Can hermeneutics determine what scripture teaches: materialistic theism vs. idealistic panentheism

Does the Bible explicitly teach an objective material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation or does it teach a subjective ideal creation inseparable from the mind of a panentheistic God who indwells creation and is required to hold it together? Can hermeneutics, rationality, and/or tradition help us determine if scripture clearly supports one position or the other? I would appreciate any input to help me figure this one out if it can indeed be settled.

 

I consider myself a monistic idealistic panentheist. I believe that sin separates us from God only in a relational way and not in a physical or spacial way. I believe that God is omnipresent and is required to be present everywhere to hold reality together, even in hell. There are scriptures to support His omnipresence and His holding creation together. I believe that scripture also supports the idea that if God were to take away His spirit that creation would cease to exist. This indicates to me that all parts of creation require the presence of God to continue to exist. This also indicates to me that the creation cannot be independent or separate from God. This would make God panentheistic or indwelling all creation. This is different from a pantheistic God which is identified with the creation: the creation is God is the creation. Panentheism means that the creation is inseparable from God but God is greater and more than just the creation.

 

I believe both Jesus and Paul were panentheists. Jesus’ view that he is in the Father, the Father in him, he in us, we in him, and the Father in us is clearly panentheistic. Likewise, Paul’s repetition of we being in Christ and Christ in us demonstrates this principle as well as his clear teaching that we live, move, and have our being in God who makes us His temple. Paul also clearly showed his panentheism by indicating that by Christ all things were created, he is before all things and in him all things are held together. This clearly indicates to me that Paul did not view a material creation that was separate from God.

 

I believe that God's creation is not a material creation but is His mental projection. God spoke and the creation appeared. The creation is made of the Word of God. This is not necessarily audible words made out of sound waves which would presuppose a prior reality in which sound waves, space, and a materialistic medium would be required to accommodate sound waves. Rather, I believe these words were the thoughts of God. The Greek word for the Word which created the world is Logos which is also their word for logic. I believe creation is a logical construct in the mind of God.

 

There is also a rational argument for this. If creation cannot be separated and independent from God the creation must be immaterial and not made of a material substance for God is spirit and immaterial. I believe this necessitates an ideal rather than a material creation.

 

The Bible does appear to be dualistic because it distinguishes between the Spirit and the world/flesh/carnal. However, I believe that upon closer examination it reveals that the world is one of deception and not actuality while the Truth is of a spiritual nature and not carnal. Scripture can be used to examine this dichotomy in three sections. First, scripture indicates that the carnal is foolishness and deceit. Second, it indicates that Truth is mysterious. I believe the mysterious nature of Truth indicates that Truth is not equated with common sense. I believe common sense would tell us that there is an objective material reality independent of the mind. This is what I argue the Bible doesn’t teach. Finally, the Bible identifies Spirit as truth. I believe this clearly makes the case that the Bible teaches an ideal panentheistic reality instead of a material theistic reality where God is separate from His creation.

 

Here are the verses to consider. Let’s first look at how the Bible characterizes physical reality:

 

1 Corinthians 3:19

 

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

 

Colossians 2:8

 

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world.

 

Ephesians 2:2

 

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

 

Revelation 12:9

 

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.

 

1 Corinthians 3:

 

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

 

 

For me the Bible speaks of an objective material reality as a realm of foolishness, deception, and an immature mindset. I see the idea of a world separate and independent from God as a parable which speaks more to spiritual truths that are not carnally discerned. In fact, I believe ontological truth is so counter-intuitive that it seems like a mystery to a worldly mind. Consider the following verses:

 

Mark 4:

 

11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12 that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand.

 

Romans 16:25

 

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.

 

1 Corinthians 2:

 

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

 

Ephesians 3:9

 

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

 

Colossians 1:

 

26 even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

 

Colossians 2:

 

2 that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

 

 

The scripture seems to be clearly saying that the mystery of ontological truth is panentheism or Christ is in us and we are in Christ. Christ is in the Father and the Father in him. The Father is in us and we are in the Father. Panentheism is the mystery and that mystery of God is where all wisdom and knowledge are hid. The rest is error. Consider the following scriptures which indicate that spiritual reality is truth and material reality is the error:

 

John 4:24

 

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

 

John 14:17

 

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

 

John 15:26

 

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

 

John 16:13

 

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.

 

Romans 8:

 

5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God:

 

1 John 4:6

 

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

 

1 John 5:6

 

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

 

 

What is the scriptural basis for a material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation? I know that many influential people in the Church have held to this traditionally theistic position but does scripture support it and can hermeneutics help to clear this issue up?

 

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Because Alexander invited me to join him in this interesting discussion, I will begin by laying out a sketch of my own view for comparison (though I will keep it brief). Others are welcome to participate in this discussion as well.

(1) I believe that the creation (a term which I shall use to describe all things other than God, which on my view includes at least the physical universe, human souls, and angels) was created by God
(2) I believe that the creation was created ex nihilo
(3) I believe that creation is (partly) a material reality. Matter is not an illusion.
(4) I believe that God sustains the creation. That is, he is actively preserving it in being so long as it continues to exist.
(5) I believe that God is omnipresent. I will, for simplicity's sake, use a fairly common and minimalist definition of omnipresence: God is cognizant of and causally available or active at every point in space.

I believe that Scripture teaches (1), (4), and nearly affirms (5). It may teach (2) but I am not decided on that yet (I think it leans heavily that way, at the very least). As for (3), which is at the heart of our discussion here, I believe Scripture is underdeterminative on this point. It doesn't give us enough information to say one way or the other. That said, I think Scripture is very amenable to (3), such that (3) may be preferable to ~(3), at least on the background of Scriptural evidence.

Regarding the case that Alexander has presented from Scripture, I think he has latched on to several real themes in Scripture, but either misinterpreted or misapplied them. In the case of God's sustenance of creation and his omnipresence in creation, I would argue that these are beside the point. Monistic idealism does not follow from them. I affirm both and I am not a monistic idealist. I will leave it to Alexander to show that I face a problem in affirming both.

With regard to the Scriptural theme of carnal vs. spiritual thinking, this has, in my experience, nearly always been interpreted as a dichotomy between God-centered and self-centered thinking, not at all a metaphysical point about the nature of material reality. I would maintain that the most natural interpretation of this Scriptural theme is that "carnal" or "worldly" thinking and living is living according to worldly and fleshly desires rather than having important spiritual concerns and principles rule over them.

Likewise with the themes regarding Christ, God the Father, the believer, and so on indwelling each other. These statements are largely relational in nature. They are not teaching about the metaphysics of material reality and mind, they are talking about the status of the relationships between these individuals. This is, in my experiences, an overwhelmingly typical interpretation.

The New Testament also consistently speaks of mysteries and the inability of the worldly mind to understand them, but in most if not all of these cases, the "mystery" in question is the gospel. Not some sort of idealistic metaphysic.

And regarding the "Spirit of Truth," I'm not sure what the alleged significance is supposed to be. This is simply a name for the Holy Spirit.

I'm along for the ride.  Will have to say I would agree more with Justin than Alexander, and I did contribute some in the 'Am I a panentheist' discussion.  I hope to contribute here.

That's interesting and perhaps a little disappointing. If a material reality is underdetermined by scripture then the question may not be answerable and I am left in the land of limbo not knowing whether to trust my senses or my mind. That's not necessarily a bad place to be because it is a land of possibility but it is also a land where objectively true knowledge about ontological reality is not attainable for me.

 

Just for clarification, I also believe in creation ex nihilo but the creation was of an ideal world out of nothing instead of a material world out of nothing.

 

You said: "Regarding the case that Alexander has presented from Scripture, I think he has latched on to several real themes in Scripture, but either misinterpreted or misapplied them. In the case of God's sustenance of creation and his omnipresence in creation, I would argue that these are beside the point. Monistic idealism does not follow from them. I affirm both and I am not a monistic idealist. I will leave it to Alexander to show that I face a problem in affirming both."

 

If I have misinterpreted or misapplied the scripture it may be irrelevant to the argument. I suppose the reason I used those scriptures is because if there was any sort of a teaching about ontology in scripture those scriptures may be our best bet in determining it. In the absence of those scriptures there is no other teaching about the reality of a material creation.

 

However, let's consider the logical argument I presented given the reality of God's omnipresence and sustenance of creation. If God is omnipresent then there can be no spacial separation between God and creation. If God sustains creation then creation is not independent of God. If creation is neither independent nor separate from God it cannot be of a non-mental material as God is spirit and immaterial. I think this implies that creation is of the same substance as God, however, not fully God. What I mean by this is that it can be distinguished from God just as our dreams can be distinguished from us but is identifiable with us. Our dreams are not of a different substance as our mind but distinguishments can be made between the mind in full and the separate entities of the dream.

 

I believe that if one tries to say that creation is made of a non-mental or even non-spiritual substance known as matter then this substance must be separate or independent from mind or spirit. The Bible seems to rule out this possibility by stating that God is omnipresent and sustains creation. If you are arguing that matter is of a separate substance than mind or spirit how can you logically argue that it is neither separate nor independent from God’s mind or spirit? Those two seem incompatible. Help me to separate the two logically.

 

Finally, regarding the Spirit of Truth, my intent was to contrast it with the spirit of the world. My point is that the Spirit is Truth while the spirit of the world is the spirit of error. This clears up any dualism apparent in scripture. At least, this clears it up for me in my mind. This implies that there are not two substances, spirit and “flesh” or matter, but that there is only one substance and the appearance of two substances is only a deceitful apparition.

 

Thanks Brian! I know you reasoned me into a standstill in that thread. If you are able to clear up this issue here it would be much appreciated. I know there are implications to panentheism that are uncomfortable to a traditional mindset, and even to my own mind to a certain extent, concerning the role of sin. But I don't know if the implications are enough to establish a clear teaching in the Bible that hermeneutics is able to discern from scripture. But maybe you can make the case.
 
Brian Guiley said:

I'm along for the ride.  Will have to say I would agree more with Justin than Alexander, and I did contribute some in the 'Am I a panentheist' discussion.  I hope to contribute here.

Alexander said: "Just for clarification, I also believe in creation ex nihilo but the creation was of an ideal world out of nothing instead of a material world out of nothing."

 

I'm glad you made this point. This is an important clarification. Thanks.

 

(1') If God is omnipresent then there can be no spacial separation between God and creation.

(2') God is omnipresent

(3') Therefore there is no spacial separation between God and creation.

 

(4') If God sustains creation then creation is not independent of God.

(5') God sustains creation.

(6') Creation is not independent of God.

 

(7') If creation is neither independent nor separate from God it cannot be of a non-mental material as God is spirit and immaterial.

 

I grant (1') and (2') but only because I think that God isn't spacial at all (this is compatible with how I defined omnipresence). For that same reason, I grant (3'). But (3') does not mean that God and creation are not separate (or at least not given my interpretation of (1'). It only means that they are not spatially separated. Indeed they are not. For God is not in space at all.

 

The second argument equivocates on "independent." My college education is dependent on my parents funding in the sense that if they stopped funding it, my college education would cease. Thus one could say that my college education is not independent of my parents funding. But that is to use a different definition of independent then when one says that my bedroom is not independent of my house. I submit that you slip from the former use of "independent" in (4') to the latter use in (6'), or if not there, then in (7'). If you use the latter use of "independent" in (4'), then I reject (4') and affirm instead a version of (4') that uses the former definition of "independent."

 

My understanding of the phrase "Spirit of Truth" was that the Holy Spirit guides people to the truth and convicts them of the truth, particularly (if not exclusively) regarding the central truth of Christianity and the gospel. However, I do not have the references off-hand at the moment to prove my case.

 

Glad to have you, Brian, as always.

Brian Guiley said:

I'm along for the ride.  Will have to say I would agree more with Justin than Alexander, and I did contribute some in the 'Am I a panentheist' discussion.  I hope to contribute here.

I think David may have summarized the most compelling argument for the separation of creation from God, although I believe you were making the same argument Brian. David just condensed it into an easy to copy/paste segment.

 

This is taken from page 11 found here: http://www.creationconversations.com/forum/topics/am-i-a-pantheist?...

 

David Thomas Posey

 

“Creation is also described many times in Scripture. Some adjectives used are corrupt, wicked, and unclean. This excludes creation from being a part of God.”

 

I think the issue with sin separating us from God is more of a relational separation instead of a spacial separation as we would cease to exist if actually separated from God.

Justin, that's some solid reasoning. I looked at your argument from every angle I could think of and you seem to be correct. My reasoning wasn't air tight. That's the first time I realized I was doing some equivocating. I still don't agree that matter is a separate substance from God but I now realize that my case wasn't as obvious as I thought. I'm glad you decided to check out my reasoning.

So you're saying that God can create something other than God. Although God is the foundation for all existence and nothing can exist apart from His sustaining Will there can still be something that exists that is other than God. It's not separate from God, nor outside God, nor independent from God but it is other than God. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that.

We are dealing with some mind-bending issues, no doubt.

Based on that premise that would imply that God was not unbounded.

Which premise?

And what exactly do you mean by "unbounded"?

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