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How Man-Centered Is God?

John on July 18, 2006 at 12:04 am

Today, David (aka the Jollyblogger) wrote a post about “Man-Centeredness.” This is his second post on the topic. His first was in reaction to a discussion I had with one of the bloggers from Slice of Laodicea (scroll down for the comments). Seeing as I helped get this ball rolling, I’d like to take David up on his offer to kick it around a bit more.

First off, these are loaded terms. Man-Centered Theology is an oxymoron. So you immediately get the sense that, if both terms were to appear on an exam, it would be unwise to choose the one that sounds sketchy and self-defeating.

That said, I think it would be helpful to have some kind of definition of what we mean by Man-Centered vs. God-Centered theology. A quick search brought me to this page by Timothy Wallace. I won’t reproduce the entire thing, but here is a sample:

God-Centered Theology (GCT)…magnifies the Giver of every gift (including life itself), aiming ever better to both know Him and make Him known.

Man-Centered Theology (MCT)…magnifies the gift and the recipient’s possession and enjoyment of the gift, often forgetting the Giver altogether.

GCT…sees the purpose of all creation (including one’s self) as chiefly for God’s pleasure, and humbly gives thanks with some measure of joy, whatever the circumstance.

MCT…sees the purpose of creation as largely for man’s pleasure, and so often assumes some measure of perceived entitlement or “right” to some quality or possession in life.

GCT…sees one’s own good deeds as an expression of eager and overflowing gratitude for the kindness of God.

MCT…sees one’s good deeds as a dutiful effort to please God and earn favor or respect from God (and/or men).

Once again, it’s clear these definitional phrases are written from one side of the divide. The first MCT characteristic above ends with the overstatement “often forgetting the Giver altogether.” I don’t buy that many of the people who are considered MCT proponets actually go that far. It’s a straw man argument.

Take Rick Warren as an example. The folks over at Slice of Laodicea certainly see him as the epitome of MCT. However, I don’t find it even remotely plausible that he has forgotten the giver of life. But even if you go to someone more extreme like Robert Schuller, I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s forgotten God altogether. God does seem to get tacked on rather haphazardly to Schuller’s main message about “possibility”, but He’s not been forgotten completely. Not yet, anyway.

Leaving aside the bias in the terms and the definitions, I’m still not so sure the GCT proponents have the winning side. I certainly agree that it’s possible to go too far, to really and truly accept the gift and forget the giver. And yet I can’t help but feel that the GCT types are offering us a view of our existence designed to screen out anything remotely human in our relationship with God or each other.

The Good Life: Sex, Parenthood and Fellowship

Take an example that many of us are familiar with: Marriage. It’s clear that God created us Man and Woman for a purpose. Marriage was not a result of sin, it was part of the original goodness of creation. One of his first commands was to be fruitful and multiply. Now, as delicately as I can put this…It has not escaped my notice, nor that of many people above a certain age, that following God’s commands in this regard entails a certain amount of pleasure. As a Christian I take it that this is one of God’s gifts. But let’s think about what this tells us.

Put aside all the horrible abuse and misuse that has been made of this gift (Not easy to do when we have sex trafficing and abortion and rape). But go back to the garden and ask this question: Why did God make sex pleasureable? It seems to me that there is an ineluctable expression of God’s nature in the nature of human sexuality. What it says, at least to me, is that God has created us in such a way that we matter not just to him, but also intimately and deeply to each other. And, most importantly, the joy we take from sex with our spouse does not diminish our experience of God.

Sex is just one example. We could also consider friendship, fellowship and family. For instance, is the joy I take from being the father of a 2 year old a distraction from God-Centeredness? Or is it part of the goodness of God’s creation which I was intended to find one of the most beautiful parts of life? Is devoted parenthood, in other words, bad theology?

Or consider fellowship. God clearly establishes the church for the purpose of believers gathering to edify one another. But this begs an obvious question. If theology is ideally God-Centered, why do we need fellowship at all? Why can’t we just focus on God at home? Wouldn’t we be more efficient without all the distractions presented by other people? And here again, I don’t believe fellowship is simply a “work-around” in light of our sinful nature. Had man not sinned, there still would have been fellowship among men and women. It was part of the design. It was good and also enjoyable.

A False Dichotomy

I believe the core problem with GCT proponents is that they often seem to see our existence as a somewhat grim, zero-sum game. Under this view, anything which is not God-Centered, anything which is merely human, is in effect a moment stolen from God. I find this wrongheaded. Worse than that, I find it dehumanizing.

Sex within marriage, the joy of raising children, fellowship, frienship — these are not enemies of God’s kingdom or his purpose. They are allies to it. Paul may have remained celibate in order to serve God more effectively, but he was clear to state that to marry was no sin. More generally speaking, to be concerned with the well being of one’s wife, family and fellow human beings is not a failing in God’s eyes (depending on how you read Matthew 25:34-40, it may be quite important). Recall that Ephesians 2:8-9 leads us to Ephesians 2:10. Good works can not earn us salvation but it seems they should follow from it.

When Jesus was asked to sum up the law and the prophets, his answer was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Love for God is first but love for others is also necessary. I think there’s a case to be made from the history of the church that the more God-Centered you are, the more Man-Centered you become. Not self-centered mind you, but mankind-centered.

I hate to sound like an emergent pastor, but I think this is a clear case where making God-Centered Theology vs. Man-Centered Theology an “either/or” is itself the problem. I believe Jesus was fairly clear that this is a “both/and” situation. The more we become like Christ, the more we will turn our eyes to those he loves.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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