God’s Relationship to Everything

With Lesson 29 you begin to appreciate the ubiquity of God: the notion that He is everywhere and is in everything. As you bring more love to everything you do, you begin to see the love that is everywhere. If God is in everything you see, then every aspect of your life becomes part of your spiritual journey.

God is in everything I see.

The idea for today explains why you can see all purpose in anything.

–A Course in Miracles, Lesson 29, Marianne Williamson on Oprah’s XM Satellite Radio yesterday (1/29/08)
“God is everywhere and He is in everything.”
–Marianne Williamson, Everyday Grace, p. 216.

[God] . . . is everywhere and is in everything.”
–Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, 2002, p. 88.

Yesterday’s lesson by Marianne Williamson on Oprah Winfrey’s XM Satellite Radio was Lesson 29 from A Course on Miracles. This lesson introduces the idea that God is “in” everything. For example, the listener/reader is supposed to rehearse this list:

  • God is in this coat hanger.
  • God is in this magazine.
  • God is in this finger.
  • God is in this lamp.
  • God is in that body.
  • God is in that door.
  • God is in that waste basket.

This teaching — that God is IN everything — is at the heart of the emerging syncretism of global spirituality. It is a key doctrine of New Age spirituality, and increasingly shows up in the evangelical world.

Warren Smith, an ex-New Ager, noticed that Rick Warren and Robert Schuller appeared to be teaching this doctrine, and devoted an entire chapter about it in his 2004 book Deceived on Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church. Smith commented that

“Rick Warren’s implication and Robert Schuller’s contention that God is ‘in’ every person is at the very heart of all New Age thinking. The Bible does not teach this. The New Century Version that Rick Warren quotes is dangerously mistaken in its translation of Ephesians 4:6. The only books I had ever seen that taught that God was ‘in’ everything had nothing to do with biblical Christianity. In fact, it didn’t take me long to find this same unbiblical teaching in A Course in Miracles.” (p. 81)

Smith then proceeds to illustrate his point by quoting from Lesson 29 of A Course in Miracles — the very same lesson that Marianne Williamson was going through in her radio show yesterday!

What is wrong with this teaching?

Pastor Larry DeBruyn, author of the new book Church on the Rise: Why I am not a “Purpose-Driven” Pastor, which we mentioned in yesterday’s post, also expresses concern about Rick Warren’s use of the New Century Version translation for Ephesians 4:6. Pastor DeBruyn takes note of the fact that Rick Warren uses this rendition of the verse in the context of practicing the “presence” of God, which is closely connected to the idea of contemplation (see p. 88 of The Purpose-Driven Life). This usage is strikingly similar to how Lesson 29 of A Course in Miracles treats this same concept — the Course student is told:

“At least once or twice you should experience a sense of restfulness as you do this.”

The following excerpt from Church on the Rise (pp. 78-81) clarifies the errors of this teaching:

Pantheism and Panentheism

We should note that God is not everything. To believe that God is everything is pantheism. God is not the mosquito that bites me on a camping trip. Neither is God in everything, which is panentheism. God is not in the big landscape rock that decorates my neighbor’s front yard. To believe that God is everything, or in everything, contradicts the biblical theology that God is holy and personal.(1) God is a person who is transcendent above, and separate from, His creation. For Christians to remain Christian, it must never be said of them that, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:25; See verses 18-25.). It is pagan thinking to believe that God is His creation or that God permeates His creation. No. God is separate from His creation and His creation is separate from Him (Genesis 1:1-31).

Theological Error

Rick Warren’s quotation of the New Century Version of Ephesians 4:6b contains serious theological error. The NCV quotation is a poor choice. Therefore, his surrounding commentary on generic spirituality is misleading. From Warren’s citation of the verse, crossover spiritualists may justifiably deduce that because God is in everything (panentheism), he is thereby present in everyone. I know Warren does not state that God’s indwelling is universal amongst all humanity, but that is what a crossover reader might infer from the NCV paraphrase of Ephesians 4:6b. On this point the question becomes, is God immanent in everything, which implies He is present in everyone? If so, this is an eastern religious and New Age mystical assumption that is so much the vogue of pop spirituality in America today.

Some Christians are concerned about the NCV version of Ephesians 4:6 which Warren quotes and employs to discuss “practicing the presence of God.” The controversy caused spiritual counterfeits author Richard Abanes to defend Rick Warren’s use of that NCV text as a basis for practicing the presence of God. Abanes explained that all Warren meant to teach was the immanence of God, that God is present “not only above and beyond the universe, but also throughout it (His omnipresence).”(2) To accept Abanes’ apologetic that Warren is not a pantheist, several issues need to be resolved. First, the NCV translation of Ephesians 4:6 directly states that God is “in everything.” That may not be what Warren believes, or meant to communicate, but that is what that version states. Though the version may not directly infer a pantheistic way of viewing God, at minimal, it gives a panentheistic impression of God. Though Abanes disclaims that Rick Warren is a pantheist, and did not mean to promote such a concept of God, Warren chose to quote a modern paraphrase that infers such a view of God.

Second, in the context of Ephesians 4, Paul did not affirm the immanence and omnipresence of God in the universe. What he did state is truth regarding the church universal, the Body of Christ (vv. 1-16). In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul sets forth teaching that being a UNITY (vv. 1-6) and consisting of a DIVERSITY (vv. 7-13a), the church ought to grow together into MATURITY (vv. 13b-16). The basis for such UNITY amidst DIVERSITY is that throughout the church universal there is “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (v. 6b, KJV). Being in the Father and Son, and united by the Spirit, the Body of Christ is permeated by the “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6b, NKJV; Compare John 17:20-23.). In this majestic statement, Paul affirms God’s presence in and lordship over the church. Though God is present in the farthest and darkest recesses of the universe (Psalm 139:7), Paul was not stating that in this context. He is teaching that though God is universally present throughout the cosmos, He is particularly present in and throughout the believing and regenerate church.

Third, if by his NCV citation of Ephesians 4:6b we assume that Warren meant to teach that the immanence/omnipresence of God is the basis upon which persons are to practice God’s presence, Warren’s invitation to practice God’s presence is inter-religious. Because God is everywhere, all persons, no matter what their religion, are invited to practice God’s presence. By quoting the NCV, Warren provides a basis for ecumenical spirituality, a practicing of the presence of a generic God by all persons, no matter what their religious persuasion might be. Because God is everywhere, everyone can practice the divine presence.

But the basis upon which Christians are conscious of God’s presence is not that of divine immanence, but divine indwelling which the Bible states is not common to everyone everywhere. Jesus told his disciples that “the world cannot receive” the Holy Spirit “because it does not behold Him or know Him.” He then issues a qualifier to the disciples saying, “but you know Him because He abides with you” (John 14:17). And Jesus further states to the disciples that for reason of the coming Spirit baptism (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12:13), the Holy Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17b).

Richard Abanes’ apologetic on behalf of Rick Warren does not adequately answer concerns regarding the accusation of panentheism. Warren’s NCV citation of Ephesians 4:6b was a terrible choice. Further, it is theologically misleading, and leaves the door open for ecumenical spirituality. It would have been better if both Abanes and Warren would have admitted that the NCV is a bad paraphrase, and that the author had inconsiderately quoted it. But for whatever the reason, they did not. To the point that God resides in everything, Warren’s quotation of Ephesians 4:6b is unqualified and therefore misleading. It does not follow that what is true of the church (the called out ones) is necessarily true of all God’s creatures and creation.

Saints and “Ain’ts”

Though all human beings possess a life-force, a soul, which marks them out to be bearers of the divine image, their soul is without God in the world. Clearly Jesus did not view that God resided in all persons (John 8:44). Neither did Paul. The apostle stated, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9b). Spiritually, Paul divided the world of people into two groups. He said there is one group called “saints,” those within whom the Spirit of Christ dwells; and he implied there is another group we’ll call “ain’ts,” those within whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell. Now the condition by which the Spirit of Christ enters and lives within a person is faith in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13), and at that juncture it becomes impossible to see how the Spirit of Christ can dwell in Jews or Muslims who deny that Jesus is God, gave His life as the atonement for their sins, and was raised from the dead. According to the New Age spiritual paradigm, some sort of “Christ-spirit” (logos) is common to and dwells within all humanity. However, that is not the teaching of New Testament Christianity. . . .

Based on Warren’s unqualified words, crossover readers might be led to assume that God lives within them when in fact, He does not. Only Christian believers have the right to personalize these words of Jesus: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). Only believers can affirm Christ’s spiritual presence, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

The Truth:

Listen to Warren Smith on a radio interview last week with Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel addressing the topics like this one. Listen to Chuck’s comments on this interview the following day.

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” (Ephesians 1:13)

“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6 KJV)

1. The worldview that can be inferred from Warren’s citation of the NCV paraphrase of Ephesians 4:6b is panentheism. This worldview holds that while God is present in the material universe, he is separate from it much as a human soul is differentiated from the human body. Materially, God is immanent in creation while at the same time he is spiritually transcendent above it. Such a worldview is not what Paul either teaches or infers. What is true of the spiritual Body of Christ (i.e., the church and its members), that God thoroughly resides in them together wherever they might be in the world, is not true of his material creation.
2. Richard Abanes, Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2005) 95.