Outcome Based Theology

by Gavin  

Outcome Based Theology

Millions of learners, parents and educators around our country became familiar with the concept of OBE (Outcome Based Education) a few years ago. The essential premise was to ensure that learners were competent as an end goal – outcomes were the acid test of what they supposedly knew. The outcome was the standard.


Millions of professing believers around the world hold to something similar in the spiritual world – almost an Outcome Based Theology. The essential premise is that our understanding of God is determined by an outcome assessed by human perspectives and standards.


Let’s take God’s goodness as the most common example. It’s a great attribute of God, and one that many love and find comfort in – “You are good and do good” (Ps 119:68). But if we boil it down, what is the actual gauge of God’s goodness for people? Experience shows that the acid test for many people of God’s goodness lies in their assessment of a good and pleasing outcome. God’s goodness is prayed for and appreciated, but the assessment is often “a good outcome” according to human standards.


That form of outcome based theology pops up in various ways – conversation and prayer. And is heartfelt and deep and well-intentioned …


“God, in your goodness, restore Susie’s marriage…”


“I know that your daughter is critically ill, but God is good, and everything will be OK…”


“God promises to prosper us (Jer 29:11) and so trust in His goodness to make it all better…”


And so it goes on. Now we need to be crystal clear – God in His goodness can and does bless, heal and restore. That is true - that is His unconditional grace at work, for believers and unbelievers alike.


But do you see how easily and Outcome Based Theology can enter into our thinking? God is good, and therefore we will expect to see good outcomes, but based on OUR definition of good. God is good therefore it is also assumed that He will make us happy and stable and secure – our perspective of what is a good outcome becomes the sole means of assessment.


But this is both shallow and fallacious. God, as One who is unchanging, is always good. All that He does is good. Even when, in ways that causes brain meltdown for us, God providentially acts to bring about pain, sickness and affliction, He is still good and still doing good. Where the sovereign, wise and just God acts to bring suffering, He is still good even then.


These are mysteries we cannot explain. There is a complexity in God’s will and purpose that defies human interpretation. But that is a good place to be actually – in worship and wonder looking at the bigness and beauty of an incomprehensible God.


But we dare not determine our view of such a God by what we, in our limited wisdom, deem to be good. If God graciously helps, leads, guides, provides, heals and restores, sure it is a sign of His goodness. I will be the first to affirm that. And we like that, pray for that and find encouragement in that.


But Outcome Based Theology is still a danger!


Here is the mind-blowing reality – if God in His wisdom chooses to not help, heal, intervene and restore in the way and timeframe we want, this in no ways diminishes His goodness. As the popular song reflects: “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good”. Let’s avoid the danger of Outcome Based Theology in which we either construct and demand what we think is a good outcome, or even rethink our view on God when He doesn’t act according to the plan we had desired.


Does this mean that there are never going to be good outcomes? Not at all. There will always be good outcomes to all that God does – but according to His standard and purposes! Our fallible and limited human perspective falls horribly short, and we lack the divine insight to see how pain and affliction could possibly ever achieve good.


An appreciation of the deep mysteries and good providence of God will bring us closer to appreciating and deriving comfort from the classic “goodness” passages. (Genesis 50:20; Psalm 34:8; Romans 8:28 etc.)


So, Outcome Based Theology is helpful and faith-building – provided that we humbly accept that God will achieve His will through His good purposes – sometimes even involving afflictiion. But guard against an Outcome Based Theology which redefines God according to what we think He should have done.


It is appropriate to end with the profound lyrical musings of William Cowper (1731 – 1800):


God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.


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