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What Is Process Theology?

By Laura Metz
Updated May 23, 2024
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Process theology, or process theism, is a philosophy developed first by Alfred North Whitehead in the early 20th century and later by Charles Hartshorne. A core belief of these men is that the divine being is affected by temporal processes. According to this theory, God is changeable and therefore our knowledge of God must change as well. Additionally, God’s own knowledge is limited and he only estimates what will happen in the future.

Temporal processes are actions that take time to complete. For instance, the growth of a flower from a seed is considered a temporal process. In process theology these temporal processes affect the divine being. Furthermore, God is not omniscient and will not know if the flower will bloom or the plant will survive at the time of planting.

As each temporal process occurs, God learns from it. Therefore, he is always changing. Many traditional Jews and Christians disagree with process theologians because of biblical verses such as Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8, which state that God does not change.

According to process theology, God and mankind both draw from the same source of creativity. God works with humans as partners in creation. For example, God creates the seeds for beautiful flowers and people plant them. The plant could not have been created without the creativity of both humans and God; thus, God is not the source of everything, in process theology. Even God used a power outside of himself to create the world. Most Christians believe in creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing. On the other hand, process theologians believe God created the world by bringing order to chaos, not from nothing.

In process theology, absolute knowledge of God is unachievable. Since God is always changing, he is not the same today as he was yesterday and he will not be the same tomorrow. Therefore, constant study of the divine is necessary. Additionally, since God has changed since the Bible was written, much of it may no longer apply.

This is not limited to a specific religion, although process theology is most often identified with Christianity. The historical Jesus is an important figure for the process theologian, even though he is not considered God. According to this philosophy, Christ is only the figurative son of God and not the savior of all mankind. Since Christ is not considered the son of God or the savior, it is implied that mankind does not need a savior at all.

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