Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Throwing Unconditional Election Under The Bus

A few years ago I stumbled upon a YouTube vid featuring Mark Driscoll, who offered an interesting personal story as a means of illustrating--and apparently justifying--the doctrine of unconditional election. As an interesting side note, were it not for public relations considerations, we could just as easily call this doctrine "unconditional damnation" because just as there are no conditions under which God's elect could escape Heaven, there are also no conditions under which God's non-elect could escape Hell. That is, according to the doctrine (whatever you choose to call it) God has unconditionally chosen some for Heaven and unconditionally chosen some for Hell… and there's absolutely nothing that the individuals within each group can do about it.

Back to Driscoll's illustration. He tells the story of when his family lived along a very busy street in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace. As the story goes, Mark was about to put his 3-year-old daughter in the car when, in a moment when her dad was distracted, she managed to break away, running toward traffic on Mountlake Boulevard. Mark describes that she had been warned repeatedly about the danger of the nearby street, but that his daughter freely chose to disobey his warnings and ran toward the street anyway. He then describes how he chased after her, shouting for her to stop, but she continued on and at the very last moment, just as a large truck was about to intercept her, Mark, a loving father, grabbed his little girl by the back of her coat and yanked her away, saving her from catastrophe. Mark sums up the story with this:

"That is election. When the Father, in love, pursues foolish, obstinate, disobedient children who have chosen death, and He decrees that, more important than their will is His love. And anyone who is here and who is a Christian should thank God that not only did He call out to them, but He pursued them. And then, in Jesus Christ, He extended a hand and He grabbed them, and He yanked them unto Himself. And anyone else who would run from God has no right to declare Him unjust. They're morally responsible for their own rebellion."

Now this is a very interesting story, and I think it can serve as a good illustration. But I don't think it accomplishes what Driscoll expects it to accomplish, and in part this is because of what Mark has chosen to leave out of the illustration. Namely, the fact that while God grabs some people and yanks them away from traffic, He chooses not to grab others. He lets them get squashed.

Now there's no escaping one fact here: Those who are let go do, in fact, get what they deserve. There's no dispute on that point. But we can use Driscoll's illustration to demonstrate something very important about the scenario that Driscoll presents by conducting a little thought experiment. And we'll use Driscoll himself as the loving father, and we'll suppose that he lives along this same busy street, but that he has five children. To make Driscoll a better stand-in for God, let's suppose that he is omnipotent. He is all-powerful in the illustration.

Now suppose that all five of Driscoll's kids run out toward traffic. Of course, it's likely that an ordinary father--one who lacks omnipotence--would be physically unable to apprehend every one of five children in time. But we're not talking about an ordinary father here. We're talking about a father who isn't constrained by physics. The omnipotent Driscoll can save all five just as easily as he can save one. But he doesn't save all five. He only grabs two and he allows the other three to get run over.

Let that sink in. He lets the other three go in spite of the fact that He is perfectly capable of saving every one of them.

Here's a question: In such a scenario, where a father had the ability and opportunity to save all five of his children from certain death, but only rescued two, would that father be charged with a crime? Would society view this father as "just?" Should society view this father as "just?"

I don't think that society would view this father as "just" at all, nor do I think they should. In a situation like this, the death of any children may well be the result of their collective decision to run out into the street… or participate in whatever dangerous activity the father might save them from. But when someone comes upon the scene who has the capability to save all five children and chooses not to save 3 of them, it's hard to imagine that such a person wouldn't be brought up on charges. And it's easy to see why: This fictitious father had the moral authority, the physical ability and the opportunity to save all of his children but only two of them were saved. Given this set of circumstances, there's only one way to account for why the father didn't save the three children: He didn't want to save them.

Someone might reply that this projects a "human" concept of justice onto God, and that we don't have the right to dictate to God what's just and what's unjust. Okay…  then shouldn't we emulate God's standards of justice? Isn't that what laws against murder and adultery and theft are all about? Reading through the ten commandments, it's pretty clear that all but one are an expression of God's perfect justice. Why should you not steal? Because it's unjust to get for free what someone else worked hard to create. Why should you not murder? Because it's unjust to end someone else's life without proper justification. Why should you not commit adultery? Because it's unjust to violate the promises you made to someone and betray their trust.

The scenario that Mark Driscoll describes presents God as unjust and capricious. When God tells us that He is perfectly just, He assumes we know what justice is. If we can't understand what "justice" is, then God telling us that He is "just" informs us of precisely nothing. God's attributes are important, and one reason they're important is because they serve to govern our understanding of certain aspects of His plan for mankind. Knowledge of His attributes acts kind of like the training rails that pop up on either side of the lane at a bowling alley, often used by very young children, that keep the ball from slipping into the gutter. When our conclusions are inconsistent with what we know of God's character, this is supposed to cause us to regroup and reassess our understanding. Man is made in God's image. We know instinctively what is and is not "just" because not only has He told us in His word, but He's written it in our hearts.

Honestly, I'm horrified that pastors like Mark Driscoll are teaching congregations that this is who God is. And what application do these questions have for Christian apologetics? How can we defend such a view of God? How can we tell people that the God who Mark Driscoll describes should somehow be regarded as "just?" Should we try to hide this reality from them until after they've trusted in Christ? I don't think so.

1 comment:

  1. Great points, Pete. Oh, & there's the stinging irony of it all-- Driscoll's reputation for calling out false teachings & such. All the flavor of human zeal & half the calories!