Theology refers to the rational and systematic study of religion and the factors that influence religion. There are two schools of thought that aptly define theology; process theology and secular theology. Different theologians have based their philosophies on either of these two categories. This paper will address the connection between process theology and the thoughts of theologian Paul Tillich. Additionally, the paper will discuss secular theology and the relation it has with the philosophy of Bonhoeffer. Finally, the paper will discuss the validity of the views on God as presented in process theology and secular theology.
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Process theology, refers to the school of thought that was developed by Alfred North Whitehead. It is therefore greatly influenced by his philosophy of metaphysical processes. Process theology considers God to be fully involved in temporal processes. Additionally, the theory supposes that God is affected by such temporal processes. The traditional notion of theism differs from process theory in several ways. First it suggests that God is eternal and unaffected by temporal processes (non-temporal). It also suggests that God is immutable (does not change), impassable and not affected by temporal processes. However, process theory does not completely deny the fact that God possesses aspects of immutability and impassibility. However, it does not concur with the classical view that suggests the temporality and mutability of God (Grenz and Olson 1993).
Paul Tillich, a Christian existentialist philosopher expresses two sentiments about the nature of God. To begin with, Tillich suggests that God is a ‘being’ and that God is the ultimate concern for man. Tillich views the ultimate concern as a means of describing the greatest commandment of all; “the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.” According to him, this commandment requires the complete devotion and dedication of man to God.
Secular theology is a theological school of thought that combines both theology and secularism. It goes against the idea that holiness can only be attained through the church. It suggests that people can attain holiness through other avenues that are worldly and have nothing to do with the church. It is advanced by several theological philosophers such as John Shelby Spong, Soren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Secular theology supports a nuanced view of the scripture rather than the blatant biblical literalism proposed by the church. However, it argues that the nuanced approach be accompanied by compassion and scholarship which are consistent with Christian values and an understanding of the universe. Secular theology argues that it is no longer credible to consider theism as a valid means of conceiving the nature of God. Furthermore, it denounces the idea of a personal God. It however accepts Christology, Jesus Christ and eschatology as myths in Christianity, however, without a historical basis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the major secular theologians, argued that, “the world had come of age” and that it was time for, ‘a religion less Christianity.’ In relation to secular theology, such ideas suggested the end of pious religiousness. Pious, theological words could no longer be used to inform people about everything. Therefore, according to Bonhoeffer, the task at hand was to lead a Christ-like life, as if God did not exist (Hordern, 2002).
Secular theology supposes the inexistence of the supernatural while process theology supposes the existence of the metaphysical. Proponents of process theology believe in the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent nature of God. However, according to secular theologians, the idea of God is untenable. Due to the lack of a common ground between the two schools of thought, the debate on the nature and existence of God continues to rage on.
Grenz, S. J., & Olson, R. E. (1993). 20th-Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hordern, W. E. (2002). A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub.