Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Active passivity

I'm re-reading Francis Schaeffer's excellent True Spirituality. I love this book for several reasons, one is that it's not written by "brethren". Not that I'm a hater on "brethren" or anything, but it demonstrates that what we talk about as far as the Christian life isn't some fanatical "brethren" view.

One of the best things in this book is Schaeffer's dealing with the issue of trying to serve God in our own strength. His illustration is excellent. He talks about how the angel told Mary she would be the virgin mother of Christ. She had three options, according to Schaeffer (p. 52):

  1. She could have said, "no way, leave my body alone"
  2. She could have said, "I'll get right on that!" and attempted to become a virgin mother
  3. She could have said, "I'm on board! I trust God to do it."
Of course the first option would mean having no part in the blessing she was promised. The second would end in failure (it was entirely out of her power to become a virgin mother). What she actually said was, “Be it unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She expressed at once her inability to do it and her desire to be used of God. This is what Schaeffer calls "active passivity".

Sometimes I sound like I'm urging passivity when it comes to Christian living: you can't please God, only Christ can please God in you. I need to be careful about that: like Schaeffer says, it's an active passivity. We do have a part to play in the Christian life, and it's not purely passive. Certainly there is a godly desire involved, to be used of God to glorify Christ.

There are some other excellent things in this book, but I think this is the most helpful.


Robert Thomson said...

Active passivity is a helpful phrase. You will be well aware that the objection that is raised against the teaching we are trying to follow is that we are promoting passive Christianity. I suppose it all has to do with the source and outcome of the activity. If I am a weary man and I meet another believer who speaks to me in a well meaning way but entirely from his own understanding and fleshly energy, I am likely to feel more weary when he is done speaking. How different would the weary have felt after hearing 'words in season' from the Servant who began each day as the instructed one Isaiah 50:4

Anonymous said...

Exactly! The "let go and let God passive Keswick view" is certainly problematic...

Rodger said...

I don't always agree with Schaeffer in all the particulars, but he really had grasped the most fundamental truth.

Rodger said...

I don't want to divert from the discussion developing over the last few posts, Mark, but seeing as I'm reading TS right now, I thought I'd ask about a section on pg 61, and see what everyone has to say (I don't think it is unrelated to your overall present considerations). Here it is:

"(1 Corinthians 2:4: And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing word's of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.) This verse has been grossly misunderstood. Many would say that it teaches that there should only be a "simple" preaching of the gospel, and by the simple preaching of the gospel they may mean the simple refusal to consider the questions of our own generation, and a simple refusal to wrestle with them. They contrast the simple preaching of the gospel with the attempt to give honest intellectual answers when honest questions are asked. But nothing could be further from the meaning of these words. That is "simply" not what these words are saying. What Paul is saying here is that the preaching of the gospel to simple or more "complicated" men fails in both cases if it does not include a demonstration of the Christian life, if it does not include the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of giving the simplest gospel message one can imagine, and making a complete dichotomy between faith and intellectual life. Paul is saying that no matter what kind of people you are preaching to, and no matter what terminology you need, and no matter how long the words you have to use, and whether you are speaking to the peasant or the philosopher, in every case there must be demonstration of the power of the Spirit - of the resurrected, glorified Christ working through us."


Robert Thomson said...

Rodger - I have been reading LS Chafer's True Evangelism, which is as hard hitting as it was when it was first published. An extract:

"It is also clear that the transcendent undertaking of salvation is wholly a work of God, since its every phase depends upon a power that surpasses the whole range of human strength. Because of this, the condition of salvation is reasonable, which demands only an attitude of expectation toward God. In preparation for this, the blinded and self-
sufficient person must not only be so wrought upon that he will want to be saved ; but he must see his utter helplessness apart from the power of God and the sacrifice of the Cross, and this, in spite of the blinding and opposition of Satan who energizes him (Eph. ii. 2).

Who is sufficient for these things ? Surely not the eloquent preacher or the pleading evangelist. God alone is sufficient ; and He has fully provided for the necessary preparation of mind and heart in the all-important conviction of the Spirit."

Rodger said...

I agree totally with Mr. Chafer, and I am thankful to hear it put so bluntly. What struck me with FS, was that he called in question what we so often hear the cry for: "the simple gospel." That is, brethren have often so reacted to "heavy" gospel preaching, which they interpret as trusting in the power of words and intellect, and instead want some sort of simplistic gospel preaching, as if this was sufficient in itself. Can we say that often "the simple gospel" is as much presented in the sheer power of the flesh as is supposed of gospel preaching that is not seen as being as "simple"?

Robert Thomson said...


For me, the perfect definition of a gospel preacher is given in Ephesians 3:8 'To me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.'

The man placed himself so much in the background that he was not noticed. People did not leave Paul's meetings saying things like, 'what a nice man he is'; 'I thought that was a funny story'; 'I liked his tie'! They left with a sense of the grace of God that had so gifted a man to preach as he did. And they were also left with an impression of the riches that are in Christ.

CH Spurgeon once told of a woman who was saved at one of his meetings. She had been to hear many preachers before she heard him. When she was asked what was the difference between him and the other preachers, she replied, 'all those other nights I couldn't see Christ for the man; tonight I couldn't see the man for Christ'. That's Ephesians 3:8!

I would encourage anyone reading this blog who lives in the vicinity of Winnipeg to go and hear Roland Pickering preach the gospel in the next few weeks. I would be interested to know what you think.I think he is the real deal!

clumsy ox said...

FS repeatedly and pervasively talks about "irrational faith", or an "upper storey leap". He's talking about divorcing faith from thought. He insists throughout TS that the events recorded in the Gospels really happened "in space and time". In other words, we don't believe in a mystical reality divorced from the world we touch and see.

It seems to me he's attempting to combat that mode of thinking when he talks about the simplicity of the gospel. We can move from a faith that's not merely intellectual to a faith that's anti-intellectual.

Faith is a divine work in the human soul. But we are body, soul, and spirit. God doesn't save one part and leave the rest behind. Our intellect can't save us, nor is it sufficient to understand God. But He does engage our minds as well as our hearts.

I think FS was combatting the romantic notion of a faith the precludes thought.

Rodger said...

You can listen to gospel meetings Robert mentions here: