You no longer have to choose between what you know and what you believe—an accessible introduction to a theological game-changer.
“I wrote this book for you if you want to be able to locate your life in a single, encompassing story, one that includes everything from the first moment the universe began until yesterday, a narrative that embraces deepest personal meaning, a yearning to love and be loved, a quest for social justice and compassion.”
—from the Introduction
Much of what you were told you should believe when you were younger forces you to choose between your spirit and your intellect, between science and religion, between morality and dogma: unchanging laws of nature vs. miracles that sound magical; a good God vs. the tragedies that strike all living creatures; a God who knows the future absolutely vs. an open future that you help to shape through your choices.
This fascinating introduction to Process Theology from a Jewish perspective shows that these are false choices. Inspiring speaker, spiritual leader and philosopher Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson presents an overview of what Process Theology is and what it can mean for your spiritual life. He explains how Process Theology can break you free from the strictures of ancient Greek and medieval European philosophy, allowing you to see all creation not as this or that, us or them, but as related patterns of energy through which we connect to everything. Armed with Process insights and tools, you can break free from outdated religious dichotomies and affirm that your religiosity, your spirit, your mind and your ethics all strengthen and refine each other.
“Through honesty, openness and erudition, Rabbi Artson teaches of a God who whispers ‘grow’ to each of us. A beautiful and soulful exploration.”
—Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, California; author, Why Faith Matters
“Offers us a new way to see ourselves, our world and our God. We no longer have to choose between our faith and our intellect. What a joy and what a relief it is to be able to integrate these seeming disparities. This important work invites us into a relationship with a God who is dynamic and loving. This is a book that can heal our souls.”
—Rabbi Naomi Levy, spiritual leader, Nashuva; author, Hope Will Find You, Talking to God, and To Begin Again
“Shows how Process Theology can give us the language and understanding to forge a moral and compelling Judaism for ourselves.... If you have wrestled with the presence of evil in the world and suffering in your private life—if you have struggled to find a belief in God that is scientifically tenable and an approach to Torah that is intellectually credible—then this book is for you. It will inspire and nurture your soul.”
—Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, founding president, the Jewish Life Network; author, The Jewish Way
“I wept for joy reading this book. So many of us are wounded by conventional vocabulary when we think and talk about God—our language is stuck, and we are stuck. Artson, one of the most inspiring Jewish leaders and theologians of our time, redeems the ancient covenant of formulating anew our conversation about God.”
—Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, founding rabbi, Zion: An Eretz Israeli community in Jerusalem
“The truth of the matter is: After reading this book you will want to become Jewish, if you aren’t already. Or, to be more exact, a Jew with a Process perspective. The insights from this book come so naturally and flow so freely from its pages, weaving together Jewish wisdom and Process philosophy, that you are drawn to a way of living that is deeply loving, deeply traditional, deeply creative and deeply faithful, without leaving your mind at the door or your heart on a shelf.... I plan to use this book again and again in the classroom, sharing it with people of many faiths and no faith.... An exciting achievement.”
—Jay McDaniel, PhD, author, Of God and Pelicans: Theology of Reverence for Life and Living from the Center: Spirituality in an Age of Consumerism; editor, Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism (www.jesusjazzbuddhism.org)
“A pioneering exploration of collaborative ecumenical thinking. Illustrates the complementary and contrasting features in Judaism and Process Theology. In broadening the horizons of the search for wholeness, Artson opens a fantastic adventure of ideas.”
—Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, author, Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey; founder, Jewish Foundation of the Righteous and the Jewish World Watch
“Extraordinary ... speaks to the real-world experience of many people who find a fixed set of religious beliefs and teachings incompatible with what they know.... Explicates a twenty-first-century Judaism that is dynamic, constructive, ethical and deeply meaningful; offers ways for us to think about prayer, ritual and Israel, and about what we must do to create greater justice.”
—Ruth W. Messinger, president, American Jewish World Service
“With personal, persuasive prose ... skillfully presents a theology to live with and live by. It may change the way that you think about God, Judaism and your being in the world.”
—Sue Levi Elwell, PhD, rabbinic director, East Geographic Congregational Network Union for Reform Judaism
“Undertakes the daunting challenge of spelling out a theology that will speak to the mind and soul of the modern reader, and succeeds.”
—Rabbi Harold Kushner, author, When Bad Things Happen to Good People
“An amazing combination of personal narrative, introduction to Process Thought and integration of Jewish theology with the two. It should open up to a whole new community the fruitfulness of thinking about God, life and Judaism through Process perspectives.”
—Thomas Jay Oord, author, The Nature of Love and Defining Love
“Both a lovely, poetic introduction to Process Theology, and a vivid sense of Rabbi Artsonís private journey as a believer, a Jewish leader, a father, a teacher and a Jew.... His enthusiasm and compassion are on every page, inviting you to learn from him and with him.”
—Laurie Zoloth, director, Center for Bioethics, Science and Society, Northwestern University
“Brings to pass a confluence of Process Theology and Judaism hitherto only hinted at. The vibrant Jewishness of his sources, practices and rhythms of interpretation yield an unsurpassed introduction to the God of becoming—for all children of Sarah, Hagar, Abraham.”
—Catherine Keller, professor, theology, Drew University; author, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process.
“The most comprehensive exposition of a Jewish Process Theology yet written. Jews and Gentiles alike are indebted to Rabbi Artson for the intellectual-theological-emotional achievement this book represents.”
—Rabbi David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union CollegeĖJewish Institute of Religion
“[A] work of honest struggle by a fellow-seeker for a believable Jewish theology in our day.... Don’t miss it!
—Arthur Green, rector, Rabbinical School, Hebrew College
“With sensitivity, wit and profundity, Rabbi Artson makes it possible for those who long ago abandoned the jealous-coercive-angry-old-man God to forge a new path to spiritual depth and holiness.... Simply said, with this book, [he] gives us God back.”
—Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi, IKAR
“Until now it has been chiefly Protestants who have profited from the brilliant work of Alfred North Whitehead in reformulating ideas about God, the world and our inner lives. Now, in using Whitehead to revitalize Jewish life and thought, Brad Artson outdoes and inspires us all.”
—John B. Cobb Jr., professor emeritus, Claremont School of Theology
“If you own only one book on Jewish Process Theology, this should be [it]. Accessible, persuasive and richly rooted in Jewish texts, Artson’s theology is warm and inviting where Mordecai Kaplanís is cold and distant.”
—Rachel Adler, David Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought, Hebrew Union College
Why did you write this book?
I realized that the image of God people felt they were supposed to believe was a big part of why they could not believe. God, for many people, is a domineering bully in the sky. Many seeking people walk away from that image because it infantilizes, it creates a paralyzing guilt, and it doesn’t fit what they know of life itself.
What in your own life pushed you to move past a view of God as all powerful and in complete control?
When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with a terminal, inoperable cancer. Thankfully, the diagnosis was an exaggeration, but I did have years of treatment in cancer centers. But what really pushed me over the edge was when my son developed severe autism. I could no longer serve a God who had the power to stop it but wouldn’t, let alone a divinity who actually caused it to happen.
Were there tools that helped you explore new possibilities for understanding divinity and the universe?
Yes, actually. I had been reading a lot on science, particularly cosmology, evolutionary biology, and aspects of physics—especially relativity theory and quantum mechanics. I was looking for a way to respect the integrity and insights of science while preserving room for a robust religious experience. I was also struck by reading Scripture (the Bible and Rabbinic texts) with fresh eyes that God is portrayed as dynamic, passionate, and engaged. Hardly the unchanging, all-knowing, all-controlling concept that the philosophers and theologians extolled.
What would you say is the core of your new sense of God and the world?
Instead of seeing the world as comprised of solid substances that bang into each other on the outside, I now recognize that the universe is made up of recurrent energy patterns that interact internally and instantly with all of the cosmos. We, and everything else, are a collection of recurrent energy patterns. We are always in the process of becoming, always dynamic and always re-created in relationship to everything that is also becoming. In a dynamic universe, God is the one who invites us toward novelty, who creates an open future that we have a hand in shaping. This vision is of a God who does not and cannot break the rules. God uses persuasive power to enlist us as partners in the work of creation and repair. Instead of being above it all, God is the one who makes the rules possible and empowers us to be self-surpassing, just as God is self-surpassing.
Was there a moment when everything came together for you in a new way?
I remember a moment when I was walking through Jerusalem, and I looked up to the sky and realized that I was no longer burdened by a tyrant-God causing our suffering. Instead, I have a cosmic ally, one who gives me the power to choose and the insight to intuit the optimal choice. God works with and through us to help fashion a better tomorrow. In that sense, we are God’s hands in the world.
Is Process Theology new?
In one sense, Process Theology is quite old. Aristotle anticipated key aspects of it in his naturalism, his celebration of nature as developing and advancing, and in his insistence on knowing the world by observing the world. The biblical prophets also anticipated aspects of Process Theology by their celebration of a world in covenant, of a nature that experiences and participates, and in our partnership with the divine in advancing an optimal vision of justice, love, experience, and relationship. In more recent times, there were key thinkers who formulated the principles and insights of Process Thought, among them Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb, and others.
Is Process Theology Jewish?
Surprisingly, while Process has been very popular among branches of Protestant thought and particularly among thinkers interested in integrating science and religion, it has not been well known among Jews, even though important Jewish theologians have long read and re-worked Whiteheadian themes (among them, Mordecai Kaplan and Milton Steinberg). God of Becoming and Relationship shows that Process Thought provides a superb system to make sense of Jewish sources and to ground how Judaism operates, to integrate what we know about the world with what we love about Jewish observance and values, and to generate an integrated identity that lets us live more compassionately and completely.
Is Process Theology divisive?
Well, any set of ideas can be used to separate people. But by rejecting the idea of a coercive God, Process goes a long way toward supporting the diverse ways that people make sense of the world. And there are advocates of Process Thought who are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, and secular. The raucous diversity of people who find Process helpful can only help the world learn to celebrate real diversity and to enjoy each others’ differences. And Jewish insights in Process Theology can contribute to this growing symphony of world wisdom!