A Call (to Action ?!)

If I understand good theology correctly, a “confession of faith” is an acknowledgement that our being has been taken over by the power of Christ’s call to follow him. This acknowledgement is an identification of a conviction that says “I am convinced by and trust the saving-power of Christ.”

The philosophers say that you don’t choose philosophy, philosophy chooses you. In the same way, I suppose, you do not choose Christ, he chooses you. The attraction and conviction of its truthfulness towards Christ is not something that you wake up and decide to be convinced that this is something that must be done, whereas you can just wake up and decide to have cornflakes instead of corn pops, or ride your bike to work instead of drive your car. The outcome of both scenarios is easily predictable. However, one does wake up and decide that they need to quit their job and start a new life. This feeling of conviction in relation to this last situation is comparable to conversion in that there are many unkowns and details that need to be worked through. In order to make it through these smaller obstacles (often appearing as mountains), one must be loyal to the original decision to move. One must not fall into despair by the first few failures that arise, otherwise the original vision (decision) will be chipped to pieces and nothing will be left.

Now, this is no small task. I have often said that it is through failure that we become who we are. When we experience failure, we are finally given the chance evaluate our position. Should we turn back? Should we change course?

Now, analogies are often dangerous things. But I think this one works. I have heard that Christianity gives one a compass, not a map, which is able to point one in the right direction. We can get the sense that we are going off track. As we see various signs, we can be sure of it. And, the opposite is true, we can see signs that we are going in the right direction and we become hopeful and excited. “Keep going!” is not hard to do with so much hope and good fortune. Great peril and distress makes the impetus to “Keep going!” much more difficult.

I name the “details” in the Christian life to be difficulties of one’s time. For St. Paul, it was how to reconcile the Christ with Jews and Gentiles, or the eating of food served to idols, or women’s head coverings, etc. In our time, it would be things like identity politics, homosexuality, gender roles, etc.

“Keep going!”

Here’s where it gets difficult for me. Once we are called, we must act. We must “take up our cross” and get our hands dirty. We must put a great deal of effort into working through these difficulties. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” — From the New International Version. The English standard translation: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The first translation gives a hell of a lot of agency to the subject: “whoever wants.” The second, not as much. In both cases, we must deny ourselves, and this seems to be entirely our choice.

If it is our choice to be converted/called, then God doesn’t have much agency in choosing people. If it is not our choice, as my opening remark suggests, why are we all of a sudden given a great amount of agency in the choices that we make directly after conversion (or confirmation)? In other words, why are we given agency as a follower of Christ ONLY once we have been called? Now that we have been called, we are also given choice, and, therefore, responsibility.

One is often told that they must “bear their cross” or in my language “work on the details” if they are truly committed to their conversion. But if I had no say in my commitment, there can be no appeal to my “decision”, my “choice to follow” because it was not my choice. What we are left with is a subject without agency that has been called — at one point in their life convinced – that is now reprimanded if they do not use their newly acquired agency.

Why am I all of a sudden given agency? What have I done that must be forgiven if I was not responsible? Have I really been given agency along with salvation? How can I be expected to use my agency if I didn’t have it before?

In sum, can one appeal to one’s conversion to elicit action?

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About JoeL

I completed a Master of Music degree from McGill University. I am currently working towards an Artist Diploma also at McGill. I like to do philosophy as a hobby.

3 thoughts on “A Call (to Action ?!)

  1. Thanks for this reflection. I think that thinking of our agency in relation with God’s agency is an essential aspect of cultivating good church practice.

    A few points in response that help me to think about these things.

    1. The Bible consistently emphasizes both God’s absolute sovereignty over all of life and the irreducible importance and reality of human choice. These two emphases often do not sit tidily together. To a certain degree I don’t think they can; they must be held in ongoing tension.

    2. I understand conversion as ongoing work, not as a one-time thing. Dante’s *Comedy* is a prime example, presenting Christian conversion as pilgrimage – and a pilgrimage that does not have a straightforward beginning or ending.

    3. I think that the questions you are asking demand other questions along the lines of what the self is. What relationship does the presence and relationship we have with different and similar others have on our conversion, our decision making processes and our ability to practice discipleship? How are my desires formed? What relationship does my past and memory and the way I remember have to the choices I make? What does it mean to cultivate a receptive relationship with what is good in the world? If I am a body, how do my bodily practices affect my loyalties, choices and desires? What is the relationship between choice and cultivated habits? How does our acknowledgement of Christ’s lordship in the practice of confession of faith itself inform our acknowledgement of Christ’s lordship?

    4. I think it makes a difference if the cross is thought of as a specific political mode of being – namely, suffering servanthood – rather than an abstract notion of the hard things in life or the sufferings we each have or the struggles and details we need to work out. Yoder points out that while it may be helpful in the immediate situation, the use of the language of the cross as pastoral tool often distorts the concrete call of the cross to a particular way of life.

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    1. Kim recently posted a great sermon over at Faith and Theology that nicely gets at what it might mean to take up the cross: http://www.faith-theology.com/2015/03/do-we-have-church-sermon-for-lent-2.html

      Do you see the conversation changing a bit when the cross is framed in these terms rather than as working at the details? It’s not that the compass analogy fails, but that the compass itself is the cross to bear and the details are just that – details. (Or maybe that divides it up a little too tidily?)

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