57: Loved By and In Love With | Chap 9 of The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

In this episode John and Gregg discuss Chapter 9 of Darin Hufford’s Misunderstood God.  Gregg comments that he has never had a book that he has liked more and likes less at the same time.  He identifies certain ‘nuggets’ of gold yet finds certain formulations or presentations of the material that seem so incorrect that this shakes Gregg’s trust in the author.

John feels like he’s moved into “skim mode” with this book, looking for what seems positive or thought-provoking.  So he appreciates Darin’s view about Christianity being sin-focused and some things about God being angry and the need for control by fear in churches.

Gregg is interested that John has stopped reading and started skimming, and makes the meta-comment that a book about the ills of Christianity should be able to keep those readers engaged who are interested in this subject, and uses this as a lesson for himself about the podcast.  Is the message too deep or intellectual?  Or is the author globalizing her/his views or misformulating matters?  Either approach risks alienating readers.

John wonders if our listeners could respond similarly when John and Gregg talk about the role of experience relative to Christian belief. Gregg replies that this is possible but notes a key difference: neither he nor John are arguing for their views being definitive or applying to everyone, and they are open to critique in a way that Darin’s presentation does not seem to be.

So as truth-seekers, we should care that not whose view it is but whether that view is truthful.  Further, rather than imposing our views on listeners we are offering them, which is a far more interactive method of engaging.

Gregg finds particular difficulty with several of Darin Hufford’s formulations in this chapter.  So Gregg cuts back against his view of Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan and notes that it is valuable that Idleman stated his position at the outset of the book (on page 21 vs. on page 201).  Gregg compares this with Darin’s focus on loving people seems formative of his views, yet Gregg finds pages 93 – 103 to some of the worst pages he has read in some time.

So on page 93 Gregg disagrees radically with several of Darin’s notions, such as “the only way to love is to be the lover.”  What about being loved?  Do we learn nothing about love by being loved?  What does this mean for the Christian’s understanding of God, who always loves us first?!  Further, we are both servants (to one who is truly Sovereign) and sons and daughters (to one who loves us as our true parent / father), versus Darin’s view that we are not servants but sons & daughters.

In short, Gregg sees that Darin is only offering one half of the equation, which is not giving us 50% of the message but is dropping out the other side of the necessary and productive tension in to these concepts are related.   And more generally, Gregg re-emphasizes that truth and love, love and truth stand in flexible yet productive tension both in the Bible’s presentation of human existence and humanity and in our experience of real life!

Also, in terms of formulation Gregg notes that we need to formulate well because, as truth seekers, we should be more concerned with what is true than what is convenient / what one wants to believe.  So formulation is laying the matter out as it appears, on the basis of the best evidence that one has.  This involves both presenting one’s evidence and explaining why one has put the various sources and evidence together in a particular way.  So formulating well corroborates your viewpoint by helping other trust that you are a truth seeker on the basis of what you evidence is and where it comes from.

5 thoughts on “57: Loved By and In Love With | Chap 9 of The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

  1. Joseph Gagliardi

    The contrast between two arguments should not be expounded upon with greater strength than the contrast itself.

    If two lines of thought are diametrically opposed, then so too may the explanation of where and how they differ be strongly delivered. If they instead overlap (as most all viewpoints do when synthesized, reduced, or traced to either their origin or purest form) they should instead be treated carefully as companion guide-wires shackled, fitted, and winched together in order to hold aloft much heavier ideas and understandings of truth itself.

    Regarding useful but perhaps incomplete ideas such as Darin’s; in order to provide critique without becoming critical, it is important that two arguments be compared wherever possible with a focus on the healthy tension they facillitate in constrast with one another rather than on the primacy they may posess over one another as derivitive of their anchor points, constiuent materials, or directions.

    The approach used to critique “More than a Fan” does not work here when applied to Darin’s book because it dispenses with useful ideas and fails to highlight useful tensions by trifling with the incompleteness of Darin’s ideas rather than, as Gregg points out, appropriately presenting counter argumentation before describing junctures where the two might meet and how they might be forced to flex when tightened together to come in line with the truth. Rather than snipping Darin’s wire, it would be more productive to tighten the rhetorical winch so as to contribute to a better depiction of a structurally supportive framework for a more complete truth.

    Gregg uses such rhetorical strength to voice critique here that he appears to dispense with Darin’s notions entirely, only to clarify when prompted that Darin’s ideas are simply over-eager, generalized, or incomplete. Being that they are incomplete, but not entirely incorrect, this approach doesn’t work as well as it did with regard to Edelman’s book especially since I found some of Gregg’s suppositions difficult to entertain but nonetheless necessary to keep his objections aloft. As an example, I have definitely heard God described as jealous, so to hear Gregg confounded by this forces me to question how our experiences of the church could be so different. Because I have heard this misleading claim made on God’s behalf, I do see why Darin would choose to address it, and understand the guidewire he is arguing against, but ironically, his work is undermined by the very thing I am noticing in Gregg and John’s work regarding it – it snips the wire.

    Rather than saying “It’s not MERELY about being a servant, it’s also about being a child of God” Darin falls prey to hyperbole and unilaterally leaves out the merely, snips the wire tethering us to an understanding of ourselves as servants altogether, ignores (like Edelman) that doing so throws the tension off and the entire framework askew, and reduces the co-central tenants of truth and love to merely love.

    Describing the rigorous process of seeking truth through philosophical dissection, research, and discourse as painting is a useful metaphor, but more proximally this case highlights the similarity of the process to sculpting: argumentation is done three-dimensionally rather than on a flat surface. Ideas cast shadows when hit by light of varying qualities from varying sources and the shadows cast provide depth and richness but leave details unknown. Where a shadow is cast, a tension is implicit. Something must counter balance all unknown or unilluminated portions of a work. The beauty of a work is as much in what is obscured as in what is shown, in this way an argument is as useful for what it does not say as what it does say. Darin creates bold shadows with the shapes he pulls into form from the clay, as much is left out or stretched beyond correct proportion, and a great deal of tension is implicit. The two primary ways obscurity can be removed in this analogy are by reworking the clay or by pouring the light of research and experience upon the subject. John comes from the left with the light of his experience to shine upon the sculpted work of this argument, and Gregg from the right, perhaps the spirit endeavors to pour light from above as a fill light, making even more known or at very least giving shape and texture and tone – perhaps this is why the Bible would describe all scripture, even that describing an old covenant bound to a bygone context as entirely useful, and hold that even small gatherings invoke the spirit’s participation less of pre-requisite and more of physical eventuality – but in any case, this process is important as it helps understand the true shape of the thing from varying angles and helps us push and pull the medium into the correct shapes to minimize the shadows, fit the appropriate proportions, and most accurately serve as bust of the intended likeness.

    In the aim of working together toward this shared masterpiece, let us not accuse others of sculpting the wrong subject, or smash our fists into the clay from frustration, or dim our lamp, or point it elsewhere.

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for listening to the podcast and offering your feedback!

      Admittedly it is tempting to think that we can simply take what we see as the “positive” or valuable aspects of a written work, or of its author’s thought, and dispense with the rest. By holding this view one could then reasonably identify the work (or its ideas) as “incomplete” or partial, with the hope of taking any positive aspects and augmenting / completing them with positive or ‘correct’ thinking in another work (or with other ideas) in order to complete those ideas.

      Yet the difficulty with this approach is that Darin Hufford, like most authors, is not simply offering a series of loosely connected (or even a stream of disconnected) ideas. He is instead elaborating—he is working out in a somewhat systematic way—a structured understanding of his topic. He is, in other words, offering not only ideas but a rationale for believing them and a framework within which to apply and advance them.

      So I value the sentiment that I perceive in your comment—wanting to emphasize the good in Hufford and in Idleman: “it is important that two arguments be compared wherever possible with a focus on the healthy tension they facilitate in contrast with one another.” Yet from my perspective the primary objective is first to understand what is being argued; next to situate this understanding within the context of the thinking structure the author presents; finally to assess the value / veracity of the author’s claims in proper context. In this case, to assess them in terms of their viabilityto measure truth claims on the basis of truth value, or content.

      And the issue I have with both Idleman and Hufford is not simply that their thought is “incomplete” but that they ultimatize their claims at the cost of ignoring obviously opposing views—opposing views found within the very information sources that they both seem to prize: the Bible and lived experience.

      So Hufford is clear: we are children, not servants. True we are children . . . but not servants? Really? And we understand love by loving. True indeed . . . but not also (and according to biblical claims, more so) by being loved? So Idleman claims (through asking): the most important question is whether you will go to heaven or to hell. True, the Bible claims that human existence will end either in a place with God or without God . . . but is this the Bible’s primary emphasis? Really?

      In short, it is not at all an obvious task to extract portions of such thinking without being ‘snarled up’ with the thinking structures based upon them (and without tacitly embracing the conclusions derived from them). And this is precisely the work that John and I have taken up: “defusing destructive ideologies, unravelling confused ideas.”

      In light of the above I do not see that my response to Hufford’s misformulations, excesses, or insufficiencies “smashes” his work. Instead I believe that the problems were there already, that I am highlighting them and that I am offering an alternative: “considering love and truth in Christianity” (about which I have a degree of confidence yet am willing to dialogue—#57, 40:45-41:40).

      As to the notion of a “masterpiece,” I’m not sure to what you are referring—Hufford’s work? I still believe that there are some real “nuggets of gold” there (as I mentioned many times in episode #57) but again, we cannot simply extract them from Hufford’s work without paying the price of recognizing that misformulating one’s core understandings will skew the entire system that is based upon those understandings (#57, 32:55-33:54).

      And so the true price, in the end, is actually doing the hard work of formulating the matter better, so that the we get the “gold” along with / as the foundation for a thinking structure that can truly be load-bearing, in all senses: theologically, experientially, scientifically—in short, in a way that makes fullest sense of all of my informers and which allows human beings to flourish. And I would define “flourishing” as maximizing love and truth, truth and love.

      PS You refer to a comment I made about God being jealous—what is the source (and do you know the episode & minute mark, by chance)? I did not hear it in #57.

      1. Joseph Gagliardi


        Points well taken indeed! And thank you for responding so thoroughly and immediately.

        I think the content in episode 61 really helps tie everything together and quieted a lot of apprehensions I had about the critiques of the book.

        It’s very likely the case that you, Gregg, were voicing concerns and responding to the text due to a more honed internal rubric and standard of evaluation of the material than my own and so more immediately recognized when something was a bit off before it was even explicit what that might be – in this case Darin’s assertions made on pages 204-209 you mention in the wrap up about God most accurately being portrayed or personified as the love in our hearts resultant from familial bonds is, indeed, suspect and calls many of the claims anchored to it into question. Until this point I didn’t think anything was necessarily wrong, just poorly articulated or incomplete, but I can see where this assertion, again as with Idelman’s claim of God solely as sovereign and us primarily as long-suffering slaves, doesn’t have sufficient truth value (by my experience or scripture) to attribute to either it’s own truth claim or those claims made by scripture.

        I can see the problems in Darin’s assertion here. If God’s character were reflective of our love rather than the other way around, God’s persona would be entirely dependent and indeed dynamic based on our imprecise, incomplete, or even incorrect and changing attitudes and experiences of “love.” True love is true because it is reflective of God, not the other way around – so I think you saw Darin heading there from a long way off before I did, and I was satisfied to hear Darin air grievances about the bad ideas and arguments he’d heard in the church that I had also heard perhaps so much so I did not properly scrutinize or trace his counter-arguments to their points of origin, where they were eventually anchored to something equally misleading. It seems to me now that his final treatise on the matter is an over-emphasis on love and subjective experience apart from scriptural, spiritual, or communal vetting that unfortunately takes on a character of being a self-generated, self-centered, relativistic doctrinal approach.

        I certainly did not mean to imply you were smashing Darin’s work so much as I was responding to Charlie’s listener feedback regarding the same critiques in which he said you would regret, as an older man, the nitpicking you had done as young men looking for any reason to dispense with the truth. My final line is more a general encouragement to anyone doing this hard work, like you say, the rigorous work of tracing arguments to both their origins and their destinations through well-meaning discourse and dialogue, to persevere and continue to seek truth even beyond the barriers of comfort. Truth is weightier and more useful than the false and fleeting merit of utility. Love is fuller and more nourishing than satisfaction.

        My metaphor on sculpture is similarly, an attempt to explain this dynamic and process to someone who might find it unfamiliar and might be tripped up on whether the “brush strokes were large or small” because ultimately, when doing this work and seeking truth, there are no details too small to pay attention to. When I say do not smash the clay I mean, do not give up on the discussion or the source so easily and do not give up on the hard work of seeking truth. I have known people who, out of frustration, have given up the pursuit entirely. By masterpiece, I mean our understanding of God in the same sense you speak of it – as being our primary goal and aim and the thing we work hard toward and devote ourselves to out of love for God. I do not mean a singular text or conversation.

        I mean we are artisans lovingly devoted to the diligent crafting of a most glorious commissioned work in honor of the truest thing in all existence, God, and yet this masterpiece can never be completed, and it never quite strikes close enough or perfect enough a likeness to the real thing to satiate us. The masterpiece of our understanding of God informs and is shaped by our relationship with Him – and since beginning to listen to the podcast I have been entranced by the way you describe it in a very real and liberating sense until I find myself thinking like you, “why would I do anything to impede my relationship with the one who knows me most and loves me best? How could I stand to wait in line at the gates of judgement for my turn, they’d have to hold me back – I want to run straight to Him! This is what I’ve been waiting for!” (Also, it should be said, we are not so much producing this work through epistemological construction as having it lovingly revealed to us – the masterpiece is in the marble speaking to Michelangelo as it were, and cannot often be freed by solitary hands alone. God makes Himself known, and exists outside our understanding, and surely we cannot and should not love this shoddy rendition of Him we toil over more than we love Him, but nonetheless, to know Him prompts us into craftsmanship over our ideas and visions of who He truly is until such a time as we can be drawn into Him wholly and completely)

        Put another way; though we cannot posess absolute objective truth we are nonetheless beckoned by desirous intent to continue honing our projections of what that truth might be further and further through both reason and experience, in all contexts, at all times, prepared even to dispense with all probability, perspective, or understanding if need be.

        I’m not sure I only want to glean the good from the bad in works like Darin’s – but I value them even for their ability to challenge me to understand their rationale better and articulate and substantiate better why I do not value their claims as true. I agree with you that we cannot treat ideas ala carte, approaching life as a philosophical, idealogical, theological buffet – I’m sorry if I gave that impression. I merely mean, truth value is not the same as rhetorical value, and even bad ideas have rhetorical value in that they prompt us to ask why they are so bad.

        A quick example: I had a friend recently argue that the doctrine of sanctification suggested we could ascend to the level of absolute purity, that if Jesus could do it through prayer, why couldn’t we? Needless to say I found this, obviously, disturbing and so spent hours seeking answers and researching exactly why and how this was incorrect. In the terms of the sculpting analogy, my friend had produced a long, snarled idea from clay and when the light of my experience and scripture and the Holy Spirit struck it, it cast long, dark shadows. Where I see those shadows, those areas of confusion, I feel a very strong call to do as you have done with Darin’s work – highlight, cast proper light on the subject, eliminate shadows. Show the idea for what it is by contrasting it with the truth.

        This is hard work indeed, but so very worth it! It is the house built upon rock. Keep it up!

        – Joseph

    2. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Joseph,

      After I completed my response John let me know that you had joined the Untangling Christianity FaceBook group. In light of that I’m wondering what you would think about me sharing all / part of our discussion above (or at least parts of my response) as a post in the FB group? My goal is for others to benefit from the discussion–please let me know your views.



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