I never struggle to believe in God. I believe in the deep core of my being. I have faith in my bones. I breath this stuff. I am filled with Holy Spirit and that gives purpose to my day and direction to my life. I never doubt the reality of the Christian faith … until I listen to a conservative like John Piper or Marc Driscoll talk. Then, it is all too apparent to me that we are (at least partially) projecting our greatest hopes and dreams onto the screen of the heavens. We are outsourcing our fears and evils onto a cosmic bad guy called the devil. We have created a galactic father figure in the sky (paging Dr. Freud).
It is so clear when Piper talks that it makes me want to retreat into the post-liberal work of George Lindbeck!
Xenophanes is famed to have said:
“If oxen and horses and lions had hands and were able to draw with their hands and do the same things as men, horses would draw the shapes of gods to look like horses and oxen would draw them to look like oxen, and each would make the gods bodies have the same shape as they themselves had.”
It gets boiled down to “If horses had gods – they would look like horses.”
Most days I can stave that off. I can avoid the haunting suspicion and nagging doubt … but what Piper does is create a God in his own image – there is no other way to say it – it is idolatry.
So what? you may ask. Why even bother with it? Because, I believe that there really is a God.
C.S. Lewis wrote a poem one time called “a footnote to all prayers” (it references Pheidias who was a legendary statue maker in the ancient world)
Footnote to All Prayers
He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.
This is why we must acknowledge what it is we are doing when we pray, when we preach, and when we practice. We are doing the best we can with words, symbols, sounds and images. But if those images are solidified and codified past their point of original artistry, mysticism and metaphor – then it becomes something deadly to the soul and dangerous to the one seeking the real and living God revealed in Christ.
February 22, 2012 at 3:23 am
Wonderful post. When I also hear Piper and Driscoll, it saddens my heart that there are those who confuse enlightenment assimilationist authoritarian thinking for christianity. I can probably add more words, but I hope you get the idea.
February 22, 2012 at 4:06 am
Amen! … and yes, I get the idea 🙂
February 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm
I am no fan of John Piper and the neo-Calvinists (well, no fan of their theology and its pronouncement upon those–like myself–who tend to view things quite differently).
“…but what Piper does is create a God in his own image – there is no other way to say it – it is idolatry.”
“…the real and living God revealed in Christ.”
All I can do, though, is notice that Piper himself would readily take others’ beliefs and call it idolatry, while believing that he is all about “the real and living God revealed in Christ.”
I believe we are all idolaters, but I’m unsure if this is really a bad thing, as there appears to be no way around it. Don’t we all form some kind of image of God out of whatever source material and what else? No, I don’t think I could stoop to the level you have (in like kind as Piper himself) and call anyone an idolater in the negative way you are applying the term. What is the difference? Or is there a more congenial way to agree to disagree? I think name-calling is pretty immature, even if it does have some of its roots in the bible. I mean no disrespect in expressing my opinion here, just so you know.
February 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm
Chris, I get what you are saying. Here are two points of clarification:
1) The C.S. Lewis poem DOES say that we are all blasphemers at some level. And THAT is the big difference. When you and I admit that up front, then we have epistemic humility about what follows. That in itself is not idolatry in the same way.
It like when a theologian says “There is no universal truth, all theology is contextual theology.” then someone says “it’s that a universal truth.” But that is to miss the point. That kind of sophomoric thinking is not helpful.
2) I’m not sure it is immature to point out idolatry as a corrective. I went out of my way to say that I am not calling into question his character or eternity. But when someone has certainty in this way about what we know and that we have all we need …. I’m doing theology for the 21st century – not the 17th or 18th. We can’t build monuments like that with them turning into idols at some level.