Seeking God Outside the IFB

To Seek God Outside the IFB

Seeking God

Fundamentalists readily tell people to seek God. They’re also quick to tell you that their IFB sect is a great place to find God. If you’re in a church rather than an IFB sect, fundamentalists are fairly sure you don’t know God. And yet fundamentalists inside IFB sects haven’t always convinced us that they are competent guides in these matters. Recently, SFL noted some common types of spiritually abusive practices. Then we suggested that God’s attributes can guide spiritual practices and biblical understanding.

Many attributes can [and should] be used in such an exercise. But God’s gentleness is used for this very limited study. Other studies go further, and still only scratch the surface. But our aim is not to be exhaustive.

The intent is to establish a point and learn a few lessons from it. It is, after all, one thing to say that God’s attributes can be a guide for us; it is another thing to demonstrate this.

Preparation for Work

Before beginning any study, it is helpful to formulate basic questions to guide us in our work.

Can God’s attributes guide us to spiritual understanding?
Do God’s attributes lead us in the imitation of Christ?
Do God’s attributes help us read Scripture with new eyes?

Some questions formulated, we search Scripture for answers.

Step One: we gather and survey data.

Gentleness and Biblical Interpretation

Not great wind, earthquake or fire — but in the gentle whisper that God met Elijah [1Ki 19:12].
In victory, David confessed that God’s gentleness made him great [Ps 18:35].
Gentleness is the answer that turns away fury [Pr 15:1].
Gentleness was the prophet’s demeanor when threatened with death [Je 11:19].
The blessed gentle will inherit the earth [eschatology yet!] [Mt 5:5].
Jesus promise to receive us rests on his gentleness [Mt 11:29].
Jesus entered Jerusalem to die clothed with gentleness [Mt 21:5].
Gentleness is the preferred method for admonition [1Co 4:21].
Gentleness is the fruit of the Spirit [Ga 5:23].
Gentleness necessary for spiritual restoration and health [Ga 6:1].
Gentleness seeks the unity that the Spirit gives [Ep 4:2-3].
Gentleness attests the Lord’s nearness [Phil 4:5].
Gentleness is normative for Christian living [Co 3:12].
Gentleness is commended for labor in ministry [1Th 2:7].
Gentleness is requisite for the office of overseers [1Ti 3:2].
Gentleness is contrasted to the dissolute life [1Ti 6:10-11].
Gentleness is required to work with opponents [2Ti 2:24-25].
Gentleness is mandated for dealings with others [Ti 3:2].
Gentleness belongs to the wisdom from above [Ja 3:13, 17].
A gentle, quiet spirit is imperishable and precious to God [1Pe 3:4].
Gentleness is requisite for Christian witness [1Pe 3:15].

Broadening the Study

Several texts pair God’s gentleness to other traits, making them relevant. Mt 11:29 uses ‘gentle and humble in heart.’ So does Ep. 4:2. Co 2:12 reads, ‘heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’ Ps. 45:4 combines truth, humility and justice.

In Gal 5:23, gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit listed between faithfulness and self-control. So gentleness contrasts to the works of the flesh.

Any thorough study of the gentleness of God will reference texts using words that are similar in spirit to ‘gentleness.’ Together, these texts provide a backdrop against which to read Scriptures where such traits are referenced or are otherwise relevant.

Preliminary Conclusions

While not massive, this is significant attestation. Our ‘gentleness’ texts relate to God’s presence and promise, to the strength and victory he gives, to the practice of prophets and apostles, to the coming and passion of the Savior, to our spiritual life, health and salvation. Also related are such themes as church office and discipline, Christian ministry, witness, apologetics, unity, normative Christian living and other divine attributes.

God’s gentleness is a significant, spiritual motif. With many other themes, this motif is necessary to frame our spiritual disposition, to order our life practices, and to direct our reading of Scripture in ways that honor God.

The more this approach to study is used, the more apparent it becomes that God IS his attributes. Such study indeed guides us into spiritual maturity, and leads us to imitate Christ and opens our understanding to read God’s word in new ways. Indeed, it is to seek God.

To be continued…

God’s Attributes, God’s Image, Non-IFB Spirituality

We are God's Image

‘…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2:12].

‘The Message translates it as “reverent and sensitive before God.” I think that sounds much more gentle.’

Dear First time caller:

I think your reading of Phil 2:12 arises from God’s image, which you are. We are God’s image; but we don’t all image God the same way. Each of us images God uniquely. As I unpack this, I hope it will be for you a window to gain perspective on HOW we can read Scripture with ‘new eyes.’

God’s Attributes, God’s Image

A list of God’s attributes will include such things as God’s perfection, love, holiness, faithfulness, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, truth, wisdom and power, etc. But some attributes we recognize also as traits in others — traits by which they reflect God’s attributes. We’ve all heard things like:

Mary finds faith so easy — nothing seems to shake her! John is so persevering – for all he’s faced, he just keeps plowing! Amy is so gracious — she can put herself at anyone’s disposal in an instant and never resents it! Bill is so giving — he would hand the shirt off his back to the stranger who just cussed him!

Some call this ‘spiritual giftedness.’ Perhaps it is; but this is also how we uniquely image God’s character. One has the wisdom/insight to navigate a minefield of logical traps and linguistic chicaneries. Another can declare truth prophetically to the nation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind.

No one reveals all God’s attributes; no one reveals any attribute in all its glory. Jesus Christ alone is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being. We are smaller, much dimmer reflections of God’s being. But we do reflect God’s glory by virtue of our being God’s image.

Attributes as an Interpretative Aid

If with our spiritual makeup/gifts/calling we uniquely image God, how could this NOT also inform and shape our reading of Scripture?

When you said, ‘I think that [reverent and sensitive before God] sounds much more gentle,’ you read Scripture through the lens of God’s gentleness. In other words, God’s Spirit IS leading you already…just as promised.

Can God’s gentleness guide us to spiritual understanding? Can it lead us into practices that honor God, that imitate Christ, that bring grace to our communities? Can God’s gentleness teach us to discern how God is with us, leads us, deals with and saves us? Can God’s gentleness function as a lens by which to read Scripture with new eyes? Those questions require another post! But several more points before closing this installment.

Why all this Matters

  1. Why turn to ‘gentleness’ as a possible, preferred reading of Phil 2:12? Perhaps I’m wrong, First time caller, but I think the likelihood is good that you did so because THAT is how God made you. If you met your Christian friends and all discussed what they see in each other, I suspect that you’d be nominated for the ‘gentleness’ award.
  2. If I’m off the mark and some other aspect of God’s nature more naturally quickens your faith, THAT attribute can also aid spiritual understanding and function as a key to reading Scripture with ‘new eyes.’
  3. Evangelical and Fundamentalist sects are overpowered by a tendency to elevate a few aspects of God’s nature above all others. God’s goodness, mercy, kindness, loving-kindness are mentioned as a point of orthodoxy. These are quickly set aside. Then God’s rage, authority, judgment and a few more fill the whole picture. These define how God is perceived. These become the starting point for their initiates’ relationship with God.
  4. Beyond teaching us to think about God in distorted and unhealthy ways, such ‘theology’ fosters extreme spiritual debilitation. It also means IFB members have little opportunity to relate to God or to reflect the aspect[s] of God’s character for which God primarily made them.

An Alternative to IFB Sects

Such an environment does not support spiritual growth. It does not aid believers to read Scripture through ‘new eyes.’ It is no surprise that IFB sects come to regard ‘maturity’ as church busyness — drive the bus, teach church school, sing in choir, go witnessing, lead the youth group, etc. Nor is it any surprise that ‘knowing the Bible’ means little more than being able to cite the stock passages on any given IFB line.

But once God’s attributes and God’s image are recognized as a key for spiritual growth and reading Scripture, a world of possibilities opens to us. We can now study passages from the perspective of any number of attributes of God. We can study passages to discern which aspects of God’s nature seem most at work in a passage. And we can ask what it means for us to reflect that aspect of God’s character from the text in our lives.