Day Nineteen - Cultivating Community

In this Day Mr. Warren continues his exhortation of what it takes to cultivate “real” fellowship in the Church. Since an elaboration of the Human effort in cultivating community begins to sound like something that can be done independently of God, Mr. Warren begins with an analysis of Human effort. He says, “Only the Holy Spirit can create real fellowship between believers, but he cultivates it with the choices and commitments we make.” (p. 145) He wishes to make his idea of “dual responsibility” seem biblical by citing Ephesians 4:3, where in a single statement Paul ascribes unity to the Spirit and also exhorts us to be diligent in preserving it. A statement that we are responsible to make efforts toward righteousness hardly necessitates the correlativity of Human effort and Divine effort, but Mr. Warren’s concept of “dual responsibility” clearly involves this correlativity. The idea of the cooperation of Human and Divine efforts is called Synergism, referring to a supposed synthesis of various energies. This notion pretends to place the energy of God and the energy of Man on a single continuum. The Synergist pretends to exalt God by placing Him on the extreme end of the continuum. However, if God’s energy works on a continuum with Man’s energy, then at the point of any particular effort either Man is working or else God is working; if Man is at work, then at that particular point God is not at work, or if God is at work, then at that particular point Man is not at work. Contrary to this, the truly biblical idea is not the Synergism of “dual responsibility,” but the “Creator / creature distinction.” God and Man do not inhabit a single continuum. God constantly is at work in His Sovereign Providence over all creation. For example, Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Who builds the house? The Synergist says that building the house is the “dual responsibility” of God and Man - God and Man cooperate in building the house. In this view, at any particular point of the construction process, either Man is building or else God is building. The truly biblical idea is that Man builds the house in the sense of his finite effort as it functions within the parameters and laws of the created order, and that God builds the house in the sense of the infinite energy of His Sovereign Providence by which He sustains the created order. This is the whole point of Psalm 127:1. Unless God is working in His infinite Providence to build the house, those men who labor in the temporal order build in vain. Mr. Warren characterizes the work of the Holy Spirit as utilizing the building blocks supplied by Man’s “choices and commitments.” Thus, he concludes that, “It takes both God’s power and our effort to produce a loving Christian community.” (p. 145)

The Synergism of Mr. Warren’s basic position is evident also in his remarks concerning humility. He says, “Pride blocks God’s grace in our lives.” (p. 148) How can anything of the creature “block” anything of the Creator? Only if a measure of autonomy is reserved to Man, and only if the grace of God is placed upon a continuum with this measure of Human autonomy - only in these events could it be at all meaningful to say that God’s grace may be “blocked” by Human attitude or action. God may withhold His grace from those who are persistent in their sins. For example, in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28 it says that “God gave them over…” However, it must be stressed that God is the active voice in this scenario. He gave them over. It is entirely inappropriate to characterize these sinners as “blocking” God’s grace. Mr. Warren cites I Peter 5:5 in defense of his view, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Here again we see that God is the active voice on both sides of this. The proud do not “block” His grace; He opposes them. A truly biblical outlook ascribes infinite freedom to God, who calls dead sinners to life (Ephesians 2:5) just as he called Lazarus forth from the tomb (John 11:43). A Synergistic outlook must labor to find a way in which the power ascribed to Man to “block” God may interact with the grace of God that is supposed to be greater than anything. Mr. Warren does no such laboring here. He simply states that building “real” fellowship is the “dual responsibility” of God and Man, and then proceeds in his chapter without any further explanation.

On Day Eighteen Mr. Warren spoke of four characteristics that he says mark “real” fellowship: authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, and mercy. On this Day he adds five more to bring the total set to “nine characteristics of biblical fellowship.” (p.151) These are: honesty, humility, courtesy, confidentiality and frequency. Since Mr. Warren entertains the Synergism of the correlativity of God and Man, he cannot fit all of his ideas into a coherent system. Instead, he must resort to compensating his errors with other errors. On the previous Day Mr. Warren created a problem where there is in the Church the free flow of sordid information about everyone’s hurts, feelings, doubts, fears, weaknesses, failings, etc. Now, on the current Day he offers a compensating idea that he calls “confidentiality.” Of confidentiality he says, “It means that what is shared in your group needs to stay in your group, and the group needs to deal with it, not gossip to others about it.” (p. 150) Of course, Mr. Warren’s “group” is not a family, so what is “shared” already is gossip. Limiting gossip to a “group” instead of the whole Church does not somehow justify it. On this Day Mr. Warren has a lot of serious exhortation against gossip. An obvious solution to a problem of gossip is for everyone to stop “sharing” about all their hurts, feelings, doubts, fears, weakness, mistakes, failings, etc. However, this would mean going back to the previous Day and scratching all of the talk about “authenticity.” Instead, Mr. Warren seeks to compensate “authenticity” with “honesty” and “confidentiality.” For him, “authenticity” without “honesty” results in a situation where, “Everyone knows about the problem, but no one talks about it openly.” (p.147) He says, “This creates a sick environment of secrets where gossip thrives.” (p. 147) For him, the problem of gossip is not the “sharing” itself, but “sharing” coupled with a failure to “deal with it.” For him, “confidentiality” does not mean keeping your hurts, feelings, doubts, fears, weakness, mistakes, failings, etc within your family or within the privacy of one-on-one counseling, but confining the gossip to a “small group” instead of telling the whole Church.

In an environment where problems not only are known but also are talked about, there is bound to be an elevated level of conflict. This would seem only to pose further problems. But, Mr. Warren sees this added conflict as a good thing, because in his view, “…the tunnel of conflict is the passageway to intimacy in any relationship.” (p.147) This is tantamount to saying that conflict is necessary in order to have “real” fellowship. Just as Mr. Warren conceives of hurts, feelings, doubts, weakness, pain, failure, etc. as aspects of the “real” self, so he also conceives of conflict as a necessary component of “real” fellowship. This is not a biblical outlook, but is an example of the popular and worldly Yin and Yang philosophy that “You cannot appreciate the good until you have tasted the bad.” Mr. Warren also states, “In every church and in every small group, there is always at least one ‘difficult’ person, usually more than one…God put these people in our midst for both their benefit and ours.” (p. 149) This is the same thing as saying that we cannot have “real” fellowship unless we have some “difficult” people to deal with. According to this view, in Heaven, when everyone’s hurts, feelings, doubts, fears, pain, weaknesses, failings, etc. are banished, then no one is “real” anymore, no one is a “difficult” person, and thus there cannot be “real” fellowship.

Another compensating error that we encounter in this Day Nineteen is Mr. Warren’s concept of “Frequency.” With this he returns to the idea of time. On Day Sixteen Mr. Warren argued that, “Your time is your life.” (p. 127) On that day he made earnest appeal that we should cultivate relationships, for love means far more than things. He did this erroneously by reducing love to mere time. Nevertheless, there is a correct emphasis upon the importance of personal relationships. What is interesting is that the examples he used involve the family. He told us, for example, of a problem with the typical male outlook, “I don’t understand my wife and kids, I provide everything they need. What more do they want?” (p. 127) His appeal for us to “spend time” was specifically an appeal to spend time with our families. In our commentary on that Day we dwelt on the matter that a deficit of time itself was not the problem and that “spending time” itself was not the solution. In this context the important thing to note is that Mr. Warren’s emphasis on that Day was “spending time” with family. However, on the very next Day Mr. Warren made it clear that his interest in Family is only as a pretext to speak allegorically of the “family of God.” It is the Church, not the Family, he describes as, “A Place to Belong.” Here on Day Nineteen we find that his idea of “spending time” is not with the Family but with the “group.” It is in reference to the “group” that he now says, “You have to spend time with people - a lot of time - to build deep relationships.” (p. 150, italics in the original) Earlier in this Day Mr. Warren acknowledged a problem with the Family, “Unfortunately, many people grow up in families with unhealthy relationships, so they lack the relational skills needed for real fellowship.” However, his solution is not to labor to repair the Family, but to train people outside the Family to relate to a “group.” His advice on page 127 to the man who could not understand his family’s dissatisfaction was, “They want you! Your eyes, your ears, your time, your attention, your presence, your focus - your time. Nothing can take the place of that.” Now on page 150 Mr. Warren would have this same man spending his time - a lot of time - with his “group” instead of his family.

We embarked upon a truly biblical idea of these things in our commentary of the previous Day, wherein note was made of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:8 to dwell on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good, excellent, etc. The truly Christian way of doing this does not involve balancing these things against sin in a worldly Yin and Yang tension. The marvelous attributes of God and the truly “real” nature of His creation and of Man may be known for what they are without the need of any experience of darkness to make them seem brighter. A truly biblical view is that sin is a stain and that death is an enemy. Indeed, the worldly Yin and Yang tension arises from this truth. It is because in reality sin is a stain and death is an enemy that the universal instinct of human nature is to resist sin and death. However, it is because unbelief cannot successfully frame a view of reality in which sin and death consistently may be opposed that the unbeliever must embrace sin and death as fundamentally normal. It is the unalterable instinct to resist that which is accepted philosophically as normal that produces the Yin and Yang tension. Of course, Yin and Yang is a characteristically Oriental outlook on the Good and Evil tension. But the same issue equally is unresolved in Western philosophy and is expressed as a Dialectical tension. True Christianity banishes such tension because in the Christian system of things sin is a stain and death is an enemy. Sin and death are not accepted as normal aspects of creation, but represent abnormal corruption. The Christian system of things provides the only way of truly and consistently opposing sin and death. Thus, in Christianity the Dialectical tension of unbelief is not so much resolved, but eliminated. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful message amid the errors of unbelief. But the Gospel message cannot truly be communicated apart from a clear acknowledgement of sin as the basic problem and of redemption in Christ as the basic solution. How especially tragic it is then to see ostensibly Christian writers embrace the worldly Dialectical or Yin / Yang outlook and merely sprinkle it over with “god talk.”


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