Within the modern American culture, there seems to be a general mindset that a biblical perception of God is slowly fading away. Media outlets of all varieties paint a picture of an escalating battle between those that believe in God and those who do not. Based on these conflicting reports, one may envision a type of holy war raging over this issue.
However, according to Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, “the simple fact that nearly 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God undermines any notion that we are engaged in a holy war over the existence of God; we might, however, be in a war over who God is.” In turn, this war consists of conflicting viewpoints between the biblical revelation of God and various perceptions of God shaped by personal experiences and community worldviews.
First, the Bible serves as God’s revelation to mankind and reveals God’s true person and nature. However, history attests that people often have differing interpretations of Scripture. As Froese and Bader state, the most crucial theological disagreements in America stem from two questions concerning God’s interaction with mankind and His judgment of the world.
Second, these two central questions drive various perceptions of God that are shaped by personal experiences and community worldviews. On a national level, these perceptions generally fall into four categories: authoritative, benevolent, critical, and distant. For each American, personal factors and experiences heavily influence one’s perception of God, especially those linked to childhood. For example, “more than half of Americans who believe in an authoritative God remember being spanked as a child.”. This statistic applies to my own perception of God, and the discipline I received from my parents reflected God’s judgment on a rebellious humanity.
Coupled with these personal factors, one’s community can also influence their perception of God. For most Christians, including myself, church denomination shapes this perception along denominational lines. As Froese and Bader state, “an individual’s religious community presents him with a distinct image of God in the doctrine it offers.” Within my childhood denomination of Pentecostalism, an authoritative God who is actively engaged in the world and judgmental fit well with its doctrine. However, within the Baptist church that I currently attend, that perception is somewhat different.
In the community outside of the church, there may exist many diverse perceptions of God. Especially true in America is the statement that “regions of the country favor different Gods…certain parts of the country are religious and other parts of the country are not,” with the exception of a military community in which I currently reside. Although located deep in the ‘Bible Belt’, my military community consists of many different worldviews, each with its own perception of God. Furthermore, some may not have a perception of God at all.
In conclusion, Froese and Bader accurately depict the war over the identity of God by discussing the issue along the lines of personal experiences and community worldviews. Their discussion provides a plausible explanation of my own perception of God, and enabled me to begin a re-examination of God as revealed through Scripture. In turn, a newfound perception of God aligned with Scripture will enable me to foster the same re-examination within my community.
1. Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God–& What that Says about Us (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4.
2. Ibid., 10.
3. Ibid., 24.
4. Ibid., 39.
5. Ibid., 51.
6. Ibid., 55.