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I’ve been exploring Panentheism (not to be confused with Pantheism) and certain elements speak to my own experience of God. I also understand that this theology is embraced by some contemporary Christian thinkers.

I just wondered if this was considered a heresy by the established church (Anglican or Roman Catholic)?

Panentheism, in simple terms and as far as I understand it , is the idea that God is within and interpenetrates the whole of creation, but is at the same time above and beyond it in space and time. In other words, God is both immanent and transcendent.

Pantheism, in contrast, is the idea that the universe IS God, and that God is the universe. There is no other than the created order.

Contemporary Christian panentheists include

  • Richard Rohr
  • Ilia Delio
  • John Polkinghorne
  • Cynthia Bourgeault
  • Jurgen Moltmann
  • Phillip Clayton
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    Can you please edit this to explain what exactly weak panentheism is, and how it is distinguished from other panentheisms? – curiousdannii Sep 23 '20 at 9:23
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    Neither theism nor pantheism nor panentheism are, or profess to be, Christian. I do not see how this can be on topic. They are branches of philosophy. – Nigel J Sep 23 '20 at 11:12
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    @NigelJ Panentheism is also known as Monistic Monotheism. As it is a way to think about what the Scriptures say about the one true (Christian) God I think a question as to it's reception in Christian theology is on topic. philosophybasics.com/branch_panentheism.html – Mike Borden Sep 23 '20 at 12:14
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    @Ian I will upvote this question if you edit in brief comparative descriptions of Pantheism and Panentheism (distinguishing between weak and strong) and perhaps mention a few of the contemporary Christian thinkers who embrace the latter. – Mike Borden Sep 23 '20 at 12:22
  • @MikeBorden I have edited as requested. – Ian Sep 24 '20 at 10:20
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Yes, panentheism is heretical. I say this as an Evangelical Christian who was brought up in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, which began as a splinter group that broke away from the Church of England in the late 1820s.

Frankly, I do not know whether Anglicanism/Episcopalianism has given its imprimatur to the doctrine of panentheism, but I can assure you that my religious tradition would not allow for such an imprimatur.

What are the biblical bases upon which Bible-believing Christians say no to panentheism? I'll suggest several.

  1. God's immanence (as opposed to his transcendence) testifies to his nearness to all people at all time, but particularly near to his saints; that is, those who have believed in and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, thus becoming children of God (John 1:12-13). To suggest that God's immanence extends in any way or to any extent to the physical creation and the atoms and molecules of which everything is composed, is heretical. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4):

". . . [A] time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (verses 23-24 NIV).

God is a spirit being, and his Holy Spirit is also a spirit being.

  1. God sustains and maintains his creation by the word of his power. In Colossians Chapter 1 we read of Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (verses 15-17, my emphasis).

Granted, some Bible versions translate "hold together" as consist and endure, but I suggest all three words speak of the same thing, and that is this: Jesus's word of power brought the universe into existence, and by the same word the universe could also come apart. His word of power is like the glue that holds the universe together. He is Lord of all creation, and as its Lord, his primary task vis a vis that creation is to maintain it, even in its broken state.

By the same word of power, one day Jesus will make all things new, the way things were prior to the entrance of sin into the universe by way of Satan and our first parents. Notice, he will not make all new things, but he will make all things new. There was nothing wrong with the universe as it was originally created by God. He declared it to be good and very good. What makes the world "groan in travail," as Paul puts it in Romans 8:17 and passim), is that God's creation

was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God (ibid).

  1. Those professing Christians who would describe themselves as panentheists might, I suggest, have imbibed a bit too deeply from the wells of unbelief, as found in the teaching of the late Carl Sagan, who postulated,

The cosmos is all there was, all there is, and all there ever will be.

To Sagan, the physical universe was his god. He was in awe of it, not because the one true God made it awe-inspiring, but because random chance did. In other words, slime, time, and blind chance were responsible for the results of evolution we see today. What Sagan failed to see in the remarkable complexity--both macroscopically and microscopically--of God's design, is that the observable patterns were and are evidence of a Master Designer.

In effect, Sagan and others like him, have made gods out of the creation. Like the people of whom Paul speaks in Romans Chapter 1, they,

Claiming to be wise . . . became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles (verses 22-23).

Put differently, Sagan and others ascribe awe and wonder to the creation and not to God. Sagan's oft-repeated "billions and billions of years" was one of his ways of expressing awe and wonder as he pondered and explored the cosmos. The preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, however, that

[God] has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (3:11, my emphasis).

Carl Sagan and many--if not most--avid macro evolutionists believe in the eternality of matter. They could not be more wrong. Matter came into existence by the word of God's power, and the same power that maintains and sustains the material universe will one day call into account those image-bearers who worshiped the creation rather than the creator.

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