Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are we searching for a better god?

One of my friends has just started reading a fascinating book called Searching for a Better God by Wade Bradshaw, who used to be on staff at L'Abri England. He's been waxing lyrical over it, so I borrowed it to read on one of my lunch breaks.

Loads of thought-provoking stuff. Bradshaw starts off by showing that all of our lives are grounded in some form of hope. You could say we all fashion narratives out of our own lives, with a climax or ending we hope to reach, although he won't put it that way. In that sense, we live teleologically. He then argues that (Western) culture has shifted imperceptibly. Whereas previously the main question people ask would be: "Does God exist?", this has now shifted to "Is God good?". That isn't to say people no longer ask the first question, as New Atheism shows. But people reject the gospel not so much because they don't believe in God, but because they no longer believe that the God, as found in the Bible, is morally good. What sort of God would allow, even command, the atrocities found in the Old Testament? What sort of God is so intolerant, of homosexuality, of pluralism? In truth, we humans are morally superior to such a God. God "cannot be a source of hope, not because He isn’t real, but because He would not be good to know and to live with forever."

That's as far as I got. Bradshaw then presumably goes on to wrestle with such new challenges, as the chapter headings for the rest of the book suggest: Is God angry? Is God distant? Is God a bully?

I certainly have lots of time for Bradshaw's argument. This is a generalisation, of course, but those of us in our 20s, it seems, living in a world where any disaster can be communicated to us via twitter, where we are subjected to a 1001 worthy causes (reminding us of the dark side of the world we live in), are tired of living for ourselves. Consumerism has been tried and found wanting. We long for more. We want to find something beyond ourselves. We're looking for a better hope, in other words. And so there is a renewed activism, a passion for social justice. Even in Christian circles, this can be found in expressions as diverse as the resurgence of what is sometimes called "New Calvinism", where the glory of God is emphasised and "man-centered theology" abhorred, and those stressing the cosmic dimensions of God's salvation and downplaying penal substitution. I guess you could also claim this is also seen in the language of the "kingdom" being deployed more commonly if differently, though I wonder if some charismatics (John Wimber was not shy about such terminology!) and Reformed types (we've been reading Vos/Goldsworthy since you were in your nappies, don't lecture me about "kingdom"!) would object.

Interestingly, as a Christian, I think I share similar struggles. The fixed point of God's sovereignty has not, as far as I can tell, posed a huge struggled for me. But the fixed point of God's goodness, that he actually cares for me and the details of my life, is one I struggle with more. Granted, it's not quite the same issue being articulated as that of the non-Christian, but I wonder if they spring from the same DNA.

I think too of one of the (Asian) girls some of us know. She's been coming to Christian things for quite a while now, and she's willing to say Christianity is objectively true. She was even encouraged that one of her mutual friends - getting baptised this Sunday! - actually came to Christ. But for her, she isn't sure if Jesus is worth it. Is this God really that good?

Anyway, happy to hear comments.


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