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.

 

Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

This post is a reply to an inquiry from a reader.


Hedging your Flock

IFB pastors assure us that other churches don’t ‘preach it’ as they do. How they know that isn’t 100 % clear since they’re in their own pulpit Sunday mornings. But most fundies aren’t that deep. And why would IBF pastors want it otherwise?

Openly defaming other pastors and churches, reminding us that many other preachers get this wrong, telling us how tricky this passage is, or warning of the importance to be under faithful preaching, IFB pastors have many means to teach hearers to distrust their spiritual and biblical instincts. There are stories of shipwrecked faith and spiritual seduction.

The picture of a dark, scary world freshly impressed on their minds, IFB congregations are now thoroughly prepped to lean heavily on the superior wisdom of the IFB pastor. Ignore the other voices and perspectives. They are the winds and waves Peter ought to have ignored outside the boat.

Things to Note

There is some truth in this. Not all preaching is equal [and some IFB preaching is very unequal]. Christians are well advised to hear better preaching than not. Spiritual dangers do exist [including IFB sects].

If no real, spiritual dangers existed, no credible case could be made for hedging the flock. So how does one distinguish IFB pastoral efforts at manipulation from the call to grow into genuine maturity where our spiritual instincts develop as God would have them?

Nurturing Dependence

Answering this question begins with understanding why IFB pastors do what IFB pastors do.

IFB pastors may speak of ‘guarding the flock of God,’ or of their charge to ‘protect’ sheep entrusted them. And those tasks are mandated. But often, their concern is not to ‘guard’ or ‘protect’ sheep, but to guard and protect their standing in the flock that pays the pastor’s salary. Controlling and insecure pastors isolate and insulate followers from other believers as a means of job security. And the easiest way to do it is to invalidate the faith commitments of other pastors, churches and faith traditions.

Fear is extremely debilitating for believers. But that weakened condition is very empowering for IFB pastors. Why would they want it otherwise?

Nurturing Empowerment

There is a another way to approach this question, and it is this: healthy churches/pastors/faith_traditions develop parishioners’ spiritual and biblical instincts. Instead of keeping members pastor-dependent, every effort is made to liberate and empower the laity for ministry.

When believers want to develop their spiritual instincts, leaders in healthy churches do not tremble. They rejoice. This is not a thing to be avoided. Church leaders delight to assist them in this development.

To be continued…