A Compassionate and Holy God

<%image(20051014-confident witness.jpg|86|130|confidentwitness)%> Between lunch breaks at the Northshire Bookstore and a pick up from the library, I have been chipping away at The Soul of Christianity and Confident Witness, Changing World. Both have challenged ways I reflect upon God and seem to be haunting my thoughts lately.

The Soul of Christianity
I’ll have to admit that Huston Smith’s credentials as an expert in religion, specifically Christianity, are rather impressive and he seems to be very well respected by many for his views. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I personally know a whole lot about him beyond the fact that his observations either ring true or have pushed me to fruitful consideration of God, beliefs, and faith.

In the second chapter he begins to detail the message of Jesus and how he fit into his time. Curiously enough, Jesus had the most in common with the Pharisees, i.e. he was bringing religion to the people and ministering among them. He also highly valued the law, but his methods of interpretation and application differed significantly. In the broadest sense, Smith states that the Pharisees tended to overemphasize the holiness of God and consequently constructed rules and standards that people must follow to be in God’s presence. The system quickly got out of hand and resulted in a form of religion that could easily marginalize huge segments of society.

While Jesus would be the first one to emphasize the holiness of God, Smith’s take is that Jesus preached and lived out the compassion of God. A compassionate God who did not compromise his holiness was a breath of fresh air to the people of his time, made it possible for people to fall in love with God, and opened the door for relationship.

Reading this section, whether or not you agree or disagree with Smith’s observations, has to bring up one of the tenets of Reformed Theology: the holiness of God. Good Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. (i.e. the people I typically identify myself with!) have put a high value on the holiness of God. My question is, have we valued God’s holiness at such a high level that we miss out on his compassion?

Confident Witness, Changing World
In this collection of essays on the changing shape of theology in the North American context, I stumbled across one piece that critically examines the syncretism of our values with Christianity. It should be noted that the Gospel must always be recontextualized, but syncretism must be avoided. Of course the debate erupts when we try to draw the line between the two.

In short summary, the author of the article lists three major features of American culture and then hypothesizes that each of these have affected a major element of our theology:

Rationalism and the rule of science – Doctrine of revelation and scripture
Economics and individualism – Doctrine of salvation
Corporate management/leadership – Doctrine of the church or ecclesiology

I wish I had more time to elaborate on this and do it justice, but I think this short list a good place to start pondering how our North American culture shapes the way we hear the Gospel.