atheism and supernatural theism

June 5, 2009

Words for how we view God is exceedingly complex constructs. The time where a simple division between Theism and Deism could do the trick is long over, and the list is growing as we notice more and more possible ways in which this can be understood. Theism, Atheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Supernatural Theism (Borg). Andries van Aarde apparently now talks about Postheism, and he, similar to Albert Nolan rejects Panentheism although they don’t fit any of the words in the previous sentence. I myself struggle to get a word for how I view God, maybe we are all just Theists, but just realize more and more that this word can still lead to numerous understandings.

Marcus Borg talked about supernatural theism in his Heart of Christianity. The idea that God is not of this world, but part of the supernatural realm, and breaks into this reality from time to time, a type of wonderworker God, sometimes doing a wonder, sometimes giving a message. but this highly personalized God more and more seem to be missing when he (it’s usually a male God) isn’t breaking into the world.

Atheism in popular Western circles usually defines itself against this view. For them this god simply isn’t breaking into this world.

Somehow I’m starting to think that these two ends of the spectrum might be closer together than we at first would think. That maybe views of God is not a linear spectrum at all, but fits together more complex, with extreme closer together, and those within faith traditions sometimes further apart. Because these two perspectives both seem to work with a similar view of reality, where God is not part of reality, where everything that happens is just science, they just differ on the amount of times that God does wonders, for the atheist never, for the supernatural theist frequently, but in-between these times, what would be the difference between an atheist and a supernatural theist view of the world? Except that for the supernatural theist God has somehow breaked into the reality at some point, and he/she hopes that God will come into this world again.

Panentheism is not the only alternative, and more and more theologians (In South Africa Nolan and van Aarde) is pointing out that this might not be the best alternative. But we do need a view of God where God is part of this reality, part of everything that happen and that is. God would then at the same time become less and more. Less breaking in, but more here. Less in heaven and more on earth.


8 Responses to “atheism and supernatural theism”

  1. Matt Stone Says:

    Ive always thought panentheism was too wobbly a word that ended up meaning everything and nothing. Sometimes it best not to try and reduce it down to a word. I just call myself a Christotheist and leave it at that.

  2. Steve Says:

    Traditional Orthodox theology is closest to panentheism, though not necessarily exactly because the concept of panentheism came along later. But what Nolan think it isn’t an alternative to?

  3. Cobus Says:

    I’m struggling to follow the last sentence, the question on Nolan?

  4. Ronald Says:


    A few things …

    Your description of atheists (“For them this god simply isn’t breaking into this world”) reminds of agnosticism, which should also be kept in mind, somewhere in this whole debate.

    What exactly is wrong with panentheism? I’m not defending it, but I presume Van Aarde and Nolan has some specific points on why it is not quite acceptable … so, what are they saying?

    I have to admit, for a long time I had a view of God sympathetic to both panentheism and theism – God is everywhere, since the Spirit is everywhere, but God the Father is not here; a kind-of hybrid view. (This is of course complicated by the trinity!) I’m not sure how I view God now … and whether I am a kind of agnostic.

    Another comment: constructing our view of God – in a sense that’s opening us to Feuerbach’s criticism of Schleiermacher, isn’t it?

    Sorry for the long comment – it’s not quite ethical, I know …

  5. Cobus Says:

    Van Aarde’s I don’t know yet, but know he’s been talking about this.

    Nolan’s can be found in Jesus Today, can’t give you his argument from the top of my head, will have to take a look again.

    I’m quite sympathetic to panentheism as well, and I think many are recognizing the value of this view. See Nolan, and also Ben du Toit for example, but not settling for it completely.

    Feuerbach? You’ll have to help, I don’t know.

  6. Ronald Says:

    Schleiermacher worked with an “experience” of God – Feuerbach criticized this, saying that God then becomes merely a construction, not something real, just a figment of our imagination – Feuerbach wasn’t exactly sympathetic to Christianity. (That’s if I remember the whole story correctly.)

    On Nolan: You’ve been talking so much about Jesus Today, I’ve just decided to order it. :o)

  7. Cobus Says:

    You won’t regret ordering it!

    Experience, revelation, rational thought, tradition. It’s the age old question on the sources for our theology and how they relate to each other.

    Will have to give some more thought to this…

  8. tiaan Says:

    Nou sal dit gebeur dat ek toevallig met Artikel 13 van die NGB langs my sit (lang storie…). Hier in die middel staan daar:
    “…Ons is tevrede daarmee dat ons leerlinge van Christus is om slegs te leer ken wat Hy aan ons in sy Woord openbaar, sonder om die grense daarvan te oorskry…”
    Maar…ons is nie tevrede met ‘n 448 jaar-oue stelling oor God se betrokkenheid/teenwoordigheid nie, is ons? Ons smag na meer kennis oor God, na ‘n dieper openbaring oor hoe Hy in ons lewens teenwoordig is, hoekom Hy soms “praat/doen” en ander kere “stilbly”?
    Die einde van die artikel help my ‘n klein bietjie:
    “…ons verwerp ook die gruwelike dwaling van die Epikureërs, wat sê dat God Hom met niks bemoei nie en alle dinge aan die toeval oorlaat.”
    Ek dink God is soos die wind, of die see…

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