January 18, 2016

Why God Is Not a Transcendent Build-a-Bear

Ever been to one of those Build-a-Bear parties with your children?  Ever bought one of those bears online?  You should check them out.  They’re a great idea for children to have a crack at making their own personalised teddy bear. And a great money-spinner for the company as long as their are children to be born.  After all, what child doesn’t want to build their own unique teddy bear from scratch? They’ve done their research those Build-a-Bear people.

Of course it’s not really from scratch, is it?  It’s not as if children have to source all of the material, create and cut out designs of a bear, and then stitch it all together, before decorating it with eyes and ears and mouth and nose, mouth and nose, etc, etc.  We’d be there all day, or at least until there was a room full of tired little teddy bears.


No, what Build-a-Bear does, and does very successfully (revenue of half a billion dollars in 2007) is to provide a template bear, a generic bear shape that the children stuff and personalise to their own taste.  There’s no such thing as a bear from nothing, but rather a  series of templates – a one-size-fits-all bear – that becomes personal as our children add their own touches to it.

The recent growing (in scope and heat) discussion that Christians and Muslims (and by that extent, Jews) worship the same God makes the supreme error of viewing God pretty much like a Build-a-Bear. As if God were some generalised deity lacking features that we then, in our child-like manner, add to him in order to personalise him according to our tastes.

Following my recent post about the stoush in the US in which Wheaton College suspended one of its associate professors for claiming, contrary to the Wheaton statement of faith, that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Yale Professor Miloslav Volf lambasted Wheaton, stating that their stance on this amounted to no more than bigotry.

But as a learned friend pointed out in an email, Volf’s primary error is a category error. My friend put it this way:

“The irony of this is that Volf seems to play into the hands of the standard enlightenment thinking – namely that ‘religion’ is a generalised phenomena …. and therefore ‘God’ can also be generalised. Framed from that perspective you could say that the similarity is that they share the common characteristic of being ‘monotheistic’.”

In other words this sincere, irenic, but ultimately erroneous, push to claim that all three “people of the Book” religions  worship the same God, views this God much like a Build-a-Bear.  The basic elements are in place when we arrive at this God, we just adorn him as we see fit in order to personalise him.

But Christians are not Build-a-Bear God worshippers, as much as the enlightenment, secular framework would wish to push us into this category.  We are Trinitarian in our understanding of who God WAS, IS and WILL BE.  The unfolding plan of biblical redemption reveals God to be Trinitarian, it does not make him so.  There is no sense of “make of him what you will” in Scripture, a fact that the continual prohibition of image-making attests to.

My worship of a mono-theistic God does not lead me to worship Jesus. My worship of Jesus leads me to worship a Trinitarian God.  Anything outside of that is a false understanding of God and ultimately an idolatrous attempt to Build-a-God in our own image with our own personalised tastes attached to it.

God is not a transcendent Build-a-Bear. He is the Creator of bears (and everything else), not the Bear of creators, no matter how nice and cuddly and appealing that sounds in an increasingly fractured religious world.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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