Most of us probably recognize that there are many brands of “Christianity” in our world. Some are appealing in their spirit and behavior, and others not so much so. By nature, those who called themselves Christian, claim Jesus as their example. One might wonder, then, why we see such variety in the practice of the Christian faith.
In my opinion, it all derives from markedly different impressions of God and His purpose in Jesus. It takes little familiarity with the Bible to see that God has many faces in the book. He is jealous and kind,. He is angry and long-suffering. He seeks justice and promises mercy. He is unchanging, and yet He orchestrates change. Obviously, with so many different and even contradictory descriptions, everyone who believes in the God of the Bible has a challenge. That challenge is to determine which aspects of God they are going to consider basic to His character and which will be viewed as a false impression, hyperbolic expression, or perhaps temporary expediency.
Since the spectrum of attributed characteristics is so broad, different believers can come to believe in a dramatically different god. These dramatically different gods, then impart very different worldviews, attitudes, and behaviors. Thusly, so called Christians can justify and participate in things as divergent as the Holocaust and the missionary work of a Mother Teresa.
Some would assume that some of these divergent responses to the Bible story involve ignoring or deliberately distorting the story. I think a more realistic explanation is that everyone is perfectly free to choose a concept of God and then select verses from the Bible to support that mental picture. By implication then everyone decides what God’s basic character is like and those assumptions become the mental filter through which the entire biblical story is read and understood.
In this scenario, there is a great danger that we first fashion a god in our own image and then justify all that we do, claiming that god as the one in whose image we were created. Our cultural environment, particularly our family upbringing, will greatly predispose the average individual to a certain image of God, so a mental filter is handed to us early on. If that filter ever changes, it is because questions arise, discomfort with the old image becomes too much, and our God image changes. That may involve relinquishing the Bible as a guide to God all together or alternatively to a re-evaluation of the Bible itself, filtering it through a new mental image of God.
Unavoidably, every believer draws a significant portion of their personal identity from their impression of God, especially of their impression of God’s impression of them. The many, varied images of God drawn from the same Bible, therefore, project various, different images of mankind at large and by extension of those who believe in Him. Those widely disparate self images, generated in the hearts and minds of believers, are the powerful catalyst for the amazing and sometimes horrifying differences among “Christians”.