The internet has been obsessed with Calvinism for the past week or so. Zack Hunt’s Dear John letter to Calvin, Jonathan Merritt’s article about the troubling trends in America’s Calvinist revival, the Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal and The Gospel Coalition’s shifting blog roll. I don’t typically blog about denominational or doctrinal differences, but I’ve been pondering the power dynamics of Reformed theology for a while now and wanted to get your thoughts on the matter, especially if you identify as Reformed yourself.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that the Neo-Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God creates a culture where authority is valued over submission? Where the strong are not only justified in but called to rule over the weak and vulnerable? Where right MUST make might, or risk being compromised?
I mean, if God not only knows how everything will turn from the beginning (as I believe he does), but willed it all to be so (which I have a hard time swallowing on so many levels), what does that say about the way God wields power? About the way his representatives should wield power?
If God lets the kid on his lap put his hands on the wheel but is actually steering the car the whole time, that should be a value for his followers as well, right? Exercising authority and retaining control?
But if God is willing to sit in the passenger seat of his own vehicle at times, tolerating knocked shins and the occasional case whiplash while his teen learns to drive in a controlled environment, that says something quite different. That speaks of a God who is willing to make himself vulnerable to and for someone else, who is able to cede to others without losing any of his own identity and authority.
(Maybe you like the first God better. In many ways, he seems safer, especially considering what bad drivers we are. I get that, but on the other hand, what does that say about God’s driving?)
This is the point where it would be interesting to segue into the topic of Westerners in world missions. Or patriarchy. Or American military spending. Or ordination and church governance. This is the point where theology slams into praxis, where philosophy and personality become hard to disentangle.
These sorts of power dynamics aren’t exclusive to Reformed theology, of course. Americans in general have an un-Christ-like obsession with power and authority–we believe we have it, and we believe we are entitled to it. But even that can be traced back to the theological underpinnings of American settlers, who were largely Reformed–this idea that God was calling his elect out of Europe and into the wilderness, that God had pre-destined them to take possession of the land and turn this country into a shining city on a hill that all nations would flock to, thereby glorifying God’s name.
Am I right?
In this mindset, Christians are called to be conquerers, divinely directed to rule and subdue not just creation, but the humans who are in their way or under their feet as well. Conquerers, not servants. Except that the conquerers actually ARE serving the conquered, since the conquered will be blessed by the conqueror’s God-ordained rulership once they’ve been whipped into submission, right?
It’s not like the American settlers didn’t have any biblical basis for what they were doing. It’s not like we don’t still have that today. But it is so completely contrary to the way that God revealed himself in Christ. I know some people criticize the idea of being a “red-letter Christian, ” but Jesus taught us HOW to be human, showed up how we were supposed to live in community with one another.
No matter what you believe about how God rules the universe, we, as humans, are supposed to take our cues from Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
So here’s my big question, Reformed or not: How does our concept of God impact our beliefs about authority, submission, and how God has called people to live in relationship with one another? How does our concept of God impact our ideas about what is good and to be valued, and what is less good and to be avoided? And what, if anything, does all of this have to do with our own fear of weakness, despisal of vulnerability, and the resurgence of macho Christianity?