Could Panentheism Be an Understanding of God's Nature?

Is it possible that panentheism is a lost understanding of God’s nature?


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Is it possible that panentheism is a lost understanding of God's nature? In order to understand this question, we have to understand the different views about the nature of God.

The first view is theism. Theism is the idea that God created all things. On this view, God created the universe ex nihilo - out of nothing. God and the universe are separate and distinct. God transcends the universe. God is a personal being who is immaterial, necessary, eternal, and absolute. The universe, however, is a contingent, created, physical reality that is not an eternal absolute with all the characteristics that God has. So, they are distinct beings. Theism is the view that is accepted by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. 

There's another view of God's nature, and that's called pantheism. Pantheism is the idea that God is all things. On this view, God and the universe are one in the same. There is no distinction between God and the universe. God is the universe, and the universe is God. So we might say, God - the universe = zero. On this view, God is not a personal being. In fact, everything is God. It reminds me of that old movie with Shirley Maclaine. She is an advocate of this view, and there was a movie back in the eighties that she was in. As she stands on the beach, she outstretches her arms, and she shouts, “I am God!” Of course, if pantheism is true, then she's right. She is God. Surely, pantheism is not true. That's the second view of God – pantheism.

A third view of God, or the nature of God, is panentheism. Not to be confused with pantheism, which says God is all things, panentheism says God is in all things. On this view of God, God is sort of like the soul that inhabits the universe, and the universe is God's body. In fact, some people describe this view of God as bipolar theism. The reason is because on this view, there are two different polls of God. The one poll of God is God being mind. God's mind is immutable, eternal, absolute, and unchanging. God has another poll, and that is the universe, the created world that is contingent, in process, and changing.

On panentheism's view, God did not create the world ex nihilo. Rather, God and man are somehow co-creators of the world. So, when you understand these different views of God, and you understand panentheism, you can see why this is not really a lost understanding of God's nature because it flatly contradicts the biblical model. By the biblical model, God says that God created the universe, and the universe is separate and distinct from God. Of course, panentheism rejects that. Panentheism says that God is in process, God is changing, and God is contingent - or least parts of Him, this other poll, this created reality. Of course, these all flatly contradict God's nature. So the answer to this question is, “no,” panentheism is not a lost understanding of God's nature. Rather, panentheism is simply a mistaken understanding of God's nature.

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Alan Shlemon