Item description for Process Theology: A Basic Introduction by C. Robert Mesle & Robert Mesle...
Overview "Mesle shows how powerfully process thought expresses the interconnectedness of all things, including the interrelationship between God and the world. He makes clear-cut distinctions between traditional theism and process theism, particularly the contrasting concepts of divine power."
Publishers Description Where is God when a child runs in front of a car? This primer introduces the reader to a new way of understanding God that offers us a more meaningful and clearer vision of God and the world we live in.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Process Theology: A Basic Introduction?
A Good Read of a Simplistic Worldview Nov 8, 2006
This book is well written and easy to grasp. It will connect on an emotional level. It is likely the book for you if you meet the following: 1)You have a general idea that God is all about love; 2)You have thought enough about the world and God to be concerned about evil and suffering and fairness; and, 3) you haven't really thought critically about the world and God. It may seem like I am being unduly critical in my comments, but Mesle's book is built around a crude caricature of Christianity that he can't help but defeat in his arguments. He doesn't even have to try hard and can put together some elegant prose to defend his position. John Cobb's final chapter doesn't add or subtract from the thesis of the book.
Mesle doesn't even get past the introduction without making claims that traditional Christianity has no answer about how God acts (p 4) and must conclude that gross evils are good (p 5). These are claims that just don't stand up to reasonable challenge from mainstream Christian thought. The idea that God doesn't suffer and so doesn't ultimately love (p 29) is mindboggling. There is a technical sense historically that one can state this, but it is not a valid practical claim for much of "traditional" theism in which God sent his "suffering servant" Son to mankind out of love. (e.g. He takes Patripassianism out of the historical context of the debate on p 26.)
Mesle assumes a strict Calvinism (p 35+), and a misapplied one at that, to make an indifferent, inflexible Christian god that makes Mesle's brand of process naturalism (theology) seem not just like fresh air, but the only sane alternative. Greek philsophy did influence Christianity, but to pick all the bad points of Greek influence and assume that 20th century process philosophy is somehow intrinsicly better without any defense is an assertion without merit. Mesle even uses John Hick (p 73), who is decried by most mainstream Christians rightly as a non-Christian pluralist, as an example of the problem with traditional Christianity. Mesle calls the mysteries of human-divine interaction in Jesus a well known "blatant contradiction" (p 105) although that is blatantly false if one uses the traditional understanding. Mesle asserts, without defense, that the process god can assure ultimate victory of good over evil (p 78) when much of his argument for process thought doesn't make that possible. That is a serious challenge to process theology and naturalism. To be charitable perhaps Mesle thinks that no one who reads his "Basic Introduction" will have that question.
Although Christianity deserves much criticism over it's history for abuse of power, Mesle seems to ignore the fact that 2000 years ago the ideas of compassion and mercy were viewed as character flaws in the dominant Western culture. He ignores the fact that much of the human rights movements were driven most effectively by those of a theistic worldview. The examples go on and on.
One star is merited in my ranking because Mesle is very good in stating his position. The book conveys that he is sincere in his belief and he feels the pains of the world. He has consulted the Bible and is clever enough to select particular passages out of the Bible to support his position. I can't go beyond one star, although that is extreme, because I have trouble thinking this book is an honest appraisal versus one that is trying to destroy the theistic God at all costs.
Now to help the reader, I must suggest something better if I am going to be this critical. Even though I don't fully agree with the John Frame's conclusions, I suggest for dramatic contrast Frame's "No Other God." This book takes on the challenge of open, and process, theism. It tries to portray, legitimately, the arguments of both sides. It requires the reader to be someone who can think critically about God, man, and the world. However, I don't think that is the intended audience for Mesle.
The "Cliffs Notes" to Process Theism Oct 31, 2005
I first discovered process theism as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University. I had run into some problems with the classical view of God and it just didn't make sense anymore. I had to take a break from it and see what else was out there.
Then I discovered this book. It offers a more plausible view of God, in my view, and offers reasons for why that's the case. Mesle contrasts the "classical" view of God (steeped in a Greek metaphysics) with a "process" view of God (influenced by not by the static worldview of the Greeks but by the dynamic/changing world shown to us by physics and biology). He also takes us through biblical criticism and the horrors of the 20th century, showing us how the God of process theism deals with these questions better than the classical God does.
This book is for those coming to process theism for the first time. If you're a Christian but can't believe in the classical God anymore--or if you're a skeptic but would like see a plausible view of God spelled out in an easy-to-understand way, this book is for you. Mesle takes otherwise difficult concepts and breaks them down into mentally digestible pieces. If you're new to process theism, or just want a thorough review of its basic concepts, start here, then move onto "A Process Perspective" by John B. Cobb.
Also recommended: The Gospel of Arnie
God according to Mesle Jul 26, 2005
The title of the book should have been Process Theology according to Mesle, since in his own words "it describes the form of process theism that makes the most sense to me." Not being a theologian I cannot judge if this is an accurate description of process theology or not, although it does appear that there do exist conflicting views, one of which is appended at the end of the book.
Technically, the book is a pleasure to read. It uses words and syntax that will not scare away even a high-schooler and breaks the subject matter into little sections and short chapters so that the reader can easily assimilate it. (A very minor annoyance is that occasionally the same idea is repeated a couple of sentences apart, as at the top of p. 63. An editor should have caught these.) As one turns the pages in the first two parts of the book the author's God is slowly defined and described: * God has always existed and will always exist, and the world has also existed in some form (49). * God is perfectly loving (15). * God experiences everything that every human, animal, plant, matter, even electrons experience(2, 50). * God by himself cannot do anything, but tries to persuade us (and everything else in the world) to do good; he cannot force us to do his bidding (20). * God knows everything that can be known at a particular time, but he does not know the future since all creation has free will. Thus God's knowledge changes with time (50). * The universe is the becoming of events that are self-creating, something which requires freedom, so nothing is preordained. * God's guidance of evolution is limited to prompting radiation particles to move in the direction that might result in more favorable mutations.
In the third part of the book, the author extols the advantages of process theology compared to traditional Judeo-Christianity. Actually he enumerates many of the drawbacks found in classical Judaism and Christianity, such as acceptance of slaves, divine right of rulers, favoritism for the rich and powerful, acceptance of the oppression of the poor and weak, etc. (Some of these, of course, were against Jesus' teachings, but are inherent in the teachings of Paul and of the Fathers.) Even more important, since Mesle's God is not omnipotent he cannot be blamed for the existence of evil in the world, or be required to perform miracles.
The two chapters of the book are intended to differentiate Mesle's Process Theology, which he now calls Process Naturalism, from the ideas of Tillich, Whitehead, Wieman, Hartshorne, and John B. Cobb Jr. Mesle wrote one chapter and Cobb another, but the terminology is not consistent either between these two chapters or with the rest of the book. Unfortunately this part does not share either the clarity or the simplicity of the rest of the book. Perhaps it is not possible to compress all the material in twenty pages and end with a readable account, especially when it is handled by two different authors who do not see eye to eye in what they believe.
I gave Mesle's book five stars because I think that he accomplished well what he had set out to do. The content of his ideas, however, is another matter. Why should one believe his theory? True, I personally do prefer his non-being god to the anthropomorphic god of Judeo-Christianity (although defining god as love turns god into an emotion, something I find difficult to comprehend and does not fit with the rest of his discussion). That it sounds reasonable is no justification. Many things may be reasonable but not true. Where did his ideas originate? Was he inspired directly by God as prophets maintained in the old days? Were they relayed through prophets as most major religions claim? Did he reach his conclusions after closely examining the universe, as a scientist-type person might have preferred? None of the above. My guess is that he just sat down and wrote about the kind of God that he would be most comfortable with.
(The writer is the author of Christianity without Fairy Tales: When Science and Religion Merge.)
A good starting point May 23, 2005
One of the hallmarks of process theology, and the process philosophy that underpins it, is that it views all of actual reality as being in process, either becoming or decaying (which is, in fact, becoming something else), but that there is no static 'thing', that actual entities are in fact always in flux -- this is in keeping with modern science, philosophy, and culture, but also makes a sort of timeless sense. There are, to be sure, unchanging principles, but to be actual, to be real, is to be in process.
The two primary philosophical leaders of process theology are Alfred North Whitehead (protege of Bertrand Russell) and Charles Hartshorne; Mesle and Cobb discuss their work, along with the work of other theologians and philosophers, as they develop the topics theologically.
As things are in process, they are also in relationship with each other. There is an interdepence of all things, and things are relative to each other in creation -- here it is worth noting that Whitehead did extensive work with Einstein's theory of relativity. Creativity is of primary importance, and the issue of novelty and unique character is very important for process. God is involved in all things, at every stage, but not in a controlling manner, but rather as a persuasive element, pulling all of creation toward God's ends, but permitting continued freedom of action within the current framework of time and history.
It is probably beyond saying that process does not subscribe to any particular set of denominational doctrines or dogmas -- process ideas can inform and shape, and in turn be influenced by, the direct experiences and religious sentiments of people. An understanding of God in action must be gained through specific experiences, but none of these should cloud the initial aim of God, which is the enjoyment of all things (enjoyment here being different from a purely hedonist enjoyment) by all creation.
Process theology sees Jesus as the incarnation of God that expresses the creative love of God and the creative transformation that is possible for all of us. Jesus is not a mere symbol, nor some otherworldly figure simply to be worshipped or feared -- interestingly, while the majority of people who wear WWJD bracelets and the like might be suspicious of process theology, in fact they are tapping into one of the key components of process -- that Jesus serves as a model to help us create the future. This leads quickly to the eschatological idea that we help to create the realm of God, and as such we must have a care for the ecology, the politics, the economy and all else that concerns humanity and humankind's better existence in the world.
Process ecclesiology challenges the churches to explore both their history and their potential for being agents of transformation in the world. Cobb describes the churches today as having suffered a loss of nerve, being unable to participate in the creative advance of society -- ironically, they describe the history of the church in medieval, Reformation and Counter-Reformation times as being more creative and willing to engage society and the critical thought of the day than they are at present. This must change, particularly in a world that still suffers from a precarious situation so far as survival is concerned.
John Cobb taught at Claremont, which has of late become the primary centre for process theology. C. Robert Mesle teaches at Graceland, and is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern, also places with strong process credentials. Both are authors collaboratively and individually of other works on process theology. Mesle's work is one of the more accessible introductions to the general topic of process theology - it does presume some philosophical underpinnings, but keeps this to a relative minimum.
Quoting Robert McAfee Brown, Mesle wrote 'Any philosophy or theology I do must put "the welfare of children above the niceties of metaphysics. Any theology that provides for creative growth of children will make it satisfactorily on all other scores." ' This value is apparent in much of his text.
It is a good overview of the subject, brief but comprehensive, engaging for the most part, and well worth investigation by anyone interested in the connections between theology and philosophy, theology and science, theology and culture, and general twentieth century theological thought.
I Disagree With the Majority of These Reviews May 19, 2005
I've just returned from a luncheon with 5 pastors representing 4 differing theological beliefs. We discussed this book and came to the consensus:
1. Process theology is partially an attempt to wrestle with the old question as to how an all-powerful loving God can allow terrible things to happen. This is a valid question.
2. This particular book makes too strong of assertions to be helpful to persons without a solid understanding of theology and critical thinking. It should never be used in a Sunday school class or small group.
3. This particular book does not build a strong enough foundation for the assertions made by the author. The author states opinions and builds a theology from those. This opens the door for circular logic. This builds a theology of straw. It should be expanded and deepened before it will be useful for serious study.
4. The inclusion of a chapter by John B. Cobb, Jr. lends some legitimacy to the work, but while Cobb's theology is similar on the surface, his results are significantly different. All process theology is not the same.
5. The author often refers to "traditional theology" yet of the four theological systems represented in our discussion, none of them fit into the author's mold. Readers should be aware that there is no "one size fits all" Protestant theology.
Now, that I've offered a collective review let me make a suggestion. The controversial book, GOD OF THE POSSIBLE by Gregory A. Boyd wrestles with some of the same issues presented in this book in a much more thought provoking way. If you are challenged (or threatened) by the ideas this book wrestles with, read Boyd's book. Warning: Boyd's book is not safe - it could be threatening!