Monday, May 10, 2010

The Land and Its Possibilities, Part I: Introduction

I rarely get the opportunity to go back and read through my posts here at CTS. But every now and then, when I’m frustrated with a new post (which occurs seldom), and need to mentally relax a bit, I return to reading random posts from the site. Usually, it’s something in a post written months ago that will spark ideas for a new one.

Yesterday, I happened to read an old post that got me to thinking about Middle Knowledge and Molinism all over again. And I thought, “I should do another post on this”---so here it is!

Today’s post will deal with Hebrews 6. Now, before you assume I’m gonna deal with verses 4-6 about falling away, be assured that I’m not. This post is not gonna deal with those verses. Instead, I’m gonna deal with “the land and its possibilities,” found in verses 7-8. We’ll see why the example does not refer to two lands, but instead one land with two choices open before itself. The land, of course, refers to the believer who has tasted “the rain of God’s goodness” and can either bear fruit and receive a blessing or bear thorns and thistles and be eternally damned.

Now, verses 4-6 will serve as the context of verses 7-8, since the key to biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) of any passage is to read verses in their context. We cannot just pull verses 7-8 out of the rest of chapter 6 and hope to understand what the author is doing. Verses 4-6, then, talk about the believer who has received the goodness of God: “those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5, NKJV).

In verse 7, the writer says, “For the earth which drinks in the rain...” The word “for” here connects verse 7 back to verses 4-6. So verses 7-8 are very much connected to the verses on apostasy that precede it. The land example doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It is logically connected to the verses that come before.
Verses 7-8, however, have been misapplied and taken out of context by well-known theologians such as Wayne Grudem:

“The difference was not in the kinds of events experienced but IN THE KINDS OF GROUND THE RAIN FELL ON. The way the ground responds to the rain reveals the kind of ground it was in the first place” (Wayne Grudem, “The Perseverance of the Saints,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 155).

Grudem then places a footnote at the end of the above quote, in which he writes: “...the author is not thinking of the same piece of land at all, for he clearly thinks of two distinct possibilities for two very different kinds of ground” (“Still Sovereign,” page 155).

In the first quote, Grudem focuses on the “kind of ground” the land was. This is not the emphasis of Hebrews 6. Peter O’Brien, the author of “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews,” disagrees with Wayne Grudem:

“Decisive for understanding the parable is the harvest: ATTENTION IS FOCUSED ON WHAT IS PRODUCED AT THE END, not on the preliminary stages of growth” (Peter O’Brien, “The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010, page 228).

O’Brien states that the harvest is where the focus of the verses is, not the land itself. It’s not the land that is being evaluated, but the harvest. This is what will happen on the Day of Judgment, where each person is judged for what he or she has done, not a predetermined heart condition (2 Cor. 5:10).

Grudem and other Calvinist theologians assume that a person’s heart cannot change, that a person is given a predetermined condition---but that is not the case. And that is the problem with his exegesis: he assumes that a person can have no change in his or her heart towards God. But this is incompatible with the rest of Hebrews, where the writer warns the congregation of turning away from God: “Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief IN DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD...exhort one another daily...lest any of you BE HARDENED THROUGH THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN” (Heb. 3:12-13, NKJV). How can a person “be hardened” or “become hardened” through sin if their hearts were hardened in the first place? So the person in the congregation whose heart becomes hardened is one whose heart was at first soft towards God, but has repeatedly resisted the Spirit over time and “grown cold” to God and His blessings. This shows a heart change, something that Calvinist theologians cannot stand to admit.

Go back to Hebrews 6:7-8. Notice that the text says “the earth” or “the ground,” not “earths” (plural) or “grounds” (plural). The text does not give the plural but the singular to show that there are two possibilities for this one land being discussed: The text “depicts two kinds of responses that can be made to the warning” (Peter O’Brien, “PNTC: Hebrews,” page 227). These two responses relate to the two kinds of harvest, NOT the land. There is only one land mentioned, but two possibilities: the land can either bear fruit or the land can bear thorns and thistles. There are two possibilities open for the land in question.

I quoted Wayne Grudem in this post (along with Peter O’Brien) to show you that Grudem’s exegesis is driven by his theological system. Grudem is Calvinist, and Calvinism makes no room in its system for possibility or choice. This is why he constantly mentions that those who fall away are those that “had never been truly saved in the first place” (“Still Sovereign,” page 156). Why such an emphasis on “first place,” or “the beginning”? Because Grudem is consumed by the idea of “predeterminism,” where a person is decided by God to either be elect or reprobate before the foundations of the world---and time manifests that God-given status. The emphasis is not on the actions of the person in time, but God’s declaration of that person from before time began.

The text of Hebrews 6:7-8, however, affirms two choices for the land in question. Verse 8 states, “but if it [the land, v.7] bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:8, NKJV). So the land can either bear fruit and receive blessing from God, or bear thorns and be eschatologically burned in the end [i.e., receive eternal damnation from God].
Middle Knowledge involves two or more choices regarding a certain action. First, in order to assess the importance of this passage, we have got to be able to see the text clearly. Grudem cannot do this because he is blinded by his commitment to Calvinism. In my next post, I want to discuss how middle knowledge fits into the text of Hebrews 6:7-8, and show what implications this has for preservation and apostasy. Stay tuned...

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