A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Discovering the God Imagination by Jonathan Brink. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his text.
What is the book about?
Discovering The God Imagination: Reconstructing A Whole New Christianity is a brand new approach to the Gospel. I break down the story in the Garden to suggest that Genesis 3 is not a test of obedience to the command, but a test of reality to God’s created order. Can we change God’s judgment of good, or what is true from God’s perspective, by participating in something evil? I make the argument that if humanity can change God’s judgment of good, it was never true to begin with.
When we listen to the details of the “scene of the crime” we can begin to reorient our understanding of what is happening. The root problem is our capacity to construct a false judgment of the self, to get question in the tree of knowledge wrong. The rest of the story is God solving a unique problem. How do you convince someone they are inherently good, when they have convinced themselves they are not?
The story suggest the root problem actually keeps us from seeing the problem, a perceptual blindness. And because of this we construct alternative ideas about what God is doing. I suggest that our historical theories of the Gospel are a direct result of the root problem. Once we see what God is actually doing it reframes our entire understanding of the story. It redeems the Gospel. It gives us a new way of seeing what God is doing.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired from a very early age to continuously seek out what I call the root problem. My parents instilled in me the drive to seek out what was underneath the surface of the problem and to look for the root. So when I began to see cracks in the surface of the theology that I had been taught, I applied the same principle. As I began to really explore the historical understanding of what we mean by the “Gospel” I could not ignore the problems and paradoxes it created. Something didn’t feel right. The assumption I made was that we had somehow gotten our basic assumptions of the story wrong, as opposed to the there being a problem in the story God was telling.
The second aspect that significantly influenced me was my own research into neuroscience and how the brain processes judgment. The story strongly suggests that the problem is one of judgment. Much like God we can create an understanding of the world and then we judge it. As human beings created in the image of God we can create a false reality. We judge that reality as good or bad. And when we get it wrong its devastating.
What was your goal in publishing this text?
My primary goal is to create a new conversation for people who are seeking out what it means to be human. What blew me away was the simplicity of God’s design. God begins the story with a way of seeing reality that is very simple. It addresses our most basic framework for humanity, including dignity, identity, and purpose. I called this way of seeing life the God imagination. In other words, what does life look like from God’s perspective.
My second goal was to reframe our understanding of the Gospel. We needed a new way of seeing what problem God is solving in the story. We need to know what God is doing in a way that invites us into participating with God. The problem with our old stories is that they disempower people from participating. The problem is something that happens in the cosmos, and we’re left wondering why we’re supposed to care. When we see that the problem is located in us, it gives us a very real reason to participate with God. And God solution is so magnificent, so ferociously loving that it’s honestly ridiculous.
How would you respond to people who might call your book heretical?
The only people who have called the book heretical are those who haven’t read it. And those who have read it have been surprised at how simple it is. In fact, its so simple it seems to good to be true. A large part of the book is directly addressing Scripture and applying a paradigm shift to it. I’m giving people a lens in which to see the story.
The early responses have been really, really good. Better than I ever expected. Most of the people who really resonate with the book are people who work with people on a daily basis: counselors, pastors, coaches. They can see the root problem immediately. They see it show up constantly. So when they read the book, it’s like an “Aha” moment of clarity.
What kind of response have you received from your book? Is it what you expected?
A lot of people have told me they have to read the book very slowly because it is so much of a paradigm shift. They have to read it twice because it’s completely changing the way they see God, Scripture, themselves, and the world.
You make very detailed and well-researched arguments in your book. How long did it take you to write this text?
It’s hard to define how long I’ve been writing this book. In many ways I’ve been researching the basic idea all of my life. I’ve always felt a tension with our historical understanding of the Gospel, but I’ve never questioned that something amazing was happening on the cross. I detail some of the events that led me to write this book in the first chapter. I had several encounters with people that continually pushed me to look deeper.
I spent essentially five years asking what is the Gospel, researching our historical understanding of it, in order to communicate the Gospel in my work with Thrive. But I reached a point where I could no longer intellectually agree with the old conclusions. So I simply went back to the story and asked a simple question. What is the root problem God is solving in the story? How does God reconcile humanity? I spent close to three years in Genesis 1-3 breaking it down over and over again. And what I found was a very simple but profoundly destructive problem. What I also found was a solution that made my head shake. It reoriented my understanding of the cross in a way that empowered me. It liberated me from the very thing that was creating the problem.
Anything you wish you had done differently?
Not really. But I do wish things had happened differently. I would have liked to have skipped the countless hours of doubt and tension that went into questioning the assumptions of my forefathers. To seek out a new story means leaving the old story behind. At certain points I knew there was no going back. I knew that the longer I continued down the rabbit hole, the more I couldn’t return to the old way. The new story was literally ruining my old one.
I make a bold statement with the book that makes it very easy to dismiss. To say that we’ve gotten our understanding of the Gospel wrong puts me in tension with a LOT of people. But I believe the cost was worth it to see what God sees.
What audience is this book aimed at? Who are you hoping will read it?
My target audience is the person wrestling with what it means to be human. So much of the story resolves around God solving a very simple but entirely destructive problem. And the problem is designed to hide itself. We literally can’t see it because of the way we construct judgment. But when we can see the problem, we can being to liberate the self from our own prisons. We can begin to participate with God in solving the problem of pain and suffering in our lives.
The people I hope read my book are pastors, people who communicate the Gospel to larger audiences. These are the gatekeepers of the Gospel. If they could see the problem God is solving, it would change the face of Christianity in a radical way.
Who are some of your biggest theological influences?
I would say the person who influenced me the most during the writing of the book was Rob Bell. Listening to Rob on podcast gave me a few key pieces of the puzzle that led me to seeing the entire picture in a very different way. It wasn’t one big thing but a lot of little things that just fit.
As funny as it may seem, it was a podcast of Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei, while speaking at Mars Hill that energized me to begin the initial process. He spoke on repentance and for some reason it just resonated at such a deep level.
I don’t know if scientists could be traditionally considered theological but I can’t ignore how a few key people like Daniel Goleman, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, and Paulo Freire deeply shaped my understanding of my own humanity. Science is simply the evaluation and discovery of what God already created. And the scientists are the ones listening to the physical systems that we live in.
What group of people (i.e. denomination) stereotypically will have the easiest time accepting your challenges? The most difficult time?
The earliest readers of my book are those who have already been wrestling with the historical problems. They already see the tension and have gobbled up my book. It’s been really fun to watch their eyes open up to something so simple and say, “I get it.”
I’m making an assumption here but the people who will have the hardest time with my book are those who are captivated by fear. People who are afraid of questions are typically afraid of their own answers. I get that. I lived there for a long time. But in the introduction I give my readers the permission to see it as a possibility, not a conclusion. People need time to wrestle with new paradigms.