Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beloved Spear Bible Puzzler: The Chosen

My discarded sermon concept for this week came in my reflections on Luke's story of the teaching of the Lord's Prayer. In keeping my message nice and simple and straightforward with a memorable takeaway, I neglected to pitch out this little Calvinist puzzler:

In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus presents his approach to prayer. That involves an attenuated Lord's Prayer, followed by a statement on the value of persistence, followed by the assertion that the thing we are to seek in prayer isn't bling or success, but the Holy Spirit. It's clear that what matters is the intent underlying prayer, a desire for connection and meaning that stirs an individual to seek after and pursue relationship with God.

As I reflected on that desire for the Holy Spirit during my sermon prep, I found myself wondering about the theological tautology that seems implied in this section. Desire for God is, I would hold, a gift of the Spirit. But if only those who are stirred by the Spirit seek the Spirit, and it is the seeking of the Spirit that is necessary for humankind to be in right relationship with God and one another, that seems to create a closed circle of engagement with the Creator. Almost, it seems, to the point of necessitating the use of terms like the "elect."

My Bible study on Sunday wrassled with this one for a bit, and folks came up with several interesting responses and reactions. I managed to avoid the use of the term prevenient, despite having spent seven years at a Methodist seminary.

What thinkest thou?


  1. "But if only those who are stirred by the Spirit seek the Spirit, "

    And there is your mistake.

    It is humble for those who seek the Spirit to say so, but no, it is not true.

    We all respond to the Spirit. One way or the other. It is the Spirit that animates us and gives us life. The same spirit that animates all of life. The breath of the Life is the Breath of God.

    The gift of the Spirit is the ability to choose to go our own way. And the gentleness of the Spirit keeps God from overstepping our boundaries, lest we perish in the encounter.

    Some choose to sit at his feet whatever that entails. Others run like a new born wilde beast, eager to explore the world before it gets away.

    Its all good. God is happy with his creation either way. Except when his creation stirs against itself in evil intent.

    Then things get a little complicated.

  2. @ Jodie: Actually, that's kinda where we ended up in our Bible study. The group recoiled against the possibility that there were some who were excluded from even a chance at reconciliation with God. We, together, also rejected the idea that the Spirit moved in every soul in the same way. But we together acknowledged that there are some who reject the grace and justice that flow out from the Most Excellent Way that is the highest gift of the Spirit.

    It is then, as you say, that things "get a little complicated."

  3. I am glad you avoided that one term in your sermon. God either gets what He wants (desires), or He doesn't. That's why the "elect" is anavoidable, not to mention it is clearly taught in scripture; in plain langauge. If one thinks the Bible is in fact the word of God, then the authority rests solely there.

    Why else would we pray that God save ones who are lost, if they are capable (strong willed) enough to resist Him? Secondly, if divine election is not True, then salavation is not guaranteed; and lastly there would be something in the saved that was better than those who are unsaved. That would not be grace, would it?

  4. I'm probably not the one to weigh in on this; my brief stint at St. Paul School of Theology didn't include a class on Wesley...

    But the idea of prevenient grace - the idea that God's grace has been at work in one's life, even before one is able to perceive it, is one that is very recognizable in the recovery community. Even before we "hit bottom," there are forces at work, driving us toward a choice to accept the gift we are given.

    Perhaps the cutest discussion of prevenient grace happens about 29 minutes into Gene Lowry's Jazz & Christianity, just before he plays "Amazing Grace." In that, he declares that you can boil all of Wesley's theology into one simple phrase: "God is sneaky."

    Which, of course, is different than most brands of Presybterianism, which would say, in Gollum-esque terms, that "God is tricksy."