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“This Is God…Have a Nice Day!”

An intriguing book crossed our desk called God Is Not…Religious, Nice, “One of Us,” an American, a Capitalist, edited by D. Brent Laythan (Brazos Press, 2004). We glommed onto the chapter “God Is Not Nice” by D. Stephen Long. There we learn that yahoo.com is offering a “This Is God…have a nice day!” bookmark for $1.50 plus shipping and handling. (Sadly, this is no oddity.) Stephen Long cleverly replies, “Let me get this straight. Jesus was crucified for saying that God is nice….”

Long has fun imagining a revised version of Isaiah 6:1-3: “I saw the Lord sitting on a lawn chair, close and friendly; and the emblem on his ballcap said Chicago Cubs (readers should fill in their favorite team name here). Seraphs…called to one another and said: ‘Nice, nice, nice is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his niceness.'” The actual version (which Long should have included) goes like this: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim…. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.'”

Long launches his attack with these words: “‘User-Friendly Worship,’ ‘Entertainment Evangelism,’ ‘Meeting My Spiritual Needs,’ ‘The Friendly Church,’…whether you find yourself in an evangelical, a mainline Protestant, or even a suburban Catholic church, language like this dominates…church jargon. Such talk is intended to be inoffensive. What could be less threatening than a god who only seeks my spiritual fulfillment, who wants to meet my needs in a tolerant, inclusive, nonjudgmental style?”

Long continues: “The nice god emerges from the therapeutic culture of late modernity where self-esteem and narcissism rule…. But Christians might have resisted this god more powerfully if not for a fateful turn in theology around the time of the Reformation…. That turn was the development of the idea that we cannot really know God, but can only know what God does ‘for us’…. A prime example of this is the claim by Philip Melanchthon that we cannot speak of Christ in himself, but can speak only of the benefits of Christ ‘for me.'”

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