Monday, April 19, 2010

Give me options! (Or at least let me think I have them)

The Power to Decide

While many cultures have social or communal ways of making decisions for an individual, American culture places the locus of decision squarely on the individual most affected by the decision. In the overwhelming majority of situations, a person has the final say in determining his or her actions and situations. Others give advice and information to aid in the process, but Americans adamantly desire - even demand - to make their own, individual decisions (or at least feel as if they are doing so). This makes it a natural and logical appeal to call a person to choose Christ instead of continuing in sin, unbelief or false religion. The New Testament’s portrayal of sin, faith and judgment as individual choice and consequence communicates readily to this culture. When a person is convinced of the guilt of sin, the choice to accept forgiveness is a logical next step. The American assumption which Stewart and Bennett label the “implied agent” (61-66) - the idea that every occurrence is connected to an agent that caused it - also makes it easy for judgment to be viewed as actions that result in personal guilt which deserves punishment.

The belief that actions should be controlled through highly personalized (and frequently self-centered) decision gives fertile ground for several problems in thinking about how people are related to God. One constant threat is worry about the future: an individual who is constantly causing things by every decision and action will surely be tempted to defy Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:25-34 and worry about the outcomes. Thinking in terms of a "right" to choose can easily set a trajectory toward a false sense of being in control. The God of the Bible calls for unconditional trust and acknowledgement of his sovereignty, and an overweening tendency to proclaim cultural catch phrases like, “It’s my life” (as per Bon Jovi), “I Did It My Way” (Sinatra), or “I do whatever I feel like, gosh!” (Napoleon Dynamite) leaves an American Christian in a prideful and rebellious independence that is incompatible with a Christian worldview.

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