creation care

All Is Not One: The Problem with Panentheism and the Material World

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In a recent article, we saw why Christians should care for creation. Yet too often, we don’t care about creation, and we have a distorted view of the entire material world. Why is that?

One reason is that we’re surrounded by a multitude of competing worldviews. Believers can be confused by this multiplicity of views, which can lead to an inconsistent view of the material world.

Last week, we looked at secular humanism, one such worldview that can distort our perspective of the material world. Today, we turn to another worldview, panentheism. Here’s what it claims — and why it’s problematic.

Panentheism confuses the Creator with the creation.

Panentheism

Panentheism, or a hybrid version of it, is the view held by advocates of many Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and the New Age movement. While there are many different nuances among these religious systems that extend well beyond the scope of this article, a commonality related to their view of God is their belief in God’s immanent yet nonpersonal nature. To elaborate, a panentheistic view of God could be summarized as “all is one” or “all is God.” This worldview holds that there is only one substance in the universe, which is God. Therefore, all things are an emanation of God; however, the God of panentheism is unknowable in a personal way.

A panentheistic view of man complements the view of God within this worldview. As could be expected, given panentheism’s “all is one” mentality, this position understands humankind to be of the same fundamental essence as the rest of the created order. Consequently, this worldview understands mankind to be divine—but no more divine than the rest of the material world. Given the divine nature of the entire created order, panentheism teaches that humanity should not exercise dominion over the material world nor even attempt to steward it, for to do so would be imperialistic. Rather, this worldview holds that human beings are to mutually serve the created order as they would a brother or sister who needed care or guidance. They are to strive for what can be called “biological egalitarianism”—that is, an equality between human beings and the material world—as they seek to harmonize themselves with nature.

By extension, panentheism understands the material world to be divine and one with God (and, thus, also with human beings). This is ultimately a biocentric view of the created order that teaches the material world was created ex deo (out of God). Often, panentheists will refer to the material world as a living organism, as they ascribe human characteristics to it. Examples include calling the world “Mother Earth,” referring to environmental destruction as “raping” the earth and speaking of mankind and wildlife as being “brothers and sisters” who are all part of the same “circle of life.” The impact of panentheism in the culture can be seen in the common use of such terminology in casual conversations about the material world, as well as in contemporary forms of media.

The Problems with Panentheism

From a Christian perspective, there are many problems with panentheism. Most importantly, this worldview so overemphasizes God’s immanence, while minimizing his personality, that it confuses the Creator with the creation. In fact, God as represented by panentheism cannot really be God at all—at least not in the Christian understanding of the concept; such a God would be contingent, since the created order can be destroyed.

At the same time, this worldview devalues humanity, by denying its majesty and making human beings equal to the material world. Furthermore, as history has shown, this position will ultimately prove to be self-destructive, for if God does not exist in a personal way, and mankind has no inherent value, there is no reason why people should worship God, respect one another or conserve the creation.

This article is a modified excerpt from Dr. Jones’ new book, Every Good Thing. Details>>

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David W. Jones

Dr. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics and serves as the Associate Dean of Theological Studies and Director of the Th.M. Program at Southeastern Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Every Good Thing, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics and is the co-author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness. He comments on the Bible over at redeemedmind.com.

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