At his encounter with God, Moses inquired of God’s name. God replied with “I am who I am.” In a Hebrew culture which puts so much meaning in names, Moses attempted to define God is in his own mind so that he can explain God to his own people. Hence, to know God’s name is to know what God is like. But God would not have it because there is no reference to aid in describing who God is to a mere mortal.
Today we are faced with the same problem. Namely how do we define God to our young people? The growing worry among evangelicals is not being able to pass on their knowledge of God, and in the process losing the millennials to a secular culture. Hence, in an attempt to rectify the situation pastors and leaders have scrambled to address this problem. They are desperately trying to describe Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit the best way they can. You know, attempting to describe an indescribable God rather than leading the younger people to experience God on their own.
Unfortunately, the methods implemented are often rooted in behavior modification rather than heart change. We see this is evident for both liberal and conservative Christians. In the liberal churches, pastors have engaged in silly activities and downright cheesy ways of appealing to the younger generation by imitating the current pop culture. For in the name of being relevant, they lowered their standards, and the church became more like the world instead of the world becoming more like the church.On the other hand in the conservative churches, they doubled down on attempting to change the behavior of youth from the outside-in. They label innocent activities as worldly and ungodly, and they set unnecessary boundaries and rules which don’t lead to godliness but rather a burnout.
The bigger problem, however, is that both liberals and conservatives have exchanged sound theological doctrines for systems, and programs. In the process, they have lost their uniqueness and edge in an ever increasing competition of ideas and worldviews. Even if their approach is entirely sincere, history is a witness to the many attempts of people of faith being sincere yet altogether deceived. What matters most is telling the truth. But we have to speak the truth with gentleness and respect even though this might cost us. But the cost will be even more if we don’t, because when we no longer tell the truth; falsehood takes its place, which results in irreversible eternal consequences.
You see, is not that people set out to believe lies about God. Nobody would attend a place of worship if it were named “The congregation of the deceived.” But to spot deception, we have to be suspicious of the things that sound almost right but aren’t. In the words of the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon telling the difference between truth and falsehood “… is not merely a matter of understanding the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.”
In my life, I thought that as long as I pursued truth, I will be ok. I quickly realized that seeking truth apart from God is at best a recipe for confusion and at worst a full-blown catastrophe. The time here on earth is too short for us to try and “figure it out.” We easily are swayed by other people, our emotion, and spiritual forces. In other words, we are boats lost at sea navigating the waves of our desires, feelings, and thoughts. Consequently, it’s easy for us to give into the idea that out our experiences are what is true. As a result, our experiences become our doctrine. Hence we find ways to justify our behavior, even the worst of it.
It’s even worse when we take the same approach to how we view God. Namely, we often see God in light of our experiences and hence there is a tendency to emphasize one of God’s attribute at the expense of another, and in the process create God in our image or at least view him through the lenses of our experiences and biases.
Perhaps this is why we ended up with so many denominations in the Christian faith. Different people stressed different attributes of God, and they set boundaries rules based on their experiences rather than God’s character. But no matter how great they are, pastors and leaders cannot permit what God forbids, and they cannot forbid what God allows. The question then becomes what does God forbid and what does He allow? The answer to this issue can found in knowing God’s character. After all, God is wholly different from all of us. God is incomprehensible by the human mind, and we should only look to Him for clues on what His character is like.
To know God’s character we have to study his attributes. While there are so many of them, I would like to focus on two attributes of God that I think are broad enough to encompass so many other ones. Namely, I want to focus on God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. These two have to be held in tension and not emphasize one over another. Furthermore, if we affirm one and deny the other; then that is is absolute heresy. In the words of theologians “To affirm God’s transcendence and deny his immanence is to arrive at deism. To deny his transcendence and affirm his immanence is to arrive at pantheism.”
When transcendence is emphasized at the expense of immanence
Transcendence has to do with the fact that God is wholly different from any of us. He is uncorrupt, holy, powerful, superior, and perfect. Because of his otherness, God seems distant from human beings and as such Christians who tend to emphasize this attribute of God above others are usually concerned with the holiness and justice of God. They have a tendency to live under the constant weight of never pleasing God. In other words never being able to cross the chasm between God and man. They work hard and seldom relax they frown even more and rarely smile. After all, a Christian has to “work out their salvation” and dare anyone not conform to this standard and fit within the framework of the established boundaries, such person is ostracized and ridiculed. They proclaim that Jesus is a lord but with their actions the fail to see Jesus as a close friend.
When immanence is emphasized at the expense of transcendence
On the other hand, there is God’s immanence. The idea that the divine is close to broken human beings. Christians who emphasize this attribute of God above others tend to flaunt their freedoms border-lining lasciviousness regularly. They are inclusive of everything and everyone, regardless if that means they have to compromise on their morals. After all, Jesus loves everything and everyone, and we need not be concerned about sin. In the name of unity, they have compromised on the truth of the gospel and hence their joy is counterfeit, and their love is self-serving. Deep within they know it, yet telling the truth is unpopular. Dare someone to speak on God’s Holiness and the need for repentance and such person will be automatically labeled a bible thumper and a legalistic Pharisee. They say “it is God who works in us” and no so subtly saying that there is no need for personal responsibility. With their words, they scream Jesus is a friend but in action they deny Him as Lord.
Either one of those two extremes is dangerous. The truth, however, is that God is both transcendent and immanent and we can never be complacent with one over the other. After all, Apostle Paul did not just say one or the other; but he said both “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” (Ph. 2:12-13) ESV
So how can we reach our younger generation? By leading them to an encounter with God and them seeing Him for who He is. Furthermore, we have to describe God how he describes himself that means telling the truth about God regardless of who we offend. For the conservative Christians, speaking the truth means to stop trying to make Jesus religious by setting rules and boundaries to make people look more presentable. Jesus asked us to approach him as we are and He will change who we are. As for the liberal Christians, speaking the truth means to stop trying to make Jesus cool. He is beyond that, and no amount of earthly “coolness” can every display his magnificent glory.
Furthermore, conservative and liberal Christians have to see God in all his Glory and do not emphasize one attribute of who he is at the expense of another. God did not give us the liberty to minimize His transcendence or abuse His Immanence. He asked us to tell it like it is.