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Monday, May 23, 2005

Bridget and the Serpent

A 23-year old young lady from Indiana, Bridget, has decided she's going to pretend to be a Christian for a while, because she wants to know what Christ can do for her. And if this is not the sort of attitude Arminian theology leads to—the prevailing theology of most Evangelical churches—then I don't know what is.

It is a fact, given in evidence, that prevailing Evangelical theology leads inevitably to the same attitude and behavior of Adam and Eve at the point of the Fall, that moment when sin first reared its ugly head on Earth and mankind was thrown into corruption by his own will. The difference between the message of scriptures and Arminian theology is striking: the former places its emphasis entirely on God's grace because of mankind's desperate condition of spiritual death, while the latter places its emphasis on mankind's free will, insisting that man is only spiritually sick—that his carnal nature has within itself a small germ of spiritual life by which, on his own accord, he can understand spiritual things and reach out to God. "But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die'."

Bridget, our young lady from Indiana, is going to serve as an example of this sort of attitude that the Arminian 'gospel' fosters in unbelievers.

She and a friend of hers were enjoying some coffee at a little place called The South Bend Chocolate Company and they were soon immersed in lengthy philosophical discussion, something they typically engaged in. Somehow the conversation had rolled around to an interplay of Christianity and scientific testability, and a thought occurred to Bridget: "Why not try and test Christianity?" she asked herself. Most religions and philosophies, she felt, cannot be tested scientifically, but "the interesting and unique thing about Christianity is that it does indeed claim to produce 'results'." She further reasoned,
If I understand it correctly, a Christian has two main objectives: (1) to open his or her heart to Jesus, and allow Him into his or her life, and (2) to do his or her best to lead a 'Christian' life—that is, to be faithful and obedient to the Lord. If one does these two things, then, as I understand it, God begins to go to work in that person's life and in their heart, literally changing this person.
This synergist idea is one of the hallmarks of Arminian theology—that faith (from man) both precedes and is the necessary condition for regeneration (from God)—and is heavily championed by most Evangelical churches, making it quite evident what theology influenced Bridget's thinking. She admitted that the idea of trying on Christianity like some kind of jacket and seeing how it fits had occurred to her before, but she was always skeptical about the outcome because she didn't feel she could properly distinguish whether something was a 'spiritual experience' or a product of her own imagination or some delusion (although she somehow feels that she can now because she is more skeptical and analytical than before; not sure how that works).

She then described the conditions and environment in which she would conduct this test—in other words, she laid out her presuppositions, those basic attitudes which for her are the non-negotiable starting points of enquiry. First, that she does not expect to ever actually learn "the" ultimate truth because, fundamentally, "it cannot be proven or disproven", and as "a good little scientist", she cannot be satisfied with anything less than absolute proof (while such an attitude has the appearance of modesty, it actually bears no relationship with the philosophy of science, which knows nothing of absolute proof). Second, she insists on presupposing that "we all live in some sort of delusion because we are human, and the true way of things is only as we each perceive it through [fallible human] eyes and ears," beings who (she maintains) are ultimately illogical. "So as a human, and because I am human," she says, "what matters the most is not so much the truth that is, but the truth that works for me, literally."

So that is what I think I am going to do. I shall declare myself an interim Christian and live my life accordingly for as long as I see fit, all the while monitoring its progress (if any) by measuring the sense of joy and fulfillment I have in my life.

What we see here is that Bridget has established her self as the ultimate arbiter of truth, purpose, and meaning, setting her desires and will as the ultimate foundation and her view of the world as the non-negotiable starting point to which God must conform himself if he wants to work with her. She holds her self as the arbiter of truth by virtue of having defined truth (into two categories, inaccessible ultimate truth and pragmatic what-works-for-me truth), and the arbiter of purpose and meaning by virtue of insisting that "what matters most" to her is what works for her, being an interim Christian for as long as she sees fit, determining the sense of joy and fulfillment she has in her life. After laying this foundation, she then contemplates 'opening her heart to Jesus'—which is a "thing" that she is not even sure exists! "How do you invite something into your life," she asks, "if you are not even sure, at your core, that this thing even exists? . . . All I can do is say, essentially, 'Okay Jesus, if you're there, I'm here.' Is that enough? Unless any of you have any other suggestions, it's gonna have to be."

What bearing does this have with Eve and the Fall? It ought to be clear.

When it came to eating from the forbidden tree, there existed a conflict of authority and will—God's versus Eve's. Her ultimate downfall was the sinful delusion of autonomy, her authority and will taking precedence over God's. "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate." Eve looked upon the fruit of the tree, discerning for her own self—without regard to God's authority—that the fruit of the tree was good for food, deciding by her self and for herself that nothing in the fruit of the tree showed it to be bad and unfit to be eaten, wondering by her own authority why it should be forbidden for food. She set her self as the final court of arbitration, her will taking precedence over God's. As William Law so aptly put it, "Nothing hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God." This was mankind's fall into sin, this setting of our will above God's, a sin no less prevalent today—and no less prevalent than in Arminian theology, which establishes man's alleged free will as the sine qua non of salvation (that is, Christ's death saves no one, until they decide). With just such a focus on the importance of man's will, Bridget finds nothing amiss about setting her will as the foundation with which God must conform if he wants to work with her.

Do you suppose an 'experiment' of this nature is going to work? Do you suppose God will be so overcome with gratitude by Bridget's willingness to bend her will to consider God that he'll conform to her parameters and conditions? Did he conform to Eve's?