The God Who Is... Where?
Comparison of Two Book Titles and the Thirty Years that Separate Them
by John Fischer
I have always
considered myself fortunate to have been in the formative years of my
life when Francis Schaeffer was having his greatest impact on evangelical
Christianity. His visits to Wheaton College, two of which I witnessed
as a student there during the last half of the sixties, became the watermarks
of my college experience. It was during those visits that Schaeffer presented
the material that was to later become his most comprehensive philosophical
work, The God Who Is There.
Almost 30 years later, in an issue of Christianity Today that celebrated
Schaeffer's influence in an article by Michael Hamilton, I noticed a coincidental
ad for a book by Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church,
titled,The God You're Looking For. The similarity of these titles made
their key differences stand out. Something about these two titles speaks
volumes about the way thinking has changed over the years that separate
their respective releases.
The God Who Is There
Francis Schaeffer spoke to a generation that cared enough about the concept
of God to despair over its loss. In Schaeffer's analysis, drug use, pornography,
existentialism and even madness were not merely sin and debauchery for
the fun of it, they were the logical conclusions of philosophical ideas
that had been crossing the ocean from Europe for decades and surfacing
in the works of American artists, writers and film makers. Piece by piece,
the old ways of thinking were being stripped away by philosophers and
theologians until God was nothing but a memory. And yet a memory was more
than nothing, and it was that memory of God and propositional truth that
Schaeffer was always seeking to retrieve.
Francis Schaeffer spoke to young people from families that still prayed
to God, in a nation that still pledged its allegiance under Him. Many
of these students made the long trek to L'Abri, Switzerland, to find if
there was any validity to their childhood beliefs about God and the meaning
of human existence. So when Schaeffer gave credibility to both, and even
a historical context as to why they had doubted God in the first place,
many were persuaded to believe.
Thirty years ago, it was enough to prove the existence of God and the
reliability of the scriptures. Belief would follow the evidence. The God
Who Is There assumes that people care enough to do something about God
should it prove to be a rational thing to believe in him.
Reading Schaeffer again today makes one long for such a mind-set. It also
makes despair seem almost attractive when compared to the moral relativism
and self-absorption that characterizes most of western culture in the
nineties. Would that people cared enough today to actually despair. Would
that truth meant enough for people to lament its absence. Would that proving
the rationality of the existence of God would assume the embracing of
that God as its logical consequence.
The God You're Looking For
We now live in a generation that lies beyond the rational boundaries of
Schaeffer's day--even beyond despair. Hope is fantasy. Truth is whatever
anyone wants to make it. God is a concept to be used only when useful.
Religion is a preference. There is nothing beyond self to appeal to; only
the subjective desires and felt needs of human existence are left. The
God Who is There is about as relevant to today's thought processes as
Francis Schaeffer's knickers. Not that the truth is no longer true, it
is just that the postmodern mind does not possess the thought-forms necessary
to grasp truth as absolute. Announce the God "who is there"
today, and people will want to know which God you are talking about. On
which channel? Representing which ethnic group? Which religion? And if
he is "there", just where is he? Is he out on video? And before
anything else, people would want to know what this God could do for them,
for whether God is or is not there, the operative question is, what can
belief in God do for me?
In this context, The God You're Looking For is a fitting title. There
is simply no other way to address a postmodern mind except by way of the
expressed needs, longings and desires of people. And the churches who
are adopting this approach are currently finding much success. But in
doing so, are we not now facing a new dilemma for ministry?
Schaeffer himself has stated that each generation of the church "has
the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms,
considering the language and thought-forms of that setting." [Escape
from Reason, p.94] But what if the language and thought-forms of a generation
are inept at holding the kind of belief systems necessary to sustain a
relationship with God over the long haul? Then we will have to teach people
to think in thought-forms that are foreign to them‹that are outside their
cultural experience. To some degree then, in teaching people how to follow
God, we must now teach them how to think all over again.
For instance, we keep hearing how the postmodern mind cannot grasp the
idea of absolutes. Well then, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure
out that the postmodern mind is incapable of grasping the idea of God.
Something has to give here: either the postmodern mind, or the God we
preach, and I don't think God is very interested in making too many adjustments
in his nature or his character in deference to our inadequate minds. People,
in order to grow in their understanding and relationship with God, are
going to have to somehow graduate from a God they once met on one level,
to a God who demands they stretch their minds in order to meet him in
ways they have never thought of before.
Actually, this process is not unlike one common to all believers. We all
begin a relationship with God on a subjective level through our own personal
salvation. But our growth (or sanctification) is the process of discovering
that God does not exist for us; we exist for him. "True worshipers
will worship the Father in Spirit and truth (John 4:23)"--speaking
not of my truth, but of his truth to which I adjust myself and my thought
processes. New believers have come to God because he has met their need;
mature believers come to God regardless of their need. They come because
he is God and he is worthy of their worship and allegiance.
The Current Task
If I am right about this, then the current task that faces the church
is a difficult one that poses some rather ticklish questions. Having convinced
people to embrace a God who is relevant and contemporary, will Christians
still love God when they find he can also be irrelevant and old and sometimes
difficult to follow? What do we do when the God who is there is not the
God anyone wants? Do we still preach him? Will we be tempted to continue
giving people a God they are looking for when the God who is there no
longer holds their interest?
One can readily see how addressing this generation with the truth about
God is a more formidable task than it was thirty years ago. If people
no longer have the thought-forms to grasp absolute truth, then we have
to teach and challenge them until God forms in them a new mind. "Do
not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2)" takes on new significance
in this regard. It will take a new mind to even believe.
In reality, both these titles are true and necessary. The God You're Looking
For is a good way to start people thinking about God today, but at some
point, the God you are looking for has to become The God Who Is There--the
God who was there all along, and the God who will be there forever. He
is the absolute we will all eventually bump into, regardless of our ability
or inability to conceive of him. This is the God who deserves our praise
whether or not he fits our description or meets our needs. Somewhere in
me, I hear God saying to us all today, "If you are looking for God,
I am the God you get, because I am that I am."
May we not shrink from telling the whole truth.
©1999 John Fischer, all rights reserved
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© 1999 Rational Pi, all