theology

The Ultimate Criteria for Theology

Theology is thinking (logos) about God (theos). It is a good and necessary discipline, but only so long as it is centered on Christ. All of our speculation and debate about such things as God’s character, power, and glory must be done with our focus on Jesus Christ—more specifically, on the decisive act by which he reveals God and redeems humanity, his death on the cross.

The definitive thing to be said about God’s character is found here: God dies for sinners on a God-forsaken cross.

The definitive thing to be said about God’s power is found here: God allows himself to be crucified on a cross for sinners.  

The definitive thing to be said about God’s glory is found here: God dies a horrifying, God-forsaken death upon the cross.

God’s character, power and glory are decisively revealed on the cross. Though it is “foolishness” to the natural mind, the cross is the power and wisdom of God to all who believe (1 Cor 1:18f). If we entertain concepts of God’s character, power, and glory that are inconsistent with what is revealed here, our thoughts are outside of Jesus Christ. Every thought about God, every mental picture we entertain about God, every single emotion that is “raised up against the knowledge of God” must be taken “captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

The true God revealed in Jesus Christ is not at all what the natural mind would expect—it is “foolishness”—for our natural expectations are influenced by our experiences in a fallen world that is permeated with the foundational lie of the serpent. We create a god of our own designs by magnifying our own fallen conceptions of character, power, and glory. Consequently, sometimes God’s character, power, and glory are presented in ways that don’t even resemble Jesus Christ, even within the Christian tradition. For instance, we often project onto the screen of heaven a cosmic Caesar, controlling the world through coercive power and intimidation rather than accepting God’s definition of himself in the crucified Jesus Christ. Such mental chimeras may inspire fear, but they do not transform us to become outrageous lovers.

The only hope we have of getting out of this fallen condition and walking in the ecstatic love of the triune God is to resolve that God’s revelation in Christ is true, however much it may contradict our fallen, worldly expectations. When the deceptive veil over our mind is removed and we see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ and when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we find a picture of God that could not possibly be more loving and beautiful. For here we find God going to the greatest extreme possible—suffering a God-forsaken, hellish death at the hands of the very creatures for whom he was dying! This is the greatest expression of love imaginable, and it alone reveals the truth about who the eternal, triune God is. God is this kind of love.

This is the ultimate criteria for all theology. Any other estimation of God will block not only our ability to think rightly about God, but also to love like God loves.

—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 132-133

Image by brownpau via Flickr

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