Brian McLaren gives one of the coolest examples of our changing perceptions of God. He starts with the basic view of God that mirrors our parent’s care—God 1.0. Then we learn about God 2.0 who cares for others; through God 4.0—a God of affection, fidelity, and forgiveness for us. Many people only hold a medium level of God understanding. However, we can activate our best self when we grow through additional revisions until we reach God 5.0: a bigger, wholistic God that incorporates all humanity, all living things, and the entire cosmos.1
Why is a concept of God important?
The most pivotal concept in progressive Christianity is how we view Ultimate Reality. That, in turn, leads to understanding what the Bible is, how we appreciate Jesus, and how we lead our lives. Your behavior, your hopes, your relationships with every creature and every molecule of being begins with that ultimate reality we humans tend to name “God.”
We can get through life without ever having to explain what God is. But, the clearer our view of ultimate reality, the easier it is to choose behaviors that reinforce our satisfaction of knowing we’re living our best lives.
However, giving a pure, succinct definition of God, is impossible for humans. We’re finite; God isn’t. Plus, any language description is very limited. You see, any human account of “God,” can’t really be God. It would be something less than the Unconditional Ultimate Reality that gives purpose to the universe. God is bigger than any definition—including my feeble attempts!
Growing to God 5.0
The concept of God has been changing since early humans attributed human characteristics to the forces of nature. What we need to realize is that through these millennia when we define God we’re describing our experiences with God. And we’re using very human characteristics, usually limited to one language.
In the 1960s I was greatly influenced by J. B. Phillips book, Your God Is Too Small.2 He lifts you out of thinking that God may be a resident policeman; a parental hangover, or even a heavenly bosom. (And as a young man, I thought a lot about heavenly bosoms.) Phillips really started me on the quest to view God in terms that take us, well, beyond human terms.
For example, any anthropomorphic portrayal—gender, labels, emotions, senses, ability to do something, physical characteristics—is making a form that is limiting. Any capability for intervention in worldly affairs means that God is outside the situation and therefore is less than the total situation. Even benevolent descriptions such as “God is love” or “God is good” also imply that God isn’t everything (and yet I really like those phrases as I’ll explain later)
Then there’s “evil.”
People often counter with, “But what about Evil? Bad things happen in the world; how can that be God?” This thinking comes from old Greek dualism. That is, if there’s a good god, then there must be a bad god—evil or Satan. So, I ask, how can a part of creation, even evil, be “not-God?” Wouldn’t that make God less than all there is? If anything can exist outside of God, then that God is too small.
I’ll admit, this is hard for many people to swallow. You mean He isn’t the old man—Father-figure—we learned about in Sunday school? God isn’t mad at us for all our sins? Yahweh didn’t make a covenant with his people, Israel? God didn’t kill off his son? Wait, you mean there may be more (or fewer) than three dimensions—a trinity—of God?
When I say “Yes” to all those questions, the next comment from traditional church folks is often, But, doesn’t that negate everything in the Bible? Wouldn’t that mean there’s no point to Christianity? Or, non-religious people might say, But, that’s not what I hear when the news media talks about God.
A different revision of God than we’re used to—like God 5.0—has incredible implications. I already alluded to Biblical meanings and the status of Jesus, but there’s also prayer, religious practices, and, even more to the point: the very purpose of our lives. Next time, I’ll apply God 5.0 to the purpose of Oneness and Wholeness.
So, what are you thinking now? (I’ll bet there’s a good chance you don’t agree with everything I’ve said.) If you give feedback by asking questions and making comments—positive or negative—this can become a conversation; a way to grow together in living our most meaningful lives.
- McLaren, Brian. The Great Spiritual Migration. 2016. His chapter on God 5.0 is one of the most progressive explanations of God you can find, even though he admits “God 5.0” is an unwieldy term.
- Phillips, J.B. Your God Is Too Small. 1952.
_____________________________________ April 23, 2018
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Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness, and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. That is, he’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy a walk towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.