Ramblin’ Road Trip Potholes

Ramblin' Road Trip

I mentioned our Vacation Bible School last week. We had a wonderful time. I love the way Lifeway integrates the fun themes, Bible Study, games, music, crafts, missions videos, and even refreshments all together. We do our commencement exercises on Sunday morning. Its a wonderful opportunity for the kids to invite their families to hear what they learned over the course of the week. They sing their songs, display their crafts, and recite their scripture memory verses. I incorporate the lessons of the week into my sermon and deliver a clear gospel presentation. Our attendance slipped a little this year, but we still had a packed house on Sunday morning.

In the comments of my earlier post, Mingo asked,

So, what did you think of the material? Personally, I thought that having the lesson on “choosing” Jesus as our Lord and Savior before the lesson on “choosing” to believe that God is real did not only wreak of Arminianism, but also went out of logical order.

Well, now that you mention it, I did have some concerns with the material. I debated whether or not I should voice them and almost let them just pass. If I’m not careful, people might start labeling me a trouble maker. Since you brought it up, I’ll go ahead and address the issue.

Mingo, I didn’t have a problem with dealing with “Destination Salvation” before “Destination Belief.” After all, if we equate salvation with regeneration, then the Ramblin” Road Trip’s Ordo Salutis put regeneration before faith – the classic (and correct) reformed position.

I did have to tweak the material a bit for our needs. I did not like the “I can choose… “I can choose… I can choose” stuff. For those who did not see, the material each day had a sub-text that went:

  1. Monday: I can choose to worship Jesus.
  2. Tuesday: I can choose to thank Jesus
  3. Wednesday: I can choose to accept Jesus as my Savior and Lord.
  4. Thursday: I can choose to believe Jesus is real.
  5. Friday: I can choose to obey Jesus.

A few weeks before our VBS I mentioned to a friend that I had some reservations about the material this year. He didn’t see the problem, so I explained my main concern in the following email.

The problem I have with this years VBS is that it focuses on human ability to choose rather than focusing on Christ. It focuses on our human ability to choose to worship instead of focusing on the glorious object of our worship, which is Christ. It focuses on our human ability to thank God, instead of focusing on the God who stands worthy to be thanked. It focuses on our human ability to choose to believe, instead of the all sufficient trustworthiness of Christ. It focuses on our human ability to accept Christ rather than focusing on the mercy and grace of Christ who chooses to save unworthy sinners. It focuses on our human ability to obey, rather than focusing on the God who graciously works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. See the difference? Its a difference in being man-centered and praising human ability, and being God-centered and praising the boundless glorious supremacy of Christ. Do we want kids to come to our VBS to have their spiritual self-esteem boosted, or do we want them to meet and marvel at the magnificence of Christ? I’d rather have them focus on Christ.

Now, with all that said, I’m still using the material. It will only take a few tweaks here and there to change the focus from a man centered “I can choose…” “I can choose…” “I can choose…” “I can choose…” “I can choose…” to a more God centered, Christ exalting focus in the lessons scheduled for each day. It grieves me though that thousands and thousands of Vacation Bible Schools will be held without the shift in focus. Worse yet, just a slight shift in the other direction will lead kids into the heresy of decisional regeneration. Praising human ability to choose and crediting that choice with saving power will only be a small step to take. I pray that God will protect his people from such heresy.

I wrote that a few weeks before our VBS. After doing the Ramblin’ Road Trip last week, I can say that editing the “I can choose” business out of the material proved even easier than I thought. I still stressed the importance of making right choices. The real problem came in on Route 4: “I can choose to believe.” That plainly goes against both scripture and experience. A human can not choose to believe something. They can choose to act on their belief, but they can not and do not choose to believe. No one chooses to believe in Christ. We choose to follow Christ only after he convinces us that he rightly deserves to be followed. Once he gives us a heart to believe, then that heart chooses to obey him.

Despite the one conspicuously problematic phrase, the material actually lent itself to Christ demonstrating his overcoming grace as Jesus took the initiative in showing himself to doubting Thomas. The Ramblin’ Road Trip stopped in Yellowstone National Park on Thursday night and we discussed several hard to believe things, like 400 degree hot springs, Bison weighing up to 2,500 pounds, and geysers that shoot up out of the ground higher than a tall building. Someone said that its hard to believe those things, unless you see them with your own eyes. I told kids that if they had trouble believing in Jesus that God could overcome that unbelief by showing us Jesus, not with our physical eyes (like he did for Thomas), but with freshly opened spiritual eyes of faith. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:24-28)

Another, much smaller, concern I had when I first saw the material, dealt with focusing so heavily on a commercial venture in the curriculum. On Route 5 we made our way to Knott’s Berry Farm Amusement Park. That seemed a little inappropriate to me. I wonder if Jimmy Draper received a kick-back for all that free advertising. (just kidding Dr. Draper! 🙂 )

Other than a few potholes here and there, the Ramblin’ Road Trip material proved to be very useful and enjoyable. Vacation Bible School highlights our church year. The folks at Lifeway ought to be commended for continuing to produce excellent products that equip churches to carry out the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

3 Comments

There is a sense in which people can choose God. Of course, ultimately we can’t because our sin nature prevents us.

But we can’t go nuts at each and every reference to choice, and then complain that Calvinists are misunderstood.

Calvinists are responsible for much of the misunderstanding.

Did I “go nuts?” I thought I presented a reasoned explanation on the difference between choosing to believe and choosing to act on those beliefs. I guess I did not explain as fully as I intended. I did not say that a person can not choose God. I said a person can not choose to believe. We can choose to do all sorts of things., We can choose what clothes to wear. We can choose what we will eat. We can choose to read our Bibles. We can choose to pray. We can choose to get baptized. We can choose to get our car washed. Human beings act as free moral agents and can make all sorts of choices. My point here deals very specifically with belief. We can not choose to believe anything.

I can not choose to believe that this glass of water here will satisfy my thirst. I can, however, choose to drink it. I can choose to act on the fact that I believe that it will quench my thirst. See the difference?

As I said above, “A human can not choose to believe something. They can choose to act on their belief, but they can not and do not choose to believe. No one chooses to believe in Christ. We choose to follow Christ only after he convinces us that he rightly deserves to be followed. Once he gives us a heart to believe, then that heart chooses to obey him.”

I am not minimizing the importance of choosing to follow Christ. I’m emphasizing God’s initiative in turning our heart toward him in faith. Based on that heart change wrought by God, we then must choose to follow him. Apart from a choice to embrace Christ a person can not call themselves a Christian.

I didn’t say you went nuts. But I think you were anticipating some objections that might be raised by some other people who would go nuts..

When I teach Sunday School, I’ll phrase things in a more Calvinistic way. If my Free Willie teaching partner says things a less precisely correct way, it’s not the end of the world. Most Arminians and Molinists still teach the Gospel. I will get the chance to say things my way.