Baptizing Spinoza: How a Pantheist Can You Help You Be a Better Pastor

Post Icon

Recently, the idea of theological retrieval has taken the theological world by storm. Theological retrieval is looking to the past as a guide for the present. One attempts to leverage the genius of Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian, and all those who have gone before us to answer questions for today. As I was reading Baruch Spinoza’s masterpiece Ethics, I began to wonder if I could do something similar with Spinoza. I began to wonder if I could “plunder the Egyptians” and learn from Spinoza in a similar way James K.A. Smith leveraged the likes of avowed enemy of Christianity Jacques Derrida in his book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? So I turn to nothing less than a pantheist to help direct us in pastoral ministry.

Baruch Spinoza grew up in a Jewish community but was later expelled for his beliefs. Spinoza rejected the normal conception of God, instead embracing a pantheistic worldview. He defends his belief in his work Ethics, which ranks among his best contributions to philosophy.

In Ethics, Spinoza sets his brilliance on full display. Spinoza provides an incredibly unified worldview, beginning with a section on God. Then, he pivots to a discussion of man, depending heavily on his conclusions about God. Lastly, he directs his attention to ethics, or how man ought to live.

Understanding Man in Light of God

Spinoza writes like he is constructing a proof for geometry, carefully laying the foundation before building upon it. Each paragraph is numbered so as to reference previous paragraphs. From Spinoza, we learn how connected different components of a worldview truly are. Theology does inform practice.

Of course, Spinoza missed the mark by a long shot in his study of God. Spinoza understood God as “a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes.” God, for Spinoza, is not much different from the sum of his parts. Because his worldview was so tightly bound together, he held a skewed understanding of man, which, in turn, soiled his ethical considerations.

God is not just the Great Substance, the Great Designer from a teleological argument. Rather, he is the personal Godhead, God Three in One. God exists not as a bundle of attributes but as Father, Son, and Spirit in eternal and perfect fellowship. And God invites us to share in this communion (John 17:21).

And being made in the image of God, we must understand ourselves as fundamentally relational beings. To be human is to love and exist in fellowship. To be human is to be gripped by stories and understand the world in propositions and in narrative.

And when we do that, everything about our ministry changes. Preaching becomes not just a rational exposition or defense of the truth. Preaching becomes the drama where we display the history of redemption in which Christ humbles himself, defeats death on the cross, and is exalted above every name in his resurrection. We preach not simply to exposit the truth but to stir hearts to love and adoration of God. And ministry becomes more than giving people the right answers but also walking alongside them in community. Ministry is pointing people to Christ in the Scriptures so that people may love Christ and ultimately be conformed into his image (Ephesians 4:15).

We learn from the error of Spinoza and believe in order to know.

A Starting Point for Faith

Spinoza began with the rationalist dream, the dream of creating a perfect logical system to reason to God. Spinoza began with natural revelation and limitless ambition to understand God perfectly apart from his Word. Spinoza attempted to know in order to believe. And that led him astray. One can know God’s attributes from creation: his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). But God the Trinity is revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18).

And so, we begin our theological task in humility and creaturely dependence on God to reveal himself. We learn from the error of Spinoza and believe in order to know. Our theological endeavor is characterized by “faith seeking understanding.” And only then can we begin to confess the cardinal mysteries of the Christian faith: the mystery of the God-man who died and the wonder of the God who is Three in One.

In our Christian pilgrimage, there is room to be surprised by doubt. There is room to ask questions and be unable to perfectly ward off the fierce attacks against the Gospel because we don’t need to have all the answers. We aren’t trying to mirror Spinoza in creating a perfectly logical system to reach up higher than Babel to the heavens. Rather, together we are confessing the Christian faith as we move towards a deeper and richer understanding of God.

So, the next time you preach your sermon or counsel someone, ask yourself how your understanding of man is shaping your ministry. Ask yourself, “Is my message tailored to the loving and storytelling beings that we are? How does my theory of knowing impact my understanding of faith?” And the next time you think theology doesn’t matter, think of Baruch Spinoza.

Never Miss an Episode, Article, or Study!

Sign up for the CFC Newsletter now

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

adblock image

MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

  • apologetics
  • ministry
  • philosophy
Jacob Haley

Dancer Fellow

Jacob serves in the Center for Faith and Culture as the Dancer Fellow while pursuing an Advanced M.Div at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If Jacob isn’t tucked away in the library, you can find him running, rock climbing, or playing chess.

More to Explore

Never miss an episode, article, or study.

Sign up for the Christ and Culture newsletter now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.