In Discovering the God Imagination, Brink asks the hard questions about sin and atonement with not only humility, but also with candor, honesty. forthrightness, and clarity. You may not agree with all his answers and conclusions, but we can all agree about the immediacy of the issues he raises. Certainly we all will know ourselves to be have been made richer by his work. — Phyllis Tickle
Jonathan Brink has given us a gift, a Gospel gift. He calls upon us to allow the story of God, the activity of God, the present reality of God to shape new questions of faith and life. Jonathan reminds us that faithfulness is not in starting with the answers, but in starting with God. In this well written and honest book he walks us back into the story of God and what we discover is both revolutionary and at the same time obvious. This walk is one that not all will want to take, but all who take it will be glad they did. — Doug Pagitt
Melissa Cooper - 5 Stars on Amazon
Have you ever wondered how God came up with … well, everything?
During my two days at Big Tent Christianity, I picked up a review copy of Jonathan Brink`s Discovering the God Imagination. I’m glad I did.
Many of the books I review here are from publishing houses that don’t necessarily cater to my type of Christianity, but I fully believe in trying to understand all sides of an issue, and I believe many of them inform why I believe what I believe.
This book, however, spoke to me in a way that few books have. I have wrestled for a long time with issues of theology. Even before I knew what it meant to wrestle with issues of theology, I questioned and wondered and asked. (Far too few people wonder nowadays, don’t you think?)
There are so many things about “popular” Christianity that just don’t line up. Beyond Biblical contradictions, beyond conservative vs. liberal, beyond the sexuality question — some things don’t line up about God.
In this book, Brink addresses many of the questions I’ve been struggling with for years. And he does it in a new way! I have found many theologians, colleagues, classmates, professors, who have the same struggles and questions that I do, but their resolutions are unfinished and at times unsettling.
If God is love, if God is peace, if God is the great Parent, then why does God intend God’s only son Jesus to die a violent, horrific death on the cross? How does that act forgive sins? And why does that only come around thousands of years after the first “sin” is committed?
Those are the questions I have struggled with for many years, and the kinds of questions that turn people away from God and religion. The God of penal substitutionary atonement really appears to be a masochistic, fear-mongering,vengeful tyrant. (Harsh, but an honest perception.)
For years now I’ve known that was no theology I cared to be a part of. That God is frightening and does not seem to match the God represented by Christ. Something just doesn’t match up.
But although I had encountered numerous colleagues with the same concerns, their sole focus on liberation theology or disregard for Scripture was unsettling to say the least.
Brink, however, answers these questions. He addresses them head-on, and not in a way that disregards Scripture or in a way that evades the questions themselves.
Brink provides a Scriptural — and reasonable — answer to those questions without resorting to the violence and irrationality of a theory like substitutionary atonement. Refreshing, to say the least.
Brink finds the underlying problem of human separation from God in the exact place I’ve always found it: within us.
The answer to the big question, “How does God love us?” is answered in the first chapter of Genesis. And somehow, we miss it. We ignore the answer to our problems, the answer to our sinfulness, the answer to our separation from God.
God calls us good.
Nay, very good.
How do we miss such a glaring contradiction to all that is taught in many churches today? Yes, I know in the next chapter we find the source of the doctrine of original sin, etc, etc. But first, the way God made us is good.
How can we possibly do anything to change God’s goodness? Because sins are committed, does that change God’s relationship to us? No! It changes our relationship to God!
It’s a subtle distinction in writing, but an enormous difference in life.
Brink sums up the message of his book within the first 20 pages:
“Love addresses the question of `the exception.’ Is there something we can do to change God’s perspective of us? Could humanity actually do something to permanently remove itself from the Kingdom of God? Jesus reveals that even when we attempt to kill the God image, the answer is no. There is, in essence, no exception.”
But Brink admits it is much easier to cast the problem with humanity outward rather than inward, which is why every popular theory of Christology and Christian theology does so.
By looking inward, we find that God is not in need of a sacrifice, we are. God loves us so much that God is willing to sacrifice everything if it will help us see our own goodness and the unconditional, unchangeable love God has for each of us individually and for us as God’s children.
When we follow Jesus, we are living into something that is already true — we are good. We are capable of doing amazing things, because God believes we are good. And from Day 1 (or Day 6, if you want to be literal), God tells us that we are good.
Brink follows the storyline of the Bible, addressing every major turning point to show that God was at work in the world in a way that intends to show us our worth as God’s children, and to show us God’s unconditional love for us in all we do.
Do I think Jonathan Brink has it all figured out? Absolutely not. But I do believe he has presented a reconciled view of the arc of Christian history that is, at least for me, unprecedented. Read it. It will move you.
Jeff Straka - 5 Stars on Amazon
As the other reviewers, I, too, could no longer make sense of the traditional Augustinian/Calvinist Christian Gospel story I had inherited – I had “deconstructed” this story and kind of “set it out on the curb”. I have since been on a journey of “reconstruction” – finding a way to make sense of God and Jesus in the 21st century. Through process-relational theology (John Cobb, Robert Mesle), mystical/wisdom thought (Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault), quantum theology (Diarmuid Ó Murchú), and most recently neurocardiology science (Joseph Chilton Pearce) I have been on a path of “connecting dots” towards a faith that embraces science rather than dismisses it.
Jonathan Brink’s book has now taken these “dots” and drawn a clearer picture! He has provided language to imagine a new Gospel Story that desperately needs to be reconstructed (Bishop Spong alluded to this critical necessity in a recent lecture – the old Gospel story is literally killing us and others)! This book was like finding the missing piece of the puzzle! Not only does Jonathan take the blinders off to see the Garden Story and the Cross in a fresh light, he opens up many of the Bible stories that were clouded over with this same dense fog of “Original Sin” theology and breathes fresh possiblities into them!
Do NOT leave this page without ORDERING a copy of this book! If you are on this page, it is obviously because you are in search of a new Christian story – one that makes SENSE. Welcome home.
Raelene - 5 Stars on Amazon
Jonathan opens up a very important conversation with the suggestions in his book. Whether someone believes or not, this is simply a conversation worth joining. I planned to submit more of a “book review” and instead I felt led to share from more of a personal journey.
Jonathan’s book says, “The only way to lose what is true is to lose God’s perspective, to lose the objective basis for judgment…And all we have is our relative experience that resides as data…The very thing we use to base truth on becomes relative, and we suffer the consequences.”
I spent many years avoiding the Bible even though I considered myself a very spiritual person, and often prayed many times throughout the day. The stories/lessons in the Bible did not add up for me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to ask more questions about the things that seemed impossible, and there were so many traditional beliefs that I was “taught” to just accept as truth and challenging it was considered rebellious.
Until I experienced a very bad marriage and even worse divorce, I hadn’t truly connected on a very deep level with God where I could call it a relationship. I realized, through my restoration process, that my deepening relationship with God was opening up simple truths for me. I began to become interested in what love really is, what the true meaning and practice of Grace is, what it means to love your neighbor, how to really let go of guilt after praying for forgiveness and answers to many more simple questions about things I was just told how to believe, from Church, family, friends and the more traditional beliefs. I wanted to feel it. I didn’t want to just read it. Even then, I continued to be intimidated by the complexity of the Bible and feared my own misinterpretations. I feared I may misinterpret scripture and displease the Lord, accidentally. Then, I picked up Jonathan Brink’s book. I had to put the book down every 3 pages because I was taken over by tears and a physical pain in my heart because some of the deeper rooted issues I was placing a band-aid on, were being brought to the surface and left for me to work through. Just when I thought I was “healed”, each chapter carried me further to true restoration and loving myself with the God Imagination, not my imagination.
I had been basing truth on my relative experience and I have seen how I have suffered consequences because of it. I love how simple it is to understand the truth. I discovered, after reading Jonathan’s book, God is the judge and defines value. We can judge if we start with God’s perspective…and “it is good”. Amazingly simple. I wish I had this book many years ago. I’ve purchased over 5 copies and will continue to gift this book because I can’t help but want to see people heal their hearts and minds with the suggestions from this book. Jonathan’s book has removed my intimidation of the Bible because the simple Truth’s and seeing everything through the foundation that we are “Very good” have led me to better interpret God’s message in this beautiful book called the Bible.
Josh Meuller – 5 Stars on Amazon
Jonathan Brink is sharing some key insights regarding questions that matter to all of us: What defines us as human beings? Are we good or evil from God’s perspective and in the way God places worth and value on human beings? How does the biblical narrative identify the reason for God allowing us to probe the possibility of evil and how did “the Fall” impact our own judgment of God’s attitude and of our dignity and identity? What if the impact of false judgment and derailed thinking caused us to read the story itself in a skewed way, reflecting that same broken understanding of God and humanity ever since? What if the root problem and God’s response is much simpler than we thought possible?
Brink goes into great detail exploring particularly the opening chapters of the Bible. He demonstrates over and over again how the changed human perspective misreads and contradicts God’s actual intent and judgment. He also illustrates beautifully how the calling of Abram and the history of Israel become the blueprint of God meeting people where they are at and preparing them to understand both the futility of our own attempts to find validation and identity apart from God’s judgment of “good”, and the true view of reality from God’s point of view. He proposes a radically different understanding of the atonement that takes into account the actual reason why God had to become (!) sin in order to demonstrate His unchanging love and invite us to overcome the root problem.
I really loved this book for several reasons:
1. It brought many “puzzle pieces” of my own questions and past discoveries over the years together into a coherent picture that makes sense to me personally and offers a compelling view of both the Old Testament and the rationale of the Christian Gospel.
2. It is wonderfully liberating in its focus on the eternal nature of God’s love and grace.
3. It is insightful not only regarding the theological aspects of the story but also more recent scientific discoveries how our brains work and how the brain creates a sense of reality and personal judgment.
4. It breaks through many unhelpful and paralyzing paradigms, helping me to see how our participation through faith (which is identified as the ability to “see” the truth and agree with it) mobilizes us, instead of making us into passive recipients of a falsely understood rescue of God.
5. It helps us to see and embrace not only our own identity, dignity and purpose of love but also in every other human being, independent of their gender, race, sexuality, religious affiliation etc. It particularly compels us to see the “enemy” no longer as the problem and as a threat to ward off in order to secure our own existence but as another human being, with the same dignity, struggling with the same root problem.
I highly recommend the purchase of the book. It still inspires me daily to think about the wider implications in a multitude of areas: evangelism, a Christian approach to ethics and justice, ecclesiology, a new perspective on heaven and hell, biblical hermeneutics etc.
Josh Morgan – 5 Stars On Amazon
This review first appeared on my blog, Jacob’s Café.
Jonathan Brink recently released his book, Discovering the God Imagination, and he provided me a complimentary copy to review.
In this book, he tackles the assumptions most Christians have over the salvation story. He nicely argues that most theories and interpretations place the problem outside of us: On God, on Satan, on the law. And the solution is that a ransom has to be paid to one of those things. Each way of approaching this problem has major problems of its own (which Brink details).
Rather, he argues that the problem is actually our perception of ourselves, specifically how we answer the question, “Are we good or evil?”
Beginning with the creation story, Brink argues that God has judged humanity as good. What happened with the Fall is that we have given into a lie that we are evil and only redeemable through violence and bloodshed.
Brink continues through major stories within the Bible, exploring how God is not judging humanity as evil, but rather engaging in redemptive acts. What Brink says is that God’s actions are not for him or for Satan, but rather for us. WE are the ones who need the violence, judgment, etc. Without that, we are unable to see the lie we have given into.
The best analogy I can think of is the standard interpretation of the establishment of kings in Israel. God didn’t want or need kings. Israel wanted them. And God gave them a king to show them that this would not solve the problem. As Brink ays, “The long, slow progression of God interacting with a chosen group of people reveals an astonishing idea. God establishes and uses the human constructs in Israel to exhaust their possibility. God allows Israel to explore pride, social comparison, relationships, the law, and religion to see that they don’t work” (p. 195).
All our ways of trying to save ourselves don’t work. We need Jesus. However, it is not God, Satan, or the law who requires this sacrifice. It is humanity:
The religious contract is our final demand for satisfaction. We need the atonement. We need a way to appease our own sense of guilt. We demand something so perfect that it will fill our sense of violence with a nauseating stench. The brutality of this act is seen the moment we place our own children in the hands of the crowd. What we would never do, God does for us. The final act of atonement is the father giving up his son at the demands of humanity. (p. 239)
This is a rather radical idea and one I haven’t heard before. I’m still processing it and its theological consequences (many of which Brink skillfully tackles). I can see many more conservative Christians getting up in arms with this “new” perspective. But that’s the problem: Our perspective. We need to change it anyway. And the theological implications of this interpretation are actually quite in line with traditional, orthodox Christianity. It just approaches it all differently. And that can be quite good.
Everything he says fits with what I know about the Bible, God, and humanity. It all fits. I’ve had a lot of problems with many of the traditional salvation interpretations. There’s hole that just don’t fit with what we know about God.
As a result, I highly recommend this book. Not only does Brink present a very good, well written theological treatise, he does so while approaching the Bible as completely true (unlike even some of the traditional theologians). He knows the Bible well. And truly the arguments come from the Bible.
Additionally, Brink is part of the emerging conversation, which has contributed to a lot of deconstruction of our preconceived notions of church, theology, God, ourselves, etc. One of the things I particularly appreciate about this book and Brink is summarized in the book’s subtitle: “Reconstructing a Whole New Christianity.” Deconstruction is important, but so is reconstructions, which is the purpose of this blog.
My one complaint about the book is actually the cover. It looks a cheesy, bad theology book or some lame New Age, self-help book. But we have to remember not to judge a book by its cover, right?
Liz Dyer – 5 Stars On Amazon
If you have ever had trouble reconciling traditional atonement theories with an all powerful God who loves unconditionally you should read this book. Jonathan Brink suggests that we have misunderstood the gospel. He backs up his theory with scripture (his knowledge of scripture is impressive) and his explanations fit with what I know about scripture and God – so much that I found myself repeatedly thining “why didn’t I think of that before”.
The question “what is the gospel?” is at the very heart of Christianity and our answer to the question most certainly impacts the way we live out our faith. This is a great opportunity for us to join in an important conversation about the gospel, the problem God wants to solve for us and what it means to be a part of the solution.
As you read through Discovering The God Imagination I think you will find yourself having a lot of “aha” moments.
I highly recommend the book.
Edward Zacapa – 5 Stars on Amazon
A Progressive and Revolutionary Book
The author brings to the table a different way of looking at things that is both liberating and empowering. As I read through the first couple chapters I was drawn in. I did not want to put the book down.
The book reveals a God who is full of grace and portrays mankind as having gotten the original question of good and evil wrong. When we as a church get the question wrong and answer it incorrectly we construct beliefs and doctrine that are off the mark. Brink brings us back to the core theological issues that need to be addressed and shows us a different way to interpret the gospel message that is more in sync with scripture.
If you have had a hard time with traditional theological concepts that the church has presented in the past and are looking for another perspective this is a great book to read. It makes room for progressive thinking.
It will challenge, encourage and empower. Not everyone will agree with what Brink writes but I believe everyone should consider what he presents and proposes. This book has the potential to free us to live more in attunement with our Creator and his vision for our lives. A great resource for any church library.