The Danger of Gospel-centered Theological Dot Connecting

When I was a teenager, I loved to study theology. I was determined to figure out the right position on every topic. By the time I had graduated from college and moved out to Denver, CO to help start a church, my theology had drastically changed from my teenage years. I believed that I had finally found the right position on virtually every theological topic.

During our years out in Colorado, I began to brand these “right positions” with such phrases as, “gospel-centered,” and “Christ-centered.” Of course, every time I used the term “Christ-centered,” deep inside I had this nagging awkwardness, wondering if the Father and the Holy Spirit felt left out. But I could show how all of these “right positions” logically pointed to the gospel, to Christ, and to the glory of God. I began a blog to show how all of life points to the gospel and the glory of God. And I even started movie nights at our church to point out how movie plots point to the gospel and the glory of God.

I’ll never forget the time that a pastor friend of mine came out to visit us and said, “Be careful not to worship the gospel.” That caution seemed weird to me at the time. After all, there was a popular book back then entitled, “God Is the Gospel.” Plus, “It’s the gospel,” I thought. “How could it even be wrong to worship the gospel, especially if God is the gospel?”

As I think back to that time of my life, I’m beginning to realize that I was more fascinated by connecting the dots than by connecting with God. I could show how Point A ultimately got to Point Z. No matter how seemingly unrelated two items may be, I could figure out the mental gymnastics necessary to get you from one to the other.

And while I still believe it’s crucial to see God in the ordinary things of life, I’m beginning now to lose my fascination with the formulas, with connecting logical dots.

In short, I’m beginning to wonder about wonder.

In his book, Who is Man?, Abraham Joshua Heschel said,

“Knowledge is fostered by curiosity; wisdom is fostered by awe; awe precedes faith; it is the root of faith…Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the world becomes a market place for you. The loss of awe is the avoidance of insight. A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom, for the discovery of the world as an allusion to God.”

The caution that my friend was giving me that day, I believe, was to keep from becoming enamored with theological dot connecting. Simply being able to show how you can get from the apples to the bread in a market place isn’t provoking wonder. If we’re not careful, it can become a very self-righteous, self-glorifying expression of conceitedness. It can turn wonder into commodity and currency. Being able to connect the dots from the plot of Shrek to the glory of God in the gospel is not necessarily awe. It can actually be an expression of conceit that diminishes “your ability to revere” if the awe is more in the connection of dots than in the communion with God.

We need to see life as an adventure of “discovering the world as an allusion to God.” We need to be drawn to Him in the arts, reminded of Him in our relationships, moved by Him in creation, and dependent on Him in every smallest moment. But seeing God in the ordinary begins with wisdom. And wisdom begins with reverence, with awe, with wonder. Wonder comes before connecting the dots.

Proverbs 8:30-31 says,

“Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
Rejoicing always in his presence,
Rejoicing in his whole world
And delighting in mankind.”

Some people view that passage as Wisdom speaking of God. Others view it as Christ speaking of the Father. In either case, as we grow in wisdom and in closeness with Christ, this proverb should be our prayer.

To be constantly at God’s side, like a child clinging to a parent.

To be overflowing with delight, to the point where people see us as personifications of joy.

To be rejoicing in his nearness.

To be rejoicing in the world around us.

To be delighting in His image bearers.

Worship Overflow begins by provoking wonder. And that wonder will lead us into a deeper connection with God, not simply into a fascinating ability to connect the dots.

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