Friday, March 20, 2009

Why History?

It’s now been a day ago since I finished reading Udo Middleman’s book, “The Innocence of God.” His book discusses why God is innocent with regard to moral choices made on the part of moral agents (humankind). Middleman seeks to uproot the Calvinist fallacy that God predetermines EVERYTHING that happens in one’s life—including whether or not you park in the space closest to the Walmart or one further away (just an example, ‘tis all).
One of Middleman’s emphases in the book with regards to Calvinism is history. Middleman writes,

"There are always several players on the stage of history, and there is no common script between them, though they intersect at all times. Any understanding of history as a seamless cloth, a narrow road, or a printout of one author’s text denies real significance, real battles, and real time. History can be sped up and down, turned left and right, EXPRESS MORE GOOD OR MORE EVIL BEING DONE ON THE WHOLE. For history, like “mankind” in Marxist thought, IS NOT A PERSON AND HAS NO LIFE OF ITS OWN…IT HAS NO MIND OF ITS OWN, NO PURPOSE, AND EVEN NO DIRECTION. Thought, purposeful action, and direction are initiated and undertaken only by persons” (Udo Middleman, “The Innocence of God,” pages 176-177).

Middleman’s quote emphasizes something: that history is flexible, no matter what. History is not some concrete wall that can’t be broken. What really hit me was when Middleman writes that history can “express more good or more evil being done on the whole.” I think the reason this phrase gripped me is because it reminds us that the events of history did not have to unfold as they did. There was no inherent amount of good and evil that came with history itself when time began. History, then, has not only been affected by God, but also humanity: “the direction [of history] is…INITIATED and UNDERTAKEN ONLY BY PERSONS.”

But if history is flexible, and can only be affected by humans on earth (and God), then why is it that God gets credit for everything that happens in history (including the horrible events such as the Holocaust)?
Calvinists use history to say that “God did it,” God willed things to happen and they just did. But God not only possesses sovereignty; He also GAVE man a form of derived sovereignty whereby man and woman would have dominion over the earth. Because man, then, has a share of sovereignty within himself (as an ordained possession by God), then why is it that we can take our power from God, MISUSE IT, and STILL blame God for it all?

In the debate on women in ministry, S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. portrays his “Calvinist” leanings (predeterminist) when he uses the “Historical Orthodox Argument” to show that the traditional interpretation of Galatians 3:28 is correct. In his chapter called “Role Distinctions in the Church (from Grudem and Piper’s “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”), Johnson writes:

"There is little need to multiply footnotes to document that this has been the view of historic orthodoxy to the present and, in fact, is still the majority view, although presently under vigorous attack. The very fact that its opponents call the view of historic orthodoxy “the traditional view” acknowledges its historical primacy.There arises at this point, however, a matter worthy of serious consideration: If the Christian church has held this view for centuries with Bible in hand, then we may presume that there exists some good reason for that fact. The Lord Jesus Christ promised the church the gift of the permanently indwelling Spirit to provide understanding of the Scriptures (cf. John 16:12-15; Psalm 36:9). We have reason to believe that His promise has been kept, and that the church has received that light in understanding the Word of God. Widespread agreement in such understanding by orthodox believers should not be abandoned without the most careful consideration of objections, both exegetical and theological.
To treat the church’s historical understanding of Scripture lightly is to forget that it is the believing body that, through the centuries, carries on the theological enterprise with the Word in hand and accompanied by the enlightening Spirit. Thus, the largest part of any theologian’s work comes from reverent consideration and response to the Christian theological tradition. The creeds of the church, the results of serious spiritual and theological strife, are more important than the views of individuals. We should begin our discussions with the assumption that the church is probably right, unless exegetical and theological study compel us otherwise. 'The proclamation of new discoveries,' Abraham Kuyper, the famed founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, wrote, “is not always a proof of devotion to the truth, it is sometimes a tribute to self-esteem.”

Did you notice the first statement in bold print above (in the excerpt)? The statement says that, since the church has had this view for centuries, and interpreted Scripture the way they did, “then we may presume that there exists some good reason for that fact.”

There very well may be reasons for the church’s interpretation; but that begs the question, “What?” What are the reasons for the church’s interpretation down through the centuries? You, as am I, are curious to find out what the church fathers must have thought about women and their place in the church. This statement is vague—it basically tells us to agree with the church BECAUSE OF ITS HISTORY! Remember what I said above? History can be molded and shaped according to those who have a chance to impact it. Therefore, if history has shown that women are to be sidelined in the church, then does this AUTOMATICALLY demonstrate the INHERENT correctness of the complementarian position? Of course not! But complementarians will appeal to Calvinist methods in order to support their position.

Last but not least, the second bold quote tells us the technique of the complementarian camp: “ASSUME[assumption] THAT THE CHURCH IS PROBABLY RIGHT…” Now, I want to be fair. The end of this quote states that exegetical study and theological study are the two boulders of evidence that would change the church’s stance on the view of women. Nevertheless, why is there a need to ASSUME that the church is right? There are views the church has held for years that are wrong. For instance, in slavery times, the church actually “held the Bible in hand” and argued that blacks were supposed to be slaves…BECAUSE THE BIBLE SAID SO!

I think I’ve become so annoyed with the use of history to prove a point in an argument that I long for some other reasoning. History is full of good and bad. As Middleman tells us, history is subject to those in charge of changing its face. If this is true, then I think history—even that of the church—is less of a solid rock and more of sinking sand.

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