Finding God in the Questions by Dr. Timothy Johnson
Dr. Johnson, the well-known medical editor for ABC News, has written this book to tell the story of his personal spiritual quest. The reader will come away with a portrait of Dr. Johnson as a kind, honest, thoughtful man, truly wanting to do right and searching for answers. Those conservative Christians hoping that in Johnson we have found another celebrity to help carry our cause will, unfortunately, be disappointed. Johnson questions, ignores or denies much that is fundamental to biblical Christianity. If he had a mantra it would be, “What would Jesus do?” If he has a hero it is Albert Schweitzer, the famed liberal humanitarian missionary, who wrote The Quest for the Historical Jesus, which reached the conclusion that the historical Jesus could not be found but we could live in His spirit.
Finding God in the Questions is developed in three sections. In the first section Johnson explores the question, “Does God exist?” Johnson believes that God is both knowable and the author of all truth (p. 22) – so far so good. But Johnson’s God is also the creator and He creates through the evolutionary process. Johnson advocates the Big Bang theory and accepts the theory that human-like creatures evolved into humans. He is a supporter of intelligent design, but believes that God used evolution as part of His design. Thus, he denies the Genesis account of creation. Johnson believes other evidence of intelligent designing includes moral law that can be found in all humans and the universal desire to connect with God (or gods).
Having concluded in section one that most likely God exists, section two asks, “What is God like?” Johnson’s religious, but liberal, bent becomes clearly evident here. He accepts the Bible as communication from God, but at every turn he endorses the higher-critical, rather than conservative, view of Scripture. For example, Moses did not write the Torah (pp. 78, 79), there are conflicting creation accounts in Genesis (p. 79), much of Scripture is not relevant to our current situations (pp. 81, 82) such as women’s roles (pp. 82, 92) and the words of Jesus carry more weight than the rest of the Bible (p. 83). He is a strong supporter of New Age author M. Scott Peck (pp. 99-100, 123, 157), casting out demons was ancient psychotherapy (p. 120) and Johnson chooses to believe that Jesus was more interested in mercy than purity (p. 101).
Most disturbing is Johnson’s view of salvation. He believes that “God’s love is lavish enough to include everyone who truly desires it,” but in his mind that would include those of other religions and even those who reject Jesus.
As for Jesus, He probably did miracles but it does not matter if we believe that He did (pp. 121-122). He died on the cross, but not as a sacrifice for our sin and propitiation for the righteous wrath of God, but as an example of love and forgiveness (pp. 127-130). The divinity of Jesus, while never directly denied by Johnson, was more of an emphasis developed by later Christians (p. 132). This emphasis, when spelled out in the creeds (such as Nicea) “is enough to make [him] weep.” To Johnson, doctrinal pronouncements are attempts to place Jesus in a box and are detrimental to the faith. It is the spirit of Jesus that matters, not so much what we believe about Him (pp. 134-135). Jesus “reveals or portrays as fully as is possible within the confines of a human life the spirit of God” (p. 137). This final analysis of Jesus comes far short of saying that Jesus is truly God, but to Johnson this concept of Jesus is enough, for Jesus is not so much our Savior as He is a good moral teacher and role model (p. 138). Johnson’s understanding of salvation is “a loving and personal relationship with God through Jesus that changes one’s life for the better” (p. 141). It is not surprising then to find that the author sees many paths to God (pp. 144-145).
In the final section Johnson details what differences his beliefs have made in his life. Along the way he convolutes numerous accounts found in the Gospels that lead him to live a life of caring and sharing. These are, of course, truly admirable traits and Johnson seems to be a fine man. But this journey has not led him to the Jesus of Scripture and the salvation that is found in the Christ. To Johnson, like Schweitzer, Jesus is the perfect role model (p. 183). We should catch Christ’s spirit and live out His teachings. But Jesus is not the divine Savior from sin.