A recent post by Adam McLane prompted a strong discussion on whether waiting on God’s “closed doors” and “open doors” was fatalism or not. Fatalism is, of course, leaving things up to “fate” and not allowing human will (free choice) to matter much. Or take responsibility. It was a worthy discussion because we youth ministry types use the open/closed door analogy often. At the same time, the analogy does seem to work at some level because we have to take into account God’s activity in the world and our lives.
A few of my colleagues at Bethel College have been reading and writing on the topic of how God works in the world. So I asked J.B. Stump (whom you could have caught at Cornerstone Festival this summer) about the conversation. He responded, “So I pray almost every day that God would open the doors he wants me to go through and to give me the courage to walk through them. I don’t see this as a fatalistic attitude at all. To see God as one who works through circumstances (and even engineers circumstances) to give us opportunities to work with him, that does not reduce to some sort of determinism or Calvinist predestination. We still have to go through the open doors by making decisions. God does not coerce. He (gently) invites.”
If we don’t allow for the fact that God works in our lives in ways where he directs (and it feels like open and closed doors), then we’re Deists in our theology, where God sits back and watches from a distance. And doesn’t interfere. And, as Kenda Creasy Dean (Princeton) and Christian Smith (Notre Dame) have shown (from Smith’s research), the “default” religion of the youth in America is moralistic therapeutic deism.
I guess if I error as a Christian, I want to error on the fact that God is active, personal, and leads me. That seems to reflect how Jesus invited people to follow him (see Mark 1). But, the conversation is helpful. I like it because it forces youth ministry folks, often pragmatic to a fault, to have theological discussions regarding their teaching and counseling.
What are your thoughts? How do you account for God’s work in your life? For your own choices? What analogies do you use?
By the way, J.B. recently co-authored (with Chad Meister) a GREAT book on the history of Christian thought, Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction. Their book is written for the everyday person and is being used by many churches who desire something a little more for their adults, but isn’t too academic. You need to check it out. It’s more than helpful.
In the meantime, enjoy this “Lost Dogs” song about Jesus, open doors and closed doors, and providence/circumstance. (Again, thanks to JB Stump or reminding me of this song)