Searching for a Better God?

Frankly, I am. But how to get there? It was probably in reading Brennan Manning that I first puhttps://i0.wp.com/www.splinteredlightbooks.com/slb/images/items/120x1000/7827.JPGt words to the need to ‘heal my image of God’ – to renew my inner (and social) imaging of God from sub-divine images of domination and spite and terror that had unwittingly accumulated around it throughout my life and upbringing. Everything from the churches we attend to the TV preachers we watch to the ways we read the Bible can warp our view of the God whom the author of 1 John exclaims “is love.” Healing this image has for me involved loving fellowships, grace in strangers’ presence, more attentive reading of Scripture, and time spent in the fire and darkness of contemplative silence.

With that said, voices like Peter Rollins remind us that graven ideologies are just as insidious (and idolatrous) as graven images when allowed to harden into certitude; talk about God can only be provisional at best, seeing as God is inscrutable, ineffable, and dwelling in a light unapproachable to our consciousness. Even the revelation of God in Jesus obscures as much as it discloses. This critique against holding too-tightly to one’s view of God holds equally to calloused, fearful legalists as it does blissed-out grace heads. As Walter Brueggemann says, “God is irascible.”

It is with both of these powerful perspectives that Wade Bradshaw’s important new book Searching for a Better God argues. It’s brand new from the always-eclectic Authentic Media.

For previous generations, the key question among spiritual quest-ians was ‘Does God exist?’ Christianity’s apologia, sermons, and defenses were geared to this one question. For the current generation, however, the question is shifting: It’s not always so much ‘Does God exist,’ but ‘Why does God matter’? And, ‘What kind of God is God?’ For a generation aware of human trafficking and AIDS ravaging Africa and Tsunamis that kill thousands at random, the question of God’s goodness, or God’s morality takes center stage. Is God good or is God cruel?

There are, of course, many ways of approaching this question. In Searching For A Better God, Bradshaw argues that the God we think we know is a mistaken caricature and his nature is misunderstood. So far, so good eh? Manning, Marcus Borg and Paul Young would agree. But Bradshaw takes God’s questioners to the task in a somewhat different way. He feels that God’s interlocutors have concluded that they are actually morally superior to God and that God is less than adequate.  Even some in the church, Bradshaw charges, have begun to suspect this same thing.

Bradshaw, who is Reformed in spiritual orientation, does not equivocate: “This growing suspicion that God exists but is not worthy of our affection or devotion is subtly robbing the world of its one true hope.  God cannot be a source of hope, not because He isn’t real, but because He would not be good to know and to live with forever.  This is what I call the New Story.”

Bradshaw depicts this New Story in three questions:

  • Is God Angry?
  • Is God Distant?
  • Is God a Bully?

Shockingly, for Bradshaw the answer to all three may indeed be yes, but this very divine passion serves us well.  Bradshaw highlights a need for revelation rather than reimagination.

In the author’s estimation, the Church Universal today is responding to culture’s three questions in one of three ways. One group doesn’t want to listen to the suspicions of the New Story at all, thereby refusing to pay them any attention. (The fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals – and presumably some in his own Reformed camp – would fit here) The second group, persuaded by the New Story, sees the need to modify the old teachings and bring them into line with what is considered obviously moral today.  (I think he’d put emerging and progressive Christians in this camp) But, there is a third path that Bradshaw claims is the Christian way because it follows God’s example…the culturally-savvy Calvinista that produces such incognito delights as Paste Magazine and Asthmatic Kitty records, for instance. Not to mention more-overt ordinary joes like Why We’re Not Emergent authors Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, the latter of whom emailed me the other day and is the first ever person to ask for his church (University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan) to be removed from zoecarnate.com’s church directory! Oh, the unrepentant emergent sinners that must have been darkening their door! But I digress…

“The third path,” to return to the matter immediately at hand, “listens to the morality of the day and questions its common sense. Our task is to answer the many suspicions of the New Story and to find out where the suspicions and questions are coming from.  This hard way is the Christian path to wisdom and hope.”

[An aside: Its interesting just how many different people can utilize the idea of the third way.]

I think most of my blog readers will find Searching for a Better God a challenging read, particularly if you’re not a conservative Calvinist. But don’t let this keep you from opening the book. You should know that Bradshaw’s brand of Reformed faith comes out in the tradition of L’Abri, the 1960s family of Christian communes set up by winsome evangelical intellectual and cultural critic Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s analyses of culture-at-large make me break out in hives, but I can’t fault time for not going out into culture, asking questions, and posing questions in return from a stance of (presumed) Christian orthodoxy. While I may not agree with his cultural theology, I can’t fault the overall L’Abri process. Bradshaw is a worthy standard-bearer to this approach, and deserves to be listened to.

Related:

Capturing the Low Ground by Wade Bradshaw

Not Your Father’s L’Abri in Christianity Today

Pheonix Rising review

Apologizing for God – a review at Sensual Jesus

Agapetheism by Kevin Beck

L’Abri compatriot Udo Middelmann‘s The Innocence of God.  A similarly-provocative L’Abri-related tome from Authentic, attempting to balance Calvinism and Open Theism with regards to God’s character and activity in the world. I helped edit this one; it was quite the experience.

17 Responses to “Searching for a Better God?”


  1. 1 Benjamin Williams November 3, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Psalms 22 is a reading that I repeat often. No “reason” for God’s actions and morals there either, just saying that evil is “winning” from 1 to 21 then starting in 22 to 31 God is just and worthy of praise. But I don’t know what God “did” between 21 and 22; maybe He didn’t “do” anything?

  2. 2 Charlotte Fairchild November 3, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    What is the best way to reach you Mike Morrell?

    Facebook?

  3. 3 Jason Clark November 3, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Mike, a thought provoking post, thank you.

    In a wester world that is turned in on itself with all sense of identity being individualistic and solipsistic, we are supremely the centre of life, and all meaning and identity is made around that.

    We become the object of life, and God our subject, for us to make sense of him. Yet Christianity is a call to an exchange of identity, in losing self to find self. In the de-centering of us so that God is the object and we are his subjects. We find our identity in that exchange, and are able to better perceive who God is from that altered reality.

    I think one of the biggest challenges to our apologetics, is the anthropological scandal of Christianity. That we are not free to be whatever we want in our humanity, but that Jesus is the basis for our humanity.

    Within Jesus the body of Christ is a plurality, far more so than we often posit. And in his humanity we see his agency exchange for a life where we are the subject of God the creator.

    And within that as Augustine said, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The more turned inwards we become, around ourselves the less we are able to be close to ourselves, no wonder we struggle to perceive who God is from that collapsed perspective.

    Our views are provisional. Yet Jesus reveals God to us, as he really is towards us, and we can have confidence in that.

  4. 4 Sarah-Ji November 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Can you explain why Paste and Asthmatic Kitty would be considered Calvinistas? I’m not challenging that assertion; just curious. You seem to have an inside scoop on that or something.

  5. 5 zoecarnate November 3, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    No inside scoop – well maybe. ‘Inside’ rarely feels inside when you’re there without trying. I know (or at least strongly suspect) that Sufjan Stevens is Reformed/PCA/Presbyterian, as are the PCA pastor/wife couple he just produced an album for, The Welcome Wagon. And I have friends who go to the church in Atlanta where Paste Magazine founder Josh Jackson goes – also PCA. And it was Paste, in my opinion, which largely put Sufjan on the map.

    But please don’t take this to be some kind of conspiracy theory! I grew up PCA, and encountered some of the most creative souls I’ve yet to meet in conservative evangelicalism. I have the utmost respect for Paste, AK, Sufjan, etc. May the Creative Calvinista Tribe increase!

  6. 6 zoecarnate November 3, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Sarah – beautiful work on your site by the way!

  7. 7 Sarah-Ji November 3, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Mike. I found this article on the Onion’s A.V. club that interviews Sufjan, and apparently he goes to an Anglo-Catholic church and was born into a cult w/ Islamic roots (hence his name). That makes sense to me, since I’ve always considered Sufjan and the Danielson Famile somewhat uncategorizable when it comes to their faith in terms of their theology or denomination. But that could just be due to my own lack of knowledge (or lack of desire to pigeonhole them).

    P.S. Thanks for visiting my site!

  8. 8 zoecarnate November 3, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Well there you go!

    And here I add to the mythology, saying confidently that he’s PCA. Silly me. Well to my credit, I don’t mention Sufjan in my original post, so hopefully my ignorance will be confined to this here comments section, where only my most beloved readers tread.

    But I’ll stick to my guns about AK and Paste.

    Thanks for the clarification!

    Mike

  9. 9 donkeylips November 7, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    You plan on coming back to finish that convo at Derek Webb or are you going to mystically disappear like a typical emergent?

  10. 10 zoecarnate November 7, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    What a lovely monicker you have, Donkeylips. While I’d rather have the conversation here, I shall make it to the DW message board asap – since you asked so nicely.😉

  11. 11 donkeylips November 7, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Sorry its just a bit annoying when someone walks in, toots his own blog horn, gives his opinion, and walks away, wanting the people to follow him back like a emergent pied piper.

  12. 12 zoecarnate November 7, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    As opposed to, like, a Reformed John Piper?

    Let’s not restrict the interaction to little ‘ol me – anyone who reads this blog is welcome to go over to the Derek Webb discussion board thread on this book.

    I was strongly considering not going back after being called ‘profoundly stupid’ right off the bat – it gave me too many flashbacks to my Reformed youth. But I suppose not everyone on the thread was being insulting with those whom they disagreed. So feel free to join me…

  13. 13 donkeylips November 7, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    They are indeed welcome to interact, but the fact remains that you are the one who began the conversation. You weren’t called profoundly stupid, your statement that “Even the revelation of God in Jesus obscures as much as it discloses.” was called, and is, just that. If you think there is some intellectual weight to your argument, then go back and defend it.

  14. 14 donkeylips November 10, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    I was looking more for you to defend. It is typical emergent though to start a discussion and then walk away when you get bored/you’re confronted with questions that may require you to give a concrete answer based on more than your feelings. We’re definitely fans of conversation and it does take thick skin to stay in those convos at times. We also don’t dodge disagreement, there’s alot of iron sharpening iron going on. What we can’t stand, though is someone advertising their blog, starting a controversial conversation, then walking away.

  15. 15 Wade Bradshaw November 14, 2008 at 12:37 am

    I do not think that I have googled myself for quite some time, but I did want to read briefly in the blogsphere about reactions to SFABG. Thank you zoecarnate for a fair hearing, and most of your assumptions about me (not rocket science) are fairly accurate. Anyway good hunting.
    Cordially,
    Wade


  1. 1 If anyone wants to weigh in… « zoecarnate Trackback on November 7, 2008 at 2:13 pm
  2. 2 Sleeve Notes - Searching for a Better God « Sleeve Notes 101 Trackback on November 24, 2008 at 9:18 pm

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