Friday, November 16, 2012

Backwards Preaching

I don't normally listen to Christian radio or radio preachers, but driving around in a rental car this week, I listened for a while to a particular minister -- a Baptist of some reknown -- and I had a sort of eureka experience of recognizing a theme in much of his preaching that I find quite disturbing. When I say a eureka experience, I mean that I recognized this in preaching I had heard from hi...m before, but I had never identified the trend before this week.
In his descriptions of God, he describes One who is essentially passive. Oh, God wants to bless us, he urges, but He is really waiting on us. God is waiting for us to act or do something, and when we do, God will respond by blessing us. When we fail to act, we are missing out on the opportunities that God would have given us. But, God is mostly waiting for us to react to His principles.

On the other hand, when this minister talks about Satan, as he is prone to do, the pastor describes a creature who is actively engaged in opposing God, thwarting His purposes, and defeating Christians. The devil is busy and active.

God is passive and waiting, in this view; Satan is busy. The view of Satan approaches dualism, except that the view of God is closer to deism than to historic orthodox Christianity.

This is really quite extraordinary. Rather than seeing God as active in history and redemption, working out His purposes for the good of His people and for His own glory, God is pictured as more or less hindered by our willingness, or lack thereof, to work in His behalf. On the other hand, Satan is unfettered, working to accomplish his purposes.

This is horrible preaching, both doctrinally and pastorally, as it results in calling upon people to do more and try harder in the face of superior obstacles, without an emphasis on God's divine initiative or the driving motivations of God's active grace in our behalf. In fact, all of Christian doctrine, as has been said, is grace, and all of Christian behavior is gratitude. We don't earn God's favor; we respond in gratefulness to it. And we don't battle a superior being in hopes of accomplishing God's purposes. God's purposes are certain to be accomplished, and we have the privilege to be participants, the means through which He accomplishes His will.

Let pastoral motivation driven by forces other than the grace of God be done away, cast into hell along with God's enemies. We can rest -- and be energized -- by divine sovereignty and grace.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

On Hope and Change

In a fallen world, it is no wonder that we tend to associate hope with change. Life is too much filled with death and depravity, disappointment and despair. Naturally, we long for things to be different.

In a temporal sense, it may be appropriate to pursue hope by seeking change, whether that be by personal or political means. However, in an ultimate sense -- theologians would say in an eschatological sense -- hope is found in that which does not change. "For I the Lord do not change," we are told by Malachi.

Malachi follows that statement by saying that as a result of God's changelessness, God's covenant people were not consumed. In other words, the God that does not change will therefore keep His promises, and that can be relied upon even when the world around seems to be falling apart. This also means that the day will come when death and depravity, disappointment and despair, will be swallowed up in victory when He fulfills all of His promises and makes all things new. We see these promises expressed in Romans 8, where, after talking about suffering, the Apostle Paul says that we ultimately "know that all things work together for good" for believers. How can we know that? Well, Paul says, those whom God foreknew, he chose, and justified, and glorified. God already gave His Son for us -- that which was most valuable to Him -- so we can be sure He would not withhold anything else. Therefore, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Whatever the current circumstances, we can be confident that God is keeping His covenant.

I read recently the blog of a professional acquaintance who said that he would be "miserable" if his prediction about the outcome of Tuesday's election turns out to be wrong. Certainly, elections are important, and I will be disappointed on Tuesday if the candidate I vote for does not win, even as I find that much about the country disappoints me regardless of the winner on Tuesday. Even so, it is important to remember that the condition of our souls, and the ultimate hope for our future, and for the future of our children, does not depend on temporal change or on the future or solvency of the country, but on the God who does not change, and who keeps His promises.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I should add that this confidence should not engender an escapist mindset, with the result that we would sit on our hands and wait for the end. Rather, it should give us boldness to engage our world with confidence that our efforts, in both word and deed, will benefit our neighbors and be for God's glory. Confident assurance is not the opposite of active engagement, but it is the opposite of cynical indifference engendered by a hopeless fatalism. To the contrary, amidst trouble, we have hope in Christ and the opportunity to share the same with those who see only death and depravity, disappointment and despair. Such is the Christian task in this world.