According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, December 8, 2018

How Panentheism Differs From Other Theistic Systems of God + Creation


Panentheism (not pantheism, look it up) states God and creation are deeply and essentially related. I usually think of creation as the fourth member of the trinity sans the God-part. This speaks to the sublime idea of intrinsic fellowship where each finds identity in the other, defines the other, gives purpose and meaning to the other.

Asked in another way, does God and His creation depend on each other? Yes. Do each need each other? Yes. Can either exist without the other? No. Now this is not how traditional theism would answer each question. In fact, quite the reverse in its severe separation between God and creation where there is a deep uncrossable divide between the Creator and the created thing.

However, from a panentheistic viewpoint the ontic relationship is honored - not lessened - as any theistic system would do. What is different is how panentheism wishes to heighten the idea of "relationship" between the Creator to His creation. Not remove it into the cold abyss of divine transcendency.

Divine Aloneness Might Be Correct, But It is Meaningless

As such, if we were to follow traditional theistic teachings to their conclusion then the Creator God of the cosmos becomes wholly unknown to creation, wholly removed from it, wholly Other to Himself alone. Divinely alone except to Himself - without relationship, connectedness, or meaning except to Himself alone. As a panentheist I am find with such a statement. But I also find it empties God of His meaning to us. If He wished to be God alone then fine. But He didn't and created the cosmos and all that is in it. And when He did everything changed. He "expanded" Himself, shared Himself, revealed Himself. Why? Out of Love. This is the "relational theology" piece of relational-panentheism.


As corollary, theism then teaches the Godhead to be a meaningless, empty, absent, un-presence to His universe. Meaning, God becomes sufficiently unrelateable. Which isn't what the Bible teaches when it states the the Divine Encounterer has Divinely Encountered His creation. That is, God revealed Himself. And when He did He did so from the basis of Love, not secondary Decree. Why? Because God revealed His personage, His essence, His being, which is love. He could not do otherwise.

Thus the Godhead's relationship to a created cosmos is based wholly on love. He did not will Himself to relate to us, but came to us in the fullness of His divine Being as relationship, one built from love. Not displeasure, not control, not judgment, not selfishness. But of Love.

Which then explains the basic substance of the cosmos... that in all its parts and entities it is highly, complexly related to itself as it is relatable. This is the observation panentheism would make over the self-excluding, self-hiding, nuanced statements of traditional theism built upon Hellenistic thoughts of gods and godliness. It might be right, but it is not biblical in the sense that God has come and revealed Himself. And for this Christmas season,... in Christ.

God as the Definition of All Things

But how can it be otherwise!? Because if creation isn't, then we aren't. It is by, and through, and from, God's love that we are, that we might become, that we find wholeness to one another and to our Creator. Essentially, God's "is-ness" gives to us our "are-ness". As significantly - and this is where panentheism comes back into play - "even... as... we give to God His "is-ness" and "are-ness". Not in ontic dependence as theism rightly describes, but in relational dependence, which makes all the difference to us, God's creation. Thus, both creation and Creator need each other, depend upon each other, find meaning and identity in each other. It takes away the cold idea that God doesn't need us and only deigns to be present with us when He arbitrarily chooses. I'd rather have a God that is near because He is near, and present, and working with creation in all its aspects.

To argue idealized Greek philosophies of divine transcendence, of wholly Otherness, of divine purpose without object or subject to love, only teaches a God whom we can never know as Father-God, Redeemer, Lord, or Savior. These are specious church arguments which would separate us from our God - not bring to us a God who needs His creation deeply, or is part of His creation essentially.


Now this should blow your mind up, if not d-ssettle you're very soul. Bam! Say again!? Bam! It's like seeing color for the first time in a black-and-white world of theology! Restated another way, "Creation is not an unimportant thing to God." It is not a mere insect or meaningless grammatical insert or conditional side-affect of grace. Creation is of God as God is integrally "related to" it. 

Panentheism is therefore different from cold classic theism too focused on separating creation from God in clever syllogisms of wit or theological bombasity. God should never be thought so easily removed from us, so easily separated from His creation, or made so unlike who He is. This is the meaning of "I AM" when God declares "who He is". He is - not simply all-sufficient within Himself (though not denied) - but in "necessary cosmic RELATIONSHIP" to creation.

God is the God of Relationships

This latter idea then gives to God His definitive "am-ness" to creation - otherwise He is without meaning to us. It's easy to say we aren't in classical theism while God is  - but it is not correct. If we aren't then God isn't - not in His ontic Being but in His essential role as Creator-God. 

For us, there is no God unless we are. But why would we be wrong to think otherwise? Because in traditional theology (if not logic itself) it sounds more profound to make God so great as to unlink Him from a creation He is forever tied to. The real profundity is that God is great because He is forever interlocked with creation. Forever bound to creation. Forever become a deep, deep part of creation. Not so with the Greek gods of mythology who treated men with scorn and disdain. Who, for purposes of defeating other competing gods, titans, or forces, ruthlessly used men.

The God of the Bible is never this. Never.

The God of the Bible is always present essentially, fully, and substantially bound to all that is. This is what stands behind the idea of "relational" panentheism. It is the fourth and last model drawn in the diagram below and distinctly different from all previous versions of panentheism which has preceded it. More so, relational panentheism is based upon "open and relation process theology." Which is why I've taken such pains over the years to describe what ORT is and means to us today.

The importance, or import, of this position is that it always tells us God is there for us. That He is in every moment recreating a broken creation in every possible way back to Himself as we allow Him. Thus Jesus, and thus the import of God's "Christmas" Advent to creation, which He entered into with Creation so purposefully, so personally. We call this moment of cosmic entrance God's divine incarnation who, born as man, paradoxically, was fully God even as He was fully man.

God's Advent into Creation

It was therefore at this first advent of the Spirit-God in a fleshly, physical, earthy presence in which we beheld God as Love beyond the words, statements, descriptions, visions, or actions of biblical narratives. This is who Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah is. Not a mere babe, nor mere man, but the God man - fully relatable, fully loving, fully suffering, fully tormented - in a world He must come to in the entirety of His Being. The Wholly Other is Here. And this makes all the difference in a world which would deny God's "Here-ness" not only spiritually, but physically in holy presence. I submit then that if it were not so then life isn't life, gives no hope, and loses its veracity in the absence of God.

Lastly, I leave the section in John below to finish my thoughts. Thank you.

R.E. Slater
December 7, 2018



1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.


Describing Relational, Process-based, Panentheism



For myself and other process theologians creation is all about its relational existence, inter- and intra-mutuality, harmony, purposeful missiology, and any other -ology you can find as divinely driven stripped of all non-relational, isolating, excluding, others-denying versions of cosmology, anthro-pology, or creational aspects advocating the importance of individuality over group-awareness, connectedness, holistic teleology, or intrinsic wholeness to the other.

What follows is an explanation of the process-idea of panentheism emphasizing the "relationality" of creation to itself as a complexly networked "organic body" co-creating life together; empowering its future through allied mutualities; learning to listen to one another in transformational curiosity and imagination; and, exciting diverse and multiple possibilities for enrichment in supportive, mutual arrangements of sharedness of self to the other and the other to very life itself in empowering constructs and relationships. This is what we think might explain the universe we live in, depend upon, and must more fully appreciate in its majestic beauty and severe struggle of daily evolution continually creating new possibilities.

R.E. Slater
December 8, 2018




Panentheism: The Universe as God's Body
by Jay McDaniel
December 7, 2018

​Panentheism is the idea that everything in the universe is part of God but that God is more than everything added together. This way of thinking can be especially important to people with ecological sensibilities, because they can combine faith in God with a love of people, animals, and the earth. They can say that living with respect and care for the community of life is one way of contributing to God's own life and also that God is in some way in the community of life itself: on the earth, in the soil, in plants and other animals, and in us. Here God is not so far away, as if on a throne in the sky.

Two forms of panentheism

There are many forms of panentheism across the world's traditions. In the West one can be found in the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). He sees the universe as a direct emanation of God's activity, such that everything that happens around us and within us is the outcome of a single divine activity. The hills and rivers, the trees and stars, our innermost feelings and decisions, are all God godding. We can call this emanationist panentheism.

​The other can be found in the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He sees the universe and God as within each other and thus parts of each other, but also more than each other. The hills and rivers, trees and stars, and our feelings and decisions have their independence and integrity, even as God is also present in us and we in God. We can call this relational panentheism. Whereas emanationist panentheism has one creative power, relational panentheism has multiple creative powers.


A Multi-Religious Option

Both forms of panentheism have their wisdom. Both can help people live with respect and care for the community of life, finding wholeness within themselves and helping to build communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, ecologically wise, with no one left behind. And both can be internalized and enriched by insights and practices from the many world religions. You can be a Jewish panentheist, a Christian panentheist, a Muslim panentheism, a Hindu panentheist, and so on. Panentheism is a multi-religious option.

In what follows, then, I want to say a word about Whitehead's relational panentheism, often called "process philosophy" or "process theology." It has been developed by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist thinkers in rich ways, some of whom are featured on this website. See, for example, Rabbi Bradley Artson's God Almighty? No Way!, or Bruce Epperly's Where is God in Alzheimer's Disease?, or John Cobb's Where is God in Earthquakes?, or Monica Coleman's Making a Way of No Way, or Patricia Adams Farmer'sThe Quaking and Breaking of Everything Many people find Whitehead's perspective particularly plausible because it is influenced by insights from science (early quantum theory, in particular) even as it is shaped by ethics, art, and religion, and because it helps us deal honestly with the question of how belief in God can be reconciled with the realities of tragedy and suffering.


 

Co-creativity without an absolute beginning

In explicating relational panentheism, I would say that we should start at the beginning, but from a process perspective there is no beginning. Process theologians believe that the universe unfolds in a beginningless and endless series of cosmic epochs, each lasting billions of years; and they see God as the encompassing life in whom the universe unfolds. Everything affects God all the time, and God is continuously present in the universe as an active influence; and yet the influence is that of compassion not coercion, of love not one-sided power. Process theologians speak of God as creator, but by that they mean that God creates the universe through love, and they recognize that the universe creates itself, too, as it responds and does not respond to God. Thus process theologians affirm the co-creativity of God and the universe.


The universe is the body of God

One way to further understand panentheism in process theology is to say the universe is the body of God. For process theologians the universe is not the body of God in the sense that everything that happens in the universe is a result of divine agency, but rather in the sense that God feels the happenings of the universe much like we feel the happenings in our own bodies: that is, as inside us yet more than us.

How can this be understood? We can compare the universe to an embryo within a womb of a mother, with God as the mother and the universe as the developing embryo. With this in mind the analogy of embryo within a womb is apt in three ways.

God does not and cannot exercise one-sided power

​First, the embryo has its own life, which means that things can happen in its unfolding that cannot be controlled by the mother. Similarly, say process theologians, things can and do happen in the universe, by virtue of the creativity of the universe itself, which cannot be controlled by God. This is how process theologians explain the tragedies of our world, both natural and humanly made. Cancer and murder, tsunamis and rapes, are not the product of divine agency, but the result of the power and creativity of the world itself. This creativity, already introduced in the core of this essay, is neither good nor evil in itself, but can unfold in many different ways, some tragic and some beautiful. God is an instance of this creativity, but not the only instance. All creatures in the world – including cancer cells and murderers – embody it, too.


God is the deep listening of the universe

Nevertheless, and second, what happens in the embryo is felt by the mother and is part of her. Similarly, say process theologians what happens to each entity in the universe – to every human being – is felt by God and affects God. This is how process theology begins to talk about prayers in which a person addresses God as a Thou and not an It. When humans address God, they often sense that their prayers are being received into a deeper listening as the prayer occurs, and that the listener who listens is affected by the prayer. Process theologians agree. God is the deep listening of the universe.

For many people, of course, the question is how God answers prayers. For process theologians God does not and cannot answer prayers by manipulating situations in a unilateral way; but the very act of praying can alter the situation of the one praying and also the ones prayed for, such that God is better able to act in their lives. It is important to emphasize, though, that petitionary prayer is but one kind of prayer, and also that prayer as understood in this way is one instance of the more general idea that all the experiences of all living beings – whether happy or sad, constructive or destructive – affect God and become part of God as they occur. No one suffers alone.


God is the spirit of creative transformation at work in the world

Third, the analogy of the universe within the womb of a Mother rightly suggests that God is active in the world in a non-coercive but perpetually influential way. In the case of a mother in pregnancy, this activity takes the form of amniotic fluid which nourishes the developing embryo and perhaps also the attitude of the mother. In the case of God, this activity takes the form of creative and energizing possibilities, which represent the way in which God is immanent in the universe, even as the universe is also immanent within God.

Needless to say, this image of God as mother and the universe as a womb can be controversial to at least two sets of people: very traditional Christians for whom male imagery of God is the only relevant imagery and feminist Christians who want to avoid stereotyping women as finding their fulfillment in, and only in, pregnancy. The good news among process-oriented Christians is that there are many feminist Christians who help critique these stereotypes and who offer alternative images.

Needless to say this image of God as mother and the universe as a womb can be controversial to at least two sets of people:people for whom male imagery of God is the only relevant imagery and those who want to avoid stereotyping women as finding their fulfillment in, and only in, pregnancy. The good news among process-oriented theologians is that there are many feminists who help critique these stereotypes and who offer alternative images. But the image of God as mother is indeed challenging to more traditional Christians, and this challenge, on the part of process theologians, is in some ways very intentional.

 


 

God is not a policeman in the sky

Process theologians employ such images in order to provide a constructive alternative to an image of God which too often dominates the monotheistic imagination. We might call it the externalist perspective, because it imagines God as completely external to the world; or the unilateralist perspective, because it sees God’s power as one-sided or unilateral and thus capable of molding the world according to divine will; or simply the patriarchal perspective, because it imagines God on the analogy of a powerful male ruler who wields power but is not empathic. On this view the relation of God to the world is analogous to that of a Potter and pot that he is molding. The Potter is external to the pot and the pot’s destiny is largely determined by the will and power of the Potter.

Process theologians in the Christian tradition reject this image of God the Potter. They think God is more loving and that the ministry of Jesus is one place where this love can be seen. For many Christians the image of a parent and child is much more relevant than that of a potter and pot. This is the beauty of envisioning God as Father or Mother. Process theologians understand and appreciate this preference for parental imagery but then add that, in an authentic Christian life, there is no need for Christians to always understand themselves as children in God’s presence. It is all right to be an adult in God’s presence, too, and thus to add one’s own voice to the ongoing life of God. This is the wisdom of the Psalms, where so often the Psalmist laments or protests, sometimes against God. For process theologians there is something right about this approach to God. It allows human beings to share with God the whole of their lives and to own their own feelings.

God is love

Still, it remains the case that, for process theologians, the ultimate nature of God is love. From a process perspective love has two sides: (1) an empathic side which listens to others and is affected and changed by what is heard and felt and (2) an active side which responds to what is listened to by providing possibilities for well-being. Jesus showed these two sides of love in countless ways: by listening to others and sharing in their suffering; by taking delight in the faith of others and the innocence of children; by comforting the afflicted, especially those who were despised by others; and by afflicting the comfortable, especially those who thought they were better than others. At the end of his life he also revealed a non-violent side of love by dying on a cross rather than responding to violence with violence. In these various activities he showed that a life of love is flexible and improvisational. It does not follow a perfectly scripted blueprint, because it realizes that each new situation requires a slightly different response. In seeking to walk in love, Jesus seems to have realized that each moment has its calling.


God acts through fresh possibilities

In process theology the callings of the moment are called the “initial aims.” These initial aims are the callings of the moment to which Jesus was responsive in his way. They differ from moment to moment, but always they are for the well-being of life relative to the situation at hand. The phrase “initial aims” is not especially melodious, but it does use a word that is very important to process theologians. The word “initial” is meant to suggest that God’s callings are present in the beginning of each moment of experience at an unconscious but powerful level. They consist of possibilities which people can actualize and they also contain within them the felt hope that they will be actualized.

For process theologians this felt hope belongs both to God and to the person. Thus the aims of God within human life are God’s hopes for the person but also the person’s hope for himself or herself. These aims are for the well-being of life, but the nature of well-being can change from one moment to the next. There is a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to work and a time to play, a time to be awake and a time to sleep. In our waking moments, though, these aims are always for wisdom, compassion, harmony, and creativity. If we seek a single word to describe values such as these, some process theologians use the word “beauty.” Thus we can say that God’s lure within human life is a lure toward richness of experience, toward beauty.


The multiplicity and diversity of the universe enriches God's life

Even as God is at work in human life luring each person toward richness of experience, God is also present in the rest of the universe doing the same. On our small planet, the presence of God is found in plants and animals as they seek to survive with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand. To say that they seek to survive with "satisfaction" is to suggest that there is something like experience, and like an aim to be satisfied, in non-human life as in human life.

Process theologians believe this. Whitehead believed that there is something like "feeling" or "experience" all the way down into the depths of matter, and that other forms of life seek their own well-being, their own enjoyment. The lure toward richness of experience is in them as in us, and we rightly live honoring that lure, doing our best to live lightly on the planet and gently with other animals, for their sake and for God's sake. This very way of living adds beauty to the ongoing life of God, who likewise seeks richness of experience.

God's own experience is depleted by a diminution of diversity on our planet, as is our own. And God's experience is enriched by its enhancement. To struggle against global climate change, to protect animals from abuse, to safeguard wilderness areas, to develop green cities and strong rural communities -- all of this is oriented, not only toward the well-being of life on earth, but also the well-being of the Life in whom the world unfolds. Diversity and multiplicity, love and justice, are God's glory. This glory does not belong to a vain ruler who resides on a throne in the sky. It belongs to the whole of it, the universe itself, as unfolding within One in whom the world "lives and moves and has its being." (Acts 17:28). A One who is also a Many.