Is there a case for Christian pantheism? [Questioning faith #18]

Ted Grimsrud—April 4, 2023

When I first heard of pantheism some 50 years ago, I was taught that it was incompatible with Christianity. I was taught a pantheist believes the world is God; a Christian believes the world is separate from God. That was my view until recently when I started to wonder if my emerging convictions about God as reflected in this series of posts on “Questioning Faith” should make me rethink this sense of incompatibility. I will not argue in favor of pantheism here, but rather I will reflect on what it is that I am coming to believe about God and then ask the question if this belief is moving in a pantheist direction.

All God-talk is human talk

One of the first steps in my rethinking my understanding of God was to realize that all of our thinking about God is human thinking. We can talk about what we think God is like, however we can never describe God precisely as God is. Whatever we say is also based on our human perceptions and opinions and expressed in our human languages. I would say now that this insight means that “pantheism” and “Christian theism” are both labels we create as we think about God—useful and appropriate, but still limited since they are human constructs. So, we should recognize that they are at best approximations and not mistake them for simple descriptions of reality.

We, thus, consider what we think God is like based on the various factors that influence us—personal experience, religious teaching (including the Bible and our faith traditions), scientific evidence, and other factors. Ideally, we factor in the evidence carefully and in conversations with others. We hope that our convictions are as well-grounded, evidence based, and coherent as possible. We want our convictions to be truthful (recognizing that they will never be perfectly truthful because they are always going to be human constructs). I would add that I believe all of our theological convictions should also be as life-giving as possible; that is a major test for truthfulness.

So, what does God seem to be like?

Let me mention several of the other ways my thinking about God has changed over the years and then return to the question of pantheism. To signal where this will be going, though, let me state here that after taking inventory of my emerging convictions about God, I realize that once I stop and think about it, my views may be somewhat close to at least some of the elements of what is often considered pantheistic beliefs. To recognize that all of our labels need to be worn lightly and viewed as fallible ways to try to order our thoughts (not as exact statements about reality), may make affirming some pantheistic ideas less “heretical.”

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