Monday, July 28, 2008

Loosing Sight of Our Purpose (Part I): Choosing Tools and Methods

Over the course of the past two weeks or so, I’ve had two Dispensationalists (likely partial Arminians) tell me that I’m not anything like the Reformed Christians they know, so I must be a Dispensationalist. I’m told that I’m not legalistic, angry and judgemental “like the Calvinists are.” I also had a respected leader in the Reformed movement call my husband and I yeoman for the cause of liberty. What does that make me, as I stand here in fear and trembling, careful that I do not fall? I’m going to take these comments as compliments – evidence that I am a balanced Christian and not one who merely tells one group or another what they want to hear. I hope that this means that I have charity, committed to the Word of God before any commitments to one theology or another.

We live in a world of paradoxes and unavoidable, unresolvable tension with which we human beings are forced to cope. Tension exists between what should be and what is. Tension exists between the omnipotence of God and the free will that we perceive to be ours in this life. Tension exists because we are lesser creatures who can only see the greater world in partial obscurity, as Paul explained that we see through a glass darkly. And that factor relates back to the idea of free will: Do we actually have free will, or is it an illusion because of our limited ability to see reality with the same perspective and clarity as God does? For those of us who desire to see God clearly (or merely the rest of His creation only), this creates a great deal of special tensions, particularly for those of us who have lived to witness a remarkable explosion of advances in science, technology and information. We come to expect that if we do not know how to solve a problem, someone at some point in our lives will discover the cure to all of our ills. Meanwhile, we struggle to find ways to cope with the tension between what is and what ought to be and the third alternative of what we EXPECT should be (dependent on how one defines the “oughts”).

How we view the world and make sense of it is shaped by our personality, how our brains are put together and through our experiences. Each person uniquely works out a framework in their minds, whether that framework is part of their conscious realization or not. One consequence of this functioning is the “worldview” that a person builds, and abstract construct by which a person makes sense of and gives meaning to the elements in his world of experience. For the Christian, he/she accomplishes this according to the standard of the Bible. They assign a position to God, self and others within that abstraction of how he/she makes sense of the world, while also accommodating the inevitable, unavoidable tensions and paradoxes in life, particularly the Christian life. Thus, one could say that our theologies are ways in which we address if not attempt to solve these tensions. We create theology (words and logic about God) as our tools that we use to help us make sense of the things pertaining to God and to hopefully accomplish our goals, all in accordance to the Biblical standard. Theology also becomes a tool that we use in order to understand the Bible itself.

When I was a child, my family provided me with the tools that they used in order to deal with these uncomfortable tensions, and those tools conformed to a particular theology. In the workings of my life, I found that those tools were not adequate. Because of the inadequacies of Arminianism, I sought out different tools by examining and studying the tools that Calvin developed. After about 17 years of working with both sets of tools, practicing with and developing my skills with the new tools of Calvinism, I find that there are inadequacies in both. Each solve some tensions, yet they magnify others. I was angry in earlier years, because I was taught that I had all the tools that I needed to solve my problems created by the tension in life. I think at this point, I find some tools adequate and some tools inadequate. Arminians often sell hell insurance, strongly motivated by guilt. Calvinism solves the tensions of sovereignty, the tensions magnified by Arminianism. Yet Arminians do not have the ministry and evangelism issues that follow MOST of the examples of Calvinists that I’ve observed in the lives of those who profess that belief system. Does the person who prefers a particular type of tool desire to produce or magnify any problems or tensions? Certainly not. The Calvinist does not intend to neglect or dismiss ministry and evangelism any more than the Arminian intends to rob God of sovereignty. I think that we easily loose sight of this consideration, preferring one tool over another.

Someone needs to develop a new tool Or do they? There will always be tension. Our tools will always be inadequate to completely solve these problems. And each of us must choose a tool to use, but I think we loose sight of the essential awareness of the pitfalls and inadequacies of the particular tools that we use. Our logic will always be inadequate as well, as there is another force at work in our lives: that of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love. The demons know what is written in the Word, yet they are divorced from the Spirit of Love, love for God and love for others. Our logic can be much like this, and we can easily find ourselves doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons if we lack the Spirit of God. Christian logic proves to be empty apart from Christian love.

We can honor one element of Scripture over another element and loose our balance. And we can get hung up and devoted to our tools, losing sight of our intent for having the tools in the first place. Tools can be used without purpose and with carelessness, just as we can pursue and teach a theology without love and charity. And we must never forget that “God is God, and we are not.” Theology does not deliver us from the discomforts of the fear and trembling (the tension) of the working out of our salvation.

In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.

- Augustine

Link to "Losing Site of Our Purpose":