Tag Archives: sketch

Three Pictures of God

You can’t really have pictures of God. These drawings are more about three frames, or worldviews, that people have about how God relates to the universe. I drew them this week in preparation for Bible Mania where I will use them to speak to how these frames impact our understanding of scripture and how scripture relates to God.

Picture One: The God who is OUT THERE.

This is dualism. God is the infinite, eternal substance that is completely separate from the material, physical universe. God created the universe out of nothing and it exists on its own. Any interaction between God and the universe is one that requires supernatural penetration from God.

The classic theological term for this is transcendence.

Picture Two: The God who is IN HERE.

This is spiritual monism. God is not a separate substance from the universe, but is the animating energy of the universe. God is not a being, but is the ground of being from which life exists. Therefore, God is not a something or a someone who can be known, but an energy or a rhythm that can be tapped into or with which one can seek to resonate.

The classic theological term for this is immanence.

Picture Three: God is NOWHERE.

Material Monism
This is material monism. The only thing that exists is the material, physical universe. There is no spiritual. Anything that has been called spiritual or divine in the past was simply a human construction to explain unfamiliar phenomena. The human mind can and will be able to explain everything, eventually, through the use of Modern scientific method and mathematics.

This is the secular frame.

So What?

These three pictures have dominated the Western imagination during the modern era. Each of them exist because of intuitions that we have regarding the nature of the universe and the tradition of the Hebrew and Christian scripture.

If this were a class, I would stop at this point and ask you three questions:

  1. Which picture best describes the belief system in which you were raised?
  2. What role would scripture play, or how might scripture be viewed within each picture?
  3. What strengths and weaknesses do you see in each picture?

Book | The Social God and the Relational Self by Stanley Grenz

The Social God and the Relational SelfGrenz, Stanley J. The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

AuthorStanley Grenz

Grenz traces the historical backdrop of the concept of self in the West in order to warrant his proposal of the ecclesial self as the best response to the postmodern deconstruction of self.

The following sketch attempts to follow his logic.

William James to George Herbert Mead to Pannenberg.
William James to George Herbert Mead to Pannenberg.

In the final analysis, then, the imago dei is not merely relational; it is not simply the I-Thou relationship of two persons standing face-to-face. Instead, it is ultimately communal. It is the eschatological destiny of the new humanity as the representation of God within creation. The character of the triune God comes to expression through humans in community. Wherever community emerges, human sexuality understood in its foundational sense–the incompleteness endemic to embodied existence, together with the quest for completeness that draws humans out of isolation into bonded relationships–is at work. This sexuality gives rise to the primal male-female relationship–marriage. Yet more important is the role of sexuality in bringing humans into community with Christ and with his disciples in the fellowship of his church. This community forms the context for all humans, male and female, to come together in harmonious creative relationships of various types. But more important, it is this connection that will eternally draw humankind into participation in the very life of the triune God, as the Spirit molds humans into one great chorus of praise to the Father through the Son, which in turn will mark the Father’s eternal glorification of the new humanity in the son. (303)

The image of God does not lie in the individual person but in the relationality of persons in community. The relational life of the God who is triune comes to representation in the communal fellowship of the participants in the new humanity. This assertion calls for a relational ontology that can bring the divine prototype and the human antitype together. The conceptual context for such an engagement is the philosophical idea of the social self, which, in turn, can be understood theologically as the ecclesial self. (305)