Saturday, September 18, 2010

Calvinism, Molinism, and the Gnostic Dualistic Metaphysic: The "Thin Line" Between Believer and Unbeliever

I have spent some time here in my section on the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security as well as my section on Hermeneutics demonstrating a typical problem with both Calvinism and Molinism: the idea that there are only the elect, and the reprobate...and no one can actually live in a third state of “apostate” (see my post on “The False Dilemma”). Well, I return today to tackle this subject once more. In this post, however, I have different quotes from other theologians than those I normally quote for posts like this...but the reason why I decided to come back to this topic is to show you, my readership, what modern scholarship is saying on theological topics such as apostasy and falling away. I want this site to be more than just a place where I give you what I think is a proper theology; rather, I want this to be a place where I not only provide and inform with the teachings of Scripture...I also desire to show you that I am not alone in my theological assessments. Modern scholarship is addressing the same concerns and answering them in rather the same ways that I am. And why? Not to prove that I’m right, but to prove to Calvinists and Molinists (as well as the believing masses) that the Scriptures do not support the notion of eternal security that has been espoused from pulpits and podiums across this country. Rather, Scripture argues for “necessary perseverance,” from beginning to end. Because Scripture argues this, we must submit ourselves to the Word and “stand under” it, not above it.

To start off this post, let me quote the words of Wayne Grudem regarding the Book of Hebrews:

“In Hebrews 3-4, the author frequently compares his readers to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness. As he does in chapter 6, he warns his readers in chapters 3-4 not to fall away. But in chapters 3-4 he gives more explicit statements about the initial spiritual state of those who eventually fell away. The parallels are instructive, for they show that the author believed that the people who fell away in the wilderness had several blessings similar to the enlightening, tasting, and partaking in 6:4-6, BUT NEVER WERE SAVED” (Wayne Grudem, “Perseverance of the Saints: A Case Study from the Warning Passages in Hebrews,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace” by editors Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 160).

On the following page, Grudem tells us his central problem with the loss of salvation view:

“...the author TELLS US IN EXPLICIT LANGUAGE that the Israelites who fell away WERE NEVER SAVED IN THE FIRST chapters 3-4 [Hebrews] ONLY TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE are in his mind: those who do not believe and fall away, and those who believe and persevere. HE CONTEMPLATES NO THIRD CATEGORY (PEOPLE WHO FIRST BELIEVE AND LATER FALL AWAY), either here or in 6:4-6” (Grudem, “Perseverance of the Saints” from “Still Sovereign,” page 161).

Grudem argues that the Israelites themselves were never saved; but doesn’t Grudem’s assessment contradict Jude’s words that “the Lord, HAVING SAVED the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5)? Doesn’t the language itself from the Exodus account indicate more than a physical salvation (Exodus 15)? Look at the words of the Israelites after the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea: “He[the Lord] has become MY SALVATION” (Ex. 15:2); “You in Your mercy have led forth THE PEOPLE WHOM YOU HAVE REDEEMED” (Ex. 15:12-13); “the people...whom You have PURCHASED” (v.16). Is not the language of “salvation” and “redemption” evidence that the Jews were “saved” when they crossed the Red Sea onto dry land?

This, however, is done with all supposedly “Arminian” texts which seem to state rather strongly that believers can fall away. And this is the subject of this post: to discuss the issue of whether or not the wall is absolutely firm and unyielding between believer and unbeliever: that is, “can believers fall away and can unbelievers become saved?” This is a legitimate question that deserves a well-thought-out response. Frank Thielman writes about this issue as found in John’s Gospel:

“Does John add more than a sharper tone to the collective voice of the other three gospels on the issue of Jesus’ rejection? HAS PERSECUTION DRIVEN HIM TO THE EDGE OF THE KIND OF DUALISTIC CHARACTERISTIC OF GNOSTICISM?” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, page 194)

What is this “dualistic characteristic of Gnosticism?” Here, Thielman assumes that many of us have some working background knowledge of Gnosticism. The Gnostics argued that all of life is divided into two categories: (1) immaterial (spiritual, that which is good) and (2) material (fleshly, that which is bad). The object in life is to get rid of the fleshly, the earthly, that which is bad, in order to take on the spiritual, the heavenly, that which is immaterial and good. There was no middle ground for the Gnostics---nothing good about the earthly, the human body, etc. However, Paul argued against the Gnostics in the Pastoral Epistles by approving of marriage and saying that food is good and to be received with thanksgiving, even if it does feed the body (1 Tim. 4:3-5).

So now, how does Gnostic dualism tie in with Jesus’ rejection? There were two responses to Jesus: those who accepted Him, and those who rejected Him. The Gnostic dualistic view, however, ASSUMES that one either accepts Him and is eternally saved, or one rejects Him and is eternally condemned. Thielman writes, however, that eternal salvation or eternal condemnation is not necessarily the case:

“John’s understanding of the relationship between Jesus and his opponents is not dualistic in a metaphysicial sense. If this were so, then the wall separating ‘believer’ from unbeliever in John’s gospel would be FAR FIRMER AND MORE PERMANENT THAN WE FOUND IT TO BE above in chapter 6. ‘DISCIPLES’ OF JESUS (John 6:66, 70) AND ‘BELIEVERS’ (8:31) CAN TURN AGAINST HIM, AND A FUTURE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS NECESSARY FOR JOHN’S THEOLOGY PRECISELY BECAUSE PERSEVERANCE IS NECESSARY. John is hopeful that even Jesus’ most bitter opponents will eventually believe. In a speech delivered to ‘THE JEWS’ WHO WERE TRYING TO KILL HIM (5:18-19), Jesus reminds his audience of John’s witness to his identity and then comments, ‘I say these things that you may be saved’ (5:33-34; cf. 1:7, 19-34)” (Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament,” page 395).

What Thielman is stressing here is that the demarcation of a believer from an unbeliever is not as fixed and distant as we’d like it to be. Calvinists and Molinists, as well as most average church members, believe in the doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” They seem to believe that a one-moment-in-time confession seals your eternal destiny forever. Once you have professed Jesus, you are eternally secure and “nothing can take you out of His hand,” they say. But here are the words of someone who has studied the Gospels, and he says that being secure in Christ is not so “fixed” and “eternal” as we’d like to think it is. Why does John’s Gospel argue necessary perseverance? Because believers can fall away. This is why Thielman references John 6:66, where some of Jesus’ disciples walk away. Interestingly enough, in this same passage, Jesus turns around and asks the Twelve disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67, NKJV)

Now the question becomes, “Why would Jesus ask the disciples about departing from Him if they could not?” What is Peter’s response, though? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). Peter states that he cannot leave Christ, NOT because of eternal security...but because he “believes” and “knows” that Christ is the Son of God. Peter refuses to depart because he knows he now has the knowledge of the truth, and there is no one else to turn to but Christ! He knows that there is no hope, no security, outside of Christ, which is why he asks in response to the Lord, “to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68)

Why then, is there this idea of “eternal security” in the minds of Calvinists, Molinists, and the majority of evangelical believers today? The supposed doctrine exists because of other reasons that have nothing to do with the Bible. Rather, eternal security is held up as standard doctrine because of philosophical commitments to “Reformed” theology. Thielman writes:

“When we move from this widely neglected group of statements back to expressions that sound more dualistic than what we typically find in the Synoptic Gospels, it becomes apparent that SOMETHING OTHER THAN A METAPHYSICAL DUALISM IS AT ISSUE. Jesus’ opponents are not one with the devil in the same sense that Jesus is one with God, despite the truth that both Jesus and his opponents do the works of their respective fathers. OTHERWISE THERE COULD BE NO MORE POSSIBILITY THAT JESUS’ OPPONENTS WOULD BECOME HIS FOLLOWERS THAN THERE IS THAT JESUS WOULD TRANSFER HIS LOYALTY TO THE DEVIL. When Jesus speaks of Judas as a devil and of his opponents as children of the devil, he is making a moral point, not an ontological point. Judas and his opponents are acting like the devil when they lie about Jesus and seek to murder him (cf. 1 John 3:12, 15), BUT THEY ARE NOT FATED BY THEIR NATURE TO REMAIN IN THE DEVIL’S GRIP” (Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament,” page 195).

I think Thielman is right: with Calvinists and Molinists who argue the “Evidence-of-Genuineness” position (as does Wayne Grudem above), we see that there is something more to this position than they tell us. What is that something? I think it is a commitment to Reformed theology that drives it; however, I also think that to admit the opposite is unthinkable for them. Why? Because they assume theological determinism from the outset. This is called “begging the question,” where one assumes initially what one is trying to prove in the end. Only when Calvinists and Molinists assume that either position could be right (eternal security or loss of salvation) will they find the truth. But to assume that the loss of salvation view is wrong at the start and then argue for eternal security (and state that loss of salvation is wrong) is to rule out a possibility before the evidence is weighed. To Calvinists and Molinists, I ask, “What’s the hidden agenda? What’s the hidden agenda?”

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