This semester on campus, CSF is studying how what we think about God ties in with our actions, attitudes and experiences. In an effort to be creative, I titled the series “The ABCs of Faith.” A is for actions/attitudes. B is for Belief. Finally, there is “Experience” such as prayer and worship, which I shifted to “Connections.”
Tackling things like theology in a large group is always a challenge. There are a some students who are super-interested in it. But there are others who may find it boring. The challenge is to make it not boring! Part of this is recognizing that learning theology is not simply learning facts to store in your head. Instead, what we think about who God is and what God has done should affect our actions and experience. Conversely, how we act and connect with God and others says more about what we believe than what we say we believe with our words.
On Thursdays at our large group gathering, I am trying to avoid too many technical words and topics. The goal is to be more practical minded. Along with this, discussing what Christians believe ties in with what Christians do not believe. So we are looking at other ideas and beliefs traditionally rejected by the Christian church (“heresies” if you like that word).
Last week we began by talking about Atheism, Deism and Pantheism. Christians (obviously!) affirm there is a God, so we are not atheists. Within that though, we recognize that “God” needs to be defined. Too many Christians and atheists imagine God with the image of a more powerful version of us as humans. Atheists, rightly, reject this “God.” Christians should too. When Christians talk of God, we talk of Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Named (to steal from Anselm of Canterbury). We all have some Ultimate Reality around which we center our life; Christians call this God. One question for us might be, what images come to mind when we think of God? Along with that, perhaps our atheist friends are right in challenging us because such challenges can move us to think through things and ultimately to have a stronger and better faith.
Deists believe in God but believe that this God has not interacted with the universe. God started it all and left. Christians reject this, believing God has spoken through the prophets and ultimately in Jesus. The question is, how many of us who call ourselves Christians are actually Deists? Sociologist Christian Smith found years ago that the religion of young Americans is “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” We recognize God, but mostly live our lives as if God is far off and uninvolved. Here we see how our actions (living like Deists) may reveal that what we say we believe we do not actually believe (that God is involved in our lives). In other words, if we believe God is involved, how will this cause us to pray, worship or act differently?
Finally, Pantheism is the idea that the cosmos IS God. Christians reject this by affirming that God created the universe as a separate thing. What difference does that make? If you believe the tree, a person or animal is literally God, you are not going to dissect and study it. This is one reason modern science arose in the west – we trusted that nature made sense and could be studied, but also that it was not divine.
If you want to see the outline, click here.
Last night we moved into more distinctly Christian ideas. In rejecting Atheism, Deism and Pantheism, we are not yet uniquely Christian as our Jewish and Muslim friends would also traditionally reject those too. Our discussion last evening moved into questions of Jesus’ relationship with God.
On one hand, it is common to hear skeptics and others affirm that Jesus was a great teacher but not God. He was only human. On the other hand, some in the early centuries of Christianity struggled with believing Jesus was human at all. They held that he was only God, his humanity was an illusion. Traditionally Christians reject both of these “only” ideas and affirm Jesus is both fully human and fully God.
Today it might be common to hear our skeptical friends affirm Jesus as a fine teacher but nothing more. But if they reject Jesus as God, I argued that I think today Christians struggle with Jesus as fully human. Do we really believe God descended into the muck and mire of our lives? What difference does it make? If Jesus is really God AND Human, that means there is nowhere God will not go. There is no person beyond God’s love. There is no depravity or evil or impurity God will not touch. And from this, if we see ourselves as followers of Jesus, we too must go to these places.
You can find this outline here:
My goal this semester is that we would see our beliefs about God, our actions and our experiences all intermingle with and relate to each other. Changing one will change others. Through this, may we learn to love God and love others!