Pastor Dad: Does an Absent God Produce Absent Fathers?

Jason Micheli —  June 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

mainI’ve been marking the time up to Father’s Let’s Baptize Consumerism by Idealizing the Family Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood.

On previous occasions, I’ve duly and honestly noted that, for me, Mark Driscoll is right up there with Joel Osteen, Bob Saget and Joseph Goebbels. While I’ve been accused from time to time of gross exaggeration, crass generalization and conceited dismissals of contrary views, I’m like a kid with sidewalk chalk to Driscoll’s Picasso.

A master of the arresting tweet and jaw-droppingly false assertions, Driscoll’s a one-man meme-maker with his straight-faced, ‘scriptural’ sermons about biblically-mandated BJ’s and liberal Christians’ limp-wristed,wimpy versions of Jesus.

While I get gripes from the bishop’s office for making a joke about Jesus farting, Driscoll gets ecclesial kudos and book deals for things that make George Carlin seem like Mr Rogers.

Despite the gag reflex Driscoll provokes in the back of my throat, I promised to read his book in a spirit of Christ-centered detente because lessons can be learned even from enemies. Right? mark-driscoll

First lesson learned- and a good one for fathers to pass on:

One should be wary of making promises they can’t keep.

Driscoll’s chapter 5, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide,’ is like spilling Maker’s Mark are all over a recovering alcoholic. But today instead of ridiculing Driscoll with a glee that will be enjoyed only by me and a few others, I thought I would offer something more thoughtful.

And more Christian.

282568_150937788316009_5326304_nA friend and neighbor, Chad Pecknold, is a theologian at CUA and has a post at Ethika Politika, contemplating fatherhood. I believe this is the argument that Driscoll (if he had the conscience of the average citizen and the IQ of a mole rat) is attempting to make in much his book:

I am haunted by an even deeper crisis that must at least exacerbate, and may even be a root cause of the fatherhood crisis: a loss of an embodied faith and an embodied understanding of God as Father.  As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, it is not from human fathers that we understand what it means for God to be Father, but it is from the revelation of God as Father that our understanding of fatherhood is elevated and perfected.  Is it so impossible to think that a modern vision of God as Deus Absconditus has, inversely, defected and devolved our understanding of fatherhood?

In Charles Taylor’s extravagantly illustrated account of why it has become difficult to believe in God, A Secular Age, he calls the Reformation a “disenchantment engine.”  Martin Luther had famously rejected every attempt of human reason to know God.  Despite the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who said that the invisible God could be known by the things that were made, Luther stressed the unknowability of God through things made.  The god of the philosophers is always a fabricated God of our own making.   Since only God can reveal God, Luther severed the ancient dynamic between Athens and Jerusalem.

For many, the “disenchantment engine” at first made “optional” but then broke the relation between God and creation, as well as the complementary relation between faith and reason.  Sometimes this “break” is blamed on nominalism, the view that universals (invisible things) cannot really be known as anything other than fabricated relations between particular, visible, made things.  How did this happen?  For the nominalists that trained Luther, God’s intellect was unknowable. And since God’s will perfectly expressed his intellect, it was argued that his ways were inscrutable. This made it possible for later thinkers—against the backdrop of the Black Death and other natural disasters—to think about God’s actions in a capricious way.  Instead of understanding God’s actions as fitting the goodness of his nature (as Aquinas argued), it became possible to think of God as an inscrutable and unknowable sovereign, as one who does not necessarily act in accordance with his nature, but may act solely upon his mysterious will.  Fear of this inscrutable God made it easier for some thinkers to descend further into what Taylor calls “providential Deism.”

Taylor rightly sees in this descent to “providential Deism” the eclipse of transcendent purpose, the erasure of supernatural grace in an immanent frame, the denial of mystery, and the refusal of a participationist understanding of our relation to God. No longer are we humans called to become “partakers of the divine nature,” or elevated by grace to become adopted sons and daughters of God.  Now God has become the Deus Absconditus that has created the world and simultaneously orphaned it.  Taylor argues that these shifts, among many others, are responsible for why it is more difficult to believe in God now than it was prior to the Reformation.  These shifts have not only made it difficult to know God as Father, but have also made it difficult for us to recognize the nature of human fatherhood in anything other than the basically nominalist and voluntarist modes of providential Deism.  That is at least one of the important reasons why Locke’s view of fatherhood becomes possible, and why liberal cultures that slavishly follow this trajectory will continue to want to hide the fathers.  The antidote is the revelation of the Father’s love for the Son.


Jason Micheli


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