The way I see it, there is a fundamental paradox–an unavoidable tension– at the heart of any attempt to avoid thinking the theological anthropocentrically (focused on us and what God as done for us). In other words, to varying degrees (and with varying vigilance) theologians, pastors, disciples, etc. at times are struck with the at first blush very noble desire to make their theology or “worldview” theocentric rather than anthro- (which is sadly more often ‘andro’) centric. Now this seemingly holy urge is definitely more prone to be had by some more than others.
Calvin inspired John Piper types (perhaps some reformed folks in general?) are sometimes stricken with the compulsion to funnel all narrative, all redemption history up into a reasoning that culminates in God’s glory. Indeed, all God’s selflessness, God’s self-sacrifice for the sake of the creaturely is, in the last instance, a means (functional, instrumental even!) of bringing glory to God’s self. This is of course, defended as not narcissistic because…well… God is God and who are we oh clay to question the potter. Our moral categories and framework are just too deficient to appropriately make that kind of judgment. Or perhaps, to put it in more rigorously philosophical terms (i.e. more subtly defensive), it’s a confusion of categories. Narcisissim is not applicable, not a term that can be seen as morally negative when you are the supreme being to which all else should focus all energy and love. Here God’s just doing what any self-respecting ‘self thinking thought’ (Aristotle) should do right?
The paradox though, is that all such claims to glory, all deservedness of glory are the fruit of what God has done: actions God has taken in the narratives of scripture for the anthropos.
Yes, he saved for “his name’s sake,” but the narratives we build around that ‘sake’ invariably swirl around the exodus act and the covenants that spin out from that, which are for the sake of others. Or, to put it in another registers, the multitude of ‘names’ for God can be seen as diversely arranged, in content and impact, in a kind of proleptic pentacost: “for his names’ sake” is the register of God’s directedness towards the multitude of the peoples of all nations, orientations, and the like. Again, the sake of those names is indelibly tied to the purposeful binding of that which is named to the world. Yes, in Romans 9 the purpose for raising Pharaoh up is God getting God’s name proclaimed throughout the earth, but such proclamation is the proclamation of what? Hear ye, the self thinking thought deserves glory for being itself? No, God has done something for us, whereby we know something of the glorious love that this God is, and therefore deserves. God’s jealously cannot be abstracted. Such passages cannot be mused upon as if we are getting a glimpse of God getting some solo time–reflecting upon the ultimate ends for his work with the anthropos.
The nature of the Christian faith and theology is, in some sense, inherently anthropocentric. It stems from and swirls around the story of God with us. The glory of this God is a glory bestowed in and through the acts of this God. Is this bad? Should we feel a continual desire find a theology divorced from us when it seems like we can’t?
Yes and No.
Yes, in the sense that androcentric theology (andro=man shaped theology) is gross and painful and so unbelievably widespread. Oddly enough, the self-centered, God out for God’s own glory, seems just about the epitome of this androcentric theology. God’s jealous for respect and rightful recognition of his place in his house (the universe!), like a pissed dad who just wants a little respect for who he is, his honor. Then when he does act (not that he has to), a profound thankfulness for his leadership and hard work all day is the least we can do. (I welcome any thoughts as to if any andro-theology lurking here in my own post, which I always fear it is!)
No, in the sense our theology is unavoidably shaped these stories of God’s relation to the world. Anything less, anything more abstract is not more theocentric, not more purely focused on God, but a theology that has expunged a “God” with any recognizable qualities worthy of glory, unless you’re one of those rare types who can muster some worshipful thoughts about a self-sufficient highest being.
But, I think there is a way to qualify our anthropocentrism to make it more “cosmocentric” (world-centric), or perhaps “other-centric.” If we grant the storied, us-bound nature of theology, we can turn and ask what is God doing in and through that. Here I think we can see God as what I will call an “Ecstatic God.” By ecstatic hear I mean quite literally, ‘standing outside oneself’ (ekstasis). Far from being God ultimately acting for God’s self, the God we find is one living radically for the sake of the world. Not an enstatic God, but an ecstatic one. This of course, is the reversal of the philosophical God who is self-sufficient, whose best days are those where, like Aristotle thought, God could simply think Godself (utter enstasis). Anthropocentrism–or rather cosmocentrism– is a necessary consequence of an ecstatic God. Such a God is defined by, propelled by, this life outside God’s own self. This life with us.
We in turn, are called to be an ecstatic people: to enact the radical ‘living outside of ourselves’ way we see in God–in Christ. Bonhoeffer’s Christ as the “man for others” is a perfect portrayal of this image. Enigmatic biblical injunctions like calls to save your life by losing it can be given a this-wordly (immanent) meaning that is not trite but deeply theological. To live outside oneself, is to enact the heart of God–the nature of God– and therefore engage and experience the fulfillment of such an ecstatic life. (a possible tenant of Hypertheism?) So Christian ecstasy is not so much an experiential fuzzy feeling on this reading, but a call to the decentering of the self. For when we are as radically other-centric as God is in our stories, we are a people doing the best kind of theology: theology unabashedly bound up in ecstatic acts, less concerned with merely ourselves as individuals, and less obsessed to preserve an image of God unbound to others and jealous for self-glory. Cosmocentrism is part and parcel with an ecstatic God, and it should also he the hallmark of an ecstatic people.
Perhaps the ecstatic God is the challenge to thinking “self” in terms of being something defined by an inside–an immanent identity distinct from economic life to use some terms familiar to the systematic theologian. For an ecstatic people it might go some way towards dispelling and image of faith or fidelity to God being something that happens within me. I know for myself, I feel most empty, paradoxically least ‘me,’ when I find myself in an enstatic slump.