C. Robert MESLE: Process Theology: A Basic Introduction. With a Concluding Chapter by John B. Cobb, Jr. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1993, 2001, Pp. x + 148.
Reviewed by Joseph A. Bracken, S.J., Xavier University, CINCINNATI, Ohio

Robert Mesle is professor of philosophy and religion at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. In a down-to-earth conversational style of writing, he introduces readers (in the first place, undergraduates in his own philosophy and religion classes) to the world view of Alfred North Whitehead, one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century but also one of the most difficult to understand without the guidance of a master teacher like Mesle. At the same time, Mesle's conversational approach occasionally runs the risk of oversimplifying rather complex issues, above all, in dealing with classical theology on those same issues.

Part I subtitled "A God Worthy of Worship" discusses whether God should be worshiped because God is all-loving or all-powerful. Mesle concludes that God's power is paradoxically the power of love, the capacity to transform human beings into loving and caring individuals rather than a power simply to make things happen. Along the same lines, he argues that "God is constantly doing everything within divine power to prevent and ease needless and destructive suffering" (p. 21). God's power, therefore, is relational, not unilateral; likewise, God's knowledge of the future is limited by the contingent and thus unforeseeable choices of God's creatures. Expanding upon this theme in Part II, "The World and God," Mesle notes that "God has shared and will share the adventure of time forever" (50). Hence, like all creatures but especially like human beings, God is continually affected by what happens in time. God is the source of creaturely freedom in that God empowers creatures to choose among the possibilities available to them in virtue of their interaction with other creatures and with God's providential care for them. Then in Part III, "A Liberating Theology," Mesle first calls attention to the way in which belief in God as omnipotent has in the past justified social conditions which were patently unjust and oppressive to the needs and desires of minority groups. Within process theology, on the other hand, "God is doing everything within divine power to work with us for the growth of justice and goodness" (78). Yet by the same token God can effect significant changes in the world only through "responsive human hearts" Subsequent chapters, all relatively brief, take up the affinity of process theology with feminist goals and values and the need to expand the notion of divine revelation so as to include more than the Sacred Scriptures of the different world religions. Then, given inevitable limits to the authority of Scripture, Mesle deals with the related issues of ethical relativism, religious pluralism and the role of Jesus in the divine plan for the salvation of the world. Finally, in the last two chapters of Part III, he tackles the controversial issues of intercessory prayer and miracles, arguing first that prayer changes our minds rather than God's mind and secondly that in the case of miracles God presumably works through the latent powers of nature rather than against them.

Part IV, "Naturalism and Theism," is more an appendix than an integral part of the book. In the first chapter, Mesle admits his own attraction to a purely naturalistic form of process thought without reference to a personal God in line with the work of Henry Nelson Weiman some years ago at the University of Chicago. But in the second chapter at Mesle's own invitation the noted process theologian John Cobb offers a response/rebuttal to Mesle's argument, based partly on his own experience of the need for God as the transcendent source of human striving for a better world and partly on still another reading of Weiman's philosophy. I myself think that Cobb's version of process theology could be made even more attractive to mainline Roman Catholic and Protestant readers if the process doctrine of the God-world relationship were reconceived in consciously trinitarian terms and if explicit reference were made to the longstanding Christian belief in personal immortality or life after death. Naturally, this would not readily concur with Mesle's tendency to process naturalism, but it would have the effect of assuring more traditional Christians that process thought does not inevitably lead to either pantheism or some form of pancosmism in which not God but the cosmic process is the ultimate reality.

To sum up, then, Mesle has in my view admirably set forth a simplified version of Whitehead's philosophy and shown its relevance to a revisionist understanding of God as a God of love and compassion rather than a God of unilateral power and control. But, in thus insinuating that the God of classical theology is aloof and unresponsive to human needs and desires, Mesle is not being completely fair to a venerable intellectual tradition that has nurtured the faith of Christians for nearly two thousand years. Every model of the God-world relationship, after all, has built-in limitations. In the end, one chooses that model which seems to have fewer logical inconsistencies and thus more tactical advantages than its rivals. Such, at least, has been my own experience in gradually shifting from a strictly classical understanding of the God-world relationship to a more process-oriented perspective over the past thirty years.

Amazon.com - Barnes and Noble - Powell's books - Pauline Sisters