Grace Emerges

Friday, April 25, 2014

Modern God

by Brad Duncan

I guess the hardest thing to accept about God Postmodern (see my previous post) for many Christians is our need for God to stay exactly the same in relation to mankind, even as mankind goes through significant historical, cultural and societal shifts.  Faith is expected to  be so decoupled from science and culture (often counter to both) that all beliefs should be static even when both science and culture make a significant change.  Of course this is impossible.  Our beliefs are a product of our minds, which cannot be decoupled from the way we think.  I realize that some Christians will say that beliefs ARE static, and are fully determined from the Bible, e.g., that there is only one proper way to interpret anything about God, and that was statically established in God's Word.  However, if that were the case, why have beliefs evolved so significantly from era to era, and from denomination to denomination?  What of theology from the age of the Renaissance is still commonly believed today at the end of the Modern Era?  If theology is static, perhaps we would all be Catholic?  However, even the Catholic church updates its beliefs when times change (caveat - another subject I am not an expert in).  Though many churches in modern America and around the world fully believe they are fully right (just ask them and they will tell you!) it is literally impossible for each of them to be right.  Still many will argue there is a common foundation of absolute truth connecting all Christians, in spite of the myriad of differences found in the present day, as well as the constantly shifting sands of theology which have occurred from the time of Christ to the present day.  Let's name this common foundation of theology, let's call it the Modern God.  Certainly this modern god is not the same as gods of ages past, and will not be the same as future versions of theology, so let's examine it as a product of its times.  What is the God of the modern era?  Before you get all offended that I am saying God is fickle - let me reiterate that I am asking about how we believe about God, how God relates to mankind, and not about God's nature itself which is far beyond anything we can fathom and is certainly not affected by human cultural shifts.  

What is the Modern God?  Or more specifically, how was our view of God a product of the times we were living in?  
Can you see that our view of God mirrors the very structure that we have created for society?  Let me elaborate.  The Modern God is a god of structure built from systems of laws.  Systematic theology is the art of finding the foundational principles that can be used to build a structure for believing in God.  We identify the key attributes of God, the key wishes of God, the key elements of our purpose here on Earth, and we assemble them into a tower of right thinking that defines our view of God.  Anything that is not essential to the tower standing on its foundation, can be left as a matter of opinion, but the tower itself is static and will be heavily defended if questioned.  From this aspect alone, regardless of what these foundational principles ARE, we can already identify the fingerprints of modern thinking.  God MUST conform to laws and principles, and we MUST build something static out of those.  We call it FAITH.  Many churches have "Articles of Faith" which describe the tower I am talking about.  You are probably familiar with it.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on "Re-Evaluating the Articles of Faith"?  Perhaps a minor wording or constitutional adjustment is needed from time to time, but when were the common points ever up for debate?  I would propose NEVER.  When someone poses a thought that is counter to the articles of faith, there is a serious backlash.  In fact that is how our denominational structure fractured and split into so many variants, each with their own articles of faith.  We cannot ever seem to "agree to disagree" in the modern age, as we all find it offensive when our faith structure is questioned.  Perhaps we are too insecure in our own faith to openly question our fundamental beliefs in God?  Perhaps we have weighed FAITH at higher value than RELATIONSHIP with God - to the point that our faith cannot be challenged without us becoming very uncomfortable?  As I ask why?, you see that the question is summarized: 

Why do we insist on God following our system of faith?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Shouldn't our faith simply follow God?   

I will hone in first on one aspect of the Modern God, in contrast to the God Postmodern.  First, let's discuss worship, cutting right to the chase.  The Modern God likes to be worshiped.    We like to build our cathedrals, assemble the choirs, line up in rows of seats, create a structured order of events, and proceed to worship emphatically for 90 minutes.  We also recommend personal worship to follow a structure that works for us at home for 5-60 minutes daily.  Outside of this time we are of course to "pray without ceasing" and continue the worship throughout the day, every day.  In other words, the Modern God REALLY likes worship.  Why?  Is it fundamental to God's nature to require other beings to say "I love you. I love you. I love you." repetitively?  Honestly, would you like it if your wife did that to you, when all you really want is to have an intelligent conversation?  So does God need our worship?  Certainly not.  So, again, why?  Is it because we are avoiding intimate communing with God that we have to communicate according to patterns and structure?  Probably we are doing that because our FAITH says that God requires that of us, even though it feels a bit robotic.  Like a food pyramid of so many fruits and vegetables per day, our FAITH requires us to have proper doses of all the necessary ingredients of worship.  We view God through a Modern lens of structure - to please God requires structured thinking and structure actions.  Discipline.  Time management.  Organization.  Purpose in everything.  These structured thoughts and actions lead of course to Holiness - being like God and/or pleasing to God (depending on our particular views).  It is correct to say that we worship because we think it pleases God and makes us Holy and Right.  In other words, the Modern God REALLY REALLY likes worship!

In contrast, the God Postmodern likes people more than worship.  

That's right - God actually likes people in the postmodern view.  People themselves, are not that structured, not that disciplined, not that predictable.  But they tend to love and be loved, forming into communities, feeling pain and joy, making decisions, doings things...  The artistic, creative side of people may USE structure, but this structure does not produce the same thing time and time again.  A writer may use appropriate order to create a book, but the books he or she writes are never the same twice!  Same for any creative activity.  If God actually likes people, then God may not be that interested in being pleased at all.  God may be more interested in walking alongside us, participating in life, joining in creation and creativity.  Not overriding our lives with activities that are purely spiritual or religious.  Worship, like love, should be inherent in that relationship.  Worship is the fabric and texture of our relationship with God, but not a replacement for relationship.  Certainly God is holy and amazing!  We recognize God's handiwork and give thanks and appreciation.  But then we move on, because it is not enough to say it.  We must ask "then what?" or "now what?" or "so what does this mean for me?"  Appreciation and love for God must bring our bodies and minds to the table, so to speak, so that we can enjoy the dinner!  What does God want from us?  LIFE !  Jesus said "I have come that you would have life, and have it more abundantly."  If we fundamentally believe that God likes us and values LIFE, we will replace static worship structure with authentic relationship.  

We will value the person of God more than the structure of faith.  We will let God transform us through the renewing of our minds, through the active work of the Holy Spirit.  We will let God teach us to THINK.  We will learn to SEE.  We will learn to FEEL.  We will learn to CARE.  We will learn to INVEST.  

We will share in God's passion - passion for all creation.  Our faith will be a product of this transformation, not the structure that it is built out of.  The God Postmodern is simply a more human God, who values humanity.  We have God inside each of us and are made in God's image.  Can't we say that God's nature and human nature are connected?  Can we bring the human back into Christianity?  Can we value people more than structure?  Worship is just a product of having a community of people in which God is also invited to participate.  It doesn't make us holy or right.  It doesn't differentiate us from others to make us "right worshipers" compared to others.  In fact worship is not for God at all !  It is for us.  It is the lifting up of our spirits as we recognize and appreciate the truth about the God who created us.  God only likes it because it brings US joy.  Again, God cares more about people than worship, and as long as it is bringing us some joy and fulfillment, a celebration, God is probably happy about it.  But don't forget that this celebrating should not be the whole party.  Celebrating can be rather shallow if that's all we do.  Authentic relationship requires going deeper into the passion of life, asking "now what?" and then doing something with it and about it.  Seeing others around you with the passion of God will TRANSFORM EVERYTHING you do, and will lead you to stop all the worshiping and move on to engage in community and relationship.

Modern God: Likes WORSHIP
God Postmodern: Likes PEOPLE

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