Wednesday, September 23, 2009

American Calvinism

I've recently discovered a blog that I find myself wanting to read everyday. Some blogs I check every now and then. Only a few have become daily habits. This one,, is led by the NT scholar Scot McKnight, a man I haven't met but whose work I have admired for some time. What makes the Jesus Creed blog so attractive to me isn't just the posts that McKnight makes now and then on a variety of subjects (he obviously is a very well-read man), but he has guest posters just about every day who offer their struggles with our Christian faith within the context of their expertise. One such poster goes by the initials RJS. And, I have found his/her insights (a scientific mind and a strong heart for our faith) to be very helpful and provocative.

A recent post discussing the biological determinism often associated with human behavior and the question of our culpability with regard to sin broke some new ground for me, especially in reference to our proclivity within American culture to assign all things to an inevitable future (even though we supposedly prize human free will). In the post, RJS asks something to the effect: to what extent are our brains wired for certain sins and what does that say about God's judgment? And, to what extent can science help us take more responsibility for overcoming our sins?

The comments by readers (many of them it seems from the scientific community) seemed to engage the debate regarding the common tautology: which came first, genetic wiring or imprinting by experience? Then, different answers were given for how to overcome this or that behavior. As I read their comments, all I could think about was: what about the Holy Spirit? For most of the posters, sin is nothing more than deviant human behavior. I kept hearing Paul shouting: sin is also a power outside of human will.

I think that is a scary idea to most Americans, for how do we oppose a power greater than human will power?


JD said...

i think that regardless of the source of sin (determinate, evil, or whatever) Jesus calls us to a higher place of morality, one that supercedes the law, our fallen nature, our culture, our upbringing, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc...

no matter what 'makes' us do the things we do, through the cross and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do the things Jesus told us to do. these things are often, if not always, contrary to any "determined" lifestyle, whether biological, philosophical, or theological.

L said...

Dr. Reeves,

I've sincerely missed your honest and provoking thoughts like these since leaving SBU. Such concepts I've pondered since graduating. Even something as simple as the expectation on me to pursue the American dream now that I have a degree. When I was at school it was so easy for me to say, 'nah, I'll never fall into that trap', but I've found it so difficult when the world around me is trying its hardest to conform me to such a pursuit; even the godly, Christian people around me seem to think its a good idea. Maybe its not a 'sin' per-say, but then again I am convinced my life is not about what this world says to me it is. Its the constant tension I cannot break free from, and I'm wondering if I must remain in it until Christ returns and repairs.
One thing is for sure: this world is scary outside of SBU :)

Thanks, Dr. Reeves.

-Lauren Cawein

Stephen said...

There is no power greater than that of the human will. For it is here that we find our freedom, life, liberty, and the ability to pursue our happiness. As Americans, we absolutely must do as we will to do - there is no other choice for us.

The irony here is that the very freedom we Americans hold so dear keeps us in the bondage we are so desperately trying to shake.

It seems we are slaves to freedom. Infatuated with it to the point where any power we cannot combat (or at least harness a bit) must either not exist or simply have been exaggerated. Its like some sort of recurring cognitive dissonant nightmare for us.

to re-doing freedom,


Matt Easter said...

Thanks for the provoking questions. Perhaps if we adopt the Augustinian/Lutheran/Barthian language of incurvatus in se, where we are curved in on ourselves and thereby enslaved by our own selfish desires, then even our human willpower is fallen. Perhaps my willpower is even in subversive cooperation with the power of Sin, so that willpower itself must be opposed.

But, having said that, I'm not positive about how well incurvatus in se fits with Romans 7 - there's another chicken-and-egg question for us, I suppose: how I understand Sin and human freedom probably affects my reading of Romans 7, and my reading of Romans 7 affects my understanding of Sin and human freedom.

If, however, we adopt in general terms such a radically pessimistic anthropology, then we are left with no other response to Sin than the gracious empowering of the Spirit, who can overcome both the power of Sin and my cooperating desire.

Thank you again for your blog. Even though I do not comment often, I love reading what you put out.

Rodney Reeves said...

Thanks, all, for your comments.

It's especially good to hear from old friends (shout out to all four: JD, Lauren, Stephen, and Matt!). I miss your smiling faces.

Darryl Schafer said...

You've been saying quite a bit about the Spirit lately, both on and off this page. Just an observation.