ENTRY 1214 | January
began last time by mentioning my friend's objection to my saying "good
luck," "lucky," or "gay" as a synonym for
homosexual. I said he's more dedicated to literal usages of words
and philosophical precision than I, and I intended to "unpack"
that statement but other subtopics got longer than expected, so I'm
backtracking here to start that other thread again. I agree, as I
said, that there is no such thing as "luck" in a world created
by a God who knows everything from the time it began and I agree that
homosexuals are usually not as "gay" as they act.
friend calls what most people call "luck" "providence,"
instead of "lucky" he prefers "blessed," and reserves
"gay" to mean light-hearted and happy. He even prefers that
no one say "thank you" to him for simple kindnesses, preferring
that they thank God or praise God for all kindnesses and says that
such precision amounts to a "good testimony" to God and
the role He plays in his life. It may lead others to thinking about
God and maybe even asking my friend about whether he is serious about
agree with his point ("to a point") and even also followed
such principles myself for much of my life, but my conversion from
Calvinism to a more traditional approach to Christian faith has led
me to try to identify more closely with the broader stream of humanity
by speaking more like "ordinary" people speak. I think my
doing so aligns with St. Paul's claim in 1 Corinthians 9:22: "To
the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all
things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Note
that if Paul was as precise in his phrasing as my friend is, he would
never have said that he saves anyone, but rather "that I might
by all means influence some to desire God's salvation." So the
point of the title of this blog entry, "A manner of speaking"
is that when thinking Christians use widely used but imprecise terms,
they are choosing to speak like most other people do in order to better
open and keep open lines of communication with them. But I still usually
say "I'm not a betting man but I bet..." rather than the
more direct but less precise, "I bet."
although I agree that God's sovereignty is so total that our believing
our wills are "free" may be in one sense an illusion, the
sense I get from the first millenium theology of the church, and especially
from the statement from the Second Council of Orange in 529 A.D. quoted
in the previous entry here, is that the church and God want us
to think of ourselves as free moral agents who choose for or against
Him rather than considering ourselves predestined and therefore unable
to choose, as though we're little more than automatons. This is because
the veil or the chasmor whatever metaphor you want to usebetween
our finite minds and God's infinite mind is such that we can never
cross it. He gives us finite minds and finite philosophical categories
to ponder, but discourages us from trying to think as only the Infinite
One can think, in infinite categories. The creator-creature gulf is
a mystery that the church in its wisdom chose not to penetrate, but
the Reformation mind unleashed by the Renaissance refused to bow to
the church teaching. So in a manner of speakingGod's mannerwe
have freewill that is far more than a nonsensical notion.
also said in several previous entries that I would take up two terms
my friend considers theological keywords for our time: monergism and
synergism. When I was in seminary in the mid-1960's, I never heard
either term, but he says that monergism describes the minority of
professing Christians who may really be saved and synergism describes
the large majority of those naming Christ who are not but may think
they are going to heaven. Monergism, as I understand him, is belief
that God alone ("mono" speaks to the idea of "alone")
acts in our salvation, and synergism is belief that we somehow play
a role in our own salvation, that we cooperate with God as though
He can't act upon us without our help. Obviously, if these definitions
are accepted, St. Paul was speaking synergistically when he said that
he plays a role in anyone else's being saved, but I expect my friend
would say that Paul didn't really mean what he said there or that
the translation is bad. My friend says that "monergism"
is a more inclusive term for what in my seminary days was called "Calvinism"
(for John Calvin's view of predestination) and that "synergism"
equates to what was formerly called "Arminianism" (the name
for Jacob Arminius's theological arguments against Calvinist views).
own take is that monergism and synergism, both recent innovations
in Christian theology, are terms hatchedpossibly in hellto
demonize or have excuses to hate Christians who don't interpret things
like 1 Corinthians 9:22 and the parables of Jesus quite the way the
"hatchers" do. Interestingly, in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal
Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Lord says that when the wayward son hit bottom,
"...he came to himself, [and] said, 'How many hired servants
of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger?
I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have
sinned against heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be
called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.'"
Paul in 1 Corinthians, the Lord himself here is less than precise
if there's nothing we can do to begin the process of our own salvation
from the sin nature and spiritually dead state we were born into,
and its consequences. Jesus even says that the father of the parable,
interpreted by virtually every preacher since Him as a metaphor for
God the Father, describes the wayward son as "dead" in his
waywardness, and yet it is the son, not his father, who decideswith
no angelic or divine intervention that anyone mentionsand rises
and starts moving back to the father. Did Jesus' failure to emphasize
(or even to mention) that if the prodigal was "dead" he
could do nothing to bring himself back to the father, mean He forgot?
Did He not care? Or was He suggesting that "monergism" is
not important enough to consider in what would turn out to be His
most widely preached parable?
argument is not that God's grace is not behind any movement
any of us make toward Him (it is), but only to say that sometimes
we and others (including Jesus) may not notice that it is God, not
we, who is motivating our reforms, and God is not too concerned about
that. I don't want this to be the beginning of a theology based on
imprecision, but I do at least want to encourage recognition that
imprecise theological talk goes back in the church's history even
beyond the Church Fathers to the parables of our Lord himself.
and the previous entry may seem too technical for some, and largely
irrelevant as Puritan Calvinists are such a tiny minority in today's
churches, for which I apologize. I have been telling my friend that
I can't agree with many of his most salient theological points, to
which he has been replying that I have to put up my arguments or shut
up. Fair enough, but my reply to that was that I could do it only
in writing, so this is the fruit of that effort. Thanks for bearing
with me, and if you've stuck with it to this point, I hope you've
learned a little through it.
comments, questions? Other topics to take on?
Webmaster Jon Kennedy