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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Package Deal

Lately I've been accused (and by "I," I mean someone else entirely, but with whom I mostly agree) of wanting to "pick and choose" from contradictory "systems" of belief. The accusation sounded a little bit like this:

"Your concern for social justice is clearly "Social Gospel."
Your anti-death penalty stance is taken from the Liberal's political agenda.
Your references to God's sovereignty in salvation sounds very Calvinistic.
You talk about postmodernism as though you've really bought into all of it.
You quote R-rated movies like someone who is well acquainted with worldly things.
Your environmental concerns put you in the company of hippies and tree-huggers..."

Ok, I'm sure you get the point, but it goes on.

"And all of the above sounds just like that Blue Like Jazz guy, so you're one of those."

Or, even better (worse?):

"You may not recognize it, but I've seen all this before. It's just the same old liberalism dressed up in new, trendy clothes."

Where do we get the idea that everything comes as part of a package? (Ok, so I'm pretty sure I know where we get it, I'm asking for the sake of discussion.) Why do we have to put everything in neat little categories? Even more importantly, why do we assume that belief in one aspect of a system means adherence to the whole thing?

I'm really into the idea of redemption lately. I've seen God take things that were clearly not God-pleasing and turn them into beautiful instruments of praise. To me, that should be our standard for picking and choosing. Environmentalism is good stewardship of creation. I that's a redeeming quality, whether the "issue" is associated with nature-worshippers or not.

Just for fun, here are some more things I believe in. I am:

-Pro-life because I believe that life is sacred. (Not just criminally innocent lives, but all life.)
-Pro-peace, because I am pro-life, and because peace is evidence of the Spirit.
-For engagement of culture, because Jesus' incarnation modeled that for us.
-For immigration, because the places people come from aren't always good places for them to live.
-For church/state separation, because it might not always be "us" in charge.
-For freedom of expression, for the same reason.


cafeaddict said...

we categorize in order to label. when you don't fit neatly into the defined category, people don't know what to do with you. i completely understand your struggle. in my country, we are having the problem with the word "evangelical." what was once an unknown word here is now a hot topic, thanks to our president and the war in iraq. the label is associated with religious right politics and fundamentalist chrisitianity. talk about a double whammie!

i think part of the reason we are so misunderstood is because we refuse to identify with a "group." we don't buy into anyone's idealogy 100%. we are okay with that but those who have spent their lives defending said idealogies get really frustrated with us. to them we are sell outs. to us we just recognize that truth can be found in several different places. so we don't fit and that scares a lot of folks. honestly, i am okay with that.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

Wow, and you trying to push all my buttons at once?!?!?!

I'll try to address just your main question, despite how strongly I feel the urge to hit them all at once! I'm assuming that it would not be post-modern to refute every one of your false positions point by point from the scriptures, right?!? :)

Okay, here's my post-modern-est attempt to answer your main question.

I grew up hearing our preachers tell a version of the Gospel that was a conglomeration of basically 1 point of Calvinism, 1 point of Arminianism, and 3 points of both! So, I was an 8-point Calvaminianist.

When I began studying soteriology with an adult mind, I found that the Gospel I and many Baptists had been taught simply didn't make sense. For several years after that, even while I served as a church minister, I just thought that salvation didn't make sense. I thought that not only was it foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is actually foolishness even to us believers.

Only when I studied Arminianism and Calvinism as two different systems, with points of doctrine that flow from one point to the other, did I realize that salvation does make sense. If you believe that man has free will, then Arminianism makes sense. If you believe that God is sovereign, then Calvinism makes sense.

So, often a person adopts a whole system of beliefs based on his understanidng of one basic principle from which the whole set of beliefs logically (oops, that's not post-modern), I mean uh, naturally springs.

Last week I saw a family here in the states with lots of children. Here's what I know about them without even asking: they homeschool, they are political conservatives, the mom "stays home," and they are anti-abortion. All of these things spring from one source---their interpretation of the biblical concept that children are a gift from God. In their minds, to say that a child is a gift from God, then to submit him to atheistic public education doesn't fit. To say that a child is a gift from God, then to drop him off at daycare all day doesn't fit.

True, some Christians choose an eclectic set of values to embrace the truths but avoid the errors of the various systems. But more often Christians accept an eclectic set of values because they do not understand the basis for those various values.

There is a good example in the personal beliefs you listed. (Oops, I think I'm accidentally veering toward modern argumentation. Please forgive me. I'm trying!) You are against murder of unborn babies because life is sacred. Good! Life is sacred because man is created in the image of God. But you are against capital punishment on the grounds that the life of the criminal is also sacred. But God says that His way of defending the sacred lives of human beings is by authorizing humans to execute those who violate that sanctity. Human beings are authorized, and in fact commanded to execute murderers.

(Genesis 9:5-6) And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. (6) "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."

Please do not dis-count systems of belief too quickly. Many of them are based on very sound reasoning from solid foundations in the truth.

(I know I lapsed into modern type of argument there at the end. Sorry. I'll try again next time.)

Love in Christ,


WTJeff said...


I respect you because you're challenging all of our tradtional beliefs regarding social justice. For far too long, being a good Christian means being an apologist for the Republican Party. You seem to drop all the modern labels and become who Christ made you to be. It takes courage to do so. One thing I've been learning lately is that it's hard for a leader not to become a target. Jesus had the bullseye on his back as He ate at the home of tax collectors and sinners and He told us to expect more of the same. I respect dedication to Jesus and your willingness to follow Him where He leads you.

Jeff Parsons
Amarillo, TX

stepchild said...

Thanks. As always, I appreciate your comments. I think you're right about this being a modern worldview thing. You said:

"If you believe that man has free will, then Arminianism makes sense. If you believe that God is sovereign, then Calvinism makes sense."

But what if your reading of scripture leads you to believe both? Neither Arminianism nor Calvinism are big enough for someone who thinks that believes both in free will and God's sovereignty. That's why you have all sorts of people who are smarter than me saying things like "I'm a __-point Calvinist." Aren't they "picking and choosing" to a certain extent?

I know the type of family you use in your illustration. What I was questioning in my post was the idea that the whole thing is necessarily a package deal. You said it well with:

"True, some Christians choose an eclectic set of values to embrace the truths but avoid the errors of the various systems. But more often Christians accept an eclectic set of values because they do not understand the basis for those various values."

I think that the "blind acceptance" of values is a modern influence on Christianity, and one that needs to change. It seems to me that with it comes legalism and "knowing what you believe but not knowing why."

(You're probably right about what they believe, I'm wondering what assumptions you'd make about me if you saw me walking down the street.)

As for the scripture you quoted, I kind of read it differently. To me, it affirms my position (trying to speak modern here) against the death penalty. It does say that a murderer will be put to death. I don't understand it commanding us to do the killing. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe it's clearer in the original Hebrew...

By the way, I like systems of belief. i just haven't found one that "works"/makes sense for me yet. I guess that's why I'm "picking and choosing." I don't want to through out the baby, but a lot of the existing systems seem to have a lot of bathwater.

Thanks again. These comments help me think things through and explain myself better. I think.

Jeff Richard Young said...

"BY MAN shall his blood be shed"


Brittany said...

We were amazed in Richmond to talk with colleagues following the Wade Burleson incident because so often we heard, "I don't know what he did, but I support the trustees' decision no matter what." Maybe that's reflective of a modern-mindset: don't question the decisions of authority figures. The same can be said of Republicans who defend Bush, as well as of Democrats who defend Kerry. Each person seems to gloss over the errors of their leader because their allegiance to the party tells them to do so.

Too often I've been labeled a rebel because I resist submitting to authority figures, but truth be told I have no problem supporting people of integrity and honor. But I still have trouble pledging allegiance to a faceless entity or organization (political, religious or social) because it's hard to sign on to a group that will never 100 percent speak for me or my beliefs.

stepchild said...

Right. I get that it says "man." Why do you take this to mean you or me or our government? I'm not sure how this translates into a command to maintain the death penalty.

I guess I could cite all the verses that say "Do not murder," but then you'd probably see a difference between "murder" and "kill." You're probably right, but I think I'm going to stick with believing that all life is sacred, just to be on the safe side. Don't forget, the New Testament God the kills people too.

And here I thought you'd like that I am consistant about my theology of life...

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

Do you see some problem with making a distinction between killing and murdering? All murder involves killing, of course. But a soldier fighting his country's enemy, an individual defending his life against an armed robber, and an executioner carrying out a murderer's sentence are killing, but certainly are not murdering.

If God indeed ordained that murderers should be executed, then is it SAFE not to do so?

Yes, I am aware that God also refers to capital punishment in the New Testament.

(Romans 13:4) For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

I LOVE your attempt to be consistent in your theology. It appears, however, that you want to live out the principle, "Life is sacred." according to your method, which is to take no life, rather than by God's method for human society, which is to take the life of the guilty and defend the life of the innocent.

Love in Christ,


Brittany said...

If we're going to obediently execute murderers, shouldn't we also obediently stone wayward children? Or adulterous adults?

Another way to look at it: Pro-life advocates would say they oppose abortion for 1 of 2 reasons: either they believe in the sanctity of life and/or they believe innocent babies should not be murdered. But if you hold to Scripture that states we've all sinned, then really that developing baby isn't innocent. And if you hold to the sanctity of life argument, then how could you also advocate for killing anyone (murderer or newborn)?

stepchild said...

I can't imagine where you would get a reputation for being a troublemaker...

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brittany,

Murderers are not legally executed because they are guilty of orginal sin. They are executed because they are guilty of the crime of murder. There's a big difference.

Love in Christ,