Progressive Talk about God: Lots of Throat Clearing

So, my Challenge to Progressive Theo-Bloggers has been well received, prompting many responses from across the blogosphere. You can see the Storify stream where I’ve been curating all of the posts, poems, and even tweets that have come in.

There have been some objections, and I’ve got some observations. First, the objections.

Firstly, I wrote,

Write something substantive about God. Not about Jesus, not about the Bible, but about God.

That prompted responses like this:

Maybe Benjamin is right and I misunderstand revelation, but I actually think there are lots of things to say about God without talking about Jesus. Jews seem to be able to do it.

That’s not to say that your vision of God shouldn’t be christocentric. I think it should. But as a Christian, you should also be able to articulate aspects of your doctrine of God without referencing Jesus of Nazareth.

To that thread, a comment by Brad was echoed in a tweet by John:

Dear John, you’re a theologian! That’s who you are to say things about God. Please note, I did not ask you to write a comprehensive theology of God. I asked you to write something substantive about God. If you can’t say anything substantive about God — whether it be to me, or to the person sitting next to you on a plane — then I just don’t see how you believe anything at all.

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A Challenge to Progressive Theo-Bloggers

I’ve been writing recently about the problems with liberal Christianity, and I had a thought this morning. It was prompted by a recent phone conversation I had with the managing editor of a major publishing house, combined with my faithful listening to the Theology Nerd Throwdown podcast, and the silliness of all the hand-wringing about Chik-fil-A.

These have prompted me to think that progressives have a God-talk problem. That is, progressives write lots of books and blog posts about social issues, the church, culture, and society. But we don’t write that much about God. That is, we don’t say substantive things about who God is, what God does, etc.

You might say the same thing about conservative Protestants (i.e., “evangelicals”). But the thing is, their people pretty much know what they think of God. It’s well-known and on the record.

Progressive/liberal/mainline theology, on the other hand, has a PR problem. We might think that people know what we think about God, but they don’t. It’s clear in the comments on this blog and elsewhere.

It really struck me yesterday, when listening to a recent edition of the TNT podcast, in which Tripp repeatedly and forcefully said things about who God is and how God acts. He didn’t relativize those statements with qualifiers, and he didn’t cowtow to political correctness or academic jargon. That was jarring to me because it so rarely happens.

Thus, I have a challenge:

I challenge all progressive theo-bloggers to write one post about God between now and August 15.

I mean, all of you: Fred, Scot, Rachel, MPT, John Shore, everyone at the Patheos Progressive Portal, and all of you I haven’t mentioned or even ever read. Write something substantive about God. Not about Jesus, not about the Bible, but about God.

Leave the link for me as a comment here, or email me the link through my website. I’ll collect them in a Storify thread, and I’ll publicize them all here.

UPDATE: Tweet your post with the hashtag #progGOD

UPDATE: Follow all of the posts as they come in on the ProgGOD Storify.

Will the ‘God Particle’ Change Theology?

This image, from a sensor at the particle accelerator at CERN, is an example of the data signature a Higgs particle might generate.

According to numerous news outlets, scientists are about to unveil the Higgs boson — aka, the God Particle. Here’s NPR:

King Arthur had his quest for the Holy Grail. Physicists hope they are hot on the trail of the Higgs particle. You might call it the final puzzle piece, needed to complete our picture of how all the fundamental particles make up the universe.

Joe Lykken at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois has been part of this quest since the early 1980s.

“Our former director, Leon Lederman, called the Higgs particle the God Particle,” Lykken says. “It was not meant to be a religious comment, it was meant to express our understanding of how the universe works. We think without a Higgs boson you can’t have a universe in the first place.”

At the very least, the universe would be incredibly boring. That’s because the Higgs particle, or Higgs boson, is supposed to explain why the atoms in the galaxies, the stars, the earth at our feet, and in our bodies, have mass. If they didn’t have mass, we wouldn’t exist as physical beings.

We think the Higgs boson is a manifestation of the fact that the universe is filled with a force that we haven’t been able to detect yet, that gives other particles mass,” Lykken says. (via Is The Hunt For The ‘God Particle’ Finally Over? : NPR.)

I think that profound scientific discoveries always make doing theology more challenging, and therefore more fun, so I look forward to learning more about Higgs boson for my next book — after Why Pray? — which is tentatively titled, Wild God.

How do you think Higgs boson will challenge theology?

Where Is God’s Wrath Burning Now?

In the past couple years, John Piper has been outspoken about any number of tragedies, from earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes to the collapse of a freeway bridge. However, he’s been conspicuously quiet this summer, even as Colorado burns.

Aerial photograph of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado between June 24, 2012 and June 27, 2012 show the destructive path of the fire. Photo by John Wark, www.johnwark.com 

Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles away, we in Minnesota got enough rain to destroy parts of Duluth and to raise Lake Superior 3 inches — that’s estimated to be 17 trillion gallons of water.

Vermilion Road in Duluth after flooding within Tischer Creek drainage. (Photo by John Goodge/MPR)

The problem with Piper’s outbursts — theologically speaking — is that he portrays a God who is entirely arbitrary. God’s wrath burns against our sin, always and unremittingly — that’s Piper’s argument. God’s grace usually holds back God’s wrath, thus protecting us from tragedies of all sorts. But on occasion, God allows his wrath to burst through, and then people die horribly.

This is a very primitive view of God. To think that God uses weather to punish people for sin is right up there with thinking that a man was born blind because of his parents’ sin. (While Jesus rejected this kind of thinking, I don’t find his response — “this happened to that the works of God might be displayed in him” — much more palatable.)

The Greeks and Romans feared a built temples to appease the gods of Mt. Olympus, gods who were known to be arbitrary. They fought each other, fell in love with humans, and otherwise behaved like teenagers — and humans paid the price.

I’d like to think that the God of Israel is a good deal better than that — that YHWH/Abba is a God who is reasonable and understandable. That the true God is worshipped by us because we love him, and because he’s made himself understandable to us.

I don’t think God uses the weather to punish us.

Nor — with all due respect to my Colorado friends who are praying for rain — do I think that God sends rain as a result of prayers. Because you can’t have one without the other. If you believe that God sends rain in mercy, you’ve also got to believe that God sends wildfires in his wrath.


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