In such a context I would suggest that we always follow this hermeneutical rule: if our reading of Scripture always confirms our worldview and if the Scriptures never surprise, confuse, upset or disorient us, then we are undoubtedly misreading the Scriptures. A sure sign of ideology is when the Bible only functions as a text of orientation in our lives. If this text never disorients us, then it will never then have the resources to provide us with reorientation in changing and confusing cultural contexts.
There is another dimension of this loss of biblical dynamism that merits comment. One of the consequences of an ideological worldview and an ideological approach to the biblical text is that paradoxically the text tends to lose its currency in our lives. Moreover, I have observed that many of those who talk long and loud about biblical authority seldom find it necessary to deeply engage this text. You can see how this works. Once you think that you know what the Bible says, all that is left is to proclaim the authority of the Bible ever loudly. You don’t have to actually read the text or struggle with it because you already know what it is going to say. Sadly, however, what is really proclaimed as authoritative is not the Bible but the ideological worldview that we impose upon this text.
With the loss of biblical vitality, not only does the worldview become repressively ideological, the community also succumbs to biblical illiteracy. And when that happens, the death of the church and the various ministries and cultural expressions of the Christian community, including the Christian school, is not far behind.
It seems Bush did not stumble into the mess with Russia that so many insisted was inevitable. From the Washington Times: President ‘proven right’ on trust in Putin.
When Mr. Bush said he would withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the United States and the Soviet Union signed in 1972, Democrats warned it would spark a new arms race. Instead, the two leaders tomorrow will sign the Treaty of Moscow, which slashes both nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
Then there’s the European response to this success, which is highlighted in the Financial Time’s Links with Putin leave Europe out in the cold:
But collectively, America’s European Union allies are in a grumpy mood, not only because of Washington’s growing unilateralist stance on trade, global warming and other foreign policy issues, over which former President Bill Clinton was just as unilateralist.
Rather, it is Washington’s very success with Moscow that is causing the unhappiness.
“The Europeans feel excluded from the partnership that Bush and [President Vladimir] Putin have forged,” said a European ambassador. “Europe has no relations with Putin. It is the personal, bilateral ties, particularly with [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder and [UK prime minister Tony] Blair that count, because we have no integrated foreign policy, let alone a policy towards Russia.”
It seems to me that many of the people involved in various discussion regarding justification by faith, the proper place of works in our lives and doctrine, the nature of the final judgment, etc. have a fundamental difference in perspective that hinders communication. At issue, I believe, is one’s understanding/application of God’s sovereignty.
The folks that I have read on the issue all agree, as far as I can tell, with a view of God’s sovereignty as found in the WCF chapter III. But the stance assumed on account of that view, and the corollary views of man’s free will and the historic means that God in his providence ordains along with the ends, seem greatly at odds and is perhaps a root cause of some of the disagreements on the issue of works.
In my opinion, the wrong way to view God’s sovereignty can be appropriately called Bobsled Sovereignty. This is quite a popular view in reformed churches as far as I can tell. Bobsled Sovereignty basically affirms that because God is sovereign, it is the duty of man to basically get in the bobsled and go for a ride down that twisty, but always linear and unforking, path of God’s will. Such a stance, I believe, minimizes the historic dynamic of human involvement and pushes people’s thinking toward the decrees of God at every turn, though these decrees are confessed to be unknown. It also has the odd effect, over time, of pushing God’s wisdom toward the realm of human comprehension, since his wisdom and hidden decree forms the bedrock of such thinking.
A more robust view of God’s sovereignty, in my opinion, was held by Moses among others.
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “O Lord ,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Here’s my point. If Moses had bought into the Bobsled Sovereignty school of thought, here’s how verse 11 might have read:
“Then Moses replied, ‘Oh Lord, I am ready and willing to copulate frequently that I might have many children and build this nation that you have decreed. I have heard you speak from your own mouth, and know that all you say is decreed from everlasting and must come to pass.'”
So, all you folks involved in such debates, is it not possible that such a view would hinder someone from understanding your points regarding works, if that person has a view of sovereignty that hinders them from even understanding the historic involvement of man in the decrees of God?
In I Corinthians 1:17 Paul writes “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” This is said right after he states that he baptized very few of the Corinthians.
Now fast-forward to I Corinthians 3:5-9 which says:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
In this quote, Paul assigns himself the role of planting a seed. We thus have a correlation between preaching the gospel and planting seeds, which exactly corresponds to the relationship established in the parable of the four soils between the gospel and seed in its farming motif. Notice then that Paul goes on to say that Apollos watered, in a context in which he has already explicitly said he did not baptize. It would follow then that watering corresponds to baptizing in the agricultural analogy that is in play. Paul preached the gospel <==> sowed seed on a field. Apollos watered <==> baptized them into the church.
Numerous thoughts leap to mind. Here’s a couple of them.
1. The parables are not isolated snippets of imagery with only one point and no correspondence to larger imagery that carries through the Bible. For instance, a well-developed agricultural motif is developed based on the fact that man is made of dirt, has seed sown in him, is watered by God, and is to bear fruit. This basic pattern (or portions of it) is central to stories, parables, exhortations, etc. For instance, Hebrews 6:7-8 comes to mind: “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” Thus, in some instances, one might find the clearest expression of a particular motif in a parable. Using that motif to understand other passages is not, in and of itself, an improper use of analogy, even if such a use goes beyond the one single point the parable is presumed to teach by those who approach the parables in such a way.
2. Baptism is an ordinary step in salvation, but does not ensure ultimate salvation. We hear the word, we are watered in baptism, but as Hebrews 6 reminds us, we must grow the fruits of salvation and not the thorns of apostasy. Lest any readers be confused, I am not trying to say anything more than, for instance, the Westminster Confession of Faith states when it puts baptism as the means of entering the church and the church as the place in which salvation is ordinarily found. Rather, I am trying to say it in a slightly different way, in keeping with the language of scripture that I have cited.
I need to stop here and get back to work. Perhaps I’ll have the chance to put up a few more thoughts later.
How many of you have heard a sermon that included an analogy intended to explain faith that went something like this:
Everyone exercises faith. That chair you are sitting in, you have faith in it. You wouldn’t have sat in it if you didn’t, right?
Simple enough to understand. But what would happen to this analogy in the hands of those who see hell and damnation in the likes of this article? Perhaps something like this:
Sure I have faith in the chair. But nobody has to actually sit in the chair to have such faith. You can’t demand we sit! We aren’t capable of sitting on our own… would you have us try to merit the chair by attempting to sit on it of our own power? Well, of course everyone who has faith will sit on the chair. You see, once you have true faith, a faith solely in the chair and entirely separate from actually sitting, then, as an entirely separate activity that comes later, you will sit out of thankfulness.
Now, I do not mean to disparage thankfulness, which should play a primary role in our sanctification. But it seems like the categorizations and deliniations being emphasized in such an approach are foreign to the Bible. We are saved by faith on account of God’s great grace. But such a great doctrine is not in any way opposed to a call to obedience. We sit in the chair. We may wrestle with fears and sin and often try to get off the chair, but we ultimately abide there because where else can we go for so great a salvation?
Well the metaphors are getting way too mixed up at this point, so I’ll leave off for now.