God’s Role: Is It Changing?

By Norman E. Fultz

That was the headline of an article in the Kansas City Star, Sunday February 13, 2000, [A10]. Written about a conference called “God at 2000” and datelined Corvallis, Ore. the Associated Press article by-line stated, “Theologians study how religions view the Supreme Being.”

Frankly, a meeting of theologians isn’t going to greatly impact how God fulfills his role (unless their foolishness should prove that there’s not enough salt and light left to allow the world to continue). The problem is that their “learned postulations” may influence others to pick up their hue and cry, and thus lose sight of what God’s role really is in the world and what it should be in their lives.

The article stated, “Two of the world’s most prominent theologians say God’s image is going to have to change for all faiths if religion is to survive.”

And a professor of comparative religion at Harvard, Diana Eck, was quoted as saying, “We can’t enter the 21st century with the idea of God we learned in Sunday school.” Marcus Borg, raised Lutheran — turned Episcopalian, a best selling religious author and teacher at Oregon State University, said, “The God he grew up with had an image of a stern lawgiver and judge who required obedience within a system of rewards and punishments — a ‘monarchical model’ of God that has turned many people away from the Christian faith.” The article quoted Borg as saying, “I find it literally incredible that the God of the whole universe has chosen to be known by one religious tradition.”

Borg “suggested that God was an encompassing spirit who is part of everyday life.” And what would any good conference of modern day theologians be without someone to lend a feminist view? In this case it was given by a Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister, who “drew a standing ovation at the end of her talk about God as a genderless concept. She said that science and the globalization of culture, environmentalism and feminism took her away from traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and made her realize that God is an innate part of everything.”

Realizing that some of their definitions of God bordered on pantheism (which denies God’s personality and tends to identify God with nature), Borg “described this not as pantheism but as ‘panentheism,’ which suggest that God is not only transcendent and beyond human experience, but also immanent, or dwelling within all of us.” Has he, or someone, invented a new word to avoid being called pantheists? My dictionaries (I’ll admit they’re not the latest editions) didn’t have “panentheism” in them, and my computer’s speller didn’t recognize it. But if you dissect the term you have “pan” (a prefix meaning “all”), “en” (a prefix meaning “in” or “into”) and “theism” (the belief in God). Sure doesn’t miss pantheism very much.

According to the article, the gist of these theologians’ findings seemed to be, “None of us owns the universe of faith,” said Eck. “I’m convinced it’s time for all of our theisms to be recognized.” She was referring to Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, and perhaps others, and said Christians, in particular, had isolated themselves from other religions. Couple this with Borg’s statement of incredibility (noted above). The tenor of it all is to reject the God of the Bible and make God in the image of their own imaginings. As to God’s role changing in the 21st century, I’m persuaded his role will continue to be what it has been. As to the role theologians want to assign him, that’s a different matter. And to that matter I would ask, ‘Would they instruct or correct the Almighty?” (cf. Job 40:1-2). So, what is God’s role in the 21st century?

  • He’s still the Creator (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 136-5; Prov. 3:19-20; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Heb. 1:10-12).
  • Through his Son, partner with him in the Creation, he’s still upholding all things by the word of his power (John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:3; 2 Pet. 3:7).
  • He who stretched out the heavens as a curtain, spreading them out as a tent to dwell in, yet sits upon the circle of the earth (Isa. 40:22).
  • He still rules in the kingdoms of men giving them to whomsoever he will, working his will among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth (Dan. 4:17, 32, 35).
  • He is still working his will according to his good pleasure, purposed in himself in eternity and realized in this “dispensation of the fullness of times” in which he gathers “together in one all things in Christ”; and this in spite of theologians who “find it literally incredible that the God of the whole universe has chosen to be known by one religious tradition” (Eph. 1:9-10; cf. Gal. 4:4; Acts 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:10).
  • He is still accomplishing man’s reconciliation to himself in Christ Jesus through “the word of reconciliation,” the gospel, the power he uses to draw and call men to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14; John 6:44-45).
  • He, along with his beloved Son, is still taking up his abode in those who love him and keep his word (John 14:23); thus not necessarily “immanent, or dwelling within all of us” as per the theologians.
  • He is still being longsuffering to a sinful world “not desiring that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” for according to his holy principle it is a matter of repent or perish (2 Pet. 3:9; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30). 
  •  He is still adding to the church, the realm of the saved, those who become believers in the Christ and who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:36-38, 47; Eph. 5:23).
  • He is still holding in readiness a prepared place for a prepared people to be enjoyed in that “heavenly country” (Matt. 25:34; John 14:1-3; Heb. 11:16).

I think I prefer to go with the role Scripture assigns to God rather than relying upon the postulations of liberal theologians. 

Aside from all the above, there was a very interesting bit of information in the article about believers in God in America compared with England and other European countries. A Gallup Poll “found that 95 percent of all Americans said they believed in God, compared with 35 percent of the population in England and lower numbers in other European countries.” Of course one wonders what “role” these believers have assigned to God, for it is rather evident even by casual observation that the concept of the masses differs widely from that which we read in Holy Writ. A tree is known by its fruits (Matt. 7:20). Very importantly, What role have you given God in your life?

13018 N. Oakland Ave., Kansas City, Missousi 64167 nfultz@juno.com

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 12  p18  June 15, 2000