Monday, April 4, 2011

"Is It Possible?" Todd Mangum and the Human Pursuit of God

“Of course, people in remote sections of the world will not respond to the revelation to which they are exposed unless the Holy Spirit works in their mind and heart in an extraordinary way. But is this not true in any case? All Reformed thinkers recognize that, unless the Holy Spirit overrides, supercedes, and transforms the depraved human will, no one will respond. The real question is whether God needs special revelation to do this work. Given the sufficiency of ‘information’ in general revelation, it is not implausible to think that, given a miraculous work in the mind and heart of a person in a remote section of the world, that person could respond to the information they have” (Todd R. Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way To Get The Benefits of The Atonement To ‘Those Who Have Never Heard’?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 1 (March 2004): page 129.
In my last post on Todd Mangum’s article, I attacked his unique interpretation of the Psalm 19 reference of general revelation within Romans chapter 10. In that post, I used the context of Romans 10 and its material to make the case that the emphasis of Romans 10 is “faith” and “the word of God,” not general revelation. What I may not have mentioned there (I don’t think I did) is that, if you consider the chapter prior (Romans 9) you will find that the reason why the majority of the nation of Israel was still unsaved in Paul’s time was not because they did not respond to general revelation; rather, Paul dealt with general revelation back in Romans 1 and, from chapters 2 forward, had tried to demonstrate that the only way to salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. Paul even went so far as to show that the father of the nation of Israel, Abraham, was saved by faith before he was circumcised...and that this was to show that works (i.e., circumcision) do not save; rather, faith does (Rom. 4). At the end of Romans 9, Paul states that the Jews’ current position (the majority being unsaved) is due to their attempts to merit salvation through the Mosaic Law: “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone” (Rom. 9:32-33, NKJV). Thereafter, Paul references Isaiah 8, and other passages from Isaiah to demonstrate that even the Old Testament preached the same message: that is, salvation by grace through faith.
In this post, I intend to continue my evaluation of Todd Mangum’s inclusivist discussion. In the quote above, we find that Mangum holds to the possibility of inclusivism because of his Calvinist roots:
“All Reformed thinkers recognize that, unless the Holy Spirit overrides, supercedes, and transforms the depraved human will, no one will respond.”
All Calvinists across the board agree with Mangum’s statement I just quoted. You will not find a Calvinist (at least a consistent one, anyway) that will disagree with Mangum’s words above. As an Arminian, I do not think God overrides the human will, which is why some people choose to spend an eternity apart from God and refuse to believe, no matter how many times they hear the gospel. Another piece of proof in favor of why I disagree with the Spirit “overriding” the will concerns apostates. If God “overrides” the human will, why then, do such individuals come to Christ and then, after some years, depart? Why are there persons like Charles Templeton (a fellow revivalist with Billy Graham for years) who begin to doubt everything they have ever preached, after having won so many souls to the Lord? If the Spirit would override anyone, Charles Templeton would have been such an individual. And yet, the Spirit did not. By what we know of Charles Templeton, he died without coming back to the Lord. We cannot say for sure that he did not return to the Lord (only God knows)...but we have good evidence to state that it’s very likely he did not.
However...if one agrees with Todd Mangum about the Spirit “overriding” the human will, then surely, inclusivism is a logical position to affirm. This is why Mangum says in the next sentence,
“The real question is whether God needs special revelation to do this work [overriding the human will and transformation]” (Mangum, 129; parentheses mine).
This is where Mangum falters in his argument. In my opinion, he invests too much time arguing “whether God needs” to save via the gospel (or special revelation of some sort). This is like the Calvinist argument regarding God’s love for the world. Many a Calvinist (and quite a few Arminians) spend time arguing whether or not “God needed” to die for every person. I don’t invest time in such philosophical contemplation; instead, I simply affirm what Scripture does. God did not have to love the world and give Jesus, but that’s what He decided it was good to do (John 3:16). Along the same lines, I would say to Todd Mangum that the issue is not whether or not special revelation is necessary; rather, the issue is “how God chooses to save according to Scripture.” God could have chosen not to create humanity; but sitting around contemplating the idea of my non-existence does nothing in helping me come to understand God’s will for my life and how I can submit to that will. Instead, contemplating the idea of my non-existence might give me something to think about to add a little excitement to an otherwise possibly boring hour or so...but it does not help me to live out that which the Scriptures teach about God’s demands towards me. It is futile to advance one’s argument by saying, “let’s imagine or contemplate such and such.” Rather, if we are going to come to have a “Christian” theology that is God-glorifying, we need to spend more time learning what’s in the source of all Christian living, the Bible. The Bible should consume our time and efforts, not a series of “What-ifs” or a game of “Is it possible.”
And along those lines, Mangum goes into his own “What if” question:
What if a person never hears the gospel, but, by a special movement of the Holy Spirit (unbeknown to him, of course) in his mind, heart, and will, is given cause over the course of his life to grow more and more uneasy with the pagan suppositions and assumptions of the false religion that dominates the culture into which he was born? it possible that he may find, upon death, that the God he has sought and worshipped, however clumsily and inadequately, was none other than Yahweh, who, by the power of an atonement provided in a Trinitarian plan of reconciliation about which he was completely oblivious during his lifetime, has established a relationship that will continue into eternity as that of child to Father? Is this possible? ‘Perhaps. We don’t know,’ is the correct answer” (Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way,” page 130).
Notice two things: first, as I said above, Mangum begins to ask, “What if” and “Is it possible.” Next, notice that Mangum assumes that God would override the human will “unbeknown” to the individual involved. Is this not troubling to you that the idea of overriding the human will is merely assumed? This is rather troubling and grossly disturbing to me. Where is the Spirit’s conviction, which Jesus states (John 16:7-11)? Where is the idea that the Spirit convicts of sin and of righteousness? This doesn’t exist in Mangum’s theology. Rather, the Spirit overrides the individual and he “happens” to find all this out post-mortem. Does the Spirit not convict men and women such that we become “cut to the heart,” as did the Jews during Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37)? There is an existential component to conviction, such that, not only do we come to Christ, but we come understanding we have sinned against the Lord of Lords and deserve nothing short of Hell itself. But if one is “regenerated,” unbeknownst to himself or herself, where is the conviction? If one is saved prior to faith (as Calvinists assume), then what need is there for conviction? Why is conviction even necessary? It seems that Mangum and the Calvinist camp need to spend more time talking about Spirit conviction rather than “Spirit overriding.”
The worst part of all of this is that, if the Spirit “overrides” our human will (and therefore, human intellect), and He does it such that we are not consciously aware of it (“unbeknownst” to us, as Mangum writes), how then, can we have any understanding about our salvation? How can we come to know anything of the gospel and God’s salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ? If Mangum’s argument of unconscious regeneration and Spirit overriding of the human will is right, then inclusivism is the next logical step: for the only way inclusivism can be correct is if persons can be saved without the gospel, without faith, without conviction. However, the Scriptures themselves just don’t allow for such an interpretation.
I will tackle Mangum’s last quote about Yahweh in my next post. Stay tuned.

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