Is God In Process?

Faith and Process: The Significance of Process Thought for Christian Faith, by Paul R. Sponheim (Augsburg, 1979, 351 pp., $12.50), is reviewed by Colin Brown, professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

All philosophy, it has been remarked, is really a series of footnotes to Plato. With somewhat more justice it could be said that “process thought” is a series of footnotes to A. N. Whitehead.

Paul R. Sponheim, professor of systematic theology at Luther-Northwestern Seminaries in Saint Paul, sets out in Faith and Process to explore the significance of process thought—the view of reality deriving from the writings of Whitehead—for Christian faith, thought, and service. It opens with a plea for metaphysics; the Christian cannot avoid the ongoing quest for meaning. Christian faith raises philosophical questions—not least is the problem of how our faith relates to the scientific view of the world. Whitehead’s process thought is seen as providing a framework and appropriate categories for expressing the Christian faith today.

God himself is in process of becoming. Process thinkers speak of God’s primordial nature and of God’s consequent nature. But even as creator, God is not “creativity-itself.” Rather, creativity is the more encompassing concept, with God as an extraordinary instance. Whitehead claimed that, “It is as true to say that God creates the world, as that the world creates God” (Process and Reality, corrected edition, p. 348).

Faith and Process performs a real service in providing a clear, sober, and judicious exposition of Whiteheadian thought. It is meticulously illustrated by quotations from Whitehead’s books and numerous other recent writers, complete with diagrams exhibiting their differences. Dr. Sponheim is at pains to relate process thought to Christian faith, stressing that metaphysics is the servant of faith, and suggesting ways in which process thought may contribute to the dialogue with atheism.

For all that, I find that my doubts about process theology are greater than ever. There is much in Whitehead that is provocative—not least his challenge to Christians to think out how they view the relationship of God to the world. But this is precisely the problem: far from providing a solution to the problem of evil and a theological foundation for ecology, process thought gives us a God who is finite and amoral. As the ground of novelty, God is in all things luring them indiscriminately to achieve their subjective aims and thus maximize themselves. On this basis it is difficult to see how one could blame the rapist or murderer, for could it not be said that what they are doing is realizing their subjective aims? When Dr. Sponheim speaks of God choosing to receive the world “in Christ” and of the divine will to love becoming concrete in Christ, he appears to revert to the language of theism in order to give some Christian content to a scheme of thought that is basically pagan. Could it be that, after all, process thought is a twentieth-century, updated version of the religion of Canaan proclaiming an immanent deity and a gospel of creaturely self-fulfillment?

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There is no little irony in the fact that Dr. Sponheim has moved from the study of Kierkegaard to the study of Whitehead. The shift is as dramatic as a move from Kierkegaard to his archenemy, Hegel. Hegel taught an all-embracing, philosophical, and religious system based on an evolving, immanent deity. Kierkegaard pointed out the system was indemonstrable and the church needed to return to the God of the Bible. The same is true for process thought.

Gifts Of The Spirit

Grace Gifts, by Michael Griffiths (Eerdmans, 1978, 80 pp., $2.65), The Spirit in the Church, by Karl Rahner (Seabury Press, 1979, 104 pp., $3.95), and Scripture and the Charismatic Renewal, edited by George Martin (Servant Books, 1979, 127 pp., $4.00), are reviewed by J. Kenneth Grider, professor of theology, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.

These three small books, all related to gifts of the Spirit, and not especially to tongues speaking, are helpful in varying ways.

Grace Gifts, by Michael Griffiths, is a brief study, but it compresses many helpful insights. Griffiths understands a gift as consisting of God’s heightening the “natural aptitudes” he bestows upon us as Creator (pp. 70–71). The author further considers that spiritual gifts are at least 14 in number (pp. 25–66), and that they have “not ceased; but are “applicable today” (p. 8). They really are gifts (p. 68), and are not to be sought. Instead of “earnestly desire,” he translates 1 Corinthians 12:31 as an indicative instead of as an imperative—“You earnestly desire”—and says the Corinthians were being reprimanded for their desire for gifts (pp. 9, 68ff.).

Of these three books, the other two are written by and for Roman Catholics. Both (one by Karl Rahner, and the other a symposium by Catholic writers) take up issues not especially of interest to Protestants—except that it is of interest to us that they are dealing with these issues. Rahner, for example, says that “office holders” in the church should realize that “their subjects,” “ordinary Christians,” are sometimes given “commands and promptings” by “the Lord” (pp. 60–66). In this connection, he says, “They are actions that God wills even before the starting signal has been given by the hierarchy …” (p. 61). He is interested in “prophecies” (p. 89ff.). But unlike the way in which they are understood by the typical Protestant Pentecostal, they “almost always” are messages “delivered by persons seen in visions” (p. 89).

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The Catholic symposium, Scripture and the Charismatic Renewal, would be of interest to Protestants who would like to know about the strictures under which Catholics read Scripture and think about its meaning. Not just certain dogmas are official for Catholics, but specific interpretations of given Bible texts are official (e.g., p. 25). The book treats Vatican II statements that encourage Scripture reading by Catholics, and it reveals a renewal of lay Catholic interest in and use of the Bible.

A New Life Of Calvin

God’s Man: A Novel on the Life of John Calvin, by Duncan Norton-Taylor (Baker Book House, 1979, 298 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Larry M. Lake, chairman, English department, Delaware County Christian School, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Biographies are difficult to write. The biography of a man who died over 400 years ago presents even more difficulties. Yet God’s Man is a triumph over typical obstacles. The author’s untypical approach to biography, writing it as a novel, is a wise choice. In his words, “few biographies can be wholly true, while novels may wholly bear their own truth.”

Perhaps the book’s most striking feature is its first-person narrative. Instead of the expected “John Calvin was born in Noyon, France, in 1509 …” the beginning is told from Calvin’s perspective as, lying on his deathbed, he is visited by the Reformer Farel. Calvin reviews his life, recalling being shown relics in the cathedral at age three, the death of his mother, his first days at school. These events are described in present tense, helping to convey a sense of closeness and authenticity. By the end of the first section, Calvin has become a leader in the Reformation, and has published the first edition of his Institutes.

The novel’s second part is from the viewpoint of one of Calvin’s critics who travels and works with him, but eventually leaves him. Here the author shows some of the criticism leveled against Calvin, without having to belabor his defense. The reader considers the source and moves on.

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In the third section Calvin is established as a pastor in Geneva and tells his story about that city’s political turmoil and his own infirmities. Maigret, a loyal friend and supporter, next continues the narrative. As a member of the aristocracy, he has insights into Genevan life that Calvin never could have had.

In the last two parts Calvin again tells his own story, as the church is threatened by heresy and political maneuverings, as he establishes a school, and as he completes his fifth edition of the Institutes, prefacing it with the statement, “A thing is done soon enough if it is done well enough.”

In many places the writing has a poetic clarity, and scenes are set simply and imaginatively.

God’s Man is a successful biography and an entertaining novel. It will be interesting to Christians who enjoy people, theology, history, and fine writing.

True Faith For Today

From the Pinnacle of the Temple: Faith or Presumption? by Charles Farah, Jr. (Logos International, 1979, 243 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Paul Elbert, postgraduate in New Testament, University of London, King’s College.

Does the believer exercise faith or presumption? This question will be of interest to every practicing Christian who tries to serve God. Farah, professor of historical theology at Oral Roberts University, sees within the body of Christ two extremist elements. One denies the existence of the miraculous in Jesus’ ministry to believers today and treats the Book of Acts with antiquarian disinterest. The other, overzealous to be used of God, detaches the biblical teaching about faith from its contextual relation to total truth, pushing it to illogical extremes. The result in this case can be heresy.

There exists today between these two extremes a significant portion that includes the classical Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic movements in the Protestant and Catholic sectors. There Christians generally take the Epistles as normative for doctrine of the church and the principles of the Book of Acts as normative for life and experience of the church. But herein is a problem, providing good reasons for Farah’s pastoral concern. He believes care needs to be taken in the nascent and burgeoning renewal in order to preserve balanced doctrine in the area of faith.

This is so because there is on the periphery of this growing edge of the church an extremist fringe of “faith” teachers who routinely attack balanced and sound doctrine in the realm of faith. The oversimplified “faith” formulas (e.g., “confess it and it’s yours”) and associated false doctrines have so victimized and plagued mainstream Christianity that Farah’s book should be received with a sigh of relief by all who wish to live a balanced Christian life of faith.

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Farah addresses himself to finding a remedy with all due tolerance and courtesy. He pleads for a return to contextual scientific exegesis to determine meaning for Scripture passages.

The book concludes with a 20-page set of practical guidelines for Christian leaders entitled “A Methodology for Ecumenical Theology,” which may be the highlight of the book. This bold and courageous book reasserts the sovereignty of God and helps define real biblical faith. Every pastor and lay person who has encountered the effects of presumptuous false doctrine needs to have this book in hand.

Putting It All Together

The Integration of Psychology and Theology, by John D. Carter and Bruce Narramore (Zondervan, 1979, 139 pp., $3.95 pb), is reviewed by Willard Harley, Sr., practicing psychologist, and professor emeritus, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

This volume is number one in a projected series on the integration of psychology and Christianity. The book begins with an excellent treatment of the ambivalence among Christians toward applying psychology to human behavior. The authors’ openness to psychological data is based on the assumption that all truth is God’s truth.

Chapter three follows two of introduction, and delineates the scope of both systematic theology and psychology in order to illustrate their communality and major differences. This effort, I feel, unfortunately illustrates how tempting it is to force dissimilar categories into a single mold. For example, the doctrine of sin is supposed to be the theological pairing of psychopathology. I have the impression that the authors, like Freud, developed their theories out of their counseling cases. If Christ’s most frequent examples of fallen man were the clean-living, religious Pharisees, would not the most essential effects of the Fall be seen by observing our best specimens of unregenerated man—rather than the emotionally disturbed? Do not some of our devoutly committed Christians share the same psychopathologies as the unbelievers?

In chapters four to seven the current attitudes toward integration are divided into four approaches or models. The first two are briefly but well described. The latter two would bear further clarification. For instance, while the authors see themselves in model four, the Integrates, they seem to sound more like number three, the Parallel Model. The book closes on the point that practical integration is an ongoing process already at work in the Christian psychologist.

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I only wish that such a beginning treatment of this almost virgin area had clear definitions. What psychology? Whose psychology? What constitutes a Christian psychology? Whose theology? Whose data? What happens when data need theory for interpretation? What was lost in the Fall? What constituted the image of God? What therapy does the Christian psychologist offer the unregenerated client?

Obviously, a fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer, but beginning books ought to start at the beginning.

Luke-Acts Today

Studies in Luke-Acts, edited by Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn (Fortress Press, 1980, 316 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Peter H. Davids, assistant professor of biblical studies, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

L. E. Keck and J. L. Martyn first issued this volume in 1966 as a tribute to their teacher, Paul Schubert. Professor Schubert and some of the contributors have died since then, but in many cases the essays were seminal, so a paperback reprint of the volume is now in our hands. The work is a collection of essays from the early 1960s by such scholars as van Unnik, Cadbury, Dahl, Käsemann, and Haenchen; it is grouped into three parts: (1) general overviews of the interpretation, perspective, and theology of Luke-Acts, (2) specific issues in Luke-Acts, and (3) studies of the relationship between Acts and its literary setting.

While one can hardly evaluate a volume of first-quality essays in a few words, three comments should be made about this work. First, some of the essays are now dated—the editors themselves suggest C. H. Talbert’s Perspectives on Luke-Acts as a source of more recent material. Second, many of the essays are classics, which must be read in any thorough study of Luke-Acts; even the dated ones are useful for a history of interpretation (e.g., Conzelmann, “The Address of Paul on the Areopagus,” P. Vielhauer, “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts,” and H. J. Cadbury, “Four Features of Lucan Style”). Finally, only one essay is by an evangelical (C. F. D. Moule, “The Christology of Acts”), showing a continuing need for more evangelical involvement in such scholarship (despite I. H. Marshall’s recent contributions).

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The Church In South Africa

The Church Struggle in South Africa, by John W. de Gruchy (Eerdmans, 1979, 267 pp., $7.95); Perceptions of Apartheid: The Churches and Political Change in South Africa, by Ernie Regehr (Herald Press, 1979, 309 pp., $7.95), are reviewed by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.

South Africa today is of deep concern to Christians everywhere. The republic’s 1961 constitution states unequivocally that South Africa is a Christian country. But the odious racial policies that are summed up under the rubric of apartheid or “separate development” are hardly those that bring honor to the Christ who died that all people might be equal and free through faith in him.

The officially sanctioned racism and the fascist-like police state atmosphere have led some critics to equate South Africa with Nazi Germany, but this is not really accurate. The rule of law has not completely disappeared. Courageous journalists, lawyers, businessmen, and above all, churchmen, have been challenging the apartheid system; already some lessening of its rigors are seen.

There is an extensive body of literature on Christianity in South Africa and the two books reviewed here are welcome additions, as they deal frankly and sensitively with the issues. Both contain concise, informative historical surveys, analyses of the various theological positions, and discussions of how Christians are combating apartheid. Dr. John de Gruchy of Cape Town, an able scholar and devoted churchman, has a remarkably clear grasp of events and movements in his country as well as in Europe and the Americas. His treatment of the tensions within the deeply divided Christian community and between church and state is perceptive. Particularly meritorious is his clear-headed, positive assessment of South African black theology and his biblically grounded presentation of the kingdom of God as the vehicle for white liberation. In terms of its clarity of writing and theological depth this book deserves to be ranked among the best of the year. Christians who are seeking to apply their faith to the problems of contemporary society will profit much from de Gruchy’s insights.

Ernie Regehr, a Canadian Mennonite, was sent to South Africa by his church to study apartheid and its ramifications for Christianity. His account covers much of the same ground as de Gruchy’s in tracing the role of the churches in racial-political conflict, but he emphasizes more how various groups in the country perceive the system. He presents the factual side of apartheid in considerably more detail and alerts the reader to the unmistakable enormity of this evil. Its wealth of data and its character as an outsider’s view make this book a good complement to de Gruchy’s.

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Briefly Noted

Eschatology: A good general survey of current debate among theologians is Christian Hope and the Future (InterVarsity) by Stephen H. Travis. A revised edition of On the Way to the Future (Augsburg) by Hans Schwarz surveys Christian eschatology in the light of current trends in theology, philosophy, and science. Jurgen Moltmann’s The Future of Creation (Fortress) is a collection of thought-provoking essays about eschatology, hope, the Cross, and more.

Affirming the historic premillennial position, David Ewert in And Then Comes the End (Herald) offers a spiritually minded, topical survey of the biblical material related to the Second Coming of Christ. A rather polemical, antimillennial overview is What the Bible Says About the End Time (College Press, Joplin, Mo.) by Russell Boatman. Jim McKeever affirms Christians Will Go Through the Tribulation (Alpha Omega, Box 4130, Medford, Oreg.) and tells how to prepare for it. The Incredible Cover-Up by Dave MacPherson is now being distributed by Alpha Omega and presents what is called the true story of the pretrib Rapture. Fear, Faith and the Future (Augsburg) by Ted Peters affirms Christian hope in the face of doomsdayers. Lehman Strauss’s Prophetic Mysteries Explained (Loizeaux Brothers) looks at the prophetic significance of the parables in Matthew 13 and the letters of Revelation 2–3 in traditional dispensationalist terms. Life in the Afterlife (Tyndale) by Tim LaHaye is also traditional dispensationalism, with a cautionary word about “out-of-the-body” experiences.

Paulist Press offers What Are They Saying About the Resurrection? by Gerald O’Collins and What Are They Saying About Death and Christian Hope? by Monika Hellwig. Is There Life After Death? (Harvest House, Irvine, Calif.) by John Weldon and Zola Levitt says “yes” in easy-to-understand terms. Life, Death and Beyond (Zondervan) by J. Kerby Anderson is a fine study of the experiences of death and what they prove.

Universalism is making another appearance. Something to Believe In (Harper & Row) by Robert Short is a plea for Christian universalism, complete with cartoons from Peanuts, Doonesbury, and others. Arguing the same theme more academically is Eternal Life: Why We Believe (Westminster) by L. Harold DeWolf. Unconditional Good News (Eerdmans) by Neal Punt pushes “toward an understanding of biblical universalism” within the Reformed tradition.

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Encounter With Terminal Illness (Zondervan) by Ruth Kopp deals sympathetically and helpfully with the problems surrounding death, and suggests how to draw upon spiritual resources.

Doctrine of God:The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (Here’s Life) by William Lane Craig is a readable presentation of what is essentially the cosmological argument, and is especially good for thoughtful college students. James M. Houston’s I Believe in the Creator (Eerdmans) is powerful and profound, a highly recommended study of God as a loving Creator. One God in Trinity (Cornerstone), edited by Peter Toon and James D. Spiceland, is an excellent collection of 10 essays analyzing a central doctrine in Christianity. The God of Jesus Christ (Franciscan Herald) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is a moving set of meditations on God as Trinity. Emil Brunner’s classic The Christian Doctrine of God (Westminster) is now available in paperback for a new generation of students.

Three books look at God’s relation to us. The Back of God (Tyndale) by Bill Austin avoids easy answers, but finds signs of God’s presence in our lives. The Optional God (Morehouse-Barlow) by Stephen F. Bayne shows that God is not optional. God With Us (Westminster, paperback) by Joseph Haroutunian relates God to our personal lives, finding communion with God as we commune with each other.

Faith Incarnate In Life

The Physical Side of Being Spiritual, by Peter E. Gillquist (Zondervan, 1979, 174 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Dan E. Nicholas, public information officer, Mendocino County Schools, Ukiah, California.

Peter Gillquist would like you to take your shoes off and feel the earth beneath your feet—and know God intended it that way. God purposefully constructed his universe and his gospel to be as much physical as it is spiritual.

In this recent book, Gillquist takes a long look at the tendency of evangelicals to devalue their bodies and otherwise to escape the tangible, touchable side of the Christian faith in their desire to be spiritual.

Mental religion gets a bad review from this author. He follows up his earlier work, Love Is Now (Zondervan), a treatise on grace, with this new work which stresses an earthwise holiness. In easy-to-read style, the author advocates a faith lived out in visible fashion before fellow flesh-and-blood pilgrims with whom we are to rub elbows in the church.

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An unsatisfying faith, in Gillquist’s view, is one that traffics in pop religion and private piety, shunning the church in trade for parachurch, doctrinal fads, and a me-and-Jesus religious solitaire.

Gillquist leans heavily on the early church fathers as models worth following. During a period of concern for intense spirituality, these leaders did not let go of the physical aspects of the faith. Evidence of this is their high view of the sacraments of holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper, events that speak to a healthy marriage of the physical and the spiritual.

In a day when all manner of Christians stroll through a cafeteria line of religious choices, often dangerously overspiritual, Gillquist focuses on a diet that has satisfied the saints for centuries. He addresses areas where the church is hurting today: worship, community life, and accountability. These are areas in which evangelicals could stand to get a lot more physical with their faith.

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