Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action was just published two days ago, and the first copy just arrived on my desk. Even when you’ve worked for years on a book, even when you’ve worked through the text countless times, it’s still exciting to hold the final product in your hand. “Here it is,” you think, “the very best I am able to write on this topic.”
Adventures in the Spirit feels significant for another reason as well. It’s not just a passing statement on a topic that caught my interest for a short while. It is the culmination of the integrative project that has occupied much of my attention over the last 15 years.
Years ago, researching and writing The Problem of God in Modern Thought taught me that modern philosophy points in the direction of panentheism. Later, working on the philosophy of science, evolutionary biology, and the mind-body problem revealed that emergent complexity was becoming a common framework, even a new paradigm, across the sciences today. Gradually I realized that theological reflection could and should be transformed by these back-to-back revolutions in philosophy and in science. More specifically, the combination of the two frameworks suggests a rather specific hypothesis about God’s relationship to the world: emergent panentheism. Adventures in the Spirit is the fullest statement so far of this model of God, this new hypothesis in theology.
The word “hypothesis” suggests the third defining feature of the book. The widespread view, reflected again and again in the blogosphere, is that one can either respect the religious traditions or reflect reasonably about religion. Tertium non datur — there is no third option. But I have always believed that this “forced dilemma” is mistaken. And the more I travel and speak with intelligent persons who believe in a God — mostly Christians, but also Jews and Muslims — the more I become convinced that reasonable belief is not only possible but actual. Adventures in the Spirit offers a way of thinking about God as well as a way of being religious that is dialogical, open to criticism, exploratory — and yet, at the same time, also imbued with respect for the religious traditions themselves.
The publication of this book is significant for one final reason, which incidentally is the same reason that leads me to post this blog. I have become convinced that it is crucial to begin writing for a broader audience. It’s time to give up the rarified prose, the subtle references of academic theology, in favor of a more open and accessible form of writing. Adventures in the Spirit is still a demanding book. The next book will be a different kind of publication (the working title is Beyond the Religion Wars: The Path from Reduction to Reenchantment), and the one after it as well. This may irritate academic theologians and there may be backlash. Still, it seems increasingly urgent to fundamentally shift that way I write. Thus in some ways Adventures in the Spirit is the end of one era and the beginning of the next.
One always sends a child out into the world with fear and trepidation: how will it fare? Will it be understood? An author has the same feeling about a newborn book: will it be understood? Will it be helpful? I wish this young one Godspeed …