Friday, September 4, 2009

"Response-Able" Creatures

“We must begin with a definition: responsibility is simply a synonym for ‘ANSWERABILITY,’ and means that we are answerable to God as the judge of our actions. That is, if God calls any of our actions into question, WE ARE MORALLY OBLIGATED TO RESPOND TO HIM. WE ARE ‘RESPONSE-ABLE’ TO GOD. While the Bible does not use the abstract term ‘responsibility’ itself, the fact of our eventually being called into judgment is frequently found throughout Scripture” (R.K. McGregor Wright, “No Place For Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, page 56).

R.K. McGregor Wright, in his book, spends a significant amount of time pointing out that the term “free will” is, in and of itself, a philosophical term based on assumptions of Greek philosophy instead of the Bible. He has argued that if believers are gonna discuss the will, or choice factor, then they need to start with the Bible. I couldn’t agree more.

But here, in his section titled “Biblical Responsibility,” he lays out a definition of what responsibility is (given in the above quote) and then proceeds to give a few reasons why we are accountable to God for our actions.

What I like about the above quote is that he actually invests time in a discussion on responsibility. In many of the books I’ve read, written by Calvinist authors, very few devote little (if any) time to what responsibility is. Here, though, Wright is to be applauded for his section. I was simply amazed that such an answer for responsibility could be written by someone who spends most of his book attacking the Arminian assumption of free will and labeling them as “autonomists”!

He writes, “we are ‘RESPONSE-ABLE’ to God.” But now, Wright has placed himself into a dilemma. If we are “response-able” creatures, ABLE TO RESPOND to God, then how can total depravity be defined as the Calvinist defines it—that man can in no way respond to God whatsoever? The Calvinist makes it clear that the only way a person can respond to God’s call is for the Lord to effectively bring a person to faith; but, if that’s true, then why does God require responsibility for EVERY PERSON? Why not just the people He will “choose” to save? Once again, Calvinists place themselves in a dilemma when they argue responsibility.

Next, Wright says that, “while the Bible does not use the abstract term ‘responsibility’ itself, the fact of our eventually being called into judgment is FREQUENTLY FOUND THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURE.”

I find this fascinating. So many Calvinists, including Wright, spend a majority of their time discussing the sovereignty of God; but here, we see God’s sovereignty beautifully displayed—in the judgment of the actions of His creatures. I’ve spent some time reading some of D.A. Carson’s work on “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension,” and he argues that the concepts of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are somewhat in conflict with each other—but this poses a problem for Carson and other Calvinists. Why is there a problem with their assessment? Because the judgment itself serves as an event that balances both theological concepts beautifully: God, in His sovereignty, will require man to give an account of his deeds, and man, in his responsibility, will have to answer for every action that he has done. Let’s read Paul’s words regarding this event:

“Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad. Knowing, then, the FEAR OF THE LORD, we persuade people” (2 Corinthians 5:9-11a, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

First, Paul says that our goal should be “to be pleasing to Him,” to please the Lord, to do what God desires most. And the reason why we should make it our goal to do what God desires is that “WE MUST ALL APPEAR BEFORE THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST.” In other words, EVERY PERSON, whether saved or unsaved, Christian or heathen, must all stand before God to be judged for their deeds. I’ve read where some theologians believe that the judgment seat of Christ is just for unbelievers, or that the believer will appear before God, but his actions will not be examined, for they have all been wiped away by the cross. But the problem with this is that Peter tells us that judgment will not be a comfortable place for those who call themselves “Christians,” but a scary one indeed:

“If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name. FOR THE TIME HAS COME FOR JUDGMENT TO BEGIN WITH GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?
‘And IF THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED WITH DIFFICULTY, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” (1 Peter 4:14-18, HCSB)

As we can see, judgment will start with those who are believers, children of God. But notice that Peter’s quote in verse 18 comes from Proverbs 11:31.
I looked up Proverbs 11:31 in the Old Testament, and this is what I found:

“If the righteous will be repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and sinful.”

The saying from Proverbs 11 discusses the reward and punishment of the godly and wicked on earth; however, in the context of 1 Peter 4, we find that Peter is referring to eternal judgment—for he has just finished stating that “judgment will begin with God’s household.” Peter uses this verse, therefore, in the context of eternal judgment, of eternal reward and eternal punishment. Notice, too, that Peter refers to the “ungodly and the sinner,” which tells us that, while it seems plausible that both labels can refer to the same group, it doesn’t have to—the “sinner” can be someone who refuses to yield to God’s work in their life (Hebrews 12:5-9).

In 1 Peter 4, we see that even “the righteous” will be “saved with difficulty.” The word for “difficulty” here is “molis,” which can also mean “scarcely” and “rarely.” This shows us that there is a possibility that many who call themselves “righteous” may not reap eternal life in the end at the judgment. Since the righteous will be “scarcely” saved, it doesn’t seem to say from the text that God will “persevere” every believer such that they will all reap eternal life in the end. But this is where the Calvinist attempts to cover his tracks by pointing out that believers need to persevere (as Thomas Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday do in their book, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance”); but if perseverance is a MANDATE for believers, and they fail to do so, they will not be saved in the end, no matter how much they named the name of Christ while on earth.

We cannot be “response-able” if the Lord is gonna make every decision for us.In that case we would just stand at the judgment and simply insist that He made choices for us against our will. I believe that this is what Paul was hinting at Romans 9 when he stated that election was “not from works but from THE ONE WHO CALLS” (Rom. 9:12, HCSB). We are only able to respond (“response-able”) because GOD CALLS US! But His call does not FORCE US to respond favorably to Him. In fact, there are many people who will go to Hell—a place that was never created for human beings (Matthew 25:41).

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