The following is a summary of "The Story of God" by Michael Lodahl the professor
who is overseeing my honors project. He and I do not see eye to eye a variety of Issues, however I do agree with him on many others and regardless of the tone of this paper I wish to emphasize my great respect for him.
“We are construction workers and not only interpreters of [God’s] future.”
In the Story of God, Michael Lodahl seeks to introduce Christian theology by setting it within the context of the biblical narrative; he draws his reader not only into a better appreciation of theology, but into the very story about which he is writing. He sets out to do this in such a way that those who are not professional theologians can access it and to does so with special emphasis up the Wesleyan –Armenian tradition.
The book holds in tension the two streams from which it feeds; the narrative of the bible, as well as doctrines that are extrapolated from this narrative. Thus Lodahl is able to explicate how the narrative informs doctrine and conversely how doctrine shapes the way we approach the story that we are called up into as participants. The book espouses a theology that holds human agency at its center.
The book itself is divided into seven different parts. These parts reflect a movement through the protestant canon as well as an important doctrine related to each part of the story, for example, part IV is titled “The Jewish People in God’s Story: The Doctrine of Covenants.” This shows us the place in the story, then the doctrine that accompanies this piece of the narrative.
The book depicts God interacting with creation by relationship. God is not just the author but also the main character within the story itself. It also places humanity within the story, not just as ones acted upon but also as ones who can act. God is most certainly the leader, but we have a say. This is a central argument of the book, and one that influences many of the interpretive moves Lodahl makes. He states “God is not bound like a slave to some predetermined master plan…our Redeemer can repent or turn from one plan of action to another if the humanly created situation dictates it.” Chapter eight is titled “ Human ‘Response-ability’ and sin,” this is a perfect example of how Lodahl is “telling God’s story” with special attention to humanity’s ability to respond and change the story. In fact human agency is what necessitates the formation of Lodahl’s process theology in response to Theodicy.
The first part of the book deals with the “How God’s Story Gets Told.” There are four chapters in this part, each of them corresponding to one element of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Lodahl begins talking about Scripture by tying together history and story, saying that “the biblical faith is rooted in historical events…” this is important to Lodahl because God is at work for our salvation in the very history of our planet, it is again this setup that allows most fully for human agency. This historically rooted biblical faith is concrete in the people of Israel, and in the person of Jesus Christ as found in inspired (pnuema breathed) scripture.
Chapter two is about tradition. Lodahl says that “Tradition is not only something we inherit, as a body of historically accumulated interpretation of scripture, but also something we may contribute to…” Lodahl describes the Wesleyan tradition that informs this book as being interested in Christian perfection. He asserts that Wesley’s understanding of holiness encourages ecumenicalism, a universal attitude toward other Christian traditions.
Chapters 3 and 4 describe the next two sides of the quadrilateral; reason and experience. Lodahl first outlines the various arguments for the existence of God, from the cosmological argument to Anselm’s ontological argument. He explains that none of these things give absolute proof for God, but rather give a “measure of support or justification to those who are already believers.” The fourth chapter explores experience, extremely important to how Lodahl explains our relationship with God. He recounts the story of John Wesley at Aldersgate, when his heart was warmed and he was given assurance of his salvation. From this Lodahl says that experiencing God is a “deep and decisive giving of ourselves to God.” By the Holy Spirit that was in Jesus works to draw us into God’s story. This leads to ”certain attentiveness to lived experience, a true openness to learning in and from the world around us.”
The second part of the book begins Lodahl’s project of working through the biblical narrative. Here Lodahl tells the story of God’s creation, but also uses this story to unpack various doctrines that are incorporated in and tied to creation. Lodahl’s process theology, though thinly veiled, is apparent from the start, when he suggests that a more well rounded way to approach the creation story is as “creatio ex amore” as opposed ex nihilo. It is out of love that God creates, an interpretive move spurred on by Theodicy. Human agency is the answer to theodicy, and Lodahl describes the human divine power interaction as such: “then the Creator truly is love, and divine power is not a ruling fist but an open, bleeding hand. “ This divine gift of agency is granted to humanity, being made in God’s image and thus we are sustained in order that we may make and be accountable for these decisions. It is only within this framework that there is an ability “to love.”
Part three engages the tragedy of God’s story: sin. Lodahl examines the consequences of our disobedience to a “loving seeking God.” This sin is the inevitable consequence of human agency. Lodahl shows how the shift of worship from Creator to creature infests our webs of relationships, and leads to a denial of responsibility. In this part Lodahl not only re-affirms human response-ability, but also describes God’s role in this story, as a “lead character” not merely the author. It is because of this role that God limits his own power and knowledge in order to allow for us to take action. He concludes by quoting Frederick Sontag; “His power is fully adequate to sustain himself against uncertainty.”
In the fourth part Lodahl describes God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. It is one of “human rebellion and divine redemption.” In looking at the story of Israel, he also gives a glimpse of Israel’s God. Lodahl uses images of God changing God’s mind, asking questions and even repenting as a way of showing the apparent discontinuity between the biblical narrative and the classical metaphysical characteristics commonly associated with God. This frames God, not as a distant deity but rather as a passionate and persistent God of relation and of Grace. The Covenants represent that love and Grace for creation. Through Noah, Abraham, Moses and David God is working to bring the people of Israel back to faithfulness. God sets them apart, takes them out of Egypt, and relents to allowing them a King. Through each of these we see God’s willingness to change coarse and “repent.” This again gives credence to the agency of humanity, that we humans participate in a give and take relationship with God. Abraham was called upon to pick up and move towards the future on nothing but the promise of God. This displays a God to which the future is unknown, but even “without a map” we are to trust God on the basis of our relationship and God’s promise. The prophets are ones who speak the truth of God’s desire for participation and faithfulness among God’s people.
In the fifth section Lodahl explains the great “twist” of plot in God’s story, the Person of Jesus Christ, who lives out the story of Israel. In this section Lodahl works through the paradoxes of Jesus Christ: Christ’s humanity and Christ’s divinity, the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is apparent that Lodahl sees it fitting to emphasize the humanity of Jesus Christ, even in the section on his divinity. It could only be for love that God would take on the fleshliness of incarnation, birth, baptism, and death that we may know and enter into relationship with him through the human being, Jesus Christ. Yet “in order to be our redeemer at all” Jesus Christ must also be God; a God that Gregory of Nazianzus describes as “assuming” all aspects of humanity in order that they might be healed. Lodahl places the chapter on Christ’s resurrection before the section pertaining to Christ’s crucifixion. He does so in order to highlight that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning, the founding event of Christ’s Church. In the following chapter concerning crucifixion Lodahl outlines the various atonement theories, from penal theory to Gustav Aulén’s Christus Victor. Each of these seeks to explain the central belief that by Jesus death we are healed.
The sixth part of the Story of God pertains to the Church, the ones called out. Lodahl shows how we are communally sustained in our relationship of grace with God. He opens with the Church’s birthday; Pentecost. The Pentecost event represents an un-doing of Babel. Where humanity was once scattered and torn apart, the Spirit intercedes and binds us into God’s church. In Christ ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries are overcome. , Lodahl explains the doctrine of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, as well as the Trinitarian worship. Keeping with his overall emphasis on human response, he explains that the sacraments are ways that God “gets in touch” with us physically. In taking the sacraments, we can be physically brought up into the story. We are initiated into the Kingdom by baptism and sustained Eucharist. These are the central images of the church to proclaim that salvation is found it Jesus. Lodahl describes various ways the church has seen our reconciliation to Christ, in the end he states that the human response to divine grace should never make us forget we do not save ourselves. In this recognition, we can be sanctified as the people of God. As we live out our calling we are able to move past theoretical debates and distinctions and move towards a Gospel that reaches into our lives to challenge us.
The last part of Lodahl’s book is about eschatology. Here we see Lodahl’s process theology most acutely represented. Lodahl explains the two connotations of the Greek word telos. The first meaning is “the end;” the point of finality, the buzzer at a basketball game. Lodahl acknowledges this, citing Heb. 1:10-12, but Lodahl is more compelled to speak of telos in terms of God’s goal. It makes sense that Lodahl would be drawn to this vision, the future is not yet written, but God can have a vision or a goal for the undisclosed future we are making with God. Lodahl states that “eschatology is not simply about what we are waiting for God to do; eschatology is about the divine vision…which is, at least to some extent, entrusted to us.” Lodahl writes also of divine judgment through this lens of human agency, that we each must be able to give an account of our lives. God is a just judge, who remembers that we are but dust and commits judgment into the hands of Jesus. Lodahl also maintains the Wesleyan conviction that each will be judged according to the light given to them.
The Story of God is a defense of Process theology from a biblically based Wesleyan perspective. Lodahl’s theological persuasion can be summed up in his own words: “ Even more important to God than our salvation is our moral agency…” The Story of God works through the narrative of the Bible, using that moral agency as its lens, and the culmination of this project is a theology of participation.