Writings by Cole Huffman

Choice Architecture

Evangelical Christians are often conflicted processing change. We’re not sure if our choice architecture is to God’s specs and the specter of finding ourselves out of step with “God’s will for me” is scary. It’s an unexamined assumption that any array of decisions contains one that is God’s will and we’d better find it or we’ll regret how things unfold from there. We have a reassuring cliché for dealing with turbulence: The safest place on earth is the center of God’s will. This assumption long enculturated among us is why more than few of us feel anxiety weighing and seeking, receiving and finding God’s direction on what to do with this opportunity or that choice.

Let’s consider it more specifically: Does God call us to leave a church or job or city for another one and if we don’t make the move we’re being disobedient to God? Many times I’ve heard it: If I don’t go to this church or take that job or move to this city, I’ll be disobeying God. I’ve thought about this through the years and drawn two modest conclusions.

First, we should reserve the tag of obedient/disobedient to matters of clear biblical warrant. The liberties of personal conscience come into play here (see Romans 14) and there can be extenuating circumstances, but for the most part choices to attend X or Y church, take X or Y job, stay in X or Y city are not matters of obedience/disobedience to God. I don’t believe God is indifferent to our choices and I ask Him to lead me just like you do. But I don’t believe He plays hotter-colder games with us—feel around for the supposed center of His will and woe to you if you miss it!

The “right” choice on matters where Scripture gives no direction is more about discerning than obeying. God can write in the sky what He wants us to do if He has a preference but this isn’t His usual way with us. Think about it: The younger or newer a person is at something the more help he needs figuring out what to do. But a function of maturity (and maturing faith) is what the Greeks called métis, which is a kind of awareness of oneself and one’s context—and one’s God—an awareness that’s interwoven into how we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) more than it’s explicitly realized.

Second, we should submit to church leaders our yes to God, risking their no. Many expect God’s direction will automatically counteract what they want or be counterintuitive to what they’d choose. And in the biblical record God did at times direct in ways counteractive and counterintuitive: Noah’s and Abraham’s and Moses’s narratives come immediately to mind, as well as the experiences of prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jonah, and then Jesus’ prophecy for Peter in John 21:18-19. God can direct, redirect, and overrule us at will.

But the biblical record shows God directing our fathers audibly. We can debate whether a closed canon of Scripture means God still speaks to us as He did to them (I put no limits on what God can do). But the closest I’ve come to an audible direction from God is more subjective “strong impressions”—I sense I should do this, that, or the other. There are providences wherein my circumstances are changed and this might be God’s preparation for something new. But again this is more about discerning a clear direction than obeying a clear directive.

A friend asked why our church doesn’t commission people who “feel called” to help new local churches get started. Fair question. We commission people for missions and church planting is missions. Commissioning new church seeders would display kingdom-mindedness. As one who church-planted years ago I appreciate my friend’s magnanimous spirit. But do we want to commission people after their personal feelings? Calling is something validated by the church in Scripture, even tested. And while we all have the same calling to follow Jesus in trustful obedience to the imperatives of Scripture (His revealed will), the piece we’re missing in standard evangelical experience is that the church’s leaders are validators of call.

For instance, let’s say you felt called to go to another church. Would you announce that to the elders or submit it to them? What if you submitted it to them and the elders said they wouldn’t release you and cited good reasons why not? This creates a quandary for most evangelicals because the Free Church context is individualist, meaning the elders are supposed to let the individual go based on his feeling of called-to-do-this. Elder boards that don’t would likely be labeled power-mongering or turf-guarding.

In collectivist cultures in other parts of the world that does not compute. The individual seeking or receiving God’s direction is expected to submit to the oversight of his leaders in keeping with the revealed will of God for him (e.g. Heb. 13:17). I think they have something on us there. Submitting to church leaders our yes to God, risking their no, better approximates the biblical ethos in seeking God’s direction. And if practiced by more of us, along with reserving the obedience/disobedience tag for matters of clear biblical warrant, I think it infuses more confidence in our choice architecture.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 7:49 PM
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