Saturday, May 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on Absolute Inability

At the heart of depravity is inability: the inability to will in accord with God. At its most fundamental, inability rests in not being God. It is an inability to be good (by extension) but that is not evil in itself. I submit that Adam and Eve were in this state in Eden before the Fall, and that the Fall is actually a consequence of their innate, “prelapsarian” inability. In that state they were not evil, for God had pronounced them good, until their inability ripened into sinful intention and action.

In the garden, their innate inability could be and was overcome by intimate, cooperative and congruent “being” with God. I think that was an issue of faith and the Breath of God. Adam and Eve did not remain in that overcoming state; however, they doubted God’s character, became uncooperative (self-willful) in attitude, and acted out of step with God. They sinned; died to God, stopped breathing spiritually if you will; their bodies catching up with their spirits some hundreds of years later.

In death, Adam and Eve brought upon themselves a fuller experience of inability. After the Fall, they were no longer capable of intimate, cooperative and congruent “being” with God. The breath of God was gone—Ichabod! In this state, not only were they innately unable because they were not God, but now they were absolutely unable because they were not in “touch” with God. If the Devil had his way with them in Eden, their existence on the other side of the cherubim was bound to be a field day for him.

Deadness is the existence they had when they reproduced, deadness is what they had to pass on to their children. We are all conceived in sin and born to death as a result. Without God and hope in this world, we act as we will, only serendipitously in accord with God if at all, absolutely unable to change our condition, to walk in accord with God, or to rectify our attitudes. Without an intervention by God, there we would stay until irretrievably unable, smoke rising from our burning frames in eternal judgment.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Blubbering God

God is love. The scriptures state it, I believe it, Christians have proclaimed it since the days of John. And yet, that's not quite the same as saying God is warm and fuzzy and has no edge to him. In fact, God is scary. He's absolute, there is none that can deliver from his clutches, and his absolute mastery over all of us and all things is punctuated by the ultimate unavoidable reality--death! And a lot of us die, suddenly, without hope in this world or the next. Yet, God doesn't seem to care or even shed a tear.

There are a few things that bring this into clear focus:
The writer of Hebrews said it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The fact is, we're all there whether we want to be or not, or regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. There is only one sure palliative that cures our shakes and makes the frightening God approachable--the blood of the Lamb. So stop trying to make God into a big, soft, stuffed animal. The real God is a consuming fire, only gods fashioned in the imagination blubber.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Garden Too Small

I've heard more than once in my lifetime the thought that eternity would be, in effect, a return to Eden--perfection of physical being in a perfect physical world, sans Satan, sin and death. There are a few problems with that idea, however. If Adam fell in Eden, what would keep us from doing the same in heaven? We like to blame our sinfulness on our nature, but Adam did not have that nature and he sinned. I know the Devil was in the mix, but he was only toying with what was there. The Devil only expedited things.

As weird as it might seem, I believe Jesus, like Adam, could have fallen while walking on earth. In emptying himself of his divine prerogatives and stepping into our world as one of us, he identified thoroughly with us (except of course, without innate sinfulness). His victory over sin and death would be illusionary, rather than worthy, if he did not actually have anything at risk and the deck was stacked. He truly was a second Adam, but with a whole lot more knowledge than the first. He very well could have fallen in that limited, fleshly nature. Thank God he did not!

The only effective difference I see between Jesus' experience in the flesh and Adam's before the Fall was the knowledge of what was in man. I know that Christ had divine character which could handle the image of God, but to say their respective success and failure occured merely because Jesus was God and Adam was not comes close to denying Jesus' truly human nature and experience. So Jesus, the Son of Man, understood what the cost of sin was for man through personal experience and observation whereas Adam did not. Jesus did not sin and Adam did. When we are like Jesus, rather than Adam, we will not sin either because we know too.

What then will keep us from sinning in eternity? Puppet strings? No, Jesus did not have them, the Father certainly doesn't, and when we see Jesus in "heaven" we will be like him. What turns us to willing cooperation and agreement with God in heaven is knowing absolutely the futility of going it on our own. Oh, we will have a Christlike affection for our Father, no sinful flesh to battle (although we will have flesh), and no Devil trying to deceive and distort things, but we will not be forced to be godly and walk in God's will. That would run counter to what God ultimately intends for us.

To achieve that our hearts and minds will have to work in tandem with God. They will have to be harmonious, even synchronous with his. All that we think will have to be what he thinks and all that we want will have to be what he wants. We'll have to know even as we are known. We will be one. There is no clue that Adam ever had this possibility in Eden, even if the Devil had not been in the picture (although that tree was there for a reason). So Eden never was our ultimate destination that Adam unfortunately screwed up, and Eden will not be what we regain for eternity. It was far too small a garden anyhow!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Latency, Interference, and Regeneration

God has designed mankind with certain capacities and abilities which have been retained despite the Fall, even though everything about us has been tainted from being born apart from God and controlled by self-will. We have a capacity to believe, even as sinners, though left to our own devices that capacity ignores God as he is and opts for gods of our own construction. I would call this circumstance, Latency. There is a capacity for faith built into the human being by God and it exists, even if imperfect and impotent, within every human being.

Left to our own devices, we would never bother with the true God. The ones we make up are much more manageable and a lot less scary. Some opt for the most dismal and foolish alternative in not bothering with gods at all. We would wander off to hell obliviously if something or someone didn't disrupt our journey. Without a catalyst acting upon our latent capacity for true faith in the true God, we would never cross the threshold of believing unto righteousness. What was not possible in ourselves becomes possible with the intervention of God. Let's call this disruption, Interference. This gracious interposition comes our way by the word of Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

If something did not conserve the impact of God's interference, which gave faith an opportunity to sprout, we would quickly devolve back to our former state, or worse, soon after experiencing it. We need a restructuring of our mind/body/spirit combo if we are to experience any lasting effect from God's interference. When faith is expressed in Christ due to the influence of God's interference, God reinspires the dead human spirit causing one to be born again. Let me call that infusion, Regeneration. Without that renewal, no human being is either fit or able to enter into God's kingdom.

From start to finish, the remaking of a lost sinner into a child of God is God's doing. Latency and interference giving rise to regeneration was his idea, and proceeds according to his design. That it is conditioned on faith in the sinner changes nothing, it is as God wants it to be.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sufficiency of God II

In highlighting the sufficiency of God, rather than that of the scriptures, I am addressing a shockingly erroneous viewpoint of Christianity that has folk endeavoring to live a life that looks nothing like that presented in the scriptures. These folk are always cessationists, and more often than not, Calvinists. For them, living a godly life is getting out a slide rule and compass, as it were, and applying them to the scriptures, trying to calculate how to do Christianity without exhibiting hardly any of the features that were practiced by the Apostles and the early church and recorded in scriptures. 

The Bible is all-sufficient to guide our faith--what we should believe, and sufficient to guide our practice--these are the kinds of things we should experience and these are the things to avoid, but it is meant to produce a life like it describes. That includes God speaking in real time, the Holy Spirit influencing direction and decision, and inspiring speech and deeds. To pursue some folks view of the sufficiency of scriptures, one, in effect, must white-out huge tracts of the word, all in the name of the word being sufficient. Sufficient for what, I might ask, producing life pretty similar to life without God? Honestly, the only motivation I can see for such action is unbelief!

The wrong view of sufficiency ends up with the believer treating God agnostically, as if he came, dropped off this book and then disappeared, unheard from ever since. The practical effect of such a view is that we are not brought up to the lap of God, through Christ, but stuck behind a curtain trying to figure out life by our best reckoning from the book. That seems to me an empty thing to attribute to the living God.

If we are holding up the word as sufficient in defining and directing Christianity, that sufficiency should entail producing a life that matches what the word describes and exhorts us to experience. Anything else, anything less is a disservice to the Word, not an homage to its sufficiency. When cessationists arrogantly cast aspersions on those endeavoring to walk in the promises of the word, while they staunchly cling to their lack of biblical experience, I must admit I get irritated. If all they offer in their view of the sufficiency of scripture is a "glass empty" vision of life with God actively removed, I think I'll gladly stay with the sufficiency of God.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Sufficiency of God

I love the scriptures. The Assemblies of God doctrinal statement starts out with what I feel is the most important aspect of the entire thing--the Bible is the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice and the Old and New Testaments are the verbally inspired, infallible word of God. I fear, however, that some folk (not of the A/G variety hopefully) have an entirely wrong-headed notion of the sufficiency of Scripture, so let's talk a little about that.
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  (John 5:39-40 NIV)
The Bible is never a substitute for God. Ensconcing the Bible on the altar of worship, doing obeisance to wood pulp and carbon black is just as much idolatry as if one bowed before a grass-skirted, hula dancing bobblehead and gave glory to the gods of surf and blue agave. As much as the Bible is all-sufficient in matters of faith and conduct, it is not the be all and end all of worship or relationship: it is, truly a means to an end and not the end itself. It is a timeless and perfect record of God speaking to people, but it's not God himself (notwithstanding John 1:1-14).

Why is that an issue? Well, I fear some folk turn the Bible into a stand alone textbook instead of a tour guide. Their fascination begins and ends with words on a page rather than the destination. They place purely intellectual pursuits of grammar and language on equal or superior footing with experience, but I ask, "What is more important: to know God or to know about him?" Jesus apparently thought the former. I think we should be able to know God like we know anyone-- intimately, personally, experientially. It's what the scriptures were given to show us the way to.

When the Bible is made an end in itself, it ends up the domain of the intellectual and learned, but not so much the simple or ignorant. Nothing I find in the scriptures themselves (this for instance) would encourage such a course. Please understand me, I'm in no way discounting the work of the scholar, the linguist, the historian or archeologist. They all have roles to play in making sure we have the most dependable, accurate copies of the word available and I believe God oversees their work. But Jesus isn't discovered or known because one thought deeply enough, studied harder, or was smarter than the average bear.

Jesus is discovered through Holy Spirit conviction, the wooing of God, and the expression of faith. The word informs that, but stops at the threshold of the actual experience of it. The Bible teaches us to listen to Christ's voice and be led of the Spirit. Even the ignorant, the unwashed, and the simple are capable of doing that. Such was the bulk of the early church before the canon was settled upon! The scriptures give us an infallible map of how to venture into the experience of God. They are all-sufficient in telling us what to expect along the way, and how to stay on course and not be distracted or deceived. What they can never do, however, is substitute for the sufficiency of God.

A bit more needs to be said...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Covenantalism Falls Short

I don't know what to do with Covenant Theology. It's not that I disavow biblical covenants per se, but I do not find the conception of theological covenantalism to be a suitable framework for the Godhead's "intrapersonal" relationship nor for God's ultimate designs with redeemed humankind. To discover the architectonic for understanding the flow of the scriptures, a covenantal framework is just not required.

Biblical covenants arose, even though initiated by God, out of sinful mankind’s ignorance of God and our experience of broken life due to our distance from God because of sin. God does not need a framework guaranteeing what his action or relationship with us will be; mere humans, uncertain and mystified, find it helpful.

God knows his own mind and it does not and will not change (which, BTW, thoroughly blows supersessionism out of the water). Nothing innate in him requires a contract to hold him to his promises, good faith, and integrity. Sin and separation has left us dark as to what might be in his heart, and his judgments have proven frightening: covenants are his attempt to help us understand his reliability while we are in our desperate fallibility. All he asks of us is faith, we ask him to put that in writing.

In placing the onus for covenants within the nature of God, it seems to me that Covenantalism reduces God to the level of sinful humanity; i.e. that he has to have a contract to be trusted. We cannot be trusted whether or not we have one, but once a person has been born of the Spirit, rewritten in heart as it were, the concept of covenant is superfluous. That person is one with Christ, sharing the life of Christ and having the mind of Christ, where is the need for an arm's length contract?

Covenants were nothing more than a teaching device for mere humanity that was necessary until the regeneration of the Holy Spirit was possible. That required penal substitution and identification to be established in time. So, though I understand the validity of covenant in bringing sinful mankind into contact with God, I see that Christ is not really offering us a new contract with God--he's offering us a new existence in synergy with God, which is why covenantalism falls short.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some Thoughts on Pneumatology and Monergism

How does the Holy Spirit work with people? Does he have different techniques with different people, or differing approaches for different intended affects? I don't know that the scriptures tell us enough to get too dogmatic about such questions, but they tell us something.

We have instances in the scriptures where the Holy Spirit appears to act almost monergistically in the life of a person. Bezalel and Oholiab (perhaps), Saul, and Caiaphas are examples, none of whom can we say with any confidence were "right" with God and therefore likely to be among those walking the streets of gold. And then we have instances and references in the scriptures where the Holy Spirit is repudiated by people he was trying to influence like Jonah, the Jews, and the folk in the church. Hmmm, man thwarting God Almighty--seems weird, and a little scary!

We also have instances in the scriptures where there appears to be a working partnership between the Holy Spirit and the person he's inspiring. Really, that's how the scriptures got here in the first place, but we also have the examples of Moses, David, Elijah, Elishah, John, Jesus, Peter, Philip, Paul, John, and more. Even though one could try to infer a monergistic-like experience in Acts 2 or Acts 10, I really don't believe that was what was going on (see Acts 2:4 or 1 Corinthians 14:32).

What we don't see, clearly, in the scriptures is an imposition of the Holy Spirit upon someone who is a Christian. So, if  the Holy Spirit monergistically convicts, infuses, and regenerates the born again apart from the any decision or cooperation of the saved, how is it that everything else the Spirit does is resistible?