God in Creation – A Defense of Panentheism

God in Creation – A Defense of Panentheism January 12, 2012

I’m currently re-reading God in Creation, Jürgen Moltmann’s ecological doctrine of creation.  It’s my third time through the book — maybe fourth. It’s a beautifully written systematic theology text.  In the preface, Moltmann admits that he didn’t mean to write a thorough monograph on the doctrine of creation, but the more he got into the subject, the more topics he felt he had to cover.

He addresses some pretty cool topics, which will be out-there for some readers. For instance, the Kabbalistic idea of God’s tzimtzum is central to Moltmann’s understanding of how an all-consuming God made room for a creation that is other-than-god. Moltmann also turns to Jewish theology for the understanding of God’s Spirit as Shekhinah — that is, presence.

I’ll be exploring these ideas in posts as I read through the book, especially in light of the interest in Process Theology that’s being generated here and elsewhere.

But what’s likely to generate the most interest here is Moltmann’s wholehearted defense of panentheism. How Moltmann’s panentheism intersects with and differs from Process Theology is something that I definitely want to explore.

If anyone wants to read along with me, jump in!

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  • Tony, I’d love to read your thoughts about whether the reality of ” all ” creation…atoms to galaxies being apart of the redemptive imagination of Jesus?

  • Michael Gibson

    Looking forward to this, Tony. I’m especially interested in seeing your thoughts on whether you find Moltmann’s vision more compelling than, say, Barth or Tanner on the doctrine of creation. What I’m curious about is if you think Moltmann’s appropriation of tzimtzum requires and/or reifies a competitive conception of God and the structures of creation. In other words, does the notion of the self-restriction of God in order ‘to make room’ for creation not succumb to a metaphysics that requires God and creation to be competitive kinds or qualities of being?

  • BEING US: A Panentheist Affirmation
    By Lewis M. Randa

    We can assume God is much more than what is taking place in the cosmos — but it is enough to know that where God exists on Earth is as personal as each beat of our heart, for we are the outward and visible embodiment of Godhood. We are the physical form, imbued with a concept of self that at once denies we are God, while existing for the sole purpose of God being us. And in being us, God experiences in the “first person”, the reality we create.

    If something can happen, no matter how horrific and unfair or wonderful and affirming, it is allowed to happen. It is allowed to happen because God manifests itself through us in order to experience everything that can happen, both the good and the bad, in our terms (and everything in between), and therefore we and everything else are created and exist for that end. And because it’s God’s experience, it’s our experience too, not the other way around. Thus, God couldn’t be more personal, and as such, mystifyingly, doesn’t seem to be personal at all, or even exist for that matter.

    (Full article on http://www.peaceabbey.org)

  • I wonder if Moltmann is working from a concordist view or a non-concordist view of the creation? Story It seems that almost everyone reads into Ge a concordist view these days, most aren’t even aware of the option of nonconcordist views. I just re-read today that the first Christian to write about Genesis from a concordist view wasn’t until Augustine! And that apparently Plato and Socrates and the Greeks understood creation narratives to be about the creation of laws that govern nation-states, or to put it another way, Covenant worlds about people – not planets.but Christians read Genesis the opposite way from many ancients today, preferring instead to match up Ge with the material rather than covenantal world. I wonder if this common presupposition is on Moltmans radar at all.

  • Bert Graef

    Kabbala witchcraft and Talmud are products of Satans Synagogue Rev 2:9,and the Jewish antichrist mindset. Your all deluded.

  • Well, it’s pretty clear to me that what Moltmann wants to do is preserve the underlying God/World distinction that he inherits from the Reformed Theological Tradition. Process Theology is less committed to that distinction, and it’s panentheism veers closer to either a flat out pantheism, or else a view that God is simply one creature among others in the universe. FYI, I recently published a piece in the INternational Journal of Public Theology on Jonathan Edwards and Panentheism that might be of interest to you as well, with Moltmann references too (Moltmann clearly has Edwards in the back of his mind, as Edwards is the first footnote in the book).

  • The key to Moltmann panentheism is not only in where he sees the work of the Spirit, but also, and more importantly, what he sees as the work of the Spirit. The Spirit of Life is no passive entity, indwelling without motive or purpose, a divinized carbon. Rather, the Spirit of God is constantly active, moving and enlivening, gathering and directing. The Spirit goes out, working in all the world, for God’s purposes. Even more important, Moltmann is extremely intentional about establishing the personhood of the Spirit, which isn’t always the case with other approaches. This means Moltmann’s panentheism is distinctively purposeful and personal, deriving from his pneumatology that is given definition through the early books of the Old Testament, where everything that is alive is alive in the power of the Spirit and thus we can speak of the Spirit’s embeddedness in all living things. Like with everything in Moltmann, the emphasis is on God’s work on and in this world as a starting place, not the more process oriented world’s work on and in God. There’s also the very strong eschatological perspective, in which the world is given meaning in light of God’s already established future.

  • Hans

    I am a relative newcomer to Moltmann, but am interested in learning more. I encountered him most recently in my dissertation writing, in which I briefly examine the varieties of panentheism and propose a panentheistic pansacramentalism (or pansacramental panentheism). I did not review this text or Moltmann’s panentheism, but I did draw some from his Christian appropriation of Heschel’s theology of divine pathos (though I understand that some Heschel scholars critique Moltmann for getting Heschel wrong – or maybe intentionally altering Heschel). Taking panentheism seriously, I wanted to explore the reality of God’s suffering and human suffering as sacramental.

    Anyway, I think what you guys are doing here is of great profit: offering an online reading group for this text. I would love to read along but have too much on my reading plate at this time. I will be sure to browse comments as they appear on my Google+. I am sure I will learn a lot. If anyone in Mpls-StPl ever decide to put together a face-to-face reading group for this text (or the like), I would consider joining as well.

    Two basic texts I recommend that cover the varieties of panentheism are “In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being,” Clayton/Peacocke, ed. (Eerdmans, 2004) and Cooper, “Panentheism” (Baker, 2006). I am sure that many of the readers here are already familiar with them.

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