This is the third post in this series. The last post is here.
GOD CENTERED PERSPECTIVE
God centered theology sounds like an oxymoron! Someone might interject and say, “of course we are God centered, we’re a church!” Unfortunately, God is often the most assumed topic in our churches and we talk very little about Him. Sometimes, we begin to view the bible as a self help guide designed to fix us rather than it being the revelation of God about who He is and His plans for His glory in His world. We migrate to the bible being a field guide for how to make our lives “work,” which ultimately breaks down when life does not “work” according to our plan – which it never does1. There is a big difference between these two points of view: one puts us on center stage, the other places God on center stage2. It is risky business when we make ourselves the focus because we rob God of glory and take that which is not ours to own; we become glory thieves. Being at cross purposes with the God of the universe should strike a chord of fear in us because God says “my glory I will not give to another.”3 We need to be constantly asking ourselves, “who gets the glory?”
We must intentionally focus more on God and far less on us and what we must do for God (as if He needs anything from us4). We need to be persistently reminded of the sovereign majesty of our Creator because we easily forget; this seems to be the pattern of humanity’s response to God in the scriptures.5 When this happens, we make moralism and the practical application of scripture our primary pursuits, brushing over the deep truths of scripture that provide the fuel for applying them to our lives. Practical application is good and necessary, but when we spend the majority of our time on how to apply the scriptures and very little time on the God of the scriptures, we rob our people of the very Fuel that it takes to apply the scriptures to their lives! The irony in this is that the more emphasis that we place on what people should be doing, the less people actually do the very things that they are being told to do! Their lives aren’t truly transformed by the gospel of grace, they don’t live missionally, their souls are dry with no affection for God nor do they have any significant influence on the world around them. This is because they are depending upon themselves to see their lives changed and obey God. Instead, we need to be captivated with God’s goodness, love, grace, mercy and the wrath that He has rescued us from – these are the things that produce true spiritual transformation. In a God centered culture, it is understood that proximity to Christ6 is what changes us, not our own efforts. As we focus more on God’s character and nature we move from external behavior modification to heart level transformation and see spiritual sustainability established in the lives of Christians.
Everyone has a theology – a believe about God – it is just that the theology held by many Christians is not biblical, historically accurate nor orthodox. For many, they are far more influenced by pop culture than by orthodox doctrine or theology. We must have a steady diet of Christ centered, God exalting, biblical, orthodox teaching that forms an accurate worldview through which we view God, others, the world, pain & suffering and our place in this world. Most Christians know what they should do – how they should act & feel – but fail to consistently pursue these things because their theology is man centered. Our theological framework provides the foundation for everything that we believe, think, feel and ultimately do in life. A strong God saturated theological framework answers the question of “why we live our lives the way the bible tells us to,” and provides us with the fuel to live our lives that way. We need to develop a taste for doctrine, theology and biblical Christianity so that we are able to face many of life’s greatest challenges. Theology and doctrine are not primarily academic or intellectual pursuits, but are the vehicle for us to know God more deeply and passionately pursue Him more fully. We need good, solid God honoring doctrine woven in to the fabric of the culture of our churches in order to foster authentic pursuit of Christ. This must be intentional or it will naturally devolve into man centeredness. There are many ways to accomplish this, but whatever the method, it must be infused in the culture of the church by being intentional about what is taught and how it is taught.
1“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18–25 ESV)
2When we say God centered versus man centered, what is meant is who do we focus on primarily in our study, teaching and practice. In a God centered culture, the bulk of time and teaching is spent expounding on who God is and what He has done for His people. In a man centered culture, the bulk of time and teaching is spent on who we are and what we should be doing for God. This may sound subtle, but its implications are profound; one places God as the central cause of transformation and the other places transformation on our shoulders to pull off on our self disciplined efforts.
3“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV); “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11 ESV)
4“nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:25 ESV)
5The Old Testament is filled with narratives of God’s people regularly forgetting God and pursuing their own way, they are shifting from God centered to man centered and the consequences are always catastrophic. The pattern we see repeated in the New Testament, especially by Paul in the epistles, is a systematic approach to reminding the churches that are being addressed of their inability, depravity, and place in the universe and God’s greatness. There is a constant rebuilding of who God is and who they are before any application is mentioned. We see this especially in Romans when Paul spends the first eleven chapters discussing the richest and deepest truths of our faith before he ever begins to address what our response is in chapter twelve. The first three chapters of Ephesians is a systematic unpacking of the gospel and God’s grace towards those who believe before any application is mentioned in chapter four. Philippians and Colossians both intertwine the gospel and the grace of God with how to live out the gospel in practical ways. The entire letter of Galatians is about shifting from man centered faith (law) to God centered faith (grace). Apparently, we need to be reminded on where our strength and affections lie.
6“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5 ESV); Jesus’ proclamation, regarding believers being the salt of the earth and the light of the world in Matthew 5:13-16 is a direct result of a person coming before God as being spiritually bankrupt (Matthew 5:3); “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV)