Wednesday, April 13, 2005

an encouraging thought

I think it is an encouraging thought that Christ chose us. This, perhaps, is the healthy way of thinking about election. The point is, our Lord chose you. You did not choose Jesus, but he chose you. That's a consolation to me. What love. He chose me and you.


j-tron said...

That is a very comforting thought, especially since it forces me to surrender my own prideful aspiration to be the one who saves myself (something which will never work). But the reason I have trouble wrapping my mind around election is because of the people who aren't chosen. Jesus chose me. Great. But why didn't he choose my aunt sally or my athiest friend bob? Does Jesus not care as much about them? The answer has to be no. But then what do you do with election? A lot of contemporary theologians move to a kind of quasi-universalism with it. Jesus chooses everyone. We all accept in the end. But that has dramatic repercussions for our freedom. And it also begs the bigger question, what's the point?

father wb said...

Well, my own view (for what its worth) is that perhaps everyone is chosen, but some hearts are harder than others. And as for the unbaptized, maybe they are like the unconfirmed, only more so (so to speak). Maybe its just a matter of more time in Purgatory. Still, that priveleges the intellect in a way that I don't find altogether comfortable.

I am rather uncomfortable saying that all the unbaptized are going to Hell. That just doesn't seem right. However, there are two propositions I believe to be true:

(1) There is no salvation apart from the Church.
(2) Its a very bad thing never to have been baptized (and rather less bad, but still bad, never to have been confirmed).

So, I think those are true statements. And I hope they are compatible with the unbatized being admitted to the Kingdom. I can't see how, given that Baptism means incorporation into the Church, but I hope its all compatible never the less.

In a way its not really a fruitful line of inquiry. We are supposed to be out in the world, bringing people into the Church, so that they may have recourse to the comforting version of election as I have tried to formulate it, really in an effort to be more fully Anglican. One must at least pay lip service to the English Reformers.

Thorpus said...

As far as election goes, I think our great task as Christian teachers is to undo our culture's brainwashing about everybody being saved; in short, to oppose universalism. Most of our parishioners are universalists --especially the ones who only do theology and don't read scripture -- and most of them came by it unconsciously. It sounds nice to say that my athiest Aunt will come 'round eventually.

I say this as someone who embraced universalism coming out of undergraduate school, especially after reading George MacDonald's novel "Lilith". He makes a strong argument (through his fiction) that God knows all the 'back doors' to our souls and is able to negotiate them in such a way that even the person most hardened against Him can be made to come 'round in time. Even the Satan character comes 'round in MacDonald's book. This is very attractive to me and maintains the sovereignty of God over our little, created wills.

BUT it doesn't square with scripture. I wish it did, trully, I do, because I have friends and family who are going to hell if it's not. But the more scripture I have read the less convinced about universalism I have become. Lake of fire is lake of fire: it's just there, immovable, a theological Stonewall Jackson that stubbornly won't go away. The message of the Gospel depends, universally, upon pistis, faith, simple belief (if you're reading the gospel of John this Easter in the lectionary, this is his point: "These things are written so that you might believe.") The danger of universalism is that it removes pistis from the equation, and that is a move we as Christians are not allowed to make. Pistis matters; pistis is a choice; Apistis has dire consequences in this world and the next, and the scripture gives us no other forum for the development of pistis than our lives in this earth. "... it is appointed for man once to die, and then face the judgement." (sorry, WB, that rules out purgatory) Our apistic loved ones are, to use John's phrase, "slow of heart to believe." They are either fence-sitting toward the Gospel or have chosen unbelief, and the scripture is clear about the ultimate end of both those states.

Back to election: once we have broken up the brainwashed weeniness of a culturally inherited universalism, and we are willing to accept the idea that some people will indeed be going to hell by their own choice (May we be found worthy of life!), election makes a whole lot more sense. Those passages from Romans make a whole lot more sense. Many are called, but few are chosen. Yet not all are called: some are made to be vessels of wrath. This gives a two-part soteriological anthropology, if you will: 1. the vessels of wrath; 2. the called; from among the called we see two sub-categories: the called who don't make it and the called who do, and by virtue of their pistis are chosen to go in to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Election is the calling that separates us from the vessels of wrath; those who are called must maintain their pistis, and they will be chosen.

My two cents.

j-tron said...


I'm surprised to read such a response from an Anglo-Catholic, although I do applaud your use of the term "weeniness" in a theological conversation.

Which scriptural image of hell are you going with? Because they vary dramatically. I'm starting to become partial to Rahner's concept of a necessary space containing no one. But I can't full buy into it because ultimately I'm not a universalist for the same reason that I don't buy predestination. I believe that either are too damaging to freedom to be redeemable in the fullness of the gospel.

I'm particularly struck by your image of those created solely for the sake of experiencing God's wrath. How does that square with God's enduring love for us? Does God love that which he creates to torture? Can He?

Of course, one could say that such questions put judgment of right and wrong into our hands. We cannot judge God's goodness since all goodness is determined by God in the first place. Our judgment of God for anything would be patently ridiculous. Nevertheless, I feel like the witness of scripture to God's overwhelming love for us, moreover its insistence that we all are reconciled in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22 and 1 Timothy 4:10 come to mind) makes it difficult to conceive of God as one who would create "vessels of wrath."

What concerns me more, though, is the location of salvation in our choice to either say yes or no to the gospel, at least as a simple choice that can be processed cerebrally within this lifetime. I agree that purgatory has some problems being squared with scripture, which is why I've been lax to accept it. But I must confess that I find difficulty arriving at an alternative explanation for how we may come to be more fully sanctified. If it is all rooted in a simple, intellectually bound choice that we make in our lifetime, how then can we imagine or understand what happens to those who do not have the capacity to make such a choice? What about the mentally ill? Or the person in a coma? Or the aborted child? Do all of these suffer punishment?

Above all, I think we have to maintain the objectivity of the sacraments, of the existence of the Church, of the saving power of God through Christ regardless of our stubborness. I don't think that has to lead to a kind of milktoast universalism. Nor do I think Christ's place as judge should ever be brought into question. But I am skeptical of any soteriology that doesn't bring God's unwavering love for us, despite our sinfulness, front and center.

Random tangential question: What do you think of annihi... annhilat.. er.. you know, the thing where all the bad people go poof?