Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balancing Precariously Between Depravity and Nobility

This is a topic I have thought and spoken about quite a bit, but have not written about. It was Matthew Ryan at the New Hampshire Streams Internship who generated the sense that I ought to do so.

I am not of a Reformed persuasion, and probably never will be. Yet, I do believe that there is a deep depravity evident in the activity of humanity, and as we simply peruse the adventures of history we find some unbelievably dark moments.

On the other hand, I also find great sources of inspiration and encouragement in history. To match the Hitlers and Dahlmers of the past, I also see Nightingales and Gandhis. Nobility pops its head to the surface in remarkable ways every generation.

To complicate matters both Christians (those who declare their allegiance to being conformed to the imago dei), and non-Christians (who may not follow an example set by religious precepts and God inspired constraints) appear to exemplify both enlightened nobility and dark depravity.

This theological anthropology is extremely valuable to me. It informs my sense of evangelical mission. It teaches me to respect, and honor all people, and yet to be aware that every person still carries the potential to create great harm. I am at once called to be trusting, and yet not too trusting in the resources of other frail and faulty human beings. It also causes me to be self reflecting in a practical manner. I am at once responsible to put the noble foot forward, and at all times must resist the subtle and intelligent designs of my darker side.


cern said...

That is a FANTASTIC blog entry! We can all learn from the nobility and depravity exhibited in humanity. We should all learn to recognise signs of both in all communities and the potential for both in ourselves. We should also work hard to be mindful of our potential to lean towards 'the dark'.

But in resisting that potential for 'the dark' we should not just try to blank it from our view. We should seek to understand that aspect of ourselves whilst resisting its exhibition. For in NOT examining 'the dark' to seek understanding, in refusing to look at that potential we all possess, we run the risk of opening the way for that 'dark' to creep into our behaviour. However, that takes self discipline.



Bruce said...

Just a note. "Total Depravity" doesn't mean that we're as bad as possible, just that there's nothing that is untouched by being fallen.

Bruce said...

It's funny that you mentioned Nightingale and Ghandi. Both of them were vocal in that they rejected the claims of Jesus Christ. That plus their extremely driven lives puts them in the same camp as the people Paul loved so much who rejected Jesus.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Bruce,

Actually "total depravity" means far more than that. It means that there is absolutely nothing we can do to please God on our own. The extended theological ramifications of that position are not something I hold to.

As far as Nightingale and Gandhi - yes my point about depravity and nobility being in all people is made by those illustrations.

Bruce said...

When you describe the doctrine of fallenness that way, it does sound a little off-putting. At least until I try to think of a counter example, like Nightingale or Ghandi who are as good a set of examples as any. I think it must be people like them who are at issue when we think about whether people really need to be saved by exercising faith in Christ's life, death and resurrection. That is, in the gospel of God. And if not them, we can think of the very best people among unbelieving Pharisees of the first century, such as Nicodemus and maybe Saul of Tarsus.

"...To please God on our own." This is kind of ambiguous. God loved the world, and loves the world, so much that, what was it again? I often remember your friend's saying that he expects to hear "Nice try" rather than "Well done." This sentiment, his sentiment, is a great way of saying that he is loved by God while not having anything he can do to please God on his own. Our being loved by God is not the same thing as actually pleasing God while turning away from His Son, i.e., not having the Son and then not having the Father, etc. I don't need to quote any chapters and verses here, I trust.

All of life is a slippery slope, I'm fond of saying. About extended theological ramifications: well, I'm troubled by the ramifications of a lot of stuff. I think the implications of particularistic religion of any kind are what you object to, not the details of mean spirited Calvinists (whose doctrines offend me too) or their smiling interpreters (like me maybe).

When you say this idea: "there is absolutely nothing we can do to please God on our own," what I think you are intending to say is "there is absolutely nothing we can do to please God, period." You're saying the first but it seems you're thinking the second. Or you think the Reformers are thinking the second. Because this would mean we would need a Deus Ex Machina, and a legal fiction, and an action of God on our behalf that we don't know about or care about or have any relation to, to impose something on us. Our relation to that so called work of God or work of Christ would be "how nice" or "whatever."

I'm assuming at the start that true doctrine will always involve a love relationship.