Good God Bad God

You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Psalm 119:68 (NIV)

We are familiar with the scenario on TV and in the movies. The suspect is brought in for interrogation. They are placed in the interview room and then the role play begins. In walks “Bad Cop”. He’s aggressive, anti-social, might be violent (depending on the rating of the show) assuming the suspect is guilty, it’s just a matter of getting him to admit it. Then, just as “Bad Cop” is up in the suspect’s face screaming bile and spittle, in walks “Good Cop”. “Good Cop” adopts an advocate stance, tells “Bad Cop” to calm down and not get too carried away. When “Bad Cop” gives up in disgust and leaves the room, “Good Cop” apologises for his partner’s behaviour and mood. He offers the suspect a coffee or tea and adopts a calm and sympathetic demeanor. All of this is a play to get the suspect to confess to the “Good Cop” either out of fear of being brutalised by “Bad Cop” or from a false pretense that the “Good Cop” really does like them and will help them out if they confess their guilt. This makes for a predictable formula in crime show drama, yet the producers keep coming up with the same routine and the audience keeps watching and the sponsors keep spending advertising dollars and so the stereo-type is perpetuated.

Sometimes Parents unwittingly take on the roles of “Good Cop Bad Cop”. When the child is with Mum all day and has been “less than well behaved” 🙂 Mum does the correction and discipline which forces her into “Bad Cop” mode. Dad walks in, tired after a long day, (selfishly) not wanting to deal with behavioral problems, takes on the “Good Cop” role, and plays with the kids. This leads to all sorts of difficulties in the marriage as well as wrongly affecting the child’s concept of the relationship between their mother and father.

Neither the stereo-type TV police officers, nor the unbalanced parents provide us with a view of their roles as God would intend. Yet when we think about God we still have a tendency to adopt a dichotomy that wrongly divides the person of God in way not reflected in scripture. e.g. Only a few months ago, I heard a evangelical pastor say that “God isn’t into rules anymore … the Old Testament has a negative connotation of God and the New Testament has a fresh understanding of what God really wants from us”. This is appalling! The God of the Old Testament is not the “Bad Cop” and Jesus the “Good Cop”. When we perpetuate this error, is it any wonder people attending Church don’t understand the gospel and aren’t able or willing to get involved in Discipleship. This idea leads people to adopt the “Bad Cop” Old Testament God who demands high religious morals or else he’ll punish you (legalism) or the “Good Cop” New Testament God who is all soft and mushy tolerating an easy believe-ism that says you can say you’re a Christian and still live as though you’re not (liberalism or antinomianism). Both extremes are contrary to the gospel and to scripture.

God is One and God’s goodness is demonstrated in his absolute unfailing commitment to fulfill his Word. God doing “good” is explained by the Psalmist as God doing what he said he would do. It is not by us dictating that God only do what makes us experience pleasure. What I consider hardship and affliction is “good”, says the Psalmist, because it drives me to trust and rely on God as the true source of goodness in life. When I pursue personal gain in the guise of doing good I am forgetting that God alone is good and my understanding is corrupted and imperfect. The only constant of goodness we have is God and he, through his Spirit, has given us his Word by which we can see, know and trust in Christ alone.

NB: for questions relating to the goodness of God in the midst of evil, check out Randy Alcorn’s “If God is Good” or Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God“. Both deal with this question in more detail.

The Shack – Book Review Part 2

I finished reading the book for the first time yesterday. Although I received it as a gift (thanks to my queen and princess) at Christmas, I didn’t read it until this week, whilst riding the train to work.

I tried to read it, “as is”, i.e. not critically, just read it as I would any other novel for the sake of enjoyment. This was a little hard as I have already read several reviews that pointed out some of the alleged theological flaws. However I tried anyway and found, as a novel, I did enjoy it. It was a bit predictable, but I allowed myself to escape and get lost in the story and as a result got choked up a few times – guess I am still a big fluffy marshmallow!

There were a few parts that I baulked at, because, reviews or no reviews, some of the “revelations” made by the God Character were a bit shaky (understatement!) in so far as their agreement with scripture.

However, I will read through it again, this time critically to analyse some of the content a little further and then post my thoughts in a separate post.

At the moment, I wouldn’t necessarily “endorse” it – however, if you can read it as a fiction novel and not a documentary or authoritative text, then you might get something out of it. I certainly did!

The Shack – Book Review

Every time I read The Resurgence blog, I appreciate their balanced, compassionate, thoughtful discernment of culture through the lens of sound biblical theology.

There are numerous reviews of the ‘The Shack’, many enthusiastically endorsing it without qualification. Others are scathing in dismissal or condemnation. People are going to read it and form opinions and allow it to influence their understanding, belief in and relationship with God. Christian pastors shoud be aware and prepared to engage (& lovingly challenge) readers. This is a book that a pastor might have to read in order to have a full appreciation, rather than relying on 2nd hand reviews to form conclusions regarding recommendation, endorsement, criticism or condemnation. This is, as Scott Lindsey notes, not just a novel. Whereas the likes of ‘The DaVinci Code’ make entertaining fiction that stirred the masses for a moment or a ‘Harry Potter‘ that roused concern over the use of fantasy and magic to relate a coming of age story. ‘The Shack’ purports to have God speak and reveal information not in scripture.

Praise for the novel is escalating. Many claim it has, “brought them closer to God”. If any book, event or experience, brings one closer to the true God and His Son Jesus, through the Holy Spirit as revealed in the scriptures he authored and not to a god of our own imagining, control or invention, then that can be celebrated. If ‘The Shack’ is used to redirect people to God and increase their desire to grow in grace and love, know and serve Jesus more faithfully, it is useful. Before dismissing it, read Scott’s analysis and the novel – with a cautious and discerning eye – as indeed you read anything!

Tim Keller – The Reason For God

In March of this year, Tim Keller visited Google’s headquarters to discuss his book, “The Reason for God“. After hearing this I went out last night and bought the book to get the full context of his work. This is no light and fluffy attempt to appear intellectual – this is a fair dinkum equal footing engagement of those that contest against belief in God. A very well reasoned discussion. Watch/Listen to the video as an introduction – but read the book for the full context of the conversation.

Some of my notes on the stand out points (to me!) of the talk are as follows:

The purpose of the talk was to discuss why reasons for God are important.

– It was once alleged as society became more technical that belief in God would diminish as being an immature element of development. In actuality, society has become more polarised as more technology has arisen. Africa, Korea & China all increased % of Christians as their access to technology increased.
– Both believers and unbelievers need to try and understand why people become Christians. The new breed of Atheists (Dawkins et. al.) say religion is bad and respect for religion is bad. Their advice is essentially that one section of society may say to another you cannot believe a certain way because it is wrong/irrational/etc.
As a Christian you should deal with your doubts or else you cannot present a confident faith to others.

There are 3 Reasons why people either believe or don’t believe

– Intellectual Reasons, rational arguments
– Personal Reasons, tragedy, disappointments
some say because of this tradegy in my life I need God
others say because of this I refuse to believe in a God that would allow it to come to pass.
success might also be a driver to say you need or don’t need God
– Social/Culture Influence
“sociology of knowledge” = the people you find most plausible are the people you come to need or want to be liked by. If you move towards skepticism it’s because of friends or significant people that also promoted skepticism.

All three reasons contribute to our view of belief in God for both believers and non-believers. No-one formulates a belief on just one of three.

e.g. the argument of “You’re only a Christian because you’re a Pastor”. You claim you’re talking from a rational reasoned argument saying your culture influenced you – i.e. if you lived in Madagascar you wouldn’t be a Christian. However, in response, the reverse is also true – if you lived in Madagascar you wouldn’t be a skeptical philosophical pluralist! So while culture/society may have an influence it is not an exclusive influence.

Tim posits that reasoning that ends with or progresses towards believing in God has three progressive key steps or rungs.

Rung 1 – It requires just as much faith for disbelief as belief.
all arguments fall over at some point. at some point, everyone accepts that you take a risk (ie step of faith) to believe or not believe in God.
Rung 2 – It requires more of a leap for disbelief than belief.
2 particular illustrations were used that are simpler to understand with belief in God than disbelief.
existence of universal fine tuning
existence of human rights – contradicts evolutionary theory
Rung 3 – You realise that whereas you can reason to a point of probability, it takes personal commitment to get to certainty.

In other words… you’ll never never know if you never never go.

God is My Constant

Further to our family motto of “God’s Providence Prevails“, my wife also asked what I would select as my own personal statement. Along the same theme as providence and sovereignty…

God is My Constant

That is, through all changes, good and bad, through any circumstance, favorable or unfortunate, whether resulting from my own willfulness or design or by means beyond my influence and control, God is always, unchanging and unfailing in his character.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. ~ Hebrews 6:13-20