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Return to July/August 2005 articles.

“Tell Me What Kind of God You Don't Believe In”

by Joel Stephen Williams
Gainesville, Florida

Editor's Note: This article was sent to Does God Exist? by Joel Stephen Williams but was not written by him and it was incorrectly attributed to him in our printed edition. Joel Stephen Williams would like it to be known that he does not have negative attitudes toward his own personal religious upbringing, as Yancey does as expressed in this brief quotation. Williams was raised at Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama, and his early religious experiences in that church and in his family were wonderful, positively affirming, and genuinely Christian from some of the finest people in the world. Rather than being shown a false view of God, Williams was presented an accurate picture of the God of the Bible from those he knew in his early years. (09/20/2005)

Here are the specifics about the original article and author:
SOURCE: Online Christianity Today (America Online)
TITLE: Unwrapping Jesus [4/7]
AUTHOR: Philip Yancey

George Buttrick, former chaplain at Harvard, recalls that students would come into his office, plop down on a chair and declare, “I do not believe in God.” Buttrick would give this disarming reply, “Sit down and tell me what kind of God you do not believe in. I probably do not believe in that God either.”

Many people who reject Jesus are not rejecting Jesus, but a distortion of him as presented by the church. To our everlasting shame, the watching world judges Jesus by a church whose history includes the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Conquistadors in Latin America, and a slave ship called the Good Ship Jesus.

Shepherd and lambIn order to get to know Jesus, I had to strip away layers of dust and grime applied by the church itself. In my case, the image of Jesus was obscured by the racism, intolerance, and petty legalism of fundamentalist churches. A Russian or a European Catholic confronts a very different restoration process. “For not only dust, but also too much gold can cover up the true figure,” wrote Hans Kung about his own search. Many abandon the quest entirely; rebuffed by the church, they never make it to Jesus.

I often wish that we could somehow set aside church history, remove the church's many layers of interpretation, and encounter the words of the Gospels for the first time. Not everyone would accept Jesus — they did not in his own day — but at least people would not reject him for the wrong reasons.

Once I was able to cut through the fog still clinging from my own upbringing, my opinion of Jesus changed remarkably. Brilliant, untamed, tender, creative, merciful, slippery, loving, irreducible, paradoxically humble — Jesus stands up to scrutiny. He is who I want my God to be.

Picture credits:
Art Explosion by Nova Development Corporation, © 1997– 2001.