God In A Box

God does not contradict what He revealed about Himself

I’ve heard it before. Today’s traditional church has God tucked into a Bible-shaped box. Remember how Paul Young put it in The Shack?

Educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Or how about the discussion over at Mike Morrell’s site more than a year ago when these kinds of things were bandied about:

Thereby, organized (“professional”) religions propagate themselves and ensure their future through fear and elitist ideations, which sadly inevitably result in keeping the Unlimited in a box – and usually for sale. Today, more than ever, religion is big business ($)!

Rob Bell said as much in his promotional video and talk show appearances when discussing his new book Love Wins. God is big enough to handle questions, he said. What’s more, the traditional church has the idea that there’s this narrow way across a chasm that leads to “evacuation” and only the chosen few or the ones who worked, served, believed, said the right prayer, or whatever “their tribe” mandated, would get the ticket. By implication, such beliefs confined God too.

It dawned on me this morning that these claims are spurious for the very fact that God IS in a box — one of His own making.

At first glance, that grates against our picture of a limitless God. And yet, I don’t think we’d want it any other way. I know I don’t.

For example, God “limits” Himself because He is good. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13b). He cannot be tempted by evil. Sounds quite limiting.

Then there are the limits imposed by His faithfulness. He says repeatedly in Deuteronomy that He will not fail or forsake His people.

In addition He limits Himself by His immutability. He remains the same today as He was before the creation of the world, as He will be when He comes to judge. No “learning” or evolving for God. He is who He is.

Or how about the limits of His love?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:38-39 [emphasis mine]

Sounds confining to me. Restrictive. Very “in a box.”

And what about the incarnation? Wasn’t that event God voluntarily putting Himself in a human-shaped box?

Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
– Philippians 2:6-7

How limiting was it for Him to go to a cross, for His body to be placed in a tomb, for Him to be dead for three days? We don’t even know what all that entailed, yet it’s clear He restrained His power and glory for a distinct purpose — His act of redemption that made it possible for me to be reconciled with Him.

So yes, I’ll gladly admit — I put God in a box, the one He has revealed about Himself. I won’t re-make Him into my own likeness or any other way of imagining Him (some of the Israelites had Him pictured like a golden calf). Anything other than what He’s told us is too small and quite frankly, dead wrong.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Who Then Can Be Saved?

Jesus’s disciples asked this question of Him — then who can be saved? A man who stood before Christ declaring that he’d kept all the Law, went away grieving because Jesus asked one more thing of him — all he owned.

Jesus explained it was as hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Then the disciples’ question, essentially asking, Who can give what it takes?

Jesus responded by saying, No one. It really is impossible for you … but not for God.

Who in the world is saved?

In the twenty-first century the question of the day, spurred on by writers like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (the soon-to-be-released Love Wins) is this: since God can save, does He save all? The understood corollary is, If not, is he not an ogre? (And since we choose to believe he is not an ogre, then he must save all.)

I am not frightened by the questions. I think they’re valid, even fair. But questions about God should be answered by God, not by people imagining whatever they wish about Him. Consequently, we should look at what Scripture has to say about who can be saved.

First, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that everyone isn’t going to be saved. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. People not accepting Jesus will have no mediator.

Everlasting life is promised to those who believe on the name of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Forgiveness for sins comes from no other name. Those not believing on His name will have no forgiveness.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:18

In addition, Jesus spoke often of a divide — those who follow and obey Him separated from those who don’t. He said this divide would split families, that some would think they were on one side of the divide only to find out on the judgment day that they were on the other, that few would actually be on the road to salvation and many would be marching toward destruction. He told story after story that ended with disbelieving or disobedient people thrown into outer darkness or into a place of fire where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, is God an ogre? I mean, if ALL these people are doomed for eternity, and He has the power to save, then how can He be considered as anything but the cruel being atheists like Christopher Hitchens and emergents like Mike Morrell claim — if the God of the Old Testament existed (which neither of them believe).

Again, I say, that question, is God an ogre — a cruel, terrifying being — needs to be answered by going to the Bible. Within the pages of Scripture, I learn that what God created is good, His acts are good, His words are good, His plans are good, His gifts are good, His promises are good, His lovingkindness is good, His Spirit is good. In the end, Jesus states it outright:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
-Mark 10:18 (emphasis mine)

If those asking if God is an ogre say they believe Jesus, then they should take Him at His word, concluding that God is good, not cruel. [By the way, Jesus as God Incarnate, is also good. That He asked, Why do you call me good? served to show that the guy he was talking to didn’t really think Jesus was God, or good.]

We see from Scripture, then, that not everyone will be saved and that God is not an ogre. How can the two both be true? Don’t we have to believe either one or the other?

This seems to be Rob Bell’s approach, judging from his promotional video. I could stop right here and say, trust in God is accepting what He has revealed, even if I don’t understand how these apparently conflicting elements can both be true.

But in this case, we don’t have to stop because God has given us so much more upon which our faith can stand.

First God doesn’t hide the truth about sin. He stated from the beginning that rebellion against Him would lead to death.

At this point, some might argue that it shouldn’t, that God doesn’t have the right to sentence people to death or that death is too harsh a punishment. Essentially those people are saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be the judge, another way of saying God shouldn’t be allowed to be God. Or they are again accusing Him of not being good. Ironically, what God has done about sin proves His goodness more than anything else.

At the start, God warned Adam about the consequences of doing what He told him not to do. When Adam sinned anyway, God illustrated the consequence right away by making an animal sacrifice. But He also kept His word, and eventually each person except Enoch faced physical death.

God’s work throughout history has been to save Mankind from the consequences of our sin, culminating in He Himself becoming the needed sacrifice. How is it that people miss this when accusing God of wrong-doing?

He died to satisfy the penalty His justice demanded. We don’t have three gods. Jesus is not at odds with His Father. God is not wrathful and Jesus loving.

The penalty for sin was one the triune God required and the triune God paid. The Father’s wrath was the Son’s wrath. The Son’s sacrifice was the Father’s sacrifice. We cannot split God and make Him out to be three individuals operating as if they were independent from one another.

The mystery of God, manifesting Himself as three yet being one, does not allow us to accuse Jesus of being less just or the Father of being less loving. God, in His mercy, went to the cross — the Father sending, the Son dying — to provide reconciliation with sinners.

But reconciliation is not a blanket pardon. God stipulated that those who believe will be saved.

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
– Rom. 10:9

In the end, the matter is simple. We can believe what God said or what some men have imagined.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Comments (11)  
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I’m On Elihu’s Side

Well, there aren’t really sides, per se. I’m referring to the exchange between the patriarch Job and the men who gathered to comfort him.

You might recall, there was initially some give and take between Job and three men who basically were counseling him to repent of whatever wickedness had brought on his terrible suffering. Then, and only then, God would restore his fortunes, they said. Job countered that he hadn’t done anything to cause his suffering. It was God’s doing.

At this point, I’m siding with Job. He sees God as independent, doing whatever He wills. His treatment of men is determined by His own will. In contrast, the friends see God as locked into reacting to whatever Man does — God’s treatment of men is determined by men.

Enter Elihu, a younger man than the three who first spoke to Job. In the past when I read what Elihu said, I was just confused. I couldn’t really figure out whether he was right in what he said, but I realize now that my reaction to him stemmed from my belief about Job.

Job, after all, is one of the heroes of the faith. The book of James uses him as an example of patience. What’s more, God used Job as an example of righteousness when He pointed him out to Satan. Job, then, is one of the good guys. Maybe he was the Best Guy, apart from Christ, who ever lived.

But not so long ago, it dawned on me that at the end of the book of Job, the hero was on his face, repenting of his sin. So somewhere between Job 2:10 (“in all this Job did not sin with his lips”) and 42:6 (“I repent in dust and ashes”), he did in fact sin.

I began to look at what Job said in a different light, and inevitably, as I saw Job more clearly, I began to understand what Elihu was saying.

I don’t have this down in a clear, systematic way, but here are the points I believe he was making.

1. God makes Himself known in a variety of ways. [Therefore men are without excuse].

2. God will not act wickedly. [Though Job is accusing Him of just that by saying He’s punishing him unjustly.]

3. God is sovereign, just, omniscient, and righteous.

4. Consequently, Job or the friends should have said, “Teach me what I do not see.”

5. Instead Job said, “My righteousness is more than God’s.” He’s punishing me when I did no wrong. [I found it startling to see that Job was taking the same position as some of the emergent thinkers like Mike Morrell, he of the “Am I nicer than God?” article.]

6. Job is teetering toward wickedness.

“Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing;
And do not let the greatness of the ransom [what he’d lost] turn you aside” (Job 37:18)

7. God is greater than we can know.

Enter God.

One of the reasons I never “got” Elihu before was because God never made any comment about him. He talked to Job and about the three men who spoke first, but never mentioned Elihu.

Did He need to? Perhaps His presence alone was validation of what Elihu said. I mean finally, after all the give and take, the defensive justifications and false accusations, someone speaks what is true about God. Then, and only then, did He show Himself. I think that might be corroboration enough that Elihu had it right.

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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If God Were Not Just

Most of the regular visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction are likely unaware that a discussion cropped up a couple weeks ago on an unrelated post, centered on God’s justice. I’ve retitled the original post, “Why I Love Fantasy,” so that it now reads “God – A God Of Judgment?” The heart of the discussion, as I see it, lies in this comment I made to sometime-visitor and emergent-church conversationalist Mike Morrell:

You have stripped [God] of His right to judge, of His sovereignty over those who take a stand against Him, of His righteousness in doing so.

To clarify: some in the emerging church, as do atheists like Christopher Hitchens, regard God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament as a tyrant, a genocidal maniac, a murderer. Therefore, they try to “explain” him in a number of ways. One is to reduce the Old Testament to the status of myth. Another is to suggest that God is evolving—becoming “nicer,” as Jesus demonstrated.

Seemingly the one thing these professing Christians cannot abide is that God is a just Judge, that He actually has the right to mete out punishment to those opposed to Him.

But this brings me to today’s topic. What would the world be like if God were not just? What if we had no sovereign judge?

First, I think it would be fair to say that a god who is not just would consequently also not have one of two other attributes: either omnipotence or goodness.

Here’s my line of thinking. If God were not just, then evil would be without recompense. If he were not just but still good, then it seems the only reason he would not act on behalf of good against evil would be because he lacked the power to do so. But if he retained all power, then his refusal to act against evil could only be understood as a lack of goodness which would necessitate him to redress wrong.

Secondly, if God were not just, then he also would not be righteous. A moral, principled, ethical individual could not look on the atrocities of man against man and take no stand.

Atheists know this. One of their accusations against God is that He takes no stand against the Hitlers and Stalins and Idi Amins and Osama bin Ladens of the world. Little do they understand that His action was and will be. He sent His Son and He will judge righteously.

The enclave of emergent thinkers accusing God of “genocide” in the Old Testament when He brought judgment to bear on nations, apparently think evil requires no action. Or else they believe evil does not exist in the heart of man, in which case, some other evil—society or Satan—is running around unchecked by an uncaring god devoid of righteousness.

Third, God’s love would not be magnified. If Man’s sin did not require payment, if Man was not destined to die, if sin would be solved simply by overlooking it, where then is the love of God? What love does it take to reward a good person, someone deserving of praise and adoration? Love shows best when it stoops to the unlovely, to the one who has nothing to give in return.

God’s love shines most brightly because He came and died to cancel the insurmountable indebtedness for each of us—not after we’d cleaned up a bit and earned a nod from our Creator. He made the supreme magnanimous sacrifice while we were yet sinners. He didn’t simply wave off our debt, though. He paid for it.

If we owed nothing, if there were no reckoning day when all accounts would be squared, then God’s sacrifice might be seen as a really nice gesture, but so unnecessary. People might actually cluck their tongues and say, What a waste, that he went through so much so unnecessarily.

How small God’s love looks if He is not also just.

Thankfully, thankfully, that notion is far from the truth.

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 6:48 pm  Comments (19)  
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God – A God Of Judgment?

Since most of the comments to this post are dealing with God and His character, I decided to do away with the confusion. Hence I’ve retitled the article. However, the real content is in the comments section.

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 7:42 pm  Comments (49)  
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More About the S Word

What does it matter that today’s western culture believes Man’s nature is good? A great deal, as it turns out. This tenet is the linchpin of humanism. It is the belief that releases Man from a need to believe in God.

If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life or (this is a favorite of atheists such as poor Christopher Hitchens) religion’s fault. Of course proponents of this position never offer an explanation for how society, the home, or even religion became tainted, since clearly, if Man was good from the beginning, then what he produced should have been good too.

If you could pin down someone who holds this “Man is good” view, I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.”

So a baby born in South Africa is imprinted with the culture and values of his home and community. What he believes about God is true for him. Whereas a person born in the US to a Christian is imprinted with his family and church values. What he believes about God, though it may be radically different from the South African (or Ecuadorian or Chinese or Libyan), is just as true for him.

Of course this “Man is neutral” view also means that harmful ideas can be written upon the innocent—harmful, such as the concept that Man is born sinful. This belief, so the thinking goes, tears down a person’s self-esteem and causes him to expect the worst, not the best. It loads him up with guilt, and guilt is the great evil of our generation. We are all, haven’t you hear, not guilty. Just ask the judges across the nation.

But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. Consequently, we don’t need God to save us because we have nothing to be saved from.

If we don’t need him to save us, them we might retain him as a crutch or as an opiate for the masses, but we’d be better off unshackling from the constraints of religion (and its nasty guilt).

Ultimately the “Man is good” position becomes a refrain: “Anything god can do, Man can do better.” Until, one day someone saying he is a Christian wonders whether or not he is perhaps nicer than god.

Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?
– Mike Morrell, Comment #64, page 1, “Attacks on God from Within”

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Comments (18)  
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Loving God with Our Minds

Last night I heard the tail end of a televised sermon by some preacher I didn’t recognize. What caught my attention was one line. In essence, he said we need to put our minds on hold and believe God with child-like faith.

Well, sure, I know the last part of that statement is true, but put our minds on hold?

If that’s what Jesus meant when he said “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it {at} {all}” (Mark 10:15, NASB), then why did he say we need to love God with all our mind?


– Luke 10:27 (NASB – boldface emphasis is mine)

True, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament (thus the “all caps” in this translation), but plenty of times in the book of Matthew, He said, You have heard it said …, but I say to you ….

The fact that Jesus left this “love God with all your mind” statement (also quoted in Matthew 22:37) alone implies He agreed with the passage He was quoting.

But last night on the TV screen standing before an audience drinking in his words as he supposedly expounded on Scripture, this preacher was telling those listening to disengage their minds.

Actually that rang a bell.

Several weeks ago, I read about “centering prayer,” a practice that apparently is becoming more and more common. And why wouldn’t it? There are people who teach the technique in workshops and training programs, and there are writers who write about the “discipline.”

Here’s what Mike Morrell said about centering prayer in “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?”:

Part of the ‘inner reflex’ is [sic] Centering Prayer is letting go. For 20 minutes twice a day, it’s a continuous letting go of thoughts and emotions that well up inside – kind of like a fisherman catching fish but not to eat – just for fun. He’s sitting in a boat (the mind) and his pole rests in the water (the field of consciousness). Little fish (thoughts, ideas, emotions) come up and nibble on the line (ordinary awareness) – the fisherman doesn’t shoot the fish with a revolver or cut the line. Instead, he pulls the little fish up, but doesn’t keep them in the boat – it’s catch & release.

Catch and release, catch and release, gently, graciously – because you recognize that even the lake is situated in a much larger ecosystem (God). You can let go because the earth is abundant; you will be fed. Centering Prayer is a journey of trust in God, even on the unconscious level, where all kind of mis-trustful thoughts bubble up to the surface.

While the practice as described above comes closer to Buddhist meditation, it’s cousin, Christian existentialism, isn’t much different:

[Adele Ahlberg] Calhoun [in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, InterVarsity Press] tells us to select a simple word or phrase from Scripture that expresses your desire for God. She gives examples of love, peace, grace, Jesus, great Shepherd. Let this word guard your attention. …

During this time, become quiet. You will probably have many thoughts rushing through your head at first simply because you are thinking about a time limit and getting back to your day. However, you must remain quiet and let these thoughts go. Keep repeating the phrase from above until they do. Calhoun says, “Be with Jesus. Listen. Be Still.”

“Prayer disciplines part 2-Centering Prayers” by Frank Jenkins

So I wonder, if Jesus thought this was a good way to pray, why, when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, didn’t He give them this model?

And why are we so quick to run to some other source to learn how to enhance our relationship with God than the one He gave us?

Like all false teaching, there is an element of truth in some of the descriptions of centering prayer, thus giving it the sheen of spirituality, but when I look in Scripture to see what God says about prayer, I find that He wants our minds engaged when we meet with Him.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Emerging Heresy

I wish I could answer each person’s comment to the last post, but I can’t keep up. Be assured that I am reading the comments. I understand more now about the positions of emerging thinkers than when this dialogue started.

As a second option I’ve decided to post my response to the threads running through these comments. I understand that not all emerging thinkers agree with one another, so not everything I say is directed at everyone who would identify with that movement.

I’m actually trying to take the issues in order of importance, as I see them. I may need a second day to cover everything. At any rate, here goes.

Emerging thinkers say they believe the Bible, but Mike Morrell, author of the article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” states that his belief comes from a “panentheistic reading of Holy Writ.”

In other words, he does not mean the same thing as I do when he says he believes the Bible. He would not declare Scripture to be inerrant and infallible, authoritative and complete.

This allows him then to view God from a panentheistic (non-dualist) position as well without violating the Bible (or rather, his understanding of it). Consequently, God’s omnipresence, as clearly shown in a number of verses Mike quoted (see comment #60), is reconstituted to mean God is in everything and everything in God:

But to me (and my reading of the many passages above), God is even closer than with everything and present to everything (important and comforting as this is), God is within everything, and everything is within God. (Boldfaced emphasis is mine).

Never mind that God didn’t say He is within everything and everything within Him. It’s apparently enough that an emerging thinker can decide to read these verses this way and expand the meaning to fit panentheistic thought.

Of course, this view of God tears up the clear revelation of God in Scripture.

Emerging thinkers apparently have no problem, therefore, re-imaging Jesus as well. It would seem they prefer a kindler, gentler Jesus than the real Jesus who appears in the pages of Scripture. They choose to see Him as love and compassion. According to Dena in comment #95 “the two key components of Jesus’ message was Spirit and compassion.”

Even a cursive reading of the gospels will call this premise into question. Yes, Jesus loved and showed compassion, but He also told the story about the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the man who built upon the rock and he who built upon sand. (Quite dualistic for a non-dualist God, don’t you think?)

Jesus is the one who declared the way narrow leading to life and the way broad leading to destruction.

He called people hypocrites and vipers and blind guides and white-washed sepulchers.

He told parables about wicked servants being cast out into utter darkness, handed over to torturers, sent to a place of weeping and gnashing teeth or into the furnace of fire.

He is the same one who told His followers they’d need to hate their mother and father and brother if they were to be His disciples.

This same Jesus took a whip into the temple and used violence against the crooks cheating the people trying to perform the sacrifices.

He’s also the one that declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

Loving? Yeah, Jesus is loving. But it is not loving to let people continue on their merry way in self-righteousness. Jesus loved the people of His day, and of our day, too much to be silent about the doom they would face if they didn’t come to Him to be reconciled to the Father.

Compassionate? Yeah, because Jesus saw the heart condition of the people. In the period of His ministry when He was going about healing the people who flocked to Him with all kinds of diseases, Scripture records this: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

One day He felt compassion for a leper and touched him. Touched him before cleansing him, thus taking on the man’s unleanliness according to Levitical law. What a picture of Jesus’s compassion! He was willing to take on our sins in the same way, cleansing us of something far worse than leprosy by taking on our guilt and bearing the full wrath of God.

Of course, you have to believe that God is wrathful, and the emerging thinkers don’t, in part because they don’t believe what Jesus said about eternity:

“The Son of Man [Jesus!] will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42-43)

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46).

You also have to believe that Mankind has sin that needs to be cleansed, that we in fact stand under God’s righteous judgment. But the emerging thinkers believe nothing we do deserves God’s wrath.

What king would stand by idly when his throne is being assaulted? Or his people maneuvered into a trap? But Mike says in comment #75 that he rejects a God who kills His enemies because “If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here … they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals.”

Presumably Mike thinks God should be treated as we treat war criminals. Would that mean he thinks God should be punished? treated with justice? Why would it be OK for Man to mete out punishment on the guilty, but it’s wrong for God to do so?

Emerging thinkers clearly have elevated Man above God so that now man can judge the Judge.

At the very beginning of this discussion, God brought to my mind Romans 1:21:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

“Speculations” seems to fit much emerging thought. In a quest to break free from dogma, to experience God, they do not honor God as God but re-imagine him as they wish him to be.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 9:59 am  Comments (38)  
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Attacks on God from Within

Yesterday I mentioned subtle attacks on God (and just a reminder, by “attack” I am referring to that which contradicts or distorts the truth about God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible). From what I see, the subtle version is most prevalent from within the body of professing Christians.

Sadly, it would seem that some identifying with the emerging church, are falling into this category. I almost don’t know where to begin.

Self-described wannabe mystic and prophet Mike Morrell wrote an article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” last November that illustrates the attack from the inside.

Note: this article is a result of reviewing some sessions from the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation. The presenting scholar was Walter Brueggemann, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink were among those hosting dialogues. In other words, these ideas are not exclusive to Mr. Morrell.

While Mr. Brueggemann first advanced the idea that God is getting over his addiction to violence, Mr. Morrell uses Geoff Holsclaw’s summary to explain the position:

“By this he [Brueggemann] means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

In today’s society, of course, “violence” has come to mean any use of force. Consequently, God’s judgment—whether on nations or on His Son as He bore the sins of the world—is viewed as violence.

This position negates God’s role as judge, denies the goodness and immutability of His nature, and ignores His plan for the world.

In essence, while claiming to search for the mystery of spirituality (departing from certitude, dying to “answers/desires/scripts”), this position misses the transcendence of God.

On one hand, this view of God reduces him to human proportions, at least emotionally. He grows up, matures, battles to “recover” from how he’s treated man because, apparently, he knows better now. In addition, because we are in a personal relationship with him, that means he must learn from me just as I learn from him.

On the other hand, this view of God strips him of his personhood. Here’s the argument:

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions. It’s the route of trusting God via suppression.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years … And this is the path: As Grubb proposes a radically panentheistic reading of Holy Writ, there is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross [overt] to subtle to causal. (emphasis mine)

Notice, there is no argument against taking God at His word, just an accusation that to do so requires denial and suppression.

But here’s the conclusion:

I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God within God.

The panentheism believes nature is God within God or that God is beyond God.

As Jay Michaelson explained it, God is the ocean and all else is the water.

Remember, Mr. Morrell is speaking as someone within the emerging church. He considers himself a Christian—one who looks at Scripture through the eye of a panentheist.

I call this an attack on God.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 7:00 am  Comments (301)  
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