This is a little series of posts I put out in 2010, at the time they were helpful for a number of people, I hope that continues to be true today.
Of the three issues which keep coming up in conversation with those who might be considered "deChurched" the first one I wanted to address is the most fundamental, but perhaps the least controversial of the three (especially as I listen to Christians talk about these three issues).
Again, the list to consider is:
1) God image (who or what is God like).
2) Issues of theodicy (why there is evil in the world).
3) Pluralism issues (is any religion the only way to a relationship with God).
It can be argued that our God image shapes the way we each see and interact with the world. For those who view God as one who sets boundaries and enforces edicts, those same people might view the world as a place that boundaries need to be set and edicts need to be enforced. For those who view God as boundary breaking and inclusive to all, those same people might view the world as a place that boundaries need to be shattered and inclusion is to be highly valued and sought after. These are general statements but I would be willing to bet that the way you see the world to the way you interact with neighbors to the way you view the role of governments even to the way you respond in a crisis are all impacted and connected to the way you see God.
Our world is shaped by the way we see God (and by the way, when I say God I understand that it is difficult for me to talk about God outside my own God images). When a person who take the agnostic or atheist position, at least in my experience, generally has a God image that many people who affirm the reality of God also have. When I encounter someone who is a vowed atheist or agnostic I generally ask them about how they view God. Sometimes I put the question in the negative, "Tell me about the God you do not believe in." Getting people (all people) to talk about their God image is not only a great starting point to engage conversation but, and perhaps more importantly, hearing God images is the source of much bridge building between people.
For instance, I recently had a conversation with a person who was agnostic. She had a wonderful story to tell and I was captivated by it. In the course of the conversation she said, "I just do not think the God is looking down on us all keeping track of our wrongs. I just think God is more like the love that connects me to others."
To her surprise (I think) I said, "I agree with you. In fact that view of God is often called 'panentheism' and is upheld by many Christian teachings and doctrines. It is how I often view God."
She sat there for a moment and said, "I thought Christians had to believe that God was 'up there' (pointing upward to the sky) and you have to believe that in order to avoid 'down there' (pointing down to the floor)."
By affirming her God image and rooting her image in a tradition of thought that was beyond her knowledge - panentheism - made her feel less "out there" with her thoughts and in many ways 'normalized' her feelings and gave a sense of confidence. She and I walked away with a bridge that we both could walk on, albeit she is still a vowed agnostic at this point.
Bottom line, by talking about and addressing our own God images we can build bridges between those who are "other" because more often than not - we all have overlapping God images in some way.