A Skewed View of Nudes

By

1680715.jpgRecently, I ran across an article about an elementary school in Colorado that took a group of fifth graders to an art museum…

*Pregnant Pause*

I just want to let that soak in. I know, I know. Incredible, isn’t it? I can’t believe the audacity of that art teacher. What’s crazy about it is that it was even approved by the principal! How dare he do that! Imagine a teacher wanting to take kids to see art that includes, ahem, nude sculptures. N-U-D-E. Nude. Kids can’t handle that.

And then the parents. They all signed permission slips! Every one of the kids who went had a signed slip from the parents. The nerve of those parents, if they can even call themselves that. Who allows their child unfettered access to such disgraceful places that house paintings that could possibly include semi-clothed people, sculptures that show even more, and God knows what else.

*End Sarcasm*

This country is going to hell. I don’t mean literal hell, as I am leaving spirituality out of this for a second. I just mean that we are shooting ourselves in the foot. A parent in Georgia is calling for a ban of Harry Potter. An art teacher is fired for going to an art museum on a principal-endorsed, parental-permission given trip. The teacher has been teaching for 28 years! She is almost 60! But some kids came back and apparently told mom and/or dad that there were breasts exposed in 3-D form, and then chaos ensued.

How did we get to this point? I’m glad these articles aren’t exposing these people as Christians and not making it a religious issue. We have it bad enough. But it leads to me to think about our own inability to just absorb art on a grand scale, even that which we disagree with. Music is so broken down by genres that we don’t have to take in any other forms. Books are categorized in the same way. Movies have not only genres but ratings, and now art is simply doing the same. How long until you have “Nudes” in one room, “Scantily Clad” in another. All paintings, sculpture, sketches that could remotely give me a snippet of an idea of what a male or female might look like without clothes should all be stored up in one closet so that perverts can just be put together, I suppose.

When you and I refuse to be challenged or shaped by different political viewpoints, we become closed-minded, dogmatic and really no good to anyone. Does this have consequences in the art world as well? When you and I refuse to listen to the talents of others, to view something that is different, to take in beauty in all its forms, do we miss out on what true beauty really is? I would answer that we do.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


130 Comments

  1. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I was just talking to a pastor friend of mine about nudity the other day. He watched “Into The Wild” and his wife covered his eyes during the part when the protagonist runs into a couple of Europeans camping in the Grand Canyon. It’s a funny scene and the European woman is topless. Of course in Europe a topless woman is little to get excited about because it’s not really considered nudity. (remember the post about cultural cuss words? Let’s stir that pot again!)

    He said he was bummed that he missed the scene because it sounded really funny. I was bummed for him, too, but mostly because at age 36 and married for 16 years it seems like much ado about nothing. I guess in the context of my marriage, nudity is fairly normal (I hope that’s not too much information!) The context of the scene is not to arouse (and therefore in my opinion isn’t remotely pornographic). It doesn’t arouse or even make me think of sex. It’s just an interesting interlude that’s funny and involves a mammal that doesn’t have cloth draped around her.

    As my friend and I talked about this, it occurred to me how strange our obsession with nudity is – both in hiding it and in seeking it out in various forms of voyeurism. The truth is we all know what the human body looks like. We are at least very well aquainted with what a body of our own gender looks like. Most times if I see nudity in a film or art or etc, I’m just aware that, yes, there some 8 billion of us on the planet and that’s what we look like without our clothes on. It’s kind of funny when you think about what all the fuss is about. I’m not advocating nudism, but it does seem like we get all riled up about what is perhaps the most common experience of humanity: nakedness.

    But we’ve always been uncomfortable with nakedness, both spiritual and physical.

    All this seems similar to the realization I had a few years ago when it occurred to me how absurd it might be that we all mow our lawns.

  2. Josh

    Jason,

    I think maybe words with unwarranted stigmas attached to them doesn’t quite sit on the same level as seeing the true “glory” of a human. Because after all, glory is just seeing something as it truly is right? And not every single eye in the world needs to see a person in all their glory right? Just like we aren’t allowed to see the full magnitude of God’s glory due to the fact that we are sinful, maybe it’s sort of the same way with people seeing eachother naked. Ever since the fall the privelege of men and women seeing eachother completely and totally exposed and with no hint of shame or taboo has been forbidden to us. Sure, nakedness is in fact the most common human experience and we do get all up in arms over it a little too much, but we also don’t take it seriously enough most of the time. Just my two cents.

    I completely agree with both Matt and Jason though for the most part.

  3. becky

    Jason,

    We haven’t always been uncomfortable with nakedness, either spiritual or physical. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were perfectly comfortable having their bodies, minds, hearts, and souls out there in plain view. The ugliness of sin made them hide themselves, and God made clothes to cover them. I’m thankful he still covers my sin, and I look forward to the day when he won’t have to anymore.

    Oh, and thank you for mentioning the ridiculousness of lawn mowing. One of the biggest advantages I get from apartment living is not having to do lawn care.

  4. Nate

    When I was in Gross Anatomy last year, my teacher explained that the latin for the area “down there” can be translated either “the area to be ashamed of” or the “are to keep covered” (I guess Latin is a post-fall language). He went on to say that he sure as heck wasn’t ashamed of his, but he’d keep it covered. It was pretty funny. Dr. Lambert’s a funny guy.

    My wife always covers my eyes during those parts of movies. I dont mind it a bit. Maybe thats wrong. I’m not sure. To be honest, I’ve never thought about it at all. As someone who, in formative years, struggled a lot with lust, I’d rather the only naked lady I see be her. My hearts so given to chasing after “the call of lover’s so less wild” as Derek Webb once put it. I realize that it was slightly different when he said it, but has implications.

    Anyway, I thank there are a bunch of people like me, young men, especially middle and high school age who, in a culture that is already preaching a very loud and false gospel about sex, it doesn’t help to see breasts or the naked female form. In our lust and our fallenness, we can easily use these to begin to objectionalize women.

    I think the key, for the church anyway, is right teaching on sexuality and beauty. Because you’re absolutely right, the human body is beautiful in all of its glory. Thats another thing I learned in Gross Anatomy. You can just imagine Adam and Eve in the Garden – the perfect physical specimens of human beings, both male and female. The ability to see every muscle – the sartorius crossing the front of the leg, the latisimus dorsi rippling down the back interconnected with the serratus anterior… but I digress.

    We need a holistic teaching of beauty and sexuality in the church and we need to allow our Christian biblical worldviews to erupt (not just ooze, but erupt) out of our private lives into everything we do. A good healthy dose of Scheaffer wouldn’t hurt us. And we need not make this an idol but take the idea captive under the lordship of Christ. Amen?

    Thanks for the post, by the way. Thought-provoking.

  5. Nate

    On a side note:

    I would also like to add (beg, actually) that we should avoid calling people “mammals.” We are not mammals, we are people, made in the image of God with a dignity infinitely greater than that of an animal. This is a darwinistic idea. And Darwinism is bad on every level. Its permeated our society and even our churches, just take note on how often you hear the word “evolution.” Lets deny darwinism and uphold the dignity of man created in the image of God. Please. I’m not trying to be scolding or condescending, but I’ve thought and read a lot about this. And darwinism is just bad. Jesus was NOT a darwinist.

  6. evie

    Matt, fantastic post. This first story of the fired art teacher (yikes!!) makes me even more grateful than I already am for the administrators I work with. When I took a group of fifth graders to an art exhibit (my second year of teaching), the head of the lower school and I spoke thoughtfully and openly about whether the kids would be able to handle it — I will never forget that his first inclination was not to keep them out of ‘that room’ of the exhibit. It was greatly telling of his trust in me, and it made me a more conscientious teacher. I agree that there are so many beautiful, life-enriching sights and experiences that will be sadly missed if we don’t slow down the fast-chugging censorship train. (I use the word ‘censorship’ for lack of a less extreme one. Don’t peg me as one who approves those Abercrombie and Fitch washboards…I mean…billboards.)

    “Just like we aren’t allowed to see the full magnitude of God’s glory due to the fact that we are sinful, maybe it’s sort of the same way with people seeing eachother naked.”

    Josh, help me out. I am trying but I fail to see how this is a viable metaphor. (But then you did say ‘maybe,’ so perhaps you were struggling with the comparison as well.) I don’t think we wear clothes because we’re sinful and aren’t any longer allowed to view each other sans-pants. I do believe it started at the fall, but I don’t think we, in our naked state, are anything close to the fear-inducing, blinding, dazzling, more-beautiful-than-anything-our-little-peabrains-can-conceive glory of our holy God. (well, I take back the fear-inducing part…we know who we are….and then if you’re really pale, you can disregard the blinding part as well….)

    And Nate, latisimus dorsi? Sartorius? Serratus anterior?! Didn’t you read the post about filthy language? Jason, we’ve found our pot-stirrer.

  7. Jesse

    If I were to pop in here and venture a response…

    First, Matt, wonderful thoughts and I think you’re on a very right track. In art, I think nudity serves (or should serve) a higher purpose of conveying beauty, or candor, or intimacy in a way that probably can’t be done without it. I don’t think we ought to be afraid of it in certain contexts. It ought to be used carefully, but I wouldn’t say categorically that nudity in art is tantamount to adultery.

    I also must say that I think Josh has a point. Our bodies may not be full of the awe-inspiring glory of God, but I think there is a correlation between God clothing Adam and Eve and God removing His glorious presence from them. Clothes, I think, are a Biblical representation of a veil between us and the glory of God. Moses, who saw God’s backside, had to wear a veil when he came down off the mountain because no one would be able to behold even the face of one who had seen even that much of God. Our clothes perhaps do not symbolize our glory so much as they symbolize a veil between ourselves and God, a separateness, until He restores all creation to Himself.

    In summation, it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have a firm answer other than this: the human body, with or without clothes, is a glorious creation in the image of God, and ought to be treated with all the respect that the highest created being deserves. Art that doesn’t reflect that truth can’t, I don’t think, be said to be art.

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Art can be turned into pornography by the eye of the beholder. A few years ago a friend showed me a favorite artist of his named Steve Hanks, who does watercolors of many objects, often women. Hanks’ art is reverent and speaks of the best in women – it sets up a sense of longing in one’s heart at the resplendent beauty of women, and, as was said of Sarah Smith of Golders Green in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, “”Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.” Art like Hanks’ turns some of us to the resident beauty of all women, and specifically our wives.

    For others, it’s simply “Wow! Look! A buncha naked chicks!!” But that’s like playing some great bluegrass for someone who has listened only to modern radio hits all his life and has no idea how to really listen to music. “Where’s the hay bales? Jed Clampett! I loved Deliverance!” The art form of bluegrass for him is based on presuppositions and stereotypes.

    It’s likely the parents of said fifth graders view nudity in art the same way – as pornography. Our society is getting so polarized between the “Anything goes! Freedom of speech!” people and those who want to throw babies out with bathwater. It’s likely this has a lot to do with the inability of many people in our culture these days to think for themselves; the “anything goes” people listen to the media, celebrities, musicians (all of whom, of course, are political experts as well as musicians), and the “nothing goes” people trust their pastors and talk radio, etc., to think for them.

    Actually thinking through a topic like Harry Potter or nudity in art takes time and attention, and it’s easier to watch TV or listen to the radio. “We will make the entire universe a noise in the end!” says Screwtape.

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jesse,

    God may hide Himself much of the time; Screwtape said, “…the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.”

    Therefore God hides Himself during much of our Christian experience. But as for a separation between us and God – when Jesus died, that veil in the Temple was rent from top to bottom. And now, “to as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become sons of God.” That power in us is Christ in us, and there is no separation. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit” (1Co 6:17). We may look the other way, and be temporarily taken up with world, flesh, or devil, but that essential union with Christ in our inner holy of holies continues day by day, and we can return to it at any time in repentance and faith. We may shut Him down and close our inner hearing to the still, small Voice, but that doesn’t mean He stops His continual speaking in us. We don’t need a veil any longer, because we don’t have a God who is merely outer anymore – we have an inner God who completes these human temples. For in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form, and you, by your union with Him, are also filled with it.” (Living Bible – the KJV says “And you are complete in Him.”)

  10. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Good thoughts here – I just thought I’d say a couple more things.

    I’m sorry if my referring to us as mammals was seen as offensive. I did it on purpose, though, with the intent of gaining some objectivity. Strictly speaking, we humans are classified as mammals, and I personally neither see that as darwinist or denigrating of our status as being made in God’s image. I personally have no qualms with understanding myself as a member of the species categorized along with other animal creatures as mammal, but tend to agree with Brennan Manning who remarked “Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” :- )

    Again, not to be weird, but I was just looking at my legs this week (and Evie, I would qualify as one of those whose glory is blinding in that I’m a whitey) and was struck by how cool it is that we grow hair on our legs. It just seems so primal! I find all of this a healthy reminder that I’m not as rational and sophisticated as I’d like to think. It reminds me of my creature-liness, that I am created by a Creator. It may not work for other people, but this line of thought keeps me humble and gives me perspective.

    It’s a part of the reason why nudity is less of a big deal to me. Believe me, I’m not a nudist (ewww!) and think that the town in the Northeast that allows people to walk down it’s streets in the nude is maybe more than a little unbalanced. However, I think the reaction to nudity that Matt brings our attention to is another example of where our roots in puritanism have led us astray. The holiness movement, puritanism, and their similar brands have great things about them, but most of them are driven by fear and shame – or at least degrade into that – and all I’m saying is that seeing a nude form in art seems little to be afraid of.

    Maybe we need some real persecution in the church to help us focus on what the true evils of the world are. I’m afraid we’re bored as the western church and with nothing much to do start spending energy on exorcising too many bogeys instead of going after the devil himself. I’m saying this somewhat in jest, but I think there’s some truth to it.

    Was the art pornographic? Did the nude image degrade or sexualize our humanity? This is what matters, not the fact of nudity itself – again, at least from my limited perspective.

    I’m afraid you’ll all think I’m a bad parent and judge me, but I’m going to risk it and give an example from the Gray home. Several years ago someone gave us those refrigerator magnets of the statue of David and the painting of Venus De Milo. They are both nude, but they come with magnetized clothes you can dress them up in: a sweater and jeans for Venus, Jeans and a Fonzie jacket for David. We think it’s funny and fun. When our boys were around 4 or 5 and at an age when they would notice these, we wondered about taking them down and hiding them, but instead opted to use them as an object lesson. “This is the human form in all it’s beauty” we said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of about it” and communicated that we respect it and admire it, but we don’t objectify it. Now we all dress them up, but the boys know they can’t do anything disrespectful like put Venus’ skirt on David and David’s underwear on Venus’ head. These magnets hold no sense of voyeuristic fascination for them and for us afforded an opportunity to talk about nudity, art, and a dignified response to both.

    I protect them from nude images in films and otherwise – but not in most art. I try to be careful to not expose them to anything that could harm them, but I also try to not damage them by being too protective and irrationally fearful. It’s the law that makes us aware of Sin, as Paul says. Sometimes I think it is primarily the laws and legalism that provide the enticement of the sin. If you think nudity is wrong in any form, then any nudity you see is likely to arouse you because it carries with it the sense of the forbidden. Once I stopped worrying about it, it held little enticement for me, and that seems to be the way it’s playing out with my boys.

    I was exposed to pornography in the third grade and the devil got his hooks in me. This is not something I take lightly – I know the damage that pornography wreaks. I’m blessed to say that my boys are not the least interested in it, though by their age I was nearly an addict. I think this is because as their father I have spoken frankly about how pornography destroys lives and is an ugly perversion of sexuality. They deserve better.

    I think they understand that difference and the fact that we are reasonable (in my opinion) about the nature of nudity. It gives them little reason to rebel or suspect us.

    I remember as a kid the first time I saw the movie “Clash Of The TItans” (go ahead and laugh) and there was a scene where you could see a woman’s breast as she nursed a child and I was aware that this was a different kind of nudity than what I had seen in the illicit magazines from my friends house.

    Whew, didn’t mean to go this long! Anyway, I could be wrong on all this – I’m carnal, fallible, wrong headed much of the time – I’m just saying that some of our jitters about the nude form may just be a hangover from our Victorian and Puritannical roots. I think most of us here agree that nudity can be represented in art (film, photography, painting) as ennobling and also as degrading, and we need to have discernment between the two.

    Or choose to avoid them altogether if you don’t want to be bothered with the hard work of exercising discernment – and there’s no shame in that – unless you sign the permission form and then fire your child’s teacher over it.

  11. Tony Heringer

    Matt…you’ve spawned an interesting discussion.

    Josh, thanks for the NY Times Article, apparently this case was settled in October of 2006 in Texas. The incident occurred in a school in Frisco, TX which is just north of Dallas. The articles I read seemed to tie the teacher’s troubles to the trip to the museum but it also gave hints that there were other issues that may have been the root cause of her dismissal — sounded somewhat like a power struggle between the teacher and the principal.

    To give you some encouragement Matt, that same year Rocky Balboa finally visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 🙂

  12. Nate

    Evie you cracked me up today. And Sartorius is only a bad word if you are really really mad.

    And Jason, I’m not remotely mad or upset. I just hate darwinism with all of my heart. I hate the havock its wreaked on our culture. And I hate the way its poisoned our churches. Its actually older than Darwin. Peter was a darwinist when he cut that guy’s ear off. Survival of the fittest. Jesus put it back on. And I understand how you dont associate calling people mammals with darwinism. But I say that people are as much different from animals as we are from rocks or trees. (And I really like trees.)

    Also I want to thank you and encourage you for being frank and up front on the issue of pornography with your sons. We need more dads like that! I can’t wait to try.

  13. DrewSmusic

    I get the issue of “porn in the eye of the beholder,” and I also know my limitations. My “beholdering” eye must turn away, and I’m not sorry about that. I’m glad that God’s grace is helping me turn my eyes away to avoid objectification and sin.

    Three thoughts: First, I will be very interested in understanding how the biblical concept modesty enters into this conversation. Does modesty only address what you wear without regard to what you look at? When is godly shame appropriate?

    Second, I often feel belittled by conversations like this. I get where you’re coming from, and I love freedom afforded us in Christ. I appreciate Jason’s lesson to his kids – we don’t objectify the body. But our sinful hearts (mine chiefly) can quickly take things that are not meant to be degrading and use them to that end. That’s what sin does. That’s what mine is totally capable of doing far too often. So on my best days, I zip through the love scene of Braveheart. I’m not worried about missing something beautiful if it ultimately works against me. In fact, I’m ultimately better for it. So, I encourage the room that in fighting the “one size fits all” morality over nudity on one side that you do not insult or endanger a brother with another “universal fit.”

    And finally, the more you read from the Puritans, the less likely you would be to use “Puritanical” as a negative. Jonathan Edwards had it going on.

  14. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Drew,

    Art, real art, is often turned into pornography in the eye of the beholder, yes, but I want to make clear of course that real pornography exists apart from our perception of it. Pornography degrades sexuality, twists it, turns women and men into objects for self-gratification – the very opposite of art, which is meant to bring epiphany, or deeper awareness, or other positive things.

    The real, deep down issue in what we look at, how we respond to it emotionally or physically, and how we respond to our response, is this: Maintaining a connection to Christ within ourselves – an awareness, a recognition of our union with Him, a submission to His will, and not only His will, but His power within us to be and do everything we are meant to be and do – is the only way to have real modesty, the kind that will resound forever as a work of Christ resonating through us by inner reliance on His Holy Spirit. This response brings us more and more to the place of freedom where the temptations that used to throw us to the ground in besetting sins become weaker and weaker until we can say confidently to the Tempter, “You’ve got to be joking. Trade my power in Christ for that pathetic misuse of my humanity?”

    The other response available to us is the Law response. Be aware of the sin. See the sin, and its terrible power over us. Remember all the times it has thrown us to the ground. Read sermons on how to avoid this sin, and how to improve our spiritual lives in 372 steps. And then start building a fence around it, a big fence that will keep us from it. Ask God to help us build our fence. And then avoid the fence like the plague.

    I can say this because in my life I’ve had many fences. So don’t take me the wrong way. I believe in holiness – I believe it is not only commanded, and necessary; I also believe it is possible. But it isn’t possible through the Law way, because the Law way engenders a sin-consciousness, a focus on sin, rather than an awareness and focus on seeing Christ in the mirror (as per Galatians 2:20). Sin shall not have power over you, for you are not under the Law, but under grace. (Rom 6) That means sin will have power over us as long as we put the pressure on our humanity to perform good rather than relying on the power of Christ within us as our only source of goodness.

    The deeper we go into our union with Christ, the more He manifests Himself in our lives. And we develop more and more a sense of responsibility about sin, and less and less of a sense of condemnation about it.

    So – regarding turning the eyes away from certain movie scenes, etc. There are times I do that, especially in a movie like Beowulf, which has over the top sax and violins in it designed for teenage boys who play a lot of video games. There are times where sexuality is best left asleep; Lewis spoke of viewing such things as looking at pictures of food when you’re hungry.

    There is no “one size fits all” deal where “sure, watch anything because Jesus forgives your sins” or “Nudity is wrong so let’s burn any artwork that shows it.” (To be ludicrous). It’s likely that, given the vast and complicated nature of the Christian life, that it’s a lot more complex than that; we’re often guilty of wanting the easy answer. But I do know that holiness is to be found only in Christ, only in His life-generating righteousness inside the very heart of you and I – these new wineskins filled with new Wine, the new heart of the new creation man filled with God.

    I know that faith is the only channel by which that righteousness flows out through our souls and bodies. Holiness won’t be found, except in the most outer sense, in fence-laws, rules, ought-tos, and shoulds. Holiness is a Person, and only one Person in the universe is that holiness – and He has given Himself to us to use as living Bread. I don’t want to ask God to help me be holy anymore. I want Him to out-ray His holiness through this human cup. That’s the meaning of the Lord our righteousness.

  15. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    The Braveheart clip is a great example! I can’t watch that and be unaffected either. I’m not faulting it, but it does feel like voyeurism to me to watch as they are about to consummate their marriage. At least it’s voyeurism for me (and it sound like for you, too.) It may be beautiful and in the context of marriage, but I personally have to not watch it. The clip I referenced from Into The Wild on the other hand doesn’t arouse any lust in me, nor do I think was it intended to.

    Nudes on display in art museums don’t arouse lust in me. The front cover of Madonna’s new album where she’s clothed does.

    And can I just say to Ron… dang! So well said. Biblical, humble, and sound. Especially:

    the temptations that used to throw us to the ground in besetting sins become weaker and weaker until we can say confidently to the Tempter, “You’ve got to be joking. Trade my power in Christ for that pathetic misuse of my humanity?”

    and:

    The deeper we go into our union with Christ, the more He manifests Himself in our lives. And we develop more and more a sense of responsibility about sin, and less and less of a sense of condemnation about it.

    and also:

    Holiness is a Person, and only one Person in the universe is that holiness – and He has given Himself to us to use as living Bread.

    You’re like my favorite person today.

  16. S.D. Smith

    Sorry so long.

    I am enjoying this discussion, but not in a bad way. That’s a little joke.
    May I offer a few little thoughts? I think there may be a little misunderstanding about legalism. Legalism is not rules. It is not having rules. It is not liking rules. It is believing in and investing in our rules as a pathway to pleasing God. It is anti-gospel. We may well require our sons to wear a shirt and tie to weddings, use number 2 pencils on tests, and be in by 11pm, even insist on it as binding, and be far from legalism. Just a thought.

    In my view, I think the hitting may be a little too hard on the Puritans and Victorians, we are far more influenced by Darwinism, and the absolutely devastating 1960’s and the preludes to it for decades of intellectual and moral drift. If most of the people who influence us are artists from the 60’s to now, we may not see this huge blind spot. I’m not wholesale defending them, but it’s a terrible thing that puritanical has become such a negative word. It is a favorite target of theological and cultural liberals, who reject actual Christianity for Humanism in Christian terminology (as Francis Schaeffer said).

    I love Bob Dylan. Fully clothed. Yikes.

    In my view we can be neither gnostic nor moronic. If we would not approve of our sister, or daughter, wife or mother being viewed nude then we should probably not enjoy that of other men’s sisters, daughters, wives and mothers. In any way. This is complicated, but seems not as grey as it is being portrayed here. Simple charity, the golden rule applies.

    If we wouldn’t stand and watch a topless woman, say our pastor’s wife, with her top off, or having sex, or simulating sex with another man, why does it make it OK that it is videotaped and we are watching in the privacy of our home tv, or at a theatre?

    That said, I don’t know what to make of the statues like the David by Michelangelo. I loved seeing it at the Louvre, and there was definitely nothing sexual about that for me! P.S. I’m a dude.

    Our culture is sex-saturated, bent on bent sex, perverted sex, marring the image of God. We are being trained to believe we are animals, and we are not. Women are treated in horrifying ways, we should stand up firmly to that. Feminism has been the pathway for the “liberation,” actually exploitation, of women. It is the best gift of all time to perverse men. We need help to fight that, not waffling. We do need discernment, but we also need a firm will to ignore the prevailing folly perpetrated against reason since the 60’s. “All God’s Children and Blue-Suede Shoes” by Ken Myers is a great book to read on that. Esp it’s effect on art and artists.

    Now, tear me to pieces you energetic artists with no day jobs! Psych. I love the Rabbit Room and all you people. Speaking of Nudity, the Rabbit Room site is blocked where I work (at a school, where kid’s computers are blocked from pornography! Oh the humanity, the censorship!) I guess the netminders think it has playboy bunny connotations. And now we have proof. The Rabbit Room encourages nudity!

    It’s prob where you guys are on stage and following that old advice about picturing everyone naked, now you’re desensitized.

    Myself, being a Puritanical, Victorian, Pleasure-hater, I am not even nude beneath my clothes. I wear under-underpants. I shower in a three piece suit singing traditional hymns.

  17. evie

    S.D., whoever you are, you are smart as a fox, and I love you for that last paragraph. S.D. wins my vote. S.D. for president!

  18. Stacy Grubb

    S.D., if not for your “never nude” policy, I’d want to be just like you when I grow up. TMI alert, I probably spend at least 25% of my day running around in the nude. There’s no quest for liberation – no political stance against “the man” behind it. I’ve just never been in the habit of getting dressed directly after stepping out of the shower. Putting on my clothes is the last step before heading out the door…except for that one time when I forgot that I wasn’t wearing pants and ran out onto my front porch. It’s a long story. And I was a newlywed. And I’m an idjit.

    Anyway, I’ve read through the opinions really wanting to join in with the pro-nude crowd. And I almost can. But then I remember that time when I had my son out bra shopping with me and he loudly declared, “Mommy, ’ems for boobies,” (yes, we are shamelessly Appalachian) quite to my horror. Of course, kids only say those sorts of things when large groups of old biddies are walking by, so that didn’t help. But on the other hand, I’m one of those unfortunate women who has been asked to excuse myself to the bathroom to nurse (gag me with a spoon), so I want to take some sort of stance on the behalf of innocent, and sometimes artistic, skin exposure (although, in my case, I opted to use a blanket, but I’m all for women who choose not to or who don’t have that as an option for any variety of reasons).

    One thing I do maintain is the fact that, the more taboo we make it, the more interesting it is. Let me just admit that, after the mention of the love scene in Braveheart, I had to go see what all the fuss was about. I’ve seen Braveheart more than a couple of times and couldn’t even remember a love scene. So, anyway, I checked it out. It’s still not memorable to me, but the way that it was discussed made me curious about it.

    A couple of weeks ago, a guy contacted me on You Tube with a request that I perform any tear-jerker song of my choice. That didn’t immediately throw any red flags for me because, like any true weirdo, I measure a song’s worth by how sad it is. I chose “Old Habits Like You,” and let the guy know that I’d posted it. He wrote me to let me know that he was disappointed that I didn’t break into tears during the performance. Uuuuh, okay. Well…what can I say? Sorry to disappoint. He eventually offered me $100 to send him a video of me crying and openly admitted that it was for sexual gratification. Needless to say, I didn’t oblige that request and I’m sufficiently freaked out by the fact that I even had a conversation with the dude. It’s difficult for me to not think of things like that when people get up in arms over nudity. I’ve come to realize that nearly everything is a turn-on to somebody. Yes, nudity is basically a one-size-fits-all type of turn on, but while I understand that it can be used distastefully, I do believe that nudity can have its place. In other words, nudity isn’t inherently wrong, immoral, raunchy, or indecent (although decent nudity truly is an oxymoron). Nor do I think it’s inherently beautiful or artistic. The times in which I personally believe that it’s used as true art are the times when I’ve failed to even notice the nudity.
    Stacy

  19. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Great thought Stacy, so well said!

    I just wanted to quick clarify: maybe the puritanical statement was too much of a broad sweep. Or maybe not. My limited understanding, however, is that puritanism, for all it’s virtues, did and does degrade into legalism at times. I think in my original remark I said that puritanism and the holiness movement have great things about them – the problem is that they walk a thin line, and when they fall off that line it can turn into what Ron so eloquently described earlier – a righteousness that we try to attain to in our own strength.

    I’m just as suspicious of puritanism as I am of the 60’s. The one is perhaps too timid while the other is too licentious. But I’m not really trying to critique puritans – though I’m more likely to look at the problems within the church than the ones without (that’s just my personality and conviction). It was perhaps too sweeping of an indictment, but the point is that I think healthy suspicion is… well… healthy.

    I grew up Lutheran, then went to a Catholic church for a season, then methodist, baptist, Evangelical Free in my formative years before I was hired at age 20 by a Pentacostal church. I’ve had enough experience to be suspicious of all of them, just like I’m suspicious of my self. I know we all have blind spots. Is the pentecostal guilty of emotionalism? Yes, sometimes. But, they also have something of great value that Baptists and Lutherans don’t. All that to say that I think I can be both grateful and suspicious of our puritanical roots. On the issues of nudity, art, and even sexuality I am suspicious. Sorry to say it, but I think the church has done great harm by fostering a sense of shame around the subject of sexuality. Few people in church feel at liberty to talk about sexuality, and that is unfortunate in my view. I came of age in the holiness movement that emphasized personal holiness and responsibility. A lot about this was great, some of it was toxic – like attitudes about art, sexuality, and grace. Maybe I got a bad apple, but I know I’m not the only one, so all I’m saying is that in those environments things can get a little dicey.

    Like of course they did with free love in the 60’s at Woodstock.

    So I’m not knocking puritanism as a whole, and please don’t dismiss me as a liberal – or an artist ;- ). I think we’re saying the same thing. I just wanted to clarify since some may be mis-construing my remarks.

    We are a culture that is so confused about sexuality (including the way it’s represented in art). On the one hand we’re obsessed with it and it’s everywhere we look, and on the other it’s such a source of embarrassment, shame, and confusion that nobody can talk about it. It’s a a breeding ground for pain, addiction, and confusion. It’s my conviction that the church should lead the charge in celebrating sexuality. Christians are the ones who are uniquely equipped to properly enjoy it. And yet… and yet…

    So that’s all I was saying. I assume we all agree that the culture is a mess and that the 60’s (and 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s) took a toll. So what do we do about it? I still think we’re too timid and fearful – but that’s just my opinion.

    I doubt these kinds of forums actually change anyone’s minds on these subjects. Just like I’ll never be able to convince my wife that mowing grass is a fruitless exercise (I think my boys are convinced, though :- )

  20. Josh

    HEY EVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I only wrote the caps and exclamations cause i’m pretty sure this is gonna be buried by the time you see it so i tried to get your attention…

    My comparison of the glory of God thing was just this: There were certain priveleges we had before the fall that we don’t have now. One was that Adam and Eve could walk face to face with God in all his glory. Another was that they were completely and totally exposed and felt no shame in their nakedness.

    Now, reading back over my comment I can how that can be read wrong. I wasn’t saying our nakedness is on the same level as God’s holiness, I was just saying those were two priveleges lost due to the fall. That’s all I was trying to get across.

  21. S.D. Smith

    Thanks, Jason Gray. I think your last post was el perfecto. I am with you. I think my post was too reactionary to yours, not really intentionally. I didn’t mean to blur you into a caricature and then slam it.

    I want to just quote portions of what you said and then say “huzzah” and other encouraging things, perhaps utilize head nods and the thumb and index-finger guns with simultaneous winks. But people can read. Yours is a careful and thoughtful explanation and so well said.

    The “holiness” crowd part was so on. I think we do need to stand up and say that so-called holiness nonsense is mostly, to my knowledge, a bunch of crap. It is against the gospel. JI Packer talks about how he was raised in that and was close to suicide until he read John Owen’s “The Mortification of the Flesh,” which he said saved his life. John Owen was a Puritan. And he wasn’t right about everything (maybe too enmeshed in politics, perchance?) but he preached the gospel. And the gospel isn’t a man-centered legalism, it is all of grace, as others have said better than me…mostly the Apostle Paul (who I understand showered with several tents wrapped around him reciting the KJV).

    I do think we can be too hard on some historical Christians, like the Puritans, and can be blind to our own culture’s saturated silliness of thought and sin. I know I am. And everyone is wrong except me, I forgot to add that.

    Also, drums are bad. So is smiling.

    I think our political system should be rearranged around this issue. Now those would be some cool debates.

    The Conservatives, fully clothed and curmudgeonly shouting “No Nudes is Good Nudes!”

    And the Liberals, naked as several Jaybirds, and shouting “Give me Nudity, or give me death!”

    It’s no more complex than that. Please, don’t make us think harder than that! Also, tell me which one is right! I hate exclamation points!

  22. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    I do know these forums cause those who have at least a slight measure of humility to gain a larger perspective. Discussion, if taken rightly and not turned into a thundering hail of grenades, corrects where we have imbalances in either our views or our ways of stating them. One of the best ways we can all do this is to look to see where the other person is right. As far as I can tell that happens a lot here in the Rabbit Room.

    S.D., “drums are bad.” Are you sure you’re not a traditional bluegrass fan?

    But seriously, Lewis wrote an essay called “On the Reading of Old Books” where he said (essentially) that the errors in the thought-stream of our century can be enlightened and corrected by reading books from other centuries. “…for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that ‘history is bunk.'”

    Lewis also has another relevant passage in Screwtape:
    “The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding.” Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism.”

    So, as Jason mentioned in essence in his last post, a balanced view is important. So much of the Christian life involves balancing paradoxes. But in legal – ism, we most often center on “What not to do” rather than “Who am I.” Thus we get centered on “exactly how much sex in a movie can I see before it becomes a sin” (I’m exaggerating on purpose). The crucial question to eradicating a legal sort of attitude toward sex/nudity in art (and, consequently, a positive or negative obsession with it) is “Who am I?” The answer for that, of course, is found Biblically: if I am in Christ I am a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. I’m a saint, a king, a priest, holy, one Spirit with the Lord, dead to sin, dead to the Law, alive to God, seated in the heavenlies in Christ, complete in Him, having everything I need for life and godliness.

    If I renew my mind to the facts on my identity, what I do when a movie is indecent will be a natural outcome of that real identity in Christ – rather than a sin-aware, sin-fearing action based in do-do-this and don’t-do-that. The action may even look the same on the outside – I may go get a sandwich during that scene in both cases. But the heart of it will be different – one based in sin-fear, the other based in reliance on Christ, and love, and reverence.

    A cursory reading of Paul’s letters shows that most of them in the first chapters focus on our identity, what God has done, who He has made us. Only in the later chapters does Paul directly address behavioral issues, because our behavior is the outcome of who we believe ourselves to be. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The exceptions to this pattern in Paul’s letters are 1Cor and Galatians, where their concept of their identity is so askew that he has to take a sledgehammer to their wrong self-concept by using their horrible behavior. Coincidentally for our discussion, the focus in 1Cor is on sensual sins, and Galatians deals a death-blow to the legal – istic tendency toward trying to be sanctified and holy by our own human effort (which causes one to avert one’s eyes, reciting Ecclesiastes, and then feeling wonderfully condemned for having totally natural human responses, every time a girl in a dress walks by). The narrow path through these two fruitless ditches is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” and our new-creation identity that is rooted in Him (and, hopefully, is also being built up in Him).

  23. L.A.

    After reading though all of this I would like to thank you all for remaining very decent. (no pun intended, but funny non the less) I have been involved in other discussions via post and it is always hard to tell the tone something is written in. Even in a few areas where I thought people were going to be misunderstood or offense was going to be taken it seems like you all did very well at clarifying. Priority was given to understanding and being understood. This is a wonderful topic that needs to be discussed more by more albeit controversial. I was encouraged by what was said and how it was said. So, thank you. Thank you for being a demonstration that Christians can talk about things and not go away mad. Too often topics like this end up not really being about truth, beauty, etc. but about being right, or winning.

    One other comment. Thank you Ron, for bringing us back to the truth, beauty, and essentialness of our union with Christ. Without which our thinking becomes so muddled.

  24. Ken

    I used to be the copy center lead for an office supply store, and I remember one night when one of my associates called me to ask how to report child pornography, or if she should just call 911.

    The customer was a young couple with a young baby boy, and the pictures in question were of the first bath in home in their new tub. Thankfully, I talked her down from the idea of calling the police in on the situation.

    We later had a similar situation over a health teacher who wanted to copy some slides for her talk about genital herpes. (Side note … Anyone who found anything arousing in those slides has VERY serious issues!)

    The difference is pretty straightforward — yes, these pictures included parts of one’s body not generally shown in public, but in neither case was there any intent to bring up lust.

    To be sure, parents should consider whether their kids are up to dealing with the difference between “nude” and “smutty.” Maybe, just maybe, that was part of why the school had parents sign permission slips?

  25. whipple

    Jason~

    I think it’s really interesting that you chose to mention the two movie scenes that you did. I actually thought of those same two, except that, for me, the scene from Into the Wild felt a little more voyeuristic for me and the Braveheart scene a little less. There are a myriad of reasons I could cite as to why.

    There are some other pieces which I’ve seen, read, heard, etc. as pornographic, which other people would not at all. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Puritans, cover your ears), there’s a scene toward the end where Ralph Fiennes’ character, after ‘coming back to life’ looks down at his newly formed body and laughs to himself. There’s nothing technically pornographic about the scene, but the laugh (Ralph did a GREAT job) is chilling in its powerful emptiness and selfishness. To me, the character’s enjoyment was a little akin to the enjoyment of looking at pornography (that is, in the customary sense). I know that’s a stretch, but that’s how it felt to me.

    On the other hand, there are quite a few poems by Wendell Berry that are highly sexual in their content, and yet, they are edifying and beautiful and they make me want to love my wife more deeply. That desire in itself makes me want to be closer to my God, since He is the only one in whom I am able to love my wife. I also seem to remember a review for Over the Rhine’s Trumpet Child on this website. That album explores sensual love in a much more artistic and beautiful way than I feel that Bjork’s previous work has done.

    On the other hand, I think the video for Sigur Ros’s Gobbledigook was a bit silly. But I like part of Frederick Buechner’s definition of “Nakedness.”

    People go around dressed to the nines, and in our minds we go around undressing them. Again on wonders why. It’s not just to see their bodies surely. We already know what those look like. If our most abandoned fantasies came true and we were actually to have our way with the bodies that attract us most, I suspect it wouldn’t even be that either. We already know just what those bodies can do and what they can’t.

    Maybe our hunger to know each other fully naked is in the last analysis simply our hunger to know each other fully. I want to know you with all your defenses down, all your pretenses aside, all your secrets laid bare. Then maybe I will be brave enough to lay myself bare so that at last we can be naked together and unashamed.

  26. Jeremy

    One practical implication of this is that public nudity today is not a return to innocence but rebellion against moral reality. God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off. – Piper

    —-

    Also, about Buechner…I know a lot of people here love Buechner, but I just don’t understand it. Perhaps he’s a great writer, but at least from the thought’s I’ve seen of his posted on this board (which I assume are probably some of the best) he seems to be very far from biblical. I really do not get this fascination with him at all.

  27. Andrew C

    I have been reading this discussion with great interest. It seems there is quite a bit of agreement that God’s creation of man & woman is beautiful. I wonder whether we are giving as much consideration to the reality that we all now have sin and its effects to deal with.

    I read the article by John Piper that Joshua referenced, and I believe the points he made align with much of the Biblical foundation for sexuality in light of the sin we all struggle with.

    One particularly relevant quote from that article:

    “One practical implication…is that public nudity today is not a return to innocence but rebellion against moral reality. God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off.”

    I fear that placing any sexual part of the human body as an object of art to be enjoyed by any and all places art outside of any moral constraints and leaves its depictions subject to our fallen nature.

  28. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Andrew, do you think pieces like the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s David are wrong, are sinful? I’ve come to believe that just because something can be abused – food, for instance, or nudity in art – is not reason enough to forbid it.

    Frank Schaeffer, in his memoir Crazy for God, tells of shooting the documentary series with his father for How Then Shall We Live? The shot he was most proud of from the series was in front of Michelangelo’s David, with his father standing on scaffolding and reaching over to dust off the David. When the documentary was released, the producers had deleted that shot and inserted stock footage of the David filmed from a distance, because they thought it was offensive.

  29. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    This is in response to Jeremy.

    I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble for this (though I promise I’m not trying to stir any!)… but here goes…

    Thanks for asking about Buechner. Buechner is a love it or hate it kind of author/thinker. My attempts to turn people onto him have met with very mixed results. I think it depends on what sort of “tribe” your from (personality, temperament)

    I have friends who love Piper (coming from the Minneapolis area there are a lot of them). But for me there is no Christian author who raises my heckles more than John Piper. I know he’s a gifted teacher and is passionate about the gospel and has many virutes, so it’s probably mostly a personality conflict, so I don’t mean in any way to impugn him or his writing. I’ll just share about my own personal bias and experience with his work (this is strictly a matter of opinion and I would hope this post wouldn’t degrade into a debate about Piper or Buechner)

    Personally, though, Piper’s writing leaves me cold. In fact, his almost obsessive dedication to his Calvanistic doctrine of sovereignty – that everything that happens is the will of God – is troubling to me. He’s AMAZING at backing up his position with scripture. But still, knowing what I know of child sex trafficking (not to mention Aids in Africa, serial killers, Hitler Germany, etc.) it’s too big a pill for me to swallow and at some point begins to look less like a holy mystery and more like theological double talk. I’m young though, I may change my mind on this. I’m open to that… (my personal view, just for clarification – but not because this is the right post for us to discuss the issues of sovereignty and free will – is that God is in control and certainly allows our fallen agenda to play out, and is able to use and redeem all of it, allowing for both sovereignty AND free will.)

    My personal impression is that Piper sometimes comes off as austere, dogmatic, and as someone who draws lines in the sand. He is a gifted teacher, and very humble in his own way, and a good and kind man, so truly I think it’s a personality conflict. I worked alongside his number #1 guy this summer, the pastor that he is accountable to, and this pastor shared with me how teachable Piper is and open to correction – so that is a blessing for me to know! Piper has been told that he comes off as a bit arrogant and humbly received it with regret and a desire to change that. That helps me like him more.

    But I still don’t connect with him. I’ll try be sensitive the way I put this, and please know that it’s a broad sweeping statement and I’m not trying to stir anti-Piper sentiment. Piper’s gift is in his ability to present his theology with great scripture to back it up. But where Piper’s teaching is adept at revealing the letter of scripture, Buechner’s gift is – in my opinion – at revealing the spirit of scripture. As a novelist, he brings a great sense of scope to the story of scripture as a whole, and what that story tells us about our own story.

    I personally find Piper’s doctrines unlivable and oppressive for me (again, this may have more to do with my personality or the difference between the kind of person who likes rap and the one who likes country music :- ). However, Buechner’s writing fills me with life, wonder, and hope. I find myself in tears when I read him. I heard a quote once that proposed that perhaps Jesus came less to answer our questions than he did to question our answers. Buechner is especially skilled at questioning our religious suppositions. Sometimes I think he’s off – I don’t agree with his conclusions on many things – but I’m not very interested in reading authors I always agree with. So for me, he provides about the right amount of orthodoxy as well as a progressiveness that challenges me in invigorating ways. I’m not fearful of being led astray because I believe that he who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it, and I have a decent amount of accountability in my life.

    One thing that you should know about Buechner is that he’s an artist’s theologian. His temperament appeals to reflective artistic types (Like Matt in his earlier post, I too am suspicious of people who are very certain of things, and Piper is decidedly certain. I think a part of the artist’s job is to challenge the way we see the world. Certainty at it’s worst can become a closed system of thought. Notice I said at it’s worst. At it’s best it can be the peace that passes understanding. I’m not necessarily knocking certainty. Or puritans, or Piper! ;- )

    Buechner, too, is a writer who seems to always be aware of Christianity’s cultured despisers who may be eavesdropping. He works with great sensitivity to avoid tripping any defense mechanisms of unbelievers and doubters and academics who may be reading. Some people interpret this as soft theology, but I always read it as loving empathy and bridge building.

    I’m a restless believer. I struggle with doubt. Buechner is a doubter’s theologian – he’s always able to get past my defenses and bring me back again and again to the gospel. Aside from scripture, God has used Buechner more than anyone else to speak into my life. Buechner’s voice is quiet, unassuming, the voice of a fellow journeyman. He invites me into his story. John Piper’s voice is austere to my ears.

    The difference between my relationship with the two authors is exemplified in an experience I had a couple summers ago. I shared a story at a camp about my time in Africa and a moment that I had when I was heart broken and frustrated that God seemed distant and not active in the ways I wish he would be in the lives of the AIDs orphans I was there to serve. (for the whole story, read my post about it here in the rabbit room http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=891#more-891) My story brought it around to where I believe the Holy Spirit softened my heart and helped me to see that as much as these things broke my heart, they broke the heart of God even more so, and that our service to the poor is not only ministry to them, but a way of ministering to God himself, of ministering to his heart break over all that has gone wrong since the Fall.

    A Piper devotee was there and after chastising me over my story gave me a writing of Piper’s about the arrogance of expressing anger at God. It is a sin. No more discussion.

    Buechner on the other hand understands things like anger, disappointment, and even doubt as parts of a living and healthy relationship. Of doubt he says, “doubt is the ants in the pants of faith – it keeps it alive and moving.”

    Is anger at God arrogance? Surely. But it is a part of relationship, too, and was a part of my development as a Christian who came to understand my service to the poor as perhaps my most significant worship as well as ministry to Christ himself who says “what you do unto the least of these you do unto me”.

    So the bottom line is that John Piper and I love the same Jesus, but I think we speak different languages. Buechner speaks my language, (but of course not the language of everyone else). In a nutshell, for my money, where Piper captures the letter of the bible, Buechner captures the spirit.

    Whew, that was long, but I hope that it helps answer why some people really connect with Buechner. I don’t fault you at all for not connecting with Buechner – he’s a strong drink that you either have a taste for or you don’t! Please don’t think too poorly of me for not connecting with Piper, even though I know he provides a wonderful service to the church.

    In the words of Ron Burgundy, “agree to disagree” :- )

  30. josh

    Piper and Beuchner are both smart guys. But I think Buechner is more prone to let his feelings about things affect the way he interprets them and the problem you run into there is that you become unwilling to accept that things which seem harsh may in fact be the truth in deed.

    And Jason, you think maybe the plite of Africa and other places like it may be the thing God is using to break the hearts of His children and thus allow them to see people in general as precious, sin-stained children in need of the love and compassion we are so used to to here in America? And then on top of that He puts a burning desire in the hearts of people here so as to ensure that someone takes up the charge to make sure those people get the food, medicine, and compassion and care they need? And then beyond that, when those of us from this comparatively extravagantly wealthy country go and actually meet the ones suffering from poverty and disease, we come back with a new understanding of what real joy and real contentment are. It’s like they need us to feed them and clothe them and we need them to teach us how to really understand the measure to which our God meets all of our needs. Whether those needs are for food and shelter or the need to have our blinders removed so we can see the world more like God does.

    I just think there’s a danger in taking an unbending stand on one and only one side of the argument. The truth is not all the way to the left or all the way to the right. The truth is somewhere outside the box.

  31. Chris P

    I like the great discussion, a lot. I spent some time growing up in Europe, in Budapest, Hungary to be more specific, and there is definitely a different attitude towards social nudity. It just kinda is. No one thinks anything about it. It’s what the norm is. It’s not considered an excess or bare skin because that’s what they know as normal. I totally agree with the comments from both Ron and Jason about how art and pornography can be different kinds of nudity and how a lot of personal judgment comes into what we chose to expose ourselves to, and I want to second the appreciation of fathers who deal openly with their sons about pornography.
    But my real reason for posting a comment was this: Pete, was that an Arrested Development reference? If so, amazing.

  32. Andrew C

    What is the absolute (objective) standard distinguishing art from pornography? That cannot be left up to individual opinion because of what Scripture says about the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

  33. Jenny

    Andrew..
    Personally, I think that the answer to your question you posed, “What is the absolute (objective) standard distinguishing art from pornography? is simply what Ron stated above, “The real, deep down issue in what we look at, how we respond to it emotionally or physically, and how we respond to our response, is this: Maintaining a connection to Christ within ourselves – an awareness, a recognition of our union with Him, a submission to His will, and not only His will, but His power within us to be and do everything we are meant to be and do – is the only way to have real modesty, the kind that will resound forever as a work of Christ resonating through us by inner reliance on His Holy Spirit. This response brings us more and more to the place of freedom where the temptations that used to throw us to the ground in besetting sins become weaker and weaker until we can say confidently to the Tempter, “You’ve got to be joking. Trade my power in Christ for that pathetic misuse of my humanity?”

    And on another note…
    As Jason stated above, “So the bottom line is that John Piper and I love the same Jesus, but I think we speak different languages”
    I think each of us, each at a different point in our journey as a Christian, each from differing backgrounds and having different opinions in general all respond differently to different theologies, though they are all essentially discussing the same thing, they’re presented in very different ways.
    And Jason, you say “However, Buechner’s writing fills me with life, wonder, and hope. I find myself in tears when I read him…”, I see nothing wrong with you stating your opinon on your preference to these two men’s works/writings. I think we can all identify closely to someones thoughts, works, writings b/c they share similar beliefs and thougths to us and sometimes challenge us to look at things just a little differently than we do. I think God places these people in our path to help us if we let them.
    I often am dealing w/an issue, come to the Rabbit Room and end up w/the answer I was searching for. I’m a big “fan” of what Ron say’s on here, I use it as my devotion time as a busy stay at home mom of two. I”m challenged in my thinking, supported by the bibilcal references, reduced to tears often times, and refreshed when I leave. I’m blessed so many times by his writings/music.
    So all this to say…thanks for your post =)

  34. Jeremy

    Jason-

    Let me first say that your post didn’t tick me off…which is really neat because at the beginning I really thought it would have. You have a wonderful way of disagreeing without being rude, which is something that I often wish I had.

    However, to me, from the little that I’ve seen of Buechner, he reminds me of every sociology teacher I’ve ever had. I cant really think of a famous pastor that I would akin him to, so I’ll just say a sociology teacher, or most college age kids today. His stuff sounds wonderful, and honestly that’s what starts me thinking that he isn’t biblical (most things biblical, biblical thinking…does bother us). Buechner goes off of feelings it seems, what seems right to him…like most people do, but he puts it beautifully and makes it sound even better than most could. I’m more concerned with God’s Glory, with biblical truth than what seems good.

    John Piper is willing to call himself a Calvinist because it’s what he believes, but I’m sure he doesn’t believe it BECAUSE it’s Calvinism. I was once a free-willer and it almost caused me to not believe at all. Calvinism, to me, makes sense of all scripture which is what Piper tries to do. It takes all of that stuff in the Bible that people say contradicts itself and turns them on their faces. Piper makes sense of scripture, his way of looking at things makes sense because it makes the Bible makes sense. To me the sovereignty of God in all things is the answer.

    Anyway, looking forward to when you come to Marion, IL….I’ll be there!

    -jeremy

  35. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Oh my goodness… I just thought of the obvious example of cultural nudity. Not to beat this discussion into the ground, but I’m thinking of our visit to Africa. You’re sure to run into a lot of topless African women there, and it’s just a totally different thing. It’s barely thought of as nudity and isn’t considered offensive, rebellious, or sexual, it’s just what it is. So my point is that maybe nudity comes with a context – either cultural, artistic, intentional (as in the case with an artist – what is his intention by painting a nude?), etc.

    And yes, Pete – thank you for numerous Arrested Development references that you repeatedly deal out. It makes me smile every time :- )

    And I still think Buechner could take Piper in an armwrestling contest (whoa, I think I just brought darwinism back into this… ;- )

    (and thanks for your kind words, Jeremy – I look forward to seeing you in Marion!)

  36. Jeremy

    Jason, just helping beat a dead horse here, but your last post sparked an idea.

    Maybe we should all go totally off the wall, start killing people for nothing, showing our bodies, committing adultery left and right, taking the Lord’s name in vain, etc. until it’s to the point at which nobody thinks of it or does it because it’s sin or because it feels good…perhaps if we are all desensitized to everything we can all live a completely sinless life.

    that was my rude way of saying it, here’s the nice way:

    There are a lot of people who do take the Lord’s name in vain without meaning it, without thinking of it, as a knee-jerk response…does that make it any less of a sin? Is murder committed by an insane person or a person in a the heat of a moment any less of a sin than murder committed by a completely sane person who plans it out? Of course, the heart of a person takes a part, but just because it’s said that a person who looks at a woman in lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart, does not mean that the act of committing adultery is only bad if the person’s heart is into it.

    another piper quote:
    Taking your clothes off does not put you back into pre-Fall paradise; it puts you into post-Fall shame.

  37. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Oh dang it… I’m taking the bait…

    This is not meant to sound as rude is it might sound, but Piper is a white man of European descent. His thoughts regarding nudity make good sense in our culture, but might be irrelevant in other cultures. I’m sticking with my guns that to be topless in Africa (or parts of Europe for that matter) can be a different kind of thing. Men go topless and we think nothing of it, I wonder at what point that it became inappropriate for a woman to be topless? Does anyone know this? I’m kind of curious…

    And correct me if I’m wrong (and I may be) but I can’t think of a clear biblical mandate against this kind of nudity. I agree, and I think most cultures agree, that it’s good to cover the naughty bits (Monty Python reference) below the belt. My point was that I don’t think we necessarily can apply Piper’s insight – no matter how good it may be – to a tribe in the heart of Africa or deep in the Amazon. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I would feel sad if white Christians came to a village and made folks feel shame for not wearing anything on top.

    It seems that one of the main motivations of modesty is to help people of the opposite gender not go crazy with lust. If going topless is culturally acceptable to a people group (and I’m not talking about swingers and those who go to nude beaches here), than introducing the concept of shame seems like it might be counterproductive. This isn’t relativism to me, but just common sense, and goes back to how Paul talks about how it was the law that made him aware of his sinful desires. And rebellion has a great deal to do with intentionality, which isn’t the case in this instance. Nor are many artists intentionally rebelling by painting the human form sans clothing.

    All we have to do is look to the middle east and look at the Taliban’s very oppressive view of women and the womanly form to see where too strict and austere a view on modesty can lead us. You don’t have to strip a woman of her clothing to objectify her, you can dress her up in burqa, too, and call it righteousness and it’s probably an even more perverse kind of objectification.

    At any rate, I’m spending WAY too much time talking about nudity here. I’m going to burn my copies of National Geographic that I’ve been hiding under my mattress, sell my Braveheart, Into The Wild, and Clash of The Titans DVDs, take a cold shower (in my cut off jean shorts), mow my lawn and try to go back to lurking and learning from others here.

    (I hope that last paragraph is taken as the good-natured jest that I intended it to be :- )

  38. Jeremy

    Well, first I’ve got to address the issue of Christians going into a village and shaming people…Without Christ we are all hopeless, before correcting mistakes I think that it’s much more important to correct the ultimate mistake of ignoring Christ. If one truly accepts Christ, then they will want to become more knowledgeable in regard to the Bible and want to do what God commands. So, I’d hope that no group of Christians would go anywhere and present Legalism. Grace first, always.

    Okay, well I was going to write more, but I guess I’m kinda done…nice talk, though. I’ll leave with what I really think. Nudity is not a good thing for me, and I think most men, no matter how innocent it is. A gray sculpture with heads and arms cut off is one thing, but anything more is not going to be a good thing for me. To get to the bottom of it, there has to be a line drawn somewhere – we just disagree where that line is, and admittedly I’m always more conservative when it comes to things such as these. Paul says that if you aren’t sure about something, you are better off not to do it. “The person who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not act from faith; everything which is not from faith is sin.”

  39. Andrew C

    I’m not trying to drag this on any more either, but since I have had a good deal of experience in other cultures around the world, I thought I’d chime in a little bit more. I have heard accounts of the Gospel consuming entire villages and people groups in many African countries as well as on other continents. It was shared in unconditional love by non-anglos, even by their own people who were in love with Jesus. The Gospel was what they shared, and nothing more. But very soon after people began coming to Jesus and the Holy Spirit began the process of transforming them into Jesus’ image, one of the first things they did was begin to cover up. When asked about it, they said that nobody had come to them and told them they should – but that it was something they felt God telling them in their hearts, something that they needed to obey Him about. Wow…go figure with that.

    And I do agree with Jeremy’s response regarding heart intent…that it becomes awfully subjective when the judge of right and wrong is simply heart intent that ignores God’s commands – either explicit or by example (covering Adam and Eve up, in this case).

    And that’s all I have to say.

  40. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Andrew, I’d love to see studies about this type of thing from experts in that field, but I don’t think it would be a hard argument to make that a people group, after having outsiders come in and show them the way to God and a new way to live, would then try to imitate the outsiders in other areas, even in something like the clothes they wear or don’t wear.

  41. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I do want to say one thing more, to anyone who wants to hear, about this whole issue.

    Beware of this one thing when dealing with these sorts of concepts (what is appropriate, is nudity in art wrong, etc). In all this talk of “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” and “I can’t handle any nudity because I know my own heart” and “we’re fallen beings” and all that sort of talk about our humanity, remember this :

    Jesus was human. He had a flesh. He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” The word “flesh” in the gospel of John used regarding Jesus is exactly the same word used in Romans 7 regarding us. Jesus had a weak and temptable flesh, just as we do. It is built that way; Adam and Eve were created to be temptable, because to be temptable means to be responsive to one’s environment.

    Jesus Christ has redeemed us. The Bible clearly speaks of us as dead to sin, dead to Law, that the old man was crucified with Christ, that we were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” To get a little graphic, when a person was circumcised in the Jewish frame, he didn’t carry the circumcised bit around with him; the circumcised part didn’t follow the Jewish guy around and try to reattach itself. That old “I” is as dead and buried as Jesus Christ was dead and buried, and now His life is resurrected as my life. A divine trade – my sinfulness, my old indwelling lord (Eph 2:2), for His righteousness, His Holy Spirit. We have eternal life right here and right now, because eternal life is a Person – Christ, who lives in us. He has given us new wineskins – the new heart – filled with new Wine – His Holy Spirit.

    Take care, then, that we don’t trample upon the blood of Jesus, through which we have forgiveness of sins, complete and total; and let’s take care that we don’t despise the body of Jesus, the body in which we died in Him, and the body in which we have now been “raised to walk in newness of life.” All these truths point us to our real food, the sustenance, His life by which we now live. Jesus died that we might have life, and have it to the full. Let’s make sure we’re possessing our possessions and not turning God’s precious truths into fictional, unreal, “positional” statements of idealistic fairy dust, rejecting the actual righteousness available to us by faith, and instead focusing on sin-avoidance.

    My point is that we can see ourselves as “so sinful, such rotten sinners, so fallen,” when God says, “By one sacrifice He has perfected forever those who are being made holy” and “Ye are complete in Him.” We in effect despise the riches of the power of Christ in us when we focus only on our human weakness (which is real, as it was for Jesus) and, rather than trusting that amazing Engine inside us to provide the power, we set about forging “our own righteousness” which comes from keeping our eyes on sin, avoiding people and places where we might be tainted, and so, really, missing out on being used as assets, God’s beautiful, Christ-empowered lights in dark places. Beware of sin-fear; rather, turn to Christ in reverence and love and embrace His overcoming power, the One before Whom sin and Satan cannot stand for a moment. Satan earnestly desires to keep us from living from the power of Christ in us; his main trick bag is filled with the lies we so easily believe. The Devil’s lies are mere fog, smoke which disperses by one puff of air from the mouth of God – the God who is pleased to dwell in His people, you and me, and manifests His life through us when we trust Him to do so.

    I’m not writing this to start a theological argument; I merely want anyone and every who is listening to put their focus on who God is, and what the Bible says He has made us in Christ, and exactly how much of that power is available to you and I right here in this Now moment – every moment.

    All these issues become clear as we step out in faith into our real identity in Him. Without that all we have is the wasteland of “where is the line?” and “how much can I do before it is sin?” Knowing our identity in Christ, relying on Him in us, knowing He is our righteousness, our purity, makes it clear for each person in that Now moment, “where time intersects eternity.”

  42. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    Thank you for always bringing it back to God’s presence. Reading through your last post, I noticed a correlation that I’d never had before. My son is a big believer in, “I can’t.” That’s his answer to nearly everything I ask him to do. Sometimes, he says it because I’m asking him to do something he doesn’t *want* to do (pick up his toys). And sometimes he’s unaware of own abilities (count the toys as he picks them up). It occurred to me that self-effort sin-avoidance is much like the believer’s “I can’t.” I understand that feeling because *I* can’t. But God doesn’t want *me* to do it, anyway. He wants me to allow Him to do it through me.

    I know a few people who really don’t want to give up their ability to be sexually tempted by random nudity or whatever may float their boat. It’s a connection they draw between being tempt-able and being virile. And then there are those who want to change, but feel incapable. So, I think of the two scenes that often play out in my house:

    Me: Elijah, pick up your toys.
    Elijah: I can’t.
    Me: Yes, you can, you just don’t want to

    and;

    Me: Elijah, count how many trucks you have.
    Elijah: I can’t.
    Me: Yes you can. Believe me when I tell you, you *can* count those trucks. You’ve learned to count to 10, so you can count at least that many trucks.

    The difference in a mother talking to her child and God talking to His child is that, when I say, “I can’t,” God says, “No, but I can and I’ll do it for you.” Allowing Him to do it, though, needs that foundation of faith, so avoiding, I think, is the short-term answer. But as our faith grows, our need to avoid should lessen. It reminds me of that song, “Thank You, Lord, For Holding Me.”

    The tempter knocked and somehow I found strength to tell him, “No.”
    The things I once held treasures, I just stood and watched them go.
    Surprised at my resistance and newfound stability
    I’ve decided there’s a Higher Power holding me

    Oddly enough, though, something doesn’t have to be a treasure for us to hold onto it with a death grip. Somehow, we often hold tightest to the things that tear us apart inside, such as sin-awareness. But I don’t think God wants His children to think of themselves as worthless, wretched sinners any more than we would want our children to have that sort of self-hatred.

    Stacy

  43. Jeremy

    Ron – you are really smart, wow…

    onto what I think…
    From Stacy’s post it seems that God can only do things of which we are unaware. I’m not sure why feeling bad about sin and trying to avoid it is counter-productive. I see my God convicting me, giving me the know-how that I need, the strength I need…to avoid sin. I am in no way saying that I am doing it all on my own, God is doing it in me. He is giving me the Word to see what sin is and He is giving me the Spirit to convict me and give me strength. I mean, it’s as if you’re saying that someone who loves to kill people (dexter?) should not try by his own abilities to not kill people, he should instead wait until he doesn’t want to anymore. God convicts people and God will give them strength, God will give them a WANT to do it.

    a few exerts from the sermon on the mount:

    “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

    “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

    “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

    “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

    and lastly, the hardest one for me to see and deal with…
    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

  44. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    Let me clarify what I mean by sin-avoidance. By no means do I think avoiding sin is counter-productive to not sinning *that* sin. But it is counter-productive to developing faith. If my weakness is lust, then I will do what it takes to avoid situations that evoke lust. I’ll fast forward through the love scenes. I’ll skip the romantic paragraphs. I’ll look at fruit and landscapes and close my eyes to the nudes. No doubt, that is avoiding temptation. But am I not indwelt by One who is stronger than the temptation? That doesn’t mean that I get saved one day and watch Braveheart in its entirety the next. It takes a building of that foundation of faith. So, for the short run, avoidance is key. But it shouldn’t be the final solution. My constant self effort of sin avoidance means that I’m not living freely in Christ and not allowing Christ to live freely through me. I’m saying to Him, “Yes, Lord, You’re mighty and the conqueror of all sin…except for this one that is so strong in me.” Before I know it, I’m defining myself as a lustful person, even if only on a subconscious level. But that’s not really me. I’m not really a lustful person because I’m indwelt by God. I have this sin habit of being lustful, but stepping out on faith will drive away the habit. Again, it’s not an overnight thing and it’s definitely something to pray about. And of course, the driving force isn’t to get to look at naked people and say, “I’m indwelt, so this doesn’t affect me.” The driving force is that freedom of letting go of one more grip old sin habits have on us.

    Stacy

  45. Jeremy

    We see somewhat the same way, I guess…The only difference seems to be that I think that Christ MAKES me avoid sin to strengthen my faith and ultimately make it a non-issue or a very small issue (in the case of pornography for example…I would love to meet the heterosexual male who can watch an adult film in it’s entirety and not feel lust).

  46. L.A.

    Jeremy,

    The difference is that as much as you try you can only do so much to improve a dead rotting corpse. It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into cleaning it and making it look really nice it’s still dead. This is how we approach our flesh many times when we think about ourselves as sinners. It becomes an endless pursuit of perfecting our flesh. God doesn’t want to help us perfect our flesh. The only way to have victory over it was to kill it. This is where the passages I believe Ron is talking about come into play and how they have a moment by moment influence on our daily lives. The exchanged life.

    “I mean, it’s as if you’re saying that someone who loves to kill people (dexter?) should not try by his own abilities to not kill people, he should instead wait until he doesn’t want to anymore. God convicts people and God will give them strength, God will give them a WANT to do it.”

    There is place for discipline in “christian” life and it is very important, on the other hand a person can be very disciplined and not be spiritual. God IS interested in the heart and that we have the will and WANT to do things.

    “I’m not sure why feeling bad about sin and trying to avoid it is counter-productive. I see my God convicting me, giving me the know-how that I need, the strength I need…to avoid sin. I am in no way saying that I am doing it all on my own, God is doing it in me. He is giving me the Word to see what sin is and He is giving me the Spirit to convict me and give me strength.”

    There is a subtle, but very important element in what fuels the action and result. In the above quote you give credit to God and say you’re not on your own, but in the end it seems to come down to an underlying idea of “Jeremy has to fight and defeat his sin” (with God’s help of course)

    Perhaps this is not what you’re saying, and in that case I’m interpreting you wrongly. Sorry.

    The Bible seems to present a different mentality that I think takes into account your quotes from the sermon on the mount.

    In this passage Jesus is speaking to a very law minded Jewish culture. Many times in the Gospels Jesus rebukes them for trusting in their heritage for salvation. He even says “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” I think what He is trying to do in the sermon on the mount is to show these people who think they need to live by the law just how deep the law goes. I think he is trying to show them just how badly they need a savior. He wants to make them salivate so to speak for the only bread and water that could ever satisfy. I could be wrong, but scripture doesn’t say anything about the hundreds of males in that crowd who went home without hands or eyes.

    Is there place for true repentance? YES Is it wrong to feel bad about our sin? NO

    However, there is no amount in the world of my feeling bad about my sin that will ever cover it. This is something I still deal with in my life. When I sin (daily) I want to change and I want to stop. I get frustrated with the recurrence. I feel guilty and I am shocked with the foolishness of it. I want to feel bad about it. I want to try and prove to God that I really am sorry. But I have found that many times what I am really trying to do is make up for it. I am really thinking to myself, “If God knows that I really am sorry He will forgive me again.” Or I think that I will just try harder next time. Somehow I think that feeling bad about it makes things better. I feel that these thoughts are really a slap in the face of God. They disregard the fact that He paid for all my sin, even what I have not committed yet, and He did it for me when I was still his enemy. How much more now being his son will he freely forgive.

    Ron Referenced this verse earlier and it is one of my favorites. Romans 5:17 “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

    This is called “positional truth”, or “the exchanged life”, or “federal headship”, or just plain old “identity in Christ”.

    The Bible presents us not with an idea of perfecting our flesh, but with union with Christ. He has taken my life, my sin, and given me his. Romans 6:4 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

    This is the mentality we should have when thinking about sin in our lives.

    Maybe you know all this already and it’s not really what you were getting at. Again I apologize. In my life though, I never knew these things until I was about 21 in Bible school and I think it is a shame. I grew up in a christian home, but never heard or understood some of these basic truths of the gospel.

    Again, sorry if this isn’t where you were going.

  47. Jeremy

    Also, I want to go on the record to say that I do not think that sin-avoidance is a way to make a certain sin a non-issue…when you take away an addiction you have to replace it with something, say…prayer and fasting for example, or reading your Bible. Just wanted to clarify in case there are any other psychology nuts on this board than me who would bring that up.

  48. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    Don’t take me wrongly. I don’t mean to imply that watching pornography is on the same plane as watching a “regular” movie that may contain nudity. The entire purpose behind creating and watching porn is to fulfill a lustful desire. Realizing, though, that God can defeat a sin habit within you will essentially drive away one’s desire to watch porn at the same time that it will make that person less fearful of what may happen if they catch a glimpse of nudity within an otherwise normal movie. If you remain fearful of and aware of a lustful tendency, there will always be an inner struggle that results in self-effort to keep you away from it.

    Even replacing the sin with another action is you making your own effort to drive away the sin. That’s the hamster wheel so often referred to in Ron’s discussions. You may suppress the sin for the moment, but it is destined to rear its ugly head at a later date, keeping you on this treadmill that repeats the same sins over and over. The more you take action to replace it, the more your focus is shifted from faith to sin.

    Stacy

  49. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jeremy,

    Hebrews says that if the blood of bulls and goats could have taken away sins, the worshipers would have gone away without a sin-consciousness (KJV, they would have “had no more conscience of sins”). We are to live not sin-consciously, but Jesus-conscious, Holy Spirit conscious, God’s-power conscious. That said, the root of the problem in our thinking as believers is this:

    “I am a human self. God, through Christ, has forgiven me my sins. I’m glad. I now have a second chance to do good. So, with Christ’s help, I will avoid evil and do good.”

    Unfortunately this is the road straight to the Romans 7 life. Me, working for God and His glory (even if I believe I “do not have to please God by my works anymore”), with God’s help. It leads, in the end, to total frustration.

    The rock-bottom reality is that we are vessels, cups. We are designed to contain Christ, the Wine. That is our deepest-down function as humans. The New Testament illustrations go further, of course. We are branches in the Vine. He produces His fruit through us. And in that illustration we come to our daily choice: Abide – which is simply to remain in the Vine in resting, reliant faith – or go back to engaging in self-activity, the old way: “I am a human self that must avoid evil and do good.”

    That old way really connects us to Satan, because “I will” is the essence of the satanic construct. “I will be like Most High” is echoed in many believers, who say, “I will be like Jesus.”

    Here’s why human willpower is a problem – if we fail, we condemn ourselves. And if we succeed at this game of trying to be good and avoid evil, we feel pride, which is the flip side of the failing, self-condemning self.

    In stark contrast to the Romans 7 attitude of trying to do good and finding evil present, and the human self hating itself, we’ve got Jesus saying, “I can do nothing of Myself.” And elsewhere, “The Father in Me does the works.” Jesus had a humanity which was just as unable to do good on its own steam as ours – and yet since He knew and accepted where His power came from, He accepted His humanity as God’s asset.

    Temptation is not sin. James talks about what sin is. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust (strong desire, not necessarily sexual, which is the spin we put on the word “lust today) and enticed. Then, when lust (strong desire) has conceived, it brings forth sin.”

    To see nudity or sex in a movie and feel desire is not wrong. For a male, especially, it just means you’re not pushing up daisies or at least down with a violent case of the flu. But when we allow Satan to pull that desire and couple it (like a train car) with intent, with action – literally, when we temporarily step out of our union with Christ and have an adulterous liason with Satan – that’s when strong desire conceives and brings forth sin (not-love for God and others). Thus, watching a movie and seeing a sex scene come on, desire will be felt. That’s not sin. What is done at that point will determine sin or not.

    Now, let’s think about that point. There are two possible responses – the faith response and the Law response. The Law response says, “I ought not.” This response will lead to one of two things. The “I ought not” will lead us to get up and leave, or turn the movie off, etc. The problem with this side of Law-response is that afterward we often feel self-justified. “Aren’t I an excellent fellow to have done it!” And then of course, when someone talks to us about a porn problem or something of that nature, we respond in the same way we think worked for us: “Accountability partners! Just say no! Think of your wife!” and all those other Law-responses that use human pride to cure sin.

    Ok, if anyone is still with me, the second side of the Law response is this: “Oh! I ought not. But…I feel such desire. Oh! I’m such a sinner. I’ve got to get control of myself! I shouldn’t be doing this…but…” and on we go into sensual sin.

    The faith-response is much different. It may look the same on the outside, which is one reason we can’t judge the outsides of things. The faith response, at the point of desire, says this: “The Law says ‘I ought not.’ Satan, through the Law, is trying to get me to respond in my own effort to this sexual desire, which is not wrong in and of itself. I’m no longer under the Law, so I could potentially watch this scene and sin through lusting after the character in the movie rather than my wife. If I did so God would still love me and I’d still go to heaven, and I could repent later.” This is all true, and many people stop right here and follow this line of thought.

    But a mature believer goes on. “In Christ I am dead to the Law – all those ‘you shoulds’ and ‘you ought nots.’ I’m dead to that in Christ. I no longer have to engage my own human effort, my own human will-power to avoid evil and do good, because Christ is now my life. He lives in me, and He is my inner Overcomer. So – I feel desire, strong sexual desire. But who am I? Well, in Christ I’m righteous – which means my humanity is rightly used in Him. So I am trusting You in me, Lord Jesus Christ, present in me right here and now, to be my Purity. And I praise you for it, Lord, and worship You. Thank you for being my purity.”

    We cannot follow this line of faith and sit there and either sin through pride or indulgence. A faith attitude like that will prompt an action, whether inner, or outer. In a faith-choice like that Jesus Christ manifests Himself as our tangible, here-and-now Purity.

    Three results follow. We neither feel condemned for our desire, nor do we follow that desire into an adulterous liason with Satan. And, probably most importantly, we don’t respond in pride by thinking we’re Joe Super Christian – which leads to more effective ministry because we can meet people where they’re at and not condemn them or give them Law; we point them to the real Answer, because we ourselves know Him intimately. We recognize our total weakness and inability to live the Christian life, and at the same time rest in His total power and sufficiency in us – in our weakness His life in us is strong.

  50. Tony Heringer

    It will take a while to digest all of these posts. Thanks all of you for baring your souls 🙂

    However, I want to know where Matt Conner is in all of this?

    He started this post and I don’t recall him joining in the discussion. C’mon dude, let’s hear a recap from the igniter of this lively debate.

  51. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Ha ha, Tony. In a discussion of nudes you thanked us for “baring” our souls. (snicker, snicker :- )

    I’m sorry, I’m so sophomoric. AND I said I wouldn’t post again. but this is getting good now, moving towards the heart of things. Good stuff.

    I was reminded of a thought I had not long ago that may or may not be fruitful to anyone else here. A while back I had the realization that a major player in all my struggle with lust-sin is testosterone. Woman by and large don’t struggle with the issue of viewing nudity and sexual lust – at least not the way that most men do (broad generalizations here, I know). But that’s in part because they don’t have as much testosterone as men.

    Even in a marriage relationship, a common thing you’ll hear is that the husband may wish his wife was more amorous, while a wife may wonder why her husband has such an insatiable appetite for sex. It has been a source of pain, loneliness, and misunderstanding between the sexes for… well, maybe ever.

    And so much of it can be attributable to a chemical that runs in a man’s blood stream, and less in a woman’s.

    Could the problems of lust, the sex drive, the constant battle to keep a man’s mind pure be solved if we could drain our veins of testosterone? I know, of course there is still the matter of sin to deal with, and I know this is an oversimplification, but it’s something worth wondering about maybe.

    The only reason I bring this up is because I’m grateful for how Ron addressed that feeling desire isn’t wrong. It’s normal. We were made to feel this desire.

    This thought about Testosterone – as obvious and simple as it is – helped me have a moment where I was able to forgive myself for my constant desire. What I used to see as a shameful defect in myself I came to understand as a part of my design. There’s a great book by Ronald Rolheiser about what to do with the desire – the fire in the gut – that we have.

    I was able to move beyond shame – which was counterproductive – to a sense of responsibility. I have this amazing drive inside of me! So Lord, what do you want me to do with it? (Rolheiser’s interesting book looks at three responses of a person born with the same kind of desire. Janis Joplin whose desire went out from her in every direction leaving her dissipated and empty; Princess Diana who harnessed hers to do some great things, but failed to fully focus it and it often dominated her life, and then Mother Theresa, whose desire was focused like a laser beam to cut large swaths in the veil that hangs between this world and the Kingdom of God.)

    Anyway, I offer the testosterone idea just in case it might help anyone else move beyond shame to a more redemptive understanding of their sex drive.

    I’m now going to pray that I’ll be able to direct my unruly passions and focus them on more fruitful endeavers, like mowing the grass (still haven’t had any takers on the mowing the grass line of thought, so I keep casting…)

  52. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    Without testosterone none of us would be here.

    Like every aspect of our humanity, it has right and wrong uses. But in itself it is a neutral thing – part of our design, as you mentioned.

    Jealousy has a right and wrong use. Ambition. Sexual desire. Fear has right and wrong uses.

    Regarding lawn mowing, I’ve found there are two responses possible. I can either not mow it and let it grow, or hire someone else to do it. Two results will follow… (just kidding).

    Ron

  53. Jeremy

    Ron – your post was amazing for me and really opened my eyes some. I tend to go in a circle with this. For a while I’m on the same line of thinking as what you are saying, then I edge closer and closer to legalism then back again. I think the real answer is somewhat of what I’ve been saying…at least to me, I dont consider what I’m saying legalistic.

    Anyway, I kind of have more to say but I wont because I’m not really sure right now….I really need to think on this a while and assimilate/accommodate where appropriate. I’m at the point at which I think anything I say will come out wrong because I’m caught in the middle somewhere and unsure.

  54. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jeremy,

    Another way of looking at it:

    Temptation is the call by Satan to turn from our inner Husband and come to a temporary adulterous affair with him. It is Satan wanting to use us for his sinning purposes, and then of course dump on us for how sinful and horrible we are.

    In Christ-reliance, or abiding, or whatever we choose to call it, the response to this Satanic call is to turn toward our real Husband and affirm our union with Him. We affirm that He and we are one Spirit, that He is the inner Lord, and not only the inner Ruler, but also that all of His resources, His character, His power, are at our immediate disposal. The real value of temptation if seen and used rightly, is that rather than pulling us away from Christ, it is an opportunity to strengthen the habit and practice of affirming Him within us. God really uses the Devil as a lackey or errand-boy by which we are given resistance training, practice in faith, which manifests God’s strength and power in our human weakness, the divine Wine welling up in us and poured out to others through the human cup.

  55. Stacy Grubb

    Jason,

    I’d venture to say that it’s not so much that women don’t struggle with it as they don’t openly struggle with it. It’s just more accepted for a man to declare a sexual desire than it is for a woman. There’s this societal concept that men are sex-driven and women are something else-driven. Perhaps the levels are different, but the basic biological urge is there for men and women (and I know you know this). I’d even go as far as to say that the shame feeling is likely more pronounced in women because, in a lot of ways, we’re made to feel like men can’t help it, but women shouldn’t even be wanting it. Of course, that’s ridiculous since it takes two to tango, but logic doesn’t always have to play a role in social expectations.

    Which leads me to segue into my next point by pointing out how society usually gets it wrong. In most situations, society is accused of an extreme lack of discipline. Yet, oddly enough, I became more at peace with my own sexual desire (not that I’m so at peace with it that I didn’t just blush from my forehead to my shoulders for even typing about it) after getting a better understanding of what God says about it. I’m blessed enough to have a preacher who will discuss it from the pulpit (as excruciating a sermon as it was for me) and made it clear that, by no means, is sexual desire in and of itself a sin.

    Ron, you’ve failed to mention the third option in lawnmowing, which is to make your husband do it. I like that one best because it requires no self-effort on my part.

    Stacy

  56. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    On the lawnmower issue I was, of course, speaking subtly to avoid debate.

    What I normally do is wave my arms and yell, “Wife! Submit! Mow the lawn!” And afterwards I ask her why dinner isn’t ready yet. When I do all that properly I know deep down she feels fulfilled and completed as a woman, because the Bible says for wives to submit to their husbands.

    Ron

  57. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    I’m only sad that my husband just finished cutting every blade of grass we’ve got. I could’ve used our jungle of a lawn to grow spiritually had I been on the right track two hours ago. And it’s that much worse since I feel myself already running back to that hamster wheel of making him do it next time, too. One Canaanite at a time, sweet Jesus.

    Stacy

  58. becky

    Jeremy,
    I think that replacing sinful action with a right action is scriptural. Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” This statement is followed by several specific examples of stopping sinful behavior, changing the way we think about that behavior (the attitude of the mind), and replacing that behavior with “righteousness”. For instance, we are to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully” to our neighbor, “for we are all members of one body.” Put off the bad behavior–falsehood, put on the new behavior–speak truthfully, and think differently about the issue–“for we are all members of one body. And Paul goes on to talk about replacing stealing with hard work, so we can share with those in need. Replacing unwholesome talk with what is helpful and encouraging, so that those who listen can benefit. Replace bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, etc., with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, because Christ has forgiven us.

    There are also numerous times when Paul says to “flee from” or “avoid” sin (1 Cor. 6:18, 1 Cor. 10:14, 1 Tim. 6:10-12, 2 Tim. 2 :22, 1 Thess. 4:3, 1 Thess. 5:22). I understand what Ron is saying, and agree with it for the most part. But it seems a bit more complicated than that to me–and more confusing. Philippians 2:12-13 says “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” We have to work, but it is God who works in us. We all know Eph. 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” But we aren’t as familiar with verse 10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Our salvation is not from works but from grace. But we are created to do good works. I think it’s hard to find the balance in this area, and I definitely have not yet gotten it right.

    Jason,
    I listen to This American Life on NPR sometimes, and I once heard a show dedicated entirely to testosterone. Why I was listening to it, I don’t know, but it was actually very interesting. They talked to a man who, because of some physical condition, had experienced a drastic drop in testosterone levels, which went on for several months. The worst effect was not a lack of interest in sex, but a lack of interest in anything at all. He had no passion for anything, did not care about anything or anyone. Was completely apathetic about everything in life. Lust may be a down side of testosterone, but passion, joy, curiosity, and all sorts of other positive emotions that help make this existence worthwhile are also a result of testosterone. So maybe you ought to rethink the idea of getting rid of it. 🙂

  59. Stacy Grubb

    Becky,

    My issue with saying, “We have to work, but it is God who works in us,” is the fact that it’s either a contradictory statement (am I working or is God) or it’s saying that we do the work with God’s help. The fact is, and I’m sure you’d agree, we don’t do anything with God’s help. At best, maybe we’re the helpers. We are the physical manifestations of God’s work. To say that we do good works is a slippery slope because it is not us, but Christ who does those works. As Ron said, to take credit leads to pride.

    Naturally, we replace old behaviors with new, but not through our works. Old behaviors are driven away when we step out on faith, allowing God to use us to work out His will. We flee from and avoid sin by running to Christ. To rest in Him is to flee from sin. If we’re resting in Him, we cannot sin.

    And I’m almost there with you on apartment living, but then, whose yard does the dog poop in?

    Stacy

  60. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becky,

    In most of Paul’s letters many of the behavioral statements come after long passages of who God is, what He has done for us in Christ, and who we are in Him. In no way am I saying that faith means sitting on the couch watching TV because “God will provide for all your needs in Christ Jesus.” Faith is an action word. It is stepping out on what seems like thin air.

    So a Christ-indwelt guy sitting there by himself watching a movie may feel himself to be alone. He may feel the testosterone begin to surge through his bloodstream. He may feel it won’t hurt to watch the scene. But no matter how he feels, he has a choice. He has a choice to rely on God and His Word, and on the power of Christ within his humanity – or not. He has the choice to believe he is a king, a priest, holy, one spirit with the Lord. But those things, if relied on as fact, will produce action. They seem like unrealities in light of his testosterone, the “solidity” of the television, the room, the lights. But the reality is the spiritual, and the temporary the physical.

    We’re like vacuum cleaners. I can sit there and yell at the vacuum cleaner, call it useless, roll it around on the floor, throw it out the window, but nothing is going to happen unless I plug it in. When I do, all I’ve gotta do is roll that thing around, and it does its job. That’s faith – its the cord that connects us to real power, the power of Christ. When we plug into that power and step out in faith, we see Him work.

    Just because it may seem “too simple” doesn’t make it the less true. Initial salvation itself is an incredibly simple thing – “You mean I ask God in Christ to forgive my sins, and I turn from those sins to Him, and ask Him to come live inside me?” And yes, essentially, that’s it. The rest is just details.

    Paul says, “As you began in the Spirit, so walk ye in Him.” How did we receive the Spirit? By surrender and reception. We surrendered and accepted God’s deal in Christ – we received Christ. And then we’re to walk the same way – surrender and – not reception, since we’ve already received Him – but recognition of that receiving. That’s faith. So we walk – live out the Christian life – by reliance on the indwelling power of Jesus Christ. The broad, sweeping, and almost, well, blasphemous sounding statements of Ephesians, Colossians, Romans, and other epistles bear this out.

    But Jeremy, in any case, you have a choice. You will have many voices clamoring for your attention in this matter; you’ll have people who want to give you 34 steps to becoming a better Christian. What people will want to do, as Paul says, is push Law-ideas on you so they can glory over you.

    But in the end every one of us will see that it is Christ Himself who lives the Christian life through us, and all we do is trust Him to do so and step out on that trust. He will have all the glory, every last drop of it. There are many who, though they have Him inside, they do not trust Him to live through them, and instead trust their own effort. All works not centered in Christ’s own life living through us will be burned up – they’ll be nothing more than wasted time in this single precious life we get to live. One chance, one life, to trust Him and have Him work through us. Many will say, “Didn’t we do this and do that and this other thing in your name?” In other words, “Didn’t we do a lot of works for Jesus?” And He’ll say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” He’s looking for people to know and be known by, not in a distant way, but in a union, of which human marriage is just a mere shadow. He’s looking for close relationship, and if we “abide” we will express the life – and behavior – of our inner Husband in increasing measure. Hearing Him say, “Well done” on that Day will be the result of reliance on Him to will and to act through us – that’s how we “work out our own salvation,” a working-out which is by faith and not by works of human hands.

  61. Jeremy

    Stacy-

    About working, but it is Christ who works in us…I dont consider this contradictory at all. You have to realize that I’m a Calvinist, I honestly don’t think that I do ANYTHING that isn’t ordained by God, sin or otherwise. When I do a good work, it isn’t me doing it all – it is God giving me the gift of being able to choose to not sin.

    Ron-

    I fail to see any difference in what you just said and what I’ve been saying.

    To further clarify, no matter what, we have a choice…I could have went 10 miles over the speed limit on the way to work…I wanted to, does that mean that it is wrong to choose to obey the law?

    Or, it seems a lot here are saying that sin-avoidance is wrong and not of God (therefore, sin?), so wouldn’t it also be true that avoidance of sin-avoidance is in itself sin-avoidance? lol

  62. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    I think my main point that I’m failing to get across is that some sin-avoidance behaviors are a product of unbelief. We substitute our self-effort for faith that God can drive away a sin habit. For me, one of the biggest problems with my self-effort is that, instead of driving away a sin habit, it confines it. Maybe it’s effectively keeping me from engaging in the sin, but the desire to do it is still inside of me, locked behind a fence. To not sin that sin becomes a struggle; a battle that I’m fighting myself instead of handing it over to the Lord. That’s when sin-avoidance becomes sin because it is born of unbelief.

    I see your analogy of speeding on a different level. God has commanded us to obey our governments, so making the choice to drive by the rules of the road is the way to go. But the level from which I view that is that your temptation is to not heed God’s commandment to obey the law. This may be something you struggle with every time you get in the car. Maybe you’re like me and perpetually running late or maybe you’re like Ricky Bobby and just wanna go fast. Your sin-avoidance self-effort could be something like you force yourself to drive in the slow lane behind a car that’s obeying the limit. You don’t give yourself the option of passing. Or maybe you set your cruise control and let that handle it for you. That works, yes. But it’s you relying on you to get the job done. Stepping out on faith, relying on Christ, would mean that you put your trust in Him to conquer your sin habit of disobeying your government in a way that puts your life and others’ lives at risk. Stepping out on faith would eventually drive away your desire to speed.

    I can honestly say that I myself have gone through a process of losing my desire to speed. At the time, I didn’t even realize that it was me stepping out on faith. I’ve always had a lead foot and one day I was returning home from a day trip I’d made to Knoxville. My little boy was about 6 months old, still nursing, and I was missing him terribly. I won’t divulge how fast I was going, but enough to put a major kink in my driving record and insurance policy. Imagine my panic when I realized I’d zoomed right past a cop. I’m someone who has never, ever received a ticket in my life. My blood pressure shot up so high that I was seeing spots. But it just so happens, that just as I passed that cop, an even faster sports car zoomed out of nowhere to pass me on the inside. I watched my rear view to see who the cop had clocked and would be going after and nearly cried when I saw the other car voluntarily pull to the side. I started thanking God in that instant…profusely thanking God. I still thank God for getting me out of that jam. And it started a process of me stepping out on faith to get rid of my desire to speed. And it’s a good thing because my self-efforts weren’t always effective. It could be that I’m the only car on the road, the only one desiring to the do the limit (common occurrence in Knoxville), or without cruise control. Then what?

    I wouldn’t classify you choosing to go the limit when you had the choice to go over is exactly self-effort, by definition. Having the choice and choosing rightly isn’t the same as creating situations that take away the bad choice for you. Stepping out on faith doesn’t mean that we walk around like robot zombies, acting and reacting before we even have a thought in our heads.

    Stacy

  63. Jeremy

    LOL, The further we go in this, the more I’m starting to think that this whole thing started out of either me wrongly saying the words ‘sin-avoidance’ or someone else interpreting what I meant wrongly (more likely the former)…linguistics is important, I guess.

    Anyhow, I want to thank all of you – this whole thing sparked a conversation with my wife last night and further a conversation between us and God…that both of us really needed.

    It is often times hard to separate what makes us saved and what is evidence that we are saved…we have both struggled with this for the last couple of weeks, I think – and are now in a better place because of it. I hope to become one of those ‘mature’ Christians eventually which Ron speaks of 😉 A lot less doubting and lot more relying on God would be quite nice.

  64. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    One of my favorite Biblical analogies is, just as fire purifies gold, the struggles and hardships we encounter purify our faith. That’s the sometimes scary thing about hoping to mature as a Christian because we can just about know that that means putting our faith to the test. My natural inclination in the past has always been to start clawing and kicking when the road gets rocky and, as that passage that Ron posted under, I believe the post about Certainty, fighting against it causes me to get burned. Slowly but surely, however, I get into the habit of turning it over to God sooner and sooner. That’s the comfort of Christ-reliance. On the onset of panic, our knee-jerk reaction becomes to give it to God and peace will come. With self-effort, stress will take us over and we’ll never dig out of the hole.

    Stacy

  65. L.A.

    Jeremy,

    If this is true, “I honestly don’t think that I do ANYTHING that isn’t ordained by God, sin or otherwise.” then why are we even having this discussion? There is no reason to feel bad about sin and certainly no reason to try to avoid it.

    If you do a good work, praise God. If you sin, praise God.

    Is that what you are saying?

  66. Tony Heringer

    Matt? Where art thou Matt?

    Jason — You caught my sophmoric pun right off. More evidence of our kindred spirt.

    Jeremy..Ron is mature? Have you seen this: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2097262031613570606&ei=06uhSIipBYOm4QLPkeki&q=ron+block+and+andrew+peterson&vt=lf&hl=en

    Cracks me up every time.

    I promise to read all this thread should it ever reach a conclusion. Just haven’t had time to do so and when I think I do, there is still more being said — looks like a lot more.

    I still think Matt should give us a benediction here.

  67. Stacy Grubb

    haha I’ve had that video in my You Tube favorites for a while now. Sometimes being mature means that you institute a child-like approach. Clearly the video is Ron’s mastery of understanding that.

  68. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    It doesn’t have anything to do with having a child-like approach. I just like hitting people who dare to pick up my banjo.

    Ron

  69. Jeremy

    LA –

    Just because I think God has predestined everything in my life, including sin, does not make sinning okay. I realize that is something that is hard to wrap one’s mind around and gets into a lot of other things. This also goes back to what I had said to Jason earlier, that if it weren’t for Calvinist thought being brought to light in my life by God, I wouldn’t believe at all by now. (cant remember exact words and wow this is huge so i dont want to look). I simply dont think that the free will attitude makes sense, biblically or logically.

    Anyway, I could go on and on but gosh that’s a whole other 100-200 posts ;).

    See here for better explanation than I can give: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

  70. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    I’m keeping my hands to myself. Promise. I’m sure your response is mentally and spiritually sound.

    Stacy

    *psssst….Tony…..Ron’s wrath is out of control. Pass it on.*

  71. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    God has a predestined purpose for all lives. Whether we will fulfill that purpose depends solely on our free will to allow Christ to live through us – complete His will – or not. The concept of omnipresence is what used to throw me for a loop when thinking of predestination. If God is existing everywhere through all space and all time, then He knows my life from beginning to end. That makes it seem, then, that life would be predestined. But then I think of prayer. Why ask God for blessings, for protection, for peace, for anything, if I’m predestined to either get it or not get it? Perhaps God has a plan and we are able to change His mind through our prayers. Maybe in His plan, I was to die in a car accident 2 years ago. But before I set out on my trip, I said a prayer for protection and asked Him to allow me to arrive safely to my destination. My personal relationship and conversation with Him changed His mind. It is my free will to include Him in my life or not. For me, that’s one reason why daily talks with the Lord are so crucial. I only want something for my life if it’s His will to give it to me because I trust His plan and motive for me. But I do have dreams, wishes, desires, plans, etc, that I share with Him and I ask Him for these things if it is His will to give them to me.

    I know I only touched on one aspect of predestination and free will, but the power of prayer to change God’s mind is a conversation that I recently had with my dad and some of the thoughts were fresh in my mind. Other things I need time to contemplate.

    Stacy

  72. becky

    “God has a predestined purpose for all lives. Whether we will fulfill that purpose depends solely on our free will to allow Christ to live through us – complete His will – or not.”

    Stacy, I don’t think the Bible supports this view. Psalm 33:11–“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Proverbs 16:4–The Lord works out everything for his own ends…” Proverbs 19: 21–“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Isaiah 14:24 & 27–“The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand…For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?'” Isaiah 46:10-11–“I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please… What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” Eph. 1:11–“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who WORKS OUT EVERYTHING IN CONFORMITY WITH THE PURPOSE OF HIS WILL.”

    “Maybe in His plan, I was to die in a car accident 2 years ago.” If that were so, I think you wouldn’t be here now. As for prayer, maybe your prayer was part of his plan. We pray because He tells us to. We pray because he loves that conversation with that. That intimacy. He wants us to bring our hearts to him; to draw close to him. But he knows in advance what our prayers will be, and directs those prayers so that they accomplish his purposes.

    Do I really want to place my trust and hope in a god whose plans don’t necessarily come about? I NEED to have a God who is in control of all things, both in this life and the next. Whose power and purposes are eternally secure, and cannot be thwarted by me, or any other created thing. Otherwise, how can I be certain that he will do–is able to to–what he has promised? And that is what faith is all about.

  73. Jeremy

    Isn’t it amazing how things can go out of control? lol…we went from ‘is it right or wrong to look at naked art?’ to Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

    Most people here are well learned and intelligent so I’ll assume you’ve all done thinking on this subject. All I’ll say is that Calvinism is basically Arminianism without making God seem to lose control of His universe.

    Stacy-
    If God predestine the ends, is it so far off to say that he can predestine the means? To me it makes perfect sense and it rather beautiful, actually.

    For instance, one of my biggest struggles is actually BELIEVING AT ALL. So, one of my most common themes in prayer is to ask that God grant me a hefty measure of faith. God gives me the faith, He also gave me the prayer (the faith to believe it will happen, the very insight to ask for it, the mental ability to do it, i could go on and on…). I think to say that we have free will in these matters is to strip God of His power and Glory.

  74. Stacy Grubb

    Becky,

    It’s not a matter of my plans thwarting His. He is in control of what He allows or does not allow. I don’t pray because He tells me to. I pray because He tells me I can. He’s opened up that line of communication and I’ve chosen to utilize that. Likewise, I could choose to not do so.

    I think you’re mistaking what I mean when I say that the power of my prayer may be able to sometimes change God’s mind on His original plan. It’s not that His plans don’t come about. He has just changed the plan by granting me a “Yes” answer to my prayer. He also has the ability to tell me no and I have no doubt that He will if His mind is unchanged for whatever reason. Perhaps, the effect of me dying in an accident can be obtained another way and *that* is the plan that He will bring to fruition through some other cause that doesn’t result in me dying.

    My faith is that, regardless of His answer to my prayer (whether it pleases me in the short run or not), His eye is on my long run happiness. I remember praying for a house that my husband and I found a few years ago at an absolute steal. I prayed that He would allow us to get that house, but if He didn’t, that He would give me peace in knowing that it is His will to work out a different plan. We didn’t get the house. I was pretty crushed, but peace did come. I haven’t yet connected the dots on how it was for my greater benefit to not have gotten that house, but I trust they’re there.

    The plans that I’m talking about being able to change are those dots that connect to create the bigger picture. Through our prayer, we can change his plans for the dots, yet He will still work out His plan – His bigger picture. When I read those Scriptures you quoted, that’s what I hear Him saying. And I also hear Him saying that He is in control. Just as a child may be able to change a parent’s mind, the final answer still belongs to the parent. The parent still allows their mind to be changed.

    Stacy

  75. Stacy Grubb

    Jeremy,

    I’m not saying that God *can’t* predestine the ends as well as the means. I’m saying that He doesn’t. He granted us free will to choose Him or not – to be for or against Him.

    If I were a creator of humans, some of whom I’ve predestined to follow me, some of whom I have not, What is my satisfaction with the ones who follow me? I made them to do just that. They didn’t choose me. The satisfaction is giving someone the choice and still they follow me.

    Stacy

  76. Stacy Grubb

    Gosh, I hate to make three posts in a row, but I need to also add that, I completely agree that God gives us the faith (He says all men are given a measure of faith), the mental capacity (and leniency on those without it), etc, to accept His Word. Those are the tools -the gifts- we all have. Our free will is in how and if we will use them. I don’t make the connection on how that strips God of his power and glory and, actually, see how it does the exact opposite.

    Stacy

  77. Tony Heringer

    Now we are really on a rabbit trail — not that this is a bad place to be on one. Matt, help us son!

    Oh the humanity! Will this never post never end! Why did I promise to read it?! Ugh!

    Stacy…I will definitely sit in the second row or further back at any Ron Block show I attend. He’s got some reach with that banjo case. Who knows he might go all “Pete Townsend” with the banjo at the end of the night. It may end up being like a Gallagher revival (pun intended)

    Now…please let the next post be from Matt Conner. Not Sara Conner, John Conner or the new Terminator — Ron Block. 🙂

  78. Matt Conner

    I tend to set the fire and run away but Tony keeps writing that I should post here. I’m really not good at jumping in midway only because there are people much smarter at me who will make better points or arguments one way or the other. So if I start in the silence, I don’t feel so stupid.

    With that said, I think everyone is correct – at least those still concerned with the initial post. I love the tension of our faith. I love that you live in a blue state and I live in a red one. I love that some of us are more liberal in our viewing habits and others of us have “I will set no vile thing before my eyes” memorized from the Psalms.

    It’s the ones who try to move beyond shaping each other (as iron sharpens iron) into disrespecting and distrusting each other to be right in their own context. And I believe that to be handled reasonably well here.

    When the topic disintegrated from (perhaps) provocative art into nudity on the big screen, I think the idea got a little skewed. So perhaps multiple threads should be started.

    Still this is the reason I love the Rabbit Room and like-minded (or not) who can come together and intelligently dialogue on such issues of faith, art, culture and this journey.

  79. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Regarding Calvinism vs Arminianism:

    I believe we were all created when a giant turtle with six legs floated through space and collided with the sun. The sun then split into three pieces, each representing the races of human kind. Can’t we all just get along?

    Seriously though, I believe in paradox. And that’s all I’m going to say on Calvin and his buddy.

  80. Q

    Returning to the nudity discussion: Is it right, then, to say that what doesn’t hurt me is okay and if it hurts you, that’s you problem, you should avoid it? I think S.D. made some clear simple points in his first post that should not be dismissed so easily for the sake of artistic ideals. I think it is sin to drink beer in front of a “recovering” alcoholic – whether they are a Christian or no.

    Perhaps we have not sufficiently divided the question between what is right and good and true for perfected Christians like Ron 🙂 and what is right and good and true for all fallen sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

    To further obfuscate the matter, I was once accused of “Greek thinking.” This was in the context of not sufficiently apprehending God’s focus on humanity – but rather thinking only of my own individual relationship with Him. God did not creat each of us individually; but created us as descendents of one man and one woman – we are one family, responible for the actions and well being of our siblings. The family relationship we have to creation is sufficiently strong that we are all condemned through the fall of our father Adam. This now seems too substantial to set aside lightly.

    Perhaps it is reasonable to regulate our acceptance of what is acceptable for the general public – via public school teachers – a little more closely and carefully than we may need to for our own sake? If only for the sake of those children not so expertly fathered by Jason Grey?

  81. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Q,

    I often thank God that I’m way better than the commoners.

    But seriously, since we all have Christ inside us, and that He “by one sacrifice has perfected forever those who are being made holy,” we’re made perfect in our inner being. That inner perfection is now being worked out “with fear and trembling” because it’s really God in us willing and acting according to His good pleasure. It is getting worked out into our soul/body life so that in the process we become “those that believe unto the saving of the soul.” What is good and true for one believer is good and true for another. Paul fought violently against the heresy of mixing faith/grace with Law, and every one of us as a faith-er in Christ has an infinite store of His character, virtue, attributes available to us on an immediate basis. But that’s where choice comes in. “To them gave He power to become sons of God.” Not all of us access that power.

    Perhaps I push hard in discussions on trusting Christ (as an inner Source) because for many years I did the opposite – I trusted my own strength, my own fence laws, my own ways and means of coping. Fear, and at the heart of it unbelief, drove my life. And when I found grace, I went the other way – I abused grace, seeing it not as present power but as mere forgiveness. “Jesus died to pay my sin-debt.” And even then, the Law-struggle continued (sin-indulgence is just the flip side of Law, “Sin shall have power over you if you put yourself under the Law and not under grace”) – until I crashed on it all. And now, though I used to live in Romans 7 with brief excursions to the clearer air of 8, now I live mostly in 8 and 9 with brief excursions to 7 to remind me exactly Who is the Source of good in me.

    In my illustration about watching a movie and having a scene come on which is suggestive or testosterone-inducing, I feel I was fairly clear that faith in the indwelling power of Christ will produce action. That action will be different for different people. But it will be action.

    Regarding others, I’m with Paul. If we’re free in our freedom, and we’re with weaker people who are not, then we cannot lead them by our actions into doing the thing they feel is wrong.

    I’ve experienced more life change since I learned the truths of my identity in Christ, and His power in me, than in the 20 years of Christian life previous to that. When I stay plugged into Him, I get to experience His life. When I listen to lies, and think I’m separated human self who has to be good mostly by my own steam ‘with God’s help’, I crash and burn every time.

    But I’ve often said to people, “If you think you need strive by your effort to be holy, go for it.” I could retire if I had a buck for every time I’ve heard, “We should at least be trying!

    With my kids – everything is a teachable moment. Of course it’s important to keep them from pornography and rot; most people would think I’m legalistic in that way – no cable or satellite tv, one movie night per week (no other tv allowed except occasional sports), no video games, no unsupervised internet. So, while I keep them away from garbage, if I’d been one of the parents whose kid said, “I saw a naked statue” I’d use the moment to teach them the value and beauty and amazing properties of the human body that God created.

    Gotta put my kids to bed. Not a lot of proofreading time, so I’m sorry if any of this is unclear – I’ll check it later

  82. Stacy Grubb

    Q,

    I’m not quite sure what a “perfected Christian” is, however, I have a few people in my life whom I would look up to as role models – not because they are a more perfect Christian than me, but because they are purer in their faith. There’s an older gentleman at church who has got to be one of the most enthusiastic Christians I’ve ever met. I often get sidetracked watching him subtly pump his fist in excitement when the preacher says something that really reminds him of God’s awesome power and forgiveness. He’s always the first at his feet when the preacher opens the floor for personal testimonies during Wednesday night Bible studies. He and his wife have had a rough few years because of her failing heart and various complications she’s had with medications and such. They’ve both had to drop out of the choir because of it. Yet, still he praises God. Still he cheers for God. No doubt, he is a great teacher because he models ideal Christian faith.

    It’s quite possible that I’m misunderstanding your point, but it seems as though your stance is that all Christians should oppose nudity on behalf of the fellow Christian who may be more affected by it than ourselves personally. Again, I may be wrong on that. But if that’s the case, that seems like Christians forming a united front to declare that, as a team, we will fence this sin in and avoid it at all costs. To me, that’s like everyone agreeing to stagnate at a certain level of faith and never try to go higher, deeper, or further.

    People like Ron and the man I go to church with, to me, aren’t examples of perfected Christians, so much as they are examples of Christians on a different plane of faith that I am on at this point. God knows I wouldn’t want them to join me on my level when it would be a step in the wrong direction. Instead, they should continue to inspire and teach others how to move ahead. I don’t want to hang out here forever and I need guidance if I’m going progress.

    And on a different note, I would also like to point out the fact that, in most instances, even the youngest of children have an innate ability to decipher what is inappropriate and what is not. When I was a young child, I remember having a different attitude toward seeing pictures of art exhibits (because we don’t have art museum in the sticks) containing nudes and nudity in a movie. It’s something I personally can’t explain, but I did know the difference. I even remember having a children’s Bible with illustrations, including ones of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They didn’t contain full nudity, but they did have cartoon-esque representations of them wearing only small fig leaves. Not much at all of the forms were covered and only now am I looking back and even realizing that they showed so much flesh

    Stacy

  83. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    daggum, I keep saying I won’t post anymore… but alas.

    First of all, kind thanks to Q for his overly generous assessment of my fathering abilities :- )

    Two thoughts – and I realize these are rabbit trails, but hey all behavior (like your reaction to nudes at the museum) betrays your motivations and worldview, so as far as I’m concerned, this conversation from viewing nudes to relying on Christ as our holiness is all within the bounds of the same conversation.

    Thought #1. This is an oversimplification, but in recent years I’ve rejected my earliest understanding of avoiding things like alcohol on account of my weaker brother. This is because I realized I was really only avoiding alcohol for fear of being judged by my legalistic brethren. I wasn’t living in freedom, I was adding to the gospel, and I was coddling Christians who needed to get over their wrong headed ideas, and by coddling them I wasn’t loving them – I was enabling them (and me) to continue in the sin-avoidance, salvation by personal righteousness treadmill that Ron has so eloquently and scripturally held forth against.

    Do I drink in front of my dad who has a history of alcohol abuse? No. Do I drink in front of my kids or order wine with my meal after church? Yes. My kids understand that moderation is necessary for us to experience the freedom for which Christ set us free. Alcohol abstinence – for me anyway – represents living in fear and choosing the safety of legalsim over the freedom and responsibility of trusting Christ. I may change my mind on all of this, but right now it is an expression of my trust in the gospel. Drunkenness is a sin, not drinking.

    2nd thought –
    I doubt we can resolve the differences between Calvinism & Arminianism here, but my personal view – immature as it may sound – is that anytime you nail something down and make it a doctrine… I don’t know (again, I know this is an oversimplification, but still…) it just seems like it’s boxing in God. reducing him.

    One of the things that continually draws me to Christian faith is that it is so paradoxical and it isn’t neat and tidy. It’s unmanageable and therefore doesn’t look like something man would invent. Frankly, my personal problem with Piper is that for all the scripture he brings to bear upon his doctrine, in the end God looks small and manageable to me. And it cheats the idea of free-will, and I don’t know how love can be possible without free will – either our free will to love God or God’s love for us in giving us free will.

    Phillip Yancey offers a metaphor that to me allows for both free will and God’s sovereignty when he proposes that maybe we could understand all this as being a like a chess game against a master chess player. We are free to make any move we choose, but our opponent, the Master chess player, is able to incorporate our every move into his winning strategy. We can make any move we like, but victory for the Master chess player is inevitable. This idea (though perhaps overly simple) doesn’t reduce God to a hand wringer wondering what he will do (as could be argued Open Theism does) nor does it cheat the free will of man(as I think Piper does), thus it makes an allowance for sovereignty and the possibility for genuine love.

    I know there are more agile thinkers than I on this subject, but I offer this here for the sake of conversation. I’m no expert, but this is my best crack at living in the tension of this great mystery.

  84. Stacy Grubb

    Jason,

    I like the game of chess analogy. I think it illustrates the point that I never did in my 500 word essay.

    I has occurred to me that there may be some degree of misunderstanding the ultimate goal of Christ-reliance in opposition to self-effort. I could be wrong, but in case I’m not I just wanted to clarify that, the point isn’t to get yourself to a level of being able to drink alcohol or view nudity to declare your spiritual freedom. It is, instead, to get to a place where the acts no longer have any sort of power over you and can’t intimidate you. If there is a struggle to avoid certain things, you need faith to obliterate the struggle so that you can have peace. That doesn’t mean that faith conquers an alcohol weakness so that you can go have a beer with the guys. It means that it’s no longer the inner war that you wage with the desire is gone. The end result may mean that you learn to have a beer and moderate. The end result may mean that you go out and drink Coke and don’t even want the beer. The important thing is that you’re no longer struggling. I personally tend to avoid alcohol simply because my tolerance is low and I can’t get to the bottom of one bottle of beer without feeling the effects (and ceasing to feel my cheeks). That said, it doesn’t bother me to avoid it because I don’t really have any inclination to drink, anyway.

    Choosing to not drink in front of a recovering alcoholic stems from a place other than faith, in my opinion, so I would categorize that under a different heading.

    Stacy

  85. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    quick clarification – I’m not saying that you’re a superior Christian if you can drink a beer (just like you’re not a superior Christian if you choose not to drink one). As always, it’s a matter of motivation and the heart and personal conviction. (and the quality of beer offered ;- )

  86. josh

    I think it’s unfair to say that the ideas of calvinism make God seem small and boxed in. I think that to claim that it reduces him simply because we can’t understand why He would predestine some to follow and others not to is a very narrow statement. It fits right along with everything else in the bible that describes God’s character. We just can’t understand Him in any facet or through any system of theology or doctrine. So to discredit calvinism because it presents a view of God that is difficult to understand is a little unfair. I am very suspicious of any system of thought that tries to present God as being overly human in His thinking and dealings.

    We can not know the mind of God and I think the teachings of calvinism very much illustrate this principle very well and they hold God in such a high regard. Sure there are some points and doctrines that are tough to deal with, but I believe they are very much worth the time and effort to search it out.

  87. josh

    It’s like when we say well I believe God gives us a choice and changes His plans around according to my whims because if I set all this up, that’s how I would do it. That’s what I meant by “systems of thought that present God as overly human”.

  88. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I get what your saying Josh, and I didn’t mean to invalidate all of Calvinism. I should have put more stress on the “to me” part of the statement that it can seem to reduce God to me. I’m (hopefully) humbly trying to figure these things out, and as of now this is one of the sticky points of Calvinism to me, though I know people who would consider themselves a Calvinist who also embrace free will.

    In my own view, I don’t see our free will as somehow making God weak, or a hand wringer who worries what we’ll do next (this is where, in my opinion, Open Theism goes to far). In fact, from my perspective, to see God as giving us free will but also able to accommodate that and adapt (that feels like the wrong word, here) is a further testament to his glory.

    I know many people who find the sovereignty that John Piper elucidates to be a very beautiful, worship inspiring thought. I myself just am not there yet. Much of Piper’s thought (as I understand it) begins with this central idea: God loves God. Because God loves God, everything He does is motivated solely by HIs passion for His glory.

    Where I differ (and this is where Piper and many of his disciples would probably think I’m wishy washy and am looking for a God who makes me feel good) is that I think that God’s greatest glory is his love for us. His salvific and redemptive work in us. Ultimately, we are his greatest glory, we are Christ’s trophies, his prize. The difference to me is subtle and in the semantics, but I think significant.

    John Piper’s God does what he does (delivers the Hebrews from Pharaoh, sends Christ, wills Hitler Germany, causes 12 year old girls in the Philippines to be forced into the sex trade where they provide favors for sleazy American businessmen) because of His passion for His reputation, His glory.

    But the greatest glory of the God that I serve is found in his selfless service to mankind. Who is man that he should even bother with us? And yet He does, and this to me is a a more beautiful expression of glory than the idea that he is orchestrating all of human history in a way to shine a big spotlight on Himself because God loves God.

    But I’ll be the first to admit that I could be wrong… Rev. Piper is very gifted at making a compelling scriptural case for this doctrine. But I myself can’t make that leap yet, and to me when I back up and view the whole story of scripture and as I look at God’s work in my own life, the doctrine – no matter how many scriptures can be quoted – looks deficient to me (I am, however, not the brightest bulb, so I’m not attacking this doctrine as much as I’m letting you eavesdrop on my own wrestling match with it – I don’t want to sound like I’m invalidating a doctrine that a lot of people hold very dear. Who knows, I may come around myself in time.)

    I know that this will sound like a harsh and incendiary statement, but I can’t help but feeling that the sovereign God that Piper puts forth looks a little like Stalin to me from a story that Ravi Zacharias shared recently. Stalin is talking with someone about his philosophy of rule and their are chickens around them. Stalin picks a chicken up and then begins to pluck every feather from this living creature as it squirms and protests in pain until it is pathetically bare and stripped of all it’s plumage. Then he walks away and the chicken rushes after him, following him, and Stalin tells his friend that this is how you rule people – if you make them suffer they will follow you to the ends of the earth. In my every interaction with Piper’s people there is this emphasis that God wills even the worst of the world’s suffering to reveal His glory.

    My own understanding of God is that nobody is more heartbroken over the great injustice and suffering in the world than God himself. (while of course acknowledging that God does test us with suffering at different times in our walk).

  89. Jeremy

    “God wills even the worst of the world’s suffering to reveal His glory.”

    Amen, preach it Jason!

    (My impression of people who buy into the prosperity gospel reading the Bible.)

  90. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    I totally agree with your post.

    The Bible is full of paradox. From George MacDonald’s Lilith:

    “Enigma treading on enigma!’ I exclaimed. ‘I did not come here to be asked riddles.’

    ‘No; but you came, and found the riddles waiting for you! Indeed, you yourself are the only riddle. What you call riddles are truths, and seem riddles because you are not true.’

    ‘Worse and worse!’ I cried.

    ‘And you must answer the riddles!’ he continued. ‘They will go on asking themselves until you understand yourself. The universe is a riddle trying to get out, and you are holding your door hard against it.’

    Hyper-Calvinism runs to one side of a paradox. I’m not, of course, suggesting that it is all wrong. There’s a lot of truth, in fact probably mostly truth, in it. But it still ignores the very nature of God, this God who says we are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love others as ourselves – and yet He loves Himself. I’ve got a problem with a self-centered God.

    The real deal about God’s glory is that He created us for His glory. That means not that He wanted a bunch of beings to worship Him and so He arbitrarily created them for that reason. He knew that a being, in order to not short-circuit itself, must be centered on something other than itself – and in fact, in the case of lesser beings, must be centered on what is highest, and best. And that is Himself. I suppose in that way, He is self-centered. But in any case, He created us for His pleasure. And what is His pleasure? His pleasure shows in Christ, who gave Himself for others. That is God in action. His pleasure is in being other-centered, not self-centered (in that negative sense). If you want to see a short-circuited being, look at Lucifer, who is totally self-centered, a black hole that would suck all the universe into himself.

    I told my wife recently to think of my life paradoxically as on two parallel tracks. On the one track I have chosen everything; I am in the place where I am (which at the time seemed a negative) because I have chosen to do and not do certain things, which led me right to this very spot (a negative spot at the time). And on the other track, I am exactly where God has led me; He “means evil for good” and has things for me to learn that cannot be learned any other way.” My wife, when I would say, “I chose this, on this free-will track” would say, “No, but God chose it.” And I’d say, “No, get back on this track for a moment.”

    Because that free-will track is my point of power. If I look back at my past, and know that my choices have led me to where I’m at (negatively), that means as I turn toward the future I can change (through faith, of course) to a positive course. And the other track, the sovereignty track – well, that is comfort. A source of “all is well.” God’s providence, His care, His amazing ability to weave even evil, even my sins, into a pattern of good. In the end, evil will have only been the dark background painted in order to show off light.

    This paradoxical view holds God as not the author of evil. He doesn’t make Satan motivate men to abuse 12 year olds for His glory. God “created evil” (Isaiah 45:11) in that He created Lucifer, and Adam and Eve, full well knowing what would happen. But God uses evil beings, like lackeys or errand boys, who don’t know they are ultimately pawns in a plan of God to weave evil and good together into something altogether beautiful. They, in their own will, do evil. God, in His sovereignty, who sees the end from the beginning and lives outside of time, weaves it all into “all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.”

  91. josh

    Ron and Jason,

    I really love the thoughts you two have presented here and I find myself in nearly total agreement. However, I do think that most of what God wills and decrees is very much for His own glory. He loves us because He is love and when we love Him back it glorifies Him, so He loves us to bring glory to himself. I think Piper’s statement “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him” is very true and very much a picture of the nature of God.

    I think one thing that is getting ingnored here is this “god works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose”. That verse doesn’t say he works all things for the good of everybody in general. Not everyone loves him and is called according to his purpose so it’s not stretch of the imagination to say that maybe He does will some pretty tragic things to happen in order to bring about someting incredible in the lives of those who do love him and are called according to his purpose. At first it sounds harsh to say he would will thousands to die in a tsunami so he could do something in the lives of “the elect” believers, but why is that any different than when he commanded Joshua to slaughter everyone in the promised land in order for Isreal to recieve the blessings that had been promised through Moses? God willed the slaughter of women and children and old folks and everything alive in that city, and when it was over he was praised for it. It sounds almost sickening to put it that way at first, but it had to happen so that salvation could eventually be made available to every tongue, tribe, and nation through Jesus. He worked something horrible for the good of those who loved him and were called according to his purpose.

    I won’t continue with examples cause i don’t want to end up writing a 10 million word essay right now.

    My point i’m trying to make is this: God works everything for His glory and the good of those who love him. The bible shows us time and time again that sometimes some pretty awful things have to happen in order to achieve those means. In the bible there are famines, droughts, wars, slaughters, etc. etc. etc. that were used to teach His children a lesson to show them the measure of his resolve to bring about his plan of redemption.

    And I know all of those are old testament examples and that none of that stuff happens in the New Testament. But I absolutely believe that the New Testament is meant to show us what redemption looks like and how it can work in the face of all of the terrible things that still happen as a result of our brokenes. I don’t think God ceased to judge and work in big ways, I know He still does, it’s just that the biggest part of the plan was completed in Christ. So now we have God himself interceding for us and offering us peace and guidance in the midst of the tribulations and the storms that come about as a result of God’s workings in the lives of His children. And we can take comfort in that no matter what may happen, it will all work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. And that is what sovreignty is all about.

  92. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    I’ve got no problem with Calvinism, just the hyper-Calvinism that makes God capricious.

    And the same with free will. Leaning too far into free will makes God powerless.

    But a God who is way ahead of Satan, and knows end from beginning, and is in every moment along the time line causing everything to work together for good to them that are the called according to His purpose – that’s the God I see in the Word. A limited free-will (I am not free to unmake myself, for instance). Contrary to what I’ve heard some say, choosing to take God up on His offer of eternal life does not imply merit in the choosing, any more than if someone offered me fifty million dollars with no strings attached I could strut around like a genius for taking it. “Wow, I’m so intelligent and autonomous, so self-actualized! I chose by my own will and greatness to take a fifty million dollar handout!”

    I’ve also got no problem with God doing things for His glory. If you look at it in relation to making art, the artist is almost compelled and obsessive in making a record, or painting, etc. But in making or viewing great art or hearing great music, isn’t one of the first things we want to do is share it with others?

    That’s God. He’s the ultimate Art, the origination point of beauty and glory. That’s why all descriptions of Him in the Bible talk about other beings standing around and going crazy at His beauty and glory. Making a record is good, and I’d probably record even if no one listened to the stuff. But having listeners definitely completes a circuit.

    But in terms of God causing things to happen, I don’t have a problem with tornadoes, tidal waves, etc. The real problem is seeing God as the author of sin, as the one who “makes” a man a serial killer of little children. I do see God in the OT saying “Wipe out the Canaanites” and such. If you read the Law, it’s obvious the Canaanites were doing all sorts of abominable things, and Israel was constantly told not to be like them; one thing, among others, is repeatedly mentioned – sacrificing children in the fire to Molech.

  93. Jeremy

    I wanted post 100 🙁 hehe

    “The real problem is seeing God as the author of sin, as the one who “makes” a man a serial killer of little children.”

    God said to Satan, shortly before Satan took EVERYTHING that Job had except his life, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.” If I had a prison in my basement and a notorious killer in it who I knew without a shadow of a doubt wanted to kill my family, I then opened up the door and gave him the tools he needs and put my family in front of him to do his work am I not responsible? Is this not the same thing that God does with Satan?

    I agree, it’s not the same thing, because my God not only did something like those things, but he MADE the very person who would harm us, he knew what Satan would become before Satan was in existence and he could have made him differently (I could say the same of specifically the serial killers you speak of). Satan and all manner of evil plays a crucial role in history, that’s the way I see it played out in the Bible and all of life.

  94. Jeremy

    Okay, one more post about this. I feel like I should share with you how I came to Calvinism. I eluded before about how I was on the brink of not believing at all…well, that so happens to be because of ‘free will’. I didn’t understand how it could exist.

    We are a product of our environment and genetics…well, God knew the number of hairs on my head and whatnot before I was born – he knew if I’d become a rapist, serial killer, surfer-dude, etc. He could have changed a chromosome, he could have put me in a different environment (my parents, their parents, their parents, all the way to the beginning). He could have made life on earth totally different by giving human beings sex fingers on each hand. If Hitler wasn’t so short maybe he wouldn’t have been so grumpy as a kid and turn out differently.

    Point is, I really didn’t see how free will could possibly make sense, because God chose things about me, which in turn changed the way in which I would choose.

    Then someone told me (Piper)…free-will is man-made, it doesn’t exist, try to find it in the bible, you’ll find the opposite…you will see how God changes hearts, you will start to wonder how prayer has any power if free will exists (if God cant impose upon my free-will, how can He do anything?)_…anyway, no free will…my problem was solved.

  95. Dave

    “He could have made life on earth totally different by giving human beings sex fingers on each hand.”

    Mitten sales would be higher, for one.

  96. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    First of all, I can’t help myself (sophomoric as I am) to let you know that I had a great laugh at what I assume was a typo in your post when you said God could have given us sex fingers. Yes!!! That’s one of the best typos I’ver ever seen!! I guess it just brings us back to the issue of nudity then ;- )

    Okay, seriously. I’ve been rereading Job again because it is a story that Piper people (I don’t mean that derogatively, I just mean the people who fall in line with the doctrine that he champions) often refer to. I totally see how he comes to his conclusions, but I still don’t think it’s a rock solid case. In fact, in my mind it still implies free will. God is apparently bragging on Job because of how upright he is. Why would God brag on Job, why would Job be anything special if not for the fact that he chooses to honor God. No free will for Job to serve and be upright, no reason as far as I can see for God to brag on him. Therefore, no reason to put him through hell on earth. The story starts to look sadistic with Job becoming a tortured lab mouse in a maze with no exits.

    We see behind the curtain of this amazing drama unfolding. Where I see God allowing free will to take it’s natural course, 5 point Calvinists see God willing Job’s suffering. Did God will from before creation that Satan would come ask permission to ravage Job’s life? Or did he see that this event would happen as a consequence of the Fall and this was the fall continuing on it’s natural course? It’s a very subtle difference – God willing or God allowing. In both instances God knows and is in control, but in only one of them does Job have dignity, choice, and an opportunity to love, be upright, and brag-worthy.

    If there’s no choice, and if God is orchestrating the whole thing, there’s really no reason for God to ask Satan to consider his servant Job, or for Job to even be tested, since the outcome is not known by God but rather determined. It just becomes a rather joyless and boring exercise with a foregone conclusion. Therefore to me it begins to look at best like theological double talk and at worst a cruel joke.

    I’ve always been taught, too, that the book of Job may not be a historical story (that there was perhaps never any actual Job) but that this is a parable meant to explore the mystery of suffering. Depending on your view on that, I think it’s worthwhile asking what’s the point that the story is pointing to? I would venture to say that if it is a parable, the intention of the story may not have been to be a definitive treatise on free will and sovereignty. I don’t know if it was built for that… I could be absolutely wrong, though – again just sharing some thoughts I’ve mulled over recently that are still gestating. (at any rate, nearly all the postulating about God by Job and his friends proves to be mistaken and incomplete from our perspective who have glimpsed what’s happening behind the curtain)

    Does God will the serial killer to do the evil he does? Or does God in his love and wisdom stay his hand and let the Fall play itself out, to take it’s natural course, all the way proving the glory of His God-ness – not by interrupting but by redeeming and working all things (even the worst of them) together for good? That he allows the serial killer to do what he does is subtly different than saying He wills it.

    Why does Jesus waver in the garden, praying that this cup might be removed? There is a sense that Jesus has a choice in this moment, even though we are told that redemption through Christ was predestined from the foundation of the world. Without choice, the drama in the garden is… well… perhaps of no significance and no real drama at all.

    Believe me, I know Piper has his scriptures in order and he makes an overwhelming case. I may eventually be convinced. However, it still strikes me as still slightly left of center from the story of scripture as a whole and in particularly seems inconsistent (in my view) of what Christ reveals of God the Father (humble, servant of all, motivated by love instead of self-glory). therefore I can’t help but thinking that there must be another way of interpreting these verses that Piper hangs his hat on. I know he will speak of the beautiful mystery and paradox of our choosing what is already predetermined, but I still can’t help but feel like it makes a joke of things like obedience, sacrifice, of nearly all of scripture. I don’t find beauty in it, but instead a very grim view of the heart of God.

    The religious leaders of Christ’s day were well versed in all of scripture, and yet Jesus pointedly revealed that for all they knew they missed the big idea. (I’m not calling Piper a Pharisee, merely suggesting that there is strong precedent of humans getting the letter of the word while missing the spirit of it – I’m chief among people who get this wrong all the time.)

    So what could be another way of understanding this sticky notion of God predestining the evils of the world? To quote Buecher again regarding his understanding of this conundrum:

    “The fact that I know you so well that I know what you’re going to do before you do it does not mean that you are not free to do whatever you damn well please.”

    All I’m saying is that this understanding of God knowing and God allowing is different from God willing all the evil that troubles the earth. The latter view is just too big a pill for me to swallow and doesn’t make sense to me when I look at the life of Jesus who is meant to reveal who God is. Maybe I lack faith. Or maybe not.

    One of my favorite verses in the bible is a beautiful little nugget in Genesis that for me hints at the prospect of free will. It’s in Genesis 2:19 where it says:

    “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see (emphasis mine) what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

    He brought them to the man to see what he would name them. Here we have a sense of God’s curiosity, his delight as he steps back to see what Adam will do, what he will name the beasts! It’s beautiful to me as a father who sits back to watch what my little Gus will do next – he brings me so much delight.

    This verse, in the 2nd chapter of the bible, implies to me that there is at least some semblance of free will that God has given men. Why else would there be any reason for God to step back and “see what [Adam] would name them”?

    Just a thought. Thanks for a very thoughtful, loving, and civil discussion on this topic you guys! I’m grateful for the challenge you bring to my understanding.

  97. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    Loved your post.

    Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” In between God making people do evil things, and God permitting evil things, is God meaning them – intending them for good. There’s a truth somewhere in between, where God’s sovereignty goes even beyond just making everyone do what He wants like a bunch of robots; it’s God using, intending, meaning all things, even evil, for His own glorious purposes. I suppose it’s like letting our kids make mistakes, all the while knowing they are making an error, and recognizing it as opportunity for growth. I don’t force them to make the mistake, but I intend them to; I mean them to, by the mere fact of remaining silent, to bring a greater good than if they had not made the mistake (I hope that’s clear enough).

    God’s sovereignty is bigger and more all-encompassing than remote-controlling the universe. “OK, you think you have freedom, Satan, to build the world you want, to wreck My world. Do your worst – but watch out. In the end it will all be wrapped up into one great good, and all your evil will be canceled out.” God’s sovereignty encompasses and surpasses freedom. Sometimes people talk as though free will means God is having to run around all over the place trying to fix all the bad things we do. But God is outside of time, and He is also within every moment, working out His will.

  98. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Here’s one of my favorite Norman Grubb quotes, relevant in light of our last posts:

    “There is no need to force a person’s will. All the other person need do is attract and captivate our ‘want,’ and then we will love to act in harmony with him….People often ask, ‘How can we conceive of God changing a person’s will if he is free?’ The answer is that God changes our ‘want,’ and the will follows spontaneously. Once God has captured our wills by drawing us back to Himself through Christ, then it is He in us who ‘wills and does of His good pleasure’ and it is we who naturally, gladly, freely work it out.”

  99. Jeremy

    Jason, yes definitely a typo…glad i made it, cracked me up!

    I dont see how an all knowing God who created all of this can allow without willing. Maybe God needs to open my eyes a little bit here, but it just doesn’t seem logical to me.

    The Norman quote also doesn’t make sense to me…Another example – if a woman thinks that she can get a man to cheat on his wife by showing him her breasts and does, she has perhaps captured his want and may change his ‘will’, but if the woman is all knowing and does the same, she is not gambling with it – the guy has a choice of course, but his choice would have been different had she decided to only ask him out – God knows what our choices will be already and by putting something else in front of us our choices would be different. I fail to see how free-will can exist if God is all-knowing and the creator of all. I am the way he made me – I make the choices he made me to make….by the way, this in no way implies that I’m not responsible for them, I am.

    from one of my favorite songs:
    “I am haunted by my God who has the right to ask me what by the nature of my rebellion I can not give.” – Shane & Shane

  100. josh

    Jason and Ron… Wow you guys are providing some great alternate points of view to my way of thinking. I am thoroughly enjoying reading your thoughts on this matter and you are both making this one of the most enjoyable discussions of this nature that i’ve been a part of in a long time.

    That said, I’m with Jeremy on this one… I think if God is the author of life and everything that happens in it, then there’s really no difference in his willing and allowing. If he sets it in motion then it’s just his will for certain things to happen. To me they’re one in the same. What’s pretty wonderful though, is that he still lets us go on believing it’s our choices and free will that factors in to a higher degree than it really does. I almost get the impression that God doesn’t really care if we accept predestination or free-will at all, He only cares that we love Him and love His children.

    We can discuss the finer points of these things for eons and eons and whetehr or not anyone goes on believing in free-will or predestination or whatever, all that matters is that we see God as a loving Father in relation to however we percieve His nature. Personally, I absolutely love talking about this stuff and getting to see other people’s points of view and opinions on the matter. It doese wonders for how I percieve God and it keeps fueling a passion in me to know more and thus find a much deeper and more meaningful relationship with my wonderful, mysterious Father.

  101. becky

    My dad (a Calvinist, but not a hyper-Calvinist) used to tell me not to get to caught up in any system of theology, because when we get to heaven we’re going to find out that we all had some things right and some things wrong. My dad’s pretty wise, I think.

  102. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    “I make the choices he made me to make….by the way, this in no way implies that I’m not responsible for them, I am.”

    I’m familiar with this line of thought, I spend a fair amount of time with staff member’s from Bethlehem Baptist (John Piper’s church), and at the end of the day it’s this very thing that sounds like theological double-talk and, to my mind at least, is illogical. A computer can’t be faulted for crashing if it was programmed to do so.

    “God doesn’t really care if we accept predestination or free-will at all, He only cares that we love Him and love His children.”

    I guess one of my chief issues with this line of thought is that I can’t imagine how love is possible without some semblance of free will. I can’t program my computer to love me. Love requires will. God can’t program us to love him, and that’s what this extreme (in my opinion) form of Calvinism reduces us to – biological computers.

    And again, in regards to a difference between willing and allowing can be seen in something like this: I’m writing a song right now about a person in my family who given the choice between a good decision and a bad decision that will destroy her life, she will always make the bad decision. She seems unconsciously bent on her own destruction. The song is called “I Already Know What You’re Going To Do”. That I know her so well that I can predict what she will do doesn’t mean I have to will it to happen, nor does it mean that she’s not free to make a good decision.

    I will agree with Piper on this, however – this mystery of predestination and free will seems an essential building block of our faith, for it determines our whole understanding of God.

    So I wonder this, how do you solve the problem of love if there is no free will, no opportunity to choose love?

  103. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I was just going to say, too, that Becky’s dad is probably on to something. I’m afraid that the closer we get to nailing God down, the more elusive He becomes and the more we find ourselves caught in the thorny brambles of our most ambitious attempts to understand Him.

  104. josh

    Jason,

    my issue with your argument about how you know your family member so well that you can predict what she will choose isn’t really a viable example to me. We can only make very good guesses as to what a person will do in a given situation because no matter how well we know someone, we don’t know them fully. God does though. And He does because He made us each a certain way for a certain purpose and sometimes for that purpose to come to fruition there has to be a lot of pain. And even though sometimes it takes horrible tragedies to get to the point of realizing your purpose, it plays a very specific role in the bigger plan God has for everything.

    My sister was in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waste down and killed her boyfriend 4 years ago. I’d rather believe that God willed this tragedy to happen because He had a bigger plan in mind and this awful event played a vital role in bringing that plan to fruition. I hate the thought that this just slipped by him and He couldn’t stop it in time, or even that He saw it coming and just chose to let it happen simply because He could do something good with it. For me, the idea that God ordained this, terrible as it is, for a greater purpose actually gives me hope that there is no such thing as random evil and random tragedy.

    Two of the doctors who worked on my sister and her boyfriend ended up becoming Children of God as a result of the contact they had with both families and my sister herself. One of them went on to witness to 4 more of his docor friends, all of whom came to know salvation as a result. I guess it’s a viable argument to say that God simply used a bad thing for good, but I think it just fits the character of God better to say that He ordained this and He willed it because it had a part to play in the much grander scheme of things.

    And I guess my last post was worded badly when I said “god doesn’t really care if we accept free will or predestination”. All I really meant was that if we believe in one and the other ends up being more correct, it’s not something that’s gonna keep you from experiencing God. And I do think love is possible in light of predestination.

    Here’s how I look at that: We are not born with free will. We are not even born alive. We are born dead in our sins and what choices can a dead man make? What can a dead will do? Our will is enslaved from the start to the point where we are not capable of chosing anything, we can only remain dead, much less love anything. But when God acts in our lives and regenerates us to new life in Christ, our will breaks free from death and is brought to life in light of His grace. It is then and only then that our will is truly free to do anything, and I think it’s at this point we have a choice to follow Christ, and in light of what has just transpired, what choice is there really? To be brought to life and then not choose to stay alive? Sounds like a pretty lopsided choice, of course, but a choice none the less. It’s at this point when we freely choose Christ that we are able to love only because we were loved first.

    But, you know, honestly i guess i’m still forming my own opinions about these things too. I don’t claim to know enough to speak with any real authority on these issues, but I do enjoy these discussions where I get to voice my opinions and my beliefs and have them questioned and challenged. Iron sharpening iron i guess, or at least i hope that’s what’s happening here.

  105. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    Discussing opposing (or at least conflicting) views can be very enlightening if the people involved don’t get overly emotional. I see hyper-Calvinism as leaning too far into one side of a paradox; it’s not that I don’t believe in God’s sovereignty. But think of this. Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity limited Himself to a human body in a particular place in a particular time. He limited His omniscience (“for that day and hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father in Heaven”), His omnipotence (“He could not do many miracles there because of their unbelief”), and whatnot.

    Could it not also be (this is just a thought, not settled theology) that God chooses to limit His sovereignty in a very small way? Not that He isn’t sovereign, or that He couldn’t have things exactly His way (because He is omnipotent), but that He has handed over a bit of sovereignty to man, a limited amount of free will, in order that we might see that even with free will He still is sovereign and will use even our sins to show forth His glory? The idea that God created Lucifer wrong, like a computer that was designed to crash, makes God the author of evil. But a Lucifer who was designed rightly, and yet God, outside of time, seeing Lucifer’s future choices, and creating Him anyway – that doesn’t make Him the author of evil, but merely the author of free-will.

    Anyway, one of the reasons we can discuss this patiently is every one of us knows we don’t have all the answers to all the questions.

  106. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    The conversation on Calvinism brought to my mind a part of Donal Grant, one of my favorite George MacDonald books. MacDonald had a problem with the hyper-Calvinists of his day who placed a big emphasis on believing all the correct doctrines rather than trusting in Christ Himself and doing what He says. Arctura is a main character in the book, the future heiress of the castle.

    “Arctura had a governess…a large proportion of whose teaching was of the worst heresy, for it was lies against him who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all; her doctrines were so many smoked glasses held up between the mind of her pupil and the glory of the living God; nor had she once directed her gaze to the very likeness of God, the face of Jesus Christ. Had Arctura set herself to understand him the knowledge of whom is eternal life, she would have believed none of these false reports of him, but she had not yet with any one to help her cast aside the doctrines of men, and go face to face with the Son of Man, the visible God.”

    First lie of all, she had been taught that she must believe so and so before God would let her come near him or listen to her. She was in sore and sad earnest to believe as she was told she must believe; therefore instead of beginning to do what Jesus Christ said, she tried hard to imagine herself one of the chosen, tried hard to believe herself chief of sinners. There was no one to tell her that it is only the man who sees something of the glory of God, the height and depth and breadth and length of his love and unselfishness, not a child dabbling in stupid doctrines, that can feel like St. Paul. She tried to feel that she deserved to be burned in hell for ever and ever, and that it was boundlessly good of God – who made her so that she could not help being a sinner – to give her the least chance of escaping it. She tried to feel that, though she could not be saved without something which the God of perfect love could give her if he pleased, but might not please to give her, yet if she was not saved it would be all her own fault: and so ever the round of a great miserable treadmill of contradictions!”

    “For a moment she would be able to say this or that she thought she ought to say; the next the feeling would be gone ,and she as miserable as before. Her friend made no attempt to imbue her with her own calm indifference, nor could she have succeeded had she attempted it. But though she had never been troubled herself, and that because she had never been in earnest, she did not find it the less easy to take upon herself the role of a spiritual adviser, and gave no end of counsel for the attainment of assurance. She told her truly enough that all her trouble came of want of faith, but she showed her no one fit to believe in.”
    George MacDonald, Donal Grant

  107. josh

    Ron,

    I completely agree with you on hyper calvinism. I think anything that leans too far to one extreme is dangerous period.

    But Ron i’d like to hear your thoughts on this idea:

    Do you think John Calvin himself would be all too happy about the way we stick his name on a certain brand of theology? What i mean is do you think he’d be happy about the fact that a few of his students decided to take his lifetime of work and study and try to condense it down into 5 little sentences? After reading some of Calvin’s own writings and sermons I just get the idea that he may not be very happy about how people have elevated him to a higher level than what is warranted.

  108. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    I seriously doubt Calvin would be pleased with the more extreme expressions of Calvinism (for instance, the people at one of our shows in Kansas picketing outside – merely because it was a public event – with signs that said, “God hates fags” and “God laughs when homosexuals die. When I walked up quickly to speak with them, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” They freaked out, stuck a video camera in my face, and when I held up my hand to block the camera in my face, the father of this odd family started yelling, “You get away from her! Get away from her!” as if I was going to start beating them up [and no, this was long before the Ron Block goes Chuck Norris on Andrew Peterson video]. That Kansas scene was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. And of course I know that’s not your standard Calvinist).

    It’s a good thing to want to think more clearly about who God is. Our concept of God largely defines our behavior towards others. A capricious, angry God who creates sentient beings in order to send them to Hell will generate angry followers. A soft, spongy God who, because Jesus “paid our sin debt” is not overly concerned with us living holy lives, will generate soft, morally spongy followers. So having good theology, that is, Biblical theology, is important – highly crucial to living out the Christian life.

    But I’m with George MacDonald on this – it’s more important to trust and obey God than to understand everything about Him. It’s more important to rely on His Holy Spirit in us, and life a life of love, than to know all mysteries. And the thing is, if we do that, if we trust Him, rely on Him, if we through trust obey Him, we’ll get the mysteries thrown in as well. But people who set their minds to understand God, to study theology without trusting God or doing anything He says – well, that’s just the wrong road to be on. Whenever anyone claims to have everything about God wrapped up into a system, it seems to me they’ve brought God down to the level of our three dimensional logic and tried to figure Him out – which, of course, manufactures an idol where like breeds like.

    There are things I absolutely know about God. And I don’t mean just with intellect, or Bible study. I mean those things, yes, but also having it come down to the level of experience. I know all the basic truths – foundational. God is love. Jesus died and rose again for me. I died and rose in Him, somehow. That He, when I trust His life in me, lives through me, as if it were me living. I’ve seen it again and again. And when I don’t trust Him, and instead follow the Devil’s thought-stream, well, there I am again in a desert where holiness is unattainable by my effort. I know righteousness is by faith, by reliance, by a committed standing on God’s Word and character and Person. I know, experientially, many things. But I cannot claim to have God boxed in, because the Bible is so complex and many-layered that it cannot be put in a box.

    I have gone through times in my life when I thought I had things figured out. “This is IT! I’ve really GOT IT now!” And then, five years later, “Man, I was off about so many elements of that.” As we grow in faith, we mature in understanding. But we cannot mature in understanding unless we trust God to mature us, any more than my son can run away from home to “find himself” by his own understanding. He has to trust me, and obey me, in order to find his real, grown up self that will develop as he matures. And there will be (and are) times he doesn’t trust me; those times are lessons where “doing it his way” doesn’t really work out and he finds out that trusting Dad, who is a smaller version of God and “sees the end from the beginning” a lot more than he does. is a good way to go.

  109. Jeremy

    You didn’t ask me, but that’s never stopped me before…

    I dont really care if Calvin cares. What I believe has nothing to do what Calvin believes. I dont think that anyone who claims to be ‘calvinist’ would really say they believe everything John Calvin believed, at least it would only be a few who ‘think’ that. I call myself a calvinist only because we’ve really just made it a statement of faith, when I say that “I’m a calvinist” it means I believe in total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. If someone put those together and called it “bubbly theology” I would call myself a bubble theologian.

    There are a lot of people who believe these 5 points but dont want to be labeled (awesome preacher by the name of Paul Washer I think depicts this). I think that it’s rather like churches calling themselves “non-denominational”, whatever floats your boat but it’s about beliefs…no matter what you call yourself or dont call yourself it’s the beliefs that count…

    Personally, I dont mind labels – they make life easier.

    Joe Schmo: “Jeremy, what are the bulk of your religious views on Christianity?”

    Me: “I’m a Calvinist.”

    It would take a couple of hours to explain what I believe had we not given it a label.

    P.S. I consider a hyper-calvinist someone who goes off the deep-end and thinks “I might as well sin because I cant do any different” or “let’s sin a bunch so that more grace can come”. Are you guys using some other definition?

    LOL, maybe labels aren’t always good because it sometimes leads to confusion? 🙂

  110. Jeremy

    Ron,

    I posted before I was able to read your post. Awesome. You so smart. I agree with all of it…except some of P1, but you probably already knew that.

  111. josh

    Hey Jeremy, I am a Calvinist too, but sometimes i wonder if maybe somebody should’ve come up with a better name for this particular view.. Just seems kind of strange to name it after a man because then it almost begs people to follow Calvin first and God second. That’s all I was trying to say, not trying to open another can of worms…

  112. Q

    Bubble theologians it is. I am a Bubble theologian – but a lazy ignorant one, so no worries there. I swore I wouldn’t enter this tangential debate because my Heretic-stick doesn’t reach over the internet – but then I decided it was wrong to swear…

    I firmly believe (and I think this is also what Ron is saying) that, as a firend of mine likes to say, “all analogies limp.” The problem with this debate is that it is predicated on reducing God to individual character elements that can be summed. (I’m sure God is not linear in that sense) It then further reduces those character elements to simple analogies. This is like defining the nature of an apple by cutting it in half and stamping the cut section onto a piece of paper … you only see an overly simplistic representation that can radically change by cutting the apple through at a slightly different angle. Further, the more people try to cut the apple differently the less like the original whole you are describing.

    To the point – Is CS Lewis responsible for damning Susan Pevensie to hell? Is he not the author who made every decision that created the characters within the book. Who is he to redeem Edmund and damn Susan? For that matter is he not all the moe evil for making all of Narnia suffer for a century under the white witch? What extreme cruelty!! Why is not Aslan himself shaking his paw in the air condemning the despotic cruelty of Lewis?

    To me, all Bubble theology is trying to say about predestination is this: God is the author of all … creation, life, existence itself … He is not within it, or part of it, or subject to it. He is the author, outside of the story; and in that overly reductionary sense, He necessarily predestines, wills, even ordains all that is.

    Armenian heresy states that God has given authority to man to exercise his free will in a manner that does not sufficiently apprehend the nature of God’s innate authority. God’s authority is not His right, as though there is a standard of ethics greater than He to which He is subject; Authority is part of His nature – He is the standard, not the standard bearer.

    This results in a great mystery over what is free will – to what extent is a character in a novel free? Not at all. But the creation is not as simple as a novel. Mankind has free-will as a dimension of existence that is not captured within the novel analogy. God has authority as a dimension of His being that is not captured within the creation. We are created in the image of God, not in the substance of God. The creation, and all of existence that it can apprehend, is a minor subset of what God is.

    I personally find that this an ongoing mystery. I have in the past found some comfort in this particular mystery only by meditating estensively on the scripture. I would recommend memorizing Ephesians ch1. The time spent completely memorizing that chapter will force you meditate on what God is saying in those words … whatever to come to believe about it, that will be time well spent.

  113. Jeremy

    Sorry to say something that probably isn’t needed, but I somehow skipped over Paragraph 1 of Ron’s most recent post (117). Since my comment (119) made me sound purdy bad, I want to clarify even though I bet nobody saw or cares…I meant paragraph 2, not paragraph 1.

  114. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Q,

    Yes, all analogies break down. The novel analogy breaks down because Susan Pevensie is not a sentient being who will suffer unimaginable conscious torment in Hell.

    But as in nearly everything about God that I don’t have neatly sewn up into a manageable system (which is nearly everything about God, except for a very few facts which I mentioned earlier), I think it’s best to maintain an open mind that is willing to dig into the Word and not be harsh and dogmatic (a terrible misuse of a much maligned word with good meaning, “dogma”) when people don’t fully agree with me. We “see through a glass darkly”, and on that day when even head knowledge will cease, along with tongues and all that other stuff, that day when we see Him face to face and know fully, experientially, even as we are fully known – then we can be totally certain about everything.

  115. Q

    Perhaps I should clarify … my attempts at humor are not often well recieved in print. I hope no one misunderstands my use of the words heretic or heresy. I think the posts of this thread have been fairly clear that everyone here has been pushing for a “middle ground” and speaking out against extremes, some of which have been described.

    However, the word Armenian has been used here as if it is the “pro free-will” alternative to the “predestination” doctrines espoused by Calvin. That is historically inaccurate and, I think, dangerous for the debate. Armenianism historically refers to a very specific variant of a doctrine of salvation by works which is strictly opposed to the gospel presented in scripture. As such, it was not lightly labeled a heresy. In the days before common litteracy and organized denominations, the Armenian heresy was decieving many people, and was giving Christ a bad name. The post apostolic church fathers considered this very important to counter both inside the church and out.

    I felt (perhaps wrongly?) that the light usage of that label – as an opposition to Calvanism – was effectively putting words in peoples mouths and adding confusion to the debate. Thus, my comments were trying to define more precisely the scope of the Calvinist doctrine – which I think is smaller than has been discussed thus far – and also to point out the harm in using the word Armenian.

    If a new meaning of that word was meant, apart from the historic reference to a destructive ant-christian sect, I’m sorry I missed it. (123 posts … I think I’ve missed a lot).

    In deference to Kulp’s 1st rule of holes (“when your in one, stop digging”) I’ll just stop talking now.

  116. Tony Heringer

    Q,

    I still haven’t had time to read this thread, but it’s Arminianism.

    Armenianism would likely refer to all things related to the former Soviet contry of Armenia

    I don’t think either is heretical. Here’s a site that seems to have some decent background information and other goodies on the subject of Arminianism:
    http://www.theopedia.com/Arminianism

    There are plenty of other sources on the Web and in print and others my well post them — especially if they are Methodist.

    Here’s the Armenia olympic medal count:

    http://results.beijing2008.cn/WRM/ENG/INF/GL/92A/ARM_T.shtml

    They seem to excel in wrestling and weightlifting so I’d backpedal fast on that hertic label. 🙂

  117. Q

    All,
    I must completely apologize. Everything in my last two messages is completely in error.

    I am often mistaken in small points – but this is a first for me. I have somehow completely muddled centuries, philosophies and soteriologies. My mistake is much greater than spelling … please disregard everything in my last two messages.

    Tony,

    Thanks for the gentle remonstrance where a much stronger rebuke is appropriate. I discovered this error on my own before reading your message and I’m still reeling. As near as I can figure it began by confusing Arminianism with Pelagianism … but that’s really not the half of it. I’m truely shocked at how completely I’ve confused these basic histories to the point of irretrievability.

    Again, all, I’m sorry.

  118. Tony Heringer

    Q,

    No worries, that is what the Room is all about. It is my hope that as Christians we all can refrain from “stonger rebukes” and just speak the truth in love.

  119. josh

    You know guys, a great book to read on this subject is R.C. Sproul’s “Willing to Believe”. It does an excellent job of going through the historical foundations and basic differences and similarities between Calvinism, Reformed Theology, Arminianism, and Pelagianism. Very enlightening on the subject and very valuable to this discussion. The best thing about it is that it’s not swayed toward one particular school of thought although Sproul himself is of the Reformed persuasion.

  120. grace s. cartwright

    Matt! my friend, i had no idea you were on here too! Joy!
    I really enjoyed your piece, and really think it just comes down to the fact that we’re fallen. There will always be a piece of everything that is broken. We will never be truly whole or ‘covered’. So we are naked in the sense that we can never run from our sin, it always will be the gap between the fig leaves.

  121. Dryad

    Two years later…
    YOu should alll read this awesome book called pageland. it resolved all my issues discussed here (nudity, predestination, a loving GOd, etc.)

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