Monday, July 31, 2006
In tandem with Brad's discussion of meekness in the realm of politics, I want to lay out a blueprint for meekness of the intellect in what I call the "intellectual journey of faith". As in the realm of politics, being intellectually meek does not mean waffling and it does not mean being a doormat, always deferring and acquiescing to the opinions of others. Rather, it means being conservative in the simple essence of the Gospel and being true to the convictions that God has placed on one's heart while also being intellectually honest about details, nuances, exceptions, gray areas and other areas of the unknown. Being meek in this way means applying one's conviction in the world in a way that takes details, nuances, exceptions and gray areas into account. Being intellectually meek means not thrusting one's conviction forward in a way that disregards this realm of mystery and the unknown. This practice of intellectual meekness both under girds and complements the political meekness that Brad discusses.
As a Christian, being meek in the intellectual sense is the act of being humble in the face of complexity while at the same time being confident in the truths of Scripture. Being intellectually meek in this way demands that one approach one's inquiry into the unknown in direct relationship with the living God. Specifically, this means approaching God as the God of Scripture who is bigger than the paradox, in that God bestrides the truth that lies in Scripture and the ambiguity that is presenting itself in the present moment.
It is the glory of God to hide a mystery and the glory of kings to uncover it (Prov. 25:2). It is the joy of a life of wonder and seeking to invite God to reveal his mysteries. It is the beauty of a friendship and partnership with God to confront these mysteries with God while in submission to His revealed truth in the Gospel. This intellectual journey of faith is a morally beautiful way of relating to God and it leads to a morally beautiful way of relating to others.
The Gospel in simple in essence and often complex in execution. God did not drop it down as a handbook from heaven, but had Jesus administer it to each person he met, custom tailoring it to confront the specific needs of each person. Intellectual meekness is based on the principle that God has allowed needs, confusion and mystery to happen so that unique aspects of His love -- as both His untouchable glory and His intimate warmth--can be revealed through them. It is in response to the complexity of life that Jesus, in his ministry, walked with God in liminality, doing only what he saw the Father doing moment by moment.
Intellectual meekness is based on the principle that Jesus was modeling this walk with God for us to follow as His disciples. This walk in liminality is the essence of His commandments to us to engage God daily as an act of faith in the midst of risk and is the essence of His great commission in Matthew to make disciples, and not merely doctrine believers, of all nations. It is in this liminality that the Holy Spirit custom tailors the truth of the Gospel to meet different people where they are in the midst of needs, confusion and mystery and leads them forward. It is in intellectual meekness that one understands this, and does not claim false mastery over confusing circumstances and mystery, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to reveal his specific executive direction in each situation.
It is in this understanding of liminality with God that the truth that lies in mysteries can be discovered, wherein the Gospel is the map and the guide to truth in the midst of mystery. Here, Scripture and doctrines that are derived from Scripture represent a map and a guide. Scripture and the doctrines that are derived from it is not the city itself. Not every detail of the city is revealed in the map. Rather, it is these details that God is still revealing to us. With this understanding, there is a role for both intellectual exploration and for intuition and mystical experience of God, as some part of the city of God is being continually revealed to us through a glass, darkly.
To paraphrase and amplify C.S. Lewis, as a Christian, one does not need to believe that the many beliefs that are out in the world are wrong all the way through. Rather, as a Christian, one must simply believe that the beliefs are wrong only to the extent that they contradict the revealed truth of Scripture. So what do we do with these sundry beliefs, ideas and trends -- look at these as glasses half empty to be completely disregarded or smashed? Being intellectually meek means looking at them as glasses half full, though dangerous. Being intellectually meek means recognizing that many of these beliefs, ideas and trends have arrisen to try to deal with aspects of life's complexity and confusing circumstances. Being intellectually meek means recognizing what is true within these sundry beliefs, trends and ideas and seeking clarity on how the Gospel deals with the truth and how the Gosepl contrasts with the untruth.
Based in this principle, being intellectually meek on an intellectual journey of faith means asserting the truth of Scripture with the humility that something of God often speaks through funky trends and ideas. Being intellectually meek means examining movements and trends, whether they appear specifically in the church or in the world at large, to see whether they contain attempts to handle valid questions and issues about life. If, upon taking an idea captive, an idea is found to have a valid question at its core but arrives at a means of answering that question in a way that deviates from the doctrinal purity of the Gospel, the task for the intellectually meek is threefold -- a) to recognize the validity of the issue, b) to spit out the bones--the untruth-- and c) to reconcile the validity of the issue with the truth of the Gospel. Being intellectually meek means holding the trend or idea carefully against the prism of the Gospel truth to hear the voice of God in the trend as it is exposed by the prism, as it is refracted out via the prism and made separate from the untruth, even as there may be great gobs of untruth.
It is this ongoing task of taking trends and ideas captive, neither eschewing them out of hand nor accepting them blindly, that is an act of intellectual meekness. It is in taking trends captive in an intellectual journey of faith that one is capable of ministering the Gospel to those who are under the sway of those trends and ideas. It is in operating in intellectual meekness that one is capable of navigating the landmines connected to the untruth that is contained in these trends and ideas. In intellectual meekness, the Gospel is presented in a way that acknowledges the valid needs that an idea is trying, on some level, to address. Here, the Gospel is presented in a way that confronts the untruth in the idea in way that shows the Gospel as the better alternative. In confronting the untruth, the Gospel is presented in a way that reveals to people their needs before God that only the Gospel can reveal to them. In this context, being intellectually meek does not preclude the use of harsh words. Rather, harsh words must be used with exceeding care.
It is this approach to confronting confusing circumstances and to confronting the ideas that have arrisen to deal with them that avails us of the ability to do the ministry of discipleship in the face of life's complexity, walking with God to custom tailor the simple essence of God's truth to meet the complex nuances of each situation. It is this walk with God that Jesus calls us to as an intellectual journey of faith wherein we are able to walk with God into this ministry as an act of improvisation with God, bringing the Gospel to each person with regard to their specific needs. It is here that one arrives at the moral beauty of a ministry that presents the Gospel in a way that is conservative in truth but liberal in understanding.
It is in intellectual meekness that we have the moral beauty of a life with God and the moral beauty of a ministry that ministers the warmth and glory of God to others. It is in being intellectually meek that we call people to the God that the doctrine points to and not merely to the doctrine about God.
The Righteous Chosen
The intellectual meekness being defined here stands in stark contrast to the approach to the Gospel taken by the righteous chosen. I discussed the "frozen chosen" in last week's post. The frozen chosen have their doctrine about God but do not put themselves out into the realms of daily liminality and risk to encounter the God that their doctrine points to. Rather the frozen chosen are content to re-affirm their doctrine every week and go home. The righteous chosen, on the other hand, prosecute their doctrine with greater zeal and jealously guard it against any and all potential threats.
The intellectually meek are capable of listening to and learning from the content and from the ideas that the righteous chosen put forth, while of course, spitting out the bones. With that acknowledged, there is a stark difference in the approach to the Gospel and to life in general that exists between the intellectually meek and the righteous chosen. Dealing with all of the practical and doctrinal conflicts with the righteous chosen would require many essays. Here is an outline. In this outline, I must unveil some harsh words.
The righteous chosen are not a position to cultivate any intellectual meekness because they are not interested in hearing the refracted voice of God. The idea that God's voice could even be "heard" beyond the direct chapter-verse of Scripture is anathema to them. The righteous chosen are hyper-cessationist. They prosecute the idea that one can hear the voice of God refracted through funky trends and ideas and they prosecute the idea that the Holy Spirit is still working and speaking to people. If there is any hint of anything remotely mystical or philosophical, the proverbial glass is always half emtpy -- redundant to Scripture at best, contradictory at worst. This is why they are suspicious of spiritual "gifts" and personal encounters with God and the idea of God's movement in any form. Scripture says that these must be tested. The righteous chosen say that these must be held in supreme suspicion. This is because the righteous chosen believe that the written word of God has replaced the movement of God.
The righteous chosen are active defenders and advancers of their doctrine in the face of anyone who might defile its purity. While protecting the purity and integrity of God's revealed truth in the Gospel is a necessary thing, the righteous chosen go way too far. They believe that the idea of God as One who operates in liminality in the present day is threatening to this purity. This is because Scripture and their doctrine about the Scripture is not just a map to the city of God. Rather, Scripture and their doctrine about the Scripture is the full and complete picture of the city down to the last detail, so anyone who claims that they have glimpsed a part of the city that is not in the details in the map must be wrong.
In making the defense of their doctrine the primary task, they do not encounter God in the liminality of risk or lead others to do the same. In failing to do so, they fail to encounter the God that the doctrine points to. This is why the content of what the righteous chosen have to say does not revolve around the joy of God's power transforming them. Rather, the content of what they have to say reflects their primary task of extinguishing threats to their doctrine, not of inviting others into the joy of experiencing God along a journey. In their zeal to prosecute their doctrine and their canon and to present Scripture as "self-sufficient", they actually add a coda to the Gospel that isn't there in the Bible.
To the righteous chosen, the Gospel is not about God in the present tense and His movement operating in the present mystery within the truth as it is revealed in Scripture. Rather, the Gospel is about God in the past tense, as it about something that God did 2000 years ago. Here, the righteous chosen treat the Gospel as a "Christ formula" that boils down to this: "Accept Christ's blood for the forgiveness of your sins and you will be saved." Based on this Christ formula, Christian discipleship is understood as an act of gratitude for what Christ has done, not a journey into what Christ is doing. Their doctrine is, essentially, an elaboration on this essential Christ formula, and is not a guide to relating daily to the living God in the midst of risk and liminality. That is why the truth that is contained in this Christ formula and the truth contained in the idea of being grateful for Christ's death and ressurection is not wedded to a robust discipleship with the living God.
The righteous chosen do not read the Great Commission in Matthew in regard to making disciples of all nations with idea of discipleship as a daily walk in liminality with the living God. Rather, they believe that Jesus walked in liminality with God, doing as he a saw the Father doing, only to get us to the Christ formula. In this understanding, any walking in liminality with God on our part here in the present day is no longer necessary and is likely a path only to doctrinal impurity. The righteous chosen believe that the Holy Spirit does not minister to people's needs in the here and now; that Christ only did so 2000 years ago as a special dispensation to announce the coming Christ formula to the world.
It is for this reason that the righteous chosen do not seek to bring the Gospel into the complexity of life, custom tailoring the simple essence of God's truth to meet the complex nuances of each situation that confronts people. The righteous chosen are not interested in this sort of journey with God. That is why the righteous chosen are not interested in a Gospel that meets people in their needs, intellectual or otherwise. Rather, they assert the simplicity of the Gospel as a Christ formula accross all of the complexity of life without any regard to the complexity of people's needs. People must rise to the Gospel as the righteous chosen have narrowly presented it. It is this rejection of complexity that profanes the elgance of the Gospel and makes a tyranny out of its simple essence.
The joy that was set before Jesus on the cross was not the coming Christ formula. It was the joy that the power of the Holy Spirit would be unleashed from the bounds of the temple mount to enter the hearts of men to draw them back into vibrant relationship with God. It is the righteous chosen's act of reducing the Gospel to a Christ formula that makes the Gospel offensive in a way that is not the Gospel's own offensiveness in the way that Paul's message of "Christ and Him crucified" confounded the Jews' and the Greeks' idolatry of worldly power and worldly wisdom. Rather, this offensiveness is a human offensiveness that is due to the righteous chosen's use of simplicity as sharp elbows to bully complexity out of the way. This is the righteous chosen's unique method of power aggrandizing.
The righteous chosen claim to be "nothing" because God get's all the glory. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that that the righteous chosen believe they are earnestly trying to give God the glory. The problem is that they don't confront their own desire for glory as something to openly at God's feet because they don't believe in a Gospel that meets humans in their needs. Rather, their unexamined and unpruned desire for glory oozes through them, as they are the custodians of the simplicity that they reign over as they use that simplicity to elbow complexity out of the way. It is these elbows of their self-aggrandizing that are manifested in an endless supply of snarky remarks and an inability to ever consider another point of view. Here, unlike the intellectually meek, the righteous chosen do not "spit out the bones" or see the half full side of a half empty glass.
That is why the righteous chosen are really big on the wrath of God to prosecute their doctrinal policing. Yes, God does have wrath. God's wrath is His wrath at things that stand in the way of people knowing Him as Abba Father in all of His awesome glory, intimate love, joy and affection. It is this affection that is the warmth of a relationship. It is the warmth of God felt in the hearts of his disciples that is the emotional component of what Jesus describes when he says that his sheep will recognize his voice.
It is in zealously guarding their doctrinal purity and prosecuting emotional and intellectual discovery and encounter that the righteous chosen end up prosecuting the warmth of a vital relationship with God. If the righteous chosen do happen to encounter God as the I AM, as the God of the now who is calling them to him in the liminality of relationship, it is only due to the overwhelming love and mercy of God that breaks through their blinders. As an ongoing approach to discipleship though, the moral beauty of God in ongoing relationship with Him is found only in a journey that embraces intellectual meekness.
Monday, July 24, 2006
I sometimes listen to Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio talk show host who is passionate about many political issues. Sometimes her passion really hits the nail on the head. However, there is an aspect to her approach to dialogue in politics that makes me cringe. Laura Ingraham counts herself as part of a "red state" American populism that is suspicious of intellectual elites who are fusty with learning, turgid and indecisive. To Laura, these "elites" are so full of binary opposites and relative viewpoints that they are incapable of moral clarity and good old Yankee common sense.
To Laura, when a politician tries to qualify a statement with an exception or a counter-principle using the terms "but", "however", "unfortunely" or any number of other related terms (i.e. "...enforcing the border is good, but we can't afford it...), in her understanding, the politician is being wishy-washy. In her understanding, the politician is trying to "have it both ways" by appealing to the feelings of parties on both sides of an issues while really trying to advance only one side of the issue. She refers to the use of these qualifying terms as "but monkeys", "however monkeys", etc... This sentiment places her in the constituent of GW Bush who, like GW, doesn't "do nuance".
Language is an imperfect way of dealing with issues and concepts that operate multi-dimensionally. To illustrate this, imagine that you were trying to describe a cube to someone who had no concept of a cube. Let's say that this person only knew about the concepts of squares and angles, and you were only allowed to use words to try to describe the cube. Your attempt to describe the cube might look something like this,
"A cube is made of six squares where the edge of each of square meets the edge of another square in the cube. To conceive of this, image that you are looking at one of its squares. Let's call the square you are looking at the "face square". The "face square" has squares adjacent to each of its four edges. Each adjacent square extends out of each edge of the "face square" at a 90 degree angle to the face. Depending on what side of the cube you're looking at, each square of the cube is a "face square". If you look at a face square head on, it will look like a square. However, if you look at a "face square" from an angle you will see what looks in two dimensions like three rhombus' adjacent to each other."
If the person you were describing the cube to were in the mold of Laura Ingraham, he/she might respond saying,
"Ahem. You're saying that each square of the cube is a face square depending on how you look at it? You're saying that a cube can looks like a square. However (monkey!) it can also look like three rhombus'? Seems like you're being a bit wishy-washy to me!"
It should be obvious from the example of the cube that if one habitually criticizes the use of words "but" and "however" by ridiculing them as "however monkeys" and "but monkeys", one is hamstringing one's ability to handle any conceptual complexity. This is a frustrating when it is part of our political discourse. It is also frustrating when a similar mentality is part of the discourse on Christianity.
The complementary idea to hating "but monkeys" and "however monkeys" is to mis-apply the the word "only". In trying to explain the Trinity to a Muslim, a Christian might say, "God is one, but He is also three persons". A Muslim person will confront the idea of the Trinity by saying, "That's blasphemous. There is only one God", thereby treating the Christians use of the word "but" in this context as a "but monkey". For the Muslim, the Trinitarian idea that God is three persons in one perishes on the word "only".
When one uses the word "only", one is attempting to clarify a relationship between two things, the included thing and the excluded thing. If I say that I was only using the example of a politician making a statement regarding the border to illustrate an example, not to hint at my opinion, I am making it clear that the included thing is the example and the excluded thing is my opinion on border security. If a Christian says that we are saved "only by faith" and "only by grace" without explaining what the only is excluding he/she is assuming that the reader or hearer already knows what is being excluded. The problem here is that there is more confusion and ambiguity in regard to these issues as to what is being excluded than the Christian saying "only by faith" and "only by grace" is willing to deal with. It is in this ambiguity that theological issues are at stake.
EXAMINING FAITH ALONE
When a Christians says, "we are saved by faith alone", they are assuming that they are excluding the idea that we are saved by "works" as a quid pro quo wherein we put God in our debt after having completed the work. The problem here is that the idea of putting God in our debt via fulfilling a contractual obligation is not a matter that is debated among Christians.
Here is what is debated. On the idea that we are saved by "faith alone", saving "faith" can mean
a) a person's one time confession of Christ as Lord and Savior in words and in the heart
b) a person's ongoing confession of Christ as Lord and Savior without regard to his behavior
c) a person's one time sincere trusting faith in Christ's lordship over his heart and behavior
d) a person's continual trusting faith in Christ's lordship over his heart and behavior
It is in the context of understanding these different views of "faith alone" that I will explain why a correct Scriptural understanding of saving "faith" is defined by d) a person's continual trusting faith in Christ's lordship over his heart and behavior. I will also explain how "faith alone" is often used to mean something less than that.
To begin to understand why "faith alone" often leads to jaundiced doctrine and discipleship and people not having the "obedience that comes through faith" that Paul calls us to in Romans 1:5, one must understand that "faith alone" is a Calvinist salvo in a battle between Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism emphasizes God's exclusive agency in our salvation, while Arminianism emphasizes the role that our ongoing choices play in our salvation. Arminianism is anathema to Calvinists because it diminishes God's sovereignty. Calvinism is anathema to Arminianism because it diminishes the gravity of our choices and actions. Though this may sound like anathema to both Arminians and Cavinists, Arminians and TULIP Calvinism both contain aspects of Scriptural truth. Going back to the cube described in words analogy, pitting the idea that a cube can look like a square against the idea that it can look like three rhombus' is a debate in two dimensions that is silly and irrelevant in three dimensions.
That is precisely how the truths in Arminianism and 5 points Calvinism are now. The truths that are contained on each side are pitted against each other because there is a dimensional perspective on Scripture that is missing in this debate. The solution to reconciling the truth in each side and the Scriptures that are used to buttress each side is to understand that Scripture presents us with a dual reality, both metaphysical and existential.
Make the best decision you can make so that you end up doing what God knew you were going to do all along. God is sovereign over all reality, but on the existential level of our experience, we experience the mystery of the unknown and the very real consequences of not making the right decisions. Jesus said that he who perseveres to the end with be saved. Jesus also said that God is the one who draws people to Him according to whom He has written in His book of Life. Here, one Scripture seems to emphasize man's need to persevere, while the other emphasizes God's exclusive agency in one's discipleship, sanctification and salvation. How do we reconcile this paradox for the purposes of our discipleship? It is in the dual reality that Scripture presents to us.
In the dual reality, God has chosen whom He will draw to Him -- the pull-- and God has chosen who has the "nobility of heart" as Jesus spoke of to steadfastly follow through on that calling -- the push. It is those who have been given the grace of both push and pull who are saved. Metaphysically speaking, the grace is irresistable in the sense that it is authored only by God, since God is the one who unconditionally bestows both the grace of push and pull on His elect. Existentially though, we do not always experience that grace irresistably in our daily lives. In the existential reality, we must employ our will to push as hard as we can to confront powerful temptations (Luke 13:24 and 2 Peter 3:14). As C.S. Lewis said, we can only "not try"-- in the sense of experiencing God's sovereign power coming along side us to free us from temptation-- when we are in the midst of trying as hard as we can.
In the dual reality, it is "too wonderful" a thing for us to dwell on who has or who has not been given this combination of pull and push from God. What is essential for us to dwell on is how, today, in the dual reality, we can better push to engage and follow the pull of God that is within us. Existentially, the consequences of our choosing are real and the outcome of our salvation on a personal level--as we experience it existentially, will contain an element of uncertainty until the day we die, even as God may have been certain about it all along.
The central problem that many 5 point Calvinists have is improperly importing the ultimate metaphysical reality of God's sovereignty into the existential realm of our existence. God, being certain to himself and mysterious to us, perseveres to pull those whom he has fore-ordained to have the "push". Calvinists who import that certainty that God has in regard to His elect into their existential existence of their discipleship can have an undue confidence in the certainty of their personal salvation, i.e. that God has chosen me and will persevere with me. This is a theological flaw that improperly imports the idea of God unconditionality into one's discipleship.
Now it may, in fact, be true that God has chosen me and will persevere with me as one of His unconditionally chosen elect. However, as an existential reality, my daily receiving and engaging the pull of God is not unconditional on my part. Metaphysically, God may have fore-ordained my ability to push to the end on the basis of no prior merit on my part--unconditionally--and may have given me justification of my sins through Christ' s death and ressurection on the basis of no merit on my part -- unconditionally. I, in the existential reality, nevertheless need to choose to consummate the pull of God by pushing as hard as I can. I need to engage in this push daily to "make my election sure" (2 Peter 1:10) lest I prove to be one who was never fore-ordained with the adequate amount of push and pull to begin with.
Here, "my election" is not my election from the perspective of God's ultimate metaphysical reality but from my existential reality. I cannot make God's election of me sure in a pure metaphysical sense -- only God can do that, having predestined His elect at the beginning of time. I can, however, consummate God's pull in me as I push into God. There I find assurance in God that His pull in me is indicative of His metaphysical election of me, thereby making His metaphysical election of me "sure" to me from my existential vantage point.
It is in trying to deal with this tension that Martin Luther said "It is faith alone that saves, but faith that saves is not alone." The essense of the faith that is not alone is the faith is our daily push into God. We push into God trusting that His pull on us is the act of His sovereign love and leading. In this way, we engage God's sovereignty daily in an active way that engages God's sovereignty with the full existential experience of the will and choice that He has given us. It is in pushing into God as an act of trust in His sovereignty that obedience makes any sense in the context of faith. It is our whole selves, body, heart, and mind pushing into God that we "work" and "pick up the plow" (Luke 9:62). It is our push into God as an act of trust in His sovereignty, as our push is manifested in emotional, physical and spiritual action, that our faith-that-involves-work is not the heresy of "justification by works".
Existentially, we push into Jesus not to earn our justification as thing to earned. Rather, we push into Jesus the way a man digs in the ground to find free treasure that he believes is there and knows will save his life. Existentially, we also push to avoid falling into temptation and to thus avoid the very real possibility of our sanctification getting derailed. And, yes, connected to the possibility of losing our potential--as potential is perceived existentially by us -- to be justified. Again, the metaphysical certainty that God has regarding our election one way or the other is not completely available to us. Our justification is not something to be earned as a quid pro quo to God, but we must persevere to in our sanctification to the end -- to finish the race: this, so that our election, and the justification that comes with it, is made sure to us. It is in persevering to the end and finishing the race that we bring the metaphysical certainty--certainty that God may have always had regarding our election--into the realm of our existential existence and through it when our existential existence ends as we pass from earth to heaven (there, in heaven, the earthly distinction between existential and metaphysical will be no longer).
God has created our existential existence with uncertainty built into it so that we must experience the act of choosing, while we also experience the real sense of having been saved. This assurance to us via the peace that passes understanding from the Holy Spirit is our seal of assurance gauranteeing our inheritance of salvation. From a metaphysical perspective, election is unconditional. From an existential perspective, we experience reality with uncertainty, and this assurance from the Holy Spirit confronts our uncertainty with assurance. The Holy Spirit is the deposit gauranteeing our inheritance, though it is, existentially, a gaurantee that is conditional on us remaining in the Spirit and not grieving the Spirit.
Paul says, "...and the peace that passes understanding will keep you in the knowledge and love of Christ." (Phillipians 4:7). Here, the Holy Spirit operating in our hearts is God's "pull", while making every effort to guard our hearts to remain in the Spirit is our "push". Here, the Holy Spirit is an active sealer in our lives, not a passive one, empowering us to persevere to the end. Those who reject the idea of this existential conditionality of the seal read Ephesians 1:13-14 without also reading Ephesians 5:5. It is in Ephesians 5:5 that Paul intentionally repeats the word "inheritance" to connect the consequences of immorality to his use of the word "inheritance" earlier in the passage in Eph. 1:13-14. Those who reject the idea of the existential conditionality of the seal read Romans 10:9 without also reading Romans 11:22. Those who reject the existential conditionality of the seal of our inheritance end up doing to their doctrine what Thomas Jefferson did with his scissors -- cutting out the parts of the New Testament that one doesn't like.
It is the rejection of the existential uncertainty that exists in one's salvation along one's journey to the end of one's life that leads one to look backward at one's first moment of decision as a sign that one has been saved for all time, thereby ensuring God's unending and unconditional perseverance in securing one's salvation. This flawed theology stems from a Calvinist doctrinal emphasis on "faith alone" and the unconditionality of God's love that has gone awry and is not integrated into the rest of Scripture. This "Decision Theology" says that the consequence of the initial decision (confess with the tongue, believe with your heart) determines one's salvation (fire insurance) while the consequence of every subsequent decision determines one's reward in heaven -- meaning that if one only made an initial decision for Christ and did nothing else henceforth, that one would have fire insurance without the reward. This understanding does not place Christians properly in the existential realm of choice and consequence and results in Christians shirking the spiritual work-that-is-not-works that is the saving faith that Jesus calls His disciples to. It is this work-that-is-not-works of obedience in faith that one truly submits to Jesus as Lord and grasps what Paul means in Romans 10:9 to confess with the tongue and believe with the heart (heart in the Hebrew idea as being the center of the will, mind and emotion) as an ongoing practice.
In the intellectual battle to crush the notion of quid pro quo, of working to earn one's salvation, Calvin displayed God as the only real actor in human redemption. This is half true. It is true in the ultimate metaphysical sense but it is not true on a existential level, where there are real consequences to disciples pushing or not pushing properly into God daily. As such, it has inhibited many Calvinists from fully embracing the spiritual work ethic that Jesus displayed and taught that has the right blend of push and pull. This imbalance contributes to the jaundiced discipleship of many Calvinists being the "frozen chosen" who harbor a doctrine of God's sovereignty without embracing push that Jesus calls us to. Here, "faith alone" is the frozen chosen belief that faith that "faith" means merely asserting the doctrine of justification via Christ's death and ressurection on a regular basis.
When we push into God in faith, pushing into God in obedience thought, word and deed, we are trusting that God has our best interests at heart. We trust God with our itches, the itches that our sinful self wants to stratch with disobedience. We also trust God with our fears when our obedience puts us in places of emotional, physical and material risk. It is this daily act of trusting God in the midst of risk that is the cross that we pick up daily to follow Christ. It is in this place that we encounter God who is the One whom the doctrine points to. Otherwise, we harbor the doctrine about the One. It is the failure to encounter the One behind the doctrine that the "frozen chosen" do not have a faith wherein the Holy Spirit is thawing their hearts into love and obedient action in the midst of risk. The peace that passes understanding is God's supernatural ministry to the itches and anxieties that we confront in ourselves as we place our trust in God daily.
It is primarily in the existential realm of our discipleship and the promises and consequences that lie there that Jesus taught and exhorted. Much of Paul's letters, especially Romans, is devoted to outlining the sophisticated metaphysics of Christianity and has been a primary source for many Calvinists' doctrine. For those who care to read Paul carefully, he does not shrink from dealing with these same promises and consequences, and does not in any way contradict Jesus (likewise Jesus deals with the metaphysics of God's sovereignty). For this reason the Christo-centric and Pauline-centric divide is a phony divide that makes both Paul and Jesus weep in heaven. However, it is a divide made real by those whose flawed theology does not properly reconcile the two. It is from a theological imbalance that Calvinists often emphasize certain teachings of the Epistles and avoid the many difficult, existential promise and consequence laden teachings of Jesus.
Arminianism embraces individual freedom and choice and the consequences that go with it, and so Arminianism does not have a problem with these difficult teachings of Jesus. The problem with Arminianism is that it takes existential truth and makes it metaphysical. Arminians believe that our choices have a direct effect on God's choices in regard to our metaphysical election. Arminianism believes that there is sufficient common grace for anyone to choose to follow Christ apart from being specifically drawn by the Father. It is an improper metaphysical understanding that Arminianism fails to grasp God's sovereignty.
It is for this reason that Arminianism is doctrinally wrong, while 5 points Calvinism is merely doctrinally incomplete. Calvinists, though, need to have humility when confronting the doctrinal wrongness of Arminianism. The doctrinal wrongness of Arminianism is wrongness in the direction of trying to deal with tough Scriptures that Calvinists often avoid in constructing their doctrine. Here, despite the metaphysical wrongness of Arminianism, Arminians often grapple with the existential reality of the Gospel more than Calvinists. It is in this context that the problem with saying "faith alone" as a Calvinist salvo in the Calvinist-Arminian war becomes obvious. "Faith alone" is uttered confidently when it is too often a substitute for dealing with the intricate relationship between faith, obedience, choice, God's sovereignty and consequence that actually exists in Scripture. What "faith alone" doesn't grapple with is this question of which idea of faith is the correct antithesis to the quid pro quo that is justification by works and is thus the saving faith that is alone. At issue is the very question of our assurance of our salvation.
Monday, July 17, 2006
This exerpt is from a TeamPyro posting on Friday, June 30, 2006 by Dan Phillips titled "What Price Freedom". This exerpt is in the context of Dan Phillips discussing our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ.
Fourth, Christ' s love is relevatory of HIM, not of US. If you ever find yourself starting a sentence, "Well, I think God loved me because I..." bail out! Step away from the stupid statement! The only true and Biblical way to finish that is "God loved because God loved." And the fact that God loved, and the wretches whom God loved, and the invincible fierceness with which God loved all way a great deal about God -- and nothing about me.
Yes. God loved because God loved. He made us as extension of His glory as beings made in His image. God made us out of His desire to expand the fellowship that He had originally with His begotten Son and Holy Spirit and then with His created angels and to have us be benefactors of His love and participators in His glory.
If it's going too far to say that God loved me because I am made in His image, it is true that God loves me as one that He has made in His image. God has made us in His image and has created us to have desires so that those desires would find fulfullment in God. As part of God's image in us, our desires were created so that we could see God's reflection in our nature, so that we could relate to Him with the intimacy of being His sons and daughters.
Part of our nature is our desire for self worth. This is a desire that comes from God in the same way that our other needs and desires have been given to us by God. Our desire for self worth is connected to our desire for glory, and, uncorrupted, our desire for glory is not a bad desire. Our desire for glory is part of God's nature that we share as beings made in His image. As God has given us these desires, God has called us into a fellowship with Him wherein we entrust God with our desires daily. It is in submitting our desires and needs to God that we give glory to God, allowing His executive leadership to extend His love to us and His glory through us daily.
In specific regard to our desire for self worth, God has called us to find our self worth in the reality that we have been made in His image. To bear the image of God is a profound honor that God has bestowed on us; it is a royal seal from God that is also a call to participate in His glory. As we participate in His glory as the bearers of His royal image, God's glory reflects back on us, meeting the need for worth and glory that we have been given. It is with this royal seal that we have been given the responsibility that goes with it -- to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.
It is in understanding the position that God has intended for us that our present condition is brought to light and we begin to understand just how far we've fallen. It is from that height that we have fallen and have offended God's glory. It is from the depths that we have fallen into that we need Christ's atonement and Christ's guidance via the Holy Spirit for us to be brought back into that fellowship with God. It is on this basis that a Christian says "I have sinned" and takes full responsibility for his/her status as a son/daughter of God who has failed and needs God's redemption.
It is secular people who, in the midst of hubris and self-aggrandizement that we have all been guilty of, operate from the idea that the self is small. It is from a small sense of self that a secular person believes that one's self is subject to larger forces that are beyond one's control. It is from a small sense of self that one say's looks at one's failings and says, "it happened" instead of saying, "I have sinned". It is worldy people who attempt to meet their God given need for self worth through self-aggrandizing, looking to worth that is imparted to them by others around them. It is the same worldy people who try to meet their God given desire for self worth by not measuring their self against the standard of God's perfection but by saying "I'm ok just the way I am".
The Self Esteem movement is a social movement that is a secular attempt to deal the problem of self-worth. Self Esteem has operated from the small sense of self, believing that people's selves need to be protected from those forces that cause them to have low self esteem and that people will be successful if they believe that they are good and special. It is from this belief that the Self Esteem movement prosecutes things that might injure a person's fragile sense of being good and special. In schools, Self Esteem has prosecuted the dispensing of bad marks and the dispensing of firm discipline.
Self Esteem is a Neo-Marxist social movement that treats worth as something that everyone needs and that, like money and capital, must be distributed equally. Self Esteem is an attempt to help people of different classes of society who have been looked down on and treated poorly. From this, Self Esteem has the historical narrative that esteem has been hoarded by the few and must be re-distributed to those who haven't had it. From this perspective, those who have had more of it, historically, need to be given less and those who have had less, historically, need to be given more. In this way, the Self Esteem movement and the Politically Correct movement are wings of each other.
In the context of confronting sin, Self Esteem prosecutes the idea of the Gospel that people have failed God and have fallen into a wretched state. To confront this idea, Self Esteem says, in effect, "No, you're ok just the way you are". To the extent that Self Esteem has been subtly woven into the church, it is manifested in an unwillingness to reckon with the full wretchedness that we must be saved from. The Gospel is bad news before it is good news, and Self Esteem does not want to hear the bad news.
This Self Esteem and Politically Correct influence on the Gospel is not overtly stated in so many words in the church. Rather, it is a "dark matter" influence that is manifested in certain omissions that render the Gospel not as a call for people to pick up their cross daily and to lay their interests and agendas daily at the Lord's feet. Here, the Gospel is presented merely as a therapeutic and motivational tool for people to advance their careers and families successfully in the world. Self Esteem is part of the "Niceanity" that places a premium on not offending anyone, and is part of the phenomenon of the church being afraid to confront people on many specific ungodly behaviors.
And so Dan Phillips continues, confronting this encroachment of Self Esteem into the church.
Away with all self-help pop-psychologizing, that tries to find self-esteem in the Cross.
Many say, "God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me -- so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!" I can't imagine a more perverse line of reasoning. What the Cross says about us is that we're helpless, we're helpless, we're lost and doomed, and only the most extreme, radical, outrageous act on the part of God could redeem us from the wreck and ruin in which we'd buried ourselves!
The Cross says horrible things about us, as we are in ourselves, as Christ finds us! But it says wonderful things about God!
The Gospel says horrible things about our condition, not our value. The blood of Christ did not impart a brand new worth to us in the idea that our worth had been totally annihilated in the Fall as a result of our sin. Rather, the cross was the ransom for God to complete the work of consumating our worth with His redemption -- worth that we had never lost, but that we had profaned as a result of our sin. It is true that this profaned condition is dire and contains with it the consequence of death and damnation -- barring our redemption through Christ. Still, though, this condition is not a reflection of our worth. When Dan qualifies what is "horrible" to mean the "horrible state that we find ourselves in, that Christ finds us in" it seems as though he may be confusing our horrible unredeemed condition with the idea that that condition conferrs on us a horrible and lowly worth.
When I first read Dan saying that the statement, "God loved me so much He gave His Son to die for me, so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!" is a most perverse line of reasoning, I was taken aback. If someone said, "God loved me so much, He sent His Son to die for me, so I must be worth a lot" and stopped right there, as a line of reasoning, it would be absolutely true. A person is worth more than many sparrows. We are beings with immeasurable worth -- worth that has been given by God to us, who are in a horrible condition in need of the Cross and Christ's redemption.
If someone actually uttered the full statement that Dan criticizes that includes the statements, " I must be worthy" and "I must be special", then this would be a red flag that one was probably focusing too much on one's self and one's worth and not enough on Christ and His love in the midst of one's wretched condition. As such, this may very well indicate that one has been influenced by the Self Esteem movement's dark matter pull on how people understand the Gospel.
So what do we do with the fact that we are are worth more than many sparrows yet harbor a corrupted sense of self worth? What is it to deal correctly with this via Christ's redemption? Our desire for self worth is a God given desire, and we are called to find our worth as image bearers of God's glory. However, our desire for self worth is a corrupted desire wherein we seek our own glory, while at the same time excusing our faults. It is to confront this corruption that we are called to surrender our desire for self worth to God daily, and, in doing so, die to the aspect of our desire for self worth that has become corrupted.
When Jesus says, "He who wishes to be great among you should be the servant of all, and he who wishes to be greatest among you should be slave to all", he is not giving an ironic nod to our desire for glory, rather, he is treating it seriously. It is in trusting God with our need for self worth and glory that we take our God given need for it seriously. "Pooh-poohing" our needs for self worth and glory as being nothing and insignificant is an act of false humility that denies the nature that God has given us. Rather, we are to hand over these needs to God in fear and trembling. It is in the act of being a servant to others that we entrust our worth to God and not to men. In this way, we reckon properly with our needs, including our desire for self worth, trusting them to God, not treating them as things to be grasped on our own or as things to be removed or "blown out" as the Buddhists would say.
As we walk with God in this way, God prunes away the sin so that God can meet that desire for worth and glory in God's way and in God's time. As we grow in our relationship with God, we develop the character to trust that God will meet our needs for worth and for glory in His way and in His time. As God beings to remove our corrupt attempts at seeking our own self worth, we begin to see that we were as C.S. Lewis described as "the kid who preferred making mud pies in the slum because he did not know what was meant by a day at the beach". We begin to experience the redemption of the royal self--His image--that He had entrusted to us before the Fall. Here, we begin to glimpse the glory that God has given us as an extension of His glory and fulfillment of His purposes. Far from being hubristic, it is a freeing and humbling experience.
So when Dan Phillips say that "Christ's love is relevatory only about Him and not me", I understand Dan's desire to confront the self-aggrandizing impulses of Self Esteem by emphasizing our depravity--our horrible condition. Christ's love is relevatory of Christ's love not our love. Dan goes on to talk of the freedom that we have as kings and priests with Him through the redemption paid for by Christ's blood.
Even so, I have a problem saying "Christ's love is relevatory only about Him and not about me". The redemption of us via the cross includes God's redemption of the glory that he had intended for us to have in Him as His image bearers from the beginning. It is for this reason that I have a problem making a dyad of Christ's love and our nothingness. The worth that we have in God is not outside the circle of His love but is a part of it. So I say that Christ's love is relevatory of the full array of God's intentions, and one of those intentions is the redemption of His image that He has imparted to us and intends for us to enjoy with Him as it is restored.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
On closer examination, the idea that "it is nobler to do good because it is good than to do good to receive a reward from God" reflects an atheist's unique perspective on faith and its rewards. This atheist view looks on faith from the outside and perceives believers as relating to God in the way that the child described above relates to his parents. Since an atheist does not believe that God actually exists, an atheist superimposes his essential non-belief in God on his understanding of religious belief. From here, an atheist assumes that God is not a being who can actually be known in the here and now. Rather, God is only an idea that a believer can only hold as an abstraction in his head around which he can try to organize his desires and fears. As it relates to "rewards", an atheist understands that a religious person can only hope that his endeavor to believe--to organize his emotions and his actions around the abstraction of God--will be rewarded in an encounter with God in the afterlife, or perhaps be rewarded materially in this life. An atheist does not understand the emotional rewards of following God to have any great substance or relevance to any objective notion of truth, though an atheist may recognize that the emotional payoffs of believing in God do help some people "get through the day".
To confront the atheist idea that "it is nobler to do what what is good because it is right than to do it to receive a reward from God" I will not speak on behalf of other faiths but I will speak on behalf of the Christian faith and its rewards. This atheist assessment of the rewards of God in relation to doing what is right is based on a jaundiced view of faith that makes faith seem far more childish than it actually is in the life of a mature Christian.
Paul says in Phillipians 4:7 "...and the peace that passes understanding will keep you in the knowledge and love of Christ". Though this peace that passes understanding is related to other rewards of following God, it must be examined as a reward on its own terms. It is in experiencing this peace that passes understanding that a Christian understands that he is being rewarded with the experience of God in the here and now. This peace that passes understanding is not merely the emotional "cocoa leaf" that one chews on to get through the day.
Rather, it is a mature understanding of Christianity that this peace that passes understanding is the supernatural ministry of God in one's heart. It is this understanding that God's love and realness is being made tangible at one's emotional level. It is the answer to this prayer, as articulated in the Book of Common Prayer, which asks of God, "...cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit..." In the moment that he is experiencing the peace that passes understanding, the Christian understands that the Holy Spirit is "replacing his heart of stone with a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 11:19). As this happens, a Christian is empowered to express the fruits of the spirit in the emotional aspect of being kind, patient, gentle and self-controlled (Gal 5:22). It is this emotional transformation that enables the fruits of the spirit to truly be an act of heart behavior and not merely a facade of civility.
The Christian understands that this reward is not something he has earned as a "quid pro quo" from God. Rather, a Christian understands that his actions and choices are a part of his "tilling the hard soil of his heart" so that God can have room to do this work on his heart. A Christian understands that the idea of having earned something from God like one earns a wage (or like a kid earns his allowance for good behavior) is an idea not only of bad doctrine, but an idea based on supreme emotional folly and hubris.
To this, an atheist will often respond that this peace, if it is assumed to exist, is merely an emotional high, an altered state of consciousness that can probably be replicated with the right mix of chemicals. Let's assume, only for the sake of argument for a moment, that it's true that the peace that passes understanding is merely a neurochemical process and not a supernatural miracle from God. It is a neurochemical process that one can only experience as one surrenders in total confidence that there is an omniscient, omnipowerful being with one's best interests at heart ready to meet one at the other end of that surrender. It is this surrender that enables a Christian to experience the calming effect that Christian doctrine interprets as the existential reality of God's presence in the here and now.
To this, an atheist will often respond that emotions, such as this peace that passes understanding have no place in the realm of rational thought and in the objective rational understanding of what is good and right. The atheist will say that emotions cannot be trusted and will tweak and ward the purity of objective rational thought. In fact, emotions are "thought embryos" and are part of our sensory apparatus in perceiving the world. We perceive the world emotionally first and then catch up to those emotions with thoughts. It is for this reason that for any intellectual endeavor that is not a purely mechanical exercise in gathering data, there is an emotional genesis of a person's thinking in the form of some sort of intuition or "gut feel". Likewise, our thoughts, once formed into conclusions, help to crystallize our emotions and give shape to how we process the emotions that follow.
Even Colin McGinn said in the interview that his philosophical journey began when he felt free from religion (as he understood religion). In regard to grand questions of God, truth and reason, these issues cannot be sorted out with pure empiracle data. Any honest thinker on these issues will, at some point, admit to an emotional component of their thoughts that is rooted in their experiences.
In one's search for meaning on these issues, some emotions will affect one's thinking for the worse, while other emotions will actually enhance the quality of one's thinking by enhancing one's perspective on the world. Love and compassion for others, such as the love that a parent feels toward a child, can alter one's perspective profoundly for the better. Likewise, pain and fear, if processed properly, can also enhance one's perspective on the world. In a mature Christian, the peace that passes understanding is the fruit of partnering successfully with God
to "metabolize" these difficult emotions.
As for the idea that "it is more noble to do good because it is right than to do good to get a reward from God", it is one thing to talk about what is right in the midst of relative calm and safety. It is quite another thing to do what is right in the midst of profound and sustained risk, privation and/or persecution. It is this peace that passes understanding that powers the engine of high moral behavior even in the midst of these circumstances. The ability to face this magnitude of difficulty and risk is something that usually eludes people attempting to operate under these conditions out of pure rationality, rejecting that there is an emotional component to such behavior. It is true that there are no atheists in foxholes, whether "foxholes" are being referred to in either a literal or a metaphorical sense, because there is no luxury for one in a "foxhole" not to seek God's help. In a similar vein, neither is there any luxury for most people recovering from addictions to not seek help from a "higher power".
It is one thing to be thrust into a high degree of risk, privation and persecution. It is quite another thing to choose to enter it. As Dennis Prager noted regarding an editorial in a London paper after Hurrican Katrina, the editorial writer, an atheist, admitted that it was religious people, not the members of rationalist societies, who were on the front lines helping people.
In the case of father Greg Boyle, a Catholic priest who has chosen to spend his life among gang members in East L.A., and in the case of a multitude of other people of faith who choose to spend their lives in dangerous and neglected places, the magnitude of their exposure to danger and privation out of surrender to God is never merely the result of believing in God as an abstraction. Their choices to enter these arenas of extreme difficulty and apparent hopelessness is based on their profound experience of God as friend, partner and leader. For this reason, it is the father Greg Boyle's of the world, not the atheists, who devote their lives to gang members, prisoners, lepers and the like--for the atheist, self-preservation is too rational.
The peace that passes understanding is not only part of having perseverance in the midst of overwhelming external danger. It is also a component of perseverance in the midst of danger as danger is felt quietly and internally. As Emily Dickinson once said, "all true daring starts from within". It is in this context that the peace that passes understanding has utility in the exercise of one's endeavor to think. Here, I am referring to thinking as the act of working past easy answers toward recognizing paradoxes. Thinking in this way requires emotional courage to continually face the internal fear and danger of walking to the knife edge of what one knows and looking out onto what one doesn't know. Here, the peace that passes understanding is a means to feel safe to approach this edge as an act of faith in God, trusting that God is bigger than the paradox. Here, faith is an exercise of living in liminality with God entering into the unknown, and the peace that passes understanding in this context makes faith a complement to the practice of rigorously assessing and re-assessing reality. It is God's peace that, in time, brings one the unique synthesis of the truth that is contained in each horn of the paradox (Hegel's synthesis on a personal, intimate level--more on that later).
To this, an atheist will often respond by saying that employing God in the exercise of doing something, whether in benefiting others or in the exercise of thinking is to employ a crutch. An atheist will say that, though belief in God may have utility in helping one "get through the day", it does not make the belief in God objectively rational or objectively good. Here, the question of what is rational depends on how one views human nature. It is a Christians understanding that we humans are weak, and it is from this understanding that Christians derive the idea that needing a "crutch" is a very rational thing.
Christians understand that we humans are beings who each contain as vast record of emotional hurts and fears accross our psyche as we have failed to submit to God throughout the course of our lives. Our failure to submit to God is due to an essential torpidity and laziness within us. It is to have this torpidity removed that we submit to difficult circumstances so that God can use them as "sandpaper" to scrape this torpidity away. When we do not allow pain and difficulty to operate as this "sandpaper", we accumulate more hurts and fears. These hurts and fears are manifested throughout our emotions and our physical body and congeal, sublimated beneath our conscious mind into our flawed calculus of pleasure and self-interest. In a Christian understanding, it is in submitting to God and His direction that a Christian recognizes his failings before God and recognizes his inability to master the vastness of his psyche. To the Christian, the peace that passes understanding is God's supernatural ministry to this vastness within him.
As this happens, a Christian knows throughout the recesses of mind and body, with a trans-rational knowing that comes before words, that his psyche is being re-aligned.
To the Christian, the joy and comfort of the peace that passes understanding is not merely a form of pleasant emotional candy to get through a day. It is not merely an experience of "hedons" in the idea of Bentham's attempt to quantify any form of pleasure as being essentially equal to any other pleasure. Rather, a Christian understands that the joy is pleasure that is emitted from one's being as one is righted according to a profound and deep sense of order. To experience this joy is to be corrected from something that had been profoundly wrong.
It is for this and for other theological reasons, that a Christian has a profoundly different way from an atheist of organizing right and wrong. In this context of God's ministry to one's twisted and wounded psyche, a Christian does not understand his reward from God as something that is external to what is right. Rather, the reward and what is right are indissolubly woven together. Here, the issue of how an actual person grows into doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong by experiencing the peace that passes understanding is inseparable from the issue of what is right and wrong. Looked at from this light, an atheist's attempt to separate the mature Christian's reward of receiving God's peace that passes understanding from the act of doing what is right is an atheist attempt to create an abstraction of what is right that works only for atheists in the laboratory of atheist thought. For this reason, Colin McGinns notion of right and wrong in the context of religious faith is based on interpreting Christian faith as something more childish than it actually is, and, for this reason, his notion of right and wrong breaks down on the front lines where mature Christians are confronting life's greatest difficulties.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
when no one is looking
requires a great vision.
It requires that one be able to see the ripple effects
of one's actions across time and society
and to grasp the full sphere of one's influence accross the ages
It is to be a citizen and not merely a consumer
It is to know that the world must be made better by the doer, now
and not by others that the doer must wait for
It is to recognize that the joy of the smallest decent act
is the substance of a life worth living that is worth more than diamonds
It is to live in supreme gratitude for the present moment
and not to pant with ravenous thirst for an ephemeral future
that is always just around the corner
It is to "live the change" as the Diggers once spoke of
To perform the smallest decent act
when no one is looking
is to be a revolutionary