Either-Or Christianity?

“A false dichotomy or false dilemma occurs when an argument presents two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives.”

“In general, a false dichotomy gives the impression that the two opposite options are mutually exclusive (that is, only one of them may be the case, never both) and that at least one of them is true, that is, they represent all of the possible options.”  (from http://www.philosophy-index.com/logic/fallacies/false-dilemma.php)

tumblr_nw1kg7d4hH1uiitobo1_500Sometimes I’ve experienced teaching or have confronted assumptions in myself or other Christians based in false dichotomies.

Some examples related to spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual:

  1. The Holy Spirit works spontaneously and dynamically; therefore, when we try to be thoughtful, planned, or prepared, we are leaving out the Holy Spirit. We are just working on our own.
  2. The spiritual is mysterious and powerful; therefore, the spiritual is not found in the quiet or everyday or normal.
  3. God and other spirits are working in the spiritual realm; therefore, the work of people is only in the physical realm and their work is necessarily carnal.
  4. People are physical beings; therefore, they are not spiritual beings.

Some examples related to free will

  1. God is sovereign; therefore man does not have free will.
  2. Salvation is the work of God; therefore, my choices or seeking after God are ineffective.
  3. God is sovereign; therefore my prayers don’t impact His decisions. My prayers don’t change things.

I admit that these are not simple issues, but I don’t think we have  to resort to either-or thinking.

Some practices and ideas that have helped me to deal with these issues:

  1. Read scripture, especially complete passages that provide context and the teachings around various issues.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit for help understanding what I need to understand.
  3. Engage in learning to do the things Jesus commanded and look for opportunities to teach these things to others. Die to my old life and immerse in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Live out the Great Commission). A life focused on discipleship doesn’t take time out for endless wrangling over words (see II Timothy 2:14)
  4. Focus on these complex issues in the context of real relationships between the persons involved. The persons involved are the three Persons of the Trinity, other spirits (angels and demons) and people. Keep in mind that real persons live out life together, make decisions together, and are affected deeply by the decisions, and lives of the others.  For instance, when I think about how persons relate, I don’t have to worry about either/or scenarios when it comes to choice. My wife and I share decisions daily. We don’t care and rarely remember how we reached many of our decisions, but we make choices together, because we actually live in close relationship. I can join God in choosing love if my life is joined with His.
  5. Remember that God created us very complex: heart, soul, mind, body, and relationships. Remember that God wants harmony among the various parts of my life. He wants my life integrated, and ruled by His love. He wants a restored soul, and a forgiven and revived spirit, and a renewed mind, and a body forming good habits by increasingly doing the right things, and relationships that are growing in love. The fractured human life is certainly a reality apart from God, but a redeemed child of God grows in grace and knowledge and is predestined to be restored to the image of its Maker.

I need to remember God’s Tenderness and Goodness

If I believe in the tender closeness of my Heavenly Father, the love of Christ, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit . . . when I believe in my life actually lived out with God, I don’t really need to worry about whether my prayers make a difference.  Of course they do!

When I consider the greatness and goodness of God, the loving sacrifice and triumphant resurrection of Jesus, and the steady presence of the Holy Spirit, I don’t have to worry about whether my salvation is a matter of my choosing or my small effort. I simply enjoy it and live in relationship with my Savior.

When I think about the precious Holy Spirit and how He quietly helps me to understand, prays on my behalf, and produces selfless love and other fruit in my life, I don’t have to worry about whether spiritual things are spontaneous or planned. I don’t have to worry about whether I’m putting in too much or too little effort. I can just pray and think and intend to cooperate with the Spirit and walk in the Spirit.  I can take part in the good training activities that the scriptures teach and that Jesus modeled to have an integrated and authentic and fruitful life of blessing. I can do my best without trusting my best. I can do my best while trusting Jesus and thanking Him for His grace that enables me to do what I cannot do on my own.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13