“God is wholly other.”

Initially seminary only deepened my doubt. There I learned two things about God that exacerbated the problem. On the one hand, much of what I heard reinforced my notion that the word God referred to a supernatural being “out there.” Protestant theology in the early 1960’s was still dominated by a movement known as neo-orthodoxy whose principal spokesperson was Karl Barth, one of the two most important Protestant theologians for much of the 20th century. Barth was known for his emphasis on God’s radical “transcendence,” the technical term for God’s “otherness.”

One of Barth’s most famous phrases as “God is wholly other.” If one knew nothing else about Barth, one knew at least that phrase. In retrospect, I’m, not sure how Barth meant it, but I know how I heard it: to me it meant that God was a being separate from the universe and beyond the universe. My image of God was still importantly shaped by my childhood…I still thought that the word God referred to a person-like being “out there.”

On the other hand, I also learned that the problems I had with supernatural theism were not unique to me. Indeed, there were theologians who sharply challenged this notion as an obstacle to being Christian. I recall the excitement with which I read the controversial best-seller Honest to God by John Robinson, a bishop of the Church of England. Robinson argued that the notion of a God “up there” or “out there” had become incredible in the modern world. He spoke of the “end of theism” (by which he meant the end of “supernatural theism”). He also argued for an alternative way of thinking about God, which he as a Christian and bishop affirmed: rather than God being “out there” in the heights, God is known in the depths of personal experience.

from “The God We Never Knew” by Marcus Borg

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