[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 27, 2006

What is Your Default Position?

by H K Flynn
(This is from my blog’s archives. I touched it up slightly so maybe I should call it the ‘revised version’. Sort of has a ring to it.)

Question: Are the following four passages teaching on the same topic?

Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:61-63)

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14: 25-27)

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (Jn 5:19-24)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (Jn 6:38-40)

Free Grace bloggers are sometimes accused of reading our theology into the text.

Purists genuinely see us as watering down the call to discipleship (see the first two passages above) instead of letting those passages 'speak for themselves'. They seem genuinely stunned by our argument that the call to discipleship can be distinguished from the offer of eternal life and that the warning passages never warn believers of Hell. They somehow know these are the wrong assumptions to make, and that it is dangerous to advocate them.To put it another way, the two camps embrace highly conflicting 'default positions' concerning two major NT topics: Eternal life & Discipleship

I suspect the treatment of the warning passages of the NT are one of the best barometers of how these two themes are being treated by the interpreter.

In other words, if the stern warnings of the NT are percieved as warning of the dire consequences in the life of the believer of unrepented from sin and rebellion, than the topics of receiving eternal life and following Christ in discipleship are distinguished.

But if the warnings regard the possibility of hell (specifically that the listener's faith may not be the kind that saves from hell) than the default position is to meld receiving eternal life with following the Lord in discipleship and the interpreter is not distinguishing them as separate topics.

What is the justification the two camps give for their separate default positions?I would argue that the Free Grace theological position gives better biblical reasons for their default position. They actually explain why when relating receiving eternal life with following Christ, they see two distinct but correlated topics.

In my mind there are two reasons that are supremely important for making this foundational distinction.

One is that John himself isolates his Gospel in his purpose statement. When he tells us that his readership is unbelieving, and that his purpose is to so instruct them that they would become regenerate, John is affirming that his Gospel is unique introductory information to NT thought. The Gospel of John can and should be taken as an important entry ramp of the NT. John's Gospel has the whole counsel of God on the narrow but crucial topic of how to receive eternal life.

But he also correlates that main theme of his with the theme of following Christ in committed discipleship. This point is crucial to the argument in favor of distinguishing the theme of how to receive eternal life from the theme of discipleship. It is crucial to recognize that in the upper room, Jesus never 'assures' his disciples of their commitment, but encourages them to question it. The second supporting reason is that the theme of discipleship is irreparably watered down by confusing it with a free gift. This is obvious. No mater how much the call to discipleship is inflated; it is logically deflated by mixing it conceptually with the free gift of eternal life.

This is similar to how the warning passages themselves are strengthened in the Free Grace framework. In Free Grace thought the warning passages are flat-footed warnings to believers that God is still is in the business of judging sin, as he did to the Corinthians who abused the Lord's Supper.

The F/G willingness to hear each theme separately is actually the very best way to allow each NT theme to speak for itself, and to truly hear the whole counsel of God.Unfortunately, if the Purist side has given similarly explicit reasons for their default position being what it is I've missed it. They seem to simply believe it is obvious that the two different types of language used are simply two contrasting ways of describing the same thing, with the obvious differences chalked up to, and embraced as, paradox. But the big question in my mind is ‘Why?’ Why do they accept paradox as a legitimate default position? Instead of being shocked at our default position, they should give reasons for their own.

Or just simply, as Hodges and Wilkin do, let the passages speak for themselves.


  • Jodie, thanks for posting that again. It is a really great post.

    God Bless


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Monday, February 27, 2006 8:40:00 AM  

  • I think this is a very reasonable approach to resolving this conflict. We must clearly distinguish between the gift of eternal life given to believers and the depth of commitment required for discipleship.

    By Blogger Kc, at Monday, February 27, 2006 9:02:00 AM  

  • You said this:

    'One is that John himself isolates his Gospel in his purpose statement. When he tells us that his readership is unbelieving, and that his purpose is to so instruct them that they would become regenerate, John is affirming that his Gospel is unique introductory information to NT thought.'

    May I ask where specifically you are referring to?

    By Blogger nathaniel adam king, at Monday, February 27, 2006 10:09:00 AM  

  • Kc, you remember my Bonhoeffer fetish that I had a while ago? You should read his take on discipleship.

    Hmm...so a person can be a believer and yet not be a disciple? Interesting.

    By Blogger nathaniel adam king, at Monday, February 27, 2006 10:10:00 AM  

  • This was a good post. I think the Calvinists struggle with the difference between the salvation call and the discipling call because to distinguish between the two would unravel a lot of their theological fabric.

    Again, I enjoyed the post.

    By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Monday, February 27, 2006 12:15:00 PM  

  • Thanks Matthew:)

    Amen Kc:)


    I was referring to the statement John makes near the end of his Gospel. (vs 30, 31 of Chapter 20)

    ...these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    It's so clear but I don't think Evangelicals process how important that statement is.


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, February 27, 2006 2:02:00 PM  

  • Hey Sofist, thanks for visiting :)

    Hope you feel free to comment on how you see it.

    Lord bless you,

    Jodie (HK)

    Hi Gordon :)

    Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you like the post.

    I think for some reason the warning passages are in a sort of limbo and maybe this is partly why.

    God bless :)

    Jodie (aka HK Flynn)

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, February 27, 2006 2:09:00 PM  

  • Its 'sofyst'.

    And have no fear, I always comment as I see it. Sometimes as Kc sees it, but that is rare.

    My question is simply this: taking what John says as his purpose statement (that he wrote so that they may believe), I don't necessarily see the point you made in that John distinguishes between the belief and the discipleship. Granted, he didn't say, 'I write this so that you may believe and become a disciple', but given the correalition between the two elsewhere, that is somewhat unnecessary.

    I mean you don't have to always say 'repent and believe', some of the Scriptural writers leave the 'repentance' out. But that is only becuase it is so widely recognized throughout the Scripture that the true and genuine belief is never without the true and genuine repentance.

    I think it a far stretch that you made to prove your point that simply becuase John only said 'believe' that he was then necessarily keeping the two seperate. It is an argument from silence. Not as 'clear' as you are making it out to be.

    By Blogger nathaniel adam king, at Tuesday, February 28, 2006 9:12:00 AM  

  • Hi Jodie,
    I read your post. I am interested to learn more about "Free Grace" theology in the future. I can say that if its proponents clear away the confusion about these passages, I agree with them here. There are things that are hard to grasp, but the fact that salvation is not of any work or repentance is as clear as my front storm door that I just Windexed.

    By Blogger Rose~, at Tuesday, February 28, 2006 9:41:00 AM  

  • Sofyst,

    First, sorry about goofing your name.

    About everything besides belief not being part of the terms of recieving eternl life, it's really not an argument from silence but about silence.

    I used an illustration on my blog that I'll repeat here so you don't have to read the whole post.

    If Johnny Cash had published his own article, My Favorite Christian Songs in a music magazine, and they were all either Gospel songs or hymns, than someone could say Johnny Cash thought Christian metal
    was of the devil. But he would be making an argument from silence.

    But, Sofyst, saying that metal songs were not among Cash's top Christian favorites would be perfectly logical. It would be drawing a fully supported conclusion about Cash's own silence.

    The reason is that Cash himself drew the parameters by publishing an article explicitly about his favorite Christian songs.

    Likewise John draws his own parameters with his clear purpose statement. Since he was writing to nonbelievers he certainly wasn't assuming they'd read other Christian writings that would be supplement his Gospel in order to make it more comprehensive.

    John's Gospel is comprehensively accurate on the topic of receiving the gift of eternal life.

    Does your name mean something?



    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Tuesday, February 28, 2006 10:21:00 AM  

  • Hi Rose,

    I appreciate your wisdom in not adopting something you haven't fully evaluated.

    I'm also glad you notice the same thing I do (and love) that Free Grace writers do bring clarity to certain issues and clear away the confusion.

    I love the idea your word-picture that salvation is:

    not of any work or repentance is as clear as my front storm door that I just Windexed.

    :) I love it!

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Wednesday, March 01, 2006 9:49:00 AM  

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