The Problem with Pantheism

Did you or your children ever play little league baseball? Can you remember a time when only the winners of the league (and maybe 2nd and 3rd place) took home a trophy? Perhaps like me you have a hard time with the recent trend of participation trophies. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way someone got the bright idea that every kid who bought a pair of cleats should get a trophy. Rewarding the kids who work hard, practice and hone their skills is no longer a priority. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps we’re trying to spare the feelings of the losers. Perhaps the virtue of participation really is more important than the concept of winning. Personally, I think this is a bunch of bunk. Maybe a kid can’t hit a fastball. So what? Let’s help him find his own gift; maybe it’s playing a tuba or swimming. Maybe she’s a natural born writer or scientist. My point is that we should award the kids in an area that they deserve recognition. If every kid that runs onto a baseball diamond gets a trophy, the trophies become somewhat meaningless, right? What’s so special about winning a trophy if everyone gets a trophy?

Right now you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with pantheism. I’m making a point – trust me.

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy defines pantheism as follows:

Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position. Broadly defined it is the view that God is everything and everything is God. A slightly more specific definition says [that] pantheism … signifies the belief that every existing entity is, only one Being; and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it.

This concept of pantheism is common amongst Eastern and New Age religions. Whenever you hear a person talk about “The All” or “The One” you can rest assured they are espousing a belief in pantheism. A person who expresses a belief in pantheism is normally trying to convince others to respect nature. The argument is that we should care for and respect nature and other people because all of it – man, rocks, mountains, trees, animals and etc. – are all part of “The All.” Everything is God so we should treat everything with the proper respect.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that this isn’t the Biblical view of creation. Rather, the Bible teaches that we should be able to recognize God based on His creation. Our appreciation of creation and nature should cause us to fall on our knees and worship the true, living God. We may discover the general attributes of God by examining His creation; for instance, He is a God who appreciates beauty, love and friendship. He is a God who loves painting glorious skies and landscapes just to watch our mouths fall open in wonder. However, we must not confuse the Creator with creation. These revelations that can be found in nature are general. If we want to learn the specific attributes of God we must study the Special Revelation found in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. When we confuse the general and special revelations of God we are making the same mistake that Paul addresses in Romans 1:25, “[We exchange] the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the creator.”

I would take it one step further and suggest we are in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.  When we worship creation as if it were God, we are creating idols. Yes we should respect, preserve, and care for our environment; but only because it is a gift from God, not because it is God.

If we consider all of creation God – you are God, I am God, the trees are God, Squirrels are God and etc. – than there is nothing special about being God; much like little league participation trophies, God becomes meaningless.

Look at it this way … if everything is God, than nothing is God. Pantheism is akin to atheism in the sense that God becomes unnecessary. I prefer to learn about the real, living God as revealed in the Scriptures. Yeah, it takes more effort and more dedication than simply pronouncing that nature is God, but it is more rewarding in the end.

Book Review of Five Views on Apologetics – edited by Steven Cowan

Book Review: Five Views on Apologetics, edited by Steven Cowan
Zondervan, 2000

Cowan’s purpose in presenting his Five Views on Apologetics is to provide the reader with a “side by side” view of the varying apologetic methodologies so that one may make up their own mind as to which method is correct (Cowan, page 8). Cowan classifies the apologetic methodologies into five separate categories; classical, evidential, cumulative, presuppositional and reformed epistemology. The editor then attempts to accomplish his self-assumed task by allowing a contributor who represents each of the five categories to make a case for their unique methodology. After each apologist completes his presentation, the other contributors are provided the opportunity for rebuttal. While the content of this book is valuable, I do have a couple of quibbles.

The first problem with this text is the layout. While I appreciate that the contributors were afforded the opportunity to respond to one another, I feel that each of the five methodologies should have been fully presented prior to the rebuttals. For instance, on page 56 Gary Habermas begins his rebuttal to William Lane Craig’s take on classical apologetics by pointing out that it has much in common with his own evidential approach. This comment is made before the reader has read Herbermas’ essay and can fully grasp what evidential apologetics is. This problem could be addressed by simply reading the chapters out of order and in retrospect I wish I would have done so.

My second complaint with this book concerns taxonomy. The editor himself seems to suggest this is a problem when he says, “these five apologetic methodologies do not constitute an exhaustive list of apologetic approaches” (page 20). With that in mind, one wonders if Cowan’s choice of five methodologies was somewhat arbitrary. Couldn’t he have divided apologetics into six or seven categories with justification? My concern; however, isn’t that Cowan didn’t differentiate enough between methodologies, but rather that he could have focused more on their similarities. The classical and cumulative approaches seem to be very similar in approach to evidential apologetics; as Cowan observes on page 18, “The careful reader will no doubt note that this [cumulative] method belongs in the same broad family of methods as does the evidential (and perhaps classical) method.” Likewise, the reformed epistemology belief that it is reasonable for a person to believe something without evidence seems to place it in the same family as the presuppositional method. Cowan could have easily presented the material in this book under two wide classifications; an evidential approach verses a presuppositional one. My concern is that the reader will become more concerned with adhering to one of Cowan’s five camps than with presenting the best apologetical argument in a given situation. In all fairness, this issue is addressed somewhat in Cowan’s conclusion beginning on page 375 when he summarizes the agreements and disagreements between the five methods.

Despite the above criticisms, this book is highly valuable and should be recommended for newcomers to the subject of apologetics. Before reading this text, I had no idea of the complexities concerning apologetic methodologies and was unaware of the current debates between apologists. Despite the fact I have a natural affinity for the evidential methods of apologetics, I was extremely impressed with John Frame’s essay on the presuppositional method and his examination of how unbelief effects a person’s perception of the truth (beginning on page 210). Frame and the other contributors do a good job of stretching the reader’s perceptions of apologetics. In sum, will help prepare its reader to give an answer to all who ask and for that it is valuable.