Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Boastings of a Straight-Faced Presbyterian, Part Two

I’ll now continue my response to Called to Communion blogger Tim Troutman, who exhibited in the comments of this post great suspicion about whether anyone would dare, with a straight face, blog about the glories of Presbyterianism. This post will be an attempt to do just that. So hold on to your seats, folks, because I will now, with face quite straight, proceed to talk about how awesome Presbyterianism is.

For this second of two installments, I will focus on the issue of the grace of God in the salvation of sinners.

Now I realize that my friends from Tim’s tradition will insist that God brings just as much glory to himself by helping sinners save themselves as he does by just going ahead and saving them, but I don’t buy it. If, as Calvinists insist, man is spiritually enslaved to sin and to the devil and therefore unable to rectify his plight, then it would follow that it is God who must do the rectifying. If man is “dead in trespasses and sins” and “darkened in his understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in him, due to his hardness of heart, being past feeling and given over to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 2:1; 4:18-19), then what other conclusion can we reach other than that man is hopelessly hopeless without God’s sovereign intervention?

To put this another way, regeneration must precede faith. In the same way that in physical biology a baby must be conceived in the womb before it can turn around and act like a baby, so must the sinner’s heart be implanted with the seed of divine life before he can start acting like a saint (I Pet. 1:3, 23). Just as the doctrine of original sin teaches us that we sin because we are sinners and not the other way around, so the doctrine of the new birth demonstrates that we must be made new before we can act new.

So in the same way that a doctor would get a much less significant pay raise for convincing his patients to take their medicine than he would for resurrecting them from the dead after they ignore his advice, so the glory that God receives for man’s salvation is directly tied to how serious our malady was before he stepped in. At the end of the day, if God did no more for me than he did for my neighbor who (for the sake of argument) ends up in hell, then what accounts for my being a sheep and him a goat? Well, if all God did for me was beckon and woo, with the deciding vote being cast by yours truly, then there’s really no way around it: I saved myself. Now, the fact that God graciously made me a co-savior with Jesus doesn’t solve the problem of God’s diminished glory-getting—all it does is allow me to pray with the Pharisee, “God I thank you that I am not like other men.”

So there you have it: Presbyterianism is exceedingly praiseworthy because, in the case of the salvation of sinners, it sees man’s plight as more dire, and God’s power more divine, than just about any other tradition out there.