My first philosophical love is metaphysics, which attempts to discover the nature of being, of reality itself, and the philosophers to whom I am most attracted are those who build grand metaphysical systems: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Gottfried Leibniz, Alfred North Whitehead, and Charles Hartshorne. Whitehead and Hartshorne are among many process philosophers, who focus on relation more than on substance. They are not identical in their philosophies–Hartshorne has been heavily influenced by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, and has done work on arguments for the existence of God, such as the Ontological and Cosmological Arguments. A number of Christian theologians, such as John Cobb and David Ray Griffin, have used process philosophy as a way to understand the nature of God. Since their influence has come primarily through Whitehead, it is on Whitehead’s philosophy of God that I shall focus.
For Whitehead, God is intrinsically related to all actual occasions (bits of experience that are intertwined with one another and make up an interrelated web of reality). God chooses from among Eternal Objects (similar to Plato’s Forms) and offers them to actual occasions to accept or reject. He does not force any actual occasion or society of actual occasions (such as a human being) to accept his offer of positive value from the Eternal Objects. God is not as much a divine judge as “a fellow sufferer who understands” (Whitehead, Process and Reality). God is not a creator, for the universe has always been, and the universe is the body of God. God enriches other actual occasions who accept his offer of greater value, and other actual occasions also enrich the life of God (in God’s consequent, concrete nature, as opposed to God’s primordial, abstract nature). God is not guaranteed to overcome evil, but He works with other actual occasions to limit the damage evil causes and to bring the most good into the universe as he and his fellow actual occasions can.
The late Louis Mackey, one of my teachers during the year I spent at the University of Texas at Austin, was blunt in his opinions, a quality I still admire. I asked him what he thought about process theology, which adopts Whitehead’s (or Hartshorne’s similar view) of God and applies it to Christian theology. His response was something like this: “Well, you end up with a God who appreciates the small amount of help we can give him, and we appreciate the larger amount of help we can give us. God ends up being your favorite great uncle or some such sentimental bulls..t.” As he often did, he hit the nail on the head. A God who is not all-powerful in the traditional sense is unworthy of worship. He could be admired a great deal, but he is not as much God as a more powerful being of the same kind as we are. Such a God cannot guarantee that evil will be overcome–thus, it is possible that evil could triumph over good. We can have no ultimate confidence in such a God. J. B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled Your God is Too Small, and this is precisely the problem with the God of process theism.