God of Many Names:

An Introduction to Dialogue with Other Religions

Robert C. Brow

Appendix D


We could take each of the explanatory models in our classification chart, and any other expressions of religion or ideology we might find, and engage those committed to them in moral discussion. As an example of the model theology proposed in this book we will consider Matthew Fox's use of the word Panentheism. The term has become important in modern theology since it was first used by Charles Hartshorne in his vision of process theology. It was then adopted and popularized by Matthew Fox's books.

[Original Blessing, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bear & Company, 1983, pp.88-92, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, pp. 118, 124-126. Robert Brow "The Taming of a New Age Prophet," Christianity Today, June 16, 1989, pp.28-30.]

At first sight the name Panentheism suggests a form of Theism, but this is misleading because Fox maintains that Panentheism is definitely monistic. Monism has been known in Hindu Philosophy for over two thousand years, and one form of Vedanta called Modified Monism is the view that God is to this world as soul is to body. That obviously denies Theism, where God is related to our world as Artist to his or her creation. But the model still allows some sense of God as personal in a way which is not possible in other forms of Monism. It was this ancient vision of Modified Monism that Bishop Robinson advocated in his model shift from traditional Christian Theism, and which Fox picks up as an essential part of his model of Panentheism.

[John A.T.Robinson, Honest to God, London: SCM Press, 1963. See Robert Brow, Religion: Origins and Ideas, London: Tyndale Press, Second Edition, 1972, p.84, and The Lion Handbook of World Religions, London: Lion Publishing, 1982, p.45.]

Having adopted a model that denies theism, Matthew Fox cannot believe in the resurrection of the body. He therefore redefines resurrection with the metaphors of "aliveness, wakefulness, awareness." It is a loss of the fear of death, and joy in the daily resurrection of Mother Earth. [The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, 1988, pp.38, 141, 145, 148.] Fox is however hesitant about the typically monistic doctrine of reincarnation, which is an essential part of Hindu Vedanta. This may be because he knows that in Hinduism, as well as in Buddhism, reincarnation is viewed as the ultimate bondage, and in such a model salvation requires an escape out of personality into the Absolute.

Matthew Fox however finds this escape out of personality difficult. He seems too committed to the value of persons and to unconditional love to be comfortable with that logic. He obviously delights in all the aspects of concern for human personality, joy, warmth, freedom and human love. These fit much more easily in a Christian model of Creative Love Theism. And they do not belong in the austerity of Hindu Vedanta. (See the chart in chapter 3) The Bible explains again and again that God is not some immutable absolute. He loves, cares, answers prayer, and even changes his mind. For a powerful presentation of this model of God see Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

The only good reason for adopting a religious model is because we want to attain the goal that is offered, and the Vedantist ending of personality and merging in the Absolute does not seem to be at the heart of what Matthew Fox has in mind. If we could engage with him in moral discussion it seems that Fox would either have to move decisively into a form of Hindu Vedanta or into some form of Trinitarian Theism. That is what we would need to clarify. Perhaps he can structure his explanation to avoid that dilemma, but the only way to find out would be by patiently engaging in the necessary moral conversation.

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