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.

There’s no doubt about this. For various reasons we’ve abandoned the revelation of Jesus and preferred to make God operate just like the rest of us but with more power. Some of those reasons – primarily personal/emotional ones – are listed below.

Others are historical. Since the time of Constantine, Christians have had to wrestle with the inherent conflict between the way that Jesus does things and the way that the world does things. Generally speaking, we’ve been afraid of losing power and so we’ve opted to go with the way that the world does things. It removed that cognitive dissonance that the early Constantinian Christians had, and then it was just so assumed that it remained the default way to read Scripture even when Jesus directly said the opposite. Of course there were some who opposed this approach but they were ultimately shut down entirely, allowed under the church’s authority and given its safety so long as they didn’t question it too much (monastic movements), or forced into separation from the rest of the world (the Anabaptists).

Even when people know this, though, and even when they can in theory accept that Jesus is a self-sacrificial God and not a sacrificial God, we still are drawn to that other God instead. Miller lists two emotional/rational reasons. First, the world operates on this kind of framework and it is only natural to assume that God does, too. Greek philosophy has always agreed that this is the most logical nature of the supreme being: all powerful and doling out retributive justice. Second, retributive justice is attractive because we feel like we are the “in” and those other people are “out” and what person, thanks to sin in our lives, does not appreciate knowing that they are better than somebody else?

Miller concludes by discussing how we need to present a viable alternative, which has not been done on a large scale since Constantine, and help people make that transition. It boils down to a completely different paradigm for viewing God and the world. In my own words, it’s the difference between grace and law. We are naturally drawn to law, continually eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Jesus has shown us that God is far more interested in something incredibly radical: grace.

And this changing of our hearts and lives,changing of the very lens through which we view the world, is what the Bible calls repentance. Repentance is not easy. It requires killing our natural desires to play God by deciding who is in and who is out ourselves. It requires admitting that the “common sense” of the world has got it backwards and that the Gospel of a self-sacrificial god and calls us to do the same does appear as foolishness (1 Cor 1:18).

Update: Miller has given another follow-up post. It makes the very important point that we all tend to vacillate toward the Sacrificial God. Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hellbound/2013/05/i-am-the-blood-drinking-god/

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

3 Responses

  1. n/a says:

    Kevin Miller also helped [in some way] with the making of a video that was worldview-shaking in an awesome way for me and many others. “With God on our Side”/Porter Speakman. It helps shatter a very common Christian predjudice about the Middle East. Truly amazing. Please look it up if you havent!

    Also, you had a prior article with a fantastic Campolo quote about Muslims/Christians/Palestine. Can you help me find that post again? I’d love to share it with more people.

    (sorry if the following seems off-topic, but I think it’s very related, because Zionism can have that hardcore polarizing effect too)

    A pastor I know at my old church where dear friends attend – he is very well educated and progressive and he loves Tony Campolo too. He uses Campolo stories for a huge chunk of his sermon materials, actually. And he’s by no means a Zionist. But the rather neutral congregation has some [innocent-but-misled] lay-leaders teaching groups ideas that could come straight out of “Left Behind”… in the name of “inductive Bible study”. So, the unassuming congregants tend to listen to their lay-leaders since they want to learn the Bible. (After all, if it’s in a printed study, isnt it Gospel truth??) I told the pastor my concern and he agreed it was wrong teaching and a concern, and that something should be done. I wish I could do something but no-one would listen to me in that context because I’m not a leader in their eyes. In fact, I’m a starving artist, so perhaps God’s disfavor resteth uponst me?

    Yet I know so many fantastic people in that congregation who want to make a difference in the world. *I believe that if the pastor himself would correct the wonky teachings in a gracious way, that he could win over most of the congregation on this topic, because he already has their deep respect and they know he is very knowlegeable.* He could help them grow up spiritually and practically in understanding God’s word in such a big way!! And that congregation has a ton of resources to help the world too. It’s in one of the richest parts of Canada, and they have interest in global aid etc. But for now their worldview is stuck at “Left Behind’. It is soo sad!
    Now I could be totally wrong, but my guess is that the pastor wants to just stay general enough so that no-one gets uncomfortable. Therefore i haven’t seen change for the better; it only looks worse. People have been booking trips to “God’s Holy [favorite] Land’ to become better Christians by blessing “God’s favorite people”. They are so incredibly confused in their sincere well-meaning to understand God’s word. It grieves me so profusely that this kind of thing is allowed to go on in a context where it could so easily be corrected by the pastor. Those people deeply love and respect him and are hungry for good teaching, and would eat it up, from what I know of them. Sure, he could lose a few members by becoming a bit less “neutral”(so to speak) in His Bible teaching. But he could easily keep the vast majority I would think. They love him so much and respect his education.
    To me, Zionism is a manifestation of the same kind of Bible-interpretation that makes people think God favors males, hetero-sexuals, and anyone who’s not poor, as superior to their ‘counterparts’. It is so incredibly de-humanizing for the ‘unfavored ones’ and in that way, anti-gospel at heart (so to speak). Masses of Christians simply have no clue that this is true though. In fact I often hear from wonderful intelligent believers that it is best to just let Christians believe whatever they want to about the Bible, as long as they “get” the salvation part (and the Trinity etc). They have no idea that this may come at the cost of alienating billions of “unfavored” people from the gospel. For example, the Muslim world is growing towards being a couple billion strong, and do you think the Zionists are going to help them feel attracted to Jesus as Lord?? It may seem more likely for a 3rd world war to be started.
    God bless you! I’ve really appreciated your posts. Thank you so much!

    • Many very well said points there. You’re making a lot of great connections. I’ve become convinced that most of the rest of our theology often boils down to how we imagine the character of God. If we start with Jesus and define God in terms of the Self-Sacrificing God (to use Miller’s terms), we get very different results on pretty much every topic than if we start with the Sacrificial God. We’ve had hundreds of years of experience twisting Scripture and church tradition to promote the Sacrificial God which has given us a wide array of what I would consider serious problems, eschatological and political understandings among them. When we re-imagine that God looks like the Self-Sacrificing, radical enemy love of Jesus, it will change everything.

      As for the pastor, that’s a very common situation. In his defence, you can’t force too much radical thought on somebody too quickly or they will dismiss you or completely kick you out as a heretic. Then they’ll find somebody who does agree with them. The challenge is to stoop down just enough that they don’t completely reject you in order to be able to pull people forward. I would argue that God does precisely that all though Scripture. After enough years of trying to do this with mild success, it isn’t unusual for pastors to just give up and stick to what the people want by affirming what they already think. Sometimes it takes people like you or I to give them the necessary encouragement to keep going.

      Here’s the link to the blog which quoted Campolo on the dangers of dispensationalism: http://emerginganabaptist.com/the-dangers-of-dispensationalism/

      I’ll have to look into the movie – thanks for the recommendation!

      • n/a says:

        …Sorry, I deleted my comment just in case anyone might figure who the pastor guy is. I’m new at the blog world, and not talented with being politically correct, sorry. I hear what you’re saying about gently leading, but I don’t know if it’s responsible leadership to let such distinctly harmful things be taught in your own church, especially when you already have the people’s deep respect and a fantastic platform from which to bring better understanding.
        As a congregant myself, and to my own hurt, I believed Zionist stuff for a couple of decades, but I changed my mind almost overnight when I finally got better teaching. Seriously, it was like being released from schizophrenia, because the Bible suddenly made sense!! It was the most healing thing; I can hardly describe it. I finally stopped secretly hating God, because how could I honestly have loved such a racist chauvinist arbitrary Deity? But I didn’t find that liberating teaching at a church, despite that a number of my leaders knew far better. My strange beliefs were never corrected by strategic teaching from the pulpit or small group, as far as I know. I think that may be part of why James in Scripture says that teachers have such a heavy load of responsibility on them.
        Someone very close to me left the faith entirely because of Zionism in that same congregation, and I could have almost left my faith too. Racism is dehumanizing, and it’s not okay, and I shudder at the thought of a leader who knows better allowing it to be taught in their ‘house’ unchecked.