Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Real Predestination

I've written elsewhere about the primacy of worship in the theological enterprise, rather than straight rationality. Whereas Aristotle might say (depending on translation) that man is a "social" or "political" animal, and whereas many college students might say that man is a "party" animal, I think the Biblical definition is inescapble that man is, at his core, a worshipping being (my apologies for the male-centric language -- no offense is intended). The effect of this on theology is at least two-fold: we can only understand the mysteries of the Christian faith (and there is much irreducible complexity) by worshipping and theology that is understood in worship is inherently historicized. The latter point is what I wish to attend to now (although the former is very vital -- if my book of Chalcedonian faith ever gets written, I'll be dealing with that).

What is meant by "historicized theology" is theology that is relevant for the life of the Church. Or, to put it negatively, historicized theology is the opposite of philosophical theology. Many in the Calvinist Tradition (the "Geneva Rite," I suppose), end up worshipping a philosophical God, especially concerning the doctrine of predestination. We talk about the "eternal decree" and the "double will" of God, about the necessity of reprobation, and other things that are, frankly, more philosophical than Biblical (to be clear, they are derived from the text, not necessarily imposed from an outside system). Predestination, then, gets turned into a caricature such as can be seen in Love Wins by Rob Bell, which he bases his whole argument against. In the end, this "god of the philosophers" ends up producing a very troubling sort of theologian (I should know, I've been through this ghastly "phase"): an arrogant know-it-all who, instead of being humbled by God's grace, cannot wait to shove the esoteric knowledge down the unsuspecting Arminian's (or whatever) throat.

What might a "historicized" predestination look like? Consider Romans 8. Here (St.) Paul is discussing God's plan for the world through Jesus the Messiah -- the restoration of all creation into the "liberty of the sons of God." A beautiful picture. It is this picture that is capped with Paul's great assertion that God has "predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son." That is, God is remaking the world right now, God is remaking us right now, God is going to do it through this strange and wonderful collusion of His love, His justice, and His power. And, He's given us His Spirit so that we can fruitfully tag along. Instead of the abstract, eternal decree, Paul seems to be describing predestination as a very this-worldy phenomenon (whether the plan originated before or after the Fall seems to be quite beside the point), the brunt of which is this: God is doing this great work, He's equipped you to be a part of it, don't you want to orient your life and the life of your community correspondingly?

Here is where worship comes in. We do not worship a remote, far-off god who, even if he could hear prayers it would not matter; instead, we worship the God who created the world "and everything in it" and who is actively remaking the eagerly-waiting world, who gives His Spirit now to us so that we might join Him, and who guarantees success in the endeavor. There are no words that can truly express the worship that bubbles up in me when this Gospel is proclaimed -- thank God for the Psalms and liturgy, to supply my dumbstuckness with a voice! "Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise!" This worship, then, this moment where the Spirit joins the community in union with the Messiah, sends us out into that "eagerly waiting" world to hear the news that its captivity has ended, its sins have been paid for, and it is time for the "seasons of refreshing to come."

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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