Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Romans 8:35-39, Another OSAS Text Refuted

“It is my opinion that this passage does not deal with the question of whether a saved person can ever be lost again. Rather, it teaches that a person who is a child of God can never, at the same time, be separated from God’s love. In other words, the believer is never to interpret hardship as meaning that God does not love him. Instead, he should recognize that God’s love is still with him...” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 312)

As of the last two days or so, I have been commenting on Dr. F. Leroy Forlines’s book titled “Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation.” This book is a spin-off of Dr. Forlines’s “The Quest for Truth,” and was written with the hopes of providing a systematic theology for Classic (Reformed) Arminians everywhere. I am so grateful to Dr. Matthew Pinson, President of the Free Will Baptist Bible College, for his editing work in this text. I met Dr. Pinson down in New Orleans at the Apologetics Conference on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Pinson gave a fine presentation on General Baptist leader Thomas Grantham, and his theology that could easily be labeled “Reformed Arminianism.” Grantham was really dismayed at the so-called “Arminianism” of his day, viewing it as semi-Pelagian at best, and full-blown Pelagian (or possibly Wesleyan Arminian) at worst. I am encouraged by the work Dr. Pinson is doing for Dr. Forlines and the kingdom of God at large.

Back to Dr. Forlines’s Systematic Theology. Today’s biblical text that I will tackle in post discussion is Romans 8:35-39.

The text itself concerns the believer. Romans chapter 8 is very clear on this point. In verse 1 of the chapter, we see that the subject of the text is “those who are in Christ Jesus,” which is a clear reference to the believer. In verses 8-9, Paul distinguishes between those who are “in the flesh” and those who are “in the Spirit.” The believer is in the latter category, those who are “in the Spirit,” since the Spirit dwells within believers (Rom. 8:9).

However...and here’s where the problems come in for those who interpret Romans 8 as pertaining to the issue of perseverance...the text actually discusses eternal death for the believer who does the works of the flesh: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). My question is, who is given the warning here? Christians, those who have the Spirit. Paul is not here talking to the unbeliever, but those who possess the Spirit. In fact, Paul can talk in the manner he does because they have the Spirit, and can put to death the deeds of the body. He could not make this statement if the audience consisted of unbelievers (which is why he clearly states in Romans 8:8 that the unbeliever cannot please God).

In verse 15, once more, we see that the Roman believers had “received the Spirit of adoption” by which they could refer to God as “Abba,” meaning “Father.” In verse 16, the Spirit authenticates our salvation, testifies with us that we are children of God.

In verse 17, Paul writes that we are heirs and joint-heirs “IF INDEED WE SUFFER WITH HIM, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17, NKJV). Paul gives a condition to glorification: that is, that glorification will not come without sanctification (which involves suffering). We must suffer with Christ, take up our crosses and follow Him (Luke 9) if we desire to reap the benefits of glorification (as Christ has done). Romans 8:17 affirms the words of Romans 8:13 about “putting to death the deeds of the body.” It is the same idea in mind when Paul writes to Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12), using the Greek word “agonizo” (to agonize) for the word “fight.” To agonize is to experience pain, and the idea of Paul’s thorn in the flesh comes to mind. It is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 4: that we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10, 11).

The text has shown us thus far that we have to “put to death the deeds of the body,” mortify our members on the earth, and that we must “suffer together with Christ” in order to experience glorification. The message of endurance (perseverance) is emphatically displayed in this text. If perseverance is as important as Paul believed it to be, then eternal securitists have a problem: for perseverance then becomes a “condition” (Oh no! I’ve said the dreaded word) for final salvation.

Romans 8:24 tells us that “we were saved in this hope.” What hope? The hope of salvation. The end of verse 24 also makes it clear that the salvation we desire has not yet been actualized: “why does one still hope for what he sees?” If our salvation were fully manifested, there would be no need for hope. The presence of hope in salvation serves to show us that, while some aspect of our salvation is present now, there is a fullness to our salvation that has not yet been made complete. We are not home with God yet, so there is more of our salvation to come than what we have already received. The hope of salvation serves to show us that, while we can be “certain” and “assured” of our salvation, we cannot become so presumptuous as to deem that final salvation is “guaranteed.” There is a difference between certainty and necessity. It is certainty that we have in the Christian life, not “necessity” (not that salvation is necessarily ours).

Verse 25 tells us that, since we can only “hope” for salvation here in the present, we must “wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:25). “Putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13) and “suffering together with Him” (8:17) come to a climax in 8:25. The word for these phrases is “perseverance.” Paul assumes that perseverance is a given, not optional, for the person who waits for their salvation to become a present reality. Proponents of Eternal Security (ES) must ask themselves, “If perseverance is mentioned in this chapter, and we are to wait for our salvation with perseverance, is perseverance not necessary?” This is where a proponent of Eternal Security would respond, “Yes, perseverance is necessary; but the Lord is the one who perseveres us.” If that were the case, why does Paul place the responsibility of perseverance upon the individual? Why does he say, “If we suffer together with Him,” instead of “Since the Lord will persevere us, we will be glorified together”? It seems that the emphasis in the text (at least the great majority of the chapter) is on the individual enduring and persevering in the faith.

Having provided a background of the remainder of Romans chapter 8, we can now approach verses 35-39 of the text. Having seen the necessity of perseverance in this text, does Romans 8 teach the security of the believer? Yes, it does! However, it does not teach the “eternal” security of the believer. What does it teach? Read Dr. Forlines’s words again:

“Rather, it teaches that a person who is a child of God can never, at the same time, be separated from God’s love. In other words, the believer is never to interpret hardship as meaning that God does not love him. Instead, he should recognize that God’s love is still with him...” (Classical Arminianism, page 312).

Romans 8:31 tells us that “God is for us.” Who is the “us” that Paul mentions in that verse? Believers. After all, in Romans 8:8-9, Paul has already distinguished between the unbeliever, who cannot please God, and the believer who can (because he or she has the righteousness of God applied to their life). In verse 33, Paul refers to the believers as “God’s elect,” God’s “called-out ones.” In verse 34, Christ makes intercession for His elect. Who are the elect? Believers. Believers are the subject of Paul’s discussion here. Why is this important? Because believing in Christ is the condition for experiencing the unconditional love of God. No Christian, whether in agreement with OSAS (Once Saved, Always Saved) or not, would argue that an unbeliever could use these verses and claim he will experience eternal life, regardless of whether or not he believes. If that be the case, then there is a condition to experiencing the love of God in Christ: that one must confess and believe on his name (Romans 10:9; John 3:16, etc.).

So, what is the meaning behind Romans 8:35-39? The meaning is that the believer is not separated from God’s love. Even in tribulation (for example), he is still loved by God. Tribulation does not signal that the believer is outside of God’s love. Rather, the believer experiencing tribulation is in accord with the Scriptures which state that those who are in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12), as well as Jesus’ own words that “In this world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Romans affirms the words of both Jesus and Paul.

Nevertheless, Romans 8 cannot contradict itself. And for those who argue that Romans 8:35-39 means that “nothing” (interpreted as “perseverance”) can separate us from the love of God, Romans 8 must contradict itself. After all, did Paul not tell believers that if they do not “put to death the deeds of the body” (v. 13) that they will eternally die? Did he not also tell them to “suffer with Christ” in order to experience glorification (v. 17)? Did he not tell believers to wait for their salvation “with perseverance” (v. 25)? If Paul were to then turn around in verses 35-39 and say, “You don’t need to put to death the deeds of the body, you will experience eternal life anyway,” would he not contradict the words of Romans 8:13? If he turned around and told the believers, “you do not need to suffer with Christ, you will be glorified regardless,” would he not contradict the words of Romans 8:17? If Paul told the believers, “You do not need to have perseverance, you will be saved without it,” would he not contradict the words of Rom. 8:25? All of this is to say that Paul cannot turn around at the end of Romans 8 and do away with everything he has said in the first 34 verses. To do so would mean that the Scriptures contradict, which is something that most evangelicals consider to be an outrageous thought entirely.

When Paul says that “tribulation,” for example, cannot separate one from the love of God, he is not talking about the need to persevere in the tribulation; rather, he is talking about the event of tribulation itself (including our sin). When we are struggling with our sins, God still loves us in spite of our struggles and always makes a way of escape for us in such times (1 Cor. 10:13). However, perseverance (as Romans 8 itself has revealed) is necessary for final salvation. We must suffer together with Christ, we must carry our crosses, if we are to be glorified with Him. Tribulation does not separate us from the love of God in Christ...but we can separate ourselves, whether “we” refers to unbelievers who never receive Christ, or those who were formerly believers who “depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1; see also Jude 21). 

Monday, May 30, 2011

John 10:28-29 Explained

The second argument is based on ‘they shall never perish.’ John 3:36 teaches that the converse is true of unbelievers when it says, ‘He who does not believe the Son shall not see life.’ No one says that, since it is said of the unbeliever that he shall not see life, he is permanently bound without hope in that condition. It is a fact that, as an unbeliever, he shall not see life, but if he becomes a believer, he will see life.

Now, if the words ‘shall not see life,’ which describe the unbeliever, are not contradicted when the unbeliever becomes a believer and sees life, where is the contradiction when it is said that a believer ‘shall not perish,’ but if he becomes an unbeliever he will perish? The fact is that a believer, as long as he remains a believer, ‘shall not perish’” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 311).

John 10:28-29 is often advanced by Calvinists and common believers alike as verses that “unequivocally” attest to the eternal security of the believer. But very few people understand that, while the concept of the believer’s security is a theological one, the nature of that security (whether eternal or conditional) is a philosophical one. And hermeneutics, a philosophical tool, is valuable to what the nature of security in Christ is deemed to be. For those who say philosophy does not matter, think again: hermeneutics is philosophy...and it is sorely needed if one intends to arrive at sound reasoning in the biblical text.

Dr. Forlines provides food for thought when he says that, in discussions of the unbeliever’s condition, no one deems the unbeliever’s state as eternal. In fact, this is true of Christians all across the board. With the exception of some five-point Calvinists who deem the “reprobate” eternally lost, most believers seem to have optimism towards those who are currently under the wrath of God---that is, as long as there’s time, there’s always hope that a lost individual would come to Christ for salvation.

However...a different thing entirely is stated in regards to the believer. When a person becomes a believer, all of a sudden, that person’s state is unchangeable. That person, according to proponents of Eternal Security, can never become an unbeliever again.

But why is this the case? The reasons have never been stated. The idea of “eternal” security is simply assumed, while the possibility of “eternal damnation” on the head of the unbeliever is never even given a second thought. There is still a great need to challenge cherished assumptions about salvation, the believer, and his or her security in Christ.

So what is to be said of “they shall never perish” in John 10:28-29? To solve this puzzle, one needs to examine another cherished presupposition regarding salvation: that is, that a one-time confession in Christ as Lord and Savior is all it takes for salvation. The challenge to the idea of “Once Saved, Always Saved” (OSAS) can be found within the text of John 10:28-29 itself. Notice that the text talks about sheep who “hear My voice...and they follow Me” (John 10:27). What does it mean to “follow” someone? Does the word “follow” refer to a one-time observance of the deeds, words, and actions of another? No. Rather, the word “follow” demonstrates a continued pattern of life lived on the basis of the example of someone else. In the context of John 10:28-29, then, Jesus’ statement about His sheep following Him means that they observe His words, deeds, and actions for a lifetime. The following there is no temporary following, or one-time following. This is why Jesus gives these sheep “eternal life” in verse 28. The sheep of this passage experience eternal life because they commit to “eternally” following Christ. They are in it forever and ever, not for a one-time deed or statement.

Last but not least, notice that in the context of John 10:28-29, such sheep are not merely “confessing Christ.” Rather, they are living the life of a follower. It is the “following” that Jesus is concerned about. Yes, He desires we confess Him before men, as is demonstrated by Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8. At the same time, however, anyone can confess Jesus is Lord and follow Him temporarily---just look at the “rocky soil” of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the one who only believes/endures for a time (Matthew 13:20-21; Mark 4:16-17; Luke 8:13). Anyone can follow the Lord Jesus for a short period of time; however, it is the person that hears the word, endures, and bears much fruit that pleases the Lord (Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15).

Dr. Forlines (with the editing skills of Dr. Matthew Pinson, president of Free Will Baptist Bible College) has done a great job in producing a systematic theology for Classical (or Reformed) Arminians everywhere. The deadliest blow to Calvinism here is that many Calvinists would agree with Reformed Arminians: a person must also be doing good works in addition to a profession of faith in order to have confidence that he or she is a child of God. After all, good works are the purpose of the Christian life (Eph. 2:10), and doing good works brings glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Calvinists actually believe that the elect, the chosen ones of God, will produce good fruit in their lives because “God chose them.” Although I disagree with the Classical Calvinist notion of election, I do agree with the Classic Calvinist emphasis on the necessity of good works in the Christian life. However, if such works are necessary (and many Christians seem to agree), then the security promised in John 10:28-29 is concurrent with a life filled with good works...and such security is conditional upon those good works (“hearing Jesus’ voice, following Him”). Jesus will not forever strive with a tree that does not bear fruit (Luke 13:6-7).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hermeneutic of Reconciliation: How Apostasy Fits With Divine Fidelity

This post is somewhat of a break from what I’ve been doing at the blog, seeing that it recalls an old subject that I’ve studied in much detail over the past two years. I read Leroy Forlines’ book, “The Quest for Truth,” some months ago; now, Forlines’ book has been revamped into a systematic theology for Classical (Reformed) Arminianism, titled Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. While reading his chapter on “The Perseverance of the Saints,” I noticed that Forlines tackles a text that is often used in favor of eternal security. I desire to discuss that here. The issue of apostasy and one of its many proof-texts is the topic of this post.

The proof-text on display (a text in favor of Once Saved, Always Saved, known as “OSAS”) is 2 Timothy 2:11-13---

“If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

See the statement underlined in the passage just above? This statement has been interpreted to mean that, should a Christian become unbelieving and live his/her life in sin, that person will still be saved because “He remains faithful,” which, in this context, refers to God continuing to promise the wayward individual that he or she will inherit eternal life. Even if that person should decline in faithfulness, God will not take back His promise. That person will still inherit eternal life, even if they lived as heathenish as the rest of the unbelieving mass of humanity.

Forlines names Charles Stanley as one who advocates this view. As Stanley himself once said, “If Christ took upon Himself every single one of your sins, what is going to cause God to reverse His verdict of not guilty? Hallelujah, not a thing” (Charles Stanley, quoted by F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 307).

Such a statement is also made by others, chief among them being Norman Geisler. In his chapter in the book Four Views on Eternal Security, Geisler uses the same prooftext to argue in favor of eternal security. He argues that one could “lose rewards,” but one will not lose eternal life itself (see my other posts on the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security to see the Geisler quote).

Yet and still, there are numerous passages that seem to disagree with both Charles Stanley and Norman Geisler. Before I get into one of these passages, I will tackle 2 Timothy 2:11-13. The statement above, as I said a minute ago, seems to indicate that a believer could live an unfaithful life and God in His faithfulness “must” still grant eternal life (unconditional promise). However, Forlines responds to such an interpretation with these words:

“Stanley does not deal at all with the statement, ‘If we deny Him, He also will deny us.’ In fact Stanley is saying that a person who is a Christian could deny Him, and He will not deny that person” (Forlines, “Classical Arminianism,” page 307).

Notice that, to agree with Charles Stanley, one has to admit to a contradiction within the text itself. If Stanley’s words regarding the Lord not denying the unfaithful believer are true, we end up having one statement opposing the next statement. Here is what 2 Timothy 2 would look like:

“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him;
 If we deny Him He also will deny us;
 If we deny Him, He will not deny us.

The two phrases underlined in the above text are contradictory. How can one deny God, and be both denied and not denied all at the same time? And yet, if we agree with Charles Stanley, we have to posit “tension” in the text---or, as I like to say, “tension” is a code word for “contradiction.”

I think that the Lord’s faithfulness in human unfaithfulness refers to something else other than the assumption of Charles Stanley; rather, the Lord’s faithfulness in this text refers to His character, His justice, etc. Forlines again:

“With regard to the last part of verse 13, ‘If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for he cannot deny Himself,’ I would give the following explanation: If we become faithless, Christ will remain faithful to His character and will deny us. What I have said is in agreement with the explanation given by M.R. Vincent: ‘True to his own nature, righteous character, and requirements, according to which he cannot accept as faithful one who has proved untrue to him. To do so would be to deny Himself’” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism, page 307).

Christ’s faithfulness, His constant character, is such that, for the person who denies Him, Christ must deny him or her. This fits with Paul’s statement that “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”

However, I would be remiss if I did not show that such a statement of Paul’s is not only a New Testament affirmation, but an Old Testament one as well. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 18. Ezekiel is proclaiming “The Word of the Lord” (Ezek. 18:1, NKJV) to the Lord’s people. This is what Ezekiel has to say about the righteous man that turns to unrighteousness and unfaithfulness:

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV).

Yahweh poses a question: if the righteous man turns from his righteousness and lives in wickedness, will he still have life? Jesus’ answer is clear: “all the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered.” In other words, the Lord will treat the individual as though he or she never performed any acts of righteousness: “because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty...he shall die.” The individual will not only suffer for his/her sin, but also for the unfaithfulness. In the eyes of the Lord, then, unfaithfulness is as much a sin as wickedness. For the Christian who doesn’t struggle with drinking, smoking, sexual perversion, etc., but just does not attend church, read Scripture, pray to the Lord, grows lax in their spiritual walk with God, such a person is also subject to eternal condemnation. Another thing I’d also like to point out is that Ezekiel connects unfaithfulness with wickedness, which is something Jesus Himself does in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4:17, Luke 8:13). Unfaithfulness and wickedness go hand-in-hand.

We’ve seen in this post that God’s faithfulness to His character demands justice upon the head of the unfaithful individual. However, those who adhere to the Doctrine of Eternal Security will ask the question, “Is it fair? Is God fair to do such a thing?” This is the question I will tackle in my next post. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Graduate Update

                    Dear Readership,

 It is your blogger, Deidre Richardson here. I am writing to provide you all with a graduate update.

The last post I sent (prior to the Rob Bell response) was on May 20, 2011, the day of my graduation from the Master of Divinity program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since graduation one week ago today, I can say that I have been relaxing and enjoying the time away. Something that I haven’t done in my five years in the MDiv program is what I now find myself doing a lot of---playing video games. What very few people know about me is that I was a huge video gamer back in the day. I own a Sega Genesis that is soon-to-be 18 years old this December 2011. Lately, I have been playing NBA Jam, one of my favorite games on the Sega, for a couple of hours each day. I managed to play video games while reading the Rob Bell book, and got it all done in record time. Not bad for a new graduate!!!

Graduation itself was marvelous. My mom’s parents did a great job of standing in my mother’s stead. I have informed you all (and do every year) that my mother died 2 years ago this Spring from brain cancer. She battled breast and lung cancers prior to brain cancer and died after having fought cancer for three years. She was my dearest and best friend, someone I missed more than words could ever say on last Friday. I carried my mother’s Duke University undergraduate Bible with me into Binkley Chapel on that day, proud that I could have a little piece of my mother with me. As Dr. John Boozer, head of the music department at the seminary, began to bellow out “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” and all the seminary congregation joined, I began to cry while singing the words. I thought to myself, “Man, how my mother would’ve rejoiced to see this day.” I know that, though invisible to me, she was there. She saw it all, and she rejoiced in heaven. I said it then and I’ll say it now: the angels couldn’t rival mom’s praise to God on that day J

Dr. Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, preached on the Great Commission text of Matthew 28:19-20, reminding us graduates of our responsibility to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He said something that I think is worth repeating here: when speaking of the great commission, he told us that we don’t need to pray about whether or not we ought to go to the ends of the earth. God has given the command, and the Lord did not stutter when He gave it. He has told us that we should go to the deep, dark places of the earth, and preach the gospel to those who need to hear it. So, what are we waiting for?

When the time arrived for the conferring of the degrees, the faculty stood as Dr. Akin conferred upon me (and 86 other graduates) the degree “Master of Divinity, with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges pertaining thereof.” Dr. Kenneth D. Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” Dean of the Faculty of Southeastern, as well as Vice President of the Seminary, called the names as nearly 126 students walked across stage to receive their degrees. When he called my name, he addressed me as “Deidre M. Richardson.” While walking across stage, he also took time to give me a “Congratulations, Deidre,” before all of the faculty, graduates, and friends gathered on that day. To say the least, I know that Dr. Keathley is pretty biased towards me. It’s alright...I’m pretty biased towards him as well. I told him during last Thursday’s graduate reception at Dr. Daniel Akin’s home (“Magnolia Hill”) that I guess he has reasons for being biased, to which he responded, “I do.”

The greatest part for me was to walk out of the chapel a graduate, waving at all my friends who have become so dear to me in the last five years of my MDiv degree. Coming down the chapel steps, I felt that a new day had dawned in my life. Dr. Keathley wanted me to introduce him to my mother’s parents (my only set of grandparents still living). I got them to meet him, and I felt so honored when Dr. Keathley told them, “Your granddaughter has a mind greatly attuned to theology, and I am honored to be working with her this coming fall.” I could’ve had a heart attack I was so honored! In addition, “grandma” and “grandpa” got to meet many of my other professors, chief among them being Dr. Bruce Little, head of the Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern. Rather humorously, he told them, “Your granddaughter was a wonderful student...that is, when she wasn’t sleeping.” I have to admit: I did sleep through quite a bit of Dr. Little’s lectures. Do you wanna know how much I slept? So much so that I actually managed to sleep through three semesters with him: Intro to Christian Philosophy, Problem of Evil, and Christian Faith and the Arts. In the intro course, sleeping was a bad idea (considering the class number was so small). In Problem of Evil, I drooled on the wall one day (I’m so sorry, Dr. Little!)...and in Christian Faith, I was awakened by an adopted brother of mine (and classmate) who kicked my foot to wake me up in the middle of a Dr. Little lecture. My grandparents laughed as Dr. Little recalled my sleeping techniques. The interesting thing is that, while I slept in all three classes I took with him, I always awoke recalling everything he had said in class. Call it “sleep osmosis,” I guess.

They also met Dr. David Stephen Hogg, professor of Christian Theology and Church History at SEBTS. He is leaving this June to assume an admin position at Samford University in Alabama. I talked with him privately when asking him for a recommendation to the Master of Theology (ThM) program, and he said that he was excited to be working under Timothy George. I am excited for him. Dr. George is an honorable man of God who loves the Lord, and having Dr. Hogg on his staff is another marvelous blessing in and of itself. I told Dr. Hogg that SEBTS was losing an amazing man of God. I have a right to say that, since I took Dr. Hogg for Church Histories I and II, as well as Christian Theologies II and III (a total of four semesters under his instruction). I recommended him here to students as much as possible, and not one student I recommended him to ever came back and told me, “I didn’t like his classes.” I guess that’s pretty telling of how gifted Dr. Hogg really is. I pray much for him and his transition to a new place. May the Lord watch over him, his wife, and his children, as they begin a new chapter in their lives.

There is someone else that my grandparents got to meet, one who is extremely dear to me, one I cannot finish this post without mentioning: my dear adopted brother, Billy Birch, author of “The Arminian,” as well as a new graduate of The College at Southeastern. For those who know Billy Birch (and those who don’t), he is planning to attend Southeastern Seminary to pursue a Master of Divinity degree this coming Fall 2011. I am praying that he and I get to take classes together. Maybe we can take some classes with Dr. Keathley and totally “overwhelm” him with the presence of two heretics in the room (just kidding!). Billy also got to meet my father, James A. Richardson, whom I’m so thankful got a chance to attend his second-eldest daughter’s seminary graduation (my twin sister is the eldest of his five daughters). Dr. Keathley got to meet him as well, and it was such an honor to get to introduce my dad to all the professors in my life who have impacted me in so many wonderful ways. My dad may never know it, but his “high school sweetheart,” my mother, Teressa A. Richardson, winked at me from above as my dad walked on the campus. I think dad coming was the Lord’s way of making my mother smile as she looked down and saw him there. Mom always wanted me to grow my relationship with my dad, and I think we’re getting there. We’ve had a rather rocky road, particularly after her death...but we’re growing closer. I love my dad and want him to be a part of my life, but I’m still struggling as to how to include him in the everyday things. I trust that the Lord is gonna help me to learn how to bring my father back into my life in a more tangible way. Pray for me in this, will you???

All in all, graduation day was a wonderful success. Although I missed mom dearly, I know that she is extremely proud of my commitment to the Lord’s work and His service. Her parents have been such “angels” in my life, without which, I could not be the woman of God I am today. Mom’s memory will live on; I carry her with me, wherever I go, in whatever I do. And I rejoice that some day, I will see her again. I’ve learned in the last two years that I do not sorrow “as those who have no hope.” I do not cry tears of sadness because I’ll never see her again. Rather, I cry tears of sadness because I miss her now, but I know that the end will more than make up for the time she and I lost here. And I rejoice in the thought of a Savior, a Lord, who has said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And some day when I stand in glory, the Lord will wipe away every tear from my eyes and I will cry no more. And everything will finally make perfect sense. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christianity, the Exclusive Faith: A Response to Rob Bell's Chapter, "There Are Rocks Everywhere"

“Jesus is supracultural. He is present within all cultures, and yet outside of all cultures.

He is for all people, and yet he refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one cultures.

That includes any Christian culture...we can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him---but we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anyone else’s [Rob Bell, “There are Rocks Everywhere,” from Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 151-152].

I realize that today’s post could easily be written in anger, attacking certain new works in the bookwriting market. I could easily claim that I hold to an exclusivist theology of religions (which I do) and that I have very little tolerance for other beliefs...but what good would such an approach do? How would it help those who see world religions from a different perspective than myself?

In this post, I desire to demonstrate (humbly, I emphasize) that, while Christ does come for the world, no one can receive the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection without believing in Him. And to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in His work on the cross is the teaching espoused only by Christianity. It makes sense then, that, if one is to follow Christ, that one must become a Christian (a word which means “follower of Jesus Christ”).

First, Christ does come for the world. I could point to a myriad of verses for this one, but a few will do. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His Son because He “so loved the world.” John 3:17 tells us that God sent His Son “so that the world might be saved.” In 2 Corinthians 5 we read that in Christ, “God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). 1 John 2:2 tells us that Christ is the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for not only the sins of the believer, but “the sins of the whole world.” And John first calls Jesus the Lamb of God in John 1, where he cries out, “Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NKJV) The biblical warrant is there as proof that Christ loves the entire world---this includes Buddhists, Confucians, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and Christians alike. God loves the Buddhist and Mormon as much as He loves the Christian, the one who has already accepted and received the benefits of His atonement.

Yet, despite God’s love for the world, God also has standards. God has a divine standard for the nations, one that cannot be broken. The same God that gave His Son because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16) is the same God that also spoke, “He that believes not is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” [that is, Jesus Christ] (John 3:18). In the incarnation of Jesus, God the Father (Yahweh) revealed His love for the world. His love, His grace, is seen in His law, His rule for salvation. God’s love then, cannot operate apart from Jesus (since grace came through Jesus Christ, see John 1:17). Outside of Jesus, there is neither grace nor hope for humanity.

Now, Rob Bell would probably agree that outside of Christ there is no hope for humanity. As he writes in his quick exposition of John 14:6,

“What he [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him” (Rob Bell, Love Wins, 154).

Bell says in this last quote that the redemption of the world takes place because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Regardless of the statements I’ve heard made about Rob Bell, this is true, and every Christian should affirm the statement that redemption of humanity only occurs because of Christ.

With that said, though, I would have to disagree with Bell that those who come to Christ will not necessarily be aware or cognizant of the fact. This, however, is a statement made of virtually all inclusivists. Take Clark Pinnock for instance: at least twice in his book A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions, Pinnock claims that “God cares about faith, not the content of one’s theology” (see the book review on Pinnock in my section on “Academic Papers”). Yet, as I said there (and will say again here), God does care about theological content. If Hebrews 11:6 means anything, one must not only believe that God exists...he or she must also believe that the Lord rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” To diligently seek something is to be aware of it. One does not search thoroughly for something that he or she did not know was lost.

Cognizance or awareness or consciousness of theology must exist; for one’s conception of God will result in the type of God one serves. One’s theology will dictate one’s lifestyle. If we take Bell’s words as true, one will not “diligently seek” God because one will not know that such a God exists. If a student is not aware of the rules of the classroom, such a student cannot govern himself or herself by rules that are “invisible” and unknown to them. If one does not know that God promises to reward diligent work for the kingdom, one will not seek God. Sadly enough, Bell also points out the popular notion of “Once Saved, Always Saved,” where individuals are saved despite their wayward lifestyles (the view propagates this belief). Bell is right to attack the popular notion of salvation. This notion of salvation is extremely unbiblical and harmful to the church; nevertheless, it is based on theological ignorance. Many individuals live their lives according to this popular notion of salvation because they do not know the true God of the Bible. Their ignorance in theological matters (matters of Scripture) results in incorrect living. Heterodoxy (wrong doctrine) will lead to heteropraxy (wrong practice).

Which comes back to a point that directly relates to Bell’s quote at hand. One must receive Christ as Lord and Savior and make public confession for salvation. And to do that, one has to know the words of Jesus and heed them. But, how does this take place if one does not know them? One cannot heed the words of Christ if he or she does not know them. And one will not obey Christ if one does not submit his or her life to God to do with as He pleases. This explains the state of those in other world religions: the world religions flourish as such because this is expected. Religion that is not built upon the words of Christ will look similar to the other world religions. While Bell desires to deny Christianity any monopoly on Christ, Christianity is the ONLY world faith that is built around the words, sayings, and deeds of Jesus Christ. After all, did Christ not tell the apostles, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20)?

Christianity is built upon the words of Matthew 28:19-20---that is, the doctrine of the Christian faith is built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ Himself. What other world religion can make this claim? Sure, many world religions can claim “similarities” to the Christian faith, but how many can claim “equivalence” (that is, that they teach the same doctrines as Christianity)? None. Not a single one. And this is where the exclusivity of the Christian faith shines through. It is only in the Christian faith that one can find what Jesus did, who He was, what He said, and how He lived. Only Christianity contains the most specific details about the Savior of the world.

And Christianity contains such details because its very name, “Christianity,” was given meaning over 2000 years ago by one named “Jesus Christ,” for whom the faith itself is named.

Does Jesus transcend every culture? You bet. But claiming that Jesus transcends culture is very different from saying that Jesus is beyond varying religious beliefs and that one can simply believe anything and be okay. Christianity is not just American, nor has it ever been “only American.” The faith itself started with 12 apostles whom Jesus Himself chose, Jews who were of common estate, to be His messengers of His death and resurrection throughout the entire world. Because Christianity started with Jews and not Americans, American Christians are all too convinced that Christianity is not just an “American” faith, but a “World” faith...and evangelism is just one of the many ways we show that we desire, like Christ, that the world would come to know its Savior. God bless.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"A Wideness in God's Mercy, A Wideness in God's Standard: How Clark Pinnock's Inclusivism Falters on the Biblical Questions" (Book Review)

Pinnock, Clark. A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Clark Pinnock (1937-2010) came from a liberal Baptist heritage but converted at age 12 to a more conservative, evangelical faith. He went on to graduate from the University of Toronto (1960), and eventually received his PhD under theologian F.F. Bruce at Manchester University in New Testament Studies. He taught at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (1965-1969), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1969-74), Regent College (1974-77), and McMaster Divinity School (1977-2002). Pinnock was a leading theologian for the Openness of God movement as well as a champion for inclusivism and annihilationism.

Written in 1992, Clark Pinnock’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy is one of the most “creative”  proposals to evangelical theology of religions, only being surpassed by Amos Yong’s Beyond the Impasse (written a decade later). In his introduction, Pinnock notes that religious pluralism is “one of the hottest topics on the agenda of theology in the nineties.”[1] While it is not a new topic on the world scene, it has become a new topic of discussion for Americans because the plurality of world religions has come to the American front door.[2] So far, the response to religious pluralism has been unfortunate; instead of evangelicals meeting the challenge head-on, they have demonstrated “a refusal to rethink almost anything.”[3] It is in the spirit of encouragement toward greater interreligious dialogue, Christian humility, and open-mindedness that Pinnock takes up his pen.

In chapters one and two, Pinnock discusses what he calls “two parameters within which a theology of religions should operate”[4]: God’s universal love for all humanity (which he calls the foundation of his theology[5]), and the particularity of salvation in Jesus Christ. The first chapter, titled “Optimism of Salvation,” explains the first of Pinnock’s two parameters. Pinnock references Genesis 1-11 as testimony of the divine universal love, and names individuals of Scripture who were neither “Jews nor Christians,” counted righteous because of their response to the divine revelation they received: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Daniel, and Job.[6] While building his case for God’s universal love, Pinnock also hopes to demonstrate and eradicate the impact of Augustinian theology on evangelical theology. Several times within chapter one alone, Pinnock inserts a phrase about Augustinian theology: “Committed by tradition to the fewness doctrine, we have not been free to rejoice in God’s global covenants.”[7] Evangelicals have also overlooked the call to Abram because they have been “bewitched by the alien doctrine of double predestination.[8]

In chapter two, Pinnock discusses the other parameter of his theology: the particularity of Jesus Christ. Pinnock believes that the particularity of Jesus, while important, does not necessarily lead to restrictivism.[9] He references Daniel 7:9-14, Mark 14:36, 62, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 22, Ephesians 1:20-21, and Matthew 28:19 and concludes that “Jesus is Lord—this is the heart of the New Testament message.”[10] He then examines pluralist strategies concerning the uniqueness of Jesus: (1) a shift from metaphysical to functional categories; (2) to make Jesus “relational” instead of “normative” for all; and (3) to deny uniqueness claims, a strategy advocated by pluralist John Hick.[11] According to Pinnock, pluralists resort to such strategies because of exclusivist claims that a high Christology leads to restrictivism.[12] He lifts up the Second Vatican Council as a right model for evangelicals since it “knows how to distinguish the ontological necessity of Christ’s work of redemption from the epistemological situation of sinners.”[13] The ontological necessity (that Christ was necessary to purchase salvation for the entire world) does not lead to epistemological necessity (that one must confess and believe in Christ to be saved). One need not possess “conscious knowledge of Christ” in order to experience His salvation.[14]

Chapter three concerns religions as they presently exist in history: (1) secularism, (2) pluralism, (3) inclusivism, (4) skepticism, and (5) traditionalism. Pinnock’s view falls somewhere between the traditional and inclusivist views; while he believes Jesus Christ is unique and normative for the world, he also believes that there is “premessianic truth and goodness in other religions.”[15] Religion comes in two senses, objective and subjective; thus, Pinnock spends the remainder of chapter three detailing the subjective aspect of religion. Subjective religion can either be “true” or “false.” While the Canaanite (and even Israelite) religions worshipped wrongly, pagan saints worshipped God (and still worship today) with a proper heart response.[16] The biblical criteria for pagan saints is provided by the apostle Peter in Acts 10:35--- “whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Both ethical and cognitive criteria apply in such cases.[17]

Chapter four details the objective side of religion. The evangelical philosophy of history is that 1) Christ is conforming everything to Himself; 2) religion is part of “everything” that is being conformed to Christ; 3) therefore, Christ is conforming even religion (and thus, the world religions) to Himself.[18] Examples of transforming religion include both Marxism and Islam.[19] In light of the eschatological reconciliation of all things, Christians should engage in interreligious dialogue and thereby usher in the future reconciliation. Paul is a premier example of one who engages correctly in interreligious dialogue: he talks with Jews in the synagogues (Acts 9:29; 17:2-4), at the Areopagus (Acts 17), and in Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10).[20] In such dialogue, Paul avoids two extremes: relativism (there is no truth) and fideism (faith without reason or argument). Pinnock ends the chapter by providing three elements for good interreligious dialogue: (1) appreciation of other religions, (2) seriousness regarding globalization and its implications for theology of religions, and (3) critical investigation of other faiths.[21]

Chapter five addresses the fate of the unevangelized. Pinnock examines five common views on the subject: (1) faith principle; (2) middle knowledge; (3) special messenger before death; (4) postmortem encounter; and (5) universal salvation.[22] Last but not least, he addresses the proper motivation for missions: “The fear of hell is not the primary motivation for missions. The deepest motive of all is to see the kingdom come and God’s rule established.”[23]

To conclude the work, Pinnock “lays his cards on the table”: he advocates the Eastern Orthodox view on the Filioque Controversy; believes in the existence of “pagan saints” and that general revelation can have positive salvific value; is hopeful of postmortem evangelism and prefers “Justin to Augustine, Erasmus to Luther, Wesley to Calvin, and Anderson to Lindsell”[24] on the above theological issues. For his final stroke of genius, he ties in the title of his work (A Wideness in God’s Mercy) to its namesake song written by Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863).

There are some problems with Clark Pinnock’s work. First, Pinnock falters on the doctrine of election. In chapter one, titled “The Optimism of Salvation,” he states that “the election of Israel is a corporate election (not an election of individuals)” and that “the New Testament does not reinterpret election to mean the selection of certain individuals to be saved.”[25] The Scriptures, however, bear a different interpretation than Pinnock does. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians connects election with salvation: 1 Thessalonians 1:4 refers to their “election by God” as well as the manifestation of their divine election: “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.”[26] The salvation experience of the Thessalonians testifies to their divine election. In Romans 9, Paul laments that his people (the Jews) have not received divine election because they do not understand that “the purpose of God according to election” is “not of works but of Him who calls.”[27] Consequently, since God has chosen an election of grace (and thus, an election of faith[28]), the Jews cannot receive divine election by works; rather, they must embrace their election by faith.[29] In 2 Peter 1:10, to “make one’s calling and election sure” is the same as adding to one’s faith[30]; and to add to one’s faith results in “entrance into the kingdom.”[31] The New Testament discussion of kingdom entrance is deemed a salvific one by other New Testament passages.[32]

Next, Pinnock disconnects the work of God the Father from the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, in salvation: “insisting that God is embodied and defined by Christ does not mean that God is…totally confined to Christ.”[33] Does not Jesus say in John 14:6 that “no one comes to the Father except through Me”?[34] Does Paul not write in Philippians 2:9-11 that the Father exalts the Son by giving Him “a name which is above every name” and that this is to the Father’s glory? The book of Hebrews includes not only the Father’s exaltation of the Son, but also the Son’s exaltation above the angels.[35] How then, can the Father not be “confined” to the Son, when the Father is glorified through the confinement of salvation to explicit confession and belief in the Son?

In chapter five, Pinnock details his faith principle regarding the fate of the unevangelized. In his view, “people are saved by faith, not by the content of their theology.”[36] At the end of the paragraph on page 108, he references Hebrews 11:6 as evidence for his position. Unfortunately, Hebrews 11:6 contradicts Pinnock’s statement. Hebrews 11:6 indicates that faith consists of theological content: the one that comes to Christ must believe in His existence (“that He is”) and that He rewards individual faithfulness (“is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him”). Both of these propositions are what constitute faith in Christ. One cannot simply “believe” without believing in something.[37] 

For Pinnock, general faith is more important to God than faith’s theological content; this explains Pinnock’s denial of necessary, explicit confession of the name of Jesus Christ in salvation. On page 158 Pinnock writes, “A person is saved by faith, even if the content of belief is deficient (and whose is not?). The Bible does not teach that one must confess the name of Jesus to be saved.”[38] The Scriptures, however, teach the exact opposite of Pinnock’s claim. What about Romans 10:9, where Paul writes that one must “confess with your mouth” that Jesus is Lord and “believe in your heart that God has raised” Jesus from the dead in order to be saved? What about Jesus’ words that “Whoever confesses me before men, him the Son of Man will also confess before the angels of God”[39]? How else does one confess the Lord Jesus if not by mouth? And, if one must open his or her mouth and say “Jesus is Lord,” how much more explicit can confession become? Pinnock’s claim that the Bible does not teach explicit confession is simply a denial of the biblical text itself. By tampering with the process of salvation so well-defined in the biblical text, Pinnock loses objectivity and impartiality with his readers.

One of the most original discussions in A Wideness concerns the pre-Messianic era. Pinnock believes that, even today, one can still reside in the pre-Messianic era: “A person who is informationally premessianic, whether living in ancient or modern times, is in exactly the same spiritual situation.”[40] The Scriptures however, never distinguish between the “informationally premessianic” and the “informationally postmessianic”; rather, God’s Word places all of humanity in the post-Messianic era: “Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”[41] The text says that “all men everywhere” are to repent, leaving no individual unmentioned, no geographical location excepted. Paul writes in Romans 3 that “in his forbearance, God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time his righteousness.”[42] The words “previously” and “the present time” reveal a distinction between the former era and the current one. While the text mentions a former time of ignorance, that time of ignorance is no more.


Pinnock, Clark H. “A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

[1] Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 7.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid., 18.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Ibid., 30. Italics mine.

[8] Ibid. Pinnock’s agenda against Calvinism is quite evident. He mentions Augustinian 
theology on pages 18 (2x), 19, 23, 24 (2X), 30, 32, 35-37, and 39. Pinnock boldly asserts that such theological thought is damaging to the biblical theme of God’s universal love for the nations. Italics belong to this writer.

[9] Ibid., 51.

[10] Ibid., 55, 61.

[11] Ibid., 64-65, 66, 68.

[12] Ibid., 74.

[13] Ibid., 75.

[14] Ibid. Pinnock lists Job as such an example.

[15] Ibid., 83-84.

[16] Ibid., 92. Melchizedek, Lot, Abimelech, Jethro, Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, the Queen of 
Sheba, and Cornelius qualify as pagan saints.

[17] Ibid., 96.

[18] Ibid., 117-118.

[19] Ibid., 125-127.

[20] Ibid., 130.

[21] Ibid., 139-142.

[22] Ibid., 155-172.

[23] Ibid., 178. Italics belong to the author.

[24] Ibid., 182-183.

[25] Ibid., 24.

[26] 1 Thessalonians 1:5, New King James Version.  All Scripture verses will come from the NKJV unless otherwise stated.

[27] Romans 9:11.

[28] Rom. 11:5; 4:16.

[29] Rom. 9:30-33.

[30] 2 Peter 1:5-7.

[31] 2 Pet. 1:11.

[32] Ephesians 5:5 and Luke 9:62 are good examples.

[33] Pinnock, 77.

[34] Italics mine.

[35] Hebrews 1:5-13.

[36] Pinnock, 157. On page 105 Pinnock writes, “the issue for God is not the content of theology but the reality of faith.”

[37] Pinnock mentions the “faith/theology” divide again on page 112, but then adds, “of course, the distinction between the subjective and objective-- dimension of religion should not be taken so far as to suggest that theology does not matter at all.”

[38] Ibid., 158. Italics mine.

[39] Luke 12:8; Matthew 10:32.

[40] Pinnock, 161.

[41] Acts 17:30.

[42] Rom. 3:25-26.