Thursday, May 17, 2007

Promises Paint the Future

When my girls were little, they had a record. Remember those? A record was a black plastic round thing with tiny grooves in it. Their record had a song on it called "I am a promise." The main theme repeated, "I am a promise. I am a possibility. I am a promise with a capital P." Out of the mouth of babes.

We live best by promises and not by principles, especially if the promises are God's promises.

We swim in a vast ocean of principles: mathematical ones, biological ones, financial, relational, technological ones. We have principles for everything. Then, here come the expert Bible-handlers providing their ever-so-helpful "biblical principles." The thing is: principles don't really do much for us. That's why God gave us a Bible chock full of stories about people (like us) who encountered an untameable God who made promises to them.

I think it would have been easier, if principles are all that necessary, for God to have given us an almanac of principles. Why waste our time with stories about God talking with Abram and Sarah and Abram's incessant lying about Sarah to the Egyptian kings? Why give us ghastly stories in the Book of Judges, exciting stories about David the shepherd-king, and rough and tumble stories about the prophets? Why give us four Gospels bristling with Jesus-filled stories? Why this Bible, if succinct principles are the "real" need? Yet, there it is: a Bible with stories of people who lived sometimes well and sometimes horribly in response to the living God's promises.

Promises have a divine "I will" in them. God's "I will" not only points us toward the future, it takes us there. A principle, on the other hand, just lies there like a cold, raw fish fillet asking us to do something with it. Wouldn't we rather have our future energized more by God's resolute "I will" than by our faltering "I will"?

Promises are God's paint with which God presents us with a breath-taking picture of a new, preferred future. With infinite wisdom and endless power, God extravagantly splashes color all over the future. We look up from our tiny "paint by numbers"/"live by principles" lives and almost collapse in wonder at the dazzling sight before us. We can almost hear God saying something like this: "I will make everything new! Do you want to join me?" Isn't that more inviting and compelling than gnawing on "seven principles of newness"?

Life transformation takes place in the wildness and adventure of promise, not in the quiet library of tidy principles. You can, of course, analyze promises, catalogue promises, exegete promises and stay spiritually numb. The same with principles. Yet the moment we believe God's promise, we come alive to the potential of a whole new future.

Learn a principle or live a promise. We get to make a choice.



At 5/17/2007 2:44 PM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

Interesting points. I still think principles are important, but shouldn't be sanctified. A while back I wrote about systematic theology texts over on Ingeous Quill. I haven't stopped thinking about the topic, and your post reminds me of it. It seems so odd to read the Bible and then page through a systematic theology. I appreciate the scholarship, research and organization, but most systematic theologies treat the narrative as practically incidental. As though the narrative only existed to give us the doctrine, rather than the narrative being the story of God in which we can find our place.

At 5/18/2007 9:58 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for this thought provoking post and its call to living in the light of God's promises. BTW seeing God's promises as paint is a great metaphor.

At 5/18/2007 3:43 PM, Blogger Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

Thank you for this. It reinforces the reality of a relationship with God, rather than a life of obedience to the rules of faith.

At 5/19/2007 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother had that record! Just reading those few lines brought back some great memories. For that alone, I should thank you. But then the post rocked too.

At 5/21/2007 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

promises are relational while principles are somewhat abstract. This reinforces a God that is personal in nature, and interacts with us in narrative.

At 5/21/2007 2:00 PM, Blogger rebecca said...


I live in Michigan. Anyhow thanks for this. I am reminded over and over again about how GOD will be who HE will be which rocks my world every day.


At 5/23/2007 8:57 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

" though the narrative only existed to give us the doctrine..." It's unbelievable, isn't it? The arrogance of the principle mind-set. As if we could have done it better than God with his scatter-brained stories.

At 5/23/2007 8:57 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I am so encouraged by your visits to the blog and your comments. God bless you!

At 5/23/2007 9:00 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

rock in the grass,
Aaaah, the beauty, mystery and joy of genuine, relational theism. We get to live an "I-Thou" relationship, not an "I-Them" construct with the alleged oh-so-wonderful principles.

At 5/23/2007 9:01 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Looking forward to our visit soon. Thanks for thinking this was a "rockin' post."

At 5/23/2007 9:01 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Sacred Vapor,
So, so true. I'm with you.

At 5/23/2007 9:03 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Hey, Becky-in-Michigan, thanks for stopping by and commenting. We have a rock-your-world kind of God. That's the adventure!

At 5/26/2007 11:31 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

John, Great stuff. Reminds me of what I'm picking up from LeRon Shults in Reforming the Doctrine of God (one of my slow reads, it ended up being).

I wish I would have believed this years ago; I think it would have been such a great help for me and others back then. But it was more about principles and the stories were just examples of how the principles were lived or not lived out. More or less.


At 5/26/2007 11:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Thank you for this post...

I love your illustration of God painting a colorful only God can do! And those beautiful stories that come alive with God's pallet...colorful, vivid stories of God's love and pending redemption weaving all through out the Old Testament.


p.s. re: Cherokee ancestors - mine are from Tenn also. :)

At 5/29/2007 5:53 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Excellent word, John. I quoted liberally from your essay this morning. Peace.

At 5/29/2007 6:02 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate your kindness and I'm glad the thoughts were helpful. God bless.

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