Pantheism

Question
What is Pantheism? Is it a biblical doctrine?
Answer

Pantheism is any system of belief which includes the teaching "god is all, and all is god." It is the view that god is everything and everyone and everything is god: every tree is god, every star is god, every molecule is god, etc. You will see its presence, or fragments thereof, in many cults, books, and seminar teachings, such as:

Hinduism - Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. Some Hindus are pantheistic, believing that just as all the various gods are aspects of the one true God, so is everything else in creation.

Buddhism - In Buddhism many view their god as an impersonal force, which is made up of all living things that holds the universe together.

Taoism - Zhuangzi emphasized the pantheistic content of Taoism saying such things as, "Heaven and I were created together, and all things and I are one."

Silva Mind Control (SMC) - a spiritualistic self-help seminar founded by Jose Silva in 1944. According to SMC, "Everything is in some respect the universal mind and the creation of that mind... Each one of us is an idea in the universal mind. Man chooses to think of himself as a separate being... but actually we participate in this mind as an atom of water participates in the substance of the ocean." (The Silva Mind Control Method, Jose Silva, Pocket Books, 1991).

Lifespring - a New Age training seminar founded by John P. Hanley in 1974. According to Lifespring, "The Absolute within transcends all dualities, including good and evil." (Lifespring: Getting Yourself From Where You Are to Where You Want to Go, John Hanley, Lifespring).

Conversations with God - A New Age book by Neale Donald Walsch offers the following: "You are always a part of God, because you are never apart from God. This is the truth of your being. We are Whole. So now you know the whole truth." "So go ahead! Mix what you call the profane and the profound - so that you can see that there is no difference, and experience All as One." "I Am What I Am: All That Is." (The Complete Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch, Putnam Adult, 2005).

Even the mass murderer Charles Manson once said, "If God is One, what is bad?" (Interview, Rolling Stone, June 25, 1970).

Through the Bible teaches that God is omnipresent - that God is everywhere (Prov. 15:3; Ps. 139:7-8; Jer. 23:23-24) - it does not teach that God is everything. It is important to understand that God's omnipresence is not pantheism. Louis Berkhof helps us understand some of the differences between omnipresence and pantheism by defining, "God's immensity." He says:

HIS IMMENSITY. The infinity of God may also be viewed with reference to space, and is then called His immensity. It may be defined as that perfection of the Divine Being by which He transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with His whole Being. It has a negative and a positive side, denying all limitations of space to the Divine Being, and asserting that God is above space and fills every part of it with His whole Being. The last words are added, in order to ward off the idea that God is diffused through space, so that one part of His Being is present in one place, and another part in some other place. We distinguish three modes of presence in space. Bodies are in space circumscriptively, because they are bounded by it; finite spirits are in space definitively, since they are not everywhere, but only in a certain definite place; and in distinction from both of these God is in space repletively, because He fills all space. He is not absent from any part of it, nor more present in one part than in another.

In a certain sense the terms "immensity" and "omnipresence," as applied to God, denote the same thing, and can therefore be regarded as synonymous. Yet there is a point of difference that should be carefully noted. "Immensity" points to the fact that God transcends all space and is not subject to its limitations, while "omnipresence" denotes that He nevertheless fills every part of space with His entire Being. The former emphasizes the transcendence, and the latter, the immanence of God. God is immanent in all His creatures, in His entire creation, but is in no way bounded by it. In connection with God's relation to the world we must avoid, on the one hand, the error of Pantheism, so characteristic of a great deal of present day thinking, with its denial of the transcendence of God and its assumption that the Being of God is really the substance of all things; and, on the other hand, the Deistic conception that God is indeed present in creation per potentiam (with His power), but not per essentiam et naturam (with His very Being and nature), and acts upon the world from a distance. Though God is distinct from the world and may not be identified with it, He is yet present in every part of His creation, not only per potentiam, but also per essentiam. This does not mean, however, that He is equally present and present in the same sense in all His creatures. The nature of His indwelling is in harmony with that of His creatures. He does not dwell on earth as He does in heaven, in animals as He does in man, in the inorganic as He does in the organic creation, in the wicked as He does in the pious, nor in the Church as He does in Christ. There is an endless variety in the manner in which He is immanent in His creatures, and in the measure in which they reveal God to those who have eyes to see. The omnipresence of God is clearly revealed in Scripture. Heaven and earth cannot contain Him, 1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:48, 49; and at the same time He fills both and is a God at hand, Ps. 139:710; Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:27, 28.

Berkhof, Louis. (1938). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, pages 60-61.

Although the false doctrine of pantheism and the true doctrine of God's omnipresence (immanence) have some common elements, we should not confuse them. As Berkhof points out - God's omnipresence teaches that God is both transcendent and present in creation at every point with his whole being. But pantheism asserts that all of creation is all of god, and therefore god is spread out throughout the universe, as matter itself is spread out. Pantheism asserts that there is no more to their god than the existent universe, so he does not transcend the universe; but omnipresence holds that God is not bound by space and time. As Solomon once said, "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). Moreover, the god of pantheism is always becoming, always changing, as the creation is ever changing and so it is subject even to things like death. However, in the Bible, God reveals himself as never changing (Ex. 3:14; Heb. 1:11,12; Jam. 1:17; see Does God Change His Mind? and Immutability).

Jonah, after the sailors cried out, each to their own gods (Jonah 1:5) because of their extreme circumstances, said, "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). In essence, the pantheist is a god unto himself, and unless he is born again will never understand the need for the grace of the one and only true God (Deut. 4:35; 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Rom. 8:5-81 Tim. 2:5).

Reference:

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1938, ( pages 60-61).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).