The God Is ad campaign is hitting about 1000 NYC subway cars this week starting Friday.
I think that this move is beneficial in some ways, but terrible in others.
Our culture is one flooded with images of what god might be like, this god, that god, an angry god, a liberal god. There are many gods out there, the white supremacist god, the hippie eco-friendly god, and many other gods.
Times Square Church is the sponsor of the ads. “We want to encourage people to seek God and prove that indeed He is,” explains Carter Conlon, senior pastor of Times Square Church. “The ads describe God in just a few of the infinite ways He proves His presence to us every day.”
I think that while the intention is good, it falls terribly short of what it means to preach the gospel. When surrounded by a culture with many gods, though people tend to think they’re all talking about the same person, Christians must resist the urge to be theists, believing in god in general and be Christians, believing in the God revealed in and named by the person of Jesus Christ.
I think that this is the right move, almost. Because they’re not saying which god is. Of course in a culture that embraces atheism as a cardinal virtue and resists any idea of God in public life, it’s a proper response. However, not being told which God is is the failure of many churches in this generation.
The seeker sensitive model often does not produce Christians, it does not produce disciples, it produces optimistic theists. If we begin our public discourse about our faith with the premise that God is, we will end up with a God who is anything but Jesus. Christians do not fit Jesus into their picture of God, they must in fact begin with Jesus and fit their picture of God into the life and ministry of the Jesus of Nazareth. It is He alone who has the words of life, He alone can interpret the world, the scriptures, theology, theism, pain, joy and us, to ourselves.
We cannot name Jesus as Lord and then go on thinking that all our categories of thought are just supposed to go on being the way they were before we named Him Lord and swore allegiance to Him through baptism. Jesus demands that our theology center on him.
I know some will say well, “I don’t believe in theology, I believe in relationship.” However, by theology i simply mean our belief about God, and the talks we have about him, either with ourselves or others. Everyone is always doing theology. However, Christians in America and the developed world at large tend to, on the popular level, care more about believing in God, and attaching Jesus to that general belief in God because he’s the way we get to the Father.
However, the Christian hope demands a lot more from us than theism. It demands radical allegiance to this man Jesus as the source of living water, the source of revelation for what it means to know the God of Israel. We can only say Father because He Himself has first said it, and our belief is wrapped up in this man Jesus. If it is not, we are not doing Christian theology. So, while these ads are good for an atheist culture, turning an atheist into a theist is not necessarily a step closer to the gospel.
Just because someone believes in one god, does not mean they believe in the God revealed by the life and work of Jesus Christ. We as Christians must be cautious to never allow ourselves to speak in general terms of things that demand Christian specifics. But again, that’s simply because we in America tend to think faith is easy, that discipleship consists in learning to adhere to a new set of socially acceptable behaviors and that we are not required to learn anything else once we declare allegiance to Jesus. Ongoing and involved learning is part of the calling of the Church, and if we neglect this we are neglecting the responsibilities that our salvation thrusts upon us.
We often think of salvation as a right to enter the presence of the Father, but we don’t often recognize the responsibilities inherent in this freedom called salvation. The responsibilities to Jesus, to our neighbor, to study, to learn, to think, read the Bible with dedication and in community, to enjoin ourselves to a community of believers that visibly lives the gospel are often invisible to us. We delight in our ability to have forgiven sins, but neglect the freedom from sin means we are free to spend ourselves more fully upon our neighbor. We forget that the most spirit filled person to ever walk the planet died and suffered a shameful death to show what love is, and Who god is. God is not an idea, I don’t believe in that god.
I don’t believe in god. I can’t believe in god.
I follow Jesus Christ, and the god that He reveals to me as the eternal unity of Father Son and Holy Spirit. I cannot believe in any other concept, idea or practice, and while this may seem elitist, I hope it’s received in generosity, because that’s the spirit it’s given in. I just hope to take Jesus seriously, and his teachings reveal a God who breaks all conceptions of theism, and start rebuilding them from the ground up.
I have to take seriously the iconoclastic Jesus who tells me he’ll destroy this temple. He’ll destroy my ideas about God, and through the power of His resurrection rebuild them, centered in Himself and not some other idea.
So while the ad campaign is cute. It misses the point, and sadly so do we, far more often than we care to recognize or admit.