Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is it in you?

My daughter offers a marvelous little post, with tales of our family ski outing (Dec. 28th, on her blog, found here) about the reality that people are wired differently. Some ski. Some read Dante. Some listen to 2Pac.

I wonder what this means for the life of faith? Many believe, based on the doctrine of predestination, that it's either in you or it isn't. Either you have the capacity to follow God or you don't. They have scripture to prove it too. While defenders of this doctrine are, no doubt, sincere, I believe their conclusions are misguided on several accounts:

First, and most significantly, all invitations and offers of choice in the Bible must, of necessity, be seen as nothing more than sham. "Choose this day who you will serve..." "If any man is thirsty..." "Let us be diligent to enter that rest..." I could go on for a page or two with these kinds of invitations, while there's only the tiniest smattering of text about a fatalistic, predestined choice handed down from God. Of course, even a few verses must be accounted for and wrestled with. I'll try to speak to that in another entry. But for now, let me note that it seems silly to negate the avalanche of choices in the Bible by saying, "of course, we all know that there wasn't a real choice being offered because nobody has free will. These verses are just there to...." And I say, "Just there to what? mock? deceive?" If that's the way God plays, then no thank you.

Second, the unintended effect of predestination is an exaltation of particular cultural expressions of the gospel. We might say we're inviting people to Christ, but often what we're really doing is inviting people to OUR way of meeting Christ, and if people don't get it, won't get it, can't get it, we just dismiss it with a simple, "I guess they weren't destined." This is tragic. To insist that one seek God through our particular means, and express worship in our particular way is not only sadly colonial, but unscriptural. What do we say about God's continual confounding of Jewish parochialism, as he blesses Gentiles, and calls to his side those who are the enemies to Jewish political freedom?

I would argue that 'it's in you' It's in all of us. The capacity to know God and follow Him is part of our who we are. Unlike skiing or reading Dante, loving God is available to all, because God has created longings in all of us which, if followed, will lead to His feet. But the WAY in which that worship is expressed, and the way God is found? That varies wildly, according to both culture and personality.

Is everyone invited to the table? Indeed! Will we all wear the same clothes, read the same books, think the same thoughts, praise God the same way? I'm suspicious that there are a few surprises awaiting us. Don't misunderstand please. Christ is THE door. But how is that door opened? I would suggest that it's opened in wildly diverse manners, by diverse people who all share one thing in common. They've chosen to open the door.


At 12/1/07 11:28, Blogger Geoff said...

Hi Richard, I know this probably seems to contradict the "God is a gentleman" idea that many Christians adhere to... but I wonder if it's not so much that we "choose to open the door" as that we stop pushing with all our might trying to keep the door shut? I would suggest that God's love and grace are irresistible forces, and our "free will", although existentially real, should primarily be described by what we surrender to rather than what we choose. Perhaps this is just a semantical difference but it seems important. I think the way we describe our freedom too often subtly indicates our desire to control God, instead of our surrender control of our lives to Him. Just a thought.


At 13/1/07 20:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting note on surrendering. But I do like the idea of remembering that we can build upon a foundation even while creating the foundation itself. It's easy for me, at least, to just get stuck on the foundation.

But also, I clicked on "Tonka Truck" and was sad to see it says, "Built for Boyhood" as if little girls don't like getting muddy and scooping and playing with trucks as well! What year is this again?!

At 13/1/07 20:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Thank you for posting this. There is someone very close to me who I'd like to share my faith with. He is very open to discussion, and so we engage in conversations about faith often. But ultimately, he said he doesn't "pursue" understanding life spiritually and that he is happy with the way things are. He doesn't feel like there's something "missing" in his life--which is exactly how I felt before I learned about Christianity. He DOES feel that there are things he needs to work on, just interpersonal issues, etc., but he doesn't think it's a spiritual issue, if anything, simply a psychological one. Perhaps he's right, but I guess I've gotten used to the idea that God plays a role whenever we need to forgive ourselves, receive Grace, and change to live more fully.

But with his statement of "I'm happy the way things are," I thought there was nothing more to there?

At 21/1/07 22:55, Blogger Juliet said...

I've been mulling this over for a while, and I was wondering, why do you think people get so worked up over the predestination vs. free will debate? Isn't it one of those "nonessentials"? This might be one reason I was drawn to Catholicism: I don't want to say that we don't have the same questions, but I think we frame the discussion in a different way that doesn't insist on this either/or of God's sovereignty vs. genuine human freedom. Somehow they coexist. How is a mystery, and it's not bad to ponder it, but if it were entirely within our comprehension, it wouldn't be as wonderful as it is.

That said, I've never understood the appeal of Calvinism, which has always seemed to me to be a perfectly logical system, but like many perfectly logical systems, rather cold. And, as you said, not really consistent with what appears to be the plain meaning of scripture, as I read it, anyway. (I met a very, um, devout Calvinist once who said he could see his beliefs on every page of the Bible. I still find that puzzling. But, in nonessentials liberty, etc.)

(Amusing tidbit: My best friend went to college with an ArmEnian Calvinist, which caused great confusion!)

(And greetings from Virginia!)


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