Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Taking and Receiving

The last two weeks, as I read Bob Sorge’s discussion on quietness and confidence in The Fire of Delayed Answers, I saw where the discussion was at least partially headed – the theological chasm that has divided evangelical Christianity for a long time.

I mentioned last week what a difficult time we had finding a church when we moved to St. Louis from Houston. We had been attending a non-denominational church in Houston. We were in our mid-20s, and were something of innocents when it came to theology wars. Sorge would say our church in Houston was in the “confidence camp” – the camp that emphasizes “the availability of God’s promises and power to those who believe.” We ended up joining a church in St. Louis that Sorge would say was in the “quietness camp,” which emphasizes the sovereignty of God.

“Camps” is probably the right word, although we never heard anyone in our church in Houston refer to the theological debate between the two. Later, when we joined a “confidence” church in St. Louis, again we rarely if ever heard about the debate.

The church we joined in the quietness camp, however, was anything but quiet. Here, the debate was a living, breathing thing. The confidence crowd was simply wrong. Flat-out wrong. And it was discussed a lot. Sunday School classes. Small-group Bible studies. Membership classes. Training for deacons (I stepped away from this training when the book we were using went way off the deep end about “confidence” churches; it didn’t help to be told that this was a standard, widely accepted text).

Our problem was that what we were hearing about the Christians in the “other camp” simply didn’t square with what our experience had been in Houston.

We had walked into the great divide in the evangelical church, and we were ill-equipped to deal with it. We didn’t even know there was a divide.

Sorge uses this discussion about quietness and confidence as a lens for a discussion about the kingdom of God. Is the kingdom something you select, or does it select you? And there it is in flaming technicolor: free will or predestination?

I am not drawn to this debate. I’m aware of it: I’ve read about it; I’ve even studied it. But it’s never drawn me in, on one side or the other. (I’m also not drawn into the debate over human origins; there might possibly be a connection.) Perhaps that explains why I can be comfortable in churches on both sides of the question, except when they go overboard (like our first church in St. Louis). I understand that people can become quite exercised about it, but I’m not one of them. (And this may well reflect my own Lutheran upbringing.)

Sorge turns to the words of Jesus in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

In Luke, Jesus says we must receive the kingdom of God as a little child, and note the word “received.” That means it’s given to us; we don’t make the choice. (I hear cheers from the quietness camp.)

In Matthew, Jesus suggests the kingdom is taken, and taken violently (likely where Flannery O’Connor found the title of her story “The Violent Bear It Away”). Unless you think the two gospels are on different sides of the question, Luke also expresses the same idea of taking in “Seek and you shall find.”

So which is it? Quietness or confidence? Receiving or taking?

Sorge says that Jesus simply answers “Yes.”

I think he’s right.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Waiting for Delayed Answers.” Please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Louise Gallagher said...

I love reading your reflections on Christianity Glynn -- you give me pause to think.

And I must admit, the 'right/wrong' perspective always feels anti-Christianity to me. For me, there is truth in everything, and not all things are true.

Have a blessed day!

nance.mdr said...

most times
it's better
not to take
the bate
of a debate

i think
my post and
your post
was in a way
the passage of
the great divide

jasonS said...

I'm not one to be drawn into the debates you mentioned either. I have thoughts, opinions, and questions but I don't understand why it would divide so fiercely. Being "right" over being loving doesn't seem to be what Jesus lived or taught us. Great thoughts, Glynn. Thank you.