Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Actions Have Consequences: How the Unevangelized Testify to the Fall of Genesis 3

“The question of those who never hear the gospel is often emotively framed as those who do not hear ‘through no fault of their own.’ This claim rests on the assumption that those without special revelation are not responsible for their lack of special revelation, hence the pressure falls on general revelation to provide sufficient knowledge. However...both theologically and historically the precise opposite is true...If general revelation and special revelation were, in the preceptive will of God, always meant to be understood together before the Fall, and if special revelation is even more necessary after the Fall to correct and interpret general revelation, then if there are those in history who only have general revelation, are they not those who have fallen outside of God’s preceptive (but not decretive) will? Despite protests as to the narrowness of those who fall within special revelation, historically speaking we have seen that there was a time when special revelation was indeed as universally known and accessible as general revelation. The entrance of sin has consequences for the accessibility of revelation (Daniel Strange, “General Revelation: Sufficient or Insufficient?” from “‘Faith Comes By Hearing’: A Response to Inclusivism” by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008, page 71).
I bought the title “Faith Comes By Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism” several months ago. I had heard of inclusivism through my introductory theology course with Dr. Ken Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” about a year and a half ago. Seeing the book on the shelf at the local bookstore, I was moved to buy the book. I wanted to know the inclusivist arguments and the exclusivist response to them. In addition, I had never had the chance (at that time) to research inclusivism. At the time I took Dr. Keathley’s introductory theology course, I researched the divine sovereignty-human responsibility debate. I always thought, “If I could retake my introductory theology course all over again, I would research on inclusivism.” Little did I know that I would pursue independent research with Dr. Keathley by the end of my Master of Divinity degree...and that I would get to research the debate I had been longing to research two years later. The Lord always has perfect timing on these things.
Today’s post involves the first article in the inclusivist response that I’ve read. The article is written by Daniel Strange, and it is a 38-page defense of general revelation as insufficient for salvation but sufficient for condemnation. Strange explores the open theist response to general revelation, looking at the theological views of both Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. He also references Terrance Tiessen’s “accessibilism,” which, to many, is inclusivism by a different name. After tracing the various views of theologians, Strange dives into the exegesis, looking at Romans 1:18-32 and then Romans 2. Finally, Strange turns to Romans 10 and performs his most impressive exegesis of all: he tackles John Sanders’ exegesis and argument that the “gospel” of Romans 10 that has gone to the ends of the earth is general revelation. Strange mentions various opinions (similar though slightly varied) on what has “gone to the ends of the earth” in Romans 10. He quotes Douglas Moo’s conviction:
“Paul is not, then, simply using the text according to its original meaning. His application probably rests on a general analogy: as God’s word of general revelation has been proclaimed all over the earth, so God’s word of special revelation in the gospel, has been spread all over the earth. His intention is not to interpret the verse of the Psalm, but to use its language, with the ‘echoes’ of God’s revelation that it awakes, to assert the universal preaching of the gospel” (Douglas Moo, “Epistle to the Romans,” pp. 666-667; quoted by Daniel Strange, “General Revelation: Sufficient or Insufficient?” from “Faith Comes By Hearing,” page 64).
I think Strange handles Sanders’s dissent on Romans 10 very well. Exclusivists need to learn good arguments and how to defend the truth of the Scriptures. Sanders (and inclusivists) makes, on the surface, a very appealing case for general revelation with the reference to Psalm 19. However, in the context, it is “the word of Christ,” “the gospel” whose voice has been heard to the ends of the earth, not general revelation. The words regarding universality come right after the verse for which the book itself is named: “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, NKJV).
But I’m not so sure about Strange’s words regarding the lack of universal access to special revelation as a consequence of the fall and sin. Strange quotes Gerald McDermott’s words about a “Religious Law of Entropy” where access to special revelation has been dying throughout world history. According to McDermott, there was a time when knowledge of God was universal; today, however, we discover that some areas of the world have access to the knowledge of God concerning Christ while other parts of the world do not. Why is this? According to Daniel Strange (and Gerald McDermott), this exists because “the entrance of sin has consequences for the accessibility of special revelation.” In other words, when the Fall happened (Genesis 3), it affected even the spread of the gospel (which is the revelation of God in Christ). As a result, some will experience this special revelation while others will not.
Take the example of the man born blind from birth (John 9:1-3). Was this man born blind because of his sin, or the sin of his parents? No. But the man’s blindness would be cured so that God’s glory could be displayed (9:3). In the same way, I would say that the lack of special revelation around the world is not because of the sin of the nations, or because of the sin of every human in Adam. Rather, God desires that the gospel reach the ends of the earth (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10), and the gospel itself will do so, since God has decreed it (see Revelation 14:6). If God desires that the gospel reach the ends of the earth, then the current situation just leaves room open for God to display His glory by how He brings men and women to faith---not just the preached gospel but by dreams and visions, as He is currently doing in the Muslim world.
I think that Strange has to prove that the fall affected special revelation. I think that the fall of Genesis 3 has affected human nature, such that we are depraved in every human way (hence, radical depravity). However, I’m not sure that the Fall affected special revelation. This is an assumption that has to be proven if Strange intends to convince his audience.
He also has another assumption to prove: that the nations devoid of the light of the gospel lack such revelation because they are personally responsible:
“Instrumentally the withdrawal of special revelation from a people, with its important corrective to salvifically insufficient general revelation, is already a demonstration of God’s righteous judgment, a cyclical degenerative process of sin and judgment continuing over generations. In other words it is precisely ‘through their own fault’ that some may find themselves devoid of special revelation and the gospel (Strange, “General Revelation,” from “‘Faith Comes By Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism,” page 72).
The above statement regarding those who have yet to see a human messenger preach the gospel of Christ must be proven. The unevangelized are called “unevangelized” not because they have refused to hear the gospel, but because no one has gone to preach it to them. In many places, governments have refused to allow the preaching of the gospel within their borders or withheld missionaries from entering. Somewhere in this world at this very moment is a devout Hindu who has never heard the gospel---and in some cases, has never been allowed the opportunity to do so. Before Strange can just assume that many are to blame, he should look at the current climate around the world.
Last but not least, if Strange’s assertion is correct, NONE of us, no human being on planet earth, would ever receive special revelation. After all, have we all not sinned (Rom. 3:23)? Are we not all guilty under the law (Rom. 3:20)? Is it not true that none of us are righteous? If all are made guilty under the law, why then, must some individuals be declared eternally damned while the rest of humanity is allowed the chance to be saved? Did God not love the world and give His Son for it (John 3:16)? The fact that the West has received the light of the gospel serves as a reminder to the Eastern portion of the world that God loves them too and desires that they (the East also makes up the “all men” of 1 Timothy 2:4) be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If the world as a whole bears “corporate responsibility” for the entrance of sin (See Strange’s article, “General Revelation,” page 72), why shouldn’t the world be given a “corporate opportunity” to hear the gospel and receive it or reject it?
I applaud Daniel Strange for arguing that Christ is the only way to salvation and that general revelation does not save; however, at the same time, Strange is very pessimistic about the nations coming to faith because of his Calvinist presuppositions. I will dive into what those are and how they affect his view of the universality of special revelation in my next post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What An Inclusivist Would Say: Some Remarks From Stanley Samartha, Pt. II

In my last post, I began to tackle Stanley Samartha’s remarks regarding inclusivism. Samartha, head of the Interreligious Dialogue division of the World Council of Churches, had this to say:
“we should probably look for existential rather than conceptual may be recognized to be larger than logic; love may take precedence over truth; the neighbor as a person may become more important than his belief. Reflection on the work of the Spirit may be subordinated to a readiness to be led by the Spirit together with the partners into the depths of God’s mystery” (quoted by Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse,” page 94; Stanley Samartha, “The Holy Spirit and People of Various Faiths, Cultures, and Ideologies,” in “The Holy Spirit” by Dow Kirkpatrick, ed. Nashville: Tidings, 1974).
I’ve already demonstrated that, biblically, life is not above logic (but rather manifested through logic); and I’ve also shown the love does not take precedence over truth but “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Today, my task is to tackle Samartha’s last statement,
“the neighbor as a person may become more important than his belief.”
Does Scripture have anything to say about this? Yes it does! Read these words from the apostle John:
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11, New King James Version).
My last post tackled the idea of life above logic and love over truth. As I showed, though, love is manifested in the truth. One who loves another rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), that is, when someone does what is right, what is godly. One does not love another if he is willing to rejoice with him in wrong and ungodliness. If this is so, then beliefs do matter; for some beliefs are right and others are wrong. Some beliefs are true and some beliefs are false. In 2 John, John himself writes that those who receive one who preaches any other doctrine but what they have received and learned, that one is to be shunned: “do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 10-11). John said (in contemporary language), “Yes, beliefs do matter; they matter to such an extent that if one accepts a neighbor into his home despite their beliefs, and does so knowing that he or she believes differently, that one holds to the same beliefs as that individual does.” In the eyes of the apostle, it was important to keep the right company. Paul thought so too, when he penned the words, “Do not be deceived; ‘evil company corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).
Neighbors matter. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8); however, at the same time, love is to rejoice in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), and to rebuke is better than to love a person secretly (Proverbs 27:5). If this be the case, then beliefs matter...and by prioritizing beliefs, one is not setting aside one’s neighbor, but loving one’s neighbor as one ought. By prioritizing belief, one is also prioritizing neighbor...and God is glorified.
Stay tuned. There is more to come.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What An Inclusivist Would Say: Some Remarks From Stanley Samartha

In my last post, I began to tackle the idea that the gospel has a universal intention, as revealed by Christ. I will go into more of the universal intention in posts to come. Today’s task, however, will involve tackling Yong’s words on Stanley Samartha.
Amos Yong introduces us to Stanley Samartha and Samartha’s work:
“ an exploratory essay presented at the Fifth Oxford Institute on Methodist Theological Studies in the summer of 1973 by Stanley Samartha, the first director of the Dialogue Program of the WCC” (Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse: Toward A Pneumatological Theology of Religions.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, page 93).
As director of the Dialogue Program, Samartha’s job is to get the religions into good interreligious dialogue. The “WCC” which owns the dialogue program stands for the World Council of Churches. Yong’s quote of Stanley Samartha concerns all world religions as symbols of divine presence:
“We should probably look for existential rather than conceptual may be recognized to be larger than logic; love may take precedence over truth; the neighbor as a person may become more important than his belief. Reflection on the work of the Spirit may be subordinated to a readiness to be led by the Spirit together with the partners into the depths of God’s mystery” (quoted by Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse,” page 94; Stanley Samartha, “The Holy Spirit and People of Various Faiths, Cultures, and Ideologies,” in “The Holy Spirit” by Dow Kirkpatrick, ed. Nashville: Tidings, 1974).
First, note that Samartha seems to just assume that “existential” criteria for the world religions are best. And this belief is more developed with each new sentence: “life may be recognized to be larger than logic.” In other words, life and its events are above logic. Scripture does not support such an inclusivist view. A good case in point concerns Jesus’ healing a demon-possessed man.
“Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’ But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges’” (Matthew 12:24-27, New King James Version).
Here Jesus uses logic regarding the Pharisaic response to His miracle. If Satan casted out demons, was he not working against his own plan? After all, was not Satan supposed to use the demons to advance his cause...not tear down the very thing that would accomplish his evil plans? Jesus’ question demonstrates that for Satan to cast out his own demons would be counterproductive. Samartha’s claim that life is superior to logic goes against Scripture. Rather, life is lived with logic. Logic gives structure and meaning to life. Without logic, we’d live in nothing short of utter chaos.
A good example of this is a car commercial I saw last night. The car commercial ended with the statement, “It is what it isn’t.” What does this mean, exactly? How can something be that which it is not? To assert such a statement is to say, “The car is ‘A’ but is ‘not A’.” This is merely a contradiction.
Samartha’s next statement is, “love may take precedence over truth.” This, too, is counter-biblical. What about the idea that love and truth are linked, as demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 13?
Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth...” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NKJV)
Love is all about truth. And this can also be seen through a thorough study of the Old Testament:
“Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).
To love the Lord is to keep His commandments and obey Him. To do anything else but that is to fail to love the Lord.
In Zechariah 8, the Lord Himself speaks, connecting love and truth:
“‘Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 8:17).
For the person who lives godly, there is no love for the false. There is only love for that which is true.
In Zechariah 8:19, the Lord says, “therefore love truth and peace.” Once again, “truth” is the object towards which the godly individual’s love should be directed.
Samartha’s last statement is, “the neighbor as a person may become more important than his belief.” To tackle this last point, however, will require another stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Optional Gospel? How Inclusivists Misuse and Abuse Romans 2:12-16

In my last post, I dealt with implicit assumptions of inclusivism. I demonstrated that in inclusivism, one does not need to be consciously aware of his/her need for God, does not need to experience conviction of sin of any kind in order to be saved. God can simply accept a practicing Buddhist or a devout Hindu or Muslim just the way they are...
In this post, I desire to show why Romans 2:12-16 is such an important prooftext to inclusivists. Then, I intend to show why their hidden assumption behind their prooftext justification is wrong according to sound biblical theology.
Let’s examine Romans 2:12-16:
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16, New King James Version).
Inclusivists favor this passage (see Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse,” page 25) because they view the unevangelized (“those who have never heard”) as the “Gentiles, who do not have the law.” The evangelized, then, are labeled as the Jews who do have the law, who “sin in the law.” To be brief, the “Jews” of Romans 2 are deemed “the evangelized,” and the “Gentiles” are deemed “the unevangelized”...according to inclusivist theology.
In the same way that Romans 2 says the Gentiles will perish apart from the law, inclusivists feel that the unevangelized should be judged apart from the Gospel. I guess the question we should ask ourselves is, “Is it possible for the unevangelized to be judged apart from the Gospel? And, if so, does this necessarily imply that they would be saved?”
To answer the first question, I think that the unevangelized could be judged apart from the Gospel; but, if so, then they will perish, since the only thing that remains (should the Gospel be eliminated) is law---both natural law and Mosaic Law. If the Gentiles are judged on the basis of natural law, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), which condemns them, and cannot be saved since the law only brings awareness of sin (Rom. 3:20). Apart from the Gospel, then, the unevangelized face the judgment, wrath, and condemnation of a Holy God. Contra inclusivism, eliminating the necessity of the Gospel does not “free up” the unevangelized to have a chance of salvation...instead, it only eliminates any hope of salvation at all.
Having established this, then, my task will be to prove the importance and necessity of the Gospel (and Christ) in salvation. To do this, I will let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
First, let me reference some passages that stress the universality of the Gospel--- that the Gospel is for all nations. Jesus notes this in His end-times discussion in Matthew 24:
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, NKJV).
The gospel will be preached “in all the world,” which signifies that every nation will experience the proclamation of the Gospel...before the end arrives. Jesus says the same thing in Mark 13:10.
In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Clearly, if Christ desired that “every creature” get the gospel, then He desired all men would know the Gospel and be presented with His plan of salvation.
In Revelation 14:6, we read that there will be an angel who proclaims “the everlasting those who dwell on the earth---to every nation, tribe, and tongue---saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” Notice in Revelation 14:6 that the angel proclaims the gospel “to every nation, tribe, and tongue.” In other words, there is a universality to the proclamation of the gospel: the gospel is intended for all persons, all people, all nations.
There is more I could say about the universal intention of the Gospel, but I will save that discussion for future posts. At this point, I just wanted to make a small case in favor of the Gospel not just being for Christians, or for those in Western civilization, but for all people everywhere.
Having establish the universal intention of the Gospel (salvation for all persons everywhere), let’s look at the necessity of the Gospel for salvation. One text that is often attacked by inclusivists is Acts 4. In this chapter, we find that the apostles are being questioned because a man was healed in their presence in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6-8). The priests, temple captain, and Sadducees approach the apostles about the healing, and they tell the leaders that the individual “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified...this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10). Verse 12, then, as regards salvation, is rather appropriate in the context. Peter is using the Lord’s healing to win souls to himself. After all, the same thing happened in chapter 3: the man was healed (the Scriptures say he was over forty years in age, see Acts 4:22), Peter preaches about Christ and His power that healed the man, and five thousand people came to the Lord (Acts 4:4). As chapter 4 progresses, Peter finds himself doing the same thing he had done in chapter 3: using the man’s healing as a bridge by which to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those having witnessed the miracle.
Notice, too, that the miracle is not what upset the leaders; what upset them was that it was done “in the name of Jesus.” In verse 17, the leaders agree to “severely threaten them that from now on they speak to no man IN THIS NAME” (Acts 4:17). The miracle was not the disappointment...rather, the disappointment was “the name of Jesus.” Jesus was the one the Jewish leaders had crucified on the tree, the one who had been guilty of treason and “making Himself one with God.” To many, Jesus was just a common criminal; and the thought of anyone being healed in His name was detestable at best. On the basis of the reaction towards the name of Jesus (and the prohibition that the men stop mentioning the name), we can tell that Christ’s exaltation was an offense to them.
I think this is the case today as well: people are still offended by the name of Jesus. When someone mentions Jesus and Christianity (based upon Jesus), many label Christians as “intolerant” and “bigoted” and “haughty,” etc. One who names the name of Christ is often thought of as “close-minded” and “narrow-minded,” someone whose beliefs are antiquated and outdated. But notice the words of Scripture: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we MUST BE saved” (Acts 4:12). There is salvation in no one else but Christ! Buddha, Mohammed, the gods of Hinduism, etc., will not save. Christ is the only way to the Father, the only way to be saved (John 14:6).
The name of Jesus Christ offended many in both Christ’s day and the apostles’. And sadly enough, it still offends today. It may sound harsh, but it’s true: Christ is the only solution for the nations. Take away Christ and the gospel, and there is nothing left but condemnation, wrath, and death. In future posts, I will deal with the gospel being intended for all and Christ as God’s gift to the world. God Bless...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Inclusivism and Its Implicit Assumptions

In my last post, I examined Amos Yong’s question about reading Romans 10:10-13 in light of Romans 2:12-16. I made it clear that I think Romans 10:10-13 should be read in light of Romans 2:12-16: that is, Romans 2:12-16 discusses the laws of nature and Moses, neither of which can man follow to the smallest detail. Instead, the law brings forth knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). As a result, only the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ can declare man righteous. Romans 2:12-16, in other words, show us our need for the law of faith, found in Romans 10.
My goal in this post is to continue to affirm the message that the gospel is necessary for every individual, should they desire to be saved and experience eternal life. However, I will maintain my message while diving here into more of Dr. Yong’s underlying implicit assumptions.
Let’s read Amos Yong’s question:
“Why should not Romans 10:10-13 be read in light of Romans 2:12-16?” (Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, page 25)
Before I proceed further, let me state that Amos Yong is an inclusivist--- that is, he believes that the Spirit of God is present in the non-Christian world religions. At one point in his work, he claims that he attempts to remove himself from the inclusivist label:
“I am unsure that the theological position to be developed in this work is best categorized under the label ‘inclusivism’” (“Beyond the Impasse,” page 27).
However, in the next sentence, he seems to applaud inclusivism:
“I certainly am not an exclusivist if one means by this not only that salvation is dependent in an ontological sense on the person and work of Christ but also that one has to cognitively recognize that dependence (“Beyond the Impasse,” 27).

Yong argues that one does not have to be consciously aware of his or her dependence on Christ in order to be saved; but this is refuted by the biblical text itself. After all, does not one have to “confess with [their] mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in [their] heart that God raised Jesus from the dead” in order to be saved (Romans 10:9)? Does not this confession require cognizance, awareness of one’s need for Christ?
Was Jesus not concerned with convicting the world and bringing those in the world to acknowledge their sin? After all, what about these words from John?
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin...if I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father” (John 15:22, 24, New King James Version).
Jesus comes and speaks truth, and does the miracles He does among them so that they would bear responsibility for thei rejection of the truth. It is because Christ did these things that the world is now judged.
What about Jesus’ words regarding the Spirit?
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11, NKJV).
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, the verb convict can mean “to find or prove to be guilty.” The Spirit, in other words, would prove to men and women their blameworthiness when He came to earth. For someone to admit their guilt, they must be aware of it. Someone who is not aware of their guilt is ignorant (or consciously unaware). So when Yong says that he is alright with the idea of someone not being aware of their dependence on Christ, he is saying that someone could be ignorant of Christ’s identity and be saved. In other words, someone of this sort would not have to perform Romans 10:9 or even believe at all. Neither conscious confession, nor evident belief would be required for someone to be Yong’s inclusivist theology.
However, Yong’s theory of “unconscious” Christianity is based upon his view of the Gospel. He believes that there are many who never get to hear the Gospel of Christ; thus, how can one be made responsible for a Gospel he or she never received? And yet, the Scriptures themselves seem to argue that man is aware of the truth but rebels against it: In Romans 1, Paul writes that men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18) because God has revealed His “invisible attributes” to mankind, namely “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:18-20). By “suppressing the truth,” mankind demonstrates his knowledge of it. He is not ignorant of the truth...he just simply wills to not obey it. Such is the depravity of the human heart, mind, will, and being.
The inclusivist claim is as follows:
“It must be possible for those who have either never heard or never understood the gospel to be saved since God desires that none should perish and has made salvation available to all persons in his own mysterious ways...while the religions may or may not be mediators of salvation, the key is not the religious tradition as such but whether or not the individual responds to God (or whatever the person considers to be religiously ultimate) according to the light that the individual has received (cf. Rom. 2:12-16) (“Beyond the Impasse,” page 24).
 The problem with the inclusivist claim is that if the individual only has to respond to “whatever the person considers to be religiously ultimate,” then one can worship Buddha and still be deemed a Christian. In other words, “unconscious” Christians in Amos Yong’s theology are the “anonymous” Christians of Karl Rahner’s theology.
Yong ends the above quote from page 24 by referencing one of inclusivism’s favorite prooftexts, Romans 2:12-16. I dealt with this in my last post, but I’m not done with it yet. In my next post, I intend to show why Romans 2:12-16 is a favorite prooftext of inclusivists, and what they mean by it when they use it. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Law of Nature, The Law of Moses, and The Law of Faith: Romans 2:12-16 and Romans 10:10-13 in Context

“While it is certainly true that all religious traditions espouse exclusivism at some level---for example, minimally, to make a truth claim, A, is to make an exclusive claim with regard to not-A---the claim that Christian salvation is dependent on access to a particular experience or set of beliefs is a central feature of theological exclusivism. The latter position, what I will call epistemological restrictivism, raises the following sets of questions. First, the exegetical: what grounds are there to read Acts 4:12 as ontological rather than epistemological? Why should not Romans 10:10-13 be read in light of Romans 2:12-16? Does John 3:17-18 say anything about the fate of the unevangelized?” (Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, page 25)
Dr. Ken Keathley made Amos Yong’s work my assignment for Spring, I had to buckle down and read Yong, at last. The above quote is only one of many I found interesting in Yong’s book. While rereading the above quote last night, I decided to blog on it today because Yong poses these questions to exclusivists (me being one)...and, in addition, I thought writing on these two passages would provide a good, formidable response to inclusivism.
Let’s repeat Yong’s question regarding Romans 2 and Romans 10 once more:
“Why should not Romans 10:10-13 be read in light of Romans 2:12-16?”
In order to answer this question, we must first understand these two passages and then place them in proper context. So, off to the passages we go!!
Romans 2:12-16 contrasts the Jews and Gentiles:
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, BY NATURE do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, ARE A LAW TO THEMSELVES, who show THE WORK OF THE LAW WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS, THEIR CONSCIENCE ALSO BEARING WITNESS, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16, New King James Version).
What “law” is being discussed here? Paul’s reference to “the law” indicates that a specific law is being discussed, one that the Jews have but the Gentiles do not. “The law” reference, then, would refer to the Mosaic Law. However, while the Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law, notice that they still have a law! This is why Paul notes that the Gentiles “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness...” While the Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law, they do have a natural law written in their hearts and minds, placed there by God Himself...a divine moral code that the Gentiles themselves are aware of. So contrary to what many think, no one can say, “I don’t have the Mosaic Law, therefore I’m innocent of wrong.” Rather, all have some form of divine law that dictates right and wrong and rules the human conscience. So Gentiles have a natural law (the law of nature) while the Jews have the Mosaic Law (the Law of Moses given by God Himself).
However, upon arrival of Romans 3, we come to understand that neither law (whether the Law of Nature or the Law of Moses) can be kept perfectly:
“For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written:
There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practicd deceit...there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
As we just read, “both Jews and Greeks” are guilty of transgressing God’s moral law (whether in the law of nature or the Mosaic Law). As a result, the moral laws themselves cannot and will not save anyone. Neither of the laws themselves can be kept by humans, and therefore, a solution is needed apart from the laws themselves. What purpose did the laws serve?
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
What “law” is being mentioned here in 3:20? It is the Mosaic Law. The reference to “there is none righteous” (provided in Rom. 3:10-18) comes from the Old Testament, and is a compilation of Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalm 36:1. In other words, a summation of mankind provided by the Old Testament is given by Paul in just a few verses of Romans 3. Paul’s point for providing a summation of man here is to demonstrate that the law itself states that “there is none righteous.” The Law itself tells us that neither Jew nor Greek is righteous, that none seeks after God. Not only are the Gentiles guilty of turning from are the Jews. The very Law they prized so dearly was unequivocally clear about the sin of the Jews and their need for a Savior (and grace).
Verse 21, then, comes as such a huge relief to the one who senses the desperation of man to be saved: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (Rom. 3:21, 22).
The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. And in case one does not understand that faith in Christ is the solution for both Jew and Greek, Paul reiterates it again at the end of chapter 3:
Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the LAW OF FAITH. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? IS HE NOT ALSO THE GOD OF THE GENTILES? YES, OF THE GENTILES ALSO, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom. 3:27-30).
Whether Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, the only way one will be declared righteous in the sight of God is by faith in Christ alone.
If this be the case, then what about Romans 10:10-13? According to Amos Yong, we should read Romans 10 in light of Romans 2. I agree with that, on the surface; but I disagree with what I think Yong means. He takes Romans 10 to refer to those who, like the Jews, “have the law” (in his case, the Gospel). In the same way the Gentiles are guilty apart from the Mosaic Law, Yong claims that many who are unevangelized should be judged “apart from the Gospel.” However, there is no biblical warrant for this claim whatsoever; after all, if Yong's claim is right, then one might as well cut all of Romans 3 out of the canon of Scripture.
What is Romans 10:10-13, then? Romans 10:10-13 is “the law of faith,” and it should be read in light of Romans 2 (and in my view, Romans 3 as well). The fact that the Gentiles cannot keep the Law of Nature (the natural law code) and the Jews cannot keep the Mosaic Law anxiously yearns for the Law of Faith in Romans 10. But the Law of Faith in Romans 10 is for all, both Jew and Gentile. This is the only way that one can be saved, apart from the Mosaic Law (and natural law). There is no other way to be saved.
Yong has reasons for why he lines up Romans 2 and Romans 10. I will go into what I think his full statement is and refute his view in my next post. Keep reading...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Gospel of John and The Problem of the Historical Jesus: Reflections From the Greer-Heard Conference, Pt. III

It has been some time ago since I wrote on John and the problem of the historical Jesus. I interrupted the series yesterday with a most blessed today, I will get back to my work on the problem of the historical Jesus.
In the last post, I tried to establish the apostle John’s integrity in that he records Jesus’ actual sayings and doings. To state that the things John records are not true is to make ourselves eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus (which we are not). We have no more truth about the facts of Jesus than John; in fact, we have very little when compared to John. He is one who actually saw Jesus in the flesh (1 Jn. 1:1-2). In addition, the Johannine community seems to affirm that John’s sayings are true (Gospel of John 21: 24). Were you and I eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? No. Since we were not, we cannot presume to know more than the apostle John. What we have to do is allow the apostle John to tell his own story without presuming that our twenty-first-century way of thinking is better and “more accurate” than John’s was in the first century. But of course, that presumes that we would actually allow the text to speak for itself. God forbid that day should come...?
I believe that John’s Gospel is “worthy of all acceptation,” to use a phrase of Andrew Fuller’s; today’s post, however, will look at support for John’s work in the biblical canon: that is, John will be supported by the writings of the apostle Paul. To Paul, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ happened as the Old Testament Scriptures said they would. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians somewhere between 53-55 AD. The Gospel of John is placed somewhere between 50-70 AD, with great consensus on the 60s AD as the decade of John’s writing. If such information is correct, then Paul clearly wrote his letter to the Corinthians before John’s Gospel was compiled...which means that Paul could serve as a valid source for the historical Jesus in addition to John. Paul’s writing was not discussed at the Greer-Heard Conference, but I think it should have been. The debate was rather stacked by the debaters themselves when only John’s Gospel was mentioned. It basically made the Gospel of John look as if it was out on a limb all by itself.
In today’s post, then, I will tackle Paul’s work on the historical Jesus via 1 Corinthians 15, a passage where Paul justifies the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is important that Paul shows that Jesus really lived and died. However, it is not Christ’s humanity that is denied in the Gospel of John; rather, it is Christ’s deity, Christ’s divinity, that is questioned. Paul writes to show that Christ’s divinity must be true as well---or else, Christianity is a flop.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3, Paul writes that “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received,” stating that he himself was taught the facts about Christ. That’s right---the events Paul records are not up for negotiation as to whether they happened or not...rather, they did happen. In verse 3, Paul states that Christ “died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” What are the “Scriptures” he speaks of here? The Scriptures Paul references are the writings of the Old Testament concerning Jesus. Paul alerts us, if we have missed it throughout the New Testament up to this point, that the Old Testament foretold of the Incarnation (where Jesus would take upon Himself human flesh).
In verse 4, Christ not only died, but was buried and was resurrected on the third day, “according to the Scriptures.” The Old Testament also confirmed Christ’s burial and resurrection. A good text that comes to mind regarding the life of Christ that clearly shows the Messianic mission is Isaiah 53:
He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked---but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin...” (Isaiah 53:8b-10a, NKJV)
Isaiah goes on to say more:
“He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b).
Paul validates the Old Testament concerning Christ. Since he himself had been a Pharisee, well-educated in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), he was qualified to make such a statement: that Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection took place “according to the Scriptures.”
But Paul does not stop there. He not only says that the Old Testament prophesied the events of Christ’s life, but that the events had eyewitness testimony: “and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). Jesus appeared to the men He had chosen to follow Him. In verse 6, Paul says that “He was seen by over five-hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” What did Paul mean by this statement? Some eyewitnesses have died, but there are many who are still alive!!! The significance of such a statement is, “If you think I’m deceiving you, go check with these men...they are still around to support what I’m telling you.” The apostle John would have been one of these who was still alive at the time. From what we know, John lived to be a ripe old age and enjoyed being an elder in the church until his death. The apostle would have been one of those who could serve as a reliable eyewitness to the events that Paul recorded.
Isn’t that interesting? Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians before John wrote his Gospel...but John could serve as reliable testimony, in the eyes of Paul. And if Paul could validate John’s testimony as an eyewitness, does Paul not validate John’s Gospel, written after his Corinthian letter? Even though Paul himself wrote about 20 years after the death and resurrection of Christ (53-55 AD, Christ died around 30-33), he believed that the living eyewitnesses could validate the events in his letter; that is, that the mental faculties (memory especially) of the eyewitnesses was still sharp enough to recall the moment they looked upon the risen Christ. Unlike many skeptical scholars and historians today, Paul didn’t think the eyewitnesses were hallucinating!
In verse 7, Paul notes that James (Jesus’ half-brother) and other apostles in the early church got to see the risen Christ as well. And in verse 8, he says that he himself saw the risen Christ, an account that we have preserved in the biblical canon itself (Acts 9:1-22; 22:1-21).
Now someone could easily say, “Paul is validating John because he met with John to talk about the risen Christ, right? After all, Paul collaborated with the apostles regarding what he had seen and heard.” A skeptic could easily dismiss Paul’s testimony by saying that the apostles told him what he saw and “brushed up” his story a bit. However, to think such a thing actually contradicts what Luke writes:
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the disciples. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to Him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26-27).
When Paul meets the disciples, he had already begun preaching the gospel of the risen Christ in Damascus. His preaching and revelation, then, were given INDEPENDENTLY of the disciples. A case for independent attestation is made here with Paul and the disciples...
And this also contradicts what Paul writes about his own experience. Paul says that after seeing the risen Christ,
I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. THEN AFTER THREE YEARS I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days” (Galatians 1:16-18).
Paul spends three years in the desert of Arabia before meeting with the first apostle. This is clear testimony of independent attestation. Paul uses this to prove that he is a legitimate apostle and eyewitness of the risen Christ because he received the revelation from Christ Himself, not from any human.
Today’s post was to validate the apostle John’s eyewitness testimony by using the testimony of the apostle Paul. The fact that Paul went alone to preach in Damascus and to spend three years in the desert of Arabia after the Christ revelation demonstrates that his testimony was not “propped” or “created” after corroboration, but rather was a genuine revelation from the Divine Himself. And if Paul could write 1 Corinthians 15 and validate the eyewitnesses (both dead and living) of Christ, then surely, the apostle John’s testimony is valid and true. John was one of the Twelve, and the first to see the risen Lord; consequently, he surely could not have falsified such testimony...considering also that many others saw the risen Christ as well. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 7, 2011

D.M. Richardson In Print

                                               Dear CTS Readership,

 It is your blogger, Deidre Richardson here, to provide some great news.

As of this past week, I am now in print in an academic journal. Several months ago, I was asked by Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, to write a review essay on Dr. Ken Keathley's book, "Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach." As many of you know, Dr. Ken Keathley is a dear friend of mine as well as my mentor. He is overseeing my independent research work on theology of religions this semester...and will mentor me for the Master of Theology degree (ThM) this coming August 2011.

The journal just came out this past week (this past thursday, if I recall) and can now be found at the "Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry" link I have posted on the top right of the home page. To view the journal, click on the link on the home page, and you will come to the New Orleans page. The new journal issue is the first thing you will see (yes, it's the Spring 2010 issue that just came out). Click on the Spring 2010 issue (Baptists and the Doctrine of Salvation), and the PDF file will come up. Scroll down to see the table of contents...where you can find my article. Feel free to read the other articles and reviews there as well. I've read quite a bit of the journal and think that all writers have something good to say.

 I wanted to take time to share this wonderful news with all of you. The Lord has blessed me in numerous ways since the loss of my mother. I have struggled through many hardships (academic, financial), not to mention the grief of the loss of my mom, my best friend in all the world...but things are looking up. After two years, I can finally see the sun peaking from behind the clouds. I celebrate this with you not because I think I deserve it...but because such an achievement at 26 is credited to God's goodness and God's glory alone. I ask that you would continue to pray for me with my upcoming Master's graduation as well as my entrance into the Master of Theology degree. I have not forgotten CTS, and with God's help, I will return to my work here as soon as possible.

    JBTM 7.1 (Spring 2010)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gospel of John and the Problem of the Historical Jesus: Reflections From the Greer-Heard Conference, Pt. II

Yesterday I posted my opening responses to Drs. Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman regarding the debate on the historical Jesus. As I made clear yesterday, Dr. Ehrman did not meet opposition in his claims about the Gospels; rather, he met agreement. Dr. Craig Evans, the evangelical scholar, agreed with Bart Ehrman that the words Jesus is reported to have said in John were not actually spoken by Christ. I’ll place my paraphrase of Evans’s words here once more:
“In Proverbs,” he asked, “Does not Lady Wisdom speak truth? Yes she does. But is there an actual Lady Wisdom speaking truth here? Do these events literally happen? No. Rather, the emphasis is not on what literally happened, but the truth that was spoken. When you come to the Gospel of John, Jesus is representing Lady Wisdom here, speaking truth. Remember what John says about Christ, that He is ‘the Logos’ (the Word)?”
I asserted that Evans left the conclusion of his thought open to his hearers. Instead of actually saying, “Jesus did not speak the words He is given in John,” rather, he simply stated that Jesus was like the Lady Wisdom of Proverbs (and left it to his hearers to decide what exactly that statement meant). If I heard Dr. Evans right, Jesus did not speak the words of John.
And this has problems for the Scriptures and Christianity. If Evans is right, then statements such as “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25) and “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6) were not really spoken by Jesus. And if such statements were not spoken by Jesus, then how can we know whether or not they are true? Evans’s only response was that such statements are “the Johannine community’s affirmations about Jesus”; but, if such statements are not based on actual statements of Christ Himself, how can we know if they should be believed or not? One could say, “Well, just believe the Johannine community”...but if the Johannine community can invent things that we all should believe, then I can say things here that are historically inaccurate, and all who read my words should believe me. When I say that I have three PhDs and over 25 years of experience in theological research, everyone who reads my words should believe me. But to believe me, you would be deceived---for the truth is, I haven’t been researching for 25 years and I don’t have three PhDs. In the same way one can test out whether or not I’m telling the truth, there must be some grounds for the community’s affirmation of Jesus. If the community simply invented these things to “deify” Jesus, then why should the twenty-first-century Christian community believe anything the Gospels themselves tell us? How could we know, in such a case, that all of the information isn’t simply “made up”?
And there was no answer given to this. Rather, Evans concluded his words on Saturday with, “Investigate the truth for yourself...research in this area and be open-minded to the evidence...go where the evidence leads you.” It appears that, if we take Evans’s words, we should all “go where the evidence” led him: to deny that Jesus actually said what John records He said.
Not only does Evans’s affirmation pose problems for Christianity, it also poses problems for the Scriptures. The idea of a Johannine community affirming things about Jesus that Jesus didn’t say does as well, but more importantly, Evans’s affirmation leads one to deny the very text itself on the issue of the historical Jesus. These are John’s concluding remarks about his Gospel:
“This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also MANY OTHER THINGS THAT JESUS DID, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:24-25, NKJV).
Now, in this text we see that there is John (“the disciple who testifies of these things”) and a Johannine community (“and we know that his testimony is true”). It seems as if John gave an account that has been validated by the community in John’s Gospel. In other words, the community believes precisely the way they do because of John’s own words. Evidently, Evans has never read the end of John; for the Johannine community’s affirmations of Jesus are based on the eyewitness account of the Apostle John. To say that Jesus’s words are just “the Johannine community’s affirmations” is proven wrong simply by the end of John 21.
To make matters worse, what about the community’s affirmation that “we know that his testimony is true”? The Johannine community assumed that John’s words were true. To say that Jesus’ words as recorded in John were not spoken by Jesus is to say that John’s testimony is “false.” To be honest, I would rather believe John the eyewitness than Craig Evans or any other modern scholar who stands in the twenty-first century. I think it is theological snobbery to assume that John was hallucinating or using his freedom to write about Christ simply to "plant" things in Christ’s mouth that He never said.
To put the nail on the coffin, what about the words that “there are many other things Jesus did”? If there are “other things” that are not recorded in John that Jesus did, what does this imply about the recorded sayings and events? That Jesus ACTUALLY DID THEM, that such recorded events are true! Once again, if John is saying that such events happened, then to say (like Craig Evans) that such events did not happen is to contradict the Scriptures themselves. After all, if the sayings of Christ never took place, then how can John have called on the readers to believe in a Christ whose deeds John himself falsified? How could John and the Johannine community have labeled something “true” that was “false”? How could they call on the reader (then and today) to believe something that was “false”? How could they say “and we KNOW that his testimony is true” when knowledge is a “justified TRUE belief,” not just a justified belief? This is what is problematic about Evans’s affirmation: that he would stand up publicly and deny Jesus’ statements about Himself (and thus, discredit the witness of the Apostle John who actually walked and communed with Christ in His ministry). Who is right: the Apostle John or Dr. Craig Evans? That is something I will leave to you, the reader, to decide.
In this post, I have examined Craig Evans’s words regarding the Gospel of John and the problem of the historical Jesus. I have concluded that Evans’s words contradict the Scriptures and the genuine truthfulness of John (who claims to be an eyewitness) as well as the Johannine community (who based their claims on the truth claims of the Apostle John). Craig Evans says that Jesus never spoke the words John says he did and that the community themselves simply affirmed things they had no evidence for. By so doing, he is denying the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of Scripture: inerrancy and infallibility because the Scriptures are assumed to contain no error...inspiration because all of Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). I will tackle more regarding the Greer-Heard Conference in coming posts.