[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Joel's Day of Wrath & The Gospel

by Johanna Sawyer

An animated French couple advance on a tourist attraction on a beautiful day in Chicago. The two are non-practicing Catholics and environmentalists, with the man wearing a "Green Party" t-shirt. Meandering toward the center of activity, they are approached by a woman they don't know.  She asks if they have strong opinions on the bigger realities of life and whether God exists. They beg off from the interruption, feeling the urgency to move on to the next leg of their sightseeing. But the woman hands the couple a flyer, which is promptly stuffed into the man's messenger bag. Two nights later, the man finds and carefully reads the printed flyer on his Air France flight out of JFK...

The Great Dystopia

Originating in the near east, Christianity has constantly been in flux in its language and culture. Instead of being based on ethnicity (or culture) it is based on a text. And its text is urgently concerned with a future time of great ecosystem damage. This period of global disorder will be sent by God. But He would rather not (or is extremely hesitant to) send it. Because of the immense loss of life that will result, and because of His hesitancy regarding the loss of life, God’s period of great hardship has been delayed. The God of the Christian text is a 3-person God. This means that He is the most relational God possible or conceivable, and also the most personal God possible or conceivable. Because He is compassionate, He has sent (message-like) evidence to scientifically-informed humanity. This evidence shows that God is both creative and protective. It is the great mass of evidence that an invisible, cosmic Architect finely-tuned the vast universe and the Earth’s ecosystem as a complexly-responsive habitat for mankind. However, a time of loss is approaching our habitat. God will make our habitat dramatically less habitable. Lasting for less than a decade, the period of ecosystem degradation will be God’s subjective, personal response to (and judgment of) various human sins: corrupt political leadership in the world, greed in the international economic system, deceptive rhetoric, religious violence and genocide, the current genocide of Christians, wars based on ethnic hatreds, the sex abuse of children in media and in schools and families. But God will also judge a universal sin, which is the resolute refusal of humanity to be grateful to Him (our habitat’s Architect) and give thanks to Him and worship Him. Therefore, the unappreciated Creator will begin to un-create and dismantle our habitat. Our highly passionate Creator will judge the Earth’s ecosystems with fierce destruction, so that at one point a third of the Earth’s residents (perhaps 2 Billion) will perish. Earth’s political rulers will respond to the devastation with genocide on Christians. But our Christian text teaches something else. It is that God’s fierce anger has already been expressed in space and time. Earth’s 3-person God has already expressed wrath—onto God’s Son. On the Cross of Christ, God the Son both “expiated” and “propitiated” human sin, meaning He fully purged (by paying for) sin—and fully satisfied God (and God’s justice) regarding the punishment of sin. In purging sin, the Son suffered immense pain, but did so because He looked forward to refreshing peace, intimacy with, and emancipation of, those He loved. But humanity has rejected the Son and His love. Even though He proved Himself the righteous master of our fragile habitat by rising from the dead, humanity has refused to be thankful for the Son and to worship Him, esteeming only Nature and themselves. Nations refuse to repent from corruption and refuse to worship the Son. Individuals refuse to admit sins from their past and to repent from sins in their current lives. If humanity would repent, God would bring healing—and the period of ecologic dismantling would again be delayed. No one except God Himself knows when the destruction of our habitat will ultimately come—but you (and your friends and family) will not perish, or enter Hell, if you believe in the Son, who generously gives eternal life to whoever believes in Him and His faithfulness. When you believe in Him, eternal life and future resurrection is secured to you through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. That is, because of His compassion for the world, God sent His Son—so that whoever believes in His Son would not perish, but have eternal life. All of this is what the Christian text, the word of God, teaches. Carefully considering this message is in our self-interest. After the end of Earth’s judgments, after the genocide of those who love Him, after His enemies are judged, the Son will bring peace and healing to the Earth. He will rule the nations with love, purity and justice in our newly-healed habitat, planet Earth.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Is This So What?

To: UOG readers

From: the blogger Johanna Sawyer (formerly HK Flynn; from back in the day when some of us kept our personal information off the internet.)

Here’s my premise: 

The tribulation judgments are far more central to the Gospel & evangelism in the NT, than to the Gospel in today's churches. 

Eschatology is now thought of as a very separate topic from the Gospel message. But this means there is a sharp difference between NT evangelism and our own evangelism. The tribulation/day of the Lord judgments have gone missing from our Gospel.

Is this a big, So What??

No, it really isn't, in my not so humble opinion.

It’s not a small shift. 

Because of it, we distort the Gospel. 

Objection #1 might be, Isn't the day of the Lord a vague expression with several meanings? 

I agree that it and similar expressions, that day, the day of wrath, the day of Christ, have a range of meanings. Bob Wilkin has shown that the day of Christ is a term pointing to the Bema seat judgment where believer’s deeds will be judged by their Savior. And the day of the Lord can mean the tribulation judgments (Daniel’s [final] week), but also the final war that apparently takes place at the end of the Millennial Kingdom.

Objection #2 might be, Isn't all of eschatology an absolute distraction from the discipleship issues we desperately need to focus on? 

I agree that discipleship issues are urgent and central, but see NT eschatology as key to filtering discipleship through a thoroughly biblical perspective that has the potential to add turbo-ness to all of our pathetically lame efforts.  (I'm an expert I'm afraid in that latter department.) And I would have to agree that eschatology is often weirdly severed from a devotional perspective.

But even if a pastor decides he does not want the coming judgments as part of evangelism in his church, there is still a reason for close study of this Gospel shift out, where we shift out the topic of the day of the lord judgments, and shift in the topic of Hell. 

The Apostles clearly taught Hell.  

But they usually preached Joel’s day of wrath in their Gospel preaching.  This can be seen in the Acts sermons of Peter (in Acts Ch 2) and Paul (Ch 16), in Romans, and in John the Baptist’s preaching.
For the Apostles, the day of wrath prophesies of Joel were solidly linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel in general.    

But again, many will ask, So what?

This is what. We risk falsifying the Gospel whenever we fully conflate ideas the NT writers did not. 

What two ideas do we conflate? 

When we conflate Hell with the judgments of the Earth, we pull in repentance to a place the NT writers never brooked.

Don't get me wrong. The urgent message of repentance is necessary to prepare for the Kingdom.  Repentance gets regenerate individuals ready for being presented with all the church as the bride.  Repentance gets nations to give thanks to the One true Creator and worship Him, and this worship gives God an opportunity to continue to delay His judgments. But... when we say that turning from sin is part of the free offer of eternal life, we have gotten creative with the stern and authoritative promise Jesus makes to the readers of John’s Gospel. And that is not okay. Repentance (as turning from sin) and belief are two things not one.

Jesus sternly offers life freely.

By first conflating Hell with the day of wrath we end up conflating repentance with belief.

Offer of life Illustration: A (Catholic) Christian missionary lives in the Philippines. She works and lives in poverty in order to bring the love of Christ to the poor. But if that missionary is stopped on the sidewalk and encouraged to receive eternal life by faith alone, or to be justified by faith alone, she may be less than Christian in her verbal response. She might be totally outraged by the idea of not relying partly on the sacraments and partly on good works—both as gritty expressions of her deep faith in Christ and His atoning grace for her. She'd likely be insulted.

Regarding Hell, Free Grace believers put all their eggs in one basket.  We cling to Jesus and His offer of life because of the finality of His work on the Cross.

Regarding the day of wrath, we teach repentance.  Repentance is most desperately needed in many situations, personal, relational, local, regional, cultural, and (yes, even) political.  We need to realize that if we keep clarifying and re-clarifying grace and leave repentance as a minor point to be slipped into our evangelism near the end, we are not teaching the whole Gospel that Jesus left us with.

In my next post I hope to give an example of how the day of wrath might connect powerfully in modern evangelism.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Putting the Focus on 3D Theology: Part 3

by Antonio da Rosa

John 17:3
Since there has been so much talk about John 17:3, I have taken it upon myself to pray over this verse and meditate upon it. Furthermore, I have attempted to wrestle with it in the larger context of the 4th gospel and the other writings of the Apostle John bearing significant testimony concerning its subject matter.

Idiomatic expression (as in the peculiarly Johannine construction here) can continue to have particular nuances, depending upon the context and subject matter of the expression itself. See the different ways that Christ uses the expression "The first will be last...", for example. Each instance of a specific usage needs to be viewed fresh and in light of its own peculiarities. This is how language works. Language is not wooden and inflexible, but able to be employed in various fluid and flexible ways. Certainly precision is able to be maintained, but it never has to be at the expense of rich and colorful usage. How Jesus Christ (or the Apostle John) uses a colloquial expression in one context does not determine how he uses it in another. Certainly we would need to examine the way it was used, but this is only one consideration in the process of coming to an interpretation.

Furthermore, John 17:3 does not come to us as in a vacuum. One must consider the import of other passages dealing with its subject matter, first by the same inspired author, and then by others, in order that one may come to valid interpretive conclusions concerning it. We would be remiss unless we did so. A careful study of the the Apostle John’s writings will inform our interpretation of John 17:3. It is more than unwise to take this verse as an island and form an entire theology out of it. To do so is reading into the text.

The gospel writer is abundantly clear that those who have eternal life can nevertheless be in a state of not knowing the Father:

1 John 2:3, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him"

1 John 4:8, "He who does not love does not know God"

And in a state of not knowing the Son:

John 14:9, “...Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?”

John 17:3 is like a predicate nominative construction. The main clause says, "Eternal life is this". If we were to substitute the subordinate substantival and appositional clause for the near demonstrative pronoun, this, we could have the construction: "Eternal life is that they may know [the Father]... and Jesus Christ..." In allowing the author to inform us concerning the subject of knowing the Father and the Son, we must, attending to the law of the excluded middle, conclude that John 17:3 cannot be asserting that the possession of eternal life guarantees or even initiates a superlative and intimate knowledge of God. “Sea World is that they may enjoy aquatic life.” (I keep using Sea World, because my family has year passes, and in fact, I am taking my son there today). What this expression about Sea World denotes is its core design, not a 1 to 1 correspondence. Design implies purpose. If I said that Sea World was designed to create an atmosphere and environment conducive for the enjoyment of aquatic life, it is to be noticed that such a design was created for that purpose. Thus, at the core of its design and purpose, eternal life has the capacity and potential of knowing God. But unless non-negotiable conditions are met in the life of the one possessing eternal life, the regenerate one will not achieve the purposes for which he was given that life.

One on one correspondence and wholesale equation of two words and/or concepts is not a common occurrence in everyday life or in the Bible. In actuality, it is a very uncommon one. Usually, where wholesale equation is made an articular predicate and articular predicate nominative are used, as in the Apostle John’s affirmation of the identity between “sin” and “lawlessness” in 1 John 3:4. Imagine I said, “Honey, go get the heater in the bathroom so that I might dry off the dog.” My daughter returns and says, “Dad, there is no heater in the bathroom, only this blow dryer.” To which I respond, “The blow dryer is the heater I was referring to.” In this construction, I have wholesale affirmed the identity of two concepts. It can’t be stressed enough that such a construction is absent in John 17:3. Furthermore, in 1 John 5:20, which we are about to look at more closely, we find that Jesus Christ, Himself, is in some sense equated with eternal life (although still not in the articular way described above). We are obviously dealing with figurative language in these texts, dealing with a certain measure of metaphor. Care must be applied to the interpretation of figurative language. Furthermore, we must recognize the need for some harmonization of the facts that both Jesus Christ, Himself, and that one may know Jesus Christ and the Father are in some sense parallel to the multi-facet concept that is eternal life. If one were to claim wholesale equality between Jesus Christ and that one may know Him with eternal life, it would diminish the values of all the concepts involved. An essential component of a dynamic concept is not the same as the concept itself.

1 John 5:20
The Apostle John does not leave us without clues in the interpretation of John 17:3. It is easily demonstrated that in the Gospel of John the crowning experience of life (Jn 12:24-26) and intimate knowledge of the Father and the Son (Jn 14:21, 23) does not come by grace through faith; they are not dependent upon believing in Jesus alone, but upon the added element of earnest devotion to God. This pertinent consideration necessarily places parameters on the interpretation of John 17:3 and is a real stumbling block to the assertions of 3d theology proponents. Within the Gospel of John the reader is met with conditions for experiencing the purposes inherent in the design of eternal life. Only a resolute blindness could miss and/or disregard the implications of such discovery:

Regeneration, the possession of new life, along with its inherent guarantees comes by faith alone in Christ alone.

The superlative and crowning experience of this life and intimate fellowship with God comes by faith + works.

To confuse and admix these two attested spiritual realities is to beget danger, as we will explore later (probably in another post). But suffice it to say for now, the very fabric of salvation by grace alone through faith alone is at stake.

As if a consideration of the subject matter in the Gospel of John wasn’t enough, in my prayertime, the Lord directed me to 1 John 5:20. In it we have all the concepts resident in John 17:3.

1 John 5:20, "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."

This last verse is very important. Here we are met with the concept that those who are regenerate have been given the capacity (Gk: dianoian, the understanding or intelligence) for the purpose of knowing God. Certainly the ina+subjunctive here is for purpose, and of course, there is no guarantee that the purpose will be fulfilled. As a matter of fact, it is equally able to be demonstrated, that for the Apostle John, knowing the "True One" may only be realized by those who are in fellowship with God, as verified by their obedience to His commands. This is everywhere evident throughout this epistle.

Having eternal life, being in Jesus Christ, enables us to know God in an intimate way. It gives us the capacity, described as an intelligence and understanding, for deep fellowship with God. This capacity, lying at the core of eternal life, is given for the purpose of knowing God. But as the whole epistle of 1 John shows, such intimate knowledge of God is reserved for those who, through their faith in Christ, keep God’s commandments. That this experiential knowledge of God comes upon the condition of works should be evident to all, and not by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

1 John 5:20 is very important in our discussion of John 17:3. It hearkens us back to John 17:3 where the concepts of “eternal life”, “true God”, Jesus Christ, and knowing God are present. 1 John 5:20 actually goes far in explaining what is meant by John 17:3 and should only be ignored at our peril. John 17:3, taken alone, and apart from information furnished to us by its author in other texts, could be used to provide the basis for a deep and mystical theological formulation. Such an understanding is often presented in beautiful language. The proponents of 3d theology show us a figure of a three-dimensional cube, but only at its face. They show its width and height, corners, and surface. But in reality, there is no depth. For when you look at its side, you discover that it is only 2d. 3d theology fails to rightly divide the word of truth, and much like Lordship Salvation, puts the cart before the horse. We will examine these tendencies in later posts.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Putting the Focus on 3D Theology: Part 2

by Antonio da Rosa

I. Eternal Life
Life, eternal life, God’s kind of life – we shouldn’t be surprised that such a life is multi-faceted, complex, and dynamic. This assumption is clearly demonstrated by the Scriptures. Natural life is much the same, and as a matter of fact, there are fascinating correlations to eternal life. As ought to be apparent, everyone on the face of the planet does in fact possess, in a sense, a quality that can be described as “life”. Human beings have the God given gift of pro-creation. Conception and birth bring forth a new “life” which is given unconditionally apart from the will of the one “life” has been bestowed upon. Resident in this new life are innate qualities that everyone, irrespective of who they are or what they do, is blessed with. Once initiated into “life”, the quality to which that “life” can attain is substantially dependent upon the individual himself. The degree to which one invests his life wisely will actuate a commensurate level of and capacity for “life”. There is, of course, senses in which people who are alive, nonetheless, cannot be described as having “life” wherein one is merely experiencing “dead” existence; though alive, one can be “dead” in experience in relation to the world and others.

A. Statement:
Eternal life is a dynamic life principle with several facets. This life is bestowed unconditionally upon the one who receives it as a gift, through purposeful faith in Jesus Christ (faith in Him for its possession), in what is called regeneration, or being “born again” – this birth not being according to the will of the flesh or man, but by the will of God, Himself (Jn 1:12-13). Furthermore, eternal life is no static entity – it also conditionally relates to one’s experience of life, being a result of one’s earnest devotion to Jesus Christ (Jn 12:24-26). This life comes only as the return of one’s life investment.

1. Pertaining Guarantee
As it is “eternal life” and God’s life that is created by the seed of God’s Word germinating in the heart of the individual (Jas 1:18), this life is necessarily endless and unending (Jn 11:26, “shall never ever die into eternity” –Gk). Furthermore, God created man to live in a body – it wasn’t until a spirit was introduced to the body by the breath of God did man become a “living being” (Gen 2:7). Though regenerate man, under the curse of sin, is subject to physical death, he nevertheless, by virtue and necessity of the possession of “eternal life”, is guaranteed physical resurrection (Jn 11:25b). Finally, the one born of God, by necessary indication of this birth, is excluded from the final judgement – where those who are “dead” in relation to God are confirmed in this state of “death” forever (Rev 20:14b) having already been under condemnation (Jn 3:18).

2. Pertaining Potentials
Knowing God, which results in a crowning experience of life, is contingent upon several factors, that if left unfulfilled, will prevent a regenerate person from such fellowship. Love actuated in the believer is one condition of knowing Him. The same author who gave us John 17:3 also wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8). In verse 7 and 11 of 1 John 4 the readers are instructed to love. There is no guarantee that the believer will love, and if he does not love he can neither have a dynamic experience of eternal life nor “know” God in this intimate sense. Love is not some ethereal, abstract notion. Love is laying down one’s life for his brethren (1 Jn 3:16b), helping his brother with material necessities (1 Jn 3:17); in reality it is having Christ’s commandments and keeping them (Jn 14:21)! Intimacy with God is only experienced by those who earnestly devote themselves to Jesus Christ.

The abundant experience of eternal life (both in time and eternity) does not come by way of a gift, as the primary and inherent guarantees do – unending life, physical resurrection, and exclusion from final judgement. No! This experience is the return on one’s investment of his life. This concept is famously illustrated in Mark 8:34-37:

...He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life?”

Certainly it should not be assumed at this point that God has not placed responsibility upon Himself in all of this. Firstly, it was He who initiated the familial relationship to begin with! Next, we are told by the Apostle Peter that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life” along with “exceedingly great and precious promises” by which we “may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pe 1:3-4).

We will discuss these things more, and the implications of them in the next installment.

To be continued...

Antonio da Rosa

Putting the Focus on 3D Theology: Part 1

by Antonio da Rosa

Assessment of Tim’s Comments
The kind of discussion, this mode of thought, this stream of consciousness that comes from Tim in his statements here, and in his recent slew of posts, has about it a certain superficial plausibility. Indeed, it contains some real truth. But upon close scrutiny, it is impossibly vague and solves absolutely nothing. It is full of logical and hermeneutical errors. It is actually such a distortion of the truth using high-minded and spiritual language that it is seemingly cult-like, and Tim is the de facto charismatic guru and leader. It was very instructive going back and reading the progress that Tim has made in the formulation of this manner of doctrine, as you can see a progressive history of it in his blog posts and comments. Tim had some very good questions and concerns about the Promise-Only view of saving faith , but unfortunately no one took the time to answer these objections, and it seems Tim didn’t look very far in seeking to get them properly and sufficiently answered. In response to this, it seems, Tim got a “revelation” and started using it as a working thesis to solve the problems that he saw in the current “food fight” as he puts it. The problem is that he has superimposed this thesis onto the scriptures, and uses it as his interpretive grid. Now, so thoroughly submerged into this formulation, Tim “sees” his doctrine everywhere, while nevertheless remaining obstinately blind to its innate contradictions and scriptural imprecision. This process that I have sensed is precisely how many cults have been instituted in the past. The more questions that get raised concerning the many difficulties and errors in his formulations, the more entrenched and passionate (and somewhat vitriolic) he becomes in both defending and propagating it.

Furthermore, this doctrine has the testimony and appearance of a superlative spiritual phenomenon and yet smacks of the pride that is often associated with those who have had a “second blessing”.

Next, it is mighty presumptuous to make a sweeping judgement concerning the effects of a teaching without a shred of support arguing why such an effect is both logical and inevitable. The shock and outrage of placing obstacles between man and a living relationship with God! What kind of excess it this? Does Tim really believe that Zane’s theology (or mine for that matter) is guilty of such a crime? I submit that if he can say so in the sincerity of his heart (and I can’t imagine that he can, God only knows) that he is nevertheless sincerely ignorant of what we actually believe and teach! Furthermore, Tim’s pronouncement is necessarily divorced from a consideration of the wide field of available material and teaching that has the present experience of life as its focal in Free Grace Theology (which by the way is an essential teaching of it, both promoted and emphasized!), for if he had considered it, the result would have been the taking of the bite out of his bark, and the wind from his sails. Furthermore, there has been alot of work into the propositional nature of the saving message (I, for one, having developed solid arguments in print for it as others). Tim’s original post has all the earmarks of mischaracterization and a straw man effigy.

Finally, we are left with the task of finding the truth. How this will be accomplished is through a reasoned and precise appeal to Scripture using the timeless principles of hermeneutics expressed through God given articulation and logic. At the outset, we must admit that this is a humbling experience, as this is the very Word of God we are attempting to decipher. Pride must must make way for humility, and the Bible must be made to speak for itself. In allowing the Bible to speak, we will necessarily find that it is at odds with Tim and Jim’s doctrine in this case. The lack of applying sound hermeneutical principles by Tim to the study of the Bible has produced great error, tragic and even dangerous error, as we will later note.

An Impression
On this note, I get the impression that to Tim and Jim, Michele is like an experiment, and Michele is all too willing of a participant in it. To me, it is like the training of an animal to them. Much time has been invested to illicit the desired responses, and reward is given when these responses occur, even in the spite of less than perfect results (which is never a description of this formulation anyway). But little by little, they are making her into a creature of their bend. If my impression is even somewhat correct, this is shameless. Furthermore, there is evident the “mother bear” syndrome common in cultic-type situations with Tim’s protection of his “sister”. This is a most unfortunate situation, as Michele has admitted her issues with involvement in cults (plural) in the past, and seems to be following into such a mode again.

I furthermore have read the history of Michele in this matter from her blog. She used to use words like “seem” and “possibly” with much other subjunctive expression, but now confidently assumes herself as an authority in these matters of soteriology with the same lack of care and precision that her teachers use. Getting any straight answers from her has been impossible because of the manifest and ubiquitous failures of this system. There are no shortcuts to the proper mining of God’s truth and the one who is going to do so will need the proper skill and tools. It is if Michele was sticking to the wading pool but now entertains her prowess in swimming in the rapids. The illustration that Tim uses in this article, with a little twist, ironically describes his formulations. This system keeps one wading in the shallow crib, supposing himself to be swimming in the deep lake. Unfortunately, it is not good advice in this case to knock the bottom out of the swimming crib, because its occupants are liable to drown!

Concluding Thought in this First Installment
The reticence to provide a reasoned exposition and appeal to scripture in support of this formulation, and the necessity to use much allegory, metaphor, and simple prose to describe it speaks volumes. This formulation has been brewing for over a year (and most likely for years) but has yet to produce a definitive and scholarly defense of it with which people can properly access and consider it.

To be continued...

Friday, July 15, 2011

What about the Unevangelized? Part 5

by Matthew

It is such a long time since I posted here. I thought it might be an idea to finish off the series I began back in 2009.

To summarise where we got to, in the first part we concluded that it is logical to expect that God has made some provision for those who have not heard the offer of eternal life by human means. We followed this by considering different views offered by evangelicals regarding the likelihood of the salvation of some of the unevangelized. The view Universal Premortem Opportunism was explained and identified as the view this blogger would defend.

Universal Premortem Opportunism holds that God has offered the opportunity to all persons to accept or reject the offer of eternal life. In the event of a person never encountering a human evangelist, she would receive sufficient revelation before her death to enable her to believe. In part 3 we looked at a number of possible Scriptural arguments for this position.

In part 4 we addressed the verse Romans 10:14, which is often used to assert that nobody can be saved without encountering an human preacher or evangelist. It was argued to the contrary, that Paul was making a rhetorical point to establish that Israel's condemnation was just.

This post will address the big objection that a lot of evangelicals will have to the theory of Universal Opportunism. This is that it takes away the motivation for evangelism? Surely the need to save sinners from a lost eternity is the chief motive for evangelism. If there is a possibility that God will save sinners independently of our gospel missions, are not our efforts redundant?

We have all heard a missionary speaker come to our churches and give a stark motivational talk. He speaks of the spiritual darkness of the land in which he ministers, he speaks of the ignorance of the natives of that land. He warns of how men and women are dying in that country and others daily and are going to an eternity of darkness and torment.

Such talks have motivated many blessed brothers and sisters to answer the call of Christ to go out into the world and labour for Him. I do not want to in any way diminish the value of having an healthy concern for those who are in spiritual darkness and having a consciousness of the reality of condemnation for those who do not believe. Nevertheless, I do not see anything exactly resembling this kind of motivational talk in the New Testament. We have Ezekiel 3:18-19, but this was a warning about God's temporal judgment on Israel and they were a people who already had the law. Nowhere does Paul, Peter, or John warn their readers about the millions who are perishing daily and motivate them on that basis. Romans 10:14 has been used that way, but as I argued in part 4, this is a misreading of Paul's argument.

I do worry that this style of motivational talk can be unhealthy. It can come across as emotional blackmail and lead to a negative view of missionaries. It could also lead to unhelpful guilt in those who are not on the mission field but who give generously and contribute to the work of Christ in many valuable ways. It may also prevent rational and wise contemplation over what kind of work Christians take up.

I think many will agree with me that too many Christians have an unbalanced view of conversion and evangelism. In a lot of American churches, they talk a lot about 'soul-winning' (without much awareness of the diversity of the way the word 'soul' is used in Scripture), but not very much about making disciples. There is a tendency to think of salvation as simply being saved from eternal condemnation, and not entrance into a whole new sphere of life. God's purpose is not simply to save people from the Lake of Fire, but to gather together a people who will live in a way that is conformed to the pattern of divinized humanity in Christ. Salvation is not just about plucking sinners from the fire, but about shaping and transforming lives and building communities devoted to Christ. I believe God can give eternal life to the unevangelised before it's too late, but He cannot make them into faithful and devoted disciples without our getting involved.

If it is true that only those who have encountered a human missionary have any hope of eternal life, then it might be seen that making disciples is a waste. Why should a missionary spend time discipling his converts and planting churches? Would it not be more sensible to travel to the next village and save them from a lost eternity? The emphasis of missionary work on simply rescuing 'souls' might actually lead to an unbalanced approach to missiology.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Away With Thy Tools!

by Antonio da Rosa

Today, a new friend shared this devotion with me based upon Exodus 20:25 and written by Charles Spurgeon. The depth and passion of this man is clear and his words are penetrating. I will dispense with this message's implications against Lordship Salvation, for they will ring loud and true as you read his statement.

"If thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it." {Ex 20:25}

God’s altar was to be built of unhewn stones, that no trace of human skill or labour might be seen upon it. Human wisdom delights to trim and arrange the doctrines of the cross into a system more artificial and more congenial with the depraved tastes of fallen nature; instead, however, of improving the gospel carnal wisdom pollutes it, until it becomes another gospel, and not the truth of God at all. All alterations and amendments of the Lord’s own Word are defilements and pollutions.

The proud heart of man is very anxious to have a hand in the justification of the soul before God; preparations for Christ are dreamed of, humblings and repentings are trusted in, good works are cried up, natural ability is much vaunted, and by all means the attempt is made to lift up human tools upon the divine altar. It were well if sinners would remember that so far from perfecting the Saviour’s work, their carnal confidences only pollute and dishonour it. The Lord alone must be exalted in the work of atonement, and not a single mark of man’s chisel or hammer will be endured.

There is an inherent blasphemy in seeking to add to what Christ Jesus in his dying moments declared to be finished, or to improve that in which the Lord Jehovah finds perfect satisfaction. Trembling sinner, away with thy tools, and fall upon thy knees in humble supplication; and accept the Lord Jesus to be the altar of thine atonement, and rest in him alone.

Charles H. Spurgeon

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One of My Favorite Quotes from Zane Hodges

by Antonio da Rosa

I have defended Free Grace Theology for a number of years now, and have read a variety of books on the subject. Out of the great abundance of available soundbites, the following quote from Zane Hodges rises to a position of prominence in my mind. In it is distilled for us, in a memorable way, the utter and obvious senselessness of the Lordship Salvation view. Commenting on Mark 8:34-35 and its parallels in Matthew 16:24-25; Luke 9:23-24; and allusion in John 12:25, Zane C. Hodges writes:

It would be a mistake to think here of heaven or hell. [This invitation]... is a call to self-denial and bearing one's cross. It is a call to follow Jesus, that is, a call to discipleship.

Of course, there are many who equate such a call with conversion, but by so doing they either explicitly or implicitly deny the freeness of the gospel. By no stretch of the imagination is the demand for self-denial and self-sacrifice an invitation to receive a free gift. The attempt to harmonize these polarities always ends either in hopeless absurdity or in theological sophistry.

In this respect the man on the street is often more perceptive than the theologian. If someone were to offer him a gift in return for self-denying obedience, he would readily recognize that offer as grotesquely misrepresented! [Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, 2nd Edition, p 29]

Has not this assessment been proven correct time and again in the writings of Lordship Salvation advocates? How often has our reason been assaulted as we have been subjected to the "hopeless absurdity" and "theological sophistry" of Lordship Salvation articulation? How else are we to evaluate statements such as, "Salvation is a gift that will cost you everything"?