Sometimes, as I glance around, it feels as if Christianity is the fastest shrinking religion in the world. Although I couldn’t take a guess as to why, I don’t have to because so many surveys, articles and even books have been written to address the issue that I couldn’t count them. The overwhelming consensus that I see around me is that those who are exiting the church are doing so because they feel that the image that they have for God is either one that isn’t true or isn’t effective for life in today’s world.
As I can easily agree that sometimes our view of God may not be productive or correct, it was with great interest that I began reading Bradley Jersak’s A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel. In this book, he examines the views of God that he considers to be incorrect, and he plans a theological path going forward from these views into the view of a new Christlike (or as he terms it, “cruciform”) God. After all, finding the correct view of God is important to both our continuance in the faith and the relevancy with which we pass on this faith to our children and to those who are converted to Christianity.
There are many good things to recommend about this book.
It’s important to have a conversation about why our faith isn’t being passed on and why Christianity is being seen with less relevance that it has been in the past centuries.
It’s important to realize that God always turns toward us and that no matter how we turn away, he still searches and pursues us.
It’s important for us to realize that there is no condemnation in Christ.
It’s important to realize that God doesn’t love us any less, no matter what we may do.
It’s important to realize that God is not a vengeful God who is just waiting in the sky to strike you down for your sin.
. . .and yet. . . despite these good things, there several areas of concern that I began to feel as I read this book.
From the outset of the book, Jersak is very clear that “the truth about God is not discerned by our personal tastes of what is sweet or sour.” Then, he attempts a theodicy (or in his words anti-theodicy) based on his experience in the world and his ideas of what makes a god good or evil.
He repeatedly portrays God as powerless in our world and only working with our consent, and then he imagines that God completely altered the fabric of our world without our consent, desire or interest by sending his son to dry on the cross.
He spiritualizes or metaphorizes the “God of the Old Testament” and the wrathful God that Jesus often talks about as metaphors and the imaging of God by the spiritually less mature. I think this may be the most dangerous ground he treads because when we begin deciding which parts of scripture we’re going to take and which parts we aren’t that’s when we begin to make God over in our image. However, I will concede to Jersak’s argument that even Biblical literalists find themselves picking and choosing which scriptures they’re truly going to take literally.
He uses Fowler’s stages of faith to cast all his opponents as less spiritually mature than he is thus rendering it difficult to actually hold a discussion of ideas. (As an aside, when I was reading this section, I was picturing Jesus in the gospels telling his disciples that we are to come to him like a child.)
In the end, however, he and I have more in common than we do opposed. We’re sick with a disease called sin, and our doctor, Jesus came to heal us. He didn’t come to condemn us. He didn’t come to show God’s wrath to us. He came to show God’s love and God’s pursuit of us. He and I can both agree on that.
In this, I find that his book is a book that I will share with those who have been burned by their experiences with the church and with people who claim to be Jesus’s followers but have no actual experience with what the love of God looks like. (I once was one of those people, so my heart is for them.) I believe that many of those I know who think they know about Jesus could use a fresh look at God and his redemption plan, a pastoral look that shows our separation from God and God’s continual attempt to draw us to him. That is the audience that I will recommend this book to.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and my opinions are my own.