According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So what’s wrong with panentheism?

Eden's Banishment

When approaching Process Theology (PT) it is necessary to be able to grasp and understand its related and essential component of pan-en-theism from which each proceed together apace (please note we are not talking here of pan-theism. See links below for further definitions in this area). Over the past year we have attempted to discern both concepts - PT and panentheism - and to appreciate the relational aspects of our Creator God in living partnership to the cosmos and to humanity where each together are known and described as God's creative universe in living birth and dependency upon the other: God with His creation and His creation with Himself. Whereas the counter position of Classical Theology (CT) will emphasize the independency of God's being from that of His creation making Him more of a sympathetic, but wholly-Other God to creation's essence. Who holds Himself in unmitigated void apart from creation until He personally experiences it through His Incarnational birth, life and death in the wholly-Divine personage of Jesus (sic, cf. the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Christ). As such, the difference and the chasm that lies between both Process and Classic Theism is summed up in the phrase "ex nihilo creation" with PT denying its concept and CT affirming it.

Over the past year we have discussed the theological and philosophical ramifications of God and creation in terms of biblical ontology, metaphysics, and existentialism. We have also examined its scientific evolutionary origins through quantum physics and anthropological studies focused on the communicational development of individuals through learning theory and cultural sub-groupings. Beginning with man's early primitive understanding of himself and his surroundings discovered by anthropologists in the fossilized rock and earth; to the basic components of man's theorized social / psychological formation and interaction with one another in his early, primitive settings; to the archaeological examination of ancient human records discovered in early civilizations entombed around the world. Especially those ancient near-Eastern records discovered in comparative cultural and religious studies to that of the bible's own ancient contracts, social constructions, institutions, and theology of God. Who has especially revealed Himself in revelation to this region of mankind... specifically to a people/tribe/nation-state we know as Israel. Who tells us of His own divine being - who He is. What He wants. What His heart desires of us and this world that we live in. And from these early descriptions preserved upon ancient (biblical) manuscripts we enter into today's more lively discussion of Emergent Christianity.

A discussion which forces the active re-composition of the Reformational Era's theological by-products of systematized and reformed theology through a rigorous post-examination of both the Old and New Testaments from a post-modernistic understanding of narrative theology as it relates to the larger meta-narrative of God's own story to that of our own. Especially as both are beheld in the central personage of Jesus whom we understand to be the incarnate God who re-incarnates all living flesh with His own life force of redeeming grace-and-love. How? Through the profound experience of His personal atoning sacrifice that singularly reconstitutes all of life - both humanity's and the creative cosmos - from death's finality and destruction - to a newness of life and livelihood, existence and charter.

Who re-orients the cosmos and humanity from its fundamental willfulness away from Himself back into the life-giving breath-and-heart of its Maker-Creator-Sustainer. Process Theology then focuses upon this fundamental process and tells us how God is actively re-balancing creation through His own personal involvement of essential redemption. An involvement as much a part of His own divine being as it is a part of His own divine will. A fundamental act much misunderstood in Classical Theism's Reformational and Enlightened dispositions describing God as separate - and above - this very same process. But not in an unfeeling way. But in a dispassionate, ruling, capricious capacity, much as one would describe a machine or a computer dispensing truth and justice upon the non-elect of the earth.

Whereas Relational Theology then comes along and says to both Process Theology and strict Reformational Classicism that neither position should disqualify the other but join together in illuminating the many infinite aspects of the Unfathomable One who speaks life to the dry bones of our beings. Giving sunshine and warmth to the cold, mechanistic processes of life's fundamental aspects of growth and development. Mercy and peace. Truth and justice. Giving purpose, and hope, and meaning, to both the cosmos and to humanity that held none before without the active, ceaseless, involvement of a Creator God (if ever there was such a time!). Who has never let either this world, nor our own, go upon their wayward paths. But always-and-ever-and-only directs each cosmos (whether impersonal or personal) into His own paths of light-and-life even before either were created in the depths of His being's longings and passions.

For this almighty Creator knew our paths even as He knew of His plans for us (which is the debate of another doctrinal position known as Open Theism/Theology with Classic Theism/Theology - see sidebars for more info). And it is only ourselves who have become gravely misinformed by our many disconnected theories and mistaken reflections. Endlessly debating each other as we preach certain knowledge from our own biased doctrinal positions (heaven, hell, universalism, damnation, election, foreordination) all the while being woefully misguided having missed the telltale narrative themes of God's revelatory tone and import concerning these very same subjects! ...That He is. ...That He always has been. ...That He always will be.... And because of His divine being we must know and expect that He has not left us alone to the imaginations of our own hearts. But has come to be with us giving light-and-life. Foreordaining grace out of the determinative counsels of His own heart. Who will actively pursue this grace into our broken hearts and lives till all is healed and made whole. And all will sing in divine fellowship with the Godhead of creation. Singing eternal songs of love, and grace, and peace, and hope. This we must know through trust and belief.

For from time immemorial God is the God who reaches out to us in ceaseless care and love. Who desires truth and justice but knows these are unattainable without the administration first of His almighty grace and mercy in continual calls of repentance by His Spirit. And there to find common cause with the Creator of our hearts and lives who is become our Savior. Despite sin and death. Who makes all things new. Despite the ugliness and harm around us. Who creates life where there is no life. Hope where there is no hope. Who gives light in even the darkest of shadows. It is this Savior God that all will answer to. Who seeks our allegiance to trust in His great goodness. His majesty of wisdom. His undergirding power, sublime, and awesome. Who is strong in our weakness. Who is compassionate to the lost. Granting mercy to the forgotten. The downtrodden. The poor. Giving His breath of hope to the hopeless. Favour to the unfavoured. Blessings to those that languish. He is God. And His promise is to never leave us nor forsake us (whether saved or unsaved, I might add to my Calvinist friends). Not even in our sin and destruction. Our pride and shame. So be ye at peace then. God is, and will ever be, God. Incorruptible. Indivisible. Inexpressible. Incomparable. Who comes to give life. Be life. Provide life. Live life. His kingdom is forever. And forever is this kingdom ours, in the personage of His being, and majesty of His power. Be at peace then and know your salvation has come. Even as it comes into this world that we live to be remade into the image of its Sovereign Creator become its unwanted Savior.

R.E. Slater
August 8, 2012

Pantheism or Panentheism?

If you were like myself a year ago I would not have understood the difference between "pan-theism" and "pan-en-theism" thinking that both terms meant the same, or in my case, just not noticing the casual spelling difference between the two words! However, pantheism means that God and the universe are the same ontological entities, whereas panentheism suggests that God and the universe are two halves of the same coin, though not necessarily the same ontologically. Moreover, each are considered dependent upon the other thus removing the distinction between a Creator vs. Creation (Cosmos). Put another way, "if there were no Creator there is no Cosmos. If there is no Cosmos then there is no Creator." This is pan-en-theism.

Thought through, there isn't a lot of difference between the two concepts of pantheism and panentheism. The first term arises from a polytheistic basis such as is found in Hinduism, whereas the other term arises from a Christian basis and has been adopted into an important new branch of Christian thinking known as Process Theology/Theism/or Thought. As background to the article below please refer to the links below but begin with Part 2. And do not be afraid to wade in. Its a simple enough concept with big, big ramifications. Thanks!

Doctrinal Differences Compared

Basic Definitions

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What’s wrong with panentheism?

by Roger Olson
with emendations from R.E. Slater
August 7, 2012

So What’s Wrong with Panentheism?

Recently I suggested that Jonathan Edwards may have been guilty of panentheism. I won’t explain why again here; if you’re interested please go back and read that post. At least one commenter asked why that’s a problem in light of Paul’s quotation in Athens of a Greek poet. He referred to God as the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Was Paul affirming panentheism? What’s wrong with panentheism?

Confession that one is a panentheist is, rightly or wrongly, the kiss of death when it comes to being hired to teach theology at most evangelical institutions of higher education. A few years ago an acquaintance who was a candidate to teach theology at an evangelical seminary was rejected by its president because, during his interview, he admitted he is a panentheist.

“Panentheism” is a somewhat flexible and evolving concept. When someone says “panentheism” or “panentheist” I ask what they mean. The term has no definite, universally agreed on definition. I no longer take it for granted.

Panentheism is a relatively recent term, if not concept, in Christian theology and philosophy of religion. Scholars agree that it was coined by German philosophical theologian Karl Friedrich Krause (1781-1832) who invented the German word Allingottlehre which literally means “the doctrine that all is in God.” Of course, Krause was not the first person to promote the idea. (See John W. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers [Baker, 2006], 121-122.)

Krause meant more than merely that “all is in God, however.” That can be interpreted in multiple ways and might even fit Paul’s statement in Athens. According to John Cooper, Krause believed “the distinction between God and the world is that of whole and part.” (122) Exactly what Krause meant by panentheism is debatable, but the concept took on a life of its own, apart from whatever Krause meant, in philosophers such as G. W. F. Hegel who famously asserted that Without the world God is not God.”

Hegel is usually thought to have been the paradigmatic panentheist of the 19th century, but Alfred North Whitehead is usually considered that of the 20th century. Whitehead, of course, was the philosopher-mathematician who is the inspiration behind process theology. Whitehead said that “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.”

A consensus used to exist that panentheism is any view of the God-world relationship that portrays God and the world as essentially interdependent although God’s essence is not contributed by the world. One of the first whole books exploring the concept was Philosophers Speak of God by Charles Hartshorne and William Reese (University of Chicago Press, 1953). They defined panentheism as any view in which “To be himself [God] does not this universe, but only a universe.” (22) They asserted that, at the very least, panentheism denies creation ex nihilo (23).

So, traditional, classical panentheism distinguishes between God’s essence, his eternal being, and his experience. God’s essence, his thatness and whatness are his independent of the world, but his actual experience is given to him by the world. Many panentheists have used the body-soul or body-mind analogy to describe the God-world relationship in traditional, classical panentheism. The world (universe, cosmos) is God’s body.

I came to think that what distinguishes panentheism, in its German idealist (Hegelian) form and in its process (Whiteheadian) form, from traditional Christian theism (in its broadest form) is the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. In other words, I have no problem believing that God actually experiences the world such that there is a sense in which the world is “in” God. That’s how I interpret Paul’s statement in Athens. Also, I believe Paul meant that "the world is dependent on God for its existence from moment to moment" [which is the traditional expression for Classic Christian Theism - R.E. Slater].

The crucial difference between traditional, classical panen-theism and Christian theism, broadly interpreted (i.e., not necessarily as defined by Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas), is God’s dependence on the world. Panentheism traditionally affirms it; all forms of classical Christian theism deny it. Creatio ex nihilo [as a philosophical expression AND as a scientific expression - R.E. Slater] is the crucial doctrine that protects Christian theism from making God essentially dependent on the world....

* * *
In re-reading what I have said here a year ago (2012) I noticed I had written my understanding of panentheism backwards... as such, I've re-written it again to read as follows:

I've come to distinguish between the two expressions by remaining neutral to the philosophical while affirming the scientific.... That is, in scientific terms "something" cannot come from "nothing"... which correlates with quantum physic's observation. So, when using the phrase creatio ex nihilo in connection with panentheism it must be considered both "nay" and "yeah." "Nay," because quantum physics has stated shown our universe to have a beginningless mass from which our present universe became. And "yeah," in that I still prefer the classic idea of God giving mass and energy to the pre-universe though this cannot be proved scientifically.

Additionally, pertaining to God's sovereignty as related to creational evolution, I understand God to have reordered the quantum nothingness of the pre-universe into a quantum state of chaos filled with divine purpose and indeterminate possibility (sic, the "free will" side of creation). That is, evolution has a "teleological" side to it. Though random and chaotic per God's divine plan, there is also found superintending over its indeterminate structure (or "creational freedom") His divine direction in some mysterious process we've yet to understand giving to us life from nothingness. Most atheistic evolutionists will disagree with this sentiment as would be proper within a strict evolutionary understanding of creation. But as a theistic evolutionist I cannot explain biblical passages that express again-and-again God's deep involvement with creation as its Creator without understanding God's involvement within it as He directs its chaotic process towards our present day humanity.

On the philosophical side of the question of whether God is, or is not, dependent upon His creation I would like to affirm classic theism's idea that God is not dependent upon it based upon His essence both ontologically and metaphysically. As well as based upon the absolute necessity that we remain culpable free willed beings for our sin (which likewise makes God blameless for our sin). And yet, because He is our Creator there is also the sense that God is not so much "dependent" upon creation but somehow equisitely "linked" to His creation. So for me, process thought has the right idea leading in the right direction but is using the wrong word and linkages when discerning the Bible's idea of God's interconnected relatedness to our world. Hence, classic theism is the poorer without process theism's observations, while process theism must widen its idea of panentheism to allow a separateness of God's ontologic being from His relational being as creation's Creator.

- R.E. Slater, August 7, 2013

* * *

... Why is it important to deny God’s dependence on the world? Traditionally Christian theologians have said “to protect the transcendence of God.” Fine. But why? The bedrock reason is, as I have stated and argued here before, that “whatever is of nature cannot be of grace.” Christianity is not a philosophy; it is a message of grace. If God’s creation and redemption of the world is not free, then it is not of grace. Only that which is freely done is truly gracious. That’s a bedrock principle of theology. When someone disputes it, I frankly don’t know what they mean by “grace....” [To sum up: God is not dependent upon the world to protect His transcendancy over the world, but to allow our world and ourselves our greatest freedom when separated from God's "dependency" upon it (remember, I do not like the word "dependency"). When we speak biblically of creation's indeterminacy, or of man's free will, we assert a non-coercive free will of man and nature held quite apart from God's divine will. God has given to creation its highest possibility of separateness from His holy will as free-willed creatures. Thus, God is neither culpable to sin's progeneration, nor are we protected from its affects, and yet God longs for reconciliation and works always to restore creation back to Himself, who is inseparably a part of His creation in terms of will and purpose, rather than as ontologic or metaphysic connection per panentheism. As such, the term panentheism is evolving to mean many things instead of the classic Hegelian or Whiteheadian expression it once was intended to be in the 19th and 20th centuries. Consequently, we should not be afraid to use the word, but when we do, to use it less strictly, and perhaps with adjectival address. - R.E. Slater
* * *

Hence, in nature - as pictured in creation's current state of fallenness - some aspect of God's image may be borne. And yet, it remains unresolved, impure in some sense, corrupted, and unlike God's fully divine image. As such, though one may find a kind of "rebirth" from some aspect of God's creation - an experience of nature perhaps, or an experience within society itself through someone's story of rebirth - the rebirth that is sensed is but a glimpse of the very God Himself imperfectly reflected through His creation. Redemption cannot lie in these experiences (per biblical statements reflected through Jesus and the Apostle Paul, amongst others), though it may be lead back to the Creator-Redeemer God. But existentially (and metaphysically), the completion of divine redemption can only be found in God Himself, and not obtained from creation's ground of being.... Redemption's reality, presence, and ultimating source, is the divine personage of God Himself. This is the Christian doctrine of redemption, salvation, rebirth, and so forth.

Creation may direct us back to God (as it can, and will, because of the image of God lying resident within it's frame when glimpsed through sin's constant distortions). But in God's being doeth redemption fully reside unhindered, unmitigated, uncorrupted, unmangled. A redemption based upon the grace of His being met in the redemptive willfulness of God as a derivative of His grace. Where salvation's fullest, redemptive expression is found in the God who bears redemption's ground of being in Himself.... Especially when understood through Jesus, as God Incarnate expressing grace and glory, healing and life, light and reconciliation.

Presented in the form of redemption to both the world and to mankind each are found to be corrupted. Held in the grip of sin's disorderliness and ungodlike willfulness. Where no synergy of fellowship can be complete (or completed) without the singularity of redemption's repurposing of all of creation's aspects back upon God's divine person, being, and fellowship. Redemption must come from God. And especially from God's grace.

- R.E. Slater

* * *

... Notice that in Acts 17, during his speech in Athens, Paul not only quotes the Greek poet but also asserts that “God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” (vs. 24, 25) That has to be kept in balance with “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

So, the problem with traditional, classical panentheism, as expressed in the philosophies of Hegel and Whitehead (and their many followers), is that it seriously blurs the line between God and the world with the result that God’s creation and redemption of the world are not free and gracious acts but necessities for God. [Hence,] in saving the world God is somehow saving himself. And concepts like “create” and “save” don’t even mean the same in traditional, classical panentheism as in classical theism (broadly defined).

Having said all that, I must admit that the term “panentheism” is undergoing change in contemporary theology [as I have been demonstating here... R.E. Slater]. Like all theological concepts, over time it is being stretched to cover much more than it meant under the influences of Hegel and Whitehead (et al.).

A relatively recent study of panentheism illustrates this: In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World edited by Philip Clayton (we studied together under Pannenberg in the 1980s) and Arthur Peacocke (Eerdmans, 2004). Especially helpful is the chapter “Three Varieties of Panentheism” by Niels Henrik Gregersen (19-35).

I won’t go into the details here, now. I have submitted an article about this change in the meaning of panentheism to a theological journal. If it is published I will alert my blog readers to it.

Essentially, what is happening, is that some Christian theologians are adopting the term “panentheism” and adapting it to a more classical theistic view of the God-world relationship. Gregersen talks about “Christian [Theistic! - res] panentheism” by which he means a view in which God’s experience is contributed at least partly by the world [think in terms of Open Theology, if this helps - R.E. Slater], and what happens in it while God is himself not essentially dependent on the world. In other words, God freely chooses to include the world in his life. A good example is Juergen Moltmann who explicitly labels his theology panentheistic in several of his writings (“trinitarian panentheism,” “eschatological panentheism”). Many other relatively conservative Christian theologians, including some evangelicals, are calling their theologies panentheistic, but they don’t mean in the Krause, Hegel or Whitehead sense. They seem to mean only that the God-world relationship is ontologically real, not merely external to God. God freely (he could have done otherwise) creates the world and experiences it such that he is not the same with the world as he was, or would be, without it. And yet he does not literally “need” it to be who and what he is [which, with this last expression (underlined) would seem to me to be very un-panentheistic like, and not a true expression of panentheism, but some appendix of classic theism that is dangling off of it - R.E. Slater].

The analogy of parenthood comes to mind. In this panentheism, God is like a parent who freely chooses to have a child but, once the child is born or adopted, the child is part of his or her life. The parent is not the same as before. And yet, should the child die, the parent would still be the person he or she was even if changed. (This is only an analogy, of course, so please don’t pick it to death because it’s not perfect.)

My concern is whether this is stretching “panentheism” too far. It seems to me to lose all shape, so to speak, unless it is kept closely tied to (i) the rejection of creation ex nihilo and (ii) affirmation of the idea of God’s essential dependence on at least some world. I fear that, like many theological concepts, panentheism is losing meaning. In light of this broadening of its meaning to cover new ideas not traditionally meant by it, I suspect the candidate for the position teaching theology who was rejected by the evangelical president may have been treated unfairly. He may have only meant what Gregersen means by “Christian panentheism” which is compatible with creation ex nihilo.

I personally do not consider any theology that affirms creation ex nihilo panentheistic. That doesn’t mean affirming it makes everything correct; a person might affirm creation ex nihilo and be profoundly wrong about something else in his or her doctrine of God. But, it seems to me that creation ex nihilo is minimally necessary for a robust biblically and theologically sound doctrine of God. Traditionally, classically, it is one major factor dividing Christian theism from panentheism (or even pantheism).

[As addendum, in my opening comments I had mentioned how to overcome this doctrinal impasse between both theological divisions by coining the phrase Relational Theism to distinguish it from Process-Relational Theology's traditional panentheism that excludes ex nihilo creation; and from Classic Theology's impassive, wholly-Other God, unfeeling, untouched, and transcendent over His creation. I then attempted to bind both together into a synthesized framework by relating thematic plotlines from Scripture and our human experiences. Moreover, I have used the parental example myself and have found it helpful in describing God's personal experience of creation both as Creator-Sustainer and sublimely as its Incarnate (and Incarnating) Redeemer-Messiah. - R.E. Slater]