'A Brief History of God' -
Several things have motivated me to write this 'Brief History of God'.
Motivation and Aims
Those who were called dispensationalists believed that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit have passed away, and were only for a different time. Charismatics and Pentecostals believe they are very much of today - but seem to ignore the demand for holiness or social justice. God gave Moses the Law - but how much of it is still relevant today? What God said to Abraham, what God did when he dispersed humanity at Babel, what God said to Cain, what God said to the first Man and Woman: how relevant are all these? It is so easy to assume they are of secondary importance. That what God said then was to different people in different times and hence no longer relevant, except perhaps by analogy or to inspire us.
But this site is motivated by the idea that all that God said and did is relevant, even today. Perhaps humanity had to learn that God must be taken seriously before hearing about his love. But, having now heard God is Love, we must still take him seriously. The earlier lessons are still relevant. Maybe what was said first in another culture at a different time needs to be re-applied in today's culture and time. e.g. the law to stone those caught in adultery.
But, before we start to re-interpret, it would be useful to gain a whole picture of all that God has sought to teach us. The specific issues can only be properly understood in the context of the whole. So, let us review all the God has done and said, and then we might avoid forgetting important things.
One motivation I was most conscious of at the time started to write, though not the most important, was a concern that we sometimes give too much emphasis to short phrases ('verses') from the Bible. We use them to prove a point, or devise rules for ourselves or others. We engage in what has been called 'spiritual arithmetic'. Not only Christians do this, but also people of other religions (including atheism), and not just from the Bible.
An example of what I mean. The Apostle Paul once said to a group of early Christians whose worship had got out of hand, "Let everything be done decently and in order", and I have heard this used on occasion to suppress spontaneous activity during worship. Another example: "Let us not forsake the meeting of ourselves together" is often quoted to say "We must always attend church regularly", yet there are very few other verses that say this. I kept on wondering, "If it were an important truth then surely it would occur more times in God's Word?" Spiritual arithmetic people often make another grave error. Not only do they pay attention to fine detail but they ignore major issues. Jesus condemned similar people "You tithe dill and cummin, but ignore the weightier matters of justice."
On the other hand there are those who will do the same thing but with the intent of disproving the Bible's revelation. They will take two phrases that seem to be saying contradictory things - and thus 'disprove' the whole validity of the Bible.
Related to this, there are indeed apparent inconsistencies, and I want to know how to handle them. For example, in early Israel a guy is killed because he dares collect firewood on the Sabbath, yet Jesus heals on the Sabbath and allows his disciples to pick food on the Sabbath. Do such apparent inconsistencies prove, as many in the twentieth century have asserted, that the God of the Old Testament is nasty and cruel and not like the loving God of the New? I was not satisfied with such shallow treatment, and wanted to go deeper.
So I set out to compile an account of what did seem to come across clearly from the Bible when we look at it as a whole story. As I thought these things through, I found a consistency underneath stronger than apparent inconsistencies, one that is deeper and that is not only logical but that gives a much richer view of God and his ways than either account could do on their own.
The second, and a deeper motivation, came from the varied traditions and movements of thought I have been aware of in the Christian community through the ages: how do they fit together? Each seems valuable in some way. Each offers some important message, and yet is criticised and rejected by others, and most degrade into formalism after a time.
- In the last decade so-called Toronto Blessing has shown people that God is not stuffy.
- In the decades before that, the Charismatic Movement showed that God is interested in our whole body, not just our souls, and in our emotions, not just our minds.
- Some decades before that the so-called Holiness Movement emphasised the individual's character, that we should be more like God himself in all his integrity, humility, self-giving and beauty.
- Last century, the Missionary Movement emphasised the worldwide relevance of the Christian gospel.
- A century before that, the revivals in England via Whitefield and the Wesleys highlighted the importance of a personal, rather than merely communal, response to God and relationship with him, and also that every person was of value to God, from the lowest to the highest.
- Out of the latter, of course, grew a Christian form of Socialism a century later.
- But at the time of the Wesleys, another stream, seemingly opposed to their Arminianism, developed the ideas of John Calvin. John Knox in Scotland was a Calvinist some decades before the Wesleys and his confidence in the sovereignty of God gave enormous courage and radicalism - and both he and Calvin founded nations on social justice instead of social preference.
- Many centuries before Calvin we find Francis of Assissi, increasingly eulogized today, who heard God speaking personally to him, and developed a way of harmony with God's creation.
- And many more.
Faced with all these many movements, varied and often contradictory, each offering something important and beautiful to us, yet each showing limitations and eventually deteriorating, how could I respond? At one time I was forced to take 'sides' between Calvinism and Arminianism - yet both seemed to hold important truths and implications found in God's Word, and not found in the other. Maybe God's whole truth is beyond logic? (From the standpoint of Christian Philosophy, I now understand why that is so.) In any case, if I could just set down all the important, broad-sweep themes of the Bible, maybe they would make sense of all the varied movements through the years? As I wrote, I found they did.
I hope you will find so too.
[(====maybe the next is 2nd, esp cos I've mentioned humankind above. Also maybe can above include movements from outside Christian community?)]
The third motivation, and perhaps the most important, was that if we take a broad-sweep approach to the Bible then it speaks, not just to Christians but to the whole world. The large, important messages are there, not only to give us religious doctrine, but to inform, correct, guide and enliven all humankind. This becomes especially relevant as we enter the twenty first century, worn down by numerous unhelpful and unsustainable presuppositions. For instance, how do we rectify what is wrong in the world - through education? through law? through organization? through acceptance? Many answers are offered, via different religions, different theories, different cultures. But God showed very clearly, through the public testimony of the people of Israel three millenia ago, that humankind alone cannot solve its problems. Instead, we need God himself to come in and sort out the mess. That is good news for the whole world - and not just the religious world either!
Martin Luther learned early of the majesty and terror of God, but then had to learn of the grace and love of God - and came to love God truly in return. Many who follow in his steps learn first of the love of God, but then later have to learn of the rulership of God ("Jesus as Saviour, then Jesus as Lord"). Many who start with these things have to learn later on of the depth of their own depravity and the wonder of God's grace. Many who start with a knowledge of this, live lives of little power, until they learn the power of the Holy Spirit within them, power to work miracles, exercise spiritual gifts, cast out demons, etc. In his eloquent book, The Final Quest, which is an account of visions God gave him, Rick Joyner shows how he is one of growing band of people who early learn of the power of God in their lives, but then, later, have to learn of the humility and beauty of God.
There are many, many other combinations and permutations. In whichever order we learn of the wonderful things of God, we tend to give emphasis to the thing we learned latest. In too many cases we (including I) tend to elevate that latest thing to the height of being the key, the sole and highest thing that we should learn about God. Worse than that, we tend to despise, or at least pity, those who have not learned the thing we value, and tend to oppose those who elevate another thing.
I wanted some framework that would help me avoid these errors. I wanted to see, if I could, true value in the other person's spiritual journey. Now, of course, there are some whose spiritual journeys are weaker than others, some who are careless or selfish, but for those who, with a good heart, have different journeys than my own, I wanted some framework that would enable me to see their journeys as of equal value to my own.
Some believe that love is all the framework we need. And it is true that if I love someone then I will esteeem her or him more than I esteem myself. However such a love-based framework tends too often to work by suppressing diversity: "Don't think of their differences; just love them." But I needed something more: I needed a framework that would celebrate and affirm diversity and yet allow me to truly value difference in others.
Noting what God had done and had taken the trouble to teach us down through the millennia, and keeping them all in view, would help me. In fact, the framework I sought could be termed a true holism, though that had a different purpose for me too.
My fifth motivation was related to the last two: I wanted to gain an holistic view of what God has done and has taught us. In particular, I wanted, if possible, to gain a view that spanned all cultures and times, while being sensitive to them all. To do this, we need to know what the important things are, then apply that knowledge in a particular situation.
Both courage and humility are important. But we would emphasize one in one situation and the other in another. The person who has just shown courage and is perhaps proud of the feat they have achieved, we would urge them to humility. But the person who is humble but perhaps a little fearful we would urge to courage. So with all the varied things of God, of which there are many. We should emphasize the ones that are lacking in a situation and try to build them up, rather than emphasizing the ones that are already well represented.
The following table shows what I mean. The ideal is a balanced mix of courage, humility, love, justice, pease, dignity, and so on, but in a particular community (or person, or culture, or people) certain things are valued and the valued things tend to be present; the more stars, the better they are in that area. Other things are not valued. So that community should emphasize (that is, put more effort into fostering) those areas in which they are weak.
THE IDEAL CURRENT TO EMPHASIZE
Courage ***** ***** .
Humility ***** . *****
Love ***** * ****
Justice ***** *** **
Peace ***** ** ***
Dignity ***** *** **
Beauty ***** * ****
Of course, that is an oversimplified picture. However it has some merit. In this way we are not bound to the current culture, taking it as the norm, but we are sensitive to it.
But if we are to take this line, then we need to know which areas are important. That is, what should the list on the left consist of?
Given the inability of humankind to come to an answer on this, it requires communication from One who knows, that is God. I believe the Living God has communicated these things to us, in many ways and throughout history. So I hope, in this Brief History of God, to outline what I think God's list consists of.
So the aims of this collection of ideas are:
- ==== the initial ones to be written
- To help us conntextualize the gospel. To let us see "the whole counsel of God", so that we can decide, in any cultural situation, which ones are missing from that context and therefore which ones it is important to emphasize in that context. This is best done, note, by those who are part of that context, and not by the rest of us. But the rest of us can help.
- To let us see what is right or valuable in the various movements of God's spirit throughout the ages. Even when these seem contradictory, they can each show us one important side of God's dealings and heart. So we can learn and benefit from all of them, rather than feeling we must take sides with one or the other. I particularly dislike the attitude of some immature Christians who sneer on movements of God that differ from the one they are currently following.
- To link what we learn today with what God has taught humankind throughout history. To put the precious things we are discovering into an historical context, partly to humble us so we don't think we have some new truth, but mainly to encourage us in seeing that we are not alone but are part of vast stream of humanity learning about God's ways.
- To help us distinguish what is important in what God has revealed to us from what is of lesser importance. Too often we elevate what are in fact small points. Either we take what was a cultural issue (e.g. women wearing coverings on their heads) and make it an absolute command, and thereby end up ignoring more important things. We tithe the small amounts of herbs from our gardens but ignore justice. A different danger is that we take some of the rules that were written to guide practical situations 2000 years ago and make them tests of a person's standing with God.
- To show that the Old and New Testaments speak with the same voice, give the same picture. Many are surprised when they learn that the Great Commandment "Love God with all ... and your neighbour as yourself" is actually from the Old Testament. A surprising number of issues that Christians assume to have been the province of the New Testament can be found quite clearly taught in the Old. The nature of these common threads is often that the theme has started to be revealed in the Old Testament, but not in its fullest version until much later.
- ==== more to come
This is part of the A Brief History of God website.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000.
Comments and queries are very welcome.
Last updated: 7 April 2001 started from index.html. 13 May 2001 Minor rewritings. 17 February 2002 Principles of interp moved to bhg.interp. 3 November 2002 new motivation: All God said/done relevant. 3 February 2007 unet.