Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Blessing of "Predestination"

Mark Driscoll has long (deliberately, I think) been a rather divisive figure in American evangelicalism. While worthy of respect for bringing the gospel to tens of thousands of unchurched people in the American northeast and founding the church planting organization Acts 29, he has come under fire for, among others, some of the practices of Mars Hill church, sexism, and, most recently, a certain tweet he made about President Obama. Fortunately, I'm not going to focus on any of these things but want to comment on his doctrine. Specifically, a section from his most recent sermon which was interesting in light of my post series on providence (which I swear I'm working on finishing).

First of all, he does mention Arminianism dismissively and in passing, which is sadly about par for the course for most of the Calvinists I've read. He boils Arminian theology down to the single statement that "We choose God", while Calvinism is implied to stand for the much more theologically sound belief that "God chooses us". To Driscoll's credit, he does admit this is a simplification--but getting the facts wrong is not the same thing as simplifying them. I'm not exactly Arminian, but I'm close enough to feel somewhat protective of it, and I think a better summary would be that "God invites us to salvation and we freely respond with faith, to which God responds by bestowing salvation in Christ". Not was pithy, but then the truth rarely is. It's a common misconception of Arminianism (at least as I understand it) that it believes we are the initiators in relationship with God; this is absolutely not true.

But that's just a minor correction; I'm getting used to being surrounded by people I disagree with and I hold no ill will toward Driscoll for this mistake. What's more interesting is his series of illustrations that follows. He argues for "predestination" with a series of stories of personal redemption: first Paul, then himself, then a variety of other people with prison shivs, demonic encounters, and tattoos of the virgin Mary with devil horns who all had salvific encounters with God. What his argument boils down to is that if you want nothing to do with God and seem irredeemable but God finds and saves you anyway, you were predestined. You know what? I agree.

I'm not trying to create more controversy here but to shut it down. After his earlier comments, these examples don't say anything objectionable to Arminianism. In fact, I don't think they speak directly to the predestination debate at all. That God can powerfully change the hearts of people opposed to Him and redeem them is not a controversial truth, at least for Christians. Driscoll doesn't here care whether this total transformation happens by irresistible grace or the sinner's willing acquiescence, and I gladly accept his point that God lovingly chooses to bless and save sinners who care nothing for Him.

Of course, given Driscoll's repeated use of the loaded term "predestined" (which I'm sure means something different for him than for me), I'm not sure that his own aim was to defuse controversy. But if we listen and seek to understand and interact with truth claims rather than simply agreeing with or denying them, a lot of controversy in the church starts to seem unnecessary.

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