Math in Process: Critiquing the Process (Revelation and the Trinity)

Disclaimer: the author of this post does not in any way support the views of process theology or believe that its views can legitimately be considered thinking Christianly. The purpose of this post is to summarize these views in order to critique them.

Previous entries in this series:

Math in Process

Math in Process: An Introduction

Math in Process: Process Theology 101

Math in Process: The Influence of Mathematics on Process Theology

Many critiques have been leveled against process theology. One that I have found to be particularly well written comes from Bruce Demarest entitled “The Process Reduction of Jesus and the Trinity,” in Process Theology (ed. Ronald H. Nash, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987). Many of the points I make below can be attributed to the framework of Demarest’s argument.

In general, the criticisms of process theology have focused on the process theologians’ redefinition of divine omniscience. The question that began this series of posts, “Do mathematicians create new mathematical objects that are surprising to God?” appears to be rooted in the discussion of God’s knowledge. Extensive work has been done in the area of divine foreknowledge producing responses to the tension that exists between God’s omniscience, omnipotence and human freedom which keep orthodox Christians from necessarily making a move to process theology. One such option is to recognize God’s existence outside of time. Therefore to speak of His future knowledge is a very different thing than to speak of human future knowledge.[1]

It is my contention, however, that the conversation need not go that far for our purposes. In other words it is not simply because viable, orthodox, philosophical arguments exist that we should refuse to accept process theology and a process perspective of Christian mathematics. Rather it is because process theology greatly damages foundational Christian doctrines that it cannot be accepted.

If we are to maintain an orthodox faith and practice the discipline of mathematics in a distinctly Christian way there are core tenets that must be maintained. Philosophical and mathematical results that develop from (or necessarily involve) the forfeiture of any of these tenets cannot be accepted. That is not to say that they cannot be discussed, so long as that discussion brings us back to the core beliefs that Scripture is authoritative, God is Trinity, and Jesus as the God-man was crucified and resurrected as atonement for our sins. To be clear that process theology simply does give us a viable option in these doctrines, the implications of process thought in each will now be briefly discussed.

Revelation and the Trinity

Process thought accepts the notion that God is revealed through scripture in some sense, but because of the evolving nature of any tradition, process theology allows for considerable freedom on the part of the interpreter. In process theology, reference to the historical Jesus or the apostolic tradition is only one way that a critical element can be brought to bear on the question of the authority of Scripture.[2]

Rather than viewing the Bible through this traditionally orthodox lens, process theologians prefer to approach the Scripture from the viewpoint of scientific modernity.[3] This excludes a belief in miracles (supernatural intrusions by God into the natural order). This is discarded for a trust in the evidence of science that all events have a natural sequence of cause and effect in the evolutionary process. The process school comes to the theological task with a low view of scripture – modern study precludes accepting all that is written therein as true. If God does not supernaturally intrude from without the natural order, divine revelation is by definition excluded.

With the elimination of divine revelation, and along with it the authority of scripture, the door is open to modify any other doctrine in a way we see fit. That a doctrine appears in the Bible or that it was faithfully upheld by the historic Christian church provides no basis for its acceptance by modern, empirically minded process thinkers. This conclusion is obviously unacceptable to historically orthodox Christians.

Orthodox View of Trinity

Once the Bible (and the creeds) have been discarded, the doctrine of God as Trinity is easily modified. The doctrine of Trinity has historically been defined as God existing as one essence in three persons. Whitehead’s identification of person with substance led him to conclude that the Christian doctrine of trinity is really a crude tri-theism. Therefore the term person, in process theology, was viewed as a mode of activity (an abstract quality) of a single concrete subject. This means that process theology upholds a tri-unity of abstract and impersonal principles.[4] The subject of Jesus cannot be identified with the second member of the Trinity and likewise, the subject of the Holy Spirit cannot be identified with the third member of the Trinity.[5] These parts of the Trinity are viewed as abstract and impersonal principles in God’s primordial (or unchanging) nature. While they may interact with the world through God’s consequent (or changing) nature (since his consequent nature by definition includes his primordial nature – if you are confused, don’t worry, I am too), the process construction of Trinity is decidedly inferior to a dynamic society of three conscious, active, and loving persons.

In summary it would seem that the process view of trinity is defined in terms of functionality rather than objectivity. By that I mean the process view sees trinity as a reference to the unity of the three different functions of God. If this interpretation is true then process theology can be filed under the heresy of modalism – the view that there is one God who manifests himself in three different modes: father, son, and holy spirit. Even if this interpretation of the process view is incorrect, at the very least it is clear that the process definition detracts from the orthodox Christian definition (given below) in order to resolve their philosophical tensions and their emphasis on becoming over being.

The Christian doctrine of trinity, thus viewed as three related persons in one substantial unity, provides demonstration of the classical philosophical problems of the relation of the one to the many and of being to becoming.[6] It is unacceptable for Christians to dismantle the traditional view of Trinity in order to philosophically resolve these lingering tensions.

More on this in the closing post of this series in which I lay the groundwork for a distinctly Christian foundation for mathematics.

Coming Up Next:

Critiquing the Process View of The Person and Work of Jesus Christ

Let us close this post with a clear statement against the process view of trinity: the Athanasian Creed.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith, which except everyone shall have kept whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.  Now the catholic faith is this: We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.  But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.  Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit; the Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated; the Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, and the Holy Spirit is infinite; the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.  And yet there are not three eternals but one eternal, as also not three infinites, nor three uncreateds, but one uncreated and one infinite.

So, likewise, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; and yet not three almighties but one almighty.  So the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.  So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet not three Lords but one Lord.  For like as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there be three Gods or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.  The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created but begotten.  The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten but proceeding.  So there is one Father not three Fathers, one Son not three Sons, and one Holy Spirit not three Holy Spirits.

And in this Trinity there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less, but the whole three Persons are coeternal and coequal.  So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped.

He therefore who wills to be in a state of salvation, let him think thus of the Trinity.

[1] Jonathan L. Kvanvig, The Possibility of an All-Knowing God, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 166..

[2] Russell Pregeant, “Scripture and Revelation,” In Handbook of Process Theology, ed. Jay McDaniel and Donna Bowman (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2006), 72.

[3] Bruce Demarest, “The Process Reduction of Jesus and the Trinity,” In Process Theology, ed. Ronald H. Nash (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 64.

[4] Ibid., 82.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


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