Misgendering the Spirit

Language learners should master the concept of grammatical gender. This is especially true for native English speakers. I’ve found many Christians, even some in scholarly circles, who are confused on this issue. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit is sometimes ‘misgendered’.

The problem is birthed from confusion between (and conflation of) grammatical gender and biological sex, as in male and female. From this confusion, faulty ideas arise as to what constitutes personhood.

To state simply: grammatical gender does not necessarily indicate biological sex. Most times there is no correlation whatsoever.

Grammatical Gender en Español

Since Greek has three grammatical genders, it may be helpful to first illustrate from a language with only two. Below are some examples in Spanish, the world’s fourth-most spoken language (after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi).

the cat = el gato
the dog = el perro
the table = la mesa
the bank = el banco
the store = la tienda

Notice how “the” is spelled two different ways in Spanish. The words for “cat”, “dog”, and “bank” have el before them. These words (gato, perro, banco) are masculine in grammatical gender, so the corresponding word for “the” is also masculine (el). Comparatively, the Spanish words for “table” and “store” have la preceding them. These words (mesa, tienda) are feminine in grammatical gender and therefore have la to match.

This use of el in front of grammatically masculine nouns and la in front of grammatically feminine nouns must be maintained. You should never see ‘la gato’ or ‘el mesa’—these are grammatical mismatches, errors.

Now, we would hardly think any table or store is female. Nor would we think any bank is male. And, of course, we would hardly think all cats and all dogs are male.

In Spanish, there is a simple way for designating female cats and female dogs. An extra word is added to el perro and el gato to specify a male:

the female dog = la perra
the female cat = la gata
the male dog = el perro macho
the male cat = el gato macho

The astute student can readily see that the last letter of both perro and gato is changed from “o” to “a” to make it feminine in grammatical gender. This way, the grammatical gender also indicates the female sex of the dog and the cat. But since perro and gato mean “dog” or “cat” generically (without regard to biological sex), adding macho to the end indicates that the dog or the cat is male. In these examples grammatical gender correlates to biological sex.

Below are the final Spanish examples for our purposes:

the Father = el Padre
the Son = el Hijo
the mother = la madre
the spirit = el espíritu
the Holy Spirit = el Espíritu Santo

The only feminine grammatical gender above is found, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. However, when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood, of course.

The word for “spirit” is masculine in grammatical gender. But this doesn’t mean that a spirit has biological sex. To specify “the Holy Spirit”, the word Santo follows el Espíritu. And since the Holy Spirit is part of the Triune God, once again, we don’t construe biological sex.

The Three Genders in the Greek

As noted earlier, Greek has three grammatical genders, adding neuter:

the sun = ho hēlios (masculine)
the earth/land = hē gē (feminine)
the water = to hudōr (neuter)

Like Spanish, the Greek word for “the” must match the grammatical gender of its associated noun. In the examples above, “sun” (hēlios) is masculine, “earth/land” (gē) is feminine, and “water” (hudōr) is neuter. So, correspondingly, the words for “the” are masculine (ho), feminine (hē), and neuter (to), respectively. Of course, none of the words in these examples indicate biological sex.

the world/universe = ho kosmos (masculine)
the land/region = hē chōra (feminine)
the lake = hē limnē (feminine)
the open/deep sea = to pelagos (neuter)
the deep sea = ho bythos (masculine)

In viewing the above, the reader may perceive a seeming randomness to the assignment of grammatical gender. The last three all relate to water, yet each one has a different grammatical gender! In fact, the last two are synonymous.

Once again, none of these can be construed as implying biological sex. And none of these are persons in any sense, of course.

the word/speech = ho logos (masculine)
the word/saying = to rhēma (neuter)

Despite what some Word of Faith (Word/Faith) teachers claim, these two words are essentially synonymous when referring to speech.1 And when referring to speech generally, we do not assume biological sex or personhood, of course.

In the case of ho logos the difference comes in the preexistent Jesus Christ, “the Word” (John 1:1—14). Certainly, we recognize the personalization—the ‘Personhood’2—of “the Word” here. However—and this is an important distinction—the masculine grammatical gender of ho logos does not indicate personhood in and of itself. Nor does it indicate biological sex—God is not intrinsically a sexual Being. It is the flesh (human) aspect of Word-become-flesh (Jesus the Christ) that indicates biological sex. Jesus is a biological male in virtue of His human nature, not His Divine nature. In His pre-earthly existence as “the Word” He was not even a biological being.

the Father = ho Patēr
the Son = ho Huios
the mother = hē mētēr
the spirit = to pneuma
the Holy Spirit = to Pneuma (to) Hagios

Not surprisingly, the first three above parallel the Spanish in terms of grammatical gender. The only feminine occurs, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. And again, as in Spanish—or any translation of Scripture—when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood.

But when compared to the Spanish word for “S/spirit” grammatical gender differs. In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. Consequently, confusion results among many. To some apparently, the neuter grammatical gender necessarily construes a non-being, a thing. And from there it would follow that non-beings are non-persons. But this conflates distorted notions of grammatical gender with biological sex/gender in the English and imposes them upon the Greek.

Christendom, We Have a Problem

Confusion manifests in two ways, with one mistaken notion following the other. Because the word for “Spirit”, pneuma, is neuter in grammatical gender, some interpreters wrongly assume:

(a) this must mean that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘person’, since the Spirit is neither masculine (misconstrued as “male”?) in grammatical gender nor feminine (misconstrued as “female”?);

(b) however, because one section of Scripture (John 14:15—16:15) uses the grammatically masculine paraklētos (“counselor”, “advocate”, “comforter”) to refer to the Spirit, then this makes the Holy Spirit a person.

Now, to be clear, I absolutely affirm that Scripture declares the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. But this is not due to the masculine grammatical gender of paraklētos. More on this further below.

Generally, the Got Questions site explains Christian concepts adequately (if a bit simplistically at times). But their page for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit, Is the Holy Spirit a person?, contains the errors identified in this blog post. To unravel, I will analyze one sentence at a time. First the text, from the second paragraph at the preceding hyperlink:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing. First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.” The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit. The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement. Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14). Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

Error begets error. Beginning with the first sentence:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing.

This is true.

First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.”

Though this may be true in English translations, this is absolutely untrue in the Greek New Testament. This will be clarified as we go.

The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit.

In the original Greek language the word for “S/spirit”, pneuma, is neuter, as stated earlier. But this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the Holy Spirit is an impersonal thing any more than the masculine kosmos (“world”) indicates that the world is a personal being. It’s not the Greek language that establishes personhood; it’s the contexts describing the Holy Spirit that establish it.

The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement.

This is absolutely true. And it absolutely does in the Greek.

Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14).

Three masculine (demonstrative) pronouns are used in these cases (and one more each in 14:26 and 16:83) because they refer to the noun paraklētos, which is a masculine noun! Moreover, this is hardly “many cases”, as these are only found in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:16—16:15) when the pronoun refers to paraklētos. The Farewell Discourse is also interspersed with neuter pronouns in the Greek when referring to pneuma. For example, in John 14:17, the neuter relative pronoun hò is used once and the neuter ‘personal’ pronoun auto is used twice as substitutes for to pneuma at the very beginning of the verse—though all three are translated as the masculine “him” in English. This is to indicate personhood in English. To reiterate, these three neuter pronouns are translated as masculine pronouns in English solely to signify personhood for English readers. This is an issue in translation, not in Greek.

Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

I cannot know if the author is being dishonest or is obtusely conflating issues. As noted just above, the English translations generally use “he” when a pronoun is substituted for the Holy Spirit. But the Greek pronouns here agree in grammatical gender with their antecedents, their referents. And in the Greek New Testament any pronoun which refers to pneuma is also neuter to match in grammatical gender.

So how do we Biblically establish the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit? Murray J. Harris in his exegetical commentary on John’s Gospel provides some helpful introductory apologetics here (the author translates paraklētos “Helper”):

The fact that the pronouns referring to the Spirit…are neuter no more establishes the impersonality of the Spirit than the masculine pronouns ekeinos in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13-14 and auton in 16:7 [ED: referring to paraklētos] prove the personality of the Spirit. In each case the gender of the pronouns is grammatically conditioned…The personality of the Spirit should be established without appeal to the masculine pronouns in the passages cited above. (One can argue, for example, that since Jesus as Helper [implied by allos, “another” in 14:16] is personal, one would assume that the Spirit as “another Helper” is also personal. And the other personal roles attributed to the Spirit, such as teaching and reminding [14:26], testifying [15:26], guiding [16:13], and informing [16:14-15], would certainly be strange if the Spirit were simply an impersonal force).4

In short, it’s not the Greek grammar that argues for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. It’s the contexts describing Him. A few other contexts in this regard:

  • The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
  • The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which is tantamount to lying to God (Acts 5:4).
  • The Holy Spirit is sent jointly by the Father (John 14:26) and the Son (John 15:26; 16:7) and is received by believers (1Cor 6:19, etc.), in whom the Spirit performs some of these personal functions.
  • The Spirit’s Deity finds affirmation in the sharing of the one Divine Name with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19). If the Father and Son are ‘Persons’, then it most likely follows that the Holy Spirit is, as well. Though equality of ‘Personhood’ cannot definitively be established by this one verse, it’s this verse in concert with other verses that help make the case. As another example of such, Jesus is called paraklētos (1John 2:1), while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘another paraklētos’ (John 14:16).

No Good Apologies for Bad Apologetics

Using bad apologetics can harm the Christian cause. Anyone who is against Trinitarianism specifically or Christianity generally can use that bad pronoun argument against the Christian faith. Such bad arguments can make us seem like the ignorant and unintelligent (or intellectually dishonest) people that many non-believers accuse Christians of being.

Such faulty arguments used in attempts to bolster a theological position undermine proper Christian apologetics. Let’s endeavor to do better. I know we can!

______________________________________

1 But logos has a more expansive range of meanings. For those unaware, many Word/Faith teachers assert (among other things) the false dichotomy that rhēma denotes the ‘higher’ word from God for believers only while logos indicates the written Scriptures as a whole for everyone, including non-believers. Not only is this reductionistic, it fails to account for the fact that the verbal form (legō) of logos is used quite often preceding speech (so-and-so said [legō], “…”). A good example to refute this dichotomy presents itself in Matthew 12:36: But I say (legō) to you that every idle word (rhēma) that men speak (legō) they will give account/reckoning (logos) for in the day of judgment. Moreover, rhēma is found in only 65 verses in the New Testament as compared to over 300 for logos, while the verbal form legō occurs over 2000 times.

2 I always place single quotes around ‘Person’ when referring to individual hypostases of the Father, Son, or Spirit in order to indicate a distinction between modern ideas of personhood and those of Trinitarianism. The Father, Son, and Spirit should not be reduced to such secular notions.

3 These five occurrences of the masculine demonstrative pronoun (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14), plus one masculine personal pronoun, are the only stand-alone pronouns in this entire section referring to paraklētos. There are some others implied in verbs (all finite verbs encode person and number, but not gender), though some are ambiguous as to their intended referent (see previous article Another Paraclete?, especially endnote 10). There are also neuter pronouns—specific and implied—referencing either the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of truth in the Farewell Discourse.

4 John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), p 261 (Greek transliterated). And see note 3 above and my previous article related to this subject.

Panentheism and the Trinity

Panentheism is an English word derived from Greek roots: pan = “all”, en = “in”, the, from theos = “God”.  This is in distinction from pantheism, meaning “all God”, or “all is God”.  Before more fully defining panentheism, we’ll briefly review the Christian Trinity in order to compare and contrast.

The Trinity from an Historically Orthodox Christian Perspective

The Christian God, known as the Trinity, is a tri-unity consisting of God the Father, God the Son (Christ, the Word), and God the Holy Spirit. Each Member of the Trinity is co-essential (united in essence/being) and co-equal with the others.  God is spirit, i.e., incorporeal, having no physical body.  There are a number of divine attributes associated with the Godhead, including omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  Christian philosopher Thomas V. Morris explains the interrelationship between these three attributes with respect to His creation:

Perhaps the best understanding of the attribute of omnipresence is that of its being the property of being present everywhere in virtue of knowledge of [omniscience] and power over [omnipotence] any and every spatially located object [creation].1

God is immanent, i.e., present in/among His creation (as opposed to within, immersed inside its substance, though indwelling true Christians, of course), by virtue of His omnipresence.  He is infinitely aware of even the tiniest details concerning the universe – which the Godhead created out of nothing (ex nihilo) – and, due to the Word’s continuous sustaining activity holding it together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), “He keeps the cosmos from becoming a chaos,”2 to borrow H.C.G. Moule’s memorable phrase.

The ultimate display of God’s immanence is when the Son humbled Himself by taking on human form in the Person of Jesus Christ (Immanuel – God with us), retaining full divinity in becoming fully human, and then dying in our place, in His plan of redemption.  What a God we serve!

Yet, God is also transcendent, wholly outside His creation, as the Trinity is not affected in any way by the cosmos (creation).  In no way does it act upon Him.  God is self-existent, self-sufficient, immutable (unchanging), and eternal, existing outside time, yet acting within it (immanence).  An inherent aspect of creation, time is His own construct.  As such, the Godhead Lord’s over it, thereby fulfilling time, according to His purposes.  God has been present and active throughout the entire history of humanity, is currently active in human affairs, and will continue to be actively governing humanity, though allowing free will.

While imprisoned by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer proposed a different understanding of transcendence. He contended that Jesus’ “being for others” is the true meaning of transcendence, suggesting that we not think of immanence and transcendence as opposites.3  Thus, in Jesus’ dying on the Cross for the sins of mankind – because God “so loved the world”, thereby providing eternal life for those who believe in Him – the ultimate display of God’s immanence climaxes in the supreme act of ‘transcendence’.

Recognizing the beautiful, poetic force of Bonhoeffer’s words, yet still we understand that God truly is transcendent – so wholly other than His creation – yet God is also immanent, fully active in/among His creation. He is the Potter; we are the clay.

The Christian Trinity is a divine mystery.  Attempts to fully explain the mystery of God’s three-in-one-ness can lead to heretical conclusions such as tritheism (three Gods), modalism (one God in three different modes, one at a time), or other distortions.4

Panentheism Defined in ‘Christian Esotericism’

While there are a number of different views of panentheism in the various and varying religious systems in the world, there are some consistencies in the doctrine with respect to how it relates to the Christian Trinity and Jesus Christ in esoteric literature.  In Richard Smoley’s book Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition is a general view of the doctrine of panentheism as it pertains to ‘Christian esotericism’:

…The Father is the ineffable, transcendent aspect of God; the Son is God’s immanent aspect. This divine spark or Logos is the first sounding-forth of existence from the depths of infinity: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4). [Jesus] Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God.

So are we. “Without him was not any thing made that was made.” Nothing comes into existence unless this divine spark of consciousness, no matter how faint or dim, lies at its center. This was true of Jesus, it is true of me, and it is true of you…We may not be as exalted as Christ…But at the core we are the same.5

This is obviously a purposeful distortion of the true Christian Trinity, with its use of similar terminology.  Note the two separate aspects of ‘God’: the transcendent, which is the ineffable (inexpressible) “Father”, and the immanent (within all creation) aspect, which is the “Son”.  While the way in which this immanence is described is not at all congruent with the Christian Trinity, importantly, transcendence is described in such a manner that it more closely approximates the true Trinity (though see below), marking this as one of the keys in making the doctrine appear ‘Christian’.  This “immanence” is alternatively called divine seed, divine spark, divine (spark of) light, logos, or Christ.  So, the Son/Christ is a divine entity, and this divine entity is diffused throughout creation as a seed / spark / light.

This view of panentheism is such that all is in God (the transcendent Father is wholly outside, enveloping all of creation), and God is in all (the Son/Christ is immersed within all of creation), yet God is not present among creation.6 

In the quote above, observe that, by implication, the two separate aspects are indeed separate.  The Father is not immanent, and the Son is not transcendent.  This indicates that the Father is not omnipresent, as he is not present at all in creation.  On the other hand, the Son is divided up within creation, with each spark, seed, etc. separated from all other sparks or seeds by its outer matter (body, sheath), making omnipresence a bit murky at best, as the seeds / sparks seem individually disunified, though all parts of a whole; however, without an explicit claim of the Son being also among creation, omnipresence is implicitly denied.

It appears as if the Father has absolutely no access to and no power over creation, while the Son is confined within creation, with neither Father nor Son seemingly possessing the ability to interact with the other.  But not to worry, the “Holy Spirit”, a “divine principle”, acts as an intermediary between the two:

How do these two, the Father and the Son, interact with each other?  What enables them to have any connection at all, while still in some way remaining distinct?  There is…a principle that makes this interaction possible.  It is called the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit.

Here, in essence, is the Christian Trinity…Between them [Father and Son] is the Holy Spirit, the divine principle of relatedness, which accomplishes perhaps the most astonishing of all miracles: uniting two separate entities while still allowing them to be separate.7

This implies that the “Holy Spirit” is omnipresent.  However, besides the problems with this doctrine already noted above, from an historically orthodox Christian perspective, this devolves into tritheism (three gods) as opposed to a Trinity, despite its claim of Trinitarianism – that is, assuming that one can even term a “divine principle” a god. 

In addition, notice in the first Smoley quote above that Jesus Himself is called Christ (“Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God”), rather than merely, for example, Jesus of Nazareth, as some cults claim.  Smoley quotes from A Course in Miracles to describe Him:

The name of Jesus is the name of the one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God.  So he became identified with Christ, a man no longer, but at one with God.8

This statement identifies this doctrine as explicitly antichrist per the Apostle John’s words in his first epistle (1 John 2:22, 4:1-3), as it separates Christ from Jesus.  Smoley  then goes on to quote the “Jesus” of the Course as saying all can do what He did, describing Him as an exemplar, making the impossible (the distance is too great between us and the Father) into possibility.9  By this he means that the man Jesus became “at one” with God, thereby bridging the gap and becoming an example for others, claiming that all are Christs, at least potentially.10

Of course, according to Christian orthodoxy, Jesus Christ, as the God-man (fully God and fully man), is the intermediary between mankind and God through His redemptive work on the Cross.  One’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as our sin substitute, thereby reconciling the individual back to God through His remission of our sins, is the only way to salvation.  However, Smoley depicts Jesus as merely a man who subsequently attained divine status, becoming a model for others to follow to actualize their own ‘latent divinity’, becoming gods.

Far too many (laypersons and theologians alike) make statements to the effect that Jesus was reliant upon God during His earthly ministry, stressing His humanity at the expense of His Deity.  We must always recognize that Jesus Christ was/is God Himself, the second ‘Person’ of the Trinity, as God in the flesh.  Of course, there are times in Scripture in which Jesus’ humanity is emphasized (growing tired, hungry, etc.), perhaps the most striking example of which is when He is on the Cross crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Yet these must be balanced out by those occasions in which Jesus declares His own Deity (“I am” – John 8:58; “I and the Father are one” – John 10:30, John 14:9, etc.). To be clear, as the Incarnate God-man, Immanuel (God with us), Jesus Christ submitted, in obedience, to the Father; however, as the second Member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ was/is co-equal with the Father (and the Holy Spirit), and in no way subordinate.  Such is the mystery of the Incarnation!

Now that we have a general view of panentheism in ‘Christian esotericism’ (though also looking at one particular part of A Course in Miracles in the process), we’ll take a look at one specific view.  The false trinity in Theosophy will be discussed – the school of esotericism founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875 and perhaps better known as associated with Alice A. Bailey (in her channeled works) in the twentieth century, forming the basis of much of the New Age / New Spirituality of today.

The Panentheistic Trinity in Theosophy

Before proceeding, the goal of this section is not to educate the reader on a specific occult teaching as an end in itself.  The intent is to make the reader aware of how the Christian Trinity is perverted such that a Christian could be fooled into thinking another individual is a true Christian when similar terminology and concepts are used, or worse, the Christian could be duped into following this dangerous doctrine.

Without getting bogged down into too much detail regarding the rather complicated Theosophical schema, illustrated graphically in one of Bailey’s books,11 an attempt at explaining and simplifying it will be made, though the following may not be absolutely accurate due to the convoluted nature of it.

There are two separate “trinities”: the “Solar Logos” (The Solar Trinity or Logoi [plural of Logos]) and “Sanat Kumara”.  The Solar Logos is made up of “the Father”, “the Son”, and “the Holy Spirit”.  The Father constitutes the transcendent aspect, the “Absolute Reality”, also referred to as the ONE ABOUT WHOM NAUGHT MAY BE SAID – the all is in ‘God’ aspect.12  The Son is “Life, the Spirit of the Universe”, constituting the immanent aspect, the ‘god’ immersed within creation – the ‘God’ is in all aspect.  The Holy Spirit is “Cosmic Ideation, the Universal World-Soul”,13 and “Creative Wisdom”,14 which makes the Holy Spirit the communicator, the one bringing revelation, and, in effect, seemingly omnipresent, though this is not explicit.

The “Planetary Hierarchy” is headed by Sanat Kumara, the Lord of the World, aka Ancient of Days, the One Initiator,15 the Hierophant16 – clearly all names for Satan (taking into account their respective contexts in Theosophic literature), though some were appropriated from Scripture.  Sanat Kumara (the name is taken from ancient Hindu philosophy) fashions himself as a trinity, with three separate “Kumaras” emanating from him (the “Buddhas of Activity”), one of which is the Bodhisattva, aka the Christ (not Jesus), the World Teacher.17  But, there are also lesser ‘deities’ in the Planetary Hierarchy, many of whom were, according to this doctrine, former humans who evolved into godhood (“Ascended Masters”), which thereby reduces Theosophy to polytheism (many gods).

Yet in analyzing this schema it becomes obvious that Satan, through these channeled works of Bailey, is cleverly presenting himself as both Sanat Kumara and the Solar Logos, with the Solar Trinity/Logos merely a ruse in order to purposely approximate, yet distort the Christian Trinity.18  Evidence of this is found in that the “Lord of the World” is also called, “the God in whom we live and move and have our being.”19  Further support of this collapsing of the two trinities into one is found in a work by H. P. Blavatsky in which the “Serpent” in the Garden of Eden is equated to the “Lord God”,20 and later in this same book, Logos is termed “WISDOM”, which is then equated to both Satan and Lucifer.21

By their functions in portions of the texts, both the transcendent and immanent aspects overlap somewhat, such that when taken together these resemble the Christian Trinity in certain ways, though clearly the graphic indicates something entirely different.  In other words, though the illustration pictures a totally different ‘god’ (or ‘gods’), when described elsewhere in sections of the texts apart from the graphic, one could understand it as not inconsistent with the Christian Trinity with the overlapping functions and the similar terminology.  Though no Christian would likely be fooled into thinking any of the Theosophic texts were remotely Christian when read in complete context (if one doesn’t get lost in the confusing nature of it), the stated goal is to subvert Christianity from the inside by readapting this material into Christian contexts,22 as Bailey remarked in another work, “Christianity will not be superseded.  It will be transcended, its work of preparation being triumphantly accomplished….”23  This demonic threat should not be taken lightly.

Like second century Gnosticism, there is a Dualism, a dichotomy between spirit and matter (creation).  Matter is the “not-self”, as opposed to the soul/spirit, which is the “self”.  However, this does not mean that matter has no function.  It’s not quite the ‘evil’ of second century Gnosticism, for “matter, being inspired by spirit, conforms”,24 providing the means (the vehicle) by which spirit can evolve:

…The development of spirit can be only expressed as yet in terms of the evolution of matter, and only through the adequacy of the vehicle, and through the suitability of the sheath, the body or form, can the point of spiritual development reached in any way be appraised…25

In other words, the outer body will improve concurrent with spiritual progression, or so it’s claimed.  The human is made up of soul/spirit, mind and body.  However, once “perfected consciousness”26 is attained, the body is destroyed, annihilated27 marking the “escape of Spirit, plus mind, to its cosmic centre”28 – the cosmic center being the transcendent aspect of this version of panentheism.  So the formerly ‘trapped’ (inside the “not self”) essence of the particular individual (the “self”), as part of the immanent aspect, is now united to the ONE ABOUT WHOM NAUGHT MAY BE SAID, the transcendent aspect.29

Spiritual progression is  accomplished through meditation,30 in other words, contemplative or centering prayer.31  The method is described as emptying one’s mind, yet controlling thought, requiring full concentration:

The true meditation is something that requires the most intense application of the mind, the utmost control of thought, and an attitude which is neither negative nor positive, but an equal balance between the two.  In the Eastern Scriptures the man who is attempting meditation and achieving results, is described as follows… ‘The Maha Yogi, the great ascetic, in whom is centred the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation, by which the most unlimited powers are attained, marvels and miracles are worked, the highest spiritual knowledge is acquired, and union with the great Spirit of the universe is eventually attained.32

When one reaches “perfected consciousness” through meditation, one has achieved “union with the great Spirit of the universe”.  Along the way, as one ‘grows spiritually’, one will receive supernatural powers to include the ability to work miracles, or so goes the claim.  The exact method of approach to meditation is left to the individual:

True meditation (of which the preliminary stages are concentration upon and application to any particular line of thought) will differ for different people and different types.  The religious man, the mystic, will centre his attention upon the life within the form, upon God, upon Christ, or upon that which embodies for him the idealWe need to find our own method of approach to that which lies within, and to study for ourselves this question of meditation.33

Ultimately, the panentheistic god (Satan) of Theosophy is dependent upon mankind, for “humanity itself is the key to all evolutionary processes and to all understanding of the divine Plan, expressing in time and space the divine Purpose.”34  This “divine Plan”, aka “divine Purpose” is anything but divine!  “The Plan” includes receiving extra-biblical revelation from “Masters”, former humans (or so it’s claimed) who have attained godhood.  And this extra-biblical revelation resulting from meditation (centering prayer, contemplative prayer, “soaking”), in turn, brings one into union with the divine, meaning the attainment of self-divinity.  In reality, this leads to bondage or outright possession.35

And last, but certainly not least, as earlier hinted, Jesus is depicted as merely a man, though a very good man.  Because Jesus was deemed worthy, He had the Christ spirit (part of the “trinity” of Sanat Kumara) descend upon Him, thereby manifesting the Theosophical Christ, eventually attaining His own divinity (becoming “Master Jesus”), and providing a model for the rest of humanity to follow.  Of course, as noted earlier, this is antichrist doctrine.

Is Your Teacher or Church Promoting Panentheism?

Armed with the above information, we may be able to determine if our favorite teachers, including those at the church we attend, are promoting panentheism, rather than a Christian orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  Answering any of the following questions (not an exhaustive list) in the affirmative is not absolute proof the doctrine is being taught, but at the least should provide food for thought, and, hopefully, a desire to seek more information:

1)      Is there an emphasis on “going inside yourself”, centering prayer (aka contemplative prayer), “soaking”, seeking the “manifest presence of God”, etc.?

2)      Is Jesus Christ diminished in some way, i.e., is Jesus described as being somehow less than fully God.  Is he humanized at the expense of His Deity?  Is it claimed that He was totally reliant upon the Spirit (or God) for all supernatural workings?

3)      Is Jesus described in an overly personal manner, such that He’s discussed as one would a family  member rather than One Who is so far above us, worthy of our worship, our Savior and Lord?

4)      Is there a focus on receiving extra-biblical revelation for human direction?  Is this revelation superior to Scripture?  Is this revelation integral to ‘spiritual growth’?

5)      Is God presented as One who is dependent upon humanity, as practically helpless in creation without our assistance?  Is mankind depicted as integral to God’s plans, such that our importance is overemphasized?  Is humanity spoken of in equivalent, or near-equivalent terms as the Godhead?

The panentheistic trinity in ‘Christian esotericism’ is certainly quite different from the Christian Trinity; however, there are enough similarities that the unsuspecting seeker or Christian may not notice a difference at first, or even at all.  This potential is especially possible with the increasing Biblical illiteracy rampant in, and quite frankly, promoted by some churches.  Without at least somewhat of an understanding of the Christian Trinity, the possibility of individuals falling for a false view of the Trinity – and potentially led astray – is a real threat indeed.

 

1 Thomas V. Morris The Logic of God Incarnate, 1986, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY & London, UK, p 91.  Bracketed comments added.
2 H.C.G. Moule Colossians Studies, 1898, Doran, London, p 78, as cited in David E. Garland (Terry Muck, Gen. Ed.) Colossians and Philemon: The NIV Application Commentary, 1998, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p 89.
3 Bonhoeffer quote and ideology from Widerstand und Ergebung: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft, new ed., Ed. Eberhard Bethge, 1977, Chr. Kaiser, Munich, translated by John F. Hoffmeyer “Christology and Diakonia” in Andreas Schuele and Gunter Thomas, Eds., Who is Jesus Christ for us Today?, 2009, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY, p 161
4 See Alister McGrath Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. © 2009, HarperOne, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, pp 30-31.
5 Richard Smoley Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition, 2002, Shambhala, Boston, MA, pp 134-135; all emphasis added.   Cf. p 103: “…the immanent aspect of God [is] the part of the divine nature that is active and present in the world…But there is something beyond the Word.  It is the silent vastness out of which everything, even the Word arises.  It neither exists nor does not exist…It is the transcendent aspect of God.  Meister Eckhart spoke of it as the ‘Godhead’; the Kabbalists call it the Ain Sof (which is Hebrew for the ‘infinite’) or the ‘Ancient of Days.’  In esoteric Christianity it is the Father.”  This seems to imply that “the Father” is superior to all else (see note 25 below).
6 Some panentheistic systems seem to imply that the immanent aspect and the matter surrounding it (body, shell) are ontologically equivalent (or almost equivalent), which would amount to pantheism (all is god); however, this immanent aspect is also usually viewed as inferior to the transcendent (see note 5 above), resulting in the conclusion that the immanent ‘god’ has lower status than the transcendent ‘god’, thus devolving into ditheism (two gods), or even polytheism (many gods), depending on the specifics.
7 Smoley Inner Christianity, pp 103-104; emphasis added.
8 Quoted in Smoley Inner Christianity, p 135; from  Helen Schucman A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume, 1992 (2nd ed), Foundation for Inner Peace, Glen Ellen, CA, Teachers Manual, p 87; italics in original, other emphasis added.
9 Smoley Inner Christianity, p 135
10 Smoley Inner Christianity, pp 135-136
11 Alice A. Bailey Initiation, Human and Solar, © 1951 Lucis, NY, (4th paperback ed, 1980), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, pp 48-49
12There is one Boundless Immutable Principle; one Absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested conditioned Being.  It is beyond the range and reach of any human thought or expression. The manifested Universe is contained within this Absolute Reality and is a conditioned symbol of it” [Alice A. Bailey A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, © 1951 Lucis Trust (1925, 4th ed 1951), Lucis Publishing Company, George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA, p 3; italics in original, other emphasis added].  The Son and Holy Spirit also appear to be a part of the “Absolute Reality”, thus overlapping roles, as described below.  Cf. Bailey Initiation, pp 19, 150, 162; Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp  148-149, 292, 511, 1161, 1230, 1242.
13 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 3
14 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 94
15 Bailey Initiation, pp 28-29, 48-49
16 Bailey Initiation, p 161.  Here “the Hierophant” is equated with “the Lord of the World”.
17 Bailey Initiation, pp 48-49.  In ancient Hindu philosophy, in the Chandogya Upanishad, is one “Sanatkumara”. Much of Theosophy is appropriated from Hinduism.
18 The way in which the graph depicts “Sanat Kumara”, it is clear that these “Three Kumaras” correspond to the same identical three separate “Aspects” of each member of the “Solar Trinity”, thus amounting to the two “trinities” collapsing into one, though the intent is seemingly to make it appear as though one is subordinate to the other.  We must not be unaware of Satan’s schemes.
19 Alice A. Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 551
20 Helena P. Blavatsky The Secret Doctrine, Vol II: Anthropogenesis, 1888 (1977 Facsimile edition), Theosophical Publishing/University Press, Pasadena, CA, p 215
21 Blavatsky Secret Doctrine II, p 230; cf. pp 231, 233-237
22 “ …[T]he church movement, like all else, is but a temporary expedient and serves but as a transient resting place for the evolving lifeEventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ [ED: the false Christ] and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle [ED: in a “mass incarnation”], the true second Coming, has been accomplished…
“The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which world illumination may be accomplishedThe church must show a wide tolerance…The church as a teaching factor should take the great basic doctrines and (shattering the old forms in which they are expressed and held) show their true and inner spiritual significance [ED: occult/esoteric meaning]The prime work of the church is to teach, and teach ceaselessly, preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages.  Teachers must be trained; Bible knowledge must be spread; the sacraments must be mystically interpreted, and the power of the church to heal must be demonstrated [Bailey Externalisation, pp 510-511; emphasis added].
23 Alice A. Bailey From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, © 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey; Lucis Trust, 4th paperback ed., 1989; Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 20.  Emphasis added.
24 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 148
25 Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp 49-50.  Here is where one can construe a quasi-pantheistic element in the “immanent” aspect; though, as noted below (note 27), matter is eventually destroyed.  Moreover, as noted earlier, it’s also implied that “the Father” is superior to “the Son”, thus reducing the immanent aspect to inferior in status as compared to the transcendent.
26 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 51
27 Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp 51-52.  “…[T]he first Logos [ED: “the Father”] is called Destroyer, because He is abstraction, if viewed from below upwards [ED: from the point of view of creation / the immanent aspect].  His work is the synthesis of Spirit with Spirit, their eventual abstraction from matter, and their unification with their cosmic source.  Hence also He is the one who brings about pralaya [ED: death; cf. p 128] or the disintegration of form, – the form from which the Spirit has been abstracted” [Cosmic Fire, pp 148-149].
28 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 52.  UK spelling, e.g., “centre” rather than center, is used throughout the Bailey material.
29 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 148; Bailey Initiation, p 19, 150, 162
30 Bailey Initiation, pp 150-162
31 Alice A. Bailey The Consciousness of the Atom, © 1961 Lucis Trust (1st prtng 1922, this issue 9th prtng 1974 {2nd paperback ed.}), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, pp 110-116
32 Bailey Atom, pp 110-111; italics in original, other emphasis added.
33 Bailey Atom, pp 111-112; emphasis added.
34 Alice A. Bailey Telepathy and the Etheric Vehicle, © 1950 Lucis, NY, (2nd printing, 1957), George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA, p 126
35 Actual possession is the stated goal: “Emphasis should be laid on the evolution of humanity with peculiar attention to its goal, perfection…man in incarnation, by the indwelling and over-shadowing soul…The relation of the individual soul to all souls should be taught, and with it the long-awaited kingdom of God is simply the appearance of soul-controlled men on earth in everyday life and at all stages of that control…” [Bailey Externalisation, p 588; emphasis added].

%d bloggers like this: