If have often said talk of panentheism often leads to a babble of tougues about God because there are so many interpretations to the word. We'll in my digital wanderings I have come across some thought provoking texts which address this issue.

The first was a review, by Edgar A. Towne, of the book "In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World." The review itself was entitled plainly enough, "The Varieties of Panentheism," and what I found interesting was it gave technical names to at least three different varieties.

God and universe: mutually dependent? Considering his distinctions between soteriological, expressivist, and dipolar panentheisms, the latter being incompatible with the former two, it is curious that Gregersen makes the existence of “a real two-way interaction between God and world” (p. 20) the indispensable and generic element of panentheism, which he says here is “more or less shared by all versions of panentheism.”

This in turn led me to track down excerpts from the book itself whereapon I dug up this quote:

He argues that in classic Trinitarian thought, dating back to the fourth century, there are resources for what might be dubbed a soteriological panentheism. In the context of nineteenth century romanticism, especially in Hegel, there is to be found a universalized expressivist panentheism, and finally, in the twentieth century, Charles Hawthorne developed a dipolar panentheism in continuations of Whitehead's process theology. He concludes that dipolar panentheism is not compatible with the other two forms of panentheism, and that a metaphysical choise has to be made between them.

And it would seem that there is even more diversity on closer inspection.

This reinforces what I have said previously, that invoking the word panenthism to cover any view of God that is not deistic of pantheistic is not in the least bit clarifying, about Biblical monotheism or anything else. In fact these authors go beyond my previous writings, because in my last post on this I only clearly distinguished between panen-theism and pan-etheism. Whereas in this book it is suggested, "The concept of panentheism, attractive as it is, is far from stable."

Maybe the attraction of an ill defined word is that it can lend an air of ancient lineage and broad support to understandings of God that would otherwise be taken as new and unique innovations. I think it is sufficient to say that, beware language games.

PS. To aid understanding, the article suggests that in soteriological panentheism, "the world's being in God is not taken as a given, but as a gift. It is only by the redeeming grace of God that the world can dwell in God; not everything shares automatically in the divine life. Wickeness and sin, for example, have no place in the divine life. Thus in a classic Christian perspective the world's being in God does not so much state a general matter of fact, but is predicated only about those aspects of created reality that have become godlike, while they still remain a created reality. Only in the eschatological consumation of creation shall God finally be all in all." In this more orthodox model, which affirms the holiness of God, there is no room for the mutual dependancy between Creator and creation we see in process models. This highlights what I have previously said in terms of theodicy and soteriology being major stumbing blocks for reconciling more recent process theology with more ancient Orthodox theology under the one name. You may as well incorporate monotheism and polytheism under the one name.

3 thoughts on “The Varieties of Panentheism

  1. Wow, thanks for expanding my vocabulary, Matt! That was incredible.
    Theology is certainly a massive, expanding universe unto itself, isn’t it. Something for every Self to construct their own meaning of reality.
    It is almost as incredible as spiritual reality. Working that logic!
    I find it fascinating that the struggle to define God and reality in panentheism, while avoiding pantheism like the plague, really contributes to the increasing need to work the logic. Is God immanent or transcendent? Does He have a specific Consciousness or a non-specific one? What would it mean if both were correct? What would it mean if panentheism and pantheism were actually combined?
    I think the last thing we want is one meaning to dominate us as individuals. We like the flexibility on our terms. Yet how flexible can we be if the Christian logic prevents us from breaking out of its taboos. Right now it is just a constant defense of the received logic. Interesting that no one really wants the problem to be solved. We like the flexibility in the formula, like a rational equation. We want to dominate the meaning of Christianity. Not have it dominate us. But how can it not. We can only use its terms of reference. I wonder if God is actually found in there?


  2. I am not sure if you caught the gist of this but much of this panentheism talk is generated, not by orthodox Christians, but precisely by people exploring more unorthodox directions. I don’t think God is found in this confusion of tongues at all. On the contrary it can be a deceptive freedom leading to enslavement by philosophical minutiae.


  3. Quite true. I guess I was coming in with a reaction from another discussion with a panentheistic theologian. Though I admire the brilliance of his ability to bring God back and permanently as part of this world, it was through an exquisite rational diminution of internal Christian theo-logic.
    From within his expert understanding of how theology developed over the centuries, and how its rationalism was warped from the original, he came to some excellent conclusions within the Christian superstructure.
    But, in the process, he wiped out the possibility of God having a specific Consciousness, only a non-specific, I would say almost Buddhist interpretation of God.
    This leaves out ‘half’ of God, and keeps the perception of God divided and conquered in the philosophical definition. It also points to a lack of actual spiritual experience, the mind’s rationalism being a substitute. It’s a malady of so many mainline churches, and one of the reasons why so many are leaving them. It comes across as extreme concept, instead of promoting actual spiritual experience. If God doesn’t have a specific consciousness, rationally, then no one is going to seek Him.
    A horrendous error!
    Sorry if I misinterpreted you, Matt. I totally agree with your clarification.


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