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Problems in Panentheism

Abstract and Keywords

There are some serious problems in the understanding and interpretation of panentheism in what has become a fairly widespread movement that has gathered under this banner. These problems arise from the fact that panentheism is not one particular view of the relationship of the divine to the world, but rather, a large and diverse family of views involving quite different interpretations of the key metaphorical assertion that the world is in God. The panentheism movement as a whole does not present a coherent view. There is one major exception to this vagueness in the concept of panentheism, and that is the interpretation found in the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. The discussion also considers divine immanence, classical theism, soul–body metaphor, soteriological and eschatological panentheism, the problem of evil, divine action, theology and science, and the influence of the current romantic movement.

Keywords: panentheism, God, process panentheism, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, romantic movement, divine immanence, classical theism


There are some serious problems inthe understanding and interpretationofpanenthe‐ ism in what has become a fairly widespread movement that has gathered under this banner. These problems arise from the fact that panentheism isnot one particular view of the relationship of the divine to the world (universe), but rather, a large and diverse family of views involving quite different interpretations of the key metaphorical assertion that the world is in God. This is indicated by the common locution among panentheists that the world is ‘in some sense’ in God, and by the fact that few panentheists go on to specify clearly and in detail exactly what sense is intended. As a result, panentheists do not offer a clear interpretation of the relationship of theology and science. This is not to say that there are not some particular versions of panenthe‐ ism which are developed coherently, such as process panentheism, but that the panentheism movement as a whole does not present a coherent view.

Various attempts have been made to determine what this family of views has in common besides agreement on the metaphor, but again these determinations also vary rather widely. For example, in a recent symposium (henceforth referred to simply as ‘the symposium’) on panentheism one of the editors, Philip Clayton, in summarizing the interpretations offered, lists thirteen varieties of panentheism and also summarizes four quite different attempts to determine the characteristics of ‘generic panentheism’ (Clayton and Peacocke 2004: 250–4).1 Clayton, perhaps (p. 653) somewhat uneasy about this, goes on to suggest that this broad variety of views ‘may be even encouraging, insofar as they reflect the theological richness of the underlying notion’ (p. 254). It maybe noted, however, that the theological richness of a concept is mainly enhanced by its clarity rather than by its vagueness.

One source of this wide variety in the interpretations of panentheism is the even larger variety in the meanings of the key word ‘in’. The Oxford English Dictionary devotes six full pages to the meanings of ‘in’, and specifies sixty‐three distinct usages, many of which are employed by panentheists. These usages fall under the headings of preposition, adverb, adjective, and substantive: ‘position or location’, ‘occupation’, ‘time’, ‘pregnant uses’ (in himself), ‘motion or direction’, ‘constructional’ (believe in), and ‘phrases’ (insofar). The first usage listed, and probably the most prevalent in the symposium, is the preposition of ‘position or location’. The other editor of the symposium, Arthur Peacocke, states that the ‘in’ of panentheism ‘is clearly not intended in any locative sense… It refers, rather, to an ontological relation so that the world is conceived as within the Being of God’ (p. 145). Since the spatial metaphor is simply repeated in the statement of the ontological interpretation, however, without any indication of the ontology involved, this leaves it unexplained. Furthermore, the preposition of position or location seems to be ‘clearly intended’ by most of the authors in the symposium.

In another essay in the symposium, Clayton notes that theorists of emergence also use the terms ‘in’ and ‘internal’. He states: ‘What emergence actually offers… is the self‐inclusion relation “⊂”: “belongs to” or “is a member of”, etc. This is a relation of logical inclusion rather than (primarily) one of location … Emergence thus represents a powerful answer to misgivings about the preposition “in”’ (p. 88). It is not clear, however, what this answer is and what misgivings it is supposed to address. What is clear is that other panentheists would probably not be satisffied with logical inclusion or class membership as the definition of the way in which the world is in God.

Process Panentheism

There is one major exception to this vagueness in the concept of panentheism, and that is the interpretation found in the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne that is expounded in detail and in highly novel and technical language. It might be called the original, or even the official, interpretation, since it was Hartshorne, who has been called ‘the leading twentieth‐century advocate of panentheism’ (p. 3), who first popularized the notion. One symposium author, Celia E. Deane‐Drummond, has described process panentheism as ‘the measure of the ‘‘orthodoxy’’ of panentheism’ (p. 234). Hartshorne describes Whitehead as ‘the outstanding surrelativist or panentheist’ (Hartshorne and Reese 1953: 273). Whitehead, who did not use the term, states his view as follows: ‘God, as well as being primordial, (p. 654) is also consequent …The completion of God's nature into a fulness of physical feeling is derived from the objectification of the world in God… [the] prehension into God of each creature’ (Whitehead 1978: 345).

Hartshorne has a somewhat different interpretation of panentheism. He states:

A supreme person [God] must be inclusive of all reality. We find that persons contain relations of knowledge and love to other persons and things, and since relations contain their terms, persons must contain other persons and things. If it seems otherwise, this is because of the inadequacy of human personal relations, which is such that the terms are not conspicuously and clearly contained in their objects #x2026;erms of his knowledge would be absolutely manifest and clear and not at all ‘outside’ the knowledge or the knower. (Hartshorne 1948: 143‐4)

Hartshorne explains why ‘relations contain their terms’ by a logical or definitional argument as follows: ‘An individual relation is a single entity which is nothing without its terms, and hence its entire unitary activity must include that of each of its terms’ (Hartshorne 1941: 238). However, the argument that relations contain their terms does not entail that one term in a relation contains the other term.

Thirty‐five years later Hartshorne offered a different interpretation of inclusion, as follows: ‘Can we define inclusion? I take my cue here from a formula of propositional logic. (There is a parallel formula in the logic of class inclusion.) P entails (logically includes) q if p & qp, or if asserting p is no less and no more than asserting pq’ (Hartshorne 1976: 247).2

There is another sense in process panentheism in which the world is in God. John B. Cobb Jr. puts it this way: ‘The region of God [includes] the regions comprising the standpoints of all the contemporary occasions in the world’ (Cobb Jr. 1965:196). This is roughly equivalent to the assertion in classical Christian theism of divine omnipresence, that God is present at every point in space and time. It is also analogous to the version of panentheism in which God as infinite includes all finite realities. This latter view is mentioned in passing by two symposium authors (pp. 65,146), and it is argued at some length by Clayton, who traces the history of the infinity and subjectivity of God to Hegel, who asserted that the truly infinite God ‘must include the world within Godself’ (p. 81). He neglects to mention, however, that this God cannot be understood as a subject or a person.

The interpretation of panentheism offered by Whitehead and Hartshorne is a very specific formulation that is analogous to knowing someone or something, and thus having them ‘in mind’. It suggests that since we know and love our spouses, children, and friends, we have them in mind. Would we also be able to say that therefore they are in us? Probably not. This process interpretation of‘in’, so far as I know, is not used by any other panentheists. At least it does not appear in any of the four lists of the characteristics of generic panentheism in the symposium. So what has been described as the original or official interpretation is not at all shared by other panentheists. The reason for this, apparently, is that the metaphor of human knowledge or love is not (p. 655) strong enough for the other panentheists, or that they are not persuaded by the concept of logical inclusion.

There is another problem in Whitehead's, and probably Hartshorne's, panenthe‐ ism: namely, that God's knowledge of the world is neither complete nor of the contemporary world. The world is made up of actual entities or occasions of experience that begin with an initial aim supplied by God and proceed through a process of concrescence until they reach their ‘satisfaction’ and have ‘perished’. It is only at this last stage that God ‘prehends’ or ‘knows’ them and incorporates them into the divine consequent nature (Neville 1980: 15–17). This may be another reason why other panentheists want to distinguish themselves from process panentheism. The main reason, however, why most other panentheists reject process panentheism is that in the latter the ‘world’ is held to be coeternal, and hence God is not the creator of the world, except in the very reduced sense that God supplies an ‘initial aim’ to each actual entity. Furthermore, the world, along with the ‘eternal objects’ and ‘creativity’, are coeternal with God, which leaves the totality unexplained. This is why Whitehead subtitles his main work ‘An Essay in Cosmology’ rather than cosmogony. Langdon Gilkey thus places Whitehead in the tradition of Platonic and Gnostic dualism, which suggests a tragic rather than a moral view of evil (Gilkey 1959: 49–51).3

Moreover, process panentheists tend to assert that the permanent correlation of God and world and the denial of creation out of nothing are essential to panenthe‐ ism, and refer to other views as ‘classical theism’. David Ray Griffin states:

This increased popularity [of panentheism] brings a danger that ‘panentheism’ will be appropriated for doctrines devoid of [the] promise [of panentheism]. There has been a tendency to extend the term to various doctrines that have modified classical theism suffi‐ ciently to say that the world is ‘in’ God, in the sense of affecting God, but that otherwise retain the defining characteristics of classical theism. (Griffin 2005: 35)

This further indicates the wide divergences among panentheists.

Divine Immanence

Since panentheists usually criticize traditional or classical theism for attenuating divine immanence by asserting that God is outside the world, panentheism is often interpreted to mean primarily an intensification of divine immanence. One symposium author, Michael W. Brierley, states that one ‘common panentheistic (p. 656) theme’ is the use of the language of ‘in and through’, or the Lutheran eucharistic language of ‘in, with, and under’ to describe God's relation to the world (pp. 7–8). This implies, however, that God is in the world, rather than vice versa, and it also seems to be simply an emphasis on divine immanence, rather than a form of panentheism. Likewise, Peacocke in commending panentheism states: ‘We … need a new model for expressing the closeness of God's presence to finite, natural events, entities, structures, and processes; and we need the divine to be as close to them as it is possible to imagine, without dissolving the distinction between Creator and what is created’ (p. 145). Moreover, Clayton states that ‘panentheists use [the ‘in’ metaphor] in two different directions—the world is in God and God is in the world.… [Therefore] it is not difficult to paraphrase the fundamental claim being made by the metaphor: the interdependence of God and world’ (p. 83). This implies that the world‐in‐God metaphor is not essential to panentheism, and what is essential is simply an emphasis on divine immanence. As John Cobb puts it in a review of the sypmposium, ‘In this book the accent falls not on how all creatures are in God but on how God is in the world.… Certainly the two ideas are quite distinct, and it is possible, even common in the Christian tradition to affirm that God is in all things without affirming that all things are in God. Some of the essays in this book follow that line’ (Cobb Jr. 2005: 241).

One symposium author, Niels Henrik Gregersen, however, argues that many, if not most, versions of classical theism have strong doctrines of divine immanence. He quotes Thomas Aquinas: ‘God exists in everything … as an agent is present to that in which its action takes place. … So God must exist intimately in everything’ (p. 23). Gregersen also notes that Thomas concludes with a panentheistic image: ‘Immaterial things contain that in which they exist, as the soul contains the body. So God also contains things by existing in them. However, one does use the bodily metaphor and talk of everything being in God inasmuch as he contains them’ (pp. 23–4).

Similarly Karl Barth, surely an exponent of classical theism, has an even stronger doctrine of divine immanence. After criticizing various versions of panentheism in Western history, he states:

Now the absoluteness of God strictly understood in this sense means that God has the freedom to be present with that which is not God, to communicate Himself and unite Himself with the other and the other with Himself, in a way which utterly surpasses all that can be effected in regard to reciprocal presence, communion and fellowship between other beings. …God … is free to be immanent, free to achieve a uniquely inward and genuine immanence of His being in and with the being which is distinct from Himself. (Barth 1957: 313)

So neither radical immanence nor panentheistic imagery are absent in classical theism. This leads to the question as to whether there is any real difference between the assertion that the world is in God and the doctrines in classical theism of the immanence and omnipresence of God. Because of the vagueness of the spatial metaphor, it is not clear that there is any difference.

(p. 657) Classical Theism

In this connection it may be noted that the symposium contains about thirty‐five pejorative references to ‘classical theism’. Brierley states, however, that ‘classical theism has on occasion been made into a target of straw by panentheists’, and lists three authors who have done so (pp. 13–14). He could also have listed my essay, which is a critique of an earlier essay by Clayton. This latter essay included an extended critique of what Clayton calls ‘classical philosophical theism (CPT)’. He states that CPT is ‘most often presupposed (usually unconsciously) by system‐ aticians’, that it is ‘widely assumed by theologians today’, and that ‘its influence on theology continues to be immense’ (Clayton 1998: 202b, 203b, 204a). My response was as follows: ‘But Clayton offers no examples of [contemporary] theologians to support these claims. … Why not? Because there aren't any. I know of no major theologian in [the last] century who fits this caricature … except perhaps for a few neo‐Thomists or conservative evangelical theologians’ (Thomas 1999: 286b).

Soul—Body Metaphor

It was noted above that Thomas Aquinas employed the soul—body metaphor for the God—world relation, and it, along with mind—body, has become one of the main metaphors of contemporary panentheism. Hartshorne refers to God as the ‘soul of the universe’ (Hartshorne 1941: ch. 5). This metaphor, however, is not without its problems. For example, the soul is now understood to emerge in the body in the process of evolution, rather than to contain it. Moreover, the soul is usually understood to be in the body, rather than vice versa. Furthermore, since the body is essential to being human, the question arises as to whether or not the world is essential to or part of God, and thus divine and not creature. The mind—body metaphor is often used in this connection, but it may not be as illuminating as is supposed among panentheists, since it is often interpreted by contemporary philosophers as an anomaly that is unintelligible (see e.g. Shaffer 1967: v. 345a). Finally, the mind–body metaphor poses a problem for panentheists in regard to transcendence and immanence, both human and divine. Panentheists usually clarify this metaphor by explaining that God is more than the world even as we are more than our bodies, being essentially subjects or selves. This poses a dilemma for panentheists. If they emphasize the essential character of embodiment, they tend to divinize the world. If they stress the idea that we are essentially selves or subjects, they imply a dualistic anthropology. As a result of these problems, Peacocke comes out against this metaphor, and Gregersen (p. 658) concludes that the soul—body metaphor for the God—world relation ‘no longer commends itself as an adequate contemporary model for the God—world relationship’ (p. 20).

Soteriological and Eschatological Panentheism

There are two other interpretations of panentheism that are highly qualified or partial, in that not all of the world is in God or not at all times. One can be called soteriological panentheism, in that it draws on New Testament metaphors of persons being ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the Spirit’ or participating in the divine life. This being in God presumably applies only to Christians and not to others or the natural world. The other version can be called eschatological panentheism, in that it asserts that only in the final fulfilment will all the world be in God (pp. 21, 166–7). Most other panentheists would probably agree that these versions do not merit the title.

The Problem of Evil

Since, according to panentheism, every aspect of the world is in God, this must include evil in all its forms. Most panentheists are aware of this problem and attempt to resolve it. Peacocke argues that since all evil, both natural and human, is ‘internal to God's own self’, God ‘can thereby transform it into what is whole and healthy.… God heals and transforms from within’ (pp. 151–2). Process panentheist Griffin, however, argues that while all evils are in God, they are not in God's essence, the primordial nature, but rather in God's experience of the world, the consequent nature. He concludes: ‘There is evil only in God's experience, not in God's intentions. There is no moral evil in God’ (p. 46). This may seem to contradict the previous approach, and in any case other panentheists may be concerned that the world is not in God's essence. Gregersen concludes that the process panentheistic solution to the problem of evil is inadequate. ‘There seems to be no redemption possible for the tragically un[ful]filled aspirations of life, nor for the problem of the horrendous evils of wickedness.… A soteriological deficit is obvious’ (pp. 32–3).

(p. 659) Divine Action

Advocates of panentheism often state that classical theism cannot resolve the problem of divine action in the world, because in that view God acts from ‘outside’ the world, and therefore must intervene and disrupt the laws of nature, whereas in panentheism God acts from ‘inside’ the world, and this does not involve intervention in the closed causal nexus discovered by science. Peacocke states that in classical theism ‘God can only exert influence ‘‘from outside’’ on events in the world. Such intervention, for that is what it would be, raises acute problems in the light of our contemporary scientific perception of the causal nexus of the world being a closed one’ (p. 145). Clayton states in a previous essay that ‘Panentheism's success turns … not on a spatial concept of inside versus outside, but on its ability to give a more adequate account of divine agency than its competitors’ (Clayton 1999: 293a).

Some questions arise here. First, if the world is in God, then is not God acting from outside the world? Second, it is not clear why it is easier for God to act in a closed causal nexus from inside rather than from outside. Third, what is the meaning of the assertion that the world is a closed causal nexus? Panentheists usually interpret this to mean that there are no gaps in the causal nexus, or that scientists do not appeal to non‐natural causes to explain the processes of the world. This last, however, is simply the necessary methodological presupposition of all natural science: namely, that appeal to non‐natural causes is ruled out. It is not an assertion that there are no non‐natural causes, which would be a metaphysical, not a scientific, assertion. Furthermore, ‘closed causal nexus’ is not an adequate way to describe the world of quantum mechanics which lies at the base of the universe and which, according to the majority opinion, involves the lack of a closed causal nexus for all quantum events. John Polkinghorne states that ‘individual quantum events are radically uncaused’ (1988: 339).

Fourth, since panentheists often state that they reject a ‘God of the gaps’ approach (pp. 49, 98, 144), any assertion of God's action in a closed causal nexus must consider the extended, detailed, and persuasive argument of philosopher Thomas Tracy that divine action in the world requires gaps in the causal structure of the world. Tracy's argument proceeds by showing the insuperable difficulties of any view of divine action in a world of closed causal structures. If God makes a difference in the course of the world, then it can no longer be claimed that a complete account could be given of these events in terms of natural processes. If God makes a contribution to the causal nexus, then any account of the relevant events in terms of natural processes must contain gaps (Tracy 1995: 289–324).

Fifth, why is it that divine action from ‘within’ does not involve intervention? If it means that divine action does not modify the course of nature, how is this to be distinguished from the absence of divine action? Presumably divine action that is ‘focally intended’ (pp. 262–4) means that the world is different from what it would be in the absence of divine action, and this falls under the usual definition (p. 660) of intervention. Only process panentheists have an answer to this question: namely, that God is active in all events by supplying an initial aim for all actual occasions.

Clayton expands on the mind—body analogy to treat the issue of divine action in the world. ‘The world is in some sense analogous to the body of God: God is analogous to the mind which indwells the body.… Call it the panentheistic analogy (PA). The power of this analogy lies in the fact that mental causation … is more than physical causation and yet still a part of the natural world’ (pp. 83–4). (Note that the ‘panentheistic analogy’ means that God is in the world, rather than vice versa.) There is, however, another way to interpret this analogy. The mind acts to produce a state in the body which is different from the state of the body apart from the mind's action, and thus not according to biological laws. Therefore it is an intervention, and on this analogy, divine action will also be an intervention. Clayton states that ‘one of our struggles is to understand what the minimal conditions are for asserting divine causal influence in the world’. He refers to the latter as ‘focally intended divine actions’ that make a difference in the way things happen in the world. He states that at least three authors in the symposium deny this possibility in an age of science (pp. 262–4).

It is often stated or implied in the symposium that if God intervened in the processes of nature and thus abrogated natural laws, science would be impossible. It should be noted, however, that human action, which is often used as an analogy of divine action, involves intervention and thus a modification of the world process, and scientists constantly have to take account of this problem. One of the most recent examples is that of research in extraterrestrial life by listening for radio signals from advanced civilizations. Many of the false identifications come from signals of human origin. But problems of this type have not brought science to an end. In the light of the considerations which have been mentioned, it is not clear that a panentheistic interpretation of divine action is the most fruitful one.

Theology and Science

Finally, how does panentheism fare as a mediator between theology and science? Does it interpret this relationship more clearly and fruitfully than alternative views? Clayton lists as one of the reasons for adopting panentheism that it is ‘more compatible than traditional theism with particular results in physics and biology or with common features shared across the scientific disciplines such as the structure of emergence’ (p. 73), and this general view is echoed throughout the symposium. But one symposium author, Ruth Page, finds many problems in panentheism from the perspective of biology, including a focus on the emergence of complexity as too abstract, an avoidance of the fact of the loss of 90 per cent of all species in evolution, (p. 661) an anthropocentrism which downgrades non‐human species, and, thus, a triumph‐ alist view of evolution (pp. 222–7).

What in fact is the panentheistic interpretation of the relationship of theology and science? While most of the participants in the symposium assert that panentheism involves the best understanding of the relation of theology and science, none of them offers an explicit theory of this relationship in the symposium. The two editors, however, suggest what seems to be an identification of divine action with the processes of nature. Clayton states that in panentheism ‘there would be no qualitative or ontological difference between the regularity of natural law conceived as expressing the regular or repetitive operation of divine agency and the intentionality of special divine actions’ (p. 84). Peacocke states that ‘The processes revealed by the sciences are in themselves God acting as creator, and God is not to be found as some kind of additional influence or factor added on to the processes of the world God is creating.’ He also states, however, that God ‘infinitely transcends’ the world. He describes his view as ‘naturalistic theism’ (p. 144). Since science can be understood as reflection on the processes of nature, and theology as reflection on divine action, this interpretation seems to imply that theology and science are identical, or at least closely integrated.

This last word points to the view of the relationship of theology and science favoured by Ian Barbour in his typology of the relationship: namely, integration. (Since the relationship of theology and science is one of the main themes of the symposium, it is surprising that Barbour's well‐known fourfold typology is not mentioned.) Barbour suggests three versions of the integration type: natural theology, or the demonstration of the existence and attributes of God from our experience of nature; the theology of nature, or the interpretation of nature in the light of contemporary science; and systematic synthesis by means of a metaphysic (Barbour 2000: 27–38). It is not clear which of these versions fits the view propounded by the editors.

Clarity about a relationship depends upon clarity about what is related, the terms, or the relata. It is assumed in the symposium that they are Christian theology and natural science, and more specifically natural‐scientific theories and Christian theological doctrines in the form of statements. Then it is important to note that integration is not a possible relationship between statements. (Barbour's first two types, conflict (better contradiction) and independence, are possible relationships between statements, but his latter two, dialogue and integration, are not.) Integration means bringing items together into a single whole. It is a vague term open to a variety of interpretations, and not very illuminating in regard to the relationship of theology and science. Although individual panentheists do occasionally offer clear views of the relationship of theology and science—for example, process panentheists—I must conclude that panentheism as a movement does not.

Panentheism has become a fairly widespread movement in the last couple of decades. Brierley states that ‘a whole host of theologians identify themselves as panentheists’, that many ‘others have been identified as panentheists’, and that ‘whole movements have been claimed for panentheism: Neoplatonism, Orthodox (p. 662) Christianity, mysticism, and English modernism’. He reports that one enthusiast has declared that ‘we are all panentheists now’, and that panentheism has been described as a ‘doctrinal revolution’ (pp. 3–4). How can this widespread enthusiasm for panentheism be explained? We have seen that it is an extremely diverse movement, which ranges from the rigorous arguments of process philosophy to the simple emphasis on divine immanence, with the result that about all the movement has in common is the vague metaphor of the world being in God.

It seems clear that about all that panentheists have in common by means of their metaphor of the world in God is a strong emphasis on divine immanence. But this emphasis does not seem to be significantly different from the similar emphasis that we have found in classical theologians such as Thomas and Barth, or from the traditional doctrine of divine omnipresence, the presence of God at every point in space and time.

Moreover, we have seen that Clayton clearly implies that the world‐in‐God metaphor is not essential to panentheism. He states that the ‘panentheistic analogy’ is ‘the mind which indwells the body’, that the ‘in’ metaphor can refer to the world in God or God in the world, that the ‘fundamental claim’ of the panentheistic metaphor is ‘the interdependence of God and world’ (p. 83), and that the success of panenthe‐ ism does not depend on ‘a special concept of inside versus outside’ (Clayton 1999: 293a). Thus it would seem that the popularity of panentheism can hardly be explained by its unity or by the clarity and rigour of the arguments supporting it or by its self‐evident validity.

Influence of the Current Romantic Movement

Therefore I am led to another explanation of the wide appeal of panentheism. I believe that it is a manifestation of the power of the current Romantic movement, which has influenced all areas of our life and culture, at least in the United States and England. This new Romantic movement began to emerge in the 1960s and is closely similar to the first Romantic movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in its favouring of vagueness, complexity, the irrational, the holistic, the apophatic, the mystical, and the inner. The first theological document of the first Romantic movement was the Speeches on Religion of 1799 by the Romantic theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who has been described as a panentheist for his strong emphasis on divine immanence (p. 4). The term ‘panentheism’ was coined in 1829 by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, who was deeply influenced by Schelling, whose philosophy has been described as ‘the epitome of German romantic philosophies’ (Margoshes 1967: vii. 305b). In an essay arguing this thesis (p. 663) about the new Romantic movement I refer to the work of the historians Theodore Roszak and Sydney Ahlstrom, the British sociologists Bernice Martin, Christopher Booker, Frank Musgrove, and Colin Campbell, philosopher Edith Wyschogrod, and theologian Michael Ryan. I find evidence for the new Romantic movement also in contemporary culture, especially the cinema, the new consumerism, the neo‐ conservative movement, and in contemporary theology, especially the new emphasis on interiority and creation out of chaos, and in contemporary religion, especially the current spirituality movement (Thomas 2006). Romantic movements always favour organic metaphors over interpersonal ones, and therefore ‘internal presence’ over personal presence. Finally, since we have noted above the tendency to interpret panentheism in terms of the immanence of God, it should also be noted that the fundamental principle of Romanticism has been described as ‘the coincidence of the finite and the infinite. In everything finite the infinite is present.’ In other words, the radical immanence of God (Tillich 1967: 77). Therefore, I find that panentheism fits perfectly with the temperament of the current Romantic movement.

I will offer just one example of a contemporary theologian who is a panentheist (though not mentioned in the symposium) and also a perfect example of the current Romantic movement: namely, Catherine Keller. In her most recent book she describes her main theological proposal as ‘apophatic panentheism’ (Keller 2003: 219). She appeals to many authors and works that have been described as panentheist (Athanasius, Irenaeus, Cabbalah) and also to others claimed as panentheists who influenced the first Romantic movement (Nicholas of Cusa, Meister Eckhart, and Schelling), and many Romantic themes receive constant reiteration: depth, darkness, chaos, disorder, fluidity, and mystery. She states: ‘The tehomic deity [a reference to tehom, or deep, in Genesis 1: 2] remains enmeshed in the vulnerabilities and potentialities of an indeterminate creativity. As Tehom it is that process; as deity it is born from and suckles that process’ (Keller 2003: 226).


References and Suggested Reading

Barbour, I. G. (2000). When Science Meets Religion. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

    Barth, K. (1957). Church Dogmatics, II/1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.Find this resource:

      Clayton, P. (1998). ‘The Case for Christian Panentheism’, Dialog, 37/3: 201–8.Find this resource:

        —— (1999). ‘The Panentheistic Turn in Christian Theology’, Dialog, 38/4: 289–93.Find this resource:

          —— and Peacocke, Arthur (2004) (eds.). In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World. Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans.Find this resource:

            Cobb, J. B. Jr. (1965). A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.Find this resource:

              —— (2005). ‘Review of Clayton and Peacocke’, Theology and Science, 3/2: 240–2.Find this resource:

                —— and Griffin, D. R. (1976). Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Garden City, N.Y.: Seabury Press.Find this resource:

                  (p. 664) Gilkey, L. (1959). Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of Creation. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.Find this resource:

                    Griffin, D. R. (2005). ‘Panentheism's Significance for the Science‐and‐Religion Discussion’, Science and Theology News, 5/9: 35, 41.Find this resource:

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                                                  (1) Since this is the most recent symposium on panentheism and the only book‐length treatment of it outside process theology, I will be referring to it regularly below by means of page numbers in parentheses.

                                                  (2) I am indebted to Donald Viney for this reference.

                                                  (3) A summary of the criticisms of process theology has been supplied by Cobb and Griffin (1976: 184), to which should be added Neville (1980).