I’d like to do two things in this post. Really, this should be two posts, but I’m lazy.
First, I want to give some tentative answers to the question raised on this blog and discussed throughout the blogosphere, “Can We Be Too God-Centered?” My answers will be brief, and I’ll unpack them a bit more in Monday’s topical discussion at Connection Gate. (8 p.m. IMonk room in the public/Christianity area.)
Secondly, I’d like to talk about the experience of asking theological questions in the blogosphere, and how the responses to those questions tell us about what’s going on in evangelicalism today.
Can we be too God centered?
1) The question itself is provocative. If you interpret it to mean something like, “Can my faith and confidence in God be too strong?” then of course not. But the context of the question in regard to theological answer-giving in the aftermath of the I-35 bridge tragedy pointed the purpose of the question toward our behavior, not our faith. In the sense of our behavior and some of the underlying thinking preceding our actions, yes, we can be too God-centered.
2) We can be too God-centered if we don’t take into account other aspects of the situation being discussed. A rape raises God-questions, but there is more to talk about in a rape than just God. These other factors are important, and it’s rude and shallow to not permit those factors to be discussed because God is the only allowable topic.
I see this frequently in the discussion of psychiatric medication. There are a variety of factors to be discussed, some of them medical. But many critics will only talk about the God-aspect of the issue, and that distorts the issue.
3) We can be too God-centered when we speak as if divine causation is the only factor at work. The question of divine causation is important. Other aspects of causation are also worthy of response. For example, the political culture that prevented the replacement of the bridge needs to be examined. This is not, primarily, a question of divine causation.
4) We can be too God-centered when we act as if theological questions are the only aspect of pastoral care that matters. Pastoral care is an important part of dealing with human beings. I am confronted daily with students who have suffered all kinds of losses and trauma. The God questions are part of my care for them, but in making a response to the whole person, I do not dwell excessively on divine causation in these situations. I want to encourage a response on several levels because people need care and love in many different ways.
5) We can be too God-centered if we insist that our theological answers determine the only legitimate questions.
6) We can be too God-centered if we are parading our own intelligence by dwelling on our theological answers.
7) We can be too God-centered if we redefine theologizing to be the highest form of love.
8) We can be too God-centered if we undermine the legitimacy of vocations and causes in the secular realm. (Call this the “We all should be Mullahs!” problem.)
9) We can be too God-centered if we seek to be justified by theology, and not by faith that works through love.
10) We can be too God-centered if we behave like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Now a few words about what we learn by the responses to questions.
“Is it possible that we can be too God-centered?” is a good question. It is the kind of question that occurs in real life and it is the kind of question that, at least when I was there, a student might raise in a college or seminary class. I tend to think of my blogging experience as similar to my seminary experience, sitting around talking after classes, readings and chapels. In my own ministry setting and classes, questions are valued.
I deal with hundreds of student questions every year. “Can we be too God-centered?” is typical of the kind of question I might get from a student in our community who is experiencing our attempts at having a God-centered ministry and life together.
The response to this question is revealing.
A. In some quarters, questions like this equal heresy and apostasy.
B. In these places, such questions are only asked by people “drifting” from the faith. Curiosity and inquiry are always seen as indicators of departing from the settled truth.
C. If something prompts the question, the questioner will be told they are ridiculing and criticizing whatever or whoever prompted the question. In other words, in some subcultures, the questioner is shamed for asking the question. I see this happen all the time with bright unbelievers asking questions to fundamentalists who don’t want to go where the question is going.
D. In a situation where there is a single dominant theological point of view and a single theological culture, the question may be seen as rebellion against authority. You aren’t one of “us” if you ask the question.
E. If such a question could not be asked in a school, seminary or church you attend, then there is a question in my own mind if education is valued over indoctrination. Questions are an essential part of education. See Socrates and Jesus for details. A basic value of freedom to question is essential to any healthy community.
F. If such a question could not be asked without the implication of heresy and the accusation of drifting from orthodoxy, I would suggest you are in an atmosphere where oppressive conformity is undermining the honest questions of the human journey.
G. “Disapproved questions” are part of the same kind of religious culture that dictates to you- at the cost of being ostracized and ridiculed- what books to read, what people to listen to, what art you can view and, ultimately, what to think and believe.
And I’m sure the responses to those observations will further illustrate what I’m saying. Listen, read and learn for yourselves.