So today I found myself hanging out, and talking theology in a cozy environment with one of the more respected theologians of our time. I am truly blessed. 10 years ago, I was living completely for myself and doing my dangest to satisfy my every fleeting whim. Now I'm getting up close and personal with people like Norman Geisler, Tim Keller and Michael Green. I've met Dinesh D'souza and Lee Strobel, who've written some great evangelical and apologetic books that have inspired me. I've met leaders in the Anglican church like Robert Duncan and Todd Hunter. Amazing. Inspiring people that have given their lives to Christ.
Today it was Michael Green. From Wikipedia:
Green has been a prolific writer, with much of his work written for a popular reading audience, although he has also contributed to academic studies. Many of his best known books discuss the twin topics of evangelism and apologetics.
One of Green's objectives has been to equip lay Christian believers in their grasp of the gospel message, and to then have confidence to converse with others about faith matters. These practical objectives are very clear in books such as Evangelism, Now and Then and Sharing Your Faith With Friends and Family. At a technical level Green has contributed a valuable academic study of the praxis and theory of evangelism in Evangelism in the Early Church. This work explores the development of evangelism through the New Testament texts and from the early church fathers, and is a basic text in Christian missions. He has built on those foundational studies in his advocacy of evangelism at a parish church level, both through his personal ministry and in his book Evangelism Through the Local Church.
His apologetic work has generally focussed on popular misconceptions and objections held by non-Christians. In books such as You Must Be Joking, World on the Run and Why Bother With Jesus, Green deals with attitudes of religious indifference and scepticism. He also addresses a variety of objections concerning religious hypocrisy, religious pluralism, and popular questions of doubt and unbelief. He has also examined the evidences for the life, death and resurrection of Christ in Man Alive and again in the revision of that book The Day Death Died.
He has considered aspects of apologetic methodology and strategy in his co-authored work with Alister McGrath. Aside from his apologetic writings, Green has also addressed issues of discipleship in the Christian life, ministry and leadership in the church, the doctrine of baptism, pneumatology (the Holy Spirit) and demonology. He has also written non-technical commentaries on certain books of the New Testament...etc.
OK...so you get the drift...the guy is a big deal in his circle. He has been referred to as the Billy Graham of Europe. And here I am, sitting in a bar with about 20 other people shooting the breeze with him on the topics of Christian life, evangelism and theology. What?!?
Last week, I got to spend three days in a small room listening to Tim Keller. Now I'm on to Michael Green. God indeed has a plan for our lives. It was sometime in the summer months of 2006 when Reba interrupted me from doing some online fantasy football research (very important) to inform me that she was pregnant, (and I went straight to church for the first time in eons), that God put me on a road to the bar I was sitting in today. Oh, and I had a coke. I was sitting in a bar for two hours drinking soda, on superbowl Sunday, talking about Jesus Christ. This is ME we're talking about here. You don't believe in the transformative power of the living Christ?? The proof is manifest in the changes I've undergone in the past five years. Praise God.
So, I didn't miss the opportunity to ask a question on the topic of last weeks blogs. I've been struggling with the question of Calvinism. About how we can exercise Free Will if God's in complete control of everything. About what it means to be an Anglican, and whether the 39 Articles are more Arminian/Weslyan than Calvinist...etc. So I addressed it to Green.
Here's what he had to say. Which was brilliant by the way...
First, he stated scripture supports both a strict and a moderate view of the five points of Calvinism. The scripture says that some are elect, but it also commands to spread the gospel to all of the world. That God has a perfect plan for your life, but that you are also free to decide to accept him or not. Ie: That God is in Control of all things while we also exercise Free Will. And because Green is who he is...he immediately pulled this verse out of his theologian cap to back up his point:
John 6:37 "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will never cast out.
There you have it in one sentence. The strict election of Calvinism in the first part, and the more moderate free will approach of Arminianism in the second. It's like a father holding out his finger, and the child looking up and grabbing it. You can't grab it without God enticing you towards it...but it's up to you to take a hold of it. If you reach up to grab it, God will NEVER pull his hand away. Green said further that in his daily life as a priest he employs both Strict Calvinism and more Moderate Calvinism. He said that before he goes to give a sermon, he is on his knees as an Extreme Calvinist. Giving complete glory to God and acknowledging that God is in complete control of his preaching. On his knees Green asks for help, knowing that nothing good can come from the sermon and out of his mouth, unless God is directing it all. And then, from the pulpit, his conduct is that of an Arminian. He is telling people that they have the right to choose God, to look up and say yes...to accept Gods hand at their own volition. Inviting people to say to God: I accept what you've done for me, and I accept that without your hand holding mine...I will not become the person that you have planned for me to be.
Man...what an answer. It was exactly what I was looking for. It was exactly the passage that I needed to read to put this question to rest for myself.
As I contemplated and prayed about it the past couple of days I did come up with some illustrations for myself that I wanted to write down so I didn't forget. I know that we can't understand all the ways of God. There are Holy mysteries that will not be revealed until the end times. But even so, I felt I should be able to come up with examples of how God can be in complete control, even while people are exercising the free will to ignore Him. Illustrations for how we can be preordained to sin, but at the same time choose a one way eternal trajectory to Hell.
Here's what I got:
In law, one can be in control or possession of an object without touching it. This is a concept that my clients often don't want to hear about. It's called 'Dominion and Control'. For example, when the marijuana is in arms reach of two people, but neither one of them is holding it, they are both guilty of a crime. They can both be charged and successfully prosecuted for MJ possession. Another example: When I'm teaching my son to ride his bike, there are moments when I take my hand off his seat so that he can in fact guide the bike on his own. He doesn't understand all that's happening. He doesn't know whether I am directing him, or if he is directing himself...but in all aspects I am still in control. One little slip, and I'll be there to catch him. However, he his exercising the Free Will to peddle and steer, all the while entrusting me to guide his journey. Both of these thoughts came to me in the middle of the night. I was struggling to imagine how God can be in control without directly touching or interfering with our choices. I'm shocked that I remembered them.
One last thing. As humans, we so desperately want to put things in a linear timeline. We want to say that God must be cruel to have decided from the beginning wether some of us would be sinners, and others repenters. And that the sinners would be punished at the end of time, for what they were preordained to become. That sounds cruel doesn't it? But what we forget and what is hard for us to comprehend, is that God is a mist that completely envelops the linear concept of time. He is, at the very moment that I'm typing this, at the beginning the middle and the end of the timeline of the universe. At the same time you exercise the free will to sin, God is watching it happen...but he is also still at the beginning of time knowing it will happen, and also at the end of the timeline with the hindsight of whether you ever repented for the sin. So he is in complete control, and complete knowledge of the past future and present, because He exists in all of it. Another way to describe this:
Lets say you are at the bottom of a dark tunnel inside a mountain. At the other end, at the opening of the tunnel, you can see the daylight streaming in. Once a day you catch a glimpse of a train roll by. You can only see the train at the exact time that it goes by the mouth of the tunnel. But God...he is perched on top of the mountain. He can see the train coming, as it arrives, and as it is far gone past the tunnel entrance. This is a great illustration of our perspectives, verses God's perspective.
The lesson for me? God is in control of my life, and he has a perfect plan for my life. I can see that by the way he has positioned me to spend time with these amazing Christians over the past five years. Even the smallest decision could have resulted in Reba and I staying in Baltimore, or never finding our living faith in the risen Christ. It was a fragile journey that I know I could not have navigated without God running behind my bike, hand right behind my seat. I have the free will to direct choices about my career and my personal life. I even have the right to look up and reject God, or choose to hold his hand. But beyond that, I entrust the rest to him. The rest of the stuff is beyond my pay grade. I entrust Him completely with the big picture.
Now..off to exercise my freewill and watch the Superbowl. Much Love.