The Freedom of Ecclesiastical Vows

In the question from the Christianity Today interview about Tim Keller’s new book on marriage, the New York pastor explains a notion of freedom that if applied to ecclesiastical vows and relationships might put a crimp in organizations like the Gospel Coalition.

Q. One of the paradoxes you talk about is how the commitment of marriage actually produces freedom: the freedom to be truly ourselves, the freedom to be fully known, the freedom to be there in the future for those we love and who love us. Why do you believe that the commitment of marriage is viewed as largely anything but freeing today?

A. Our culture pits the two against each other. The culture says you have to be free from any obligation to really be free. The modern view of freedom is freedom from. It’s negative: freedom from any obligation, freedom from anybody telling me how I have to live my life. The biblical view is a richer view of freedom. It’s the freedom of—the freedom of joy, the freedom of realizing what I was designed to be.

If you don’t bind yourself to practice the piano for eight hours a day for ten years, you’ll never know the freedom of being able to sit down and express yourself through playing beautiful music. I don’t have that freedom. It’s very clear that to be able to do so is a freeing thing for people, with the diminishment of choice. And since freedom now is defined as all options, the power of choice, that’s freedom from. I don’t think ancient people saw these things as contradictions, but modern people do.

Here is how Keller’s answer might sound in the voice of a confessional Presbyterians (italics indicated changes):

If you don’t bind yourself to the practices of a Presbyterian pastor for eight hours a day for ten years, you’ll never know the freedom of being a Presbyterian churchman. I don’t have that freedom. It’s very clear that to be able to do so is a freeing thing for ministers, with the diminishment of choice to participate in parachurch organizations. And since piety is defined as possible in all sorts of pious environments, the power of choice, that’s freedom from. I don’t think the old Reformed clergy saw these things as contradictions, but evangelical Protestants do.

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15 thoughts on “The Freedom of Ecclesiastical Vows

  1. And, MM, as we all know, a husband carrying on platonically (or in this case sappily) with other women may not be sin but it is really bad judgment.

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  2. I love coming to Old Life. I need my weekly anti-TGC/Keller teaching. Just the teaching my soul, which longs for true Reformed faith and practice (whether it is taught in Westminster or not), needs.

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  3. What I find more troubling than the para-church problems are the subtle redefinitions/changes in interpreting scripture. What I hear is the self-actualization motif in popular psychology threaded through his advice for marriage. Sigh… is it a version of the “me, Me, ME” song? Or is a new way to address the old Adam – law/carrot?

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  4. Lily, the “bondage makes me free indeed” stuff can have a therapeutic feel. But the Bible does seem to suggest that freedom in Christ comes by being his slave. Then again, if that’s what TGC means to say then I wonder what gives with all the wholesale bristling at the category of slavery. The point seems to be about counter-culturalism, and the over-played template is marriage. But I wonder if parachurch types ever consider how bolstering ecclesiastical religion would be an even more potent pushback, especially when plenty in culture already share a high view of marriage but also share their low view of the church.

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  5. Thanks, Zrim. I appreciate your comment, but I feel reeeally ooold after reading it. 🙂 Perhaps these examples betray me?

    Re: The biblical view is a richer view of freedom. It’s the freedom of—the freedom of joy, the freedom of realizing what I was designed to be.

    Once upon a time, we were told we were set free from sin, death, and the devil – no concerns about needing a freedom to realize what we were designed to be. We pretty much knew who we were. The focus went outward not inward. It was considered vain, self-centered, and narcissistic to focus on yourself.

    Re: If you don’t bind yourself to practice the piano for eight hours a day for ten years, you’ll never know the freedom of being able to sit down and express yourself through playing beautiful music. I don’t have that freedom.

    Once upon a time, we used to call that reaping the fruit of our labor and we weren’t concerned about “expressing” ourselves (inward focus) in our work only in doing a job well (outward focus). The personal gifts or talents and the fruit of our labor were there to be used to contribute to our family and other’s welfare (look outward). Toss in a little of Bach’s soli deo gloria for good measure when talking of music. 😉

    Re: But I wonder if parachurch types ever consider how bolstering ecclesiastical religion would be an even more potent pushback, especially when plenty in culture already share a high view of marriage but also share their low view of the church.

    It sure doesn’t seem like they have thought about bolstering it or thought that they might be in competition with local churches or have conflicts of interest. Things have changed. A celebrity church culture and consumer approach of cafeteria style shopping to adorn our lives with a religion that works seems entrenched.

    I can’t remember where, but one article I read not too long ago labeled our culture’s self absorption as petty “First World” concerns. [How can I realize what I was designed to be? How can I have the freedom to express myself in my music?] It saddens me to think how often a line from the Lawrence of Arabia movie could be applied to our First World Christian culture: …a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel.

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  6. Zrim, it looks like they are convinced that they are bolstering the church.

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/12/05/mission-critical

    TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry, a consensus document for Council members, explains their unswerving commitment to seek justice while leaving room for diverse applications.

    “Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.”

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  7. Lily, isn’t the point around here to get your old on? But I’ll see you on the in/external point and raise a little irritation at how self-esteemism gives old-fashioned self-confidence a black eye.

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  8. Zrim, you are too funny! Get your old on? LOL!

    So… you want to meet the in/out frustration and raise the ante to self-esteem irritation? Okay. I’ll meet your self-esteem irritation and raise it to ire on the way they coddle and facilitate the spirit of the age (liberal activism) in the church (eg: churches must work for justice and peace… we must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially… Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace).

    You’d think there were no programs in our denominations worthy of supporting or being active in! The Southern Baptists (TGC is dominated by Baptists aren’t they?) have a long history of service and strong active groups that already reach out to those in need. Only one example among many: A few years ago, some severe storms knocked down power lines and trees in Oklahoma trapping numerous people in their homes with no heat. The Texas Baptists loaded up their pick-ups with supplies and chain saws, and cut up the trees blocking roads and so forth to help rescue people. Same with tornados and flooding down here in the South. But they wouldn’t know of such things in Noo Yoik City? I guess the old programs are just too simple, plain, and old-fashioned, and lack the activism buzz words of justice, peace, poor, disadvantaged, and so forth?

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  9. Lily, I thought you were going to say they loaded up their trucks and moved to Beverlee (swimming pools and movie stars). But, I’ll see your point about extra-ecclesial liberal activism and raise some ire about extra-ecclesial conservative activism.

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  10. Hey, Zrim, glad you know Southern isn’t a synonym for hillbilly (or redneck or racism or other epithets). 😉

    Re: extra-ecclesial conservative activism…

    Are you speaking of the 2k confusion in the church when getting involved in social issues (eg: thinking government is the answer)? Or are you thinking of more than that? Would you mind explaining what the term means in your usage?

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  11. Lily, I do, but as an upper midwestern Yank I reserve the right to rib southerners as being hillbillies (just as a dog owner I reserve the right to rib cat owners as being light in their loafers).

    Yes, I am thinking of kingdom confusion and how, like sin, it is an equal opportunity affliction of progressives and conservatives alike. But I am also thinking how activism is categorically contrary to an institutional ethic, which means it is an equal opportunity affliction of secularists and religionists alike.

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  12. Zrim, you’re welcome to rib me as much as you like. Since I own neither cat nor dog, and only have the wildlife in my back yard, does that mean I don’t wear loafers?

    Perhaps, this is biased, but if the 2k confusion is limited to government, the conservative 2k confusion doesn’t bother me near as much as the liberal 2k confusion (I’m one who would more than likely flunk temptation and vote for the Sunday blue laws to return 😉 ).

    Re: …activism is categorically contrary to an institutional ethic, which means it is an equal opportunity affliction of secularists and religionists alike.

    The depth of our sinfulness manifested in the lengths we will go in trying to “fix” ourselves and everyone else. I’m still trying to understand the new environmental law that ban non-mercury bulbs, and now the EPA considering making an over-the-counter abortion causant available to any age person… and the list goes on with other crazy-maker rules that will surely “fix” us. I hope it doesn’t devolve into being ruled by Attila’s progeny.

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