Ink Blot Church
God is like a Rorschach test. You know, the ink blot test, where you look at an image that really presents nothing coherent, and you describe what you see. Kind of like looking at clouds and talking about what you see.
The Rorschach test is outdated and was always controversial, but it does yield one agreed upon result:
There are a limited number of common responses to each image, and they do demonstrate that we don’t just purely see the world, but we bring a complex grip of presuppositions and assumptions to what we see, and this influences how we interpret an image.
I’m wondering why certain kinds of people seem to identify with particular expressions of Christianity. I don’t have to do this exercise for you, do I? Charismatics. Calvinists. Warren-style Boomers. Traditional Southern Baptists. Emerging church twenty-somethings. Social justice liberals and Jerry Falwell fundamentalists….they really aren’t the same kinds of people. They are different. Though they read the same Bible, hear the same stories about Jesus and talk about the same God, they are different from one another, and similar to those with the same label.
Is this really because some are smarter than others? Some are better at hearing God’s voice? Is it all a matter of social and family context? Or is it — at least partially — a matter of psychological factors that we don’t really want to look at, because they take away the veneer of “being right” and confront us with the fact we’re not quite the free-choosers and serious disciples we think we are?
Was Arthur W. Pink unable to find a church where he could minister because of his study of the scriptures? Did his eventual withdrawal to write a magazine at home with his wife, living almost as a hermit, come from the God he came to know in Jesus? Perhaps Pink was a hermit and a loner for reasons that we don’t know, and he interpreted Christianity in a way that made his withdrawal from other people a necessary protest against the weak Christianity of the age.
Are Rick Warren’s members and disciples really taken by Warren’s preaching and writing? Or do his followers come from those who have a psychological need to be part of the “winning” team as a way of validating themselves?
Do liberal Christians like Bishops Spong and Robinison represent a more humane, rational approach to reading the Bible, or are they identifying with an approach to God that allows them to deconstruct the strictures and prejudices they have suffered under throughout life?
Is Michael Spencer writing what he learns in his study of the Bible and his reflection on his faith, or does he need to be a writer to make up for failures to succeed in his career? Does self-publishing allow him to pretend he has something worth saying and people who want to read it?
This could go on for days. Do we see Jesus as he is? God as he is? The Bible as it is? Are we at all what we seem in our discussions and ministries, or are we moving to music that is deep within our make-up; music we can’t admit hearing and responding to?
I know it is possible to upend a lot of our Christianity under a ruthless psychological examination. The need for God to exist, the need to be right about morality and the afterlife, and the need for our answers to work are presuppositions with many of us.
When we look at religion, and at Christianity in particular, we see what we need to see and what we deeply desire to see in order for life to work. The vehemence of much of what we say to one another in the name of “right theology” and “right doctrine” is bogus. Much of it is nothing more significant than the need to assure ourselves we are right.
Faith in God is a living reality that risks all on a God who is not a psychological puppet show. Jesus really calls us to follow him. The Spirit invites us to live in a trusting adventure. These realities come to us through, above and beyond the many ways we presuppose the “truth” about God.
It would be good for me to step back and remember that my voice isn’t reporting the unbiased, pure teaching of scripture. Whatever I say comes along with all my psychological needs and baggage. Whatever is said to me by those who are sure they have the truth comes to me with their presuppositions and unacknowledged motivations as well.
What we see in the faith, in the scriptures and in the Gospel is highly personal. The kind of Christian we are is not automatically a reflection of Jesus. Frequently it is far from Jesus, and very close to our own dark sides. Pastors know this when they preach, if they will be honest. But it is hard to be honest. It’s hard to live this truthful life Jesus expects. We need to pray and be open to the ways God can shape us to be simple Christians, obedient servants and loving children in his family. Those who speak the loudest often live the least like Christ.
That is certainly true in my case. It would be good if we could all acknowledge that much of what we offer others isn’t genuine at all, and we have fooled ourselves (and others) rather than admitting the truth about who we are and why we do and say what we do.