Sunday, September 18, 2005

Katrina, the Theology of Glory, and the Theology of the Cross

[EDIT - the part below referring to a word search is specifically aimed at the Katrina article.]

The "Katrina and the Will of God" meme is evidently not quite finished. With a HT to the new theology blog at World Magazine, I came across this little gem of an article by someone calling himself The Calvinist Gadfly. I am not so much interested in the comments by Rick Warren that prompted the article, as I am the Gadfly's response, and what it signifies.

(M)most evangelical Christians and their leaders agree with evolutionists and naturalists that a divine being did not ordain Katrina. Rather than siding with the Biblical worldview of God’s decrees in his creation, many Christians and their leaders have adopted the naturalistic thinking of the world around them for explanations for hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, etc. Make no bones about it my friends, there are sadly many Christians who are embarrassed about what the Bible says about God’s control over nature.

Well, for the record, let me state that I (and most of my online friends) do NOT fall into this category. We do not dispute that God ultimately controls the weather. So this actually isn't the root of the dispute in my mind.

They detest the idea that God actually has a purpose in this world that he fulfills through his all-wise, all-just, and all-good decrees.

Detest it? Our hope for life is founded on that very promise - that all that God does (or permits, if you prefer) will come together for the good He has purposed. What that does NOT mean is that the means God uses are ultimately as good as the End He has purposed.

In reading the many theological responses on blogs and sermons on Katrina, I noticed one important attribute of God that was ignored: his Holiness. If we view Katrina in light of God’s holiness and man’s sin, the correct question that should be asked is not “Why did God ordain this to happen?” but “Why did God not ordain Katrina sooner?” Those who are offended by such an assertion, I ask you bluntly, in light of God’s holiness what reason can you give to me that you deserve your next breath? What reason is there that God would be unjust to send a Katrina to your city? We are all sustained by God’s mercy, not by an obligation on his part.

Refer to the discussions below on the topic of "grace grinding" to get my viewpoint on all this. Yes, God is holy, yes we deserve death and hell - but when is it wise to tell someone that? It would depend on the person, and their circumstances. A person may need to hear that, and may even be prepared to listen - after we have demonstrated that we do so out of love, and not in propping up our system of theology.

Some sadly draw the conclusion that because there were evangelical churches in New Orleans, then this could not have been God’s judgment. These folks assume the typical “American evangelical church is worthy of God’s blessing, not God’s judgment.” The burden of proof is on the person to prove that this was not God’s judgment. Someone may object by saying that there could have been a few God-honoring Christians that died in Katrina or many more being displaced. Certainly there were. If that were the case, then does God not have the freedom to take their lives at his sovereign timing and for his all-wise purposes? Can God not preserve godly Christians through their faith which does not require that he must sustain their physical life? The fact that there could have been some God-honoring Christians that died in Katrina is absolutely no reason to deny that God’s overall purpose was judgment.

Somebody needs to get this guy a copy of the dialogue between God and Abraham over Sodom. Lot was no better off than many evangelicals today, in his theology or practice. Yet God spared that city, much worse than Nawlins, until Lot left.

I have not been slack in decrying the state of evangelicalism myself, FWIW. But again I must ask, where is the compassion in all this? Where is the wisdom? (And no, just knowing and believing the tenets of Calvinism is NOT "wisdom." Wisdom comes in the *application*, not the knowledge.)

OK, so what's my point in all this? Well, there is a little tool in most browsers called "Find on this page..." (at least, that's what it's called in Firefox). Do a search on the word "Christ" on Gadfly's Katrina article linked above. You'll see lots of references to 'Christ'ians, but none on Christ, or Jesus. Why is this important?

Where I have gotten off the boat with many of my fellow Calvinists, and on the boat with many classical Lutherans, is in the idea that we best - nay, we ONLY - really know who God is and what He has for us, in Christ Himself. We are not to focus on "eternal, holy decrees", but on the God-Man nailed to the Cross. The fullest and clearest revelation of God's will and character is in Christ. To seek God (and to seek to understand Him) in His holiness and glory apart from Christ, Luther called "The Theology of Glory", and decried it loudly and violently. In opposition to this, Luther called for "the Theology of the Cross" - to see that God has hidden Himself from us in many ways, and we can only clearly see Him in Jesus, and that most clearly at the Cross.

I ask you, if anyone is reading this - from His character and ways presented to us in the Gospels, and if you'll pardon the trite evangelical expression - what would Jesus do at the devastation scene? Preach sermons about submitting to the just judgments of God? Perhaps - but Jesus rarely did so, even to the notorious "sinners" He met. Is it not easier to imagine Jesus with His arms caked in mud, pulling survivors from the wreckage? Talking to them about God and His Kingdom, in ways so winsome that logic-choppers like me could never emulate Him if we lived to be 200?

Did Jesus acknowledge God's decrees of judgment? He certainly did. He saw the coming destruction of Jerusalem - and He wept over it. He knew the purpose that the Father sent Him to us for had to be fulfilled - and He yet asked that the cup pass from Him, if possible. Jesus *was* a "Calvinist" in that He knew God's sovereignty - but He was also human, and seemed to understand the veil of mystery and doubt that hides the glory and purposes of God from us much better than do many of these "Calvinists". He was, after all, "like us in all ways excepting sin".

I've come to believe that the manner in which we present and defend our theology is a vital component of that theology. And I must sadly report that there is much Calvinism out there that could do with a humanity transplant. Away with the theology of glory - remember the Cross.


Blogger Clarissa Ramos said...


With all do respect, is including the words "Jesus" or "Christ" within every conversation or arguement the only criterion needed for judging whether a viewpoint is doctrinally correct? If that's the case, then the majority of the people in the western hemisphere have a sound Biblical understanding of God and man.

Also, I've learned to be careful when saying what Jesus would or would not do. Granted, we do get insight when looking at His behaviour and teaching in Scripture; however, we must remember that we're talking about a sovereign God who (even though He does not change) is above our understanding. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We must be careful not to project our sinful, finite assumptions onto a Holy and Sovereign God.

8:12 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

I used the word count as an illustration of my point, which was in Gadfly's discussion about what the decrees and counsels of God are (and their implications for us), the greatest revelation of God and His intentions to us - Jesus Christ - was never mentioned *once*. As we consider what God's intentions and decrees are, should not the attitudes and examples provided by Christ be our supreme guide in these matters? Especially *because* God in Himself is sovereign and transcendent, as you point out? If we are to know God, it must be primarily through Christ, and not just extrapolations of the Godhead's transcendent attributes - especially as the discussion touches on the fallen condition of man and the world, and how God deals with it.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Clarissa Ramos said...

I whole-heartedly agree with you that Christ is the greatest revelation of God and His intentions toward us. He is most assuredly our "supreme guide" as you pointed out. My point was that the absense of the words "Christ" or "Jesus" do not necessarily indicate false doctrine or negate Christ's work or example, just as the inclusion of said words do not necessarily indicate correct doctrine or bring Him the glory due His name.
I happen to know Gadfly and can attest to the fact that He very much desires to glorify Jesus and bring attention to His work and character as the Holy Son of God and our Saviour(if you were to examine his other blog posts, at his site and elsewhere, that would become plain). However, please remember that our Lord is a Trinity and the attributes of the Father are reflected in the Son as well; thus, when the Father's attributes are examined in the light of Scripture the Son is glorified as well and vice versa. I ask you to examine Gadfly's post again and ask yourself if the points he makes are out of line with Scripture and God's character or if your only objection to it is that he didn't specifically mention the words "Jesus" or "Christ." Thank you.

9:36 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

I don't intend to disparage his zeal for our Lord. Neither, if you will re-examine *my* post, will you find that I deny God's sovereignty or his holy judgments. Where I have my parting of ways with Gadfly is allowing a focus on those truths to apparently trump God's other attributes, and to present those attributes in a manner that implies we have an infallible insight as to how God is manifesting those attributes in our time. You could say that *every* natural disaster is a judgment from God, since any human affected ultimately deserves it. Why is Katrina so special, besides scope?

And again, I must ask you how Jesus Himself dealt with issues like this. When asked about God's sovereignty in disasters, He did not hesitate to pull punches (Luke 13). But that was in a different context, *after the fact*. When facing people in the midst of their suffering, even notorious sinners, His manner was entirely different. Even Job's friends, though they probably believed that Job was somehow deserving of his plight, had the decency to sit and weep with him for a week before raking him over the theological coals. (Job 3) In the here and now, should our first concern be that people understand Katrina was a divinely decreed judgment? Or should our first concern be to comfort the bereaved and help the destitute and refugees - and THEN tell them about the One who went through worse suffering on their behalf, and rose from the dead for them?

Arguing about abstract theologies of God's sovereignty has its place. I submit that the wreckage of a floodzone is NOT that place. That is the place for *the implications of our aleady-decided beliefs* to be made known. And if we do decide to argue theology there, I think that may mean that we believe human suffering isn't as impoirtant as winning theological debates.

8:28 AM  

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