The Theology of Me

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Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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The Nature of Worship

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But as I peered through the dimness at the crowd surrounding me, singing with closed eyes and raised hands, I felt a question flash through my mind. Are we really worshiping? Or are we simply being emotionally manipulated by well-meaning people?

I don’t mean to come across as cynical. I like singing. I enjoy a good musical worship service. But I also know that if we are going to develop a genuine relationship with the Real God, we must be grounded in truth.

Music is powerful. It has the potential to move us at a deep emotional level whether it’s secular or religious. But does worship automatically equal music? Those two words are often synonymous in the Christian culture. Or is worship something much bigger?

My brother led worship for years both on a traveling revival team and professionally at a church. He is a gifted musician and composer. One day he called me to talk about a book he was reading by Elizabeth Esther called Spiritual Sobriety. The premise of this book is that many of us are religious addicts looking for the next spiritual high rather than people who are actually connected to the real God.

I remember my brother telling me about planning  worship services. He said that looking back, he knows there was emotional manipulation involved. It was done with good intentions of getting people to have a worship experience, but it was manipulation none the less. As a musician, he knew that if they played this succession of songs with that chord and those beats, people would feel something. It was convicting to him.

What if much of our musical worship experiences are just that, emotional manipulation?

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If that is the case, it makes sense why we feel a high at retreats or conferences and then come back down to earth once we get home. Feelings are a beautiful thing created by God and they should not be discounted or ignored. However, we can’t live securely based on feelings alone. They are like shifting sand that moves with the waves under our feet. We need a rock to stand on. We need truth.

What is true worship?

Historically, people came to temples to worship their gods. Many also had shrines within their homes. They brought sacrifices to appease the gods and hopefully gain a desired outcome. This still happens around the world today. While music is often involved, it’s just a part of the worship experience. In the Old Testament, even Jehovah was worshiped in a temple with sacrifices. Worshipers came with offerings of animals, grain, and wine to gain forgiveness and blessings.

Jesus changed all of that. Through Jesus, God offered the ultimate sacrifice and appeased Himself. Now the Bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). What does that mean? What does that look like? What do these truths do to the concept of worship?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: What is the chief end of man? It then give this answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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What if real worship is just enjoying God?

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have full and total access to God. Because God sacrificed Himself and no longer requires appeasement, we don’t have to go to a temple to worship. We are the temple and God lives within us when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We are able to enjoy God everywhere and doing anything.

Can we worship God through music? Absolutely! But I can also worship Him driving in the car in silence, taking a walk through nature, eating at a favorite restaurant, serving in the church nursery, etc. The possibilities are endless. If worship is just enjoying God, then there is a lot to enjoy!

As Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John chapter four He said,

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him” John 4:21, 23.

When you feel tingles and tears as you worship corporately with powerful music and lights and raised hands, please realize that the same God is present with you when you feel numb and dead inside and cannot sing at all!

Strong emotion does not necessarily mean worship. Feeling emotion does not indicate God’s Presence. He is with us always whether we feel Him or not. And you can truly worship without intense feelings. Emotions can be fun, but facts and faith must come first. 

Guys, although the Real God is enormous and powerful, holy and passionate, and although He could come in a hurricane and sweep us off our feet, He is usually quiet and still. He is close, so close. He is a Living Presence that can sneak up and overwhelm you when you least expect it. (Like just now when I typed those words and then had to sit in silence with hands raised in surrender and tears dripping down my cheeks.)

 

 

As you worship corporately in church, or don’t, I hope you take some time to contemplate the nature of true worship. Music is just one way to enjoy the God who created us and loved us enough to be The Way Back. Emotions might come as you worship God, but they are a byproduct of worship and not the experience itself. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as your favorite places and ways to worship God. 🙂

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