Monday, February 11, 2013

The Problem With Protestantism, Part 2

I want you to get inside my head so far. [Yikes.--ed.] This next part is about asking where things fit and how they function.

My theological training as a seminarian as far as it goes was excellent. I don't know a single person there who had reason to be disappointed. We knew Reformed theology; we knew how to articulate a stern, unbending theology into terms palatable to modern man. Despite my school's reputation as a hotbed for theological rebellion, this is grossly unfair. It is both confessional and pastoral, and the only scandal I see is that many of you use doctrinal confessional loyalty as an excuse to be inhuman. Pardon the aside. I mean to say that it cannot be said that I was never Reformed.

There was quite a lot of consternation amongst the students concerning the two covenants between God and Man at the dawn of human history: the "covenant of works" before the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the "covenant of grace" afterward. You can see it there in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, article II. As the next article makes abundantly clear--there is no escaping it--the writers of this document believe that Man in his innocence had the ability to work or earn his salvation from God. The wording is, "having made himself incapable of life by that covenant." That strongly suggests that prior to his Fall, that covenant would be life-giving. Odd, that a group of people so fervently committed to anti-Pelagianism would step so directly into Pelagianism. So, the rebels among us, knowing this, favored an exception to this, and its eventual removal. Others--and I wish them well--have tried to massage this and explain it away. Still others try to make everything into grace in either case. Within the system, this move eliminates the intimate connection between grace and sin. For all the instruction we received to respect the distinction between Creator and creature, I think it fair to say that very few dare to ponder the need to preserve it even if the Fall had never occurred. Again, it is ironic that those we dismissed as having much too high a view of Man and his abilities never made this error.

It had been a conceit of mine that those who held a robust view of free will (such that they felt constrained to deny Reformed teaching on election) had simply never read the Scriptures closely enough. That went on a very long time. But my training has given me the inclination, if not the ability, to read the Scriptures very closely. As I did that, I realized a few things.

First, it seemed like Paul had bigger fish to fry. I began to realize that Paul did not write Romans so that I could win my arguments. That's not to say I thought we were wrong. But I owed it to myself and to God to find out what God (and Paul) really meant. That was the practical fruit of my deepening appreciation for the reality of the Incarnation, in that the human features and means God used to accomodate Himself to man in the process of inspiration, and those we must be attentive to when coming to understand the Scriptures, are not hindrances or even extraneous to that communication; they are a vital part of it. With apologies to McLuhan, the medium is the message. Neither I, nor anyone I knew, was in any real danger of what we might call fundamentalism with respect to a simplistic view of transmission or interpretation, but it is this concept as applied to history that is the doorway out of the 'Reformation'.

Second, it was not a discomfort with the unseemlier parts of Reformed theology that led me away from the "doctrines of grace," as we like to call them. Rather, it was the greatness of the Cross of Christ as the full manifestation of God's love for man, combined with the reality of judgment--personal judgment--that provoked essentially unanswerable questions. If wrath will be personal, if that reckoning for good or ill will be for each of us, then in fact God owes creatures the opportunity to "choose this day whom you will serve." It simply could not be true that salvation was monergistically ordained quite apart from any doing on man's part, and manifest in the mercy of Christ on the cross. Did Christ die for all men personally or did he not? If he did, he doesn't owe eternal life to any man, but whether that death is effective for a man cannot be rooted (fundamentally) in God; if it is, the drama of the cross is a play-act for a special few. This is why the flip-side of a robust Calvinism is universalism; in either case, you are not important enough to have your life in your own hands. But dissenters from Calvinism are right to say that the non-universalist version is barbaric. God would judge a man who was never a man. The glory of Man is to live by grace, choosing his or her destiny. It comes by necessity from the consequences of that judgment to come. It is not correct to equate synergism with Pelagianism. And those who foolishly equate monergism with the exaltation of God fail to see the implications of what they affirm, and they slander Him they mean to exalt. God is omnipotent, but he is bound; he is bound by his nature, which has been shown as Love at the Cross. How fierce will be that wrath after this! What words in defense will be left? But if we cannot choose, we cannot see it.

I have much more to say. You'll have to come back.

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