On Being Too God-Centered

guitar_craftsmanUPDATE: Interesting column on the paradoxes of Calvinism.

Udo Middleman on “The Islamization of Christianity.”

This post is, without a doubt, an experiment in exploration and articulation. Many won’t care for where it goes, but I think a basic question must be answered, not just for the sake of answering atheists, but for understanding our own faith as “Christian humanism.”

A Facebook friend just asked me if I wanted to become a “fan” of Jonathan Edwards.

Too bad there’s isn’t a “NOT a fan” option, because I’m not a fan.

One of my consistent critics- who is also a respected friend- called to mind a statement I’d made in the past about the problem of being “too God-centered.” He was obviously wondering it, with time and reflection, I’d thought better of that phrase and wanted to repent.

Answer: No. It still concerns me. Not whether all things are centered in, related to, dependent on, destined for and exist to glorify God, but whether some expressions of Christianity can become so God-focused that the significance of what is not God- including all things in human experience- are devalued and even distorted to the point of confusion in the minds of God loving/God believing people.

I’ve sensed, as long as I have been around my intensely theological Protestant (mostly reformed and evangelical) brothers and sisters, a kind of clumsiness with the subject of the significance of anything in human experience. By clumsiness I mean that these matters are handled, but the constant pressure to be singularly God centered and God focused makes it difficult to handle both God and human life at once without one overwhelming the other.

I have felt this clumsiness and awkwardness throughout my life. For example, as a young Christian, I found myself at a post-citywide crusade prayer meeting with people involved in a James Robison crusade. Robison was speaking about the kind of prayer needed to bring revival to our city. He used a very dramatic illustration of having a vision of an open grave, where God asked him if he were willing to give the life of his child in order for revival to come. In highly emotional terms, Robison enacted this prayer where he laid his daughter in this grave, thereby signaling his willingness to sacrifice for revival.

I bring this up after reading, just today, an account of a sincere, God-loving Christian processing an incredible tragedy involving the loss of a child, and seeing the significance of the child’s death as a necessary requirement for God to bring the Gospel to many people who would otherwise not hear.

These incidents- and many more that I could tell you- seem to be clumsy, awkward, painful attempts to hold together the glory of God and the realities of human life: love, family, loss.

Regular IM readers will have heard me express my admiration for the book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer. Bouyer was a Lutheran convert to Catholicism. His assessment of Protestantism is amazingly generous, being founded on the idea that what Protestants value most is best expressed in Catholicism.

Bouyer commends the solas of Protestantism and especially the idea of soli deo gloria, but then he begins a detailed examination of Calvin and Calvinism’s focus on the singular significance of the glory of God as compared to anything else. Bouyer finds that Calvin’s focus on the glory of God reduced worship to a shred of its Catholic self, eliminated the significance of the eucharist, replaced everything in worship with scripture alone and made the significance of human life consisting solely of eternal worship. Following this track, Bouyer suggested, the glory of God becomes the only kind of significance that “weighs” anything in the experience of these Christians.

I was deeply affected by this insight, and I feel its impact in my own experience of evangelicalism.

For example, were it not for the work of N.T. Wright on eschatology (See Surprised by Hope), I would be approaching a point of despair with the evangelical “eternal praise and worship concert” view of the afterlife. Wright’s recovery of the doctrine of the resurrection and the connection of this world with the new world to come has been a sanity saver and a faith expander.

As I listen to evangelicals discuss the significance of the church, I can sense the exact process Bouyer described. More and more churches are now nothing but music and Bible teaching. Discussions of other forms of the church that embody community, encourage incarnational ministry or embrace servanthood are under deep suspicion among the heirs of Calvin. Why? Because the glory of God is at stake, the Bible is not being given enough emphasis and there are too many dangers in these human-level activities.

Many Evangelicals see a frightening and dark world. They are suspicious of art, music, literature and the imagination. Books are dangerous. Culture- be it high or low- is of little value. Those evangelicals who are not of that mindset know full well what the arguments are: How is this serving the glory of God? What is the value of this activity as compared to theology or worship? What is any of this when compared to God?

The reformed doctrines of depravity and corruption are applied to everything, and the only answer is God. But can the world of being human gain and keep its significance in and through the glory of God, or must it give way to the glory of God? That discussion seems to be going on in many different ways and places, with varying levels of helpfulness.

I am sad to say this, but there is a point at which the relentless God-centeredness of some believers makes them into the adversaries and almost the enemies of much that is good in human life. They become the enemies of normal, especially in the lives of young people, creative people and people who feel that life in this world is good and shouldn’t be devalued by religion. My recent experiences regarding the rosary at solamom.net are a perfect example. Soli deo gloria was the only reason anyone can have for anything at all, and that is not to GIVE significance, freedom, liberty and beauty, but to question the purpose for anything other than the constant study of God, God and more God.

Christianity bears a weight in this area, and not all forms of it have handled that challenge equally well. Bouyer would have some questions from me about celibacy and many other aspects of Catholic practice (especially the marriage of Joseph and Mary,) but I get his point.

I see the erosion of significance in endeavor after endeavor, area after area of evangelicalism. I see artists and servants being hounded. Standards becoming meaningless. Beauty and heritage tossed in the trash. Theological abstractions set up higher and higher as the goal of any genuine Christian.

I find myself wondering how Jesus lived a God-centered, God-glorifying life, and was fully, wonderfully, completely, healthily, human?

I see that humanity and love of God in the lives of many people, both past and present, but in the articulation and proclamation of the church, there’s the clumsiness; the disconnect. There is, sometimes, the outright adversarial attitude towards whatever is not God and God Alone.

What Bach was able to sign at the end of each piece of music….can it be signed on all of human life? Even what is not religious? What is ordinary? Normal? Merely human? When Piper says we can drink Orange juice to the glory of God, is he opening the door to finding a way for God-centered theologians and preachers to relax about people who want to do dozens and dozens of other things, in their own simple, human way, to the glory of God?

My thoughts are incomplete, but important to me at this point in my journey. I believe the glory of God preserves and fills human life with meaning and significance. I do not believe that meaning and significance only comes when we overtly, consciously allow our sense of God to make all things meaningless compared to Him.

Is our humanity validated? Or obliterated?

Something is wrong and I feel it. Perhaps my friend is right and I need to repent of what I’ve thought, felt and written. Or perhaps, as is so often true in these pages, I’m far from being the only one who’s noticed.

182 thoughts on “On Being Too God-Centered

  1. On a related issue I find this notion of “glory” curiously empty. If the whole point of God, and focus of the universe is God’s glory then what is the point of God’s glory?
    What does glory mean then? Does it mean primacy? In other words does the centrality of God’s glory mean that the centrality of God’s centrality is central?

    It seems to me that glory doesn’t work well as a noun, it works better as an adjective. If I say God is glorious, or God’s love is glorious then I am talking about something, and glory helps to describe that something, or better someone.

    RonH said “If you believe that your most important function is to give God *all* the glory, then you must constantly be on watch to make sure you don’t give *any* glory to anyone/thing else. This can get really complicated, especially depending on your definition of glory.”

    Which raises a question I ask my Calvinist friends but they never answer. Doesn’t the utter depravity of man give too much glory to Satan, that he was able to wreak such havoc on God’s creation?

    iMonk you said that “I would suggest that the tool is a definition of “glorifying God” that is violent, narrow and ultimate oppressively negative toward much of human existence.”
    I’d suggest that one reason for the destructiveness of this tool is that its an attempt to constrain a wild and passionate God in a religious construct, to make the adjective glorious into the whole of God, to reduce Him to “Glory”, and He doesn’t do that.

    I’ve read the claim that God is not only entitled to be ‘selfish’ but that its a good thing that He is concerned with His own glory.
    I think that is blasphemy, an slur on the character of God. When God talks about Himself in Scripture He says that He is Love, not that He is Glory.

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  2. iMonk, I see that many commentators agree with you but hasten to add something along the lines of “its not really about being too God-centered”. They then make valid points about better understanding how God delights in His Creation, and that engaging with that creation is ultimately being God centered.
    And I understand why someone might feel the need to (reflexively) say that its impossible to be too God-centered.
    To think otherwise for many evangelicals is dangerous, to risk offending God, and perhaps worse denying a central principle of reality.

    But its at precisely at this point that its important to be able to say you think that its dangerous to be “too God-centered” because of the massive weight of ‘everything for the glory of God’ exhortation on the landscape of least some of evangelical lives.

    I’d also like to say its about something else, because in my view its about God’s character, who God is. RonH is right when he says “I don’t think even God is God-centered enough for some folks. After all, near as I can tell from the Bible, He spends most of His time and energy on creation and humanity.”

    But I am not going to do that. Because its not helpful, because it won’t enable us to turn away from the official portrait of the King, to wander outside and look at the stars, and encounter the strangers, beggars, dancers and philosophers.

    I think I know how the story goes, because I think God has slipped out of the throne room himself, bored with the endless court ritual, to come to us, maybe as a beggar, a dancer, a philosopher, maybe in the starlight. But we can’t race to that ending, its too slick then, we won’t take the time for the conversation, won’t spend time just looking at the stars.

    So yes its about the character of God, but saying that won’t help, going on the journey will help.

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  3. I’m jumping into this conversation way late. Can anyone tell me if, in the previous 170+ comments, the terms “glory” and “glorify” were themselves defined and explored? My wife reads my sermons every week before I speak. Many are the times when she’ll simply ask me, “What does this word mean, e.g. “glory”? If I then proceed to to use the term itself to define it, I know I’m in trouble.

    I agree with iMonk’s points and am just wondering if someone tell me if anywhere this issue of clear definition and description has been brought up yet. A pastor in a church I attended in England was asked to define “glory” in terms a young mom could understand. After doing so, she asked him why he hadn’t done the same in his sermon. His response was that he didn’t want to “violate the integrity of the biblical language,” whatever that meant.

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  4. Budster:

    I had the same experience too a few years back. A girl that I was interested in said that she did not want a relationship with me because she felt that I was distracting her from pursuing God.

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  5. …as a person who struggles with major depression, I got totally burnt out on the kind of church that put so much emphasis on feeling the right way. You had to feel really, really, scummy, then really, really sorry, and then really, really happy- and it’s just not possible (not to mention not healthy) to live at that extreme of emotion all the time. — Renoah

    I believe “living at that extreme of emotion all the time” used to be called “manic-depressive”, is now called “bipolar”, and is treated with Lithium among other drugs.

    This does beg the question as to whether this “Calvary Road” type of Gospel is specifically creating or enhancing manic-depressives.

    As well as encouraging a “Can You Top This” attitude of Spiritual One-Upmanship in both the really, really, really, scummy lows and the really, really, really, happy highs.

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  6. A couple of years back I heard a well-known evangelical leader speak at my church. During his message he gave an illustration in which he spoke about going to see a play with his wife and her grandmother, whom he praised as a very passionate follower of Christ. Midway through the performance, they asked her how she was enjoying it and she said she wasn’t; that she would not have wanted to be found at that theater when Jesus returned.

    I thought about my own grandmother, who also was a passionate follower of Christ and who would never in a million years have had a problem with going to the theater. This made clear to me that something is very wrong within evangelicalism.

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  7. No, Mr. Monk, it’s not just you: This very topic drove my husband and me away from Evangelicalism. I was raised Nazarene, he was raised Lutheran–neither of us Calvinist–so we had never before heard such doctrines about glory being at the center of everything. We finally left, my husband returning to the Lutheran church, while I (having no Nazarene Church nearby) eventually fell in love with Eastern Orthodoxy. In Orthodoxy, the focus is on union and communion with God, a beautiful thing.

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  8. Perhaps everyone that uses the phrase “the glory of God” should define precisely (or even loosely !) exactly what they mean by it. I bet that you’ll get loads of different understandings and definitions. Then, I feel each one of us should make the effort to find, from the actual languages that the scriptures were written in, what the words translated as “glory” actually are and what they mean. I think that would revolutionize our understanding and ensure that we don’t use that and other words / phrases quite so easilly/glibly. Having done that with words we often use like worship, pastor, church, Lucifer, preaching, woman/wife and many others, it’s revolutionized many of my previously held notions and I just won’t simply accept whatever I hear, without scrutiny….

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  9. Thanks for this thought-provoking article. I admit it’s an angle I’ve never considered before.

    Although I haven’t listened much to or read much of James White, I’m interested to know where he mentions something about Jonathan Edwards being too God-centered or something. Inquiring minds and all that…

    Thanks!

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  10. Christ redeemed our humanity and did not take us out of this world, but he wants us to be kept from the darkness.

    He made us live, feel, love, cry again. He set us free.

    I love to live my life in Christ. Not all of it is “God-glorifying”, but I am certainly thankful for what I got in Him.

    So glory to God for the beers I have with friends, the concerts I sometimes go to, the bike I ride, the stuff I study at university. Because only in Him can I have life and enjoy life “abundantly”. No, this is not living according to the flesh. I simply am thankful for the life, the context, the culture and personality that God gave me or put me in.

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  11. To Patrick Lynch at post 105 {or thereabouts}
    I’ve been thinking about your response and I have a couple of thoughts in reply. First off, while I understand the analogy with one’s lover {and scripture points to it sometimes}, it has certain limitations. Personally, I don’t think in those terms. I dig being with my wife but there’s never been a time when she was the only thing on my mind. When you’re part of one another’s world and being, for me such a thought just can’t be quantified. And so it is with our Lord. He wants to be our all in all. But what does that mean exactly ? I think good relationships ebb and flow. They bounce from weak to strong to intense to slow to fast to complacent to still to whatever else, you know ? Whatever my struggles, doubts, joys, frustrations, etc, I know he’s always with me. I really mean that.
    There’s this song that’s been kicking around church circles for yonks, called “Draw me close” and it has this chorus of “You’re all I want – You’re all I’ve ever needed”. I love the melody, the way the chords interact with the lyrics and the build up and all that……but I can’t stand the words because for me, it’s simply not true. I’ve been causing a bit of a ruckus over the last 12 or so years when I say things like “I don’t like the words of that song. I find them shallow or not steeped in real life” in relation to many of the big church hits. For the record, I do that with all songs ! Those lurve songs that declare “limitless undying love” or “I would climb mountains and swim across oceans for yooooooouuuuu!!!” are lyrically ridiculous to me, even though I might love the actual song. But going back to “Jesus, you’re all I want”…..for me that’s not true. Paul the apostle gave the impression that was how Christian life was meant to be lived, but then, we don’t really know what he thought of many things because in the letters of his that we do have that are part of the NT, feelings on art, politics, and a whole range of other things weren’t his brief. I might want lots of things. I wanted a wife, kids, friends, family, recording equipment, a job, albums, the list is endless. None of that is incompatible with being in Christ because he is number one. None of the things I want or like or have to do are the centre of my existence. I can make loads of decisions myself – that is not incompatible with being led by the Spirit. I can dig many things in the world and equally detest many things in the world. Hating horror movies or porn doesn’t mean that I’m God centered. Not subscribing to the standard Christian norms of daily bible study or one hour prayer or whatever doesn’t make a person a reprobate. It’s been hard, but I’ve learned over the years to cultivate a relationship with the Lord on the move and in the stillness and quietness and in the hubbub of company. I’ll talk with him anytime and anywhere about football, music, war, sex, his church, history, my kids, my wife, buses, the shower, politics, pain, things I understand, things I don’t, telly, friends, attitudes, work, riding a bike, you name it. Nothing is verboten. I’ll talk and try to listen as I drive, walk, watch TV, listen to music, joke with the kids, play the guitar, read, argue, work – you name it. Is that God centered ? Sometimes, we won’t chat extensively or with depth for days and days. That does not mean that he plays second fiddle or that “the world” has or is crowding him out. In fact, I think that when we have to think of life with the Lord in this way, maybe we’re the ones who really haven’t really grasped what it is to be led by him. There is one powerful NT example {among many} that stands out to me and that’s when Paul brought back to life the kid that fell out the window and died. In the record written, there is no mention of God. But that Paul simply went and confidently prayed for the guy says something. He often moved in the life of God within him. But this is the same guy who, when the disciples in Tyre urged him through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem, he ignored them and went. This indicates to me that being led by the Spirit is what the Lord truly desires for us because I doubt many of us would argue that Paul wasn’t God centered. But he was a bloke like half of us and human like all of us and didn’t get it always right. I also realize that for the rest of our days we’ll be learning, ebbing, flowing, but hopefully closer to and more led by our God. I don’t want “Heaven” to be the place where I tell him I love him and know I mean it. I want Kingsbury in London or wherever I am at the time {regardless of what I’m doing or how I feel} to be that place.

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  12. I won’t pretend to have read all of the comments–there are a lot of them–so I apologize if someone else has already said this. I don’t think that the problem is being too God-centered. I think the problem is a distortion of what it actually means to be God-centered. To be truly God-centered isn’t to reject everything that doesn’t fit into the small little box that we call “worship” but to recognize that every interaction with others, creation, God and one’s self is sacred. To cheesily quote Rob Bell, “everything is spiritual.”

    Jesus amended the Shema to emphasize the sacredness of human relationship when he added “love your neighbor as yourself.”

    I wouldn’t blame Calvinism across the board though. I think Kuyperian (although I won’t claim to have read Kuyper) Calvinism goes in the right direction by emphasizing God’s sovereignty over all creation.

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  13. There were two kings. One king’s subjects, to give him honor and glory, stripped the castle of all art, sculptures, tapestries, beautiful music, etc. The object of honor and glory was the king, and any other things of beauty might detract from the king’s glory, so thought his subjects. Entering the castle and approaching the throne, one would find cold, gray, bare stone floors and walls. One would hear only the echos of footsteps and the murmuring of adjacent conversations. The second king has a marvelous castle and throne room with amazing art, sculptures, tapestries, and elaborate carvings. Entering the castle, one hears beautiful melodies, and walking the halls, one is immediately struck by the beauty and granduer of it all. This king’s subjects know that the king’s glory is relfected in that which surrounds him. “See all of this! We have a grand and glorious king!,” they say.

    An Incarnational and sacramental understanding of the world provides a marvelous balance for Christians. Chesterton said, regarding Christ’s two natures, human and divine, that neither of his natures will swallow the other. Christ is flesh and spirit and so are we. Christ’s perfect union of flesh and spirit delights the Father, and our growing in sanctification and holiness in flesh and spirit delights the Father.

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  14. Renoah,

    I’m aware of that sort of “you must feel a certain way” kind of attitude. I was trying to avoid it, but I was sort of skirting the edges of a disclaimer without going into the full details of a disclaimer, because I wasn’t sure it was needed. 🙂 So let me be a bit more specific.

    I don’t think it’s about how we feel. I think it’s about our attitude. It’s about what we choose. Now, for most people, what we feel tends to follow what we choose. If we choose to say “Thank you God”, we are more likely to feel grateful. But it doesn’t always happen that way, and with people with depression, I think it’s pretty rare for it to happen that way.

    So, doing the dishes and trying to avoid complaining about it with words or body language, even though you spend every second hating it, but doing it the same just because you are choosing to do the right thing by your family, is glorifying God. Telling God “Thank you” for the ice cream, even if you don’t feel particularly grateful, and then eating it, is glorifying God. (With the exception that if you are really really sure you’re not supposed to be eating it, it probably doesn’t glorify God much to tell him thanks.) Every time that you choose to think or do something because it is the right thing to do, or for the sake of God or another person, then you are loving and glorifying God, even if all you feel is tired and bitter and hateful or nothing at all. That help?

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  15. There clearly are some ‘life-savoring’ Calvinists – Abraham Kuyper’s ‘Lectures on Calvinism’ and Michael Horton’s ‘Putting Amazing Back into Grace’ come immediately to mind, but there clearly are various reformed evangelicals who have heavily bought in to the dualistic heresy. Whilst the ‘Wittenburg’ school of reform seriously dissuaded such a malady, aspects of the Genevan/Zwingilian branch have certainly and seriously impoverished a faith which must inherently reflect God’s work of reconciling the world through Jesus Christ – that is the work, begun in creation, that will truly express the significance of the love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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  16. I echo Jeff Tingle’s comment. Understanding Reformed theology has helped me to appreciate all the more God’s glory in nature and in art and other forms of culture.

    At my former church (Capitol Hill Baptist) and in my current church (Desert Springs Church), people read the Puritans. The main preaching elder is writing his dissertation on John Owen. He mentioned and recommended Owen’s book, The Glory of Christ, in a Lord’s Supper sermon on Wednesday night. He also likes Run-DMC, Led Zeppelin, and the Cure.

    Our music leader loves John Piper’s books, and he also has a jazz piano trio that regularly plays at a local restaurant and a cigar bar here in Albuquerque, NM.

    I do believe that there are Reformed Christians who are so “God-centered” that they cannot see God’s glory in art and culture. Sadly, there also seem to be some Reformed Christians who are so unBiblically “God-centered” that the glory of God in the face of *Jesus Christ* is actually obscured for them.

    I am so thankful that neither has been my experience of God-centered, Reformed Christianity and/or Reformed Christians. In my church, to be God-centered *is* to be Christ-centered (as Christ *is* God), and vice versa.

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  17. I just wanted to point out that the raising and discussion of THIS topic is why I love this sight–Believers and unBelievers are unafraid to discuss this openly, frankly and irenically.

    God bless.

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  18. Slightly going off track, it’s interesting to me that many of the early Jesus rockers of the late 60s/early to mid 70s saw themselves primarily as evangelists “trying to win their generation for Christ” as opposed to simply between artists contributing art. That had some interesting effects on the songs that many of them produced. Because lyrically, so many of the writers felt that every song had to somehow be “about God” (or at the very least, something contained in the bible). So in trying to be “God centered”, actually, in my opinion, many of the artists {and I’m versatile, so I can dig the songs} ended up being narrow in focus and presenting the supposedly rich vibrant life in Christ as a life that was rather restrictive and monotonous…..

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  19. I think that alvin_tsf has it right in stating that sometimes we do “overspiritualize” things. Perhaps it does demonstrate, in part, how unused to God we really are at times. Does that sound judgementally horrible ? It’s not meant to be either. But for a long time now, I’ve wondered just how possible it is to let someone truly be and have them let you truly be without either party imposing value systems/judgements on the other and actually co-existing in the body of the Lord. Current evidence and human history seem to reveal me as a dreamer !
    For me, doing and being to the glory of God is like breathing. An essential aspect of life that comes naturally, which I might sometimes focus on and at other times not be conscious of at all. But without which I can’t live. Back in the 80s and 90s when the “Don’t get involved in rock/cinema/TV/politics/education/science/etc, etc” notion was very prominent in church circles, it’s fair to say that there may have been some good reasons that one might have for staying away from certain things. The vice was also versa – that one’s brother or sister could be as involved in those “things” as another was not. The key for me was that neither was to judge the other. Paul makes this point in his letter to the saints in Rome. He says, in effect, that our God is big enough and deep enough to accept both sides, even though they may hold entirely differing ideas, ideals and practices over the same thing. So there is both a communal level and an individual one.

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  20. This is an absolutely excellent post. I think you are very, very right to see that “God-centeredness” is dangerous and deadly to true humanity when it essentially becomes the dissolving of all things into God Himself and the obliteration of the individual. I have never really thought of my own experience in terms of the struggle you describe but I can see it now. My background is Pentecostal and the same sort of God vs. everything else, Spiritual vs. everything else, and Holy Ghost-experience vs. normal life experience causes a great deal of struggle, turmoil, and questions particularly about just living life, what to do with one’s life, and how to live.

    Not long ago, a man, told me that a few years back his employer offered to send him to school in a technical engineering-related field. He thought about it and said no because he wanted to give all his life and time to God. This man is not a minister and does not participate in any of the church departments! Now he is a single-parent struggling to make ends meet and probably wondering and praying for God to meet His needs…. Hmm…. To be honest I just want to smack people like this!

    I don’t think one can be too God-centered in the right sense, but when one responds to life like a teenage Sunday School student responds to every discussion question with, “uh, God?” then we’re off base.

    Of course, God Himself was pretty interested in the universe, the world, and humanity-He made them and He did work to do it!

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  21. “Christ came to give us life . . .” –MDS

    That reminded me of Jesus’ first miracle, turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Somehow I don’t think He spent the entire feast huddled in a corner with the disciples. Plus, according to the math, He didn’t make just a pitcher or two; it was anywhere from 120 to 180 gallons of wine. Talk about keeping a party going!

    I think the whole idea of being “God-centered” in the extreme really boils down to “It’s so much easier to shut the world out than to deal with it.” Doing it in the name of holiness gives a justifiable reason and makes one feel better about it.

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  22. It is a convenient human habit to justify obsessiveness in our individual pursuits by simply redefining it. “I’m not too (insert practice here) because what I do is actually (insert redefinition here).” Words are a wonderful thing, especially lofty, churchy ones.

    I think this little bit of data in part answers the question posed:
    Discussion on “God – centerdness” – 157 posts
    Discussion on “Gospel Application” – 5 posts

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  23. Thank you for articulating some of the thoughts that I have recently been struggling with. I love my church and church family, but I feel more and more that I live two lives – the life I live around my church friends, and my “real” life, with my books, music, movies, dance classes, everything that’s important to me and help make me what I am, and what I keep quiet and sort of hidden because so many of them are not “useful”, “edifying” etc. in the eyes of many in the church. A subject that I need to think about a lot more!

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  24. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I actually know God well enough yet to to be completely and utterly God-centered or God-focused in my life. And if I set out on a personal crusade to become completely and utterly God-centered, I fear I would just end up centering my life on my own beliefs and opinions of who I think God is (or who I want Him to be). Another possibility is that I would center my life on how some pastor, Christian writer, denomination, or popular Christian culture portrays God.
    But I don’t want that. I want God to teach me and show me who He is and what His will is for my life. And from what I’ve discovered so far, He can reveal bits and pieces of Himself through just about anything — be it a walk in the park, a seemingly random encounter in Wal-Mart, a tire that goes flat at an inconvenient moment, learning to be a good neighbor to the annoying people next door, or even getting dumped by your girlfriend. Sure, He can and does reveal Himself through the official “Godly” stuff, like attending church services, reading the Bible, and praying. But if we limit our God input to just those officially sanctioned sources, then I fear we’ll come to know a seriously abbreviated God (not that I’m trying to reopen that discussion). That can lead to the mistaken belief that we can successfully file away everything in the universe under the headings “Of God” and “Not Of God” and then limit what we do, watch, hear, and read, as well as who we associate with, to only those things and people in our “Of God” file. Sure, you might win the Christian of the Year award by doing that, but I don’t think it will bring you into a real centered orbit around God. Only His gravity will accomplish that.

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  25. I have been working through this issue recently in my thinking. On the one hand I love Barth because of his relentless smashing of idols and his theocentrism, but then I love the Orthodox writers like Staniloae and Soloviev with this peaceful vision of the beauty of the cosmos united to God, the whole world as a material icon where we participate in fellowship and communion with the Trinity and other believers. I think you need to lose the world before you can get it back truly. But you need to get it back!

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  26. Andy D, I’m not trying to convert you but you should read Hugh Ross, who, I think puts sagan in perspective and was a student of Sagan.

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  27. Some years ago, I experienced what I would describe as an “anthropolical shift” brought about by reading scholars like Bruggemann. Thanks to their work, I started to really pay attention to the details of the OT stories and their oddness (a term Bruggemann uses very frequently). Gradually, because of the biblical witness, I was sort of sent back into the “real world”. That is, I was able to grant myself the permission to reclaim large chunks of my humanity (raised a nominal catholic in a french-speaking home in Québec, I had a conversion experience at 15 in a context where many people seemed to have lost part of their humanity simply by virtue of trying so hard to live “in the Bible” and for God, instead of living life with God, guided by the Bible ).

    I take from this experience that, unknowingly, several streams in the Christian church seem to be playing host to a defective and imbalance (and implicit) anthropology. It is defective and imbalance because it tends to underplay if not outright deny the presence and the importance of many facets that make human life…human. They seem to imagine man as a sort of a floating spiritual entity with no real history, no real connection to society, no real connection to the environment,etc.

    The OT frankness about the messyness and ambiguity of life, its witness to the “thickness” that caracterizes the human experience (the fact we exist through being connected to a wide variety of realities and spheres (social, cultural, historical, economical, ecological, etc), and how God achieves his saving design through all this, is one way to correct this defective anthropology.

    The OT as a witness to this complex and deep anthropology also forms the larger context we need to read and understand the New Testament. In short: too weak an appropriation of the OT may lead to a docetic view of christian life.

    And what is truly tragic is the fact we live in a culture (specially here in Québec) where it is more and more about the here and now. So evangelicalim’s mesage about what it means to be saved (I submit that it is a very narrow and overly spiritual perspective) seems more and more irrelevant and foreign to my fellow Québécois.

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  28. Is God-centered the same as brahman-centered? One trait which separates Christianity from particularly eastern mysticism is that we are not absorbed into the divine but enter into relationship with the Divine while remaining His distinct creatures. I think Christianity drifts toward eastern mysticism when in our efforts to defend the glory of God we annihlate free will.

    But again, the reformers’ view of the glory of God was associated with the cross – an act of ultimate weakness from a mere human perspective. I think once we redeem the word, glory, the return of incarnational living and serving won’t be far behind. If God-centeredness could be viewed in terms of the Son of God taking up the basin and towel, it could help us recover a Christian humanism.

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  29. Relating this to evangelism….

    Just sat in a Starbucks for two hours tonight, with an elder from my church (a new church plant in the suburbs). Our aim was to do evangelism, in an organic/incarnational sort of way. So we prayed, tried to be aware of some open doors, but we ended up just talking to teach other the whole time about evangelism, and what we actually meant by that word.

    We’re both guys who are more comfortable in a more urban/crowded/city type environment, were people can be approached and you can strike up a conversation about spiritual things. So the starbucks-in-the-burbs thing was a bit out of our element. It’s just hard to intentionally talk to people, in a gospel context, with sincerity, without them thinking you’re insincere. And there’s not much room for preachiness.

    But as far as what we were hoping to accomplish, we both agreed that we had a distinct *interest* in people. We shared some war stories about preaching the gospel to people, and the best stories from each of us revolved around times when we did more listening than talking, more praying than preaching. When people’s experiences were validated, and we were able to communicate how exactly Christ loved and related to needy and hurting people.

    We agreed that the best apologetic for the faith, and the one that Jesus often used, is the human heart.

    And we’re both Calvinists. Maybe we’re poor Calvinists, I don’t know. But for me at least, holding firmly to something that monergenistic (sp?) regeneration tells me that I cannot change people’s hearts; only God can. I cannot draw people; only God can. But I am to herald the Gospel and take a profound interest in people and count them as desperately important, more important than myself. Their stories, their interests, their struggles- all important.

    So as a guy who reads “God-centered” theology, and talks a big game about being “God-centered,” and is more comfortable preaching to a group of people as a means of evangelism than the relational approach, it’s been my uncomfortable yet satisfying experience that the Holy Spirit works most through love and care and concern for the individual- which is messy and time consuming and slippery. But the Gospel flourishes in this context.

    So we’re committing to hang out in starbucks intentionally at least once a week, just to talk. Along the way, we’ll hopefully be able to pull some people into our conversation. So we can get to know them, love on them, live life with them. You know, community. So they can meet Jesus. That’s to the glory of God, right? That’s “God-centered,” I hope. If not, we’ll fail anyhow.

    I don’t know if this was the place and time to share, but it’s just my story. So…
    /ramble

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  30. Anna:

    I get nervous about explanations that involve the emotions so heavily. Not particularly because I’m getting more and more cerebrally Reformed as the years go by, but because as a person who struggles with major depression, I got totally burnt out on the kind of church that put so much emphasis on feeling the right way. You had to feel really, really, scummy, then really, really sorry, and then really, really happy- and it’s just not possible (not to mention not healthy) to live at that extreme of emotion all the time. And when I’m seriously depressed, of course, I can’t feel much of anything at all. If the only way I can eat ice cream to the glory of God is to feel really extraordinarily happy and grateful about it, then I’m going to be failing very often.

    Probably you weren’t saying that at all, and I’m just reacting to it out of my own history of church-inflicted despair.

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  31. As for distinguishing different kinds of Calvinists, I have to say I find it absolutely surreal that the same term can be applied to both Jerram Barrs and John MacArthur.

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  32. “I wonder if we’ve simply platonized God’s creation.” – Jonathan Hunnicutt

    I think Jonathan is on to something. I think this platonism includes not just ones view of creation but anthropology itself. If in plato’s world – inhabited by Augustine and many of the protestant reformers – human existence consists of a soul imprisoned in a mortal body, then it follows that everything tangible that our mortal bodies touch is insignificant. Human existence incorporates spirit, soul, and body. We are not fully human without a body; that is the significance of resurrection. A platonic view can’t incorporate God touching our senses – except for words on a page or words in our ears, which I think is still tied to a soul-centered platonic world view.

    I also think iMonk makes a very profound observation concerning evangelical fear of art and culture. What then is the point of redeeming the culture? How can we be so atune to the culture and at the same time so afraid of it? I think the answer is that even the secular culture we are trying to redeem is steeped in a platonic world view, where creation has no meaning in itself and is subject to utilitarianism and pragmatism. Chop it down; dig it up; burn it down; drill, drill, drill. Melt creation down into stimulus to feed the bodiless soul. No real cultural redeeming is taking place, rather a cultural coup de ta. Creation has no meaning because human existence has no meaning.

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  33. I have only had time to barely skim the comments, so forgive if this is repetitive.
    Capon’s two major themes in all his books are 1)the radical nature of grace and 2) the sacramental nature of all of life. He repeatedly affirms that “creation is unnecessary” and that YHWH made it purely for the joy and delight of it. And then He made us in His own image. How then could we NOT delight in it for it’s own sake.
    To delight in an olive we must only appreciate if for it’s beauty, it’s color, shape and especially it’s taste. To delight in the olive simply for what it is, is to delight in The One who made it. There is no need to draw a parallel between the olive, the oil and the Holy Spirit to justify our delight. Our delight is a priestly act, an offering of the olive back to God.
    I spent my college days with Reformed Baptists. I spent my early married days with Calvin College alums. You are correct Michael. They are VERY different in their emphasis on what reformed means.
    There are some good answers to some of these questions in Nicholas Wolters book “Creation Regained” I would also recommend Capon’s “An Offering of Uncles.” and “Bed and Board.”

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  34. I desire to live a God-centered life, but it appears as though Paul’s desire dwarfs my own (1 Cor. 10:31). I delight in God’s Word, and seek to be led by it, but I doubt that I am in any danger of pricing it more highly than King David did(Psalm 19:7-11), if that indeed is a dangerous thing.
    It’s not that I don’t find value in people. On the contrary, I find great value in people. God communicates through His Word, through His creation, and through His Son that we are very precious to Him, and I believe Him. And if we are precious to Him, than that gives us great value. And so there is also great value in loving people – in serving, celebrating, rejoicing with, mourning with, suffering for, praying for, and investing in people. In fact, the more convinced I am that my life is to be lived bringing glory to God, the more I am compelled to love others.
    Reading the gospel of John makes it very hard to separate glorifying God and loving people. Jesus continually spoke of His drive to do both. He also continually spoke of how His ministry was a direct reflection of the words that God had given Him. His life clearly displayed that seeking to glorify God and to be led by His Word are in perfect harmony with emersion in “human-level activities”. I know that you are not saying that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with glorify God, but the dangers that you are addressing here are a perversion of that rather than a heightened form of it.

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  35. Andy D…I am very glad that life is going so well for you and that you have so many loved ones. Your first comment sounded like you were maybe depressed, so I had actually read stuff into the comment that wasn’t there. Thanks for clarifying.

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  36. I wonder if a parent would ever say to their child, “You may have gotten straight A’s and designed your own tree house and won the science fair, but those things do not matter because you’re saved in Christ and heaven is your home.”

    That child may very well become an atheist to save his shredded self confidence.

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  37. Hi Michael,
    While I didn’t have time to read through all one hundred and some odd comments, I did see that you were careful to distinguish this form of Calvinism from its continental counterpart. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! As a Neo-Calvinist (i.e., a Kuyperian) who has embraced the continental Reformed tradition as it is refracted through the Dutch tradition (I attended Dordt College and recently graduated from Calvin Seminary), I was thrilled to move out of the Puritan form of Calvinism a number of years ago. Part of what was so attractive about continental Calvinism was its insistence that we are not disembodied spirits trapped in our bodies. Rather we are human beings called to work in the world.

    By the way, N.T. Wright has been influenced by the Neo-Calvinist movement. He has connections with the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto (i.e., He’s friends with Brian Walsh).

    Just thought I’d throw that out there for what it’s worth 🙂

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  38. I realized, belatedly, that I may have been unclear.

    God created all things, and said that they were “good”. but the word that’s actually used in the Hebrew can also mean “beautiful” or “delightful”.

    And while God despaired of man’s wickedness when he brought the flood, there’s never a statement from God that creation itself stopped being delightful.

    And, as is often quoted, “God so loved the world…”

    So, God delights in his creation, human and otherwise. He thinks that it’s beautiful. Having communicated it in His word, one would expect that we would find creation, and ourselves, beautiful as well.

    When we refuse to accept creation, to be true stewards of it, and make it more beautiful and delightful, we reject the gift of God, as well as our nature in God.

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  39. “Great stuff as usual, iMonk. I came face to face with this in a dating relationship. I knew I was in trouble when my friend told me she was “having too much fun with me” and “allowing too much of her happiness to be dependent on me, rather than God.” Therefore, she “had to pull away from me and focus more on God.” Sigh”

    This happened to me, except I was the dumper instead of the dumpee. I was convinced she was an ‘idol’ in my life and that God was angry at me for going out with her. I really cared for her and she felt like I was just saying it as an excuse to break up with her, which wasn’t true. I did NOT want to break up. I really was hearing voices, and I attributed them to God. I was very afraid what would happen to me if I didn’t obey, eg, lose my salvation or something.

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  40. Frank:

    I don’t want to mention names here, but there is a huge difference between Calvin College and Reformed Baptists on this subject.

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  41. I think that Rob Bell touches on some of this in Sex God. It’s also something that Willard talks about strongly in “The Divine Conspiracy”.

    The whole of creation was created by God, and it was good. Those who would use the introduction of sin to make everything earthly into something terrible and broken have bought far too much into the Platonic ideal of higher forms, and likely also believe that the only place we’ll ever be “true” is in the heavenly realm after this one.

    Which Wright has strong words about as well.

    I quite believe that Jesus came to redeem all of creation. The trees, the plants, the people, the baseball, the ferraris, whatever. The question becomes, how will this serve both God and creation, we being the stewards who are entrusted with this?

    We can steward and care for creation without worshipping it, and instead find glory in it that points back toward God.

    Those who would make God the point of all things, and the study of God the only meaningful thing, have no concept of love, and thus only a limited concept of God, sadly enough. But then, we can see plenty of examples of people who are experts on theology and doctrine, but have absolutely no clue about being created in the image of the divine to be a relational being.

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  42. “When a powerful Christian or convincing teaching seems to somehow drain me of life, I am led to question its validity.”

    I sat through teachings that made me feel like I was being drained of life, but I interepreted those feelings as proof that the teaching was GOOD, since we are suppsoed to ‘die to ourselves,’ ‘become broken,’ etc.

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  43. Peaches,

    The Christian life is, I find, one that requires moving from one foot to the other and then back again. In order to affirm God, we must sometimes affirm men and women. In order to affirm men and women, we must at other times affirm God. We are reactive creatures who often overcompensate in one direction because we react to people who have behaved in ways damaging to us. But the truth is usually that they behaved as they did because they were themselves overcompensating against things damaging to them, but from the opposite direction.

    Instead of choosing to fall on once side or the other, all God or all man, I find we must keep moving from one point of overcompensation to the other. Step off with one foot, land, grip, push off, lift up, touch ground with the other foot, land again, and so on. This means we will not often be able to settle long enough to get much rest. It is however, the only option I know of if I wish to remain anywhere near God and real people as they exist in this life This includes us as individuals as well. It is the only way I’ve found to remain human and also tolerable to others. I quickly become boorishly arrogant otherwise.

    It seems the desert experience of the Jews is the best model for this sort of Christian living. This kind of existence is one of reliance on God, readiness to break camp when he moves, then setting up tents when he stops so the regular activities of life can continue.

    If anyone knows of a better option than this, please let me know. I’d love to settle down.

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  44. Andy, more confident than that, I trust! 😉

    But the point we were trying to make is that judging the likelihood of there (1) being a God and (2) that God being interested in humans, by the relative size of the Earth vis-a-vis the rest of the universe – that’s not how Christianity works. After all, if I were to say to you “Your fiancée is tiny and insignificant compared to Mount Everest, therefore I do not see how you can possibly care about her”, you’d tell me I’d got the wrong end of the stick.

    But we’re not getting stuck into the atheists in this thread (that’s next week’s programme) 😉

    Dante again, from the “Paradiso”, and the Heaven of the Sun, where the glorified souls rejoice at the thought of the resurrection of the body because they will be *more* perfect and pleasing to God when once again they are in the flesh:

    “‘When we put on again our flesh,
    glorified and holy, then our persons
    will be more pleasing for being all complete,

    so that the light, granted to us freely
    by the Highest Good, shall increase,
    the light that makes us fit to see Him.’

    … So quick and eager seemed to me both choirs
    to say their ‘Amen’ that they clearly showed
    their desire for their dead bodies,

    not perhaps for themselves alone, but for their mothers,
    for their fathers, and for others whom they loved
    before they all became eternal flames.”

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  45. Your post was very thought provoking. It brought to mind for me John 1:17, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” I’m more a think-abouter than I am a theologian, but I wonder if the issue you raised is not so much about being too “God-centered,” which sounds very righteous, as it is about new kind of legalism, or “Christian law.”

    To overly simplify, I think we are always tempted to emphasize either grace or truth, but in order to be fully like Christ we need both in balance, just as they are in Him. When truth is distorted, it creates a Christian legalism of belief–“You must believe what I believe” (dogmatism). When grace is distorted, it creates a Christian legalism of behavior–“You must behave as I behave” (fundmentalism). But in Christ, the God-man (the truth-grace incarnation), living by the “Law” has been replaced with living by the Spirit. That is the only place to find the “fullness” (1:16) and freedom of life that we have received in Christ. But even God’s people can distort that freedom into legalism (Galatians), fracturing the fullness that we should find in the body of Christ.

    I see being too God-centered as a distortion of truth. When a systematic theology becomes more important than the God it studies, so that you must believe the system in order to get to God the “right way,” then that (for me) has become a legalism of belief. And it is, in my view, a distortion of the gospel of Christ.

    More to say, but I’ll stop here. Great post. Thanks for stirring the waters.

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  46. “I am confident in my Atheism as you are in your faith.”

    That, right there, is the most austere precipice of irony this blog has ever produced.

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  47. Guys, Sagan’s quote was not the ONLY thing that led to my deconversion into Atheism. It put things into a certain perspective, but it was many other things as well that have nothing to do with this post. I am confident in my Atheism as you are in your faith.

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  48. Hello iMonk!

    *warning, a bit of a ramble*

    I love the exploratory nature of this post. You point out the problem some Christians have of using the awesomeness of God to excuse a debasement of human life. It’s almost as if they think they can glorify God by vilifying His creation.

    The discussion made me think of this quote:
    “…there have been, on the whole, two chief ways of approach to God defined in Christian thought. One, which is most familiar in the records of sanctity, has been known as the Way of Rejection. It consists, generally speaking, in the renunciation of all images except the final one of God himself…the other Way is the Way of Affirmation, the approach to God through these images…Neither of these two ways indeed is, or can be, exclusive.” From “Figure of Beatrice” by Charles Williams pp. 8-9.

    Once we’ve decided that living a “God centered life” doesn’t mean throwing life away, I think this is the beginning of a possible description of how God-centeredness should play out in our lives. There are times, situations, or seasons where a sacrifice of something we’ve grabbed onto because we’re human can truly bring us closer to God and fulfill us, but the point isn’t to remove all that we do and desire as humans. The point is to refine our humanity and make us more able to enjoy our new physical bodies in the new earth.

    I’m having trouble putting my thoughts to words, so here’s an attempt at an analogy: Humans love good food. Suppose there’s a taco hut that I’m eating at. Nothing wrong with eating at the taco hut, until a generous man invites me to his house for steak and wine. As long as I’m developing my humanity (love of good food) it’s easy for me to drop the taco and partake of better food. But if I’ve taken this part of my humanity and twisted it a bit, perhaps I’ve grown to like the taste of preservatives in my food, then a difficult rejection of the taco is still the right thing to do. It’s a rejection of something that I do because I’m human, but it’s rejected so I can participate in something that’s more fulfilling of my human nature.

    Application of that sky castle? Good question. God made us to be human — to tend gardens, feed animals, burp babies, and drink beer. Trying to tie a direct link between those things and God seems to be an exercise in discontent. We can trust that as God’s good creation we’re not supposed to abandon, disparage, or even not develop those things that define us. Ehh, don’t think that’s good enough, but this is already way too long.

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  49. Andy, before ever Carl Sagan commented on the picture from space, Dante had gotten there before him:

    Paradiso XXII:

    With my eyes I returned through every one
    of the seven spheres below, and saw this globe of ours
    to be such that I smiled, so mean did it appear.

    That opinion which judges it as least
    I now approve as best, and he whose thoughts
    are fixed on other things may truly be called just.

    … The little patch of earth that makes us here so fierce,
    from hills to rivermouths, I saw it all
    while I was being wheeled with the eternal Twins.
    Then I turned my eyes once more to those fair eyes.

    (Other translations have “the little threshing floor that makes us so ferocious”, which I think is an even better image.)

    It’s not our size or our pre-eminence or our importance that affects whether or not we are ‘worthy’ or ‘deserve’ the love of God.

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  50. John L. Cash,

    I have a good friend that I was in a Navigator training center with (a couple of decades ago). He was the most “zealous for God” guy I had ever met (previous he was an Army Special Forces leader). He read Hudson Taylor and went off to China with his family.

    He had to come back to the states in a state of mental exhaustion a few years ago. Now that he is no longer on missionary salary, his wife had to go to work full time to support them. He is so “in to God” he spends his days in prayer and meditation . . . over in a corner and she brings home the bacon . . . and cooks it up in the pan.

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  51. …12:38pm… “we reflexively build ourselves ego defenses (and Towers of Babel whenever possible) out of logic and disposition to protect our slow-healing uncertainties from outside interruption. We cover our hurts with theology because we don’t have the courage to look at our own wounds”……Patrick…will you come and speak at our AA meetings?….i think you “get it”.

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  52. Whenever I hear seminary students debating topics like this, you know, “how can I live totally for the glory of God” I always worry that they never help their wives bathe the babies or sweep the floor…because this would get in the way of “living totally for the glory of God” or because they don’t “have time”.

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  53. Someone whose depths we can barely touch at the best of times, and that’s it ? — Grim Traveller

    St Thomas Aquinas wrote Summa Theologica shelf-full of volumes on the nature of God. He then was said to have a vision of God and afterwards called his books “things of straw”. That he hadn’t even scratched the surface of God.

    Turning something the most brilliant mind of the Middle Ages couldn’t comprehend into a slew of Evangelical sound bytes and proof texts? Seems to me you’d lose a LOT in the condensation.

    Falling down and telling him how great he is ? Forever ? Even life in poverty or in prison on earth has more going for it. — Grim Traveller

    That brings to mind an image that is NOT pretty: God as Cosmic Kim Jong-Il and His Kingdom as a Cosmic North Korea. All Dance Joyfully with Great Enthusiasm before Comrade Dear Leader! Long Live Big Brother!

    The weird thing is that by trying to present and articulate {and ultimately mark out the boundaries and then impose}what we see as God’s glory, it seems that all we’ve managed is to demonstrate that actually, by avoiding so much of the creator’s creative works represented by admittedly sinful creatures, we don’t really think he’s particularly glorious. That’s frightening. — Grim Traveller

    Worm theology. “Since God has to have supreme importance, nothing else can be allowed to have any importance whatsoever.” A narrow, shrunken glory for a narrow, shrunken God who can’t share the glory with anyone else. Like a cosmic Lord Farquar from Shrek decreeing all in his realm shall have their legs amputated because nobody can be allowed to stand taller than their Lord.

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  54. budster:

    Oh my. I hear this all the time. A great lady in a church was gifted at doing children’s sermons. She quit because it was getting in the way of her walk with God.

    ms

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  55. Great stuff as usual, iMonk. I came face to face with this in a dating relationship. I knew I was in trouble when my friend told me she was “having too much fun with me” and “allowing too much of her happiness to be dependent on me, rather than God.” Therefore, she “had to pull away from me and focus more on God.” Sigh

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  56. Another great discussion which I came to late. I must violate my (and maybe Imonk’s) standard again (of reading all the comments)as there are just too many at this point. I did read Imonk’s article, I struggled through Udo’s book . . . I mean article (I do enjoy his lectures in person though). I have slimmed most of the comments and what I’m going to say has been alluded to.

    As they say to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. With that said, I am a “Leary of Gnostic-Dualism” hammer and I see Dualism written all over this problem. The issue is not “Too much God, or Too God centered” but a failure of seeing the material as God-stuff. So the problem is being too God in the “spiritual” or immaterial centered. The new radical Islamic movement shares this obsession with the invisible. That’s why blowing up a bus full of (material) school girls doesn’t matter because it accomplishes something “spiritual” (immaterial) Enough said.

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  57. There’s the world….and then there’s God and the Bible. God matters. The world is toast. Make your choice.

    That’s evangelicalism in the main. — IMonk

    An Evangelicalism Eager to Leave.
    “For God So Hated the World he sent His only Son to Beam Us Up Out of It…”

    We have a popular chorus that says “This world has nothing for me.”

    I hate that line. — IMonk

    Because of its corollary “Ergo, you mean NOTHING to me.”

    Headless, there’s a reason mediaeval Christianity considered Islam to be a heresy, not a new religion…. — Martha

    As did Chesterton’s bud Belloc. Chesterton wrote that Christianity is a dynamic balance between opposing doctrines, “any one of which could lay waste a world if taken in isolation”.

    Communism took “Woe to the Rich!”, “Justice for the Poor!”, and “Judgement is Coming!” in isolation and ran with them; this was the reason John Paul II approached it as a Christian Heresy.

    And Islam takes “God is One”, “God is Almighty”, “God is Soverign”, and “God’s Will Prevails” in isolation and runs with them, mixed with a lot of pre-Islamic Arab Tribal Culture.

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  58. Where are all the Calvinists? I would think that God’s great plan would have included sending a couple of them here to instruct everyone. That may sound sarcastic, but it’s not.

    Maybe it’s been mentioned above, but another example of being too God-centered is the lack of tolerance for anyone who reads scripture differently. Calling anyone who believes in free will a heretic is not being God-centered, it’s being arrogant-man-centered.

    Perhaps a related issue is denying that the Holy Spirit can change how we understand the Bible, or that God would never add anything anything useful to us beyond scripture, or seemingly contradict himself within it.

    Isn’t it, in a way, being too God-centered when we take the Bible, which was inspired by God but written by men, as the literal inerrant infallible word of God alone?

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  59. Brendt:

    I find that those people who don’t think about God are as likely to buy into this kind of dualism as anyone. In fact, it’s their decision that they can’t glorify God that contributes to why they don’t want to hear about or think about him.

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  60. imonk, how can you see through OJ? It’s opaque. 😉

    Seriously, I agree with your analysis. I guess I interpret Piper wrong.

    Not that I’m a fan of pendulum-swinging, but evangelicalism is lousy with Manicheists who could probably stand to think “more and more about God” without coming anywhere near the other extreme of being too God-centered.

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  61. Annie Dillard once asked, “What’s the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab?”

    She answered herself: “Aren’t they both saying, ‘Hello?'”

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  62. Excellent post.

    I gagged on that kind of extreme glory centered constant defense of God’s sovereignty a long time ago. It wars against the gifts God has given us. Not only that, but Jesus is subtly (or not so subtly) entirely removed from the center of church, worship, and our lives, and traded Him for a focus on “God”and His “Glory”

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  63. Michael,
    You are right on target. You really are.
    Your first paragraph, and your discussion of Bouyer, whose book you cite I have just read: both are right. I have been feeling and seeing some of the same things. About NT Wright and Surprised By Hope, I sort of figured out some of the main points on my own a while ago. Probably from hanging around with Catholics, for whom this approach is not that far afield.

    Disclaimer: I didn’t read the responses.

    A related note: I wrote my dissertation in philosophy of education about coming to faith as an adult convert to Christ, and what all is involved for anyone, anywhere, anytime to make that transition. The truncated version of Christianity you refer to is something that doesn’t hold up to a good model of Christian formation. I’ll send a pdf of my dissertation to anyone who asks and sends me an email address. The paper is called “Practice Makes Perfect: Christian Education Viewed as Initiation into Christianity as a Practice.” My own email is bruce dot c dot meyer at gmail dot com.

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  64. This is a big part of why I left religion. I was going through really hard times and I just felt like God didn’t care about me at all. Then one day I read Carl Sagan’s comments on the “Pale Blue Dot” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_blue_dot).

    I realized what could God possibly want with my life? with any human life? What could he possibly need or seek to accomplish when we mean so LITTLE in regards to the universe. — Andy D

    i.e. The Cosmos is so BIG, God has to be even BIGGER, and we’re so small to be insignificant. Nothing compared to Deep Time and Deep Space.

    A lot of Christians retreat from this big Universe into a comfortable-sized Punyverse — Earth and some lights in the sky, only 6013 years old, ending twenty minutes into the future.

    You know the real kicker to this?

    Christianity has an answer to this dilemma: THE INCARNATION. No matter how big the cosmos is, no matter how much bigger God has to be to be God, God remains on a one-to-one human scale through incarnation as Jesus Christ.

    So why do so many of us, handed this solution to the dilemma of Deep Space and Deep Time, flush it down the crapper and wall up our Christian hidey-hole behind us?

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  65. The other shackle that sounds very similar to the one your are bringing up, Michael, is those who are always unsure if they are in “God’s will”. These shackles prevent us from running the race we are intended to run because we are too busy in our navel gazing. Am I in God’s will if I do thus and such? Am I doing everything for God’s glory?

    Since we are created in God’s image, some of us also are small creators. If we deny this aspect of ourselves, we are negating that gift which God gave us. We need to relax and enjoy every good gift from our Father. It’s not a sin to enjoy life.

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  66. Rant time here, and lots of material to work with. IMonk almost got me flashbacking like a Nam Vet with this subject.

    For example, were it not for the work of N.T. Wright on eschatology (See Surprised by Hope), I would be approaching a point of despair with the evangelical “eternal praise and worship concert” view of the afterlife.

    I’ve been there. The “Never-ending Church Service”; except the local variant was “The Never-ending Compulsory Bible Study”. When I wanted to wander the Timeless Halls of Eru Iluvatar or romp and play with the critters in Aslan’s Land. Makes Satan look like a liberator.

    Bouyer commends the solas of Protestantism and especially the idea of soli deo gloria, but then he begins a detailed examination of Calvin and Calvinism’s focus on the singular significance of the glory of God as compared to anything else. Bouyer finds that Calvin’s focus on the glory of God reduced worship to a shred of its Catholic self, eliminated the significance of the eucharist, replaced everything in worship with scripture alone and made the significance of human life consisting solely of eternal worship.

    The more I hear about how Calvin ran Geneva, the more he sounds like a Swiss Ayatollah Khomeini. Just like Khomeinist/Talibani Islam, except CHRISTIAN (TM).

    Soli deo gloria was the only reason anyone can have for anything at all, and that is not to GIVE significance, freedom, liberty and beauty, but to question the purpose for anything other than the constant study of God, God and more God.

    i.e. 24/7/365 on your face in the mosque, continuously screaming “AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”

    I am sad to say this, but there is a point at which the relentless God-centeredness of some believers makes them into the adversaries and almost the enemies of much that is good in human life. They become the enemies of normal, especially in the lives of young people, creative people and people who feel that life in this world is good and shouldn’t be devalued by religion.

    Once you get outside the four walls of the Christian Punyverse, you find a grand universe. There’s a reason 90% of evangelical kids leave when they turn 18. They feel betrayed and stifled.

    And the backlash attitude sets in:
    Christians are The Enemy.
    Christ is The Enemy.
    If you want to have a life, get as far away from them — and Him — as possible. Over the Berlin Wall and into the West and Freedom.

    see the erosion of significance in endeavor after endeavor, area after area of evangelicalism. I see artists and servants being hounded. Standards becoming meaningless.

    SF fan since 1970, now trying to write the stuff. Linked up with Lost Genre Guild, a support group of Christian F&SF writers rejected by the ECPA/CBA/Christian authorities.

    D&Der during the start of the Satanic Panic; need I say more? (Thank you, Mike Warnke.)

    Beauty and heritage tossed in the trash.

    Imagine the letdown from Cordwainer Smith (acknowledged as a Christian SF writer by everybody EXCEPT Christians) to the likes of Left Behind. There’s a reason we used to say “It’s gotta be Christian — look how shoddy it is!” and “It’s gotta be good — all the Christians are denouncing it!”

    Theological abstractions set up higher and higher as the goal of any genuine Christian.

    Until you become a Gnostic Pneumatic, so Uber-Uber-Spiritual that physical reality no longer exists. (Isn’t such detachment from reality usually called “psychotic”?)

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  67. Christian Humanism has, in my experience, turned out poorly. It’s not long before it’s just humanism; Christian was just a screen for the transition.

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  68. grimtraveller, think of it this way.

    You’re in love, so you want to spend every moment you can being with your lover – you want to spend all your time with them doing whatever, having and being had in every way possible, enjoying every moment and even though “nothing’s going on” there’s nowhere on earth you’d rather be.

    Well, if you obey the commandment to love God through your life, you’ll certainly have noticed that you’ve been away from your lover for a long, long time – and time itself is a door closed when we die, leaving us in a room with only us and God. When our pale worship of God on this earth, our clumsy love songs and bad poetry, is forgotten or only remembered as a lovers’ joke, when intimacy with God is pure and complete and neverending and has been built up for your entire life! – there’ll be nowhere else you could rather be than with God, worshiping and being loved. All the memories of wan times you’d forgotten or regretted or doubted Him will bloom in you. Heaven is where you get to tell God you love Him and know that you mean it.

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  69. Josh T.,

    Kathleen Norris writes beautifully concerning the point you make in her little book, “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work”. I highly recommend it.

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  70. I came to a kind of peace with this issue when I noticed that “God-centeredness” isn’t part of a social programme called ‘Christianity’ but the reverse – the social programme of ‘God-centeredness’ is a rationalized distortion of Jesus’ life and journeys made emphatic by uncertain people – and that theology isn’t the ‘highest’ thing we do, but the lowest, most basic, undifferentiated aspect of human thinking on anything.

    If Jesus’ humanity isn’t visible to you in the words of the Gospels, then whatever else you’re doing, it’s probably something you’ve made up to satisfy yourself without realizing it.

    If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If the solas cause you to fumble, drop them.

    I’ve long thought that the God-time-all-the-time approach to religion is a product not of enhanced spirituality, but of a certain marriage of rationality applied to Scripture and rationality misapplied to life; we reflexively build ourselves ego defenses (and Towers of Babel whenever possible) out of logic and disposition to protect our slow-healing uncertainties from outside interruption. We cover our hurts with theology because we don’t have the courage to look at our own wounds.

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  71. Dan Edelden makes an interesting point that I’ve accepted for a long time now. I can’t see what is in God’s original creation plan that won’t form at least part of the future life with him except the marriage and kids bit !
    Seriously though, one of my bugbears is this notion that for all eternity all we will do is “worship” God. Now, I believe that – but not the way it is generally presented, which is this picture of an everlasting party of singing and praises which kind of reveals our lack of understanding of the subject of worship. Forgive me if I step on toes here or hurt anyone’s feelings, but I can’t think of anything more monotonous !! The most expansive, huge, beyond even the acid freak’s imagination, daring, fantabulous God. Someone whose depths we can barely touch at the best of times, and that’s it ? Falling down and telling him how great he is ? Forever ? Even life in poverty or in prison on earth has more going for it. The weird thing is that by trying to present and articulate {and ultimately mark out the boundaries and then impose}what we see as God’s glory, it seems that all we’ve managed is to demonstrate that actually, by avoiding so much of the creator’s creative works represented by admittedly sinful creatures, we don’t really think he’s particularly glorious. That’s frightening.
    There’s alot of life and stuff here that’s pretty neat – if you want it. If you don’t, fine. Either way, let’s not impose.
    I believe life in the future will be like how life was supposed to be without the sin, which is why the idea of dying and going to heaven is odd to me. God tells us that He will recreate the lot – and that includes the earth and life on it. And if God has purposed to keep us on the earth, it can’t be all bad.
    There are nuances to many statements and saying God is everywhere or in all things are just two of zillions.

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  72. I remember when the Purpose Driven Life was becoming popular (our church did the 40 days of Purpose thing, which I didn’t care for). Anyway, there’s a paragraph in the book where Rick Warren talks about how does one glorify God when doing mundane things like the dishes… he says to pray while washing dishes.

    But my gripe is the same then (and may relate to the Piper quote on orange juice, but I haven’t read that myself) – that’s not glorifying God by washing dishes; it’s glorifying God by praying.

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  73. Joannie, I should have said this clearer, but Sagan’s comments were not the only thing that made me non religious. The first time I read that was incredibly memorable and still makes me feel empowered as a human being, but there were many other things that led to my deconversion.

    I do live with love and hope. I have an amazing family, a fiancee I love to death, and the best friends a person could ask for. For all the bad things in this world I know we will progress, and I have great hope for the potential of the human race.

    I have attended many Catholic masses, and still attend Christmas and Easter with my family occasionally. They are nice ceremonies, but religion is just not for me.

    May peace be also with you.

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  74. How can we possibly be expected to glorify and rejoice in the Creator and simultaneously reject His Creation (ourselves included)? What kind of religion is that?

    I’m with Alice Walker: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

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  75. Thanks for this post. You have helped me understand some of the forces that seem to drive some friends who live in what I call “the Christian (evangelical and calvinistic) bubble.” That is, where all friends are Christian friends; kids in Christian schools and ministries; contact and ministry with outsiders mostly done by outsiders coming into the bubble, not visa versa. Everything seen through the bubble lens, etc.

    The other effect of this excessive godliness/spirituality is that everything is seen in black and white. To those in the bubble, the messiness of living in a fallen world and the muddled gray areas that come with it are simply not acceptable, and certainly not normative for Christian living. Moral ambiguities? Spiritual desert times? Doubts? Not accepted. Too bad, because that’s where I live, and I think where most others do as well…

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  76. I agree, MDS.

    And Andy D, I can understand why the things you thought and saw were depressing. I can feel that way at times too. But what I do is bring myself back to focusing on Jesus. He was fully a human being, but he said he came to bring us joy and life that comes from God. And he said that we would do and could do great things. He also said that God loves us. Sometimes it is hard to see and feel that, but I choose to believe that Jesus said these things and that the things he said were true. And if they are true, then that changes everything. Sometimes we just have to let go of any “dogma” whatsoever and just focus on the fact that we are of value to God. Then, you can live your life with hope and you can look at other people as also being valuable and loved by God. And hey, if we are wrong, then at least we are living life with hope and love and that can’t be a bad thing! If you think it will be useful at all, attend a Catholic mass and just listen to the words and let them wash over you. I know you won’t be able to take Communion if you are not Catholic, but a lot of non-Catholics get a measure of peace just by attending masses. I wish you peace.

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  77. On this last point of mine I just wrote of above, I reference the way the Apostles handled the claims for opening the gospel to the gentiles. They came back to Paul saying, “It seems good to us according to the Holy Spirit that your claims should be accepted.” They didn’t cite chapter and verse to qualify their conclusion, but rather the witness of the Spirit of God. A more vigorous and healthy reliance on the living presence of God would seem a needed help for us in these matters, don’t you think?

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  78. Something that has helped me in regard to these things is this. Christ came to give us life, and that more abundantly.

    When a powerful Christian or convincing teaching seems to somehow drain me of life, I am led to question its validity. When it seems life giving, I feel I must give it consideration, even when it seems to be at odds with I’ve understood up to that point. (If it feels like death, it is probably wrong. If it feels like life, it is probably true.)

    This is dangerous territory, I know. But applying this rule has kept me from becoming a victim of some very dehumanizing Christians over the years. It has also helped me find true manna from God.

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  79. This is a big part of why I left religion. I was going through really hard times and I just felt like God didn’t care about me at all. Then one day I read Carl Sagan’s comments on the “Pale Blue Dot” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_blue_dot).

    I realized what could God possibly want with my life? with any human life? What could he possibly need or seek to accomplish when we mean so LITTLE in regards to the universe.

    After that watching people do anything in reference to God made no sense to me. Watching people who felt everything they did was in reference to God was just depressing.

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  80. To Steve who wrote on 28 May 2009 at 10:09 a.m. addressing me about the apostles counting the fish while they are also seeing the resurrected Jesus: yes, that is amazing that they counted all those fish while Jesus was right there with them! But they were likely very amazed by the number of fish caught, and like you said, had to know how many there were so that they would have a great fish story to tell. (I think I would have counted them too, but maybe after I had eaten fish with Jesus and then watched Jesus go off somewhere.)

    (By the way…are you Steve H from NH? If so, I KNOW why you would be so interested in the apostles as fishermen! If you are not that Steve, that’s OK…I like your comment anyway.)

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  81. In my mind, there is a universe between being “God centered” and being led by the Spirit. The former is more of a christian construct that to a large extent is in the control of and defined by the particular person that is being God centered. Therefore, I think one can be “too” God centered. Because what does that mean ? Pretty much whatever one wants it to.
    But being led by the Spirit, apart from the fact that it is what the NT writers actually advocate {and we see this even in Jesus himself}, it calls for serious discernment on our part, not the unthinking and blind adoption of what those around us that shout loudest or have influence deem to be right. I’d argue that you can’t be too spirit led !
    This of course raises other questions, but like alvin_tsf points out, perhaps we overspiritualize things. I sometimes think we do it because we are not good at collectively discerning the mind of the Lord. Our ways of collectively testing the spirits seem for the most part to be non existent.

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  82. OK Sue:

    >It’s that I am a contemplative that bothers you. Are you saying if we can just prove we are right by Scripture passages we win. Egocentric.

    1) I have never commented on you being a “contemplative.” Shock- I didn’t know you were one. That’s a self-description. This conflict exists in your vivid imagination.

    2) You seem to be unable to get past your feelings about Southern Baptists. Since you know I am one, you are constantly arguing with and posting about them in your responses to me.

    I’m through with it.

    Your posts will be moderated from now on. IOWs, I’ll see them before they appear and if they are anywhere close to this “imonk is a fundamentalist who dislikes me as a contemplative and wants to Bible bash us all” stuff, they won’t appear.

    ms

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  83. Hi Michael,

    I think the root of this problem is the loss of the sacramental. I wrote a little about this on my blog in Mont St. Michel vs. the Chicago Suburbs (though Wright has since written Surprised by Hope and said things far better than I ever could). Anyway, the issue is one of seeing God almost exclusively as transcendent, and thus falling into dualism.

    The solution is to have a fuller embrace of the incarnation and the imago dei. That is, the more fully divine something is, the more fully human and embodied it will be. Any theological model that implicitly assumes (even though it would never explicitly say this) that Jesus was half-God half-man is not sufficient. If we don’t understand divinity and humanity in such a way that they become mutually reinforcing, then we are not really thinking like orthodox Christians, even though we might strive to profess orthodox Christianity.

    Let me give an example. I have an ideal that I woefully (and not just false modesty here…WOEFULLY) fall short of, that the meals in our home, especially that we share with guests, be an extension of the communion of God. We have three icons on the wall – Rublev’s trinity, the wedding at Cana, and the mystical supper. These give context for our own meal – that here at our table we are participating in the communion of love in the trinity. In his sacrifice, and participated by in the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us with his very life, and the nature of his holiness is to make holy what it comes into contact with. All creation is sanctified. We taste him in the bread and in the wine even at our own table; we commune with him in the least of these sitting beside us.

    This “God-centeredness”, far from taking away from the flourishing of all that we touch, actually frees it to be more fully itself. I want our table full of love – full of engagement in each others lives – full of laughter and life – full of sharing in pain where needed. I want it to be blessed with rich food – enjoying the fruit of our garden or the work of local farmers, affirming the hard work of my wife in crafting these good things into a meal. It is here that I want to center our home – where we become connected to each other as we give our bodies the sustenance without which we would quickly die. It is here that I want to be drawn into the triune fellowship of God.

    This is just one small example – I could wax poetic about a great many other things in this vein. But I think it’s this sort of thinking that is the solution to the problem you pose.

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  84. I am not agreeing that God sent Robison a vision to kill his child. But maybe Robinson did put his child before the Lord. I don’t know.

    It’s not either/or. It is both. Jesus didn’t say Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strenght and don’t love anyone else.

    However,when we put people first we are ego centeric. That’s what I see is the problem. Because it becomes me first, mine first and the hell with you.

    I really don’t think we disagree that much. It’s that I am a contemplative that bothers you. Are you saying if we can just prove we are right by Scripture passages we win. Egocentric.

    In my opinion we don’t love God first because we know on our own we can’t. We need His help. We have to surrender ourselves to Him. Oh, no but what about me!!! Egocentric. That is what stops us. Because we really want it to be all about me.

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  85. “The idea that God is promoting a religion of either/or choices that involves a campaign for me to renounce various normal human relations in order to love God”

    This was pretty standard teaching at the holiness church i went to. I gave up a lot of ‘normal human relations.’ Each time I did, I was rewarded with feelings of a spiritual high. It wasn’t really something I could continue doing long term however. It burnt me out and I longed to just be a normal, regular person.

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  86. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, iMonk; it has been on my mind recently. I agree with the other readers and commenters on this blog.

    “Is our humanity validated? Or obliterated?”

    Exactly! Does grace perfect nature or does grace obliterate nature? How one answers that question seems to be at the root of this problem.

    “He also said that the church has often looked upon reason as a “corrupt faculty”.”

    and

    “So often, the first thing that is asked is “have you prayed about it?” And while prayer is never a bad thing, sometimes Christians ought to just think out loud and discern the decision they ought to make in fellowship, rather than in individual prayer time. The idea that God’s will in any given circumstance will always be revealed through prayer seems naive to me”

    Exactly again! Do we embrace both faith and reason or is it faith instead of reason?

    “his Plato-istic view of the disembodied soul and heaven. Nothing matters. All flesh and material is sinful. ”

    and

    “Much of evangelicalism is gleefully drowning in Manichaeism (particulary its dualism)”

    Manichaeism also came to my mind in this discussion. One problem I have encountered with Evangelical Protestants’ understanding of the Christian faith is that they have little or no knowledge of the history of the Church, including beliefs that arose within Christianity and the subsequent discernment of the Church as to whether these beliefs were heretical or not, which often leads to the resurrection of these heresies.

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  87. Jeff:

    Go to Calvin College and the entire continental tradition and you’ll see a much more positive take on this. You are in one of those places where you aren’t feeling this tension.

    You may, however, discover that certain aspects of your theology are in tension in your tradition. Go to teampyro and use the words “common grace” and see what happens in the comments. There is a real tension about this.

    I am talking about the Puritan wing of Calvinism, the wing that is more prevalent in the current resurgence.

    This wing can be seen clearly in the Reformed Baptist movement, where the description of Protestant deconstruction I cited from Bouyer is in full force.

    I am glad you are in a good place. I wish I were.

    peace

    ms

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  88. I’d be very, very surprised if most Calvinists have not had moments when they have heard things taught and preached along these lines, and found themselves wincing.

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  89. Imonk,

    Always appreciate your thoughtfulness and openness in sharing your process. As a 52 yr old pastor who is just beginning to embrace a reformed theology, I read this with great interest. In short, I am finding a different experience. Rather than less freedom, I am finding more, recognizing common grace – I am enjoying the art, music and literature I love with even greater freedom, and to know that I am living in the security of redemption’s promise allows me a rest that I never knew. It seems to me that my charismatic/pentecostal background, for all it’s emphasis on experience, was far more gnostic in its approach (anti-body) than the reformed perspective I find myself embracing. I find many of the reformed folks I encounter far more earthy, robust and real than many of the Pentecostals or strict evangelicals I know. I rejoice that I drink orange juice, read a book, take a walk, watch a movie etc.. all to the glory of God – not because I am conscious of it but because it’s all done within the context of that relationship. Hard to describe obviously! I think we do sign our “to the Glory of God” with every thing in our lives by simply being the sons and daughters we are within the world He has placed us in.

    Don’t you think that much of the heat within reformed circles is due not to a concern so much about eschatology as it is soterology – particularly as it relates to the atonement? For many years now I have been looking forward far more to the new heavens and earth than some place called “heaven.” I’m anxious to see what the Creator will do in the future to express that facet of His character and fulfill the promise that “of the increase of His government there will be no end.” My guess is that many reformed leaders would be far more open to being “surprised by joy” if they didn’t feel such concern over the gospel being diminished or distorted. (A concern I think they rightly have.)

    At any rate, from one who finds a God-focused life more life affirming than ever – blessings to you.

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  90. p.s. Someone brought up Jerram Barrs (who happens to be a member of my church!). He is a Reformed Christian – so not all Calvinists can be painted with one broad brush.

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  91. The problem is not the God-centered nature of Reformed Theology, or of Christianity for that matter. The problem is when we fail to recognize that ordinary human life DOES bring God glory. Theology and Worship are not the only things that bring him glory, but also cooking and quilting and laughing and painting and love-making and farming and running, etc. The Bible makes it clear that God IS the center, and that he has done all of this for his own glory – but that his glory is realized by all of life and Creation, and that is OUR glory too.

    I am a Reformed Christian by conviction, and happily so. But if anyone’s interpretation of Calvinism leads them down a path of disdain for human life and Creation, than they need to rethink or discard that theology.

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  92. Interesting Mohler quote that just came off of Twitter:

    “All earthly beauty is simultaneously validated and relativized by the contemplation of the beauty of God.” Albert Mohler

    Relativized. There you go.

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  93. “And there I would suggest that the tool is a definition of “glorifying God” that is violent, narrow and ultimate oppressively negative toward much of human existence.”

    If this “glorification of God” is a kind a rejection/judgment of the imperfect world I can see the temptation clear enough. It’s natural to look at sinfulness and feel revulsion. What’s amazing is that God goes right past that and loves us anyway, despite all our flaws, redeeming us while we are still damaged goods. So we have to try to emulate that transcendent love, loving beyond our natural inclination. Without grace and the knowledge of our own unworthy salvation we could not hope to do it at all, but He gave each of us a very personal example of transcendent love.

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  94. Sue:

    Have I considered that I might be wrong? Are you serious? What do you think everyone on this thread is talking about? We’re talking about, in many cases, DECADES of being told we’re wrong by DOZENS of voices in evangelicalism.

    If you read my Robison illustration, and your response is “well…maybe he loved his child too much,” then you’ve agreed that God sent the guy this vision and verbally told him to make this choice.

    That’s a problem for a lot of us, Sue. If it’s not a problem for you, great. That means you aren’t anywhere close to where I or other commenters are on this subject.

    The idea that God is promoting a religion of either/or choices that involves a campaign for me to renounce various normal human relations in order to love God makes the atheist bus look extremely appealing.

    I apologize for the Kool-aid reference. I’ll just say that, for me and many on here today, that view of God is “the Kool Aid” evangelicalism wants us to drink and we’re fighting it.

    ms

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  95. imonk,

    Sorry I don’t understand. I am not defending the emotional abuse of James Robison. I wrote that God does not desire the death of any child.

    It is your belief that we should love our children more than God? This is what I see as the problem. When we put our loved ones, status, religion, money, reputation and so on before God.

    I am not saying we are bad. I am saying we are human. We set our sights on human things not on Divine things. So it becomes my child is more important than yours, it’s my money, my religion is right, yours is wrong.

    It’s not that a person doesn’t have good intentions. “I want to feed the hungry.” It’s that my program is better than yours.It’s when my ego conflicts with your ego and I must have my will to be done.

    And I didn’t appreciate the kool-aid thing. Did you ever consider that you may be wrong?

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  96. iMonk said: “At the end of this road, the list of things that have been turned into “just think about God’s sovereignty and don’t think about anything human” is long and getting longer.”

    Where I’ve struggled with this is in the area of why bad things happen. You know, the “God just needed another angel” explanation when a young one dies, or the pat “God will use your experience to help others” when someone faces cancer, or a woman is raped, just to give a couple of extreme examples.

    But the fact of the matter is that while God can use such devestating experiences, and while that child may now be in heaven with Jesus, we do live in a fallen world, and these things happen!

    But just as it seems we’re no longer allowed to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, neither are we allowed to admit that sometimes these thing just happen because we live in a fallen world. And there are people who will face cancer, rape, or mental illness that will never use their experience to “glorify God” by helping others – some just manage to survive.

    An excellent post, which is truly appreciated.

    JtM

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  97. “Ever notice that when Christianity goes sour, it starts resembling Islam?”

    Headless, there’s a reason mediaeval Christianity considered Islam to be a heresy, not a new religion, and Dante put Mohammed in the circle of the schismatics 🙂

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  98. Historically you are quite right. More recently it’s not as much of an issue. But more recently, the confused reasoning and proclamation has gone over the top.

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  99. Imonk, I would certainly not argue that we are hopelessly fallen and can do nothing without God. I also do realize that Evangelicals have done a lot of good in society– but if you look at many of the great “voluntary societies” of the 19th century, it seems a great majority were led by those more in the Wesleyan Arminian camp. I am arguing against the extreme view of human depravity that leads people to constantly make hateful and condescending remarks about “the reprobate” rather than loving them or that leads to pessimism. We’re probably on the same page, as I totally agree with your comments in either this post or another recent post about how N.T. Wright’s view of eschatology effected your faith. I can say it almost saved mine.

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  100. Dave138:

    I don’t think the doctrine of total depravity has pragmatically stopped evangelicals from doing a lot of good. What we have is a lot of very backwards, confusing, unBiblical rhetoric and teaching about the relation of God to anything we do in the world.

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  101. I was raised in the Friends or “Quaker” Church. Unlike the Magisterial Reformers with their extreme Augustinian view of human depravity, Quakers have always believed in what they call “that of Christ in every person.” This belief that a part of Christ exists in EVERY person is what has led Quakers to be in the forefront of about every humanitarian reform movement since their inception. I know that one can easily argue with this theology, but when I look at the historical track record of the Quakers in terms of living lives similar to that of the picture of Christ presented in the Gospels in comparison with many other Protestant denominations, well…

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  102. Excellent post – and I love Wolf Paul’s suggestion that we need a different term for this mindset than “God-centered,” because being truly God-centered means enjoying the world He created. I would add, though, that Calvin knew this very well, even if some of his followers seem to have forgotten it. — Emilie

    According to JMJ/Christian Monist, the Gnostics had a word for this mindset: “Pneumatic”, i.e. made only of breath/spirit.

    In the form of Gnosticism that originated it, a Pneumatic was the highest form of Gnostic, so spiritual and immaterial the evil physical world no longer existed to them. (Isn’t such total detachment from physical reality also called “psychotic”?) A Pneumatic was so spiritual that he (at least officially) had no need of food or sleep or anything other than his spirituality. And as an added perk, a Pneumatic could not commit sin — any sin was “fleshly” and “worldly” and could not affect his Perfect Spirituality.

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  103. Sue:

    You’re serving up and defending the exact Kool-Aid I’m writing about, right down to defending the emotional abuse dished out by James Robison.

    What can I say? If this kind of thing is meaningful to you, I’m happy for you.

    Read the entire thread here to hear the rest of the story.

    ms

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  104. I was involved with a bunch of intense Calvinists in a nondenominational church in another city, years ago, and thought I should be a doctrinal Calvinist too, and tried.

    It yielded some interesting angles on a lot of scripture–I stopped insisting on premillenialism as a given during that time, among other things. They had a terrific Sunday evening service, very devotional. And I got some terrific devotional reading out of it, also, and great conversations.

    But I think for a lot of us, it tends to wind up being a phase. So I’m grateful for it, but glad I’m not still there.

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  105. imonk,

    By saying “sounds familar” do you mean the two statements sound the same? Because they are not.

    The first commandment tells us there is only one God. He comes first. I have a personal relationship with the Trinity that is mine alone. You have one that is yours alone.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t live in the world. Jesus lived in the world. He had needs( food, clothing). He had friends.He has family. He loved people. God came first. Maybe to James Robison his daughter came first. To Abraham, Issac became first. As a parent I understand this. God is to come first. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my children.

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  106. I struggle with this, too. How exactly does one change a messy diaper to the glory of God? Take a shower to the glory of God? Clear a blocked drain to the glory of God? Those are all highly recommended activities, but I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer on exactly how one performs menial, seemingly meaningless tasks AMDG. — Renoah

    Slipping into Romish Popery here, but have you ever heard of St Therese of Lisieux? As I understand it, her “Little Way” was all about finding “the glory of God” in everyday routine.

    Making God’s defining characteristic his Power or his Glory will always result in a twisted view of the relationship between God and man. — Terri

    Mohammed took that route with Islam.
    Look where it led them.

    Ever notice that when Christianity goes sour, it starts resembling Islam?

    P.S. Where’s JMJ/Christian Monist? This is the sort of thing he blogs about all the time.

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  107. “He used a very dramatic illustration of having a vision of an open grave, where God asked him if he were willing to give the life of his child in order for revival to come. In highly emotional terms, Robison enacted this prayer where he laid his daughter in this grave, thereby signaling his willingness to sacrifice for revival.”

    I’ve had similar episodes, as have Christian friends of mine. I had wanted God to speak to me, and then apparently he did, but they weren’t nice words. on the one hand I was happy that I was experiencing something supernatural while at the same time feeling almost physically sick at the words I was hearing in my head. This is when I began wondering about my ability to hear from God yet maintain my sanity.

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  108. Imonk wrote: “There’s the world….and then there’s God and the Bible. God matters. The world is toast. Make your choice.”

    Some have suggested that we need a different term than “God-centered.” How ’bout gnosticism or as someone already suggested platonism. The problem with this view isn’t just that it is unhelpful and wrong. It isn’t even biblical. Just as this view is more religious than God, it is more biblical than the bible.

    The Bible is full of examples of the value of life, this life, well lived and enjoyed. If we can shake free of the latent platonism that is so fully a part of Christian theology, then it is a lot easier to be “God-centered” without rejecting the beauty of creation and human existence. However as long as our faith is corrupted by the dualism of spiritual vs. material our God centeredness will always be dangerous to healthy human life.

    Thank you for this powerful challenge to a deep-seated and dangerous tendency.

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  109. ….really good post imonk…the clarity of the responses reveals the pervasiveness of this “struggle” in the tight-rope act we call life with God…for me..it boils down to this>> There are 2 kinds of christians in this world..those who are at peace..and those who never will be…..

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  110. MDS, regarding “Catholic Heaven”, there’s a 10th/11th century poem attributed to St. Brigid of Kildare (5th century):

    The Heavenly Banquet
    Translated by Sean O’Faolain

    I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house
    With vats of good cheer laid out for them.
    I would like to have the three Marys, their fame is so great.
    I would like people from every corner of Heaven.
    I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.
    I would like to have Jesus sitting here among them.
    I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings!
    I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
    Drinking it through all eternity.

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  111. The God-centeredness I’m familiar with reminds me way too much of Screwtape’s description of hell. Everything is absorbed by everything else until all you get is noise. Individuality is vaporized. Uniqueness counts for nothing. Everyone resembles everyone else—and all everyone is allowed to do is contemplate the Divine.

    Part of the glory of God is that He delights in the diversity of the creatures He’s made. The God-centered crowd treats this diversity as an aberration; something that’s going to be destroyed at the End; something that is wrong at its core, because—thanks to total depravity—we can’t be certain that any form of it isn’t just another form of self-seeking. Appreciating how God made me unique is suspected of being self-worship. Appreciating anything in creation is considered idolatry.

    If there’s nothing redeemable in the world, why then did Jesus die for it?

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  112. Michael,

    When God creates a New Heaven and New Earth, will our purposes within them not be similar to those set out in the Garden? Was God’s original vision for Man flawed so that it must be replaced with something that bears no resemblance to the original creation and intent?

    The more I pondered this, the more I realized how limited the traditional Evangelical view is.

    In the world to come, we will have work, art, music, and so on. The difference is that none of it will be tainted by sin. Of course we will worship God, but we will also have other things to do. This will not be a world without human endeavors because God’s original plan still persists.

    The more we look at the Garden, the more we see the blueprint for what the afterlife will be like. And the more we realize that what we do down here is training for that afterlife, the more our understandings will move away from “Here’s your harp, halo, and cloud” and into a more mature understanding that the purposes of the life to come are little changed from the purposes of life right now. We are living in the Kingdom now in part. What changes is we move from that part to the whole.

    May God have mercy on us if we squander our present and reject the blessedness of those human endeavors that are blessed by Him.

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  113. JoanieD – speaking of fish – in John 21:11 the disciples see the resurrected Jesus, and He repeats the miracle of the giant haul of fish in their nets. Interestingly, they take the time to count all the fish: 1, 2, 3… 153 total. If the resurrected Jesus was standing in front of you, would you be stopping to count your fish?

    I don’t know what to make of this. One the one hand, it seems like an object lesson for those who obsess with the numeric results of their ministry (Jesus is standing in front of us, but we’re too busy counting the bodies in the pews, etc.)

    On the other hand, it’s typical of a fisherman, even when witnessing the biggest event in history since the dawn of creation, to be working on the details a good fish story.

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  114. Part of the problem with focusing primarily on God’s glory is that “glory” (whatever it is — and I’m still not sure) is distributive (for lack of a better word). When you “give glory” to someone, you are by definition taking it from someone else. If I award two first-place prizes, I’m diminishing each of those prizes. If you believe that your most important function is to give God *all* the glory, then you must constantly be on watch to make sure you don’t give *any* glory to anyone/thing else. This can get really complicated, especially depending on your definition of glory. I’ve listened to parents describe how, when one of their children achieves something, they took pains to convince the child that *she* didn’t do anything but that it was all God and that He should get all the glory. This is just busted, but it’s a not-altogether-illogical working out of this theology of maximal glorification.

    Love, on the other hand, isn’t distributive at all. When my third child was born, I found it completely possible to love him *without* diminishing any love I already felt. I can love God *and* I can love Rachmaninoff at the same time without taking away from either.

    “Glory” is something I simply don’t understand. “Love”, on the other hand, I kinda get. I choose to focus on a theology of maximal love…

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  115. I am reminded of Jesus’s exhortation to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself. It is his understanding of what it means to love God and love people that holds the key to understanding our relation to God’s creation. Part of the loveliness of people is their giftedness as scientists, artists, theologians, policemen, doctors, teachers, etc. The history of the church is the history of Christians in all vocations creating beautiful things–spiritual things, materials things–and thereby reflecting in these things the image of God.

    Maybe another way to say it is that to be truly God-centered, one must be people-centered as well. In that framework, the things of this world can not be devalued as insignificant or unimportant.

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  116. >What God is asking us is are we too attached to anything in this world more than Him?

    >in my relationship with God alone no one else enters in.

    Sounds familiar.

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  117. God alone does not mean only God and nothing else. It mean our individual struggle with the Deity. Others my guide us but in my relationship with God alone no one else enters in.

    Your post interests me in that I see the opposite! To me Evangelicals are too people focused. Jesus gave us a commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart and strenght and love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t say love and study a book about God. Learn what you are suppost to do and do it. God is Love. Where is the Love in that?

    God does not will the death of a child. He does not will the death of anyone. That is why Jesus died on the cross to give us eternal life. So the stories about being willing to scarifices a loved one are overdone. What God is asking us is are we too attached to anything in this world more than Him?

    God loves people. He created us for His own pleasure. He became incarnate to be with us. He created the world for us to live in and be joyful. One thing about being Eucharistic is that the incarnation is always before you. Gospel based means being centered in the four Gospels where Jesus is alive and living amoung us.

    Every denom has strenghts and weaknesses. In my opinion, Baptist weakness is denying the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and in not being being incarnational. (Don’t feel pick on I can do this for every tradition including my own)

    Love of God needs to tranlate into love of neighbor and also a healthy humble love of self.

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  118. Sometimes it seems we are like children trying to get the Fathers attention with our religious antics, or chasing ‘heavenly butterflies’ rather than sitting with Jesus in heavenly places looking with “compassion on all He has made”.

    The question I ask, what are the Religious antics in my life? Maybe the answer is not to ask the question and get side tracked but rather love Him with all our heart soul mind and strength. After all our positing this is what really counts. The depth of our love for God will be reflected in how we do the second part of the great commandment, “and love your neighbour as yourself”.

    Here is an old Testament discipleship style..
    1 Chronicles 28:8-10 “So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the LORD, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the LORD your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.

    “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”

    Unfortunately the wisest man on earth got somewhat distracted and summed up life as Everything Is Meaningless. But having said that, there is a redemptive insight to his wanderings in Ecc 2:24-26 “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God”.

    So what do we say to being too God-centered? It’s how we define what is being God-centered. What was God’s centered approach toward us ie the world? Wasn’t it to “dwell among us” by sending Jesus. Shouldn’t we do likewise and dwell among people like us who don’t know their way to the Father and show them the treasure of forgiveness and share the “ministry of reconciliation” we have found?

    The Father’s focus was on a fallen world and we bring glory to him by administering his grace however we may, by music, art, culture or a simple smile and conversation.

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  119. To be a Christian who is unwilling or unable to allow themselves to be swallowed up and dehumanized by the good intentions of other Christians will always have to live with non-acceptance and disapproval from the very people they would hope to be united with. Christ certainly did.

    One of the things you do well is that you take the best of each tradition, it’s gold if you will, and incorporate it into your own faith and understanding. It is a grace of God that this present moment in history makes this more possible to do than it has been at any time prior to ours.

    As I read your comments, I’m also reminded of my conclusion that all the denominations I’ve studied seem to have begun with a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. There is in each of them, a spirit of life and truth worth finding and being changed by. The problem with them all is that, with good intention, people build monuments to God’s original act of grace to try to protect and preserve it. It’s what Peter wanted to do after the event with Jesus and the transfiguration. Jesus just shook his head saying more or less, “Peter, I love you but you’re more than a little dense at times. Let’s not build any monuments, OK? Just take this into yourself and be changed by it.”

    The reformed, for instance, have a saying “Reformed and always reforming.” I liked that, but found they only ever wanted to be reformed, which meant they were totally resistant to always reforming. To always be reforming would mean they would have to stop being “Reformed.”

    They also had a saying that “All truth is God’s truth.” Again, I like that a lot. That means the truth found in science, art, film, comedy, whatever, is as good as truth found in church. The two go hand in hand. The truth found by the pagan is to the glory of God whether he knows it or not.

    For some years now, I’ve found it to be a grace of God that personal weakness causes my messy humanity to keep spilling out even when I try hard to contain it. Others are just more disciplined than I at keeping theirs hidden away, but I know what hides behind their mask of professional Christian witness. And it’s not pretty, but it is human.

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  120. Interesting thesis, I’ve read something similar developed by analogy by Father Dwight Longenecker a former Anglican now Catholic priest. In any case his point of reference were two competing attitudes that existed in the Catholic Church, both had value and both were flawed because they were incomplete. The first example he gave was the vertical arm of the cross signifying people who are focused solely on their relationship with God and in Catholicism such folk get engrossed sometimes to the point of obsession in the details of liturgy to the detriment of their neighbor. The second example is the horizontal arm of the cross: those who love the community and the service of neighbor but loose sight of God when, in extreme cases, worship becomes fellowship and doctrine becomes distorted or even ignored. The analogy is clear enough: both must be perused and balanced and that only if they are unified do they represent salvation in the cross.

    I think it was De Sales who said (roughly from memory) that we can measure our love of God through our love of neighbor. Meaning that if we neglect our neighbor we also neglect the love of God.
    When you love someone you tend to find yourself attracted to or at least become open to the things they like. Their music their tastes in food etc. At least that’s my experience. If we love God then we must naturally become open to loving our neighbor simply because He loves our neighbor. In this love of neighbor we become engaged in the ordinary world, to some degree. Being Christian does make you an alien in this world because of the nature of sin, but it should also make you more human as grace makes you whole and thus closer to the image of God. You can expect the product to perform better when you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

    Nice topic Imonk you’re on a very thoughtful streak.

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  121. Brendt:

    I thought that “How to drink OJ to the glory of God” was a great statement….But…

    Where does it go? It seems to go to think less about OJ and think more about God. It goes in the direction of eventually seeing THROUGH OJ to only see God. And from there it’s very hard for me to see how we don’t wind up at “I don’t need to drink/enjoy OJ. I just need God.” Read Piper on fasting and see what you think.

    Steve Brown said the same thing about Piper’s idea of glorifying God while watching a movie. The challenge was to consciously relate everything in the film to God. To think more and more about God. In addition to being a new legalism imo, isn’t that what Bouyer is saying we get to?

    ms

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  122. Leland Ryken gave two lectures last October at Southeastern Seminary (though I’m sure he’s probably given these elsewhere) challenging evangelicals–and particularly those of us enamored with biblical theology–on a similar point; in this case, how much we are leaving behind in our approach to the Bible. Particularly interesting are the anecdotal stories he shares from his struggle to get fellow evangelicals to see his point. You can hear them here: http://www.sebts.edu/news-resources/chapel/default.aspx. Scroll down 3/4 of the page.

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  123. I have to wonder if many of those who fall under your classification of “too God-centered” are actually (and ironically) not God-centered enough, for they have made Him in their own image. I have heard on more than one occasion, “This instance occured to glorify God, and here’s how.” I’m in agreement with the first clause and the second clause makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

    Re: Your sentence that starts “When Piper says we can drink orange juice to the glory of God…” — I don’t know what’s in Piper’s heart, but that’s how I interpret it. Much of evangelicalism is gleefully drowning in Manichaeism (particulary its dualism). A statement such as Piper’s or (if you prefer a more authoritative reference) 1 Corinthians 10:31 pretty much blows that away.

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  124. I think Bouyer had the dogs on the trail, but may have given up too soon.

    Protestantism has a deconstructive principle at work at its core. Bouyer was right. But the next step is identifying the TOOL that’s doing the job. And there I would suggest that the tool is a definition of “glorifying God” that is violent, narrow and ultimate oppressively negative toward much of human existence.

    At the end of this road, the list of things that have been turned into “just think about God’s sovereignty and don’t think about anything human” is long and getting longer.

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  125. We kind of hit on this the other week in the home Bible study group I conduct. A fairly new Christian mentioned that a very religious man he worked with said that since we must tithe ten percent of our money to God then we should give 10 percent of our time as well. This was bothering him and had him worrying that he should be at church more for things during the week etc.
    I explained to him that such a view was incorrect and smacked of Phariseeism since we don’t owe God ten percent of our time,but all of our time is his. He seemed kind of confused until I told him that getting up and going to work in the morning to take care of his family was just as much worship as going to church on Sunday morning.
    I think many Christians have developed a kind of Gnostic/Plato-ish view of life as anything ‘wordly'(like mowing your grass) is a waste of time. Just think of how many people you could witness to in the time it took you to mow all that grass, I mean how vain can you get! It’s going to grow right back up and you’ll have to do it next week etc etc.
    Even though we may mow our grass and do the other things that are part of life we still have this nagging guilt in the back of our minds that we should be doing something ‘holy/spiritual’ instead.

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  126. Good thoughts Michael. I wonder whether my low regard for many seminary student’s ability to “over-spiritualize” every aspect of life is actually tied into your observations. I don’t see the problems just among my overtly calvinistic fellow students though; but Calvin’s influence reaches beyond just those who overtly follow after his teachings.

    I appreciate the sentiment but am often bothered by the immediate reaction I hear from most Christians, and it is more pronounced among seminary students, whenever anyone voices a decision they are dealing with. So often, the first thing that is asked is “have you prayed about it?” And while prayer is never a bad thing, sometimes Christians ought to just think out loud and discern the decision they ought to make in fellowship, rather than in individual prayer time. The idea that God’s will in any given circumstance will always be revealed through prayer seems naive to me. I don’t pray nearly as much as I should but I don’t believe my life is any less open to and directed by God’s purposes simply because of my own failings.

    I think there is a tendency to assume not only that glorifying God is the only thing worth doing, but also that in to keep from screwing up that affirmation we have to seek out God’s will to glorify himself in regards to every little decision we make. Some don’t seem to believe that God can guide them and lead them to make the “right” decision unless they explicitly ask for and receive an answer from God. Is the question of whether I have the time to help with the children at church this Sunday really that weighty a matter? Is whether I have time to go get milk needing that kind of special attention? Certain things simply don’t demand a direct word from the Lord concerning whether we should do them now or ever.

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  127. I think one of the problems with “being too God-centered” is that you end up devaluing things that God values. Many that advocate a “God-centered” theology have a lot of disparaging things to say about a theology that exalts God’s love. If God loves people so much that he wants to see all come to him and be saved, he is thought to be an idolator. This dichotomy between loving God and loving others is driven into theology like a wedge as if the two could never be done together.

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  128. Sir,

    Jacques Ellul is one of many that have provided huge pieces helpful to me in my own journey. I’ve always described my faith as a struggle. This was not well received by some. They argued that I should be at peace and settled because blah blah blah. I didn’t like that it was a struggle and would be more than happy if it were not. But then Ellul wrote that to be a Christian is to live in tension; tension between living in the world but not of the world, tension between the choice of God and ours, and on and on. To read this gave me the first sense of peace I’d felt for a long time. I could be at peace that I was not at peace because I was living in a world not yet fully redeemed and recreated. I too, was unfinished. But it was OK.

    A study of Eastern Orthodoxy provided me the same relief you found in N.T. Wright’s eschatology. They see us as beings created by God as mind-body-soul-spirit people who will always be mind-body-soul-spirit people. We will be united to new bodies like Jesus had after he was raised and live together on a new earth in a fully redeemed and renewed universe. Cool! We’ll party like it’s 1999 forever. And I’ll finally find time to learn to play an instrument well so I can jam deep into the night. It’ll be like what is good now, but better. I can live with that. All that praising God forever stuff always made be want to go to hell. But this, I can live with. I can even get excited about it.

    This piece also made me think about the tension between being too God centered vs. too man centered. I may comment on that later. For now though, I’m with you that God is on the side of our humanity. Jesus Christ is a humanist. Thank God he is! It is this piece that Catholics have often done better than protestants. I grew up in St. Louis, a city at least half Catholic. The Catholics I knew and know there are much better at being fully and comfortably human than the Christians I’ve come to know in the town I now live in that is mostly Baptist and Assembly of God. The Simpson’s have a great cartoon that catches this perfectly. Youtube Simpson’s along with Catholic Heaven. You’ll love it. Maybe God will let us go to Catholic heaven.

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  129. As Protestants most of us have been systematically taught that humanity and being human is full of wretchedness. We can’t trust ourselves, we can’t trust other people, we can’t enjoy life…because we are all so desperately wicked.

    Yet…this is not how God interacts with us now or in the Scriptures. He values creation. He values humans. He is not interested in obliterating us, but in redeeming us. He is not interested making us less human, but making us more human….perfectly human in the same way Jesus is perfectly human.

    God wouldn’t go to all the trouble of salvaging creation if it weren’t for His love for us…despite our messiness and sinfulness.

    Making God’s defining characteristic his Power or his Glory will always result in a twisted view of the relationship between God and man.

    God is not an ego-centric maniac interested only in his own gratification.

    He is a Father who loves what He has made.

    If we focus on God’s goodness and love as his most important characteristics, it will revolutionize the way we see Him, ourselves and life.

    /lecture over/

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  130. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, but I also believe that we must erode the sacred/secular distinctions in this life. In my understanding and experience, doing everything for the glory of God doesn’t mean that we place blinders on with our Bibles. While I ascribe to the solas, I also think that God is glorified through the ordinary, “normal” activities of life. It is not about repressing things that make up our humanity, but about acknowledging that all good gifts are from God. I think that it is less about our activities and practices and more about where our heart/focus is directed in the process of enjoying this life that God has given us. I think the problem is that some Calvinists have too narrow a view of what glorifies God. Matt Chandler’s teaching strikes a fairly good balance on this.

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  131. I need to read through the other comments more thoroughly before posting. I see Peter+ has already brought up L’Abri. Kudos to his entire post. Barrs is awesome.

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  132. I think the problem is that many evangelicals are simply too dualist in a world which requires us to be more nuanced. I’ve found great solace in the attitudes inspired by Celtic Christians wherein all of life is indeed a hymn of worship. God created this world for us to enjoy, not ignore.

    While here, our soul is not separate from our body and mind; we shouldn’t treat ourselves as if it were.

    So … I hear what you’re saying. But I’ve moved away from it awhile ago because it was just too distressing. The answers didn’t make sense to me, so I kept looking.

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  133. It may be that the problem is not so much one of being too “God-centred”, but too much centred on “my own view of God”.

    Possibly also the emphasis on the Bible containing all that is necessary turned into the Bible containing EVERYTHING that is necessary, and running from the Scylla of man-made traditions and works righteousness, they ended up in the Charybdis of “I’ve told you about Jesus, I’ve put the Bible into your hand – that’s it, job done, you’re on your own now.”

    (We Catholics of course have the opposite problem of not going to the Bible enough – or even sufficiently – but we’re trying to address that now).

    As to “How is this serving the glory of God?”, I’ll give you the poem we learned for Leaving Cert. English at school (warning: Jesuit alert! Just in case anyone has a fit of the vapours over a poem by a Jesuit priest in a discussion of the glory of God) 😉

    Gerard Manley Hopkins
    Pied Beauty

    Glory be to God for dappled things —
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

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  134. Excellent post as it pertains to Edwards and the Puritan wing of Calvinism.

    But to be fair to our saner Reformer brothers, I must note that this is the sort of attitude Francis Schaeffer and the continuing ministry of L’Abri have fought against. They’re Calvinists I still have a lot of respect for, but I get the impression they’re influence more by Continental Reformed theology.

    One must also note how quickly the Puritan Congregationalists devolved into what would eventually become the United Church of Christ and various forms of New England liberalism.

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  135. Thank you for once again putting into words what I have been feeling for a long time. I recently was rescued from further despair by Frank Viola’s new book From Eternity to Here. I’d commend it to you.

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  136. Reading this reminded me of Luther’s idea of vocation. When he started talking about the priesthood of all believers it seemed that he meant that their vocation was priestly–not that they should all become priests or add priestly duties to their life. Also that just as God is working almost incarnationally through the priest in service to the church (we are blessed by His hand through the priest)–God is working through the doctor, truck driver, waiter, blessing us by His hand through their work.

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  137. That Bonhoeffer quote was one of the most formative ideas in my thinking on Christian humanism. I read it in high school- got the book as the one book my parents ever gave me- and have been thinking about it ever since. I call it “being more religious than God.”

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  138. This reminds me of something that was helpful to me… Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison where he says:

    “For a man in his wife’s arms to be hankering after the other world is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste, and not God’s will. We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us… we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allow our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives.”

    Of course, the entire quote is much better and more complete, but that’s the gist. Additionally, in his incomplete work on Ethics, Bonhoeffer states things to the effect of–the incarnation of Jesus being a “yes” to being a man, including the mundane everyday things that one encounters that have no apparent religious significance. I’d have to skim to find an appropriate quote.

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  139. RonH…I like your “God’s problem is that He’s just too man-centered.” I know you are using the word “problem” in kind of a tongue-in-cheek way. But the point is that God loves human beings and wants all to be united to him in love.

    And I have always loved the part where Jesus cooks up fish for his friends. Someone has printed up a T-shirt that says, “Take out the boat” and then gives the passage in the Bible where Jesus says that. Fishermen have their commandment from God and can show that to their spouses, saying, “God told me to go fishing!” 😉

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  140. Once heard Jerram Barrs speak at a L’Abri conference about the doctrine of creation. Two things were emblazened on my mind that day.

    First, Barrs began to happily and gently sing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim.” After finishing the song he said something to the effect that the song was complete hogwash and that in fact when you turn your eyes on Jesus the things of earth into focus with all their bright and colorful wonder. Good stuff.

    Second, Barr asked the simple question, “Did God make Adam to be satisfied in God alone.” The answer? No! It is God who looks at Adam and says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God decided Adam needed something more than God. Go figure!

    I was a Christian humanist before then, but my convictions were tamped into the depths of my soul that day.

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  141. Excellent post – and I love Wolf Paul’s suggestion that we need a different term for this mindset than “God-centered,” because being truly God-centered means enjoying the world He created. I would add, though, that Calvin knew this very well, even if some of his followers seem to have forgotten it.

    Look at Calvin’s own teaching: “Now then, if we consider for what end he created food, we shall find that he consulted not only for our necessity, but also for our enjoyment and delight. Thus, in clothing, the end was, in addition to necessity, comeliness and honour; and in herbs, fruits, and trees, besides their various uses, gracefulness of appearance and sweetness of smell.

    Were it not so, the Prophet would not enumerate among the mercies of God “wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine,” (Ps. civ. 15.) . . .Has the Lord adorned flowers with all the beauty which spontaneously presents itself to the eye, and the sweet odour which delights the sense of smell, and shall it be unlawful for us to enjoy that beauty and this odour? What? Has he not so distinguished colours as to make some more agreeable than others? Has he not given qualities to gold and silver, ivory and marble, thereby rendering them precious above other metals or stones? In short, has he not given many things a value without having any necessary use?”

    Calvin appreciated beauty, and I wish Christians were more aware of this fact. (Oh, and I think a plain white Protestant church is very often one of the loveliest places on earth — ravishingly beautiful.)

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  142. I live in New England and there is no concern here that Christians may be too concerned about bringing glory to God. The Christians I know resemble the world in every way. There is no distinction. We are not a peculiar people. We fit right in with the world. I can only hope that the tide will turn and that I and the Christians I know will become more “God-minded” and be concerned that everything we do should be bringing glory to Him. We need the pedulum to swing in the God direction. Imonk, I envy the fact that you need to wrestle with this concern among the Christians you know and worship with.

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  143. Have mulled over this particular issue for some time and also tackled it as an assignment for Philosopy course. There are what have been described as modern tool pairs in our thinking today (unconscious to a large degree). These tool pairs are located on a continuum as ‘either or’ scenarios, for example:

    subjective……..objective
    religion……..science
    creationism…..evolutionism
    positive…….negative
    sacred…….secular

    And so the list could go on and on. There are a number of problems with this erroneous thinking. Firstly, in reality, there are no clear lines between the distinctions made. For example one can never be completely objective. Scientists like to think of themselves as being objective whilst theologians are seen as subjective. In truth, each one has an underlying worldview which influences his or her work/opinions/decisions etc.

    This reductionist thinking has infiltrated the church in many forms for example the ‘New earthers…..Old earthers’.

    Regarding the issue at hand though, the particular focus of your topic falls into the ‘sacred……secular continuum’ and here is some background to this particular split in thinking. This split by the way did not only start in the church but also within the sciences and philosophies. To begin with, medieval philosophy consisted of an intermeshing of philosphy and theology and its basic concern was the relationship between faith and knowledge. Aquinas believed that theology and philosophy were two different ways for pursuing a common aim, namely the search for truth. However, modern philosophers and scientists have suspended the idea of God from their works. Willaim Occam (14th Cent) saw human capacity for knowledge as finite. His principle of economy is encapsulated in the maxim known as ‘Occams Razor’ which stated that entities are never to be multiplied beyond necessity. In other words all superfluous explanations of anything are pointless and should be avoided (ie religion). Modern rationilism in many places severed the mystic ribbon connecting the meaning of things, human understanding and the divine.

    Now back to the church and its role in this ‘split thinking’. Historically she has also played a major role in the growing antagonism between religionists and scientists. As Martin Luther King so eloquently puts it, “through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable wall in the path of the truth seeker”. He also said that the church has often looked upon reason as a “corrupt faculty”. This dualistic thinking (sacred….secular) has been further excacerbated by an overemphasis on spiritual matters like healing, tongues, prophecies etc to the neglect of more mundane matters like the physical needs or aspirations of man(sic). These were less frequently considered the isuues of the church and are often labelled ‘humanistic’ or ‘liberal’. I say this carefully knowing there are and have been many exceptions to this.

    I have often come across a demonising of academic/artistic pursuit within the church. Somehow many in the church deem it necessary to suspend the use of one’s intellect in the pursuit of faith as if the two are mutually exclusive. I struggled with this for many years and am pleased to see that there are many others out there who have recognised this too.

    Jennifer Graham
    South Africa

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  144. I understand fully where iMonk is coming from. The phrase that comes to mind is “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good” and that isn’t usually meant as a compliment.

    However I wish we could find a different way of describing this aberration than calling it “God-centered,” or even “Bible-centered”.

    The suggestion by alvin_tsf, that the problem is “over-spiritualizing” rather than God-centeredness or Bible-centeredness, looks good to me.

    You see, if we are really centered on the God revealed in the Bible, we will enjoy wine (because He says that’s why he gave it to us) and all creation (for the same reason). We will serve others (because He loves them and tells us to love them), we will feed the poor and clothe the naked (because He loves them and tells us to take care of them), etc., etc.

    Restricting ourselves to theology, prayer and singing would reveal a very restricted image of God which is not really compatible with the God revealed in Scripture.

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  145. “I need to write about the evangelical war on science, and how glibly many of us toss out science as anything worth studying. We zero it out with dumb statements like “Were you there?” Again, it’s reject the study of the world as useless and embrace a God only and everything view.”

    This has got to be the most bizarre case of cognitive dissonance I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard many “dedicated Christians” talk about how “you can’t trust science” while working as a lab chemist or IT networking support and loving their iPhones, digital cameras, GPS’s, etc…

    It’s hearsay but some friends of ours say a pastor told them during an intense discussion of old earth / young earth that “maybe the church should just ignore people who pursue science as a career”.

    And they really do like having an MRI as an option when gravely ill.

    I really don’t understand their goals.

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  146. Renoah,

    “How exactly does one change a messy diaper to the glory of God? … I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer on exactly how one performs menial, seemingly meaningless tasks AMDG.”

    Seriously? Changing a messy diaper and clearing a blocked drain are acts of love. They aren’t meaningless at all. How many times in the Bible does it say to die to ourselves, pick up our cross, love others, etc.? Well, that messy diaper is your cross. (And mine, too.) It’s the burden that God put in your life so that you could have the glorious opportunity to sacrifice something (small though it may seem at times) for love, love of the baby and love of Him.

    If you in fact DO these chores, and if you do them in an attitude of service to the family and to God (as opposed to an attitude of resentment for being suckered into it – hah!), then you are glorifying God through your actions (I dare say, whether you realize it or not).

    As for taking a shower, I consider that a pleasure rather than a sacrifice. So each time I shower, I try to spend at least half a second thanking God for the gift of hot water, a gift many don’t have. I would count that as taking a shower for the glory of God, personally. The same thing might apply to choosing vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate – enjoying the gift of vanilla, preferably thanking God for it, means you are doing it for the glory of God.

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  147. Imonk,

    Thank you so much for writing this post; I know exactly how you feel…

    I remember one time my Calvinist friend told me God is the only being that is allowed to be selfish. Further more, he said God saved us, humanity…or the elect anyway, because it glorified God…not because God loved us…

    I really do think people take some of the “sola”s way too far.

    Everything is for God’s glory, EVERYTHING!

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  148. I struggle with this, too. How exactly does one change a messy diaper to the glory of God? Take a shower to the glory of God? Clear a blocked drain to the glory of God? Those are all highly recommended activities, but I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer on exactly how one performs menial, seemingly meaningless tasks AMDG.

    I think we have largely lost sight of God as the Creator. Yes, creation is fallen, but to reject the creation and creaturely existence as worthless is to reject the goodness in which the Creator made it. If we demonize created things, we also demonize the Creator- we reject part of his very nature. Which smacks of idolatry. (Shocker.)

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  149. Great post. I think this ultimately has to do with us having a very narrow view of God where religion is really just something else to do, and if you want to be a really good Christian then you have to do lots of Christian stuff with all available time . . .

    One thing that clicked for me while reading “Surprised for Hope” was how meaningless everything in life can become if you have this Plato-istic view of the disembodied soul and heaven. Nothing matters. All flesh and material is sinful. (Which, if you follow that thought logically, would mean Christ was sinful, but I digress)

    More coming . . .

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  150. Absolutely right.

    In my family growing up, we made a disinction between dirty jokes and “earthy” jokes. Because it was possible to recognize the wild, wonderful ride of living on this blue marble, without mocking or devaluing the sacred (which is everything the Lord made). For awhile I saw this as two faced hypocracy, until i realized it was wisdom born of an impossibly difficult tension. And while we might be not be right on target in our practice of living in this enigma, we can be reminded by Manning that we are ragamuffins that can never get anything right, anyway.

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  151. I don’t think even God is God-centered enough for some folks. After all, near as I can tell from the Bible, He spends most of His time and energy on creation and humanity. There was that whole being born thing, and walking around talking to folks, and dying, and grilling fish over a campfire for His friends, and going to such incredible lengths to try to get across to people that He loves them, that they’re made in His image, and that if they really thought about that long enough they might start acting differently.

    God’s problem is that He’s just too man-centered.

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  152. i also wanted to say that this reminded me of the whole point of grace. some people can’t make a move unless they think that it’s “ordained” by god. if we are fille with the spirit of god and we live in his love, then the natural extention of that is that we live our lives that way. we just flow through life, not having to worry about if we are doing the right thing or not. because in grace it’s all ok. it’s ok to make a mistake, it’s ok to enjoy life. it’s all ok. (i know that it’s license to sin… i’m not a moron) but, you know, we can’t be afraid to live and be happy. we think the church is going to church, not being the church.
    sorry to write again, but i had more to add!

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  153. I need to write about the evangelical war on science, and how glibly many of us toss out science as anything worth studying. We zero it out with dumb statements like “Were you there?” Again, it’s reject the study of the world as useless and embrace a God only and everything view.

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  154. i totally get what you are saying, and thanks. you are very articulate and i am glad to have words to the thoughts that i can’t get out sometimes.

    after going to a music and teaching church for almost 20 years, my husband and i left when he was diagnosed with a mental illness. they could not or would not deal with this and how it was affecting our lives. we have always been on the edge of needy-ness and relied heavily on our church family. but i always thought that we contributed in our own ways back. but i guess having a name to the crazyness was too much for them. there was no sense of community and living the human condition. i think we got it and they have not so far. i think we would have left eventually. it’s hard now to see the few friends we have who are still there struggle with this, not understanding what is missing. i pray that the pastor and elders will get it and embrace it and move on in it.
    thanks for giving a voice to those who may not understand what is wrong, but who know that all is not right, thanks and peace.

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  155. Bouyer’s points about Calvin’s changes of worship- white walls, plain music, scripture only, etc- and then the Puritan take on this, followed by the evangelical deconstruction— it all adds up to me.

    There’s the world….and then there’s God and the Bible. God matters. The world is toast. Make your choice.

    That’s evangelicalism in the main. The folks who aren’t thinking like that are- stand by- holding on to some of the good Catholic stuff that didn’t go out in the reformation.

    ms

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  156. i think it’s not so much of being too God-centered as much as over-spiritualizing matters. one can appreciate the beauty of art, enjoy food and wine and engage in sports and other worthwhile life pursuits and passiion without too much theological musings and still bring glory to God. the thing that you describe is i believe a distortion of soli deo gloria. it is a legalism that tries to justify ourselves before God by claiming everything we do or do not for His glory, when all it is just trying to impress God with our being “not of this world”. It does not speak well of our freedom in Christ and shows how insecure we really are and doubt the power of His atoning work and sovereign grace which should make us more courageous to enjoy Him forever. isnt this our chief end?

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  157. When I discovered that worship as taught in the NT is one’s lifestyle (Rom 12:1 and Col 3:17) the wall of separation between my “life for God” and my “life for me.” I can now dedicate every non-sinful act/thought to God as an act of worship. I realize that playing with a new grandbaby, doing laundry, serving my sick wife, yes, even watching the various lists I’m on are as much, perhaps more, worship as what happens in our small church building at 11am each Sunday.

    Dan

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  158. I would imagine that someone out there could pick this apart, but what’s swirling in my mind right now is the idea that “All Truth is God’s Truth”…also that all good things are from Him, that He called his creation good…I believe, personally, that God delights in beauty for beauty’s sake. He created beauty. Music, form, figures, relationship. Is my fellowship with a Godly friend and mentor somehow less beautiful to Him if our conversation is about the mundane details of the day and how cheered one of us was by a bit of song…yet we didn’t say out loud, “To God be the glory for having given us music, and while we’re at it, let’s get down to ‘Real Life’ and speak of Heavy Things like Theology and did you pray The Prayer today?” Hmph. GOD hard-wired me for the intense love I have for my children and spouse, to seek companionship of other humans, to feel joy in worldly hard work…and to place those relationships conspicuously behind some stiffly proper “Godly” priority…to say that they aren’t important, to say that they aren’t important to God…that strikes me as missing the point, somehow.

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  159. I dunno. I see your point, but I wonder if we’ve simply platonized God’s creation.

    If we truly believe that God is creator of the world, and that the world was “very good” and will be once again, we shouldn’t be freaking out about this stuff as much.

    What happened to “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3)? I mean is the whole earth, every bit, full of God’s glory (or at least the potential to be full of God’s glory since evil does still lurk around)?

    Ironically, it is this vision of the earth being filled with God’s glory that makes Isaiah say: “I am a man of unclean lips.” (vs 5). How on earth did we get it backwards and let our depravity prevent us from seeing God’s glory?

    Sometimes I wonder if the ultra emphasis in the reformed camp on human depravity is really a game of one-up-man-ship: “I’m soooooo depraved that by wallowing in my depravity I’m actually holier than the rest of you sinners who don’t realize how depraved you are.” Or to put it another way, when might our depravity might make us focus too much on our depravity instead of on the image of God in all humans?

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  160. I don’t see the error as being to God centered – but too bible centered – by this I mean the TR seem afraid of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding our lives and instead replace the Holy Spirit with the Bible. For the bible can be controlled, but the Spirit cannot. So they must have exactly the right theology, and they must know and understand every scripture and have the right bible answer to every question.

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  161. I’ll predict now that this thread won’t go very long until someone strongly criticizes me for even discussing this question. And that’s the problem in a nutshell.

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  162. I deeply believe God has to do with every little thing. I’m not a deist. But I am struggling, as an evangelical, with how all things relate to the God/the Glory of God in a way that gives significance down to the smallest details of the most obscure person or the least known detail.

    The relationship between God and the world is a deep subject. It doesn’t help me to make God distant. Scripture clearly is telling me that God is both emminent and transcendent. But scripture is not telling me that the Glory of God “eats up” everything but sentences about the Glory of God! And that’s where I feel like many evangelicals are heading.

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  163. Michael,
    I’m pretty sure that’s exactly where I’ve been heading for awhile. I’m not very good at articulating my thoughts, but I’ll try. I have to say that I agree with you on this subject. I definitely think that there is too much of God-focused living. I see the church doing exactly what you say, which is making anything that doesn’t have to do with God unimportant. Either that or trying to connect God to every little thing and decision that they make, which is another problem in itself.
    I believe that this world is a huge part of our lives as Christians, and everything in it has meaning and should be part of our lives. I think that God gave us this world to enjoy and be happy. And I think that the after-life is going to be very similar to where we are now. I don’t think that God would’ve put us here just to jerk us out into something that is unkown or unrecognizable.
    Sorry if that’s not very clear, but all of that is to say that I don’t think that you need to repent at all. I think you’re right on target.

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