After finishing God with Us by Dr. Glenn R. Kreider I knew I that I wanted to tell other people about it. Rarely has a author been so instructive and so encouraging at the same time.
God with Us is a fascinating study of the way God has interacted with humanity and how we ought to interact with others as a result. Everyone, from the ordinary person to the scholar, will learn something new from God with Us, but it also serves as a guiding light for Believers in the way that it illuminates God’s character and shows us how we should live.
I was fortunate enough to get Dr. Kreider to answer a few questions for us about his book:
1 – In ‘God with Us’ you often describe God as “condescending” to us, a term that you admit tends to carry a negative connotation. What is a better way for us to understand this idea of divine condescension?
Actually I think “condescension” is the best way for us to understand what God wants us to know about him. That’s why I used the term. I believe there is value in the multiple ways the word is heard. On the one hand, the term as it is used today largely has a pejorative connotation. It communicates an attitude of superiority toward an inferior, a patronizing response. It is provocative to think of God in that way and I think sometimes provocation helps to adjust or modify our thinking. Is there any being more superior than the Creator? Does not such a Being have the right to communicate his superiority toward the creatures he has made? Although I do not think “patronizing” would be a good description of the way God treats us, the term “condescension” does capture the relationship of superior to inferior.
At the same time, the historical meaning of stooping or lowering oneself to the position of an inferior states simply and succinctly what I mean. I do use other synonyms to try to explain this meaning. God humbles himself, he stoops to the level of the creatures, he comes down to where they are, he accommodates himself to the world in which they live, he hides or veils his glory to avoid consuming them. In short, when God comes to us, he comes to us as one of us, as a creature. He has to take on creaturely characteristics to become visible to us, to enter into a relationship with us. He is, after all, invisible and transcendent. Revelation requires condescension. He is not a creature; he is the Creator. That is what I mean by condescension; the ultimate superior one takes the form of an inferior one for the sake of the inferior.
2 – I found your writing style to be unique. The book would make for a fine resource for any scholar, but it is equally accessible to any layperson and quite uplifting for something that can be used for research.
I am honored that you think I was successful. That was my goal. I work in the theological academy. I write for other scholars. In this book, I wanted to write for a broader audience. I wanted members of my Sunday School class to be able to read and understand. I wanted to raise the readers’ awareness of these issues and to stimulate their thinking and encourage further research. I do not intend any of this to be the final word on the subject. I wanted to speak to scholars and laypeople.
3 – It is refreshing how many times you say that there are things you don’t know. Here you are, a respected seminary professor writing a book about theology, and you don’t mind admitting that there are things you don’t know. You could have simply left that out. Is it important to you that your readers know when you are at the end of your knowledge?
That’s a good question; I don’t know.
[edit: Ha ha. Very funny.]
I am a creature and by definition that means I am finite. When I set out to understand the infinite Creator of the universe I come to the end of my confidence in my abilities pretty quickly. There is a great deal the creature cannot know.
I believe that Christianity is rooted in faith, that we are people of faith seeking understanding. My goal is not to master the subject; it is not to achieve certainty. I believe that faith is a sufficient ground for knowledge and that certainty is allusive. As a person of faith, I want to grow in knowledge. I recognize that, since the subject of my study is an infinite being, my knowledge of him will always be limited.
So, I guess it is important to me to admit the limits of my knowledge. We all have them. I think we should be honest about that. Of course, there are some things we must know; one cannot meaningfully doubt everything, reject all possibilities. We have to know something. And there are things that we can know with a relatively high degree of confidence, like there is a God and that U2 is the greatest band of the last 50 years.
4 – How did this book happen?
Would you believe, one day I sat down at my computer and there it was?
I read a lot. I am a seminary professor. I require students to read. I read what I require them to read. I also read for pleasure. I enjoy reading. Sometimes I remember what I read. Oftentimes I do not. So, I sometimes start reading a book and I might be fifty pages into it before I realize I have already read this book. But then there are moments that are seared in my memory, when I read something that changes the course of my thinking, that sets me on a new trajectory.
One of those moments happened when I was reading through a sermon by Cornelius Plantinga in a collection of essays on the Apostles’ Creed (Roger E. Van Harn, Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004). I read these words: “The Son of God just does what he sees his Father doing. He empties himself and takes the form of a servant because that’s the way they do it in his family” (77). I stopped, and read it again, and again, and again, and again . . . I could not get that thought out of my mind. I mulled it over, questioned it, challenged it, tested it. I began to try to read the Scriptures with this lens and I discovered that not only was Plantinga right, but it transformed my view of God and the way I read the Scriptures.
Through a friend of mine, I was invited to contribute to a series P&R Publishing was doing. I pitched this idea to them and they were interested. The book ended up not being part of that series, however.
5 – I notice that you work hard to avoid creating any division amongst your readers. When discussing potentially controversial issues (for example, you think U2 is the best band from the last 50 years when the correct answer is obviously Led Zeppelin) you always manage to create discussion and “agree to disagree” rather than create more division for Believers. How important is that sense of unity to your work?
Unity in the body of Christ IS important to me. I believe that the things that unite us are more important than the things that divide us. And I believe we ought to recognize and live out the reality that the things that unite us are more important than the things that divide us.
I am a dispensationalist. The publisher used to be known as Presbyterian & Reformed. There is a history of disagreement between dispensationalists and some others in the Reformed tradition. I wanted to write a work that expressed my views but in a way that would not put off my non-dispensational editors, publisher, and readers, and also would be a work that readers would enjoy. I wanted to be a voice of unity on the issues that matter and an expression of charity on the points of difference. If you think I did that well, I am encouraged.
6 – One of your most direct statements is: “The study of science, literature, music, and other cultural forms of revelation is not optional for Christian theologians.” Can you elaborate on this for us?
Without context, that statement sounds provocative. On the other hand, even in context it will sound like I am challenging the role of the Bible. So, it is important to see that this claim is rooted in what the Bible teaches.
I was arguing from Romans 1, that God has revealed himself (his eternal power and divine nature) in creation, in what he has made. If God is revealed in his creatures, then God is revealed in those creatures which are human. And if God is revealed in humans, then he is revealed in what humans create. What humans create is culture (Andy Crouch has said that culture is what we make of the world).
The Scriptures command us to learn wisdom from studying ants (Prov 6:6) and to learn not to worry by studying the flowers and birds (Matt 6:25-33). If we can learn from ants, flowers, and birds, I think it follows that we can learn about God from creatures created in his image. Thus, “the study of science, literature, music and other cultural forms is not optional for Christian theologians.” Of course, this does not mean that every theologian must be an expert in every field of study. That is not possible. But it does mean that theologians must be informed by these disciplines. It means that theologians who are scientists should speak to those who are musicians. We each contribute something to the health of the body. We all need one another.
In short, the degree to which we are biblical is the extent to which we submit to what the Bible teaches. If the Bible teaches that God is revealed outside the Bible then we must look for him there. If the Bible commands us to go outside the Bible to learn about God, then we must do that. In no way does that undermine or distract from the Bible. It is, rather, to submit ourselves to what the Bible teaches us about God and his world.
I believe that God is revealed in his Word (the Bible), in his world (the creation, which includes creatures), and in the Word who has come into the world (Jesus). Together we get a clearer understanding of God than we get from any one of them alone.
7 – Can you recommend any further reading for your readers?
A couple of books have been very helpful and influential for me. Jonathan Edwards, The History of the Work of Redemption, taught me to read the Bible as the unified story of God’s redemptive work. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? and Rumors of Another World, have helped me to understand the transforming power of grace and to see evidence of the world to come in the fallen, broken world in which we live. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, focuses our attention on life after life after death, when the whole creation will be made new. Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, gave me a robust understanding of sin, the destruction of shalom. Andy Crouch, Culture Making, taught me that Christians have a responsibility to cultivate and create culture, for the way to change culture is to make more of it. The fingerprints of these books are on the pages of God with Us.
Dr. Kreider’s book is available as an e-book and as a real book. I highly recommend it.