A CHRISTIAN OPENING FOR WORLD RELIGIONS: THE VISION OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN THE THEOLOGY OF JOHN B. COBB, JR.
One characterization of the religious situation in today's world is the novel proximity of world religions. This is especially so in most mission countries, and it raises the question: Upon what bases can a Christian opening for world religions be framed?^ John Cobb's field is speculative, systematic process theology. His major theological projects are a natural theology based on the thought of Whitehead (1965), a process anthropology (1967), and a Christology written in terms of our pluralistic age (1975).^ This dissertation attempts to elucidate Cobb's critical yet sensitive affirmation of religious plurality. In his earliest work Cobb affirmed the plurality of religious traditions within Christianity, but he was unable to extend that pluralist stance to world religions for another fifteen years. Therefore, this study searches out and articulates the foundations, doctrine and attitude of religious pluralism as they emerge in Cobb's theological vision.^ Part One details the governing directions of Cobb's early thought. They are his affirmation of Christianity's plural religious traditions, and his simultaneous dismissal of the plurality of modern Christian theologies on the methodological grounds that each such theology either sets forth an inadequate natural theology as a starting point, or attempts, unsuccessfully, to replace or omit natural theology by selecting some alternative foundation or starting point.^ Part Two presents and analyzes Cobb's own 'postmodern' natural theology which is the metaphysical and theological basis of his religious pluralism. Following Whitehead, Cobb envisions the world, humanity and God in incessant, reciprocal, interactive process the results of which have been a rich variety of identifications or namings of the elements of that one tripartite reality.^ Part Three assesses in detail Cobb's speculative thought on two topics: humanity and Christ. Humanity, approached from a process perspective, is found to exhibit a plurality of 'structures of human existence' which were arrived at during the periods of the geneses of today's world religions and, indeed, functioned as the foundations of these very religions.^ In his anthropological study Cobb's vision was not yet that of religious pluralism because he maintained the traditional Christian position on the finality of Christ and, consequently, the finality of the Christian structure of existence. Some years later, however, Cobb was able to name Christ 'the image of creative transformation' and find in this Christ an affirmation of human religious plurality. This, in turn, enabled Cobb to view world religions with the same fundamental pluralist attitude with which he had earlier viewed Christianity's own varied traditions.^ The essence of this study is to see how the process worldview, diversely articulated in Cobb's systematic and his speculative works, increasingly becomes the basis for Cobb's appreciation of religious plurality as the welcome florescence of the one evolving reality: the world, humanity, and God in creative process.^ The Conclusion assesses the bases and horizon of Cobb's processive cosmotheandric theology. It argues that these are uniquely adequate for a deep theological appreciation of both today's realities and the fact of human religious plurality. It then presents a critique of the theism which surfaced in Cobb's latest major work, Christ in a Pluralistic Age (1975). At issue in Cobb's identification of the trascendent Logos of Christian tradition with Whitehead's 'primordial divine nature.' This identification is analyzed in depth and found to be wanting on two counts: while claiming Whitehead's authority, it ignores and thus distorts his fully developed theistic teaching; and, by doing this, weakens and undercuts the most promising aspects of Cobb's theology, his processive cosmotheandrism and his sophisticated vision of religious pluralism. ^
MICHAEL JOSEPH DUFFY,
"A CHRISTIAN OPENING FOR WORLD RELIGIONS: THE VISION OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN THE THEOLOGY OF JOHN B. COBB, JR."
(January 1, 1980).
ETD Collection for Fordham University.