Joseph A. BRACKEN, S.J., The World in the Trinity: Open-Ended Systems in Science and Religion. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014. Pp. 260. $29.39. Reviewed by Nathan R. KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618
If you are at ease with Joseph Bracken’s theology, his new book is for you. If you are comfortable with process theology, read Bracken’s new book, it puts everything together. If you are open to fundamental shifts away from classical ways of understanding God, Jesus, Resurrection, Sacraments, evil, God-World relationships, and panentheism – then this book is for you. The book is not only a clear presentation of Bracken’s theology but an excellent review of at least fifteen other theologians ‘ positions on process theology and philosophy along with a contrast of these positions with his own.
However, if your principle way of understanding everything in the Christian tradition is through narrative and classical thought, you probably would be uncomfortable with this book and its world view. If you hesitate to enter into the realm of scientific thought, its paradigms, methodologies, and demand for demonstrative proof – favoring, instead, faith as a unique feeling and its resultant fellow-feeling as a definition of community, this book would not be helpful in your explaining Christian belief and action to others. In an era of scientific and religious illiteracy you may feel it’s best to favor picturesque explanations of Christianly that abandon any attempt to demonstrate how Christian faith coincides and is supported by scientific truths and paradigms. Within the realm of Christian theology and catechesis it seems that The Two Cultures of C.P. Snow are alive and well with those who are at ease using science and those who use literature to understand their faith.
However, just in case you see a need for new ways of understanding God, world, and Christian belief, here’s a peek at what is in the book and what those described in the above paragraph are missing. Bracken starts with the presupposition, based on our understanding of wave theory and subatomic activity, that everything and everyone, including God, is a system of ever linking change. Nothing is permanent, everything is changing. What we experience is never permanently solid, never changing entities, but “... an ever-expanding network of processes or systems in which the patterns of existence and activity that exist between and among their component parts are more important than the parts themselves.” We’re all familiar with the fact that our language shapes our experience. That means that a language that focuses on nouns will lead us to value permanence over change; a language that focuses on verbs rather than nouns leads one to focus on change in daily experience rather than permanence. Our languages, for the most part, favor nouns rather than verbs. Our God talk will, therefore, shy away from describing God, world, trinity etc. using metaphors or paradigms founded upon change. Because of this language bias in favor of nouns we seem to automatically see change as degradation, failure, decay, incompleteness rather than evolution, development, becoming a new reality. Braken argues strongly, and successfully, I think, to begin our understanding of reality, God, experience, and the world we live in, as a world of always developing perfection; a world of spirit and matter; of ever-growing and inclusive relationships − a world of the continual presence and inclusiveness of those systems known as creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. “All that I suggest in this book is that each of the divine persons is engaged in ‘his’ own process of becoming and that those three subprocesses are linked together so as to constitute the system of the divine communitarian life, the perichoretic dance of being.”
If you favor story rather than theological language such we just sampled, there are many science fiction novels that accept Teilhard de Chardin and Whitehead as interpreters of the developing realities of what we call world, God, trinity, and where the two cultures of literature and science are united. Maybe there are readers of this review with the ability to bring the two cultures in contemporary theology together in a contemporary catechesis as science fiction writers have done for science and literature.