|(Process eschatology is definitely not like this!)|
|Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet?|
|Liberal vs. Orthodox Jesus Scholar|
Differing from Sanders, Wright, and the tradition, Marcus Borg argues that Jesus did not hold to apocalyptic expectations: no second coming or supernatural intervention by God. According to Borg, apocalyptic eschatology was probably affirmed by Paul and the early church, but not by Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, he places Jesus more firmly within the Jewish prophetic tradition, holding to a “participatory eschatology”: humans are called to participate in the ongoing work of God in history in hopeful anticipation of the future ‘kingdom of God’, an age of global justice and peace that has nothing to do with a supernatural intervention. Borg claims that although Jesus likely believed in life after death, this was not central to his gospel. It is this perspective on eschatology that Christian process theologians can most fully endorse (I should note that Cobb wrote most of his work all the way through the 90s with a view more like that of E.P. Sanders. But he now finds Borg more persuasive).
|Alfred North Whitehead|
Process philosophy views nature as made up of actual occasions of experience. As Whitehead writes, “The actual temporal world can be analysed into a multiplicity of occasions of actualization. These are the primary actual units of which the temporal world is composed…each is a microcosm representing in itself the entire all-inclusive universe.” Process theologians thus affirm a kind of relational atomism in which momentary actual occasions are constituted by their relations as experiencing subjects and then perish to become an object for new becoming occasions. Everything that exists is ultimately made up of actual occasions, while the things we normally experience with our senses that endure through time (e.g., a dog, chair, mountain, etc.) are groupings of occasions – what Whitehead called “societies.” As such, material bodies and living souls are in fact different kinds of interrelated societies of actual occasions. Souls are not a special kind of substance, as much traditional theology affirmed, but an especially complex part of nature.
|John B. Cobb, Jr.|
For process theologians, the primary problem of existence to be overcome is not death but meaninglessness due to the perpetual perishing of occasions. Without some ground of permanence, our accomplishments would finally seem to be insignificant. It is ultimately God who is this ground of meaning, since process theologians see God as not only creative as the source of novelty but responsive to the world, eternally preserving every occasion that has ever existed in her own nature. As Mesle explains, “God shares the experience of becoming of the entire universe, and synthesizes it into God’s own, infinitely vast and complex experience.” This means that occasions are given objective (not subjective) immortality in the divine life, forever preserved in their immediacy and woven into an ideal and growing harmony. As Whitehead wrote, this is the kingdom of heaven, which “is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good.” As such, the ultimate eschatological 'fact' is the redemption of all things in God. Suchocki is one of the few process theologians to argue that this is subjective not just objective immortality.
Beyond the hope for subjective life after death of the soul and the objective redemption of creation (soul and body) in God, there is also an emphasis on historical eschatology in process thought that coheres with Borg’s view of Jesus. In cosmic history, there is no end to the process of creation or need for a final new creation, as in traditional eschatologies. The future is radically open, and God continuously creates by luring the world toward greater richness of experience and complexity. As Borg argued, this means that Christian eschatological hope in history takes the form of participation: we are co-creators with God for the future kingdom or “commonwealth." As we respond more positively to God’s lure, we participate in God’s ongoing work for justice and shalom in creation. Cobb and Griffin conclude, “There is no divine action apart from creaturely action, but equally the divine action is the principle of hope in the creaturely action…Trusting God is not assurance that whatever we do will work out well. It is instead confidence that God’s call is wise and good.”