What’s wrong with panentheism?

What’s wrong with panentheism? 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.

The crucial difference between traditional, classical panentheism 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. Creation ex nihilo is the crucial doctrine that protects Christian theism from making God essentially dependent on the world.

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.”

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. 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. 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 panentheism” by which he means a view in which God’s experience is contributed at least partly by the world 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.

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 the rejection of creation ex nihilo and 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).



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  • Edgardo José

    Thank you, Roger! I had the same question because of your blog about Edwards and my interactions with the writings of Leonardo Boff. He has a post about it in his blog:

  • Dr. Olson,
    Thank you for this post. I have recently been listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast in which I’ve been reintroduced to theological ideas like process theology and panentheism. I first leaned about these from your text, Mosaic of Christian Belief, but not having reviewed that book in a while, this is a great clarification for me. (I honestly never thought I would ever come in contact with real process theologians until I came across the HBC podcast. The first episode I listened to was when you were interviewed by Bo Sanders.)
    I feel that I could affirm “Christian panentheism,” but since I’m not comfortable enough to let go of “creation ex nihilo,” nor can I embrace God’s dependency on the cosmos, I can’t go all the way into classical panentheism. My pentecostal background and subsequent experiences has led me to see God’s presence in tangible ways. This is why I lean in a panentheistic direction.
    Like your recent discussion on inerrancy, in which the definition depends on its adherent, it would be great to have a title for this theological idea that is authentic to its intent, though I’ll stick with “Christian panentheism” if its the only suitable alternative.
    Thanks again for this post.

    • rogereolson

      I would just advise you to be careful as there are many evangelical leaders who are not informed about the broader meaning of “panentheism” that includes Gregersen’s “Christian panentheism” which, unlike process theology, does not make God dependent on the world.

  • JJ

    Roger, I look forward to checking out your journal article if it gets published. This is a fascinating topic. So what do you make of your old friend Philip Clayton’s trinitarian panentheism that strongly affirms creatio ex nihilo? He seems to be at the forefront of contemporary arguments in favor of panentheism (see his “Adventures in the Spirit” in particular) having published widely on the topic, yet you apparently would not call him a panentheist because he affirms creatio ex nihilo. This is odd to me – much like your previous refusal to call Joseph Bracken a process theologian despite his very clear, primary grounding in Whitehead (and self-identification as such). Also, for those interested, here’s a helpful article from Clayton on the topic, “The Case For Christian Panentheism”: http://philipclayton.net/files/papers/TheCaseforXtianPanentheism1.pdf

    • rogereolson

      You’ve caught me. But anyone who reads my blog or my books very long or very much knows what a stickler I am for staying with traditional definitions of terms. I’m almost literally allergic to these shifts and changes that take a well-known term and stretch it to mean something it never meant before. It confuses everybody. I wouldn’t consider Phil a panentheist in spite of his embrace of the term because to me “panentheism” includes denial of creation ex nihilo. But, I admit, I may have to change as the term stretches to cover much more than it used to. But then we’re going to have to come up with some new terminology to distinguish between “old” panentheism and “new panentheisms.” It seems to me that somewhere along the way “panentheism” became a sexy theological term and concept and some people want it to apply to them (for whatever reasons) without buying into all that it has traditionally implied. I would just say to them “Don’t do that.” 🙂

  • Bev Mitchell


    Thanks for this. We sometimes get to thinking that worrying over ideas like panentheism and creation ex nihilo is only for academic amusement, but it is fundamental. Just today I again picked up TF Torrance’s “The Trinitarian Faith” having laid it aside to give the head a rest, and there it was right on the page with the bookmark, 84 to be precise.

    Essentially, at least according to Athanasius, creation and incarnation are so closely related that we should not consider something like Whiteheadian panentheism unless we are prepared to take on the incarnation as well. Here are perhaps the most telling quotes from a little section entitled “God was not always a Creator”.

    Torrance first quotes Athanasius;
    “the Word himself became the Maker of the things that have a beginning” 
    And speaking of the Son, “He was not man previously, but he became man for our sake.”

    Then he points out: 

    “Thus the incarnation and creation together, the latter interpreted in the light of the former, have quite breath-taking implications for the nature of God. They tell us that he was free to do what he had never done before, and free to be other than he was eternally…”

    Of course Torrance does not fail to observe how very un-Greek this monumental idea was ……. and is.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for this. What makes my me break out in hives is when someone (like a seminary professor I once heard at a professional society meeting) tries to call Luther or Barth a panentheist–in the traditional, classical sense.

  • Christian

    What are your thoughts on Thomas Jay Oord? He is more in line with process thought with his Essential Kenosis idea. I still consider him an evangelical (even though he denies creation ex nihilo). Thoughts???

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t had time to look into his reasoning although he has sent me his books. I like Thomas and respect his mind and his work, but I consider creation ex nihilo an essential of Christian orthodoxy. Can a person be an evangelical and deny an essential of Christian orthodoxy? Happens all the time. 🙂

  • J.E. Edwards

    O.k. admission time here. I misread the entire article, I thought you were addressing pantheism. I had to go back through it again with a different understanding. I don’t think I’d ever heard of panentheism. Interesting. I really liked that closing paragraph remark.

  • I have coined the term ‘Relational Theism” to create a synthesizing position between Process Theology and Classic Theism, especially as it relates to panentheism that denies “ex nihilo creation.” It takes all the relational elements of A.N. Whitehead’s observations and fundamentally ties them into the better expressions of Classical theology’s non-relational observations of God’s divinity that I find cold and static without the post-additive inclusion of the “Incarnation” in Reformational doctrine.

    I think PT has been very helpful in re-envisioning God into the narrative story of us and creation. Not only on a redemptive level, but on a metaphysical and existential level. Especially in describing God as loving in disposition and action. However, I don’t understand PT’s need for panentheism (though I understand Classic Theism’s need to reject it quite well!). As I continue to investigate it I wish to discover what components of PT can be separated under this new heading of RT that would qualify each as fundamentally different from the other as they are alike in Christian disposition (I suspect in some ways that PT is actually evolving to allow this newer version of itself). In this way Classical Theism may likewise evolve into a fuller expression of God’s relational experience of creation in terms of love, truth and justice.

    • rogereolson

      When did you coin the term? I’ve been using it for a long time. There’s a whole program unit of the American Academy of Religion dedicated to it. Although he did not use the term, 19th century German mediating theologian I. A. Dorner developed a relational theism in contrast to Hegel’s panentheism and classical theism’s immutable and impassible God. I consider myself a relational theist and base God’s real relationship with the world, such that the world contributes to God’s experience, on divine self-limitation. (Dorner preferred “self-actualization,” but I avoid that concept as it implies some incompleteness in God prior to creation.)

      • Very cool. I am not familiar with any of these schools of thought and created the terminology myself a year ago so I could better think through Process Theology (which was another new concept for me). Afterwards, I then discovered Thomas Oord to also have been using it (but am not sure in what sense, though I like where he is going with it). With yourself, and Oord, I find myself in good company! 🙂

        Overall, my concept was to synthesize the positions of Process thought with Classic Theism and come to a middle ground of understanding that utilizes the true parts of each while discarding elements like panentheism on the one side, and austere sovereignty, on the other. Seemingly this is occuring as you noted by your complaint about “definitions” losing their traditional shape and argument as these ideas seep into the vernacular.

        As such, I am interested in determining what is “substantive” to the position of Process Theology and what is “pervasive” to other more general positions that Process Theology is claiming to be theres alone. Now whether this has been done or not I do not know. And if there are good links to this subject then please share away!

        Overall, I will reserve judgment upon the other forms of Relational Theology you have mentioned until I can judge how they have been updated to fit today’s more contemporary arguments between Process and Classical thought. However undefined my position is I’m know where it is going and what I want from it. I am especially interested in see it fit into that newer branch of Christianity called Emergent Christianity. Hopefully the AAR is working through these same issues. My bias comes with an Evangelical flavor wishing to broaden beyond its groupings.

        Thanks for your help,


        • rogereolson

          One of my main guides in developing a relational Christian theism has been Juergen Moltmann. He’s not a process theologian (he affirms creation ex nihilo), but he emphasizes God’s real, ontological relatedness to creation based on love and self-limitation.

          • Good to know re Moltmann. I also intend to track down AAR’s work in this area when I beginning concentrating on process theology again. Any papers or links you know of are always welcomed. Thanks.

  • Bev Mitchell


    You are correct, Tom Oord does reject the Greek version of creation ex nihilo, I think he does so in the same sense that we reject the Greek idea of “type” – as in perfect representative vs. the thing we are able to see, touch etc. But, in his “The Nature of Love: A Theology” in the section where he makes this bold statement “In short, creatio ex nihilo undermines a coherent doctrine of divine love”, he says in the next paragraph “We need a biblically supported doctrine of initial creation consistent with reason and experience. It should not claim God creates from matter predating God or from that which God did not create……..The needed doctrine of initial creation should affirm creation’s utter dependence on God and affirm creation’s God’s ontological independence. …….An adequate doctrine of initial creation will not affirm an eternal dualism of good and evil beings. The new biblically orientated doctrine of initial creation, however, should not describe God’s power in ways to make God culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil. It should reject creation out of nothing. It should reject the idea that God in the beginning or any time since acts coercively.”

    In short, Oord, like Sanders, Boyd etc., believe we still need to seriously question and even reject some Greek (Platonic) ways of seeing things as a first step in developing a more defensible doctrine of creation, or of God for that matter. He (very firmly) makes the basic Arminian case of placing God’s love ahead of his power, and deriving our thinking about his power from our thinking about his love. I think one  way of approaching this is to speak of God making everything possible as a way of saying God creates.

    There is no pantheism, panentheism or process theology in Oord’s proposals. But he works at the edge of these and requires careful reading. 

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that helpful clarification. I must look into Oord’s proposal more fully. Given this, however, I’m left wondering what creation out of love means metaphysically. How is it different from creation out of nothing? Is Oord perhaps thinking that the traditional doctrine interprets “nothing” as the Greek philosophical “me on”–a “nothingness” that has some kind of (non)being (a power of negativity, resistance)? I don’t think that’s what the Cappadocian fathers meant by it at all. I think they literally meant that God, mysteriously to us, created the universe out of nothing (void, lack, without being). He affirms a non-dependence of God on pre-existing matter. How is that different from creation ex nihilo?

      • Bev Mitchell

        Yes, I know. Tom has gone walkabout for several months in the Rockies (from a previous e-mail) so will probably not be able to answer right away. Clearly your questions are ones we should ask him. But just stating that he is against whatever we think creation ex nihilo means to us or meant to the Greeks (as Christian appeared to be doing) is to miss his larger point (I think). 

      • Bev Mitchell


        On second thought, I will take a stab at defending Tom Oord’s idea on this point a bit better. I think he is (simply) saying that we don’t understand love well enough. Creating ex nihilo, in the popularly understood manner (the Greek manner) is a matter of the exercise of power by the all powerful. We understand power (do we ever), and the deceiver counsels the use of power. We don’t understand love very well, and as for being faithful practitioners, oh my. (But, there is even a way of reading with love which puts a new twist on loving to read – see the wonderful comment by Lise today in Pete Enns’s post “If the Bible is broken, how do you fix it?”) 

        God is love. We can build the case that his power derives from his love (or vice versa). I think Tom would say, if we really understood love as God understands love, we would understand how he creates entirely through love, as well as how it will be that “every knee shall bow.”

        Of course, since we cannot understand love as God does, this simply adds another mystery to the mystery shelf. But it’s a better mystery that how power can become love or how love could be behind evil.

        P.S. I haven’t met Tom, but have e-mailed him my thoughts on his work from time to time. He has said that I seem to understand what he is trying to say. Hope I still do. 🙂

        • rogereolson

          Thanks, Bev. I know Tom personally and he has sent me his books. They’re sitting on my shelf waiting their turn. 🙂 I don’t see creation through love and creation ex nihilo as conflictual. I do want to preserve God’s omnipotence while emphasizing that God’s power is always governed by love.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Roger, I appreciate both your careful delineation of the meaning of terms and related concepts, as well as your judicious use of phrases like “it seems to me.” I like it when you say “it seems to me that creation ex nihilo is minimally necessary for a robust biblically and theologically sound doctrine of God.” In that mode it seems to me that rather like what you say regarding the term “panentheism” the phrase “creation ex nihilo” “somewhere along the way … became a sexy theological term and concept.” While it seems to me commendable to protect Christian doctrine, it also seems to me that “creation ex nihilo” is not so much a biblical doctrine as a theo-logical one, presumed necessary to protect other aspects of theological conception. If, as it seems to me, “creation ex nihilo” is not clearly and explicitly a biblical doctrine, it seems best to find some other basis for protecting traditional doctrines of God from innovations in the meaning of Christian panenthism.

    • rogereolson

      I disagree. As I have said here before, the full blown doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible, but it is necessary to protect biblical truth.

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        So, that would seem to mean that you fully acknowledge and accept not only the necessity of but the authority of post-canonical “revelation” as a means of determining the truth. So, where do you draw lines as to who has the authority to establish the truth of the Bible? If your line of reasoning is valid then we should perhaps all be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. If not why not?

        • rogereolson

          So strange to see that thrown at me as I have always insisted (against paleo-orthodox evangelicals) that we must remain open to Scripture correcting tradition. Nothing about creation ex nihilo contradicts Scripture and Scripture requires it even though, as a doctrine, it was developed later in reaction to Greek notions of origins.

          • CGC

            Hi Roger,
            Where do paleo-orthodox Christians say that Scripture does not correct tradition? It seems to me whether we are talking about Evangelical paleo-orthodox Christians or even some of those in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, many I talk to believe in the primacy of Scripture (contra sola-scriptura) which would certainly allow not just a dynamic synthesis between Scripture and tradition but also for Scripture to be the basis for tradition or to even correct it.

          • rogereolson

            Read Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology. I didn’t say paleo-orthodox Christians say Scripture doesn’t correct tradition, but I do argue (and demonstrate in that book) that they TREAT (their own version of) tradition as incorrigible. I also wrote an article on this for Christianity Today a few years ago. My friend Chris Hall (we wrote a book on the Trinity together) disagreed with me and wrote a response in the same issue. As a traditional Baptist I do not think any man made creed or doctrinal formulation is sacrosant in any way similar to Scripture itself. So I resist saying that we MUST read Scripture through the lens of the church fathers or using the Vincentian canon as a litmus test for doctrine. It seems to me that, in spite of what they sometimes say, the leading paleo-orthodox theologians close the door to doctrinal construction or reconstruction or even correction. However, my reasons are given in detail in Reformed and Always Reforming. Please read it.

        • Adrian Turner

          May I suggest that there is a critical difference between post-canonical truth and post-canonical revelation of canonical truth! To become RC or Eastern Orthodox, I would have to accept the former.

      • Adrian Turner

        what do you mean by “full blown”? “Necessary” implies that the Trinity is a matter of mere pragmatism. As Schaeffer said, “it isn’t true because it works, it works because it is true”. Do you not accept that scriptural doctrines are both explicit and implicit?

        • Roger Olson

          All “doctrines” are man-made.

  • John

    What do you think about these ideas from Dale Moody, _The Word of Truth_?

    [Introducing Tillich’s theology]: “This ultimate unity is so pronounced that Tillich’s statements often sounded like the pantheism which he steadfastly denied. Discerning once, as I still think, that a unity like Hegel’s synthesis was the thing he had in mind, I suggested that he use the term pan-en-theism, coined by K. C. F. Krause (1781-1832) for his own system. This means God’s Being penetrates the whole universe, but God’s Being is not exhausted by the universe.” (32)

    “Stoicism taught that all things _are_ God, pantheism, but Paul that that all things are _in_ God, panentheism (1 Cor. 15:28).” (394)

    • rogereolson

      I think Moody was partly right and partly wrong. Tillich did apply the term “panentheism” to his theology in his third volume of Systematic Theology, but I think it’s unclear exactly what he meant by it. I have come to think that Tillich was confused, especially in his idea of the God-world relationship. Sometimes he made God so superior to the world (by stressing God’s infinity) that it seems God could not possibly be affected by the world and what happens in it. At other times he sounds Hegelian and even close to process theology. I think Moody’s definition of panentheism is not complete. Christians have always believed that all things are “in” God IN A CERTAIN SENSE. But panentheism (from Krause on until recently) has gone further and said that some universe is necessary for God. Hegel, for example, argued that “without a world God is not God” (but he clearly denied an identity of God and the world). That’s a clear expression of panentheism. If one does not say that or something tantamount to it, then I don’t think the word panentheism is relevant.

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        Isn’t it true that without a world God would not be known as God? We humans are the one’s seeing, perceiving, conceptualizing about God; it is our existence as part of a world that makes these concepts possible; there would be no talk about God without a world. Right, to assert panentheism, that ALL THAT IS IS IN GOD, requires a world. That surely doesn’t invalidate or make the term irrelevant, even for bible believing Christians, does it?

        • rogereolson

          You are confusing the orders of knowing and being. God was God before there was anyone outside himself to know him. Surely.

  • Steve Dal

    Recently I have been more and more convinced that God had no option but to incarnate in Christ because of the divine nature which is love. The very nature of God made it impossible to stay away. I don’t of course, think anybody understands it but I am moving in the direction that God’s involvement in humanity and creation in general is synergistic. So where scritpure mentions synergy (literally) as in Corinthians and James for instance, it is a oneness. So God does not live in human shrines etc etc but I still think He was compeled to incarnate.

  • Panentheism is an interesting and important subject. In my website, I use the word panentheism often. I say that panentheism came from Anaxgoras in Greece in 500 B.C.. It was confirmed by Plato in his Paramides Dialogue. I conclude that Jesus studied the Greek panentheism and took it home to teach it there. Panentheism was lost in Christianity when Gnosticism was.charged with blaspheny. Panentheism became of inteest in the 15th century in the work of Micholas of Cusa. Galileo and Leibniz expanded panentheism greatly. I have developed panentheism in two books, ‘The First Scientiic Proof of God’ and ‘A New and Modern Holy Bible.’

    • rogereolson

      But how are you defining “panentheism?” The word itself was coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Strauss in the mid-19th century to designate a very specific view of the God-world relationship in which God is dependent on a world (Hegel’s “Without a world God would not be God”). It does not just mean God’s immanence in the world. Part and parcel of true, historical, classical panentheism is denial of creatio ex nihilo and divine aseity (self-existence and ontological self-sufficiency). That goes against the grain of the Great Tradition of Christian belief because it undermines the gratuity of creation and redemption.

  • JD

    When I was an undergraduate I think it’s fair to say that I was a panentheist. I was heavily influenced not only by Moltmann (and it’s interesting you don’t think he is one) and by a scholar at my college, Paul Fiddes. I remember arguing that God does suffer, against the classical doctrine of divine impassibility, and that God is in some sense ‘changed’ by the world, which was the topic of heated debate between myself and another one of my tutors, a Catholic scholar who is (as many Catholics are) a big fan of Aquinas. Since then I have come to better undertand the arguments of classical theists, and I do not want to go as far as I once did to affirm panentheism in the classical sense you speak of. I have always felt, as a Christian, that Jesus Christ is our guide to God, and I can’t help get away from the idea that the incarnation reveals a God in which He and the world are in some sense dependent on one another. Barth seemd to offer a way forward for me, since he spoke unashamedly of the otherness of God, of our total dependence on Him (not vice versa) but that, nonetheless, God freely chooses to enter into the world in love. I am wary of creating an analogy between ourselves and God, but I cannot conceive of a love that does not choose to be in some sense molded and shaped by ‘the other’. At the same time we need God to be God so as He can save us. So I do seem to be more of a ‘relational theist’, a term I had not heard of before, but it’s nice to know people identify themselves as such. A question.: Another one of the reasons why I was attracted by panentheism and process theology was because I was deeply dissatisfied with the traditional two natures doctrine of Christ 9and still am really). It seemed to split Christ’s personality, and I could not affirm that Christ suffered only in his human nature and not his divine nature. Surely Christ suffered in his whole person? (and I know defenders of two natures will say he did, but only in his human nature. But this just won’t quite do for me). Surely then God can be said to suffer? Do you think that in order to protect divine impassibility and classical theism we have to affirm a two natures doctrine, or can we get around that some other way?

    • rogereolson

      I think kenotic Christology gets around it. A good book on that is an old one. I hope you can find it: P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ.

  • Steve B

    I am very late to this thread but to any who might come across this in future, the best brief discussion of classic Palamite synthesis on panentheism in the East is Vladamir Lossky ‘The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church’. The entire book is worth reading but especially chapters 4 and 5 on uncreated energies, and created beings. It is unashamedly volunterist and not modern in asserting the necessity of a creation for God to be God. The distinct energies of God,though not seperated from God in his essence proceed from God and would do so whether the cosmos existed or not. We cannot know or participate in the essence or hypostasis of the Trinity, but can participate in the energies of the Trinity which are communicable. It is a good introduction to the reality of epsitemological humility in the face of discussions about the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

    • rogereolson

      I am today reading Rowan Williams’ essay on Lossky in Wrestling with Angels. Your take on Lossky’s doctrines of God and creation are troubling, though. I cannot believe Lossky believed creation is necessary for God to be God. That would make the world part of God and then neither creation nor redemption would be gratituitous (purely of grace). I have read The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church and did not see what you say there. I’ll look again. I’ve also read the chapters on Eastern Orthodoxy theology in the book In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World. And I have written an article about “panentheism” that will be published in Evangelical Quarterly–a British-based theological journal. My argument is that the category is being stretched beyond its original and historical meanings so as to become almost useless.

    • rogereolson

      Now I’ve read Chapter 5 of Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. There he says “in the act of creation God was under no necessity of any kind whatever.” I do not see any hint of a necessity of any creation for God. Please cite the specific statements that you think support that (and tell what chapter they are in).