“God is primary” is the way we say it at Coram Deo. Here’s how AW Tozer says it in his marvelous little work titled The Knowledge of the Holy:
Almighty God, just because He is almighty, needs no support. The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see… Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represent him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world…
Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.
…It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds [these] ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in the universe. The Christian religion has to do with God and man, but its focal point is God, not man… That God exists for Himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible.
Coram Deo believes that the church must engage culture. Living out this value is designed to keep us from “falling off the horse” in two ways. One way to fall off the horse is to bless the culture’s idolatry, soft-stepping around tough issues and changing the essence of the gospel to make it “palatable” to postmodern ears. The other way is to hold to orthodoxy in a way that ignores or drowns out the questions that the culture is asking. Unfortunately, Christianity at large is guilty of both errors.
Christians usually see the first as a more egregious error – a syncretistic slide toward relativism. But the second may be even worse for the progress of the gospel and the honor of God’s kingdom.
James B. Jordan is as conservative a theologian as they come. For those of you who know your categories, he is a Reformed Presbyterian of the theonomist/reconstructionist bent. So for him to make the statement I’m about to quote is massive in light of his own convictions and the people he generally runs with. I quote Mr. Jordan to point out that engaging the culture is not some radical notion that only church planters talk about. In fact, if Mr. Jordan is correct, it’s our lack of cultural engagement which threatens to doom the church to irrelevance.
Here is what James B. Jordan wrote in a recent article:
“…the Protestant age is coming to an end… The paradigm is exhausted, and the world in which it was worked out no longer exists. We must take all the great gains of the Calvinistic heritage and apply them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living. We must be aware that there is far more in the Bible than the Reformation dealt with, and that many of our problems today are addressed by those hitherto unnoticed or undeveloped aspects of the Bible. Those who want to bang the drum for a 450-year old tradition are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Our only concern is to avoid being beat up by them as they thrash about in their death-throes.”
I am a Reformation Christian. If pushed, I’d even be willing to call myself a Calvinist, though I eschew much of the unbiblical and uninformed baggage that comes with that term (usually from those who haven’t studied the primary sources). But Mr. Jordan has hit the nail on the head. Living the heritage of the Reformation doesn’t mean “beating the drum for a 450-year old tradition.” It means taking the great gains of our history and “applying them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living.” That’s a great perspective on what it means to engage the culture.
Ah, freedom… that oft-invoked yet little-understood word. Clear enough to elicit our affirmation, yet cliche enough to make us skeptical. What does it mean for the human will to be free?
Some fairly simplistic thinkers suggest that freedom means being able to choose any action at any moment. That definition will suffice for many who simply want to justify their choices. But for those who are more philosophically rigorous in their thinking, there is more to freedom than meets the eye.
For what is it that actually moves us to act – to exercise our wills in a certain direction? It is our desires. And so, in a very real sense, we are free to do only what we want to do. If we have no desire to do something, we are in some sense not “free” to do it.
St. Augustine (354-430) put it this way: “I am free with respect to any action… to the extent that my wanting and choosing to perform that action are sufficient for my performing it.” In other words, desire is really the essence of freedom. Desire moves the will. In order to choose something, we must first want to choose it.
This has obvious implications for the movement of our souls toward God. God must first create in us the desire to believe in Him before we can choose to do so. In Augustine’s words, “there is no ability whatever in free will to believe, unless there be persuasion or summons towards some one in whom to believe.” Free will is neutral. It does not move in a direction unless desire spurs it to.
An even more important implication confronts those of us who would seek to follow the way of Jesus: changing what we do isn’t nearly as important as changing what we want. The goal of apprenticeship to Jesus is the transformation of our very desires. And that is no small task.
A question for us to ponder: do you, and do I, intend to be spiritually transformed?
Read and reflect on Dallas Willard’s words about what the connection between belief and intention:
No one can actually believe the truth about [Jesus] without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility… The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving “Christian culture.” In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor and your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don’t intend to follow their advice, you simply don’t trust them. Period.
Now, an intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill or carry through with the intention… If I intend to obey Jesus Christ, I must intend and decide to become the kind of person who would obey. That is, I must find the means of changing my inner being until it is substantially like his, pervasively characterized by his thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationship to the Father… People who do not intend to be inwardly transformed so that obedience to Christ “comes naturally” will not be – no matter what means they think of themselves as employing. God is not going to pick us up by the seat of our pants, as it were, and throw us into transformed kingdom living.
So the problem of spiritual transformation (the normal lack thereof) among those who identify themselves as Christians today… is that it is not intended.
-from Willard’s excellent book The Renovation of the Heart