Western church culture seems dominated by a form of Christianity that presents Jesus as a comforter, provider, and fulfiller of dreams. This is all true, but conspicuously absent is the view of God as the all-powerful creator of the universe, whose anger burns against sin and who calls us to a life of obedience and self-denial.
The Jesus of modern America seems more like a genie or therapist than a king, and this view of Him is perpetuated by many of the latest Christian books, sermons, and worship songs.
Being flawed people, we need to cautiously examine our view of God as both individuals and a Church, and when we discover we have lost focus (as we often do), we must repent and return to a fuller understanding of who He is.
How did we get off track?
Virtually every spiritual problem can be traced back to our view of God. As theologian A. W. Tozer points out,
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”1
A watered down, costless Christianity is the logical outcome of an inaccurate understanding of the fullness of God. Often the problem lies in elevating a particular divine attribute at the expense of another. The danger is that in so doing, we risk creating a God of our own making.
Much of what is taught today is spiritualized humanism. It’s the idea that above all else, God wants you to flourish in this life, and so He provides comfort in trial and supplies all of your material needs.
This version of our faith contains some truth, but is it the whole truth?
An honest examination of scripture reveals a God who deeply cares for us, but is also angry about the rampant injustice in the world and the part we’ve played in causing it. The Bible describes Jesus’ incredible mercy, but also the high bar He set in calling us to sell everything and lose our lives for His sake.
The only remedy for a Church that has gotten off track is to return to a more complete understanding of God.
As Tozer sternly reminds us, “...the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.“ 2
A church with a low view of God is also likely to have a high view of culture, and will have consciously or subconsciously imbibed its values.
Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, derides the modern tendency to call everyone fine. He claims that we have created a culture where “better” has been traded for “equal.” This, he asserts, is incredibly dangerous because by eroding qualitative distinctions, we rob people of the possibility of improving their lives.
Though not a follower of Jesus, he remarkably insists that, “the redeemer and the judge are the same thing.” In other words, there is no possibility of redemption without an understanding of what, in fact, we need redeeming from.
Relativism has reduced absolute truth to preference, rendering it meaningless. There is no right or wrong, no sinner and no savior - we’re all just fine. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it's hard to escape the incongruence of this perspective. No one actually lives as if truth is irrelevant or justice an illusion.
Nevertheless, many Christ followers have succumbed to the “we’re all fine” spirit of our age. This mentality has pervaded our message and created a therapeutic, wish fulfillment faith along with a narrow view of God.
The consequences of conforming to this particular pattern of our world is a version of Christianity that is self-indulgent. What’s more, it de-emphasizes the importance of holiness and ill equips a follower of Jesus to handle the true difficulties of life.
The answer to revitalizing the Church and equipping its members to radically obey Jesus in culture today is not better music nor more entertaining sermons. The solution is the same as it was in Tozer’s day. As he pointed out almost 60 years ago.
“Always, the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” 3
We need to rediscover the fullness of who God is - not just the palatable parts nor the attributes that neatly align with culture - but the view of Him as the all-powerful king of the universe, who requires obedience but also beckons us to approach His throne of grace.
1 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 19610), 4.
2 Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 4.
3 Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 4.