Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Blogger's UpGrade: Technological "Eternal Security"

                                                 Dear Center for Theological Studies,

 It is your blogger, Deidre here. I am writing to announce that I have now upgraded my blogging life to a Macbook Pro laptop. How cool is that?

 While preparing the April 23rd post, my computer decided to get infected with viruses. I think one of the images at google images produced the virus, as something was in it. All I know is that I clicked on the image, and my old computer (a Dell) proceeded to alert me that I had viruses in my hard drive, documents, and shared documents. In short, I had 38 infections, 26 viruses...and the majority of the infections were due to spyware...two of the infections were due to having bad "cookies" software, etc. In short, it seemed as if the life of the Dell was over.

 Now...that doesn't mean I can't still use it. I am currently planning to get the Dell fixed. It has been a faithful companion of mine for 4 years, and I intend to get every last bit of my money's worth out of it. However, at the same time, I am fed up with viruses ruining my computer. To use theological terms that I discuss here at the site all the time, I wanted a little "eternal security" in regards to my software and I upgraded to an Apple Macbook Pro, one of the newest models coming from the Apple corporation. My sister happened to work for Apple a couple of years ago, so I knew what to look for. She helped me purchase a laptop for an affordable price, while hooking me up with a "Time Capsule" containing 1 Terabyte. Read that again: the capsule contains ONE TERABYTE (at least 1000 gigs if not more) of memory! How awesome is that???

 Having said all this, let me now say that I am extremely thankful I made my purchase yesterday. I am now back on the blog (the viruses on the Dell kept me away for the last few days). While I am extremely thankful for my computer, let me also give a "kudos" to Dell, Inc., for the last four years of faithfulness. I bought the Dell straight from the Dell factory, with three years of antivirus, warranty, repairs, protection of all sorts...and it did not disappoint. For those who are not quite ready to make the jump yet, buy a "Dell." "As for me and my house," we're doing the Mac thing now :-)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Gift Has Rules: God's Requirements for Salvation (John 3:17-18)

It has been an entire week since I’ve been back to the blog. This week has been my Easter Break, so I’ve had much research, reading, and writing to get done this week. I’ve written two book reviews (with a third one to go) and done some research on inclusivism in the week off I’ve had. Praise the Lord for breaks!!!

And along the lines of Easter, it hit me last night while watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” with a friend that this week is all about the suffering and salvation of our Lord---how He who knew no sin became sin for us, so we could become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let us never forget the price Christ paid for us: that is, the shedding of His blood. In case you think the gospel is a nice neat fairy tale, take a look at Gibson’s work. If you watch it and don’t cry, well...I just pity you, is all...

Today, I’d like to finish my work in John 3. I am still in the series on the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment. Just know that even when the posts don’t bear the title “The Doctrine of Eternal Judgment,” I am still in it. I’ve examined earlier portions of John 3. Today’s post will examine John 3:17-18. I think to some extent, these two verses have already been covered...but we can never be reminded too much of what the Lord requires.

Let’s read the text together:

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18, NKJV).

I have covered Jesus’ words to Nicodemus regarding “Our witness,” the witness of not just the Son but the Father also. I made a statement that inclusivists cannot get around Jesus’ words regarding the Father’s witness. John later writes in 1 John 5:9-12 that “this [salvation by Christ] is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son”, namely, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life...and that none comes to the Father unless he or she comes to Jesus (John 14:6). Worshipping Yahweh will not do it, because God the Father has testified of His Son, Jesus, as the way to salvation. 1 John 5:10 states that those who deny the Son “has made Him [the Father] a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.” For those who refuse to believe in Jesus and think that there is “some other way to the Father” (or, in the case of inclusivists, believe that one can go straight to the Father and by-pass Jesus), such make God the Father out to be a liar. God has testified that His Son is the way to eternal life...and should another way be allowed, then the Father has lied to us. How can inclusivists claim to praise the Father when they call Him a liar by denying Jesus as the only name to believe in for eternal life...when they deny that one must explicitly confess Him to be saved (Rom. 10:9)?

Now, on to John 3:17.

The text itself states that the Father’s sending Jesus was not to “condemn the world,” to sentence the world to hell fire. Many people, including Rob Bell in his latest book, “Love Wins,” claim that the Gospel is all about damnation. Jesus’ words, however, correct Bell’s (and other’s) claims about the gospel. It is first and foremost “The Gospel of Love.” It is because “God so loved the world” that He sent Jesus (John 3:16). Notice the emphasis on “love” in these verses? Show that to the next person that “half-labels” the them that the emphasis on love testifies to the heart of the Gospel message.

Why was Jesus sent? “that the world through Him might be saved.” It was God’s desire to save the world that He sent Jesus. Calvinists focus way too much on damnation in the Gospel. Judgment is not the primary goal of the Gospel; the primary goal of the Gospel is LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!

Having said this, however, I must now provide Jesus’ words in John 3:18---

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).

The primary goal of the Gospel (the message about Jesus as the Father’s gift to the world) is love...but love consists of two elements: grace and judgment. It is in grace that the Father gives Jesus to die for humanity’s sin...but it is in judgment that the Son must deal with those who will not receive Him.

This is where Jesus lays out the rules for the gift: one can either receive Jesus or reject Jesus. If one receives Jesus, “he is not condemned,” he is not subjected literally and metaphorically speaking, to Hell fire; but the one that does not believe in Jesus, he is “condemned already,” because he will not believe. In other words, the wrath of God already abides on the unbeliever.

Let me add a word on grace and judgment. When a parent aims to get a child to obey, what does that parent do? The parent lays out the rules for the child. “Johnny, if you do your chores, you can go outside; if you don’t do your chores, you can’t go outside.” Johnny knows then, that his parents desire that he do his chores; and he also knows that if he does, they will reward him...but if he doesn’t, he will not be rewarded, but punished. So what are Johnny’s parents to do if he decides to rebel and not do the chores? Would you expect his parents to reward him and give him a bike, or let him go outside and play, making excuses for why he didn’t do what they demanded? No. Most parents would say that “if you spare the rod, you spoil the child,” as the saying goes. Parents would be prepared to discipline the child should the child refuse to comply.

If God is the divine parent, and we are His children, how logical is it to argue that earthly parents punish their children, but God does not? If God doesn’t punish and condemn, then why should parents? After all, is not the earthly-parent analogy to point to the heavenly parent-child relationship between God and His children (Hebrews 12:5-11)? So if God doesn’t condemn His children, then parents should stop disciplining their children...and yet, parents would continue to discipline (even if they believed God didn’t) because discipline serves some useful purpose in regards to the child. In other words, discipline is at the very least necessary to life. I am pleased to inform you, however, that God does “chastise those He loves.” Not only is the parent-child analogy present in Hebrews 12; it also exists in Proverbs 3:11, 12. The emphasis here demonstrates how vital it is that we understand this one thing about God (that He disciplines, judges, and condemns) if we get nothing else straight about Him!!

Jesus makes it clear in John 3:18 that He has a standard: that is, that men and women would confess the name of Jesus Christ and believe in Him for salvation. Those who do are saved, but those who refuse are condemned eternally. Do not parents do the same with their children? Isn’t it funny how the parent-child analogy is used every time someone wants to argue eternal security, but NEVER for things like exclusivism? The point is, that parents set the rules for their children and they retain power and control over their children, whether or not children obey or refuse to obey, the rules. Can God not do the same? Will God not be sovereign at the end of history, a Sovereign Lord to those who will bow and confess His Lordship, a Sovereign Savior to those who “grabbed ahold” of Jesus, and a Sovereign Judge and Enemy to those who refused? Where is God’s sovereignty compromised? It isn’t. And this is what will be for those who receive Him as well as those who didn’t. God will not be disappointed at the end of history; rather, those who don’t believe in Him will be.

Jesus set the rules, and you can either accept Him or reject Him. As Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved.” Will you trust in Christ for your salvation today? This word is for those on the most-distant islands: Christ is the only hope for salvation you have!

“Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return. That to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.’ To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In the Lord all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory” (Isaiah 45:22-25).

God bless.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Gospel of Love is Also the Gospel of Judgment (John 3:16b)

In my last post, I focused on the first part of John 3:16---that is, that God gave His Son Jesus because of His love for the world. Universalists and inclusivists often paint exclusivists (those who argue that explicit confession and belief in Christ is the only way to be saved) as monstrous, unkind, and cruel in their presentation of the gospel. They do this because to them, the fact that exclusivists (such as myself and Roy Ingle, owner of the blog “Arminian Today”) argue judgment against those who do not believe in Jesus. In other words, they look at one-half of the gospel (John 3:16a) and neglect the other half (John 3:16b). There is such a great need in the world today to defend the ENTIRETY of the gospel, not the half that seems palatable to the world. The truth is, God loves the world; but for those who do not, hell (both in the literal and metaphorical senses) eternal is all that awaits them. As the late Clark Pinnock, an inclusivist theologian, once said,
“Although certain texts taken in isolation could imply universal salvation, the warnings that occur in the same books must influence their interpretation. Though God is able to save all people...Scripture does not encourage us to think that everyone will accept his love or that God will use his superior power to overcome all rejection. The scope of redemption is universal, but Scripture suggests that one can be finally impenitent and be excluded from the kingdom (Rev. 21:8, 27)” (Clark Pinnock, “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, page 190).
Clark Pinnock was an inclusivist, one who argued that the Spirit was present in the other religions; Pinnock was even a conditional immortalist, one who argued that unbelievers would experience eschatological annihilation, not eternal torment in the lake of fire)...and yet, even he could affirm that hell would not be empty. It is an unfortunate and sad truth to affirm, but it’s true---hell will not be empty. In the end, “Love Wins”---not in the way Rob Bell believes it does. For those who choose to believe in Christ, love will win in the sense that they will be with Christ for an eternity; for those who choose not to believe, they will go to hell for all eternity, for love allows freedom of choice---even if the choice is Hell for all eternity.
Now, on to today’s post. Let’s continue to examine John 3:16---

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV).
God gave His Son “that” whoever believes should have everlasting life (a life that never ends). The word “that” refers to the goal or purpose for the action done. What was the purpose or goal of God giving Jesus? The Father gave Jesus in order to bring everlasting life to the one who has faith in Jesus. Think about it: the Father sent Jesus so that we could even be made righteous with God. Our faith, as great as we may think it is, would be vain had the Father not given Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. The fact that we must “believe in Him” shows that, by faith, we are trusting in the one who took away our sins. When we confess and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, we are given the Lord’s righteousness and become accepted in the eyes of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:21).
Notice next that Jesus also mentions the words “should not perish.” This implies that the one who does not believe in Jesus will perish eternally. How do I know the passage speaks of eternal perishing? Because “perish” is contrasted with “everlasting life.” I told a conditional immortalist recently that, “if you tamper with the idea of a literal hell, you also tamper with the idea of a literal heaven.” That is, that if one says “I don’t think hell is a literal place,” you might as well eliminate heaven as a literal place too (for hell is the counterpart to heaven and vice versa). Nevertheless, don’t you find it interesting that people WANT heaven to be literal...and yet, they don’t care if hell is literal or metaphorical? It’s almost like children who want their reward for good behavior to be on a grand scale...and yet, want their punishment for bad behavior to be miniscule and tiny. The truth is, we don’t want judgment, we don’t want terror, we don’t want punishment to be horrific...but we hope that our reward is as beautiful as ever. We want to avoid punishment and responsibility for our wrong, but we don’t mind owning up to the good things we do. And yet, discipline by God is also a part of what it means to love (Heb. 12:6). C.S. Lewis writes about the distorted human conception of God in his work, “The Problem of Pain”:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness---the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven---a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds...kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished (Heb. 12:8) [C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain.” San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, pages 31-32].
Many of us have a theology based on the idea that love is defined as “kindness”; but I would submit to you that love is much deeper than that, more true than the shallow definition the world has given to it. “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” is often a question asked. My response? A loving God would send persons to Hell because, should such individuals reject God’s love, what else is there? Hate is the opposite of love; to fail to love is to hate. So if one does not receive the love of God, he or she has decided that they want to be hated by God. And those whom God righteously hates (those who refuse to believe) are those who experience the full wrath of God in the lake of fire and brimstone.
God is goodness; but goodness also involves hating sin. And the same God who could not look on sin at the cross (who forsook Jesus because He bore the sins of humanity) is the same God who, in righteousness and justice, must “turn His back” forever on those who choose to persist in their sin. Those who wind up in hell are those who choose it. To quote C.S. Lewis once more,
“To be be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely be miserable...these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows---the only food that any possible universe ever can grow---then we must starve eternally” (C.S. Lewis, “Problem of Pain,” page 47).
In my next post, I will deal with the meaning of “perish.” For now, let me just say that God the Father so loved the world that He gave Jesus to save us from our sins. You do not have to go to hell; you do not have to spend an eternity apart from God. You can go to heaven when you die and spend an eternity ruling and reigning with Christ. Do you desire to spend eternity with Jesus? The choice is yours today. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that He died for your sins and rose from the dead for your justification, then you will be saved (Romans 10:9). If you desire to receive Christ as your Lord and Savior, please contact me here to make a profession of faith. Be saved today from the coming wrath. God bless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John 3:16a: The Gospel of Divine Love

It’s finally time to dig into John 3:16 itself. I have taken some few days to cover the context leading up to it. I have stated in the last few posts that the testimony of Christ is also the testimony of the Father, that the Old Testament points to Christ, and that to deny the testimony of Jesus is to label God the Father a liar. Inclusivists do this by arguing that “one does not need to confess the name of Jesus in order to be saved” (to quote Clark Pinnock from his “A Wideness in God’s Mercy”). And yet, Paul said that God was true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4). Inclusivism, then, is an outrageous attack against God the Father and an outright rejection of His good pleasure to save the world through Jesus Christ.

In this post, I will begin to tackle the Gospel of Jesus Christ by looking at one of the themes of the Lord’s Gospel: that is, God the Father’s love for the world. Notice that I said I will only deal with “one” of the themes of the Gospel. There is another theme of the Gospel, but I will deal with that in my next post...Lord willing. This post will show that God brought salvation to humanity in Christ as a demonstration of His love.
John 3:16 affirms that God the Father loved the world “so” (meaning “so much”) that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ. We see the love of God the Father for the world recorded in other places as well, including the Pauline epistles:

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8, NKJV).

Christ died for the world before men and women would ever come to faith in Christ. Paul tells the church at Ephesus,
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Because of His “great love” for us, God sent His Son Jesus Christ on our behalf. Paul also reiterates this in Ephesians 5 with the words, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2).
Notice that Paul places “loved us” beside “given Himself for us.” Why does Paul do this? To demonstrate that the Father’s love moved Him to give His Son to die for humanity’s sin. Love moved the Father to sacrifice. Would to God that our love for God and people would ever move us to sacrifice!!! The theme of sacrifice is reiterated again when Paul uses Christ’s love for the church and His sacrifice of His life as the example for husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25).

God’s love is seen in the Pastorals, where Paul writes both Timothy and Titus. In his letter to Titus, Paul uses God’s demonstration of love to move believers on to good works:

“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another, but when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared...He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).
What form did the love of God take on? Flesh; that is, God’s love was “poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:6).

The apostle John takes up the theme of God’s love in his epistles:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

The love of God was revealed in the person of the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ. And what is so wonderful about this is that the Father loved the world so much (John 3:16) that He gave Jesus to us, to die for our sins. God was not obligated or forced to do this; He did it because He loved us. And we can only love others because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).

Why did I go through these verses on love? To show that Christians advocate a Gospel of Love. Contra inclusivists, universalists, and so forth, Christians do not advocate an idea of God who damns millions to Hell and has no love for them. Rather, the truth is that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the entire world because He loved us. So when people ask, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?,” God’s love has not been compromised; God’s love is not on trial in such a statement. When skeptics ask this question (inclusivists, universalists, and conditional immortalists do too), one needs to remember that our loving God does not send people to Hell without providing for humanity’s salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. In such a question it is not God’s love on the line; it is not that humanity cannot accept God’s love; rather, it is God’s judgment that mankind cannot accept.

God loved humanity so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. And today, for those who believe, you can be saved from your sins. Paul said that the Lord is not far from us (Acts 17:27b), so He’s only a prayer away. Paul, Peter and the Old Testament prophets agree that “whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11, Isaiah 28:16), “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, Rom. 10:13, Joel 2:32). So will you call on His name today? Will you acknowledge that you are a sinner, you have offended a Holy God by virtue of your sin in Adam (and every sin ever since), and that you need to be saved, you need your sins forgiven? Will you acknowledge that you are tired of living your life by your own rules, that it is tiring to be Lord over your life...that there’s a Lord who can rule you so much better than you can yourself? His name is Jesus. Call on Him and be saved today. If you desire to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, please contact me here at the blog. I desire to lead you to Christ; for love does not rejoice in iniquity, but the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). God Bless.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Doctrine of Eternal Judgment, Pt. 1-B: Look to Jesus and Live!

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15, NKJV).

“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:4-9, NKJV).
In my last post, I spent time studying Jesus’ words regarding “We” and “Our Witness,” demonstrating that the plural witness refers to God the Father and the God the Son (Jesus Christ). I stated in that post that inclusivists who claim that one can get to Yahweh (the Father) without faith in the Son (Jesus Christ) are unbiblical and oppose even the will of God the Father. The will of the Father can clearly be seen in Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will that Christ die for the sins of the world:
“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, NKJV).
Notice that in the above verse, Jesus submits to the Father’s will, which is to take of the “cup” of death. Jesus clearly states here that it is “not as I will, but as You will,” which means that it is not His will that puts Him on the cross, but the will of God the Father. Yahweh then, is pleased to bruise His Son because it is only through faith in Christ that men and women can be saved. And what about Jesus’ words right before His ascension, that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18)? If all power has been given to Christ, how then, can inclusivists assume that the Father still has power over salvation (when He has given it to the Son)?
Along those lines, John 5:24 is an interesting passage indeed. While one must “believe in Him who sent Me,” an unbeliever must also “hear My word,” Jesus referring to His own words. One cannot just believe in Yahweh without heeding the words of His Son, Jesus. Why must one heed the words of Jesus? Because “as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27). Jesus has been given eternal life to give to those who believe, and the power of judgment to judge those who do not. Even Paul affirmed this in his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:31). The Father has ordained that Jesus be the judge of all mankind; if the Father has ordained Jesus for the role of judge, and the judge sets the standards, then how can inclusivists continue to assert that one can get to the Father without going through Jesus?
Worse than that, 1 John 5:10 says that the one who does not believe in the Son “has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given of His Son.” Simply put, God the Father has testified of His Son, Jesus Christ; if one does not believe in Jesus, then one makes the testimony of God the Father to be a lie, and thus, the Father becomes a liar. Inclusivists then, are claiming (with their theology) that the Father is a liar; one need not believe in Jesus, but appeal straight to the Father instead. Is this not contradicting the Scriptures?
In today’s post, I will cover the verses posted above in the original quote: Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-15.
Numbers 21 teaches us that the Israelites complained against God and despised even the very bread they were receiving: “our soul loathes this worthless bread” (Numbers 21:5, NKJV). As a result, the Lord sent “fiery serpents” to bite the people, and some of them died as a result of the serpent bites (v.6). Seeing how serious their sin of complaining was, they turn to Moses and beg him to ask the Lord to remove the serpents. He does so, and the Lord gives a response:
“Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Num. 21:8).
There is something here that I want you to see: in verse 6, the Lord sent “fiery serpents” to bite the people because they complained against Him; how interesting it is that in verse 8, the solution God gives Moses involves “a fiery serpent” that Moses is to make(artificial) and place it on a pole before the people! How interesting it is that the one thing that God used as the Israelites’ punishment turned out to be the statue they had to look to in order to be healed! Is that not remarkable? By looking on the object of consequence for their sin (the object of their punishment), they would be healed. By looking on the serpent (an acknowledgment of their sin), God would heal them of the serpents’ bites.
And it is this same passage that Jesus notes to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15. In the same way that the serpent was placed before all to see, so must Jesus (“the Son of Man”) be lifted and raised before all. Why must Jesus be lifted this way, and exalted before all the world? “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). In other words, Jesus must be lifted like the serpent of Numbers 21 because only through His crucifixion and exaltation can the world gain everlasting life.
Jesus takes a passage that Nicodemus knew all too well and shows Him how it relates to Jesus’ own coming, death, and crucifixion. Isn’t that interesting? The Jews had the Old Testament Scriptures, and yet, did not get “the big picture”--- that the OT Scriptures were all about Christ.
But this also poses a problem for inclusivists. If Jesus is using the Old Testament, stating that it points to Himself, how can inclusivism be right? I mean, do inclusivists not argue that one need not explicitly confess the name of Jesus Christ in order to be saved? But by so doing, they are not only undermining the New Testament, they are also undermining the Old. In short, they are affirming a theology that contradicts ALL (read this word again, ALL) of the Scriptures.
The Old Testament points to Christ and the Gospel. The Father and the Son point to Christ and the Gospel. In other words, there are all these witnesses for faith in Christ, but there are no witnesses for salvation without faith (via some other way). So the choice is yours; do you desire to be saved from the wrath that is to come? Jesus is the only way. There are no other options, there are no shortcuts, there are no exemptions or special passes. The only way to be saved is through Christ and Christ alone. He is the one that was “raised” on a pole (death by crucifixion) for all the world to see...and it is only by looking on the Son of God that we will find healing for our sin-sick souls. There is a balm in Gilead, and His Name is Jesus. Would you receive Him today? If you desire to experience salvation this day, please feel free to comment here at this post. Look to Jesus and live!!! God bless.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Doctrine of Eternal Judgment, Pt. 1-A: The Gospel, the Witness of the Father and the Son

I begin this series by lifting a passage to you that has been comforting to many believers throughout the centuries; a passage that God has used to melt the hardened hearts of men and women all over the world; a passage that is so simple a child can understand it. What is that passage? The passage concerns the simplest exposition of God’s plan of salvation: John 3:16. Before I dive into this most wonderful verse, let’s survey our context.
In the first verses of John chapter 3, we note that Jesus tells Nicodemus of the necessity of a spiritual rebirth: “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3, NKJV). This verse has always been preached as “born again,” but the Greek word for “again” is anothen, meaning not only “again” but also “from above.” So if one substitutes “from above” for “again” in the context, Jesus says here, “unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In my mind at least, this would clarify the meaning of “born again.” But in the context, it seems that the word was used to mean “born again,” which is why Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn. 3:4) Nicodemus asks this question because this was a literal meaning of “born again.” However, this was not Jesus’ Nicodemus clearly didn’t understand the spiritual issue at hand. In verse 9, Nicodemus is clearly confused about these things, asking, “How can these things be?” (3:9)
Jesus turns around and directs a question to Nicodemus that I believe was fitting for him: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (v.10) Nicodemus was, according to the text, “a ruler of the Jews” (v.1). He was a Pharisee, one who knew the law, one who read and studied the law...and yet, he never understood anything in it regarding the spiritual rebirth. Do you not find it interesting that Jesus is not conversing with one person from the masses, but instead a “ruler of the Jews,” someone who taught the law? How much more blind it seems Nicodemus was, that he could teach a law that he didn’t quite understand himself! And the sad thing is, if Nicodemus didn’t get it, chances are, the rest of the Pharisees didn’t get it either! They were just as lost (if not more) than Nicodemus was...
Verse 11 comes as a surprise in a text that is addressing spiritual rebirth (regeneration). Jesus states, “We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness” (v. 11). Who is the “we” of this passage? Who is the “our” of this passage? The “We” and “Our” refer to not just Jesus, but also God the Father (see John 5:37). So when Jesus says that it is “Our” witness, He is saying that both He and the Father stand united in His words, that the message He gives is not His own but that of the Father’s also. For inclusivists who say that one can get to “Yahweh” and worship Yahweh without Jesus, read the words of John 3:11---the witness of John 3 is not just Jesus’ alone, but the Father’s also. In other words, you cannot please the Father without going through Jesus (John 14:6) because the Father’s own teaching is that one must confess and believe on the name of Jesus Christ for salvation. Thus, Jesus could rightly say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber...I AM THE DOOR...if anyone enters BY ME, HE WILL BE SAVED, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:1, 9). Jesus is the door of the sheep, and if anyone comes another way, he is nothing more than a thief and a robber. So for inclusivists (those who argue one does not have to explicitly confess the name of Jesus for salvation) who are bent on making the gospel more “palatable” to sinners, they are telling people to be “thieves and robbers” and attempt to be saved some way other than the way Jesus has given. In other words, they are telling sinners a false gospel and will be held accountable to God in the end for spreading such deceit and falsehood.

In my next post, I intend to tackle Jesus’ analogy of the serpent in the wilderness (Jn. 3:14-15). Before I go though, let me reiterate that the gospel (which we will get into as we examine John 3) is the testimony of both God the Father and God the Son. There is no other way to be saved than through Jesus Christ. I plead with inclusivists to stop staining the gospel of our Lord and affirm what is written in its pages, no matter how great the existential angst and agony. And with those who have never believed on the Lord Jesus Christ I say to you, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). You can be saved today, if you call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the prophet Isaiah pleaded, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). That’s the message: that you’re never too old, you’re never too young, you’ve never done something so rotten that the Lord Jesus Christ will not save you. He is mighty to save; just call upon His name.

You may ask, “How can I call upon His name for salvation?” The answer is so simple: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For THERE IS NO DISTINCTION between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Romans 10:9-13). All you have to do is confess that Jesus is Lord over all, including your own life, and believe in your heart that God the Father raised Him from the dead (that He died and rose for our sins), and you will be saved. This is the testimony of Scripture: from the Old Testament to the New, Jesus is the Christ, the one sent to take away our sins...and by faith in His name, our sins which are many are washed away.
To those who live on the most remote islands, this is the Word of the Lord coming to you in this moment: By believing on the name of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ, you will be saved. General revelation isn’t gonna save...Buddha will not save...Confucius will not cannot even do enough work to earn your salvation. All you can do is put faith in the One who merited your salvation and mine, Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. And only by faith can we be made right with God. Do not delay, for “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.” Call upon His Name today. Please respond here if you believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. God bless.

Friday, April 8, 2011

An Introduction to the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment: Reconciling the Love of God with a Literal Hell

A few days ago, I was sent a very angry e-mail by a theologian whose theology I wrote on at another blog some time ago. The individual stated that he disagreed with my interpretation of his work, cited pages in his book where he supposedly “proved” he disagreed with me, and told me that I was not being “intellectually honest” about his position. I received his e-mail that night, and, upset about being labeled a “liar” (that’s basically what I was called), decided to write him back and begin to show all the places where he said things that contradicted what he claimed he believed. He wrote me back and basically told me that the “A” (one of his claims) and “non-A” (another of his claims) could not be reconciled...that he was not trying to reconcile them...that they are merely “tensions” of the Scriptural text that we have to affirm and live with not knowing. My response? This person affirmed such tensions in the text because he wants to argue on one hand (as a Calvinist) that one does not need faith to be regenerated (saved) by God; then, however, his inclusivism (this theologian is inclusivist) turned around and wanted to argue that God can save individuals without explicit faith, but the evangelized must explicitly confess the name of Jesus in order to be saved. If the evangelized do not, then they will eternally perish because they have rejected the Gospel. What this theologian is doing, however, is setting up two standards: one for the the evangelized, and one for the unevangelized. But where does Scripture do this? Does Scripture state that there are “two” kinds of belief that Christ will accept: explicit and implicit? Do the Scriptures ever state that anyone, anywhere, will be “unevangelized” and allowed to respond to general revelation for salvation? The text does not state any of this; rather, the text distinguishes between “those who believe” and those who “do not believe” (John 3:18). In addition, the apostle Paul himself stated that
“truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:30-31a, NKJV).
The testimony of Scripture is that now, all men must “repent” of their sins, confessing them, and believe on the name of Jesus Christ for salvation. Nowhere does the apostle Paul state that some will never get the opportunity to hear the gospel or to confess and believe. As much as it may seem that geographical circumstances are varied, no one will be able to say in the end, “I could not believe because I never got the gospel.” God is sovereign enough to reach individuals, even those who do not have access to a human missionary. This is why the apostle Paul as a prisoner could write, “I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9). Because the Word of God is not chained, not bound by human strength, God’s Word can travel to even the deepest, darkest recesses of the earth and transform the hardest of hearts.
So I think that this theologian’s so-called “perceived problems” that he finds in the text are really his own personal “perceived problems.” God’s Word is clear and accurate on the way of salvation and of eternal judgment. God has clearly spoken and revealed Himself, and if we fail to understand, it is not because God did not clearly communicate. The fault lies with us.
It is because of this theologian (who is Calvinist, inclusivist, and a conditional immortalist), Rob Bell and his latest book, “Love Wins,” as well as the likes of Clark Pinnock, Amos Yong, and Todd Mangum (see last few posts), that I have decided to finally produce a series on the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment. I think this new series is fitting for the time in which we live, where the gospel of Jesus Christ is getting exchanged for nothing short of lies and deceit. Make no mistake, world: Jesus Christ is coming back for all those who believe. And for those who do not believe, Hell eternal is all that awaits. Yes, Hell is a real place and for those who do not confess Him, Hell is where such individuals will find themselves. The rich man in the teaching on the rich man and Lazarus is no exception (see Luke 16:19-31).
So what is the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment? The Doctrine itself states that there is a divine judgment for all persons who do not receive the gospel, repent of their sins, and trust in Christ for salvation. The goal of this series is to demonstrate that the Scriptures affirm this doctrine, that Hell is a real place, and that punishment is not just metaphorical (where, as Rob Bell says, “we create our own ‘hells’ everyday"), but also literal and physical. That the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment is a real Christian teaching is affirmed by the Hebrew writer’s words to persecuted Jewish Christians:
“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).
As can be seen from these two verses, eternal judgment is a doctrine taught by the earliest Christians, and it is a doctrine that is being destroyed and eliminated in these modern times. This series will tackle this doctrine and the passages that argue in favor of it. With each new post, I pray that your love for God is renewed and that, for those who read these words who have never repented and trusted Christ, I pray you will do so. Please respond here if you ever need to know how to trust and receive Christ as your personal Savior.
Universalism, Conditional Immortality, and Inclusivism are nothing short of deceptive doctrines that will lead you astray. Don’t be led astray; don’t be led from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). Trust and believe in Christ today---for “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13, Joel 2:32). God bless.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jesus, the Only Way to Yahweh: The Deceit of Inclusivist Theology

What if a person never hears the gospel, but, by a special movement of the Holy Spirit (unbeknown to him, of course) in his mind, heart, and will, is given cause over the course of his life to grow more and more uneasy with the pagan suppositions and assumptions of the false religion that dominates the culture into which he was born? it possible that he may find, upon death, that the God he has sought and worshipped, however clumsily and inadequately, was none other than Yahweh, who, by the power of an atonement provided in a Trinitarian plan of reconciliation about which he was completely oblivious during his lifetime, has established a relationship that will continue into eternity as that of child to Father? Is this possible? ‘Perhaps. We don’t know,’ is the correct answer” (Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way,” page 130).

Todd Mangum, as has been shown in the last two posts, seems intent on arguing for “what-ifs.” As I said last time, anything is possible, so the issue is not about what Christ “could” do...rather, it is about what the Lord actually says in His Word. If God has spoken to us (which He has), and He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures (which are God’s self-disclosure to humanity), then the case is closed regarding what God “could” do. He has already told us what He will do...and instead of focusing on what “could” have been the case, we must accept and submit to what is.
However, Todd Mangum is consumed by the idea that something other than reality could be possible. In the quote above, he asks regarding the individual who lacks the gospel,
“is it possible that he may find, upon death, that the God he has sought and worshipped, however clumsily and inadequately, was none other than Yahweh...?”
From these words, we understand Mangum’s emphasis--- on Yahweh, God the Father, not God the Son (Jesus Christ). Magnum seems to argue for the possibility that one can give glory to “Yahweh” without giving glory to “Jesus” and can still be saved regardless. But does this align with Scripture? Does this confirm what we read from Scripture about “Yahweh”? To see what the Father has done and is doing, let’s read the following verses:
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NKJV).
God’s final Word is His Son, Jesus Christ. Notice that Christ is labeled “the heir of all things,” and that this has been given to Christ by God the Father. In other words, it is the Son, Jesus Christ, that we must hear and obey. If we want to please the Father, if we desire to be accepted by God the Father, we must hear and obey the Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other way.
Chapter 1 also reveals that the Father commands even the angels to worship the Son:
“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
‘Let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Heb. 1:6).
Even the angels in heaven are told by God the Father to worship Jesus the Son of God. Not only does Jesus inherit all things; He also inherits all praise, whether it be from the angels, humanity, or creation.
So God’s spoken Word in these “last days” as Hebrews states it, is Jesus Christ. What the writer of Hebrews tells us here is that, despite what was done in the Old Testament (I’m not trying to dismiss the OT, simply to state the author’s point), “now,” meaning “from now to the end of time,” God’s revelation to the world is His Son, Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews exhorts the Jewish congregation to also look to Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). For many inclusivists, the Old Testament is used as evidence to make the case that one can worship the Father without necessarily professing faith in Christ and still be saved; however, the Hebrews writer says that Christ is how God speaks today. In other words, to simply worship Yahweh does not cut it now; in these days, one must worship Jesus, as even the angels must (Heb. 1:6).
The following verse is one that is often used when discussing inclusivism and exclusivism:
“Jesus said to him [Thomas], ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
How does one come to “Yahweh”? By the Son. Jesus is the way to heaven. This is proven to be true simply by the context in which the verse is placed. In verse 2, Jesus says that he is going to “My Father’s house,” which we know to be heaven (from which Jesus came, see John 8:23). He also says that He is going to take those who believe (His disciples then, now, and in the future) to be with Him forever (v.3). In verse 6 itself, we see that Jesus is going “to the Father,” the same Father who spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3:17). So if Jesus is saying that He is the only way to the Father, He is saying that He is the only way to heaven, the only way to eternal life. The exception to the rule is Jesus; all other paths lead to eternal damnation...but the Son leads to everlasting life.
But there’s more to John 14...Jesus tells the disciples that He has revealed the Father: “If you had known Me, you would have known my Father” (v.7). Phillip then asks Jesus to show them the Father, to which Jesus responds, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father...Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (Jn. 14:9-10). By these verses, Jesus says that He is the revelation of the Father (confirming Hebrews 1). Inclusivists often ask the question, “Can one worship and serve Yahweh?” The answer to that question is “Yes, but only by worshipping and serving Jesus.” Jesus is the revelation of God the Father. Jesus tells us of the Father’s plans, the Father’s desires, the Father’s heart. Why does the Father send Jesus? He does so because of His love for the world (John 3:16). If Jesus is sent because of the Father’s love, then Jesus reveals the Father’s love for the world. Only by faith in Christ can one be made right with the Father.
Many an inclusivist today has the same request that Phillip did: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (Jn. 14:8). However, Jesus said that He Himself revealed the Father...and for the inclusivist, this is Jesus’ answer. Jesus reveals “Yahweh,” God the Father, to the world. It is only in Jesus that we find salvation. it possible to worship Yahweh and be saved? Not if one worships Him apart from Jesus the Son; in the words of John,
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5: 11-12). 

Monday, April 4, 2011

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

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

Friday, April 1, 2011

When Philosophy Drives Theology: Todd Mangum and the Inclusivist Possibility

“Inclusivist arguments commonly go too far, in my judgment, in their sentimental appeals on behalf of depraved human beings. We know that the God of the Bible is capable of raining down His wrath on whole segments of depraved humanity...that having been said, I do believe that there is a Reformed way of raising the question with which inclusivists have been so concerned. Instead of asking, ‘Would it be truly fair of God to damn human beings for rejecting a gospel they never heard?’...we might ask the question this way: ‘If God has his elect in remote portions of the world, could he use general revelation to reach them?’ Put this way, it seems to me that a Reformed thinker’s answer would have to be more ambivalent [Todd Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way To Get The Benefits of The Atonement To ‘Those Who Have Never Heard?’” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 1 (March 2004): 127].
Here at the Center for Theological Studies, I have always made it known that theology and philosophy should work together. I believe in having a philosophical theology where philosophy supports theology, not drives it. Philosophy from the very beginning was made to be “the handmaiden of theology,” and I am committed to theological research that places philosophy back where it belongs (“on the passenger’s side”)...and out of the driver’s seat.
Today’s quote comes from Todd Mangum, one who clearly has no problems boldly announcing his Calvinist presuppositions:
“Let me go on record as affirming a classically Reformed soteriology, including a particular (rather than universal) design of the should come as no surprise that I remain unfazed by any number of stock inclusivist-Arminian arguments” (Todd Mangum, “Is There a Reformed Way...?”, page 123).
Mangum is a five-point Calvinist and argues for all five points, including “particular” (limited) atonement. No Arminian argument can or will win him over because his starting presuppositions are very different from those of the Arminian.
Having said this, Mangum clearly allows his Calvinist philosophy to drive his thoughts on theology, particularly when it comes to the issue of inclusivism and the unevangelized from the starting quote above. Here, once more, is Mangum’s question:
“If God has his elect in remote portions of the world, could he use general revelation to reach them?’”
I would never in any way desire to limit the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign and in control, and “He does whatever He pleases.” In that respect, I agree with Mangum and Calvinists everywhere. God does not “have” to do anything; He is not bound or obligated to do things the way I want Him to. Because He is God, it is His prerogative to call the shots. I am the creature, not the Creator, and I humbly acknowledge that I am the lesser and that God is the greater. problem with Mangum’s quote is not that there’s something wrong with the quote (at least on the surface, anyway). I mean, is it possible that God could save via general revelation? Yes! There are a lot of things that God could do that He chooses not to do. But this does not mean that because God “can” do it (it is possible), that He actually WILL do it! “Can” suggests possibility, while “will” suggests probability. Possibility does not necessarily entail probability. For instance, it may be “possible” for me to get the job promotion, but the mere possibility of it does not make it so. In the same way, Mangum’s presupposition that God’s sovereignty means He “can” do something does not necessitate that God actually will do something. “Can” and “will” are two different suggestions altogether.
Secondly, let me also add that Mangum’s Calvinist philosophy drives him away from reading Scripture. We clearly see this when he discusses the use of Psalm 19 in Romans 10:
“Paul’s quotation of Psalm 19 in the closing portion of his argument in Romans 10 has intriguing implications. Reformed interpreters have too often closed their consideration of the argument of Romans 10 at verses 13-15. Granted, the rhetorical nature of these questions seems, at first, to close off consideration of God’s reaching his elect through any means other than a human agent-borne presentation of the gospel message. But it is Paul himself who reopens the question in verse 18, when he says, ‘But have they never heard?’---deliberately undermining, in part, his earlier rhetorical question, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher?’ they may hear, apparently (and extraordinarily), through the constant testimony of general revelation (v.18) (129).
When writing on verses 13-15, Mangum says (paraphrase), “It seems as if Paul’s special revelation...but then, he turns around and confirms general revelation in the very next verses.” But is this actually what Paul does? To find out, we’ll have to examine Romans 10 ourselves.
In verses 13-15, Paul has argued that salvation comes for “whoever calls on the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13, NKJV). One must confess the Lord’s name to be saved. In verse 14, Paul uses a series of questions to make the case that one cannot confess the Lord’s name if he or she has not believed; and they cannot believe in something they have never heard; and they cannot hear it without a preacher coming to them who is sent on his evangelistic mission by God Himself (vv. 14-15). In verse 16, Paul says “but they have not all obeyed the gospel,” quoting from Isaiah 53:1 as proof. All of the material used in these few verses is to make his case: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, the only way one can believe on the name of the Lord is to hear the word preached. The gospel (the subject of verse 16) must be preached in order for belief and confession to take place.
In verse 18, Paul asks, “have they not heard?” Now, at this point, what is it that the Jews (the subject of Romans chapters 9-11) are supposed to have heard? If the context of Romans 10 can be trusted, it’s the gospel that the Jews are supposed to have heard (Rom. 10:16). And this is where Mangum’s exegesis falters. The reference from Psalm 19 does refer (within the Psalm itself) to general revelation (“the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork,” etc.); however, one cannot take Paul seriously if he or she does not read Paul’s context of Romans 10 and interpret Psalm 19 in light of that. In Psalm 19, the words used in Rom. 10 refer to general revelation (although special revelation is mentioned there, too); however, in Romans 10, the subject is the gospel, not general revelation.
In Rom. 10:3-4, Paul says that the righteousness of God is found in Christ: “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The reason why the Jews have not yet come to faith (Paul says) is because they have not believed the gospel, they have not professed faith in Christ. In verses 5-6, Paul contrasts the “righteousness of the law” (Mosaic) with “the righteousness of faith.” Notice that in verse 8, the message which Paul and others preach is called “the word of faith.” In verses 9 and 10, salvation is said to come through confession by mouth and belief of the heart in two things: first, that Jesus is Lord; and secondly, that God raised Jesus from the dead. In other words, to be saved, one must confess that Jesus is Lord and that he or she believes Christ died for their sins and rose for their justification (see Romans 5). In verse 11, Paul provides biblical support for the word of faith he preaches, stating that the plan of salvation he advocates is actually contained within the Old Testament (specifically, Isaiah 28:16). If one goes back to Romans 10:17, the subject is “the word of God” or “the word of Christ,” which is the “word of faith” of Romans 10:8).
The context of Romans 10 makes it obvious that it is the gospel that Paul states the Jews have received. If the Jews were responsible for general revelation, that would be a retreat from their position as God’s people, not a progression: after all, did God not provide special revelation for them in the Mosaic Law (was the Law not written on tablets by God Himself? See Exodus 20)? If the Mosaic Law is inadequate for salvation, how then, could general revelation be more adequate (since special revelation is greater than general revelation)? Even in Psalm 19, David distinguishes between general and special revelation. While the “words” of general revelation have gone to the ends of the earth (Ps. 19:4), it is only “the law of the Lord” that “converts the soul” (v.7), “enlightens the eyes” (v.8), and brings great reward (v.11). General revelation itself only “reveals knowledge” (v.2)...and this knowledge, as Paul writes in Romans 1:18, is “suppressed in unrighteousness” and makes mankind “without excuse.”
Stay tuned...more on Todd Mangum to come.