September 19, 2014

iMonk Classic: On Being Too God-Centered

JonEdwards

Note from CM: This week we will be exploring some themes related to the idea of “ordinary Christianity” or “quiet Christianity” — what Michael called here, “Christian humanism.” This essay will provide a good introduction to the week.

Read also:

* * *

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.

Comments

  1. I am immediately reminded of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” doctrine.

    We are in the world so we live in it and do all we can for it and our neighbors…but we are also not of it, and know where all this is going and where we are headed.

  2. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think this all has to do with the Incarnation (not very original or profound, I know, but still true). In the beginning, God created the world as a temple for Himself, so that He could walk among human beings and animals and plants and be together with them as they did their human and animal and plant things. Worship was never intended to be a *different* thing that they did at a certain time, worship was meant to be part of the fabric of their lives: receiving God’s grace and blessings, loving and thanking Him for it – and, as a result, loving and doing good to those around, and receiving love and goodness from others. Likewise, when Christ became man, He did everything as an act of worship.

    Come to think of it, maybe we need to examine how we define “worship.” I think that worship *includes* praise of God, but it isn’t always just the praise of God. I think worship is interaction between God and His people. I believe this happens through His Word, but this doesn’t preclude it happening in every circumstance of our lives, since it was God’s Word – His proclaimed Word and, ultimately, His incarnate Word, Jesus – which sanctified human existence, eating, relationships, work, rest, art, etc. If we really have a view of Christianity which centers upon God’s Word as His ultimate revelation, we *must* value and treasure the daily doings of human life, because God’s Word is that which tells us and promises that human life is significant. “Everything is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.”

    On top of that, we should re-examine what we mean by “the glory of God.” I think that if you look at the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, God is glorified in His grace, love, and mercy toward His people. YHWH is glorified when He brings His people out of exile, according to the prophets. Jesus is glorified on the cross according to John. God’s glory in the sense of His transcendence and adorability [word?] isn’t changed one lick by anything we say or do; but His glory in the sense of His delight in salvation is accomplished when He delivers us from sin, death, and Hell.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Aidan, I think you are on the right track. As soon as I saw this post, my thinking headed in the same direction. It all has to do with the Incarnation, which is a doctrine that evangelicals, and many others, are sadly deficient. Your response is excellent and an inspiration to think along these lines.

      As to worship: Yesterday I had a very unsettling experience, having attended the church of a family member; one which assaulted my senses, gave me a headache, and a nauseous feeling of wanting to walk out and vomit.

    • Yes especially to the “glory” part at the end. Are you familiar with the Lutheran teachings on the theology of glory vs. the theology of the cross? Apropos, I think.

  3. Rick Ro. says:

    ->”The reformed doctrines of depravity and corruption are applied to everything, and the only answer is God…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.”
    —————-

    Okay, so there’s a moment in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker tells Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If you are not with me, you are my enemy,” to which Obi-Wan replies, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

    Maybe this is a stretch, but it seems that those who are relentlessly God-centered drift toward absolutism. A mentality of “us vs. them” settles in and instead of being good Jedi, they turn into dark Sith. (Westboro Baptist, anyone?) Maybe that was a facet of Jesus’ rant in Matthew 23: “Don’t become religious absolutists!”

  4. Christiane says:

    there is nothing more ‘human’ than taking a half an hour to give a severely challenged child a drink of water, a small sip at a time so he doesn’t choke . . .

    and yet there is something in this human act that draws from the care-give a recognition of his great need for the sacred fruit of the Holy Spirit . . . patience, kindness, gentleness, forebearance . . . in order to perform this service on a regular basis,

    or maybe what’s happening is that in ACTING as though we were already blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit’s blessing, we BECOME the kind of person who is able to receive it,
    and to receive it with a grateful heart . . . and offer it in service to the one who needs it who is in our care

    I’m convinced that our greatest human characteristic isn’t our ‘depravity’. It’s our need to grow beyond ourselves in response to the needs of those who depend on our help, and we take up the challenge because we must, even if we know we aren’t ‘there yet’ in strength. So we make a beginning. In response to need.
    I’m convinced that what changes us is how we respond to others who needs demand something ‘more’ from us than what we know we are . . . so we ‘fake it’ until soon, by the grace of God, it becomes a part of who we are

    we ‘fake it’ because someone needs us . . . then ‘the change’ begins within us . . . a gift we KNOW was not of our own doing . . . and knowing the truth of this, we are grateful to the Giver of Gifts

    • Dana Ames says:

      Christiane,

      Yes. Thank you.

      ———————-

      We have a problem, but it is not our humanity per se; it is that we don’t live up to our humanity, because of our fears…

      Dana

    • Radagast says:

      Very insightful… and human… thanks Christine….

  5. The problem with modern Calvinism, as I see it (and, full disclosure, as I live(d) it) is that for all practical purposes, it elevates the intellect above depravity (just as pentecostals elevate emotion and experience above depravity, and “arminians” elevate human will above depravity). Logic and Scripture can do no wrong, so why go elsewhere? THERE you can be sure you have God and His Truth! The unfortunate fact that our intellects are clouded, and our wills and our intellects are not so neatly separable as we like to flatter ourselves, makes this a very dangerous blind spot. This also tends to lead to a focus on the Father/First Person of the Godhead almost to the exclusion of the Son and the Spirit (except insofar as the Son exemplifies the Law/Covenants of the Father, and the Spirit embodies the revelation of the Father in Scripture).

    Michael’s call for a radical re-orientation on Christ Jesus – the true and final revelation of God (Heb 1) – started ringing true to me when I first heard it. Nowadays, the need for it is greater than ever.

    • Eeyore, you make a good point.

      I had never thought about it in terms of what we “elevate above depravity” as an attempt to escape/overcome “depravity”. That explains a lot in my lived experience in Calvinism (past tense).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The problem with modern Calvinism, as I see it (and, full disclosure, as I live(d) it) is that for all practical purposes, it elevates the intellect above depravity (just as pentecostals elevate emotion and experience above depravity, and “arminians” elevate human will above depravity). Logic and Scripture can do no wrong, so why go elsewhere?

      And you get an Intellectual Snob in a Christian context.
      (“Wile E Coyote. Super Reformed Genius.”)

      Or a “Krail”:
      Once upoin a time, there was this minor Catholic SF writer with the pen name of “Simon Lang”. Did a few novels back in the Seventies or Eighties. Definitely based on Star Trek; they read like decent Trek fanfic with Rosaries and Tridentine Latin Masses. The continuing enemy in the series was a race called the Krail. Pure Intellect, Pure Reason, Total Dispassionate Intellectual — and totally Inhuman. Atrocities like the RL Khmer Rouge or S.M.Stirling’s fictional Draka, all justified by Rationality and Reason: Slavery (“Efficient use of labor resources”); Genocide (“Adjusting Population Numbers”), Torture (“Negative Reinforcement for Behavior Modification”), all in this dispassionate intellectual monotone — Dispassionate Devils with starships.

  6. It strikes me that Michael was in reality addressing “fanaticism”, which essentially is an expression of suppressed doubt.

  7. From the OP:

    “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.

    …. but to question the purpose for anything other than the constant study of God, God and more God.

    Even at my most Christian-y (I have been disillusioned with the Christian faith the last couple years or there abouts), I was always put off or weirded out by Baptists and evangelicals who worked Jesus into each and every conversation.

    They were incapable or unwilling to simply shoot the breeze. Everything had to be about Jesus or have some hidden theology lesson. This drove me nuts. As wonderful as Jesus is, I did not want to talk about Jesus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    I think it’s possible to enjoy life without making every thing about Jesus.

    Dealing with Jesus All The Time Christians is like some of my relatives, who are retired from the military, who, if you watch a movie with them, have to analyze every frame and nit pick apart every weapons, tank, ship, or aircraft scene to tell you why Hollywood did not get some tid bit realistic or correct enough. I ask them why they can’t just enjoy the movie.

    From the OP:

    “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 am not Bouyer, but I’m over 40 years of age and have not had sex yet (waiting until marriage) and am not Roman Catholic, I have a normal sex drive and there is no such thing as a “gift of celibacy” or a “special grace” in this area. What is it you want to know about celibacy?

    • I can totally empathize, but I think this stems from something which I have been thinking about, but have not yet put into words. The other month I had the opportunity to listen to and speak with Tonya Luhrmann, author of “When God Talks Back”. It was very interesting, but she made the poignant observation that “god” (used loosely to refer to any of the three parts of the trinity) is sort of real and not real at the same time – as in, God is real, but when I feel like selling my home and moving into a crack den to “share the gospel” this is also somehow God. One of the problems I have with the incessant Jesus talk is that I believe Jesus was a real person. He was crucified, buried and rose again. He ascended into heaven, etc. etc. I’ll be damned if I’ll sing “Jesus I am so in love with you” (pun intended). Another thing that gives me hives is this ridiculous “gospel” brand that is getting stale fast. Everything is now “gospelly”. Parenting? Gospel parenting! Finances? Gospel finances? Ethical issues? How this is sue is really a gospel issue (pardon me while I smuggle works righteousness in through the back door). You know, this is one thing I can say about the local mega church – I have plenty of friends there, and I can actually just shoot the breeze with them and only bring up Jesus when it is appropriate.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Even at my most Christian-y (I have been disillusioned with the Christian faith the last couple years or there abouts), I was always put off or weirded out by Baptists and evangelicals who worked Jesus into each and every conversation.

      They were incapable or unwilling to simply shoot the breeze. Everything had to be about Jesus or have some hidden theology lesson. This drove me nuts. As wonderful as Jesus is, I did not want to talk about Jesus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      Reminds me of those media interviews with the Boston Marathon Bombers’ uncle last year. How when he’d ask his deadbeat nephews “When are you going to get a job?”, they’d always answer with “AL’LAH! AL’LAH! AL’LAH! ISLAM! ISLAM! ISLAM!” Couldn’t change their minds and wouldn’t change the subject. “AL’LAH! AL’LAH! AL’LAH! ISLAM! ISLAM! ISLAM!” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      And then there was the Taliban. Who tried to force an entire country to “talk about God 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” By force.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Dealing with Jesus All The Time Christians is like some of my relatives, who are retired from the military, who, if you watch a movie with them, have to analyze every frame and nit pick apart every weapons, tank, ship, or aircraft scene to tell you why Hollywood did not get some tid bit realistic or correct enough. I ask them why they can’t just enjoy the movie.

      There’s a reason I go to movies alone, or stream stuff from YouTube alone in my room.

      Otherwise, instead of the soundtrack I get a nonstop lecture about How They Got This Wrong, How They Got That Wrong, How They Got This Wrong, How They Got That Wrong….

      • Ha ha. I bug my wife to death by pointing out all the weapons inaccuracies in Hollywood :-) My all time favorite is when someone palms a block and makes a thumbing motion at the back combined with an ominous “click” on the soundtrack. Um, Glock’s are striker fired; they don’t have hammers. And once the weapon is charged, it is completely silent until the big kaboom. My wife and I now watch 24 on separate screens…

        • Rick Ro. says:

          LOL! If the hammer-strike of a Glock is your only credibility problem with “24,” I’ll share my list! I usually watch that show now for the humor, not for the thrills. But I do love my “24″…

  8. Dave Mattingly says:

    My preacher warned us against being so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good.

    • My preacher gave us the same warning.

      And he also gave us the other side of that same coin;

      ‘Don’t be so earthly-minded that you are no heavenly good.’

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        You’re talking a matter of balance. Both are out-of-balance, but in opposite directions.

        And when you have to opposite True Believers, you get the old Star Trek episode with the half-white and half-black aliens eternally at each other’s throats.
        “DON’T BE SO HEAVENLY-MINDED YOU’RE NO EARTHLY GOOD! DIE, HERETIC!”
        “DON’T BE SO EARTHLY-MINDED YOU’RE NO HEAVENLY GOOD! DIE, HERETIC!”

        “The Devil sends temptations in matched opposing pairs, so in fleeing one we embrace the other.”
        – C.S.Lewis

        • HUG where is that brilliant Lewis quote from?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Not really sure these days. My memory has always been haphazard, and these days it’s more like swiss cheese. It could even be Chesterton; I used to read both him and Lewis back-to-back and the two often covered similar subjects. After a while it all blurs together.

            Whatever the source, it’s Wisdom Literature.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        But by your own theology Heaven has no use for you… so I do not understand how the second warning applies.

    • “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3.1-3)

    • I’m not sure I like that saying. The book imonk mentioned in the post, Surprised By Hope, really makes it hard to think that way.

      The idea that heaven is radically “other” than earth is imported from Platonism. Christianity (and Judaism) do not admit such a separation.

      In other words, the only way to think about a Christian heaven (or New Heavens and New Earth, more accurately) is to do so in such a way that makes you a lot of earthly good. Otherwise, you must have got heaven wrong. The future has infected the present. The Kingdom has come “on earth as in heaven.”

  9. I feel better than ever about my blog’s banner line “God honoring, Christ centered.” Jesus Christ understood humanity up close and personal. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” While the evangelicals mentioned in this post are looking toward God, talking about God, focused on nothing else but God, we find Jesus eating with tax collectors, talking to women, touching lepers, feeding the hungry and visiting Samaritans. Once again looking at Jesus and imitating his examples is our best course of action. He is the image of the invisible God in Colossians 1 and the exact imprint of his nature in Hebrews 1.

    Loving God is great. You know what God loves? Humanity.

  10. I heard John Piper speak in chapel services when I was in college (six years ago – he was there for three consecutive services). I don’t remember what he talked about but left with the sense that he was extremely unbalanced. Not psychiatrically speaking, but that he had gone completely off the rails intellectually and spiritually.

    Jesus said that he came so that we could have LIFE to the full but Piper and many other neo-Calvinists seem to just be an updated version of the old-time fundamentalists. Everything is evil and only goin’ to church, gettin’ baptized, and praisin’ Jesus is right. In the neo-Calvinists’ case, everything is evil and can’t be redeemed – it has to be destroyed and the only thing worth looking at is God himself, which comes to resemble staring into the abyss of nothingness.

    • That’s why I love the old Irenaeus quote: “For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.”

      It’s often quoted as “the glory of God is man fully alive,” which I also love (and kind of wish was the original quote), but the authentic quote holds up well. Not only are we deficient in a theology of incarnation, as some mentioned above, but we are also deficient in affirming the image of God in humanity.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I like the way you say this Sean. The difficulty is putting it into a framework we can understand, but if we could do that, through reason and intellect alone, the truth would vanish.

        • Thanks David. I agree. Your articulation reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ dying words about Rome in the movie ‘Gladiator’: “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile.”

          I have been reading lots from Brian Zahnd lately, who tends to appeal to beauty and experience as a sort of framework for this. Isn’t the sum of Chrisitan life better lived out than explained? I think it was Thomas à Kempis who said “I’d rather feel contrition than know the definition thereof.”

          This is also why I like the Wesleyan quadrilateral as an interpretive grid, as it affirms reason & experience as valid approaches, along with scripture & tradition, though it’s not without its own weaknesses.

          But those being addressed in this post would be suspicious of all of the above, invoking the old standby of “man-centered theology.”

      • I totally agree, Sean. I have begun to appreciate how present God is, through faith, in the things he’s made – in the food we eat (especially when we grow it ourselves, I think!), in the natural world we see (I live in New York – lots of natural world here!), and in our human relationships. Of course human society has created all kinds of things that are a distraction from God but there are so many good things in this life that he’s given us to enjoy. It’s a shame that someone’s theology might cause them to miss out on enjoying what God gives us because they’re too busy enjoying God.

        • I know folks who, upon arriving with their children at the beach or the mountains, will make everyone sit down for a sermon and an hour of devotions before they’re allowed to enjoy what God has given them.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      This touches upon my comment earlier on, the one that mentions the Star Wars III line, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” As I read and hear comments by Piper and R. C. Sproul and some others, it seems like their drift toward absolutism has tarnished any flavoring of grace they might have once had in them. A couple of friends of mine are going to a conference in June (Sproul is the featured speaker) and they showed me the conference schedule. Every single topic is absolutist. Very “us vs. them,” very “we must uphold the Truth,” very “we must fight the battle and draw the lines against the culture and the world.” I mentioned to one of my friends, “Do you know the problem I have with this? I don’t see any of Jesus in it. Not one single break-out session with Jesus’ name in the title.”

      I fear what that kind of Christian that conference is creating.

      • Rick Ro, are you making an absolute statement? Just asking.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Yes, I’m fully aware that making a statement about absolutism is absolutist….LOL. Oh well…If God can’t create a rock that He can’t pick up, I guess I’m allowed to make an absolutist statement about absolutism.

          • That was a good question to ask the priest when he visited our parochial school classes. At any rate, questions like that took the heat off talk of purgatory and hell.

          • Yep, the favorite weapon of the absolutist is to point out their opponents’ absolutism, thereby subtlety deviating the conversation from the content of the matter being discussed to the method of discussion.

            And then with the presuppositions. Goodness gracious, may be be delivered from conversations with presuppositional apologists.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            That was a good question to ask the priest when he visited our parochial school classes.

            Also covered (with more elaboration) by George Carlin in his “Class Clown” album.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Here’s what I’m referring to:

        http://www.ligonier.org/events/2014-west-coast-conference/schedule/?

        So someone look this conference schedule over for me and let me know if I’m wrong in fearing what kind of Christian this conference might be creating.

        • Not sure what kind Christian this conference will create that is not already created. I see your point, though. My response is that I will not attend it.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Thanks, CC. Several of my friends are gung-ho over this and I’m just trying to periodically share what I think is a blind-spot in this sort of conference and the themes being promoted. So far unsuccessfully. I appreciate that you sense a bit of what I feel.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          So someone look this conference schedule over for me and let me know if I’m wrong in fearing what kind of Christian this conference might be creating.

          Just with a quick skim, it sounds like All Culture War, All the Time.
          (Especially SEXUAL Culture War.)

      • I get a kick out of that Star Wars line. George Lucas is just not a good screenwriter… or one who knows how to avoid logical fallacies!

        Seriously, though, Jesus didn’t command his disciples to win public debates but to live differently. I’m not saying Amish differently but the church at its best is a community that does things differently, not just an Enlightenment organization that believes different things.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Oh, I agree with you about George Lucas’ screenwriting abilities. Some of the lines of dialog, especially in SW II, are atrocious. I’m glad he’s kicked SW VII over to people who can write!

          That said, there were some elements of SW III that I found very compelling spiritually. I just watched it the other night (I just finished indoctrinating my daughter to the whole series!) and found it much more enjoyable and watchable than the first time I saw it (many moons ago when it first came out). Obviously my age (50-ish) makes me a fan of the original three.

          • I still have yet to see III; I and II turned me off the idea. But perhaps it is worth watching?

    • “Jesus said that he came so that we could have LIFE to the full but Piper and many other neo-Calvinists seem to just be an updated version of the old-time fundamentalists. Everything is evil and only goin’ to church, gettin’ baptized, and praisin’ Jesus is right. In the neo-Calvinists’ case, everything is evil and can’t be redeemed – it has to be destroyed and the only thing worth looking at is God himself, which comes to resemble staring into the abyss of nothingness.”

      It’s easy to criticize Piper and other so-called neo-Calvinists for focusing so much on the glory of God that they–supposedly–lose perspective and go off the deep end to achieve it. And it’s easy for Calvinists (“neo,” classical,” whatever) to do the same with regards those who are not Calvinists. In the end no one proves anything except to state their biased perceptions of things. And perceptions are nothing more than particular myopic views of reality filtered through our own flawed biases, affections, paradigms and ignorance, at times.

      Even Michael Spencer admitted that “My thoughts are incomplete…Something is wrong and I feel it.” Could it be that Michael was stating his perceptions which by definition are subject to the same biases as the rest of us? From what I’ve read of his views over the years it seems that his thinking was shifting. If he were around today I wonder what his views would be? Would he, too, be going over the edge in some particular direction?

      Jesus mostly criticized the blatantly hypocritical religious leaders of His day. Other than those guys, is it asking too much to not presume “stuff” from other believers, to not make apocalyptic predictions for the church with regards their teachings, and simply be content with our own convictions? This is not to say we should not state our convictions, of course, but that I believe it should be done in a nonjudgmental manner.

      “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. … The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14.13, 22)

      • I think it is good to have balance – and more importantly, to show grace. Of course I don’t agree with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, and that is ok, because they answer to Him, not me. On the other hand, I think Michael was correct to note how our ideas, especially taken to an extreme, can influence our behavior. After all, Jesus didn’t say, “They will know you are my disciples by your Correct Doctrine.” For me personally, reformed (baptist) theology was a huge help in the transition from fundamentalism, and I am thankful for being shown the doctrines of grace. Although my study of Scripture has led me to a different tradition, I think we need to be careful to recognize the good in various traditions, even as we recognize how some themes can negatively affect how we live out our Christian witness.

        • Very well said. Although I am more concerned about charity with respects our fellow believers than I am with balance. One need not be balanced to avoid being extreme but simply knowing when to apply the brakes.

          For me it was not Reformed Baptists who introduced me to the doctrines of grace but the writings of Jonathan Edwards (another favorite “whipping boy” in these here parts). And that was my ticket out of Evangelical Fundamentalism to Reformed Evangelicalism.

      • CalvinCuban, of course judgment always comes back on our own heads. But I think it is different when someone is such a public figure within Christianity. I don’t mean to say that he is a worse sinner than I am but merely that I would not encourage anyone to spend too much time reading what he’s written.

        I’m not an apocalyptic guy. If Christian teachers could destroy the church, there would have been many who would have done it long before John Piper. But too many things he’s said are too bizarre to ignore and I think it’s valid to point these things out.

        • Wesley, I’m all in favor of what is commonly referred to as “constructive criticism”; I have benefited from that, whether directed at me or my beliefs in general. But this sort of stuff is tipping the scales towards ad hominem, and there’s nothing constructive about that.

          I have come to the conclusion that as saint sinners or, to quote Archimandrite Tikhon (just read about him in Fr. Ernesto’s blog and ordered his book), we Christians are “Everyday Saints” or ” Unholy Holy People.” And if so, it should come as no surprise to any of us that we should expect both bad and good words coming out of our mouths.

          If anything, the surprise is that any of us has anything good to say at all, for “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person … out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15.18-19) Therefore, if a person has something good or holy or saintly to say I should take the time to listen to it and commend him/her for it.

          In John Piper’s case, yes, there are times when he should have thought more prior to speaking. Even so, he has many good things to say which have had a positive influence on my life and that of others I am acquainted with. And for that I am grateful, quick to praise, and slow to criticize.

          • SottoVoce says:

            Okay, then, here is some constructive criticism for you.

            You plainly identify very strongly with the writings of Piper and other evangelicals and have found a home among them. That’s great. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone else articulates a point that you agree with or have always thought but just can’t put into words. Many of your fellow iMonkers, on the other hand, have found those writings to be problematic and even damaging in their own lives for one reason or another. It is okay to like things and say so. It is NOT okay to insist that your positive experience with these concepts is more important and valid than a negative one and that people who have negative experiences with things you like have to keep quiet about them in your presence. You seem to have a hard time separating criticism of things that you like from criticism of you personally, and it’s becoming an obstacle to discussion around here. You made a wonderfully nuanced and graceful critique of the Catholic tradition you came out of recently, and I wish that you could extend that same nuance and grace to hurting people who critique your current tradition instead of trying to shut them down or argue that all criticism everywhere is invalid.

          • SottoVoce, I don’t think I understand what you men by “Many of your fellow iMonkers, on the other hand, have found those writings to be problematic and even damaging in their own lives for one reason or another.” Why/how would anyone’s writing be damaging to anyone in particular? What is it about John Piper, since he’s the fellow in question here, which has damaged anyone’s life. Good grief, are some people that fragile? Look, you can always put his book down and pick up something more to your liking, right? At any rate, I read what I like–and some of what I don’t like–and don’t read what I hate. So far no one’s writings have damaged me.

            By the way, I left Roman Catholicism over 40 years ago, not recently. And I left not because I disagreed with them and began agreeing with the Protestants but simply because I became disinterested in spiritual things.

  11. This is so interesting because it misses a completely different but parallel thread of reformed theology — the creation mandate and the incarnation.

    I was a member of a Reformed Baptist church through my collage years and was thoroughly exposed to the doctrines of grace a la the Westminster Confession et. al. After college I ended up at a church in the Detroit area where I was introduced to reformed thinking God’s love of creation. The main text that influenced me along these lines was “Creation Regained” by Albert Wolters. (Highly recommend).

    The gist of it is that the fracture line in creation resulting from sin is not one the separates the “good” things in creation (i.e. church, prayer, bible, marriage, truth, etc) from the “bad” things of creation (sex, alcohol, work, dancing, art). Instead, the fracture line goes right up the middle of each of these spheres so that the effects of sin bend each sphere of human activity away from God. So the question isn’t about determining which activities or thoughts are good or bad. Instead, we need to be aware of sins effects on church just as much as sins’ effects on art. The purpose of this is to become agents of Christ for the redemption of his creation.

    This model has been enormously influential on my approach to living as a human in Christ. If the topic of this post interests you, I strongly recommend Wolters’ book.

    • Thanks for the info. Just purchased it on Kindle. Look forward to reading it.

    • Damaris says:

      “Instead, the fracture line goes right up the middle of each of these spheres.” Like Solzhenitsyn, who found that the dividing line between good and evil ran right through the middle of every human heart.

  12. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    ” 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”

    This is simply the best description of the fault in Evangelicalism that I have ever read.

    “I see the erosion of significance in endeavor after endeavor, area after area of evangelicalism”

    Exactly. To them nothing matters, everything is trash.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “It’s All Gonna Burn…”
      So why bother?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        No, it is much worse, and more insidious than that – it isn’t just that is doesn’t matter, but caring – really caring – is wrong and misguided. Love your neighbor as yourself simply doesn’t mean anything from this perspective.. so it is easily to righteously proceed caring meaninglessly.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Still not exactly sure what you mean (especially that string of adverbs at the end), but sounds like some sort of “Chrsitian Nihilism”, AKA…
          “Just like Nihilism, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          “The difference between atheism and nihilism is the difference between not believing in something and believing in Nothing.” — Chesterton

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Autocorrect; the Evangelical world-viiew makes it is easy to righteously proceed with “caring” meaninglessly. Meaning that once caring does not mean anything, it is easy to do. And since caring for ones neighbor is a divine directive – those for whom it comes easily are “righteous”.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And those being “cared for” become nothing more than props and background extras for the performance of My Righteous Life.

            Like Kyle’s Mom activists and their Solidarity with the Oppressed Cause du Jour.

    • What I want to know is how you can paint with a meter-wide broad brush without making a mess.

      • CalvinCuban, Michael always liked to color outside the lines.

        I’ll add this quote of Michael’s to Adams, above:

        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?

        These may be descriptions of a fault in evangelicalism, as Adam suggested. But I’m afraid it sounds more like gnosticism. Michael didn’t come right out and say that.

        Other commenters here have noticed similar things. Wesley said, “In the neo-Calvinists’ case, everything is evil and can’t be redeemed – it has to be destroyed and the only thing worth looking at is God himself…”

        David Cornwell and Sean had a good discussion about the incarnation, and the image of God doctrine, and where human activity (and grace?) fit into this.

        I clicked on Rick Ro’s link to the Ligonier conference and I see what he means. It’s “us against them” theology.

        Should we squeeze out everything except what’s God, even if grace goes out with it?

        • ” But I’m afraid it sounds more like gnosticism. Michael didn’t come right out and say that.”

          Turns out he did (calling it dualism, at least), as did J. Michael Jones (the Christian Monist—well, he would pick up on that), in comments to the May 2009 post that Headless Unicorn Guy linked to, below.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Should we squeeze out everything except what’s God, even if grace goes out with it?

          The Taliban tried that when they won their Culture War and ruled Afghanistan by the Will of God. Look at the results.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Should we squeeze out everything except what’s God, even if grace goes out with it?

          The fundamental error is really that it cannot be done, not by us. As incarnate physical beings we cannot “squeeze out” the wold. We can only pretend to have done so, as no matter how hard we squeeze more “world” flows right in behind it to fill the space. Militantism, fear, gated-communities, private schools, “christian” radio stations, “christian” book publishers [and all manner of other businesses], prayer [& gossip] chains, … are all “world” no matter how they are labeled.

          The reality is that is easier to hold up a lamp in the darkness when ones arms are open then while one is attempting to squeeze the last bit of Crest from the deflated tube.

          I agree that it is a kind of gnosticism, but Evangelicalism *is* gnostic, it is kit-n-kin. The oddity is that Gnosticism usually views the physical as bad/tainted and the spiritual as good. But in Evangelicalism the physical is bad and the spiritual is suspect [it could be demonic]; it is assault from all sides.

          • The oddity is that Gnosticism usually views the physical as bad/tainted and the spiritual as good. But in Evangelicalism the physical is bad and the spiritual is suspect [it could be demonic]; it is assault from all sides.

            I’m afraid you’re right, as long as we don’t include God and the bible with the “spiritual.” But then, 1John4 does say to test the spirits, because they don’t all come from God—so there is at least a valid reason for suspicion.

            The problem is, we tend to throw grace out with the bathwater. Anything that resembles mystery, the mystical, the contemplative, the monastic (see Chaplain Mike’s post of today, 5/13) is automatically suspect, and with that goes art, music, poetry, philosophy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The oddity is that Gnosticism usually views the physical as bad/tainted and the spiritual as good. But in Evangelicalism the physical is bad and the spiritual is suspect [it could be demonic]; it is assault from all sides.

            “SPIRITUAL BAD, PHYSICAL BAAAAAAD”?

            Then what’s left?
            Grinning Nihilism (with or without a Christian Coat of Paint)?

            I’m afraid you’re right, as long as we don’t include God and the bible with the “spiritual.”

            Tunnel Vision on GOD(TM)?
            Tunnel vision on any Cosmic-level cause is usually the sign of a DANGEROUS fanatic. Until The Cause absorbs and digests them like a bloated spider and they cease to be human in any way. An empty shell of a body, filled only with whatever they’ve tunnel-visioned upon.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        What broad brush? Evangelicalism is not a huge population; it is a minority within a minority. It is simply so terribly insular that from the inside it appears to be a vast and diverse empire; from the outside it is a shrilly whistling teapot. On any given Sunday [based on 2008 data] about 9% of adult Americans attended services that self-identify as “evangelical” – and even that number is high as many organizations cling to the “evangelical” label even though the identify and political power-center of the movement has moved on from them.

        • Adam, singling out Evangelicals as the bane of Christendom–regardless of what percent of Christianity it represents–is both uncharitable and inaccurate and will do nothing to unify the body of Christ; quite the opposite, actually. I am an Evangelical, my church is Evangelical, most of the churches in my city are Evangelical, and yet much of the diatribe spouted here in no way reflects either the sentiments or behavior of those I know and associate with. In fact, I find both vice & virtue, good & bad in every denomination and tradition I know. That’s just the way it is in a body made up of people who are simultaneously saints & sinners.

          But if you and others sincerely believe that the love of Christ is to be manifested by way of severely criticizing you fellow Christians and that the cross will be uplifted as a result of such talk, and that the body of Christ will be unified as a result of such maligning, then please do what is in your heart–and expect to reap what you sow.

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Here is the previous appearance of this essay on Internet Monk, from May 2009. The reactions and comment threads from that time could be interesting:
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/on-being-too-god-centered

    And before that, in August 2007, IMonk apparently first coined the phrase:
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/answers-to-can-you-be-too-god-centered-what-you-can-learn-from-reactions-to-a-provocative-question

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Thanks for posting the links, HUG. I liked this, from five years ago…
      ——————

      Brian says:
      May 30, 2009 at 9:15 am
      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.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “For God to have supreme importance, NOTHING else could be allowed to have any importance.”

        I had a comment in that thread likening THAT version of “Glory of God” to Lord Farquar from Shrek (an acondrophlasic dwarf) decreeing that all his subjects shall have their legs amputated so nobody could ever be taller than their Lord.

  14. I’m reminded of two quotes. One from the Dream of Gerontius:

    “Glory to Him who from the mire,
    In patient length of days,
    Elaborated into life
    A people to His praise!”

    The mire is where we come from and what continues to be, much to our chagrin, crucial to a grounded faith. Without the conflict we are not human and hence cannot be godly. Extremism denies the dirt on the side of the good guys.

    The other was alleged by some to be the final words of Voltaire when asked by a priest to renounce Satan:

    “Now is not the time for making new enemies.”

    There is no room for such good humor in the extremist mentality and that lack of lightness is always one of its hallmarks.