Reflection on our Theologies and Idolatries

"There are many gods and many lords," said Paul (1 Cor. 8:5). We have spent some time in class discussing the diversity of beliefs about God. Many in our culture insist that such beliefs are not to be criticized, only affirmed; a mentor and friend in my field calls this "relativism." Others insist that what they believe is just right and that all people must believe it; my colleague calls this "imperialism." This course is pursuing an alternative to both, in which we remain both centered on God as revealed definitively in Jesus Christ and open to ways we might understand that definitive revelation better than we do now.

That is an acquired skill. I intend this assignment to help you acquire it.

Choose someone you know, preferably an elder or someone your senior, and interview him or her about his or her understanding of God. The person does not need to be a believer (whatever you take that to mean). Compare and contrast that person's image of God with the image of God you are getting from this course. How do these images compare? coincide? complement? contradict? In your comparison, make sure you draw substantively on the course materials as they are relevant: lectures, McKim, Newbigin, and either McLaren or Barth.

Now evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that person's image of God. Based on what you know so far (and admitting that we are still quite early in the course), is his or her God an "idol" — that is, a fundamentally false and harmful image, or an "icon" — i.e., a fundamentally true and helpful one?

Note that this assignment has three aspects: description, comparison, and evaluation. You can mix them together in your essay, but you need to do all three clearly enough that your readers can tell, or you will not have fulfilled the assignment.

Please keep your paper three pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. Focus on Harvey chapter 2. Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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