitle (“An Essay in Dialectical Theism”) and browsing the table of contents suggest that Macquarrie may have moved even closer to a semi-Whiteheadian view later in his career.


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