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Is God Mean?

No, but he's not 'nice' either. But he's good.

There’s a new book out now by Catholic theologian Ulrich Lehner, called God Is Not Nice. I’ll be publishing an interview with him about it soon, but having learned yesterday that the book is now in stores, I didn’t want another day to go by without alerting you to it. It’s a serious book that is easily accessible to the general reader and urgently needed by him. It’s a book that I wish I could put into the hands of every Christian parent, pastor, and educator. It’s a powerful weapon for fighting the sentimental pseudo-Christianity we call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Lehner writes:

Our faith has a name for the inclination to disregard God’s order, and that is “original sin.” … The philosopher Hans-Eduard Hengstenberg has therefore spoken of the major decision in each person’s life: we either approach concrete beings according to their inherent order or we surrender them to “our egotistical exploitation.” If we decide to see things and persons within the horizon of their natural goals and order, we tend to get to know them more intimately, we learn to love them, and we mature in our will. If, however, we turn away from this order, we see everything only from our own perspective. The first stance is a natural piety toward the entire world, which we can call Christian realism. The second option is what most of the secular world is doing. Of course we will continue to fail, due to our fallen nature, but the more firmly we decide to approach beings according to their inherent order, the more we will cling to grace and sacramental forgiveness and can hope to make some progress, because we will see the world with “God’s eyes” and not through the lenses of selfishness.


Realism means being in touch with the real world, with real things. Often I have the impression that we are running away from reality and focusing on feels as if emotions were the only real thing. Through my experience with religious education textbooks and catechesis classes in both Germany and the United States, I have come to see that much of our parish life is centered on sentimentality or the chasing of feelings. Children are invited to “feel” and “experience” this or that, but they are rarely given any content for their faith. It does not surprise me that they leave the Church if they find better feelings elsewhere.

The research on how theologically and morally vacant young American adults are today is staggering. I’ll be talking about some of it tonight at my Notre Dame lecture on the Benedict Option , in part as an answer to Jesuit Father and papal adviser Antonio Spadaro’s risible claim that things aren’t so bad in the Christian West.

In the context of Lehner’s book — which, again, is written for the man and woman in the pews, not for academics — I want to draw attention to this piece about Bart Campolo, son of leading progressive Evangelical pastor Tony Campolo. Campolo fils left the Christian faith for atheism. Excerpt:

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief. Speaking during the Wild Goose Festival (the American version of Greenbelt) Bart was clear: “What I know is if there’s 1,000 people at Wild Goose today, then in 10 years from now three or four hundred of those people won’t be in the game anymore.”

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.”

When Campolo changed his theology to match his experience, it was the beginning of the end.

Bart says he’s “skipped over” the “progressive re-vamping” of Christianity and gone straight to the logical conclusion that God doesn’t exist. He reckons that Progressive Christians should stop pretending God exists in the form of “the universe” or other wishy-washy language.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism — even in its right-wing forms — is the last stop on the way out the door to unbelief. Once you start determining religious and moral truth by what feels right to you, there’s no way to stop the unraveling. The fact that most American Christians (as Christian Smith and others have shown) are in fact MTDers, and the church in general is not pushing back on this, is a harbinger of collapse. The title God Is Not Nice is not meant to say that God is mean, but rather that He is wild and undomesticated. He is not nice; he is holy. Lehner is here speaking of God as C.S. Lewis’s Mr. Beaver spoke about Aslan: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”



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