Santa Claus Theology

“To reject all ideas of divine wrath and judgment, and to assume that God’s character, misrepresented (forsooth!) in many parts of the Bible, is really one of indulgent benevolence without any severity, is the rule rather than the exception among ordinary folk today.

It is true that some recent theologians, in reaction, have tried to reaffirm the truth of God’s holiness, but their efforts have seemed half-hearted and their words have fallen for the most part on deaf ears.  Modern Protestants are not going to give up their ‘enlightened’ adherence to the doctrine of a celestial Santa Claus merely because a Brunner or a Niebuhr suspsects this is not the whole story.  The certainty that  there is no more to be said of God (if God there be) than that he is infinitely forbearing and kind–that certainty is as hard to eradicate as bindweed.  And when once it has put down roots, Christianity, in the true sense of the word, simply dies off.  For the substance of Christianity is faith in the forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.

But on the basis of Santa Claus theology, sins create no problem, and atonement becomes needless; God’s active favor extends no less to those who disregard his commands than to those who keep them.  The idea that God’s attitude to me is affected by whether or not do what He says has no place in the thought of the man on the street, and any attempt to show the need for fear in God’s presence, for trembling at His word, gets written off as impossibly old-fashioned–’Victorian,’ ‘Puritan,’ and ‘sub-Christian.’

Yet the Santa Claus theology carries within itself the seeds of its own collapse, for it cannot cope with the fact of evil.  It is no accident that when belief in the “good God” of liberalism became widespread, about the turn of the twentieth century, the so-called problem of  evil (which was not regarded as a problem before) suddenly leaped into prominence as the number one concern of Christian apologetics.  This was inevitable, for it is not possible to see the good will of a heavenly Santa Claus in heartbreaking and destructive things like cruelty, or marital infidelity, or death on the road, or lung cancer.  The only way to save the liberal view of God is to dissociate him from these things and to deny that he has any direct relation to them or control over them; in other words, to deny his omnipotence and lordship over his world.  Liberal theologians took this course fifty years ago, and the man on the street takes it today.  Thus he is left with a kind God who means well but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.  When trouble comes, therefore, there is nothing to do but grin and bear it.  In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm men in an fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life.”

–J.I Packer

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One response to “Santa Claus Theology

  1. Pingback: Roundup « Eternity Matters

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