OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
The God of the Bible
The poll asking whether visitors to open source theology believe that the God of the Bible exists has raised the question of what we actually mean by the 'God of the Bible'. I don't have a very coherent response to the question, but these are some preliminary thoughts.
I would suggest that we need a greater awareness of the pluralistic (or even polytheistic) context in which we make statements about God. This is part of what it means to be postmodern - there is faith but there is also a heightened self-awareness, a sense of context, a willingness to entertain complexity and doubt. The collapse of Christendom and its metanarrative and the influx of foreign gods into the West in recent decades have made it much harder to claim a privileged status for the God of the Bible. What right have we got to say who God really is for everyone else? Perhaps we are much closer now to the situation of early Israel. We worship YHWH, a tribal god, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the god which Jesus worshipped, the god of the Christians, in a world that has many other gods and un-gods. True, we want to say that our god is the only true God, that he is the creator of heaven and earth, that he is a jealous god - but perhaps we haven't really grasped the fact yet that this has become again a contested assumption. The natural religious state of humanity is, and always has been, paganism. The particular commitment required by belief in YHWH is exceptional, which is why it is framed within doctrines of election and covenant. It doesn't come naturally.
Rather than define God primarily in abstract, philosophical terms, we should probably emphasize the narrative and relational framework - not an ontology but a narratology of God. This means, on the one hand, that we make sense of God essentially by telling stories rather than by putting forward rational arguments; and on the other, that we emphasize the fact that this God has called a people out of the world to be faithful to him, has made a binding agreement with that people, and has given that people a task, a job to do, among the nations of the world. This is a God to whom we respond as a people, as a community - through worship and through living God-like or Spirit-filled lives. But it is also a God who responds to us, so another way of speaking about God would be to set out what we expect from him.
(Telling the story of a tribal God competing for loyalty amongst other gods, raises a different set of problems: see, for example, A God of violence?)
I think we should also be much more candid about the difficulty of speaking about this shy, reclusive God of ours, who refuses to come out from behind the curtain of reality and make himself unequivocally known to the world. In a way Bultmann was right: theology is anthropology. Or better, theology is ecclesiology: the church is that group of people in the world that has taken upon itself the responsibility, the challenge, of acting as though YHWH exists and is a significant, active presence. We say that the church is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Flip this over and we say instead that it is the church that plays out, enacts, embodies, incarnates the reality of a God who is defined by covenant and mission - just as Jesus played out, enacted, embodied, incarnated the return of YHWH to Zion when he rode into Jerusalem. Our God is what we enact.
In what way does NT christology redefine God? The equation 'Jesus is God' is usually taken to mean that Jesus is divine, or that he shares in the godhead. But what if we turned it around so that it becomes not a statement about Jesus but a statement about God? Not Jesus is God-like but God is Jesus-like, God shares in the humanity of Jesus, God is defined by the story of Jesus, God has irrevocably associated himself with one who gave himself so that others might have life. What this may suggest is a different response to the challenge of pluralism: rather than fight for the supremacy of our God (as Elijah 'fought' for the supremacy of YHWH over Baal on Mount Carmel), we enact the self-giving love of God in the midst of the world. If the true God is in fact Jesus-like, why should we expect the majority of humankind to worship him? It is only those who are prepared to acknowledge the supreme self-giver as Lord, who are baptized into his death in order to share in his life, who will willingly and joyfully and honestly worship the one whom he addressed as 'father'. Perhaps that's overstating the point, but it helps counterbalance the more common mistake which is to exclude the distinctive Jesus narrative from our definition of the godhead.
Incidentally, the Mount Carmel incident (1 Kgs.18:19-39) was not a contest between Israel and the Canaanites but a contest within Israel, because king Ahab had introduced worship of Baal into Israel (1 Kgs.16:31-33; 18:18). Idolatry becomes a problem chiefly when it intrudes into the life and worship of Israel. This is when YHWH gets jealous. This needs to be thought through, but it may have implications for our attitude towards other religions and non-religions. Perhaps we need to allow for the fact that the god that the world knows is not quite the same as the God known to Christ-followers. The god encountered in the court of the nations is not quite the God encountered in the sanctuary, behind the walls of covenantal commitment.