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Open Theology

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Panentheism in the context of the theology and science dialogue

Joseph A. Bracken
  • Emeritus Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Published Online: 2014-03-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/opth-2014-0001

Abstract

The term “panentheism” (literally, everything in God) mediates between pantheism of the sort espoused by Spinoza and classical theism (God as transcendent Creator of the world). In this essay, in dialogue with the contemporary Danish theologian Niels Henrik Gregersen I review various historical positions re panentheism before concluding with a summary statement of my own understanding of the God-world relationship. The ancient Greek Orthodox tradition, for example, can be retrieved to set forth what might be called soteriological panentheism whereby the communitarian life of the three divine persons of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is freely offered to all creatures at the end of the world. The German Idealists Krause, Hegel and Schelling focused instead on the progressive self-manifestation of God in the world of creation in and through a dialectical process governed by Divine Mind or Will. In the mid-20th century Charles Hartshorne, the disciple of Alfred North Whitehead, presented what he called dipolar panentheism: God as the “soul” of the world and the world as the “body of God.” The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin located the goal of cosmic evolution in the Pauline vision of the Cosmic Christ who thereby “personalizes” the whole of creation. Most current understandings of panentheism are derived from one or another of these earlier efforts at understanding how the world can be both in God and yet distinct from God. I myself use the notion of hierarchically ordered systems employed in the life-sciences to make clear how the higher-order system proper to the communitarian life of the three divine persons both conditions and is conditioned by the lower-order systems proper to the world of creation.

Keywords: Panentheism; Niels Henrik Gregersen; Greek Orthodox Tradition; German Idealism; Process Philosophy and Theology; The Cosmic Christ; Systems Theory

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About the article


Received: 2014-01-03

Accepted: 2014-01-21

Published Online: 2014-03-20


Citation Information: Open Theology, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/opth-2014-0001. Export Citation

©2014 Joseph A. Bracken. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

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