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

I want to follow up yesterday’s Ken Wilber interview with this blast from the past – something I wrote for the previous iteration of TheOOZE, right after Jasmin and I got married six years ago. 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, to be followed up with fresh thoughts this week.


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 (I’d recommend starting with Who Am I? or Yes, I Am). 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 a good friend of mine in ‘church life,’ aka house churching. 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 my friend, 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 Edwards’ The Americanization of Christianity to see how Christ can 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.



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. I interviewed Anne Rice again shortly after she renounced Christianity. 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, as I do his recent article in the Huffington Post, Interspirituality: A Meaningful Alternative to ‘Spiritual Not Religious’. 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?

Other posts in the Nondual Week series:

Radical Incarnation: Thoughts on Nondual Spirituality by Matthew Wright
Nondual Week: Ken Wilber on ‘One Taste’
Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?
Nondual Week: Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity
Nondual Week: David Henson on ‘How Hinduism Saved My Christian Faith’

57 Responses to Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?

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

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

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

    Oops. Forgot the hyphen—Christian-Panentheism.

  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. 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..



  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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


    Shalom, Dena

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

    Dear friends,

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

    Fred Delameilleure

  21. 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:

  22. Kevin J. Bowman January 31, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Great Stuff Man.

    My attempt to embrace an honest nondualistic panentheistic vision of God is one of the main reasons I identify as an anarcho-syndicalist politically speaking and a Jesus follower philospohically speaking. If God is in all things, but greater than the sum of these things then our spiritual path must be one of mutual respect and acceptance, but also diligent pursuit of building a better world based on mutuality. I think of MLKjr’s famous words from Birmingham Jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all ”

    All that makes sense in my head, but I am not sure I put it in words well. The summary is NO, you did not throw Jesus under the bus.

    • Mark Van Steenwyk January 31, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      The destruction of my mental conception of a transcendent “sky daddy” was a huge step in my anarchist development. It gave me a theological way of grounding my mystical/pneumatological experiences. I believe in anarchism because of the radical presence and “availability” of the divine within us all. If I weren’t a panentheist, I would probably have stalled at some sort of libertarian BS.

      • Mark Van Steenwyk January 31, 2012 at 11:48 am #

        And, to be clear, by “libertarian BS” I don’t mean I would have pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Libertarianism.

    • zoecarnate January 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      I’m curious if any other Christian anarchists out here source their anarchism (even partially) in panentheism – the idea that God is “all in all.” It would seem that if we call carried God within & around us, the need for ‘-archies’ would be eliminated, as opposed to in more dualistic worldviews, where having ‘power over’ might be a worldview necessity.

      • Ted Troxell January 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm #


        < sips coffee >

        • Adam January 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm #


          < sips tea >

          • Jonathan L. January 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

            I am panentheist in thought, and practice. I would say it is more in my christian thought, and I only connect it through Anarchy through Christianity. I guess I would say the same as Darrell now that I just read his post.

        • Johnboy January 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

          maybe, maybe not

          [chug-a-lugs diet coke][belch]

      • Donnie Ray January 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

        I would say that my anarchism is rooted in my belief in the human creative potential and the drive to liberate it from the individual and social structures which restrict and distort it which certainly overlaps and is supported by my Christian faith. As Mary Daly says, “It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God,” this is compatible with my panentheism (I do consider myself a panentheist) but not necessarily identical with it since one could also base it on the ideas of imago dei and the process of theosis.

  23. Johnboy January 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    RE: Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It? | Mike Morrell – January 31, 2012 – want to follow up yesterday’s Ken Wilber interview with this blast from the past – something I wrote for the previous iteration of TheOOZE

    It would be difficult to improve on that BLAST!

    Let me offer a strategic note re: interreligious dialogue

    If one accepts that, formatively, in most traditions, belonging precedes desiring which precedes behaving which is last followed by believing …

    If those desires are largely formed by practices which engage us participatively and holistically …

    If so much of the early stages of the journey within most of our great traditions thus entails evaluative attunement to reality via participatory praxes prior to any interpretive indoctrination via conceptual map-making and is thus much more nonpropositional than propositional …

    Then there is an INTERFAITH BONANZA that awaits us if we would only [BRACKET] the [propositional elements] of our interfaith exchanges, at least at the start, to lead with the nonpropositional (practices)…

    Then, when we do begin to engage the propositional elements of our respective traditions, there is yet a further INTERFAITH BONANZA to be enjoyed if we would only [BRACKET] our [Christology], at least at the start, to lead with our pneumatology (the Spirit)!

    Now, some might offer the objection that many doctrines are inextricably intertwined with certain practices and that may well be true but, for all sorts of reasons (some listed above), the converse is manifestly not true.

    If we’d approach interfaith exchanges in this manner, we’d have so much to celebrate in the way of belonging, desiring and behaving and even regarding some rudimentary shared beliefs regarding the Spirit! And this could help pave the way for a more fruitful dialogue regarding the propositional elements of our faiths, which are not unimportant.

    Importantly, even the term inter-religious dialogue reveals a certain rationalistic, dualistic hegemony in its emphasis on the dia-logical. I now prefer the term inter-faith exchange because it goes beyond the logical and propositional, but not without them, to include the more robustly relational and nondual approaches to such human value-realizations as solidarity and compassion.

    Finally, I don’t advocate this approach only for the academic and theological guilds but feel strongly that we need to popularize it and make it more accessible, perhaps through storytelling vehicles like The Shack. In a country and a world so torn apart by destructive polarizations that are grounded in religious differences, this strategy for engaging the religious-other could be a viable route to more peace, less war.

  24. Matt M. February 1, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    I enjoy the idea of panentheism from a Christian (anarchist) perspective.

  25. John S. February 1, 2012 at 12:23 am #

    Sometimes. But then I’m never totally 100% sure about anything. < swigs beer >

    • Brambonius Cools February 1, 2012 at 12:28 am #

      < so much coffee here that it almost reminds me of the Pentecostal church >

      • Ted Troxell February 1, 2012 at 12:54 am #

        I’m really loving all the going on.

        FWIW, Mike, I’m hardly a good representative, and the question (as I think we’re seeing) is a relevant one. I think there is corollary here to what I consider one of the key dynamics of Christian anarchism: that the Christian anarchist’s allegiance is to Christ as king who is primarily present by dint of having his spirit poured out on all people (that’s a theologically sloppy gloss but I’m trying to keep it succinct). It seems to me the relationship some are articulating between panentheism (and similar constructions) and anarchism would be at least tangentially related to this.

  26. Matt M. February 1, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    For my thoughts from over 2 years ago on panentheism via the creation mythos (which I wrote about in a rather literal way…would have to tweak that a bit if I re-wrote it today), check out this blog post…

    (This post was intended to develop into a “book”, or at least a series of posts, exploring the micro and macro concepts of sexuality and divine relationship. Never happened though.)

  27. Jarrod Cochran February 1, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    I’m very much a panentheist!

    • Mark Van Steenwyk February 1, 2012 at 12:36 am #

      Don’t you mean, “panentheist is very much I?” 😛

      Which reminds me. Yesterday a friend told me a of a church sign which was supposed to say “Christ is Risen” but the “R” fell off, so it read (in a very zen sort of way) “Christ is isen”.

  28. Jason Barr February 1, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    I find panentheism to be lacking on obscure metaphysical grounds that no one really cares about, but I think the basic impulse to articulate a view that God is with us and in us and in the world around us is a good one. I’m more likely to talk about anarchism in relation to the role of _Imago Dei_ in Genesis 1 or the early proclamation of Jesus in terms that deconstruct the pretensions of ancient imperial authorities.

    I’m more likely to say something like “God is continually giving the world its existence out of nothingness, and the world is continually moving towards God out of the nothingness, but the world is also given a kind of integrity of its own that places it as other-than-God even though God’s presence permeates the world.”

    The ground for this metaphysical view is explicitly Trinitarian, so I doubt any of you non-Trinity folks out there will follow me there. Panentheism may be the best possible consequence of a view that essentially makes God into the ultimate Monad.

    • Brambonius Cools February 1, 2012 at 12:43 am #

      ‎”God is continually giving the world its existence out of nothingness, and the world is continually moving towards God out of the nothingness, but the world is also given a kind of integrity of its own that places it as other-than-God even though God’s presence permeates the world.” Love this! What do you think of the orthodox ideas of the ‘energies’ of God?

      • Joseph C. February 1, 2012 at 12:44 am #

        I’m not sure I believe this, but it is interesting to think about…. perhaps God permeates the world and us and everything so much that we have become too accustomed to his presence and therefore we don’t even notice it anymore(or at least makes it harder to notice).

        • Jason Barr February 1, 2012 at 12:45 am #

          Well, my conception of the Trinity is probably more Eastern Orthodox than Western Catholic/Augustinian (though with a good measure of Hans Urs von Balthasar thrown in) so yes, I’m a fan.

          • Donnie Ray February 1, 2012 at 12:52 am #

            Regarding the question of “God revealed in Jesus Christ”, according to 2nd Corinthians we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” as a result of the One Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shining in our hearts; it is God shining in pour hearts that gives us this knowledge so God must be there to shine in our hearts first. And in Logion 77 of the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “I am the light which is on them all. I am the All and the All has gone out from Me and the All has come back to me. Cleave the wood; I am there. Lift the stone and you shall find Me.”

            I would also refer to the ideas of Cosmic Revelation and Christophany from Dom Bede Griffiths and Raimon Panikkar respectively, both of whom root their ideas very firmly in Trinitarian thought.

  29. Eric February 1, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    I don’t know if I’m a panentheist in that God is all in all, taking the “all in all” at face value in 1 Cor 15.

    If anything, Paul’s “all in all” is for the eschaton, when all creation will be fully reunited with God, unobstructed by the desire not to trust God.

    For my “Panentheism”, and a reflection of the present reality (which includes the desire not to trust God!), I rely on Hebrews 1.3-4 interfaced with the “Logos” doxology in John 1: Christ sustains everything by His powerful word, that is Christ Himself.

    So, while I don’t see the the Divine in everything (hence the quotes around my panentheism, or small “p” panentheism), I do see the Divine sustaining, supporting everything and everything’s existence. Existence is a testimony to me not only of the creative power of God, but also of the grace and mercy of God towards His creation.

    So, creation is currently created, supported and sustained by God without its volition (Creation rests ON God?).

    Theosis, where all creation is IN God, is an eschatological reality, partially fulfilled now with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven and to be fully fulfilled in the Eschaton (via humanity and humanity’s Priestly function, perfected in Christ and those brought into Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who brings the Eschaton into the present.).

    *gives shout outs to Colin Gunton, NT Wright & John Zizioulas*

    • Eric February 1, 2012 at 2:16 am #

      Thus, the basis for my respect and valuation of the dignity of the other lies not that God is in them, but that God is gracious and merciful to all; i.e., if I participate in and imitate Christ, His mercy becomes mine, in that my respect and valuing of another’s dignity is deeply coloured by the mercy I myself experience as a result of my God-grounded, continued existence that the other’s existence testifies to.

  30. Johnboy February 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    There are two ways that panentheism is most often conceived. The first, a fundamentalist take, panen-theism, sees God as part of all things but more than the sum of all things; the second, an orthodox parsing, pan-entheism, sees God indwelling in all things. My pan-semio-entheism suggests that there’s value to be realized in both of those parsings, panen-theism via our realizations of intra-objective identity (absolute unitary being), pan-entheism via our realizations of inter-subjective intimacy (relational unitive strivings). What it also suggests is that we can (maybe even better) realize these values by relaxing with our vague conceptions and questions, holding (exploiting even) these creative tensions while abiding with mystery and paradox, rather than anxiously rushing forward with specific root metaphors and answers, imagining that every paradox is ours to resolve dialectically, dissolve paradigmatically or evade practically. This is to say, for instance, that it doesn’t ambition a theodicy. In fact, the theodicy “problem” doesn’t arise precisely because it hasn’t tried to say more than we could possibly know by “proving” too much regarding God’s essential nature or divine attributes.

    It seems clear to me that our panentheisms begin within the faith as theologies of nature, as poetic reflections of our affective attunements and participatory imaginations, as anagogical expressions of our hope in a God Who deeply cares for us and desires to be with us. They cannot credibly proceed from a natural theology or metaphysics, which at best could only raise the plausibility of a deism, which could have no inkling of whether or not primal reality is ultimately friendly or not (nature being so red in tooth and claw).

    I have come across some beautiful neo-pagan reflections which did seem to their link panentheist intuitions and anarchist inclinations via what I would call a divine spark anthropology. (Now, when it comes to theological anthropology, even Rahner’s transcendental thomism was too optimistic, so, we must take care with any “divine spark” anthropology to avoid getting too dualistic, too Kantian. Human knowledge is way more problematical and a gnostic rationalism is no cure for other epistemic vices.) I have elaborated my own “norms for intervention” based on my reflections on nature as it dances with both freedom and coercion (from an emergentist perspective). I’ll simply say this – that, notwithstanding the initial, boundary and limit conditions of the cosmos and the constrictions we experience, we are generally free enough to love and the normative take-away is that our default bias must be on freedom. The rub has always been whether or not freedom can be absolutized, for all practical purposes, and this speaks to anarchist and pacifist stances. And this comes full circle back to just what type of Kingdom the Good News aspires.

    Ted wrote: “I think there is corollary here to what I consider one of the key dynamics of Christian anarchism: that the Christian anarchist’s allegiance is to Christ as king who is primarily present by dint of having his spirit poured out on all people (that’s a theologically sloppy gloss but I’m trying to keep it succinct). It seems to me the relationship some are articulating between panentheism (and similar constructions) and anarchism would be at least tangentially related to this.”

    Ted is spot on here. Let me extrapolate to suggest that, only articulating my view, panentheism is such a corollary in the sense that it would follow as a direct inference from this or that pneumatology (stance re: the Spirit) which, for Christians, would follow from this or that Christology (view of Christ). What I am implying is that, as with the Transcendentalists, any compelling intuitions of God in nature will be articulated from insights gathered from within some faith perspective rather than derived merely philosophically, much less metaphysically.

    To what values, then, does the Good News really aspire? temporally vs eternally? How might any Christian, in general, articulate and practice anarchist-pacifist norms or reconcile them to extant historical, social, cultural, economic and political realities? How might a panentheist, in particular?

    Niebuhr employs a temporal dialectic, drawing normative distinctions between now and eternity, eschatologically. It’s as if he’s saying that anarchism and pacifism will indeed enjoy their MOMENT, just not yet? Now, it has been claimed that Yoder employs a spatial dialectic, drawing normative distinctions between the world and the Kingdom, ecclesiologically. And that would sound as if he’s saying (he’s not?) that anarchism and pacifism enjoy their PLACE, just not everywhere?

    What if, in keeping with our hesitance to resolve such tensions dialectically, dissolve them paradigmatically or evade them practically, we aspire to exploit them creatively as co-creators? Our panentheist intuitions might then employ a pneumatological imagination inspired by such a fivefold Christology as would see the Spirit at work “orienting” us through all of history (an implicit eschatology), “empowering” us through all social gatherings (an implicit ecclesiologly), “sanctifying” all cultures (an implicit theology), “nurturing and healing” through every economic sphere (an implicit sacramentology) and “saving” in every political order (an implicit soteriology)? (This is not to suggest that cooperation with the Spirit, hence realization of the fruits of the Spirit, does not present in varying degrees from time to time, place to place, as best we can communally discern.)

    Now, it takes a radically nondual perspective to imagine that the Spirit has, always and everywhere, been thus gently coaxing us along orienting, empowering, sanctifying, nurturing & healing and saving us? However, if this is true, then, while Niebuhr may be correct, descriptively, insofar as we enjoy merely proleptic (anticipatory) realizations of a Kingdom that is both now and to come, still, normatively, who could reasonably deny that anarchism-pacifism is a realizable vocation, NOW? And while it would not be incorrect to recognize with Yoder, descriptively, that our world seems to enjoy so few wholly “voluntary associations of wo/men” (as Dorothy Day might say), still, normatively, it would nevertheless be wrong to imagine that he would suggest that anarchism-pacifism is not a realizable vocation, EVERYWHERE, for there is no antinomy between the sacred and profane, the church and the world, precisely because the reality of God permeates the reality we call this world?

    This panentheistic view is really catching on, too, for just yesterday, a Lucky Dog vendor in New Orleans’ French Quarter asked: “Would you like me to make you one with everything?”

    I would elaborate further but I was trying to be succinct.

  31. Leanne Hunt February 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    As the writer of Eccleastes tells us, there is a time for everything under the sun. This, I think, is wisdom. There is a time for building and a time for dismantling; a time for searching and a time for giving up, and so forth. Just as different faiths evolve, stabalise and undergo internal change, so individuals alter their views and shape shift between faiths. In Genesis, God commanded, “Go forth and multiply”, and we know that multiplication requires exchange between two different parties. Therefore, rather than seek something fixed and solid, let us enjoy the dance of life.


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