Now I don’t mean that God has the right to be God, that is a different matter and a truth worth affirming. I mean that when the preacher says “God,” the listeners know who is meant. That is a big assumption.
It’s true that we live in an age of great religious confusion. After all, there may be Muslims, or Sikhs, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or New Age, or cult members present. There does seem to be an ever widening array of divinity options in our world today. But actually this isn’t my thinking in this post. Even when all present would call themselves Christians, I still think this is a big assumption to make.
Among Christians there are different “versions” of God at large, although they essentially do boil down to two main options. One is the monadic deity of philosophy – a God that tends to be assumed and agreed on in terms of his inherent attributes. This is the God that can be defined and described for chapter after chapter of some systematic theology texts before any reference to the Son or the Spirit or the Trinity are made. So many preachers refer to God, and assume all know what they mean . . . the God who made everything, is everywhere, judges everything, is all powerful, etc.
Somehow this power-God of philosophy is overlaid onto the Bible and assumed to be the same as the God of the Bible who is Father because of the eternal relationality of the Trinity, because of the Son and the Spirit. This God somehow seems to be slightly, and at times, radically different from the God that “everyone knows is God” of philosophy. My mind goes back to Mike Reeves’ talk at the Delighted By God conference in the summer where he contrasted the God of Arius and the God of Athanasius, offering both as the two options present in contemporary Christianity (here’s the link).
It isn’t only the increasing biblical illiteracy of our times that makes identifying the God we preach important. It is also the centuries’ old confusion of monadic and trinitarian understandings of God that makes this important. As we make sure our preaching is theocentric and pointing to God rather than humanity as its goal and focus, let’s be sure we are clear which God we are preaching.