Alfred North Whitehead, in his magnum opus 'Process and Reality', set forth a philosophical framework that has inspired the subsequent generation of theologians to look towards a new system of metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, and theological reality. One of the problems with 'Process and Reality', however, is that it is not a very accessible text to most people, even to most theologians. Donald Sherburne has done great service to legions of pastors, students, and interested lay persons by simplifying and reorganising the text of 'Process and Reality' into a more logical and easier-to-read text.
Sherburne's introduction speaks of the lack of information available on Whitehead - since his death in 1947, his influence has been confined to philosophy and theology, and then only at graduate-student and higher levels. This has not changed, for the most part, in the decades since the first publication of Sherburne's text, but it is beginning to make itself felt in various levels through grassroots 'evangelism' of process thought principles.
The text itself is organised to allow primary emphasis on Whitehead's own writing from 'Process and Reality', followed closely in the chapters by paragraphs of explanation and commentary by Sherburne (these are presented in an italicised typeface, making the distinction between Whitehead's words and the commentary very clear).
The rearrangement of topics follows more closely what a typical student of philosophy might expect to find in any other philosophy text. Like logic or geometry (Whitehead was a protégé of Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica fame), it begins with basic principles and concepts. For Whitehead, this is the actual entity and the process itself. From this, the text explores how things are what they are, and how we can come to know them.
How things are constituted involved their formative elements; for Whitehead, these consist of God, creativity, and the pure potentiality inherent in the universe. With these in mind, the process of concrescence is presented.
Sherburne then presents ideas of the macrocosmic and nexus, and the requirements and limitations on perception. This leads to a discussion of Whitehead versus other philosophers, many of whom will be far more familiar to the readers. Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant, and the methods of science (through a lens of Newton and Plato first, then further developed) are explored.
The seventh chapter, on God and the World, is perhaps the most interesting and useful to theologians. God's primordial and consequent natures are explored. Whitehead uses the process ideas set forth earlier to look at the concept of immortality, in particular, the love of God for the world, and the process by which all of reality can be redeemed and held complete in the mind of God.
Sherburne states that the Appendix - In Defense of Speculative Philosophy - can be read first or last in the text; Sherburne actually recommends both, so that Whitehead's Defense can serve both as a setting and a conclusion to this text. Philosophy, particularly metaphysics and the more speculative sorts of philosophy, has been under critical attack over the past few generations. Whitehead's arguments for the value of philosophy, particularly when it relates to other intellectual disciplines (as opposed to merely trying to explain things away) are worth considering by the philosopher, scientist, historian, theologian, political scientist, and followers of many other disciplines.
There is a useful glossary of terms that I return to time and again. These are good definitions, succinctly stated, deriving from the text of 'Process and Reality'.
Sherburne, a professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt, is also one of the editors who produced the corrected version of Whitehead's primary text, 'Process and Reality'. This book can serve as an excellent preliminary study prior to going on to 'Process and Reality' itself, but I would advise those seriously interested in Whitehead and process thought to continue on toward that text.