Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Special 2: Horror Stories and Evil

Our horror stories say something about the areas of evil that still awaken deep disgust and fear. It shows, in some sense, that we are still aware of good and evil on some level. This Halloween, I'd like to visit the legend of the Cauldron Born. J.K. Rowling's Voldemort was hardly the first Cauldron Born in literature. Lloyd Alexander's The High King and The Black Cauldron did a nod to the Cauldron Born. Before that, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein explored the Cauldron Born motif in a proto-sci-fi direction. Some modern fiction flirts with genetic engineering as a potential for horror, for creating a terror beyond our control.

What is so horrifying about the Cauldron Born, from Frankenstein to Voldemort? It's not that they're alive, nor that they're human. The problem is that they're not fully human, that they're masquerading as human but something has gone monstrously wrong. Something is lacking in these would-be humans, and that lack makes their powers frightening.1 I think the appearance of cauldron born beings in literature -- engineered by human hands -- explores our discomfort with the limits of what we can make through science or magic, and how that falls short of the life found naturally.2 It mirrors back our unease that we may not, after all, know quite enough about what we are doing to be able to fully handle the results. It is, in its way, similar to the story of the Fall all over again: we have a temptation to godlike power and, with more knowledge but less wisdom, it becomes a dehumanizing and nature-corrupting mix with results that are difficult to predict and more difficult to stop. The same basic theme informs much of the environmental movement's fear: that our knowledge and our greed for gain have outpaced our wisdom, opening up the potential for catastrophe. In more moderate terms, it's a critique of the history of human attempts to control the world, including a critique of certain applied sciences, where history has proved a good few times now that our knowledge of how to do something has outpaced our knowledge of the consequences and side-effects that happen when we do it.

Close cousins to the Cauldron Born are the creation-gone-haywire themes. In recent times these have focused (unsurprisingly) on computers. HAL (one step ahead of IBM) from 2001: A Space Odyssey is always a favorite. So is the unnervingly dispassionate military computer who responds to a teenage hacker's request, "Let's play 'Global Thermonuclear War'" in WarGames in a way that threatens to destroy the planet.

These man-made horrors also reflect the old theological observation that evil does not have a nature of its own, but takes another nature and parodies or corrupts it. Evil's nature is defined by what it lacks.

But it's not a right Halloween post if I spend all the bandwidth explaining why the genre strikes a chord. Let's get back to the Cauldron Born. Nobody else I've read does the Cauldron Born quite as sickeningly as Rowling's Voldemort. For Halloween, and for the identity of evil, sickening can be a mark of having shown just how revolting evil is ... right? ANYWAY ...
It was as though Wormtail had flipped over a stone and revealed something ugly, slimy, and blind -- but worse, a hundred times worse. .... no child alive ever had a face like that -- flat and snakelike, with gleaming red eyes. ... (Skipping a piece of black magic done on behalf of the villain ...)

But then, through the mist in front of him, he saw, with an icy surge of terror, the dark outline of a man, tall and skeletally thin, rising slowly from inside the cauldron. ... Lord Voldemort had risen again. (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, various excerpts from chapter 32)

Happy Halloween!

1 - It's debatable how much the "fundamentally inhuman" bit applies to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the movie adaptations. Is the problem in the created object, or just in our perception of it? Is the problem that we go beyond what we can reasonably handle, or is the problem that people can't handle "progress"?

2 - I know that not all of the "man-made humans" in literature turn out too badly. There's Pinocchio, whose life is not frightening to others, but personally sad until he becomes more fully human. This is much like the Tin Man in the Oz stories. But those get demoted to a footnote for Halloween! Tonight we explore the dark side of the story.

General footnote: Yes, I get impatient with those who do not see horror and science fiction as "worthy" or "serious" literary genres. They are the myths of our day where we grapple with the questions of life, death, and our place in the world -- or the universe. Granted that not all horror and sci-fi are high quality, still the same could be said fairly for any other genre.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Continuous Reformation: Imagine A Seminary Course Catalog

Do you believe the church should always be in reform? Imagine a seminary with graduation requirements and coursework that looked like this:

Semester 1
  • The Fear of the LORD
  • Humility and self-control
  • Torah studies
  • Proverbs and Psalms (musicians encouraged to bring instruments on Fridays)
  • Stewardship

Semester 2
  • The Prophets
  • Knowing God: images of God, presence and promises of God
  • Gifts of the Spirit 1. A seven-part course on wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the LORD, and joy in his presence.
  • Prayer and contemplation
  • The great laws: love of God and neighbor. Required term project: participation in a Matthew 25-originated hands-on ministry.

Summer Practicum: hospitality

Semester 3
  • New Testament: Gospels. Focus on knowing God through Christ.
  • Gifts of the Spirit 2. A three-part course on Faith, Hope, and Love.
  • Repentance and Forgiveness
  • Leadership 1. Spurring others on to good work. Building fellowship.
  • The Grace of the Lord

Semester 4
  • New Testament: Acts through Revelation. Focus on showing God to the world through following Christ.
  • Leadership 2. Delivering rebukes with gentleness and respect. Delivering encouragement. Forming Christ in your listeners by means of the Word. Feeding your sheep.
  • Work of the Holy Spirit 3. Main emphasis on knowing God, on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A basic overview of other gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
  • Perseverance and persecution
  • Proclaiming Christ as evangelism

Final Practicum: Shepherding with wisdom and compassion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween Special 1: Night of the Living Dead

If horror movies tell us something about our culture's deepest fears, what do the zombie movies say? I think the message is this: that we are already living among the undead, shuffling through life without seeing, without feeling, without loving, without caring, without resting, without any thought but our next meal. And in those zombies, we recognize more than just the masses of unlooking, unspeaking people around us, but ourselves as well.

If I were to start an evangelism campaign among the children of the Age of Apathy, I think I might start with the zombies. They are the personifications of the apathetic age. How much more alive are we than they are? Are we really alive or are we just undead? What does it take to be more alive? I'd almost be willing to pass out tracts that had a zombie cover on them ...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Teenage Sunday School and Abraham's Sacrifice

Actually today we did a lot of Abraham -- a brief review of God's covenant, and of his rescue of Lot. But we spent the most time on the near-sacrifice of Isaac.

Challenge for the class: during the reading, listen for the answers to these two things:
  1. Where did all this happen?
  2. What's the promise associated with the place?
Read Genesis 22:1-14.
  1. Where did all this happen? Moriah
  2. Who picked the place? God did
  3. What's the promise associated with the place? God will provide the sacrifice. (We also did a brief review of the fact that "God will provide" is what "Moriah" means.)
  4. Sometimes authors draw on the Bible for inspiration, particularly Christian writers. Can anybody think of a book or movie with a place called "Moriah" in it? Not enough Lord Of The Rings fans in class today, only one got the reference to the mines of Moriah, and to Gandalf's sacrificing himself to save the fellowship there.
  5. Does anyone know whether, in later times, sacrifice was important to Abraham's descendants in Israel? Yes, it was.
  6. Does anyone know where they made the sacrifices? At the temple.
  7. Does anyone know where they built the temple? On a mountain. In Jerusalem.
Read 2 Chronicles 3:1
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.

  1. Where exactly did they build the temple? Mt. Moriah. The same place Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.
  2. Who picked the place? God.
  3. What was the promise that goes with the name "Moriah"? God will provide the sacrifice. (Which was a giveaway, it was still on the board, but I wanted them to see the connection.)
  4. When it says "God will provide the sacrifice," what is the ultimate promise about? Jesus

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Prelude: Children of the Age of Apathy

I won't make you readers suffer my poetry -- or experiments with verse, really -- very often. But I've been trying to get the feel for certain meters, and have also been thinking about reaching out to some of the frighteningly apathetic people I have known. And if this doesn't rhyme it's probably a mercy, really. I've read too many poems that the best you can say for them is that they rhyme a lot. This doesn't have even that to offer ... ;)

Have you looked on beauty once too many times
To be gladdened by a flower or the sky?
Have you reached for hope to watch it slip away
Too often to stretch out your hand again?
Have you blown out all your wishes every year?
Considered death to be a well-earned rest?

Has a hardened heart become a commonplace?
And smiling hope now seems the lot of fools?
Has your frustrated and despairing cry
Gone unanswered til you give it no more voice?
Would honest tears now seem a sign of life
To know your soul is not beyond repair?

I know, I know, some of those lines could be reworded easily enough if I wanted rhymes. But rhymes seem jarringly wrong for reaching out to people who smirk at the whole "smiling hope" scene.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Teenage Sunday School Finishes Genesis 3

Last week, due to a teen retreat, we had a different lesson for those who came. This week we were back to Genesis 3.

  1. Before the fall, what were relations like between God and man? Good.
  2. What were relations like between male and female? Good.
  3. What was the main temptation that led to the fall? Being like God.
  4. Is God perfect? Yes
  5. If we want to be like God, how do we want to see ourselves? Argument followed. Do we see ourselves as perfect or not perfect? Does it offend us if we're not perfect? Everyone agreed we want to be seen as good and praiseworthy.

New Material

Read Genesis 3:8-10
  1. After the people had done something wrong, what was their first reaction to God? Hide.
  2. After we've done something wrong, how typical is that, to either hide from what we did, or hide what we did, or hide from the person who might not like what we did? (Stayed with it til some examples had been volunteered of times we've tried to hide what we've done in our own lives.)

Read Genesis 3:11-13
  1. When God confronted them with their problems, what was their reaction? Excuses. Debate over whether the excuses amounted to lies, but everyone's agreed they were excuses.
  2. How typical are excuses when we've done something wrong? (Kicked off with an example from my own life and stayed with it until some examples had been volunteered from the class.)
  3. Get them to think about this: how much are the excuses because we don't want someone else to blame us, and how much are the excuses because we can't handle the fact that we did something wrong? Does the fact that we want to be as praiseworthy as God have any effect on whether we can handle the fact that we did something wrong? If we admit we did something wrong, what does that do to our idea that we're as praiseworthy as we like to think? Class looks like it doesn't want to be hearing this. Which, considering the topic, is ok. Made sure they got the point but then stopped before it was overdone.
  4. What are things now like between God and man? Not so good.
  5. What about between male and female? (Boys in the class spend a lot of time blaming girls. No girls in attendance this week. [Teachers obviously don't count, being semi-alien creatures anyway.] The boys knew they were being goofballs and I knew what the next section had to say about the blame game, so I just saved the response for next section ... )

Read Genesis 3:14-24
  1. So when they were caught doing wrong, their first reaction was excuses and blaming each other. Was God buying it? No.

And out of time. Will have to work in the promise of redemption as a review point in the future lessons on redemption.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Beatitudes: Water in the Desert of LIfe

This started as a reply to Japhy's comment on the previous post, but started growing ...
We must see God in times of joy, and seek God in times of sorrow. (comment by Japhy)

It feels that way, doesn't it? I think back to the various times in life when I was completely overwhelmed. Not merely "overworked." Not simply, "It's a little rough right now but I'll get through it if I just hang in there." But when I was truly completely overwhelmed, over my head. Sometimes with bad stuff happening to me, or bleak prospects for what the rest of my life might look like, or problems with family members' health/sanity, or sometimes just disgusted with the realization that I have a lot of evil inside me.

The beatitudes were always like water in a desert to me then. I was thinking tonight (during a long drive) that Jesus' teachings are so unlike those of the other religions, and the beatitudes really were foremost in my mind among those teachings. Take, for example, the problem of despair. It's a real part of life. And compassion is medicine for it, and hope is the antidote. But at times like that, compassion and hope can be heart-breaking in a good way. At those "worst of times" parts of life, it seems like the whole world depends on me and I'm just not up to it. With the beatitudes, with the realization that I'm not alone, that God does love me, that it doesn't depend on me toughing it out, that things ride less on my endurance and more on God's blessing -- that can bring me to tears of relief. It's such a weight off my shoulders. It's like all the lights had been out and someone lit a torch and now the darkness isn't overwhelming.

That's how I see the beatitudes.

On the off chance that someone will read this who doesn't know what Jesus said in the beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfield.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

When bad things happen to good people, as they say, too often the good people begin to doubt God's love. Sometimes even our "comforting friends" begin to doubt God's love for us, begin to suspect God's opposition (or just as bad, God's indifference) behind a dark streak of misfortune running through our lives. In our minds, we have an assumption that my sociology professor used to call the "just world hypothesis": we suppose the world is fair, that actions and results tie together, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. It works often enough for us to use it as a working premise. When things are going well this is a comfort to us because it strengthens our assumptions that we're good people and that the world makes sense. But when things are going badly this distresses us because we search for the cause of it in our lives. Seeing no plausible reason brings out the cry of "Why?"

When we suffer, it is too easy to doubt God's love. We wonder if we have been abandoned. We wonder if God cares about our troubles. We wonder if God has set himself against us. In our short-sightedness, we are tempted to think that those who suffer are cursed.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4) Jesus sets this against all of our empty and fearful thoughts. Suffering and sadness are not a curse. In fact, God promises to bless those who mourn. We will be comforted. He does not promise that we will be wiser, though possibly we may. He does not promise that we will not have trouble or sorrows; in fact he reminds us that in this world we will have troubles. But he urges us to take heart; he has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

"Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered." (James 5:10-11) We look at those who have suffered in the faith. We know that those who had little to endure are not considered as blessed, because the power of God was not shown as much in their lives. Those we see as the greatest examples of the past are not those who had the easiest lives, but those who had the hardest.

Some of God's most beloved servants suffered terribly. The darker the sorrow that we endure, the more those around us will be startled by the light. Christ lives in us powerfully when we suffer, especially when we suffer in fellowship with him. His grace is plainest in our weakness. If the light inside us is nothing but a smoldering wick, he will not snuff it out.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Untangling the Words: Grace, Prevenient Grace, and Faith

When we talk about God's love and our salvation, our definitions have gotten so muddled, our terminology so churchified that it's easy to lose track of what we're discussing. Ben Witherington, a man that most would grant knows a few things about Christianity, wrote:
And if the greatest being of all wants to love me, why would I not respond positively, grace or no grace? Now having said that, I do think that we are saved by grace through faith, but one can argue that God only gives prevenient grace to those he knows will respond positively. Thus we are back to square one. -- Ben Witherington, comments section of his post on Origen, and the Nature of God's Sovereignty*
After reading that, I felt compelled to type some definitions as quickly as I could manage.

Grace: that someone is inclined to behave kindly towards another; a state of favor. In theology, that God loves the world and that the world is therefore in a state of favor with God.

Prevenient grace: That God loves us first.

Faith: Trust. In theology, a recognition that God is trustworthy, a response to his love, which came first (see prevenient grace).

Which is to say, the fact that God wants to love us is grace. The fact that he loves us while we are plainly unworthy and even hostile is prevenient grace. God's love comes to us through Christ, which is what it means that grace comes through Christ. God's love towards us is, for us, his trustworthiness, his faithfulness. It causes us to trust Him, which is faith.

Which is exactly why the view of some camps that God is uninterested in saving most people is so destructive to faith. It is impossible to trust a Being you plainly think is glad to blast most of the planet for personal reasons, and unwilling to help most people.

It is also exactly why telling people about God's faithfulness in Christ is the seed that bears fruit and changes lives, and why the gospels -- which do nothing but tell about God's faithfulness and love coming to the world through Christ -- are the ultimate evangelistic material.

* This is not meant to pick on Dr. W. That quote was in the comments section, and comments tend to be written off-the-cuff. I wouldn't have quoted it except it was such a good example of the "theologianese" that I have seen far too often, where the "theologianese" has lost its roots in the real world to the point where someone will oppose a word's ultimate meaning ("if God wants to love me") to its churchified meaning ("grace or no grace") without even realizing it. Systematic theology can become systematic distortion when we aren't more careful about what words mean.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

St. Francis' Sermon to the Birds

Yep, you heard right, sermon to the birds. Hmmm.

Today is the feast day of one of the best-loved Christians of all times, Francis of Assissi. St. Francis was many things, but "conventional" was not one of them. The one event of his life that remains most strongly in my mind was his sermon to the birds. The effect it has on me is very like the effect when I first read Don Quixote: "If this man is as insane as he seems, then why is he making more sense than the other people?" So without more preamble, the sermon to the birds:
My sisters the birds, you are much obliged to God your creator, and always and in every place you ought to praise him, because he has given you liberty to fly wherever you will and has clothed you with twofold and threefold raiment. Moreover, he preserved your seed in Noah's ark that your race might not be destroyed. Again, you are obliged to him for the element of air which he has appointed for you. Furthermore, you sow not neither do you reap, yet God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains from which to drink. He gives you mountains and valleys for your refuge, and high trees in which to build your nests. And, since you know neither how to sew nor to spin, God clothes you and your little ones; so clearly your Creator loves you, seeing that he gives you so many benefits. Guard yourselves, therefore, you sisters the birds, from the sin of ingratitude, and be ever mindful to give praise to God.
Insane or inspired? It's often a thin line between them. Either way, beloved.

Is the sermon more for the birds or the people? Given how much he loved animals, there's some chance it was for the birds after all. Do we love St. Francis despite that he's way out there, or because he's way out there but in a beautiful way, and gives us encouragement to be there too? We know we'll never amount to anything serving Christ unless we're way out on a limb as far as what the world would call sane, but it will be in a beautiful way.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Two Views of Predestination

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. - Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
Predestination is always a popular subject for discussion. (Just for today and only in my blogroll, see predestination discussions here and more predestination discussions here.) Those who like a good brain-teaser and those who like a good brawl are often both satisfied. However, there is not complete agreement within Christian camps about how predestination works or what it entails. It isn't well known, even in some Christian circles, that there are different models of understanding predestination. In the hopes of raising awareness, I'm going to discuss two of the more common views as best I can and give a review of the basic points of each model of predestination. I will present criticisms commonly voiced against each view and how those criticisms are evaluated by those holding each view. Then I will take a brief look at two areas where these views clash: the question for whom Christ died, and the question of where we find security.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly already knows which view I hold; I welcome responses from people of all views.

The Sovereigntist View of Predestination
I. Basic Outline
The Sovereigntist view places God's absolute sovereignty as the foundation of theology. In this view, God's sovereignty is the most important and ultimately defining aspect of theology and of all other things as well. The most common expression of this view is the Calvinist TULIP. The focus of predestination is on the individual person. Therefore it's a "double predestination" system in which God, before the foundation of the world, pre-determines which people will go to heaven and which will go to hell without regard to anything they might do, and arranges peoples' beliefs and eternal destinies according to what he had chosen for them before he created them. The TULIP affirms mankind's total depravity, God's unconditional election of some individuals but not others to salvation, the limited work of Christ in making satisfaction only for those God had ordained to come to him, irresistible grace, and eternal security/perseverance so that it is impossible for someone once saved to fall away.

For much of the TULIP (some would say all), the touchstone is God's sovereignty. For example, if God willed to save someone but it were possible for man to resist that grace, would God still be sovereign? Or again, if God willed to save someone and they had received grace but then later fell away, would God still be sovereign?

II. View of Scripture
Typically, the sovereigntist takes a view of Scripture so that some Scriptures re-interpret others. For example, "God so loved the world" or "is not willing that any should perish" are interpreted in light of the Sovereigntist view.

III. View of God
The sovereigntist view of God begins with a certain set of God's attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence). From there it reasons about how God must necessarily be seen to interact with the world, given the basic premise that God's most important characteristic is his sovereignty.

IV. Criticisms
This view has often been faulted for making God the only meaningful obstacle to salvation for those who are condemned. On the view that God is sovereign and grace is irresistible, mankind's depravity is not a meaningful obstacle to salvation, but the only meaningful obstacle is God's unwillingness to save. Because of this view that God's unwillingness to save is the relevant cause of condemnation, the sovereigntist view has also been criticized for being destructive of a full trust of God, which is to say, destructive of faith in God, not in the sense of faith in God's existence, but in the sense of faith in God's goodness and faithfulness towards his creation. The sovereigntist view has also been faulted for straining some Scriptures fairly far in order to make them compatible with various points of the TULIP, for redefining words in ways that are difficult to support from the context or from word studies, and for denigrating some Scriptures in favor of others. It has been criticized for elevating other characteristics of God over his love, for giving a very limited place to the role of Christ, for removing Christ from the foundational role of theology, and for portraying God as the mediator between Christ and man rather than Christ as the mediator between God and man. Another common criticism is that this view of predestination makes our lives irrelevant to a significant degree, which again is seen as a breach of faith between God and man. It is often questioned whether the use of force -- pulling rank or enforcing sovereignty -- is compatible with the goal of re-establishing faith, fellowship, and trust.

V. Responses to Criticisms
Typically, those who hold the sovereigntist model of predestination do not see these criticisms as valid or relevant. The only concern recognized as valid and relevant is whether God has exercised his sovereignty in such a way that no other factors besides bare, unmediated predestination of an individual could be relevant to someone's ultimate fate.

The Christological View of Predestination
I. Basic Outline
The Christological view of predestination places Christ as the foundation of theology and of knowing God. The focus of predestination is not an individual, but Christ's saving work. There is no direct predestination for an individual, but all of God's interactions with an individual -- including election and predestination -- occur in and through Christ as the mediator between God and man. Therefore it is a "single predestination" system in which Christ dies for the whole world, and those in Christ are predestined before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God. But since the focus of predestination is on Christ and not the individuals, God neither irresistibly forces someone to come to Christ, nor forces them to remain with Christ, nor prevents them from coming to Christ. Neither is God disinterested in the salvation of anyone, but sent Christ for all alike. This view has no catchy acronym, but it does share some of the same assumptions as the TULIP. It affirms mankind's lost and depraved state, the need for a savior, and the inability of people to bring themselves to faith. Unlike the TULIP, it affirms that Christ died for all, but that grace (which comes through Christ) is resistible, including the fact that turning away from Christ is possible for someone who once believed. On this view, a person does not have God's decision of predestination himself, but only in Christ, so that God has chosen that those who are saved and forgiven and renewed are those in Christ. In this way, in Christ we have all spiritual blessings, and apart from Christ we do not.

II. View of Scripture
The view of Scripture is that all passages must stand at their own face value and that none can override another. It is maintained that the applicable Scriptures are able to be understood each in its own context without reinterpretation and without any resulting contradiction.

III. View of God
The Christological model holds that God has revealed himself most clearly in Christ, and that good theology therefore necessarily understands God primarily through Christ. From there, and especially from the incarnation and the cross, it is reasoned that God chose weakness rather than strength in reconciling the world to himself.

IV. Criticisms
The Christological model has been criticized for saying that there are those for whom Christ died who are lost, for saying that there are those who once believed who later fall away, and for saying that grace is resistible. From the perspective of an unmediated predestination model such as TULIP, grace is necessarily irresistible, and anything else is viewed with suspicion as probably Arminian. It has been criticized as unreasonable to view that God would act in such a way that he would save some but allow to fall away, or allow to resist grace, if he in fact desires salvation. The Christological view is sometimes criticized for saying that not only do a person's actions and choices have relevance to how we are judged at the Last Day, but that our choices can be contrary to what God desires for us. This view has been faulted for permitting a discrepancy between what God decrees must happen and what God desires to happen. It is also commonly criticized for being difficult to understand, since predestination is seen as mediated through Christ rather than working directly on an individual. In summary, the general criticism is that it does not place God's sovereignty as the most important thing about God and does not place sovereignty at the foundation of all theology.

V. Responses to Criticisms
Those who hold the Christological view would say that the Scriptures affirm that Christ must be the foundation of all theology, and that God has chosen that love should be more defining of his actions than sovereignty.

For the Christological view, the complaint of its unreasonableness is expected because God's action in Christ was not what human reason would have anticipated. Still, it is held that the reality of God's revelation takes precedence of truth despite any complaints of unreasonableness.

The criticism of being Arminian is rejected as misplaced on the grounds that the Christological model teaches that people cannot save themselves, which rejects the Arminian view. The Christological model teaches that salvation comes from God but damnation from man, as opposed to an Arminian view that both hinge on man's decision, or a Calvinist view that both hinge on God's unmediated decision focused on an individual before creation. Typically, those who hold a Christological view of predestination would respond to the remaining criticisms by reviewing how the Bible explicitly mentions those who resisted grace, those who fell away, the dangers of falling away, and those who are lost even though Christ died for them. Those who hold the Christ-centered view of predestination often point out that while such passages cause a problem for a Sovereigntist view of predestination, they are not a problem for the view that predestination is mediated to us through Christ.

The discrepancy between God's desire for everyone's salvation and God's will that people are not forcibly saved is seen as a logical necessity based on the God-given nature of mankind from creation. That is, the image of God which God values in saving us would become meaningless, destroyed, or nullified if God made changing our minds and spirits an exercise of raw power, and that using such an act of raw power to bring about the new nature would be a breach of faith with the nature he originally created and desires to redeem.

On the complaint that the Christological view is difficult to understand, it is plain that Christ's mediating position between God and man does have an additional layer compared to the sovereigntist model. This additional layer is defended on the grounds that Scripture teaches Christ as the mediator and teaches that predestination is in and through Christ. Those who hold the Christ-centered view do not see it as complicated, but as affirming the simple truth that John the apostle wrote, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:12). This is arguably at least as simple as sovereignty-centered predestination.

Differences: For whom did Christ die?
One place where the two models of predestination clash fairly plainly is over the question of for whom Christ died. The sovereigntist model states that Christ did not die for all; he died only for those God chose to come to faith. At the Last Day, the limit or boundary of salvation is God's decision about which individuals he wants to come to Christ.

The Christological model states that Christ died for all. At the Last Day, the limit or boundary of salvation is those who received God's Fullness, which is Christ, when he came. This is based on God's decision that Christ is the only way in which he saves the world. Therefore there is no such thing as a person that God is not willing to save and does not wish to come to repentance, and no such thing as a person for whom Christ did not die, though Christ's death is of no effect for those who despise Christ and separate themselves from the blessings found only in him.

The Christological view and the Sovereigntist views are involutions of each other. Each affirms that at the Last Day some people are saved and others lost as per the Scriptures, so that there is a limit to which people are ultimately saved. However, one camp maintains that the limit is placed by God's disinterest in some peoples' salvation, while the other maintains that the limit is because God disowned the use of force in re-establishing fellowship and trust with us, instead choosing the cross of Christ.

Differences: Where do we find security?
Another place where the two views of predestination clash is the question of where our security comes from. The sovereigntist camp places security in God's decree about a particular person, which cannot be undone. On the other hand, God's intent towards you can never be known with objective certainty either. The Christological camp places security in the fact that, in Christ, God is certainly and beyond doubt for you and for your salvation, that certainly and beyond doubt Christ died for you and was the atoning sacrifice for your sins. On the other hand, it is possible for a person to reject Christ, and all that entails in rejecting the spiritual blessings which are given only in and through Christ. God calls all people through the cross of Christ, which is seen as the true wisdom of God and the true power of God. Security is found in Christ, and true security can be found nowhere else. When someone questions their salvation, the answer is, "What does the Scripture say? 'For the world?' Is there any reason you believe this is not for you?"
You say: Yes, I would gladly believe it if I were like St. Peter and St. Paul and others who are pious and holy; but I am too great a sinner, and who knows whether I am predestinated? Answer: Look at these words! What do they say, and of whom do they speak? "For God so loved the world"; and "that whosoever believeth on him." Now, the world is not simply Peter and Paul, but the entire human race taken collectively, and here no one is excluded: God's Son was given for all, all are asked to believe, and all who believe shall not be lost etc. Take hold of your nose, search in your bosom, whether you are not also a man (that is, a piece of the world) and belong to the number which the word "whosoever" embraces, as well as others? If you and I are not to take this comfort to ourselves, then these words must have been spoken falsely and in vain. -- Martin Luther, from a sermon on John 3:16-21

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Teenage Sunday School Starts Genesis 3

Read Genesis 2:8-17 (using it for both a brief review of last week and for an introduction to this week).
  1. Is creation good?
  2. Is God good?

Read Genesis 3:1-7.
  1. How did the serpent plant doubt? About what God really said.
  2. How typical is that, when we want to do something wrong, for us to start there, by asking whether it really says it's wrong? Typical.
  3. What did the serpent say that made Eve really want the fruit? You'll be like God. (This was a plant for a later question that we wouldn't get to this week because of the surprises the class had for me on some later questions.)
  4. What the serpent said: true or false? Neither, exactly.
  5. C.S. Lewis said the most powerful lies are at least partly true. Discuss. Examples taken from stories told to parents about how things got broken, where they really were the other afternoon, etc.
  6. Is it possible for us to be better than God at something? See below.
  7. Is it possible to sin without assuming that we are better than God? See below.

The big surprise this week? One of the kids really wanted to argue that he could be better than God at some things (like fishing ... when Jesus one-upped Peter with the fish he was cheating by using that miracle stuff), and that it was possible to sin without assuming we're better than God (so sin is not really arrogant and foolish). I'd expected those questions to be no-brainers and we would move past those pretty quickly into the next questions.

At first I was amazed at the direction the conversation was going. But then I realized that instead of understanding the serpent's trick, at least one person in the class was openly showing that he had fallen for it on a very deep level. (Don't we all, on some level?)

So that's where we'll pick up next week.