So tot’s been putting off writing for a while because laziness, etc. But yesterday (?) I finished John W. Cooper’s Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers, in which Cooper spends the majority of the book detailing panentheism in Western philosophy and theology, touching on a few also voices somewhat outside that tradition, and providing a Reformed, classical theist critique in the final chapter. The outlines are good, though, and Cooper admits this, the response is very short and you probably need another book in itself to offer any substantial critique of panentheism.
What is panentheism? Firstly, you may know pantheism, from pan, all, and theos, God. There is one reality (monism) named God or All, but they’re the same thing. Secondly, you may know classical theism. There is God, who exists on his own terms, infinite and uncreated, and there is creation/finitude, which comes from him. I understand it as dualistic (this isn’t always a swear word) in that there is the reality of God and the reality of creation (and a good classical theist would decry the Platonic assigning of spirit, mind, etc to the reality of God; they are, indeed, created things). In contrast, panentheism, all-in-Godism, lets God have his creation, and eat it too. I understand it as monistic: There is the one reality of God and all things are in him, yet the two are ontologically distinct. God is not all things; he is more. All things are not God; they are much less. Yet they exist in the one reality, here God. Cooper does not employ monism and dualism as straightforwardly as I have done here. So if I have been bad, I invite you to smack my hand.
Famous panentheists include Hegel, Teilhard, Whitehead, Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg (so Cooper argues), Ruether, McFague, and many more! It is yet too early for me to pick a team, but there are definitely some things about panentheism that appeal to me. One is this notion of “true infinity.” If God is infinite then a panentheist would argue that he cannot be infinite in contrast to the finite because this would bound the infinite and it would no longer be a true infinite. God as infinite therefore includes the finite within him. Cooper writes on Nicolas of Cusa: “Whereas classical theism protects the God-world distinction by opposing the infinite and finite, the absolute and relative, and other such antithetical qualities, Nicholas argues that the truly infinite must include both sides of these polarities” (Location 988-990). If in the beginning God is all there is, and this All is a powerful All, how can All create something whose existence is outside of it? Where did he place us if there was no outside in which to place us? Indeed, we are created ex nihilo, but we do not persist in nihilo because we would never start existing. We would need to be brought into the one reality who is God.
A problem arises, however. If God is both good and All, whence cometh evil? I think a panentheist could still maintain this if they distinguished between the actuality and possibility of evil in God. In himself God is not actually evil. Agreeable. Yet I tread carefully here. Is it possible that God can do evil? I cannot say. Yet evil comes with creation. It is possible for created things to do evil, so in a removed sense, God is somehow primordially related to evil through possibility. And if you’re in the Augustinian tradition you might quip that it’s a necessary possibility on account of creaturely freedom. In the scheme of panentheism, God creates out of nothing that for which evil is a possibility and he sustains it in the one reality which is himself.