Reformation Sunday: Staying Reformed

When it comes to human beings, are you more optimistic or pessimistic?

It’s trendy to be optimistic: believe in yourself. You gotta be you! Find your calling. Do what’s true for you. Improve yourself!

We have loads of belief in our own goodness, and we think of any toxicity as coming from the outside: “shed toxic people from your life so you can thrive!”

I think the impulse here is that freedom, transformation, and happiness will be produced if we can figure out how to tap into the good within.

Another quite different impulse has been around for a very long time. It says our goodness is spoiled and that we’re destined to twist, corrupt, poison or ruin any progress we seem to be making. If you go this route, you seek freedom and peace only by looking your imperfection straight on, finding transformation only through humility, fragility, and dependency. Christians say there’s a forgiving God who meets you and completes you if you’re on this path.

That’s a controversial path to take in our world today. Turns out, the less optimistic view of human potential has been controversial in Christian circles for a long time. Church father Origen of Alexandria ( c. 184 – c. 253), Pelagius (during Augustine’s time), Erasmus (during Luther’s time), and Arminius (during Calvin’s time) each provided a counter-point in their day to the more pessimistic anthropology.

Since we won’t likely solve this dilemma, perhaps we can highlight the point of agreement. Something’s flawed with us and our world, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.