Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. To that end, he is reviewing the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches. He is currently reviewing the thought of David Ray Griffin, which is based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. This blog is part of a weekly series.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

By arguing from naturalism rather than revelation, Griffin is well situated to conduct an ongoing dialogue with science and late-modern worldviews.  By distinguishing a naturalism that is prehensive, panentheistic, and panexperientialist from a naturalism that is sensationist, atheistic, and materialistic he is able to counter reductionist philosophies of reality and to offer more than just a superfluous theological articulation of current theory.  I also believe that Griffin’s thought is well suited for dialogue with various religious traditions as long as their adherents are not bound to their own literal and authoritative readings.  For that same reason, his thought would be unacceptable to Christian’s who view their tradition in exclusively classical, literal, or orthodox terms.

Of course, the question for all metaphysical theologies is whether it is possible, in fact, to offer a coherent scheme of ideas by which one might interpret every element of experience.  Despite Griffin’s insistence on the incompleteness and fallibility of his metaphysics, he ends up saying too much about the essential nature of God.  It seems to me that much of the problem with metaphysics is that any overly conceptualized image of God tends to limit as much or more than illuminate understanding.  While a more progressive and integrative metaphysics may serve well to counter outmoded conceptions and prior foundationalist assumptions, it will inevitably set a new cast on theology by attempting to name the unnamable.

New models of metaphysics may also render the images and mythology of the old systems as thoroughly untranslatable, which certainly poses a problem to tradition and scripture based faiths.  An overly tight metaphysics can exclude images, considerations, and entire worldviews that do not fit with its coherent schema of everything.  It is important to understand that metaphysics is just one language form of the human endeavor to render meaning.  Metaphysical speculation is a cursory approach that one must often entertain in order to get to a deeper conversation, but metaphysics is always shaped from and within the culture that gives it voice.  It can be very useful in sharing and utilizing meaning, but the theory, no matter how thorough and logical, is not the thing itself.

Next week I will begin a review of the post-modern theology of Mark Wallace, which challenges the basis for any metaphysical conceptualization of God or any other aspect of our experience.

Griffin views God as deeply enmeshed in the processes of existence and life.  All occasions of experience are prehended, shared by God, while each actual entity also is constantly prehending God in all of their occasions.  Furthermore, what is being prehended is not so much information as it is feeling, or a fundamental sympathy for the other; so what one is sharing is their joy and their sorrow, their thriving and their suffering, their rising and their falling.  “Our most fundamental perception of the world is not a conscious, sensory perception of it, in which it is represented by barren, unemotional sense data, but a preconscious feeling of it, in which other things are felt sympathetically.”

Because existence involves the process or series of actual occasions whereby actual entities are being created out of influences from past occasions and then exerting influence on future occasions, creativity is also seen by Griffin as an eternal or ultimate reality.  In other words being itself is a creative and experiential process.  This has a couple of implications for Griffin’s concept of God and God’s relationship to Nature.  First, it makes necessary the creation for the existence of God:

“Given this understanding of what it means to be an actual being, not even a supreme being could exist all alone by itself because to be an actual being is to be a unification of a many.”

Second, instead of God’s volition alone being the ultimate creative force, God is instead “the aboriginal instance of this creativity.”  Third, in this process view of existence, God is not identified with being; rather, “God and being itself are equally ultimate in the nature of things.”  Separating out being or creativity as an ultimate or eternal process, allows a view of God as being dynamic by nature and wholly integrated in the process of becoming that is existence.

What do you think about the idea that God is in the process of becoming with Nature?  Do you find the notion that God’s existence requires the existence of Nature comforting or troubling?

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