A God who Pushes Back

In response to a NYT article about Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church, my friend Jim writes “I personally find it a bit of a mystery that some people find comfort and hope in that sort of theological framework”.  By contrast, I can totally understand it. I understand it, but disagree with it.  My experience as a Christian, and a little healthy doubt, has lead me to reject my one-time fascination for hard-core, predestined-from-the-womb Calvinism.  But, while I’m not comfortable with a Calvinistic god who is completely arbitrary — one who has no real way of showing love — I doubt an individualized god who looks like a friendly neighbor who practices a “live-and-let-live” philosophy. It seems the Mars Hill congregation does not want a god who will smile on their imperfections, but what they’ve been offered, what they’ve found to fill their “God-shaped hole”, is indeed not anthropomorphic.  It is true that anthropomorphizing God, making him like our tolerant neighbor, is dangerously wrong-headed.  But just because we have an incomprehensible god does not mean that we have a view of the right one. A hint of what is so attractive about this “New Calvinism” can be found in Dostoevsky:

Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves. (source)

Mars Hill parishioners have pursued this false freedom and found it wanting.  Naturally, they turn away from that.  Of course, we are always in danger of following the wrong leader, but especially so when we feel weak and are offered something that looks unbending. By way of contrast, I offer this quote from Father Stephen.  His whole post is an excellent defense of un-individual, Trinitarian Christianity, but this is quote seemed most relevant:

An excellent example of this occurred once in an inquirer’s class I was teaching before I was Orthodox (I was an Anglican priest). I was teaching a class on Christian morality and offered as authoritative the traditional teachings of the Christian faith in matters of sex and marriage, etc. One of the couples in the class seemed upset by my presentation and asked, “What right does the Church have to tell me how to live my life?” I admit that I was stunned by the question, if only because of its honesty. I gave them a short answer, “Because you are raising my children.” The complete answer has more depth, but I thought they might find it helpful to consider that the world included someone other than themselves.

4 thoughts on “A God who Pushes Back”

  1. I visited this church a few times…

    …when I lived in Seattle eight years ago, when it was still getting off the ground. I didn’t find the preaching shocking or radical, but I didn’t clique with the average parishioner, who tended to be younger and far more tattoed and pierced than I was.

    There’s a lot of young people like that in Seattle who really could use a church but would probably be quickly and harshly judged in your typical congregation. It’s a needed ministry in a city that’s largely bereft of churchgoing folk.

    1. Totally

      I agree. The technologies already exist, someone/some-org simply needs to tie them together and make it easy to manage. Not to be the Apple fanboy, but OSX Server and their Server Admin/Workgroun Admin tools do exactly that. They’re using open source technologies like LDAP, kerberos, samba, NFS, behind the scenes but that is all transparent.

      I think if Ubuntu spent some real time and effort on this they could have something easily and powerful and easy to use as the Apple stuff.

    2. +1

      even a simple scenario 2 desktops and 3 laptops in a household, I want each family member to able to login into their accounts from any machine.

      This should be a package & a couple of debconf questions away.

      Currently I don’t know how to set this up myself.

    3. First, I can only talk about what is in the book. Many people do see morality as the primary purpose of religion. You only have to look to the arguments against religion by people like Sam Harris or Dawkins (at least, anytime it goes beyond “religion isn’t rational”) to see that their own perception of religion is that it presents itself as a the sole arbiter of morality. What Cox has written doesn’t do anything to contradict this image of religion as primarily about morality. In fact, he seems to embrace it.

      I haven’t read Borg, so I can’t say much about that. But on Faith vs Belief, I think there is a good point in another book I’m reading, The Jesus Prayer, made specifically about the Orthodox Church:

      Perhaps the first, and most telling, point to make is that spirituality is not a word used much in Orthodox contexts (of course, it gets used by Orthodox writers in the West). The reason is that everything is “spirituality.” Christian Orthodoxy itself a spiritual path, rather than an institution or set of propositions (bold is my emphasis, italics in original — mah)

      This goes directly to your objections — and the point Cox is trying to make about faith vs belief. Cox has a very biased view against hierarchy and it colors his view of post-Constantinian Christianity. I don’t claim that hierarchy is perfect, just that like anything else it has its uses.

      in vs out: This is the role of the creed. Like a Mennonite Confession determines who is a Mennonite or not, the creed says if you’re a Christian or not. That’s all. It doesn’t say if you’re going to Hell or Heaven (though many Christians will say that only Christians are saved). Its a method of identification.

      How can a person that honestly isn’t sure about the existance of God, or the precise nature of Jesus’s relationship with God, honestly recite the creed? Easy. Whether it is because I was born on Kierkegaard’s “ship already launched” or whether I jumped ship at some later point in life, I’m making a decision to be a part of a community identified by creedal (or confessional) unity. I guess I’m not surprised that modern people look at the creed and say “but I can’t make say that I’m intellectually in tune with that.” In the West, Christianity has been presented primarily in terms of intellectual language, so we tend to see the creed in intellectual terms instead of as part of a way of living. Its a part of our identity, not, as Fredrica Matthewes-Green says above, just a series of propositions.

      In many churches today, there is a very poor understanding — on any level — the Trinity. There is no regular celebration of or worship of the Trinity, let alone any teaching on the Trinity. So it isn’t surprising that people are have doubts about the nature of the Trinity.

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