There are two distinct kinds of differences (among many) that show up in my dealings across the religious landscape.
The first kind of difference is a seemingly superfluous, ‘icing on the cake’ kind of difference. This is when you share a large majority of opinion or agreement with someone but in the end you diverge and there is some significant application or implication that really provides a contrast.
For instance: you can have a great conversation with someone or a friendship where there is great connection and resonance, but there is something like … they think that communion elements are really sacred, or that a specific translation of the Bible is superior or that one kind of music makes God happier than another. It’s not a deal breaker, it’s just a difference – not the end of the world.
Then there is another kind of difference - the kind that exposes the root of the problem, that provides a missing key that unlocks the rest of the mystery. Sometimes your hear someone say something and it stops you in your tracks.
You think “Wait! Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time? Is that what is driving these other things we disagree on?”
This kind of a difference is most often exposed when someone takes something you have encountered before – only they take it way too far. It is in the excess (or extreme) that the pattern is exposed and you are suddenly able to see it in smaller or more subtle way where you have never been able to discern it clearly before.
This has happened to me in the areas of
- PMS cramps – Maternity Leave (Eve ate the apple)
- The war in Iraq (angels with flaming swords guarding Eden)
- Africa’s poverty (Noah cursed his son who then went to Africa)
- Racism (we have a black President)
- Global Warming (God promised Noah never to destroy the earth with a natural disaster)
and far too many other examples to list here. I could talk about topics ranging from dinosaur bones planted by the Devil to ‘Manifest Destiny’, from open parking spots at the mall to Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who fulfilling the book of Ezekiel.
Sometimes it takes someone saying something so outrageous or outlandish that you are smacked out of your naive fantasy that we are all basically doing the same thing as Christians – or that Christianity is one thing, even if it is a diverse thing.
A while ago I wrote a little blog about John Piper and his horse like faith. It got quite a good readership at first and then, as most posts tend to, faded into the shadows of the archive. Recently, however, this post has been getting tons of clicks and sometimes is getting more reads in a day than the new stuff! So I went back to read ‘Horse Gods’ again to see what might be causing the comeback.
While I was there, I noticed in the comments section, someone had asked me to distinguish my view of God from someone like John Piper or Mark Driscoll. My original response seems more interesting with recent developments:
Actually there is quite a substantial difference. Let me point out just a couple of things to start:
1) I don’t believe that language about God is univocal (a 1:1 equation). SO we begin in humility understanding that all our words, metaphors, and concepts are OUR best attempt.
2) I believe that language (since it is not univocal) functions relationally. When Jesus uses ‘Father’ language, he is talking about the WAY in which relates to a father. Not that God’s ontological being is Father in an exacting and representative way. It is an expressive use of language. That is the nature of language.
3) The way that Scripture is expressed is historic. I believe that the Bible is Inspired by Holy Spirit. That means that Holy Spirit was at work in the authors and ultimately in those who collected and validated the canon. (I confess this by faith). Those authors were historically situated and particularly located. They expressed their thoughts in their best language in their best frameworks. We see that historical locatedness and account for it when we engage their writings.
4) Whether you call it ‘original sin’ (I don’t) or ‘human nature’ or (my favorite) relational brokeness and conflicting biological impulses … humans have a problem. We are not 100% whole. Something is wrong (we don’t even do the good we WANT to do). That means that in every epoch and era there are things in place that are not perfect. Those show up in scripture – since it is a snap shot of its environment. The Bible is fully human (and I believe fully divine in a Process sense) but it is not ABSENT of humanity. It is full of humanity.
So If you take just those 4 things in contrast to Piper and Driscoll, then my God talk is:
A) In humility not certainty or pushy
B) Relational not static or exacting
C) Historical not trans-historic
D) Human not un-human
That is my starting point. From there I diverge wildly from those two.