At the close of the post below titled Tragedy: The Mother of All Bad Theology, I wrote:
I believe this pervasive and flawed view of God’s sovereignty keeps most Christians from praying as often and as effectively as God intended. And I suspect it is turning a whole generation of Postmodern young people away from God.
In the time between writing those words and writing these, a video of MSNBC’s Martin Bashir interviewing Pastor/Author Rob Bell has gone viral on the interwebs. You may have heard buzz over the last few weeks about Bell’s just-released book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Immediate controversy about the book served to generate tons of advance buzz. The publisher has to be thrilled. People who hadn’t read anything except the proposed title were discussing it or condemning it. Now that it’s out, it’s hovering at #3 among all books currently moving on Amazon.com.
I don’t intend to address the central controversy surrounding the book (at this time, anyway). I mention it only because the opening question Bashir asks Bell strikes at the heart of the what I do want to tackle:
Bashir frames a question that encapsulates the age-old “If God is good . . .” problem of evil thing.
Before we talk about the book, just help us with this tragedy in Japan. Which of these is true.
God is all powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan, and therefore they’re suffering. Or, He does care about the people of Japan, but is not all powerful. Which one is it?
Here Bashir does a pretty clever job of concisely summarizing the logical conundrum that has plagued thinkers for centuries and, in recent years, caused hundreds of thousands of young people raised in Christian homes to abandon the faith of their parents.
As a parent of late-teens and twenty-somethings, I’ve heard my girls talk about numerous friends at their Christian school and Christian college who were questioning everything about their faith as a direct result of grappling with this “if God is sovereign”–“problem of evil” thing.
For decades, media mogul Ted Turner pointed to the slow, painful death of his sister when he was a boy as the justification for his agnosticism and hostility to Christianity. (In recent years he has softened his rhetoric and apologized.)
If There Is a Loving God . . .?
Nevertheless, an entire generation of postmodern individuals are traveling the same road of logic. They say, “You Christians tell me that God exists and that He loves all mankind. Have you looked around? Reconcile mass starvation, human trafficking, and tsunamis with your concept of God.”
As with Bashir’s question posed to Rob Bell, there is a certain logical tidiness to the question. The problem is that all logical constructs stand upon some presuppositions (assumptions, or “givens”).
A logical argument can actually be air tight, but if only one of the assmuptions underlying it is false, sound logic leads you to a false conclusion. For example:
If one assumes that the earth is flat, it is quite logical to be nervous about sailing too far in one direction, lest one fall off the edge.That’s sound logic built upon a flawed assumption. The insidious thing about presuppositions is that they tend to remain buried in our worldview–unexamined and unquestioned.
The fact is, the very reason that we have liberals and conservatives; Republicans and Democrats; Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly; Jersey Shore and Jerseylicious–is not because half the population is irrational or crazy. In the vast majority of cases, two people who disagree are both reaching logical, reasonable, positions built upon differing, largely unexamined presuppositions they hold to be true.
The “Bruce Almighty” Model
Underlying the doubts of most postmodern skeptics is a key assumption about any being in the role of “God.” The assumption is that God gets exactly what He wants in every spot on earth in every second of every day. This is what Bashir meant when He used the term “all powerful.”
The vast majority of Americans–Christian and otherwise–assume the answer is “Yes.” This is basically the American, pop culture, Hollywood sitcom concept of God–pulling all the strings, hands on all the levers, including the levers of human action and choice.
In the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey’s title character gets to become “God” for a couple of weeks. As a result, he finds himself with the power to make anything happen he desires, including the power to take control of a rival’s body and force him to make a fool of himself on camera.
This Hollywood view of God as having unlimited freedom of action on the earth and in History–the belief that everything is happening just as God has ordained right down to the granular level of the child molestations that are almost certainly taking place in various places around the planet as I write these words–is shared by most American Christians who simply haven’t thought too deeply about these questions.
We’re taught that God is “sovereign.” And, as the Bible makes it clear, He is. But most of us go on to define that sovereignty in the cartoonish Hollywood terms described above.
This view fails to properly build upon three fundamental presuppositions:
- The Fall
- Free Will
- God’s Self-Limiting Character
In my humble view, the neo-Calvinists have a good handle on point one. And their Arminian brethren across the aisle have an important grasp on point two. And I haven’t heard anyone significant properly (in my view) articulate point 3.
What does all that mean? I’ll explain in Part 3 of what is rapidly evolving into a dissertation (or perhaps a down-payment on my next book.)