Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dead Idea #2: God is an Intellectual Concept

There were many consequences to the Constantinian Compromise, which made Christianity the mascot of Western Culture, but the atrophy of the most basic functions of faith is the most dangerous.
Cultures of all sorts fall victim to Dellacroix's dictum, "effort and pretension are everywhere." And when following Jesus Christ as Lord became fashionable, the fashions of the world slowly overgrew their foundations, encrusting faith with a mantle of intellectual sophistication that, by the middle of the 20th century had become the challenge of making theology inaccessible to the average person. Perhaps the apogee of this form of "study" is Karl Barth, whose sentences can run for pages without a period.
Theology in this Babylonian Captivity to Western culture became the study of concepts and systems, until God Himself became just another idea. The entire "God is Dead" movement of the 60's and 70's was simply the popular expression of this: if God is just an idea, then ideas have a shelf life. Perhaps God was an idea whose time had passed.
John Shelby Spong and his disciples embraced this "idea" and promoted it. In my theology class at Princeton Seminary, I was publicly rebuked for thinking of God as a person, not a concept. It has now become "tacky" to speak of God as person-- it is the intellectual equivalent of being bare-foot and pregnant.
This is why, dear brothers and sisters, Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire says that Rick Warren prays "to a god I do not know." Christians are now using the same words, but meaning very different things. One group talks about God, and means to have an intellectual discussion of ideas, while the other group talks about God, and means to share experience and understanding (however limited) of the One who was, Who is, and Who is to come.
The first group will continue to dwindle because its task is simply an interesting hobby; the second group will continue to grow, because each one who is touched by the reality of God knows that life and death are at stake in the sharing. The idea group at best sees Christianity as a lifestyle; the revelation group at its best knows Christianity to be the Way, the Truth, the Life.

1 comment:

  1. Clay, there was a time in my life when I envied people who said they could hear God talking to them. Then in the darkest time of my life I found myself in the depths of a pit deeper than I knew existed. By the Grace of God I was blessed with a pastor who not only led me to see that Jesus would help me out of the pit, but has helped me learn what the psalmist was saying in Psalm 46:10
    "Be still and know that I am God" I was making so much noise in my emotional storms that I could not hear God speaking to me. If it is tacky - so be it - I know that God is a person because I have heard Him speak! I thank God every day that you were my pastor in that time.

    In Christ's Love,