Saturday, April 02, 2016

Seminary PL3: How does God lead?

This is the third post in the Pastoral Leadership stretch of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The first two were:
1. Individuals and cultures have a tendency to "create God in their own image." So both in the way we read the Bible and in our theology of God, our natural tendency is to see God as we already think he should be, as we ourselves are or think we should be. As it were, we see what we want to see.

In fact, since God spoke to the authors of the Bible in their own languages and categories, the picture of God in the various books of the Bible may include elements of the cultures and contexts of the authors. This is why a "whole Bible" approach is so crucial. We need to see God in a truly "biblical" perspective and not just in the particularity of a single passage or biblical situation.

2. So just as there are individuals whose natural tendency is to be more autocratic or more laissez faire as a leader (see previous post), different people and traditions have a tendency to see God as more autocratic, democratic, or laissez faire. Similarly, different people and traditions have different formulas for the proper mix of human and divine will in life.

There are, as it were, four main perspectives:
  • High determinism on God's part, fatalism on human part
  • High determinism on God's part, but manifested through strong human action
  • Selective determinism on God's part, cooperation with God's will
  • Low determinism on God's part, high requirement of human action 
View 1
3. It is very popular right now to think that everything happens for reason, and Rick Warren encapsulated the force of this trend with a book that sold like wildfire: Purpose Driven Life. This perspective is high determinism, with a high sense of fatalism. So we try to live our lives as the Bible tells us too, but we will fail miserably (in this perspective).

Nevertheless, this perspective holds that everything happens for a reason. The most deterministic version would say that even when I sin or do something bad, God has caused me to do it for a reason. Others might limit this sentiment to when bad things happen to me that I have not in some way caused by my actions.

There can be a kind of fatalism with this view. "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go." So it doesn't really matter what I choose to do, because if God wants me to die, he'll find a way to do it. Maybe it will be on this plane I'm about to get on or maybe I'll die in a car accident on my way home if I decide not to get on the plane.

4. What is the view of God expressed here? Most Christians who express this view see God as having a loving purpose behind his autocratic or "sovereign" leadership. He is the boss and as boss decides everything that happens in the world. We just go along with it.

You might expect that this view of determinism might manifest itself in a very laissez faire style leadership among pastors who hold it. God can almost seem distant in this view. He is mysteriously making everything happen that happens, but we do not always know the purpose. We often do not see him personally but experience him impersonally in the events of the world.

However, this laissez faire mentality is probably more common among non-ministers than ministers. After all, churches hire ministers to do stuff, and a church probably isn't going to keep you long if you do nothing because you are waiting for God and not doing anything yourself. Indeed, even non-ministers go about their lives as if they have free will, reserving the "God controls everything" view for the unexpected.

5. We do find parts of the Bible that embody this sort of approach to life. When calamities come on Job, his natural response is that "The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Job of course does not know what is going on in the skies between God and the Adversary. He does not know that God did not originate the idea to afflict him.

Job himself thus reflects the human perspective of much of the Old Testament--God directly causes everything that happens. But the book of Job itself suggests a more complex picture, where God allows some things to happen that are not part of any specific plan on his part. As James 1:13 will later say, no one should attribute their temptation, let alone their sin, to God.

View 2
6. For many Christians, God is an autocrat, and they as ministers imitate the kind of leader they think he is. In the Calvinist tradition especially, which originated with John Calvin in the 1600s, we have often found this flavor of leadership. God is an autocrat, and we as his ministers should force the rest of the world to follow his will.

When John Calvin had the influence to mold the city of Geneva (in Switzerland today), he implemented what he saw to be biblical law on the people of the city. Similarly, Puritan New England expected civil law to mirror their understanding of biblical law. Today, there is a strong grass roots tendency among American fundamentalists to want to make American law mirror their understanding of the Bible on various issues. [1]

There is an implicit theological perspective at work here, one that sees God as autocratic, with us as his representative autocrats.

This perspective draws heavily on the relationship God had with Israel in the Old Testament, and it is no surprise that Jonathan Edwards saw the Puritan England of the 1700s as a kind of new Israel. Some parts of the Old Testament look at Israel before the monarchy as a kind of theocracy, a direct rule by God without a designated human leader. Some Calvinists see that type of arrangement as ideal for the world today as well.

However, the New Testament certainly has no view of this sort, since the notion of Christians having political control had no possibility whatsoever at that time. There is a sense both in the teaching of Jesus (Mark 12:17) and in the teaching of Paul (1 Cor. 5:12-13), 1 Peter (2:12-14), and elsewhere that the Roman Empire is part of the evil context in which the people of God are submerged as strangers and aliens (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 11:13; Phil. 3:20). The New Testament has no thought whatsoever of imposing Christian values on the world around them. Rather, God and Christ will do that by force in the eschaton.

View 3
7. The third position is one that looks for cooperation between God and human will and a "selective" determinism on God's part. [2] This is the dominant perspective held until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, and it continues to be the perspective of many Christians, especially in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.

Technically, Arminians believe that any "free will" we have in relation to God is God-empowered. That is to say, we cannot do good under our own power but only under God's power. That of course is all a matter of theology. In real life, we act as if we are free, while seeking God's direction.

The Quakers present one extreme form of seeking God's direction. Their approach has historically been, Do nothing until God speaks. Wait until the Spirit intervenes. The opposite extreme would say to move forward in action as if you are deciding everything--only stop if God steps in and redirects you. Act until God intervenes.

8. The most balanced position from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective is one that 1) regularly seeks the Lord's guidance and direction but 2) moves forward under the collective wisdom of the body of Christ and its leaders. So God does direct, but at some points he leaves room for human freedom. Sometimes he mysteriously works through our wills. Sometimes he steps in and redirects our wills. Sometimes he lets us decide.

This view requires us to take responsibility for our actions. This view requires us to grow up. To be sure, God has not left us as orphans. We have the Holy Spirit as our guide to walk with us and guide us (John 14:15-18, 26). God is working in us collectively, to lead us to will and to do his purpose (Phil. 2:12-13). God does not make us sin, nor does the Devil.

But God does not dictate everything that happens or everything we do. God may even allow the creation some freedom, to where not everything that happens is predictable. And God allows the consequences of sin to play out (Rom. 1:28). Not everything happens for a micro-reason.

God is not a micro-manager, no matter how much comfort that may give us. When Romans 8:28 speaks of everything working out for good, it is talking about the redemption of the creation as a whole. In the eschaton, everything will work out for good. Collectively, God's people are predestined for a collective destiny of salvation. Romans 8:28 was never a promise that a person's individual circumstances would always bring a greater good for you as an individual.

9. So are good leaders today. They are selectively directive, when it is really important. They empower other leaders and the people to do the work of the ministry as God leads them too. Sometimes they let others make choices that they do not believe are the best ones. They cooperate and work together with those under their charge.

This is the most balanced theological view of God, and it is the most effective leadership style as well.

View 4
10. Perhaps we should at least mention view 4, which from one point of view can become something like, "the Lord helps those who help themselves." This way of leading sees God as very laissez faire and may even approach Deism, where God created the world but is largely uninvolved with it right now.

By contrast, there are some like Thomas Oord who in an extreme form of Arminianism believe that God does not force anyone to do anything. He is very involved with the world, but only trying to convince the world to change. In Oord's view, God actually lacks the power to force anyone to do anything. His sense of ministerial leadership, accordingly, no doubt sees a minister as someone who passionately tries to influence others but who never uses an autocratic or authoritative style.

This is, however, neither an orthodox nor a biblical view of God.

Next week: Pastor as Leader 4: The mission, great and small

[1] The parallel between Geneva, Puritan New England, contemporary American civil religion, and the desire on the part of some Muslims to implement sharia law should be obvious. There is a tendency on the part of religious groups to want to make an entire culture conform to their religious understanding. It is exactly this impulse that the American Constitution protects the general populace against.

[2] It is possible to take this perspective "phenomenologically," meaning that it appears that human will is involved. Some Calvinists believe in "soft determinism," which is a sense that we perceive ourselves to act freely, even though our decisions are ultimately caused by God.

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