More than once I have heard Lutherans distinguish themselves from Reformed Christians by saying that Calvinism is “God-centered” while Lutheranism is “Christ-centered”. For quite a long time I had no idea what that could possibly mean. Isn’t Jesus Christ God in the flesh? Would it not therefore be synonymous to say either “God-centered” or “Christ-centered”? Well, no, not really. Before I move on I do wish to say that I believe that both the Lutheran and Reformed traditions are, when understood and practiced properly, Christ centered. But it is possible to become Patricentric in our thinking as Christians, and that is a thing we ought to avoid at all cost.
I recently attended a church with my wife and one of our children which is not our usual church. The pastor, whom I have met before and like personally, gave a sermon in which he was teaching on some of the attributes of God. God is good, holy, just, all-knowing, all-powerful, and he is both transcendent and immanent. This is all true, of course, and fine as far as it goes.
But therein, lies the rub. The pastor’s point seemed to be that since God possesses all of these wonderful qualities we should praise God and glorify him for being these things. This is also true as far as it goes; but here is where the thing fell short, and where it failed to be focused on Christ and rather was focused on God The Father. God’s transcendence is that thing wherein he is not accessible to us. He is beyond us and outside of us and his ways are so far above our ways that the gap in between can be described as being akin to the spacial gap between the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 55:9). God’s immanence is that attribute in which he is right here. But the wonderful thing that this pastor failed to do was point out how God’s transcendence and immanence are reconciled in Christ.
You see the real problem with the sermon was not in what was said, but rather in what was not said. The sermon pointed our eyes to God the Father and we are told in scripture, John 14:9, that whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. God wishes to be known through Christ. God’s disposition toward sinners is to be known through Christ. God’s goodness, justice, holiness, wrath, mercy, transcendence, immanence, sovereignty, and all other attributes he has revealed to us are to be seen through the lens of Christ, specifically Christ on the Cross and resurrected victoriously over sin, death, and the devil for his people.
This is one of the main lessons to learn from the reformers, whether their theological address is Geneva or Wittenberg. We are not to go looking for what God has not revealed to us. The reformation cry of “sola scriptura” is the most succinct way of stating that. We are not to attempt to see God through any other lens, nor from any other angle than that of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Do not gaze wrongly at the right thing. Yes, look to God. Pursue God. Praise God, etc…But do so through the one who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me”. Remember Philip’s question and the Lord’s response: Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Let’s take God at his word and seek him through the means by which he may be found, worshiped, studied, exalted, exulted in, and ultimately be both glorified and humble savior, both transcendent and immanent. Be like the Greeks who came to Philip. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”