Thursday, April 02, 2009

"What They Need is a God"

A recent Time magazine article spotlighted “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now. One of them was “The New Calvinism.” The article noted that “Calvinism is back… complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination.” The author suggests that this renewed view of God is partly a reaction to American conservative evangelicalism’s fuzzy Jesus-is-my-friend theology. As the influential Calvinist Albert Mohler notes, “[Young people] have plenty of friends: what they need is a God.”

This doctrinal shift certainly has an inherent appeal during difficult times. It is much more comforting to believe that the economic meltdown, shrinkage of one’s retirement savings, loss of a job, foreclosure on a house, etc. is just part of God’s predestined plan and we must accept his will and be at peace with it rather than taking any responsibility for it.

You can probably tell where I stand with this. I have noted with increasing exasperation in the last decade the prevalence of “Everything happens for a reason” and “This is all just part of God’s plan” explanations from both sincere Christians and otherwise unreligious theists. The fact is that there has always been a tension between our belief in both God’s sovereignty and human free will. Christians have wrestled with this in every age. How much does God involve himself in daily affairs? How do we know when something is his plan and when it is not? Can we resist God’s will? How much responsibility do we bear for the circumstances in our life? Calvinism to the extreme (an important caveat) says, in essence, “If it happens, it is God’s will.” I am preparing a Wednesday night series on this subject because it is such a fascinating, challenging, and relevant subject for Christians.

Interestingly, during Lent this year I have been meditating on Psalm 139, which includes the following: “You saw my unformed substance. In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (v. 16, ESV). It would be difficult indeed not to read some degree of divine determinism into scriptures like that!

Here is where I struggle. I love the idea of a Big God. I believe that God is sovereign, omnipotent and omniscient. I resonate with commands in scripture to fear (reverence) God and submit to Him. I think that many Christians, including myself many times, are far too casual and cavalier about our worship of and service to God. At the same time, I believe strongly in human free will and responsibility. I believe I CAN resist God’s will, and often do! I believe I can create messes in my life that God did not plan and with which he is not pleased. I believe, as I take Romans 8:28 to say, that “[God can cause] all things [to] work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV), meaning that when bad things happen, whether they were God’s plan or not, he can help me find redemptive good in them, be a better Christ-follower for it, and glorify God through it (see also Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-4). I believe Jesus is both my Lord and my Friend.

So I am intrigued by this new trend among Christians in America. I welcome a renewed emphasis on a mighty God, AND I am not ready to let myself off the hook about my own responsibility.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


9:55 PM  
Blogger Matt Soper said...

Thanks, Ruth! -- Matt

2:41 AM  

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