Years ago, Joe Bracken joked that if there was a conference for all the process trinitarian theologians in the world it could be held in a phone booth. Despite the unique nature of Brackenís thought, or perhaps because of it, this text provides an excellent introduction to the method and significance of the theological doctrine of God. In a surprising combination, this text can be used in the classroom but is an important read for systematic theologians and philosophers of religion.
Brackenís text proceeds in nine short chapters. The first four chapters, which make up Part I, survey the development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Comprehensive and fluid, the text critically presents the thoughts of theologians such as Origen, Tertullian, Augustine, the Cappadocian Fathers, Aquinas, Barth, Pannenberg and more. The purpose of this travel through the terrain of trinitarian development serves the later chapters by demonstrating the essential nature of the God-world relationship to the doctrine of God. This relationship, traditionally called the economic Trinity, is presented in most thinkers as at the heart of Godís revelation of Godís salvific nature. Brackenís argument is that this God-world relationship must be envisioned differently to be more effective in speaking of Godís very nature.
It is worth noting the topics of chapter three. Much of Brackenís survey examines the common suspects listed above. This third chapter presents the concepts of God found in several important mystics: Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila and more. The point of this material is to witness the precarious relationship of mysticism and rationality. Christian theology has always left space, small though it may be, for the knowledge gained through mystical experience. To be authentic to its roots and goals, contemporary Christian theology cannot ignore the many ways humanity experiences and communicates the God-world relationship. As it becomes clear later in the text, Brackenís perspective could unite rationality and mysticism within theological investigations.
Part II of the text looks at recent critical perspectives on the Trinity. Chapters five and six speak directly to Brackenís specific argument. The fifth chapter examines recent theological discussion of the suffering of God as a means of reorienting our concept of how God responds to and relates to humanity and the rest of creation. Moltmannís argument of the necessity of the passibility of God in order to speak of God as loving is received positively by Bracken. He finds Moltmannís theology inspirational yet cautions that ďwhat is still missing, however, is a more precise philosophical explanation of how the three divine persons and all their creatures can thus coexist as both interdependent and independent of each other at the same time.Ē (63) Bracken insists that a theology must be philosophically grounded to be coherent and authentic to the Christian theological tradition. For Bracken, Moltmann, Fiddes and others can be rearticulated in light of the process philosophical structure of Alfred North Whitehead.
Bracken quickly presents Whiteheadís worldview and then, in the sixth chapter, examines more closely the relation of the one and the many, of the subject in its subjectivity and subjective relationships as presented in Whitehead. The movement of the text is abrupt. Thus far in the text, the theological language has been accessible and, when technical, explained in more common language with reference to familiar writers. Readers might be surprised to then read of Einstein and Whiteheadís identity of beings as self constituting subjects of experience that aggregate into societies in dynamic relation to each other. ďAll this may seem quite strange, even bizarre, until we realize how with such a scheme Whitehead can readily explain how God experiences the world and responds to it at every moment, and how all creatures, but above all we human beings, likewise experience the presence and activity of God in our lives and respond to itÖĒ (63)
Bracken finds that the issue for contemporary theology is its inability to speak of the God-world relationship in manner that is both meaningful and philosophically authentic. Traditional conceptualizations of God struggle to address our modern world yet God, who is triune, can, must, and does address this world. Whiteheadís thought can bridge the traditional faith in the Trinity with the needs the church and the world currently experience.
The last two chapters of Part II address a few of the critical issues of contemporary trinitarian theology: feminism and pluralism. Brackenís assessment of the role trinitarian theology has played in the thought of McFague and Johnson as well as Knitter and Heim is well done. These chapters stand in contrast to the trajectory of the text as it argues for the benefit of process thought in the approach to the doctrine of God yet this material is essential for this permutation of the argument. Philosophy of religion cannot remain purely speculative. It must address the needs of the theology, the church, and the faith. The oppression and marginalization of women and Christianityís struggles within an ever shrinking pluralistic world cannot be ignored in any theological discourse. Bracken argues convincingly that his perspective can contribute to the work of feminist theologians and theologians addressing the theological issue of pluralism.
The concluding chapter of the book demonstrates the real strength of this work and much of Brackenís corpus. The modern person lives between two cultures, science and religion. The tension that exists between these cultures is the perennial issue of the relation of matter and spirit. Whitehead has been criticized for being a spiritualist that excluded matter from his worldview. Bracken recasts Whitehead arguing, like Einstein, that energy is matter and thus societies should be understood as ďenergy fields that are objectively structured by the ongoing interplay of these momentary subjects of experience.Ē (114) This process philosophy can create a space where empirical scientists, philosophers of religion, and theologians can meet and discern the nature of the created world. There are issues essential to all these disciplines that are cannot be discussed in a meaningful way in our current structure: the body/soul relationship; life and death; the end of the world, etc. Bracken argues successfully that his philosophy can bridge these gaps. This perspective could lead to a much deepened understanding of the God-world relationship.
Brackenís argument has, for years, been a necessary voice in the discussion of the future of Christian theology. The critical issue of process theology remains the same, however. Does Whitehead and Bracken present worldviews that speak to our experience of being human? I believe that they can but the unique nature of the language, grammar, and conceptualizations of reality make it difficult to see ourselves within this presentation of humanity. For Brackenís position to carry the weight it probably deserves, a Copernican revolution of our theological and faith language and thought would be necessary. This text, in its accessible format in an excellent series may be a first step in this reevaluation of the human relation to the triune God.