In chapter 4, “God: The Heart of Reality,” Borg continues his now tried-and-true approach of contrasting aspects of the earlier paradigm and the emerging paradigm. Here he discusses the nature and character of God.
Borg calls the earlier paradigm’s concept of God supernatural theism. This concept identifies God as a transcendent, personal being who created the universe and may occassionally intervene within it to engineer certain outcomes.
By contrast, the emergent paradigm embraces panentheism, a notion that has received a fair bit of attention in contemporary theology, from such diverse quarters as Jurgen Moltmann, thinkers associated with the science-and-religion dialogue, and process theology. In supposed contrast to supernatural theism, panentheism emphasizes the “closeness” of God to the created world (pan + en + theos = “all things in God”).
According to Borg, supernatural theism sees God as “out there,” as fundamentally separate from the world, which largely operates according to its own laws and nature. For God to have any influence on the world, God must “intervene” by “breaking” those laws. It also, he says, has contributed to an ecologically desctructive view of the natural world by minimizing the presence of God in the world.
Panentheism, on the other hand, emphasizes the immanence of God. God is the “encompassing Spirit… the one in whom ‘we live and move and have our being'” (p. 70). God is thus not absent from creation, but includes it, even while transcending it. Borrowing a phrase from Lutheran theology, God is “in, with, and under” creation, or a “presence beneath and within our everyday lives” (p. 67). Borg says that instead of using the language of “intervention,” panentheism uses terms like “divine intentionality” or “divine interactivity” to describe God’s relation with the world (see p. 67).
A critic of Borg might well say that his description of supernatural theism is a straw man. For instance, what proponent of traditional theism has actually denied the immanence (or omnipresence) of God? Relatedly, it’s not clear to me that panentheism solves all the alleged problems of classical theism, at least not without a great deal more fleshing out than Borg gives it here–and it may introduce new ones of its own. Nevertheless, with the popularity of the slot-machine God of “prosperity” preaching and the all-determining deity of neo-Calvinism, fresh thinking about God and God’s relationship to creation is definitely needed.