January 21, 2021

Death Of An Autonomist

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Matthew 16:24-26, The Message)

Damaris Zehner wrote an outstanding essay earlier this week on the myth of autonomy. This is a challenge for many who call themselves followers of Jesus. We’ve read the self-help books and a lot of what they say makes sense. Self-sacrifice leads to finding the true self? Come on.

Admit it: The idea of not being responsible for your own life flies in the face of all we are taught from the earliest age. We are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. We’re even made to memorize that great scripture from 1 Opinions, “God helps those who help themselves.”

I have only one thing to say about that. Unfortunately, I can’t say it here in this forum. We have rules against language like that, and it wouldn’t do for the publisher to violate those rules. Suffice it to say, you don’t want to step in any.

“Autonomy” as we have been using it here this week refers to one thinking he or she can do without the help of anyone else. As Damaris said, it is just a myth. It sounds good, though, doesn’t it? The rugged individualist in each of us would love to be able to say, “I did it all without anyone’s help,” whether “it” is building the family’s house or simply finishing the crossword puzzle from the morning paper. Admitting our need for help somehow brands us as less than others, as a loser at life because we needed help.

Chris McCandless was not a loser. He was not going to rely on anyone for anything ever again. Thus after he graduated from college he told his parents he was going on a bit of an adventure and not to expect to hear from him again. He began using the name Alexander Supertramp and set out to live off of the land. Yet he often found himself staying in homes of those who befriended him and accepting manual labor jobs to earn enough for his next adventure. Finally he decided he had to prove to himself that he really could exist without the aide of anyone else. He made his way into the Alaskan bush (with boots given to him by the last person to pick him up hitchhiking–Chris’s autonomy did not start until he was dropped off at the edge of the wilderness) and lived off of the land for several months before he died. Of starvation. A gruesome ending to what had been an interesting tale of one man’s attempt to go it alone.  The story is documented in Jon Krakauer’s wonderful book, Into the Wild.

Krakauer himself is no stranger to autonomy. When still a teen he decided to attempt a solo climb of the Devil’s Thumb in Alaska. After several brushes with death, he found himself standing on the peak of the Thumb. All alone. No one there to share the moment with him. Was the solo climb worth the incredibly lonely view from the top?

We love adventure stories like that of McCandless and Krakauer. It makes us feel, I don’t know, more in charge of our lives perhaps. But that is just an illusion. No one is in charge of his own life. No one. Each of us has been formed from clay by the Potter for purposes only the Potter knows. We spend so much time and effort and money trying to find our purpose, trying to reach our destiny. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to seek to know the Potter instead? To trust him as we are on his workbench? He is crafting us for his purposes. He knows just what he is doing, even when we have no clue. (Which, I think, is most of the time.)

I think the main thing most of us want is to understand just what is going on. To know why we are going through what we are experiencing. And when the answer to “why” is not immediately forthcoming, we decide we need to take things into our own hands. We become Alexander Supertramp and decide we can control our lives better than anyone else can. Just give me a lift to edge of the woods, and yes, I’ll gladly take your boots, thank you. Now leave me alone and watch what I can do on my own. Why, with very little effort I can starve myself to death.

I will admit that I grow very impatient at times wondering just what the Lord is up to in my life. He has me on a path right now that makes no sense. I can’t see more than my next step in front of me—and sometimes not even that. I can’t even see Jesus most of the time. I hear his voice ahead of me and do my best to stay on the trail, following that voice. The temptation to take over and do things my way is great. I want to understand—the foundation of autonomy. Knowledge is power.

So what is the antidote to the autonomy that rises up in each of us? Faith. Not faith in our own abilities and skills to keep ourselves alive. No, faith in the Potter. Faith that he really does know just what he is doing even when we think he’s lost his mind.  (And, as the saying goes, faith is not meant to be done alone. Read Chaplain Mike’s great article on Community here.)

The hardest part of the Christian life for me is simply trusting the Lord. Even though he proved himself faithful yesterday, how can I trust him again today? To just snatch my life back from his hands and do things the way they make sense to me is always so tempting. I can see me, I can hear me. But to trust an invisible, silent, unnameable God?

So I spend most of my days trying to kill the Alexander Supertramp in me. I make him pick up a wooden cross and head up the hill. And just when I think he is dead, just when I think I can now finally trust God with what I hear him calling me to, Alexander Supertramp hops down off of the cross and calls me to follow him into the wilderness, just the one of us. “We can make it on our own,” he says. “We don’t need anyone’s help. Everything we want is just ahead.”

I guess this is nothing new. Jesus dealt with it with his disciples. I imagine very little of what he did made sense to his followers. “Jesus,” they would say, “that’s just not the way it’s done. You aren’t following the rules.” So when Jesus told them to get out of the driver’s seat, to embrace suffering, to let him lead—in other words, to trust him—well, I know just how hard it was on the disciples to hear that and really take it to heart.

So there is a bit of the autonomist in each of us. We all have an Alexander Supertramp fighting to have his way in us. If you were successful at having him carry the cross today, congratulations. But don’t think you can rest easy. Tomorrow he will be back, calling you into the wilderness. Don’t go. The end in there is not pretty.


  1. I haven’t read into the wild, but I have seen the movie — and, I have to admit, something in that movie resonated deeply with me. What resonated really wasn’t my own desire for autonomy. I am a fiercely (sometimes even self-destructively) independent creature, and God has to deal with me over that issue just about every day. No, it was something else.
    I’m not so sure that Chris’s quest really began as a pursuit of total and complete autonomy — though it certainly evolved into to that by the end. I think he was someone who felt trapped — who was being cast into a certain mold by societal forces and family expectations, and he didn’t like what he was being molded into. He did not want to become the person the world wanted and expected him to become. More specifically, he did not want to become like his parents, and he was willing to go to any length or run any distance to escape that unthinkable outcome.
    I think Chris’s tragic flaw was his belief that autonomy was the way out of that trap. While he had the courage to buck the system and break free of societal constraints, he lacked the courage to give himself away in true self-sacrificing, self-abandoning love. But, sadly, he bypassed several opportunities for that along his journey in order to continue his dogged quest for total autonomy.
    For me, the moral of the story is that God does want to free us from these chains that bind us — be they societal molds, addictions, deep emotional wounds, bitterness, etc. — and I believe that He sometimes places a strong desire within us to break free of these things. But when we insist on acquiring freedom by our own power and on our own terms, we’re really just running from one trap and into another.

  2. It’s always interesting to me how different people can see the same movie or read the same book and walk away with different interpretations. When I saw Into the Wild, I didn’t really see it as being all about autonomy. I saw it more like RonP is describing. Chris was trying to break away from the life he found himself trapped in. On his journey, he was forced to rely on others along the way. Even the bus he found in Alaska was there because of someone else. I see how his death could be seen as a result of his attempt to go it on his own. That just wasn’t the thing that I found most striking about the story. I think why is resonated with me had to do more with the point of being courageous enough to walk away from the easy path that is handed to you and follow the road less taken.

    • I haven’t seen the movie, but in real life Chris McCandless died of starvation within hiking distance of other people. He may have had some personal issues even more deep-seated than autonomy, but whatever his motivation, I don’t see him as a courageous hero but as a tragically mistaken young man. That a book and a movie were made about him is proof that our culture is fascinated by autonomy, even while it misunderstands what autonomy really is. I seond RonP’s take on where our true freedom really lies.

      • I haven’t read the book, and I hadn’t really really heard anything about the guy until watching the movie. My only point was that in the movie, he didn’t come off as a loner who was necessarily trying to prove he could live without any ties to people. A good 3/4 of the movie tells the story of his traveling across the country where was relied much on the kindness of strangers he met along the way.

        I’m not really trying to dispute Jeff’s point. I’m just saying that the point I initially took away from the movie was different than the one he took away. I think that the great thing about great literature or movies. They speak to the human condition in many different ways. I totally understand Jeff’s point and think it’s a very valid one.

    • Yet when we choose that path less taken on our own, rather than being directed there by the Father, we are autonomists. Whenever we choose our own direction, whether it be noble, rugged, virtuous–whatever–we are still making our own decision. Therein lies the rub. God wants us totally surrendered to His decision-making. Sometimes it is to go against the grain, to abandon common sense and “the way things have always been.” Sometimes it’s to walk in common sense. The thing is we are to place ourselves in HIs hand and let Him do the directing.

      McCandless did buck the system. As followers of Christ, that may be our call as well. And then we can learn from Chris how to strike out where there is no trail. Unfortunately, many of us then carry it to the extreme he did: The search for total self-reliance and no need for God.

      • Damaris and I were apparently writing our comments at the same time. Like minds, eh?

        So combine our responses and I think you have where I was trying to go with this…

      • Can you describe what a Non-Autonomist life would look like? I mean, in a practical sense. I got up this morning and… fill in the blank…

        It seems odd to me to say “God called me to eat cheerios and drink coffee…” or to go to the bathroom (I think of that as the call of nature 🙂

        from a practical sense, how does one “surrendered to His decision-making” and how do you know that Chris McCandless did not do this?

        How do we differentiate:

        1. “I am being called to do this by God”
        2. “I think I am being called to do this by God”
        3. “I think I am being called to do this”
        4. “I think I should do this”

        not so hard with 1. and 4. but I think that we are much more likely to be in 2. or 3.

        • OneDad…you are asking good questions here. I hope someone can answer better than I could. I often don’t feel I am following any path at all. I feel like I am just bumping along in life. I guess I could say that what I have read about Jesus affects the decisions I make and I do pray in a way that I hope will allow me to be more aware of the presence of God, but the truth is…most of the time I am just bumping along. I am not aware of what it is I should do with my life that would be “most pleasing” to God. I just live my life and hope I don’t hurt too many people. It would be great, I think, to have a more direct purpose and plan to my life, but hey, it is what it is.

  3. I still maintain that autonomy is not exclusive with dependence on God. For instance, one can reject some subset of the beliefs of their church and live out their own beliefs. What I’m getting from these two posts on dependence (both directly stated and indirectly) is that we obviously can’t be completely independent from others, so why even bother trying to be independent at all? The same sentiment can easily be turned around: we can’t be totally dependent on each other, so why even bother trying to depend at all? I don’t think the material comparisons–smelt the ore and chop the tree to make your own shovel, etc–really help here; after all, as much as we depend on the labor of others in our economy, we also exercise an even higher of independence from those same people. In fact, their very anonymity is perhaps the most telling sign of our separation–we don’t know the baker or the milkman or the mailman or the store clerk by name, so we don’t feel anything approaching a bond with them.

    We all need some degree of both dependence and autonomy on/from each other. Different people need them in different proportion. But statements that autonomy is the way to hell and comparisons with mentally disturbed adults who needed help do not help anyone find their proper balance.

    • Morning…well, you are right (sort of) , but then so is JeffD. How’s that for morning ‘waffling’ ? No teaching just appears, there is always a context, and since this is , for the most part, an evangelical blog, the context of JeffD’s and Damaris’ posts is important. There is quite a bit in the ev. world that would , intentionally or not, give folks a push toward the kind of autonomy that they’ve posted about. There is quite a bit of ‘just me and Jesus” out there, as well as quite alot of deistic moralism. Much of what fills our bookstores (my local church’s store included) is some kind of pull yourself up by the spiritual bootstraps steps 1-2-3-4……back to #2 , etx…

      Our culture’s messages on autonomy (rugged pioneer spirit and all that) do not help, but just confirm the lie that with the right teaching aids/bible studies and Jee-zus, we can gjit er done.
      This flies in the face of the plain meaning of scripture, and the way GOD made both us and the universe. Balance is a great directive, but I think these posts are helping with that, not hurting. More later: glad to have you posting here at IMONK, btw…

      GREG R

      • And maybe that’s where I’m missing it…I’m from a subset of evangelicalism that denigrated individual effort and contribution, for the most part. One needed to be completely dependent on the church. Commitment to the local body was a necessity, especially when expressed through attendance “every time the doors are open” – bonus points if you have to miss dinner to make it there. Individual responsibility was limited to always giving your tithe and faith promise, plus additional “free will” offerings, and personally and aggressively confronting people with the gospel. (We actually had men in our church go leave pamphlets on cars at a rather large convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this was considered a very very good thing.) Anything new was automatically suspicious, and probably was a sign that you were straying from God or being deceived by the devil. “Know what you believe” really meant “be able to recite what the pastor told us we believe without having to call him up and ask him”, not “search the scriptures and make up your own mind”, and certainly not “go be educated and learn about multiple points of view”. And on and on I could go. It wasn’t part of the shepherding movement; there wasn’t really a single focus of authority, but rather the vague concept of “the church” (“our church”, really) instead.

        So when I hear that autonomy is a bad thing, I start out way over on the bleeding edge of skeptical. If I’d been a good little kool-aid drinker sheep, I never would have found this blog half a dozen years ago, or given any serious consideration to the variety of views espoused here, or quit my job in leadership in that church, or left it altogether. After twenty-five years in basically the environment, I finally grew tired of being a good little sheep and decided to strike out on my own. Call it autonomy or rebellion or whatever you want. Certainly I’m greatly obliged to places like this where people shared similar stories, but without the desire to be responsible for my own spiritual decisions, I never would have departed in the first place.

    • Matt P. — How about if we say that the goal is symbiosis, not parasitism? In symbiosis, two distinct entities rely on each other to survive, with each other’s help. That seems to me a good description of the sort of life God has created us to have. A parasite, on the other hand, draws life from another being and gives nothing in return — more the way Lewis describes demonic action. Maybe the extreme autonomist — an ideal that doesn’t and can’t exist — would be a rock: inviolate, distinct, alone, and dead.

      (I’m thinking Simon and Garfunkel here. “I am a rock, I am an island.”)

      • Perhaps it is helpful to consider married life. In our home there are a number of chores that I do. There are many things that my husband does. He does his part, I do mine. When we are both doing our best, things tend to run fairly smoothly. When he needs an extra pair of hands, he calls me to help. If I need his help, I know I can call him no matter how trivial to request. I recall someone saying that to achieve a 50/50 marriage both have to be willing to give 90 percent of the time. Damaris suggested symbiosis. Actually I think symbiotic (the living together of two dissimilar organisms for mutual benefit) is a fairly good description of marriage.

        Anyway, I have been carefully plotting the murder of my inner control freak these past few years. Or at least shrink her to the point that I can’t hear her. She’s the one who tells me that I can get whatever I want if I do it my way.

        So to extrapolate from marriage and other symbiotic life forms, these days I try to do, give and accept all to the best of my ability. Not only can I not do it all on my own, but I don’t want to do it all on my own. Giving should include giving others the opportunity to lend a hand.

  4. There is also a documentary of Chris’s story. They filmed it the same time the movie was being filmed.

  5. Book vs. film and comments re: what may have motivated Chris:


    • Thanks, Eric. This is a great comparison of the two media that exam McCandless’s life. Here is a line that sums up the differences very well:

      “I think it comes down to this, for the most part: Krakauer’s book is an examination of McCandless’ life and death. [Sean] Penn’s movie is an enthusiastic celebration of it.”

      To understand the difference between book and movie, follow Eric’s link above.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The movie shows us McCandless as he saw himself.
        The book shows us McCandless as he was seen by others.
        Rashomon for real.

  6. Charles Fines says

    Jeff, I understand and sympathize with your apparent directives without apparent backup and support, “apparent” being the operative word. I wonder if you have read Come Be My Light, the private writings of Mother Teresa. After getting her initial assignment from God, she pretty much felt a great distance from God for most of the rest of her life as she completed that assignment in faith.

    I don’t mean to take away from the point of your posting, but I do feel called to stick up for Chris McCandless, with whom I feel strong kinship. In the first place, while he technically died of starvation, this was not because he stupidly was not able to find food to eat. He ate an obscure plant which at a certain stage in its growth renders the human body incapable of absorbing nutrition from food. He had food and may well have survived the winter if he had not been in effect poisoned. He had no idea what was going on and became so weak that he couldn’t seek help. If he had been found alive, doctors may not have been able to save him. It was hardly his fault unless you would consider him answering his call as a fault.

    You speak of Chris’s adventure as going it alone. I prefer to think of it as a quest, and I think it would fit as a spiritual quest tho not a religious one. If he had survived his ordeal, I believe he would have been much closer to the Unknown he was seeking. I wonder if you would call Jesus’ forty days in the desert as “going it alone”?

    I believe there is a time coming upon us all in which skills for wilderness living will be highly valuable and of great importance in helping others survive who might otherwise not make it. From what you have said, it sounds to me as if your spiritual refuge is in line with the preparations for this time of purification. I wish you all the best in finding the courage and strength to complete your mission.

  7. hmmm… yes everything here is true. Regarding the famous maxim ““God helps those who help themselves.” I actually didn’t get that growing up. I got something like, “Never set your own goals or put forth effort to accomplish them. That’s relying on your own strength. Let God make all your decisions for you.”

    I don’t really subscribe to “God helps those who help themselves” as the be all and end all, but there was a important question from John Cassian irrc that sticks with me: “Do the crops grow because of the rain from heaven, or because the farmer tills the field?”

    • Both.

      If I take the initiative in my garden to till the garden, add the compost and sow the seed, I am helping myself. But there is no way I can claim much credit.

      Lots of tiny organisms help by turning garden waste into compost. Other people make my garden tools and pack the seed. I have to rely elsewhere for sunlight and rain fall.

      So God does help gardeners who help themselves. Even though some of my plants like dill, basil and coriander self seed, come back year after year without help from me, I still must pull the weeds to give them space to thrive.

      What a mistake to claim my effort was all needed, refusing to acknowledge a gardener’s dependence on the totality of God’s Creation. What would my garden be without those compost-making organisms, insect pollinators, skilled craftsmen, raindrops and sun rays?

      Being Grace-reliant is to acknowledge reliance on God, and all God’s magnificent Creation, people included. Yes, we still do for ourselves, but always with profound gratitude.

  8. A friend has blogged about her 10-year involvement in the church/cult we were both part of re: their message/teaching of “Don’t YOU do anything, it all has to be GOD doing it,” etc., and how that has destroyed lives and almost destroyed hers.

    • Ooops. I forgot the link: http://emkaycomminup.blogspot.com/

    • This sounds to me like an extension of the “shepherding” debacle of the late 70s. Doing all unto the Lord is our call. Having someone else dictate to me what that “all” is makes it a cult.

      • The leader/pastor drew a lot from Watchman Nee’s teachings on “Delegated Authority.” I don’t know to what extent the Prince/Mumford/Basham/Simpson group used Nee for their Shepherding doctrines in the 1970’s.

        • Yes, a old youth pastor of mine was a fan of Nee. I don’t know much about him.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The control-freak Christian Fellowship (TM) that I was involved in back in the Seventies also was heavily into Watchman Nee. As well as Hal Lindsay.

          Nee seems to have been some sort of fad back then.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Watchman Nee appears to have been a spiritual fad back then.

          The control-freak Christian Fellowship (TM) that messed me up in the Seventies was heavily into Watchman Nee. Right up there with Hal Lindsay.

    • Interesting…. weirdly quasi-spiritual passivity seems to be the other extreme to the autonomy that Jeff is writing about. One is “I can handle this myself…”, the other is “in my flesh dwelleth no good thing….I must wait on God….. (and wait…..and wait…) Two different ways or paths to death, seems to me, and very inhuman at that.

    • so what’s old Ole up to these days ???

      • greg r:

        Good ol’ Ole Anthony. The man of a thousand faces/stories.

        Our group was not led by Ole, but by someone who had also been influenced by J. W. Luman and the “Christ Life” teachings. Ole claims that Lumen was the key to his spiritual rebirth/perspective; our former pastor and his wife came from Luman’s decades-ago Bible School in Dallas, called Berean and/or Shiloh.

        FWIW, there is an ex-cult survivor’s group in Dallas headed by Doug and Wendy Duncan who were in Ole’s cult for years. Their group and cult-counseling connections saved the friend whose blog I linked to. Wendy’s book I CAN’T HEAR FROM GOD ANYMORE: LIFE IN A DALLAS CULT is great, and well-worth reading (read/finished it in one day):


        Even if it’s not exactly an iMonk topic (or not a current one), I think people here would benefit from buying and reading Wendy’s book.

        • thanks, EricW; there’s a soft spot in my heart for those who have been “shepherded”. Long story, but I’ve been down a milder form of that (late 70’s early 80’s); sadly, this stuff gets recycled and resold every other generation or so….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            At least this time around, the Official Christian Cult-Watch groups look into the behavior of the group instead of just its theology. (Or at least I hope they do.)

            Back in the Seventies, they only parsed the groups’ theology against an apparent basis of “Bible Believing Evangelical Christianity”, completely missing the abusive control-freak behavior. A lot of Cults in all but name (including the one who nailed me) sneaked in under the radar that way. The “Not A Cult” verdict of the Chrisitan Cult Watch groups was then used as an additional “God Saith” weapon against the members’ “Rebellious Nature”.

  9. JeffD and Damaris – thanks for these postings. Great base for doing some heavy reflecting on what you both are pointing at. Respectfully, seems to me the responses are missing the point – its not about McCandless or Krakauer, its about the decisions each of us make as to our autonomy – that is choosing to go our own way, rightly or wrongly – away from Christ and the Scriptures. Is not the ultimate idol which has been what humanity wrestled with from the beginning – the power and authority of the self?

  10. I guess my main question here would be: How do you separate “Self serving independence driven autonomy seeking ideas” from “Jesus lead exercising of spiritual gifts of leading and creating god’s work”, When both of these must come “out of our hearts” aka, not taken from outside direction…

    Unless what you are saying is, don’t do anything unless someone tells you to… in which case, Which human should I be listening too?

  11. Look up the lyrics for the song “Beggars” by Thrice. It’s an excellent piece of poetry that discusses this idea a bit.

  12. Coming from Logos software (it’s one of the first books to be “printed” in Logos only):

    Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology by Andrew David Naselli

    Keswick theology—one of the most significant strands of second-blessing theology—assumes that Christians experience two “blessings.” The first is getting “saved,” and the second is getting serious. The change is dramatic: from a defeated life to a victorious life, from a lower life to a higher life, from a shallow life to a deeper life, from a fruitless life to a more abundant life, from being “carnal” to being “spiritual,” from merely having Jesus as your Savior to making Jesus your Master. So how do people experience this second blessing? Through surrender and faith: “Let go and let God.”

    Second-blessing theology is pervasive because countless people have propagated it in so many ways, especially in sermons and devotional writings. It is appealing because Christians struggle with sin and want to be victorious in that struggle—now. Second-blessing theology offers a quick fix to this struggle, and its shortcut to instant victory appeals to genuine longings for holiness.

    This book’s thesis is simple: Keswick theology is not biblically sound. This book tells the story of where Keswick theology comes from, explains what exactly it is, and then refutes it while building a case for a biblical alternative. No other book surveys the history and theology of second-blessing theology like this and then analyzes it from a soteriologically Reformed perspective.

    – – –

    Click on this link http://www.logos.com/products/prepub/details/6490 to read more and to go to the link to the PDF of the book’s front matter for more information – or cut and paste it from this:


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That “Keswick Theology” and “Second Blessing” is ominously similar to that of that aberrant Christian Fellowship (TM) that messed me up in the Seventies. They too said the Altar Call and Saying the Magic Words were only the beginning of being Saved and that The Holy Spirit would then draw you into Discipleship (TM).

      In retrospect, I can’t see much difference between their Holy Spirit Discipleship and brainwashing a la 1984 or Korean War POWs. Their way was to high-pressure you until you snapped into “Letting Go and Letting God”; the results I observed after “Letting Go and Letting God” were best described as a Scripture-reciting automaton Who Loved Big Brother. And waited for The Rapture (any day now). Oh, and saw Demons everywhere outside the four walls of the Fellowship’s Christian compound.

  13. thanks for addressing this subject.

    if anything i have struggled with the “fully rely on God” syndrome, mainly because i don’t see in myself anything that could possibly accomplish anything that God has asked me to do. oftentimes i feel like a third-rate person/christian because i am not able to “pull myself up by the bootstraps”, put together a plan and work it to a successful conclusion. anything that is in me that can accomplish those things is only there because God has put it there piece by piece over the last 41 years. when God seems to be asking me to do something and it is just me and Him it seems easy, but when i open my eyes and see who i am it seems impossible. i have learned during those times to rearrange three words. at first i think “yes Jesus, but…” and come up with all the reasons why it would never work. but by rearranging those words to “yes, but Jesus…” i have come to a much fuller realization that i really can do what Jesus asks me through His abilities, not mine.

  14. Autonomy is one of the cornerstones of classical liberal theology: we can’t rely on supernatural powers or intervention; we are basically good and capable of doing it alone. This is at the heart of much of what Kant taught. It shows up in the preaching of Charles Finney. It is definitely at the heart of present-day christless, biblical principle-based, therapeutic, self-help evangelicalism. Our cultural war politics may sound conservative; but our theology is text-book liberalism. Legalism is a product of liberal theology: I must do. It’s up to me. I can’t rest on the merits of Christ but must earn my own merit badges. As Keith Green preached, the difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did and didn’t do.

    But grace is not passive, as it is criticized by liberal thelogians. God’s grace changes us and animates us. God is active, creating what He loves – as Luther said. As God animates us, we begin to model Him: creating, loving serving, defending, dying, rather than passively consuming. But we are 100% dependent upon grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Dependency must not be confused with passivity.

  15. Great article, and excellent spiritual analogy. Saw “Into the Wild” on Netflix just a couple months back, and it instantly became my favorite movie. Not to spoil anything for anyone, but the things he writes in the movie really captured my attention, especially his last sentiment. Totally worth seeing. Perhaps I’ll even read the book sometime.

  16. Denise Spencer says

    “I think the main thing most of us want is to understand just what is going on.” And I think you’ve hit on it, Jeff. Someone may have already said this, but I suppose this goes all the way back to Eve plucking that fruit off the tree…the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve “wanted the wisdom it would give her.” She couldn’t be content with trusting God for everything. And we’ve been taking things into our own hands ever since.

  17. It is very difficult for protestants to talk about not just dependence on God but dependence on others. Perhaps it goes back to me-and-Jesus pietism. Perhaps it is fear of manipulative and oppressive leadership, or a fear of co-dependency. Maybe it implies a “Jesus-and…” warping of the doctrine of justification: why would I need anyone but Jesus?

    The story of Jesus healing the man lowered through Peter’s roof is facinating. The text states that Jesus saw “their” faith – not “his” faith – and said declared that his sins were forgiven. Paul talks about the faith of one spouse leading to the salvation of an entire home. Maybe there is a bigger connection between Christian community and salvation than we are willing to accept. Catholics are able to think in terms of the sharing of infused grace by saints or through praying for loved ones in purgatory, or those in heaven praying for us. Such a thing has no place in protestant soteriology. It’s sad, in a way. There isn’t that mystical, sacramental bond that ties us together. Is there victory in making it to heaven if it means leaving a wounded comrade behind on the battlefield of life?

    • Mr. Ox:

      Some of us Protestants fully recognize that we who are Christians are joined to one another spiritually, and when one member in the body suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice. We partake of one loaf when we have communion, we pray for each other, we visit and visit with each other regularly, we share each other’s burdens, emotional, financial and physical, we pray together, and read and share Scriptures together, etc. We experience the presence of the Holy Spirit together at times in our worship together.

      Quite “mystical,” actually, or even “sacramental,” if you have to use those terms. 🙂

      • And I would say that I have closer “communion” and closer relationships with my Protestant friends, both before and after our stint in Orthodoxy, than when we were Orthodox – i.e., when we were regularly praying with the saints and believing and asking for their intercession and experiencing the sacraments and partaking of the Real Body and Blood of Christ and having mystical worship every Divine Liturgy and all the feast and fast days as well, etc. And it was a small Orthodox Church, with more converts than cradle Orthodox; it’s not like we were lost in the crowd with respect to each other.

        So, I don’t think it’s a matter of Catholic/Orthodox versus Protestant in terms of dependence on God and each other. I think it more depends on the individual’s understanding of the Lord and His Body, and one’s relationship with the Lord and his or her brothers and sisters in Christ.

  18. Years ago, I stumbled upon something called “the breath of life”. Briefly, it goes like this:
    We come into existence in unconscious unity with our mother. When we are born, we move to unconscious separation. As we mature and individuate, we move to conscious separation. The final stage is conscious unity, when we understand how we are truly connected–symbiotic, as was mentioned above.

    The key is that we have to progress through all the steps in order to grow as human beings. We can’t move from 1 to 4 without passing through 2 and 3. The problem is that most get stuck in step 3, conscious separation. We don’t come to understand the interconnectedness of all things, that ALL things live and move and have their being in God, including us.

  19. hi, i have asked this before, but tis there away to share articles through facebook?

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