In a previous post I asked for feedback on this quote:
And so the biblical mindset starts with the assumption that God is the center of reality. All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things. He has goals that fit with his nature and perfect character. Then the biblical mindset moves out from this center and interprets the world, with God and his rights and goals as the measure of all things.
No prizes for guessing this comes from John Piper.
In the comments of the last post people mentioned lots of the same issues that I have with it. Let me go through my beefs. I’ll post this in stages. Today I’ll just talk about the first sentence.
1) In the first sentence we are encouraged to be God-centred. Good. But which God?
Cue groans from across the blogosphere. I know you’re thinking ‘Glen, go and drink some beer, shoot some pool and cut the man some slack.’ But before you think I’m just being nasty or pedantic, let me just say there’s nothing wrong with this sentence and I don’t at all begrudge Piper saying it. You’ll find such sentences on my own lips. I’m just picking up on this phrase to highlight some of the things that go on in theological discussions.
Here’s the point. The person who cries ‘God-centred’ the loudest is not necessarily the most biblical. (Nor is the person who cries ‘biblical’, but that’s another story). The absolutely key question is what kind of God is central to our thinking. And that question is not resolved in the slightest by saying He’s central. In fact to say that ‘God’ is central to our theology is basically a tautology.
As Simone Weil says:
“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”
We’re all God-centred. The question is, which God?
I have little patience for theologians or bloggers who claim a superiority because they are ‘God-centred’. Often it’s accompanied by the accusation that their opponent is ‘Man-centred’. (And one of these days I’ll write a post about how they’re both wrong – we should be ‘God-Man (i.e. Christ)-centred’). But really, in Simone Weil’s sense, we’re all ‘God’-centred. What we really have to do is sort out who this God is who is central to our thinking.
But let’s note well: the fact that our theology should be (and, in a sense, always is!) utterly consumed by and radically focussed upon God, in no sense tells you whether God Himself is consumed by and focussed upon Himself. Those are two entirely separate questions.
One is about our theological method, the other is about the ‘theos‘ who, of necessity, stands at the centre of it.
Of course we should have our hearts and minds fixed on the living God, and of course if we fixed our ultimate affections elsewhere that would be idolatry. Ok, great. What bemuses me is the claim that God Himself must fix His affections on Himself lest He be an idolater too. Do you see how theo-centrism as a theological method gets confused with theo-centrism as a doctrine of God?
And, more dangerously, do you see how such a method is in fact anthropocentric? It’s an argument that says ‘We would be idolaters to set our affections on lesser beings, so God must be an idolater if He did that.’ It’s a theology from below. And yet I find it on the lips of the very people who want to accuse all around them of man-centredness.
So let’s be clear – everyone is already God-centred in their theology. The real issue is what kind of God we’re talking about. And the question of theo-centric method does not at all settle the question of God’s own being. While we must be theo-centric, we have to admit that God Himself is higher than the ‘musts’ that apply to us. The theologian who says God “must” love Himself higher than the creature has actually followed a theo-logic that is less than God-centred.
We do not by nature know the kind of being that God is. And we cannot reason it out from the basis of how we find life as creatures. To tell a person that ‘God’ must be at the centre of their thinking will not tell them anything really. God cannot be assumed from the outset, He must be revealed.
The fact that all the gods of human religion are self-centred means nothing. The fact that we are called to be ‘God-centred’ means nothing for God’s own life and being. It neither means that God should be centred on us, nor on Himself. The question of His own being is the key question and it can only be resolved as God reveals Himself.
Now I’m not saying that this first sentence from Piper commits him to any of the things I’ve outlined here. As I’ve said, you could find the same sentence on my own lips. I’m just trying to clear some ground and say what being ‘theo-centric’ is and isn’t and how it can and can’t be used in these discussions.
More to follow…