Is it really "not about you"?

By John Drury

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

You have heard it said, ďItís not about you.Ē I appreciate this popular attack against anthropocentrism, inasmuch as it goes against the narcissistic individualism of American religion. Since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I should put my weight behind it. But I am reluctant to do so. Why? Because it doesnít go far enough.

The initial problem is that it is only a negation. Avoiding anthropocentrism doesnít really accomplish much. Negating the self is easy. Thereís nothing peculiarly Christian about that. Thus it tells what the faith is not about. But what is the faith about? It might as well be about a dog, for as long as it is not me, the formula is satisfied.


Of course, one ought to give the benefit of the doubt that the affirmation is implied by the negation. Itís not about you, because itís all about God. But even as an implication, the formula stills does not succed in centering our faith on God. By focusing on the negation, it remains firmly planted on anthropocentric soil. Theocentrism is here only accomplished by the negation of the human, and thus God is still just an extension of humanity. One still starts with the self and then seeks to reach beyond oneself by negating the self. Such is the same old cul-de-sac of false humility in which we have been caught for years.


The apparent solution is to simply focus on the affirmation: ďItís all about God.Ē The advantage here is that the negation is implied: if it is all about God, than it canít be all about me, or you, or anything else. The problem with this solution is that one wonders whether this egotistical God is really the God of Christianity. Does the reality of God by definition overpower the reality of humanity? Does the acknowledgement of God require the disenfranchisement of the human? Are God and humanity really in competition with each other? No! For us and for our salvation, God became human. A phrase like ďitís all about GodĒ veils this act. So just as ďitís not about meĒ remains stuck in an anthropocentric circle, ďitís all about GodĒ stated baldly leads to a theocentrism that excludes the central humanizing activity of God. It seems in either case we are required to choose between God and humanity.


The real alternative is to proclaim that ďItís all about God, and God is all about us.Ē A Christian theocentrism that is truly centered on the Christian God must also affirm a modified anthropocentrism. We do not need to help God out by hating humanity. We just need to point to Godís own love for humanity. In light of the incarnation, we can trust that our affirmation of God does not exclude but rather includes an affirmation of humanity. And who better to lift humanity to its intended heights than the very God who created us?


So in a way it is about me, but only because this God is all about us, and that "us" includes "me" in a real and genuine way.


At 1:32 PM, September 22, 2005, Amanda said...

ďItís all about God, and God is all about us.Ē

One of the reasons I like the above phrase is that it can easily usher us into worship. What is our response to this phrase? Thankfulness. Assurance. Relief. Gratefulness. Confidence. Boldness.
I can respond to this phrase.

Now if I could only figure out what "it" is... :)


At 6:10 PM, September 23, 2005, Sniper said...

I hear this constant battle being waged in the minds of most college students here in between every worship song. Every worship song seems to take the "either/or" approach. I have long been trying to articulate the via media. Thank you


At 5:06 PM, September 24, 2005, Josh said...

My local YMCA's motto on their banners and t-shirts is "We're all about you." Maybe I read into that too much, but most of us don't need any help in becoming more self-centered.


At 9:51 PM, September 25, 2005, WTM said...

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Funny how the biblical text gives you the balanced statement, even while adding emphasis by front-loading it. Brilliant, really.


At 12:16 AM, September 26, 2005, Keith.Drury said...

Shoot! I offered a statement almost exactly like this in Sunday School this morning thinking it was an quite an original and creative thought. Now I read your blog tonight and see you published it before I said it--and once again I discover that almost everything "original" I ever say has already been said better by others.

Well put.


At 1:15 PM, September 28, 2005, Just . Jay said...

excellent. kind of the high school sunday school lesson: if you sit there and think to yourself "i am not going to do this bad thing i do" over and over again... you are thinking of the bad thing, and not what is pure, trustworthy, etc. Love it!

How does Theocentrism become more whole when Christocentrism and Pneumacentrism is in the picture? Do the other two make it easier or harder to unpack the thought - "Itís all about God, and God is all about us." Does it help make the "egotistical God" section easier to clarify? Or does it make any difference at all?


At 5:20 PM, September 28, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


good point to remind us that a fully trinitarian account of God will bankroll our statements that God is "all about us". It is only on the basis of God's incarnation in Jesus and the outpouring of his spirit that it is established and known that God is for us. Otherwise itís all just pious projection (thus enter Freuerbach, Freud et al to ruin your day)


At 4:18 PM, September 29, 2005, Just . Jay said...

i think Freud would ruin my day even if HE had a fantastically crafted understanding of the Trinity.


At 5:03 PM, September 29, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Just jay,

I mention Freud because he argues (following Freuerbach) that religious statements are actually just projections on to this imagined God-figure all our wants and needs and insufficiencies. We invent a God to make up for the things lacking in our universe.

My comments were aimed at showing that some modes of theological speech leave themselves open to this kind of criticism but not ground their knowledge of God in God's actual revelation of himself to us in history. So I commend your Christocentrism / Pneumatocentrism comment for pointing us in a direction that resists these mistakes.


At 7:00 PM, September 29, 2005, Just . Jay said...

i get what yor aim was... i was just making the statement that anytime someone wants to talk about Freud, i just sigh and say "aw man, ok. if we have to." :) athough the conversation of us projecting our wants and desires onto the imaginary-friend God is one that is worth looking at. for sure! just not through Siggy's freaky lenses :)

thanks for the commendation - i am reading a lot about the Trinity right now because i am hopelessly Theocentric in how i relate to God and the Church (paging Dr. Freud..) and am trying to consciously work a more "Trinitarian" approach to God and His Bride. I have been reading Grenz, Peterson, Bolsinger, Marva Dawn, and these blogs :) not bad company on either side of the aisle.

i want to pay more attention to HOW the Trinity affects all of the topics and situations i spend my time on. that's all.