Freedom and Bondage, Foxes and Hedgehogs

Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther squared off as both men struggled with the decaying structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Both were zealous for God’s clear revitalization of faith in the lives of people as the Renaissance and Reformation unfolded.  They genuinely liked each other but couldn’t bring themselves to find common ground over the issues of human will.  In 1524 Erasmus wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The Freedom of Human Will.” In 1525 Luther countered with his own treatise, “The Bondage of Human Will.”

Today the same debate is still at hand in Protestant churches.  Is the primary question of our identity in Christ the fact that we were created as the “apple of God’s eye” or are we totally depraved and incapable of creating anything worthy without God’s total Sovereign calling?

I admit that I stand with my former pastor, Bob Hughes, on this one.  When I look at the totality of Scripture, I see equal parts freedom and bondage.  When I look at the news I see the same proportions.  I see heinous actions like the shootings in Tucson and then I experience the communitas of celebrating Congresswoman Giffords miracle recovery. I’m encouraged by the Muslims who are encircling and protecting the Coptic Church while Christians worship there and I am saddened by the Baptist church that wants to celebrate at the funerals of American soldiers.

In the classic Greek tale by Archilochus the character of the fox has many strategems and tactics while the hedgehog has one big idea.  The fox is frustrated by the hedgehog’s simple approach to life and no strategy can be used to trick the hedgehog into becoming vulnerable.  They are, therefore, forced to live in harmony in the forest. This is a source of immense frustration to the wily fox.

Most modern philosophers, encouraged by the contemporary citation of this tale by Isaiah Berlin, applaud the virtues of the complex fox while giving simple credit to the plodding hedgehog.  But returning to the question raised by Erasmus and Luther I simply say; can’t life be both simple and complex? Is it possible to be humanists and reformed in our thinking? Can’t we live in a world that is a daily miracle and also subject to futility? (Rom 8:20)

In the Christian life there will be times when our stewardship requires exploration and the revisiting of foundational precepts. Questioning prayers and doubts voiced.   I love the unified faith that Dante possessed while admiring the complexity that Erasmus envisioned.

Karl Barth exemplified a thinker who would be one day “fox” and the next day “hedgehog.”  When he felt the need to reduce his situation into one big idea, he was known to sit down and utter;  “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”


One thought on “Freedom and Bondage, Foxes and Hedgehogs

  1. Life is not simple, at least not all the time. It is both complex, confusing, and simple. And all of these could happen in one day.

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