Thursday, October 13, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Six {Providence}

[We didn't have our group this week because about half of our seven person group was going to be gone.  So I'm recapping last week and hopefully from now on, I'll stay caught up!]

The topic last week was "God: Providence" (The God Who Is Involved).  Another controversial one! While I think most, if not all, Christians would say God has foreknowledge, Christians disagree on whether, and to what extent, He foreordains things.

The first thing we did was watch the video and it has some interesting points.  First, it said that God continually provides (which is from the same root word and providence) in order to bring his creatures into relationship with Him.  It also said to to try to secure our own future is a denial of providence, and a form of atheism.  I really liked that.  The video discussed two different views- the idea that every event is willed by God and occurs exactly as it does.  That's the traditional view.  The contemporary view is that God is surprised by his creatures and sometimes responds to their requests.  This provides support for petionary prayer.  For me, I relate to both.  I don't think God is surprised by anything, so to speak, but I do think he responds to our prayers.  Both these views relate to suffering in different ways- the classical, or traditional, view states that suffering is part of God's will.  The contemporary view holds that suffering is the result of chance, chaos, and human sin.

We discussed several Bible passages related to providence.  We talked about Joseph in the Old Testament and discussed how God had brought good out of what his brothers intended for evil.  We also discussed Esther and my favorite verse of all time- Romans 8:28.  I shared what that verse meant to me.

We talked about how, from a human point of view, the doctrine of providence means God cares and wants to be involved with us.  Our book said it so well, "a believer not only sees providence at work is situations past, but anticipates providence will manifest itself in events currently unfolding".  It also said "Some may be troubled that the providence of God seems so intent on larger matters as to be inattentive to individuals.  The person seems to be only a means to an end.  In a sense, this true, but not necessarily negative, because it means human beings have importance beyond themselves.

Then the waters got murky ;) Our study made the point that in it's most basic form, all believers accept the principle of election-- God, with tasks to be done, seeks ways of accomplishing those purposes.  It talked about Israel being a chosen people and how they were chosen not so much to be blessed, but to be a blessing.   Election becomes an issue when it is seen as affecting the salvation or rejection of individuals.  This was a great description, I thought, from the book-- "For those in the Reformed tradition (Calvinist), election also means predestination, that is, all are foreordained to either eternal life or death. The action is entirely on God's part; grace is irresistible; and the Atonement is limited to those who have been chosen.  Arminian theology (Wesleyan) takes a different view.  Salvation depends on the human response; grace is resistible, and the Atonement is unlimited but effective only for those who accept it."  The reading continues, "No doubt, effective cases can be made from the Bible for both pints of view.  Both positions are supported by earnest and reliable advocates.  Broadly speaking, the Reformed position emphasizes the otherness of God- that is, God's absolute right to deal as God wishes with God's creation- while the Arminian position emphasizes the love of God.  Probably each needs the influence of the other.  And certainly no one can be fair to the several themes of the Scriptures without appreciating both positions".

We further talked about how human freedom and divine providence are companions, rather than adversaries.  God not only "welcomes human participation, but solicits it".

I also really liked this passage from our textbook: "We may distinguish two aspects of providence.  The first is preservation, by which God sustains all creatures.  The second is government, by which God guides their feelings and actions.  We may also distinguish four ways in which providence operates.  The first is motion,by which God prompts creatures to feel and act in a particular fashion.  The second is assistance, by which God strengthens the good inclinations of creatures.  The third is concurrence, by which God supports and opposes the feelings and actions of creatures.  And the fourth is permission, by which God allows his creatures to feel and act in a particular fashion" - Jacous Arminius

We discussed what all this meant, especially the last part.  It is my opinion that God knows and even allows everything that happens to happen, but that doesn't mean he wills or ordains it to happen.  We discussed Armimianism and Calvanism some more and one of our pastors actually came in to help explain it better.  He was very gracious in explaining the Reformed position, which is obviously contradictory to much of what we believe as Wesleyans.  He also explained a position called Open Theology, which, to the best of my understanding, basically assumes that although God doesn't know the specific outcome of a situation, he knows everything that possibly could happen.  That is hard for me to wrap my mind around.

One other thing we hit on was a few common misconceptions we hold about our brothers and sisters in the Reformed tradition.  Peyton and I have been blessed by some fascinating dialogue with some precious Calvinist friends (I'm looking at you, Howie family) and I think we were able to bring a lot to the table in clearing some things up.  For example, it is my understanding that most Calvinists do not think that you have to be a Calvinist to be part of the elect.  However, one member of our group was under the impression that they thought a five point TULIP profession was necessary for salvation. Of course Calvinists think we're errant in our theology, but I explained that I don't think most think it's essential to having an authentic relationship with Christ.

Anyway, it was a good night of (hard) discussion.  I'm so glad that I can be challenged and stretched this way!

1 comment:

David Howie said...

On this issue, John Wesley wrote on the death of his good friend (and Calvinist) George Whitefield, "In these we may think and let think; we may agree to disagree."

This is the first time that the phrase 'agree to disagree' was ever put in print.