Ben’s Question, Scriptural Interpretation, and Election: Tension in the text + Refocus of intent

I hang out with a bible study full of high school guys pretty much weekly. Sometimes we swim for 4 hours at the super fancy Laurelhurst Beach Club (I hate that 30 foot high dive…and quietly scorn the small 9 year old who mocked my half hour of “I don’t want to jump off” before my 30 foot free fall), sometimes we play catch, sometimes we play videogames, sometimes we actually read the bible–surprise!– and often we have great conversation.

Lately my friend Ben has been digging into his bible and has been struck by several things. Firstly, he’s struck by the fact that God does choose us (Luke 10:22). Secondly, he’s struck by the fact that it seems therein like he doesn’t choose some people. The question is one of the theological word “Election” or in other words “How God chooses us.” It’s a really good question.

I wanted to use this space to think about the issue as he and I have talked about it for 2 purposes. To begin with, I’ll be out of town this weekend and his questions are somewhat pressing. Secondly, I just like doing this sort of thing.

I guess that the issue for me has two main points:

A) How do we look at Election?

B) How do we read the text when it seems to contradict itself or give opposing ideas regarding the Lord?

One at a time.

I think that in the context of scripture the idea of Election often receives a strange idea off of some people. Particularly from some very reformed theological thinkers (when you read this, think theology related to the protestant reformation and emphasize the John Calvin therein). Election to certain folks carries the implication–founded on a few key texts–that God chooses folks from eternity. Those going to eternal life and those going to eternal suffering.

While I am a member at a Presbyterian church I really don’t think this is what’s going on. On the one hand, I don’t think scripture clearly conveys this idea in the way that most reformed theological thinkers are puttin’ it out there and on the other, I have severe issues with the idea of a creative, loving God that casts people into damnation before they actually existed.

When I approach the text and think about election I think we need to take election in context. It starts with the idea of calling. For the majority of texts referring to election I think it’s easiest and most accurate to take it in terms of the nation of Israel. God calls (chooses) Israel through their forefathers–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–but calls (and thus elects) the entire nation to Himself in Exodus 19. Here’s the passage:

“At the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.'”

This is a the first call of the nation of Israel. They are elected here, but how are they elected?

They’re chosen to participate in a covenant relationship and to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

The words priest and holy need some clarification. The role of a priest is one who represents God to others. The priests in Israel interceded on behalf of the people for God and vice versa. Holy is another way of saying set apart, representing God’s holiness to others through their lived witness. The essential elements of their call are formed in and through their relation to God and others. What is clear here is that they are called to a purpose. Specifically the purpose of being witnesses to the relationship the Living God has with them. Representing who He is and what He desires.

This happens in and through the covenant, in other words, they’re also called to participation. God asks something of them as well. They choose Him back by the way the participate in the covenant. In Deuteronomy 30:19 they are urged to “choose life” by participation in the covenant.

I think in this key passage really does a lot towards helping us understand the original context of election of Israel. When can we look at this and then relate it to the New Testament passages with which we need to interact. New Testament uses of the word election (particularly by St. Paul) do not change this context, if anything they add to it’s depth as a theological idea. We now have a broader understanding of call/election.

As we hit the NT we note that Christ is the one true Israel. He is the one whom God chose, and the one who perfectly chose God back living a witness to that relationship. The call now shifts a bit for us as Christians. We actually participate in the only true participation in the covenant. We are a part of the work of God in and through Christ.

It is clear that we are chosen by Him (as mentioned before) still. John 15:15 reads “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go bear fruit…” But there does also seem to be a significant perspective regarding the fact that we choose Him back. The Rich young ruler walks away, the crowds in Athens and Phillipi reject the Gospel, Paul persecutes the church and then receives a call which he then accepts.

Over and over again the reverberation of “choose life” seems to be there. Human choice, moral responsibility, and free will are obvious. The participatory aspect of the call does not appear to change.

True, at points it does seem that Paul is pushing a reformed perspective on election (i.e. Romans chapter 8), but He also clearly pushes an idea that we have something to do with choosing our life in Christ  in the same book (check out Romans 12). Inevitably however, we read Romans 8 we always have other passages to balance it with. There is more than one clear message being conveyed regarding election, it’s implications, and what we are to make of them.

While I honestly believe that Israel’s election a la exodus 19 is and should be a substantial foundation for how we begin to look at the issue of election, by no means does it settle the scriptural outliers. Especially with regard to eternal life.

A tension remains between certain texts on what happens regarding eternal life. Some texts imply that it’s what you do that gets you there or not (Matthew 25:31-46) and others seem to imply otherwise (Romans 8:30 I want to read the greek and really wrestle with this text. I’ll get there someday.)

This brings us to the next point, how do we read the text when it appears that it contradicts itself? What we have at the very least is tension. Lots of people hate tension. In this context more than most. We want to know. Yet, this point regarding eternal life is a very good example of how the text does not resolve the tension. It’s not meant to.

I think it’s important when we read this to realize that the tension does not go away. No matter which verses you end up emphasizing, there is always a series of others that can–and often do–emphasize another theological pole on various issues. While I don’t have a clean-cut, “This is what I say!” to throw out there I do have an idea.

A friend of mine once noted these poles on the issue of predestination/entirely human decisions regarding eternal life can and do function as sign posts. They both exist to say “You cannot live here,” there’s always scripture to prod you out of a comfortable theological trench and force you to awkwardly stand in the no man’s land of “I just don’t know.” The discussion is and likely will always be in tension.

Maybe something we need to acknowledge about the bible is that it’s purpose is not to answer all of our questions, but rather it is meant to be a place where God reveals Himself to us.  A special place where He makes Himself known. This is why the bible was put together to begin with. The church noted the places where God was speaking. He was speaking then and speaks now in and through confusing statements, apparent contradictions from various biblical authors, translated foreign words of a 2000 year old set of historical documents, and the broken attempts of His church to make sense of it all.

It’s a super uncomfortable place to be when we read the text and come up with what we do not desire: “I don’t know” as opposed to answers, but the bible is not a fact book. It’s a part of God calling us to be on a journey that features unresolved tension whose end and constant companion is the One who said to Israel,

“…I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

Hopefully this was a worthwhile read. Keep the thoughts and questions coming.

 

Witnesses and the Text: Some thoughts.

I took a really good course in school once. It was called biblical theology and it was taught by a man named Dr. Frank Spina. The man is a genius.

In class he would often ask questions and wait.

Sometimes it seemed as though he was the orca whale waiting just off the iceberg to crush the frail penguins that were our arguments.

I being the eager talker often found myself painted into a corner by his clever questions. I regularly arrived at a point of, “Oh…well, I guess I was wrong from the outset.” Humbling yes, but a glorious humbling. I was excited to keep trying to answer his questions.

All that said, it’s thanks to Frank that I’ve got some thoughts to share today.

Thanks to my friend Chris’ post (http://antithesisreigns.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/suspension/) I recently read this article:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/9.25.html

I found it to be fascinating and well-thought out. I guess I’m a bit out of touch with certain perspectives regarding scripture. Honestly, the problem that the author brought up of evangelicals reconciling Jesus with Paul isn’t really something I struggle too much with. There have been moments when I’ve thought to myself, “huh, these things at the same time don’t make too much sense.” But, I don’t stress out about it.

I suppose that this happens for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I don’ take interpretive issues with scripture to be an emergency. The church has been hacking out what it means to live in response to scripture and the work of the Lord for a long time. In that context a few more days/weeks/months in my own life hardly seems like a enormous hurdle, nor one that would lead me to create a Jesus vs Paul dynamic. I can be patient.

I think that the broader reason behind which I don’t stress about things like this comes in regard to my thoughts about what it means to be a Christian and engage with scripture. One time in class, Dr. Spina remarked in regard to the church that “We believe witnesses.” He went on to engage a bit more thoroughly with the idea, and since I haven’t his knowledge, or skill, I shall try to paraphrase what I walked away with that day. Hopefully, it will make sense in regard to the above statements.

In Christianity what we’ve got going with regard to what we believe is called “Apostolic Tradition.” Essentially, the reason we are Christians is because the Risen Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to people after He died–alive and well. We believe the account of the people–we call them apostles–who spoke of this existence-changing event.

It is in and through the Apostles’ shared witness to the incarnate God dying on the cross and rising from the dead that the church grew and expanded, the scriptures were collected, written (the New Testament), and canonized, and the varying traditions of the Christian faith took root and developed.

Think about it, when you approach the scriptures to read, more often than not what enables you to engage with them as a Christian is the fact that you already are one. There are stories of the bible bringing people to faith and I believe that this happens, but I think that we need to be honest about why there is a Christian bible: there were witnesses who were believed.

In essence I guess that as I read the above article I was struck by the strange need to fret whether or not Paul and Jesus in the gospels disagreed. I wondered why there was an issue.

If our faith is grounded on Apostolic Tradition–just like Scripture–and Apostolic tradition is grounded on God’s revelation to the world in and through Jesus Christ…I guess it takes a lot of pressure off the text to be neat, to agree with itself, and to make sense 100% of the time. Not to cop out, but honestly interpreting a 2000 year old document and applying it to where we are takes effort. It is not done easily. Furthermore, if both Paul’s letters and the written gospels are grounded in the same witness about the Risen Christ then perhaps we can allow Paul and the authors of the gospels to have voices that are at times at variance, or in tension with one another. From what I understand about the canonization of Scripture the church selected Scripture based on the basis of whether God was still speaking through it…it doesn’t seem terribly challenging to have God speak through differing perspectives on the Gospel…does it?

I guess I’m wondering what is the problem here? What hypothetical idea would be broken if for some reason scripture contained contradictions?

I think it’s safe to assume that any perspective that grounds Christian faith solely in Scripture or both faith and Scripture in anything other than the work of the Triune God in and through Jesus Christ will undoubtedly fall short.

I really enjoyed the above article. Really. It was good, but I think the need for such an article represents a VERY protestant perspective that I think our Catholic brothers and sisters would love to help us temper a bit.

The call of the Protestant Reformation was: Sola fide. Sola gracia. Sola scritura. Faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone.

I submit that we’ve missed something in that at points. We’ve often forgotten in whom we have faith, who gives us grace, and who speaks through scripture. It is faith in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ that gives scripture authority in the church…not the other way around.

Let me know what you think.

Words and Context: Shout out to NT Wright

Okay, I’ve been fixin’ to write this blog post for awhile. So here it goes. It’s hopefully not too terribly academic. If it is and this stops you from reading, then I’m sorry.

I’ve been reflecting lately on communication, and thanks to NT Wright and my best friend I’ve got some thoughts.

When myself or others express something there are generally three things that are present in the context of interpreting that. Let’s look at it in terms of a sentence.

Nt Wright notes three interpretive contexts:

A) There is the sentence itself . Words in their own context. Separate from the people engaged in communication. Whichever way you cut it, there is the possibility of taking words on their own or taking words and interpreting the speaker according to their words.

B) There is the speaker/writer. The producer of the sentence who has expressed it from her/his own context with a specific intent. It may have words that did not imply what they had meant to say, but it comes from her/him and was formed in his/her mind. The sentence is definitively affected by the speaker/writer.

C) There is the listener/reader. The one who receives the sentence. There is no denying that the sentence is received by a person in a particular context. A person comes from a particular background. Much as the speaker/writer creates from a context so too does the listener/reader receive in a parallel fashion.

These are the things at play when we read or when we listen. These are the things that ultimately meld together and in one way or another affect our interpretation of things going on.

I think that people often have a context of choice to interpret from. Much as the way I would lean one way or another in a Myers-Briggs personality assessment, I think folks do that. I certainly do.

Personally, I think that I have been (as in it is changing) prone to relying on context A. Words matter strongly to me, and for some reason or another (undoubtedly due to my context as a reader/listener) I am often trying to interpret on sheer context-less sentence alone. Trying to hold myself and others accountable for the way things are said…I think this comes from how I’ve grown up. Honestly, people in my life haven’t really felt obliged to think about what they say and how it affects me or others. Regardless of how context affects sentence formation, thoughtless words can still wound. And so I tend to interpret accordingly as a safeguard.

However, I’m learning that this isn’t enough. To be honest, while it works in an academic setting and in those where I am exchanging ideas (blogs for example) it doesn’t when I speak with people. I can react to words by a famous author, scholar, or philosopher and expect them to be super thoughtful about what they say because it’s their field of study. It ought to be as well-thought-out as possible. Yet, when it comes to other human beings in the flesh whether those writing me a letter or expressing themselves to me the other contexts are absolutely key to interpret what is being discussed.

I suppose it all comes down to grace and humility.

Are we (am I) willing to actually engage in relationship with other people? Their words do come from a significant context. Whether that is one of love for you or I, fear, or hurt. These are all contexts of words from people we love and care about. We’re all broken together. Can we meet each other where we are and allow Christ to help us offer unconditional love? Grace.

That means my context as well. Am I as the receiver of words going to trust my own context so fully that where others are coming from is disregarded entirely? Do I reject a sentence’s bold meaning simply because I’ve grown up hearing otherwise? Am I willing to let myself be wrong? Humility.

As I engage in conversations with those around me I’ve started to think and own that my standard of interpretation (which is often frought with groundless fear and insecurity as I momentarily forget the context of who others are) isn’t enough. Quite frankly it doesn’t give people room to be messy.

True, people are responsible for what they say and how they say it.

However, I don’t think truth functions in a way that binds as much as it functions in a way that liberates.

We are free to learn to leave behind parts of our contexts that don’t help us live well and keep the parts that do. We are free to do this. Not required. It turns out that we need each other to learn to allow God to weed out the lies that we have grown up with and accepted. We need each other to learn to look beyond our own hurt to see others in their hurt. We need each other to help each other choose expressions of ourselves that speak love, mercy, and patience into each other’s lives.

I guess it never really explicitly occurred to me that loving other people took so much complexity and effort. A willingness to be hurt by others and give them grace in that as we work through it together, being wrong and having humility to accept that, and persistence in wanting both truth and love to define what we say and do are all things that we need God’s help with.

We need grace to give grace, humility enough to allow God to help us be humble, and persistence in allowing the Spirit to dwell in our thoughts, words, and deeds to be persistent in following where He leads.

The thing that surprises me is that He leads us deeper in, the ocean only gets deeper and wider as we sail onward. Deeper love and humility. Things that require us to have circumstances to allow us to learn. He leads us to places that are challenging so that we may be those made in the image of God who reflect that image more clearly with each passing day.

Just thinking. Have a good day friends.

 

Thoughts on Creed

No, not the band…Although…nah, really. Not the band.

I’m going to tell you a bit about myself.

I have a rosary in my car. Yep. I’m that guy behind you on the freeway with a bead-bound crucifix hanging from his rear view mirror. It’s there for two reasons: A) It helps me pray in the mornings. B) It leaves a bit of a “don’t break into my car” for those who might be deterred by the crucifix. Reason B is much less there than reason A. Really it’s just a convenient side-effect or reason A.

It’s not there because I’m Catholic. Sometimes I REALLY wish I was, but there are things that just won’t cut it for me. I sincerely appreciate my Catholic brothers and sisters, but I know who I am.  In so far as the reformation goes, it leaves me firmly a protestant.  A protestant who wishes and strives to claim that we really could all be on one official team in our churches the same way we are on one official body in the Spirit.

So in any case, the rosary. I have it. A Catholic friend of mine got me started on it. My first rosary was one that had beads made of plastic blue hearts. I had a little pamphlet that informed me on how to pray the rosary. Not being Catholic I didn’t feel comfortable praying to Mary…but I suppose the traditional aspect of that makes sense. My dad is Catholic. He taught me a little prayer in Spanish that I still say which asks my guardian angel to have my back. I don’t think it makes me a heretic. 1.3 billion Christians in the world…and most of them are Catholic. To my protestant friends out there: Hail Marys probably outnumber your prayers to the Lord. Sorry. You’re the minority.

That said, when I pray the rosary on my way to work I replace the beads that are meant to be Hail Marys with other prayers. Prayers for friends, The Jesus’ prayer, The prayer of saint francis, etc…

But when one starts to pray the rosary there’s this thing that I love about it. I get to say the Apostle’s Creed every morning. I know, I know. You’re thinking how much of an old man I am at heart. Well…yes. You’re right. Moving on.

The Apostle’s Creed goes like this:

I believe in God, The Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary

He suffered under Pontius Pilate

Was crucified, died, and was buried

He descended into hell

On the third day he rose again from the dead

He ascended into heaven

where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

From there He will come to judge the living and the dead

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

I love this part of my morning. In sociological thought there is this thing called the “master status.” Essentially it is our role in life through which all things we do are defined. It can be mother, friend, brother, soldier, etc…I think that for Christians it needs to be the status of “Christian” or perhaps better said “disciple”. This is in part what the Creed does for me. It reminds me who I am. When I start the day I get to affirm that which creates the foundation upon which my life rests.

It undercuts, nationality, age, social status, gender, denomination, and places us firmly where we are as Christians. Those redeemed by the Triune Creator God in and through Christ, a part of His story as the church, awaiting the second coming, the resurrection, and participating in eternal life today.

When you work for a Christian university you’re required to give a statement of faith (what you believe as a Christian) the Creed is what I have used in every application. It really simplifies the matter. I think it really simplifies unity in Christian tradition as well.

I guess that’s to say that what we affirm in the Creed is important. It helps us realize what it means to be a Christian. It helps us understand what it means to be a part of the church. It helps us understand the work of the Lord on our behalf and frame our participation in terms of what has happened. It takes a bit of effort to hash out the implications of the Creed, but that’s the same with all important things. They take effort and are not terribly as simple as we would like.

In conclusion…I really couldn’t help myself from putting something like the following in this post.

David, Jonathan, and John Eldredge: A stab at broadening categories of friendship.

Note:  I haven’t read Wild at Heart in a long time. My thoughts are based off what I remember and my more recent experiences.

When I was a younger man I read the John Eldredge book “Wild at Heart.”  At the time I really enjoyed it, though as I’ve come to reflect upon who I am and who Jesus is…I’ve found that the version of masculinity that we’re given in and through authors like John is something that really limits real masculine development. Particularly in regard to friendship, relationship, and consequentially following Jesus.

I think that one of the primary issues with the authors that primarily write to men is that there is–more often than not–a single standard of Godly masculinity. A sort of Christian one-size-fits-all approach to manhood. Their take is often that of American action-movie culture blendedwith a Christian emphasis.  As though the Gospel is meant to change us into a Jesus who takes boxing lessons (check out this great article for an idea of what I mean: http://theotherjournal.com/2011/06/28/the-confessions-of-a-cage-fighter-masculinity-misogyny-and-the-fear-of-losing-control/). The message dudes are given (at least the one I’ve heard from these sources)  with regard to romantic relationships is usually one of unabashedly one-sided relational privilege and responsibility.

At the same it’s interesting to me to recall the extent to which the idea of walking in faith with other men is stressed in Eldredge’s book and mainstream Christian culture in general. We’re encouraged to have other “spiritual warriors” (men) to walk alongside in our fight for purity and following the Lord. The idea of masculine friendships is played out strongly in his many examples…nearly all of them from films…and if I recall it also was emphasized by the friendship of David and Jonathan.

There is an interesting balancing act between these ideas of manly support relationships and simultaneous leading of whatever romantic relationships there may be that plays out in Eldredge’s book. Men need support from other men, but apparently less than they need support from their significant others. The idea seems to focus on David’s lament over Jonathan’s death (2 Samuel 1:26):

“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.”

The friendship between the would-be king of Israel and the son of the ex-anointed king of Israel is a story that emphasizes two men who care deeply for one another. There are of course the assorted debates of whether or not the relationship between David and Jonathan was other than heterosexual. This is something that I have neither the time, nor ability to thoroughly engage with. Let’s table it for the time being.

I think that due in great part to my read of Wild at Heart this story has been etched into my mind as the example that for which I ought to be striving. The question I have been asking myself for years –literally–is: What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have the sort of friendship that David and Jonathan had? What am I doing wrong?

I’ve tried praying for a friend of this nature, I’ve tried forcing it on my own steam, I’ve tried waiting patiently. None of these things has worked quite the way I hoped it would. By no means do I lack male friendships. Rather, I think I have great dude friends and we are able to support each other as well as possible. That said, there just isn’t a “your love passes that of women” thing going on for me. Especially once I began dating someone.

To some perhaps that’d be a problem, but as far as I’m concerned I think the problem lies elsewhere. I personally think the hindrance lies with the mindset which implies that the lack of a David/Jonathan bro friendship is itself problematic. I think it has issues in that the categories of friendship within this context are unavoidably too narrow. The one-size-fits-all approach to masculine friendship is clearly highlighted here. The idea that comes off of this is one of an ideal: “This is how friendship is supposed to be.”

I take issue with the fact that regardless of how impressive of a tale it may or may not be, the David/Jonathan story is one story in the context of the entire bible. It would be difficult to take Genesis 1 and say, “This is how creation happened.” when in Genesis 2 there is an entirely different creation story. Which do we take? Just one, a mix, both?

I guess that while Eldredge and authors like him are content to highlight masculine friendship in the context of David/Jonathan, there’s another story of friendship that we receive in a different and I would argue intensely meaningful light in scripture. That of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis Eve is introduced with God’s statement: ” It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” as well as the commentary that, “…they become one flesh.” At the very least these statements ought to serve as a broadening element within the context of views like that of Eldredge. The Lord Himself declares that it is not good for the man to be alone and provides him with a helper/partner with whom the man becomes one flesh. I made that bold because it should give you pause.

I will make small equation for purposes of levity and clarification: Adam alone = not good, Adam + Eve = good, Adam + Eve = one flesh.

No matter how great David says his bro-time with Jonathan was, I don’t think this trumps a declaration from the Lord about a covenanted helper/partner/one flesh scenario. Moreover, David’s relationships with women were messed up. Read the stories and you will get it. The man’s lack of real self-sacrificial love for a woman is absurdly obvious in the text. At least from where I’m sitting. I’m not trying to point fingers, just saying that there may be better examples of people whom men should emulate.

God never declares that what Adam really needed was a solid bro named Chad–no offense to you Chads out there–who he could confess his sexual struggles with after they played basketball, xbox, and had a few beers. (I’m exaggerating, but I think you get my point.) I guess this whole time I’ve been driving at the point of saying that men need more than what they’re being given in standard thoughts on friendship.

God bluntly provides Eve for Adam (and I would argue Adam for Eve). It isn’t something Adam knew he needed, but rather was something that God knew Adam needed. The age-old argument of “bros before hoes” needs to be done away with in terms of Christian friendship. We as people (especially men) need the support of our significant others. Arguably more than we need that of our friends of the same gender. As much as my dude friends and I are close friends and brothers in the Lord…I don’t have plans of becoming one flesh with any one of them.

At the end of the day a perspective on friendship directed at anyone that over-emphasizes platonic relationships as the end-all-be-all is missing something significant and accepting a limitation of their own theoretical experience with a future partner and therein their own intimacy with the Lord.

We need bigger categories for that of friend.

Romantic relationships are actually quite important when they happen. The friendships therein as well. They are not less important than that of same-gender friendships. They are arguably more important when they happen.

That’s all I have for now. Your thoughts are welcome.

PS: Interesting thoughts as I close this blog post include. What do folks who are other than heterosexual think about this? What about people who are called to celibacy? Those who are single and not called to celibacy? These are dynamics that I didn’t think of until just now as I finish. It is clear that we need an even broader category of friend than that which I just suggested.

Gloves off. Donald Miller, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I’m deeply frustrated.

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s blog regarding the male role in a love story. You can find it here: http://donmilleris.com/2011/08/03/how-to-live-a-great-love-story-vol-ii-for-the-guys/.

He says a few good things. Men are challenged to step up, do things other than play xbox, actually participate in meaningful physical intimacy, have plans, live responsibly, be honorable, etc…These are good things. Lots of half-assed men in our culture lack drive, desire, honor, and motivation. It would make sense that these people need a solid “get your shit in order.” talk. Thanks Donald. All dudes have friends/acquaintances who probably need to hear most of what you’ve got to say.

HOWEVER.

I would like to note that the reason I’m deeply frustrated comes in reaction to the gross chauvinism I see thrust forward as the standard for Christian males in quest of “living a great love story.” I find issue with this in many different levels. However, since I don’t have time to single out all of these issues one at a time I will just spend my energy on a statement (his thesis perhaps?) he makes regarding the ideal man’s role in love stories. It is my perspective that in his blog Miller fails to appropriately render a theological framework for his often poorly-thought-out opinions and in so doing leaves his audience bereft of any means to engage with what he thinks nor the reality that relationships do not come neatly packaged in formulaic expressions of fact.

He starts his blog post with the following words:

“Men were not designed to have love stories “happen to them” as much as they were designed to “make a love story happen to a woman.” Do you understand. You’re the writer of the story. You’re the guy who initiates and has the character to follow through. You’re the one responsible for how the love story turns out.

This is a paragraph that makes me feel seriously disconcerted on several levels.

Firstly, it seems clear from the context of his blog’s use of photos from Casablanca and his thoughts on Hollywood’s sappy rom-com culture that his ideal love story is one he has bought from the classic love story genre of films. Hook, line, and sinker. It appears that he watched Casablanca so many times that this has become the model for relationship he has bought. I happen to love the movie, but I would hope for different reasons than Donald. I might have to dislike it after I get done thinking about it. The plot goes like this: Strong decisive male lead, beautiful but fragile female lead who needs the males in the film to give her a reason to move, live, and carry on. It is a case study in WWII era patriarchy. The same case study is reflected in his blog.

These are the implications restated. Women need men to lead them into relationship. Women will need men to make a love story happen to a woman. Men write the story. Men are responsible for how the story turns out. This is how our culture and in particular mainstream evangelical Christian culture has generalized love and relationship.

Here is my beef with this in general: it is not the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel is a message in which a broken humanity is redeemed in and through God becoming one of us and dying horribly in our place and returning to life thereafter. Finding us in the midst of our own aimless wandering, rescuing us when we were helpless, lost, redeeming what no one thought redeemable. Following this fundamental point of Christian theology we come to another key point that needs to be emphasized. That of the Trinity. Through the work of Christ, in the Holy Spirit we enter into the very life of God. The eternal communion of the Triune God. We become a part of His being and enter into participation in His work.

What does that mean with regard to what we read in Don’s blog? It means that I don’t think he accurately expresses or fully understands what a love story means.

From the way he describes it in the above sentences love is something that a man facilitates for a woman. It is given. It is decided. It is written by men. Men lead the charge, men call the shots, men do all the important work in love. Women just have love happen to them.

Unfortunately, this perspective put forward by Mr.Miller misconstrues what love is. Love is a gift from God to humanity. Love in relationship serves as my friend Dave pointed out “to strip the paint off you.” It is a part of your participation in the Lord’s work on your behalf. It is a part of your salvation. Relationships are NOT, I repeat NOT just about family, fulfillment, patriarchy, happiness, or whatever you might throw out there. They are inherently the work of the Kingdom of God. Reconciliation, healing, peace, patience, kindness…you know…the fruits of the Spirit? These all take place in relationship. You cannot have the fullness of these things without relationship. You cannot begin to have any of the fruits of the Spirit without the Spirit Himself present in you.

Let me make my point clear. The Kingdom of God is about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Relationships function as a part of that. Relationships are love stories grounded in the meta-narrative love story that is God’s love for humanity. We participate in that story while in relationship.

So, to make any sort of declaration about the bulk of relational work being on the shoulders of men, women, or anyone apart from Christ is absolute nonsense. As a male, I am not the author of the love story that I participate in. I am not the key initiator, the key follow-through-er, and ultimately claiming responsibility for how the story turns out is absurd.

My love story is about the work of the Lord in my life and the life of my beloved. Christ leads and both of us follow in mutual love, admiration, and support for one another. An exclusion from importance whether explicit or implicit of any one person in a relationship renders it not a relationship. An exclusion from Christ being the one in whom and through whom we find ourselves able to be in relationship with others is terrible theology. An exclusion of the fact that relationships are His work that we share in is terrible theology.

Without grounding relationship/love story in the story of God’s vicarious work and love for us in Christ, it is my opinion that Donald Miller leaves his audience adrift at a sea in a leaky boat. In other words, he issues his readers an intensely defined framework for relationship that is fundamentally flawed from the outset. If relationship is a mutual participation of two people in the ongoing work of the Kingdom manifest in their choosing to love one another, then it isn’t about men leading or women leading.

It’s about Christ leading, Christ authoring, Christ initiating, Christ loving, Christ causing love stories to happen to His beloved. While we are responsible for our participation, it remains just that. It never starts to become what we are doing. It’s always been about what God started doing when He made the world: drawing us nearer to each other and to Himself.

For these reasons I took offense. He has too much responsibility in his position to be so flippant regarding serious issues.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.