Polkinghorne is often accused of accepting and promoting Process Theology (PT). This theology, initially developed by Alfred Whitehead in the early 20th century, proposes that God is neither omnipotent nor directly active in his creation. To most Evangelicals, PT is heretical as its view of God can not be reconciled with the God revealed in scripture. I agree that PT is unacceptable but I strongly disagree that Polkinghorne subscribes to PT. Anyone who believes otherwise has badly misunderstood what he is saying.
PT rejects the possibility of an omnipotent God. To fulfill his divine purpose, God’s power is limited to persuasion. The PT divinity is a cajoling, pleading supplicant desperately trying to save his creation from itself. Thus the problem of theodicy is resolved but only by rejecting the God of the resurrection, the God who can, and will, “make all things new”. But this impotent God is not the God that Polkinghorne describes. Here is what he says in Science and Christian Belief, page 81
God remains omnipotent in the sense that he can do whatever he wills, but it is not in accordance with his will and nature to insist on total control.The view that Polkinghorne describes is clearly not the PT God; it is in fact the God revealed in Jesus Christ who: "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2: 7, 8) God’s Action
PT insists that either God has no power to intervene in creation, or is morally obligated not to intervene. After all, if you intervene once, why not intervene all the time to prevent evil? But the God of the Bible is certainly a God of action, something that Polkinghorne strongly affirms.
Christian theology cannot do without a God who acts in the world by more than simply keeping it in being, for it looks to the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead. Science and Providence, page 43Given the insights of modern science, we must indeed rethink and rearticulate our view of divine action; the old view of a constantly intervening divinity is inadequate. At best, it reduces God to a slightly inept divine tinkerer, at worst it implies he is some sort of cosmic tyrant. But it is not necessary to swing so far towards PT. As Polkinghorne states in Science and Christian Belief, page 80
One is trying to steer a path between the unrelaxing grip of a Cosmic Tyrant and the impotence or indifference of a Deistic Spectator. I believe process theology to be impaled on the impotent branch of the horn of the dilemma.
The dilemma is real - articulating a model for divine action is indeed difficult. However, I believe Polkinghorne’s ideas are some of the most helpful ones we have. For Evangelicals to accuse him of being a Process Theologian because of God’s self imposed limits on divine action is grossly unfair and unreasonable, just as unfair and unreasonable as accusing him of being a hyper-Fundamentalist because of his insistence that God can act, has acted, does act, and will continue to act in order to fulfill his divine purpose. Other Polkinghorne Quotes: [Introduction] [Previous] [Next]