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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Anglicans and Process Theology

Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000)

Alice C. Linsley

One of the errors of Process Theology, as expounded by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, is that God is affected by temporal processes and is "becoming" alongside humanity. In Hartshorne’s process-based conception, humans change for a while, whereas God always changes. This is not the orthodox view of God as immutable. 

The order of Creation makes it evident that there is a distinction between the Creator and the creation, and the very definition of God implies an eternally existent Being outside of the created order. Logically, God cannot change. Isaiah 57:15 says that God "inhabits eternity." He created time and is therefore outside of time.

Hartshorne, like Whitehead, was the son of an Anglican clergyman. Historically, Anglicans have posited unorthodox views of God. Bishop George Berkeley said, "We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature", and he introduced the concept of panentheism which means that all is in the one God. Hartshorne preferred the term dipolar over panentheism. In Hartshorne’s philosophy, God’s perfection is seen in the evolution and the creativity of living beings, and God is conceived as dualistic—both free and unfree, conscious and unconscious, and eternal and temporal.

Hartshorne departs from orthodox views in his description of the actuality of God (i.e., how God exists). A God who exists necessarily is not necessary or unchanging in terms of divine responsiveness to creaturely changes. Hints of Pragmatism and Darwinian assumptions are evident in his thought.

For William James, Pragmatism was a way to apply Darwin's theories to philosophy. The mid-century Pragmatists believed that humans have survived and evolved because organisms with the ability to reason logically are naturally selected over organisms without reasoning.

However, we have good reason to question Darwinian assumptions about human change. Despite the Darwinian nomenclature employed by paleoanthropologists, the oldest Hominid fossils do not reveal dramatic changes between the oldest of the species (3 million years) and modern humans (300,000 years). And given the record of artifacts, human inventiveness has existed from the beginning. It is pure speculation to say that human nature has changed through the many millennia of our existence.

Anglicans and Process Theology

For Anglicans the authority of Scripture and Tradition is central to our identity. Further, we share a rich heritage of reasoned observation of the natural world. To disregard our Anglican heritage in favor of philosophical speculation about God, humans, and the order of creation is fatal to our identity.

Process Theology continues to influence many prominent Anglicans. Consider this statement from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who was writing about humans and the environment:

"...the human task is to draw out potential treasures in the powers of nature and so to realise the convergent process of humanity and nature discovering in collaboration what they can become."

In 2009, The Episcopal Church sought funding for a part-time advocate for environmental stewardship of water. Resolution A516 was titled "Sacred Acts for Sacred Waters". Here is the explanation:

"Scripture teaches us that God made the waters as part of Creation. Throughout Scripture and in liturgical practice, water has had deeply understood sacramental roles culminating with the water of baptism. Science and everyday experience confirm the description in the Scriptures of water as life-giving for all Creation. Millennium Development Goal #7 seeks to provide adequate supplies of life-giving water for all people.

Within Creation water undergoes a cycle. Water flows from sources, is contained, distributed, sometimes purified, used and then collected and distributed for further purification before rejoining the flow. In our reality the water of Creation is the result of complicated combinations of the natural processes set in place by the evolution of Creation and by many human interventions."

There it is again, Process Theology, with a thin veneer of a sacramental (or shamanic) theology. It is clear that Process Theology interacts with political ideologies to produce what is termed a "Woke" consciousness.

The Episcopal priest and theologian, Urban T. Holmes, understood that the liturgical revisions of the 1970s drew more on Process Theology and modern philosophy than on Scripture, Tradition, and the Church Fathers. In reference to the Episcopal Church 1979 Prayer Book, he wrote, "It is evident that Episcopalians as a whole are not clear about what has happened. The renewal movement in the 1970s, apart from the liturgical renewal, often reflects a nostalgia for a classical theology which many theologians know has not been viable for almost 200 years. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is a product of a corporate, differentiated theological mind, which is not totally congruent with many of the inherited formularies of the last few centuries. This reality must soon ‘come home to roost’ in one way or another."

Holmes added, "The church has awakened to the demise of classical theology."

Holmes was honest, and if he believed that "classical" or orthodox theology is not viable, he should have left the priesthood.

C.S. Lewis addresses the problem in a speech he delivered in 1945 on "Christian Apologetics" to Anglican priests:

"It seems to the layman that in the Church of England we often hear from our priests doctrine which is not Anglican Christianity. It may depart from Anglican Christianity in either of two ways: (1) It may be so “broad” or “liberal” or “modern” that it in fact excludes any real supernaturalism and thus ceases to be Christian at all. (2) It may, on the other hand, be Roman. It is not, of course, for me to define to you what Anglican Christianity is--I am your pupil, not your teacher. But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.

This is your duty not specifically as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of these opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of another."

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