A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

Saturday, May 02, 2015

My buddy Brad Jersak has a new book out, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel that I'm really excited about. As the title suggests, the book’s premise is understanding God in the light of Jesus. That may sound at first glace to be a really basic premise, but in fact it is quite radical. I say this for two reasons,

First, while there is a clear renunciation of humans killing in the name of God in the New Testament (in contrast with the Old Testament where this is presented as a means to bring about God’s purposes and specifically commanded), the New Testament does—at least in some places—still maintain the idea that God can and will use violence in acts of judgment. We see this in places like the story of Ananias and Sapphira, and of course with the entire idea of hell understood as “conscious eternal torment” for the unrepentant.

So to understand God as Christlike means stretching ourselves even beyond where some New Testament authors were able to go. We can argue that in so doing we are moving further in the direction they point us in (I would certainly), but still that requires some courage to more forward towards that new territory—even when we do so believing we are doing it as an act of faithfulness. I personally think it is something we desperately need to do, which is why Brad’s book is so important and needed.

Second, it is radical to understand God as Christlike because this undoes the way we think of God in terms of power and force and strength. If we really get this, we will understand that this applies even to people who don’t believe in God at all (meaning it is not just something that matters to religious folks but to everyone) because it has to do with what we value, how we understand power, how we understand success. Brad understands this deeply and works out in A More Christlike God what it means to re-think who God is in the context of the weakness of the cross. This is, again, a scary and brave thing to do, because it means facing our own helplessness and weakness.

Because of this, A More Christlike God is not a book about detached theology, but a book that cuts to the heart (which is what good theology is supposed to do). Ultimately it is a book that deals with the question of theodicy—if God is loving and all-powerful, why is there so much evil and hurt in our world? Most attempts to deal with this question end up being apologetics that seek to explain the problem away. It’s because of free will... it’s a mystery... it’s for your good... and so on.

That’s not the approach Brad takes because he has spent too much time as a pastor among people who are hurting—parents reeling from the death of a child, people who have survived abuse or rape—in short, among people encountering profound and devastating trauma and loss. There in the face of that kind of pain our best intellectual explanations just ring hollow. What we need instead is a way to face our real pain—to face the reality of suffering in our world—and at the same time be able to open our hearts in hope and trust and love.

This is where Brad takes us. Written with the wisdom of a pastor’s heart, familiar with the reality of people’s real trauma and grief, Brad lovingly helps us to face the pain and darkness of our suffering head-on by showing us a theodicy of the cross that faces the problem of human suffering with brutal honesty, showing us that it is precisely there in that place of brokenness that we encounter God in Christ.

This is a conversation we desperately need to have, and you really could not find a better guide to walk you through this than Brad. So go get yourself a copy of A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel.

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9 Comments:

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Brad Jersak said...

Thanks, Derek, for your kind review of A More Christlike God! I'm especially thankful that you addressed the section of the book on 'theodicy' ... where I deal with the problem of suffering: How do we understand this contradiction of the goodness of God and human affliction? Rather than rationalizing our way through (and ending up calling evil good), we see them together--perfect goodness and extreme affliction--in their fullness in the crucified One. From his wounds flows the supernatural love and forgiveness that would heal the world.

 
At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Brad,

Yes this anti-theodicy seems to me to be one borne from spending time among those who are hurting, rather than an answer focused on defending a position. It strikes me as being a very grownup theology that recognizes the reality of our suffering, rather than seeking to minimize or deny it.

For me it raises a lot of questions that are pretty scary to face, like "how do we pray for our needs and safety or that of those we love?" if God does not stop bad things from happening. The challenge is coming out on the other end still holding on to hope and trust in God.

That's hard for me (I think it's hard for all of us). But I think that this is part of developing an adult faith. So while it is scary, at the same time I sense it is very real and deep--kind of like growing up always is. Very challenging stuff!

 
At 12:21 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks for the review, Derek. This sounds like a very worthy read.

Without a doubt the very best thing I have ever read on the problems of theodicy from an Orthodox Christian perspective is the little book by David Bentley Hart, called The Doors of the Sea. The book was occasioned after Hart was commissioned to write an editorial piece for a Christian perspective on suffering for one of the major newspapers in response to the catastrophic Tsunami that struck in the Indian Ocean a few years ago. Hart's editorial provoked a storm of response especially from Christians of all stripes and apparently some particularly outraged responses and arguments from (paraphrasing Hart), "Calvinists of a particularly rigorist persuasion." If you haven't read the book, I heartily recommend it.

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger kent said...

Hey Derek,
If we don't trust in the infallibility of the OT writings about god, why do we presume the NT scriptures are infallible in their depictions of Jesus? When someone says, "We need to read the OT through a Jesus lens.", which Jesus are we talking about?
It seems suspect to me to use a lens we have acquired from a certain interpretation of the gospels to interpret the OT. Wouldn't it be more convincing if our lens of interpretation were independent of one's interpretive grid (for we cannot say we are just reading the plain meaning of the gospels and not interpreting them)? Using love as our lens instead of Jesus would rid us of what looks like circular reasoning. I realize that this might just be a matter of semantics because the use of the term "Jesus lens" is using the lens of love, but wouldn't it be more academically honest?

 
At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

ofgrace,
Thanks that sounds like a great book!

 
At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kent,
I personally do not believe in any form of authoritarianism. So I would not say that we should follow the NT unquestioningly. I would not say we should follow the way of Jesus because Jesus says to, and for what it's worth I do not think Jesus would want us to do that either!

Rather, I would say we should follow the way of Jesus because we recognize that it is good. We adopt a Jesus-lens because we recognize that it is a good lens to see life through.

 
At 6:13 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

I've thought about the sort of thing Kent suggests. My conclusion is that it is impossible to check one's own necessarily limited definition of love against a model of the fullness of what that means, apart from the Jesus of the Gospels. This gets tricky, though, because Jesus of the Gospels can be misread as well. What this points to is our dependence upon the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. He can make it clear in our gut/conscience (if we are open) when we have a false understanding of Jesus, but becoming acquainted with the Gospels has also enlightened countless people to the inadequacy of their own concepts of God and of love.

 
At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

ofGrace,

I would agree that we need to not simply affirm love, but more concretely Jesus-shaped love.

"This gets tricky, though, because Jesus of the Gospels can be misread as well."

Yes, and the question is then, how do we determine what is a misreading, and what is a right reading?

I would propose that if we can recognize that it is good, then it is. That is, if you have an understanding of what enemy love is that is smart and good and works, then that is the "right" interpretation, and if instead I have an understanding that makes no sense and either does not work or perhaps is even hurtful, then this is a wrong interpretation. That is not how you learn to do exegesis in Seminary, but if our goal is praxis then it is the right way to read.

As you say, doing this involves our being open the leading of the Spirit certainly. That stance of seeking and openness is crucial I think. It has been vitally important to me in seeking to understand enemy love for example. However, that does not make me immune from error. So the key is a stance of humility and openness. As I am open to the Spirit my eyes are opened.

I would also add that we need to belooking at our lives, looking at the fruits, seeing what works, and how it works. There are for example ways to practice forgiveness that are deep and good, and there ways to do it that can be really shallow and even deeply hurtful. So we need to look at the fruits in our lives. Here I think the social sciences are extremely helpful -- not as a replacement for the content of Jesus' teachings, but as tool to recognize how they work and how to apply them well.

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

YEAH!!! Love Brad Jersak's stuff. I'm so glad you guys are partners in crime in theology! Loving life just thinking about it.

 

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