Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Predestination" Manipulation

           As I pointed out in the last post, I have noticed some “techniques” that predestination-believers use to manipulate people into agreeing with them, such as claiming that predestination is “just what the Bible says and so you have to accept it, even though we can't understand it.”  (I am sure that free-will-believers have similar techniques, too, but I am only looking at the other side right now.) 
            And I am sure that while some of the people do this on purpose, as a sort of “power play,” I am also sure that many are not doing it on purpose, that they are not trying to manipulate others as much as they just want to honor God by being true to what they think Scripture teaches. 
            So before I get into the specifics, I want to give the benefit-of-the-doubt to those who are really just trying to be true to Scripture and who are not intending to “bully” others into agreeing with them.  But I still think it’s important to point out some of the “manipulation techniques” that people use, so that we don’t get distracted and diverted by them.

“My View is God’s View.  And it’s what the Bible teaches.”
            Okay, so now . . . I know that there are a lot of scholars and theologians on both sides of the issue.  Theologians through the centuries haven’t been able to figure it out, so it would probably be irresponsible for any of us to be dogmatic about our position on this. 
            But I have heard people who act like, “If you disagree with my view on this, then you are disagreeing with the Bible and God.  Because it is soooo clear.” 
            No, we disagree with someone’s interpretation of what the Bible says about this.  And if centuries of theologians don’t agree on it, then it is not “so clear” and we can’t act like “God told me the answer and you’re wrong if you disagree with me.”
            Personally, I think “It’s just what the Bible says and you don't have to understand it, but you do have to accept it” and “Disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God” are sneaky, clever ways of shutting-up any opposition because no one wants to look like they are disagreeing with God or with the Bible.  It’s making it so that no one can disagree with your view because you are claiming that your view is God’s view. 
            But this is such a messy, confusing issue that I don’t think any of us can claim with smug certainty that “my view is God’s view.”  We all – pastors and Bible teachers included - need to be teachable and humble in our approach to this.  And there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with your pastor on this and then digging deeper into the Word yourself to really understand what Scripture says.

“The Bible doesn’t have a problem with it.”
            When someone questions the idea of predestination by bringing up God’s love and justness (as in “How can God pre-choose certain people to send to hell and then still be considered a loving, just God?”), those who believe in predestination might defend it like this:
         “Well, the Bible doesn’t have any tension or conflict with balancing predestination and God’s love/justness.  It presents these ideas in perfect harmony.  It’s only we Christians who struggle with it.” 
            Well, of course the Bible doesn’t have any internal conflict with what it teaches.  Of course, it holds everything it teaches in harmony. 
            But it’s not the Bible that I am struggling against and have tension with.  It’s someone else’s interpretation of what the Bible teaches that I struggle with and find tension in.  Because I don’t think it meshes with what the Bible really says. 

A Little Bait-and-Switch
            Another thing to watch out for is the “bait and switch” technique.  Of course, I don’t think the person is being deliberately manipulative (or maybe they are?), but I do think it is a clever (maybe unconscious) way to stop opposition. 
            This is when they present a truth and get you to agree to the truth . . . and then they attach that truth to their viewpoint, making you feel like since you now agreed with the truth, you have to also agree with their view. 
            I noticed this technique recently in the writings of a well-known theologian who believes in predestination.  He basically said something like “Our great Holy Father in heaven – the Creator of all - expects us to evangelize, right?  And we are supposed to be obedient, even when we don’t understand, right?  Therefore, we need to be obedient when it comes to evangelism, even if we don’t understand how evangelism affects things since God has already pre-decided people’s destinies.  But since God told us to evangelize, we need to do it without reservation.”
            He presents some truths that no one should disagree with: God is our Heavenly Father, He created all, He commands us to evangelize, and we need to be obedient to Him.  And once he gets you to feel appropriately humbled before God and to agree with these truths, then he slips “predestination” in there.  He adds his view of predestination to the clear biblical truths that you just agreed with, making you feel like you cannot now disagree with anything he says or else you will show yourself to be unhumble, argumentative, and like you are disagreeing with the clear biblical truths that he just brought up.     
            The problem here, though, is that you are not disagreeing with the truths but with what he is applying them to, the controversial unclear thing that he slipped in there. 
            Be aware of these kinds of manipulative techniques which will make you feel so unhumble that you will agree with “faulty logic” (which I think “predestination” is) just so you can’t be accused of disagreeing with clear, biblical truth.
            [In fact, many of these tactics seem to center on making you feel like if you disagree or question it, you are an unhumble Christian.  And who wants to be an unhumble Christian?]

“Other cultures don’t have problems with it and can humbly accept it as truth.”
            I have also heard things like this:  “People from other countries have no problem with ‘predestination.’  It’s only us entitled, power-hungry, self-sufficient, un-humble Americans who have trouble with it.”
            This makes it so that if you disagree with predestination, you are identifying yourself as “entitled, power-hungry, self-sufficient, and un-humble.”  And who wants to do that!?! 
            This is another “tactic” (most likely a tactic that the person is unaware they are using and that they have the best intentions about, truly trying to honor God) that only serves to shut up any opposition.  Because no one wants to identify themselves as one of those Americans.  Not when it makes you look like you just don’t get it and like you are too proud and self-centered to see it.

“Humble children can accept it.”
            Another tactic is claiming that predestination is a view that even children can understand and humbly accept, but it’s only us proud, self-righteous adults who have trouble with it.  And that when God calls us to be “humble like a child,” He means that we simply accept this teaching in faith, without questioning His ways because it’s what the Bible says is true. 
            This is a somewhat scary one because it is telling you to abandon all reason and research and deep understanding.  It’s telling you to just accept what you are being told or risk looking like a proud, self-righteous adult who isn’t “humble like a child” as the Bible calls us to be. 
            Well, here’s the thing:
            Children also believe in Santa Claus. 
            And why do they believe in Santa Claus? 
            Because trust-worthy adults have told them that he is real.  Children trust adults and will believe what we tell them, especially if we tell them that it’s what the Bible says is true.  So they have no problem accepting predestination if that is what a trusted adult tells them the Bible says.  [When I told my nine-year-old about predestination, he said, “Then why do we even have this life anyway?  Why not skip it all if God already knows where He is going to put us and there’s nothing we can do about it?”] 

But what if…?
            But what if it’s not what the Bible really says?  What if we are just using these tactics to make others fall in line, with no questions or opposition?
            I have even heard pastors let out a smug, scoffing snicker of condescension and derision when talking about those who believe in free-will, as if to say “Can you believe these fools!?!  Who could possible believe that?  They just don’t get it!”  And if they do this from the pulpit, who in the congregation will ever want to come forward as a believer in free-will?
            I think we need to be very alert to these kinds of tactics that are used to silence opposition and make others fall in line.  Christianity is not a “blind faith” where we are required to suspend all reason and research and just accept whatever someone else tells us.  (That is a “cult.”) 
            No!  Christianity is actually a very intelligent and reasonable faith with lots of history to back it up and evidence to prove its validity.  And we would be wise to dig deeply, to search for the evidence that backs it up, to exercise reason and intelligent thinking, and to come up with answers and views that hold up under scrutiny and attacks. 
            Being “humble like a child” does not mean that we cannot question or doubt our pastor’s view on unclear biblical issues. 
            No, being “humble like a child” means that we bring our questions and doubts to the One who can answer them.  It’s digging deep into Scripture so that we can grow in our understanding and mature in our faith and have real answers for real questions. 
            [But for the record, I don’t think the “humble like a child” verse (Matthew 18:2-4) has anything to do with the “predestination or free-will” debate, or any other unclear issue.  It actually has to do with finding salvation in Jesus.  Being “humble like a child” means that we set aside our self-sufficient, adult, “I can do it myself” ways and that we humbly bow before Him, admitting that we cannot save ourselves and that we need Him.  A child knows that they need someone bigger and stronger to take care of them.  A Christian knows that they need Someone bigger and stronger to take care of them.]

            If you notice these kinds of tactics – the kind that make you feel like an unhumble Christian for questioning your pastor (read: questioning God) and like you need to just be quiet and fall in line with what you are being told – do not be intimidated into silence and “submission.”  Just because someone else thinks this is what the Bible says doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what the Bible really says.  Just because they are loud and forceful and well-read doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an accurate view.  Research it for yourself.  Dig deeply.  It’s how you will grow in wisdom and understanding and faith. 
            I am not trying to criticize those who genuinely feel they are trying to honor God because they really believe that the Bible teaches predestination and that they need to help others “see the light.” 
            What I am trying to do here is to help those who are confused and who are being made to feel bad about themselves, about their faith, and about their “Christian-ness” because they questioned or disagreed with things they were being taught.  And they feel like they are being manipulated into agreeing with something they don’t think is true, but they can’t quite put their finger on why they feel manipulated.
            So I wanted to share some ways that I think we try to stop opposing views and to put the pressure on others to see things our way.  This way, you can notice it when it happens and evaluate it, instead of just being made to feel like you are a bad, unhumble Christian for not agreeing. 
            [And for those who are deliberately trying to block any opposition and to manipulate others into agreeing with you . . . What are you afraid of?  If your view is biblical, it will hold up under scrutiny and opposition.  So in a way, you should welcome it.  Because it will only strengthen and support your position . . . if it really fits with what the Bible teaches.]

            I don’t mind when we hold different views on controversial, debatable subjects or when we try to explain to others why we think our view is right. 
            What I mind is when someone gets really heavy-handed about a controversial, unclear subject, acting like their view is “What the Bible says” and trying to strong-arm you into agreeing with them, through mocking or intimidation or implying that you are less humble, less godly, or less intelligent.  This is what gets me angry.  And this is what I am countering here.  (And if it’s coming from the pulpit, it makes you want to stop inviting new people to church.) 
            All that being said, everything I say in these posts is my opinion, what I think the Bible teaches.  But I could be wrong.  And many godly, intelligent theologians would whole-heartedly disagree with my view.  And yet, many would agree.  This is why we can’t be dogmatic about this, even if we’ve settled the matter in our own minds.  Research it for yourself to see what you think.    

            But never let anyone make you feel like you are less of a Christian or less intelligent or more blinded because you disagree with predestination.  Don’t let anyone convince you that the only possible responses to predestination are to “get angry about it, to avoid it, or to accept it.”  (Another tactic.) 
            While there are teachings where this is true, I don’t think it’s true about this one.  I think there is another option:  Disagree with it because you don’t think it’s what the Bible really teaches and find biblical support to back you up. 
            Don’t be bullied into silence or into “just accept it and don’t disagree,” setting aside reason and research.  Dig deeper.  Pray for insight.  Be willing to see what the Bible really says instead of just holding to preconceived ideas or to what someone else tells you to believe.  There is more than enough in Scripture to support the idea of free-will, to show that it is a reasonable, intelligent, godly view that fits with Scripture and with God’s character.    

                                                            - Heather K (Joshua 24:15, Psalm 46:10)  

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