I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow, cont.

So yesterday I said that the difference between insecure, troubled Christian A and secure, at-peace Christian B was theology. If you look in the dictionary under “theology,” it might say something about the formal study of the nature and attributes of God or a deity, but in practice, I think the best way to think about the term “theology” is just “what I think — and what my life says — is true about God.” Ideally, “what I believe is true about God” and “what my life says is true about God” should be the same thing, but in practice, because our imperfect nature affects our ability to be consistent. So let’s examine the probable theologies of these two hypothetical brothers:

A gives lip service to the idea that God is sovereign, but functionally (and perhaps even secretly) he believes that there are lots of areas of life where God doesn’t really control the outcome of events. Of course, God knows what will happen, he says, but He allows human choice to rule sometimes. A thinks that the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is primarily that the unbeliever just doesn’t know that the Bible is true. If my unbelieving coworkers just saw enough evidence, they’d surely have to believe, he says. He’d never deny the dictum that “all truth is God’s truth,” but it’s been so ingrained in him to be suspicious of science and fine art – after all, modern science is the enemy of the Scriptures, right? And “the arts” now seem to celebrate evil and perversion, so what good could be found there? He believes that Christians need to separate themselves from the world, which is filthy and horrible, to remain pure. He looks forward to the day when he can escape the confines of this sinful world and be with Jesus in Heaven forever (though he’d never admit publicly that an eternity of something that sounds like a church service with only one song doesn’t actually seem all that exciting; he assumes that his lack of excitement about Heaven just means he’s immature).

B is fully persuaded of God’s total sovereignty in every area of life. He believes that God uses ordinary people and ordinary means to accomplish his extraordinary and perfect purposes, and he’s excited to be allowed to be part of God’s plan. This confidence in God gives him a sort of Teflon coating for living in this broken world – when things go his way, B doesn’t let it go to his head, because it’s all for God’s glory; and when there are setbacks, it doesn’t bother B, because God is still in control. B believes that the world was created to be “very good,” and that God has lovingly preserved some of that goodness even now, even in fallen creation, even in sinful humans, even in the things sinful humans make, so B can rejoice in beauty and goodness wherever he finds it. B also believes that the world isn’t as God created it to be, so it doesn’t surprise him when he also finds darkness and evil and pain and sorrow. But, he knows, God is at work making things new, overturning the darkness. “Everything sad is coming untrue,” B is known to say by way of encouragement to friends in trying times.

What’s the lynchpin difference? The answer to the question of who is in charge of the universe, and what that means. If God is completely, meticulously in control of everything — both causes and effects — in the universe, if His Spirit dwells in believers and transforms them, if no one can turn aside God’s purposes, if those who are joined to Christ are joined to Him forever, and no one can snatch them out of His hand, and you live your life that way, you have a pretty good chance of being like B. If God is “in control” but people have to do X to get God to do Y, if sanctification is up to believers, if those who are Christians can jump in and out of salvation and God is powerless to stop them, and you live your life like that? You have a pretty good chance of being like A.

I like Tim Tebow. He seems like a good guy, and I’m grateful for a lot of things about him, most of all his constant testimony to Jesus; I’m happy to call him my brother. But his success and fame don’t prove that Christianity is true. He and his life and his football career are not the key to the salvation of unbelievers. And that’s fine — in fact, I praise God for it! If he were the key, who would be saved? The key is this: a gracious God reaching into history to rescue sinners, people who, without the plan He enacted from eternity past, would forever reject him. A God who orchestrated in the mysterious counsels of eternity, that you would be born into that family, and have those experiences, and that, one day, you would hear the message of the Gospel in a new way, that it would make sense like it never had before, that you would look at your sin and realize that you were lost, and that you would look to the cross of Jesus, not just as an event that happened, but as an event that happened for you, and that you would run to it with joy like a thirsty man runs to a stream.

Believe that, my friends.

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12 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow, cont.

  1. Laura, these are a great pair of posts. Today’s description of A (“If my unbelieving coworkers just saw enough evidence, they’d surely have to believe, he says”) and B in yesterday’s article (“… he knows that Christianity doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t Christians”) really sum up the differences between them for me. Nicely done.

    Tim

    P.S. I followed you over from Tim Challies’ blog, and I’m really glad I did!

  2. Do you think that there can be Christian C who is a compatibilist, believing that God created a space that allows for free will but at the same time He achieves all His purposes? For example, describing the work of the Holy Spirit as helping someone come to repentance, where it’s not possible to repent without the help but at the same time the Holy Spirit doesn’t force someone to repent.

    Perhaps genuine love is a helpful way to look at it. e.g. If a godly, loving parent loves their child. Is the child forced to love them back? No. But ill they naturally love them back? Almost certainly. If God’s love is like this, maybe His genuine love (when clearly shown to people) can naturally “make” people love Him, without Him forcing them?

    • Alex, thanks for commenting. A couple things.

      1. I don’t have any interest in turning this into a place where people can air their grievances about classical Reformed theology, or a place where people come to debate Calvinism. There are lots of places where you can do that, and moreover I think blogs are generally a terrible place for those conversations to happen. I won’t publish any more comments along these lines (although I’m happy for you to continue to comment and contribute), particularly if you continue to mischaracterize Calvinism as teaching artificial (as opposed to “genuine”?) love, grudgingly doled out by a God who “forces” people to love him against their will, and who is best compared to a father who locks half his kids in the basement. I won’t tolerate strawmen, or that kind of tricky vocabulary applied to the beliefs of millions of your brothers and sisters around the world.

      2. I am a cheerful Calvinist. I wholeheartedly and joyfully believe that the doctrines of classical Reformed theology sing out from every page of the Scriptures. I believe that every time the sovereignty of God is specifically mentioned in the Scriptures, it’s mentioned for the purpose of the comfort and encouragement of God’s people, and not as a setup for a debate. I believe that the story of the Scriptures is one of God rescuing rebels who hate him, and by his overcoming Grace adopting them into his own family. If that’s not your cup of tea, you’re welcome to comment on blogs more in line with your own views.

      I do hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, but I want to make myself clear. Thanks again for commenting.

  3. I would suggest that Christian B’s “at-peace” is directly related to the scope of God’s love. e.g. If God only chooses to love some, not only is it possible that we mistakenly thinks we’re chosen, it’s guaranteed people we love (assuming we love our neighbours & our enemies) aren’t chosen – which should make us greatly not “at-peace” (assuming our love of others is as great as our love of ourselves). I think 1John 3:17 implies this, “If anyone has material possessions [or eternal life which is far more valuable] and sees a brother or sister in need [& not chosen] but has no pity on them, how can the love [& the associated peace] of God be in that person?”

    Furthermore, thinking about Christian B’s peace, if my parents had 10 children, but kept half of them in the basement because they didn’t love them enough, if I was one of the remaining children could I ever truly be confident that one day my parents wouldn’t throw me in also?

    In summary, how God treats others should effect our “at-peace”, not only through empathy for others but also in our perception of the reliability of His character.

  4. 1. that’s totally fine, my comments honestly weren’t meant to be an attack on either Reformed theology or Calvinism. In fact one of the reasons I mentioned C was because most Calvinists I know are compatibilists (I’m Reformed & have attended Reformed churches for over 30 years).

    I’m sorry you took my comments as implying Calvinism teaches artificial love, that certainly wasn’t my intention. I realise Calvinists do think God genuinely loves some people forever & all people to some degree in this life. The philosophical debate between hard determinism, soft determinism & libertarianism is complex, and I’m certainly no expert on it. Do you believe in free will in any sense?

    I don’t believe God is best compared to a father who locks half His kids in the basement either. I would be very interested to know which part of the analogy you reject & why?

    Sorry I’m confused by what you mean by “tricky vocabulary”?

    2. I’m also cheerful and entirely believe the sovereignty of God is specifically mentioned in the Scriptures. I think the sovereignty of God is Calvinism’s strongest point. I also find great comfort in it. May I humbly suggest it was a little provocative calling Arminianism “insecure, troubled”, although I do entirely agree with you that we are safer in God’s hands, than our own! 😀

    I also entirely agree that the story of the Scriptures is one of God rescuing rebels who hate him, and by his overcoming Grace adopting them into his own family.

    Thanks for being clear, I respect that, and sorry again for insulting you rather than being engaging, like I’d hoped.

    • Hi Alex, thanks for the kind reply. By “tricky vocabulary” I mean things like “genuine,” “forcing,” “didn’t love them enough,” etc. That kind of phrasing is a bit like the question “When did you stop beating your wife?” — excellent for trapping your interlocutor but not very good for starting a conversation.

      I believe that all humans are perfectly free to act in accordance with their nature. If I want one of my students to come over to my desk, he can skip or walk or run or drag himself along the floor using only his lips, but he can’t fly. Similarly I am perfectly free to act in accordance with my human nature as it is apart from Christ; but the Holy Spirit alone gives me the ability to choose the highest good.

      WRT Arminianism, I wouldn’t call Christian A an Arminian. I thought about that after I published it and I’m glad for the opportunity to clarify. I think most Christians at least in the US never bother to consider any of the historical views on who gets saved and why. In my experience and observation, American Christians tend to absorb a sort of lazy semi-Pelagianism crossed with bits and pieces from various TV preachers, pop-theology, Bible bookstores, and halfhearted efforts to study the Scriptures. This was me before I was Reformed, basically! I respect traditional Arminianism, even if I think it’s wrong, but I think there are far fewer actual Arminians today than one might think. It keeps alive in the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition but I don’t see it in many other quarters.

  5. Thanks for explaining what you meant by “tricky vocabulary” as it means I can endeavor to avoid it in the future.

    I agree that we’re limited by our sinful human nature & need the Holy Spirit’s help to ever come to repentance & faith.

    I’m surprised Christian A isn’t an Arminian. How would you classify them? As far as I know, out of those who call themselves Christians (& I realise that’s a huge topic in itself, but hopefully Wikipedia is vaguely unbiased http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations_by_number_of_members) less than 10% are Calvinists (or about ⅓ of Protestants)? I don’t think the rest consider themselves Arminian, as I agree with you that many Christians seem to not consider these things. One Christian philosopher divided Christianity’s view of salvation by using three 3 propositions:

    (1) It is God’s redemptive purpose for the world (and therefore His will) to reconcile all sinners to Himself;

    (2) It is within God’s power to achieve His redemptive purpose for the world;

    (3) Some sinners will never be reconciled to God, and God will therefore either consign them to a place of eternal punishment, from which there will be no hope of escape, or put them out of existence altogether.

    i.e. ultimately Calvinists hold 2 & 3, Arminians hold 1 & 3, and Universalists hold 1 & 2.

    Do you think this is a helpful way to divide it?

  6. Alex, I suspect that the split between, on the one hand, Augustinian/Thomist/Calvinist views of God and, on the other, semi-Pelagianism views probably cuts across all the other divisions within Christendom.

    Laura, that link between God’s sovereignty and our comfort shows up, of course, in the opening of the Heidelberg Catechism: Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death? A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

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