A brief response to RHE
October 20, 2014
I have been reflecting on Rachel Held Evans’ recent post, “I would fail Abraham’s test,” which includes the following:
While I agree we can’t go making demands and bending God into our own image, it doesn’t make sense to me that a God whose defining characteristic is supposed to be love would present Himself to His creation in a way that looks nothing like our understanding of love. If love can look like abuse, if it can look like genocide, if it can look like rape, if it can look like eternal conscious torture—well, everything is relativized! Our moral compass is rendered totally unreliable. …
My point is this: It is intellectually dishonest to say Christians make moral judgment calls based on Scripture alone. Conscience, instinct, experience, culture, relationships—all of these things (and more) play important roles in how we assess right from wrong. …
My initial reaction after reading this was not as charitable as it could have been. To wit, Evans is obviously making God into her own image, despite her disclaimer to the contrary. If I were to ask one of my fellow millennials what sort of God shares our values, this would be it!
I don’t disagree with the substance of that initial criticism, but it also must be said that I make God into my own image. Last I checked, I am a sinner. I harbor a whole host of assumptions, moral and aesthetic categories, which I bring to my theology and which still predetermine my conception of God. This is why our theology is always a work-in-progress — “theology on one’s knees,” to use one of Balthasar’s favorite images.
My disagreement with Evans (and Enns obviously comes to mind) is how the biblical portrait of God no longer operates in its authoritative capacity for the church. A certain treatment of Christ, which is itself selective, is given the sole normative status for one’s theology. The rest of the Bible is relativized through its cultural framework, with the peculiar christology of one’s own cultural conditioning serving as the norma normans.
While I invariably bring moral and aesthetic categories to my theology — categories which have been predefined apart from the covenantal activity of God and the inscripturated witness to God — these categories have to be rigorously tested, modified, or perhaps rejected entirely. God does not conform to my philosophy; my philosophy conforms to God, using “philosophy” in both its narrow (modern) and broad (ancient) sense. This includes the God of the conquests, just to be clear.
Once again, I do not do this perfectly. Nobody does. But there is a significant theological difference when this “testing” is not even recognized — when God is assessed, as Evans avows, through other criteria and other norming norms. And that is why so many of us are passionate about this, with the unfortunate consequence that we are not always respectful, myself included.