God In The Hands Of American Sinners

by Dish Staff

In an interview about his new book, Our Great Big American God, Matthew Paul Turner dissects the problems with an all-too-Americanized God, our habit of “affecting, reimagining, shaping, and changing God’s story”:

God was never meant to be a nationalized deity. The very idea that God would showcase geographical favorites or advance the kingdom of one at the expense of another or several others goes against many of Jesus’s basic teachings. Moreover, our relationship with God has caused a large majority of America’s Christians to posses an elitist attitude or worldview, at times even imperialistic. Rather than humility, mercy, and redemption, God seems to have made us controlling, know-it-alls, materialistic, and far too certain of what God thinks about political, social, and spiritual issues.

Throughout our history we’ve branded God into a deity that works for us, one that mixes well with American values, one that agrees with our wars, and one who not only adheres to our way of life, in many cases, our way of life is God’s ideal, which we often suggest is one of the reasons he blesses us with prosperity. The biggest issue perhaps is that many of us are so comfortable with our American God, so certain of his ways, that to believe that we might be wrong is impossible.

In an excerpt from the book, Turner explores the complex legacy of Jonathan Edwards, the theologian and preacher most famous for his hellfire and brimstone sermon, “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God,” and whom he identifies as one of the key influences on the American understanding of the divine:

Jonathan Edwards changed the story of America’s God. He changed how the people of his time engaged God, editing a theology that was often portrayed harshly and dogmatically. He made strides to shape it with words into an almost beloved relationship between a grandiose God and a broken and depraved American heart. His words set the stage for what would become a steady foundation for America’s God to revolt against the Old World and bring about revolution. Historian Perry Miller suggests that America’s Enlightenment began and ended with Jonathan Edwards. And Edwards played a most defining role in bridging the space between Puritanism and what would eventually become American evangelicalism.

It was Edwards’s talent as a writer that, on one hand, makes him unforgettably important to so many still today. Preachers like John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and others wouldn’t have much to write or preach about without Edwards dedicating the majority of his existence to literally emoting his version of John Calvin’s God onto the page. But it’s that same talent, that profound ability to create rich imagery with sentences and paragraphs, that would ultimately backfire on him. Rather than his gift becoming defined by his thoughts on God’s glory or God’s beauty, Edwards’s words helped to Americanize God’s hell, turning this country’s doctrines about fire and brimstone into HELLTM, an idea that would eventually become a method for introducing millions to God.

His thoughts on the future of this American God:

We’re beginning to see conservative and progressive ideas about God morphing together. We’re seeing younger Christians shift their ideas about God’s thoughts on homosexuality, and other social justice issues. We’re seeing, perhaps, more understanding of how God come to be. On the flip side, there’s this Tea Party God: they’ve dug in their heels, and created this God. It’s like they’re saying, ‘You didn’t like our evangelical God? OK, then wait until you get to know our Tea Party God!’ In some ways, this God is an asshole.

But again, what you’re seeing — is it God that you’re seeing or just reflections of people? We change, and God changes with us. We should be careful about what our actions and words suggest about God. Rather than forcing God to be in politics, or to be the middleman on social issues, we should bring God back to our communities, and invite everyone to the table.