If I were to say, “Today is the last Sunday July and it’s sunny and crazy hot,” what all have I communicated? Explicitly, I’ve said, “It’s Sunday and it’s hot.” But, I’ve communicated other things that are equally important. I’ve also communicated:
It is not Monday.
It is not Tuesday.
It is not Wednesday.
It is not Thursday.
It is not Friday.
It is not Saturday.
It is not cold.
The Sun should hide itself behind some clouds.
It’s in the dead middle of summer (July) and not the glorious coolness of early spring or late fall.
So, I’ve communicated a great deal more than the word’s I’ve chosen to speak (type, write, tweet, or whatever the case may be). That’s why it is so important for people to think carefully what you say, because you are actually saying a great deal more than you think. Part of the reason my blog is called “each thought captive” is for that reason. Hopefully, I am in the process of learning how to more carefully understand what I believe and what I communicate, both explicitly and implicitly.
Allow me to move onto to a tweet I saw from a Reformed conference devoted to the doctrines of Calvinism. I’ll leave the details there because the purpose of this post is not to criticize individuals or conferences. (though if I mentioned names I’d be implicitly criticizing them, right??) I want to focus attention on what was said, and then, what it communicates.
Here was the statement: “If God has chosen you in Christ there is no sin too deep to keep the elect from Jesus Christ.”
So, let me first say how I know taking one statement out of a whole lecture doesn’t seem completely fair. I get that. But, hopefully what I communicate is a fair response because I’ve had 77 graduate hours of education (some might call it indoctrination) in the Reformed/Calvinist tradition. I’ve had theology, philosophy, history, etc., all the courses that might suggest I can see through the same lens of this speaker. So, what I saw will (hopefully) be a fair engagement.
What is actually said? For those in Christ, no sin committed, no matter how grievous, will keep them away from the love of God. That’s good news. If you only know my past, you’d wonder if I really have a chance to make to heaven. What else was said? God chooses those who will be in Christ. Those in Christ will continue to fail….On a side note, I hear often that one of the big negatives of the church is the hypocrisy in the church. They think they have it all together. I agree with that statement. There is a good deal of hypocrisy in the church, but what strikes me as odd is this: when I confessed Christ, what I was saying to the world was not that I had it all together, and now I’m adding that last piece of the proverbial pie. I actually was saying “I’m so, so screwed up. I’ve made awfully big mistakes. I’m a jerk. I’m selfish. I prefer me. I’m arrogant far, far beyond imagination. I’m just plan broken.” I wonder if the world would appreciate the church more if we had that attitude about ourselves, and reflected that to the world. Then, there would be a lot less hypocrisy….
More could be written about what was “said”, but let’s turn our attention to what is implied. And, here is why it is so important to think carefully what you say, because what you say communicates more. Here are a few things that are implied from the above statement.
1) God chooses, but he certainly doesn’t choose everyone to be “in Christ.”
It seems that to be saved from those “deep sins” one must be “in Christ”. And, salvation is a good thing, an unbelievably good thing, right? And, the only way to be “in Christ” is if God chooses you to be there. We ordinary humans have no part to play in this “choosing.” We are the thing acted upon, not an actor. God imposes his will where he sees fit. That’s really good news for some, not so great news for others. What is not said or communicated here is “upon what basis does God choose some and not others.” One Reformed answer is, “God chooses based upon his own sovereign will.” Greg Boyd wrote a post where he called it Arbitrary Election (a play on the normal title, Unconditional Election). There is a rather significant implication here about the character of God. It suggest that God is a Father who plays favorites, who loves some of his children, but not all of them. I love my children. And, I can flat guarantee God is a greater father than I. How do I know? I look at Jesus. Jesus came for all, even saying “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” What is implied here is a picture of God that strays from the biblical image of God in Christ. There’s more, and we need to see it before I tie some of these ideas together.
2) There is no sin to deep to remove your salvation if you are on the inside (since you didn’t do anything to get it), and there is nothing noble, good, honorable, loving, merciful, etc. you could do to get salvation if you are on the outside.
Okay, if a Reformed reader stumbles on this page, he might say something like, “The one who is doing all that good stuff you said is the saved one, and the one who continually sins deeply is on the outside… fruit matters.” I hear that. But, that is not what was said. This statement was an encouragement to those Christians who have messed up big time. And, I’m one of those. So, this is good news. But that doesn’t change the fact that what’s implied here is “it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s all up to a completely sovereign God.” I know some Reformed jerks. Sure, there are jerks outside the Reformed tradition. I used to be an unbelievable jerkish Reformed guy. The reason this is so is because of the logic and intellectualism of the tradition. Once you know you are “in” and it does not matter what one does, because what Christ did is all that matters, then you can’t help but live that out. You become like what you worship. And, if you worship a being is arbitrarily decides the fate of every person who ever lived, who orchestrates the events of every individual and plans the steps of every person, it will be hard to live as if your little life, what you say, what you do, how you live really matters. But, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus taught that our lives matter more than doctrine (not that doctrine is worthless). If you believe rightly that God is love, but do not love your neighbor, or even your enemy, your doctrine is negated. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I have a feeling these “Christians” were those in belief only, who lived out logically the belief that no sin “no matter how deep” could keep you from the love of Christ. See what’s implied?
3) What God decides is done. Nothing else matters.
I used to sit squarely in the Reformed Castle. I argued strenuously for the freedom of man and the sovereignty of God as a paradox. And, to some extent, I still believe some paradox exists. But, the more I look at Christ as the fullness of God, I can’t help but wonder if we humans actually do play a big part in this created order. On the outside now, I cannot help but see how insignificant each life is in Reformed thought. Rather than being fellow image bearers, vice-regents of the Great King (Gen. 1, 2), we really are just actors who are created to fill a role and then disposed of when done. But, is that how the creation account describes humanity? Does it suggest humans were only objects of use? No. Adam was invited to name the kinds of animals. Did God go Inception style and plant the names of the animals in Adam’s brain? Or, did God actually give Adam the freedom to play the vice-regent role and participate in ruling the universe? I tend to believe the latter. When Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10, Jesus gives over authority to his disciples to do what he’s been doing, to cast out demons and heal various diseases. What?! Jesus restored the role of humanity to it’s rightful place, to the place he intended for it from the dawn of time.
Here’s why I took the time to write out my thoughts here. If someone outside the church were to have heard that statement, and that person had the capacity to understand the implicit message there, what would he/she have thought about God, man, salvation, meaning and purpose? Would that person have had positive images of God, or negative? Would that person be encouraged about the human condition or felt rather insignificant? Would that person started to seek to know this God?
I’m not sure I want to know the answers to those questions. And, it pains me because God is so incredibly good. Jesus uses the image of a human father, though evil, gives good gifts to his children. If that is so with evil parents (and, I’m an evil parent), know that God is a good, good father who loves to lavish goodness on his children. God is in the process of rescuing and redeeming everything in this cosmos. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col. 1:19, 20)
We all want a world that is at peace. We want a world free from bondage to death, cancer, divorce, hate, evil, violence. If we were really just products of nature, we wouldn’t care because that’s nature. But, we do. We have this innate desire for things to work out well (whatever that might mean). And, Jesus Christ is the guarantee that things will in fact work out well. He’s the Guarantor of the new world to come, the redeemed world in which there will be no more crying, death, sadness or pain. (Rev. 21:4) His rising from the dead, literally, physically and completely, is proof that when the appointed time comes, our bodies including the bodies of my parents who died in my early teens, will be raised to new imperishable life. This is really good news, right?
What you say and what you imply are equally important. When thinking about the good news of Jesus’ victory, it is imperative you communicate this explicitly and implicitly.