Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Your View of God

Here's what I'm talking about in my Wednesday night class. Last year Baylor did a study on how Americans View God. This was a way that the folks at Baylor found to read American culture through the lens of religion. Here's what they found out:

Atheists: 5.2%
Certain that God does not exist.

God is Authoritarian: 32%
God is highly involved in their lives and world affairs.
God helps them in their decision-making.
God is responsible for global events like tsunamis, for example.
God is angry and punishes those who are unfaithful or ungodly.

God is Benevolent: 23%
Less likely to see God as angry. God is grieved by our sin.
God is a positive force in the world, and helps people rather than condemn or punish them.

God is Critical: 16%
God does not interact much with the world. God looks on us unfavorably.
Few moral absolutes – or morality is defined differently – God is more concerned with starvation and genocide in Africa than He is with gay marriage in affluent America. Justice will happen in another life.

God is Distant: 24.4%
Deistic view – God is not active in the world, and not really angry either.
God is an impersonal cosmic force which set laws of nature in place, and has no interaction with the world at all.

I have been thinking about this a lot the past two weeks, and I have changed my mind on something. I used to say that how you read scripture will dictate everything else, but I now believe that how you view God even dictates how you read scripture. For example – if you have an authoritarian view of God you will talk about worship in the context of “doing it right” – and “doing it wrong” (whatever that means) will result in God being angry at you!

So let’s zoom in.
Two things have come together in Churches of Christ not quite duplicated anywhere else (Thank you, Randy Harris, for these observations):

1. Extremely high view of scripture
2. Extremely high view of human reason

Conservative evangelicals share our high view of scripture, but Calvinism has a low view of humanity. Catholics place tradition on an equal par with scripture, and also have a low view of human reason. Theological Liberals have a low view of scripture, but a high view of human reason. I can't think of another group with a high view of both.

When these two things come together, here’s the result: To be a Christian means to get scripture right, and, furthermore, you’re smart enough to do it! And once you have it right, your job is to defend it against those who have it wrong. This is our DNA, and it is a ticking time bomb.

For example, the most pressing and controversial issue in Churches of Christ today is the role of women in the public assembly. Both sides in this argument say that the Bible has to settle the matter. Both sides have sophisticated exegetical positions. Both sides believe the texts support their positions. Both sides have good people. And the primary spokespeople for both sides are well educated and articulate.

So we can continue beating each other up, or we can step back and admit some things. People come to different understandings of scripture for a lot of reasons:
Our religious traditions
Our upbringing
The culture we grew up in
Our education
Our gender
Our assumptions about the Bible
Our view of God
Our identity as fairly affluent 21st century Americans

We bring these things to the text whether we are conscious about it or not! So, here’s the point: The next generation, and our culture at large, will not understand love for God in terms of “getting it right,” but rather through experience and loving relationships.
What is your view of God? Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

So we do not need reason to help us understand God. Just our own experience and our Heart? So why does he not speak to our we would not need to process (reason thru )His word.We could just feel good. when he speaks just like the Patriarchial age. So why the New Testament? if direct opertation of God is how we come to Him?

Anonymous said...

Sorry the Anon above is Big G

Charles North said...

In our previous conversation I made it clear that my love of God and service to the church is expressed in academic and intellectual pursuits, so I understand God through reason. Reason is very important to me. What I said was the new generation and our culture will not respond to the constant "I'm right" bickering about petty things. They reject the Jerry Springer type throw a shoe about what we believe religious dialogue. Reason alone is a very modern way of relating to God and communicating faith. The postmodern world responds to relationship values. And isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, "Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples."

Mark said...


Seems like I've heard this before?

I find the following part very interesting:

"Both sides in this argument say that the Bible has to settle the matter. Both sides have sophisticated exegetical positions. Both sides believe the texts support their positions. Both sides have good people. And the primary spokespeople for both sides are well educated and articulate."

We all wear tinted glasses based upon our abilities and experiences. I believe that no one can truely look at the Word of God in a completely unbiased fashion. I think that is why God made the "esential" things so clear (i.e., salvation, unity, love for one antoher and love for the lost...)

It's frightening to admit that we could be wrong on issues. There are implications that admiting error.

I mean, what if we're wrong on this worship thing? That would mean that WE have been responsible for years of hurt, fighting, and division. More importantly, that means that we have missed the fellowship and strenght in unity that could have helped us reach out to the lost.

In Christ,


Anonymous said...

That all or nothing type attitude (either reason or relational) reminds me of growing up in the church bickering with the other denominations as though we had all the answers and had a perfect understanding of scripture & a perfect interpretation of important issues. We being human have never had perfection in anything but Jesus Christ, and that includes our study and interpretation of spiritual issues. At best we have our upbringing and life experiences that highly influence what we bring into our views of and the relationship we have with God .

The current world we live in does not claim to have all the answers and are very tolerant in lots of different views on many issues other than religion. I’m not suggesting that all those views are ok or tolerable but that this is the climate we live in. People are turned off by haughty attitudes and do not respond to the religious attitude that I grew up with and participated in, of arrogance in our correctness and belief that we had attained perfection in scriptural things. Actually I'm not sure that attitude ever won many souls to Christ’s love even then but used more of a guilt/fear formula to bring people in.

In saying this I'll say that my view of God is a loving father, guiding counselor, stern disciplinarian, a creative, all powerful, all knowing savior.
Because of my life experiences I am very dependent on him in most areas of my life and therefore see him as an integral part of who I am and how I function on a daily basis.

In my life as well as many others I know God is relational in a very real way. No, he does not generally "call" my name and give me direction in a verbal way, but when I've asked for wisdom, sincerely sought to understand the scripture or lesson being presented, and spent time being still and acknowledging him as God, Yes I will say he speaks to my heart, my mind, my spirit, whatever you reasoning folks would like to call it. I don’t’ get all wrapped up in dissecting my experiences but just take them as they come and accept that he is as real and involved in our lives today as he was in the lives of those we read about in the Bible. Being like I am, my proof to this is not so much based in reason and logic, but in the results in my life.

People today are much more interested in testimonies of real tangible encounters with God's grace and in seeing the love of God in action rather than all the intellectual logic that seeks to prove rightness and perfection in our views. I would say if the disciples loved Jesus with all their hearts and followed him out of that gratitude for what he had done for them (very relational) that people today will also.

Charles North said...

Thanks for the comments so far. This material spurred a good discussion in class tonight! I wish everyone could've been there to contribute in person. Man, I'm excited!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll be....I have always said that Jesus was the most radical revolutionary of all times....little did I know he was the first Postmodernist long before the modernist even showed up...I would tend to agree with Kerrie that people are turned off by Religious "correctness" and a haughty attitude....All you have to do is read John 8 to see that the religious people of Jesus' time where turned off by him....because He was correct and knew it, knew where He was going and where they were as well.....But our culture cannot define correctness only God can, and does, and because He does we cannot dismiss correctness in Religion. There are somethings that are right and somethings that are wrong....And we know that by reason, not relationships.....Big G

Charles North said...

Big G
I'm starting to enjoy our "conversations." Your last comment was very clever - I think you have John 8 wrong, but still, your bait and switch was clever! Jesus was the outsider, railing against conservative, faithful, sound, tradition bound, book chapter and verse people. You kinda remind me of the person who read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 and said, "Thank you God, that I am not like that Pharisee."

Anonymous said...

Yes, Big G, we know the correctness of the basic gospel message by reason, but how we use that information and the attitude we portray in ministering to others and teaching them the way of Jesus is the difference in winning the souls of this current culture and turning them off permanently. Jesus used his "attitude" against those who were so sure that they were correct. On the other hand his relational ministry came into play with the ones open to hearing the gospel and following him.

Anonymous said...

Charles, I amglad that you think that I have John 8 wrong...otherwise I would be right and you wrong and we cannot have that now can we????? Jesus a post modern Savior in a world of reason (NT Times).If Jesus was a postmodernist why do people not accept him, by in large, today? It is because His teachings make a point of right and wrong. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."He did not come to bring peace but a sword." Gospel of Luke Kerry brings a very lucid point .....Jesus did use his "attitude" against those who were so sure that they were religiously correct......kinda like, however, the people who blog in at this site are not spiritually dead but active in relationship and healing ministries with others....Because as the Apostle Paul said in 2 Cor. 2,3,4 we have a ministry and ministries have a message and a cannot have one without the other.......Big G

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am sure that there will always be another lesson ........Big G

Anonymous said...

Did not Jesus say that brother would rise against brother and that families would be torn because of his message?????or was he talking about the American civil war?????Big G

Charles North said...

Big G
I'm not sure how much of my blog you have read, but if you read my post on "arrogance," ( will know that I do not have the luxury of certainty - religious or otherwise. I am not at all sure about my "correctness" because I do not view the world in terms of black/white; right/wrong. I think the nuts and bolts of real life makes things complicated. I have been around way too many hurt people.

And - I never said Jesus was postmodern. Postmodern is a fairly new term that is hard to define, but it does describe the current culture. BTW - I am not postmodern. People today are accepting Jesus - it's our "churchy culture" with it's out of date institutionalism that they are rejecting.

Oh, one more thing. I really don't think the 1st century world was a world of reason. I think it was a world of myth and superstition.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you are consistent it is hard to help people do the right thing when you yourself have trouble with Black/white....right/wrong etc.....
So I guess without reason we cannot expect people to do the right thing?????And I agree, with you(Iknow you are surprised),history seems to lead us to believe the first century was a world of myth and superstition....probably why Jesus had so much trouble reasoning with people......which is what happens when we throw reason away....we have myth and superstition.....Big G

Anonymous said...

Big G,
No,I don't think he was talking about the civil war in Matthew 10:34:) But he was speaking in reference to the apostles going with a specific message not to the Gentiles or Samaritans but to the "lost sheep of Israel".

Satan is the ultimate enemy or culprit when people i.e. the lost sheep of Israel refuse to hear the message of Jesus. I personally, don't generally go after folks with a sword who are open to hearing about Jesus and are willing to change their lives as there is no need...I suppose in different circumstances (some I now recall I've used in my own life) a sword filled type of teaching would come in handy. However even in those instances I'd still say my sword was ultimately being aimed at Satan and his influence.

Charles North said...

Again - I have never thrown reason away. I believe in reason. I use it. I just know that other people are wired differently. I also know that humans are weak and fallible, so I don't put 100% trust in my own reason.

Charles North said...

What's interesting is how the various comments and responses prove the larger point of my post (if you want to know what that point is, then read the post again).

I have been accused of being a "dummy," and a "Gnostic." I have been accused of being too intellectual because I use big words and know history, and I have been accused of "throwing reason away." SIGH! This "clarity over agreement" thing may be harder than I thought!