Beware mythological projections

This post is adapted, with permission, from material written by Dr. Gary DeddoFor a related earlier post, click here.

In proclaiming that "God loves, forgives and includes all people in Christ," is Trinitarian, Incarnational theology ignoring the difference between believers and non-believers? Some who disagree with the theology advanced here think so.

Though I respect their concerns, in framing their objections they may be using a form of mythological projection. This is the error of projecting back onto God what is observed about humans. Here's an example: "Since some people believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and some do not, it follows that God must regard believers and non-believers differently." It is then a short hop to concluding that God loves, forgives and includes only believers.

Trinitarian, Incarnational theology seeks to avoid mythological projections, using instead a theo-logic that is grounded in the truth that only God reveals God. That being so, we must be careful not to read back into the nature and mind of God what we observe in people--and that includes not reading back into God what Scripture says about people. We are not to misuse Scripture by concluding that verses that address the potential eternal fate of people prescribe for us who God is in his nature (see Numbers 23:19) or in his will toward people. The full and final revelation of God's nature and will is found only in God's Son, Jesus Christ. He alone prescribes God’s heart, character and mind--including his mind toward all humanity.

What we're saying is that there is no causal-deterministic link between God and humans. When it comes to the revelation of God's nature and will, any sort of reversible logic is precluded. Consider this illustration: If A passes B the salt after requested, does this mean that B's request caused A's action? Not necessarily. It could be that A might have given the salt to B regardless of whether B asked for it or not. In this illustration, A and B can both represent God or humans with respect to matters of salvation or of damnation (C.S. Lewis gives an extended use of this illustration in Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer).

When we say that "God loves all people" and that "God includes all people in his love and life," we are commenting on the will and purposes of God with respect to humanity. In Jesus we see that God is of one, settled mind toward all humanity, regardless of what any individual person may think or do. God the Father sent his one and only Son, our Creator, to become human in order to stand in for all humanity as our substitute and representative--the vicarious human who Paul refers to as "the last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45). On our behalf, Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, suffered at the hands of sinners, died our death, rose from the dead to assure our resurrection and ascended to the Father in glory, pouring out from there the Holy Spirit upon all humanity ("all flesh"--see Acts 2:15-17).

And now (post-Pentecost) the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, works in the world to help individual people come to know and personally respond to God's settled will and purpose toward them. But an individual's personal response (whether it be positive or negative) toward God does not determine/cause/change God's will, mind and heart toward that person. Indeed, it is by grace alone, through Christ alone, that we are saved, apart from any human merit or response other than the merit and response of the God-man Jesus on our behalf.

But this raises a question: Is there no meaning, no consequence for our personal, human response? That's a big question that deserves a lengthy answer. I have given one in the recent series on this blog wherein I reviewed the book Participation in Christ (click here for the first post in that series). Suffice it to say here, that God in his grace and goodness toward us has made room for and thus gives real meaning to our personal response to his grace toward us. But that response does not cause God to extend his grace (if it did, it wouldn't be grace). And our response does not change God's attitude toward us--nothing we do or think causes God to love us more or less than he already does. However, our personal response does influence whether we do or do not enjoy God's grace--whether we do or do not benefit from it personally.

So, by all means, let us respond to God in trust and thereby participate in the new life that is ours in Christ. But let us also be careful not to project back on God the limitations of our own humanity. Let us avoid all mythological projections that distort, diminish or even entirely negate the stunning reality of who God is as revealed to us conclusively in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. God truly is the God of all grace. And truly, through his incarnate Son, by the Spirit, he is God with us and for us. To him be the glory!