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Q & R: Panentheism

Here's the Q:

You're probably the best thing that happened to my inherited Christianity on this side of the Atlantic (Tom Wright from the other side). I'm gifting my 19-year old with a fresh copy of ANKoC this weekend for Christmas.

Marcus Borg has also helped a whole lot and I was hoping for your comments on the
subject of Panentheism as far as helping us understand the true nature and the being
of God himself.

Also wonder if you can tie all of this up with your "a character named God" in the Old
Testament, as you wrote on ANKoC.

Thank you again for being a great blessing to so many of us. You've enriched my life
beyond words.

Here's the R:


Thanks so much. I love this question - especially the words, "...understand the true nature and the being of God himself." They remind me how a big sense of humor is needed whenever little human beings attempt to speak of God!

I am reminded that we don't know "the true nature and being of gravity," or of quarks, or of light, or of ourselves! So as wonderful as our minds are, we stand on the rim of mysteries that defy being captured. G. K. Chesterton said it well in Orthodoxy:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite seam and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get heaven into his head. And it is his head that splits.


So ... whenever we grapple with "the true nature and being of God himself," we have to do so as humble, awestruck poets - not arrogant, dominating logicians.

I'm thrilled to hear that at the emergent theological conversation this year, folks will be grappling with process theology and panentheism in conversation with Philip Clayton, among others. I wish I could be there ...

I'll just offer one response in relation to your question. When Jesus proclaims "the kingdom of God," he's making claims that are political, economic, social, and theological. But I also think he's inviting us to imagine a reality that brings God and creation together in one. "The kingdom of God" unites God and creation ... it sees both in relationship, integrally connected and interactive. The king is in the kingdom, but the kingdom is not equivalent to the king ...

Anyway, that integral image seems to me to get to the heart of what we're struggling with in conversations about pantheism, traditional dualist theism, and panentheism. We are trying to see creation as connected to God, not disconnected. We're trying to regain - in the aftermath of Greek dualism, modernist consumerism and colonialism, reductionist naturalism, and more - the poetry of Genesis 1: all creation is somehow an expression of God, an utterance of God, an impulse of God's (remember - this is poetry!) breath.

"Let there be light ... and there was light." We can't get it into our heads, but maybe we can get our heads into it?