Security in Relational Theology

The following essay is based on readings from "Relational Holiness", by Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl:

Part of the challenge of being a minister or teacher within the church is to bring Biblical truths and insights from theology to a level that can understood by all. Ministers and teachers also have the challenge of inspiring people to want more, to dig deeper, while at the same time present the message in new and creative ways in order to draw people to Christ. Seeing the Bible from a relational viewpoint can help in this process as it gives us a new love and compassion for people because of the new security Christians will feel in their relationship with God. That security is paramount to spiritual formation as God seeks to stretch his people in new and different ways. Christian leaders must strive to instill this relational worldview within their people by understanding the culture and by also presenting the relational view of God that is evident in the Scriptures.

“A relational worldview considers things and persons as deeply interconnected…An individual’s relations with others largely decide what that individual is” (32). This is true in our relationship with God as well. If Christian leaders consistently paint a picture of a God who is responsible for the world’s evils, is all knowing, and who uses those attributes to micromanage his creation, and who is selective about those he chooses to take to heaven (without letting them know ahead of time), our people will react in an excluding and condemning way toward others. They will become legalistic as they strive to appear “good enough” in God’s eyes and will become paranoid about the Holy Spirit trying to change negative points in their lives. As the paranoia grows, the Holy Spirit will cease “bothering” them. God will leave them in the place they want to remain and others around them will suffer because of their immaturity.

For the Christian who views God as a loving Father, a friend, a comforter, a guide, a Creator, and healer, his or her relationship with God is non-threatening to others (unless they choose to feel threatened) and also benefits the individual. Reading the Scripture on its own merit and studying to get beyond denominationally colored theological glasses, shows that the God of Scripture has a desire to relate to his children. If the church can present God in this manner, the postmodern generation should be able to relate to God as he is shown in Scripture.

“Because societies around the world change, the core Christian message—holiness—must be presented in new ways and with new language so as to seize our hearts and imaginations. The Christian gospel must be contextualized for the present age without compromising its core” (30). One of the issues that open theology brings out is that while God’s character does not change, his methodologies do. If this is so, why does it appear that many churches are at least a decade behind in their methodologies? As a minister friend put it, “We move according to geologic time.” We see in the gospels that Jesus was constantly identifying with the culture by producing wine from water and feeding a crowd with typical food for that time period. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” We can learn from his example. Jesus, while meeting the needs of those around him, did not compromise his mission or God’s character.

According to the authors of “Relational Holiness,” our descriptions of God’s character “will not and cannot be exhaustive. While Christians believe that some important things can be said about their Maker and Savior, they typically don’t claim to have a full explanation about what divinity entails” (35). If we are to form spiritually in a proper way, Christians must come to this realization. The minute we think that we have God figured out, we put him in a box. God can neither grow nor shrink in our understanding. This leads to pride and manipulative actions toward God and others.

On the other hand, if Christians recognize that God cannot be completely figured out and are at peace with that, then that humble attitude will help us share the truth of Scripture more compassionately. To tell someone “I don’t know, but let’s pray and search the Scriptures about that,” shows a quiet confidence in the One on whom we claim to depend. Our faith despite doubt or lack of knowledge will encourage others to keep going in their faith. Receiving an answer will then build faith and lead to greater discoveries. As our faith builds, and we realize how much God loves us, we will develop the confidence and security needed to win the lost. No longer will we vie for position and acknowledgement. Our only aim will be to please the One who loves us so much.

The authors write about the Lord’s Supper as a church practice that benefits spiritual formation. This was something I had not considered. Certainly, as we wait for the ushers to deliver the elements to everyone in attendance, we develop through patience and through that quiet time in which we wait. Both of the authors and M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. in his book “Invitation to a Journey,” concur that “the local congregation is our testing ground for love” (118). We also find out the nature of our characters when something in the church does not happen as we wish and in our planning sessions together. Some might say that the true test of character is in crisis, but I say that the true test comes in our everyday dealings with each other. Unfortunately, however, it often takes a crisis to bring the church together, but once the crisis has passed will the church return to the way they formerly treated each other or will they have a new love and appreciation for one another?

This is not to assume that every congregation in the United States has problems in coming together. I can only speak from my own experience. There are many instances in which I have heard church people saying, “We’re only human,” and that is true. But where is God’s empowering spirit? We must become conscious and make up our minds to make what the authors call “moment by moment decisions to love.” Part of holiness is based on our commitment, which God honors. Oord and Lodahl state: “We are perfect if we respond appropriately to God’s call to love in that particular moment.” This is that for which we must strive.