International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Adventures in the Spirit: New Forays in Philosophical Theology

by Philip Clayton

edited by Zachary Simpson

Introductory Essay by F. LeRon Shults

Philip Clayton calls for a genuinely integrative Christian theology that rigorously engages in an open-ended dialogue with contemporary philosophy and science. This volume not only summarizes and expands his previous critical and constructive scholarly work on major methodological and material themes but also brings this work into more explicit relation to current movements within the church that are challenging traditional categories and boundaries. His theological efforts here are born out of his encounters with progressive evangelicals and evangelical liberals and 'all around them the emerging church. A problem relevant to all of his potential interlocutors is the plausibility of 'divine action' in the world and, as the title suggests, the 'Spirit' plays a special mediating role (theoretically and practically) in Clayton's proposed solution.

The book is divided into five parts: 1) The Methods of Philosophy and Theology, 2) Emergence, 3) Panentheism, 4) Divine Action and 5) The Theological Adventure Applied. The logic of the book is clear: Part 1 sets up the methodological issues that shape the possibilities for an integrative theology that engages philosophy and science; Parts 2-4 argue for a re-thinking of divine action that utilizes conceptions of nature and causality within recent theories of emergent complexity and conceptions of the God-world relation within particular streams of philosophical and theological panentheism; the final Part explores some of the pragmatic implications of these intellectual developments for the integrative task of theology.

Clayton argues that theologians should do their work in the midst of the sciences, without sidestepping the crucial issue of the relation between religious and scientific truth. He points to significant developments with the contemporary 'science and religion' discussion and broader debates on the nature of human rationality that offer new possibilities for a 'post-Enlightenment' theological project.

After this methodological analysis, Clayton tackles his first major material theme: emergence theory. He argues for a 'strong' version of emergence, in which qualitatively new forms of existence (e.g., life, mind) develop in the natural world as an open-ended process of increasing complexity. This understanding of the cosmos leads to new possibilities for conceptualizing Godâ??s relation to it. Clayton outlines an 'emergent theology,' suggesting ways in which traditional Christian doctrines may be reformulated in this context.

In Part 3 Clayton describes the resurgence of interest in panentheism in philosophical and systematic theology, and aims to recover and refigure language about the divine 'Spirit' and human 'spirituality,' building on the insights of Schelling (more than Kant or Hegel). The relation between the finite and the infinite is key in this regard, and Clayton spells out an 'emergent' or 'open' panentheistic understanding of this relation, in critical dialogue with Schleiermacher, Whitehead, Tillich and several contemporary Trinitarian theologians.

The fourth Part shows the payoff of these developments for the theological issue of divine action. With a strong model of emergent causality (rather than deterministic causal closure), Clayton argues that it is now possible to give an affirmative answer to the question: can contemporary theologians still affirm that God (literally) does anything. His panentheistic proposal suggests that we imagine the autonomous action of finite creatures as 'participating' in the creative intent of the divine agent, in whom she lives and moves and has her being.

Part 5 demonstrates ways in which this approach to theological adventuring can be applied in the contemporary context, attending to the significance of these new concepts of Spirit and spirituality for the human quest for meaning in late modernity. In the final chapter, Clayton makes clear the driving force and motivation of his academic efforts: the creative production of integrative theology that inspires liberal faith 'between' the church, the academy and the world. The book will be helpful for anyone interested in the philosophical and theological debates surrounding these issues, but especially for Christian believers who are eager for a theological adventure that prophetically engages contemporary culture.