Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Worthier and Larger Idea of God

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

[Note on last week’s post: Those of you who receive my blog posts in your e-mail or who read my post in the morning last Wednesday will not know that I removed the reference to social activism later in the day. I realized readers might misunderstand Andrew Greeley’s thinking, which is, that “social activism is a consequence of religious faith, not a substitute for it” (emphasis his).]

“Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”

The outgrowth of the spirituality that Jesus practiced and preached led to this early affirmation of the church. Peter says this after witnessing the Spirit manifest in the character and compassion of people very different from himself, Gentiles.

Peter’s testimony is almost a genetic code in Christianity that could make it adaptable to our 21st century multi-faith, multicultural, multidisciplinary world. You might expect the words multi-faith and multicultural. But I add multidisciplinary because I believe that religion, science, and the arts may all work together for good rather than be pitted against one another as adversaries.

The Spirit gives the slip to orthodoxies that separate “us” from “them,” any religious forms that set up barriers to keep others out, any sacred ritual that makes us “holier than thou.” Each generation needs to imagine a bigger and better God, not in the sense of more powerful and holier and distant, but in the sense of more inclusive and gracious and intimate. If we are to do greater things than even Jesus did, we must follow Jesus into the commonwealth of God—the common spiritual wealth that we share with every creature.
The central trouble in the religious thinking of many people lies here: the new knowledge of the universe has made their childish thoughts of God inadequate, and instead of getting a worthier and larger idea of God to meet the new need, they give up all vital thought about God whatsoever.
Who do you think wrote these words? Bishop Spong? Marcus Borg? Elaine Pagels? Some New Age guru?

No, it was a Baptist preacher in a book entitled The Meaning of Prayer, published by the YMCA in the year 1925: Harry Emerson Fosdick, a renowned preacher of his time, a social activist and contemplative progressive. (For more of his efforts to bring religion into a modern age, read Dear Mr. Brown: Letters to a Person Perplexed about Religion [Harper & Row, 1961], which, though dated, is remarkably relevant to what progressive Christianity is attempting to do now.)

Wanting to be confined to a God who only embraces Christians lacks imagination and probability. To paraphrase Peter, May we truly perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, religion, condition, vocation, and discipline, those who revere God and do what is right are acceptable to God.


  1. I will admit that this fine posting might be a tad over my (public school educated) head, but I gather that, once again, God is actually bigger and better than people give Him credit for. I like that idea.

    On a more personal and selfish note, I would just love it if, in 80 years time, some deep thinker was quoting from an obscure piece I had written. Mr. Fosdick must be smiling in his grave!

  2. One of my father Ted's favorite books was "Your God Is Too Small", so I was raised on the ideas you share. As a high school chemistry teacher for nearly 20 years, I continually tried to weave into my classes the awesomeness of a Creator who could simultaneously produce galaxies and quarks, yet remain intimately concerned with loving each and every individual consciousness. Blessings from New Mexico, where I am currently revisiting my birthplace and the land that Ted considered truly "God's Country".