Monday, January 02, 2006

The Great Submission

Modern society is worldly. Sadly, so is the church, in many ways. Author and Regent College professor Craig Gay argues that worldliness is essentially “an interpretation of the realm of human affairs that places far too much emphasis upon human agency and far too little (if any) upon God’s.”[1] Christians have always danced between the Scylla and Charybdis of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It is difficult to find a middle ground.

In the modern world (or as some would claim, postmodern) in which we live, Americans naturally gravitate toward human sufficiency. This ideological residue of the so-called Enlightenment permeates the church. It is so insidious, so hidden in the foundations of our muscular evangelicalism, that we are utterly oblivious to it.

My life as a Christian has been primarily shaped by an organization (which shall remain nameless) that displays this very problem. We subtly believe that we can save the world through our strategic planning. We baptize our models and methods in prayer, trusting that God will come through in a big way. But the essence remains unscathed by our spiritual talk – we believe it is up to us. Gay asserts that modern people see the world as “amenable in principle to calculation and planning,” and that our ideologies “tend to be rationalistic” and “rule out things such as mystery, transcendence, and wisdom.” (50) Those that raise critiques of this sort become targets of reproach “for standing in the way of ‘progress’ and for obstructing the practical task at hand.” (50) We are “deeply distrustful of tradition – for its . . . hesitancy.” We think that the church has more or less been steeped in futility for the last 2,000 years, and now, with our technology and superior strategies, we will bring the task to completion.

Case in point: Eric Swanson, of Leadership Network, (whose blog I enjoy) posted a conversation which began between Jim Collins and Bob Buford concerning the remarkable growth of the early church. Collins asked Buford how he might explain this growth, and Buford asked his readers. What troubles me is how the question is being asked. Buford writes, “As Collins put it, ‘What were the social mechanisms and organizational tools that allowed this statistically remote outcome to happen?’” Do you see it? Do you see the assumption?

Most of the reader responses handled the question in the same worldly spirit. All the leadership pundits chimed in (Buford has an exceptional class of readers), and they all had their theories that essentially revolved around strategy, method, technique and other humanly-controlled variables. One obscure reader from South Africa showered the discussion with sanity. What explains the growth? “Ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds, in ordinary circumstances, in the context of a certain time in eternity, acting in radical obedience by the power of the HOLY SPIRIT, orchestrated by Almighty God not limited by science, time, space, or comprehension of man.” Dallas Willard, one of my heroes, gives a sober and balanced response, emphasizing the winsome nature of the Christ-life emanating from believers.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter what we do as Christians, that God is going to do his thing despite our insignificant doddering. What I’m saying is that our perfunctory planning needs a shot of submission to the Sovereign.

[1] From Gay’s excellent book, The Way of the Modern World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist. Eerdmans, 1998. p.4.


Blogger Josh said...

Amen and amen

5:16 PM  

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