[T]here are two ways and only two ways to read the Bible. You can read the Bible as if it is all about you and what you must do, and what you have to run around doing in order to get the blessing. Or you can read every part of the Bible as all about Him and what He has done for you. Is it all about you or is it all about Him? (Tim Keller)
This is part two of my previous post here. I quoted John Piper in part one and highlighted how Piper said that “many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.” This statement is of course meant to be a criticism of a Christianity that places the focus on man on the premise that God is man-centered.
Is Piper’s criticism valid? To answer this, I think the question needs to be asked if God is man-centered. It’s not a question often asked, but it’s an interesting question. And I believe the answer is, yes, God is to a certain extent man-centered!
I quoted Tim Keller above. Tim Keller is someone I like to listen to and read because he talks a lot about the gospel. He’s gospel-centered. In the above quote, he points out something interesting. If you read his statement carefully, he equates the Bible being “all about Him” as reading the Bible as “what He has done for you”. In other words, being God-centered in one’s reading of the Bible is really reading the Bible to see what God has done for us. That’s why I said above that I believe God is to a certain extent man-centered.
It doesn’t sound right, does it? To say that God is man-centered. But I believe that’s to a certain extent true. I mean, what is the Bible all about? From the very beginning to the very end, the Bible is a story about God as a missionary God (Announcing The Kingdom, Arthur F. Glasser). Whether we like it or not, the whole Bible is all about God’s mission in this world – His mission to rescue man through His Son Jesus Christ. Yes, God was on a mission to rescue us! The whole Bible is all about this “mystery” (Ephesians 1:9) of God saving man being revealed progressively.
This is not to deny that the ultimate purpose of man is to glorify God. But what is it that inspires us to do that? It’s knowing that God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us. Of course, we are to live and die for God. But what inspires us to do so? It’s knowing that God first lived and died for us in His Son Jesus Christ.
Surely, our lives should be focused on God. Surely, we ought to love Him. But we love Him only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). It’s about His love for us first, not our love for Him:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Dare we deny that God is to a certain extent man-centered in his love for us? After all, who is the recipient of God’s love? US! His love is centered upon us, upon man!
Let me mention one last point. Many Christians would accept the above (they really have no choice because that’s the gospel!), but still be uncomfortable with too much gospel preaching that is centered on man. They kind of have the idea that too much of such “man-centered” gospel preaching makes “Him a means to [our] self-esteem” (see Piper’s quote). For example, Paul Washer said:
Yes the Savior manifests love toward the sinner. But what you need to understand is that it’s not because of some worth or value in you. The Cross is not a sign of your great worth. The Cross is a sign of your great depravity; that you are so evil the only way you could be saved is by God’s Son being crushed under the full force of the wrath that was due you…
I agree that the cross is in a sense a sign of our great depravity. Is it also a sign of man’s great worth? By even entertaining that question, I’m getting into dangerous territory. People like Washer and Piper want to make man as little as possible and God as big and magnified as possible. And that’s why they say the things they do. I understand where they’re coming from. But I think that sometimes this can be overdone. Was the cross in any way a sign of man’s great worth? I think I’ll have no problem saying that there’s a bit of truth in that. It’s not because man deserves the cross. But because man is made in the image of God and is special in God’s eyes. I don’t think we do God or the Bible justice when we ignore the important fact that though fallen, man was made in the image of God. We’re different from animals and plants. While we’ve fallen and we’re sinners, that doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly become nothing of value in God’s eyes. I think that’s going to the opposite extreme.
But let me say this to end. I think a better statement than saying that “The cross is not a sign of our great worth, but our great depravity” is simply saying that “The cross is a sign of God’s great love for us”. It’s ultimately not about whether we’re worthy or not worthy. It’s ultimately about God’s great love for us. Whether one believes that the reason for God’s great love for us has anything to do with the fact that we were made in the image of God doesn’t really matter. (Of course, one can argue that we were made in God’s image because of God’s love for us in the beginning, and I totally accept that). Ultimately, what matters is that God loves us and God centers His love upon us when He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. We are the objects of God’s love. That, I think, is totally biblical. And that, I think, is to a certain extent man-centered.