This Nameless Movement of God

This Nameless Movement of God October 23, 2016
This Nameless Movement of God

I posted the following thoughts on my Facebook wall yesterday. The reaction to my post was so strong that I thought I’d share it with my blog readers, along with some additional thoughts.


There is a movement within Christianity for which I do not have a name.

We have many differences, despite our shared convictions. Some of us are conservatives, some liberals, and some progressives. You’ll find us among Evangelicals, Anabaptists, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and pretty much any other Christian denomination or tradition.

But a single truth forms the core of everything we believe. I’ll quote here the poetic words of Brian Zahnd, though many others have expressed the same truth in different ways:

God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—but now we do.

This core truth has led us to reject a number of beliefs that have crept into (especially Western) Christianity but that we see as distortions of Jesus’ gospel. While we are in general agreement that such beliefs must be replaced, we have no consensus on which specific alternatives best describe the God revealed in Jesus.

Based on the truth that God is like Jesus, we reject the beliefs:

  • that God had to punish Jesus for our sins (penal substitutionary atonement);
  • that God will punish sinners forever in hell (eternal conscious torment);
  • that God meticulously plans all events (theological determinism);
  • that God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence (just war theory);
  • that God’s inspiration of scripture entails a text that is free from human mistakes (inerrancy).

There may be a few more we could add to this list, but these are probably the main ones.

So here’s my question: What is this movement? Does it have any defining characteristics apart from what I’ve here described? Has anyone given a name to this movement? Or, as a movement of the Spirit, would it even be wise to do so?

Discuss!


And discuss we did. I enjoyed seeing the names folks suggested. Here are a few:

  • “a modern day Reformation”
  • “the Emergent Village movement”
  • “Evangelical Christian Universalism”
  • “Lutheranism”
  • “the Death of Christendom”
  • “People of the Way”
  • “a Kingdom Revolution”
  • “Christological humanism”
  • “Christian Transhumanism”
  • “Trinitarianism”
  • “Simply Jesus”
  • “The Restoration”
  • “following Jesus”
  • “a continuation of the Radical Reformation”
  • “the original good news”
  • “Kingdom of Papa movement”
  • “The Third Testament”
  • “Christianity”
  • “a generous orthodoxy”
  • “progressive Christianity”
  • “The Journey”

And then of course there were a few folks with less-than-positive suggestions:

  • “Deism”
  • Marcionism
  • “Arianism”
  • Heresy
  • “Error”
  • “Blasphemy blasphemy punishment….. Death!!!!”

What I find fascinating about the (serious) suggestions is that many of them represent different existing (and named) segments of Christianity that all share these tenets about the beautiful God revealed in Jesus. But none of them are the movement itself. This goes so far beyond anything that we humans could have organized.

This movement has the marks of Holy Spirit all over it. She has been hard at work, planting her seeds of truth all throughout Christianity. Those seeds have taken root, and we are privileged to witness as the seedlings push their way up through the ground.

It is an exciting time to be alive as a follower of Jesus!

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  • You forgot “McKnightism.” I think someone suggested that…. 😉

  • Phil Tune

    Oh wow… I am just… stunned that a Christian has listed EXACTLY the things I have been pondering for the past two years but told no one. I… agree with every one of those things, and I have come to that realization in just the last 18 months of my 31 years in a conservative baptist church. I see you have Friedman in your Recently Read. I have several of his works and they have definitely had a hand in my theological transformation as of late.

    • You’re not alone! Feels good to know that, eh? 🙂

  • Eric Hatfield

    I am probably somewhat independent of the circles you move in, but I have come to all of these understandings over the past decades – I agree that penal substitution on its own is wrong, but I believe that all theories of the atonement probably have some truth to offer, if all are included to make up the full picture.

    I think this really is a movement of God.

    • I think you would enjoy A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight (not related to me): http://www.amazon.com/Community-Called-Atonement-Living-Theology/dp/0687645549/?tag=hippieheretic-20

      He sketches out how the various different theories of atonement fit together to create that fuller picture you speak of. And he, like you, does not rule out penal substitution. However, he offers a nuanced version of it which comes across as a bit more acceptable.

      Personally, I still think that penal substitution is something we would do well to be rid of entirely, but if you’re going to hold to it, the version Scot describes is the way to go.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    So, doesn’t rejecting the idea
    “that God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence”
    imply that God was not the author of the Old Covenant Law?

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      I’ve thought some more about this, so here’s my second ha’penny of thoughts).
      First of all (well this is a bit of an afterthought at least as being written but I did think it straight off): Four out of five conclusions being right ain’t bad. Nevertheless, the one big flaw in the violence centered on at least undermines the reason to claim the other four. However, one doesn’t need the premise that “God is like Jesus” to reject the other four–all one needs to reject the other four is the authority of scripture over tradition. Period.

      Now, as for the problem with that bit about God therefore never sanctioning or participating in violence. If you believe that you would have to discredit most of scripture as being at least tainted with association with violence.

      So, my argument goes like this:
      The main problem with this kind of absolutizing of “the character of Jesus” as being equivalent to that of God is that it tends to result in contradictions. You know, like God couldn’t command the killing of anyone because Jesus wouldn’t do that. Come on guys, get a rational grip on even the hermeneutical problem that creates and you might begin to rethink things a bit. Jesus wholly affirmed the Old Covenant Law as not passing away forever and in it his Father commanded the execution of persons guilty of a wide range of disobedience and sin, not just the slaughter of those immersed in cultures with endemic immorality and idolatry. Besides, the New Testament portrays Jesus as the perfect HUMAN more than the absolute GOD (not to say that he isn’t God in the flesh, but…). Jesus is presented to us by the apostles as the perfect human example to follow , , , , wait for it , , , , under NEW COVENANT principles, teaching, and practices (transcending those of the Old). If one could reasonably absolutize some reduced image of Jesus from aspects of his life, while ignoring the parts of his teaching that confirm the character of God one sees in the portrayal of YHWH in the OT, then McKnight’s (and others’) argument might be at least partially persuasive. But rejecting the OT characterization of God, seeing that portrayal as being invalidated by the character of God revealed in Christ, is self-contradictory. The very TEACHING of Jesus contradicts the argument so I don’t find it at all compelling.


      The hermeneutical problem this absolutizing of the pacifist character of God (supposedly revealed in Jesus’ willingness to die at the hands of sinners) raises is no small matter. This hermeneutic is popping up sometimes (!) even in evangelical circles (like that of Greg Boyd and Brian Zhand), but more often is the sort of stock in trade of old and new Liberals. Rejecting any association of God with the violent commands witnessed to throughout the Old Covenant narrative one adopts inherently an hermeneutic of the authority of human perspectives over anything considered divine by every author of what is considered New and Old Covenant scripture. Once one is committed to rejecting the validity of such vast portions of scripture as required by the pacifist absolutizing of the character of God as viewed through these reductionist rules, one has no rational grounds for affirming the authority of ANY of scripture. All one is left with is the individualized authority of relativized subjectivities. So, why should we have faith in Christ, even a pacifist one, if it is one in which his and the apostles’ teachings are also reduced by this myopic hermeneutic? The implications are staggering, but going unexamined by too many.

      • Hey, Richard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        In short, I don’t believe that God was the author of most of the OT law. Rather, God accommodated to his people’s need for lawmaking, even though much of it went against what he truly desires, as revealed in Jesus.

        Likewise, I do indeed say that most of scripture is tainted by its association with violence. However, I do not see that as a reason to discredit it altogether. Scripture is a very human book. Divinely inspired, yes, but incredibly human at the same time. It is the story of God’s people as told by God’s people, and it bears all the flaws of the people who wrote it. It is of incredible value as such, but we must take it for what it is, rather than trying to make it into something it is not.

        As for Jesus wholly affirming the OT law, what he actually said was that he came to fulfill (or perfect or complete) the law. The law was imperfect, but Jesus made it perfect and complete. And he did this by pointing to a simple principle which he said sums up the entire intent of the law: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But since much of the law as written contradicts this principle (namely anything that advocates violence), we are forced to reject such commands as not truly being from God at all.

        As for the idea that a rejection of the inerrancy of scripture leads to a rejection of Christ, you simply have it backwards. I trust that the Bible is important, inspired, and profitable (though not perfect) precisely because I first trust in Jesus. I do not trust in Jesus because I first trust the Bible.

  • physics guy

    Phyllis Tickle calls this the ‘500 year rummage sale’. It’s been about 500 years since the last revolution in Christian thought; it’s happening again, and it’s GOOD!
    I highly recommend ‘A More Christlike God’ by Brad Jersak. He tackles all of these issues in a sensitive, profound, but easily accessible way. His earlier books, ‘Her Gates Will Never Be Shut’, and ‘Stricken By God?’ go into much, much more depth into the theologies of Atonement Theory and Judgment.

    • Yes! Brad is a friend of mine and an amazing teacher. I cannot recommend his books highly enough!