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Theism vs Panentheism

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(Image courtesy riveraucc)

Is this a diagram of orthodox Christian theism?

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Panentheism means ‘”all in God.” It is also called process theology (since it views God as a changing Being) [Geisler 1999:576].

This is the person’s retort to my teaching at: Is Panentheism true Christian teaching?

Does Christianity affirm this understanding of God? This person’s responses are in red font.

1.    The Judeo-Christian God is outside the universe

The biblical teaching is that the Judeo-Christian God had to be outside the universe for him to create the universe, which is external to him.

1.1   Illogical that God is outside the universe

Regarding my statement that the God who is outside the universe created it, you stated:

This is not logical. I feel this is a lame attempt to explain how evil can exist alongside God.  What did God use then, to create the universe?  This does not resonate with me as I believe it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God.  God may be “outside” the universe, however, this does not mean that the universe is not God.  He may not be in this universe, however, this universe is in him.

Take a listen to an interview with leading Christian apologist, born in India, the late Ravi Zacharias, about the problem of evil and God:

It is perfectly logical if you take the biblical text of Genesis 1 seriously. Your response indicates to me that you haven’t done an exegesis of Genesis to arrive at an understanding of how God created the heavens and the earth. In Scripture, He tells us specifically but you don’t seem to want to accept God’s view, but instead take the line, ‘This does not resonate with me’.

That sure sounds like Frank Sinatra’s worldview, ‘I did it my way‘. I’m trying to be kind in my understanding of your analysis of the origin of the universe, but I find some contradictory and nonsensical things in what you wrote here, for example:

clip_image003‘I believe it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God.’ If I’m to take that at face value, there is nothing – including you and me – that is not God. I can assure you that I’m a sinful human being who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). I am not God. My car, house and the beautiful Australian landscape are not God. They are separate from God because they are created things and are in need of creators.

clip_image003[1] If the universe is God, then this keyboard on which I type, computer screen, PC hard drive, office chair, and my meal tonight are God. Surely you know that is nonsensical thinking.

1.2 Genesis 1-2 disagrees

It seems to me you need to do some reading and study of the first 2 chapters of the Book of Genesis. I recommend H C Leopold, Exposition of Genesis, vol 1 (available online).  Genesis 1:1 (NIV), the first verse of the Bible, is teeming with meaning, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. This sentence is so full of meaning because it declares to us:

    (a)    God did several things (all stated in this verse) at once. These are …

    (b)    God is the Supreme Being who created the universe. Before the universe came into being, there was the Person, God. We know He is a person because he created personal beings, Adam & Eve.

    (c)    God exists independently of matter and sequential time. He is independent of space and time. This is possible because some of His prominent attributes are declared in this verse.

    (d)    According to this verse, before the creation of the heavens and the earth there was nothing. ‘Theologians speak of God’s immensity, infinity, and transcendence to describe this and our minds race at the thought of it, unable to take it in. All we can do is acquiesce and worship’.

1.3 God’s creation of everything in the universe

Genesis 1:1 teaches that everything that exists in the universe was created by God. There is a special Hebrew verb used in this verse which is translated ‘God created’. For this act of creation the verb b?r? is used. When this verb appears in the Old Testament, God is always the subject, stated or implied. Yes, human beings also ‘create poetry, music, literature, construction work, etc, but there is nothing to compare with God who creates. It is used in Gen 1:1, 21, 27 and Gen 2:4.

In Gen 1:21 and 27, creation does not exclude pre-existing material. However, in all of these verses, the emphasis is on the ‘achievement of something completely new’. The point of these verses is that the All-Powerful God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). Eastern creation stories from Egypt and Mesopotamia assumed their gods worked with existing materials.

Can you imagine the power of the God who created the entire universe? But there is more to the what of creation …

1.4 God and creation of darkness

Genesis 1:2 states, ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. What does it mean that it was ‘formless and empty’? God’s initial creation out of nothing was on in its final form.

What God initially brought into being was “t?hu vab?hu,” a “formless and empty mass.” Initially, the created universe had no distinctive shape; its structure would be formed by the artistry and design of God. In this sense, we are like God. We, too, fashion and mold and make things that are often beautiful. It is, in part, what Genesis 1:26–27 means by saying that Adam was created “in the image of God.” Man, too, creates, or better, re-creates, shapes his environment in such a way as to reflect something pleasing and good. Once man fell, this capacity became as much a liability as a blessing: his capacity to fashion became a means to idolatry (Derek Thomas, Table Talk, ‘Creation Ex Nihilo‘, January 2006).

In Scripture, God doesn’t reveal Himself in anyway that resembles ‘it is quite logical that God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God‘. Your view promotes panentheism, i.e. the world is in God; nothing is not God. To be honest, this is a self-construct, although there are many followers. See the panentheist supporter, Dr Marcus J Borg (1997). The God we never knew. He died in 2015, so now knows the truth about his view of God.

News from the Diocesan Worship Adviser - The Church of England ...

(photo of Michael W Brierley courtesy Diocese of Worster, UK)

 

Other panentheists include Michael W. Brierley, a Church of England priest in the diocese of Exeter UK  and Philip Clayton, contemporary American philosopher of religion and science, Claremont Graduate School of Theology.

Imagine having a minister of a Christian church who did not accept that God who lives outside creation, created the universe. That’s what we have with Michael Brierley, an Anglican priest in the  UK. This is a demonstration of how far the Anglican church has moved away from orthodox Christianity, to accept a leader who is a panentheist.

2.    Lucifer is part of God

In my discussion about the origin of Satan, you responded:

Once again, this does not quite sit well with me.  If Lucifer created the 7 deadly sins then he truly is a part of God to be able to create at all.  There must be trillions upon trillions of different endings to this story if we have the ability to choose.  Only God knows which ending is the true ending then. How can God create what he doesn’t know?  Why was there ever a choice if God didn’t have a full understanding of the negative choices that can be made?

2.1 Subjective opinion is not good enough

clip_image005‘Once again, this does not quite sit well with me‘ is a subjective response that is open to other kinds of subjective responses, e.g. The ‘7 deadly sins’ nails areas of my life where I need to be right with God. May I suggest you move to the more objective position: What does God say about these sins in Scripture? I need to be obedient to him.

clip_image005[1]    ‘If Lucifer created the 7 deadly sins then he truly is a part of God to be able to create at all‘. This is your hypothesis. We know Lucifer did not create the 7 deadly sins. It is a misinterpretation to make the 7 deadly sins an indicator for your panentheistic theology. Besides, all sins are forgivable by God, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29).

clip_image005[2]    ‘How can God create what he doesn’t know?‘ He knows everything because of his attribute of omniscience, so there is nothing God doesn’t know (1 John 3:20; Psalm 139:1-4; Acts 1:24).

Your God is too small and has the wrong digestion system. I suggest you read a sound book of Christian theology on the attributes of God. I’m thinking of Norman L Geisler, Systematic Theology in one volume. I could never find your God in Scripture. God knows everything he created. How do we know? He told us so: Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20; Acts 15:18).

Are the 7 deadly sins found in the Bible? Yes and no! In Proverbs 6:16–19 you can read of 7 things that God detests.

When God created human beings he didn’t create robots. He produced men who raise cattle and work in offices, women who raise children at home while others choose to go into many occupations in the work force. Wouldn’t it be a horrible world if you or I could not make choices of what we eat and which brand of steak is preferred?

clip_image005[3]    ‘Why was there ever a choice if God didn’t have a full understanding of the negative choices that can be made?‘ Your premise is false. God had a full understanding of the negative choices people would make (see verses above), but he chose to create people with free will, knowing the consequences. Remember that the one who created everything from nothing, knew what people would do with their free will, provided a way of escape. It was redemption for sinners who respond in faith to Jesus, the one who shed his blood for our atonement (cleansing of sin).

3.    No place for evil side with God

You wrote: ‘there is no place for this evil/negative side to exist within God ‘. This causes your worldview to come crashing down in the heap of panentheism. If there is no place for evil within God, how can you justify this statement: ‘God is all therefore there is nothing that is not God ‘? If ‘God is all‘, then ‘God’s “all” includes evil and the negative side‘. Are you prepared to defend that position in the public square: Facebook, Twitter, online forums, letters to the editor that the terrorist monsters, the rapists and Hitler exist within God? Is he the holy God of justice or is he some other ‘person’ who has an image generated by panentheism?

4.    Darkness is not separate to God

clip_image007 You wrote: ‘To suggest that the darkness is separate to God would give the impression that God is up against another entity separate from him.  I can’t gel with that.

Neither does it gel with me either. Here’s why: In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus told the story of the ungodly rich man and the godly beggar. When they died, the rich man went to Hades (for punishment), while the beggar went to Abraham’s Side (heaven). The rich man in Hades was experiencing ‘agony in the fire … this place of torment’ (vv 26, 28). It was conscious punishment. See also Matthew 12:36-37 and Luke 12:47-48. This article explains the biblical teaching: Is God in hell?

clip_image007[1]  ‘I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible that in the beginning there was God and the Word and darkness‘.

I can’t believe you’ve made such an uninformed statement. Take a read of these early verses from Genesis 1: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day’ (Gen 1:1-5).

There you have it right before your eyes that in the beginning there was God and darkness. Where does Scripture affirm that the Word was in the beginning? It’s in John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.

Who is ‘the Word’? ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. So, John 1:1 teaches that Jesus was the Word who was God. However, this One who is God also became a human being, the God-man who was ‘the Word [who] became flesh’ (John 1:14) and lived on earth among human beings.

The Bible contradicts your view that there was no darkness separate to God as He created darkness. May I suggest you do more careful reading of Scripture to arrive at an accurate understanding, instead of imposing your panentheistic views on Scripture.

5.    Why I will never support panentheism

Figure 2The references you have provided do not convince me that there is something that is not a part of God that can then go up against him’.

I can guarantee you that I’m not a part of God, although I have Jesus living in me, because of salvation through Christ. I don’t expect to convince you from Scripture that the almighty God is the Creator who created the universe from outside the universe. Here is why I’m not a panentheist:[1]

a. The nature of God.

The Bible teaches nothing about the panentheist God who has two poles. The biblical God is self-existent and this includes many supernatural attributes.

b.    The nature of the universe.

Instead of the universe being processed (changing), the Christian God is immutable (changeless) and the evidence he provided in the reliable Bible (using historical criteria) is that God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)..

c.    Miracles

Since your view is that the world is in God, it conflicts with the almighty God who demonstrated many miracles throughout history. He can do that because he stands outside of the universe. In your worldview, there is no need for supernatural acts and in fact they are impossible.

d.    The nature of human beings

Your worldview allows for human beings to be personal and free. But your view is that humanity was co-created with God and is of God. This is radically different to the Christian view of original sin and the need for a Saviour to cleanse us from sin through repentance and faith.

e.    Ethics

Do you believe there are absolute values? Are the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) always true or are they in process and can change?

In the words of Dr William Lane Craig, these are three reasons why I am not a panentheist:

1) Does God act as a cause outside of nature or are acts of nature acts of God without an external cause outside of nature? The Bible teaches that God on occasion acts as a cause outside nature. The effects of such actions are called miracles. The supreme example is the creation of the universe itself. We have good evidence for such a transcendent cause, e.g., evidence for the beginning of the universe and evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, which cannot be accounted for by wholly natural causes.

2) Is the universe eternal? If the universe is eternal could God be the cause of the universe’s existence? The Bible teaches that the universe is not eternal but was created by God at some time in the past, a view that is confirmed scientifically and is eminently reasonable philosophically. Setting aside philosophical arguments against the eternality of the past, there is no reason that God could not create an eternal universe. For any time t, the universe would depend for its existence upon God at t, whether or not there were moments of time earlier than t.

3) Can God be the universe and exist apart from the universe at the same time? Obviously, if God = the universe, then since the universe cannot exist apart from the universe, neither can God exist apart from the universe! But I think the more appropriate question is whether the universe could be a part of God. Biblically, that’s ruled out, and most of the traditional theistic arguments rule it out as well. God and the world are ontologically distinct (Panentheism).

f.    The nature of biblical revelation

I consider one of your greatest issues with biblical Christianity is that you will not accept Scripture at face value. When the eternal God stated he ‘created the heavens and the earth’ from outside of the universe, you reject this and impose your panentheistic interpretation on it. The presuppositions of panentheism drive your views of reality. You seem to impose them on Scripture and don’t want to admit what you do. Nowhere in Scripture have I read anything that looks like ‘the universe is in God’.

6.    God is sinful

‘Because God is all creating does not mean He is not sinless.

By this statement, are you contending that God is sinful – He is not sinless? Sadly, you don’t understand how a sinful person could cleanse the sins of all people throughout human history who have responded to Jesus in repentance and faith.

6.1 Jesus is sinless

Your view flatly denies biblical teaching on the need for a sinless Saviour who was a sacrifice to cleanse human beings of their sins. These are but a few examples:

clip_image0092 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’.

clip_image009[1] 1 Peter 2:22 : ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth’.

clip_image009[2]Hebrews 4:15: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin’.

clip_image009[3]1 John 3:5: ‘But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin’.

So, God the Son, one person in the Trinity, was sinless.

 

6.2 What about God the Father?

clip_image011 Numbers 23:19: ‘God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind’. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?’

 

clip_image011[1]Deuteronomy 32:34: ‘I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’.

 

clip_image011[2]1 Samuel 15:29, ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind’.

 

clip_image011[3]2 Timothy 2:13: ‘If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself’.

 

clip_image011[4]Titus 1:2: ‘… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time’.

 

clip_image011[5]Hebrews 6:18: ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged’.

 

clip_image011[6]James 1:13: ‘When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone’.

 

clip_image011[7]1 John 1:5: ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’.

 

I could provide additional Scripture to support the teaching on God, the Holy Spirit, who is not a sinner.

7. Theism vs Panentheism

Norman Geisler has provided this helpful summary of the differences between orthodox theism and panentheism (Geisler 1999:576):

Theism Panentheism
God is Creator. God is director.
Creation is ex nihilo. Creation is ex materia.
God is sovereign over world. God is dependent on world.
God is independent over world. God is dependent on world.
God is unchanging. God is changing.
God is absolutely prefect. God is growing more perfect.
God is mono-polar. God is bi-polar.
God is actually infinite. God is actually finite.

 

Where can panentheism be found today? It can be found in Hinduism, Sikhism, certain mystical Jewish traditions, Taoism, some Christianity where it is also called process theology (including the Eastern Orthodox Church. Unitarian Universalist Church),  some Sufi Islamic saints and thinkers had panentheistic views, and Gnosticism.

8.    Main issue

In my view, your main problem is that you choose not to accept the Scripture at face value but replace it with the irrational reasoning of panentheism that does not match reality. This is called eisegesis of any form of literature. It is based on the NT Greek preposition eis, which means ‘in/into’. So, when you read your worldview into the text, you come up with an interpretation that does not come out of the text.

9. Works consulted

Geisler, N L 1999. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

10. Note

[1] These points were made by Geisler (1999:577-578).

Panentheism - Wikiquote

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 July 2020.

Abstract pink lines. Vector — Stock Vector © emaria #6500803

Abstract pink lines. Vector — Stock Vector © emaria #6500803