An Exposition and Critique of the Process Doctrines of Divine Mutability and Immutability -- By: Bruce A. Ware

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: An Exposition and Critique of the Process Doctrines of Divine Mutability and Immutability
Author: Bruce A. Ware

An Exposition and Critique of the Process Doctrines
of Divine Mutability and Immutability

Bruce A. Ware


The increased attention of late to the doctrine of divine immutability is due in large measure to the thought-provoking proposals of leading process theologians regarding God’s nature and activities. A survey of the literature of the past few decades regarding God’s relations to a contingent world shows that numerous contemporary theologians, regardless of their particular views regarding the divine immutability, are concerned to interact with the issues raised by process theology’s contributions on this subject.1 In

endeavoring to exposit the way in which process theology conceives of God’s relation to change, primary attention is here devoted to the work of Charles Hartshorne (b. 1897). Hartshorne stands as the premier process theologian, whose theological insights, especially on the doctrine of God, along with the process metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), have formed the basis for the movement known as process theology.

The main purpose of this article is to explain and critique Hartshorne’s notions of the divine mutability and immutability. But before doing this, brief attention needs to be given to Hartshorne’s dipolar view of the nature of God. Only then will we have the proper context for discussing the ways God can and cannot change in process thought. The critique that follows will be largely negative. For both internal and external reasons, I shall argue that process theism should be rejected if one is to affirm the view of God we have from his self-revelation.

I. The Dipolar Conception of Deity

Essentially, Hartshorne charges that classical theism was wrong, not in conceiving of God as absolute, independent, and immutable, but in conceiving of him as such exclusively. For Hartshorne, the absoluteness of God is part of the truth; the fuller truth is that God is both absolute and relative, independent and dependent, changeless and changing, eternal and temporal, infinite and finite. In short, God is

“dipolar,” consisting of nonrelative and relative aspects. The key to Hartshorne’s proposal is his claim that God can be conceived as metaphysically unique not only in his supreme absoluteness but also in his supreme relativity.2 Thus, the God of process theology is a being which contains all of reality and yet is in certain aspects wholly independent of all other entities. How does God contain all while existing...

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