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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's Get Small

Steve Martin, the comedian, did an album back in 1977 entitled Let's Get Small. Now, I have to tell you, I've never heard the song (or the album). I think he's talking about drug-induced hallucination, but I can't be sure of that, either. What I do like is the idea.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). He was, of course, talking about how his own notoriety and influence would diminish and Christ's would increase, but that concept is true every day in the life of the Christian -- He must increase; I must decrease. To be precise, He must arrive at the fullness of His actual glory and we must arrive at our actual depravity in our perceptions.

This isn't an easy endeavor. The sin nature inherent in all of us aims precisely at the opposite. "I will be like the Most High." We work tirelessly to bring God down to our level and elevate ourselves to His. We're not as bad as all that and He's not as great as all that. So we find a prevalent notion that people are basically good when the Bible says, "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Rom 3:12). We are quite sure we are intrinsically valuable where Scripture assures us, "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless" (Rom 3:12). And we really love the notion that God loves everyone unconditionally, but we have to hold that warm affirmation of our loveableness in the face of God's Word1, not because of it. We humans live in a constant state of self-aggrandizement, specifically in exaggerating our own importance in terms of God.

As any bully could tell you, the other half of this effort would be the other half. If you are small and want to feel larger, you do it two ways. You elevate others' perception of you and you diminish others' perceptions of others. So you try to look big and you try to make the big ones look small. So while we work hard at dismissing the biblical explanations about the depravity of Man, we are equally hard at work diminishing the biblical explanations of the grandeur of God. The most common method, of course, is what the Bible refers to as "idolatry". Simply substitute for God something that is less than God and -- poof! -- you have a smaller God. Adam and Eve did it when they ate of the tree and made themselves gods. Aaron did it with the gold of Israel when he made the calf. Humans have been doing it since creation.
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Rom 1:21-25).
So we have Jehovah's Witnesses who claim that Jesus was not God (and all the theological destruction that causes) and Open Theism that claims that God is not Omniscient (with the ripple effects of such a denial) and "Progressive Christianity" that dismisses biblical standards (God's standards) in favor of "inclusiveness" and "knowing God" in favor of "questioning". We -- even self-professed Christians -- turn John's statement on its head: "He must decrease, but we must increase."

Well, look, I understand that it's not popular. I get that it's not comfortable. It may not feel like the right thing to do. We are assured that we must not reference ourselves as "worms" (Job 25:6; Psa 22:6) or "worthless" (Rom 3:12). Finding our true value in Christ alone isn't ... safe. Or so it seems. But is it real? The Bible seems to say that our popular, comfortable, safe consensus on the subject is wrong. He must increase; we must decrease2. He must become large. Let's get small. At least, that's where I want to go. Anyone with me?
1 Consider this. God may love everyone to some degree or another, but not without conditions. For instance, not everyone will be saved (Matt 25:46). God's love doesn't save us; faith (a condition) does (Rom 5:1). All things work together for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28), not everyone. God does not choose to save everyone (Eph 1:4-5). Indeed, the Bible itself explains that God hates some people (e.g., Psa 11:5; Prov 6:16-19; Rom 9:13). And when Jesus prayed, He prayed for His disciples and explicitly not for the world (John 17:9). God does not condition His love for us on us, but His love is not without conditions nor is it equally applied to all.

2 I believe, in fact, that this principle is a helpful tool for detecting false teaching. "Does it elevate Man or diminish God?" When either condition is met, it is a warning flag.


Craig said...

This reminds me of a few futile conversations I've had with some on the theological left.

Stan said...

I was teaching a class on Romans to a class of theologically right adults. Romans begins, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus ..." I explained that Paul used the word for "slave". I was immediately interrupted with "I'm not a slave!"

It's not just the theological left that dislike this concept of "getting small".

072591 said...

To be fair, the word "slave" has negative, racist connotations here in America; that is why the term "bondservant" is more commonly used.

Stan said...

True, but when a white male Christian tells me "I'm not a slave!" in response to the explanation of the word Paul used, it doesn't seem to be a racist connotation. It seems to be a "I'm better than that!" connotation.

Naum said...

1. The word δοῦλος, which you map to "slave", has a more ranged meaning -- "bond servant", servant, etc.

2. On open theism: open theism is, at root, a belief about the nature of the future. Open theism is not, as open theists repeatedly point out, a belief about God’s omniscience. Crudely stated, according to open theism God does not know the future because the future does not yet exist. This does not limit God’s omniscience because if the future does not exist then there is nothing for God to know. In short, the future is 'yet to be,' the future is 'open' and unfolding. The openness of the future in open theism is generally rooted in a libertarian account of human free will. Because humans have free will God does not know what exact future will unfold in the face of human choices. Thus, open theism is described as a relational view of God as God is waiting upon and responsive toward the free choices of individuals. God, being infinitely powerful and resourceful, will bring about God’s purposes for the world, but how exactly that future will unfold is to be determined. God is playing, so the metaphor goes, a chess game with humanity. God will win the game, that outcome is 'predetermined,' but the exact course of the game is an unfolding and relational process given the moves humans will make and how God opts to respond as a consequence. Not to say that I wholeheartedly endorse this take, but just to note that "open theism" does not subscribe to the charge that "God is not omniscient".

Stan said...

Good to have a Greek scholar aboard. Where did you study?

The American mentality says, "I'm nobody's _____" and you can fill in "slave", "bond-servant", etc. Use whatever term you wish. We won't tolerate it. We are better than that.

On Open Theism, I know what it is. But it denies what the Bible affirms about God. "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Psa 139:16). "I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'" (Isa 46:9-10). Instead, it affirms above all Man's Free Will and subjugates God's sovereignty to it. Open Theism, as you indicated, is " rooted in a libertarian account of human free will", elevating Man, instead of submitting to a biblical explanation of God's Sovereignty (Yes, the Open Theism version is with a lowercase "s" and the biblical version would be an uppercase "S" to illustrate the difference) and Omniscience. No, I know of no Open Theism advocate that actually denies God's sovereignty or omniscience; they simply redefine them to match Man's Free Will ... which was the point of the post. They (you) claim that the outcome is "predetermined", but can't even begin to offer a rational explanation of how that can be since God Himself doesn't know what will happen. Yes, the Open Theism side denies this is a lowering of God and an elevation of Man. My point is that it is just that regardless of such a claim.

Naum said...

1. Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, though learned much more on my own, can give you books and other points of reference if you like. But will agree with you in sentiment, that for Jesus followers, "Jesus is Lord" rankles American ethos.

2. You're cherry picking scriptural references to buttress your predeclared (which is a theological construct of the interpretation of others, and you're confining yourself to a narrow conservative/fundamentalist theological band) position. Open theists point to scripture too, and there are lots of conservative evangelicals (with a lot more Greek and theological training than either you or me ;)) that hold to open theism. Again, myself, I reject both determinism/predestination and free will, so make of that what you will :), but point, is again, your theological arrogance, chest-thumping, that your narrow theological band you subscribe to is the *one, true* path, and all else are just posers of following Jesus -- you might want to check yourself, lest you look like the "religious experts" Jesus castigated in the NT. :)

Stan said...

"But will agree with you in sentiment"

Agreement! Good!

On the "theological construct of the interpretation of others", my Bible says, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3). It is, thus, not my aim to come up with a new construct. It is my aim to contend for the same faith that every believer from the Apostles to the present day were given. The Omniscience of God that includes all time has been settled from the start and only recently become a point of contention. I have never understood (and not one person has ever offered an explanation) how it is that the Holy Spirit who was sent to lead Christ's followers into the truth took 2000 years to finally accomplish this.

And I'm completely lost on the concept of neither free will nor God's Sovereignty ... or the dismissal of "one true path". I don't believe I've suggested that everyone who holds to Open Theism is outside the faith. I would warn that remaining in that view might tend toward that, but I'm commenting on a belief system (like Roman Catholicism or Jehovah's Witness), not those who are within the purview of that system.

David said...

See Naum, this is why you don't make any headway with Stan. Stan said Scripture says X and gave several references. You reply, "That's cherry picking". You might as well say "Nuh-uh". The fact that those verses are there NEED to be answered. If the majority of passages say one thing, and a few say something different, the two must be reconciled, not pushed aside without remark. You want to change Stan's mind (and many of his readers)? Respond to the passages. Say WHY they don't say what they seem to say. Present the opposing Scripture and say why it is more compelling. I'm sorry, but for EVERY theological idea found in Scripture, you HAVE to cherry pick, because not every verse talks about every topic. The verses that disagree with you are in there. They need to be answered, not ignored.