House of the Righteous
   
Does God Need Us?
by Riètte Odendaal Sinclair, B.OccTher, LMT
D.B.S. Candidate, Trinity Graduate School of Theology and Apologetics

 
God is dependent on the world - A Panentheistic belief?
 

Panentheism means "all in God". It is a worldview asserting that God is a finite, changing, director of world affairs who is dependent on the world to accomplish anything. Panentheism differs from Theism, Deism, and Pantheism in the following ways:

Theism Deism Pantheism Panentheism
God in infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe and intervenes miraculously from time to time God created the universe but never interrupts its operation with supernatural events. Only creation reveals God, and all verbal and written revelations are human invention. All is God. God is found within all things and all things are identified with God. Humans must overcome their ignorance and realize that they are God.

All in God. God is finite, changing, growing more perfect. The bipolar nature of God creates an inter-dependence between between God's body (the world) and God's mind.


Norman L. Geisler's (1) outline of Panentheism, specifically the belief that God is dependent on the world, brought to mind two recent incidents that caused me to contemplate this issue:  

(1)  I watched a television interview between two very famous Christian preachers.  One of them were stating that "God can do nothing on earth...nothing has God ever done on earth without a human giving Him access... God is always looking for a human to give him power and permission.  So, even though God can do anything, He can only do what you permit Him to do." (Myles Munroe speaking to Benny Hinn, (2) )   At the time I felt these statement did not coincide with my understanding of the biblical record, but I did not spend time to justify my suspicions.   
(2)  I read a dialogue on Dr. Johnson C. Philip's Facebook page under the topic, Do Modern Missions Teach How To Lie?, in which one student said the following:  "God is depending on you and I here on earth. He cannot do anything without us. He is relying on us. He cannot preach the gospel here. He cannot prophesy here."  (3)


The idea that God absolutely CANNOT operate here on earth without the permission of a human seems to be pervasive in the mainstream Christian church, especially the charismatic churches, and on television today.  I have always wondered where this idea came from since it sounds so radically different from what I have been taught as a Christian.  After reading Norman L. Geisler's descriptions of the major worldviews I gained a better understanding of the definitions and differences between Theism, Deism, Pantheism and Panentheism,   It struck me that one of the core Panentheistic beliefs is that God is dependent on humans to operate in this world.


It would be irresponsible of me to immediately draw the conclusion that any Christian preacher who claims this belief is a Panentheist, however it seems that this particular belief coincides with one of Panentheism's core beliefs, and it deserves further investigation.

My limited, albeit growing, knowledge of the Bible reveals that God does use people on earth to accomplish specific goals and He does guide people who submit to His authority.  However, to take this fact and state that God only operates in this manner (i.e. with the permission and cooperation of a person on earth), would be error.

Remember the former things of old for I am God, and there is none else; I am God and there is none like.   Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done saying, "My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure."  (Isaiah 46:9-10, KJV, Emphasis added)

Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.  (Psalms 135:6, KJV)

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.  (Ephesians 1:11, KJV, Emphasis added)

I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought of thine can be hindered.  (Job 42:2, KJV)


God approached Abraham to inform Him of His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Exodus 18:20-33). However, He did not ask Abraham's permission, nor did He require Abraham to act on His behalf in the destruction of these cities.  Many more examples of God's sovereignty can be found in the Scriptures.

Justin Peters (2) asks the question "If God can only do what we permit Him to do, then who is really in control?"    This doctrine being widely preached in charismatic churches today is a man-centered doctrine, minimizing the sovereignty of God.  

It is essential that we guard against minimizing the authority and sovereignty of God.  How dare we, the creation, question, instruct, or direct, the Creator?

One who argues with his creator is in grave danger, one who is like a mere shard among the other shards on the ground!  The clay should not say to the potter, "What in the world are you doing? Your works lacks skill!"   Danger awaits one who says to his father, "What in the world are you fathering?"  and to his mother, "What in the world are you bringing forth?"   This is what the Lord says, the Holy One of Israel, the one who formed him, concerning things to come:  "How dare you question me about my children!  How dare you tell me what to do with the work of my own hands!  I made the earth, I created the people who live on it.  It was me - my hands stretched out the sky, I give orders to all the heavenly lights.  (Isaiah 45:9-12, NET)

Worldly philosophies and views

The idea that God cannot do anything without man's permission, appeals to the natural man's ego.  When an idea appeals to our sinful selfish desires, the red flashing lights should go on and we should immediately put our guard up.  The Apostle Paul writes, "those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh" (Romans 8:5, NET).

There are other popular ideas in the church today that sound suspiciously like "man-made" doctrines.  The popular Prosperity Gospel hold, among other things, that God wants to bless us with earthly wealth and riches; give money and you shall receive much money, and riches, in return.  This teaching appeals to the natural man's greed.  Teachings on Positive Thinking and Speaking are justified by the biblical passage about the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), and a few others.  Christians are also often told that they are "little gods", which appeals to the natural man's ego.  A new doctrine has been created around this idea, by twisting the biblical passage of Psalm 82, and combining it with the Pantheistic worldview that God is all things, and that humans must overcome their ignorance and realize that they are God.

I have been curious as to the origin of these misleading beliefs that are so rife among Christians today.  Many of these ideas bare striking similarity to many of the popular self-help philosophies and non-Christian worldviews of today.  Motivational speaking is a multi-billion dollar industry that has become one of the most popular movements in modern society.  Seminars, books, magazines, television programs, and personal coaches are solely dedicated to personal empowerment and motivating the masses.

It seems to me that our fundamental, non-negotiable Christian values and beliefs have become extremely diluted with beautiful-sounding ideas from popular worldly philosophies, and non-Christian worldviewsAre our trusted church leaders and pastors taking worldly philosophies, attaching a couple scripture passages to it, and building their own doctrine around it? 

The need for sound doctrine

Could lay Christians and pastors who lack a sound Biblical and Theological background be particularly vulnerable to deception? There is a notion within many churches today that pastors do not need seminary training.  Dr. James Emery White (4) writes that "it is increasingly common for individuals who are called to plant a church or join the staff of a church to do so without any formal theological education."

Another point to consider is the quality of the theological training that pastors that do have seminary training receive.  Many seminaries are accused of being out-of-date, out-of-touch, cost prohibitive, and/or prone to indoctrination by professors with their own theological and methodological biases.   

God certainly calls people from all walks of life into the ministry and it would be elitist to require a seminary degree from every church leader.  However, seminary or no seminary training, it is essential for any church leader to continuously engage in the study of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.   Continuous study, reflection and practical application lead to greater spiritual maturity, facilitate the skill of discernment, and assist us in guarding against deception. 

The Scriptures reveal that the "Holy Spirit teaches all things" (John 14:26), and unfortunately many church leaders and lay Christians today, use this passage to justify their disinterest in fundamental theological study.  The question is, can the Holy Spirit effectively 'teach' us the deep doctrines of our faith without us having even the slightest interest in the original biblical languages (i.e ancient Hebrew and Greek)¸ the cultural and historical background of the Bible, and the theological thoughts of past and current great men of faith?  As we engage in a continuous study of the Bible and fundamental Theology, the Holy Spirit is better able to clarify and guide us to a deeper understanding and practical application of Godly wisdom.

Anti-Intellectualism

A spirit of anti-intellectualism exist in some of the modern Christian churches, in which intellectual pursuits of any kind are frowned upon. Many Christians believe that in order to perceive the things of the spirit one must suppress the flesh, including the mind, therefore intellectual pursuits are discouraged (5).  They assert that a person cannot understand what God is doing with an analytical mind, citing that the natural mind "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God"  (1 Corinthians 2:14, KJV).  However, the passage actually reads "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God."  This is another example of a biblical truth taken out of context and attached to a worldly philosophy. It is a common cultic practice to disengage the mind from the spirit in order to achieve greater 'spiritual enlightenment. This idea can also be found in Gnosticism which holds that God communicates directly with the spirit, bypassing the mind.

If we just read a bit further in this passage in 1 Corinthians 2, we learn that "we have the mind of Christ" (v.16).  God does not instruct us to suppress our mind, or separate it from our being.  Jesus taught, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength"  (Mark 12:30, KJV).   The preachers that hold this belief assert that the mind cannot understand the things of the Spirit, however, how can we understand spiritual things without it?  "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge"  (Hosea 4:6, KJV).  A relationship with God requires thinking, not feelings and other experiential (supernatural) sensations.

Growing in spiritual maturity is a continuous journey in which the heart, sould, mind, and body are engaged. The Bible teaches, "be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."  (Romans 12:2, KJV, emphasis added).   Developing the discipline of continuous study of the Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is essential to spiritual growth and maturity.

The study of Christian Apologetics, at Trinity Graduate School of Theology and Apologetics, have brought me to realize some of the dangers facing the Christian faith today, and the importance of being knowledgeable in the doctrinal theology of Christianity in order to discern misleading and/or false teachings.  God warns us in scripture, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Colossians 2:8, KJV)

I am certain that I'm only scratching the surface of this subject and that more scholarly minds would be able to expound in much greater detail. However, this exercise has been a valuable step in my spiritual journey to greater discernment and developing an apologetic mindset.

 
Posted: December 12, 2010
 
Bibliography
 

1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Baker Books, 1999.

2. Peters, Justin. A Biblical Critique of the Word of Faith Gospel - Part 3. [Online] October 12, 2008. [Cited: December 12, 2010.] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M5rFJuKZC0&feature=related.

3. Obumeyan, Val (Forum Member). Do Modern Missions Teach How To Lie? Dr. Johnson C. Philip's Notes. [Online] December 8, 2010. [Cited: December 12, 2010.] http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1073176922#!/note.php?note_id=168108836562817.

4. White, Dr. James Emery. Why People Aren'te Going To Seminary. Crosswalk.com. [Online] November 1, 2010. [Cited: December 12, 2010.] http://www.crosswalk.com/pastors/11640351/.

5. Oppenheimer, Mike. The Mind or The Spirit? Let Us Reason. [Online] 2009. [Cited: December 13, 2010.] http://www.letusreason.org/Pent15.htm.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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