God is both demanding and affirming so our God-concept is not an either/or proposition really. However, most Christians (and Christian culture in the church at any one period of time) tend to “tilt” toward one or the other God concepts: the demanding God or the affirming God.
The demanding God is all about justice and power. This God has high expectations of his followers and is constantly dissatisfied with how poorly we are doing. He has issued commandments and expects us to obey them all and the demanding God gets angry when we disobey or fall short of the perfection he expects of us. When we see spiritual progress the demanding God points out how short we still fall from the perfection He expects and even when we succeed He then raises the bar still higher—He is never satisfied because we will always fall short. The demanding God punishes sin and imperfection and has made a terrible hell for those who don’t measure up. This demanding God will finally judge us and it will be a fearful thing to fall into His hands.
The affirming God is all about love. The affirming God is gentle and kind and speaks words of affirmation to us—He helps us cope with a difficult days. We are the first thought on the mind of the affirming God each day for he is our good shepherd and loves us so much that He would have sent Jesus to die for us even if we were the only person in the would. The affirming God is like a personal trainer—He understands us, encourages, urges us onward, overlooks our weaknesses and forgives our sins and short fallings even before we ask.
So to which God-concept do we tilt? Americans are spread in a curve from demanding to affirming, with most predictably in the middle. The group at large, however, tilts a bit toward the affirming God concept. We know this because two sociologists from Baylor University have reported on America’s God-concept.1 But, I’m less interested in America’s concept as I am the evangelical church’s concept. It is my hunch that evangelicals used to tilt toward the concept of a demanding God but in the last 30 years they are tilting toward the affirming God concept. I’m not sure I’m right on this, but I think evangelicals used to teach at the 3-4 level but now might be somewhere around 6 or 7 on the scale. Whatever the number, I think the movement is toward the affirming end. I wonder where you’d put evangelicals at large…and yourself personally?
So, what do you think? Where would you place evangelical on this scale and which way is the movement occurring? Is the change a needed correction… or is it an overreaction that has gone too far?
So, what do you think?
The discussion of this column is on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=161502633
Keith Drury March 15, 2011
1. The book is by Paul Froese and Chris Bader titled “America’s Four Gods.” (Oxford University Press, 2010). The four Gods comes from putting two X-Y graphs together producing four quadrants. The two scales are demanding-affirming scale and a second scale on how active people think God is—what we might call the active-inactive scale. Thus using the two scales they come up with four distinct God concepts in America:
1) The AUTHORITATIVE God [wrathful-active]
2)The CRITICAL God [wrathful-inactive]
3) the DISTANT God [loving-inactive] and
4) BENEVOLENT God [loving-active].
I am only using one of the scales here—the wrathful-loving scale, titling them demanding and affirming.