Yesterday’s post sparked some good comments, which in turn have stirred my heart to follow up with another post. It is true that we need to be clear evangelistically which God we are preaching – a friend of mine used the example of Elijah with the prophets of Baal. He didn’t affirm their zeal and assume they had the same deity in mind, just the wrong label, he absolutely set up and followed through on the competition between two deities – one real and the other not. Nevertheless I am not advocating that we copy everything about Elijah’s methodology!
Actually I am not really referring to evangelism at all. My post was about being clear which God we are preaching to those sitting in our church (even if they are all Christians, albeit unlikely). Are we preaching the monadic lory-grabbing power-God of philosophy who can think only of himself? Or are we preaching the relationally self-giving glory-giving God who exists in Trinity and invites us into the circle of his other-centred loving relationality? To know the true God is eternal life, so we desperately don’t want to get this wrong!
Richard’s comment referred to a conversation with a Muslim, “after two hours it dawned on me that though we both affirmed “God”, be it as supreme or “one” or whatever, the “One God” he was talking about was not the “One Trinitarian God” I was talking about.” I’ve had that sensation while in conversation with Christians!
So how can we preach the one true God? Do we end up in lengthy detailed explanations every time we come to a technical term like “Father” or “Son” or even “God?” I don’t think that’s necessary. Now and then an extended explanation, and even a differentiation, can work wonders. (Remember that if you don’t differentiate, they will overlay their selfish and distant and cold God on your selfless and warm-hearted Immanuel God.) But there is also a cumulative power in preaching that can work wonders. Five brief suggestions:
1. Be sure you know the difference between the God defined by philosophical attributes and the God self-revealed in His relationality in the Bible. While many or most of the attributes listed in our systematic theologies are true, we might be wrong-headed thinking that God can be defined without the Son as our point of entry into the discussion. Remember that Jesus didn’t prove his deity by ticking every box in the philosophical attribute list, but the Jewish leadership easily spotted his claim through references to his relationship the the Father. Be sure you really know the difference and are preaching the one true trinitarian God of the Bible. Don’t be guilty of overlay (and probably assume you are, since you’ll naturally assume you aren’t!)
Ok, I said brief, but the post became more than twice my daily limit. So the other four suggestions will be coming tomorrow (I’ll put up a post on Saturday for a change – it’s too important a subject to wait past another Sunday!)