Deism in Churches of Christ?

Jay guin In his conversations with leaders in Churches of Christ, Pat Keifert noted that God was used as the subject of an active verb less roughly 5% of the time. Here's what that means in part: leaders in Churches of Christ generally view God as passive.

That finding doesn't surprise me at all. As I hear churches discuss their futures, deal with crises, debate theological or textual issues–there is a sense that God indeed spoke, but doesn't speak. He did, but doesn't do. He lives, but isn't living. I don't know if it's an anti-Calvinist or anti-Charismatic bent that points some of us that way. Whatever it is, it's noteworthy. What we believe about God shapes absolutely everything.

I've witnessed a practical deism at play these days in many Churches of Christ (not all)–a worldview in which God is never the subject of an active verb. I personally think it has to do with individualism and our fairly radical free-will doctrine. After all, if God won't infringe on our choices than God essentially acts only when we allow him to. God gave us free will, we say. So, he doesn't intervene unless we sovereignly invite Him to do so (to caricature a bit). Well, that's certainly not Calvinist. However, it's not Christian either.

I think many of us could benefit from a rediscovery of the doctrine of God's sovereignty. This isn't just because it keeps us from this feaux-deist way of seeing the world, but because it's thoroughly biblical and great news. If we fear God in the unbiblical way, we will fear His activity in the world. If we fear the Lord of Scripture who we trust in all things, we welcome His activity in the world with great joy. Either way, God is who He is. How I view Him doesn't alter who He is.

At the practical level, we have come to explain tragedy, sin, and really most of life in terms of the simple result of free will. We say, "well, that's what happens in a world where God gives people free will." This may be an appropriate thing to say at times. However, if God is in fact God, isn't it better to explain what happens in the world in terms of His activity? God still speaks, still moves, still does great things. This is something we all know and say we believe when we sing hymns or read Scripture. We'll do well to begin speaking that way on our own, even as we continue to sing and read.

Question: What does Keifert's 5% finding mean to you? How would you interpret it? 

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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