Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I got where I am, theologically (part two)

Last time (you might want to read that article first), I talked about my pre-Christian life. In this installment I want to describe my life as a follower of Christ. As I said previously, after the birth of our son, we joined a very liberal Episcopal church. How much so? Well, the associate rector (a woman who seemed more interested in fighting "fundamentalism" and taking part in AIDS marches than evangelism) unequivocally told me that the Bible was NOT the word of God; while the rector (a man, an extremely nice and avuncular fellow who I believe was saved himself yet tragically deceived) told me that he and I disagreed on the issue of ordination of practicing homosexuals because I "believe[d] in following what the Bible says." Yet, even in that church, there was a believing remnant; I played on the worship team with one such woman. God has His people all around.

Anyway, while in one sense it was the worst place we could have been, in another sense it was one of the best. Because, when I started to be really convicted by the Holy Spirit, and even at that point I realized that I could not turn to the church leadership for spiritual guidance, I called upon my soon-to-be old friend and now fellow Anglican C. S. Lewis. I found the books that my old friend Lee Braddock had given me several years earlier, dusted them off, and started reading: and was instantly convicted not only of the logical sense of Christianity, but also of its rightness. In a flash, Christianity seemed to me the right thing; not just right because it made me happy or made sense, but ultimately and finally Right. This is one of the many reasons why I believe in the monergistic ("Calvinistic," if you prefer) view of salvation: shortly before, I not only had no interest nor desire for the things of a Christian God; they seemed (to my Unitarian-leaning mind) not just illogical but totally wrong, a violation of the universe. Now, they were ultimately Right. I was devouring C. S. Lewis books and intensely interested in learning more and more. Against my will, I was converted, and (in accordance with what monergism teaches), it instantly became my will.

At first we all become followers of our teachers, and thus, following C. S. Lewis (a pretty pure Arminian if ever there was one), I became an Arminian believer in Jesus Christ. What Lewis wrote about God not foreseeing our belief, but rather just seeing it made some sense to me. It was about this time I first heard the sorry "Corridor of Time" analogy: "God looks down that corridor of time and discovers who will believe in Him, and thus He elects them." That analogy made little sense to me even at that time (for reasons I will note below), but the Lewis analogy of God being above time as we might be above a piece of paper and look down at the squiggles on the paper made at least some sense. I was still bothered somewhat - after all, didn't God make the paper, too? - but I was satisfied for the time being. I bought wholeheartedly Lewis's rejection of Total Depravity and his argument about God not wanting to create armies of puppets (and thus libertarian free will was mandatory).

After about a year at the Episcopal church, I knew we had to leave. The end finally came when I realized that the church would be teaching my kids things radically opposed to what I believed to be the truth. So I started looking for another church, and quickly found a solid, Bible-teaching church pastored by a graduate of Dallas Seminary. Again, my beliefs changed somewhat: I became a pre-tribulational, "Calminian" (which term I will write about soon) in the mold of Dallas Seminary and Lewis Sperry Chafer. This was clearly, to my maturing Christian mind, much closer to the truth. The Bible was held up as the standard of belief (rather than feelings and uninspired pure reason).

Then, I came upon a book that would change my beliefs forever: "The Gospel According to Jesus" by John MacArthur. (Books have played quite a part in my spiritual journey, haven't they?) In it, MacArthur made a convincing argument - both practical and Biblical - against the "easy-believism" or "anti-Lordship salvation" message taught largely by Dallas Seminary graduates. It made total sense to me, the same way Lewis had made in my initial conversion. Why would God allow people to be saved, only to live the exact lifestyle they had always lived? I read all the anti-Lordship arguments: about how "repentance" in the Greek really just meant "changing your mind." That seemed woefully inadequate. Clearly, if God had a purpose in salvation (which He surely does), He not only wants us to change, but He Himself will empower us to change (though His Holy Spirit). I was still primarily a believer in decisional regeneration - make a decision to believe, and you're in - but it was clear the anti-Lordship view took that way too far. What I didn't realize, of course, is that anti-Lordship is the logical consequent of decisional regeneration: if I make the decision, I'm saved, no matter how I live my life. But, again, I was happy, and more mature in Christ. I also, following Dallas Seminary teachings, was a believer in "once saved, always saved." Now, even at that time, it didn't make total sense to me - if I made the decision to believe, why can't I make the decision to "unbelieve"? - but, again, I left that as something to learn on another day.

We spent the next 7 years at that church, generally learning and growing as a Christian. Almost three years ago, for various reasons we switched to Cornerstone Chapel, where we now attend. And, the more I learned and read, the more the "Calminian" position I espoused started bothering me. The anti-Calvinist position of Calvary Chapel was actually a great help, because it brought my discomfort into clearer focus. First, what about that decision thing? Why can't I decide to unbelieve? Along with that was the whole idea of libertarian free will and the belief (which I had inherited from C. S. Lewis) that God had to give His creatures free will because He respected our freely-given love so much. What bothered me was this: if God is so intensely interested in giving me free will to believe or not, why is it, once I believe, that He takes my free will away from me? In other words, if I have the free will to accept or reject Him before I'm saved, then why do I not have that free will after I'm saved?

At the same time, I was becoming increasingly troubled by the famous "Corridor of Time" or Lewis's example of God looking down on His creation from outside time like we'd look down at a piece of paper, like some 3-dimensional visitor to Flatland. (I should mention that, though Flatland has no specific religious aspect, and in fact is quite anti-authoritarian, it too played a part in opening my mind up to the possibility that God might intrude into my nice, neat, atheist / materialist world.) My troubles were three. First, let's say that God is not determining my future; rather, my future is laid out on that piece of paper or corridor. But didn't God make the piece of paper/corridor? If so, how can it be that He is not in control of it but simply observing it? This seemed to me to imply that God is somehow subservient or at least co-equal to the corridor or paper; an idea which is right at home in the pantheon of Greek gods or even in Flatland (where the sphere did not control the flat plane, and in fact was bothered by the concept of 4-dimensional beings when the hero of the book brought it up) but not in Christianity. Second, if God can look down the corridor and see what I'm going to do, I still have no free will. My future is determined, not by God, but by the corridor; it only looks to me like I have free will. (I once had a discussion with a very intelligent and caring agnostic who brought up this same point.) This was unacceptable; for one thing, I'd far rather depend on a loving, perfect, and righteous Father God to determine my salvation than some impersonal corridor or sheet of paper. Finally, I saw no Biblical support for the corridor or paper: they may be interesting analogies, but when I looked to the Bible for support, I found none.

Finally, one more problem that came to mind was the adoption metaphor used in Scripture. I had been looking at particular proof-texts and ignoring the overall tone or message; as C.S. Lewis said in another context, claiming to see fern-seed but unable to discern an elephant in broad daylight. The adoption metaphor hit me when I realized that I was taking the typical "Calminian" view that, though I was eternally secure in the sense that God would never cast me out through my sin, I could get myself kicked out of heaven through unbelief. But my whole viewpoint changed after we adopted our daughter. What, I thought, could Danning ever do to get kicked out of the family? Could her simple unbelief in our authority, or even active opposition to us? No! She would still be our daughter forever, and I'd be doing everything I could to bring her back into a right relationship. But, if the Calminian view was right, she could get herself "unadopted" from us. I would never unadopt her, I thought: so how could God, far more loving than I, do it?

So, I read more, trying to make sense of everything I was reading in the Bible. Finally, thanks to radio broadcasts by the Bible Answer Man, I heard Dr. James White and finally realized that monergism was the answer to what was troubling me, theologically speaking. It was Biblically supported; it made sense; it was rational; it was emotionally satisfying; it was - if you understand it rightly and not caricature it - just. Now, I am not a mindless follower of Dr. White: I still disagree with some of the things he says, including some of what he has said about Calvary Chapel. But again, my mind was opened to the truth. Everything I had read in the Bible suddenly made sense. It wasn't MY decision for God that made me a Christian, it was HIS decision for me: and God doesn't change His mind or make wrong decisions. I was no longer depending on the Corridor of Time for God to make a right judgment of my belief or unbelief: I now knew that God will make the right decision, far better than I ever could. Finally, I didn't have to worry about why I could possibly believe in eternal security: once God adopts you into His family, you're there forever.

Does monergism answer all the questions? No. I still don't understand how we can have free will in any sense at all with God knowing and foreordaining the future. (Nor do I understand how I would have free will with God simply seeing and not foreordaining the future as my Arminian friends teach: a fact my agnostic friend quickly and ably pointed out to me.) But, though not understanding totally, I believe in monergism because the Bible teaches it, just as I believe in the Trinity because the Bible teaches it without totally understanding it. Really, though, it should not be surprising to us that God can understand things we cannot. After all, let's say I someday have the privilege of meeting Steven Hawking. Pretty much anything he would say would leave me totally confused. Does this mean I disbelieve him? No! My logical conclusion would be that because he's so much smarter than I am, he probably understands a lot more than I; and I'd assume that if I was as smart as him, I'd most likely agree with him.

If that's so, how much more true is it with God, not only infinite intelligent, but also infinitely wise, and not chained down by sin as we are, His understanding and judgments undarkened by sin? I can't begin to understand how He spoke and the universe instantaneously leapt into existence ex nihilo; so how can I fully understand His plan of salvation and interaction between His knowledge and will and ours? If God's plan and working could be totally comprehended (the Latin word, appropriately, means to grasp and totally take under control), God would be no greater than I. And that would be truly wrong.

That is where I stand now. I know I don't have all the answers. But I do know that I must tell the truth as I currently understand it, as I continue to grow and mature as a Christian, and with God's help working out His plan for my life, I will learn more and become closer to God and His understanding. I pray the same for you.

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