Thursday, August 25, 2011

The character of God and the fount of worship

True worship: Allowing God to define himself and ourselves

What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us... Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason 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.

-- A.W. Tozer

This quote is pretty incisive, as the delineating marker in most postmodern American worship is "how well does this church reflect my political and personal beliefs about God?" Postmoderns usually choose churches based on their natural desires and inclinations; then, their worship becomes defined by the natural self, and flows from it -- the god they worship is thus a projection of their natural state.

Theology is either "theology from below" [using the natural human person as the standard, along with culturally defined social and civil rights] or "theology from above" [allowing revelation to define God, worship, salvation, and human life]. This is what the Reformers meant by talking about the authority of Scripture, and the self-authenticating nature of Scripture connected with the Spirit of God. And further, what the Reformers meant when talking about total depravity -- total not in that every human is as bad as she or he can be, but total in that every component of the human person has been affected by sin, ever tending to idolatry.

Postmodern theology patently rejects divine revelation as the starting point of theology; it completely redefines theology along a human plane. This is the case with every iteration of Liberation Theology: it intentionally claims the natural human as the foundation for worship and religious life. It redefines theological language along a desired social vector.

Although it sounds good, using moral language and terms that sound similar to classic terms, it is radically different. And, if the Reformers are right, such theological definition is not only different, it is also deadly. It enhances and sanctifies the worst tendencies to spiritual idolatry; it inflates and justifies the deepest and most closely held desires of the natural human self: "This is who I am" becomes the basis for "this is what God wants, this is what should be."

In a very Reformed moment, Thomas Merton said that "my own [natural] self is the enemy of my true self." This could have come straight out of Calvin, or the classic Confessions. If we embrace the natural self, we will reject the true self; conversely, if we allow God to define us, to envision for us our true self, we can eventually break the chains of the natural self, and soar upward to what once was impossible for us. The Larger Catechism actually calls this the goal of worship: In true worship we are 'drawn up out of ourselves' and into our new selves in Christ.

Postmodern theology as a rejection of true worship and true justice

You will never hear a postmodern theologian talk -- ever -- but what you will hear him or her use justice as a basis of theological reflection. But this justice is defined along lines of social expression -- social and civil rights and the natural human person. Of course, there is an element of truth to civil rights, which is why this language is so attractive: what good person wouldn't want to support real civil rights?

But the religious destruction is subtle and powerful: In spiritual terms, this definition of justice denies the natural human person the right of transformation. By defining classes of individuals as necessarily 'right in who they are,' they chain each individual in that class into their natural self.

In my mind, this is the most cynical and destructive theological method that can be offered to the human individual: to deny them, at the outset, any real transformation that Christ might offer to their natural self. If His almighty Voice speaks to change "who they are," they are already programmed to reject such freedom because surely their god would never ask such a thing -- or even offer it. It must be the voice of unenlightened culture speaking; it certainly isn't God, because God created the natural self and is just fine with it. Never mind that the Reformers warned us that the natural self is irrevocably fallen from the true self, apart from grace!

Using a definition of social justice, they have denied hurting human individuals the freedom of divine justice. Using a definition of civil rights, they have denied gifted persons the highest calling in Christ.

I can think of no greater injustice than to trap hurting, broken humans in the chains of their natural self.

In listening to any theological teacher or church, ask a few heart-felt questions:

Does it preach identification with our natural selves,
Or does it preach transformation of the natural self?

Does it preach social and civil rights as its defined justice,
Or does it preach the calling of God as the highest justice?

If you or someone you know is interested in the radical freedom offered in the real gospel of Jesus Christ, choose transformation and the calling. At first it might seem hard on your natural self, but the end will be light -- a peace and light that transcends anything the natural self can offer.

You don't have to live life chained to the broken pleasures of the natural self. You can be free from the slave-master called your own self. Allow God to define himself, and your true self; discover His loving character as if for the first time, and discover true worship... it is so freeing! It is strong and pure and true -- strong enough to even break us free from a prison our world calls freedom.



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