61: Concluding The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

In this episode John and Gregg complete their discussion of Darin Hufford’s book The Misunderstood God.  John notes that both he and Gregg decided not to discuss all the chapters, while Gregg notes that the same themes are recurring in different chapters (and under different topics).

John gives the book three out of five stars and summarizes it in two ways.  First, by noting how it provides answers to the question of “what” God is or does (such as God being ‘love’) without offering much regarding “how” one comes to see or experience God in this way.  Second, by noting that the book would be much more credible if Hufford offered some form of substantiation for his views instead of asserting that “this generation” does X or fails to do Y.  Particularly, having biblical references when referring to matters concerning God and Christianity would be helpful.

Gregg withholds his ‘star rating’ for the book, noting that Hufford has offered a mix of valuable perspectives with unhelpful and possibly dangerous formulations. For example, in the conclusion (p. 205) Hufford writes: “Here is the point we’ve been coming to all along… When you truly love someone unconditionally with all that’s in you, that flame of love inside your heart is God.”  After quoting a few similar sections Gregg argues that it is is a mistake to believe that we know God / engaging in loving God by loving others. This is to misunderstand: we know God’s love by being loved by God and being in love with God (despite the fact that the exact content of that love is a matter of interpretation).

Gregg agrees with John that the glaring absence of biblical backup is a significant issue.  Given the lack of biblical substantiation Hufford bases much of his argument on personal analogies.  But this misses the point: from a Christian perspective we know God both through the Bible and through our experience of relating to / with God.  Thus analogies are not the basis for our explanations but offer clarification and / or re-interpretation of those explanations.

So Gregg notes that, by failing to engage with truth, the love that Hufford promotes has no “explanatory edge:” it lacks the ability critically to assess and adjudicate between various claims to ‘love,’ in order to determine which are truer and which appear false.  With Hufford’s approach this is simply not possible.  Gregg concludes that ultimately Hufford Hufford and Kyle Idleman make the same mistake (or fail to deliver on the same crucial point): as Christians we need to be able to rightly relate our experience of living in the world with our best understandings of the biblical text.

Finally, Gregg strongly disagrees with Hufford’s view of ‘truth’.  So where Hufford notes (p. 150) that “the truth is already in you.  It’s in little children.  When you hear it, it should be something you already knew in your heart to be true,” and where he embraces the “child test” (if a child intuitively understands it, it’s probably truth; if not it is probably false) as a way to “understand God’s heart,” Gregg notes that we had best hope that life is incredibly simple and that people are basically good.  But life and Christianity show themselves to be complicated and difficult, and human experience (and the biblical text) portray the human heart / mind as apt to making choices that are selfish and untruthful!

17 thoughts on “61: Concluding The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

  1. Greg Ball

    Hi, I have given up on organized religion and the modern day church. It seems Christianity has become all about not sinning and trying to represent God by being a religious robot and not a human being. This totally negates the work of the cross and Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind and all those who receive his wonderful gift.

    Lest be honest, 99% of people wear their happy masks on a Sunday, but inside are really fearful that God wont accept them because they have sinned too much, or not read their Bible enough or not had enough quiet time. Really?

    Most churches twist scripture for their own gains, the biggest one being Tithing and Malachi. This is totally used out of context to squeeze money out of people to support their ministry and not those who really need financial help and support.

    I appreciate we all have our viewpoints, but I feel most churches have moved so far from the real gospel that the love of God has got lost in the haze.

    Greg

    Reply
    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Greg. Thanks for your reply. We connect with a number of people for whom the organized church has become problematic in one way or another, something that I often summarize as the “alienation factor”–whereby Christians tend to preference (biblical) truth over love (of neighbour). What interested you about this podcast, and how do you find that it relates to your situation / concerns?

      Reply
  2. Marcellus

    Gregg, during my reading of ‘Not a Fan’, I admired many of the Christian success stories that Kyle related, but felt as if his view of religious “fandom” was directly related to the level of works done in the name of God. While, I understand that many people in church tend to feel secure in their heavenly station simply because they believe in God and claim a denomination, I do not believe that a person’s level of commitment to Jesus is specific to the amount of activity that they are involved in.

    I come from a pretty abusive spiritual background and spent over 20 years in church ministry, so I admit that I am a bit overly sensitive to any type of “works based” belief system. That said, I found myself wrestling with feelings of inadequacy in comparison to what Kyle presented as a proper level of dedication to God. I didn’t often find myself encouraged to do more for God, but felt as if my love for Him was being challenged because I wasn’t busy enough.

    It is my belief that the work of Christ on Calvary removed the need for me to prove my devotion to God by Jesus proving His devotion to me. Therefore, I could not continue the book. I hope this helps to clarify my remarks.

    Reply
    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Marcellus,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I’ve been slow to respond as my family and I have been transitioning back to North America following our 6 months in Switzerland, as well as dealing with the inevitable tasks that home owners must face following extended rental of one’s home to others.

      I’m sorry to hear about the spiritual abuse that you experienced and am glad that, given that experience, you find our podcast to be worth listening to. I also appreciate your openness about the impact of Idleman’s seeming emphasis engaging on ‘activity for God’ and how you worked around this in order to finish the book. I suppose my question would be, in light of this trajectory: What is the impact of your current feelings / orientation toward God on your daily life?

      In other words, if the original challenge that Idleman’s book presented was something like: a) one’s love for God is proportional to one’s “busy-ness” for God, and you overcame this challenge with something like: b) (accepting) Jesus’ love for us removes our need to prove our love for God, then what has been your response to embracing b)? And how is this response related to the initial focus, which seemed to be expressing of devotion (or love) for God? Be glad to know more from you on this.

      Gregg

      Reply
      1. Marcellus

        Gregg,
        Answering those questions would honestly take a LOT of time. But, I do think that I can touch on a few key points. First of all, I was able to overcome the spiritual abuse that I suffered because I was able to separate the heart of God from the acts of men. This has helped me to continue in my faith. Without that separation I would have blamed and hated God, or worse yet, given up on believing in Him. When I left organized religion I was able to clearly see how people in ministry (myself included) used God’s love, promises, and acts of mercy to further personal agendas and hide human inadequacies. What I find in my life today is peace, simply put.

        One of the first things that filled my life once I stepped outside of religion was a sense of being accepted by God. This is the acceptance that religion continually professed could only be acquired through works that supposedly led to “pleasing God” and “overcoming sin”. What I am seeing manifesting in my own life is that the “works” that were forced upon me before are a natural outflow of simply living life in Him. What I mean is that God is on my mind and in my heart continually, but it is effortless. It’s like having a spouse, family member, of close friend nearby. I don’t have to schedule early morning disciplines to crucify my flesh and draw near to God because I have internal dialogue with Him many times every day. I have found that I forgive more quickly and can show grace and kindness to others without much effort. Sue, there are times that events or circumstances cause me frustration, (this life does have troubles), but when those issues arise I am more calm and thoughtful than I was before.

        Fruit trees are designed to bear fruit. It is not something that they are anxious about. It flows out of them. Without the pressure of performing to earn God’s love I have found that my life displays God’s love in the same way. I think that a lot of this comes from being able to rest in my relationship with Him. Have you ever had a relationship with someone where you felt as if you were under constant scrutiny when they were near you? There is no trust. There is no love. and their certainly is no opportunity for intimacy or closeness because you feel as if you will never measure up. Your anxiety is heightened when they enter the room because you expect to be attacked verbally or emotionally for some perceived lack in your performance, character, or personality. This is EXACTLY what I felt towards God while “working” for Him inside of religion. Now that I understand that the God that was presented by “church” is NOT the God of the Universe, I no longer cringe when He is near me or wait for Him to dress me down for my failings. I do not wait to be “convicted” or “rebuked”, but live as one loved by a merciful Creator. He loves me where I am for who I am…end of story. And THAT has made all the difference.

        Reply
  3. Marcellus

    I happened across your podcast and have read both of the books you reviewed. I enjoyed your commentary and liked the fact that you both had differing opinions concerning much of the content. It was thought provoking.

    I got about halfway done with “Not a Fan” before shelving it. I couldn’t agree with the fact that my love for God was only displayed by how much I accomplished in His name. I also found it very “heavy” and couldn’t bear the weight of it intellectually or emotionally.

    I read through “Misunderstood God” and found some really great value in Darin’s writings. Like you both, I had some questions concerning some of his views, (primarily the continual theme that “love” equaled “God”), and so I sought him out on Facebook and began a relationship with him. Since then he has clarified a lot of the content for me and I have a better understanding of how he means those seemingly controversial statements. That said, I totally agree that the author is responsible for how he conveys the message in his own work and so I wish that Darin had done a better job of communicating some of his thoughts and balancing his ideas scripturally. But, I was able to gather a great deal of useful information from what he compiled.I think you guys should reach out to him and have him on your show to discuss what he wrote. it would be interesting.

    Long story short, I am glad I found you guys and am going to work through some of your previous podcasts. Thanks for having the courage to step out and speak up.

    ***To Evan’s point about author’s picking a particular platform for their writings, Isn’t that what all authors do? I am not sure a complete book about God’s character could easily be written because He is multifaceted and our understanding of Him is subjective and ever growing. Consider that the Bible contains the writings of numerous authors over hundreds of years and still doesn’t capture every aspect of who God is.

    Reply
    1. John Poelstra

      Hi Marcellus,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts and interesting to hear that you had similar reactions that we did to these books.

      I appreciated your comment that Gregg and I don’t always agree with each other… we do try to keep each other (and ourselves) honest, though sometimes I wonder if people pick up on that, since most of the time we are in agreement.

      Do you have books you’d recommend we read and discuss on future episodes?

      John

      Reply
    2. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Marcellus,

      Thanks for your encouraging response! I’m glad that some of our commentary resonates with you and that you find our exchanges, and differing points of view, thought provoking—that’s some of what we’re aiming at.

      It’s also a happy co-incidence that you’ve read both of the books that we’ve reviewed, and thanks for your comments about both of them. Concerning Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan you wrote that you found it “heavy” and that you could not “bear the weight of it intellectually or emotionally.” I’m interested to know what you mean by this, would you mind clarifying?

      You also wrote that you had read Darin’s book and actually managed to contact Darin on Facebook, and through that have clarified some of his book’s content—good for you! I would be interested to know: What were some of the more helpful clarifications? As to having him on the show, during various podcasts John and I had several times mentioned the possibility of having both authors on the show, though I’m unsure how either would respond, given that we (or perhaps more so, I) have expressed some significant reservations about their approaches and conclusions. But it certainly would be interesting if we could dialogue with either.

      And, interestingly (interesting because you referenced Evan’s recent comment), I’ve just replied to Evan and left a mid-sized response that summarizes what I’m aiming at with the podcast, and does so by taking our responses to these two authors as a point of departure. So I would be interested to know your thoughts on that perspective, if you have a chance to read it.

      Reply
      1. Marcellus

        Gregg, after having some dialogue with Darin, he explained that a lot of the book’s content was taken from sermons that he preached shortly after coming to a better understanding of the freedom message that Jesus preached. He is still a proponent of the belief that your love for others displays your love for God, but he also feels that what we call “love” in our culture is often skewed. I do not believe that he views love AS God, (as the book often seemed to portray), but that loving God properly will naturally result in us loving others with greater grace and acceptance. He is big on allowing the Holy Spirit to work out the details of a person’s spiritual journey instead of trying to change someone according to personal views.

        We still differ on some minor points, but I have a better grasp of his overall view concerning the love of God towards us. Hope this helps to clarify.

        I am looking forward to your next podcasts. Thanks for responding.

        Reply
  4. Evan

    I think a common theme that I see with the books that you guys have worked through is that the writers tend to pick one “theme” or basis, in this case God’s love, to write their books from. I guess the question is how do we continue to take those nuggets of truth and apply them to our current view of God and how we continue to interact with him. I guess that is something that I try to keep in mind, like Gregg talks about the aspect of Love and Truth, Truth and love. Part of me wonders if the trend in “christian inspirational writing” is to pick one aspect about God’s nature that makes one feel good, and write a book about it, instead of trying to get a wider view of the numerous aspects of God’s character.

    Reply
    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Evan,

      Thanks again for commenting! You raise some interesting points. It does seem accurate to say that both Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan and Darin Hufford’s Misunderstood God were written with their author’s essentially claiming that each book targets the most important aspect of the Christian faith (for Idleman, “following” Jesus; for Hufford, “love”). And again as you note, no doubt some popular Christian authors (which is the category in which I would place both of the above) mainly focus on what makes them “fell good.”

      However I’m less optimistic about being able to find (let alone take) “nuggets of truth” in/ from these particular books. Here’s what I mean:

      One way of expressing the problem that I have with these books is that they make broad claims yet are actually too narrow. So where they ‘broadly’ aim at presenting the most important aspect(s) of the Christian faith I think that they fail because they lack correct understandings about (and so, as a result, fail correctly to formulate) who God is, what human beings are, and what the relationship between the two is / should be.

      Stated differently, their understandings and formulations are skewed because they are derived too narrowly, and it seems to me that that is in three regards.

      First, they offer an insufficient reading of the biblical text. In this regard my podcast partner John Poelstra qualified Idleman’s use of Scripture as “amateur,” which I think is entirely accurate. Hufford, by contrast, actually makes no use of Scripture at all: beyond applying the general framework of 1 Cor. 13 to his chapter layout he makes not a single biblical reference.

      In other words, to the degree that I have formed my opinions of Christianity from a fairly attentive and rigorous focus on Scripture I necessarily need (and should expect!) Christian authors writing on Christianity to buttress their points with a similarly attentive and rigorous approach to Scripture. To put it another way, I’m looking for more truth than I currently have, not less! So when we’re making truth claims based on the Bible I want to be more assured (not less!) that those claims are legitimate, particularly if what’s at stake is me changing my mind about some aspect of the Christian faith.

      Second, the points and arguments of each author lack sufficient integration with other, valid information sources (my mentor likes to call these other “informers”). The basic point here is twofold.

      On the one hand, while the biblical text may be rightly interpreted as containing truth claims about God, humanity, and the natural world, such claims are presented as being sufficient but not comprehensive regarding such matters (even regarding God, who is both greater than the text and who is best / most fully imaged in Jesus the Christ, who is the logos—the living word!).

      On the other hand, incorporation of other, valid information sources mirrors the basic orientation that must, in my opinion, characterize Christian interaction (both with the Bible, with other Christians, and with non-Christians): dialogue. Too often Christians take the position of dispute—defensively presenting their perspective as both comprehensive and ultimate. Instead we need to assume a posture of openness commensurate with dialogue. This allows us to incorporate more truth into our understandings (because if all truth is God’s truth we need not fear it, no matter where we find it) AND fosters productive interaction with outsiders by demonstrating a willingness to listen while maintaining the possibility of critique.

      So Idleman’s emphasis on “following”—and particularly, why Christians don’t follow Jesus well—would have appeared much more credible if his viewpoint was informed by thinkers like Neil Fiore or Merold Westphal, whereas Hufford’s emphasis on love would been better grounded (and so seemed more convincing) if he had integrated the thought and research of someone like Brené Brown.

      Third, these authors propose an impoverished view of human beings insofar as they target only one aspect of humanness. By “humanness” I’m referring to the various components that make up human beings (such as our individuation, relationality, rationality, emotions, imagination, will, experiences, knowledge claims, situatedness, etc.). So in these two cases Idleman emphasizes ‘the will’ above all else, whereas for Hufford it is ‘the heart’ or the emotions.

      Yet a full and robust presentation of the relation between God and human beings must likewise address (and incorporate) the entirety of the human being! In other words, both reason and the emotions / feelings, the will and the imagination, as well experiences and knowledge claims—the entirety of what it means to be human must both be considered and incorporated into any presentation of what is most crucial to the Christian faith.

      So from my perspective, from both my studies and my experience, that which is most essential to the Christian God and human beings may best be summarized under the flexible co-centrality of love and truth, truth and love. Yet my belief is that these ‘top level’ characteristics / orientations do not suppress or deny the scope of our humanness but rather situate it properly, by most accurately representing that context within which the full scope of our humanness can meet the richest and most biblical portrayal of who God is, a harmony that is also borne out by my personal experience of / with God.

      And this, I wager, is what Christians both need and would expect to see: a view of God and self that accurately reflects the biblical claims; understandings and experiences of self and God / self with God that both confirm and enliven those same claims.

      Reply
      1. Evan

        Good points Gregg. I guess to sum it up it sounds like you were saying that christian “inspirational” writing should be grounded in scripture, align somehow to other individuals who are credible, and take into account more than one aspect of our humanness. Part of me feels like there is a lack in those areas, not only in popular christian writing, but in some of the sermons that I have sat through lately. I leave and say, “but what about this aspect” or” maybe we are forgetting something when we make this or that bold claim.” As i was reading your response I couldn’t help but think about Wesley’s Quadrilateral that helps people come to theological conclusions. I am sure it isn’t a complete model, but it has been a good starting point for me at least. It takes into consideration scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, which I feel like are some of the things you guys process through in the podcast and through the books. All that to say that I continue to appreciate what you guys are doing.

        Reply
        1. Gregg Monteith Post author

          Hi Evan,

          I’m glad that my comments resonated with you and yes, I like your summary of what I was getting at. I also appreciated your comment about the Wesleyian Quadrilateral. I think that it is a helpful tool while being incomplete, particularly when it comes to dealing with the prophetic issue of “false religion.”

          It’s interesting that you have the same sense (of incompleteness or one-sidedness) with some of the sermons that you’ve heard recently. How open do you think the minister / pastor would be to hearing your concerns? Or what avenues for such dialogue do you think exist at these churches (and how satisfying do you think it might be)?

          Be glad to know you thoughts here,
          Gregg

          Reply
          1. Evan

            Hey Gregg,

            Currently I am between churches because of some other reasons. I think that the pastors would be open to those conversations, but I think it would be fair to say that the conversations would end in my “rightness” or “wrongness” of my interpretation of scripture. At this point, those conversations may yield more personal frustration than may be worth at this point. I think that not having a way of talking about these things goes back to episode 55 where the church is good about the black and white things of life, yet may try to apply those same principles to matters that are more grey. I do wish that there were ways to have a dialogue about these types of things with pastors. Small groups yield good conversations yet may have little influence on pastors themselves.

            Hope that answers your questions! Thanks!

          2. Gregg Monteith Post author

            Hi Evan,

            Thanks for your reply and sorry to be so long with mine: the transition back to living in North America has been a bit tough and very time consuming. I wanted to check-in and wondered what, if anything, was new with your situation (i.e., whether you and your spouse have found an amenable situation with another church or if any discussion has taken place with the original church)?

            I also wanted to mention that John and I are considering approaching a minister at a church whose Christmas program John attended to see if he would be interested in interacting with us about the content and presentation of the “Christmas story” that his church published versus our own. John and I discuss this story in episode #73 (upcoming).

            I mention this because I’m wondering what sort of response we’ll get (or if he agrees, whether the discussion can move beyond conceptions of “rightness” and “wrongness,” if only to discussing what makes gives truth value to a given truth claim and what the biblical text–and human life—present about the relationship between truth and love).

            Take care,
            Gregg

          3. Evan

            Hey Gregg.

            I am sure the adjustment can be challenging and I hope that you are adjusting well to the time change. My wife and I are continuing “the hunt” for a church community. We had a positive experience this past weekend which was encouraging.

            I listened to episode 73 and may leave some comments there. I do think that conversations with pastors/leaders can be productive as long as there isn’t an end goal in mind, like, this person needs to change their views because of this or that. Maybe it would be beneficial to approach it in a way that says, have you considered this aspect of things and how would that play into where you are coming from with this other stuff (sorry that is so vague). I know what it’s like to be thrown under the bus as well, yet I don’t want to be someone who does that to other people. I heard it said once that hurt people hurt people, and I try to keep that in mind with some of these topics. Dunno if that’s helpful. If ya have any other questions just let me know!

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