Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roger Olson, Calvinism, Arminianism, and Paradox as Hermeneutical Category

Jacobus Arminius

Roger Olson’s new book, Against Calvinism is out and causing quite a stir. One thing seems to be apparent when it comes to this debate: it will not end until the end. Roger Olson makes no apologies for being an evangelical Arminian. Moreover, it rightly assesses the mediating position between Calvinism and Arminianism as incongruent. As a committed Calvinist, I for one, applaud him. On a recent blog-post Olson said, “There is no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism with regard to the three crucial doctrines about which they differ: election (conditional or unconditional), atonement (limited or universal) and grace (resistible or irresistible).” Olson should be commended for his honesty. The five points of Calvinism are captured in the TULIP acronym.

John Calvin

T-total depravity, U=unconditional election, L=limited atonement, I=irresistible grace, and P=perseverance of the saints. Now, if one subscribes to the view that God is a rational being, then it necessarily follows that irrationalism does not follow from rational constructs. Scripture is an excellent example of rational construct. The paradigm for Calvinism is built on a rational exegesis of Scripture with the fundamental presupposition that there is no irrationality in God and therefore it is impossible for contradictions to exist in the divine revelation of Scripture. The response, at this point, from many quarters is qualified agreement. What is that qualification? Simply put, the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility require, at a minimum, demonstrate the legitimacy of paradox in biblical hermeneutics. Paradox, it is said, is the appearance of contradiction, not the actual contradiction. We let ourselves off the hook by crying paradox and saying we don’t understand it now, but we will in the by and by, at least presumably. As one who has a deep, and perhaps dark proclivity toward rational thought, my stomach turns when I think about living with the reality of seemingly contradictory truths. Having studied hermeneutics in detail in my doctoral work, I immediately arrive at the question, “Is paradox a legitimate category in biblical hermeneutics?” I think that is a good question and, one that Calvinists and Arminians must ponder. Scripture, by its very nature, is necessarily rational, self-consistent, and true. The most glaring problem for hermeneutics is that if we accept an apparent contradiction, defined as a paradox, what is our basis for rejecting other contradictions? After all, real contradictions and paradoxes have the exact same appearance in observation.

Calvinism has to rescue its system from the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, supposedly. However, Arminianism is not without its own tensions. For example, Arminians who accept the argument that the atonement accomplished something in actuality have to grapple with how that is true in a framework that makes atonement contingent on human action. If the atonement is more accurately a contingent atonement, then one has to ask if that is really atonement at all. The concept of contingent atonement is entirely missing in the Levitical system in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moreover, it is completely missing from the NT documents. Was Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world or was He the Lamb of God Who might take away the sins of the world, but ultimately it will depends on the world? Arminianism argues for the concept of prevenient grace, which supposedly, restored depraved man’s ability to respond to God without special help. However, the apostle Paul seems to be unaware of the concept of prevenient. He never mentions it in any of his correspondence. Moreover, he repeatedly describes depraved men as dead and unable to respond to God. This, Jesus also did in John 6. The Arminian has to grapple with the apparent contradiction in their view of fallen man. The Arminian invention of prevenient grace is not the product of a rational, exegetical examination of the text. Rather, it is the invention of man designed to mediate the glaring contradiction in a system of theology that demands a particular view of God as well as man. As a method, it has failed to satisfy the tension within the overall Arminian system of theology. Moreover, insistence on an Arminian view of God, coupled with an insistence to be rationally consistent has led to heterogeneous unorthodox doctrines in numerous fields.

Arminianism, when taken to its logical conclusions, tends to lead one away from orthodox Christianity. For example, unlimited atonement is wrought with such tension that it leads to universalism in many cases. How does this happen? The insistence to hold to a particular view of God coupled with rational thought leads to universalism. Rather than change how the system views God, the system ends in heresy, denying the existence of eternal punishment and future judgment. The right solution is to give up the idolatrous views of God and consider the possibility that the system begins with an understanding of God that is deficient. In another instance, Arminianism, when taken to its logical conclusions can lead to open theism and process theology. Rather than revamp other parts of their theology, these Arminians do return to their understanding of God and make adjustments. The problem is that their adjustments leave us with a God who does not know what the future holds and/or a God that is mercurial. Another controversy within the Arminian scheme is the state of lost men who have never heard the gospel. The Arminian has to answer the question regarding the eternal state of those who have never heard the gospel. The rational Arminian has postulated the idea of the non-necessity of conscious faith in Christ for final salvation. Again, this is another unorthodox view that directly results from acute conflicts within the Arminian system of theology that remain rationally irreconcilable. Such views of God, man, and salvation are out of accord with orthodoxy. The Arminian says that Calvinism is contradictory or that it leads to a relationship with God that is “non-relationship.” Are these descriptions accurate? Then again, are they simply misunderstandings of Calvinism, based on improper thinking on the part of detractors?

Paul argued in Romans 9 that God had placed Pharaoh in his position for the very purpose of displaying His power through judgment. Paul anticipated the response: how then can God judge Pharaoh if indeed it was God’s plan that put Pharaoh where he was? In other words, if God brought the circumstances about, how is Pharaoh to blame? How can God hold Him responsible? Paul’s answer is shocking. He simply says, how dare you speak about God like this? Does the clay say to the potter, why have you made me this way? Two things were true about Pharaoh’s circumstances that made responsibility possible: first, there was a Lawgiver over Pharaoh that would hold him accountable for his every action. Second, Pharaoh did exactly what he wanted to do. His actions were actions of his own free choice. God did not force Pharaoh against his will to do anything he did not want to do. Paul preached that God is absolute sovereign, and that man was absolutely subject to that sovereignty. Moreover, he instructs us that such a charge against God that many Arminians make today border on blasphemy. The Greek work for “answer back” in Rom. 9:20 is antapokrinomenos, and, it is a word we should become very familiar with for purposes of this discussion. Paul infers that to ask such a question regarding responsibility is to “answer back” to God. Hence, understanding this word is a serious matter. The idea is that man is in no position to play the challenge-riposte game with God! Answering back is viewed as riposte, something one would do to either defend or gain honor at the expense of another’s honor. A challenger would issue a challenge and the object of the challenge would “answer back.” It falls within the semantic domain of question-answer and it means to answer with the emphasis on implied opposition or contradiction. Here, it means to express disapproval in return, to criticize in return. A better translation for Paul’s statement would be, “who are you to criticize God.” As a child, my parents use to say to me, “how dare you to talk back to me.” When you think about this phrase, picture a child or young teen talking back to their parent. This is how Paul categorizes the Arminian challenge to sovereignty! How dare you talk back to God!

There are a number of things God has chosen, in His wisdom and for purposes known own to Himself, not to make known to humanity. It is the desire for autonomy that causes man to demand to know things that God has not chosen to make known. Humility is a better response to such issues. Paul makes that point clearly in Romans 9. The one thing the Calvinist and the Arminian must never say is that they would never serve such as God as that. Roger Olson does exactly this in his comments about the Calvinist God. We can have respectful dialogue on the subject and at times, we may even get a little heated about it. However, we must refrain from judging the salvation of the opposing camp and we should never take such a prideful position on the matter that we say we would never serve that God.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Evangelicals and Gay Marriage: Why ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin Doesn’t Work’

Response to Jonathan Dudley's Article
Jonathan Dudley recently wrote an article that appeared in the Huffington Post chiding evangelicals for their views on homosexual marriage. That’s right folks. That is exactly what we need; one more article from one more liberal, rebuffing evangelicalism for being, well, evangelical. Whatever happened to the liberal love fest with diversity? It seems like only yesterday that liberals were parading diversity around as if it was the most sacred virtue among virtues. Wait! Was that what they call a fad? It isn’t easy for a guy like me to keep up. I am a little slower than the average bear when it comes to social acumen.

Image of Jonathan DudleyDudley begins his article with the statement: Such sentiments are widespread among evangelicals, even encapsulated in a maxim: "love the sinner, hate the sin." They explain why well-meaning people think keeping gays from marriage is the loving thing to do. But as an overriding moral principle, the maxim fails miserably.” Framed in the form of an argument it looks like this: Evangelicalism’s approach to homosexual marriage, (love the sinner, hate the sin) fails miserably as an overriding moral principle. Why does this principle fail? If it fails for homosexual marriage, does it also fail for alcoholics? Adulterers? Liars? Murderers? Good question I think. Since Dudley has classified the nature of this failure as moral, one would assume he intends to demonstrate why the evangelical maxim is such a miserable moral failure. Perhaps Dudley will offer to help us rescue the maxim. Don’t hold your breath.

As proof that the maxim fails, Dudley offers lessons from historic evangelical’s positions on slavery, feminism, and even environmentalism. He says this is proof that ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ does not work. What this argument boils down to is this: you see, evangelicals were wrong about slavery, about feminism, and about environmentalism and this proves they are wrong about homosexual marriage as well. Dudley makes the terrible mistake of pointing to a few men or one denomination’s position on an issue and mistakes that for orthodox evangelical teaching on the subject. I know of no evangelical documents officially supporting slavery, environmental irresponsibility, or chauvinism. Secondly, to reject feminism does not ipso facto make one a chauvinist. To reject environmentalism does not ipso facto make one environmentally irresponsible. To reject the view that slavery is immoral does not make one a racist. This is precisely how liberals frame up their debates. One can reject feminism and not be a chauvinist, environmentalism and not be environmentally irresponsible, and even accept the concept of slavery and not be a racist. The technical aspects of Dudley's argument stand for some improvements.The concept of slavery does not require racist views. One could hold that slavery is fine across any and all ethnic groups. How is that racism? It isn’t. I do not support slavery for all kinds of different reasons. While the Bible itself does not condemn slavery as an economic practice, it places uncompromising standards in place for how the slave-master relationship should work. Fair treatment was of high concern in the Christian ethic. Perhaps Mr. Dudley should study how it was slavery came to an end in this country and the man most responsible for that event. And perhaps he should look into the faith of that man. The liberal uses polarizing language in its effort for social engineering. Homosexuality is the tool by which men like Dudley seek to impose secularism on American culture. At best, it influences the weak minded, and at a minimum, it silences the opponents. At bottom, it does nothing to promote and foster dialogue.

After his long rabbit trail on racism, feminism, and environmentalism which have nothing to do with making a case for the morality of homosexual marriage, Dudley says, “Evangelicalism still has an orientation against social change, still bases views on pseudoscience, still has a simplistic and overconfident approach to biblical interpretation, and still is unwilling to tolerate those who disagree.” This is a very interesting statement. First, by pseudoscience one assumes Dudley means young earth creationism and the denial of evolutionary theory. We all know the holes that make up evolutionary theory, yet it is taught as fact in every public school in this country. He then criticizes evangelicalism for using a simplistic and overconfident approach to biblical interpretation. Now Mr. Dudley is an expert in biblical interpretation. These are generalizations that Mr. Dudley takes for granted. What Mr. Dudley wants is a scientific method that will support the “truth” he wants to be true. He wants an interpretive method that will lead to the conclusions that he wants to be true. Finally, Mr. Dudley says that evangelicals are unwilling to tolerate those who disagree. Well, if by tolerate, Mr. Dudley means that evangelicals must stop rejecting gay marriage, then he is right. Since when is tolerating a view equal to accepting it? Evangelicals do tolerate gay marriage in that they do not retaliate in any way against those who enter into such relationships. However, evangelicals demand the freedom not to recognize such relationships as legitimate based on God’s standards of legitimacy. Again, this argument comes down to an attempt to get evangelicals to stop being evangelical. That is really what this is about. Evangelicals get in the way of secularists objectives. We interfere with their political and social agenda and that just won’t do. Whatever happened to tolerance? Mr. Dudley does not wish to allow evangelicals to continue to reject gay marriage. He insists we accept it. Otherwise, we are racists, chauvinists, and environmentally irresponsible bigots. What informs Mr. Dudley’s morality? He does not say.

Dudley continues, “Evangelicalism's greatest failure on homosexuality is not that all evangelicals are filled with conscious hatred toward gays, but its unjustified self-confidence, its close-mindedness, and its egregious failure to learn from its own history.” Yet, Dudley does nothing to inform his readers of the source of his confidence (and he is very confident). Moreover, Dudley seems to be very close-minded on the notion of the morality of gay marriage. His view is the right view and evangelicals should get in line and march along. If anything, Dudley has shown that evangelicals have learned from history. I am not sure what he means by that statement. He has traced the contours of the progressive changes that have taken place over time within evangelicalism.

Dudley brings it all home for us in a closing argument that is bound to win over any weak-minded, uncritical thinking jury panel in America. Don’t laugh, that would make up most jury panels in this country. Observe the strength of his closing argument, “And that's why "love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't cut it. Christians are too prone to mistake their own prejudice and fear of social change for God's will. As a result, love cannot only require holding others accountable to systems of morality; it requires reconsidering systems of morality too. Part of "loving the sinner" must be making sure that legitimate desires are not classified as sin.”

It seems to me that Dudley is mistaking his own propensity for social change with the will of God in this case. Turn-about is fair play folks. Dudley argues that love requires a critical analysis of the moral system in which it operates. He fails to show how love occupies an authoritative position over morality. Does love inform morality or does morality inform love? Can you have love without morality? Can you have morality without love? The moral code says we “ought” to love one another and it informs us what that looks like. Speaking from a purely non-theistic perspective, what is the relationship between love and morality? What does Dudley mean when he says love requires us to revise moral mechanisms? In this system, morality is a mere utility. Love would demand that we continue to change the moral code to progress into those areas of behavior that were previously considered immoral. But if love is the basis of morality, then wasn’t it love that established those parameters to begin with? I am confused. Morality becomes a moving target in Dudley’s system. You update it every time society decides there are enough people behaving immorally in a given area. But is that love? I fail to see how that is love. Dudley offers no help.

Evangelical morality is anchored in the nature of God. We know this by revelation of the text of Scripture. Interpreting that text is not nearly as complicated as liberal thinking loves to imply. However, it is not quite as simplistic as others would like to think either. It takes effort, but is within the grasp of anyone who cares enough to do the work. Christian theism contends that morality is unchanging. The relationship between morality and love is expressed in Scripture. Since God is love and morality is the reflection of God’s character to humanity, we can say that the relationship between morality and love is interdependent. It is an act of a loving God to create man and inform man of his moral attributes. Morality is anchored in the nature of a loving God. You cannot speak of one without the other. Since God is the perfection of love, it must follow that one can indeed love the sinner and hate the sin. This is what God does after all. God either loves the sinner or He hates him. God either loves sin or He hates sin. It is clear that in some sense, God loves sinners. That is undeniable. It is equally clear that a holy God hates sin. Therefore, it is an absolute fact that it is possible to love the sinner and hate the sin. This is possible for God, but is it possible for man? God commands us to love our enemies. Therefore, it is possible for Christians to love their enemies. So then, it is possible for us to love our enemies and hate the thing that makes them our enemy. If this is possible, it seems rather clear that Christians can love the sinner and hate the sin. How individual Christians or evangelicals carry that out from one generation to the next is a different question. Human history is filled with the acts of Christians and non-Christians alike that committed a variety of atrocities. Only the Christian worldview possesses a plausible explanation for such phenomena.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Atheist Blunder


Apparently, there is no historical evidence to support Jefferson ever uttered these words. See the rest of the story HERE

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jesus’ Law of Brotherly Conduct

It is time to sit up straight and take notice. Jesus has something to say about how brothers are to conduct themselves with one another and I think we should all make haste to attend to what He has to say. The setting is the “sermon on the mount” recorded in Matthew 5:21-26. The standards set forth by Jesus in this first of five discourses that Matthew records are indeed seemingly unreachable. Morris says, “If we take it seriously, we realize that we cannot attain it and therefore cannot merit salvation. It is the end of the way of law and drives us to seek salvation in Christ.” [Morris, pg. 91-92]

The Basis for the prohibition against murder is the value God places in man. Murder is an act that disregards the express prohibition of the God who has complete right to obedience. Moreover, it disregards the value of God’s creation. God created man in his own image and likeness. The Hebrew word is SLM and carries the meaning resemblance. The second Hebrew word in Gen. 1:26 is dmwt and it means model or shape. To destroy the life of a man is to disregard the sacred resemblance, model, and shape of God in that man not to mention it disregards God’s work as superfluous. All things being equal, Christian theistic ethics requires specific attitudes and behaviors toward fellow humans, and especially toward fellow believers.

Jesus does not, for a minute relax this law. Rather He points out how dreadfully the tradition has missed the point of the law itself. This is part of Jesus’ effort to help the people see the difference between letter and spirit, between loving obedience and hypocritical legalism. The basis of the law is the character of God. As such, there are deeper meanings behind the commands. Jesus drives his point home in his exegesis of the sixth commandment. Clearly, there is more to God’s command to respect human life than meets the eye. Sin proceeds from the heart. Sin does not begin with the murder, or even the intention to murder. Sin begins with the attitude and disposition of the heart toward your brother. This is Jesus’ point.

Jesus’ first warning concerns the sin of anger. Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. It is interesting to note that the Greek construction is identical to v. 21 regarding murder: enochus estai te krisei. The expression means liable to the court. Anger itself is not the problem. Anger is the symptom of a much larger problem. The real problem is the sinful beliefs that lead to the anger to begin with. “In other words, sinful anger arises from the sinful beliefs and motives that reign in the unbeliever and remain in the Christian.” [Tripp. Uprooting Anger, 48] Anger comes from sinful desires. Desires can be sinful because they are for something prohibited. The thing desired is forbidden. Desires can be sinful because they are based on selfishness. The thing desired may not be prohibited, but the desire for it is so strong and selfish that it is sinful. Anger is an attempt to reject God’s sovereign control over our lives. If God wanted us to have x, He would give it to us. We must accept that God may not have determined that we should have that which we so desperately want. Anger is the temptation to disregard God’s plan for our lives. This is no less true in our conduct toward one another. Jesus takes anger toward one’s brother as seriously as He does murder.

Jesus’ second warning pertains to speech. He issues an order forbidding the practice of insulting one’s brother. Whoever says to his brother, rhaka, should be liable to the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish high court. The word rhaka only appears here in the Greek NT. This word is likely a derivative of the Aramaic, reqa. It is a Jewish term of abuse. “The word usually carries with it the idea of emptiness or lack of insight, as it does in its interpretation by the Church fathers.” [Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 3: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (207). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans]. It would be the modern equivalent of calling a brother stupid or idiot. Such a practice is entirely prohibited in Christian practice. When used in antiquity, it was applied to a foolish, thoughtless, or presumptuous person. The idea then is that Jesus forbids this practice as on par with murder. The idea behind the sixth commandment demands a disposition of dignity toward one’s brother. Since there are no qualifiers, we cannot add any. One internet “apologist” would argue that this does not apply to public exchange, but only to private interactions. That individual applies his insult paradigm to public as well as private discussions. I have never encountered anyone as rude and impolite and insulting as he is. Contrary to what he claims, Jesus does not provide an exception clause, and therefore, it is dangerous for us to add something to the text that is clearly not there. This is akin to saying, you have to be nice to be respectful and civil to your brother in private, but in public, you can bash him in any way you please. Such an interpretation is utterly without support in the text. Jesus expressly condemns calling your brother stupid, idiot, or any other pejorative language. Doing so places one in danger of the high court. In other words, running around whimsically calling other brothers and sisters stupid, idiot, etc. is absolute a serious matter and will be subject to God’s judgment.

Finally, Jesus forbids calling your brother a fool. This translates the word moros, pronounced moeros. It is where we get our English word “moron.” The counter argument is that Jesus uses this word himself against his religious opponents and to describe the one who hears His words and does not listen. Jesus indeed used this word to describe those religious hypocrites who were rejecting God in preference for their own power structure. They had managed to come up with numerous ways to invalidate the word of God by their hypocritical traditions. Jesus knew their heart better than they knew their own hearts. When Jesus calls you are moron, he is speaking from a unique position of knowledge we do not possess. He is God. Anyone who hears the word of God and does not listen is in fact a fool, or a moron in God’s eyes. It is one thing for us to say that Scripture calls you a fool because you reject it or refuse to believe or you are indisputably playing the hypocrite. It is another thing for us to employ this language against our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Such behavior is clearly forbidden by our Lord and based on this text Jesus takes this behavior as seriously as He does the sin of murder. Personally, I don’t think this is a text you want to misinterpret, not that you want to do that with any Scripture. But if you place your own devious interpretation on this text and proceed to insult your brother in ways this text forbids, you place yourself in serious peril. You could roll the dice or you could avoid insulting others and play it safe.

In his mamouth word on "The Doctrine of the Christian Life," John Frame says, "Here Jesus teaches that the sixth commandment forbids anger and verbal abuse, as well as acts of killing." [Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p 689] Proverbs 12:18 says, There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of the sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. For some, their tongue brings nothing but hurt, resentment, and anger. Solomon says these are unwise people making unwise use of the tongue.

Jesus said all men would know that we are His disciples by the new kind of love we have toward one another. (John 13:34-35) Again, Jesus said the perfecting of His community in unity would also serve as a means to inform the world that God had sent His Son. This love is new and unique. To argue for a cultural understanding of love in this context will not do. This is a unique and new love that has not previously existed. The new commandment, Jesus said, I give you, that you love one another just as I have loved you. This had never before been witnessed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Response to J P Holding's Review of John MacArthur’s “Slave”

Before I begin this response, I want to be the first to admit that John MacArthur is my favorite pastor/preacher. I love how MacArthur displays his contempt for sin, for instance on pg. 121, “It is a life-destroying, soul-condemning cancer that festers and grows in every unredeemed human heart like an incurable gangrene.” Divine!

Holding's full review HERE just to be fair.

Much to my dismay, I read a review by James Patrick Holding recently that I thought was uncouth and unprincipled. It is the purpose of this blog to respond to that review and point out a few things about Mr. Holding’s comments. First, Holding admits, “I didn’t read the entirety of this book; much of it is essentially devotional, and much of the rest isn’t disputable.” First, how can you provide a review of a book that you have admittedly never completed? Second, does this mean that if a book is purely designed to aid in Christian living or if there is nothing in the book to fight about then it isn’t worth reading?

Holding asserts that while MacArthur does a good job in debunking the modern “buddy Jesus” that he doesn’t go far enough in ridding himself of that, either. Oddly enough, Holding provides no examples of what he means. This is unfortunate and regrettable. When Holding makes dubious comments like this without providing clear examples, it tilts toward bias.

Holding then employs insult and mockery regarding MacArthur’s comments around an alleged cover-up by English translators, albeit, unintentional at first.

First, I nearly hit the floor when I read pages 1-2. MacArthur correctly notes that many translations obscure this issue by using the word “servant” instead of slave. But he says that he only figured this out in 2007 after reading a book by Murray Harris, and he is wondering why this distinction “escaped me and almost everyone else.” “Had no one uncovered this before Harris in 1999?” he asks.

Um, yes. There are these people called “Biblical scholars” who knew this a long time ago. In fact, MacArthur even quotes Dale Martin’s excellent Slavery as Salvation on a point, and doesn’t remark on the fact that it was written in 1990. So, clearly “someone” had “uncovered this” well before 1999. Not Martin though. Even before that it’s in the scholarship.
One assumes that Holding is referring to the “concept of slave” itself when making these remarks. MacArthur, on pages 1-2 of his book is specifically referring to the treatment of the word doulos in New Testament Scripture. The bigger question here is why Holding zeroes in on this aspect of the book. Remember, at the start of his review, he commented that the book was indisputable for the most part. Leave it up to Holding to find something, anything, to fight about. There is no value in Holdings initial comments about MacArthur’s book. They say nothing about MacArthur’s arguments, his points, or his method. It feels like a criticism just for the sake of criticism. The satirical remark about “Biblical scholars” is in keeping with Holding’s radically unique approach to try to insult, in one way or another, everyone with whom he disagrees. Holding includes another insult,

Slave continues this trend, as MacArthur uses a handful of scholarly sources like Martin’s, but also continues to rely heavily on devotional and pastoral works and even 19th century commentaries. The problem is evident in MacArthur’s statement, “Who could improve on Calvin, Luther, the English Puritans, Edwards, or Spurgeon?” Well, um….Biblical scholars who have a lot more background data on the world of the Bible, that’s who.
Holding has a strong affinity, not just for scholars, but scholars who subscribe to sociological interpretation as their primary interpretive model. As one can see here, they cannot be from before the 20th century. Why? Well, we have more data and that makes us better and improved. This isn’t far from Brian McLaren’s idea that our image of God is superior to the ancient Hebrews because we are more sophisticated. While we may have access to better or more data about the world in which the Bible was written, that is by far not the only standard by which sound biblical scholarship is measured. These superior scholars of the modern era have largely defected from the faith. The number of pastors and scholars who believe traditional teachings from Scripture, such as the existence of Satan, the resurrection, miracles, or even that the Bible is a product of God has been drastically reduced. If the Bible is of supernatural origin, and it’s purpose is supernatural, how is it that scholarship is better when the number of scholars that actually believe it continues to plummet at alarming rates. Of course we have better data and there are some things we can understand a little better. However, the perspicuity of Scripture would deny any hint that previous scholarship possessed an inadequate or even inferior understanding of the text. Moreover, Holding’s cutting style is out of place and inappropriate. Holding also has an aversion to fundamentalist scholars. I have seen his comments around men like Al Mohler and Norm Geisler. I suppose that unless Holding approves of your scholars and commentators, you should not use them. Far be it from Holding to be more specific about why he prefers one scholar over another. Having more data is a weak consideration at best. I have learned from experience that it doesn't matter how much data a scholar possesses if he doesn't believe the Bible is a product of divine origin. His value to biblical studies will always be marginal at its very best. Otherwise, if you do, he may find it necessary to insult you. Holding continues,

Where this is especially a problem is in that NT-era slaves overwhelmingly entered slavery involuntarily – not freely, as we enter into a covenant with God. NT era slaves were prisoners of war, or born into slavery, or came from otherwise oppressed peoples. Because NT-era slavery was mostly involuntary, I predict that certain Calvinist commentators will use Slave to argue for irresistible grace – I can even see seeds of that happening in MacArthur. But that won’t work, because it neglects the patronage aspect of the NT model. In this regard, we might wish that MacArthur would have nuanced his studies with a few other works like Neyrey’s Render to God.
I’d rather you read Neyrey and Martin than read MacArthur. To that end, I recommend Slave only after you’ve read those others. MacArthur has discovered a treasure new to him, but unfortunately, he has taken a valuable pearl and used it in a nose ring.
Holding complains that MacArthur didn’t bother to treat the matter of OT slavery. Perhaps Holding misses MacArthur’ purpose for writing the book in the first place. This is not a theological treatise on slavery in the Bible. It is a book designed to help Christians understand what it means to be a slave of Christ. In other words, this book is about what it means to be a Christian. Is an entire treatise of slavery in Scripture necessary to make that point? I think not. Holding needs to show that it is if he is going to offer up such criticism. Holding misses the point. In his last remarks, Holding draws a parallel between NT slaves and Christianity that he thinks demonstrates a gap in the analogy. Holding is wrong again. He says NT slaves did not freely become slaves, but we do freely become of a slave of Christ. This hints at Arminian theology or perhaps even pelagianism possibly. We “enter” into covenant with God. NT slaves were born into slavery, or were prisoners of war, etc. I Peter 1:23 says, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” While we were still dead in trespasses and sins, God made us alive together unto Him. (Eph. 2:1) The doctrine of election would indicate that Christians do not decide to become a slave of God. We are called from eternity past into slavery as Christians. This theme is consistent with MacArthur’s understanding of soteriology as a good Calvinist. Apparently, Holding is not a good Calvinist and again fails to comprehend the analogy. Does Holding expect a good Calvinist like MacArthur to write like an Arminian? Holding then recommends people read Neyrey and Martin. Holding betrays his loyalty to sociological interpretation when he contends that irresistible grace is inconsistent with the “patronage aspect of the NT model.” Space prohibits a more detailed response to the social context of grace in the NT, but I will return to this subject in the near future as I outline the dangers inherent in adopting naturalistic critical models as a primary means of approaching the supernatural text of Scripture. Holding employs this erroneous method repeatedly. That is not to say there is no value in sociological interpretation. Indeed, there is great value in this method. However, it is an interdisciplinary tool at best.

Finally, to use the pejorative term “nose ring” is unnecessarily rude and most uncharitable. However, this is SOP for Holding. He seems utterly disappointed if he has to leave off an exchange of any kind without being able to launch obnoxious insults at those with whom he disagrees (which is just about everyone).

J. Spencer Northcote, Murray J. Harris, Deissmann, Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, Janet Martin Soskice, Rengstorf, Walter S. Wurzburger, Yvon Thebert, John J. Pilch, Edwin Yamauchi, Eric Plumer, Dale B. Martin, S. Scott Bartchy, Keith Bradley, Pierre Grimal, etc. etc. These are just a few of the sources MacArthur references in only the first 27 pages of his book. Even Holding has to recognize some of these names.

Holding’s review of a book he has admittedly never completely read seems to be more of an attempt to insult John MacArthur than it is anything else. He seems to think that pastors, including MacArthur are inept and that the answer to the church’s woes are to be found in the Seminary, in scholarship. Newsflash: the problem in the church is the same as always: it is sin! The seminary does not have the cure for sin. Only Scripture can point us to the cure for sin. God ordained Scripture to point us all to that cure! In addition, the “pointing” is clear enough even for those who are not scholars. The more progression the seminary makes, the further we move from the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of Scripture. I am not contending that there is a necessary relationship, but a case for at least a causal one seems to be easy to assemble.

If you are a conservative Bible-believing Christian, beware of the scholars that James Patrick Holding typically recommends. Many of these men are in the Context Group and utilize social science criticism as their primary model for NT interpretation. What does this mean? It means that while they may be able to provide you with valuable data around the social context of the first century church that may enrich your understanding of a NT text or practice, their view of Scripture, can tend to be far from conservative. Social Science Criticism, as a discipline is “that phase of the exegetical task which analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of the text and its environmental context through the utilization of the perspectives, theory, models, and research of the social sciences.” (Elliot) As a subdiscipline it falls under the component of historical criticism. Many, if not most adherents of this model hold a low view of Scripture, do not accept the view that Scripture is of divine origin, reject miracles outright or devalue their significance in the text, and seek for a purely sociological explanation for the rise and success of the Christian religion. Reader beware! If you are not trained in biblical criticism and have no interest in reading men who deny the divine origin of Scripture, I suggest you stick with conservative writers who respect the nature of Scripture for what it is. God has blessed evangelicalism with a number of good scholars who hold a high view of Scripture and have done the hard work of researching the historical and social setting of the NT. Avoid radical statements by radical men who would lead you to believe that the Greco-Roman world of the first century may as well have existed on Mars. Such claims have been proven to be overstatements if not gross exaggerations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Totalitarianism of the Homosexual Worldview

Have you ever asked the question, “What is this homosexual steam-rolling machine really about?” I was reading once more about the California proposition 8 controversy, as it relates to a pro-homosexual fund-raising play. First, who in their right mind would be shocked to hear that a pro-homosexual play would not tell the whole story about what actually went on in the courtroom of the proposition 8 appeal? The last thing the homosexual movement is known for is playing fair. They are radical pragmatists who will use whatever tactics they deem necessary in order to reach their objectives. Secondly, the last group on this planet that wants truth and honesty about an issue is the homosexual movement. To be sure, there are exceptions here and there, but for the most part, that sums it up. The truth is that the only reason the homosexual agenda has been able to progress as far as it has is because the atmosphere of political correctness that exists in the debate has been what is has for so long.

Conservatives have been bullied into silence about the truthfulness of this lifestyle. I for one, am not so sure that the homosexual debate in this country is as much about homosexuality as it is about something else far more devious. I contend homosexuality is nothing more than the sacred tool that is being utilized by secularists to shift what has been a fundamentally Christian theistic culture to a secular non-theistic culture. The church, for the most part, has put up an anemic response to this onslaught. We have been far too busy concentrating on the minuscule extremes within our own ranks to notice that we are getting our proverbial butts handed to us on this issue. While I condemn insults and hate speech as much as the next Christian I do not agree that frank direct confrontation about the issue is ipso fact insulting, rude or unloving. On the contrary, I think it is essential for Christians to speak up about the truth of homosexual behavior now more than ever. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and hope this issue goes away. The goal is to take this tool away from the secularist or at least dull it to the point that it becomes useless or far less effective than it has been in the recent past.


It is no secret that Western culture has predominantly been a Judeo-Christian culture. The substance that served as the foundation for this culture as well as the fabric that has held it together has been principles directly derived from the Judeo-Christian worldview. In order to move the western culture to a more secular mindset, a deliberate strategy is necessary. These things do not happen arbitrarily. Secularization is the process that progressively removes religion from the public arena and reduces it to the private realm; secularism is the stance that endorses and promotes such a process. [Carson, D.A. Christ and Culture Revisted 116] However, secularism needs a tool that will facilitate the accommodation of such a shift. Enter the homosexual lifestyle. Few lifestyles are more adverse to the Judeo-Christian ethic than the homosexual choice. If secularists can make progress in the acceptance of this lifestyle within the church, the fabric that holds the culture together, the movement can then have a staging area from which to launch a full-scale assault. Moreover, if the church compromises on this issue, it will find it rationally impossible to resist the deluge of other socio-moral issues that may be compromised within society, like dominoes ready to fall. However, the precursor to the great homosexual compromise was the great divorce compromise. This illustrates very well how it becomes rationally impossible to resist one compromise in light of another’s full-scale acceptance.

Homosexuals have insisted that the church is institutionalized bigotry. This view argues that the church promotes discrimination and hate speech. As a result, the church should lose its tax-exempt status. Moreover, laws have been passed and are being considered that would hold churches liable for crimes against homosexuals if pastors continue to speak out against the lifestyle. This form of censorship meets the definition of totalitarianism. In essence, by forcing the church to accept the homosexual lifestyle, the church disappears as the church and becomes just another socio-religious institution with very little influence to transform the culture. Just as the culture of I Peter placed enormous pressure on the Christians to leave their group and return to the larger non-Christian group of their day, today’s culture manipulates Christianity using its own tools, homosexuality appearing to be its most effective one yet.


One of the most critical components of society is the family. The cement that holds the family together is the marital bond. The marital bond serves as the very foundation of family life. It would be impossible to separate family from religion, or Christianity in this case. God is the original Creator of the institution of marriage. As marriage goes, so goes society. America in is a crises of the family. This crisis can be attributed to divorce and illegitimate births. The narcissistic philosophies that America has adopted fits perfectly into the secular strategy to accelerate the shift from Judeo-Christian to secularism as the predominate worldview. As a result, men and women no longer marry because it is viewed as cultural norm and the right thing to do. They marry for a “feeling” or a “fantasy” or the west’s idea now of “romantic” love. As a result, love has been reduced to an emotion rather than a disposition, an attitude that produces certain behaviors with emotions that follow after the fact. Hollywood has played a very large role in this strategy. Once the moral fiber that served as the foundation for marriage was weakened enough, the entire institution became challenged in a more direct manner to the point that uninformed, non-critical thinking people have been heard to say that marriage is outdated. This paved the way for homosexuals to begin to openly demand lawful recognition of homosexual marriage. With religion muted by its own failure to stand by its convictions, and the family now disintegrating, America finds itself unable to stand against the assault. Her foundation and tools for defense have been all but surrendered. As a result, children are going to be forced to grow up without either a mother on the one hand or a father on the other hand. The point is that the homosexual is not content to be able to legally practice their deviant lifestyle. Rather, they want to force everyone to accept it as perfectly natural. In an attempt to argue from freedom for the 1-2% of people who practice this behavior, the rest of the culture is denied their freedom to think of it as unnatural.


Public education has become an incubator of modern secularism. From the theory of evolution to the use of secular psychology to sex education and now to normalizing the homosexual lifestyle, public education has been an excellent and effective venue through which secularists have secularized our children. Homosexuals were once shamed out of their lifestyle or placed under tremendous pressure not to engage in the practice because of the public stigma that went with it. Not so today. Girls who had sex with multiple partners were once stigmatized in the same way for being whores. Again, not so today. Our culture use to be less individualistic than it is today. Even in my lifetime, the shift toward hyper-individualism is easily noticeable. There are organizations encouraging homosexual sex as part of sex education in the public schools. Some educators have even gone so far as to expose kindergarten age children to the homosexual lifestyle. These children will grow up with a predominantly secularist mindset.


The Media has been a very significant tool in the hands of the secularist. From making marriage and dad look like a joke, to giving one the impression that homosexuals make up far more of the population than they do, the secular media has been quite busy promulgating its philosophy in a variety of forms. Nearly every sitcom today has a “token” homosexual. Yet, in the 2000 census, the number of households that were homosexual was .42%. That is much less than even .5%. Link Here. The media, controlled almost entirely by liberal secularists wants us to believe that more people are homosexual than really is the case. Since Americans place such a high value on emotion and especially emotional love, they use this to appeal to the culture in general. They pull at our “heart strings” so to speak and many of us in the west are easily seduced by the tactic. The number of Homosexuals in this country ranges from .9% to perhaps 2.8% at best. See the link above. Yet the money and resources spent to inflate the issue is enormous. The homosexual issue is not about the infinitesimally small number of people in the west that have made the homosexual choice. Rather, it is about an effective tool that is part of an overall strategy to shift the west from a Judeo-Christian worldview to a secularist worldview.

Why are we losing this battle? We are losing for a number of reasons. First, we have lost our faith in the Bible. We no longer believe it. For many, the view of Scripture is extremely low. I recently read a comment from a man who said he believed in the infallibility and inspiration of the Bible, but that inerrancy is hard to swallow. From my perspective, it is far more difficult to believe that the Bible is “infallible and inspired” but contains errors. That is the most outrageous and irrational comment I think I have read about Scripture. In addition, we adopt modern critical methods for approaching Scripture that altogether dismiss its divine nature, origin, and purpose, deluding ourselves into thinking we can set up unbelieving, naturalistic models for interpreting Scripture without injury to the text or ourselves. Not only is such an approach naïve on the one hand, it is arrogant on the other. The only tool Christians have at their disposal to defend themselves against the onslaught of secularism and unbelief is the word of God. Moreover, an interpretive methodology that protects the preeminence of Scripture in how we approach Scripture itself is critically important if Scripture is to do its work in our lives and subsequently, the culture in which we live them. I know of a famed internet apologist who has cost himself tremendous credibility because he attempted to use a predominantly liberal method for approaching the text while trying to defend a high view of Scripture at the same time. The result was disastrous.

God loves homosexual sinners just as He loves heterosexual sinners. However, God condemns homosexual sin explicitly in Scripture. The Judeo-Christian ethic, if it is to remain Judeo-Christian, has no choice but to condemn the practice of homosexual behavior and vigorously contend with the advancements of secularism in our culture. This does not mean only the professors, pastors, and other ministries. This means all of us together as a collective unit expending extreme energy defending the Christ worldview. Does your church have such a strategy in place? Why not? Ask your pastor.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Distinction between Legitimate and Illegitimate Repentance

The significance of words and their meanings has come under serious scrutiny in our postmodern culture. In his book, “How To Do Things With Words,” J.L. Austin writes, “The term ‘performative’ will be used in a variety of cognate ways and constructions, must as the term ‘imperative’ is. The name is derived, of course, from ‘perform’, the usual verb with the noun ‘action’: it indications that the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action – it is not normally thought of as just saying something.” [Austin, J.L. “How To Do Things With Words” 6-7] When a person says “I repent,” what does that mean? Repent is an action verb. The same is true when we say “I forgive.” The person uttering this sentence is making a performative claim to have done something. Kevin Vanhoozer says, “The purpose of Doctrine is to conform us to the truth, and we conform to the truth by bearing true witness to what God has done and is going in Christ through the Spirit. We bear true witness by speaking, and embodying, the truth in love.” [Vanhoozer, Kevin J. “The Drama of Doctrine” 397] Conversely, when we bear the name of Christ and refuse to live according to the life that He promised, we bear false witness against our Lord and Master before the world. Jesus says, believe in me and my work will transform you into X. However, when we live our life according to our own good pleasure and not according to X, all the while taking Christ’s name, we shame Him, make Him a liar in other’s eyes, and bear false witness to the world about the character and promises of God. “Words, as every one now knows, ‘mean’ nothing by themselves, although the belief that they did, as we shall see in the next chapter, was once equally universal. It is only when a thinker makes use of them that they stand for anything, or, in one sense, have ‘meaning.’” [Ogden, C.K. & Richards, I.A. “The Meaning of Meaning” 9-10] To speak about repentance is to speak about a very specific even from a Christian perspective. The question regarding the meaning of that word could grow extremely daunting if one were to entertain modern philosophical theories about meaning and hermeneutics. In the Christian ethic, God is the source of human language and foundationally, as the author of language, His meaning is the meaning we seek.

What is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate repentance? What is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate forgiveness? I recently heard about a church that read the names of three men before the congregation who had left their wives and families, and refused to repent. The church moved to step three of the disciplinary process by making sure that everyone knew what was going on so that the rest of the members could reach out in love and seek to regain these brothers to Christian obedience. The pastor and elders had spent months counseling these men about their sin. They repeated went to them, spent time with them, called them and did everything they knew to do to show them their sin. One by one, each man refused to repent. Now the entire church is in the process of reaching out to these men to urge them to repent. Only time will tell what will become of the men. Perhaps God will grant them repentance, demonstrating that they are true believers after all. Perhaps He will not, demonstrating that this particular leaven needs to be removed from the body of Christ. Either way, the Church’s only concern is with the words of Jesus: go show them their sin. Of course, the burden is for repentance and restoration. However, that may not be realized. Now imagine what the elders would say if all three of these men said, they repent of their sin, but they are not going back to their wives. Imagine them saying they forgive whatever perceived short-comings their wives have, but they are not going to return to the family. What do you suppose the elders should do? What do you think Jesus or Paul would do?

In I Cor. 5, Paul has to deal with a very immoral situation where a man had apparently married his stepmother. The Law forbade such practices (Lev. 18) and was exceptionally taboo in the Greco-Roman world. Drastic action had to be taken. Paul judged the matter harshly and with urgency even in absentia. To the entire congregation at Corinth that had refused to take action regarding this matter, Paul said, “You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” (I Cor. 5:2) The church that refuses to act is seen as arrogant. After all, what right does the church feel it has to excuse such wickedness? The church steps into the shoes of God when she thinks in this manner. The church has no right other than to address the sin. Paul sees the deliberately refusal to address the sin as playing God. Jesus saves the church in order to be her Lord, her Master, not so that she can continue to be her own lord and master. Secondly, Paul says the proper response is to mourn. The church should have sensed great sadness regarding this evil. How many churches today sense great sadness over the sin in their communities? In our hyper-individualistic culture, our attitude is that it is none of our business and we leave these matters for others to work out. Moreover, in some strange and convoluted manner, we manage to escape the sense of duty that ought to be weighing heavy on our hearts all along.

Paul later says, “I have decided to deliver such a one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (I Cor. 5:5) The Greek construction does not promise such deliverance. The idea is that Paul hopes that such deliverance will take place. The destruction of the flesh is like Paul’s perspective on excommunication. They are placed outside the Christian community. Now ask yourself this question: “what if this man came to Paul and claimed to feel bad about it all and said he repented before God but refused to stop his behavior of this illicit relationship?” Do you think Paul would respond with a hearty, alright then….as long as you feel about it all and have made your peace with God, then I suppose that is all that matters? Would Paul accept that kind of repentance? Is that repentance? The simple truth is that Paul’s understanding of repentance is easy to see. Repentance involves a radical shift in disposition and behavior. For this individual at Corinth, repentance meant that he must cease and desist from this immoral practice immediately. In the west, we focus on the individual and their feelings, not to mention our false concern over their spiritual well-being and how that if we chase them off, then they will never get help. I actually witnessed this sort of reasoning before. If we discipline this person, they will leave and the she will never get help for her situation. Her sinful situation had been going on for two years! Where was the help for the last two years? At any rate, the excommunication of this individual was supposed to cause great sorrow on the part on this man in hopes that it would produce legitimate repentance. The community was far more important in the social context of Mediterranean cultures than it is in our own today. The Christian church is commanded to look much closer to the practices such cultures than it is the extremely individualistic culture of the modern west in a number of ways. Suffice it to say, excommunication is something that ought to produce tremendous pain in the soul of genuine believers.

Did Paul’s instructions work? What ever became of this man? While debate over the question of this man’s response will remain open to the end, many scholars do think there is evidence suggesting that he repented. For purposes of this post, at a minimum, we do have evidence that helps us understand what legitimate repentance looks like. Many believe Paul is referring to this man in 2 Cor. 2:7-8 when he says, “so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” The idea behind confrontation is to produce godly sorrow. Godly sorrow, the sorrow that is godly, actually produces legitimate repentance. Paul says in II Cor. 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The response to correction was sorrow! This sorrow was not unsanctified human sorrow that merely produces guilty feelings that lead to depression and a desire to punish oneself out of self-righteous desires. True godly sorrow produces a hatred for the sin one has committed and this inevitably leads to a change in disposition and behavior toward that sin. Two specific sins come to mind when thinking about this issue. I think of the modern practice of “shacking up” and the absurd rate of “illicit divorce” in the Christian church. When a professing Christian is confronted with the sin of unmarried cohabitation, they are instructed to repent of that sin. In other words, stop doing what you are doing. Legitimate repentance takes place when they are no longer “shacking up.” The same is true of illicit divorce. One spouse divorces their mate in the Christian community without biblical cause. Some people think once the divorce is final, they are free. They feel that they are no longer under the command to reconcile. That view is contrary to I Cor. 7:10-11 where Paul commands the wife that if reconciliation remains possible, she is commanded to reconcile. It is only if such is not possible that she comes under the command now to remain single to avoid adultery. What does repentance look like for a couple like this? It is really quite simple: reconciliation! They stop “being separated” from one another and begin living as husband and wife once again. Anything short of this is not legitimate repentance. For a man or woman to divorce their mate and claim to have repented of it without reconciling that relationship where reconciliation is possible is bearing false witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ.

“Repentance is needful for hypocrites. I mean such as allow themselves in the sin. Hypocrisy is the counterfeiting of sanctity. The hypocrite or stage-player has gone a step beyond the moralist and depressed himself in the garb of religion. He pretends to a form of godliness but denies the power (2 Tim. 3:5). The hypocrite is a saint in jest. He makes a magnificent show, like an ape clothed in ermine or purple.” [Watson, Thomas. The Doctrine of Repentance 68]
The puritans were some of the greatest defenders of genuine faith in Christ and repentance toward God. Watson’s words are stinging indeed. Perhaps that sting is godly sorrow that will work repentance in our hearts.

"No big words of ready talkers, no fine boastings will suffice;
Broken hearts and humble walkers, These are dear in Jesus' eyes."
[Spurgeon, C.H. Love's Commendation-v. II, pg. 411]

"Break off the yoke of inbred sin, and fully set my spirit free!
I cannot rest till pure within, Till I am wholly lost in thee."
[Wesley, John. Repentance of Believers-v V, pg 169]

Friday, October 14, 2011

Inclusivism: Outside Evangelical Tradition Part II

In my previous blog, I stated I would respond to both of Glen Miller’s propositions. I responded to his proposition that the judgment of God would not consider the gospel as part of its process for, well, determining whether or not a person would enter heaven. In this blog, I shall return to Miller’s second thesis, namely, that men can reach a state of moral purity in theory apart from the gospel according to Romans 2. Now, to be fair, Miller did qualify this statement by relegating this possibility to the theoretical. In this post, we shall simply ask the question of Romans 2: “Is the Apostle Paul actually teaching that men can achieve moral purity apart from the gospel”

We do not have the benefit of understanding Miller's view of moral purity because he neglects to provide one. Does he mean sinless perfection? Such a state is beyond the grasp of the sinner in this life. Anyone who says they do not sin is guilty of lying. How can one reach moral purity given the existence of past sins? Forgiveness in Christ without knowledge of Christ? What about forgiveness without knowledge of forgiveness? What if the culture practices polygamy? What if sexual immorality has become the norm in a given culture? There are many questions regarding the "moral purity" that Miller does not address. It is possible, I suppose, that he has grappled with them elsewhere and I am simply unaware of it. It would be much more convenient for this post if we knew precisely what Miller means when he uses the term "moral purity." I can only assume his meaning and move from there. But in my response, I will show that Romans 2 does not teach that man can attain moral purity, theoretically or otherwise, not only of Miller's hidden definition, but of moral purity in any sense of that term whatever.
Paul wrote the second chapter of Romans in the larger context of the book Romans. In order to understand the immediate context of Romans 2, we must understand the larger context of Romans. The central concern of Romans is justification by faith that comes through the impartiality of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation. In other words, the offer of salvation is universal and God is in fact saving Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel of Christ is now the power of God to salvation for all of humanity.
Paul lays the foundation for this thought in Romans 1:18-32 by announcing the universal guilt and depravity of the human race. Paul paints an exceptionally ominous picture of the human condition. He says man knows God, but wickedly suppresses his knowledge of God and perverts it. Given the universal nature of this language, the implications of Paul’s point are considerable. All men possess knowledge of God through creation and conscience. Unfortunately, all men, to varying degrees respond to that knowledge with wicked hostility. In 8:6-8, Paul says that unregenerate men are hostile toward God. In other words, men do not possess some natural neutrality toward God. All men are born with the curse of hating God as part of their nature. The human mind, as it stands outside Christ, will not and cannot please God because, by its very nature, it hates God. It is not as if man can change his own nature. This is what it means to be born into sin. It is God’s curse brought on by the fall. In Romans 3:10 Paul says that there isn’t one righteous person among humanity, not even one. In fact, he says they have all turned aside from God and have become useless. It is important to note that Paul lumps the Jews in with the Gentiles as he paints this picture of hopeless depravity.
Enter the second chapter of Romans. Paul opens the second chapter with a blow against the self-righteous tendency of Jewish judgment. He points out that everyone is guilty of the wicked charges of chapter one and concludes that no one then is in a position to boast about their privileged position in God. Paul drives his point home in verse 11, saying, “For there is no partiality with God.” Everyone who sins without the Law, and that would be everyone without the Law, will perish without the law. Since everyone sins, everyone perishes. Moreover, everyone who sins under the Law will be judged by the Law. All humankind is guilty. The Jews had the special revelation of the Law and still sinned against God and stand fully culpable before a righteous and holy God. However, the Gentles did not enjoy the privilege of special revelation and should get a pass, right? Wrong! Since there is no partiality with God and all who sin will perish, the Gentiles will perish along with the Jews for there is no partiality with God. How are the Gentiles culpable for their sin since they do not enjoy the benefits of special revelation? They are culpable because they were created with the knowledge of God in the conscience as well as in nature. The innate moral law condemns the Gentile for his wicked deviance just as the Mosaic Law condemns the Jew. Verses 14 and 15 tell us that the Gentiles bear the fingerprint of God’s moral law and at times they do right, while at other times they do wrong. We see this today. A person justifies themselves by saying, I am married and would never cheat on my wife. They feel good about that. Conversely, a person that does cheat on their spouse is condemned in their conscience without anyone saying anything to them. They know it is evil. The moral law within the conscience and the power of creation without serve as the basis for making Gentiles culpable for their sin. General revelation in nature is sufficient to produce culpability, but insufficient to produce salvation. This is Paul’s entire point through Romans 2. The Gentile stands condemned by God’s law on the heart while the Jew stands condemned by the Law given at Sinai. Romans 3:10-18 makes this point abundantly clear as Paul points to the complete and utter depravity of the human condition. Paul moves into the third chapter od Romans, informing his audience that the entire world stands guilty before God. In chapter four, he lays the foundation for his argument for justification by faith by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith before the law. Paul’s point is not that people in general, by good works, can achieve justification before God. His point is that God is the justifier of men rather than the law of Moses or the law of conscience. Without specific election and calling by God through special means, man’s present condition and eternal destination are dreadful indeed.
Paul moves to his largest discourse on justification in Romans 5. He does not abandon his universal language. All men in Adam are dead and subject to judgment. All men who are in Christ are justified and have eternal life. This language continues through Paul’s argument in Romans.
After taking a very brief look at Romans 2 in the larger context in which it was written, there is nothing in that chapter to indicate that Paul actually intended to assert that men could attain moral purity outside the gospel or otherwise. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Paul provides a vivid description of the depraved condition of the human race in chapter 1. He moves to the impartial character of a Holy God in chapter two and the moral culpability of humanity. He then pronounces all the world guilty before God, Jew and Gentile alike. Then, after informing us of our hopeless condition, he gives us hope. That hope is faith. The power of God to produce faith comes by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is in perfect harmony with his teaching in Eph. 2:8-10. For by grace we have been saved through faith. If man may attain moral purity apart from the gospel, why did Jesus come to begin with? All men have sinned! Are we to believe we can actually stop sinning apart from the gospel, on our own? Even if that were possible, and it is not, what of those sins that we have committed prior to attaining moral purity. Or are we talking about moral purity relative to the rest of humanity? Such relativistic views of morality have far more in common with ungodly cultural philosophies than they do biblical Christianity. To claim that men can attain moral purity apart from the gospel is as antithetical to Christianity as any teaching could possibly be.
“Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inclusivism: Outside Evangelical Tradition

I have watched the on-going thread in the comments section of my blog and thought it was about time for me to weigh in on the matter in greater detail. Apparently this excerpt is from an article written by Glen Miller. It seems abundantly clear that Mr. Miller is certainly arguing for inclusivism. I contend that historic Christian orthodoxy repudiates inclusivism and that Scripture expressly contradicts such a view. I have copied an excerpt from the article in question to illustrate as clearly as possible Mr. Miller's proposal.

BC10: God's universal and final judgment is according to the actions and motives of humanity--NOT to one's "exposure" (or lack thereof) to the NT gospel. Indeed, Romans describes a moral purity that is theoretically attainable by ANYONE.

God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2)

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (I Cor 4.4f)

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Prov 16.2)

Notice that we are accountable for HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES--what thoughts, actions, and the consequences of who we are that MAKE IT OUT INTO HISTORY. We are NOT judged by whether we heard the gospel or not.
Miller makes two fundamental proposals that require evaluation in order to consider if his brand of inclusivism actually contradicts the exclusive claims of historic Christian orthodoxy. First, Miller presupposes that men will be judged apart from the gospel. In essence, Miller’s view unavoidably concludes that salvation may be obtained apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is my contention that historical Christian orthodoxy teaches that no one can be saved apart from hearing and believing the gospel. Secondly, Miller contends that men are capable, apart from the gospel, of achieving moral purity. If Miller is wrong on either account, he is guilty of violating the Christian community’s traditional views on the exclusive nature of biblical Christianity. If he is wrong that men can be saved apart from the gospel, then this means that believing the gospel is the exclusive way to experience salvation. If he is wrong that men cannot attain to moral purity apart from the gospel, then it also follows that the gospel is necessary to produce the moral purity necessary for salvation. In both cases, salvation can only come via the gospel. In other words, salvation excludes anyone who has not heard and believed the gospel, whatever the reason might be. Conversely, salvation is only inclusive of those who have heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is it in fact the case that God will judge men apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Acts 17:31 says, "because He has fixed a day when He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." The previous verse says that God once winked at the ignorance of men, but now is commanding all people everywhere to repent. The world is going to be judged "through a man." That man is Jesus Christ! The preposition en is used with the dative and as such is best viewed as an instrumental. In other words, God will judge the world BY Jesus Christ.

Ben Witherington III comments,
"The times of ignorance are over and done with; now is the time when repentance is required lest one face the judgment. In the second place, Paul does not say that Gentiles have any inherent saving knowledge of God, nor that they could deduce any from nature. What nature reveals is the existence of a Creator God and this God’s eternal power (Rom. 1:20). It is thus misleading to suggest that Paul says that pagans know God apart from the gospel in any further sense than is suggested in Acts 17. Acts 17 suggests that pagans have some inkling that God exists, as is shown by their erecting of altars and creating of objects of worship for this God. They simply do not know his name or true nature. This is made very clear by the repeated stress that pagans are groping around in the dark, and their efforts at worship of the true God are distortions, inadequate, shots fired in the dark." [Witherington III, B. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles : A socio-rhetorical commentary (534). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]
Romans 2:16 also states, "on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ." Clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ is not irrelevant to judgment.

John 3:18 clears contradicts Miller's thesis: "He who believes in Him is not judged; but he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." God most certainly will judge the world by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who hear and believe have eternal life and will not come into judgment. Those who do not believe are judged already.

According to these verses we know that God will not only judge all men, but He will judge them by Jesus Christ. To argue that God will not do so is to go against the plain teachings of Scripture. Moreover, the question that is before us is the question of salvation. All men are lost. To be saved is to be saved from being lost. So then how is a lost person saved? Paul answers this question at length in Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul points out that all men are universally dead in their trespasses and sins in verse 1. In verse 5 Paul says, But God….made us alive together with Christ. And in verses 8-10, we are informed about how salvation takes place. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Paul says that salvation come by God’s grace through faith. The question then becomes, from whence do we get this faith. First, it is a gift from God. But God dispenses it only on those who hear the gospel. Paul’s rhetorical questions of Rom. 10:14-15 come to mind. Apart from faith alone in Christ alone, no man can be saved. Rom. 10:17 says, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. God gifts faith only to those who hear the word of Christ. Moreover, not all who hear the word of Christ are even granted this gift because not all who hear actually believe.

Secondly, Paul clearly says that salvation is not the result of our works. In other words, there is nothing we can do to be saved. The decision to elect was made before we were created. If God saved men who find a way to become morally pure outside the gospel, then surely they can take some degree of credit for that. Moreover, if God saves men who decide on their own that they are going to worship Him be simply worshipping the God that created all things, they can take credit for that as well. Paul denies the slightest possibility that salvation can be attained on such grounds. The grace and faith that necessarily precede salvation are gifts from God. Moreover, both the grace and the faith come through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Third, we know that we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives by faith. (Gal. 3:2) So without faith, we cannot have the Spirit of God. Romans 8:9 says that without the Spirit of Christ, Christ does not belong to us. Faith is contingent on God’s act through our hearing the gospel. If we have not heard the gospel, we cannot have faith. If we do not have faith, we are not saved and do not possess the Spirit of Christ. If we do not have the Spirit of Christ, we do not have Christ. Faith is required for salvation. Christ is required for faith.

Fourth, Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek…For it is written, the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)

Gal. 3:20 says, “But the Scripture has shut everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Eph. 3:6, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

2 Thess. 1:8, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

Paul argues that believers are foreknown by God the Father. Those whom God foreknows, He predestines to be conformed to the image of His Son. How can they possibly be conformed to the image of the Christ they have never heard of? Paul continues on saying that these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30) How can God call them without the gospel? Clearly, Paul has in mind the gospel call here. Secondly, how can a man be justified apart from faith? Justification is by faith alone. (Rom. 5:1) Faith comes with the gospel as God’s gift to those whom He has predestined.

Acts 4:12, “and there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Miller’s interpretation of this verse is a perfect example of eisegesis. He reads the text in a manner that allows him to hold onto his inclusivism. He says,
Actually, I am just trying to interpret the verse according to the author's intention and historical setting. "Name" was normally used in such settings to mean "person with authority". For example, in 4.18, the Sanhedrin "commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus". "Name" referred to the status, dignity, authority of the person.
If Miller were truly trying to interpret the verse according to the Author’s intention, he would have remembered that Luke is making a case to the recipient of Acts, Theophilus for the validity of the Christian worldview. Peter thunders to the Sanhedrin, that the one they killed is actually the only way to salvation. There is salvation in “no one” else. There is “no other” name given by which “we must” be saved. According to Peter, outside the name of Jesus, salvation does not and cannot exist. This explains why it was paramount for the disciples to preach the gospel to every creature. Miller says this is about the authority of the name of Jesus. I agree. Peter does too for he says that salvation apart from that name is absolutely unauthorized!

John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” This is the exclusive claim of Christianity. John 10:1, 9, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” Unless enters through Jesus, they will not find God. If anyone enters through another way, they are a thief and a robber. To understand these verses to teach that Jesus “somehow” saves people who have never even heard his name is indeed eccentric to say the least. The whole point is that Jesus is the only means to salvation. Therefore, we must proclaim this to all because without Jesus, men are lost.

Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” Jesus said few will find the narrow gate while many will follow the broad gate to destruction.

Luke 24:45-47, “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.”
Miller says,

It has been my experience that many of the non-Christian skeptics and atheists have rejected a caricature of Jesus--that they have truly never seen His heart of love, His quiet commitment to their noble freedom, His patience in the face of unrequited love. The same may be true of members of non-Christian (and especially non-Western) religions--they may have rejected a false Christ--and probably one WORTH rejecting! But the Jesus of the Bible, when seen in pattern, balance, and in the blinding light of His love on the Cross...such a leader, such a lover, such a Lord!
Miller engages in the same sort of erroneous interpretive methods I have seen Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and other pseudo-evangelicals engage in. He most certainly denies the exclusive claims of historical Christian orthodoxy without any ambiguity whatever. His understanding of fallen man and the effects of sin are clearly heterodox. They are much closer to pelagianism than orthodoxy. In fact, I would contend they are a modern form of pelagianism. Finally, to argue that Romans 2 teaches that anyone can theoretically obtain moral purity reflects a serious misunderstanding of that chapter. Paul is pointing out that even pagans have the moral law of God written on their heart and are culpable for their evil deeds. Both Jews and Gentiles are in danger of the same judgment. Jews have the law of God revealed in Moses, while Gentiles had the law of God revealed in the conscience. All who sin without the law will also perish without the Law and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. The point is that no one is able to keep from violating the Law of God revealed in Moses or the Law of God revealed in the conscience. Only the doers of the Law are justified before God. Because no man is a doer of God’s law, the law has shut everyone up under sin. To date, only one man has perfectly kept the Law of God: Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Freedom from sin outside the person of Jesus Christ? Unthinkable!

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