Divine Agnosticism
Reverent silence as one antidote to Consumer Christianity.

The following is an excerpt from chapter two of Skye Jethani's new bookThe Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity(Zondervan, 2009).

My brother and sister-in-law took me to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl while I was visiting Southern California recently. The renowned outdoor amphitheater is nestled into the hills of Hollywood creating a scenic environment for 18,000 people to enjoy an evening of music under the stars. As the sun was setting, the members of the orchestra began taking their seats in the white band shell. The sound of the musicians tuning their instruments was odd. Screeching strings echoed. Blasts came from the wind section. It was chaotic and unpleasant.

Finally, the conductor emerged from stage left. The audience erupted in applause as he took his position on the conductor's platform. He calmly raised his arms over his noisy orchestra. Silence. The time for tuning their instruments was over. After a few moments of quiet anticipation the conductor's arms moved and the soul-stirring music began.

Like an orchestra tuning their instruments, consumer Christianity is producing chaotic and unpleasant noise about God. The prevailing view of God as an alienated commodity has fueled endless pontificating about his ways and character. This noise reveals a failure of reverence toward the one who declared, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways?for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Rather than adding to the noise perhaps it is time for us to finally be silent, be still, and wait in quit anticipation for God to begin a new work. Leopold Stokowski, the composer who founded the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 1945, once said, "A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence." Maybe God is waiting for us to be silent long enough so he may begin painting a new picture in our imaginations; to begin transforming our image of a manageable deity into one that can truly inspire.

To start reversing our malformed view of God, perhaps we need to cover our mouths with our hands and humbly confess our ignorance like Job, "I have uttered what I did not know." Strangely, our first step beyond consumer Christianity may be toward agnosticism. An agnostic is literally someone who says "I don't know." The word comes from the Greek a-gnostos meaning "not-knowing." It is commonly used to mean one who neither affirms nor denies the existence of God. Divine agnosticism, the sort I'm advocating, differs in that it affirms the existence of God but then acknowledges our human inability to fully grasp his infinite nature.

February 25, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments

Christain

October 27, 2010  11:37am

The Bible does tell us to be silent and to wait on the spirit of God. But that does not mean we are to do nothing in the mean time we are called forth to go through out the earth and make disciples of all nations. but only if the holy spirit has worked on there hearts. the work of God is something we are called to do and if new are silent and humble before him he will lead us through paths of righteousness.

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dgsinclair

March 09, 2009  7:50pm

Even silent retreat before the vastness of God can become a retreat from our duty to preach and serve in his name. We must avoid the twin errors of saying "we can know everything for sure" and "we can know nothing for sure" about God. In the end, if we wait for our doctrine and souls to be perfect before we preach God's grace, not only have we missed the point of grace, we have failed to do God's will. We should not make excuses for our superficiality and commoditization of God, neither should we cease from bearing witness of his reality to our culture through every relevant means, including church merch and other christian kitch. Perhaps we have gotten too crass in our cock-sureness and comfort with a knowable, pal God. But as we seek to recover our sobriety and humility in light of a holy, fathomless God, should we merely end up lying on the ground as if dead, fearful of getting up? No. We should seek a deep silence followed by a deep gratitude and conviction that compels us to joyfully, seriously, and winsomely preach the gospel and enjoy the life that god has given us for the moment. If we get too serious about God's nature, forgetting that Jesus revealed him primarily as a father, rather than a judge and creator, we might get lost in our silence.

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Phil

March 02, 2009  9:32am

I do not see what is false teaching about our need to be silent before God or to pay more attention to the holiness of God. I have found an amazing sense of peace and joy by increasing the amount of time I spend in silence, alone with God. It is much easier to sense the leading of the Holy Spirit when I take myself out of the noise that surrounds me in the world.

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RDM

February 28, 2009  2:08pm

N MacDonald, I didn't say brainless. Tim did. Read what I wrote. I said Skye is suggesting a process that reminds me of Hindu meditation. I stand by that comment. It is one more attempt at Ur to advocate that the Church divorce itself from God's Word. Let me be clear. This is false teaching.

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N MacDonald

February 27, 2009  11:28pm

It is interesting that RDM using "brainless" to describe Hinduism. Seems to me I've been in some worship services and Bible Study groups where "brainless" came to mind. Which may be part of what Skye was referring to. Often, it seems that those who claim to know the mind of God are the ones who may know the least about him. Similar to Job's three friends. The "noise" in our lives not only serves to define us to some degree. It also serves to characterize our worship experience. Our contemporary culture is not comfortable with silence. Even in worship, there seems to be a compelling need for activity- slides flipping, music playing behind prayers, all as though silence were our enemy. "Call to worship" presents more of a rally cry than a time of preparing the heart in the presence of God. How long would any of us feel comfortable if our next Sunday Service included five minutes of silence - just pure silence?

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Tim

February 26, 2009  3:06pm

RDM Skye was not even close to advocating brainless Hinduism. Read again what he said and you'll see his recommended silence is full of thought about God and His revelation to us, not Ohmmmm.

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RDM

February 25, 2009  8:43pm

Skye, What you are advocating sounds alot like Hindu meditation, just without the Ohmmmm.

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Schoch

February 25, 2009  5:10pm

... there is a God is the assumption that I once held ... after over 20 years in the paid profession called ministry, I no longer know and find myself at greater peace than I had ever imagined ... I do like your thoughts in this piece I just read and perhaps there is a place for one such as I in this conversation ... perhaps ...

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amoslanka

February 25, 2009  11:25am

Well stated. I've recently been corresponding with a friend on the topic of silence. Additionally, Frederich Buechner's book, Telling The Truth, offers a brilliant notion of the gospel as silence. He says: "Before the gospel is a word, it is a silence, a kind of presenting of life itself so that we see it not for what at various times we call it — meaninglessness or meaningful, absurd, beautiful — but for what it truly is in all its complexity, simplicity, mystery. The silence of Jesus in answer to Pilate's question about truth seems such a presenting as does also in a way the silence of the television news with the sound turned off — the real news is what we see and feel, not what Walter Cronkite tells us — or the silence the Psalmist means when he says, "Be silent and know that I am God." What he means by the silence of the news is that as long as our souls are following so closely to the external monologue of culture and what you call the noise of consumerism, we will be too distracted to hear the real news: what we see and how we feel. In this correspondence with a friend I named silence as the conduit to the soul. In this regard it of course need not be literal silence, but rather those moments, intentional or not when the world's distractions are not allowed to draw our attention. Its in this silence that we are most authentic, most real, and most honest with ourselves. I think that the closer we come to silence, the closer we come to God, because as Chris says in his comments above, silence is not an end, but only a means to something greater, something lost.

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Chris

February 25, 2009  10:33am

I like the humility you advocate, Skye. But silence cannot be an end, can it? Just like the orchestra, we need silence that resolves into careful speech. I can't remember who said, "The first casualty of the fall was language." Perhaps silence is the first step to recovering our speech.

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