Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Like It

If you've paid the tiniest bit of attention to the Christian blogosphere or publishing world this year, you probably heard about Rob Bell's fancy new update of George MacDonald-style universalism (that 'hell' is temporary (in Bell's update, it's temporal as well) and restorative rather than punitive - it's God's redeeming/purifying fire rather than his wrathful punishment of sin). Hopefully if that book was even the slightest bit intriguing to you, you first (or better, instead) read Kevin DeYoung's outstanding critique affirming the Biblical doctrine of God's judgment.

But this isn't about any of that, per se.

One interesting phenomenon which arose from the discussion of hell was the tone of many of the defenses of the doctrine - "I may not like the idea of hell, but the Bible teaches it, so I guess I have to believe it". Now this is clearly superior to outright disobedience, but it's short of what Christian maturity requires. DeYoung recently posted two articles which deal with this issue, and these I also wholeheartedly commend to you.

It boils down to this: scripture teaches us the character and will of God. God is good, and everything He does is good. Our goal in sanctification is to become more like Christ, which involves renewal of our minds to love the things God loves. Now, begrudging acceptance is certainly better than rejection of any kind, but we can do better. Consider four possible responses to Biblical teachings, ranked from worst to best:

1) Hypocrisy/Sabotage. Someone who claims to believe, but actively works against the Biblical doctrine. Often accomplished by using familiar Biblical terms in new, unbiblical ways (any similarity between this description and Bell's entire modus operandi is totally not accidental). This is the lowest of the low, worse than outright atheism - these are the wolves, the false teachers that we are so frequently warned about.

2) Defiant rejection. Better than the first class, because at least it's honest. The Bible clearly teaches it, but we reject it because we don't like it. This is the default state of fallen humanity.

3) Begrudging acceptance. "I may not like or understand it, but scripture plainly teaches it, so I have to believe it." Clearly and unquestionably better than the previous, but still not where we need to be. It still trusts my own sense of goodness more than God's, and places myself as judge over him, which is obviously wrong. The acceptance at best comes from a commendable knowledge that God's Word is true, but lacks the conviction that God's way is good.

4) Conformed affection. This is where we need to get. Not only accepting the truth of God's Word, but being fully convinced of its goodness. We learn to love what God loves.

Now the big challenge is to identify areas where you, personally, are still stuck in group 3 and need to grow up, to mature to response 4 (if you're in response 1 or 2, your biggest need isn't maturity but repentance). In my experience, there are three big doctrinal areas where the Biblical teaching is abundantly clear, but acceptance for many is begrudging at best.

God's righteous judgment/hell. See the DeYoung articles. Far too many of us 'defend' the doctrine as if it's detestable. And the thought of any person willingly bearing God's wrath rather than repenting and believing in Jesus Christ is horrific. Yet scripture is clear that glorified saints in heaven will cry out for God's judgment on the wicked and rejoice when it happens. What do we need to understand about hell and judgment to bring our attitude closer to the perfected saints in heaven?

God's sovereign election. I spent a long time as a begrudging believer, after a long time trying to rationalize away the scriptural evidence. The big change for me came through a better understanding of our depraved nature as well as God's gracious display of his glory.

Complementarianism. I think I'm detecting more begrudgingness in defenses of God's created order. Not just with complementary roles for male and female, but also with sexuality in general. Why is it good that the genders are designed have different roles in the church and home? Why is it good that boys should like girls, and why is it good that boys should not like other boys? Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm hearing a bit too much "Well, sorry you can't be a pastor, but rules are rules, ya know?" and "Gee, it sure would be great if you could indulge those sexual desires, but God says it's bad, so you have to resist, I guess", and not enough faithful proclamation of the glorious way God created us male and female.

What doctrines do you struggle to wholeheartedly accept? With what other doctrines do you too often see timid, begrudging acceptance?


Robert said...

I don't know if I'd qualify this as a doctrinal issue, but I'm finding that I am having to work on showing more grace to other Christians. I'm thinking that if I can do so it will actually help me to be able to lend counsel where I see sin issues instead of kindling up the fires of sin in my own heart. It is amazing how quickly I can turn into a hypocrite about sins I see in others...espcially pride. I have seen some progress, but I am thinking that God is really trying to break me by showing me how much pride is in my heart.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post.. very helpful to consider.