2013 Favs: God Made In My Image

I want God; not my idea of God. C.S. Lewis

My god doesn’t …

I don’t believe in a god who …

How many times have we heard this?

I ask you, if God is God; if He made everything, everywhere, including us, then what does it matter what we think of Him? All these quippy little assertions are at base the expression of an underlying belief that God is the clay and we are the potter. They lead directly to what George Barna jokingly described as a nation of “310 million people with 310 million religious expressions.”

I believe this is the root of the “I don’t believe in religion; I believe in Jesus” phenomenon. If you can subtract Jesus from 2,000 years of Christian teaching, why then, you can create a Jesus who fits you and your prejudices, your wannabes, and your wannados right down to the ground. You can create a phony, basically useless Jesus who doesn’t demand conversion, never asks for repentance and would not think of chiding you for your “understandable” little sins.

You can create your own personal feel-good Jesus, who inevitably will be a Jesus without the cross. The only problem with that, of course, is that this jesus is not god. He is not Christ. Jesus without the cross is not Christ. Jesus without the cross was a First Century itinerate preacher and miracle worker who died 2,000 years ago. He’s the shorn and nonsensical little nothing that the film-flammers who attack Christianity try to make Him out to be.

Dietrich Bonnhoefner had a phrase for this. He called it “cheap grace.” Here’s what he said:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

The Christian culture in which so many of us live is a sham and a flam, a product of cheap grace gone wild that is drummed into our minds by the steady beat of media promotion. Today, we not only have cheap grace, we have competing cheap graces whose followers are focused on defeating one another in the culture wars rather than following Christ.

We have the cheap grace purveyors of the right who tell us that all that stuff Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed, throughout the Gospels, doesn’t mean what it so plainly says. They create a morality-free zone surrounding anything to do with business and commerce, exempting the most egregious assaults on the common good from any application of 2,000 years of Christian teaching.

Then, on the other side of the cultural divide, we have the cheap gracers who proclaim that any standards of personal morality are in fact violations of personal freedom and assaults on tolerance and love. They carry this to the point that simple disagreement with such actions as abortion, serial marriage, same-sex marriage, and the commodification and sexualization of women and children is attacked and labeled “hate,” “homophobia,” and, bizarre as this sounds, sexism.

These competing versions of cheap-grace, god-made-in-my-image faux christianity have become the public face of Christian teaching. Their followers attack one another with a ruthlessness worthy of Caiaphas, and a pragmatic amorality that would be the pride of Machiavelli. Their total lack of respect for Jesus Christ and the Gospels is only equaled by their pretentious self-righteousness.

These are mean people. They are mean with the meanness that any thinking person would expect of someone who has turned their back on Christ in order to twist His message into a club to beat their political opponents with.

Why they do it is obvious: To gain power, fame and money.

How they manage to succeed at it is more subtle. Anyone who honestly read the New Testament would pick up on the fact that what these people are giving us is the stone, not the bread; a snake rather than a fish. Yet millions upon millions of “Bible believing” Christians not only fall for this crass twisting of the Gospels in the name of self-justification, they abandon the real Gospels to follow and teach it themselves.


Are they that stupid? Can’t they read the Bible for themselves and see that these are lies?

I think the answer rests in the fact that they can read the Bible; they just don’t like what it says.

The story of the Gospels is not built around some “follow me and I’ll make you into little Ceasars” sort of promise. It is in fact quite the opposite. When Satan tempted Jesus, he offered Him all the kingdoms of this world and Jesus turned him down. What Jesus did instead was set Himself on the path that led to the cross.

These sham teachers of phony gospels of their own devising are offering us the same deal that Satan offered Jesus. The difference being that many of us are taking the deal. Follow them, and you can have any kind of sex you want with whomever you chose. Follow them and you can kill your own children, reduce other human beings to things to be destroyed for your pleasure and feel holier than thou for doing it.

Set your foot on the broad and smooth path of the phony jesus these liars give us and you can lie, steal, cheat, hoard, destroy whole economies for your personal gain. You can push most of the world into death-dealing poverty and back it up with armies you supply from your factories and go to church on Sunday and be honored as great people of a phony god.

Wide is the way that leads to perdition, and it seems that in today’s world it is most often paved by the self-righteous hypocrisy of following false gods of our own creation that we have cast in our own image.

This is cheap grace, and it always seems to end up giving those who choose it a license to kill.

Bonnhoefner also talked about another kind of grace. He called it “costly grace.” I tend to call it “real grace,” but that’s just me and my simple-minded way of looking at things.

Here is part of what he said:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Cheap grace is a sham and a phony. It is a lie we tell ourselves. Costly grace, the grace that comes from following Jesus even if it’s unpopular, even if it means picking up your cross and following after Him, is what can and will heal our culture and save our world.

According to a survey conducted by the Barna Institute, America is drifting more and more toward the cheap grace of God Made in Our Image; the ultra personal god who follows our teachings instead of asking us to follow his.

God made in our image will never ask us to do anything costly. He will always understand our transparent justifications, even of the most heinous crimes. What he can never do is cleanse us, re-orient us and change us into what we were meant to be when God first made us. What we will never see by following him is eternal life. There is no redemption in making an idol out of yourself, in worshipping a self-made, all-agreeing comfortable little kitchen god that you create out of your longing to never be wrong, never sacrifice, never make a tough choice.

Only God, the real God, can redeem us, make us new and lead us into life everlasting. The price of following Him is the same now as it has always been. It is the costly grace of the cross.

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The Heresy of Politicized Christianity

Deacon Greg Kandra published a post today describing a “study” that says that “Christian Progressives” are on the cultural ascendancy.

I put the word study in quotes because all this study amounts to is some yo-yo with letters after his name who went out and tabulated Google searches, dividing them between “conservative Christian” and “progressive Christian.” His criteria: Google searches for “Christian right” vs google searches for “Christian left.”

Based on this handy-dandy spreadsheet workout, this person has extrapolated to all sorts of predictions and prophecies about the direction of Christianity in the future USA.

Aside from the fact that this is about as scientific as predicting the future by studying the entrails of a goat, it does reveal quite a lot about the researcher and the way that Christianity is discussed today.

After I converted to Catholicism, I encountered a lot of talk about which Catholics were “orthodox” or not. I remember wondering what the tar-heel an “orthodox” Catholic might be. I had some idea about what an Orthodox Jew was. But an “orthodox” Catholic seemed to be one of those vague, do-it-yourself monikers that people hang on themselves in order to chastise other people. To this day, I’ve never heard a useful definition of what an “orthodox” Catholic might be, even though I still read about folks who claim to be one and seem to think they know.

Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the blogging waters, I find myself repeatedly encountering verbiage that attempts to define Christians and Christianity along political groupings. Even here at Patheos we have a portal for “progressive” Christians. I don’t fault Patheos for this. The moniker is out there everywhere and the Progressive Christians themselves seem to think they are members of some clearly demarcated understanding of Christianity that groups them together and separates them from the rest of us who stand at the foot of the cross.

Not that I’m saying they don’t stand at the foot of the cross. But I guess they would place themselves in a separate group of before-the-cross-standers that distinguishes them from other, non-progressive Christians. Of course, we also have the “conservative” Christians there before the cross, as well. In this Americanized/politicized version of Christianity I guess the rest of us who don’t want to be “conservative” or “progressive” Christians just wander around aimlessly, or maybe circulate back and forth between the two groups.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider this imaginary portrait I just painted. We have the cross, with the crucified Savior of the World hanging on it. And we have His so-called followers standing there in front of it, looking not at Him, but at each other. The “conservative” Christians are standing as far away from the “progressive” Christians as they can get, and vice versa. They are not thinking about or concerned with the God who died for them on Calvary. They are not grieved by what their sins have wrought. They are not caught in wonder at the love God has for them.

Nope. They are both like the Pharisee who went to pray and spent his whole time thanking God that he wasn’t like that sinful tax collector over there.


Does anyone remember what Jesus had to say about the Pharisee? If you don’t, you can find it in Luke 8: 9-14.

I wrote a post yesterday, encouraging Christians to engage with the political structure. After reading the comments it garnered, I repented of that post. We aren’t ready.

Before Christians can engage the larger culture they’ve first got to be all-in for Jesus. That appears to be a major stumbling block for a lot of people. These ridiculous designations of “conservative” and “progressive” Christians are a symptom and an expression of just how far away we are from actually following Christ, or even taking Him seriously at all.

In today’s America, “conservative” and “progressive” are political terms. If we were being honest, we’d just dispense with those terms and say what we mean. On the one side we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following right wing politics instead of following Jesus, and on the other side, we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following left wing politics instead of following Jesus.

They are, both of them, following the world instead of following Jesus. And they are claiming that Jesus not only supports them in this, but He is following them. 

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a pew-sitting Catholic who is grateful that, after the things I’ve done, they let me inside the Church at all. But I love Jesus.

This disregard of Him, this crude claim of ownership of Him, by people who carry His name hurts me. It stings and bites at me when I think about it. What is wrong that so many people can look at the living God and see a self-justifying reflection of themselves?

I repeat: I am not a theologian. But I think that this twisting of the Gospels to suit fashionable politics and political power is heretical. It is also, evidently, deeply embedded in people’s hearts.

Diamond cross pendant er41160

If you look at the cross and feel smirky holier than thou self-justification for you and your politics, then I would wager that you are not looking at the cross at all. You are considering a piece of jewelry you’ve hung around your neck that is made of cold metal and, without the real cross that it symbolizes, can not save you.

Conservative/Progressive/Right/Left Christianity is a human invention. It gives us what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” which is to say self-approval. It makes us self-righteous and mean.


If you are interpreting the Gospels in the light of your politics, then you are not following Christ. This business of co-opting the Gospels to fit the world has eternal consequences.

There is one Jesus; one narrow way; one means of salvation; one cross.

Our job as American Christians is to believe that one Jesus, walk that narrow way, and to conform our lives, including our politics, to Christ and Him crucified.

I want to follow Christ. I do not want to follow conservative Christ or progressive Christ or right or left or middle of the road Christ. I want to follow and I pray for the grace to follow, Christ and Him crucified by conservatives and progressives and rightists and leftists and all the rest of the crowd who will not follow Him without reframing Him to suit themselves.

That is why I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not because they are easy or politically correct. But because I’ve tried making God in my own image. I know that I can’t judge, can’t decide, can’t know. Left to my own devices I will do horrible things, just as my heretical brothers and sisters on the left and the right are doing horrible things.

Standing before the real cross means that you know you are not worthy to be there. You know that your own understanding put Him there. You know yourself for what you are and you realize that without Him you are doomed to the hell you have created and earned; to the hell you deserve.

“Lean not on your own understanding” the scriptures tell us.

It’s good advice.

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