April 2, 2020

iMonk Classic: A Theology of Everything

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Series from Dec, 2004

This is an excerpt from a post Michael wrote in December, 2004. I think it may provide good food for contemplation and discussion at the start of this Labor Day weekend.

• • •

I have what I call a “Theology of Everything.” I don’t believe that everything is God. There is only one God. But I do believe that everything has to do with God, and the truth about God- particularly the Gospel- rescues everything from being meaningless, and infuses a new meaning into everything in life.

This Theology of Everything intentionally looks for God in the “non-religious” aspects of life. He is always there, and scripture gives us a grid for looking at anything in life through the lens of God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Instead of seeing the world separated from God, as so many evangelicals preach over and over, the Bible shows us a world that God refuses to desert; a world where God stays involved despite the sinfulness of people.

The idea that the world is tainted with sin and must be avoided is gnosticism, not Christianity. It is a kind of manufactured righteousness that specializes in religion being more significant than other human activities. Singing hymns is acceptable. Making three-pointers is not. Preaching and teaching- God thing. Cheering and playing the school song- not a God thing.

This is most clearly seen when we talk about something, but don’t talk about God. If God is not mentioned, it is assumed we have idolatry going on. God has been displaced. Of course, we have the Song of Solomon and Esther, neither with any mention of God. We have a lot of Proverbs, premised on God as the beginning of wisdom, that do not mention God at all. Can we talk about human experience, all the while believing in God, but not mention God at every opportunity? In fact, is it possible that the Jews, in their reluctance to speak the name of God, might have been on to something evangelicals could learn about: not trivializing God by making everything an opportunity to engage in God-speak?

…What has this way of thinking done to the Christian view or art? Creativity? Calling and vocation? Non-religious accomplishments of every kind? Obviously, it has elevated the mediocre (or the just plain bad) because God was talked about, and it has overlooked, ignored and rejected what was covered in the fingerprints of God, just because He wasn’t mentioned in every verse or every page.

In a recent discussion of one Christian filmmaker’s view that evangelicals refuse to see excellence where there is no explicit Christian content, a commenter went into the familiar description of such a view as worldly compromise with a sin-tainted world. I wonder… when you read the scriptures, who is the one who is really most tainted by the sin of the world? Good, moral Christians? Or the God who is there in the middle of the mess we call creation, providing His Son as a mediator who is both “untainted” and “very tainted” so the world can be redeemed? If I go into the world “as Jesus did,” do I go with the intention of being “untainted,” or of redeeming what is tainted by the transforming power of God’s Gospel?

Is this why so many Christian young people think that the only way to serve God and honor God is to talk about God? So they must become preachers and Christian singers? Is this why my school contains so few Christian students planning on a “secular” profession as an explicit expression of their Christian calling? We need a “Theology of Everything” if we are going to accomplish the Great Commission. Having a God of the Ghetto (Christianized version) won’t matter.

Comments

  1. What refreshing words to hear right now! I am so printing this out to carry with me. Thank you, Michael Spencer; your wisdom lives on.

  2. Oh this was GOOD! I needed to read this! Thank you Michael Spencer!!

    One thing I have found very strange on this journey thus far is my unwillingness to be the God talker at every turn. Especially when I’m around someone who I know is a believer. My shame tells me if I don’t talk about God, how will they know I’m a believer too? Or how will they know I know Jesus, if I don’t talk about Him. Fear and pride…..just another way I get through my day 🙂

    I just read an article yesterday about someone who was asked to be “defriend” by someone else on twitter. This person said, “Okay, I get it, you go to church, but does Jesus have to be everything you write about?” Meaning every tweet. Yeah, that would get old for me too and I’m a believer. Well, this tweeter obviously thought this was some sort of persecution, and told the other person why they talk about Jesus all the time. It was soul saving and evangelizing at it’s best.

    Sometimes I just want some real fruit. Some light in a dark world. If I know you’re a believer and I watch you live your life, that makes a pretty good statement. As the saying goes, “Preach always, use words when necessary.” Imagine if everyone Jesus came across He was all, “Father, Father, Father.” Sometimes, He just touched that person where they needed it. His connection to His Father was obvious. The Son of God was so aware of His identity He didn’t need to talk about it all the time, it simply WAS. I think this kind of thing we do is based in fear. But, what do I know? I was told this week I have little experience or knowledge. I shouldn’t even be writing such things here. My bad.

    That last paragraph was the kicker for me! I know it’s been talked about here before, but I needed reminding this week that my relationship to God infultrates everything I do. My serving and loving Him comes out in the way I treat my family (first and foremost), the way I speak to or simply smile at the stranger, and the job I have, whenever I have one (ugh).

    I hope everyone here has one fantastic (and safe) long weekend! I’m headin’ into the Rocky Mountains with some old friends, can’t wait for some good conversation and laughter. Ciao!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Okay, I get it, you go to church, but does Jesus have to be everything you write about?” Meaning every tweet. Yeah, that would get old for me too and I’m a believer. Well, this tweeter obviously thought this was some sort of persecution, and told the other person why they talk about Jesus all the time. It was soul saving and evangelizing at it’s best.

      doubleplusgoodthinkers doubleplusduckspeak INGSOC.

      More realistically, how does this differ from a Jehovah’s Witness Witnessing for Jehovah 24/7/365?

      Or a classic Communist where Everything is Political, Everything is For The Revolution, Party Line Party Line Party Line 24/7/365?

  3. I certainly sympathize with Michael here.

    I attended public schools for most of my education before I my parents sent me to a small Christian school during high school. In many ways, this was a very good decision, because the friendships, class instruction and community I found were life-saving. But the insulation from the real world was in many ways crippling. So I’m conflicted: Christian education can be a good thing, but also a bad thing. Same with homeschooling.

    I chose to go to secular schools for my university education, and chose a secular profession. Of my personality entered in to these decisions: you don’t choose a random thing and go for it, you do what you want because you want to do it. I am satisfied with what I have chosen. The cognitive dissonance has at times been overwhelming and confusing, but I think that’s mostly because I am a a typical Christian nice guy screw-up, not because God gave us the wrong instructions. The trouble is, we don’t listen and don’t know how. It’s how it is out there.

    Many of my friends, Christian schools being as they are, did not make the choices that I did, and at times that has bothered me. I have wondered: am I doing everything I can for God? Is Jesus disappointed in me? Have I missed “it”?

    At the same time, I admit that at times I’ve been uncharitable to those in official Christian work, considering them too sheltered, too domineering, too annyoing, not having a “real job,” and so on. So it goes both ways.

    • I have a 2.5 year old and am beginning to struggle greatly with the question of how I should educate him. I can’t sort out what is accurate criticism of our local public school system and what is prejudicial hype. I suspect that much of the criticism comes from a socioeconomic bias, but there is racial/ethnic element that can’t be denied. I don’t want to send my boy into a “dangerous” environment, but I’m not able to get a hold of data that hasn’t been warped towards one perspective or the other. I’m glad that I have a couple more years to figure this one out.

      • Josh,

        My two cents advice as a bi-vocational priest/public school teacher, and I’ll just relay our experience. Culturaly, if you have immersed your children in the life of the church they will be ok in public school. You will be amazed at what sort of foundation they will have by five or six as far as religous/moral things go. Combine that with the fact that most kids, even young ones from really bad family’s are fairly decent and they will be fine. However, my 13 years as an educator has shown that you start to see a lot of reflection in kids of their homelife by the time they get to second and especially third grade. The language, the attitudes, etc. That can be handled by monitoring your kids friends well and by being involved in all they do. I manage to coach pre-school soccer, cub scouts and everything else. Our kids did attend a very good Mothers Morning Out pre-school at a UMC church that was fantastic for socialization and early reading.

        As far as the acadmemics, it varies by schools but I have found that a kid with supportive parents that value education will do well even in a mediocre public school. I have also found that most teachers (not that there are not bad ones) go into teaching b/c they do like kids. No one decides to hang out with 13 yr olds for 30 years every day just b/c they have long summers:) Trust me, if you did it for that you would quit in about 3 years.

        Furthermore, every study I have seen shows that if you can get your kid to the third grade and they are reading on level and still have a positive view of school they will be fine. Relax and smile. It will be ok.

        I’ve typed this quicky so I’m sure this is full of spelling errors.

      • Yeah, there’s a lot of negative hype about public schools in evangelical circles. Most of it is hyperbole and/or conpiracy theory with little or no real information. As a former teacher and as someone still married to a teacher of 25 years, and whose kids went to public school, I can tell you than your kids can get a very good education at most publiic schools without being derailed from their faith and moral foundations as long as there is a stable home environment, parental love and support, good communication, and opportunities for fellowship with other belivers in some fashion.

        I don’t like it, but it’s a fact that student performance tracks almost perfectly with socioeconomic status of the parents and home life stability. Many factors contribute to this, and those are not the sole causes, but they are the consistently reliable indicators.

        Don’t believe the hype. Investigate for yourself. Talk to administrators and teachers and parents at the schools you’re considering. You’ll get a picture of what it’s like fairly quickly.

    • I knew one person who joined Campus Crusade (oops Cru) becuase he didn’t know what else to do after he finished college. What a way to make a decision. There’s a video of him on Youtube where he’s thanking God for Hurricane Katrina and being hopeful that the people of New Oreleans will see ther hurricane as being good. (rolls eyes…) I’ve been amazed as to some of the charity, grace, mercy, etc…that I’ve seen outsde the traditional evangelcial sphere.

      But I knew many people who wanted to be missionarues, be a pastor, join a para chruch ministry and I chose a secular profession (though I thought it was God’s will… that will be another rant…) but it didn’t have as much status as those doing the church minsitry bit. It wasn’t as sexy….

      I used to wonder this when I went to a mega church and saw them praying over a team they were sending to Kenya/Brazil, etc.. I used to think why don’t they do that if a person is going to work as a personal banker at Wells Fargo? An engineer for Norfolk Southern railroad? A nurse at INOVA Hospital? Or a realator who helps with renting or selling properties?

      I don’t get it….

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    This Theology of Everything intentionally looks for God in the “non-religious” aspects of life.

    Including D&D, Furry Fandom, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?

    In a recent discussion of one Christian filmmaker’s view that evangelicals refuse to see excellence where there is no explicit Christian content…

    Which is a real kicker, because once you get outside The Ghetto (Chrisitanese version), you can tell “It’s gotta be Christian (TM) — look how shoddy it is!”

  5. Can I just post that getting over my Independant Fundemental Baptist Gnosticism has been one of the greatest feelings of release I’ve had in my entire life.

    You don’t realize how damaging it is until you are outside of it.

  6. I really needed to be reminded of this today and remember how much I am blessed with and how much God is part of all of it. It makes me grateful and joyous in a renewed way. Thank you.

    On the flip side, I have a family member who has become very fundamentalist in the worst way and has increasingly exhitibted the isolation and spiritual elitism that comes from viewing their system as separate and superior and more gody, and secular work or vocation as inferior and perhpas even indicative of “ungodliness.’ They live their entire lives in their adopted fundamentalist subculture and miss so much of what is beautiful and messy and God-infused in the wider world. And they have become markedly less charitable to anyone outside that group and even cruel in some cases as they have gone further down this road. It’s been a very sad thing to see.

  7. What a wonderful piece that Michael Spencer wrote here. His writing was always just so…real.

  8. “In classical theology God is, first of all, Being as such. Deus est esse. Being in this sense is not the most abstract category, as a mistaken nominalism asserts; it is the power of Being in everything that is, in everything that participates in Being. So long as this is the basic statement about God, we are in a theonomous situation because it implies that every finite reality is rooted in the creative ground, in Being itself. Therefore, it is possible to find the traces of the ultimate in everything, and the scientific approach to Being is an approach to that which concerns us unconditionally.”
    -Paul Tillich, “Protestant Era”, Chapter 4: Religion and Secular Culture.

    “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery–even if mixed with fear–that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms–it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”
    – Albert Einstein, “The World as I See It”.

    (I think an atheist with a sense of wonder and ultimate concern in life is far more religious than a “Christian” using and abusing the world and others in a selfish, pragmatic pursuit of a “best life now”.)

  9. Great one! I always think about this when I listen to some of Bach’s outrageous organ music. Imagine going into church, and hearing the toccata and fugue in D minor blaring with its searing frightening dissonances, for the prelude as you’re first walking in to church. THAT would have been an experience! Or maybe Schnittke’s “Songs where every note is filled with grief.” I don’t suppose these are overtly religious works, but so powerful!

    We miss so much of God when we put ‘worship’ into such a small box.

  10. Excellent, vintage Imonk!
    Too often we Christians would rather chalk off a space and proclaim “God lives here!” — rather than going off into a strange and often dangerous world in pursuit of the One who has called us to follow Him.

  11. Much of my everyday faith was shaped by the folks in the rural community in SE Indiana where my father was raised. These were (and still are) some of the most profoundly Christian people I’ve ever met, and yet there was very little talk about God or Jesus outside of Sunday morning worship. Instead, they went about their daily lives simply *being* Christians – following the basic commandments and lessons that they learned on Sunday morning. You’d find it in the people that would just show up when folks became sick or injured, to help clean or cook or do chores around the farm or house; the way that everyone would just arrive unannounced with their harvesters to bring in someone’s crop when there was a big storm coming; the way that they weren’t shy or restrained about pointing out and correcting someone’s behavior (someone who drank too much, was having an affair, had a really bad temper or language in public, etc.), but in a loving, non-aggressive (but forceful, when needed) manner that made it clear that they were still an important part of the community; the way that business dealings where done in a clearly Christian ethical model (a handshake was often more binding than a signed contract, giving discounts or a little extra “something” for folks that maybe couldn’t afford “full price”, extending credit to families with financial difficulties, making sure that both the buyer and seller came out ahead in the deal, etc.).

    The thing that this way of life instilled in me is that it’s the “doing” of the Gospel that’s far more important than the “God talk”, and that we can more be Christ to each other in the seemingly small things of everyday, daily life than by being “sounding brass” on a street corner soapbox. Even though I now live in a large metropolitan area, I’ve tried to carry this same style of “being Christian” in my everyday dealings (with the usual up and down success in the trying), and I’ve often found it to be a much more profound witness than any sermon I could give.