Category: The Nature of God

Thy Kingdom Come engraved on a gun shooting innocent people

Sermon: The Image of the Invisible God

The following is my transcript from a result sermon. It was the third in a series walking through Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, with this one covering Article 2: Jesus Christ. It has only been lightly edited to remove a couple names from our congregation, add an embedded video, and generally change to more web-friendly formatting.

Intro (2 min)

A couple of years ago, Emily and I had some friends over in our apartment. All of us were Christians, but with a variety of traditions and theological leanings. Somebody – I think it was Emily – asked everybody why they were a Christian. We had been sort of talking about forming a small group together, so it wasn’t out of the blue. Remarkably, nobody had the same answer. We heard the philosophical arguments, the historical arguments, their own experiences which they could only attribute to the supernatural. We heard a variant on Pascal’s wager, basically that if God exists, you want to be on God’s side. We heard somebody acknowledging their brokenness and need for a saviour.

My answer was that I am a Christian because of Jesus. All those other answers provided that night were probably true for me at some point or another, and they are all still true to some degree or another other than the Pascal’s Wager one.

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful GospelMy first encounter with Brad Jersak was in the documentary Hellbound? which I routinely recommend. He, like many of the other people in that movie, left a positive impression on me. When I saw the opportunity to pick up a book of his called A More Christlike God then, I jumped on the chance. I’m glad I did.

There is a significant and important theological trend in recent years to reclaim the doctrine of Incarnation: that Jesus is the full representation of God. Greg Boyd as one of my biggest influences stresses this point a lot, and Brian Zahnd often says it something like this (paraphrasing):

God is exactly like Jesus. He has always been like Jesus. We didn’t always know that, but now we do.

This is the first book I have seen, however, that explicitly deals with that idea and a few of its subtopics in depth. Most people in theory affirm the idea that God is like Jesus – after all, it is pretty clear in both the Bible and the earliest Christian creeds. If you don’t affirm it, you aren’t an orthodox Christian, by definition.

We Believe: Pneumatology

Pneumatology is definitely one of the more neglected domains of systematic theology. This will be a long post with a few sub-discussions. Here’s Bruxy’s main message:

We Believe: Theology Proper

Let’s continue with some comments as we go through The Meeting House’s current series We Believe. Next up: theology proper. The original sermon and the After Party are linked below, and most of my thoughts come more from the After Party even though the main sermon was clearly the most important point in discussing theology proper.

Week 3: Theology Proper

I generally don’t get very excited to talk about the Trinity or the various attempts to simplify the Trinity that have been deemed heresy: modalism (1 God, different modes), tritheism (3 gods), or subordinationism (1 god with 2 created subordinates).

Bruxy, as he is very good at doing, focused on the important part, though: God is love. That is the start point, the end point, and every point in between for a good understanding of theology. God is not wrath, although sometimes love looks like wrath. God is not justice, although love does necessitate true world-restoring justice. God is not holiness, although God’s radical love does clearly set him apart as different than us. God is love.


The Medium Is The Message: Text and Incarnation

I’m generally not a fan of referring to the Bible as “the Word of God” as many evangelical friends like to do. I happily call it Scripture. I’m not in any way denying that it was breathed out by God and is authoritative, useful for teaching, discipline, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). I also don’t necessarily argue that there is anything inherently heretical or sinful about what most people mean when they use the phrase to talk about the Bible: simply that God inspires its words (like I just said).

The Bible Says…

But I still won’t use that phrase myself and I would generally suggest that others steer away from it. The simple answer for why is that the New Testament doesn’t identify itself as the Word of God. Again, it will talk about authority or usefulness or inspiration. It will cite Old Testament texts and other authors of the New Testament clearly implying that they consider those texts to be an authority (sometimes with some really different interpretations than the authors would have meant). But the label of The Word of God is reserved for Jesus:

Roger Olson Defining God Through Jesus

Roger Olson recently put up an article which sounds very Anabaptist in its approach. The simple thesis: God is like Jesus. I know, I know, I say that alot, but most Christians still don’t seem to quite get it and tend to try to squeeze Jesus into pre-existing interpretations of Scripture (defined by your tradition of choice) in general or God in general (defined, most often, by Greek philosophy). I’m not, like Olson isn’t, suggesting that there isn’t revelation of God in other parts of Scripture – even the texts of terror – or even that there isn’t revelation of God in Greek philosophy or the variety of other places we get our presuppositions from. But the fullest and complete revelation lies in Jesus, so anything else – Bible, generic God, other assumptions – need to be submitted to that filter instead of the other way around.

My abbreviation of the piece:

The point, and problem, is that many people form a picture of “God” in their minds from somewhere independent of Jesus and then make Jesus fit that picture when they believe him to be God incarnate. Instead of a “Jesus-like God” they have a “God-like Jesus” where “God-like” means an image of God unconditioned by Jesus.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Reconciling Justice and Love

This important question came via a comment from Arthur recently on my post about The Two Gods of Christianity:

I am not sure I see the “either-or” here. There is nothing at all incompatible with an emphasis on the holiness and perfect justice of God coupled with God as loving especially toward His enemies. Indeed it makes His love that much more perfect in that He loved His own enemies to the point of sending His Son to die on their behalf, making peace through His shed blood on the cross. The less than subtle suggestion here is that the “young, restless, Reformed”, a group I am familiar with and have many sympathetic position in common, somehow de-emphasize God’s love by focusing on His holiness while in reality it is precisely because of His holiness that His love is so gracious.

Why We Like the Sacrificial God

Continuing where I left off yesterday, why would we choose the Sacrificial God? According to Kevin Miller’s (biased) analysis, this version of God leads us toward negative attitudes of ourselves and others and is clearly out of line with the character of God as revealed in Jesus. But many keep being drawn to this God anyway and we should seek to understand why.

The first one is obvious:

For starters, because we have been led to believe it is the only faithful reading of the Bible. We have been taken hostage by a theological system that not only indoctrinates us with a toxic view of God, it effectively inoculates us against anyone who might come along to liberate us from it, placating us with sayings like “God’s ways are not our ways” and warning us about “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It’s the worst of all possible worlds.

The Two Gods of Christianity

Kevin Miller, the film-maker behind Hellbound?, is apparently now a blogger on Patheos. I stumbled across this realization through a link to this particular post which unpacks the two completely different ways of understanding God that exist within Christianity and even within evangelicalism. I appreciate that he even quotes Kevin DeYoung, a staunch Reformed thinker, saying this:

At the very heart of this controversy, and one of the reasons the blogosphere exploded over this book, is that we really do have two different Gods. The stakes are that high. If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. Both sides cannot be right. As much as some voices in evangelicalism will suggest that we should all get along and learn from each other and listen for the Spirit speaking in our midst, the fact is we have two irreconcilable views of God.