Sunday, November 16, 2014
Expressions of Autonomy
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Gen. 3:1
This is no doubt a very familiar text to most Christians. And yet, I am curious how many Christians have actually participated in a thorough exegetical study of this event. From what I can tell, we may be spending a disproportionate amount of time defending the historicity of this account while neglecting it’s theological significance altogether. The challenge for the pastor, the teacher, and the apologist is that we must do both. We must defend the historical accuracy of the temptation and fall of man while at the same time emphasizing it’s theological and practical implications.
My purpose in referencing this text is to demonstrate that there is a strong relationship between this historical event some 6,000 years ago or so and what I see taking place in the Church, well, since it’s inception really, and especially in contemporary times. But there is a difference that I shall come back to toward the end of my remarks. The goal of this post is to prick your thinking about those who cut against the basic teachings of the Christian community. I am not talking about teachings that could be more ambiguous, such as eschatological issues or specific texts that may be more or less difficult to interpret. My focus is on those clear teachings of Scripture and how the consequences of the fall in the Garden tend to impact how we handle those teachings and why. Additionally, I don’t only want to point out how some handle those teachings but how the rest of the community responds versus how it ought to respond.
When we think about autonomy we should think about the capacity of a person or a system to make it’s own decisions about its actions. We think about a system that operates independent from external forces or authority. We think about the idea of independence. Now, I write this blog within an American context. Nothing is more valued and prized in American culture than the idea of independence. Every American has been baptized into the ideology of independence. It is the greatest goal of every American. This ideology happens to fit perfectly with the theological issue with which I am dealing in this post: the human quest for autonomy. I could take a philosophical angle for those readers who are more interested in apologetics or I could take a purely theological angle and point out the more practical issues confronting us in the Church. I have decided to do the latter.
The temptation in the garden of our first parents was a temptation to think and act autonomously. It must be pointed out that the very beginning of autonomous thinking starts with interpretation. It is an issue of hermeneutics from the very start. Satan began immediately by asking the question: has God said? The Christian in modern times is confronted with two very clear attacks against God from this perspective. Either the Word of God is denied outright by subjugation to human standards of justification or it is re-purposed with the tools of secular philosophy, science, logic, language, and psychology. In both cases, man has reinterpreted his situation in a way that elevates him to the place of prominence. Protagoras lives on, but it was the snake and not Protagoras that invented this philosophy.
Jesus Christ said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:24) But the serpent’s promise stands in glaring contradiction to the words of Jesus: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) On the one had man has the serpent promising unconditional autonomy and on the other hand we have Jesus, God of very God, demanding unconditional surrender. Logically speaking, you can’t have it both ways. Either we surrender everything we are at the feet of Christ or we buy the lie of the serpent’s promise that we do just fine without God. As a result, we have invented such ideas of evolution as set over against creation, the belief that we can know things either rationally or empirically or critically without any reliance on revelation, and finally, we have even convinced ourselves that we can establish the necessity of objective morality to avoid the chaos that serves as an ever present threat in the world. But these things are not the focus of this blog today. My focus is on the goings-on in the Church and how this very same infectious autonomous thinking is impacting or threatening to impact the body of Christ.
For example, the view that Scripture is not fully inspired and inerrant is the product of autonomous thinking. It places man in the position of being the judge and jury of “this says the Lord.” Rather than submitting to God’s word, God’s word is submitting to autonomous human reason and man sits in judgment over God’s word as opposed to taking up his intellectual cross and following Christ.
The view that the God of the OT is corrected by the revelation of God in the NT through the person of Jesus Christ is a product of autonomous human reason, not rigorous scholarship. The basis for this work is grounded in philosophical objections regarding how the OT describes God because it offends and contradicts our humanistic projections of how and what we want God to be. Rather than accept God’s revelation of Himself, we reject it in preference for our own idea of God.
Christians also express autonomy when they reject much of the reformed teachings that came out of the reformation, but which also have their ground in Scripture. When we reject divine sovereignty and election, it is usually on the basis that such a God does not comport with the sort of God we think exists. The question that every Christian has to ask is if the God that exists in their mind is actually the same God that is revealed in Scripture. And this question must be asked within the humble context of recognizing the presence of sin in the form of autonomous desires to corrupt and twist God’s revelation of Himself so that we can be satisfied with the God we think is there.
The lack of support in the Church to adhere to and display the Christian ethic as laid down in the biblical text is another expression of human autonomy. There are churches that sit by silent when they encounter couples shacking up together but who also want to become members of the community. And I know of cases where churches, evangelical churches have split over elders refusing to allow such people to become members. I also know of numerous churches that entirely ignore the process of excommunication over such serious sins as illicit divorce, adultery, and other sexual sins. These are expressions of human autonomy.
One of the most obvious expressions of human autonomy attempting to gain a foothold in the Church is gay theology. The homosexual has a very strong desire, not only to be, tolerated, but actually accepted, approved, and even celebrated. The notion that the homosexual movement simply wanted to be tolerated is a myth. The movement wants to be celebrated by every facet of society and is not willing to leave any group standing that does not go along with it’s agenda. In their attempt to gain approval from the Church, they engage in some of the most outrageous, absurd, and even pernicious treatment of Scripture. They are driven by an autonomous desire to do their own thing their own way without regard for thousands of years of scholarship. The homosexual movement has adopted a hermeneutic that is overtly biased, clearly anachronistic, and thoroughly eisegetical at bottom. The agenda is to preserve autonomy in sexual behavior.
The sin of our first parents and of their progeny was and is autonomy. The desire for autonomy has led to the infectious condition of total depravity. While the Christian has been born again, the fact remains that we still have the sinful nature to deal with. This reality ought to make us more humble. We must see in ourselves what we can clearly see in our first parents in the garden. Even in their unfallen condition, the temptation to autonomous living was a reality with which they had to deal. And if they had to deal with it in their unfallen state, how much more must we be on our guard for it in the state in which we find ourselves.
We must respond by doing precisely what Jesus demanded. Jesus demanded nothing less than complete, entire submission to God’s Word in how we reason, in how we do philosophy, in how we live our lives, our values, in how we work, in how we relate to one another as husbands, wives, parents, sons, daughters, elders, teachers, pastors, employees, employers, and fellow believers in Christ. There is no domain in which Christ is not LORD over our lives. He controls what we think, say, and do. An unwillingness to submit to Christ in all things is an unwillingness to submit to Him in anything.