This is my 3rd and final semester in my year of being a seminary professor. I have loved it and have learned so much about faith formation and the local church (more on that this fall).
It is rewarding to introduce students to concepts such as the Surplus of Meaning and the god revealed in Christ (GRIC). I get lots of feedback on my 5 min. video about the 5 Gods That People Believe In as I rank them from highest to lowest in ‘level of commitment’.
The schema goes from ‘highest’ to ‘lowest’:
5 – SuperNatural Agent
4 – Divine Being
3 – Ground of Being (GoB)
2 – the Go(o)d
1 – Event
A student reached out to me for clarification on the ‘level of commitment’ schema. Here is part of my response:
A little background: I was raised Billy Graham-style evangelical. I eventually got caught up in Charismatic renewal. I came through the Emergent conversation of the early 2000’s and landed in a Mainline-Progressive set up, not because I agree with it but because there is theological freedom-autonomy.
So one of the things that I have noticed in my theological wanderings/migration is that certain concepts of god are more demanding or invasive on the believer’s daily existence. It has nothing to do with being intellectually rigorous but on the level of how specific the claim on the daily affairs of your life it is.
Here is an example that I have in mind. If you believe in a Divine Being (level 4 in my schema) then you certainly want to make decisions and live in such a way as to please that divine being. If you hold to a SuperNatural Agent who intervenes in human affairs (level 5) then you really have to be careful about each decision, the state of your heart, and even your intentions and motives (right actions are not enough). Because if that god doesn’t like something you do, ‘he’ might interfere and do something about it.
Hold this in contrast to someone like John Caputo
. Caputo says that ‘God doesn’t exist, God insists’ because the name of God is an event. I have placed this at Level 1. That is not to say that it is not rigorous – it is very rigorous and takes much effort to work out. Caputo spends hours a day on this concept and has made an entire career out of it.
What I mean is that one who believes in ‘the event of the name of god’ doesn’t have to worry about having an extra glass of wine or upgrading to an expensive cable package or even discerning which school to go to because god’s will is that you meet your future spouse (the one god picked out for you) there.
Let’s take someone who holds to the ‘Ground of Being’ idea from Tillich. If this idea has gripped you, it can encompass and inspire your entire day and life. It can add sacredness to existence that is mystical and fantastic. It can consumer your thought life and change everything from your library or your friendships to your church loyalties. So it is both rigorous and impactful.
What I am mean by ‘level of commitment’ is that it doesn’t necessarily make demands of you or your neighbor the same way. Wine consumption, cable packages, and school selections aside – your neighbor can hold a different view and you can absorb that into your view. Diversity is accounted for within GoB (Level 3) and unlike the SuperNatural Agent view – you don’t need it to be this way which affords you to be a little looser.
It is similar to views about the Bible: if you believe that the Bible is ‘God’s Word’ (even though it says that Jesus is the Word of God) and that it is how God speaks to us – then you will read it every day to see what God speaks to you. Then, when people get a little scholarship about the Bible – unfortunately this new awareness doesn’t lead them to read the Bible differently, it leads to them reading the Bible less and getting less out of it.
This new view just doesn’t require the same level of commitment.
Is there a way that I can say ‘level of commitment’ more clearly? I would love some feedback.