October 15, 2004

Pelagian Peale?

I read Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking" many years ago and think mostly positive thoughts about it. After all, repeating affirming bible verses daily is a good thing. But I wonder, in retrospect, if he was preaching the doctrine of Pelagius? The whole enterprise seemed to be using psychology to achieve closeness to God, a purely "natural" religion rather than a supernatural one. If every day you say a hundred times "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" are you saying it because you believe your saying it will accomplish anything or because it is Christ who is doing the strengthening?

I'm reading the Book of Judges now and Yahweh went to prodigious lengths to show that it was he giving the Israelites victory over Midian. Yahweh told Gideon to send 21,700 of his 22,000 man army home. Gideon would fight in tiny numbers to glorify God and leave no doubt of the power source:   The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, 'My own power brought me the victory.'
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I recall our retreat master saying that Original Sin was not something Jews believe or believed. Original sin is a Christian doctrine, something that became obvious only in hindsight of the redemption of Christ because redemption implies that you need redeemed from something. I came across this about Dr. Laura while googling for Peale & Pelagius:
Orthodox Judaism, and consequently Dr. Laura, take a much more benign view of man and his sinfulness. Dr. Louis Goldberg details this:

“Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews deny that man’s nature is basically evil and always inclined to do evil. ... In summary, none of the Jewish theological camps teach that man is born with a sinful nature which will ultimately condemn him.”...

While we may help our self-image by doing right, our right-doing will never effect righteousness before God. In making man autonomous, Dr. Laura is the perfect (or imperfect) blend of Pharisee and Pelagian...

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