[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)

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"?