Joseph Bracken, professor emeritus of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati and widely published in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion, is well qualified for his ongoing project of using a Whiteheadian perspective to understand human experience and, more specifically, religion. In this book, he gives focus to the natural sciences, social sciences, and various aspects of Christian theology.
Professor Bracken here utilizes the classical paradigm of the relation between the “One and the Many” as his analytical tool. In the classical presentation, the One, as a transcendent entity, provides order and intelligibility to the Many. Giving it a process twist, with emphasis on systems and evolution, Bracken’s revision presents the One not as an entity transcendent of the empirical Many, but, rather, as emerging out of the “ongoing dynamic interplay of the Many with one another.” (167)
For example, in Part 3, in the section on Jesus, the orthodox assertion of Jesus as divine and human is understood in terms of Jesus being active in two distinct domains that overlapped and created a “common field of activity within which he could be both divine and human at the same time.” (137) My quibble—not limited to this philosophical theologian—is that the author sometimes does not sufficiently ground his theological reflections in critical biblical scholarship. He makes, for example, this problematic statement, namely, that the church and the kingdom of God were presumably closely related in Jesus’ mind.
Bracken suggests that his reflections in the chapter, “A New Look at the Resurrection of the Body,” can be useful in the emerging discussion about the radical extension of healthy human life, a conversation that in some quarters is exploring “technological immortality” that may transcend bodily existence as typically understood. According to Bracken, the resurrected state may entail a “body” in the sense of inhabiting a “structured field of activity with a concrete historical pattern of existence and activity.” (148-49) While Bracken’s particular Whiteheadian formulation of resurrection of the body may not carry the day, it is certainly important that theologians enter fully into the conversation about human enhancement technology and he is to be commended for his efforts in this regard.
Bracken dips briefly into current ecclesiastical controversies by suggesting that in his model the “… pope could serve as the principle of coherence and order for the universal church but would not have the unilateral legislative power of the office of the papacy as it has developed from medieval times until the present day. Naturally, such a rethinking of the role of the papacy … would probably not be agreeable to Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican bureaucracy, and more conservatively oriented bishops …” (172)
On balance, the book is a good discussion of important issues in the context of Whitehead’s philosophy. In making his case, Bracken expertly weaves together insights and perspectives from Charles Sanders Peirce, Stuart Kauffman, Josef Zycinski, David Sloan Wilson, Niklas Luhmann, and a host of others.
So, “does God roll dice?” Yes and no. God does not play pure chance with the world of creation. However, God does “roll dice” in that a world is created with an “ever-present principle of spontaneity or creativity.” (xv)