What Shall I Do With This Beautiful Decay?

As usual, I’ll preface with the caveat that I’m no theologian, and have no aim to be. My sense of theology is constrained by commonsense and the recurrent question of what seems evident in the world around me. Neither pure rationalism nor pure empiricism suffices in the removal of cobwebs from my weird little mind.

And that, I think, is as it should be.

Though I tend to live deep inside my mind and have little to say in speaking, that inner world is filled and completed by the outer. Out the window today, I see thunder and lightning, the green of branches and leaves, the mist of rain on a quiet gravel road travelled only by those I’ve known all my life.

How, then, shall I relate to this beautiful, decaying world and those in it?

In Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, Roger E. Olson writes,

“original sin primarily [is] a moral depravity that results from deprivation of the image of God; it is the loss of power to avoid actual sin…This means that all people are born with alienated affections, darkened intellect and perverted will. There is both a universal cure and a more particular remedy for this condition; Christ’s atoning death on the cross removed the penalty of original sin and released into humanity a new impulse that begins to reverse the depravity with which they all come into the world.”[1]

I’ve encountered this thinking on a universal semi-cure before, applied to the collective state of humanity. It’s the thinking that reviles firm sermons on the reality of hell as being too offensive; the admonishment against local pastors who dare to tell community members they are sinners in need of God’s intervention; the explosive rebukes behind closed doors against our ministers for saying forthrightly, “Christ died for you.” [2]

The doctrine of the new impulse, the imago dei under restoration, has a pragmatic outworking. And that is what always and ultimately interests me about theology: How does it affect my people?

Olson remarks, further,

Inherited depravity includes bondage of the will to sin, which is only overcome by supernatural, prevenient grace. This grace begins to work in everyone through Christ’s sacrifice (and the Holy Spirit sent into the world by Christ), but it comes in special power through the proclamation of the gospel. [3]

I think two things: First, I profess as Olson does that total spiritual depravity is more than an inability to avoid sin in all parts of one’s being. It’s also a total lack of desire to avoid sin and self—an utter incomprehension that one’s sense of the good is in itself inherently self-referential and self-serving.

Literature bears this out. In fact, a great atheist artist of our time affirms it. A true villain is one who believes in the righteousness of his own goals and motivations. Thus saith Joss Whedon.

Secondly, Olson quite accurately reflects that semi-Pelagianism is the heretical scourge of today’s American evangelicalism. On that note, I also think that to invest the preaching of the gospel, whether the speaking of a preacher or one’s reading of the sacred text, with some special spiritual power, is in far too many cases a Christianized paganism. It’s akin to casting spells or saying “white rabbits” on the first day of the month.

Such an outlook makes idols of preachers across America and enslaves congregants to “that’s what Pastor said.”

And I can no more believe in that than I can believe in saying “I have faith in my faith” a million times over to obtain a million dollars from God, or marching in circles around an abortion clinic and “praying down the demonic stronghold.”

These are the strongholds we face—lofty ideas raised up against the knowledge of Him. We’re almost too easily skewered on this dilemma:

–On the one hand, divine coercion to goodness is not relationship.

–On the other, human enlightenment on relationship with the divine is not goodness.

The dilemma, I believe, is false.

Our attempts to prevent evil can only be imperfect, imbued with entropy and fractured noesis. As such, they will naturally be unjust in some vein. We, as sinners, cannot truly comprehend the use of power for good.

But we have a God whose character is said to be justice itself. A God who is both personal and relatable through Christ, and yet sovereign and holy.

I’m no theologian. All I really know is this: Life isn’t made of would’s and could’s. It’s made of does and can. I know that Christ died for me. I know that I was folded into the embrace of His grace, His death for my sins, and His victory over sin and death.

And I know this: Once there was a man who was stoned and left for dead. He was shipwrecked. Abandoned by those who professed friendship and loyalty. Slandered by those he tried to nurture. Jailed. Forced on the run for his life. Slandered and betrayed some more.

This was not a man whose vacation cottage got vandalized, or who didn’t get the parking spot he wanted, or who failed to pass a test or get selected for a preferred job. The preeminent writer of the New Testament was a man who suffered in extremity, and far too often, alone.

And he said this:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

In all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer.

For I consider that these trials are not worthy to be compared to the exceeding weight of the glory to be revealed to us.

I don’t understand the mystery of God’s will and workings. I just know it has something to do with eternity.To the extent that horrors exist–and they do–their evil proves out hope: the existence of more than an arbitrary natural order red of tooth and claw. Atheist and Christian alike rebel against evil–against genocide, rape, and child abuse–because good exists, not because it doesn’t.

There we begin.

What we can grasp with certainty is the need to go forth and preach the Word from this basis: If there is a person who can face the horrors of this world, it’s the Christian. If there is a person who can bear the weight of sacrifice, it’s the man who trusts in Christ’s sufficiency. If there is a person who can find unfathomable love for the unlovable sinner, it is one who knows: Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am foremost of all.

So we should go. So we should preach and pray and rest in Christ. So we should live and love and bear all things to the refuge of the cross. Hasn’t God borne our offenses, and those committed against us?

~Scienda

Footnotes

1. Olson, Roger E., Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, pp. 33-34; IVP Academic (2006), ISBN 978-0830828418. There’s much to respect about this book, though here I’m highlighting some specific concerns that caught my eye.

2. Karen Campbell remarked on her blog recently that every church has a “church boss,” essentially a herd leader and bully of non-herd-minded congregants, regardless of whether the individual holds an official title or not—that’s our experience too.

3. Olson, p. 34.

Related Scripture

6 comments

  1. Good thoughts, Cat. What I can’t stand about Olson is his close-minded arrogance. He refuses to read James White’s book “The Potter’s Freedom,” he’s afraid to debate James, and he often makes assertions without exegeting texts.Then again, why exegete if you deny inerrancy?

    Olson has stated that if God was proven to be the God described by Calvinism, he would not follow Him. Worse, he stated that “The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.” This is a scholar?

    Here are written and video responses to some of his work by James White, the man Olson will not debate (I guess he’s sharp enough to know when he has no chance):
    http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4819
    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2011/11/james_whites_review_of_roger_o.php

    1. Now I’ve got my head clear and a moment to spare–Actually, I’m enjoying Olson’s writing overall. He’s much less rabid and more fairminded and accurate on terms and definitions than most I’ve encountered on either side, though there’s a bit of emotional tone in a few spots over the social dynamics between Calvinist and Arminian camps.

      I picked up the book because I wanted to hear the Arminian position from an Arminian, and it’s what I was looking for in that it seeks to explain the position, not to require agreement with it. I don’t find it arrogant at all so far, though (as posted) I don’t agree with everything he says or every tack taken. We’ll see how it is going forward.

      1. I haven’t read this particular book, so I’m not saying he’s arrogant in it. I’m saying that some of his other quotes have come across as very arrogant. For him to say he would refuse to worship God if He revealed Himself to be the God described by Calvinism sets Himself above revelation and shows a very closed mind. So if I buy “The Potter’s Freedom” for you, will you read it?

        1. I’m reading Arminianism because I already have a good exposure to Calvinism–no need to buy it for me, I’ll snitch it off your shelf and take a look when I’m down there. I know you love it, and it’d be good to explore it with you. If I remember, I’ll bring this one with me also so you can have a look.

          On my shelf are a variety of exegetical works your Dad would recognize, on various books of the Bible, dispensational point-of-view, mostly unfinished as reading material b/c I would hit a vital snag in the logic structure and lose interest; Jonathan Edwards sermons, Spurgeon sermons, and plenty of John MacArthur. But there’s a gap in my understanding of the church culture and what I see people wrestling with (and culture is my main thing) because I haven’t read works that really elucidate the non-Reformed view rather than critiquing specific points.

          What I’m enjoying about this is learning how to raise my kids better and how to speak peace to friends who are weighed down by confusion over the outworkings of these things. These topics become truly exciting to me when they become immediately useful.

Comments are closed.