Tuesday, October 03, 2006

1. Changing our View of God: A Journey in Search of God

I wrote yesterday about the Benevolent God: the second of four Gods identified by researchers in the US. I also commented how this had been the view of God that I had taught over my years of ministry. I said that I had come to doubt the adequacy of it. Let me try to expand on this today.

Yesterday was my birthday. I was born in 1955. I grew up, then, in the 1960s and 1970s when many people in the West were beginning to question the Church and Christian values. When I became a Christian, however, the dominant view of God, especially in the circles I moved, was that of the Authoritarian God. This was also the God that most older people I knew had been brought up with.

There were frequently great inadequacies with the way this God was presented. He often came across as cold and unfeeling. Many served him as much out fear as out of love. He was demanding and given to commandments. The Christian life was a set of rules; of dos and don’ts with serious consequences and punishments if you failed. Even in those churches that taught ‘justification by grace through faith alone’, the Christian life was about serving by doing as you were told.

Society around us, however, was espousing a philosophy of life that was very anti-authority and not very fond of rules. It was a philosophy which allowed for varieties of lifestyle and behaviour, and which placed a far greater emphasis on emotion and feeling. These changes in society combined with a dissatisfaction with much that passed for traditional Christianity led many Christians, myself included, to re-evaluate our own understanding of God. We quickly came to the conclusion that there was much we were missing out on and much that was wrong.

Furthermore, those of us in ministry genuinely felt there was a pastoral need to reach out to those who on the one hand had been put off God by the exclusive stress on the Authoritarian God or, on the other, who had been damaged by a too strict emphasis on rules without any talk of forgiveness. We sought to reach out to people with an emphasis on the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of God as expressed in the ministry of Jesus who went to sinners and ate with them. And who condemned the hypocrisy and exclusivity of the Pharisees.

So while today there are many who still believe in an authoritarian God, either by choice or because that’s how they were brought up, it is a greatly modified version of what it was. Personally, I had not wanted to lose the Authoritarian God altogether, but I have to admit that in many churches, belief in the Authoritarian God has been abandoned altogether in favour of the Benevolent God and in our preaching many of us only really emphasise the Benevolent God. This has had massive implications for a whole raft of issues. A Benevolent God obviously would want women as Bishops and gay people as priests, for example! I will write more about this later in the week.

The charismatic movement has helped immensely in this change in our view of God. Not because charismatics necessarily believe only in a benevolent God, but because the emphasis on ‘feeling’ rather than ‘doing’ and on ‘worshipping’ rather than ‘believing’ fits nicely with talk of a God who loves us and wants nothing more than to be our friend. An emphasis, which, it has to be said, fitted, and fits, very well with a society concerned with casting off traditional values based on duty and doing what was right in the eyes of society in favour of a lifestyle that appealed to the individual and what was right for him or her.

There has been, then, in the course of my life, a paradigm shift in our view of God even in those churches that still hold to the Authoritarian God that I wrote of last week. What began as a correction within Christianity has, I think, now acquired a life of its own. I increasingly and alarmingly feel that the Benevolent God based on the teaching of the Bible has become instead a God of popular western culture in a way that is a perversion of the God of the Bible.

I will try and say why I think this in more posts throughout this week. Thanks for the comments by email. I see that many of you are still a little shy about posting them online! I am gladdened to know, though, that these blogs are being read. Have a good week!!

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