Monday, October 5, 2009

General Revelation and Hebrews

So this morning I finished the book “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews.” George Guthrie writes the conclusion to the four views presented by theologians Buist Fanning, Randall Gleason, Grant Osborne and Gareth Cockerill. In his conclusion, Guthrie writes the following:

“…the author [of Hebrews] was NOT OMNISCIENT in dealing with his congregation(s), a fact to which the author hints in the text of Hebrews. The discussants have alluded briefly to this question, but it needs more attention. Too often in debates about apostasy, we treat the text as if the author thinks of those to whom he writes, or of those of whom he speaks, as ‘believers’ or ‘unbelievers.’ Yet, REAL MINISTRY SITUATIONS, of course, ARE NOT SO CUT AND DRIED. Any group of people gathered in the name of Christ will manifest a spectrum of spiritual conditions. That this was the experience of the early church seems to me to have a great deal of New Testament evidence in its favor. The author of Hebrews, others in the early church, you and I, ARE LIMITED IN OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF ANY OTHER PERSON and, as pointed out by Jesus, as well as other New Testament authors, ARE DEPENDENT ON OUTWARD MANIFESTATIONS IN DISCERNING THE SPIRITUAL CONDITIONS OF OTHERS (cf. Matt. 7:15-23; James 2:14-26)” (George Guthrie, in his conclusion to “Four Views On The Warning Passages in Hebrews,” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pp. 438-39).

Guthrie’s concluding remarks above show us how general revelation and theology meet. Guthrie makes it clear that we cannot know every person’s spiritual condition, whether they are firm in the faith, weak in the faith, or so weak as to think about walking away from Christ. Only the Lord knows where a person stands with Him, and only He can make a decision about their heart condition.

As a result, I’d have to say that although Guthrie is a Classical Calvinist (he agrees with Buist Fanning), his argument above can be used against his (and Fanning’s) view as well. The Classical Calvinist position (also known as the Classical Reformed position) says that if a person does not persevere until final salvation, then that person was not “saved to begin with.” But the problem in this assessment is that this view goes AGAINST Guthrie’s remarks above. When a person goes astray because of sin, we cannot be so quick to say that the person never believed in Christ, or was never saved to begin with.

The Bible itself gives us examples of those who loved the Lord, yet sinned greatly. David is a prime example of one who loved God—he was labeled “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet, David found himself lusting for Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (one of his soldiers), then sleeping with her, then trying to get Uriah drunk to sleep with her (to cover it up). Finally, after none of this worked, David had his commander put Uriah on the front lines of the battle in order to have him killed. Then, he took Bathsheba as his wife and conceived a child with her. The lust in David’s heart was such that it motivated him to commit adultery, get someone drunk, and then have them killed to cover his sin. As a result, David became an adulterer and a murderer. In short, “the man after God’s own heart” went on to add “adulterer” and “murderer” to his impressive credentials!!

And let’s not forget, David was one who truly loved God; yet and still, look at how sin drove David to sin terribly. For those who say that sin cannot grab ahold of one who truly loves God, I say—LOOK AT DAVID!!!

And Scripture matches general revelation. I’ve seen and read stories of those whose conversion experiences were every bit as real as mine; yet, sin drove them to a point where they could no longer walk after Christ—nor did they want to.

So even genuine believers are not “immune” from sin and its powerful impact. Although David sinned greatly, when confronted with his sin, he immediately acknowledged his sin before God (Psalm 51). He mourned his sin and realized that God was righteous to judge him.

I wanna say one more thing regarding Psalm 51. I heard it in my Theology I class two weeks ago and wanted to discuss the matter here. It concerns David’s statement in Psalm 51:10-11:

“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Now my professor (who I will not mention here out of respect to him) actually said that when David prays “do not…take your holy spirit from me,” that David is thinking of the Holy Spirit as being the evidence of the Israelite kingship. He said that we have to interpret this in David’s context, instead of drawing contemporary ideas about David’s statement. David would have been thinking about the removal of his kingship because he saw what happened to Saul when Saul disobeyed the Lord.

I will say that my professor is right—we have to examine statements made in context.
However, within verse 11, we find David saying “do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” It’s not just an issue of the Spirit being removed from David; it also involved the Lord removing David from His presence. If David was thinking about the kingship at this point, he didn’t have to request that the Lord not “banish him from His presence.” After all, anyone can be banished from the Lord’s presence and not be a king, like David was.

Secondly, in Psalm 51:6-12, David is talking about the inner condition of his heart, not the kingship. In fact, when David goes to the Lord in Psalm 51, NOT ONCE does he ever mention the kingship. To assume that is to read something into the text that is not there.

In verses 6-12, David is concerned with a “clean heart,” a “steadfast spirit,” “joy of the Lord’s salvation,” a “willing spirit,” and to remain in the Lord’s presence and keep His Spirit. This terminology is indicative of salvation, not the kingship!!

I think that this passage, like Hebrews 6 (among others), is twisted because of presuppositions. We don’t want to believe that sin can separate us from God, but it can. But how then, do we explain passages involving a man sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5) and Paul’s charge for the church to put the man out “so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5, HCSB)?

I’ll tell you how we can explain 1 Cor. 5—we can only explain it IF sin can cut us off from God!! And I think it is this idea that caused David great consternation when he went to the Lord in prayer. He wasn’t thinking twice about the kingship in that moment.

Back to George Guthrie…

Although Guthrie uses his statement regarding omniscience and spiritual condition of every person to argue that we can’t say whether or not the Hebrews audience consisted of all believers, I say that, in the same manner, we cannot argue that the crowd consisted of a mixture of believers and unbelievers. We can label the audience as believers of various faith patterns (levels of faith); but to declare a presence of unbelievers would be to do a disgrace to the Hebrews’ “enlightenment” and “companionship” with the Holy Spirit. If General Revelation shows us that we cannot label every person a believer, then it also shows us that we cannot label every person a “nonbeliever.” In the case of Hebrews, however, the audience referred to is called “holy brethren,” “partakers of a heavenly calling,” and is exhorted to assemble together and encourage each other in the Lord. Who ELSE is gonna do that but fellow believers?

No comments: