“The Christian God has been twisted into something not unlike that of radical Islam.” So says Brad Jersak. We first met because we were both interviewed for the movie “Hellbound?” Then we became friends. Now Brad has an important book out–A More Christlike God–that challenges the received lazy “wisdom” of both conservatives and liberals, atheists and believers about Christ. Here’s my interview with Brad on this important and beautifully written book.
Q: Tell my readers a bit about your background.
Brad: Like you Frank, I grew up in the Evangelical world in the era when Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority hit their stride. It was also a time when your father, Francis Schaeffer, was my favorite thinker and hero … he did offer some culture and sanity to the Evangelical scene. Also, like you, the notion of a violent, retributive God eventually soured on me. The journey so far has led me to a more Christlike vision of God (and, like you, to the Orthodox church). Out of that fresh (but ancient) vision came this book.
Q: What was your inspiration for the title, A More Christlike God – more Christlike than what?
Brad: All of us, Christian or not, including atheists—carry images of ‘God’ in our minds. Whether we love and worship that ‘God’ or despise and reject him (or her or it), I believe human conceptions of God are incomplete, distorted and can even be dangerous. This is especially troubling when we see fundamentalists of all stripes emulating a violent god of their own making.
We become like the god we worship. How is it that our portrayals of God are so often utterly un-Christlike? In this book, I continually return to the claim that Jesus Christ is the “image of the invisible God” and “the exact representation” of who God is. In other words, if you want to know what God is really like—exactly like—look at Jesus.
Q: The churches in America present a god who is completely un-Christlike. They are stuck on the bad-ass god that could be lifted from ISIS videos as they behead people or as they burn people to death. After all Billy Graham, and the editors of Christianity Today preach a literal hell, and a god who created humanity to burn most people who don’t “accept” Jesus.
Brad: Right. I think of it this way: literally millions of thoughtful folks are abandoning the whole church scene. But many of them still care about who or what ‘God’ is. As a matter of conscience, they can no longer stomach the God of wrath often portrayed by Christendom if you don’t jump through their hoops. They have begun to suspect that the Christian God has been twisted into something not unlike that of radical Islam. Even the ‘New Atheists’ are citing the Bible and asking tough questions about the so-called ‘toxic texts’ that describe divinely sanctioned genocide, justification of slavery, oppression of women and a wrathful God who tortures unbelievers forever.
On the other hand, many of the same people very much like and respect the person of Jesus. They like his call to love, forgiveness and nonviolent peacemaking. In our most basic instincts, we know that if God is nothing like Jesus, something doesn’t fit related to our own hopes for humankind. Those who’ve taken the nearest exit still have questions—good questions, hard questions—questions about how a good God can allow or even inflict so much suffering in the world.–A More Christlike God attempts to engage those challenges head-on in a way that doesn’t just pile the B.S. platitudes even deeper.
Brad: Ironically, the vision of God that we get through Jesus is not that of an All-Supreme Emperor in the sky. The clearest picture we get comes from the Cross. On Good Friday, Jesus unveiled God as ‘cruciform,’ which means ‘Cross-shaped.’ In other words, something about Jesus’ suffering and death says more about God than anything else – it trumps every other image of God that religion has conceived.
In the book, I define ‘the Cross’ as the revelation that God is by nature “self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love.” This is what it means for God to be both Christlike and cruciform. Jesus shows us a God who, by nature, empties himself into the world as redeeming love and infinite mercy.
Q: The climax of the book is your chapter about ‘A More Beautiful Gospel.’ Tell us about that.
Brad: I compare and contrast two ways the gospel has been presented. The first version shows the very conditional gospel of the evangelicals and roman Catholics and for that matter the more fundamentalist “Orthodox” : if you turn to God, he will turn to you. The whole thing starts with God’s indignation and we find his so-called love for us is entirely conditional.
The second version walks us through the story of Jesus. We see how God in Christ is always in pursuit of us, even and especially when we have “turned from him” as the evangelicals would say. We see how God never turns his back on anyone and, in fact, he pursues us like a lover.
On Amazon at A More Christlike God
BOOK ORDERS: www.ptm.org/christlike
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace