Frankly, I am. But how to get there? It was probably in reading Brennan Manning that I first put 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.”
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.
Capturing the Low Ground by Wade Bradshaw
Not Your Father’s L’Abri in Christianity Today
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.