Monday, November 07, 2005

Heidelberg Catechism -- week 3

I know I've not posted on weeks 1 and 2, but I just never got around to it. Here's the background info -- We have a discussion group at our church where we're working through the Heidelberg Catechism week by week. The other three folks are all under 30 and I'm trying to orient them to some of the confessional foundations of the church. This discussion group is good for me too -- it keeps the confessions fresh in my mind.

For those of you who have no clue what I'm talking about -- a little background is in order -- our denomination has assemlbed a Book of Confessions -- historic theological statements from various eras of the church. These statements summarize the teaching of the Bible, and guide our present day understanding (that is, if we take the time to actually read them).

Catechisms are theological documents that are stated in question and answer format. Heidelberg was written early in the Protestant Reformation, and is still used as the standard for churches in the Dutch Reformed Tradition. The first two readings deal with defining mankind's only hope, and our inability to fully keep the law of God -- so we pick up in week 3 with the case already being made. For these posts, I'll give the reading that we did (quoted directly from the book of Confessions), and then summarize the discussion. As always, the floor is open for your comments and thoughts!

"Q. Did God create man evil and perverse like this?
A. No. On the contrary, God greated man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, love him with his whole heart, and live with him in eternal blessedness, praising and glorifying him.

Q. Where, then, does this corruption of human nature come from?
A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden; whereby, our human life is so poisoned that we are all conceived and born in the state of sin.

Q. But are we so perverted that we are altogether unable to do good and prone to do evil?
A. Yes, unless we are born again through the Spirit of God."

The first thing we ought to note is the use of that little word "perverted" in the last question does not mean that we are all slobbering maniacs -- It means that we are diverted from our original design. We are not able to do what we were made to do in the first place.

That said, we come to the oh so popular main theme of this reading: depravity. It's a common theme in literature and art (see my previous post). It's a wonder that secular novelists see this truth as clear on the nose on their faces, but many religious folks balk at the idea.

Depravity is the T of the Tulip of the five points of Calvinism:

*Total Depravity
*Unconditional Election
*Limited Atonement
*Irresistable Grace
*Perseverance of the Saints

A lot of people really have problems with the concept of depravity. But our discussion group didn't. Among us, we had all hit our heads against the wall enough times to have an understanding of self-doubt. As one friend told me a long time ago "I'm a sheep that has to stay close to the shepherd" -- That's an experience I identify with. Depravity means my capacities for good decision-making, right discernment of truth, rightly oreinting my emotions, and just about everything else, are undermined. Every human faculty is stained.

But counterbalanced against that is the dignity of humanity, as stated in question 6. Humans are created good and in God's image. And so the question that arose in discussion was how did the fall affect that dignity. Was the image of God (imago Dei) lost? Was it broken? or was the corruption simply an inability to perceive truth rightly? Are we like a TV set that is smashed beyond repair, or are we like a TV set with the antenna removed? I came down on the idea of asserting that we continue to have the full dignity of bearing the image of God (hence the reason that love your neighbor like yourself is the second greatest commandment behind love the lord your God) but that we have the full corruption of depravity. Full dignity, full depravity. That's us.

Soli Deo Gloria