Can process theology be Christian?

This isn’t directly related to the “classical theism vs. theistic personalism” debate, but it touches on some similar issues: evangelical theologian Roger Olson ruffled some feathers recently by declaring that process theology can’t be an authentically Christian theology. This garnered a response from Bo Sanders at Homebrewed Christianity and from theologian Philip Clayton.

Olson’s main contention is that process theology, to the extent that it’s consistent with its own premises, denies central tenets of orthodox Christianity like creation ex nihilo, the deity of Christ, and a realist eschatology.

I’ll let readers judge how well the defenders of process theology rebut Olson’s claims. Personally, I’m a lot less interested in process theology as such than I once was. But it does try to address some of the same issues I’ve been blogging about here recently. Issues like: What does it mean for God to be genuinely related to creation? What does it mean for God to be “personal”? And so on.

I generally find the more “orthodox” (in terms of their fidelity to Whitehead) process theologians less helpful than the ones who use process-type concepts as flexible metaphors to illuminate Christian faith. In this group I’d include, among others, Clark Williamson and Marjorie Suchocki. Both of these theologians describe God in “process-relational” terms, but they are generally more orthodox in their theological perspective than traditional Whiteheadians and less tethered to the letter of a particular metaphysical system. For instance, Williamson defends creation ex nihilo, and both Williamson and Suchocki argue for “subjective immortality.”

I see these as efforts to overcome, or at least mitigate, what I regard as the most glaring deficiency of traditional process theology: its reduction of God’s ultimacy. Whether this approach is fully successful, of course, is another matter.


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