Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Process Theology of Cobb & Bracken (pt.4)

[This is the last post, #4 in a series - click here for post #1; post #2; or post #3. For a simple introduction to process theology, check out my older post on the topic.  This series of posts goes a lot deeper than that one.]


Joseph Bracken diverges from John Cobb perhaps most significantly in his understanding of creativity, arguing that there is a logical problem with the idea that God creates but is also a creature of creativity. This seems to make creativity more ultimate than God, so Bracken relocates creativity within God rather than independent of God. Creativity is the inner nature or principle of God’s existence and activity. Its activity in the world is God’s free gift. This allows Bracken to maintain creation ex nihilo, and the doctrine of the Trinity: “if creativity constitutes the inner nature or essence of God, then God is not just one person, but three persons making up a divine community.” With social trinitarians, Bracken sees the triune life as dynamic, communitarian, and ordering the grain of the cosmos in analogous fashion. With process theologians, he sees the world as participating in and affecting the life of God. Through the initial aims, God provides freedom, novelty, and lures every occasion towards an open future. With Cobb, Bracken agrees that every occasion has some amount of real freedom, and that ‘sin’ is misused creativity (or deviation from the initial aims). This provides a basis for Bracken’s Christology: as the ‘Son’, Jesus always conformed his subjective aim in the power of the Spirit to the initial aims provided by the ‘Father’, experiencing a unique human freedom-in-community. The initial aims are always a lure to benefit the larger community. Recognizing this radical interdependence often leads to conflict with the powers that be, as seen in Jesus’ death on the cross. The Incarnation strategically provided in history “new energy and direction to the collective power of good in the world” to overcome the increasing collective power of evil (‘original sin’).

Bracken also modifies Whitehead’s societies with his notion of ‘fields of activity.’ To avoid atomism, societies must have some reality proper to themselves, so Bracken introduces semi-permanent fields of activity as an alternative. Fields are generated when actual occasions dynamically interact to co-create a common space. The world is one enormous field of activity with hierarchically structured and overlapping subfields. The Trinity is even a field of activity constituted by the perfect community of each person (who are subfields), containing the world within itself (the ‘divine matrix’) and providing it with an ordering trinitarian pattern. The kingdom of God is the overall field co-created between God and creation, more or less realized on earth based on the world’s conformity to the pattern of the trinitarian life. Bracken sees the church as a key subfield of activity within the kingdom, along with other religious communities. The world’s religions can and do contribute to what Christians call the kingdom of God, and Eastern views of Ultimate Reality should remind theists that the Godhead is also transpersonal (somewhat similar to Cobb’s sense of pluralism).

Lastly, I want to concentrate on Bracken’s eschatology because he goes far beyond Cobb in this area. While Cobb is satisfied with objective immortality, Bracken argues for ‘resurrection’ with a process metaphysic. Because the world exists within the divine field of activity, it always contributes to it and is preserved within it (objective immorality). While we are not fully aware of our dynamic existence within God, at the moment of death we receive an initial aim to become fully conscious of this truth (subjective immortality). We must be willing to take responsibility for our life as we then see it. This experience of ‘judgment’ will lead to eternal salvation if we accept responsibility. Our acceptance brings full communion within the trinitarian life (‘heaven’), but our refusal leads to self-imposed isolation within God (‘hell’). So the ‘Last Judgment’ happens all the time, not at any mysterious end of time. The ‘resurrection’ of bodies is possible because they are really fields maintaining a fixed pattern of relations among the body parts – they are not as ‘material’ as we sense. In heaven, this pattern of relations that governed our bodies from conception onwards is incorporated into the divine field, transformed, and we are reunited with it. In fact, all of creation is somehow resurrected into God.

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