God in Man’s Image: Process and Secular Theology

Theological work faces a challenge in that only the new born soul that Jesus told Nicodemus of can really grasp the truth (John 3:1-21, NIV). All souls that have not been reborn “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Process and Secular theology are then working to bridge a gap that cannot be bridged except by revelation. This is why Barth was so adamant about the need for revelation for anything to be known of God, and also why even though the Process and Secular theologian set out to build on a framework of a transcendent and immanent God, they mostly ended up with significant emphases on the immanence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich were the theologians behind Process and Secular theology. Tillich was at least as influential a figure on the stage of theology as Karl Barth, and in America, Tillich was even more influential than Barth (Grenz, Olson, 1992).  Process theology at its core is an attempt to meld metaphysics and science using Christianesque theology, and secular theology was about trying to make theology useful to the modern culture.  Bonhoeffer and Tillich, in an attempt to offer a rebuttal to the Neo-Orthodoxy of Barth, ended up making secular theology which places man at the center of existence and makes man independent of God, or growing to independence of God; and Process theology that ends up making God “not a separate self-sufficient being”  but rather dependant on His own creation to recognize his existence.

Bonhoeffer was a German theologian that preached action. He thought that the church should be moving on what they believed. He demonstrated his commitment to this idea by giving his life in open resistance to Hitler’s Third Reich. Bonhoeffer was concerned with the application of theology and this application dominated a lot of his theological writing.

Unlike Bonhoeffer who stayed to fight, Tillich escaped Nazi Germany to teach and work in the U.S. at Columbia University. Tillich centered much of his theological writing around three points: “Heteronomy”, “Theonomy” and “Autonomy” (Hordern, 2002, pp. 170-171). In Tillich’s writings Heteronomy, the teaching that God is the supreme law giver, leads naturally to rebellion and Autonomy, this must be balanced with Theonomy which is the natural understanding of the Law inherent in man (Hordern, 2002). Process theology was birthed out of Tillich’s ontological philosophical correlation theology.

Process theology is like open theology in that it says God is a “participant” in the temporal process (Hordern, 2002, p. 131). It is also like Molinism in that it would say God sees all future possibilities and “lures” the created down the best path (Hordern, 2002, p. 137). The view of God that appears here is a very immanent one. In this view God is not a sovereign creator self- sufficient and free to give grace but rather a being that needs free creatures to love him. There are two fallacies in Process theology about God that needs to be addressed and they really can be addressed from a logical or biblical standpoint. From the biblical standpoint God made it very clear that He is a personal being that has existed just fine forever without man. From the logical standpoint, process theology only works if God created using the evolutionary method and this is why Tillich did not allow for the Genesis account to be taken literally (Grenz, Olson, 1992). If God created using the Evolutionary method then all God did was start a Process, however, since there is more than reasonable evidence for creation as given in the Genesis account, it would be illogical to postulate the process. If the creation account in Genesis took place EX nihilo (out of nothing) then the God of Process theology is man’s imagination.

Secular theology was not like process theology in that it does not rely on scientific agreement. In Secular theology the question to be answered is ‘why man’. Secular theology did come to several of the same conclusions that Process theology did in that man was created with the ability to reason the truth. Tillich said that theology is dead without Philosophy and Bonhoeffer said that theology is dead without actions. Secular theology is fundamentally based on how theology can make a better society. This means that Secular theology puts God in very nearly the same role that Process theology does. In both theologies the outcome is based on man’s role. In Process theology God created because he needed man and Secular theology God created so man could learn to not need him. Obviously the biblical evidence that God created man to redeem simply puts the brakes on Secular theology’s definition of God as a person working inside time to void being needed.

Both Bonhoeffer and Tillich were brilliant men with much to say worth reading, however where they fell short was the same place that Process and Secular Theology falls short and why both are classified as liberal theologies. They believed that reason could lead to man understanding God. The problem they faced, and the bridge that cannot be built, is that fallen man will have fallen reason and only a redeemed and reborn mind will know the things of God by revelation.

 

 

References

Grenz, S. J., & Olson, R. E. (1992). 20th-century theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Hordern, W. (2002). A layman’s guide to Protestant theology (Rev.ed.). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

 

 

Posted in Blog, Theology.