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John B. Cobb
John B. Cobb, Jr. (born February 9, 1925) is an American United Methodist theologian who played a crucial role in the development of process theology. He integrated Alfred North Whitehead's metaphysics into Christianity, and applied it to issues of social justice.
Cobb was born in Japan in 1925. His parents were Methodist missionaries. In 1940, he moved to Georgia to go to high school. He then attended a junior college, Emory College (now Oxford College) at Oxford, Georgia. He was deeply devout and held strong moral convictions, fighting racism and prejudice among his peers. Joining the army in 1944, he met intellectuals from other religions including Judaism and Catholicism, who showed him new perspectives. It was about this time that he had a religious experience which led him to become a minister.
These experiences gave him a taste for intellectual thought. He entered an interdepartmental program at the University of Chicago, where he tested his faith by setting out to learn all the modern world's objections to Christianity, so that he could answer to them. His faith did not come out intact. Cobb became disillusioned with much of his previous belief. Hoping to resolve his crisis of faith and reconcile the modern worldview with his Christian faith, he went to University of Chicago Divinity School. He was successful primarily with the help of Richard McKeon , a philosophical relativist and Charles Hartshorne, who taught him Whiteheadian metaphysics and philosophy, which Hawthorne had integrated into what would become known as process theology. This gave Cobb renewed confidence in the idea of God.
After graduating he was invited to come to the Claremont School of Theology, where he taught until his retirement in 1990. He collaborated with Lewis Ford in 1971 to start a journal called Process Studies. In 1973 he worked with David Griffin in founding the Center for Process Studies.
The three trajectories
Cobb came to identify his theological journey as being divided into three trajectories. In the first trajectory, he tried to reconstruct a vision of Christianity applying Whitehead's cosmology. He sought to reconcile the particularity of the Christian faith with the need for pluralism and openness, establishing a christology which demanded tolerance and open-mindedness. He did this by understanding Christ as a "creative transformation", more a process than a person. This creative transformation demanded not just tolerance, but open discourse with other faiths, with the goal of transforming both participants.
The second trajectory, intiated by his son, Cliff , confronted ecological issues from a Whiteheadian perspective. In this trajectory, the two of them collaborated with Herman Daly in writing For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (1989), which constituted Cobb's contribution to economics.
The third trajectory advocated "theology in the service of the church". Here he emphasized the central importance of Christ as the hope of the world, and the church's central importance in proclaiming Christ. He spoke to ethical and communitarian issues regarding the church.
Cobb advocated a theology that managed to be both christocentric and pluralistic in its approach to other faiths. He proclaimed that christocentrism is rooted in Sophia, or divine wisdom, which is the essence of God who is embodied in Christ. He asserted that it requires a Christian to reject arrogance, exclusivism, and dogmatism as obstacles to the christological creative transformation. In this understanding, other religions could approach Christ's essense without actually believing in Christ per se. Cobb saw Jesus as the center of history, but not the whole of history. He saw the need to expand this history to include those of other faiths. Even if the christological creative process leads one to displace Christ's central position in that history with something else, he says, that displacement itself is faithful and true to Christ.
- Varieties of Protestantism, 1960
- Living options in Protestant Theology, 1962
- A Christian Natural Theology, 1965
- The Structure of Christian Existence, 1967
- God and the World, 1969
- Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology, 1971 (revised edition, 1995)
- Liberal Christianity at the Crossroads, 1973
- Christ in a Pluralistic Age, 1975
- Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition with David Griffin , 1976
- Theology and Pastoral Care with David Griffin , 1977
- The Liberation of Life: from the Cell to the Community with Charles Birch, 1981
- Process Theology as Political Theology, 1982
- Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism, 1982
- Talking About God with David Tracy, 1983
- Praying for Jennifer, 1985
- Christian Identity and Theological Education with Joseph Hough, 1985
- Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus with Beardslee, Lull, Pregeant, Weeden, and Woodbridge, 1989
- For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future with Herman Daly, 1989 (revised edition, 1994)
- Doubting Thomas, 1990
- Death or Dialogue with Leonard Swidler, Paul Knitter, and Monika Helwig, 1990
- Matters of Life and Death, 1991
- Can Christ Become Good News Again?, 1991
- Sustainability, 1992
- Becoming a Thinking Christian, 1993
- Lay Theology, 1994
- Sustaining the Common Good, 1994
- Grace and Responsibility, 1995
- Reclaiming the Church, 1997
- The Earthist Challenge to Economism, 1999
- Transforming Christianity and the World, 1999
- Postmodernism and Public Policy, 2001
- process theology
- religious pluralism
- Charles Hartshorne
- David Ray Griffin
- Alfred North Whitehead
- Herman Daly
- uneconomic growth
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