Relativism, Metaphysics and Theology

  • Joseph Runzo


Christianity, Alfred North Whitehead observes, ‘has always been a religion seeking a metaphysics’.1 What makes theology inherently metaphysical are the truth-claims which center on the nature and acts of God. Metaphysics is comprised of ontology and cosmology. Many of the specialized concepts of theology such as ‘God’, ‘incarnation’, and ‘omnipotence’, are directly ontological notions; other central notions concerning the human relation to God are common notions in general ontology, such as the ideas of ‘free will’ and a ‘soul’. And many of the concepts dealing with God’s relation with the world, like the notions of ‘creation’ and ‘miracle’, are matters of cosmology. Additionally, besides the direct use of metaphysical concepts, numerous theological conceptions indirectly involve metaphysical presuppositions. Thus the notions of the eschaton and of the immortality of the soul cannot be understood apart from an analysis of these ideas in terms of a wider background scheme in metaphysics, a scheme which would both give meaning to these notions and show how such states of affairs could be possible.


Conceptual Relativism Conceptual Schema Analytic Philosophy Ordinary Language Philosophic System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: New American Library, 1960), p. 50.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See, respectively, Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957);Google Scholar
  3. A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover, 1952);Google Scholar
  4. Jean-Paul Sartre, The Devil and the Good Lord (New York: Random House, 1960), p. 141.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), p. 252.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Etienne Gilson, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1938), p. 18.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    David Tracy, ‘John Cobb’s Theological Method: Interpretation and Reflections’ in John Cobb’s Theology In Process, David Griffin and Thomas J. J. Altizer, eds. (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1977), p. 28.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 155.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 367.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    On God’s primordial and consequent natures see Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1969), p. 36f.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Cf. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: New American Library, 1948), p. 170, and Process and Reality, p. 21, In Religion in the Making, Whitehead uses ‘metaphysics’ to denote ‘the science which seeks to discover the general ideas which are indispensably relevant to the analysis of everything that happens’ (p. 82).Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Norwood Hanson, Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965) p. 19.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Schubert Ogden, ‘Toward a New Theism’, in Process Philosophy and Christian Thought, eds. Delwin Brown, Ralph James and Gene Reeves, (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), p. 179.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1941), pp. 21–22.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    For a treatment of internal difficulties with process thought in accounting for Christian belief, see Robert C. Neville, Creativity and God: A Challenge to Process Theology (New York: Seabury, 1980).Google Scholar
  16. 39.
    C. I. Lewis, Mind and the World Order (New York: Dover, 1956) p. 240.Google Scholar
  17. 42.
    Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper and Row, 1957). p. 12.Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    Paul Tillich, My Search for Absolutes (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), pp. 64–65.Google Scholar
  19. 44.
    Paul Tillich, Morality and Beyond (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 14.Google Scholar
  20. 49.
    Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951) Vol. I p. 235.Google Scholar
  21. 50.
    For an analysis of Tillich’s use of ‘symbol’ see William Alston, ‘Tillich’s Conception of a Religious Symbol’, in Religious Experience and Truth, ed. S. Hook (New York: NYU Press, 1961).Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    For a thoughtful attempt to make some sense of what Tillich might intend by the notion of being-itself through a comparison with features of universals and Plotinus’ conception of The One, see William Rowe, Religious Symbols and God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  23. 54.
    As Gordon Kaufman succinctly notes, ‘our “religious experience” … is never a raw, pre-conceptual, pre-linguistic experience, the undialectial foundation on which theology can be built’ (An Essay on Theological Method [Missoula; Montana: Scholars Press, 1979], revised edition, p. 6).Google Scholar
  24. 59.
    Gordon Kaufman, ‘Metaphysics and Theology’, Cross Currents (Summer 1978), p. 225.Google Scholar
  25. 61.
    William James, Pragmatism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975) p. 31.Google Scholar
  26. 64.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed., trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1953), par. 133.Google Scholar
  27. 65.
    Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, a Galaxy Book, 1959) pp. 156–57.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joseph Runzo 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Runzo

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations