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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik
Gott im Werden. Die Prozesstheologie Charles Hartshornes
Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet 2013. 320 S. = ratio fidei, 50. Kart. EUR 39,95. ISBN 978-3-7917-2495-9.
Gott im Werden. Die Prozesstheologie Charles Hartshornes by Julia Enxing provides a robust defense of Charles Hartshorne’s neoclassical theological position against classical theism. The manuscript is divided into five chapters, which cover respectively Hartshorne’s life and influences, the question of the perfection of God in process theology, Hartshorne’s correspondence with the personalist Edgar Brightman, the social concept of God, and a final chapter comparing Hartshorne’s process theology with the theological movement called open theism.
The introduction to the book begins with the seemingly standard problem of evil argument trotted out from time to time by process theologians, but E.’s discussion of why God couldn’t uni-laterally intervene in a particular tragedy becomes something different from this often-used claim – it transforms into a discussion of divine power alongside the human experience of reality. Her treatment of the problem of evil, therefore, serves as a helpful and enticing entry point for subsequent chapters on the differences be-tween Hartshorne’s process theology and classical conceptions of God. Overall, the strengths of this book lay in its inclusion of two important, yet often overlooked, connections to Hartshorne’s work – personalism and open theism. Moreover, E. manages to make Hartshorne’s work accessible to non-specialists or to those who might come from classical theological backgrounds but possess an interest in or curiosity about the process theology of Charles Hartshorne.
The first chapter of Gott im Werden focuses on the biographical details of Hartshorne’s life, including his upbringing and family influences, his time at Harvard University, and his philosophical influences. Of note in this chapter, E. delineates Hartshorne’s connections to Germany through his initial study trip as a student from 1923–1925 and his second stay as a guest lecturer in 1948–1949. She also illustrates the impact of both Alfred North Whitehead and Charles S. Peirce on Hartshorne’s metaphysical thought, and she does so without becoming entangled in vocabulary only familiar to process specialists.
Both of the chapters focused specifically on comparing or de-fending Hartshorne’s work against classical theism provide in-depth discussions of the most salient theological themes. Chapter two deals with what kind of perfection in God Hartshorne can maintain by detailing not merely absolute, but absolute and rela-tive aspects of God. Additionally (and significantly), this chapter introduces the dipolar concept of God that has become so central to process thought. The fourth chapter then is where E. more fully outlines Hartshorne’s God concept and defends it against criticism by classical theists. Again, her scholarship is clear, concise and well organized. Interestingly, the bulk of the second half of the chapter is dedicated to an explication of Hartshorne’s understanding of life after death, or essential/objective immortality. This is an often-critiqued aspect of process theology that deserves some serious discussion, and I was pleased to see E. deal with it so thoroughly by citing numerous process theologians outside of Hartshorne and examining various critiques of the notion.
The third chapter, nestled between the chapters on the perfec-tion of God and Hartshorne’s God concept, provides an overview of the correspondence between Charles Hartshorne and Edgar S. Brightman, one of the leading personalists at Boston University between 1919 and 1953. In teasing out the themes of their correspondence, E., drawing on the work of Randall Auxier and Mark Davies, examines Hartshorne’s social, relational conception of God alongside the personalist view of God as a person. Ultimately, despite the fact that Hartshorne himself concludes from his long-running correspondence with Brightman that he cannot label himself a personalist, E. claims, rightly in my estimation, that an understanding of Hartshorne as a personalist could be defended, based mainly on their shared understanding of God as relational person. Obviously E. also lays out a number of stark differences be-tween the two schools that likely cannot be overcome for meta-physical reasons, but her claim here is significant and will hope-fully spark further dialogue between personalists and processthinkers.
In her chapter on the differences between process theology (from a Hartshornian vein) and open theism, she makes clear that the major distinctions come down to metaphysical or ontological differences. Whereas process theology builds a distinct concept of God from the metaphysics of Whitehead and Hartshorne and calls itself a »natural theology,« open theism’s priority remains on being a »biblical« theology with philosophical differences emerging from the primarily biblical perspective. The chapter itself begins with a brief history of the major thinkers and contributors to open theism and outlines the ways in which the rest of the protestant evan-gelical theological group in the United States has cast open theism aside as heretical. E. then provides a point-by-point analysis of the differences between open theism, classical theism and process theology, in much the same way she did with Hartshorne’s social conception of God in the prior chapter.
In this chapter dealing with open theism (and other places throughout the book) E. tends to write about process theology as though it is a single, well-defined set of philosophical and theo-logical views. In some ways this is true, as process theology has developed over time into a recognizable school of thought. However, during the course of its development it has also evolved in a number of different directions, all of which can rightly be termed process theology (or theologies), while no single direction can lay claim to the name by itself. It is expedient and necessary to con-tinue using the moniker of »process theology« to describe the school, but I would urge E. and others to make clear to readers that one cannot pretend to encompass all forms of process theology with the term. – The closing comments to the manuscript demonstrate E.’s familiarity with the larger scope of process theology (or theologies) as she discusses several further research fields to which process thought can and has contributed something unique. She traces the theological strands of process in political theology, femi-nist theology, ethics, theodicy, intercultural theology, etc. While Gott im Werden provides a rigorous explication of Hartshorne’s process theology, particularly important for German scholars, I will be much interested in reading E.’s creative pursuit of these themes in future writings.
Overall, Gott im Werden stands out as one of only a few books published in German on the process theology of Charles Harts-horne, and E. has done an outstanding job of writing the book in such a way that it can be accessible to and useful for anyone with a classical or process theological background. Her report of Hartshorne’s thought is thorough and her chapters on personalism and open theism are insightful and invite further dialogue.