What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Conversation No One Cares About Any More: Predestination & Free Will

In my fourteen year reign of terror as a campus minister, few things have shifted as radically as the interest in the historical theological quandry of predestination v. free will.

As a student, we would agonize for hours over if God had chosen people for salvation (and had not chosen others) because our wills were too broken to choose him...or if we all had enough will power in us to make a decision on our own for God.

For many years I was solidly in the "predestination" camp. If there was a scale from 1-10, one being God is a distant clock-maker who winds up the universe and steps back to watch and ten being that God dictated that I'd be wearing my blue fleece right now, I was somewhere around a nine.

Over the past seven or so years, I've shifted to probably around a seven. It's still mostly about God's initiative, pursuit, and occasionally dragging us back home by our hair, but we have some inexplicable ability to embrace or reject that pursuit...sometimes.

But like I said, no one's asking that question on campus any more--the conversation has shifted to much more practical issues like justice and the problem of pain. On the whole, I think this is a good and helpful shift to a much more productive conversation.

But I've been reading 1 Peter 1, and Peter opens up with calling the recipients of his letter "the elect" and says that they were "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God." So, in spite of my historical avoidance of this topic here in blog-land, I'm ready to give a quick sketch of what I think the point of this whole election/choosing thing is all about.

God chooses. There's no way around that. Starts with Abraham--chooses him to be the father of the nation Israel. No particular reason or anything in Abraham that commends him especially (he was an idolator), God just picks him to be the father of the nation Israel. But what is Israel's job? To be a light to the nations. The choosing was for the blessing of those not-yet chosen.

The New Testament talks about choosing a lot. And the one who is most "chosen" throughout the New Testament is NOT the church but Jesus himself. Jesus is the chosen one. There's lots of ways to talk about what he was chosen to do, but Jesus himself described his mission this way in Luke 19: "I have come to seek and save the lost."

Jesus' chosen-ness is certainly about him...but it is also about a work that he is to do that's beyond him to reach those who are far from God.

One of the first thing Jesus does is choose twelve guys. He gives them the name "apostles." Apostles literally means "sent ones." The chosen ones are not chosen for the sake of themselves. They are chosen for the sake of being sent to those who are not yet a part of God's family.

The purpose behind God's choosing throughout all of history (from Abraham through the prophets to Jesus to his disciples to his church today) is missional not institutional.

The point is not to create massive bureaucracies like nation-states and now churches that simply exist to feed the machine of themselves. The purpose was to create a nation-state and now a church that exists to partner with him in seeking and saving the lost.

Lesslie Newbiggin sums it up gloriously (as he does most things):

The Church is the bearer of the work of Christ through history, but not the exclusive beneficiary. God purposes the salvation of all. For this purpose he has chosen a people.

Because that people have over and over again fallen into the sin of supposing that they have a claim upon God which other men do not have, they have over and over again been punished and humiliated and have had to hear the word of God spoken to them from others…

The Church is servant and not master. It is appointed to a stewardship on behalf of all, not a privilege from which others are excluded.

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