Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?

I’m working on my response to Frank Viola & Len Sweet‘s A Jesus Manifesto. Before I (finish &) post it, however, I wanted to share this blast from the past with you – something I wrote for TheOOZE blog about three years ago, right after Jasmin and I got married. Carl McColman & I have become quite good friends since then, and some of my inclinations & language have doubtless changed. But I think I’ll preserve it as-is for the sake of its integrity…let me know what you think; this is relevant to my upcoming intereaction with A Jesus Manifesto..!

panentheism logo

This is my response and interaction to wonderful and incisive questions raised by Carl McColmnan’s post, Notes on Manifesting a Truly Interfaith Spirituality. (You should definitely read it first) I hope that I can respond as an “interfaith-friendly post-evangelical.” In Carl and I’s correspondence, he mentions that “a core issue for me personally is the ongoing question of where the balance point is between the old-Pagan-me, the new-Catholic-me, and the overall-Christian-me,” and I suppose it is very much the question of where does pantheism stop and panentheism begin–a core dilemma of Christian mysticism.”

Panentheism In Brief

It is indeed a core dilemma! I think of myself as a panentheist, and probably have for the past half-decade or so. I first encountered the notion through the post-denominational contemporary Christian mystic, Norman Grubb. If you’ve never read Grubb you really should; he’s fascinating. He began his life as a missionary, biographer and publisher. He never really left these passions, but lived them all out from a Center of what he would call “fixed awareness of union with Christ.” In the last several decades of his life he was a wanderer. He’d go anywhere and life for awhile, with anyone who would have him–he spent years with house churches, Messianic Jewish synagogues, all-summer camp retreats, and I learned a few years back that he spent several years at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rome, Georgia where I went to school! His life exemplified his conviction that God was truly present in all things as the All in all.

I have more recently encountered the panentheist message in the writings of Marcus Borg and others, such as in books like The God We Never Knew. And I appreciate these writings, I truly do. But I suppose a significant difference between the vision of panentheism that lives in my heart and the interspiritual vision that informs Marcus, Matthew Fox and others is that I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

[Ouch! In the intervening years I’ve read both Borg & Fox more, and have to interject that this statement is rather unfair. While I don’t align with either of them ‘jot and tittle,’ they are both committed to the person and spirituality of Jesus.]

Like a good post-evangelical (Over the cultural and political commitments of this particular epoch but cherishing Scripture and good news nonetheless) my panentheism is biblically informed. I see unmistakable cadences of the all-inclusive Christ in such passages as (you’ll forgive me for not citing precisely) –

“I am God, there is no other,”
“God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike”
“There is a Light which enlightens everyone”
“God is the all in all”
“Christ will be the all in all”

…and of course that pagan poem that Paul quotes to pagan friends at Mars Hill in Acts, appropriating for Jesus Christ–“In Him we live, move, and have our being.”

This break with functional Deism came to me as liberation–very good news indeed! Not only did Christ’s spirit indwell me (a message which was good news enough after hearing from Calvinists that God only “positionally” indwelt a regenerate person–whatever that meant–and the Pentecostals who seemed to treat the Spirit like a rather elusive guest), but God was in everything in some sort of real and compassionate way. I like panentheism because it emphasizes immanence while still preserving transcendence and awe. Certainly many of my conservative Christian brethren squirm at such an understanding but I have to to go with what I’ve discovered.

Interspiritual Relevance

CoexistBut now I’m afraid that some of my progressive Christian and interspiritual brethren and friends might likewise squirm at my working understanding of “panentheism.” I know how much well-intentioned people wish to see panentheism as the vehicle for all interfaith dialogue and even interfaith worship, as some Great Core Spirit that, when you get right down to it, is shared by all the great faiths or life-paths. But I think this is more of a deus ex machina than it might at first appear, and I hope that I can respectfully explain why I feel this way.

I think that dialogue, learning, and appreciation among faiths, spiritualities and religions is crucially needed in our day and age–I will elaborate more in a moment. I am significantly less comfortable, however, with co-worship and integration as it seems to transgress something, and disrespect all faiths involved. Further, syncretism of this sort seems as if it would have the fruit of only further dividing people, giving them yet another religious option (interspirituality) to embrace or reject.

Does this make sense? You get a bunch of nice, open-minded progressives together to share their hearts considering their journeys as Pagan, Christian, Sufi, Unitarian, Buddhist, or Snake-handling sex cultist. Wonderful. But then if someone says, “These are all vital emanations from the same Source,” many in the room nod solemnly, but a few people look up like “Wait.” Then what? A new multifaith dogma has just formed in the room, and everyone has to either accept or reject it. Call it the curse of Martin Luther’s endless fragmentation.

Education and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue might seem a whole lot more modest (read: lame) than constructing a bold new interspiritual outlook, but I think its small gains can do much to build mutual esteem and trust in our shakily pluralistic world, all without going the “all roads lead to the same path” route.

Getting back to the internal integrity of one’s faith, and speaking from my “Jesus-y” (as Anne Lamott puts it) perspective, where does fidelity to God come in? I consider myself thoroughly postmodern, but do postmodern people of faith always need to put ironic, self-effacing quotation marks around everything they “believe” to be “true”? I am personally struggling to live life through the Jesus Way–not the pop culture, American Jesus, but the Jesus I see in the Gospels and New Testament and mystics and marginalized church history through the ages. One thing I’ve come to discover is that Jesus loves everyone but he does not agree with everyone. He embraces and forgives the Woman at the Well but–before acknowledging the universality of the coming eschaton where God can be known everywhere, in Sprit and Realit–he engages her in a little Jewish versus Samaritan debate about the appropriate place for Temple worship!

My friend Brian McLaren says something like this: “Jesus is the Way to God and abundant life, it doesnt mean he stands in the way to divine access!” I believe that “Jesus is the savior of the world,” whatever that ultimately means, I can only speculate and hope. I cannot limit the meaning of this to a particular model of atonement, or a particular scope of redemption. All I know, based on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character and intention, is that the Godhead loves his enemies, forgives those who persecute, and practices restorative justice. I have every confidence, with Julian of Norwich, that “all will be well.” Please keep this in mind as you read, knowing that I’m not coming at this to Bible-beat dissenters into submission or condemn anyone to eternal flames! I’m simply talking about faithfulness to the light we’ve been given, and how that light might be unintentionally dimmed or blurred.

Clearly Carl feels more free than I do to “play with the poetry of an interfaith spirituality,” no doubt owing to your diverse background. On an intrafaith scale I am similar–I grew up equal parts Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian, and was always more willing to integrate the best of each of these denominational traditions. What was effortless to me in this regard always seemed like a huge sticking point to some of my friends, who grew up in a particular denomination. Perhaps because of this, there are ways that I can appreciate a “humble model” of interfaith interaction:

I value interfaith dialogue because it’s educational. So many people of all faiths are fearful of “the other.” We have no idea what our neighbors hope for, believe, or practice, and we tend to draw the worst possible conclusions because they’re not following Jeee-suz (or ‘the Prophet,’ be it Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or Elizabeth Clare). In an integrated society with a pluralist public square, this simply will not do. I love to participating in interfaith sharing times–whether formal sessions or conversations with friends and neighbors–to gain understanding about the diverse religions of the world.

Models of Pluralism in Christian Perspective

ConnectionFurther, I believe that I can truly learn, spiritually, from the world’s religious traditions–things that Zeus or the Vishnu decreed can give me an altogether fresh perspective on an obscure passage of Scripture or way that I reach God. But this is a qualified learning. I was talking about this with my friend Frank Viola, who’s an author and house church planter. Frank is definitely a conservative evangelical theologically, though he’s a pretty open guy considering these caveats–he has a special love for church mystics in particular. Right now he’s reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Because she’s coming from an “apophatic” contemplative perspective, she quotes freely from what she’s gained from her Buddhist background. As I was talking to Frank, I asked:

“I’m curious: Do you, personally, feel put off by Bourgeault’s references to Eastern spiritual practice? I personally feel like she’s simply giving credit where credit is due: she has a background in these practices and she feels like they have wisdom to illuminate the Scripture and our own tradition. I don’t feel like she ever says “Buddha is just as important/relevant as Jesus Christ,” or any such thing. It’s fascinating that, as people of different faiths began getting to know each other, you see this “borrowing of wisdom” take place. You see it all over Merton as well. It seems like there are several different ways professing followers of Christ have related to those of other faiths:

  • Way One: All other religions are simply false. (Their “gods” or philosophies are nonexistent and irrelevant.)
  • Way Two: All other religions are demonic. (Their gods or philosophies are real and dangerous to body and soul)
  • Way Three: All religions contain shades and gradations of the Truth. (Their gods or philosophies are incomplete revelations, tainted by the humanity’s fallen and fractured state, that nonetheless contain glimmers of the story of Christ)
  • Way Four: All religions lead to a singular (or at least similar) path. (There is a beneficent Force governing the cosmos that none of us can quite grasp; this Force communicates to people in different times and cultures in different ways, but there’s no significant qualitative difference between them)”

I then continued, “As for my .02, the First and Fourth Ways seem too black and white and simplistic, though they stand on opposite poles. Even though later Judaism seemed to view all gods who weren’t YHWH as nonexistent, Jesus makes much of genuine spiritual forces who were nonetheless malevolent. And of course in Daniel you have the angels doing battle with the Prince of Persia, etc… The Third Way, advocated most notably by CS Lewis, is the one I want to believe most–that God has not just communicated in symbols and shadows not just to the Hebrew people, but to all times and cultures (See, for instance, the contemporary East Orthodox book Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene.

Common sense and experience, though, suggests to me that Way Two is frequently the case– humanity being what it is sometimes, faith becomes so twisted as to be demonic and dangerous, as is the case with televangelists and Vodou and fundamentalist Islam.”

So, to recap: I think that I can learn about communion with God from a Buddhist or a Sufi, but I inevitably see God’s clearest speaking in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not always negate the spiritual experience of other faiths, but–and this seems unkind and un-PC for interfaith dialogue–he sometimes does. When Christ calls us to conversion, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “He bids a man come and die.” We’re called to die to different things–different ingrained mindsets, different patterns of being, different destructive religious and cultural beliefs. I am not comfortable dictating what beliefs and practices are to be abrogated by people whose cultures I do not belong to–that is between them, God, and their Christian community.

Thank God for Pagan Christianity! 🙂

Born Again PaganFor this reason I don’t have any beef – sacrificed to idols or no – with Carl engaging in “folkloric Irish practices (that have been practiced by Irish Catholics for centuries) that are clearly Pagan in origin.” I believe that when the Holy Spirit came to Ireland, God wasn’t pissed at the Irish for being who they were. Since I believe that Jesus’ call to make apprentices of the Kingdom of God applies to all people and cultures, and don’t think any culture has imperialist preference in YHWH’s book. God’s great transition was from one chosen people to “every tribe, tongue and nation,” and so when the Spirit brooded over Ireland, God lovingly extricated the Irish people from harm and embraced, and transformed everything else. God loves the beauty of worship from every tribe, people group and culture. This is, though, a break with a certain pluralistic orthodoxy that insists that every region will have their own inherent cultural religious expression, and that expression should never be tampered with. At this point any attempt at sharing another point of view becomes verboten from the start; I simply don’t think this is fair.

Of course I realize that missionary history has a definite dark side, where financial opportunism and cultural imperialism can run rampant. But what many of my non-Christian friends (and even some Christians) might not know is that missional or apostolic work among indigenous people can and does take place with care and respect to the cultures involved. I’d recommend reading Roland Allen, Leslie Newbingin, or even my own church’s planter Gene EdwardsThe Americanization of Christianity to see how Christ can authentically incarnate into a culture in an authentic way.

Anyway, at this point your many readers of other faiths are reading all this talk about conversion and Jesus coming into other cultures and you’re either offended or colossally disinterested. “When will this exclusivist bigot be finished?” you tire. Okay, well let me see if I can bring this to a close and earn just a bit of your continued interest. Carl asks, “What are workable, creative boundaries for interfaith spirituality?” Can a “druid with a rosary” really work? How can we all be “friendly” to faiths with which we might (and indeed must at some point) disagree? And, “Where is my ultimate loyalty?”

Sharing Faith

Clasping the ShadowsI resonate with shunning the “smarmy sales job” of snake-oil evangelists out to sell a quick conversion. And yet…I’m not averse to sharing Good News, or the conversion of heart and priority that may result. I suppose, working with my appreciation of interfaith dialogue, I always respect the space that I’m in. To me (like a good Calvinist) conversion is God’s job, and being open and engaged with others is my job. Because of the love of Christ within me, I’m naturally drawn to hang out with people and spend time with them, with no particular agenda. But the Spirit being who s/he is, I am “always ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope,” as the first-century church planter Peter encourages (in 1 Peter 3:15). I don’t necessarily think I’ve earned the right to knock and a stranger’s door and bombard them with a plastic gospel. As my favorite faith-sharing group, Off-the-Map, says, Christians should “count conversations, not conversions.”

I agree whole-heartedly with what Carl says about not selling people with chaos and fear. And yet! I affirm this even as the purifying fires of hell could be relevant, and God just might care about how we relate to others with our genitals. I like living in this tension. In another paradox that I’m going to have to chew on and digest, Carl says:

“As a Christian, I am in fact called to be an evangelist; but I understand that to mean that I am called to spread good news. And in today’s world, and especially among Neopagans, talking about the Christian religion is the quickest way to subvert “good news,” instead sounding like a tired old purveyor of religious negativity.”

I think you’re absolutely right, and I think that Jesus would agree with this completely. In fact, in one popular translation of scripture, Jesus says:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

When you talk about being faithful to your values, I feel you…obviously you don’t want to embrace so-called “spiritualities” that are hurtful, selfish, or unloving. I feel like a lot of Christians don’t understand that God doesn’t care about “Jesus” as some sort of abstract cosmological category; Father is in love with his Son because of his beauty and character. Jesus said “Whoever is not against me is for me.” When some people at the end of their lives stand confidently before the Big J and read off their religious resume, he tells them “I never knew you.” I think the Christian family’s views on “who’s in” and “who’s out” are out of sync with an intimate knowing of the risen Christ.

I like what Carl said about cultivating the positive and embracing the contributions of other faiths. Forgive me for pushing back a little, though: is there ever a place in interfaith dialogue to loathe aspects of faith–starting with your home faith to be sure–and repent, or turn from these patterns of being? I mean, in the physical realm most of us have no problem telling a friend they’re engaging in destructive and life-threatening habits, from “You should really quit smoking” to “self-immolation is not the way!” Yet if the realm of spirit is at least as real as the material realm, couldn’t certain cosmological choices have dire consequences?

Carl closes his reflection with the statement “I am free to love.” It echoes my interview with Anne Rice a few months back, a Gothic horror writer-turned eclectic Catholic. When I asked her what she’d like to share with fellow Christians, she told me:

We need to stop being so afraid that the devil is winning. The devil’s not winning–we are winning. Jesus is winning. God is winning. We have the strength and the time to open our arms to absolutely everyone. Rushing to judgment, condemning whole classes and groups of people–that is not in the spirit of Christ that I see in the Gospel. I can’t find that spirit. I see the spirit of love, taking the message to absolutely everyone.

Amen?

Update

Well, that wasn’t the final word, thankfully. Carl had a great follow-up, and Jon Trott did too. Here are the comments from the original Ooze post. It also opened me up to a fair bit of heresy-hunting, which I’ve covered extensively. Carl has re-published a classic of his dealing with all of this material, titled Spirituality: A Post-Modern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God – I highly recommend it. One of the most significant voices I’ve discovered in the intervening years exploring panentheism (and its implications for science & spirituality) is Philip Clayton of Transforming Theology. Since writing the above post I’ve discovered both the Interfaith Youth Core and Faith House Manhattan, which are living experiments in putting flesh on the bones of interspiritual engagement.

Enough rambling by me, past or present. What do you think?

30 Responses to “Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?”


  1. 1 pomopirate June 27, 2009 at 12:37 am

    word up Mike. this is the kind of post trippor loves to read.

  2. 2 zoecarnate June 27, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Well it’s the kind of post I write once or twice a year. This was my post-of-its-kind for 2006.🙂

  3. 3 natrimony June 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    So Mike,

    Another heresy hunter here. You’re a Calvinist who questions the (proposed) suppositions of Calvinism. That sounds pretty close to Semper Reformanda. I think you hung out with the wrong Calvinists…I know many who are firmly in touch with the third Person of the Trinity.

    I agree that we shouldn’t have to caveat every propositional statement smelling of absolutism/exclusivity. But I think that your concept of Panentheism, while it may be biblically supportable, is nonetheless offputting due to the term. Dr. Hawking’s Panentheism or Albert Einstein’s Panentheism is certainly not derived from either Hebrew Bible or Greek New Testament…but is due to natural revelation. In future posts (unless you are deliberately going for controversy) you might want to define your term as a hyphenated phrase…perhaps Christian Panentheist? Just a thought…not condemning you to hell………….yet;0

  4. 4 natrimony June 27, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Oops. Forgot the hyphen—Christian-Panentheism.

  5. 5 Bert June 27, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Wow, I agree with so much of this and am glad to read it articulated. I am not really a panentheist; namely because I can’t square a God who is nature with earthquakes and hurricanes and poisonous snakes. Nature is beautiful, but it can also be cold and deadly, and I have serious problems with a God who is indifferent to our suffering in natural disasters.

    But then again, I love sunsets and trees and oceans and hope that God is embodied in these in some way. I’m just not sure how it all fits together. I like the idea(Chesterton) that nature is our sister rather than our mother.

  6. 6 brambonius June 28, 2009 at 11:52 am

    This is the first time I hear about post-evangelical christian panentheism… something to chew on…

    The word panentheism is way too strong for me, and has some not-so-christian connotations for me. Anyway, I would separate the creation from the Creator, and maybe quote St-Francis’ beautiful canticle of the sun about ‘our sister, mother earth’ or something like that, and add that everything in creation mirrors Gods glory, and in that way you can ‘see’ God in His creation. (while seeing God as trancendent being beyond our understanding, dimensions and everything is just an impossibility) That’s immanence, and surely I too believe I believe God is both trancendent and immanent, but this is not the kind of immanence I would call panentheism myself… But that’s maybe just semantics..

    shalom

    Bram

  7. 7 Dena Brehm June 28, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for this, Mike – way to go! This fits well with my soul, with my current journey-juncture (this week!), and with what I’m grasping beyond-mind, in spirit.

    I utterly love the concept of panentheism … not only does it meld with how I read (have always read, desppite what I was taught by those who claimed to have a corner on the market of orthodoxy) scripture, but it fits with the God I’ve come to know and experience, within. I’m going with that God, rather than the god others have told me about.

    I see more both/and than either/or — I see that Christ has indeed invaded all cultures, religions and people-groups, lavishly spreading His Truth on the planet-at-large — whether the individual people are yet-aware of Him or not. He’s far more secure in His identity than Christians fret over; I see that the One who was content to let the universe unfold for 14 billion odd years (often *quite* odd!), is also content to let us discover who He is, and what He’s done for all, whether that discovery occurs within time, or eternity.

    Certainly Christianity, with it’s smug, superior exclusivity, has been the catalyst for driving folks away from Christ, far more than drawing folks to Him. But perhaps that’s because (or at least what I now believe) that Christianity has always been a wholly manmade endeavor … with the Christian life being a poor substitute (& even a mockery of) the Abundant Life (Jesus, I notice, only spoke of the latter, and in my opinion, never intended to set up the former).

    I see that we all need our minds to be renewed (replacing lies with Truth; exchanging our own egoic perspectives with His perspective), and that ALL of us have much to shed. All of us have many “aha moments” to come … whether it be, “Aha, Jesus Christ is the One who’s been revealing all this truth to me, who made it possible for me to even find truth – so THAT’s who I’ve been commnig with,” or “Aha, I thought I really knew Jesus, but in excluding those who merely do not know His name, I see that I didn’t know His heart at all.”

    Christ is the focus for me … and *yet*, I notice that the goal of Christ is to bring us to the Father — to show us the Father. Ultimately, it’s all about the Father … He who is all in all. So, I figure I’ve got some further revelations coming about Christ … I figure that God will continue to show me the things of man, and the things of God, and I will continue to be surprised about how the former has obscured the latter. Bring it on, God!

    Shalom, Dena

  8. 8 Ross June 28, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Just wanted to leave a quick message to say that this post greatly piqued my interest. I am a Christian who didn’t grow up in a Christian setting but met God during an intense period of soul searching and I found other faiths approaches to connecting with God as I know perceive it to be very enlightening e.g. The Buddhist’s focus on meditation and being inwardly still (Be Still I know that I am God). These issues of what it means to be a Christian while respecting and even delving into others faith will continue to create a tension in me but with God’s help I believe I can hold them in a healthy tension as I seek Him over and above all else.

  9. 9 david June 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    You know what? I have never thought of panentheism as being “un”Christian. I’ve always thought of it as a very viable expression of christian philosophy and theology. My one question has always been why it has to necessarily throw the divinity of Jesus into question, but otherwise, it is where i too live, move, and have my being.🙂

  10. 10 Dena Brehm June 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    David — you’ve summed up my own observations as well…

    Panentheism sure fits with God being “all in all,” no?

    I don’t know if folks are so much throwing out the divinity of Jesus … as they’re throwing out the traditional rendering of Jesus, which serves to diminish Him, confine Him, and claim Him as an exclusive possession.

    I’ve discovered that Truth (a Person to know, more than a concept to grasp/defend) can withstand all manner of questioning and scrutiny … questioning and digging deeper seems to be what He’s been encouraging me to do, with wild abandon, for several years now.

    Perhaps what we’ve all to discover is how the very divinity of Jesus isn’t as narrow as we’ve been taught … perhaps it’s more far-reaching than any of us has dared to imagine…?

    Regardless, I see that He leads us into all Truth, by His Spirit (often beyond the mind), as we can bear it. In time, with experience, out of relationship, we will all come to see all that He has for us to see … which will include a view of Him that’s beyond all we’ve so-far-fathomed … a view unfettered by the traditions of man (which nullify Him) … a view that will astonish us and delight us to our individual and collective core…!

    Shalom, Dena

  11. 11 Desert Druid July 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    I think your list of Ways that followers of Christ relate to other faiths very interesting.

    I see an inherent flaw with this, or at least an innate discrimination on the part of Christians within this list. As a Polytheist I would say that there is not an ultimate Godhead out there in the grand fog of the universal ALL that people of all faiths are honoring or worshiping.

    My argument would be that each religious path, mythos, or cosmology is looking at the universe in an entirely unique way that is usually culturally informed, and that it’s not all focused on some generic grand truth.
    It speaks volumes that Christians, in your opinion, still need to hold to a monotheistic god concept when describing the faith tendencies of other cultural groups.

    Good article.

  12. 12 Carl McColman July 29, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Hey Mike… don’t know if this is relevant or not to the discussion at hand, but I’ve been listening to Richard Rohr’s CD series on the Apostle Paul, in which he spoke highly about an essay that Kristen Stendhal (Harvard professor-turned-Lutheran bishop) wrote on Paul back in the 1960s. So I’ve looked into Stendahl, and have learned that he developed a three part guideline for “religious understanding” — i.e., for positive interreligious dialogue and engagement. I think it’s not only highly relevant to the concerns you’re wrestling with, but I think it’s just plain good common sense for learning how to be good neighbors in our global village.

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this:

    Stendahl’s three rules of religious understanding are as follows:
    1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
    2. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
    3. Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

  13. 13 Dena Brehm July 29, 2009 at 1:20 am

    You’re singing my song, Carl…!🙂

    I adore Richard Rohr … currently reading one of his (rich!) books and one of Marcus Borg’s (insightful!) books simultaneously — astonishing how these two, one a Catholic mystic, and the other a Protestant scholar, see eye to eye…!

    (& both deemed to be heretics … but haven’t all great truths, including those of Jesus, first been perceived as heresies & blasphemies by the prevailing status quo …?)

    Now I’ll have to add Stendahl to my reading-list — let’s see how well I juggle three books at once, LOL!

    Shalom, Dena

  14. 14 Darrell Grizzle August 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Great post, Mike. I’m a panentheist, but like you, “I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.” I’d also agree wholeheartedly with Brian McLaren: “Jesus is the Way to God and abundant life, it doesnt mean he stands IN the way to divine access!” I think the Divine revelation is most fully expressed in Jesus (I am a Christian first and a Sufi second), but it is not limited ONLY to the revelation in Jesus – that would be putting limits on God.

  15. 16 Darrell Grizzle August 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

    [Actually, it might be more accurate to say I’m a Sufi third, and a rugger second. I’m currently learning to play rugby, which is both a religion and a disease.]

  16. 17 Dena Brehm August 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    (I feel like I’m becomoing the hostess to Mike’s blog, LOL!)

    Great thoughts, Darrell … I like how you put it. Open to all truth, and recognizing that it comes through, and because of, Jesus Christ.

    He’s my lens. It’s because of Him that Truth is EVERYwhere, and accessible to everyone — whether they yet-acknowledge Him or not (and HE doesn’t seem to be sweating it that He’s not yet uberly-acknowledged … He’s pretty dang secure and all…!).

    (aren’t all religions a sort of disease…?)
    😉

    Shalom, Dena

  17. 18 Darrell Grizzle August 16, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    The topic of discussion at our next Emergent Cohort (Cobb Gathering, Marietta, GA) is: Is Jesus the only Way? I’m going to quote Dena: “Open to all truth, and recognizing that it comes through, and because of, Jesus Christ.”
    Amen! I’ve added you to my Blogroll, Dena, at Blog of the Grateful Bear.

  18. 19 zoecarnate August 17, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Darrell, I so resonate with where you’re coming from here. I mean, even if I want to be a ‘Christ-chauvinist’ about it, where is Christ not? Is he not the All in all, gratuitously giving his grace (redundant I know) in every moment, everywhere?

    I understand why this makes some people squeamish…it can seem too ‘ooey gooey,’ like the worst exaggerations of the new age movement. But being a Christocentric (or more accurately for me, Trinitarian) panentheist doesn’t mean I deny the possibility of idolatry, or (less dramatically) that there are things that make me uneasy about other faiths (or my own!). As I put it recently in a related comment on my friend Brittian’s blog,

    “This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t chastise, or purify, or burn away the chaff. This doesn’t mean I don’t disagree with people of other (or even my own) spiritual persuasion(s). But it does mean that idolatry, once relegated to worshiped statues of wood and gold, has come firmly within the realm of interior critique – the graven ideologies we erect as though they were G-D. And faithfulness, once relegated to the degree of adherence to an outward form of dogma, is now measured primarily in love. Precisely because of what Christ has accomplished, grace is now ubiquitous. Every stone sings God’s praises.”

    When we move back to the ATL, remind me – I want to come to some ‘Sufi stuff’ with you. In the years since being actively Pentecostal, I feel like I’ve lost what it means to worship – to adore God in a ‘second-person’ I-Thou sense. In discovering the Sufi tradition – on paper at least, primarily through the poetry of Hafiz – I’m discovering a strand of God-adoration that I can really sink my teeth into – it’s very childlike, but also quite grown-up. Whole-hearted worship for my hopefully-growing second naivete.

    I’ll blog more about all this soon – I’ve been tagged in a new story for a new world meme. Thanks for reminding me about this post.

    And thank you, Dena, for being a great host!🙂

  19. 20 Dena Brehm August 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    My pleasure Mike …!😉

    I was thinking about the first commandment … having no other Gods besides God … for me, this taking on a new meaning … if God is all (Omnipresent), and God is good (Omnigoot..!), and God is the only power (Omnipotent), then for me to assign any power to “evil”, is to give another force power, in essence to allow for there to be another god in my mind…!

    And I see that evil does indeed come out of our minds … and as we think in our hearts, so are we (individually and collectively).

    For me this fits with panentheism … God is all in all, leaving no room for anything else, unless I make it so, in my mind.

    Sobering.

    Shalom, Dena

  20. 21 Delameilleure Fred October 25, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Dear friends,

    I didn’t read it but maybe this can be a clarifying book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Panentheism-Other-Philosophers-Plato-Present/dp/0801027241 ?

    Greetings,
    Fred Delameilleure
    BELGIUM

  21. 22 david November 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Many of the difficulties and tensions underlying these arguments can be resolved if one considers Cornelius Van Til’s approach to God and Man.

    He navigates to a spirituality that wholly opposed to deism and yet does not fall into panentheism. The key is to understand that all reality is revelational. There is an absolute difference between the creator and the creation, yet the Creator condescends in making creation for the purpose of revealing Himself. The consequence is that all activity and all life is relational with the one true God. Similarly, God not only creates but he fully sustains, all existence involves God’s active involvement.

    Creator creature distinction is key. Some object (lets say a couch) takes up space, is God not also present? Yes we would say he is present. Is he in the couch? No he is not in nature. Because Creator is a higher level of reality, God is both present and completely fills the place where the couch is, and yet is not part of the couch in any sense. Similarly,there are two levels of causality. I will something but that does not contradict or negate God willing something. This is the very basis of any sort of coherent providence.

    Van til also has much to say concerning your question about Christian Truth found in non-christians.

    I recommend the book “the defense of the Faith”

    Articles relating to Van Til:
    http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Apologetics/Cornelius-Van-Til/

  22. 23 Daniel February 29, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Hi,

    you wrote:

    “Certainly many of my conservative Christian brethren squirm at such an understanding”

    why is it that faith is an arguable matter? Why do ‘we’ look at another person’s faith and say “well, I don’t agree with it, but…ok.”

    Ok? Right. When I look around at the world’s major issues, it is clear to see that ‘acceptance’ is a stance like any other ‘position’. It literally means ‘to get above something – to transcend’. A literal interpretation of acceptance causes brutality at its worst end. Consider that ‘person’ translates to ‘mask’ in etymology. ‘We’ have no right to look at others but in the middle of their being. Unless of course we were to revise the OT in ourselves. Then we could be all kinds of judgmental, jealous…etc., etc.

    To do another being “justice” we should be blindfolded in the way justice should be. To the point of impartiality.

    I thought that Catholics were the only ones to think that God is some aloof, giant in the sky?🙂 Pardon me, but it sets my teeth on edge to think of people needing to accept other faiths. Faith, imo, stems from Religare, ‘duty’…being ‘bound’. <—there's an obvious reference to hemispheres in that idea. So, do the naysayers see Christ was a 'bridge'? A united mind. A re-united mind. Seems like we might need to get some dirt under our fingernails before 'accepting' another person's faith.

    We have a duty to love people. Not accept them "even though…".

    I'm what you'd call a Catholic Panentheist Gnostic (ultimately the same thing – and could likely get me hung in three different ways🙂 ). When we look at people from a balanced, non-judgmental perspective, we meet them in the middle. There's a huge visual metaphor in that statement. "The Middle"…"The Heart". If the heart (of everything) is the middle, then it is fair to say that no one is above or below when that approach is taken. I 'love' that.

    Anyway, enjoy the day!

  23. 24 Birch Wind (@godisinthewind) July 17, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Just a few things…
    1) Dena said “Christ is the focus for me … and *yet*, I notice that the goal of Christ is to bring us to the Father — to show us the Father. Ultimately, it’s all about the Father … He who is all in all. So, I figure I’ve got some further revelations coming about Christ”
    – This is the biggest thing within Christianity that has bothered me. Maybe it is because I don’t see the bible as infallible, but rather as a collection of writings over a number of years by different people and communities that had their own understandings of Jesus. These writings now all put together, to teach one common set of understandings. (that in itself is a tough task), So, this ‘biggest things’ is that the Goal of Jesus was to bring us to the Father.
    Yes, often he is recorded as speaking as though He himself is God, but just as possible is that he spoke as a prophet would when speaking of himself as God. Meaning, God was speaking through him. Yes, John is very filled with high Christology, but that was not the common theme amongst all canonical and non canonical texts of the time .
    Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus got it. And he tried to share with others, and no one else ever ‘got it’. Jesus was constantly getting frustrated with the seemingly dense company he was keeping. I am not here to say that Jesus was Not God, because I will not put my beliefs on anyone else, but I am saying that Jesus is also, in many ways, the Finger Pointing at the Moon, and so many people just stare at the finger and forget to look at the moon.

    2) God is larger than any religion. Each of us is made in his image, yet we seem to try to make God in OUR image. Whatever we understand is what we internalize and preach to others. God transcends. The world was in dire straits at the time of Jesus. There were Jews studying their sacred texts allegorically, hellenized by the Greeks and influenced by forms of Platonism. Jews that were angry about being forced to worship the emperor of Rome. Deaths and chaos and a collapse of the temples. A Messenger was born. One that threw over tables in the synagogues. A Messenger who brought his religion of the Hebrews and reformed it, making it accessible to Jews and Gentiles alike. He truly was the bringer of Good News. I also think that there are messengers from other cultures that address the people of those cultures. I don’t think that people need to know Jesus to find God. I think to have an agenda based on teaching others that Jesus is the only way is an agenda destined to destroy families, and cultures – oh, nevermind, that already happened.. all over the place, but brought to attention in a very real way in my area, by the aftermath of the Residential Schools and the assimilation attempts at the First Nations people of Canada.

    3)Panentheism… God is within all, and transcends all. God is the Mover. The Activator. God wants us to know Him. God leaks through the cracks in this world via our compassion, and if we work to imitate Jesus, then God’s presence in the world will be even greater. The miracle of life and death all around us, the cycles of nature. God is the nameless and the formless that stimulates everything, and sometimes those things that are activated are things that are quite far from God , empty of love, and when that happens, there are often catastrophes. Rocks down a mountain-side. Plates under the earth, people filled with anger and hatred that are lacking God…. all these things God moves, with different results. For those of us who can see the sunset and feel that immense overflowing joy leading to tears, or who can see the face of Christ within the homeless man’s toothless grin, for those of us who’s day can take on an entirely new meaning because you felt the wind brush your cheek gently… those of us need to thank God for the Grace and Blessings to be able to feel it. God comes to us in types and images, in feelings and motion… panentheism is – in my opinion- absolutely in sync with the teachings of Jesus (even if many Christian organizations fail to see it) In fact, it is that panenetheism that allows Christianity the ability to be a Universal Religion.


  1. 1 Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity « zoecarnate Trackback on June 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm
  2. 2 Norman Grubb going on from here and now « whoareyou-yesiam.net Blog Trackback on August 18, 2009 at 1:26 am
  3. 3 Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’? « zoecarnate Trackback on November 21, 2009 at 9:37 pm
  4. 4 East Vs West: Are Catholics or Orthodox best suited 4 witnessing 2 Eastern Religion? - Christian Forums Trackback on November 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm
  5. 5 East Vs West: Is Western Christianity or Eastern Christianity best suited for evanglising those in Eastern Religion? « EMISSARY^7 (G²) Trackback on November 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm
  6. 6 Nondual Week: Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity | Mike Morrell Trackback on February 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

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