So, about a week late, I'm finally getting around to blogging my first Beta class. Alpha, which I took a year and a half ago, dealt with basic Christian dogma (who is God, who is Jesus, etc.). Beta basically assumes you've accepted the premises of Alpha, so it delves into the business of living a Christian life.
The priest began with an overview of the two kingdoms (the world and heaven)
their differences and how they coexist. One thing that struck me was how much importance he placed on identity as the key to Christian praxis. In the world, he said, you are what you do; you try to "make something of yourself" through your actions. In heaven, you recognize who you are -- a child of God -- and act accordingly.
He backed this up with something I had noticed myself, which is how Paul, whenever he's admonishing his errant brethren, always starts out by reminding them who they are. It was also interesting how he interwove this with sola gratia, which he was very insistent upon (I guess that's where the Reformed theology comes in).
"There is nothing -- nothing -- not ONE THING you can do to make God stop loving you," he said. "Doesn't that give you goosebumps?"
He went on to explain that, although that sounds like license to do anything, he believes that if you realize who you truly are your behavior will follow.
"For instance, why don't I go to strip clubs?" he said. "Is it because it's against the rules? Is it because it degrades women? No. It's because I don't want to. I'm not that kind of a person. Of course, I'm not that way about everything. But that's because I don't always remember that I'm a child of God."
I've been thinking of this again after seeing the argument at the Boar's Head Tavern about whether salvation is supposed to make you a better person. (See here, here, here ... just keep scrolling up.) Especially striking in contrast is the iMonk's claim that "Regeneration showed me how rotten I am, and I have progressively gotten worse. I am more aware of my depravity year by year. I have committed sins as a Christian I never would have dreamed of as a lost person. In fact, every sin I now commit is against all I know of the Gospel, making me, without a doubt, the chief of sinners." The iMonk, also coming from a Reformed background, seems to take an ultra-sola fide approach: God's grace gives you the faith that you're saved despite your miserable condition, and that's about it.
There's a non-Christian ghost haunting this difference: humanism. Lots of liberal churches have absorbed the Rousseauish idea that people are essentially good and will be innately benevolent if restored to their natural state. A lot of conservative Christians have reacted against this, emphasizing human fallenness and depravity. And both of these views, I think, are supported by the Bible. The story of the original good creation that went astray is there. The sayings about how all fall short in the sight of God are there. And the idea that bad behavior comes from forgetting your true self is there (not just in Paul, but also in James, that bane of sola fide advocates). In fact, most of my table's discussion at this class was about reconciling what the priest said with fallenness.
I think the main difference between the humanist view and the Christian view of human goodness is the method for finding that lost self. As I mentioned here, the modern humanist approach has generally been to see society as the harmful influence on a person, and so the goal is to remove as much as possible the influence of other people. Christianity has generally admitted to the sinfulness of society, but placed the emphasis on reforming social relations themselves, right down to the level of family. The sort of individual empowerment that humanists prescribe is hubris. (Yoder writes about this in Chapter 7 of TPOJ, which I will blog presently.) Also -- this is where I agree with iMonk -- the redemption cannot reach its perfection here on earth, so to some extent we're all living in both kingdoms until Judgment Day.
I can't tell, as of yet, how much of All Saints' teaching is going to respect this difference and how much it's going to be straight-up humanism. Although my table talked about fallenness, the priest didn't. However, it's just the beginning.