How often have you found yourself drifting away while listening to a monologue?
When the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy says that Scripture has one divine author and that it is wholly and verbally God-given, without error or fault in everything it states … it basically tells us to shut up and listen. There is no room for dialogue here.
However, so many who have bought into this approach to scripture have found themselves drifting away amidst the continual drone of a monologue that does not involve them.
God delights in conversation. He wants to hear what you have to say. In fact David tells us of a God so intrigued by us that he knows our thoughts from afar. He even observes with interest our sitting down and standing up. It is almost as if he is in love! (And you are welcome to replace the ‘he’ with a ‘she’.)
Not only does God delight in direct conversation with us, he gives us ample room for conversation with one another. For God is not simply interested in making us understand him, but in helping us understand ourselves. And so the scriptures are full of such conversations … dialogues that often reveals more about us, than what they do about God.
For instance in Job 42:7 God enters a conversation that has been going on for more than forty chapters already. Speaking to Eliphaz, God says that he is angry for “…you have not spoken of Me what is right…”
So here we have a scripture in which God disagrees with what was said about him in scripture!
According to this scripture, God Himself does not agree with everything in scripture.
There is an arresting statement about God in I John 4:8: Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. “God is love” is an essentialist statement about God: who God is in God’s essence.
There is also an arresting call to Christians in Ephesians 5:1 & 2: 1Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The family trait of a Christ-follower is love: God’s essence is love; so should Christ-followers’ essence be love. “Following God’s example” means being “imitators of God” (in the original), who is at the core “love”.
What does this love look like?
What it does not look like is the kind of “justice” practised by the Pharisees. Translations often use the term “righteousness” for the Greek word dikaiosune, that above all is a relational word, and thus best translated as “justice”. “Relational” that is: towards God (theological), towards oneself (psychological), towards others (sociological), towards the creation (ecological), towards the cosmos (cosmological). Matthew 5:20 states: For I tell you that unless your righteousness [justice] surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
What love does look like is seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. In a word: “love” looks like justice. Which as we’ve seen is God’s essence and should be that of all who aspire to imitate God through the atonement effected by Christ.
This moves us into the realm of the Two Greatest Commandments. Here is Matthew’s rendition (Chapter 22:36 – 40): “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
But this is the admonition of the writer of Ephesians 5:1 & 2: live a life of love. And incidentally, Jesus’ call in the Two Greatest Commandments is the hermeneutical “overacceptance” of the entire sweep of Scripture theologically towards the essentialist revelation of God as love. (“Overacceptance” in the theatre “indicates an improvised reframing of the action of a drama in light of a larger story one wants to tell (Samuel Wells in Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (2004), p. 65).”) The larger biblical story wanted to be told is: God is love. And God’s followers should fully imitate that love too.
There is a kind of inexorable Gospel logic that moves from love of neighbour as litmus test of love of God to love of enemies as litmus test of love of neighbour to enemy-love as litmus test of love of God.
Mark Bowden, in his endorsement of Cullen Murphy's God’s Jury, invites our attention to the fact that "we need to be constantly reminded that the most dangerous people in the world are the righteous, and when they wield real power" we see the real pathology of the "righteous."
It is not only the ISIL righteous destruction of some of the world’s greatest and most valuable cultural artifacts because they are pagan – the Puritans in Britain did the very same thing, only they destroyed Christian artifacts, not pagan ones. Barely a week ago, some righteous Orthodox Christians in Russia also decided to destroy some artifacts which they considered "incompatible with Christianity."
One is reminded of the reply of the Caliph to the entreaties of John Philoponus to spare the great library in Alexandria: "If the books substantiate the Koran, they are unnecessary and must be destroyed. If they do not substantiate the Koran they are worthless and must be destroyed." The torture chambers of the Inquisitions, which devised new ways to make burning at the stake infinitely more painful, and more long lasting, than had ever previously been known, was commanded and operated by the righteous. Oh, not that the priests or bishops did any of the "hands on" torturing, no that would have soiled their hands (in addition to their souls), and the twisted, pathological mind of these righteous-ones cleared its conscience by having lay people carry out the actual performance of the evil.
What is the proper response to violence? In an increasingly violent culture, this is a question we must all ask ourselves. And as Christians, we must answer this question in a way that is not only practical but also faithful. It isn’t just a question of what “works” to reduce violent crime; it’s also a question of how God has called his people to live. In what follows, I will offer my own convictions, though I readily admit that fellow Christians will differ in their responses to this sensitive subject.
I can think of no better place to start—for this or any other issue—than with Jesus. So let’s begin by considering what he has to say on the subject.
How to be sons of your heavenly Father
When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
Jesus does something radical here. He doesn’t simply list the most important commands—he reframes the entire Law in the light of one basic mandate: love. Love is the reason for every command God has given.
This concept is so important that all three Synoptic Gospels include a similar account (see Mark 12:28ff and Luke 10:25ff), and in the Gospel of John, Jesus narrows it down to just the second half. “This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).
Jesus essentially says that love of neighbor (or “one another” or “friends”) is how you show love to God, and he defines that love as sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. This echoes what he said in the parable of the sheep and goats, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And such love of God via love of neighbor fulfils the Law, as Paul and James would later confirm (see Romans 13:8–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8).
But “who is my neighbor?” This question was posed to Jesus in Luke’s account cited above. Jesus responded with a parable. And in this parable—we call it “the good Samaritan”—Jesus cast the most unlikely of characters for the role of neighbor. Jews hated Samaritans. They viewed them as the lowest of the low. Yet this is who Jesus said to love.
But that’s not all Jesus taught. He didn’t merely say, “Love the neighbors you don’t really like.” He also said, “Love your enemies.”
A Quick History of the 'Monster God' The term "Monster God" became 'a thing' in 2014 through a series of sermons, debates and blogs, and while I can't be sure of its earliest use, one will note that its popular usage is typically tagged to Pastor Brian Zahnd (Word of Life Church and a CWR columnist). It came onto my radar through a sermon in early May entitled "Death of the Monster God," a lenten sermon on Luke 23:34, 46 (Jesus' prayers to the Father) asking, "What is God like?" The central point of the sermon is summarized by Brian in these words:
When we look at the death of Jesus on the cross in the light of the resurrection, we are looking at our salvation. But, what do we really see when we look at the cross? Are we looking at the appeasement of a monster god through barbaric child sacrifice? Or are we seeing something else? Is the cross vengeance or love? When Jesus says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he is not asking God to act contrary to his nature. He is, in fact, revealing the very heart of God! The cross is not about the satisfaction of a vengeful monster god, the cross is the full revelation of a supremely merciful God! In Christ we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. Once we know that God is revealed in Christ, we know what we are seeing when we look at the cross: The cross is where God in Christ absorbs sin and recycles it into forgiveness. The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Christ in order to forgive, but what God endures in Christ as he forgives.
Somehow, the sermon also led to the formal "Monster God Debate" between Brian Zahnd and Michael Brown at the Kansas City IHOP. He contrasted the cruciform God who became incarnate to save us from ourselves with the monster God from whom Jesus needed to save us. Much of this is clarified in his article on "How does 'Dying For Our Sins' Work?"
Zach Hoag's Critique of the Monster God: 1. God of Absolute Power Minister and blogger Zach Hoag has picked up on this terminology and begun to apply it to contemporary issues in American Evangelicalism. I'm less interested in how he uses the Monster God motif in his critiques than in how he describes the Monster God's nature. Thus, I've mined two of his articles for clarity and definitions: