Guest Post: Has God Become Abstract?

Shortly after reading Banned Questions About the Bible by Christian Piatt and others, I contacted Christian asking if I could borrow a page of the book as a guest post. I had my eye on this entry by Jarrod McKenna.

After pointing out that God is portrayed as less interventionist in the New Testament than in the Old, and has since become even more abstract, the question is asked whether this is a good thing or a bad thing?

//This question reveals two worldviews that bastardize the gospel, giving birth to cheap imitations. And as Ammon Henacy reminded us, “When choosing the lesser of two evils we must not forget they are both evil.” The two evils are following:

[1] God is elsewhere. This would explain the amount of evil, injustice, misery, and war in the world. God created all, but took some time off afterward, holidaying somewhere nicer, maybe by a celestial pool, while we suffer. The founders of the United States believed in a form of this called Deism. In this worldview, Jesus might be the deity popping back, seeing everything has gone to crap and then saying, “Believe in me and I’ll take you elsewhere, too.” The early church called this heresy “Gnosticism.” In this worldview, God is abstract because God is a secret “get-out-of-creation-free” card.

The other popular option that equally lacks revolutionary energy and impulse of the scriptures is that God is not far off because:

[2] God is everything. Now, if you’ve grown up in a worldview in which God is always absent, where spirituality has nothing to do with creation, and where your body was always seen as bad, this might sound like a better option. Sometimes called “pantheism,” it leaves us with no cosmic critique of the evil of injustice while affirming the goodness and sacredness of creation. Wars, empires, and violence in creation are all just a part of “God/Gaia/the Divine.” Jesus just shows up to “enlighten us.”

God is redeemer is the biblical vision that, in nuanced and elegant ways, radically affirms the goodness of the web of creation while providing an equally radical critique of all violence and injustice that has colonized it as an alien force. As Creating, Sustaining and Redeeming, the Trinity is dynamically involved in history and has acted decisively in the Incarnation, to heal the brokenness we all know, with the wholeness we sometimes feel. This will not leave us with “abstract ideas” but with an invitation to action, for by grace we can be part of God’s “intervention” of the Kingdom.


  1. I don’t care to get too in depth in this since I’m not a Christian, but I’ll just say this, which is that present day Christians generally greatly under appreciate, or fail to appreciate altogether, the degree to which Christian theology is built on Greek philosophy.

    This, of course, hasn’t always been true, and is widely understood among Catholic scholars generally, but particularly among American Protestants this is generally the case, even among many so-called theologians and scholars.

    But anyway, virtually all of these issues and this discussion comes out of philosophical positions taken by early church fathers (virtually all of whom were educated in Greek philosophy) and has little or nothing to with with the actual Bible because the writings of the Bible (with the exception of a few books things like Ecclesiastes) are not philosophical writings, they are stories and pseudo history, and they don’t really provide any answers to major philosophical questions.

    Anyone who claims that an “understanding of God” is provided in the Bible or that any of these philosophical questions are answered by the Bible is lying. The majority of Christian theology doesn’t even come from the Bible at all, it comes from centuries of tradition based on a bunch of philosophical arguments made by folks in the 2nd-6th centuries, heavily rooted in Platonic philosophy. So in truth Christian theology is just as much a product of Plato as it is of “Jesus”, Paul, or “The Bible”, despite the fact that most Christian theologians will deny it, and none of these positions is supported by anything other than total conjecture, they aren’t even supported by the Bible, because the Bible is a book of stories that lays out no clear philosophical framework.

  2. Thanks for your input, RR!

    While you are correct that the Bible provides no consensus on a description of God, I disagree that there are no attempts made. The God of John’s Gospel is described in many ways, and is very different from the God of Genesis, who wanders about in the garden looking for his humans. John’s Gospel, as you would probably agree judging from your comment, betrays a Hellenistic influence.

    The question is … does John (as my chosen example) answer any “major philosophical questions?” I think so. So, back to Jarrod’s article, I confess it is not clear whether he claims to know THE single “biblical vision” or whether he merely espouses one of many. Regardless, I think it’s a thought-provoking post!

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