Friday, November 6, 2009

The Emergent Church and Autonomy - Part I

Some people will read the title to this blog and wonder what is meant by the term “autonomy.” Others will not doubt read it and wonder if I am inferring that autonomy is exclusive to the EC movement. It seems best to begin with some basic understandings around this term, “autonomy.” First, Webster defines autonomy as, “the fact or condition or being autonomous; self-government; independence; any state that governs itself.” When the Colonies voted to end British rule, leading to the Revolutionary War, what they were actually voting for was autonomy. They were tired of being under British rule without fair and just representation mediating between them and the ruling power. They decided they would divorce Britain and pursue a new and better way. No longer would British law rule over their affairs. This is what it means for a government to be autonomous. In addition to this, it means that this government is now sovereign over itself to do with itself as it pleases. It serves no other nation and owes no particular allegiance to any other nation, except through voluntary treaties which it may freely enter into.

As you view this word autonomy in relationship to governments, think about how this could also apply to individual human beings. In our country, the one thing we value and prize, above all else, is our autonomy (which we call independence). We are free to pursue the American dream! Now before you get too worried, I am 100% American and I am a full-blooded patriot. I love my country and I value the freedoms we enjoy and I try diligently not to take them for granted. I appreciate those men and women who have died to provide me with this freedom as well as those who regularly leave the comfort of our home to travel to far and distant (not mention dangerous and deadly) places in order to continue to provide us with the freedom we all enjoy. So please do not think I am criticizing my country of the American idea. I may take issue with certain elements of the prevailing philosophies, but such issues are not the subject of this particular post.

The War for Autonomy
First of all, going back to the origin of the very first sin it should be realized that it lies in the desire for autonomy. Think about the nature of autonomy and man’s fascination and obsession with it. Isaiah wrote of Satan’s desires for autonomy in Isaiah 14:13–14 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Of course there was pride involved in Satan’s desire and this too is undeniable. But that pride was anchored in Satan’s desire to no longer serve God but to operate his life and govern himself apart from God. He sought independence from God. And as such he started a revolutionary war in heaven. He was so talented and gifted that he convinced fully one-third of the other angelic beings to join his cause. But these beings also had a problem with autonomy. Can you imagine that? Of all the heavenly hosts, serving in the very presence of God, one-third of them were so desirous of autonomy that they deceived themselves (with the father of liars’ help of course) into thinking they could actually achieve autonomy. Now here this: no creature of God is ever autonomous. Absolute independence only exists in the Triune God.

Herman Bavinck writes, “Thus, being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good (Ps. 36:10; Acts 17:25). But this is precisely what fallen humans want. We want to act according to our will, not God’s will. This desire is a cloaked desire for autonomy. Richard A. Muller writes, “Thus, first, God is utterly independent in his being. God is also independent in his power, having received it from no other being and having the capacity to exercise it apart from the will of any other being – no creature, therefore, can alter or set aside his will and power.” God requires nothing from anyone. He is the self-existent, self-sustaining Creator of all that has come to exist. It was this attribute of God that Satan was so tantalized with. He beheld something grand and glorious and wanted it for himself. And the consequences of his pursuit were and are and forever will be devastating.

Man’s Attempt at Autonomy
When God created the universe, the earth, along with all its creatures and man and woman, he said it was very good. But man would soon end this wonderful period of innocence with his own desire for autonomy. Satan’s desire to be like God ended with devastating consequences! Man’s desire for autonomy would end no more successful than Satan’s attempt. Satan told Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good and evil.” God knows good and evil differently than we do. God determines what is good by His nature. Moreover, anything that opposes God’s will is evil. Man’s desire was and is to be his own independent determiner of what is good and evil, apart from anything in God. Man desires to set up his own standards of right and wrong. The result of this effort was the thrust of mankind headlong into sin. For billions of humans it will mean eternal damnation in an eternal lake of fire separated from God. But it also reveals an incomprehensible grace and a limitless love on the part of God. For it was mankind that God determined to redeem from this state of sin and condemnation.

All sin is the result of an evil desire for autonomy. This naturally leads to idolatry and separation from God. The sin of autonomy, which manifests itself repeatedly in the form of idolatry, is seen in all sin. Idolatry is excessive devotion to or reverence for some person or thing. Ultimately we seek to show excessive devotion to self. We seek to please our own materialistic, intellectual, sexual, hedonistic desires. In so doing, we pursue autonomy and self worship. This shows up in the church in a variety of forms and for all kinds of different reasons. In my next post, I will discuss the EC movement and relate its views and practices to the desire for autonomy. When placed under the magnifying glass of Scripture, will the EC prove that it is nothing more than another cleverly disguised desire for sinful autonomy? Stay tuned!

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