Combating Left Wing Christian Fundamentalism — Part II

LW Fundie writes,

5. We water down the Gospel when we eliminate the centrality of social justice.

The act of “doing justice”, as the prophet Micah references, is hard and sacrificial work. Yet, the cause of justice was extremely important to Jesus, and became a hallmark of the early church.

In Mathew 23:23 Jesus goes off on the conservative religious leaders, and tells them that while they seem to value keeping small rules, they are missing the “more important” part of the law, which is justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

However, the idea of “social justice” is offensive in much of Western Christianity, which tends to value wealth and individualism. Glen Beck famously told his listeners to run from any church that had the term “social justice” on their website.

Similarly, the concept of “mercy” offends ones senses, and doesn’t fit within a Western, guilt vs. innocents oriented culture. Giving a murderer mercy instead of death? It offends the senses. But, Jesus is crazy like that.

I love it.

I’m pretty sure that if Jesus came to America, he’d go off on us for the same thing– because when we focus on small rules, and resist or ignore the larger need for forms of justice in society (restorative justice, economic justice, etc.)… we have watered down the gospel and missed the most important part (Jesus’ phrase, not mine), just like the leaders in Matthew 23.

Bret responds,

Nowhere does the Scripture peep a word about “social justice.” Social justice is a completely Marxist idea. Scripture advocates Biblical Justice. The whole idea of “social justice” comes from Marxist liberation theology. God is concerned about Justice but there is nothing in Christianity that suggests that wealth is inherently sinful or that a Biblical individualism is frowned upon by God. The whole idea of “social justice” is based upon the foundation of envy. Social Justice sanctions the greed and lust of the envious by telling them that they deserve to have what they have not worked for or earned.

Now this is not to say that such things as unbiblical wealth and oppression don’t exist. We are neck deep in such today with our Governmental Fascism and social order Corporatism. However, speaking out against unbiblical wealth in favor of unbiblical poverty is idiotic. Both the wicked wealthy and the wicked poor must repent for their respective oppression and envy.

But our LW Fundie does not make these kind of distinctions. Instead he gloms on to the idea of “social justice,” as it exists in its Marxist paradigm.

And the idea that we can now set aside, by a humanist “mercy,” what God demanded when He said, “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man,” in the name of a humanist Jesus, is just ridiculous. There is no warrant from Scripture that the magistrate can set aside God’s law in order to give mercy to a killer while at the same time showing insult to the family of the victim. If LW Fundie’s Mother was murdered would he think it mercy to coddle the murderer? Given his version of Christianity he probably would.

I would contend that the Jesus that LW Fundie serves is a different Jesus then walks through the Scriptures. It is a Jesus of his own left wing fundamentalist imagination.

LW Fundie wrote,

4. We water down the gospel when we explain away the whole nonviolent love of enemies part.

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said: “you have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you to love your enemies”?

What if he meant it when he said: “put away your sword”, “don’t respond in-kind to an evildoer”, and “he who is without sin is free to cast the first stone”?

If there’s anything we know for sure about Jesus, it’s that he taught/practiced a radical, non-violent love of enemies, and that he invites us to do the same. Instead of picking up a weapon, Jesus actually says that in order to follow him, we will have to pick up a “cross”– a symbol of radical, nonviolent love of enemies if there ever was one.

Yet, we have a way of watering those teachings down so that they don’t apply to us, or our country. We start with small loopholes, which in time grow bigger and bigger. We’re able to water it down to the point that ever expanding military budgets are embraced and supported by Christians, the pro-gun movement becomes a championed movement of Christians, and that preemptive war is taught and encouraged by evangelical leaders (as it was after 911).

Once we start finding small loopholes in the command to nonviolently love our enemies, those loopholes get bigger and bigger… until we are able to safely drive tanks and fly drones through them, with little affect on our conscience.

At that point, we need to continue watering it down, because there’s a lot of blood we need to wash away.

Bret responds,

1.) Let us say on this score that never was Jesus loving his enemies better than when he picked up a whip and scourged his enemies with a violent love via that barbed whip and sent them flying out of the Temple. Does LW Fundie aspire to that kind of love? What of this violent love of Jesus that LW Fundie skips over?

2.) Love is defined as treating people consistent with God’s law. So, when a man commits murder against another man, as an example, love requires that the social order see to it that he forfeits his life. When we do so, we are showing love to God, love to the murdered and love to murderer.

3.) It seems to be assumed here that love is defined by man quite apart from consideration of God’s law. This sounds like advocacy of situational ethics.

4.) “Put away your sword” — Situation specific. Jesus is speaking to Peter as he attempts to save Christ from what Jesus was predestined to do. Earlier Jesus had told Peter that the two swords they had were sufficient and that the disciples should sell their cloak to buy a sword (Luke 22), thus indicating that swords have their place. However, the place wasn’t in Gethsemane. Put away your sword is not a passage that supports pacifism. All those degrees and LW Fundie hasn’t learned about context?

5.) “He who is without sin cast the first stone” — Stoning was the means by which the death penalty was applied. He who cast the first stone was the one who had brought the charge (Dt. 17:7). The death penalty could not be invoked legally if the eyewitnesses were unavailable or unqualified. Jesus was striking directly at the fact that these witnesses were ineligible to fulfill this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. They were intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own sexual indiscretions. Jesus was not teaching, contrary to LW Fundie’s hermeneutic that we should be non judgmental against those who have committed serious crimes. He was not teaching tolerance and humanist non-violent love. He was teaching the proper way in which to carry out justice.

How does someone get two Masters degrees from a Seminary with a (false?) Evangelical reputation and miss basic hermeneutics?

6.) Championing the 2nd amendment is done because I love my wife and family enough to want to protect them from those who would harm them. It is true we must love our enemies but how much more must we love our friends and family. So, Scripture teaches we must love our enemies but never at the price of hating our loved ones and to allow myself to be disarmed per LW Fundie’s desire to take my weapons, would be a lack of love for my family and a violate of the 6th commandment.

7.) Everyone will be glad to know that I agree w/ LW Fundie regarding the sin of preemptive war and the sin of Christians supporting the military-industrial complex.

LW Fundie writes,

3. We water down the gospel when we over emphasis sins rarely mentioned in scripture, while conveniently neglecting the ones that are talked about constantly.

The top two sins spoken against in scripture are idolatry and greed- sins that don’t often make the playlist in many churches today. Honestly, I rarely hear sermons on either of those topics. Maybe idolatry, but definitely NOT greed.

When’s the last time you heard a sermon condemning the wealthy who neglect the poor? That’s talked about all the time in the Bible, yet I don’t hear that message in many American churches. When’s the last time you heard a preacher condemn anti-immigrant attitudes? The Bible I read sure does talk a lot about the way we should love immigrants.

I think we’re watering down the gospel so that other people’s sins appear to be worse than our own sins.

Your sins? Well, you get a concentrated version. My sins? Watered down, please.

Bret responds,

1.) Recently I did a sermon series on the greed of the wealthy and the envy of the poor. I wonder when the last time LW Fundie did a sermon on envy. I recommend Helmut Schoeks, ENVY: A Theory of Social Behaviour and, Gonzalo Fernandez de la Mora’s,Egalitarian Envy: The Political Foundations of Social Justice. If LW Fundie would read those two books maybe he could move past his soft Marxism.

2.) On immigration I would recommend that LW Fundie read Peter Brimelow’s, Alien Nation, and then do a sermon series. It is true that we are to be kind to the stranger and alien, but it is not true that we are to sacrifice our children and their future so we can turn our nation over to the alien and the stranger. It is not true that we are to allow the State to destroy what little is left of the Christian ethos among us by supporting the destruction of it via the importation of aliens who have no familiarity with Biblical Christianity.

3.) Still, LW Fundie’s counsel to not concentrate on sins that are easy to concentrate on while ignoring our own sins is wise counsel. However, I wish LW Fundie would take his own counsel and concentrate on the sins of pacifism and Marxism.

LW Fundie writes,

2. We water down the gospel when we exclusively use the concept of “penal substitution” to explain the Gospel.

Many of us grow up believing that the penal substitution metaphor for explaining the gospel is the gospel. It goes something like this:

You broke the law, which made God angry. Jesus paid your fine by taking God’s wrath in your place. Since Jesus paid your fine, you can be set free.

However, the penal substitution view of the atonement, is just a small glimpse of the cross– and in isolation, is a watered down version that reduces the cross to an individual transaction.

The “classic” view of the atonement is called “Christus Victor” and is a bigger way of understanding the cross. With the classic view, it is understood that Jesus was reconciling all of creation and freeing it from the works of the Devil. Within the classic view, yes– Jesus was reconciling me, but he was also reconciling everything else he made too.

This has big implications: in the watered down version of the gospel, it’s all about reconciling individual people. However, when we look at the classic view, we find out that God not only wants to reconcile people, but that he also wants to reconcile creation (environment), broken social systems, whole communities… and that means, my job as a “minister of reconciliation” is to get busy– not just reconciling people, but reconciling everything else too.

If you’ve only understood the gospel in light of the concept of “penal substitution”, let me just tell you that the Gospel is way, way bigger than you’ve ever realized.

And, so is your part in that.

When we reduce the magnitude and beauty of what Christ did on the cross to an individualistic, legal transaction– and little more– we’ve watered it down to the point where we can’t taste the depths of its magnificent flavor.

Bret responds,

I have no problem with Christus Victor motif. Indeed I see little reason why it can’t work hand in glove with the Scriptures teaching on Christ as our Penal Substitute. What I do have a problem with is how LW Fundie defines reconciliation in a Marxist direction. Throughout this piece there has been very little concrete reference to God’s law but countless appeals to trendy Cultural Marxist memes. From the wicked dastardly wealthy, to the wonders of socialism, to the fanged greedy, to social justice, to pacifism, to the environment, all we get from LW Fundie is Cultural Marxist causes. There is more of Lenin than there is of Christ in LW Fundie’s Messiah.

Secondly, LW Fundie does not understand the Scriptures that teach the penal substitution of our Lord Christ. It is not as LW Funide articulates that Christ accomplished transaction for a bunch of individuals. Scripture teaches that Christ gave Himself for the Church. Christ gave Himself for the covenant community. So, LW Fundie’s caricature of Penal Substitution is just inaccurate. (He’s gotten so much else inaccurate what is one thing more among friends? Also, on this score the atonement was never primarily about reconciling individuals or reconciling all of creation. The atonement was primarily about reconciling a justly wroth God to sinners.

Thirdly, on this score, the only way creation is reconciled is by reconciled people. Hence the emphasis on the atonement, after it falls on the reality that in the atonement Christ rescued the Father’s name from being impugned because of forestalled Justice, while at the same time demonstrating the Father’s love, falls on reconciled Saints. The Saints are the ones who, in their sanctification, bring the impact of their reconciliation on all of creation. Creation will not be reconciled unless the Gospel goes on to those who need to hear that they might be the reconciling agents. As such, to pit the penal substitutionary death of Christ against the Christus Victor motif is just wrong-headed. They imply one another and the latter is not somehow more significant than the former. If anything it is Christ’s satisfaction for His Church that makes the reconciling work of Christus Victor possible.

Fourthly, it scares me to death that LW Fundie wants to be involved in “reconciling work.” Given some of his expressed soft Marxist views I think he needs to go back to Christianity 101.

On this point I honestly see very little evidence that LW Fundie understands the atonement and that it is primarily about God before it is about man.

LW and STILL a Fundie writes,

1. We water down the Gospel when we invite people to trust Jesus for the afterlife… but not this life.

Flowing from number 2, when we exclusively use the Penal Substitution metaphor for explaining the cross, we end up focusing on getting people to trust in Jesus for their “eternal life” later, but fail to invite them into the eternal life that they can experience right now.

Maybe I’m just thinking big here, but I’d like to see people trust Jesus for the here-and-now.

Maybe I’m just weak, but I need a Jesus who can help me in the here-and-now.

I want to see people trusting Jesus with their finances, their jobs, their families, their personal safety, and everything else.

And, Jesus is good for all those things too. A Jesus that can save me later, but not now?

That’s just a watered down version.

Bret responds,

I’ve been a minister for 25 years and I’ve never seen anyone make a connection before between the penal substitution of the atonement and a lack of living the Christian life. Always, when I’ve heard it preached properly it is preached with the idea that Jesus came to give live and give it abundantly. When I’ve heard it preached I’ve always heard it preached in the context of “eternal life begins now.” When I’ve heard it preached I’ve always heard it preached as “What God freely accomplishes in the atonement (forgiveness and right standing with God) He works in you by the Spirit so that you increasingly conform to the image of His Dear Son. I’d like to see concrete examples of where all this irresponsible preaching on the penal substitution of Christ is happening. For that matter, I’d be overjoyed to know that most ministers have a handle on the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitution.

In closing I invite LW Fundie to try to quit reading his Christianity through his soft Marxist lenses.

And in a final word … Folks, if a guy can get two Masters degrees from Gordon Conwell and come out spewing this kind of stuff it is time to give up on Gordon Conwell as a option for Seminary.

Colossians 3:9-10 & Genesis

Colossians 3

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.

2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.

5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness which is idolatry.

6 Because of these, the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience,

7 in which ye also once walked, when ye lived in them.

8 But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

9 Do not lie one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds,

10 and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him,

Because of our identification with Christ (cmp. 3:1-4;”Risen w/ Christ” … “Ye are dead” … “Life is hid w/ Christ in God” … “When Christ, who is our life,”) Paul leverages a “therefore” in vs. 5 and so exhorts the Colossian believers to live in light of the fact that they are living in the Established New Creation (cmp. 1:13f). They are to be distinct from those who are not living in the new Creation. The labor of Col. 3:5 – 4:6 is to tease out that contrast.

In Col. 3:9-10 St. Paul uses the phraseology of “put on the new man.” The imagery here is of having put on a different set of clothing. The allusion of putting on new clothing may hearken back to Genesis 3:7. There we find that Adam and Eve sought to clothe themselves apart from God, perhaps to hide from God and from each other. What happens though is that God clothes them with clothing He provides thus suggesting that a Restoration of Adam and Eve has begun (Gen. 3:21). What we have here then is that their old clothes were taken off and they put on the new clothes provided by God. Hence, should we see that there is a relationship between who they were as constituted by the fall and as seen by their autonomous clothing they self provided and their restoration to God begun as signified by God’s clothing of them we may see in Col. 3:10 with it’s “put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man” language a reference back to God’s restoration after the fall.

G. K. Beale puts it this way,

“The clear implication is that their first suit of clothes was taken off and replaced by divinely made clothing, indicating that the self made clothing was associated with their alienated condition and sinful shame (Gen. 3:7 – 11) and was an insufficient covering for those who have begun to be reconciled to God.”

So … this putting off … putting on language is indicative that we are no longer related to Adam (who is the consummate old man) and are now related to Christ (who is the consummate new man). It is important to note this Federal – Covenantal language. It is not that we have gone from one subjective state to another subjective state, as if we were once nasty people but now we are nice people. Rather, it is language that is speaking about covenantal realities. This language is talking about covenantal positioning. Once in Adam … now in Christ. In this putting on of Christ (the new man) we are now restored and will go from restoration unto restoration until the fullness of the present NOW will be Consummated in Christ.

Here we find the anti-thesis introduced again by St. Paul, for one is either part of the Dead humanity that is identified with Adam or one is united to the living community that is found in union with Christ Jesus.

Early Christian tradition took this quite seriously for in their Baptism services their would be a clear change of clothing given to the baptized after their baptism.

Now, as those who have been returned to the image of God (see vs. 10) we are now what Adam and Eve were intended to be in the Garden (cmp. Gen. 1:26-28). We are the re-creation of humanity, created, to rule, subdue, and to be fruitful and multiply. In Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, and in Col. 3:9-10 we, the brethren of Christ are, because of being united to Him, the image of God. We are called to do then, what Adam failed to do. The idea that we are to be a ruling people is hinted at in 3:1.

Because we are now these renewed image bearers who are identified with Christ, and so are part of the New Creational existence, where we rule, subdue, and have dominion under King Christ, our High Priest mediator, our calling is to disassociate from who were were in Adam, and reflect who we are in Christ.

Now a word about St. Paul’s phrase, “renewed unto the knowledge of Him.” Adam and Eve failed at this Godly knowledge in as much as they failed to remember God’s word. Being renewed unto a knowledge of the image of God will guarantee that the Colossian believers won’t make the mistake of the 1st Adam who was “deluded with persuasive argument,” (2:4) and “taken captive through … empty deceit” (Col. 2:8).

Ephesians 2:10

10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

1.) The word “workmanship” is from the Greek word where we get our word “poetry.” We (the Church) are God’s poetry. We are His craftsmanship. We are his workmanship.

2.) The fact that we are created in Christ Jesus indicates to us that the workmanship (poetry) that we are is in relation to Redemption. As such the “created” that is being referred to here is not the created, as in being born, but the created as being re-born. The Church has been placed in the realm of the new creation. (Indeed, we are so part of the re-creation that St. Paul will soon say that God’s workmanship is already sharing in Christ’s ascension as we are now seated in the Heavenly places.) The thrust here is, because of God’s work in Christ, that the Church is now living in the already inaugurated “age to come.” That is the age of which we are now His workmanship.

3.) As now living in this “age to come” reality we now walk in a “age to come” fashion. The works that are produced in us and that we thus produce are consistent with the “age to come” we are living in.

4.) We were re-created for the end of good works. A Christian who has been re-created, who has been placed into the age to come, who has been seated in the heavenlies with Christ, can no more not produce good works then an apple orchard can not produce apples.

5.) Of course when St. Paul talks about our living in this current age of renewal he fixes Christ front and center. Christ, being the firstborn from among the dead, is the one in whom the age to come finds its existence. So, if we are in this age to come it is only because we are first in Christ Jesus, who is Himself the “age to come.” The King is tightly associated with His Land and His Rule.

6.) Note the tie between God’s eternal decrees (“Which God hath before ordained”), the completed work of Christ as being the instrument of the “new creation,, in which we now reside (“In Christ Jesus”), and our existential every day walk as Christians (“that we should walk in them”). There is a seamless web spun here by the inspired Apostle between Redemption planned, Redemption Accomplished, and Redemption applied.

All this to say that the idea of a Church that is conformed to this world is one of the greatest grotesqueries that could ever be conceived. Such a worldly church is the very opposite of what Paul is screaming at us in this passage. Having been united to Christ we are now living in a new age, with a new disposition and a new ethic. God ordained for us our Christ, our re-creation, and our walk.

Some Musings On Romans 1

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

In Romans 1 the essential nature of idolatry is explained to be,

1.) Exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image (23)

2.) Exchanging the truth of God for a lie (25a)

3.) Worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (25b)

As Idolatry results in becoming what you worship (Psalm 115, 135) the fitting punishment (lex talionis) for dysfunction in the relationship between the Creator and creature is dysfunction in the relationship between the creature and the creature and so malfunction in worshiping God results in malfunction in other relationships. This malfunction is then put on display in sodomy, lesbianism, disobedience to parents, and all kind of kinds of other relational grotesqueries (Romans 1:24-32).

In vs. 21 the failure is “not honoring God,” and the punishment that fits the crime is their dishonoring of their bodies via perversion (vs. 24). Those who will not honor God will not honor either themselves or others. Note also the close relationship between a rejection of God and the embrace of sexual perversion. Wrong thinking about God leads to wrong thinking (and acting) about sexuality.

In vs. 21 it is said that they became futile in their thinking because they did not honor God and as a consequence (judgment) in vs. 28 God gives them over to a debased mind. They will not think right about God and as punishment from God they are debased in their thinking about others.

All in all a rupture in the vertical relationship makes for a rupture in horizontal relationships.

It is interesting that the inspired Apostle draws the tightest relationship between men who will not love God and those same men who are dominated by their sexual lusts. It is as if somehow the image of God is wrapped up tightly with our sexuality so that if men will not bow to God they will attack God by striking out at Him by seeking to extricate the Imago Dei in attacking their sexuality. This suggests that perversion is primarily theological before it is anthropological. This tight relationship between men who will not love God and the practice of sexual perversion is seen also in the OT. Take for example Numbers 25 where the Israelites abandon God and end up going all orgiastic with the women of Moab.

Romans 1 also teaches that man’s problem is not an intellectual problem but a moral problem. Man does not bow to God because he does not have enough facts. Man does not bow to God because in having all the facts he needs he insists, despites those facts, to engod himself at God’s expense.

A slightly different nuance is to see how orthodoxy and orthopraxy walk together in Romans 1. Wrong thinking about God is always reflected by unseemly orthopraxy. Reversed proper orthodoxy, always yields God honoring orthopraxy. If someone doesn’t practice orthopraxy then their orthodoxy is askew. A expert in theology who does not love his neighbor is no expert in theology.

Romans 1, consistent with the rest of Scripture, teaches us that Idolatry is the fountainhead of all sin. Sinful acts, when understood, can always be traced to a prioritizing of some Idol over the God of the Bible.

Tolkien & Predestination

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic who, like G.K. Chesterton, had no love lost for Protestants or for the Reformation. Yet, despite his Roman Catholicism there is a strong strain of Reformed Predestinarian thought in his Trilogy. There are several places where this explicitly reveals itself,

I.) In the “Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo inquires of Gandalf how it is the ring came into Frodo’s possession. Gandalf’s response reveals a hint of high Reformed decretal predestinarian theology,

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” (1.2.116)

II.) In the second explicit instance of predestination peeking through the works of Tolkien, we find Elrond recognizing that some reality higher than himself has summoned those who were in attendance at Elrond’s War Council

“The Ring! What shall we do with the Ring, the least of rings, the trifle that Sauron fancies? That is the doom that we must deem. That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find council for the peril of the world.”

III.) The third explicit reference is woven all through the Trilogy and indeed forms one of the major themes of the Tolkien’s literary labors. This work of predestination has to do with the role Gollum (Smeagol) plays in the destruction of the ring. Several times throughout the novels (including the Hobbit) the death of Gollum is toyed with. Bilbo stays his hands in the Hobbit. Samwise resisted the urge to strike down Gollum. The sparing of Gollum’s life becomes part of a significant dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf,

“It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.”

“Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”

Likewise the predestined end of Gollum is hinted at Elrond’s War Council at Rivendell. Upon learning that Gollum has been freed from the captivity of the Wood Elves Gandalf says,

“Well, well, he is gone. We have no time to seek for him again. He must do what he will. But he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron has foreseen.”

Indeed, someone who is Reformed who reads the Trilogy has the sense that the story is one long series of predestined happenstance. The Ring comes to Bilbo who passes it to Frodo. Frodo leaves just in the nick of time before the Ringwraiths arrive making inquiry into his whereabouts. Merry falls prey to the Barrow-wights only to lay claim to one of the few weapons that could be used to eventually injure the chief of the Nine — an injury that sets him up for a death blow from a woman who should not be on the Battlefield. The different parties find themselves in Elrond at just the right time though no one has “arranged” the Council. Boromir tries to take the ring which puts Frodo on the path that had to be taken in order to destroy the Ring. Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs in an event that will eventually trigger great movements in the story line.

Over and over again the story line in the Trilogy is merely the unfolding of a predestinarian sequence. This is so true that even the tragic events are incorporated to move the story along to a predestined end. Denethor goes mad thus removing the Steward from Gondor so that the King can now reclaim his throne. Gollum leads Frodo and Samwise to Shelob’s lair where Frodo is brought low by Shelob’s fang and yet in the doing of this evil Frodo and Samwise find a path into the dark land.

Tolkien’s use of predestination does not negate though the free will of his characters. They do what they cannot help but do and yet they do so because their free will moves them to that end. Boromir freely practices his treachery and yet that treachery is caught up in a larger predestined plan to move to a predestined end that is both anticipated and unanticipated at the same time.

There is something refreshing in reflecting on how Tolkien mutes the role of predestination in his Trilogy while at the same time having that predestination as being central to the novel’s movement. Tolkien’s predestination comes in the context of characters who emphasize repeatedly the necessity to be faithful to the task they are called to regardless of how dark the situation is. This predestination of Tolkien’s does not negate the peril of the situation but it does provide the sense that regardless of what outcome is ordained the role of Men, Hobbits, and Elves is to be faithful to the task at hand. None can see the definitive end of what the predestined plan is (even if their is a nebulous sense of the reality of a ordained plan) but all must understand that they must play the part assigned to them regardless of the opposition or the incredible odds against success.

I would submit that Tolkien’s trilogy gives a pretty fair reading of the concrete impact of the Reformed truth of Predestination is to have upon those who embrace the Reformed faith.