Why do so many Christians, notably conservative Evangelicals and Reformed brothers and sisters, often put the glorification of God at odds with human attempts at excellence? Does striving for greatness always lead to human pride and undercut the magnification of God? Does a strong focus on the needs and concerns of human beings always result in a lack of focus on God as the center of all? Must one think less of himself in order to think more of God? Does Scripture lift God up by bringing human beings down?
In the background of all of these questions lies a larger, more foundational debate over our understanding of the nature of God, the nature of Man and their relationship. I am referring to the misguided line of thinking I hear so often, especially in more Reformed circles, that people either have a man-centered or God-Centered theology, view of the gospel, approach to Christian faith, etc. I believe this distinction and concern is valid and helpful to a degree, but often gets pushed too far, leading to a confused, false either-or view of God, human beings and the gospel.
The internet monk, Michael Spencer, recently chimed in on this issue with a post entitled On Being Too God-Centered. You can also find a more head-on critique from Ben Witherington in a post entitled For God So Loved Himself: Is God a Narcissist?. Witherington’s concern is that God is sometimes
“presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God’s self-adulation and praise.”
This is a significant issue and deserves careful reflection and a more nuanced understanding of the relationship of God and his human image-bearers.
In the next few posts I will unpack some loose thoughts on both the validity of the man-centered vs. God-centered concern and then offer some healthy push back on the fuzzy, over-extension of this line of reasoning. I see a distortion of both the character of God and what it means for human beings to glorify God.
Michael Spencer began his post on this topic with a wise disclaimer I would like to echo: These posts are, without a doubt, an experiment in exploration and articulation. Many won’t care for where it goes but we must wrestle with these questions in a honest and gracious way.