March 20, 2016

John and Jacob on Sinning Sinners

Sometimes you have to be born into it in order to get it. Only when you have been taught to think a certain way does all thought in that line of thinking always make sense. Those who are outsiders, who learn to approach all things from different angles can easily lose their way. I know - I'm like that. My first religious education came through the efforts of my grandparent's church, a Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) congregation whose pastor was a woman. Every Sunday she would faithfully read from and expound upon the Scriptures and she seemed to do an excellent job of it, too. It never occurred to me that women didn't belong in a pulpit and that women weren't allowed to authoritatively teach and preach God's word, so saith the Southern Baptists. The internet indicates that church would have likely been into Arminianism. Most of my spiritual formation came from the Southern Baptist tradition. For them, Calvinism and Complementarianism was the litmus test of correct knowledge which proved one's faith was genuine. In my years there, I saw an increasing emphasis on these two pillars to the point where all other possible interpretations were excluded as if they were as close to heresy as possible; meaning that they were simply wrong. It seems every time I try to get myself up to speed, somebody throws at me a link to a list of statements and leaves it at that. There's no questions allowed and no explanations just waiting to be given. I've gone over those lists and I just don't get what people see in them. Perhaps it was the way they were taught to think that makes it easier for them. Approaching it as an outsider, one whose first spiritual education says the opposite - it's just really hard to accept that the other group is right by some virtue and my group is wrong because we don't see things the same way.

John Calvin lived in the early 1500s. That means that for a millennia and a half, Christians were born, lived, and died without John Calvin's interpretation of the Scriptures that would have ... done something, I guess - I don't know. Calvinism is important because it means it's followers are really true genuine Christians and they didn't have that option. John Calvin was trained to be a lawyer, he learned Latin and later on Koine Greek. Then he had a religious conversion but he wrote two different accounts of it. He broke away from the Roman Catholic Church - in the process it became necessary for him to  be on the run. It gave him plenty of time to do some writing - such as the Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he first wrote down what would be known as Calvinism while he was defending the Reformers - he became one.

Calvinism is known by the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity (Total Inability, Original Sin), Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption), Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints (Once Saved Always Saved)

Total Depravity: as a consequence of The Fall (Genesis 3) every person is enslaved to sin. By nature, people are not inclined to love God, but rather, serve their own interests and reject the rule of God. Which is why people are morally unable to choose to believe in God because their nature prevents them from doing so as they do not have free will. It's derived from Augustine's explanation of Original Sin. When carried to an extreme - it appears in the idea that sinners are no different today than the ones from before the flood - evil is written on our hearts all day long and we cannot choose to be anything different. In the Left Behind books - it's seen as a result of God's church being raptured - without them serving as light, the whole of humanity falls into darkness, crime rates skyrocket the world over (not just in the immediate aftermath, but continues to ripple long after the event), art itself stops being clean but even reflects the evil within human hearts.

To that, Arminianism proposes Prevenient Grace: it acknowledges that humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows a person to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offer by Jesus Christ or to reject salvation. Prevenient grace enables mankind to believe if they choose to. Some fear that this idea takes God out of the driver's seat and puts it on the individual person to be a party to their own salvation rather than the recipient's of God's work alone as a passenger.

So here are my questions on Total Depravity: "Is it true that people are slaves to sin and cannot chose to not sin? If so, then why are all sorts of people concerned with human rights, treating each other as equals, respecting one another - these things seem more in line with 'good' and 'not sin' than they do in being selfish or sinful?" "Does that mean that acts of generosity and altruism and kindness and goodness are really egoist and selfish in disguise? How can you tell when a person donates to charity if they are doing it in a genuine manner or an inauthentic one?" "If the extreme - that all people are sinners through and through, who have nothing but evil on their hearts - is a mischaracterization, what is best actual explanation for what total depravity means?" "Does it matter whether or not you're participating in your own salvation by accepting the offer of grace or receiving salvation that was irresistible and forced upon you - an offer you could not refuse? Isn't getting saved the result either way, after all, God made it happen, one just agrees with it and the other accepts it." "I thought God wanted to save the whole world - why would he choose to save only the elect? Doesn't that automatically condemn the billions of non-elect people to Hell?"

As I said, you have to be born into it in order to learn to think along those lines. From an outsider's perspective, the facts don't always line up with the figures and it can be difficult to wrap one's head around the picture it presents of God. While we think we might have him figured down to a 'T', that takes all the mystery and majesty from having such a predictable /clockwork kind of God. One where we say our magic words, he says his and we know where we stand for all eternity. Except for that we don't. Because we won't know if we're elect until we die. So much for knowing every tiny detail about God and the way He thinks. That's the thing - I don't really care about what Arminianism and Calvinism says because I know that believers managed to believe without them - so I don't see why I should have to take sides. I've been taught both and elements of both shaped what I learned from a young age. I don't think I could be strictly Arminian or strictly Calvinist even if I tried.

I get that people aren't paragons of moral perfection, but I worry that the view that all people are all sinners all the time can create a disparity in how you treat others who aren't saved from their sins like you are. How you can view all of them as lying thieving selfish gluttons just like you used to be before you were changed. You might automatically discount their word because they came from unsaved lips. You might ascribe to them the worst motives because they came from an unsaved heart that is incapable of doing anything good. You might take precautions because you expect them to rob you blind. I don't care so much whether or not people are sinners through and through if saved people treat sinners as being unworthy of human kindness or decency because they believe that the sinners are unable to be kind or decent. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, I prefer to see the best in people and the good inside of them. I don't think Jesus even elaborated on Adam and Eve and original sin, he was busy teaching that we ought to do good to one another, love one another, to help one another - and that was even before people could be technically saved by believing in Jesus' Resurrection! What does having 'right doctrine' matter if it turns us into the sort of Christians who don't believe that people can be good? Why would we want to waste our resources on those non-elect who will never go to heaven no matter how many times we tell them the story? That's the problem with the logical outcome of this thought - it gives us an excuse to not be kind or decent particularly to those who aren't one of us.

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