The Four Questions of John Dominic Crossan

By Douglas C. Sloan

New Testament authority John Dominic Crossan suggests four questions for Christians:

  1. What is the character of your God?  When you think about God, what are you imagining?
  2. What is the content of your faith?  What do you believe in?
  3. What is the function of your church?  What are you coming together for?
  4. What is the purpose of your worship?  How does God want to be worshipped? Does God simply want prayers said – or is God more interested in prayers that lead to a life?

And then of course, it goes back to, “What is the character of your God?” It is a circular exercise where each question flows into the next. These are the questions we have to face.

The ideas we hold about the nature of God and the language we use to describe God play out in small ways – how or even whether we pray, how we think about our purpose in life, how we relate to those who do not share our beliefs. They also influence how we see the world and, ultimately, God’s role in that world.

Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy

pp. 25-26

What follows are my answers to these questions – as they are for now.

What is not the character of my God?

  • Santa Claus, a magician, genie, leprechaun, fairy godmother, four-leaf clover, wishing well, magic lantern, or birthday cake
  • a vending machine or engaging in “quid pro quo” transactions, trading or bartering, purchasing or selling
  • neither favors nor disfavors
  • a vampire requiring blood
  • a kidnapper demanding ransom
  • an extortionist demanding payment
  • a psychic, medium, fortune-teller, or in any way knows, controls, directs, shapes, or influences the future.
  • a medieval lord requiring the punishment, injury, or death of a vassal or serf to satisfy a perceived offense to an honor code defined by the lord
  • a psychopath cruelly creating a mandatory binary choice between either the tortuous sacrifice of Jesus or a personal eternal punishment
  • a puppet-master pulling every string of every person and every object and every event and every energy
  • a mad scientist experimenting with the universe by manipulating every variable at every level
  • a Greco-Roman deity who needs mindless obedience and endless appeasement and praise
  • a disciplinarian, gym teacher, sport coach, or drill instructor toughening us for the rough rigors of life
  • a referee, umpire, or judge in a court of law
  • the ultimate micromanaging tyrant
  • an avenging wrathful warrior
  • a murderer or destroyer of life
  • an enemy or bully or a source of fear
  • a danger or threat in any way

What is the character of my God?

unrestrained boundless Love 

expressed wastefully and uncontrollably and

unconditional Grace

provided freely with no exceptions and no restrictions and

a persuasive presence of excellence

whose desire is for each of us to live a long healthy life full of peace, joy, contentment, growth, and discovery.

What is the content of my faith?

Engaging in a relationship with the Divine does not require a God

who controls, manipulates, interferes, judges, condemns, punishes, destroys or

who is narcissistic, capricious, sadistic or

who condemns us or abandons us or opposes us or oppresses us or for any reason inflicts death, disaster, illness, loss upon us or

who avenges us or rescues us or rewards us or protects us or provides for us.


the later theologies that are both post-biblical and non-biblical are rejected:

  • Rapture and End Time (Darby/Scofield, 19th century)
  • Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy (17th century)
  • Penal Substitution (Reformation, 16th century)
  • Omnipotence (Thomas Aquinas, 13th century)
  • Satisfaction/Sacrifice (Anselm, 11th century)
  • Ransom (Origen, 3rd century)
  • Original Sin (Irenaeus/Augustine, 2nd century)



God is not characterized as has been previously listed


we need to consider that

  • God is not in charge and
  • God does not control and
  • God does not interfere and
  • God does not intervene and
  • we do not need either to placate God or to be rescued from God.

That what is Divine is neither defined nor measured by

power, knowledge, size, time, any dimension, any quantifiable metric or

any threat or any promise or

any calamity or any good fortune.

That what is Divine

is altogether something other than control or coercion or capriciousness or condemnation.

is relational instead of domineering, manipulative, obstructive, or suppressive.

is participatory instead of observing, criticizing, or judging.

by being relational, is vulnerable to associated relational risks.

by being participatory, is active and creative.

by being relational and participatory, is present, persistent, messy, and immeasurable.

is a Mystery.

That we are called by and to

a deep multilayered complex influential Mystery

that is better than and more and beyond ourselves

and is and dwells in

  • the journey and the learning and
  • the growth and forward movement and
  • the death of old ways of passive being and passive waiting and
  • the resurrection of new ways of active living in the present and active creation of the future and
  • the act of personal transformation

and not in the dogma of death or destination or certainty or finality.

It is Divine

to have a positive growing relationship with and

to have our spirit and actions be persuasively influenced and empowered by our nearness to and association with and

to constantly move toward a total embracing of and complete assimilation by that which is Divine

What is the function of my church?

To be a Community of Peace, Justice and Compassion

Peace that

actively rejects and opposes war and violence and oppression and

actively seeks and advocates for Peace at all levels from individual to global

Justice that repairs, rehabilitates, restores, and reconciles

Compassion that quenches, feeds, clothes, houses, heals, educates, visits, welcomes, includes, embraces, affirms, accompanies . . . 

To be Individuals of

abundant Generosity and

joyful Hospitality and

gracious Service that is healthy for the server and the served and neither obligates nor belittles the served.

As Community and as Individuals

to live, share, proclaim, and provoke the Divine

as joyous and celebratory Good News.

What is the purpose of our worship?

To intentionally gather as a community at least once a week to spend time

immersing in and centering within and nurturing our relationship with and

participating in and sharing the communal and individual presence

of the Divine.