26 June, 2017

Process Theology: Philosophical Idolatry

Rev. Daniel Holstege

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 42, no. 2—April 2009, pp. 89–116]


Process theology is philosophical idolatry. There may be no equivocation concerning this. This must be the conviction of everyone who believes in the truth of biblical Christianity. This must certainly be the conviction of every Reformed believer. We may not take a purely intellectual or indifferent attitude toward process theology. It is idolatry, which sets up a different God than the God of Scripture. When process theology is weighed in the scale of biblical truth, it is found entirely wanting and therefore must be entirely rejected. Process theology has dreamed up a God of its own making, an idol god that is no God at all. The god of process theology is merely a necessary component of a complex philosophy. We will see that he is weak and changeable; he is not all-powerful but shares his power with the world. It is difficult to imagine how such a God could be worshiped. The process god is more like an equal to the world than its sovereign Creator. Therefore process theology must be rejected as an idolatrous philosophy and damnable false religion.

Process theology rejects all the traditional, biblical teachings concerning God. To such an extent is this true, that when process theologians use the word “God” they mean something entirely different from what the traditional believer means. Nothing can be taken for granted. Every idea you have of God must be thrown out. God is not transcendent. He did not create all things out of nothing. He is not outside time. He is not outside space. He is not all-powerful. He is not independent and self-sufficient. Rather, God is in the world and was forever with the world. He becomes, grows, and develops with that world. He suffers with that world and experiences joy with it. These experiences contribute to his very life and being. They make him who he is. Thus, the god of process theology is not so different from the idol gods of the ancient pagans. Like them, he too lives inside the universe and is affected by it. Like them, he too does not have sovereign control over the universe. Christians today must reject process theology as a modern form of pagan idolatry. It is idolatry clothed in modern philosophical garb. Let us not be enticed by Satan’s new approach. Let us recognize process theology for the wickedness that it is.

In this paper I will first explain what process theology is and then move on to give my evaluation and criticism. I will first briefly treat the historical origins of process theology and look at the philosophy from whence it came. Then I will discuss the main teachings of process theology itself, after which I will show why it must be rejected. In this way I will demonstrate that process theology is a modern form of philosophical idolatry.

Historical Origins

Spiritual origin

The historical origin of process theology is ultimately the unbelieving heart of man. The heart of unbelieving man is the source from which all false theologies and religions arise. This is according to the principle laid down in Romans 1:

When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image … who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator (vv. 21-25).

In Paul’s day this referred to the pagan idolatry of Greece and Rome. The Greeks and Romans dreamed up myriads of gods from their own vain imaginations. They looked at creatures such as the ocean, sky, and forest and imagined that these must be embodiments of deity. They looked at themselves and created gods after their own image. And then they worshiped these creatures rather than the Creator. This may seem primitive and silly, but this is exactly what process theology has done. The God of process theology arises from the same unbelieving imagination, albeit in a modern mind. Like their ancient predecessors, process theologians have looked at the creation and imagined their god from what they found there. As Norman Geisler has remarked, process theology “is a classic error of creating God in man’s own image, which image is in turn extrapolated from an organistic model of nature.”1 The god of process theology has not created the world, but he is in the world. This too is creature worship.

Alfred North Whitehead

More specifically, the historical origin of process theology is the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).2 Whitehead was an English philosopher who began his career studying mathematics and the philosophy of nature. He was an agnostic with regard to belief in God. But in 1924 he came to Harvard University in the United States and began to develop his “philosophy of organism,” which is now known as “process philosophy.” This led him to assert the existence of God as a necessary component of his organismic view of the world and reality. The greatest of his works in this regard is Process and Reality (1929), which is his “magnum opus, central to an understanding of Whitehead’s mature metaphysical position.”3 In this dense and complicated work, Whitehead lays out his view of reality as an ongoing process of becoming. His theological views come out here as well. God is part of the ongoing process of reality, according to Whitehead. In his mind, God may not be “treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification.”4 God, too, is subject to metaphysical principles. In fact, he exemplifies them more than any other.

But Whitehead’s philosophy was largely ignored for more than three decades after he began to formulate it.5 The reason for this was that philosophy at that time was anti-metaphysical and materialistic, whereas Whitehead’s philosophy was metaphysical, God-affirming, and organismic. At any rate, in the 1960s “a spate of books on Whitehead’s philosophy inaugurated a period of greater interest.”6 The journal Process Studies and the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California were born in the early 1970s to promote the Whiteheadian philosophy. But the great influence of Whitehead’s philosophy on theology was due to a man named Charles Hartshorne.

Charles Hartshorne

Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) was the son of a Pennsylvania minister who studied under Alfred Whitehead at Harvard in the 1920s. Although the son of a Christian minister, Hartshorne was taught to place his trust in philosophical reasoning over biblical revelation. He pursued philosophy in the halls of American academia and became a distinguished thinker in the Whiteheadian school.7 According to Alan Gragg, Hartshorne’s philosophy is “strikingly similar and most profoundly indebted to that of A. N. Whitehead.” Gragg goes on to remark that “it is well-nigh impossible to imagine Hartshorne apart from Whitehead.”8 The clearest evidence of Hartshorne’s dependence on Whitehead is his unreserved acceptance of the idea that the universe is essentially becoming. Hartshorne agrees with Whitehead that even God “is ceaselessly changing in a dynamic process of creative advance that will never end.”9

It was Hartshorne who focused especially on the theological side of process philosophy and thereby developed what has come to be called “process theology.” Because of his special attention on God, Gragg states that Hartshorne “deserves the title ‘the God-intoxicated philosopher’ as much as any thinker since Spinoza … In fact, Hartshorne explicitly states that, on the most fundamental level, the question of God is the sole question of metaphysics.”10 For that reason, Hartshorne’s greatest influence has been on American theology, not philosophy. Gragg states that Hartshorne’s process theology is “one of the most creative and viable options on the American scene.”11 Indeed, process theology has found great acceptance in the spheres of liberal Christianity. Some prominent contemporary process theologians include John B. Cobb, Jr., David Ray Griffin, and Norman Pittenger, among others.12

Process Philosophy

Since process theology is rooted firmly in process philosophy, we must first have a general understanding of the philosophy. Process philosophy is a metaphysical philosophy. It is an attempt to explain the most fundamental realities of the universe, the realities that form the basis for all things. In this regard it is a minority in twentieth century philosophy, because metaphysics was largely given up as a hopeless endeavor. Nevertheless, Alfred Whitehead was convinced of the possibility of metaphysics. In his philosophy he attempted to explain the basic realities of the universe. He called it the “philosophy of organism.” But the fundamental notion of his philosophy was process. Whitehead taught that the most basic units of reality are not static, unchanging particles, but instances of experience. These occasions of experience are the most basic building blocks of the universe. Thus Whitehead’s system is a philosophy of process. It is a philosophy that views all of reality as fundamentally in a process of becoming.

Whitehead termed these basic units of reality “actual entities.” He describes them in Process and Reality as follows,

‘Actual entities’—also termed ‘actual occasions’—are the final real things of which the world is made up. There is no going behind actual entities to find anything more real … God is an actual entity, and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far-off empty space … and these actual entities are drops of experience, complex and interdependent.13

The term “actual entity” means “most basic thing” or “most real thing.” The other terms Whitehead uses, such as “occasion,” “throb of experience,” “process of feeling,” and others, point out that these most basic things are not pieces of matter, but instances of experience. They are occasions, events, experiences. But even though actual entities are the most basic things in the universe, they are still “complex and interdependent” according to Whitehead. These “occasions” are complex, inasmuch as they are constituted by their many “feelings” or “prehensions.”14 Each actual entity appropriates data from other actual entities, which data becomes part of the “real internal constitution” of the actual entity.15 In this way, the most basic things in the universe are instances of becoming. They are instances in which information is absorbed from one entity into another. They are individual occasions that are part of the universal, never-ending process of becoming.

If actual entities are the most basic things in the universe, what are the things we experience in our everyday life? Whitehead calls these things “nexūs” (plural of “nexus”) or “societies.”16 A nexus is a “macrocosmic entity” made up of many “microcosmic” actual entities. Nexūs are things like men, trees, houses, and all objects in our everyday experience. A nexus is a group of actual entities that have something in common, some “particular fact of togetherness.”17 Most nexūs are also “societies.” A society is a nexus with “social order.” The actual entities of a society perpetuate their togetherness so that, for example, a tree remains a tree from moment to moment. But this area of process philosophy is not our focus.

One fairly important concept to understand is Whitehead’s notion of “satisfaction.” As we have seen, actual entities are instances of experience and becoming. Satisfaction, then, is the culmination of the experience, attained when the actual entity reaches the point to which it aims. It is “the attainment of the private ideal which is the final cause” of the becoming. “The attainment of a peculiar definiteness is the final cause which animates a particular process; and its attainment halts its process.”18 In other words, an actual entity has a certain goal that it wants to reach. That goal urges it into action, so to speak, until it is achieved. Once an actual entity is “satisfied,” its process of becoming ends, making it “objectively immortal” and the data for a future process of becoming.19

In Whitehead’s philosophy, God contributes the “subjective aim” of every process of becoming. “Subjective aim concerns the direction to be taken” in the process of becoming. Every process of becoming “faces the question of what sort of entity it will make itself.”20 God contributes the subjective aim in order to influence each process to go a certain way. God tries to accomplish what he desires for his own maximum satisfaction:

God offers for each actual entity, as its subjective aim, a vision of what that entity might become. This subjective aim constitutes the ideal for growth on the part of each actual entity that would result in maximum ordered complexity in the world were it realized in fact—this is God’s mode of operation in the world, designed to produce the kind of world that, physically prehended by his consequent nature, would result in maximum intensity of satisfaction for him.21

According to this view, God does not compel or coerce actual entities to become what he wants, but he “lures” them in the direction he wants. He does not sovereignly control all things, but he exerts a certain influence on them. As Griffin puts it, “The divine power … is necessarily persuasive; it could not be coercive in the sense of unilaterally determining what happens in the world … God’s power is misconstrued if it is thought to be all-controlling power.”22 God puts the bait out there, so to speak, to entice actual entities. This is his mode of working in the world. In this way he tries to achieve a universe that would be the “maximum intensity of satisfaction for him.” He seeks the greatest “intensity of harmonious feeling in the world.”23

Process Theology

It is not really possible to draw a sharp distinction between process philosophy and process theology, because they are basically the same. The best way to describe the relationship is probably to say that process theology is based on the philosophy. But really process theology is just an elucidation of the theological side of the philosophy. By “process theology” I refer to the historical, theological movement given impetus by Charles Hartshorne in the mid-twentieth century. We turn now to the main tenets of this philosophical theology.

Naturalistic theism

Process theology teaches “naturalistic theism” as opposed to “supernatural theism.” In agreement with Alfred N. Whitehead, process theologians insist that the metaphysical principles involved in this world apply also to God.

Included in these metaphysical principles [according to David Ray Griffin] are the basic causal principles involved in the causal relations between actual entities, including God and other actual entities—which is why divine causality in the world is always an exemplification of, never an interruption of, these principles.24

Griffin’s claim is that the principles that govern the inherent process of actual entities apply to God also. These principles are fundamental to all realities, including God himself. In other words, God himself is subject to the same natural laws and principles that govern the entire universe. As Whitehead put it, God may not be “treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification.”25 Process philosophers and theologians are adamant about this point. For them, any notion of God that does not harmonize with their metaphysical principles must be rejected on the charge of “incoherence.” Really their whole project is an attempt to form a rationally and scientifically “coherent” understanding of “God.” But by subjecting God to metaphysical principles they have constructed a naturalistic god, a god who does not transcend the “laws of nature” but “exemplifies” them. Indeed, they call God the chief exemplification of metaphysical principles.

According to the doctrine of naturalistic theism, then, God is not supernatural so that he transcends the universe, but he is a natural part of the universe. He is not ontologically elevated above the world, but he is in the world and intrinsic to it. Thus, this view is known as “panentheism.” This term means literally “all in God.” All things are in God and he is in them. According to Alan Gragg, Charles Hartshorne frequently used the term “panentheism” to describe his view. Gragg goes on to say that “Hartshorne’s position is that literally everything exists in God and that God, like the universe, has no external environment.”26 Griffin puts it this way: “The term ‘panentheism’ emphasizes the idea that the existence of a world is internal to God—that it belongs to the very nature of God to be in relation to a world. What exists necessarily is not simply God but God-with-a-world.”27 Thus, process theology rejects the traditional teaching that God transcends this world and is wholly different from it. But it also rejects the notion that God and the world are identical (pantheism). God is neither of these. He is in all things.

The analogy employed by Hartshorne to illustrate the relation between God and the world was that of the mind-body relationship in human beings: “Stated precisely, the analogy is that God is to the world as the human mind is to the human body. Or, the world is God’s body, and God is the world’s mind or soul.”28 Just as the soul and body interpenetrate one another, so also God and the world interpenetrate each other. God is able to exert immediate influence on all things in the universe even as the human mind is able to influence all parts of the body. The analogy, like all analogies, can be pressed only so far. Its main point is to illustrate that God is in the universe and united to it and yet not identical with it.

Since God is in the world it is evident that He is also in space and time. Space and time are perhaps the most fundamental realities in the created universe. All things in the universe exist in space and time. According to process theology, God also exists within the parameters of space and time. The result is that the universe had no beginning and will have no end:

Hartshorne maintains that there is no eternity outside or above the temporal process. He asks man to live without eternity in any traditional sense and to be content with the everlasting-ness of temporal change … the world, just as God, never had a real beginning and will never have a final end (my italics).29

Process theologians do accept the claim of modern science that the universe as we know it began with a bang some ten to twenty billion years ago. For them, that was not the origin of all things. The most fundamental realities are not protons, neutrons, and electrons. More fundamental still are the actual entities that lie beyond these particles. Even if the minutest observable particles originated ten to twenty billion years ago, there were still more basic entities that existed before that time, and that have always existed. Thus, Griffin states that naturalistic theism “does not entail [the belief] that our particular universe, which evidently has existed for only ten to twenty billion years, exists naturally, but only that some world or other–some plurality of finite actualities—always exists.”30 The particular universe (or “cosmic epoch”) in which we live has not always existed. But “some world or other” has always existed and will always exist. Before our current cosmic epoch there were “no molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, or photons, not even any quarks [theoretical subatomic particles, DJH]. There was a multiplicity of finite actualities … embodying no principles other than the purely metaphysical principles, which are instantiated in every world …”31 It was a time of chaos, and God existed with that chaos of undefined, finite actualities “embodying no principles” except “purely metaphysical” ones. He existed eternally (in the sense of “forever in one direction”) with that chaos and very gradually brought into being the universe as we know it. The bottom line in this regard is that God is not outside space and time, but he is within them. He always existed with the world, and together their existence will continue forever.

Dipolar Theism

Process theology is often referred to as “dipolar” or “bipolar” theism because it posits a twofold nature in God. Moreover, there are two senses in which process thinkers have posited this twofold nature. They have spoken of God’s “primordial” and “consequent” natures, and they have spoken of his “abstract” and “concrete” natures. Whitehead and Hartshorne held to both, though Whitehead emphasized the former, and Hartshorne the latter.32 This dipolar view of God is an essential concomitant of panentheism. Both traditional theism and pantheism are monopolar. They both assert that God has one mode of being: He is either ontologically different from the world or the same as the world. But panentheism asserts that God is different and the same; he affects the world and is affected by it. Thus, Gragg’s statement seems accurate when he says, “One will always misunderstand Hartshorne’s doctrine of God as long as he tries to conceive of God’s being as simple. His view is that the nature of God is irreducibly complex.”33

First of all, God’s nature is said to be “primordial” and “consequent.” This was the emphasis of Whitehead. Whitehead considered God’s primordial nature to be basically that by which he lures actual entities to become what is most satisfying to him. God is “the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire.”34 The primordial nature of God is conceptual, containing the “absolute wealth of potentiality.”35 It contains all the potential directions in which the world might go in conceptual form. God places these potentialities before the actual entities of the universe and tries to persuade them to follow his lead. But as primordial, God is not yet fully real. He lacks the actuality of all the potentialities within him and lacks consciousness.36 But these things are achieved in his “consequent” nature, by which he prehends the physical world. He takes it into himself, with the result that “there is a reaction of the world on God.”37 In his consequent nature, God is affected by the world and he evolves with it: “God’s consequent nature grows with the growth of the world.”38 In this sense, then, God himself is in process. He does not remain the same, but he becomes and evolves with the world and in response to the world.

In the second place, God’s nature is said to be “abstract” and “concrete.” This was particularly the emphasis of Charles Hartshorne. With this distinction Hartshorne tried to balance a “both/and” conception of God. In his abstract nature God is absolute, infinite, immutable, impassable, and creative.39 But this nature of God is merely an abstraction from God’s concrete nature. It is a description of God’s existence, which is itself “not a fact but rather the principle of possibility of all facts.”40 Thus, God’s abstract nature is not really real, but a mere abstraction from God’s concrete nature, which is the main thing. In his concrete nature God is relative, finite, changeable, passable, and created, i.e., the opposite of what he is in his abstract pole.41 In this pole God interacts with the world and is affected by it. He changes and suffers; he depends on the world and is created by it. Hartshorne claimed that one must maintain both of these poles in God. He said that monopolar theisms have erred by asserting one of the two poles and rejecting the other.42 Both poles must be maintained, even though they are opposites. Hartshorne claimed that this is not a contradiction but two different aspects of God, both of which are necessary. But one cannot escape the charge of teaching flat contradiction simply by claiming to teach two aspects. God cannot be finite and infinite. Those are opposites that cannot both exist at the same time in the same being. That is a flat contradiction, and it demonstrates the absurdity of process theology.


Process theology rejects the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo and asserts a certain creation out of chaos.43 The traditional view of God invariably includes the doctrine of creation out of nothing. As the Bible states in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God created the heavens and earth out of nothing. He created something when there was nothing (except himself). But process theology denies this, asserting rather that God and the world always co-existed. There was never a time when one of them did not exist with the other. However, before our cosmic epoch, “the world” was nothing but a chaotic “plurality of finite actualities,” as Griffin describes it.44 Process theologians liken this primitive chaos to the account of Genesis 1:2, which states that the earth was “without form and void.” In that primitive world there were no observable things, but there were disordered actual entities. Creation, in process theology, is the gradual evolution of those disordered actual entities into the world as we know it over the course of billions of years.

God’s role in creation is purely persuasive. We noticed this already in connection with Whitehead’s notion of “subjective aim.” The “subjective aim,” according to Whitehead, is the ideal or “vision for growth” that God places before actual entities. It is the lure by which God entices an actual entity to follow a certain path of becoming. After he establishes the initial aim, the actual entity may either choose it and follow God’s proffered path, or reject it and follow some other path of becoming. In the words of Cobb and Griffin:

[The] initial aim does not automatically become the subject’s own aim. Rather, this “subjective aim” is a product of its own decision. The subject may choose to actualize the initial aim; but it may also choose from among the other real possibilities open to it, given its context. In other words, God seeks to persuade each occasion toward that possibility for its own existence which would be best for it; but God cannot control the finite occasion’s self-actualization.45

This is God’s modus operandi in the world, according to process theology. Therefore, it is also his mode in creating. Since his mode of action is purely persuasive, it is clear that the universe as we know it could not have been created in a moment. It took billions of years for God to lure the primitive chaos into the complex cosmos that exists today. However, in the earliest moments of our particular universe, God’s persuasive power produced “quasi-coercive effects,”46 i.e., effects that seem to have been caused by an act of omnipotent power. The explanation for effects that are quasi-coercive is that at the beginning of our cosmic epoch God supposedly lured the chaos into a state of great complexity. But from that point on, “divine persuasion would never again, as long as this world exists, be able to guarantee quasi-coercive results.”47 From that point on, God’s power was limited by the freedom of the more complex actualities he had brought about.

With this view of creation, process theologians claim to overcome the problems of atheistic Darwinism, which claims that evolution takes place purely from “the combined effect of random variations and natural selection.”48 The entire process in which one species evolves into another takes place through very tiny steps—a little change here, a slight alteration there—which take place randomly. Darwinians claim that this whole process is “explainable without appeal to any nonlocal influence [i.e., God, DJH].”49 But process theologians point out that this position involves insurmountable difficulties. The main difficulty is that it cannot account for significant jumps in the evolutionary process. Our experience of the world, according to process theologians, tells us that such jumps must occur if evolution is to be possible. We do not observe a range of development between one species and another. Rather, we observe distinct species. Thus, if evolution is true, there must have been periods of accelerated development in which one species made a significant jump into another.

Darwinism does not allow for such jumps in evolutionary process, but process theology does. According to Griffin,

given the idea that God proffers initial aims to creatures, which consist of more or less novel possible forms for them to actualize, we can think of the saltations [significant jumps, DJH] as neither divinely determined nor wholly accidental but as self-determined responses to felt possibilities … process theology, while insisting that God works entirely by persuasive power, offers a robust doctrine of God as the creator of life and all its species, in that the first emergence of life and every emergence of a new species thereafter required a specific form of divine creative-providential activity.50

Thus the claim of process theology is that God lures an entire species to become a new and different species, and when His lure is accepted, the creature follows the new course of action and eventually becomes the new species intended by God. When the species accepts the lure, an accelerated period of development ensues—“the saltation”—at the end of which a new species emerges. In this way process theology claims to be a reconciliation of belief in God as creator and belief in evolution.

However, process theology asserts that God is not only creative but created. In his concrete and consequent nature, God is in process of becoming. He is creating himself and being created by the world, even as the world creates itself and is created by God. They mutually affect each other in an endless process of becoming. Alan Gragg interprets Hartshorne’s theology this way: “In panentheism, God’s supreme relativity definitely means that God is a cocreator of man and the world and also that man is a cocreator of himself and of God.”51 The human race and really the entire universe create God just as much as he creates them. All things are interrelated with God, so that all of reality is literally a creative process. Everything, from God to the tiniest speck of dust, is in the process of being created.

God takes into his own being all the experiences of mankind, so that they play a large part in creating the being of God. God experiences the suffering and the joy of men, and his very being is affected and even created by those experiences. According to Gragg,

[God] must share perfectly in miseries as well as joys of all creatures, preserving this painful awareness in everlasting memory. Thus he is radically dependent upon others for his happiness, for he must suffer when others either endure or produce suffering. The panentheistic God perpetually actualizes himself both in the sublimely blissful joy of sharing the joys of others and in the cosmic crucifixion of feeling supreme sympathy for the agonies of all creatures. He is the cosmic Sufferer.52

Thus, human beings and all creatures have a profound effect on God’s being. Their experiences are his experiences. He experiences absolutely all things in the universe, and those experiences become part of him. In this way too God is created and becomes what he is through the ongoing experiences in the world itself.

Process Christianity?

We turn now to a consideration of how process theology deals with Christian theology. Despite the obvious fact that process theology conceives a completely different god than the God of Christianity, process theologians still claim to be Christian. Despite the fact that the process god arises almost entirely out of Whiteheadian philosophy, Griffin states that “to date, most, but not all, process theologians have been Christians.”53 He says that process theologians use their philosophical doctrines to deal with Christian themes. In fact, process theologians even claim that they teach the God of the Bible more faithfully than traditional theists. They contend that the traditional view is “glaringly inconsistent with itself and inimical to the biblical portrayal of God as the heavenly Father who grieves over His estranged children.”54 To their minds the Bible obviously teaches that God changes and suffers, that he reacts to the world and is affected by it. The traditional view, they argue, is the result of distorting biblical notions with the ideas of Greek philosophy. It is the result of refusing to acknowledge the biblical portrayal of God as suffering and changing and insisting on the notions of Greek philosophy.55

“Christian” process theologians claim to maintain what Griffin calls the “primary” doctrines of Christianity.56 When one considers that process theology is derived entirely from worldly philosophy,57 it seems impossible that it could affirm distinctly Christian and distinctly revealed doctrines. Nevertheless, they claim to do so. One wonders whether this is simply an attempt to retain the vestiges of Christianity. One wonders whether this is done merely to attract nominal Christians who want to retain some of their Christian heritage. One wonders. The rhetoric promoting process theology in its literature and on the Internet certainly points in this direction. At any rate, we will look briefly at the process interpretation of the Trinity as one example of how it deals with Christian doctrine.

The Trinity, like all of theology, is completely redefined by process theology. The Trinity of process theology arises out of its own philosophical viewpoint. Process theologians have constructed a Trinitarian doctrine out of three aspects of God: his primordial nature, his consequent nature, and his “creativity.”58 In his encyclopedia entry Griffin writes, “The divine threefoldness can hence be understood as consisting of divine creativity, creative love, and responsive love.”59 The “creative love” refers to God’s primordial nature, according to which he lovingly allures the world to become the best it can be. The “responsive love” refers to God’s consequent nature, according to which he is affected by the world and responsive to it. It is the nature according to which he experiences pain and responds in loving compassion. The third aspect, “divine creativity,” refers to God as the ultimate embodiment of creativity. As we have seen, process theology does not consider God to be the only creative one in the universe. The world itself has creative power. Nevertheless, God’s creativity is primordial and ultimate.60 These three aspects, then, constitute the process “Trinity.”

It is quite obvious that this view of the Trinity is not at all in line with the Christian dogma established at Nicea and Constantinople. The traditional Trinitarian dogma of three hypostases in one ousia is rejected. And yet Griffin still uses the terms persona and homoousios. He writes, “Applying the idea that all three ‘persona’ are homoousios, the point would be that the God known in the creation, in the incarnation of Jesus, and in our immediate experience is acting in one and the same way.”61 This statement is wrong and misleading because Griffin appears to be affirming three persons in the Godhead, when he is not. In another book, which he co-authored, we read: “When ‘person’ is taken in its modern sense, God is one person. When ‘person’ is taken in its traditional sense, two persons can be distinguished, God as creative love and God as responsive love” (my italics). What about the third? The third “person” is said to be the “unity” in which the other two are held together, which is not “another person in the same sense that the other two are persons.”62 That is to say, it is not a person at all.

In fact, none of the so-called “persons” in the process Trinity are persons at all. A “person” is the individual subsistence and the self-conscious subject of a rational, moral nature. In the Christian Trinity, then, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are individual subjects who say “I,” and are the subjects of the divine thinking, willing, and doing. But the “persons” of the process Trinity are not such. They are mere aspects of the divine being. The primordial nature does not say “I” in distinction from the consequent nature. There are not three egos in one being. There is one being with three different aspects. This is just a modern form of the ancient heresy of modalism, according to which God is one in essence and person, but reveals himself in three different modes. Griffin even states that the three “persons” of the process Trinity are simply “three ways of knowing God.”63 When one considers what is meant by “person” in process theology, it is clear that the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity is denied. The process Trinity is just another example of a very ancient heresy, clothed in new philosophical garb.

Evaluation and Criticism

Process theology must be rejected entirely because it is philosophical idolatry. Some Christian thinkers claim that there are positive things that we can learn from process theology. For example, in an essay on process theology Norman Geisler states that “there are a number of very significant insights to be gained from an understanding of contemporary process theology.”64 Geisler is a leading representative of conservative evangelical theology today. He and others with him are too willing to “learn” from the “insights” of apostate and secular philosophy. Process theology is a false religion that sets up an idol god and promotes the worship of this idol god. Its god is crafted according to human philosophy. It is not the God of Scripture, even though Christian ideas and terminology are employed to describe this god. It is a god that has been tailor-made to the “needs” of modern man. Because we may have no other gods beside Jehovah (Ex. 20:3), we must reject the process god as well.

1. Process theology is based on reason.

My fundamental criticism of process theology is that it is based entirely on reason. By this I am not referring to the epistemological debate between rationalism and empiricism. The battle between these two schools largely comprises the history of modern philosophy. The former maintains that humans have innate ideas from which they can deduce certain truths. The latter maintains that humans have no such innate ideas and can know nothing apart from experience. When I reject process theology as based on reason, I am not opting for the latter. Rather, I am rejecting all theologies that are based on the reasoning of man, whether these theologies are rationalistic or empirical.

Process theology is based entirely on human reasoning. It is based on the reasoning of Alfred N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, to be specific. This is no secret. Process theologians themselves openly state that this is the case:

Because of its employment of Whiteheadian-Hartshornean process philosophy, process theology is one of the few contemporary types of theology to be grounded in a metaphysical position in which theism is defended philosophically and science and religion are included within the same scheme of thought.65

Alfred Whitehead asserted the existence of God as an essential component of his metaphysical system. Whitehead believed in the supremacy of reason for discovering truth. In The Function of Reason he states that the supreme authority for knowledge is the interplay between real-world facts and speculative thought. He goes on: “But even this supreme authority fails to be final, and this for two reasons. In the first place the evidence is confused, ambiguous, and contradictory. In the second place, if at any period of human history it had been accepted as final, all progress would have stopped.”66 Thus, he states that speculative reason must be disciplined to transcend facts and “make thought creative of the future.”67 In his own philosophy, Whitehead viewed himself as interplaying between the observable facts of the world and his own speculations. Charles Hartshorne also viewed philosophical reasoning as “indispensable for theology.” He placed “more stress on sound philosophical reasoning than upon faithful acceptance of revelation.”68 In so doing, these men arrived at a certain “belief” in God through and on the basis of the interplay between “facts” and “speculative thought.” As Whitehead weaved his intricate philosophy of organism, he was led to see the absolute necessity of the divine being as the animating force of the universe, the force that gently nudges all things forward in this never-ending process of becoming. In process theology God’s existence and reality are asserted as necessary to the system. They are not something believed by faith.

But any theology based on human reason must be rejected. First of all, human reason is faulty and error-prone. With regard to spiritual things, bare reason cannot demonstrate truth conclusively. Herman Bavinck states that knowledge supplied by general revelation, including that obtained through reason, “is not only meager and inadequate but also uncertain, consistently mingled with error, and for far and away the majority of people unattainable.”69 This is certainly also true of Whitehead’s process philosophy. Secondly, if theology is based on human reason, then God is subject to the mind of man. A process theologian would have no problem with this since he believes that man is a co-creator with God. Man has power like God. Indeed, to some degree man is God. But to the pious believer this cannot be. God is not subject to man’s mind, nor is he merely an essential component in a metaphysical system. Thirdly, a god who is the product of human reason is simply an idol. And what is an idol but the product of man’s imagination? Many philosophers assert the existence of God. But their gods are all different. Each one is unique. This shows that their “gods” are simply the idols of the individual minds from whence they come. Each one is a product of the unique experiences and fanciful speculations of the particular philosopher. The god of process theology is no different.

In contrast to process theology we must derive our understanding of God from revelation. The only way the true God can be known is through revelation. Bavinck states that religion is not even possible apart from revelation. The reason is that

the deity to which a given religion connects a human is a supernatural invisible power. It is inaccessible to ordinary human investigation; science leaves us in the lurch here. If we are to know something about God, he must come forward out of his hiddenness, in some way make himself perceivable, and hence reveal himself.70

Notwithstanding process theology’s claim to have true knowledge of God through scientific and metaphysical reasoning, it is not possible to know God unless he reveals himself. Indeed, God’s revelation of himself in creation stares process theologians in the face, although they suppress it and distort it with their depraved minds. Moreover, God has revealed himself fully and infallibly in the holy inspired Scriptures. That this is true must be believed by faith according to Scripture’s own testimony concerning itself, because Scripture “resists all naturalistic and rationalist explanations of its origin and attributes it solely to an extraordinary operative presence of God the Holy Spirit.”71 And as Bavinck goes on to say, Scripture maintains the distinction between God and the world. It does not present the so-called “naturalistic theism” of process theology but honors God as elevated above the world and distinct from it.72

2. Process theology is opposed to the God of Scripture.

In light of the main tenets of process theology, it is clear that the god of process theology is not the God of Scripture. Nevertheless, many process theologians claim to be Christian and even claim to present a biblically accurate theology. Robert Gnuse claims that process theology more accurately portrays the God of the Hebrew Scriptures than traditional Christian theology. This is because traditional theology, in the judgment of the proponents of process theology, has “dismissed” the apparent sufferings and emotions of God as mere anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms. By contrast, process theology takes them literally.73 But despite these claims, process theology simply does not teach the God of Scripture. Norman Geisler makes this his primary criticism when he writes, “Perhaps we may summarize many of the criticisms of the panentheistic God by noting that He is not the God of the Bible.”74 This will be demonstrated in several ways.

First of all, the God of the Bible is not only immanent with regard to the world, but He is also transcendent. Process theology denies the transcendence of God by its teaching of naturalistic theism, namely, that God is a natural part of the world. Scripture teaches that although God is “not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27), he is still “high and lifted up” as the king of the universe (Is. 6:1). He is exalted above the heavens (Ps. 57:5); indeed, he is “above all” things (Eph. 4:6). Not only is his name excellent in all the earth, but his glory is set above the heavens (Ps. 8:1). The teaching that God is “exalted,” “high and lifted up,” and “above” the world means that God is transcendent with respect to the world. In his essence he is fundamentally and ontologically above the world. As Herman Hoeksema put it, “There is an impassable gulf between the world and his infinitely glorious being. He is God. He is the absolute. He transcends all the existence and all the relations of the creature.”75 This basic truth distinguishes the true God from that of process theology.

Secondly, the God of Scripture is the sole Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is exalted above the universe because He created it. This too is denied by process theology. But Scripture is clear that God alone created all things by the word of His power. The very first verse of the Bible states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and all the rest of Scripture expresses its hearty agreement (e.g., Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3; II Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11). The narrative in Genesis 1 makes clear that this was the beginning of all things because God created them out of nothing. God created time because this was the ultimate and absolute “beginning” of all things. If it was the beginning in an absolute sense, then there was no time “before” the beginning. God could create time because He is outside of time as the eternal one. This is denied by process theology too. But the “in the beginning” of Genesis 1 clearly teaches that God is the eternal Creator of time. God created space too, because the space that makes up the heaven and earth is essential to them. Before the beginning there was no spatial universe as we know it. Process theology’s notion that God is within space and time is biblically untenable. Moreover, Genesis 1 very clearly explains that God created all the realities of the universe: light, water, land, plants, animals, and man. There were no actual entities existing in a chaotic, primeval world, which were then lured to become our universe. God sovereignly created a mature universe ex nihilo in six, twenty-four-hour days. That is Scripture. The rationalistic notion of process theology is completely unbiblical—indeed, anti-biblical.

Thirdly, the perfections of the divine nature revealed in Scripture are denied by process theology. Process theologians deny God’s immutability and impassability. They claim that he can and does change and that he is subject to pain and suffering. They contend that Scripture speaks of God as changing and suffering in his very nature. But this is incorrect. If one claims that the biblical language speaking of God’s repentance describes his very nature, he faces innumerable contradictions. For example, in Malachi 3:6 God says, “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” In James 1:17 the apostle states that with God there is no “variableness” (literally “change”) or “shadow of turning.” And in Deuteronomy 32:4 we read that God is “the Rock, his work is perfect.” In these and other passages of Scripture God is presented as unchanging and perfect within himself. He is pictured as a rock because his work is perfect. If he is perfect in his work, he does not change in respect to it. The god of process theology does change. He is not a rock but a river that is constantly changing and becoming, constantly flowing and altering its course. His work is not perfect, but he is always trying to actualize the greatest possible satisfaction in the world. The God of Scripture is perfect in himself and therefore he does not change or become. He has no need to become because he always is perfect.

Therefore, in spite of process theology’s objections, we must interpret God’s “repenting” and experiencing human emotions as anthropomorphism. God reveals himself in terms that we humans can understand. Hoeksema’s words are instructive here: “We must remember that the eternal and immutable God reveals himself in time, and that which is thus revealed to us in a succession of moments is eternally and unchangeably in the mind of God.”76 But when explaining these expressions we must not simply call them anthropomorphisms. God is revealing something about himself in these things. God is revealing something to us when he speaks of his “hand” and “eyes.” He is revealing something concerning himself when he speaks of himself as “grieving.” Our human faculties and experiences are reflections, vague though they may be, of God’s nature, which allow us to know something about God himself. But the great difference is that God’s nature is unchanging, whereas we creatures constantly change and develop.

Process theologians also deny God’s independence and omnipotence. They claim that God is dependent for his existence and happiness on the world itself. He does not exist purely in and of himself, but his existence is inextricably bound up with the existence of the world. Therefore, he does not have sovereign power over the world either. The world has power to create itself and God. The future of both God and the world is open to an infinite number of possibilities, and God cannot completely control which is actualized. This is a gross deviation from the true God of Scripture. In Acts 17:25 we read that God does not need “anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” In Romans 11:36 the apostle states about God that “of him, and through him, and to him are all things.” The name of God is “Jehovah,” which means I AM THAT I AM. God is not dependent on anything for his existence. He is what he is in himself. Moreover, as the absolutely independent being, God has sovereign and omnipotent power over all things. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. In Psalm 115:3 the psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” God does not lure or try to persuade the world to do what pleases him, but he does what pleases him. He is able to do his will because he is the “Lord God Almighty,” as Scripture so frequently exclaims (e.g., II Cor. 6:18; Rev. 4:8). He has almighty power, so that he is able to do whatever he wills to do. That is the God of Scripture. But that is not the God of process theology.


Because of process theology’s radical departure from the theology of the Bible, it has not made significant inroads into Reformed Christianity. But process theology has made inroads into liberal Protestantism. For example, it has exerted great influence on denominations like the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ. John B. Cobb states that “process theists are more often members of old-line denominations and seek to give content and assurance to the waning beliefs of their members.”77 The beliefs of the members of these churches are waning because they no longer believe the truth of Scripture. They seek rational and scientific explanations for reality. They are nominal Christians who represent modern man, who is lost on the seas of rationalism, scientism, and existentialism. The openness of process theology to the theories of modern science makes it very attractive to many people. In it they see a way to reconcile their “Christian” beliefs and their faith in science. Process theology is an elastic, flexible religion that is not bound by Scripture but receptive to the contributions of science and philosophy, as well as other religions. Accordingly, process theologians are also promoters of religious pluralism and tolerance among the world’s religions.78

But although this is the current situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we must not assume that process theology will never penetrate the realm of conservative Christianity. A number of evangelicals already express that there are positive aspects to process theology, things from which we may learn. Moreover, the virtually ubiquitous acceptance of theistic evolution in Reformed and Presbyterian circles points out that conservative Christians have already opened the door to the ultimate authority of science and reason. Today theistic evolution and open theism are sinking their roots even more deeply into the soil of Protestant evangelical Christianity. If Reformed and Presbyterian churches do not repent of this despicable abandonment of the faith, they will eventually embrace process theology. Like the faithless Israelites of old, they will forsake Jehovah God and follow after the gods of the heathen. We have a high calling to maintain the truth of Scripture over against this terrible apostasy. May God be gracious to us that we may be faithful unto the end.


1. Norman Geisler, “Process Theology,” Tensions in Contemporary Theology, Ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Alan F. Johnson (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 280.

2. David Ray Griffin, “Process Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Ed. Erwin Fahlbusch, et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), pp. 364-369.

3. Donald W. Sherburne, ed., A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), p. 1. Most of my references to Whitehead’s thought will be from this book. Whitehead’s Process and Reality is highly dense, unorganized, and difficult to understand. But this book by Sherburne intends to give access to Process and Reality by organizing the main topics and summarizing them using Whitehead’s own words.

4. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 179.

5. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 363.

6. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 363.

7. Alan Gragg, Makers of the Modern Theological Mind: Charles Hartshorne, Ed. Bob E. Patterson (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1973), p. 11ff.

8. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 13.

9. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 16.

10. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 73.

11. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 14. Alan Gragg wrote this book in the early 1970s, when process thought was beginning to gain a greater following. The theological and religious side of it was also becoming more influential, so that Gragg could remark that it was one of the most “viable options on the American scene.”

12. Interestingly, process theology has been popular among a number of Jewish Rabbi theologians, especially those of “Conservative Judaism,” a modern form of Judaism with varying ideas about the nature of God.

13 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay on Cosmology, Corrected Edition (New York: The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., 1978), p. 18.

14. A “feeling” or “prehension” is a “process of appropriation of a particular element.” They are “activities” which make up each actual entity. They may be “positive,” in that they appropriate something from another actual entity; or “negative,” in that they exclude something from another actual entity. The activity of prehension is what makes an actual entity what it is: it is a prehending thing (Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 8).

15. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 9.

16. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 230.

17. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 20.

18. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 70.

19. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 14.

20. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 28.

21. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 244.

22. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, pp. 365-366.

23. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 28.

24. David Ray Griffin, “Process Theology and the Christian Good News: A Response to Classical Free Will Theism,” Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Free Will Theists, Ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), p. 6.

25. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 179.

26. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 91.

27. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, pp. 365-367.

28. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 93.

29. Gragg, Hartshorne, pp. 17-18.

30. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 6.

31. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 30.

32. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 6.

33. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 83.

34. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 180.

35. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 179.

36. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 179.

37. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 181.

38. Sherburne, Key to Whitehead, p. 227.

39. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 365; Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 84.

40. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 84.

41. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 84.

42. Gragg, Hartshorne, pp. 84-85.

43. John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 65.

44. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 6.

45. Cobb and Griffin, PT: Intro, p. 53.

46. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 30.

47. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 30.

48. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 366.

49. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 366.

50. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 29.

51. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 95 (author’s own italics).

52. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 97.

53. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 367.

54. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 81.

55. Robert K. Gnuse, The Old Testament and Process Theology (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000), p. 4.

56. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 8.

57. And they accuse traditional theism of being based on worldly philosophy? [sic!]

58. Cobb and Griffin, PT: Intro, p. 109.

59. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 368.

60. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 26.

61. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 26.

62. Cobb and Griffin, PT: Intro, p. 109.

63. Griffin, “PT,” Adequate God, p. 26.

64. Geisler, “PT,” Tensions, p. 267.

65. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, p. 364.

66. Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: University Press, 1929), pp. 64-65.

67. Whitehead, Function, p. 65.

68. Gragg, Hartshorne, p. 19.

69. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), Trans. John Vriend, Ed. John Bolt, p. 313.

70. Bavinck, RD, pp. 285-286.

71. Bavinck, RD, pp. 353-354.

72. Bavinck, RD, p. 354.

73. Gnuse, Old Testament, p. 4.

74. Geisler, “PT,” Tensions, p. 280.

75. Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2004), p. 70.

76. Hoeksema, RD, p. 110.

77. John B. Cobb, Jr., “Introduction,” Adequate God, p. xiv.

78. Griffin, “Process Theology,” Encyclopedia, pp. 366-367.



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