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Welcome to the Front Page, the digital cover of the Wayne Press.  Here we will share with you things that can't be captured in our newsletter--videos, music, color photographs--as well as articles that reflect on faith and life.  

 

God, the Provider (Confirmation for the Rest of Us)

Today, we post the first half of Dr. Martha Moore-Keish’s introduction to the doctrine of providence.  In it, she traverses the history of the doctrine from the reformed perspective, starting with the story of Joseph, through scripture, with stops at Augustine and Calvin.   

Many presbyterians confuse providence and predestination (what she’ll take up in her next lecture in election--episode 5).  Providence, in brief, is how God ‘sees to’ the care of creation.  Predestination, however, is how God sees to salvation. 

This first lecture ends in a somewhat troubling place for many modern Christians, struggling with Calvin’s  view of providence, a view that seems to allow little space for human agency (indeed, the reformed faith doesn’t really buy into free will).  Many modern Christians, especially American ones, who have always known a life of self-determination sense their own agency as a default position.  Of course, we make choices, they say.  All sorts of choices.  Every day.  How could we describe a life where that will is absent?  The classical answer says that the will is actually in bondage to sin.  Grace brings us freedom, but as Barth said, “it would be a strange freedom that would leave man neutral, able equally to choose, decide, and act rightly or wrongly" (The Humanity of God, p. 76).  That is, we’re either a slave to sin or a slave to grace.  Our will is constrained, rather than free.  It does not mean we lack a will--just that we can’t exercise it as freely as we think we do.  For Calvin, this leads him to a place of profound trust that whatever happens in the world happens under God’s providing eye.   Calvin does recognize second causes, our ability to act, but it’s within the larger movement of God’s work in the world.  For Calvin, God’s movement in the world is always first and profoundly more important to ours.  

More modern theologians recognize the limits to this type of thinking, or at least the drawbacks that make God look cruel on occasion.  “Did God really cause the house to collapse so that...” they ask?  Dr. Moore-Keish will examine these questions in part 2, available next Monday on this blog or at www.waynepres.org/confirmation right now (episode 4.1).  

--Casey

Posted by Casey Thompson at 7:30 AM
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