My Working Thesis on Our Fear of God’s “Earthiness”

earthinessIt’s possible I might have come on to something. A few weeks ago, an idea hit me pretty strongly. It might simply be some bad pizza from the night before, or I might be on to something. So I’m simply using this as a place to think through some thoughts, a kind of journal, if you will.

A few months ago, I had already written on the problem of our fear-driven biblical interpretation. Not healthy fear, as in reverence for the Lord, but a fear that the Bible really doesn’t fit the paradigm for which many of us argue. But I want to talk about another fear.

What’s that fear. I’m calling it the fear of God’s “earthiness”.

Here’s my thesis and at some point I might take more time to flesh it out: We are afraid of God’s earthiness when it comes to three important components of our Christian life and theology – a) the earthiness of Jesus, b) the earthiness of Scripture and c) the earthiness of the local church.

I don’t know if that sounds super-spiritual or uber-theological, but I’m really starting to believe this. And I’d also propose these 3 things are tied together. Our fear of the earthiness of Jesus leads to our fear of the earthiness of Scripture, which leads to the fear of the earthiness of the church in its own local (“messy”) situation.

We just don’t want God, nor his work, to be authentically human and earthy. We want abstract, fully objective, impervious to what it actually means to be human and part of our world. To get right down to it, we don’t want the messiness of what it means for Jesus, Scripture and church to be fully human in our world. And I believe this affects our understanding of who Jesus is, what Scripture is, and what the church and it’s mission is all about.

That’s my working thesis.

Any feedback?

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10 thoughts on “My Working Thesis on Our Fear of God’s “Earthiness”

    • I updated the last paragraph of the article with this statement: To get right down to it, we don’t want the messiness of what it means for Jesus, Scripture and church to be fully human in our world.

  1. Scott,

    If I’m reading what you wrote correctly, then I agree. May I add to it a bit? Christology = the Church has struggled with the fact that Jesus is a divine human with emphasis on the human side of things. Kenosis Christology gives us language, but it is language we fear using, especially when talking about Jesus as God Incarnate in a first century Jewish man rather than an ahistorical uberman. Scripture = debates over “inerrancy” or other bibliological creedal claims want a “perfect Bible”, whatever that means, and anything less than a “perfect Bible” seems less than divinely inspired. If I understand you correctly your bemoaning this error, acknowledging that our Bible can be divinely inspired without it being a book that fell from heaven, completely canonized, standardized, and sanitized. Our messy Bible, like our messy human Messiah, is, well, messy. Church = this sounds like a spin off of Bonhoeffer’s point in Life Together that we must first love the Church as it is not the Church as we’d like it to be. We self-justify in condemning a frail and fallible Church as unworthy of our love and dedication because we believe the lie that only the Church made perfect is somehow worthy of those things. Our “earthy” Church is frail and fallible though, and our God calls us to love this Church, not the one that exists in our imaginations.

    Response?

    • Brian –

      I track with it all. On the earthiness of church, I’m really referring to our problem with the church’s “localness”. Hence why we built super-buildings with all the programs and traveled 30 or 40+ minutes to get to that place, rather than appreciating a more “neighborhood” or “parish” context where we can impact the messiness of our own lives and localities.

      • I see. That makes sense, though I think there may be a touch point here. Maybe we build this massive buildings and develop these programs in order to escape having Church be Church. We’d prefer Church as mall, or cultural center, etc.?

      • Yes – we escape church being church. I’d posit Jesus’ concept of ekklesia was both broader & narrower in many ways than what we imagine.

  2. I love the idea. For me this ties in with trusting the Spirit (wild, free, “messy”) rather than believing in the infallibility of a BOOK (concrete, exact, unchanging – though it really is NONE of those things). People fear “messy” (earthiness) because it DEMANDS that they have FAITH, rather than “KNOW” what to do in every situation. Subjectiveness is SO frowned upon in evangelicalism, because it can’t be controlled. “What’s true for me must be true for EVERYBODY or I can’t KNOW if I’m ‘right’.” But in the Bible, God was earthy. He met people were they were, and different people felt and understood different aspects of God, no matter how much people try to reconcile it all. But that kind of relational truth (“what I see/feel in God may not be what you see/feel”) makes people uncomfortable. Just put a strict Conservative Baptist in a Pentecostal church and see them squirm to get an idea of how this looks. 🙂

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