In his introduction Clark Pinnock (McMaster Divinity College) wants a theological dialogue that is "respectful, uncontrived, and serious," and with one minor exception that is exactly how the book proceeds. We should begin by admitting the areas of common ground. Process and openness theists both agree that God is love, and the future is open because we have a libertarian freedom that permits evil to exist. But we can also make clear where we differ. Openness theists object that the process model excludes the possibility of divine initiative in our salvation. Process theists think the openness model retains too much coercive power. Having begun with God as creator the key question is whether God can ever intervene in the process.
John Cobb Jr. (Claremont School of Theology) points out that the anthropomorphism of the Bible "has led many moderns (and postmoderns) to reject all belief in God" (xiii). Process theists therefore want a theology that relates to modern science and historical knowledge. But they still want to be "continuous with the Bible." Whereas openness theists have their roots in conservative evangelicalism, process theists tend to be "members of oldline denominations." But "there are inclinations in each community that move toward the other."
David Ray Griffin (Claremont School of Theology) has no doubt that process theism "provides a better framework for interpreting and defending Christianity's gospel, its good news" (p.1). It is derived from the writings of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. But not all positions they (or other process theologians) have taken are necessary parts of the core doctrines of process theology. I was surprised, for example, to find Griffin affirming "salvation in a life beyond death" (p.14) and he views this as compatible with the core of process theology. His model of resurrection is however not by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit (as in Romans 8:11), but "a capacity induced by God long ago" (p.37).
Griffin finds many points of contact between process theism and openness theism, but again and again he insists on rejecting divine coercive power. God only works by "persuasive, evocative power" (pp.14, 20, 36). He also rejects the model of the Trinity adopted in classical theism (p.9, 18, 22) and the social Trinity (p.18, 22) which Pinnock calls "the centerpiece of Christian theism" (Openness of God, p. 107). I was impressed by his argument that process theism simplifies the problems of evil and demonic power (p.25, 32-33, ) and human suffering (p.17). But he quickly turned me off with hopes for "the overcoming of global anarchy through the development of global democratic government"!
Later Griffin will get the concluding article with a point by point rebuttal of the main points made by proponents of the open view of God. But by then the two visions have been defined as different, and readers will already have chosen to live by one or the other.
Nancy R. Howell (Saint Paul School of Theology) describes herself as "a theologian influenced by process, feminist and womanist, and liberation theologies" (p.61). In her pilgrimage from her upbringing among Southern Baptists she was deeply influenced by process thinking. But now she recognizes large areas of agreement with the openness of God model (as set out in the essays in Clark Pinnock (Editor) The Openness of God, InterVarsity Press, 1994).
She does not want to call herself an evangelical, and she still has issues that are important to her in the areas of liberation, feminist, gay, ecological, pluralistic, and scientific engagement, where the openness of God model seems to be silent. But she wants to avoid making one view superior to the other. Both can and should react on each other. Her presentation illustrates the influence of the openness of God model in what used to be the old liberal theology. This becomes even clearer in her response to Richard Rice.
David L. Wheeler (First Baptist Church, Los Angeles) sets out the original statement of faith for membership in the National Association of Evangelicals, and then shows us how his own process -relational-theism (p.101) differs at every point. "Process thought can never give normative value to a text, much less a collection of texts brimming with contradictions" (p.117). The Trinity goes beyond Scripture, as do evangelical views of the deity of Jesus, miracles, the atonement , regeneration, resurrection, and the parousia. His own position (similar to the panentheism of Matthew Fox) is that God is to our world as soul is to body. Like Griffin and Howell he also thinks that both positions could benefit by interaction with each other. Unfortunately his failure to grasp the common ground between the two models excludes any possibility of a dialogue between them.
Richard Rice (Loma Linda University) appreciates "the fresh breeze that has blown through theology " and the open minded approach of Nancy Howell. But he reminds us we cannot reconcile the process view of "God-and-world" as the ultimate reality with a theistic view of "God as distinct from the world." Like Howell and Wheeler, he tells his own story. He began as "a fourth- or fifth- generation Seventh-Day Adventist" (p.164). He has thought deeply, and been influenced in many ways by Hartshorne's process model. I found his synthesis extremely helpful. He sets out exactly where open theists diverge is in our understanding of God as Creator and his interventions in our world. As opposed to the usual denial of the Trinity in process theology, Rice explains that the three Persons enable us to explain how God is love and acts in love.
William Hasker (Huntington College) responded early in the book to Griffin's presentation of process theology by arguing that both persuasive power and determinative power are necessary (as in the case of restraining children from crossing a busy road). The problem of evil is in any case just as great in process theism as in openness theism. And the model of the social Trinity not only fills out the relationship between Jesus and the Father in the Gospels, but it fits the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed.
In a later essay titled "An Adequate God" Hasker disposes of the "Enlightenment myth" that science makes miracle as divine intervention impossible. Here is a great quote : "Science gives an account of the way natural entities function and interrelate with other natural entities: it cannot speak to the issue of what happens when a supernatural power (such as God) intervenes in the natural order" (p.230). I think that undercuts a large part of the liberal theological agenda.
He also shows that the appeal of process theists to persuasion without coercion cancels out the argument based on the problem evil (p.231). I loved his very clear treatment of the problem of evil in an openness model (pp.232-238).
This is a great book, and the essays by Richard Rice and William Hasker
are superb examples of the new cutting edge in evangelical theology.