A VINTAGE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO OF HOPE • 4The Mars Hill Effect
0—Progressive: Let’s Get Vintage!
1—Manifesto: Resist Progressive Christianity, Reclaim the Fundamentals
2—Vintage Faith: 10 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
3—The Bible: Did God Really Say?
4—God and gods: The Mars Hill Effect
5—Creation: God Spoke and ‘BANG,’ There It Was?
6—Humanity: We’re Not Talking Monkeys
7—Homosexuality: An Honest Chat About Its Reality & Revelation
8—Sin: We Really Are that Screwed-Up
9—Jesus: Gandhi on Steroids or God Made Flesh?
10—Cross: A Love Note or Butcher’s Block?
11—Resurrection: Better Than a Zombie
12—Church: No Church No Christ, Know Church Know Christ
13—Universalism: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
14—Hell: For Real and Forever?
15—Heaven: A Place on Earth?
16—The End: Go Backwards to Go Forwards
There is a popular modern-day parable about four blind men and an elephant. The story is told from the vantage point of a king who watches as these men grapple with the reality of the massive creature. It goes like this:
One day four blind men were trapped in a room with an elephant. They started feeling our massive mammal and describing what they experienced. Don’t know why they were trapped with him and why they were feeling this elephant. That’s just how story goes.
One guy felt the tusks; he said the great beast was smooth and hard. Guy number two felt the tail; he described the elephant as thin, long, wiry. Another touched its ear and believed the animal was a soft, flexible creature. The final person rubbed his hands over its hide and came to the conclusion the elephant was hard and rough like clay.
Four different descriptions of the one elephant, coming from four different experiences. Each of these guys had a limited understanding of the elephant. Each believed they understood the elephant completely based on their own personal experience, even though that belief was based on limited exposure. Because of their ignorance of the entire truth of the elephant, each of these blind men assumed the entire elephant matched their own limited description.
Of course we enlightened ones know that an elephant isn’t only tusks. It isn’t only a long, wiry tale. It isn’t just big flappy ears. And it isn’t only this massive hard, rough body. No it’s made up of all of these things described by the blind men.
So what’s the point of this story? The moral of the parable is this:
Each religion is like these blind men and our elephant is like some divine reality. Many insist now days, including progressive Christians, that each religion has only a partial knowledge of the divine reality, only a limited experience and exposure to God—just like the four blind men.
From an enlightened point of view we see that all religions are merely parts of the one divine whole. They all describe the same elephant, just in different ways.
This is a very popular way of talking about God and religion, of describing God. Another way of putting it is that God is at the top of a great mountain, and this mountain has many sides each with separate paths that winding their way to the top. Each path is different, looks different, takes a number of different twists and turns. But eventually they all reach the top where God sits. Every religion is a legitimate path to the top, which means everyone will eventually reach God regardless of belief.
Now this sounds nice doesn’t it. I mean we’re modern, sophisticated, enlightened people. How dare we claim that one truth is the only truth. How dare we claim that one God is the only one true God.
And yet, from the very beginning, Christians have declared:
“I believe in God (not little ‘g’ god; not gods with a pluralized ’s’—God) the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
These ancient words are the starting place for vintage Christians stretching back well before those opening lines to the Apostles’ Creed were penned.
As in Hebrew ancient.
There Is Only One True God
The people of the only one true God, the children of Israel, recited daily a line-in-the-sand proclamation known as the Shema. It went like this:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
Yahweh is our God. And Yahweh is the one God. Not the Egyptian gods Isis or Thoth. Not Baal of the Canaanites. Not Artemis of the Greeks. Yahweh.
This belief in only one true God continued with Jesus, who equated himself with the God the Father. In fact, he equated himself with the great “I Am”—Yahweh, the only one true God of Israel.
And of course Jesus’ followers recognized he was God and worshipped him as such. As Paul declared in his first letter to the Church of Corinth:
We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)
Citing the Shema, Paul equated Jesus Christ with the only one true God of Israel. Biblical scholar N. T. Wright calls this Christological Monotheism — the belief that the one God of the universe is Jesus. When Paul visited the multi-god city of Athens, he acknowledged their spiritual interests, but then declared those gods false and called its worshipers ignorant.
Vintage Christians do the same in our own multi-faith world. We join Paul and the rest of the historic Christian voices in gently, but honestly, proclaiming “an idol is nothing at all in the world” and “there is no God but one.”
The Buddha is nothing at all in the world. Same for Krishna and Allah, as much as Zeus and Artemis.
There is no God but Father, Son, and Spirit—co-equal in power, majesty, and glory. Revealed in three persons and possessing one essence. And he is both the Author of our Story and an Actor within it.
As Author he alone is King. He alone is high and lifted up. He alone is holy—a characteristic given to nothing and no one else.
He is distinct and separate from all other things. The only one true God is outside and above creation. God is not part of Creation, he is distinct from it, separate from it. He is not some sort of energy or spark or force that’s part of the universe, as progressive Christians insist.
Except that’s exactly how modern progressive Christians view God. As one person said, “I understand God to be the energy, the glue, the force, the life, the power, and the source of all we know to be the depth, fulness, and vitality of life from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and everything in between.”1
Elsewhere he quoted a common refrain by saying, “God is love. Love is the ground of our being.” And he said the gospel is “about who God is and what it means to live in constant conscious contact with God, to be connected to the ground of your being.”2
On the surface this seems innocent. Yet such “ground of our being” language directly reflects the existential theologian Paul Tillich. Tillich’s word for “God” was “ground of being” or “ground of our being.” For Tillich that which gives meaning to life, that is of ultimate concern in life actually is God.
He consistently refered to God as an idea, an existential idea in which God is the foundation (ground) of meaning and existence (being); “God” is that which is meaningful and gives our being and existence meaning. As Tillich says, “The word ‘God’ points to ultimate reality.”3 In other words, God is a symbol for that which is ultimately meaningful in existence. He isn’t actually a being; he’s a symbolic word for meaningful living.
Unlike progressive Christianity, vintage Christians believe God is an actual Being, the Creator of the universe, who is high and lifted up. Who is separate and distinct from Creation, from us. He is the Author of our Story.
But he is also an Actor within it. He is both above and outside our Story (transcendent) and intimately involved with our human Story (immanent).
Unlike most religious concepts of the gods that are distant and removed from the world, we do not worship a distant God. He isn’t removed from what happens in life on earth. No, we worship a personal God who is involved with the world.
God breaks into our world, he is part of it by being part of the Story of his people. God doesn’t reveal himself through history and Scripture as a God come to destroy us. No, he shows up time and time again as the God come to rescue us!
At the start of Israel’s story God showed up in a burning bush while Moses was tending his flocks on a mountain side. Why? Because he heard the cries of oppression from his people. And he came to do something about it. To rescue them.
And then several hundred years after this story God showed up again in a small insignificant city while shepherds were tending their flocks outside of Bethlehem. Why? Because he heard the cries of oppression from his people. And he came to do something about it. As the Gospel of John says, that God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. He became one of us!
God walked around on this earth. God experienced everything that life has to offer. He experienced our pain. Our fears. Our hardship and struggle. He understands this life because he lived this life.
What kind of God does that? Chooses to become an actor? Yet this is who God is. He came to take away our guilt, to pay the price for our sins. To rescue us!
Is this the god of Islam?
Is this the god of Buddhism?
Is this the multi-gods of Hinduism?
No, it isn’t. And it’s time the Church of Jesus Christ stands up in our multi-faith, modern polytheistic world and says so.
It’s time for vintage Christians to declare the wonders and promises of the only one true God.
1 Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 18. [emphasis mine]
2 Rob Bell, The Love Wins Companion (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 190.
3 Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), 94.