John Shuck has been featuring in his blog an open discussion between himself and another Presbyterian pastor. One of the subjects that came up was the matter of panentheism, which is based on the view that God is both transcendent and immanent. The question came up as to whether it is possible to believe that God is both transcendent and immanent and yet not be a panentheist.
The crux of the matter is, what does immanence mean? I would define immanence as referring to God's universal presence. I believe that God is everywhere in the universe; there is no place that God is not. There is no molecule where God cannot be found; there is no point in the space-time continuum where God is absent.
Marcus Borg puts it this way:
The Christian tradition...has throughout its history affirmed that God is both transcendent and immanent, two semitechnical terms that are helpful for thinking this through. The transcendence of God refers to God's "going beyond" the universe, God's otherness, God as more than the universe. God's immanence, on the other hand, means God's presence in everything or nearness to everything. Immanence means to dwell with or within, as its Latin root manere suggests (from which, for example, we also get "mansions"). The immanence of God thus means the omnipresence of God." (p. 26)Those who reject panentheism, but say they believe in Divine immanence, seem to be defining immanence differently from how I would understand it. They seem to be defining God's immanence as his activity in the world from a position of transcendent authority, rather than as his omnipresence. But I would argue that this is not immanence at all; instead, it is simply another way of describing a transcendent God's activity against a world that is distinct from him/her. It is as if God were an ocean that pushed on a bubble from the outside. It is a doctrine that expresses divine transcendence, which is half of the panentheist equation, but it doesn't conceive of the other half, immanence, at all. To say that a transcendent God acts in the world simply affirms that God's transcendence is not indifferent to the world, as is the case of, for example, the God of deism. But immanence doesn't just mean ongoing Divine interest in the world; it says that God is present everywhere within the world.
If God is everywhere, if there is no place where God is not, then there is nothing in the world that lies outside of God. This implies necessarily that we are thus all contained within God. If we were not contained within God, then we would somehow lie outside of God, which contradicts the view that God is everywhere present. Pantheists equate the world with God, but if one believes that God is more than just the world--if one accepts transcendence as well as immanence--then we have formulated a doctrine of panentheism.