There’s been a recent discussion on this site in the “Is the IFB a Cult” article that got me thinking about this idea that we put God in a box. Some may be wondering what exactly that means to “put God in a box” so let me start by explaining it briefly.
For the context of this article the phrase “to put God in a box” means that a person conceptualizes God in a way that puts limits on how we come to an understanding of who he is. Putting God in a box does not leave room for an individual relationship with Christ and it tries to squeeze people into a pre-conceptualized belief system or mold of a particular way of thinking. What typically happens is, a person or religious system formulates an idea about something, conceptualizes it as “truth” and then expects people to follow those ideals as truth. People who don’t follow those ideals as truth are labeled as spiritually immature and/or rebellious.
Christianity has done an incredible disservice by conditioning people to think a certain way. This is the essence behind putting God in a box. We’ve learned to follow the popular opinion. Those who decide to not follow the popular opinion, break off and find others who they can manipulate/brainwash and then form their own group or denomination. Then their opinion becomes the popular opinion.
In my top ten list of people who I admire you will find Martin Luther. When he went public with what he observed as bad religion in the Catholic Church it obviously wasn’t received well. Martin Luther was considered a radical, yet today we consider him the father of the protestant reformation.
Even as I write this I’m confident that I don’t know all the answers, but as unpopular as this site is with the IFB and even, in some instances, mainstream Christianity, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming urge to talk about these issues. In talking about things we often move further towards a solution. We may never find an answer to a lot of questions this side of heaven, but as Zig Ziglar once said “Success is in the trying, not the triumph…” When we think we know the answers we close our minds to new ideas and refuse to consider different options. If we keep an open mind we allow the opportunity for God to enter and teach us his truths for our life.
We must consider that what we once “knew” to be truth in a certain state of spiritual maturity may indeed only be a plateau at the top of the most recent stair case in growth. Once we move beyond that phase of growth we realize that what we thought was truth really is a lot more complex then what we originally realized.
As limited human beings it’s important to know that we don’t understand everything. We look at life and God through our perceptions, experiences, personal characteristics, relationships, personality, the way we are wired, the past, etc. and those lenses distort the truth. Someone might say that the truth of the Word can break through those distortions, but I think we need to be very careful about how we interpret truth.
Since this site is about the IFB I’ll continue to use them as an example. We often interpret truth differently depending on a multitude of factors, some of which are beyond our control. As such, truth can be very subjective. The IFB makes a grave error in over simplifying the scriptures. They are notorious for what’s called black and white thinking. This idea that there are no grey areas in the Bible was a pervasive teaching in the IFB churches I was involved with.
Rarely is anything black and white. This is where the IFB can be found at fault. In the discussion that I mentioned above, Richard Hivner spoke adamantly about “truths” found in the bible. The problem is that he and people like him, ignore a very basic, foundational (ironically we could include the term fundamental) part of life – the human experience. If we all perceive God differently then it stands to reason that what is truth for one person may not be truth for someone else.
For example, famous preacher Harold Camping just failed in his third attempt to predict the rapture. I won’t get into the whole story, you can read more about it here (link), but obviously the rapture didn’t happen yet. Harold Camping thought he “knew” the “truth” about the rapture. He went on to tell others about that “truth” who in turn came to believe those predictions as “truths”. We need to be VERY careful about what we are promoting as truth. We may in actuality be promoting something that is just an opinion.
We can also see from this example that we can be persuaded to believe something as truth that isn’t. Harold Camping probably really thought that what he was advocating was truth. There are those, however, who overtly deceive. At the risk of sounding judgmental, Benny Hinn is a good example of someone who overtly deceives people into the truth of miraculous healing. It’s been evidenced that Benny Hinn is nothing more than a scam artist, preying on people who are desperately seeking healing and answers to sickness (and then when the person remains sick the Benny Hinns of this world will blame the problems on the person for not having enough faith which is extremely manipulative, but that’s for a different post).
We can also see with this example that truth is often revealed AFTER we experience something. Experience isn’t the best way of learning for everyone, but it can certainly be a good teacher in some instances. In the case of biblical truth, experience may help us find truth.
But what I really want to drive home here is that we are all unique individuals. No two people are the same. We need to be respectful of each other’s differences and understand that not everyone fits into the mold of a particular denomination.
In the same vein, many denominations try to fit God into the box of its own understanding and interpretation of the Bible. We have to remember that the Word of God is living and powerful (or active) Hebrews 4:12. It’s living because the Bible meets people where they are. The Bible never calls people to meet it where it is. The Holy Spirit works in each individual life to mold him/her and shape him/her according to their unique individual differences. Some differences are more subtle than others, but they are differences none the less.
Like I was saying above, the IFB sees issues in life as very black and white with very little room for grey areas or individual interpretation. This is evident in Richard’s comments. He talks about individual soul liberty, but then goes into a diatribe about how one should cut one’s hair or how one should dress, etc. In typical IFB fashion, he talks out of both sides of his mouth.
And – as a side note – to continue thinking about Richard’s contradictions, the way he treated Charles was appalling! He is so focused on keeping the letter of the law, so to speak, that he missed a hurting person. He had a wonderful chance to reach out to someone who was searching for the truth, but missed it because of his own pride and misinterpretations of truth. This is exactly what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing.
This behavior is rampant in the IFB and it’s very abusive spiritually for people. It’s abusive because it teaches people that God fits into a box of narrow minded thinking. The IFB is excellent at putting God into the box of fundamentalism. All the issues address on this site are issues that the IFB is guilty of putting God in a box about. KJV onlyism, music, mental health, alcohol, etc. are all issues that run along a continuum.
We must remember that there are many things that we just don’t understand. We are limited human beings and God has many aspects that are beyond our limited understanding of the universe. God doesn’t have the limitations that we have. When we try to dogmatically declare that we know the truth in an area that isn’t necessarily truth we are sending the message that we are somehow above the human limitations and that’s pride.
There are absolutes in the Bible and those are very clear, however, there are also areas of the Bible that aren’t spelled out specifically and we must glean understanding about them from our own personal Bible study and from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Once we do, though, we must realize that the beliefs we’ve gleaned from our personal Bible study about the grey areas are based on convictions. They are our own personal convictions and we must be careful to not force those beliefs on others like the IFB tries to do.
The IFB takes those grey areas, twists the scriptures to manipulate them into something more than they are and promote them as black and white truths. They take what should be convictions and push those beliefs on others and then decides to judge people who don’t follow along. It’s wrong. It’s abusive. It puts God in a box.