Against Formulaic Faith

I read a chapter from Don Miller’s book called “Searching For God Knows What?” In it, he talks about why people tend to tries to boil God down to formulas. I have always been leery of formulas myself. For the same reason, they are too easy Christianity, and life itself is too complicated for simple answers. As I was reading it, I began to think of my own reasons why people tend to boil God down to formulas.

First, I think we have lost sight of God’s power. We may see it as something we only read about in scripture or hear about from others. Therefore, we lower our expectations of what God can do. For example, we may have our “Least Likely To Become Christians” list. We don’t think God can work in them.  While we might be correct, it’s not because God can’t work in them. It because these people have shut their hearts to the possibility of a relationship with him. 

Second, God is so big, and human language is so inadequate that formulas are our way of understanding him.  Some people find the word mystery unacceptable. For them, it implies a state of ignorance. We don’t know because we choose not to see.

 The assumption behind this is that Christians use God’s infinity as an excuse not to answer tough questions about God. In some cases, that may be true, but what about questions that do have clear-cut answers? Formulas are our way to quantify God, who sometimes is not quantifiable. This is why revelation is necessary. . However, there are things that God has revealed to us that are hard to understand or reconcile.   For example, I never understood why God could not just get rid of Satan now. Does he have to wait until the end of the world to get rid of him, especially Christians who know that Jesus has won?     This may have been done purposely.  If everything was spelled out for there would be no need to struggle with it. Even if everything was spelled out, we must decide how it applies to our lives. This is the most critical but time-consuming task, especially when the application is unclear and because the heart resists change.

The third aspect of this formula mentality comes in trying to promote experience as fact.  These formulas tell you must have the same result, or it is invalid.  Experience can provide authority to what the person says, but experiences can be subjective.   Experience-based faith takes your faith from God and places it on the experience.  When that particular emotion high is gone, some conclude God is gone. If our hearts grow cold, we should consider ourselves first. Have we let busyness or some idol choke God out of our lives? Have we sinned perhaps unknowingly? Experiences are means to get closer to God, not ends themselves. Miller also wonders whether we want the experience or  God. “I remember watching that television show I Dream of Jeannie, and I wondered at how great it would be to have a Jeannie of my own[…] I realize of course how silly it is, and there is no such thing as a genie that lives in a  lamp, but it makes me wonder secretly whether we don’t wish God was a genie who could deliver a few wishes here and there. " And that makes me wonder if what we want are the formulas and not God.


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