In my last blog entry, I wrote about the importance of identifying false teachers that can creep into the sheepfold. The damage they can do to up-end a believer's faith is enormous, so the Lord Jesus Christ told us to look at their fruit. In this way, we might be able to identify them. Because their approach makes them look like a solid teacher, we have to look at the totality of their lives. Likewise, we need to be aware of what they are communicating. Today, a number of churches (and teachers) have replaced clear biblical exegesis, statements of faith, and systematic theology with feelings, impressions, mysticism and incorporated ideas which come from the New Age or Eastern religions. This is the subtlety of the Enemy. Remember the serpent did not come out and tell Eve she should ignore God and eat the fruit. Instead, he planted some doubts in her mind and allowed her to come to the conclusion that she was missing something. This is how he uses false teachers. With this in mind, an idea has crept into the teaching and writing of leaders who are popular in the church today: panentheism.
When I first heard the word panentheism, I shook my head not having the slightest idea what this worldview was. I had heard the term pantheism knowing that believers (Eastern religions) feel that God IS everything. God is the tree, the river, the squirrel on the tree etc. So the pantheist believes that the natural world is divine. By contrast, those who embrace panentheism believe that God is IN everything of nature. This is a popular view held by New Age believers and the emergent church circles. With this point of view, God can be discovered and understood by encounters with nature. However, that is simply not true. God stands apart from His creation. Psalm 19:1 reads: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork." Creation draws attention to the mighty God who made it all. Yet, later in the Psalm, we read in verses 7-8: "The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." It is not nature that changes the soul, but the Word of God that points to Him.
After all, we live in a fallen world where even nature is fallen as well. Nature serves as general revelation but not saving knowledge of God. Romans 1:20-23 furthers this idea: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures."
As we examine this passage from Romans, Paul is saying that salvation does not come from this general revelation but from special revelation. General revelation shows God's creative power to make man aware, but does not provide the salvation message. The pagan, who believes in a religion of God in nature, seeks messages from God through nature, moments in time, mysticism, feeling, intuition rather than the revealed Word of God. Do we recognize how subtle this is? There is a difference between discerning something through the power of the Holy Spirit and having a "feeling" about something. Discernment, which is a gift of God, relies upon His Word while a "feeling" can often be based upon our own perspective of life. We are called to live by faith in His Word not feelings based on ever changing emotions.
While the concept of God IN everything might be confused with God's omnipresence, they are two different things. God is everywhere. He is not limited spatially as we are. In contrast, Panentheism says that God's essence or being is in everything. If that is true, then there would be nothing special about Jesus Christ and this is precisely what New Agers teach. However, when you look at God's Word, nature does not reveal God's glory or his character the way Jesus Christ does. Jesus spoke the inerrant, infallible Word of God which will stand as our judge one day, but the elements of nature do no such thing nor can they.
Two characteristics of God that are important to keep straight in our thinking is that God is immanent (He is close at hand) and He is transcendent (over and above all His creation, Isaiah 57:15). He is not in the tree, the flower or the sun. He is not in the unsaved person either. However, He comes into our hearts when we come to Christ and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). It is important to keep these distinctions focussed so we are not thrown off by those who say that God is in everyone. Yes, we are all made in God's image, but He does not indwell us until we profess our faith in Christ. The New Age, mystics and the emergent church have all picked up ideas like universalism (everyone is saved) as well as panentheism which serves to muddy the waters. This is why it is so very critical to be in God's Word on a regular basis. His Word is truth. No writer, teacher, pastor, or leader should be taken at face value. Instead, we are to be students of the Word and examine what we hear, read, and see on the basis of this foundation.
Ideas have consequences especially when they are not based on the Bible, and it is so easy to be swayed by false teachers who sound so good. Because we live in a time when information travels at the speed of light, we must take the time to examine ourselves and the teachers we listen to that we can be certain we are walking in the light and not in the shadow of deception. Selah!
If you would like to read about specific false teachers, Tim Challies at www.challies.com has an interesting series going at the present time. I pray you are not confused on this issue but will be built up by what I have written. Feel free to email me or comment if you have questions.