I promised myself I wouldn’t make yet another web site full of Christian arguments. So maybe I’ll quarantine here, in one article, my occasional frustration with how believers choose to spend their lives. Maybe it can be contained.
For example: the minute you become a Calvinist or Lutheran you begin to spot heresy everywhere, because it is easy to find believers Doing Something, even yourself. This pernicious bug is so common it pops up not only in explicit thought but even in the way phrases are turned. The Christian side of the internet features many long, complicated arguments over whether such and such a person is a works person or not. It’s all quite nuanced. There are Christians who spend their lives at it. There are categories within categories. I’m not sure if I’m a semi-palagian or a semi-semi-pelagian. I can’t figure out why it matters, though, since whatever God wants to happen to me is what will happen.
And even the heresy-hobbyists are not sure either, which is why it takes them tomes upon tomes to explicate exactly what you can think about Doing Something and what you cannot think. You’ll notice most of that blabbering is circular, and an effort to get off the circle. One of the signs that you started from a bad premise is that you find yourself in chronic logical circles. Then again, some people enjoy that; it validates their intellect. And I suppose we should be happy it keeps them busy and off the school board.
I recommend, to wipe out this particular heresy for all time, that all human action be expressed in writing by means of the passive voice. Then, the curators of doctrine will have to find another hobby.
It’s not just the Calvinists who find heretics under every url; the Baptist fundamentalist types do it, the Roman Catholics do it. And they, of course, continue their centuries-old arguments with each other, certain that true Christianity is in peril. The Reformed, of both stripes, lament the evangelicals killing the Reformation. The Catholics, of course, would be all for killing it. (I’m sure it’s not just us: the Muslims probably have seminars devoted to sorting out the flavors of their religion. Then again, I guess they still just kill each other.)
The end result of all this more a weariness than anything else.
The simple truth is that the focus of the New Testament is not justification by faith or any other dogma, it is discipleship. I suspect there will be people in heaven who left everything to be a follower of Jesus, who couldn’t explain justification to you.
This is not to say dogma is not important. I’m all for dogmas; I believe them all. It’s just that they are diagrams of glory and maps for friendship with God, not as abstract concepts to be used like plumb lines on people’s every utterance. The concern of the Bible is to establish a right relation with a Person, so dogma is relational truth, ossified.
These relational truths are extracted, abstracted, and made into a dogma, a discrete object of analytical thought. Let’s take forensic justification: the relational truth is: when a person trusts what God first says, He treats them immediately like a full friend, even before the relationship is worked out over time. (cf. Paul’s description of Abraham and God’s friendship). So, Abraham was justified by faith (before Christ) because God was always that way. It isn’t that God made up a legal position He decided it would advantageous to inhabit; no, He was always willing to treat you as a full friend if, on the day He first said something to you, you treated Him like God.
Wow! Isn’t God a generous friend!
Then, when Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, it was no great step relationally for God to give all who trust in His son the relational position His son held. He was always generous in friendship; now, He is generous to those who believe His son.
That’s all a relational reality. It can be articulated in a hundred different ways. But to want to test somebody’s thought and words for some sort of technical accuracy without considering whether or not this person is, in the full totality of their personal life, living as a friend of Jesus, is to abstract dogma from life in a way that is foreign to the Jesus of the gospels.