John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Who's Responsible?

MikeMenn left this comment to yesterday's post:

"Since it's God who gives the increase and all we do is water and tend garden, can't we say it's God's fault that folks aren't closer to wanting to follow Him? It seems like we're saying it's entirely up to us if someone's soul is saved or not."

Ah, this is an age-old argument that theologians have wrestled with countless times. Some (mostly hardline Calvinists) would say, "Yes, Mike, you are correct. It's all God, and we don't really have anything to do with it." Others (mostly hardline Arminians) would say, "God has left us this responsibility and waits for us to take the initiative before he moves."

They wouldn't exactly say it that way. They'd use more obscure language to confuse you, but that's the gist of what they'd say.

If anyone wants to read some good theological wrestling with this, there are four books I'd recommend:

God the Redeemer by Jack Cottrell -- Be warned! It's so huge and dense and the print is so small -- it's nearly impossible to read. But, as a reference work, it's a very valuable contribution to the conversation.

Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive-Mediate Theology of Salvation by C. Gordon Olsen -- Olsen's work is flawed in many respects, and it is also a very difficult read. But, again, he brings an important level of scholarly thought to the discussion. (As a funny aside, I was reading this book not too long ago -- just sitting in my living room on the sofa reading this book after dinner. My wife walked through the living room and asked, "What are you reading?" I rattled off the title, and she looked at me with this puzzled look and asked, "What's wrong with you?" I guess most people don't sit around reading books with titles like this, but I do. Perhaps something is wrong with me.)

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer -- this is probably my favorite if for no other reason than because Dr. Packer is committed to brevity.

Chosen But Free by Norman L. Geisler -- this is probably the most practical of the bunch. Deep without putting you in a coma. Readable without being cutesy.

Okay, my intention here is not to discuss the merits of any of these books. I commend them to you, but I don't want to lose our train of thought. Mike has asked a legitimate question: If God is supposed to give the increase, and there's no increase, can we blame God for our lack of increase?

Frost & Hirsch (remember them?) speak to this directly. After talking about how our primary calling as followers of Christ is to manifest his lifestyle in our time and place, they say this:

We are called to do more than simply act in the manner that Jesus acted. There is, in some mysterious way, a link between our very actions and the purposes of God in and through Jesus.... We Protestants have generally struggled to affirm our place in God's plan of redemption for fear of developing a salvation by works. In our efforts to ensure that God's sovereignty remains unsullied, we have tended to make a formula of "all of God" and "we are nothing." Not only is this highly questionable theologically, loaded as it is with dualistic self-hatred, but it has not necessarily brought God any glory. In actual fact, it might actually have served to diminish the sheer value of the investment he has made in human freedom and the preciousness of his image that he has placed in the human being.... We partner with God in the redemption of the world.... [I]n God's economy our actions do have an eternal impact. We do extend the kingdom of God in daily affairs and activities and actions done in the name of Jesus. We live in an unredeemed world. But out of each human life that is given over to God and committed to his creation, a seed of redemption falls into the world, and the harvest is God's!

So, here are my questions for today: If God is in control of everything, does that mean that Christians can just sit back and tend the people God sovereignly chooses to send to our church buildings? Or do we actually need to roll up our sleeves and get out in the world to bring people into God's kingdom? Does God need our help? Or can we blame him for our lack of evangelistic increase?