If I could have a title with a subtitle on this blog post then it would fully read: Moving Away From Explaining God, in Declarations and Questions of Christian life. Let me explain…
Western Christianity is in a weird place: we’re obsessed with trying to understand and explain what God does. Seriously, look at 10 Christian popular quotes past the revolutions (French and American), say the 1800’s and on; or, better yet, look at your favorite Christian teachers/pastors quotes over 40 on your Facebook timeline. It’s not too far from a generalization to say, those quotes are probably unabashedly about what God does as much as they are about who he is. We’re trying to find ways to live with an obsessed need to sum life up in witty insights about God. But this obsession can be an outgrowth of weakness as much as it can be well intended. It’s ok to be direct.
I first noticed this obsession with explaining the Christian life by explanations of God in myself. I have Reformed proclivities so I tend to want to start theology from a place of God’s sovereignty versus Human responsibility. But my deep relationship with Christ, through the Spirit, will not lend me to the reformation’s overwhelming consensus that God is directly in control of everything in detail. I just don’t know Jesus that way, or should I say he doesn’t know me like that: through how he controls me. So I struggled to Open Theism, then Molinism, and now find myself ok with talking outside both sides of my mouth like Karl Barth; by saying things like predestination are a free act of a free God towards himself. But if pressed, I still have Molinism. 😉 The point is, I found more guidance in my life from understanding God this way than in other focuses, like Sacramental theology or Christology. And when I noticed this tendency to explain God’s actions and character I started to learn it’s actually the modern mind’s default position. That is, it’s characteristic of modern theology.
I dabbled in postmodern theology as an alternative. I was left wanting. So as a good theologian, I went back to the apostles.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t afraid to be direct (or any other Apostle for that matter). Paul just came out and said it, or if a question arose he answered it directly.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”-Paul
But even after being reminded by the apostles, I have angst about questioning, answering and declaring things. I can’t help but keep coming back to focusing on what I know God does, despite this angst it causes me.
You might be asking yourself, why do you have angst about saying things like, “God is good,” or “he’s love,” or anything that purports to say what he says he is? Because there’s more to the Bible, the Christian tradition, and Christian philosophy than this proclivity towards God’s character. The Bible is clear there are other ways of renewing the mind than just believing in what I believe about God. Maybe some Bible will help here to explain?
Read Romans 12-15:7. Here, Paul doesn’t stop telling the Church things to do for chapters! From bodily sacrifice (in a spiritual sense) to treating weaker brothers and sisters in the faith, Paul goes off in detail for nearly 3 chapters on how to conduct oneself, and in community. It Echoes of Exodus 6:5 and on, but redone in light of Christ. However, I can’t help but notice that Paul has almost no quotables in these chapters that use an explanation of God as a basis for a specific ethical command. Now that’s not to say Paul doesn’t do that. He does sandwich these chapters with lots of explanation of who God is and what he does, don’t get me wrong. But he’s just so much more direct in guiding life than focusing on theory of God for specifics.
Yes, we need to trust God on his own answers and declarations about himself. But sometimes we need to just be people who question ourselves and declare about ourselves. If we’re new creations our focus can be confidant, wise and open to be told to do right things and know exactly what the basis of what we do is in, and through, and by.
I fear our explanations of God as a basis to tell us to do something is from an old cultural habit started a long time ago when science was on the rise. Back then, Christians looked to place God in the gaps of scientific explanations and continually came up short. Sometimes it feels like we’re doing that with our dogmatic explanations of God. God doesn’t need to be the explanatory basis for our ethical, spiritual, psychological gaps. God wants to be the basis for our heart, soul and strength; and, the assurance of that basis is an outgrowth in what we do, not just in the theological explanations we have about God.
Certainly, you can’t have one without the other. We can’t stop explaining who and what God is but maybe we can be more secure to be direct about the quality of life we want in Christ by speaking and learning those qualities as much as we try to explain them in some aspect of God.
Faith, hope and love my friends.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
Go, and abound in hope!