God is Not a Christian is a provocative title for a book by an Anglican Archbishop - Desmond Tutu - which might be excused on financial grounds, the publisher wanting to sell books and the writer wanting to earn a crust, but begs a few questions on theological grounds. In an excerpt (from a talk originally given in Birmingham) ++Tutu writes this:
"Surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone -- not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all. We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if he was not also the God of Gandhi: if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.
This mission in Birmingham to which I have been invited is a Christian celebration, and we will make our claims for Christ as unique and as the Savior of the world, hoping that we will live out our beliefs in such a way that they help to commend our faith effectively."
I find this to be a curious mixture theologically speaking. God is at work in the world through the ages fulfilling his plans, without reference to Christ ... but then there are claims to be made 'for Christ as unique and as Savior of the world.' No doubt a longer reading of ++Tutu's theological writings would connect the dots in one flowing theology of salvation. But here it is difficult to understand why God needs Christ to come into our world to save us. The difficulty is accentuated by reference to God as the 'God of Gandhi', not in the sense that God is the God of every human, but in the sense that God is the God of this very holy man. If Gandhi, without reference to Christ is holy, then what need of Christ as Saviour and Lord?
But was Gandhi holy? Does he match up to ++Tutu's description and injunction when he writes,
"We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if he was not also the God of Gandhi".
The thing is this: there is reason to deny that Gandhi - the real Gandhi, not the Gandhi of myth and movie - was not a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Reading this, for instance, we find a case being made for Gandhi being just another frail, fallible man, who made some disastrous and painful mistakes, through his own stubbornness and shortsightedness, and who did not in the end transcend his own culture and its structural injustices (especially with reference to the Untouchables). In sum: Gandhi needed Jesus Christ as saviour as much as anyone in this life.
God is greater than our ability to conceive God and God is at work in the world in ways we do not see. But God is simply the God of Jesus Christ. God is not the God of A.N. Other. There is no other God than the Christian God. The privilege of Christians is both to know this God (for God has graciously disclosed himself to us through Jesus Christ and provided Holy Scripture for us as witness to that disclosure) and to make this God known in the world.
The paradox of God is Not a Christian being written in South Africa is that it would not have been written at all if through the ages Christians had settled for the view that God was at work in the world making people holy without reference to Jesus Christ. On that basis the gospel would be the message of a tiny sect in Judea and Galilee, likely not surviving beyond the end of the second century A.D.