Archive for September, 2013

Choice or determinism in salvation

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Joshua 24:15: ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’

Spencer D Gear

Path Pick

ChristArt

It is common in online forums for Calvinists to push the line that people do not have the choice to choose to serve the Lord God or Jesus, or to reject him. This happened in one thread where I contribute.

There was this statement by a noted Calvinist on the forum: ‘Israel didn’t choose to be chosen by God. God took it upon himself to choose them’.[1]

My brief response was:[2]

You seem to be overlooking Joshua 24:14-15,

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (ESV)

Israel has a choice as to which God/gods they would serve. That’s Bible!clip_image001

The reply was: ‘What was the list of options Joshua told his listeners to choose between, in that verse?’[3]

I replied: [4]

What was the list of options Joshua told his listeners to choose between, in that verse?

The text is clear. Please read it: Choose…

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘whom you will serve’;

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘the gods your fathers served’, OR

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘the gods of the Amorites;

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15).

The ability of contrary choice is given by God to all people. And it started in the garden with Adam in choosing to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil OR not to choose such.

Why do you find this so difficult to understand when the Scriptures are crystal clear? Well, they are crystal clear in my hermeneutical understanding.

This fellow came back:

Joshua told them to choose from between their false gods. He never asked them to choose between their false gods, or the Real God.

He didn’t say "choose this day whom you will server, whether the gods of the Amorites, or the gods your fathers served, or the Lord".

thus, you are using that verse out of context. you are using it in application for something it doesn’t even support.[5]

Is there real choice for unbelievers and Christians in things of God?

Life Voyage

ChristArt

I responded to the above person:[6]

That is not what it says in context. Joshua 24:14-17 reads:

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed (ESV, emphasis added)

Note the points in context:

  1. ‘Fear the Lord and serve him’ (v 14). This is a command to fear the Lord God.
  2. ‘Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord’ (v 14). So their fathers served foreign ‘gods’ and they were commanded to fear the Lord God and to put away foreign Gods. The choice was between the Lord God and false gods. Your charge against me is thus shown to be false.
  3. The v. 15 makes the choice clear: Serve the Lord OR the gods your fathers served OR the gods of the Amorites. They were told that they had a choice to make. That’s what this verse states. It’s a similar choice to what Adam had in the garden to choose between the tree of knowledge of good or evil. He chose the evil and we’ve had to struggle with sinful vs godly choices ever since. That’s Bible.
  4. The people chose to not forsake the Lord and serve other gods (v 16). They had a choice. The ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ was as real for them as it is for us today.
  5. Then evidence is given for the nature of the actions of the Lord God and how he had acted on their behalf in the past. Interesting, isn’t it?, of God providing evidence of his actions on their behalf.

I find this person’s charge that Joshua ‘never asked them to choose between their false gods, or the Real God’, to be false – based on the biblical evidence from Joshua 24.

Spin doctors

Image:Bowl Leg Spin Step 1.jpg

Leg spin cricket grip (WikiHow)

There are various other grips in leg spin bowling in cricket (wrong-un, flipper, stock ball) that are designed to deceive the batsman. When people speak spin, they use terminology and description designed to deceive the listener in some way. In my country of Australia it is standard to hear politicians being interviewed and no matter what the question, the standard or populist party line is promoted. When politicians do this kind of thing in interviews, some commentators call it ‘spin’.

Andrew Bolt’s articles often call politicians for the ‘spin’ they use to try to deceive listeners. See:

16tn_.jpg 0.9KRudd’s spin just cooks that goose worse’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

16tn_.jpg 0.9KMaking Indonesia spin Labor’s lines’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

16tn_.jpg 0.9KMundine slams Rudd’s “political negative spin”’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

See the articles:

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin undermines democracy (Sydney Morning Herald);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin: politicians, journalists and spin doctors (BBC interview);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Spin doctor exodus as political wheel turns (The Australian);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin checklist (ABC, The Drum).

Spin doctors in Christianity

This is the kind of thing that some Christians can get up to when promoting a certain theological perspective. And that’s what it is because, no matter what the interviewer asks, the person interviewed gives the same old, pre-programmed answer that the party line requires. It is an unthoughtful response that does not answer the question asked by the interviewed. It simply goes onto the party line and avoids dealing with the issues raised. See:

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Christian spin doctors (Know it’s true);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Debunking The ‘War On Christianity’: The Dangers Of Out-Of-Control Spin (Americans United);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K A postmodern spin on religion: Pagan Christianity (Albert Mohler, MP3);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Mortification of Spin is the "best Christian Podcast ever" – Frank Turk, blogger and speaker (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals);

Some can get quite brazen in what they call ‘spin’ in association with Christianity. One fellow who calls himself, SinfulSaint, wrote: ‘Apologetics is the art of reframing a belief so that it becomes believable; it’s spin doctoring for religion. I hate to inform you good folks but you all are tools of the spin doctors’ (Topix, ‘Christian Spin Doctors’, SinfulSaint#1).  An immediate response was, ‘Careful, your ignorance is showing:-) I’d verture a guess you are not a member of your local Tea Party:-)’ [BarnsWeb]. SinfulSaint’s reply was:

According to the Bible, the sun revolves around the Earth.(Job 9:7 and Joshua 10:12-13, Psalms 93:1, Psalms 96:10, 2 Samuel 22:16) I’m sorry to disappoint you folks; the sun does not revolve around the earth.

Per the Bible, the Earth is flat (Job 28:24, Matthew 4:8, Daniel 4:10-11). The last time I looked, it was round.

Per the Bible, the Earth has pillars (Job 9:6, 1 Samuel 2:8, Job 26:11, Psalms 75:3). Pillars? No comment needed; speaks for itself.

“And the hare, because he cheweth the cud he is unclean unto you.”(Lev. 11:6). Okay, maybe Rabbits evolved a bit since then. Rabbits do not chew their cud. They "re’chew" partially digested droppings in the early morning hours to get more nutrients out of them (SinfulSaint#4).

If you read these verses in, say, the English Standard Version, you’ll find that they do not say what SinfulSaint claims. So SinfulSaint is really using a straw man logical fallacy.

However, I find Calvinists and Arminians can use ‘spin’ on Christian forums. They can give the pre-programmed position of their theological positions to put on an acceptable face for the reader, without engaging in a reasoned response. Thoughtful Christians requires Christians to be renewed in their minds so that they can think Christianly. This also means giving a fair and reasonable interpretation of the biblical text. This is best done when the interpreter has a knowledge of the original languages of Hebrew and Aramaic for the OT and koine Greek for the NT. However, a comparison of excellent modern translations can help to gain the possible differences of interpretation from the original text. I recommend:

2tn_.jpg 1.0K English Standard Version;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New Revised Standard Version;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New American Standard Bible;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New King James Version (unfortunately it uses the Textus Receptus for the Greek text);

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New International Version; and

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New Living Translation.

Thoughtful Christianity

Think

ChristArt

Christians not only have a new spiritual heart because of their regeneration in Christ, but also they are called upon to have a renewed mind. Here is a sample of NT and OT verses from the ESV to encourage us to ‘think about these things’:

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Romans 12:1-2, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K 2 Corinthians 4:16, ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Psalm 119:11, ‘I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Ephesians 4:23, ‘And to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’,

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K1 Peter 1:13, ‘Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K John 8:32, ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (emphases added in the above verses).

Thoughtful Christianity, including an increasing and growing renewing of the mind, is required for all Christians who want to mature in the faith. I find it helpful to have a person with whom I can be accountable to cause me to think about my faith. But be warned! They are as scarce as hens’ teeth. Most of time I have to rely on solid evangelical apologists, theologians and exegetes to help me with the renewing of my mind! My experience is that thinking Christianity that learns to articulate the faith as it relates to issues in our world, is in short supply.

For me, these Christian scholars who have been of considerable help include: Paul Barnett (history), N T Wright (historical Jesus), D A Carson (exegesis, postmodernism), R C H Lenski (NT exegesis), Ravi Zacharias (apologist), Henry C Thiessen (theologian), William Lane Craig (apologist), Norman Geisler(theologian, apologist), Anthony Thiselton (historical Jesus, postmodernism), Kevin Vanhoozer (historical Jesus, postmodernism), Ben Witherington (historical Jesus), Craig Evans (historical Jesus), Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest (integrative theology), and other thoughtful evangelicals.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Calvinist Arminian dialog’, Skala#65, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7773893-7/ (Accessed 30 September 2013).

[2] OzSpen#67, ibid.

[3] Skala#76, ibid.

[4] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[5] Skala#83, ibid.

[6] OzSpen#99, ibid.

 

Copyright (c)  2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 30 September 2013.

Did Arminius refute eternal security?

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

‘I never taught that a true believer can either totally orfinally fall away from the faith and perish’ (Jacob Arminius)

Jacobus Arminius

Jacob Arminius (courtesy About.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Jacob Arminius, the founder of what has become known as Arminianism, wrote that it is “impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers to decline from salvation” (Arminius 1977:281). However, he admitted that at one time he did say “That it was possible for believers finally to decline or fall away from the faith and salvation” (Arminius 1977:281).

Perseverance of the Saints

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openclipart

It is worthy of quoting him at some length in his segment onThe Perseverance of the Saints’:

My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies—yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.

Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration (Arminius 1977:254, emphasis in original).

Assurance of Salvation

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openclipart

He had this to write aboutThe Assurance of Salvation’:

With regard to the certainty [or assurance] of salvation, my opinion is, that it is possible for him who believes in Jesus Christ to be certain and persuaded, and, if his heart condemn him not, he is now in reality assured, that he is a son of God, and stands in the grace of Jesus Christ. Such a certainty is wrought in the mind, as well by the action of the Holy Spirit inwardly actuating the believer and by the fruits of faith, as from his own conscience, and the testimony of God’s Spirit witnessing together with his conscience. I also believe, that it is possible for such a person, with an assured confidence in the grace of God and his mercy in Christ, to depart out of this life, and to appear before the throne of grace, without any anxious fear or terrific dread: and yet this person should constantly pray, “O lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant!”

But, since “God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things,” and since a man judges not his own self—yea, though a man know nothing by himself, yet is he not thereby justified, but he who judgeth him is the Lord, (1 John iii. 19; 1 Cor. iv. 3,) I dare not [on this account] place this assurance [or certainty] on an equality with that by which we know there is a God, and that Christ is the saviour of the world. Yet it will be proper to make the extent of the boundaries of this assurance, a subject of inquiry in our convention (Arminius 1977:255).

Can Christian believers fall away from the faith?

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openclipart

In his ‘Apology or Defence’ (Articles I & II) he wrote:

A distinction ought to be made between power and action. For it is one thing to declare, that “it is possible for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation,” and it is another to say, that “they do actually fall away.” This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even antiquity itself was not afraid of affirming, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, “that it was possible for them not to be saved;” and that “the mutability by which it was possible for them not to be willing to obey God, was not taken away from them,” although it was the opinion of the ancients, “that such persons never would in reality be damned.” On this very subject, too, the greater part of our own doctors lay down a difference. For they say, “that it is possible for such persons to fall away, if their nature, which is inclined to lapses and defection, and if the temptations of the world and Satan, be the only circumstances taken into consideration: but that they will not finally fall away, because God will bring back to himself his own elect before the end of life.” If any one asserts, “that it is not possible for believers, in consideration of their being elect persons, finally to fall away from salvation, because God has decreed to save them,” I answer, the decree concerning saving does not take away the possibility of damning, but it removes damnation itself. For “to be actually saved,” and “a possibility of not being saved,” are two things not contrary to each other, but in perfect agreement.

I therefore add, that in this way I have hitherto discriminated these two cases. And at one time I certainly did say, with an explanation subjoined to it, “that it was possible for believers finally to decline or fall away from faith and salvation.” But at no period have I asserted, “that believers do finally decline or fall away from faith or salvation.” This article, therefore, is ascribed to one who is not its author; and it is another offense against historical veracity.

I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences. (1.) “It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH ;” and (2.) “It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.” For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted; it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers. Therefore, whether this hypothesis be granted or not, the enunciation cannot be accurately expressed. For if this hypothesis (their perseverance in faith) be granted, they cannot decline; but if it be not granted, they cannot do otherwise than decline. (2.) But that first enunciation includes no hypothesis; and therefore an answer may be given to it simply, either that it is possible, or that it is impossible. For this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: “It is possible for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;” or rather, “Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith.” This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred, “therefore they also actually decline from salvation.” Respecting the truth of this [Second] article, I repeat the same observations which I made about the First. For the following expressions are reciprocal to each other, and regular consequences: “Faith is peculiar to the elect,” and “believers do not finally fall away from the faith.” In like manner, “Faith is not peculiar to the elect,” and “Some believers finally decline from the faith”  (Arminius 1977:280-282).

As a Reformed Arminian,

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

 

Works consulted:

Arminius J 1977. The Writings of James Arminius, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, also available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.iv.i.html (Accessed 29 September 2013).

Jacob Arminius (courtesy Christian History Institute)

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 March 2016.

Controversies: Once saved, always saved

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

Razor

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is predictable that in discussions on Christian themes online, that there will be a dialogue, pro and con, regarding eternal security (often called once saved, always saved – OSAS) or perseverance of the saints. Sometimes this discussion can become somewhat heated.

In fact, Roger Olson, an Arminian, is of the view that there will be continuing Calvinistic-Arminian conflict in Christian theology. He wrote:

Whatever the future of the story of Christian theology brings forth, it is bound to be interesting. It always has been. And there are as-yet unresolved issues for theological reformers to work on. The major one, of course, is the old debate between monergists and synergists over God’s relationship with the world. New light from God’s Word is badly needed as the extremes of process theology and resurgent Augustinian-Calvinism polarize Christian thought as never before. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I predict (with fear and trembling) that this issue will be the all-consuming one in Christian theology in the twenty-first century and that new insights and suggestions for resolving it will come from non-Western Christian thinkers. All the options of Western (European and North American) thought seem to have been proposed and have led only to reactions rather than resolutions. If this particular problem of theology is ever to be solved—even in part—the crucial insights will almost certainly need to come from outside of Western culture, with its dualistic mindset that insists on seeing divine and human agencies as in competition with one another (Olson 1999:612).

clip_image003

Roger E Olson (Courtesy InterVarsity)

I encountered this and entered into some discussions with advocates of the OSAS position in a Christian online forum. Arminians have come under some provocative attacks (I write as a Reformed Arminian). Here are a couple of provocative examples:

(1) Kim Riddlebarger has stated, ‘Arminianism is not simply an alternative for evangelicals who are uncomfortable with certain doctrinal tenets of Calvinism.Taken to its logical conclusion, Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but a serious departure from the evangel itself’ (Riddlebarger 1992:5, emphasis added).[1]

(2) Michael Horton has stated:

There will doubtless be Roman Catholics, Arminians, and others in Paradise who were saved by God’s grace even if they, like me, did not understand or appreciate that grace as much as they should have. Nevertheless, if we are going to still use “evangelical” as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary “evangelicalism” (Horton 2013, emphasis added).[2]

Some do not want to use the dichotomy of synergism vs monergism. See:Monergism Versus Synergism: Beware, Kobayashi Maru Ahead!(John Kebbel, Society of Evangelical Arminians). However, for plying these definitions apart, Terrance L Tiessen, wrote:

Calvinism is monergistic in its soteriology, as evidenced particularly in two points in the well known acronym, TULIP – unconditional election and irresistible (or efficacious) grace. These points identify salvation as God’s sovereign work, in which God chose to glorify himself by saving particular people, in Christ, without any conditions on their part except those which God himself efficaciously enables them to fulfill, so that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, even though it does not come about without human response.

By contrast, though Arminians also insist that salvation is a work of God’s grace, God does not determine who will be saved by it. His prevenient grace enables people to meet the conditions (repentance, faith, and obedience) which they could never have met on their own, but whether or not that grace eventuates in their salvation is determined by the individuals, not by God. So Arminianism has been dubbed “synergistic.”

In both of these understandings of salvation, God’s grace is essential, and in both of them people are not saved apart from their response to God’s grace. But because God determines the outcome in the Calvinist construct, it has been called “monergistic,” though it is clear that God is not the only actor. The key point is that God is the decisive actor, the one whose action determines the outcome.[3]

In responding to an Arminian who wrote about the falling away of believers in Hebrews 6:4-6, a Calvinist, DeaconDean, wrote on a Christian Forums:

Let me put it another way.

Jesus said: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” -John 10:29 (KJV)

If sin, causes you to come out of the Father’s hand, if you, choosing to sin, takes you out of the Father’s hand, and costs you your salvation, then God ceases to omnipotent (all powerful). Sin, and man (namely you) are able to overpower and take yourself from His care.

Now which is corect (sic)?

No man, not even yourself can take you out of God’s hand, or is sin and man more powerful than God?
Either Jesus and scriptures are correct, or Jesus told a lie and subsequently the scriptures lie also, which means sin and man are more powerful than God.
[4]

Another responded, ‘The problem is: in this church age, once you are saved by God, there is no way YOU can unsave yourself no matter what you do’.[5] DeaconDean’s reply was, ‘Sure there is. Haven’t you read the thread? clip_image004[6] I’d recommend a read of this online thread to see the back and forth between eternal security supporters – supporters of unconditional security – and those who believe in conditional eternal security for Christian believers, i.e. between Calvinists and Arminians.

My reply to DeaconDean[7], who cited the Calvinist, John Gill, on John 10:28, Kittel and others was:[8]

This is what happens when you read John 10:28-29 in isolation from the rest of John’s Gospel. It is true that ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand…. no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (emphasis added).

BUT this is what can happen. Take a read of John 15:6. This is in the context of being in the vine – God’s vine – and Jesus being the true vine and God the Father being the vinedresser (John 15:1). This is what John 15:6 states, ‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned’ (ESV).

The gracious power of God is comprehensively sufficient to protect every born-again Christian believer forever. But a believer can in the end be lost, because salvation is conditional. None of our enemies will be able to snatch us out of the Father’s/Jesus’ hands.
BUT … BUT, any Christians can turn from Jesus, enter into disbelief, commit apostasy and perish by wilful acts of their own. That’s what John 15:6 teaches.

Therefore, John 10:28-29 is not an absolute that guarantees once-saved-always-saved (which, by the way, is not biblical language; neither is it biblical theology – in my view). Eternal life is granted to those who continue to believe. We know this from verses in John such as John 3:36; 6:47,

‘Whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues believing] in the Son has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36 ESV).

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues to believe] has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life (John 6:47 ESV).

Thus, eternal life only continues as long as a person continues to believe. He or she can commit apostasy by not continuing to believe in Christ for eternal life and repudiating belief in Jesus.

I know people for whom this has happened and is continuing to happen – apostasy – and they were once vibrant Christians.

John 10:28-29 cannot be read in isolation apart from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6.

I have to be honest with what the text says, based on the tenses of the original language.I do not think that this person will like this kind of news (and it shouldn’t be new news for him), but that is what the texts say. And have a guess what? FirstTimothy 1:19 and Hebrews 6:4-6 confirm that this can happen. People can continue to believe or to discontinue to belief. They then move from eternal life to eternal damnation. That’s how I see the Bible unfolding.

I have to be honest with the biblical text and in this case, with John’s Gospel.

I replied:[9]

So I respectfully disagree with your accessment. I do hope you mean assessment and not accessment. Accessment is not a word in my dictionary (also check Dictionary.com).

Also he wrote, ‘Now, regarding the Hebrews passage, I’m sure your familiar with Kittles?’ His name is spelled Kittel.

I agree with the Greek exegesis of Kittel (I have the 10 volumes of the Theological Dictionary that he co-edited with Gerhard Friedrich) where he explained that a person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance. That’s Bible!

See my detailed exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8 in my,Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? What you have cited from John Gill on Heb. 6:4-6 is not in agreement with the exegesis I have provided in my exposition.

I wrote, that John 10:28-29 should not be read in isolation from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6. What did I notice in his response? He provided not one word to refute the content of John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6, which teach that eternal life is conditional on people continuing to believe. People will continue to have eternal life if they continue to believe and they continue to remain in the vine. These verses are contrary to the view this person was advocating.

In my understanding of the exegesis, a once saved, always saved view is not taught by these verses that require continuing belief to enter eternal life. And that is taught by John 3:16 as well, ‘whoever believes’ means ‘whoever continues to believe’ because the Greek for ‘believes’ is a present tense Greek participle, indicating continuing action. Thus affirming the other verses that I’ve cited from John that continuing / continuous believing is needed to enter and retain eternal life.

Thus, perseverance of the saints is a much more biblical description of the perspective in Scripture – as I understand the Greek present tense used in the verses I have mentioned – than a once saved, always saved view (based on my understanding of the Greek grammar of the meaning of the present tense).

In the Baptist church in which I was raised, I was taught the view this person was advocating of once saved, always saved. But my examination of these Scriptures has brought me to the view I am here sharing. I take seriously the Scriptural injunction:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers [and sisters], for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1 ESV)

The NLT and the new NIV correctly translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters, based on the Greek etymology This is shown in the New Living Translation and the latest NIV. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon confirms that ‘brother’ as in the singular adelphos means any believer, male or female. Arndt and Gingrich note that ‘Jesus calls everyone who is devoted to him brother Mt 12:50; Mk 3:25, esp. the disciples Mt 28:10; J 20:17. Hence gener. for those in such spiritual communion Mt 25:40; Hb 2:12 (Ps 21:23[22:22), 17 al’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:15-16).

So I respectfully come to a different conclusion to this person.

Conditional security in John’s Gospel

Another poster wrote:[10]

John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you ?abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
This shows the principle and is why in John 15:6 those branches that are burned do not abide in His word as opposed to those in v7.

John 15:6-7 If anyone does not abide in Me, ??he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. ?7? If you abide in Me, and My words ?abide in you, ?you ?will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you

 

My response was:[11]

Now let’s do some exegesis to obtain the meaning of John 8:31, which stated in full reads, ‘So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”’ (ESV).

‘Had believed’ is a perfect tense, active voice, participle. Thus it means that those believed in the past and had continuing results of believing. As for ‘abide’ it is an aorist subjunctive verb. It is the conditional subjunctive and a point action, but it needs to be combined with the perfect tense of ‘had believed’ to understand that the meaning is that these Jews had believed in Jesus but they had continuing results of their believing. As a result, they ‘are’ (present tense, continuous action) continuing to be his disciples.

Therefore, based on this exegesis of the Greek text, eternal security is based on continuing to be a disciple. This is not talking about once saved and no longer serving God. It is talking about once saved and continuing to be saved by continuing to believe. That’s why I find the language of ‘once saved, always saved’ to send a message that does not line up with the biblical message of continuing to believe to attain eternal life (as in John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6).

John 15:6-7 affirms the need to continue to abide (believe) to remain in the vine.

His response was somewhat unexpected:[12]

After reading your comments here, without going back rereading all the earlier posts I am confused as to why we have disagreed. Other than these in v30 had believed just as Jesus had spoken in the preceding verses and later on in this chapter we see that it is not leading to their salvation. But as far as your other explanations in this post I would agree that saving faith is a one time event that needs not to be renewed but saving faith is a present tense action that will evidence itself in abiding in His word. God looks at the heart and even know the future so He is not sealing and unsealing His children. They are sealed unto the day of redemption. It is God holding on to us and not us holding on to God, Ps 37:23-24, God is the one performing the action of the holding on to us. That is why I agree with Paul when he said being fully persuaded that He who began the good work in you will perform it unto the end.

I’m not of the view that this fellow espouses on two items: (a) For eternal security, there is a need to continue to believe, and (2) It is possible for a genuine believer to commit apostasy.

So I replied:[13]

I’m not so sure that we are in agreement as I have provided verses to confirm that John 10:28-29 is in harmony with John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; and 15:6 where believers are required to continue to believe to attain eternal life. Thus OSAS, in my understanding, is an improper explanation of this view as apostasy can be committed (1 Tim 1:19; Heb 6:4-6; 1 John 4:1-3).

Is it your understanding that a person can be generally saved, continue to follow Jesus, walk away from the faith and then commit apostasy? And the person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance (Heb 6:4-6). If this is your view, then we are on the same page. But is that your view?

But the OSAS is what I was raised on and I’ve rejected it because I do not find it taught with a consistent hermeneutic in Scripture.

Continuing belief needed for eternal security

I do wish my two friends who have committed apostasy would be able to return to repentance, but Hebrews 6:4-6 says that is not possible as “they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (6:6 ESV). Heb. 6:4 is adamant in its teaching about those who commit apostasy: “for it is impossible to restore again to repentance”. That’s not the way my limited understanding of compassion and mercy works. But that’s based on the absolute justice, empathy, love and compassion of the absolutely honest Almighty God.

I have an ultimate commitment to the Lord God Almighty who revealed His will in the infallible Scriptures (in the original languages).[14]

Let’s check out …

Richard C H Lenski, a Lutheran, on John 10:28-29

Cover of: Commentary on the New Testament by R.C.H. Lenski

Lenski’s NT Commentaries (Courtesy Open Library)

John 10:28 in Lenski’s translation is, ‘And I will give them life eternal, and they shall in no wise perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (Lenski 1943:754-755). Of this verse, Lenski wrote of the second half of the verse, beginning with ‘they shall in no wise perish forever’:

This is a double and direct promise; the doubling increases the emphasis. “To perish” is to be separated from God, life, and blessedness forever. John and Paul use especially the middle voice [i.e. meaning ‘for oneself’ – SDG] of the verb in this sense…. It is the opposite of being saved…. “Shall in no way perish” would itself be enough, the modifier “forever” is added pleonastically[15]: this dreadful act shall never occur…. This promise holds good from the moment of faith onward. The verb “to perish” never means “to suffer annihilation,” or to cease to exist.

The first part of the promise is stated from the viewpoint of the sheep: they shall never perish. The second part is from the viewpoint of Jesus and of any hostile being that might attack the sheep: No one shall snatch them out of his hand…. The “hand” of Jesus is his power. His gracious power is all-sufficient to protect every believer forever (Lenski 2001:756).

But wait a minute! Are there not New Testament passages that warn about the danger of a true believer falling away? Reading Lenski on John 10:28 it sounds like Jesus’ followers are saved forever and shall never ever experience anything that would cause them to lose their salvation. But that is not what he concludes from John 10:28. He continues, ‘However weak the sheep are, under Jesus they are perfectly safe. Yet a believer may after all be lost (15:6). Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (Lenski 2001:756).

His translation of John 10:29 is, ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (Lenski 2001:757). He explained that ‘has given’ is in the perfect tense in Greek and ‘has its usual force: a past act when the Son entered on his mission and its abiding effect as long as that mission endures’. In addition, ‘while “greater” is broad, here it must refer especially to power: the Father exceeds in power every being arrayed against the sheep (Satan, demon spirits, human foes however mighty)’ (Lenski 2001:758).

But what about nobody ‘able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand’? Surely that sounds like a sine qua non to affirm once saved, always saved? Lenski explains:

After thus declaring the Father’s might, it might seem superfluous for Jesus to add, “and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” for this is certainly self-evident. The reason for the addition lies far deeper. Jesus deliberately parallels what he says of himself, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand,” with what he says of his Father, “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The fact that he mentions the detail (“shall snatch”) with reference to himself is due to his being on his saving mission; that he mentions the possibility (“can snatch”) with reference to the Father is due to the Father’s institution of that mission. Both thus belong together; Father and Son, fact and possibility. Does the promise of Jesus, standing there in human form before the Jews, sound preposterous, that no one shall snatch his sheep out of his hand? To snatch them out of his hand is the same as snatching them out of the Father’s hand. Remember the relation of these two hands as his relation centers in the sheep (Lenski 2001:758-759, emphasis in original).

Lenski applies this understanding to John 10:30, his translation being, ‘I and the Father, we are one’. He explains that ‘what is thus prepared [in the preceding verse – SDG] is now pronounced in so many words: “I and the Father, we are one”. The equal power to protect the sheep is due to the equality of these two persons. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain’ (Lenski 2001:759).

Lenski has already indicated that John 10:28-29 does not mean that eternal security is affirmed absolutely, ‘Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (2001:756).

Conclusion

It is evident from these discussions in a Christian online forum that there was no movement by Calvinists affirming unconditional eternal security and my position as a Reformed Arminian, enunciating a conditional eternal security position. The view that one needs to continue to believe to guarantee eternal security (John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6) did not make any impact on these people. It is also evident that some Calvinists, who are anti-Arminian (e.g. Riddlebarger & Horton) have doubts about Arminians being evangelical Christians and even align them with a heresy (Arianism).

There seem to be some aspects of Christian theology where there can be no reconciliation between Calvinists and Arminians. Roger Olson, an evangelical Arminian, claims that these include the nature of God and the understanding of free will. He wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, then, the true divide at the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian split is not predestination versus free will but the guiding picture of God: he is primarily viewed as either (1) majestic, powerful, and controlling or (2) loving, good, and merciful. Once the picture (blik) is established, seemingly contrary aspects fade into the background, are set aside as “obscure” or are artificially made to fit the system. Neither side absolutely denies the truth of the other’s perspective, but each qualifies the attributes of God that are preeminent in the other’s perspective. God’s goodness is qualified by his greatness in Calvinism, and God’s greatness is qualified by his goodness in Arminianism.

Arminians can live with the problems of Arminianism more comfortably than with the problems of Calvinism. Determinism and indeterminism cannot be combined; we must choose one or the other. In the ultimate and final reality of things, people either have some degree of self-determination or they don’t. Calvinism is a form of determinism. Arminians choose indeterminism largely because determinism seems incompatible with God’s goodness and with the nature of personal relationships. Arminians agree with Arminius, who stressed that “the grace of God is not ‘a certain irresistible force…. It is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be the sheer over-powering of one person by another’” (in Olson 2006:73-74).

Therefore, Olson reaches the conclusion that

the continental divide between Calvinism and Arminianism, then, lies with different perspectives about God’s identity in revelation. Divine determinism creates problems in God’s character and in the God-human relationship that Arminians simply cannot live with. Because of their controlling vision of God as good, they are unable to affirm unconditional reprobation (which inexorably follows from unconditional election) because it makes God morally ambiguous at best. Denying divine determinism in salvation leads to Arminianism (Olson 2006:74).

It was Olson (2006:74, n. 21) who alerted me to what R C Sproul (1986:139-160) addressed the double-predestination issue. Sproul wrote:

DOUBLE predestination. The very words sound ominous. It is one thing to contemplate God’s gracious plan of salvation for the elect. But what about those who are not elect? Are they also predestined? Is there a horrible decree of reprobation? Does God destine some unfortunate people to hell?…

Unless we conclude that every human being is predestined to salvation, we must face the flip side of election. If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination. It is not enough to talk about Jacob; we must also consider Esau (Sproul 1986:141, emphasis in original).

Sproul regard Romans 9:16 as fatal to Arminianism. He quotes the New King James Version, ‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy’. The ESV reads, ‘So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[16]but on God, who has mercy’. Sproul’s commentary is:

Though Paul is silent about the question of future choices here, he does not remain so. In verse 16 he makes it clear. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” This is the coup de grace[17] to Arminianism and all other non-Reformed views of predestination. This is the Word of God that requires all Christians to cease and desist from views of predestination that make the ultimate decision for salvation rest in the will of man. The apostle declares: It is not of him who wills. This is in violent contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. This one verse is absolutely fatal to Arminianism.

It is our duty to honor God. We must confess with the apostle that our election is not based on our wills but on the purposes of the will of God (Sproul 1986:151).

clip_image006

R C Sproul (courtesy Wikipedia)

How does an Arminian respond to such an attack on the Arminian view of election/predestination and human responsibility (free will)? I am in agreement with Olson that

the nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism…. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self (Olson 1986:75).

As noted by Olson, the Calvinistic, compatibilist free will (if Calvinists talk of free will at all)

is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will.[18]

Once again it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created. Could people have freely chosen to do something different than they actually did? Some Calvinists (such as Jonathan Edwards) agree with Arminians that people have the natural ability to do otherwise (e.g., avoid sinning). But what about moral ability? Arminians agree with Calvinists that apart from the grace of God all fallen humans choose to sin; their will is bound to sin by original sin manifesting itself as total depravity (Olson 1986:75).

However, Arminians describe it differently to free will. This moral ability that people have is called prevenient grace, given to them by God. Again, Olson:

Arminians do not call this free will because these people cannot do otherwise (except in terms of deciding which sins to commit!). From the Arminian perspective prevenient grace restores free will so that humans, for the first time, have the ability to do otherwise – namely, respond in faith to the grace of God or resist it in unrepentance and disbelief. At the point of God’s call, sinners under the influence of prevenient grace have genuine free will as a gift of god; for the first time they can freely say yes or no to God. Nothing outside the self determines how they will respond. Calvinists say that humans never have that ability in spiritual matters (any possibility in any matters). People always do what they want to do, and God is the ultimate decider of human wants even though when it comes to sin, God works through secondary causes And never directly causes anyone to sin. These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd[19] (Olson 1986:75-76, emphasis added).

Contrary to Sproul, Romans 9:16 is not fatal to Calvinism. The Calvinistic and Arminian views of free will are not compatible. Sproul’s view seems to involve his imposition of a Calvinistic worldview on Romans 9:16. What about the context of Romans 9:14-18, which reads:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

This refers back to Exodus 7 and 8. If we note that context, we see that Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’ (Ex 8:15) and ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ by God (Ex 8:19). So none of the application in Romans 9 excludes the action of individual responsibility for Pharaoh hardening his own heart and thus God hardened it. Human responsibility was not excluded in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, as it is in God’s showing mercy and demonstrating hardening Romans 9. God’s actions and human responsibility God together in God’s super plan for the universe.

Therefore, I find Sproul quite wrong in his wanting to make Romans 9:16 to be ‘absolutely fatal to Arminianism’. Calvinism’s and Arminians’ concept of free will, election and predestination are described very differently, so the finger needs to be pointed to Sproul’s faulty understanding of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism and making his judgement on a Calvinistic basis instead of reading Arminians on their own terms.

For a biblical explanation of prevenient grace, see my articles,

clip_image008 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image008[1] The injustice of the God of Calvinism

clip_image008[2]Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

Other writings to confirm conditional security

I have written on this topic elsewhere. See:

clip_image010 Spencer Gear: Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy

clip_image010[1] Spencer Gear: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image010[2] Matthew Murphy: Practical Problems with OSAS

clip_image010[3] Spencer Gear: What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image010[4] Spencer Gear: Is the Holy Spirit’s seal a guarantee of eternal security?

clip_image010[5]Matt O’Reilly: Eternally secure, provided that…

clip_image010[6] Spencer Gear: What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

clip_image010[7] Spencer Gear: Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

clip_image010[8]Steve Witzki: The Inadequate Historical Precedent for ‘Once Saved, Always Saved

clip_image010[9] Spencer Gear: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

clip_image010[10] Spencer Gear: Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

clip_image010[11] Spencer Gear: Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

clip_image010[12] Steve Jones: Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist

clip_image010[13]Roy Ingle: Holding Firmly, I Am Held (An Arminian Approach to Eternal Security)

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

Bibliography

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House)

Edwards, J n d. Freedom of the will. Christian Classics Etherial Library (CCEL). Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/will.html (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Horton, M S 2013. Evangelical Arminians: Option or oxymoron?[20] in Reformation online, September 28. Available at: http://www.reformationonline.com/arminians.htm (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[21]

Olson, R E 1999. The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition and reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Riddlebarger, K 1992. Fire and water. Modern reformation, May/June, 1-8 (Archives of Modern reformation, Riddleblog). Available at: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/from-the-archives/fire%20and%20water.pdf (Accessed 29 September 2013).

Notes:


[1] I was alerted to this citation by Olson (2006:79).

[2] Olson (2006:81) referred me to a portion of this citation, thus directing me to the original article.

[3] Terrence L Tiessen, Thoughts Theological, Is sanctification synergistic or monergistic? April 9, 2013, available at: http://thoughtstheological.com/is-sanctification-synergistic-or-monergistic/ (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[4] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Eternal security’, DeaconDean#73, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775412-8/ (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[5] Danv8#74, ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#75, ibid.

[7] His post was at DeaconDean#73, ibid.

[8] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[10] iwbswiaihl #81 (emphasis in original), ibid.

[11] OzSpen#94, ibid.

[12] iwbswiaihl #96, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#98, ibid.

[14] I wrote the above 2 paragraphs as OzSpen#99, ibid.

[15] This means ‘the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy’ (Dictionary.com, accessed 28 September 2013).

[16] Here the ESV footnote is, ‘Greek not of him who wills or runs’.

[17] The online Free Dictionary gives the meaning of coup de grace as, ‘a death blow, esp. one delivered mercifully to end suffering’ and ‘any finishing or decisive stroke’.

[18] Here Olson referred to Peterson & Williams 1992:136-161).

[19] At this point, Olson gave the footnote, ‘The classic Calvinist critique of libertarian free will is found in Jonathan Edward’s treatise “Freedom of the Will”’ (Olson 1986:76, n. 23). For this treatise, see Edwards (n d).

[20] This was originally published in Modern Reformation, 1 (3) May-June 1992, available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=776&var3=searchresults&var4=Search&var5=Evangelical_Arminians (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[21] This was originally published in 1943 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned to Augsburg Publishing House in 1961.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 July 2016.
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Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Stairway To Heaven Spiral

Stairway to Heaven (PublicDomainPictures.net)

By Spencer D Gear

Will there every be unity in the body of Christ on controversial topics on our stairway to heaven? What about,

  • Iinfant vs believers’ baptism?
  • Eternal punishment vs annihilation?
  • Arminianism vs Calvinism on predestination, limited or unlimited atonement, eternal security, free will?
  • Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism?

On this journey, will there ever be complete agreement on controversial theological topics?

It is not unusual to get some heated discussion online with Christian forums on controversial topics relating to Calvinism and Arminianism, where there are differences of interpretation regarding election, predestination, and eternal security. I write as a convinced evangelical, Reformed Arminian.

What is a Reformed or Reformation Arminian? See the Roger E Olson article, ‘Reformed Arminian‘.

I made this submission to an online Christian forum:

It says the one who is continuing to believe, continues to have eternal life- that’s the meaning of the Greek present tense [John 3:36].

Didn’t you believe that I knew the parsing and meaning of the Greek present tense?

So, eternal security is based on the fact that a person continues to believe in Jesus. It is not a once saved, always saved view, but a perseverance of the saints view – the saints are those who continue to believe. They are not those who once believed and gave up believing? The only guarantee of eternal life is for those who are continuing to believe at the time of death (or at the time of Christ’s second coming if it arrives before the believer dies).[1]

This was the reply:

No, according to scripture, 1 Jn. 2:19, if they depart, stop beliving (sic), they never believed in the first place. Unless you are calling the Apostle John a liar. Are you? And from Jesus’ own mouth, no man, not even yourself can take yourself out of God’s hand. That is, unless Jesus was lying?[2]

To what does 1 John 2:19 refer?[3] It states: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us’ (ESV).

What’s the context? First John 2:18 states, ‘Children, it is the last hour, as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour’ (ESV).

It is talking about antichrists in our midst.

That is not the discussion point that I’m addressing. I’m talking about people who formerly continued to believe in Jesus and were committed evangelical Christians for a considerable time and who gave up believing in Jesus. They committed apostasy. But you want that to mean that they never believed in the first place. I disagree profoundly! These people did continue to believe for a time and showed fruits of repentance. But then they quit believing (often related to circumstances in their life that left a big negative impact).

Warnings about the need to continue believing

The warning to the children of God in 1 John 2 (the chapter to which you refer) is:

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:28-29 ESV)

From these two verses, we know that:

clip_image001 ‘abide’ = menete = Greek present tense verb, which means continuing action, i.e. ‘continues to abide’;
clip_image001[1] ‘everyone who practices righteousness’, where ‘practices’ = poiwn (doing) = Greek present tense participle which indicates continuing action, the meaning of which is, ‘who continues doing/practising’.
Verse 29 is clear that the children of God (based on v. 28) are those who continue to do/practice righteousness. It is not dealing with those Christians who used to do righteousness.

I do not believe that sinning willingly means apostasy. So this person created a straw man logical fallacy against my views with his example of Peter and Paul. We cannot have a rational conversation when people respond in this manner in using such fallacies.

Mountains

(Courtesy ChristArt)

Responses to these posts

You might like to take a read of some of the responses to the information I provided above. These are samples:

clip_image003 ‘This is a pretty desperate and contradictory reply, in my opinion’.[4]

clip_image003[1] ‘The problem is on your end, since you do not submit to the scriptures, but only wrest a few to annoy the saints’.[5]

clip_image003[2] ‘Again, the man-centered salvation so prevelant in synergism and Arminianism. That which you so proudly taunt’.[6]

clip_image003[3] ‘So it is impossible for one to backslide, and yet still believe in God? That is the point I take away from all your posts’.[7]

clip_image003[4] ‘according to scripture, 1 Jn. 2:19, if they depart, stop beliving, they never believed in the first place. Unless you are calling the Apostle John a liar. Are you?’[8]

clip_image003[5] ‘So using your standard, we must therefore conclude that since both Peter and Paul sinned willingly, not once, not twice, but at least three times, they lost their salvation, and thusly were not able to “renew them unto repentance”. But tell me, when Peter and Paul both sinned, did they cease to “abide” in Christ? Did they cease to “believe” continuously? Remember, you can “commit apostasy and perish by a willful act of their own.” Who said that? Was it me? Hum…’[9]

clip_image003[6] ‘But notice you say this, without even bothering to acknowledge what the scripture says. What kind of a person sits here telling us these things, but doesn’t bother to respond to points properly? Are you capable of challenging what I have shown is clearly in those verses? If so, then show me, but take on what we say and respond to them specifically. Don’t dance around them as you do, and then get all huffy puffy after making sweeping assertions about it. It seems that you use the word “infallible” not to refer to the scriptures, but to your own point of view, and thus you do not take well to challenges’.[10]

With regard to this last post I made a complaint to the moderators about his emotionally abusive language with language such as:[11]

clip_image005 ‘without even bothering to acknowledge what the scripture says’;

clip_image005[1] ‘What kind of a person sits here telling us these things, but doesn’t bother to respond to points properly?’ (I have spent a lot of time on detailed responses on this forum but I will not continue with interaction with you when you make this kind of false allegation.)

clip_image005[2] ‘Are you capable of challenging’.

clip_image005[3] ‘Don’t dance around them as you do, and then get all huffy puffy after making sweeping assertions about it’.

clip_image005[4] ‘It seems that you use the word “infallible” not to refer to the scriptures, but to your own point of view’.

Petruchio’s response to me was: ‘You keep using this phrase to everything people say to you. I don’t think it means what you think it means. (I can’t post the photo of Inigo until I get a total of 50 posts! clip_image006).[12]

My response was:

Here you give another straw man logical fallacy. When you create a view which I did not state, you have created a straw man logical fallacy.

Here is a description of the straw man fallacy.

If you continue this approach in your responses to me, I will not reply. We cannot have a logical conversation when you use a logical fallacy.[13]

It seems to me from interaction on this Christian forum that I have to be alert to the logical fallacies that others and I use. I will name them as I see and understand them in their posts and also my own. I am not immune to using logical fallacies and I want people to draw my attention to them.

See the Nizkor Project for a description of a reasonably comprehensive list of logical fallacies.

clip_image007

Logical fallacies

Notes:


[1] OzSpen#113 Christian Forums, Baptists, Eternal Security, OzSpen#113, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775412-12/ (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[2] DeaconDean#114, ibid.

[3] This is my response as OzSpen#117, ibid.

[4] Petruchio#43, ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#114, ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] DeaconDean#116, ibid.

[10] Petruchio#121, ibid.

[11] OzSpen#122, ibid. I made a complaint about this post to the moderators. Maybe this could be removed from the forum.

[12] Petruchio#123, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#124, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Did God create the world in 6 literal days?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

 (image courtesy opednews.com, public domain)

 By Spencer D Gear

This is the type of question that thoughtful Christians sometimes ask:

This sounds like a dumb question but if in God’s time 1 day is 1,000 years, does that mean that He created the world in 6 days or 6,000 years? I know that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh, but I was wondering that. If he literally created the world in six days then where does the 1 day = 1,000 years come from?[1]

The topic being addressed on this Christian forum was, ‘Did God literally create the world in 6 days?’

A.  Is a day compatible with a thousand years?

My initial response[2] was to ask, ‘Why don’t you quote the verse? It’s in 2 Peter 3:8,

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (NIV). This has to do with God, the eternal One, and time. I urge you to read D Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon on 2 Peter 3:8-9, ‘God and time‘.

These verses seem to indicate that God created in six literal days because of the parallel with 6 days to labour and to rest on the 7th, as in Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV),

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

B.  Days, long periods of time or   figurative language?

Scarlet Time and Dates Button

There was another response to an issue raised about the creation of the sun:

No where in Genesis does it say God created the sun, you are reading into it and changing the sentence by trying to understand it on your terms and not Gods [sic]. God created light, you just assume he speaks of the sun. The first day is when light was created on the fourth day the stars were aligned into the zodiac we know today to give us signs to go by.
You my friend are not rightly dividing the word of God, with that said look at the verses I cited earlier in a KJV bible and explain them please if what I have been shown is wrong.[3]

How does one respond to such claims? This was my attempt:[4]

I think you are trying to split hairs.

Genesis 1:1 is VERY COMPREHENSIVE as to what God created, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.
Are you saying that this does not include God’s creating the sun? I find that to be straining at a gnat!
Exodus 20:8-11 is specific as to the meaning of ‘day’ in comparison with the days in the creation of the heavens and the earth:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (ESV).

Or do you want this to mean:

8 “Remember the Sabbath [long period of time or figurative day], to keep it holy. 9 Six [long periods of time or figurative days] you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh [long period of time or figurative day] is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six [long periods of time or figurative days] the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh [long period of time or figurative day]. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath [long period of time or figurative day] and made it holy.

The comparison with the work week of 6 literal days and 1 literal day of rest, with the 6 days of creation and 1 day of rest by God makes the parallel very obvious. God is speaking of 6 literal days of creation and 1 literal day of rest.

I have a hunch that if it were not for the theory of evolution, we the 6 literal days of creation would not be creating issues for us. What did Darwin want to do when he invented the theory of evolution? I invite you to take a read of ‘Darwin’s arguments against God‘. Darwin wanted God out of the picture when it comes to creation of the world.

I invite you to consider how worldly science wants God to be eliminated from the creation events so that He can be replaced with a human ‘origin of the species’.

C.  The nature of ‘days’ doesn’t really matter?

Another view was, ‘I don’t think it’s a dumb question but does the answer really matter? None of us will know for sure till Abba answers us HimSelf or gives divine revelation’.[5]

Does it really matter?[6] For consistency of interpretation it does matter. Does it matter that ‘day’ as a long period of time or a figurative day conflicts with Exodus 20:8-11? Yes it does! I want to be a consistent biblical interpreter when comparing Genesis 1 with Exodus 20.

Alister McGrath has an interesting assessment in ‘Augustine’s Origin of Species‘.

D.  What about ‘day’ in Genesis 2:4?

Today

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Another fellow wrote:

The days in Genesis 1 are literal days, 24 hr or less. Both the Exodus passage agrees that God made everything in 6, 24 hr days. There is a problem though, and I think it’s in Gen 2:4 “in the day” the Lord made heavens and earth. Is this still 24 hour? Because here the author does not say what day it was. This is like saying “back in my youthful day” etc. What do you guys think?[7]

This question has been asked many times over by questioning people as the use of ‘day’ in Gen 2:4 seems to have a different meaning to ‘day’ in Genesis 1. My response[8] was that evangelical commentator on Genesis, H C Leupold (1942), divides Gen 2:4 into two verses and joins the second part with v. 5.

His translation of Gen 2:4a is, ‘This is the story of the heavens and the earth at the time of their creation’. He explains that his translation, ‘at the time of their creation’ is rendered literally: ‘in their being created’. He further wrote that ‘since it is a temporal phrase, we have rendered it: “at the time,” etc. It marks the occurrences that are to follow as practically a part of the creation story’ (Leupold 1942:111).

Then, Gen 2:4b, 5 he translates as, ‘At the time when Yahweh God made earth and heaven, then no shrub of the field was as yet in the earth and no plant of the field was as yet sprouting forth; for Yahweh God had not caused rain to descend upon the earth, nor did man exist to till the ground’.

He explains that verses 4a and 4b are usually translated

‘as a whole, with the result that two temporal clauses of nearly identical meaning appear within the sentence, calling forth artificial attempts at distinctions. By keeping 4a separate as a title and by combining 4b with 5, this trouble is removed, and a very natural rendering results. For the two initial clauses of v. 5, introduced by waw, may be correlative…: ‘when God made heaven and earth neither was there shrub … nor had any plant sprouted’. At the same time the complicated sentence structure which the critics make of v. 5-7 is shown to be quite unnecessary and quite cumbersome: v. 5 protasis; v. 6 rather parenthetical, or a concessive clause; v 7 apodosis – all of which calls for a very artificial rendering…. Nor is terem the conjunction ‘before,’ but the adverb ‘not yet’ (Leupold 1942:112, emphasis in original).

He explains that Gen 2:4b ‘takes us back into the time of the work of creation, more particularly to the time before the work of the third day began, and draws our attention to certain details, which, being details, could hardly have been inserted in chapter one: the fact that certain forms of plant life, namely the kinds that require the attentive care of man in greater measure, had not sprung up. Apparently, the whole work of the third day is in the mind of the writer’ (Leupold 1942:112).
The specific question asked by this person related to the meaning of ‘in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens’ (Gen 2:4 ESV).

Leupold explains that

it is not important to the author to mark the point of time within the creation week when this condition prevailed. Consequently, the opening phrase of 4b, beyom, is to be rendered as it so often is “at the time” and not “in the day” (1942:113).

I found this explanation helpful as it gives the meaning of the ESV’s translation of ‘in the day’ to be ‘at the time’. This clears up the confusion for me.

E.  Some resources

For some penetrating, thought-provoking articles on creationist topics, I have found Creation Ministries International (CMI) to have some targeted answers to questions about origins. And some of them are by Christians who are scientists.

[img]

I am somewhat guarded in recommending this CMI website because of  its short-sighted view that one has to be a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) to be regarded as having a high view of creation. This is not the case.

The YEC theory is only one view among Christians. There are other evangelical Christians who are as committed to the Gospel and the authority of Scripture as CMI who are convinced of Old Earth Creationism (OEC). One such person is Dr. Norman Geisler. He wrote:

There are unprovable presuppositions in most, if not all, the scientific arguments for an old earth…; that is, an earth that is millions or billions of years is biblically possible but not absolutely provable…. Given the basics of modern physics, it seems plausible that the universe is billions of years old. And as shown [in what he presented] there is nothing in Scripture that contradicts this…. There is no demonstrated conflict between Genesis 1-2 and scientific fact…. A literal interpretation of Genesis is consistent with a universe that is billions of years old (Geisler 2003:648, 650).

blue-arrow-small Did God create plants on Day 3 out of nothing?

blue-arrow-small Does yom with a number always refer to 24-hour days?

blue-arrow-small Answering 10 big questions in detail;

blue-arrow-small Geology and the young earth;

blue-arrow-small Distant starlight and the days of Genesis 1;

blue-arrow-small William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists;

blue-arrow-small The dating game;

blue-arrow-small Evolution vs God;

On another website, Ken Ham deals with the question,

blue-arrow-smallCould God Really Have Created Everything in Six Days?

That should get you started on some Christian answers to the origin of the world.

Geisler lists these orthodox Christians who held to a universe of millions or more years old. These included: Augustine, B B Warfield, C I Scofield, John Walvoord, Francis Schaeffer, Gleason Archer, Hugh Ross, and most of the leaders who produced the 1978 Chicago Statement on the inerrancy of the Bible (Geisler 2003:650).

F.  Bibliography

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Leupold, H C 1942. Exposition of Genesis, vol 1, chapters 1-19. London: Evangelical Press (originally by The Wartburg Press).

G.  Notes:


[1] Lik3#1, Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Did God literally create the world in 6 days?’ http://www.christianforums.com/t7775833/ (Accessed 26 September 2013).

[2] OzSpen#3, ibid.

[3] Godssontoo#10, ibid.

[4] OzSpen#13, ibid.

[5] HisSparkPlug#12, ibid.

[6] This was my brief response at OzSpen#14, ibid.

[7]Faith24#15, ibid.

[8] OzSpen#18, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 September 2016.

Why is apologetics in such low demand in the church?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Seeing Eyes

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I was in a discussion on a Christian forum on the question, ‘Is Jesus God?’ A fellow responded:

I have the Bible to do that. If they don’t believe the Bible why woud [sic] they believe what some man says? You and I cannot convince anyone that Jesus was God. Only God’s Holy Spirit can lead people into the truth.[1]

Why was the ministry of apologetics dismissed in this response? My observation of churches in Australia and especially in my region of northern Brisbane suburbs, is that apologetics is rarely ever mentioned. I have been to Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Baptist, Churches of Christ and Pentecostal churches and none of them has apologetics as a core platform of ministry in this very secular Australia.[2] Why is this?

Our pluralistic world

The Areopagus (viewed from the Acropolis)

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

Could you imagine the apostle Paul on the Greek Areopagus (Mars Hill) taking the approach of most Aussie churches and not teaching its people to defend the faith in a secular society? Notice the apostle Paul’s approach according to Acts 17:

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[a] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[b]

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’[c]

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:22-24 ESV).

Notice these points that I make quickly:

clip_image002 He addressed the false religion of the day, ‘in every way you are very religious’ and that religion was focussed, ‘To the unknown god’ (17:22-23).

clip_image002[1] In exposing this false religion he proceeded to tell them about the one true God and his actions. Take a read of Acts 17:24-28).

clip_image002[2] Then he corrected some of their false doctrine (Acts 17:24-31). Notice what he includes: (a) the divine being, God, was not made of thinks made by a person’s hands. He made the world and he is Lord of heaven and earth; (b) He made all human beings in all nations from one man (wow! He believes in creation without evolution); (c) People should seek God, the one true God, in hope of finding him – and he is not far from every one of us; (d) For all of life, we depend on him; (e) It is time for ignorance to end; God commands all people to repent, and have a guess what? (f) All people will be judged according to the absolute standard of justice/righteousness (God’s justice/righteousness). By inference we can gather that this is not the justice of the secular law courts, and (g) The assurance of this absolutely righteous judgment is demonstrated by God’s raising Jesus from the dead and have a guess what? Jesus will be the judge of all people.

How did the secular people on the Areopagus respond? They reacted in a similar way to today:

  1. Some mocked the very idea of the resurrection from the dead;
  2. Others wanted to hear him again;
  3. Some responded to the gospel and believed in Jesus for salvation. These included ‘Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them’.

We can expect a similar response in secular Australia or among secularists anywhere. Some will scoff, others want to hear more, and some will be convicted by the Holy Spirit and responds in faith to Jesus and be saved.

How dare we not equip our people for this? After all, that is what the role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers continues to be. God wants these continuing ministries for these reasons:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a] and teachers,[b] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[c] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV).

To equip believers for the role of ministry, including the ministry of apologetics, is the role of the ministry gifts of Christ to the church, articulated in Ephesians 4. Where are the pastors and teachers in local churches who are committed to engaging in apologetics and equipping believers for that task? I cannot imagine a pastor-teacher who equips people for apologetics and is not engaged in such a ministry himself/herself.

Now back to that fellow

How should I respond to the fellow who claimed that we only need the Bible and if people don’t believe the Bible, they won’t believe what any person says. Besides, he clamed that no person can convince anyone that Jesus is God, only the Holy Spirit can lead a person to that truth.

I responded as follows:[3]

We live in a world that also has the Muslim Quran, the Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon, etc. How are you going to convince peopel that they ought to listen to the Gospel from the Bible?

The Mormons speak of a ‘burning in the bosom’ [‘your bosom will burn within you’] that awakened them to the ‘truths’ of Mormonism. How will you convince them that the Holy Spirit leading you into the truth is different from the burning in the bosom and that you have the truth?

Should we proclaim to unbelievers, ‘Just believe’?

How would this person respond?

I can’t convince them. It is not my job to convince them. If given the opportunity all I can do is tell them what I believie [sic] and why I believe it. Then they are God’s problem….

All one can do with Mormons is show them where some things in the other writings, the BOM for example, contradict the Bible and wher [sic] some of the prophecies of past leaders did not happen.

Again I canot [sic] convince them of anything. All I can do is tell them wht [sic] I believe and why I beleive [sic] it. Then it is up to God.

I am in sales not management.[4]

This is an example of why the church is in such a sorry state with its ministry of pre-evangelism, known as apologetics. This ‘just believe’ mentality that it is not the Christian’s responsibility to convince anyone of the Gospel and to clear up difficulties with the Gospel, is expressed here as, ‘all I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it’ and the rest ‘is up to God’. This ‘just believe’ mentality is very damaging to the Christian’s and the church’s responsibility to exercise the ministry of apologetics when people have objections to the Christian faith.

The problem with ‘only believe’ and apologetics

Unwanted Truth

(image courtesy ChristArt)

The main problem is that it contradicts what the Scriptures state about what Paul did in Rome: ‘And some were convinced by what he [Paul] said, but others disbelieved’ (Acts 28:24). So the authoritative Scriptures state that Paul was engaged in the ministry of convincing people of the truth of Christ and the Gospel. See also Acts 14:4; 17:4-5 (here the language is, ‘some of them were persuaded’); 19:9 (here Paul was ‘reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus’); and 23:7.

My response was as follows.[5] The problem with this fellow’s comeback is that it contradicts a command of Scripture, which is the primary reason for doing apologetics with people who have questions about the Christian faith, including questions about the reliability of the Bible.

This is what I find in the command of the fundamental statement of 1 Peter 3:15,

but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (ESV).

What is commanded of all Christians?[6] The command in the Greek language is translated at ‘honour’ in the ESV. Other translations have the meaning as:

  • ‘sanctify[7] Christ as Lord’ (NASB; NRSV; NAB);
  • ‘sanctify the Lord God’ (NKJV);
  • ‘revere Christ as Lord’ (NIV);
  • ‘you must worship Christ as Lord’ (NLT);
  • ‘set Christ apart as Lord’ (NET);

So Christians are commanded to honour, sanctify, revere or set apart Christ as the holy Lord and they do that by being ready/prepared to make a defence of the faith to anyone who seeks a reason for the hope that Christians have. They must always be prepared for an apologia (a defence of the faith). How is this to be done? It is delivered with gentleness and respect.

The exhortation here is that all Christians must honour Christ by being ready to do this. Whenever we come across someone who asks tough questions about the Christian faith, including penetrating questions such as, ‘Surely you are not telling me that you accept that Bible crap? (which someone said to me)’, we have to be ready to give a defence (an apologetic). What was this fellow recommending? His statement was that ‘it is not my job to convince them’. That is far from the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15. All Christians, including this fellow, are commanded to give a defence of the biblical perspective. I found him to be diluting – even running away from – the biblical exhortation to be engaged in the pre-evangelistic ministry of apologetics.

Apologetics is pre-evangelistic in the sense that it is an attempt to provide answers to objections to the Christian faith that may be in the way of a person receiving the Gospel message. These are some of the primary objections I have struck over many years of proclaiming the Gospel and defending the Christian faith and have addressed them on this homepage.

3d-red-starThe existence of God.

Some of my other articles examine this topic:

clip_image004[1]  A biblical theist responds to an atheist;

clip_image004[1] Evidence for the existence of God; and

clip_image004[2] What is a biblical method for defending the Christian faith (apologetics)?

3d-red-starThe trustworthiness, integrity and accuracy of the Bible.

See my articles:

clip_image004[3]Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

clip_image004[4]Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

clip_image004[5] Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

clip_image004[6] Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

3d-red-star The problem of evil and suffering.

See my understanding in these articles:

clip_image004[7] September 11 and other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

clip_image004[8] Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

clip_image004[9] Did God create evil?

clip_image004[10] Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

clip_image004[11] ‘I will beat the hell out of God’;

clip_image004[12] Can God do anything and everything?

We may never come across anyone who doubts the authority and integrity of, say, the Bible, but we must be ready – prepared – to respond if someone asks. This is not being ready with this person’s remark, ‘All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then they are God’s problem’. That is fobbing off our biblical responsibility.

Yes, we need to be ready to share the truth of what we believe, but we are to give a reason (an apologetic) to those who ask questions – even penetrating questions like, ‘You Bible people don’t seem to have an answer for all the garbage that is happening in the world like Syria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, 9/11, the Japanese tsunami, etc.’

Not everyone will need this kind of pre-evangelism, but when they do seek answers, we must be ready, willing and able to give an answer. This includes being prepared to reply: ‘Wow! That’s a penetrating question and I’ll have to think further about it. Can I get back to you?’

Heart faith and defence faith

Heart Guage

(image courtesy ChristArt)

What is interesting and critical about 1 Peter 3:15 is that it links heart faith with defence faith. Those who honour Christ the Lord in their hearts are also those who are ready and prepared to engage in apologetics for the Christian faith. This is not a, ‘Just believe’, or ‘I tell them what I believe’, kind of response.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, we will want to be obedient to the command of 1 Peter 3:15 and not fob somebody off with, ‘This is what I believe and this is why I believe it’. Instead, we will be eager, prepared and ready to ask: ‘What questions do you have about the Christian faith? Let’s see if we can dialogue to find answers for you and if I don’t know the answers, I’ll seek them out and get back to you’.

First Peter 3:15 goes hand in glove with our biblical requirement in 2 Corinthians 10:5, ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (ESV).

This requirement is that we, as Christians, not only confront the issues that trouble our own thinking, but also deal with the ‘lofty opinions’ of others that are raised against knowing God, the Bible and other aspects of the Christian faith.

This is some of what the ministry of apologetics involves, but this fellow on the forum fobbed it off with his statement: ‘Again I cannot convince them of anything.  All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then it is up to God. I am in sales not management’.

Biblically, I find this to be a false perspective. He is in sales so he knows that there will be those who object to some features of the product and, if he is pressing for a sale, he will deal with the objections. It is his responsibility to give an apologetic for the Christian faith – he is commanded to honour Christ the Lord and to do that requires that he provide an apologetic response to questions about the faith.

Of course God is involved in convincing people of the truth of the Gospel, but that does not exempt him from engaging in pre-evangelism. He is commanded to engage in apologetics with everyone who seeks answers for their objections to the faith.

Will he become ready and prepared to do this with gentleness and respect? Or will he continue to fob off this responsibility?

Resorting to use of a logical fallacy

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacies

When I shared some of the above material with the fellow mentioned, these were some of his responses:[8]

  • ‘I can and do answer such questions but I cannot convince them they are true and neither can you. Does everyone you explain the Scriptures to fall donw [sic] and worship God? There is no command to convince anyone that the Scriptures are true. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that’.
  • ‘I am prepared to do that and do when somone [sic] asks me to, but I have not convinced many that what I beleive [sic] is true’.
  • ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’.

[9]Telling people what you believe and why you believe it is not the ministry of apologetics of 1 Peter 3:15. Apologetics is not declaration, but an endeavour to wipe away the cobwebs of doubt that are presented to us. It is pre-evangelism.

I told him that if his response to me is any guide, he doesn’t seem to be convinced of the need for the ministry of apologetics, so why would he want to give them an effective apologetic answer? I suggested that he become exposed to more of the teaching of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler on apologetics. Geisler’s book, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Books 1999) is a marvellous resource for so many aspects of an apologetic ministry with an evangelical Christian response.

When he stated, ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’, he was using a straw man logical fallacy. At no point have I ever stated to this person or anyone else on Christian Fellowship Forum that I’m 100% effective in convincing people. Here he has used a straw man fallacy.

What’s a straw man logical fallacy? Dr. Michael C. Labossiere, professor of philosophy, Florida A&M University, gave this definition:[10]

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.

2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version  of X).

3. Person B attacks position Y.

4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.

When a person uses logical fallacies, it makes it extremely difficult to have a logical conversation. Therefore, I find it necessary to expose the use of logical fallacies. I have engaged in discussions on other Christian forums in which I found it necessary to draw attention to such fallacies.

I often find that in TV and radio interviews, politicians are experts at using the red herring fallacy. No matter what question is asked by the interviewer, the politician has a political agenda he/she wants to push and will promote it, no matter what the question that was asked.

In this person’s response to me, there were also elements of a red herring logical fallacy. Dr. Lobossiere explained: ‘A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic…. This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim’.[11]

Conclusion

Faith

(image courtesy ChristArt)

The blind faith brigade – the ‘only believe’ folks have contributed to the downgrade of apologetics in the local church. However, this tends to be associated with what is preached from the pulpit, taught in Sunday School classes, and what is shared/taught in Growth Groups/Life Groups associated with the church. We are reaping the harvest of this in the demise of apologetics at the local church level. Apologetics has reached a very low level of importance in the evangelical church, in my view, for these reasons:

  1. ‘To equip the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12) is not high on the agenda in many of these churches. Getting a handful of leaders to do the ministry is standard fare. So equipping other believers is not a strong suit for pastors and teachers.
  2. Learning to defend the faith, using apologetics, seems to be left to leading public apologists for the Christian faith. A pastor said to me recently, ‘Whenever I have people with questions about evolution and creation, I refer them to Creation Ministries International. They have lots of pertinent responses. I’m not equipped to do that’. Amazing! A pastor who doesn’t want to equip himself to an adequate level to be able to provide a ready apologetic for those who question creation.
  3. When one has a presuppositional approach, ‘Just believe’ and ‘I cannot convince you’, which is being defended in some churches, then evidential apologetics will not be considered a necessary ministry.
  4. I attended an evening presentation in 2013 by leading Indian cultural apologist, Vishal Mangalwadi, ‘What GOOD is Christianity?’ At question time I asked him, ‘Why is the ministry of apologetics given such a low priority in today’s evangelical church?’ He pointed to the contemporary emphasis in churches on telling stories about the faith and this does not harmonise well with the nature of apologetics. I found this to be a pointed and true observation. See Mangalwadi’s book, The Book That Made Your World; How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (2011. Nashville: Thomas Nelson).
  5. I consider that there is an additional problem: Thinking Christianity is in short supply. In churches that place such a strong emphasis on the experience of knowing Jesus and the charismatic gifts (I am a supporter of such gifts), there is a problem integrating a warm Christian faith with logical, thoughtful, apologetic ministry. That’s why it’s important to emphasise 1 Peter 3:15 as these two ministries go together. They are both needed for the health of the Christian Church. However, there is a necessary biblical emphasis on the need ‘to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph. 4:23) and Christians ‘have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’ (Col 3:10).
  6. I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon by a regular pastor of a church on the need to be a thinking Christian who engages in logical discussions, exposes logical fallacies, and uses discernment in knowing when to stop a conversation in pre-evangelism when it becomes argumentative.

If this minimising of the ministry of apologetics is not rectified, there are grim consequences for Christian upper high school and university students who have their faith challenged in these places of learning.

To help equip you for giving a defence of your evangelical faith, seek out these Christian apologists:

# Ravi Zacharias

# William Lane Craig

# Norman Geisler

# John Warwick Montgomery

# Lee Strobel

# Josh McDowell

It is urgent for Aussie evangelical pastor-teachers (and pastor-teachers around the world who are convinced of the authority of Scripture) to be engaged in equipping their young people especially to defend the faith. In learning to defend the faith, God’s people gain a deeper understanding of their own faith and learn to grow up in the grace of God.

Notes:


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘Is Jesus God?’, Kermit, who responds sometime as ‘k’ for kcdavis222, #9, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=6&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[2] See the articles: (1) Graeme Innes 2009. ‘Are we really the secular nation we think we are?’ (The Punch, 20 November 2009), available at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/opinions/are-we-really-secular-nation-we-think-we-are-2009 (accessed 25 September 2013); (2) ‘Australia: A Secular Country?’, Religion and Society, 6 June 2012, available at: http://religionandsocietycourse.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/australia-secular-country.html (Accessed 25 September 2013). (3) Chrys Stevenson 2012. ‘Faith in schools: The dismantling of Australia’s secular public education system’, 22 October. ABC Religion and Ethics, available at: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/10/22/3615647.htm (Accessed 25 September 2013), and (4) Helen Irving 2004. ‘Trespasses in the name of heritage’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/06/02/1086058915692.html (Accessed 25 September 2013).

[3] Ibid., ozspen #14.

[4] Ibid., ccdavis222 #16.

[5] Ibid., ozspen #20.

[6] For some of the following content, I used material from Norman L Geisler 1999. Apologetics, Need for, in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 37.

[7] The footnote was ‘set apart’.

[8] kcdavis222 #21, loc cit., available at:

http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=16&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[9] This is my answer at ibid., ozspen #24.

[10] The Nizkor Project 1991-2011, Fallacy: Straw Man, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[11] This quotation is courtesy of The Nizkor Project, ‘Fallacy: Red Herring’, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html#index (Accessed 25 September 2013).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 March 2017.

What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

File:Bible.malmesbury.arp.jpg

(image courtesy Wikipedia: A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England)

By Spencer D Gear

When I affirm that I support the literal interpretation of any document, whether that is the reading  of my local newspaper, the Brisbane Times, Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fourth (which I studied in high school), or the Bible, it is not uncommon to get the following kind of reaction. It normally comes when I support a literal understanding of my reading of the Bible. Here goes with an example from an online forum where I contribute:

So you take EVERYTHING in the Bible literally? Balaam’s donkey really talked? Really? Really? REALLY??

Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood?clip_image001[1]

[2]With this kind of statement, she has told me a great deal of what she thinks ‘literal’ means but she has created a straw man fallacy in respect to my views. Her understanding is a far cry from my view.

What is a literal meaning of a text?

When I was an MA student in Ashland Theological Seminary, I used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s (1963) text in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). Mickelsen provided this definition:

‘Literal’ … means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of ‘door’ in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (Mickelsen 1963:33).

This is the method of interpretation that I use to read her post (and all posts on that Christian forum) and the Bible.

Bernard Ramm, another promoter of orthodox, historical, cultural and literal biblical hermeneutics,  wrote:

We use the word “literal” in its dictionary sense: “. . . the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical” (Webster’s New International Dictionary). We also use it in its historical sense, specifically, the priority that Luther and Calvin gave to literal, grammatical, or philological exegesis of Scripture in contrast to the Four Fold Theory of the Roman Catholic scholars (historical meaning, moral meaning, allegorical meaning, eschatological meaning) developed during the Middle Ages and historically derived from Augustine’s Three Fold Theory. It was particularly the allegorical use of the Old Testament that the Reformers objected to, and the manner in which Roman Catholic dogma was re-enforced by allegorical interpretation. Hence the “literal” directly opposes the “allegorical”….

The accusation so frequent in current theological literature that Fundamentalism is a literalism is not at all what we have in mind when we use the word “literal.” The word is ambiguous. To some scholars the word “literal” means “letterism” and this is really what they mean when they say Fundamentalists are literalists. Ordinarily we think that the word “bear” means an animal in its literal sense; and that a speculator in the stock market who is called a “bear” is a bear by metaphor. But if the population uses the word “bear” three times more frequently for the stock speculator than for the animal then the literal meaning of “bear” is the stock speculator….

When we assert that the literal meaning of a word or a sentence is the basic, customary, socially designated meaning we do not underestimate the complexity of language…. The spiritual, mystical, allegorical, or metaphorical usages of language reflect layers of meaning built on top of the literal meanings of a language. To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a “wooden literalism,” nor to a “letterism,” nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any “mechanical” understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes “tacit” understanding (Ramm 1970:119-121)

Bernard Ramm cited Thomas Hartwell Horne (AD 1780–1862),[3] British theologian and researcher, who wrote what Ramm described as ‘a very excellent definition of what is meant by literal in literal interpretation’ (Ramm 1970:121, emphasis in original). Horne’s words about literal interpretation were:

Although in every language, there are very many words which admit of several meanings, yet in common parlance, there is only one true sense attached to any word; which sense is indicated by the connection and series of the discourse, by its subject-matter, by the design of the speaker or writer, or by some other adjuncts, unless any ambiguity be purposely intended. That the same usage obtains in the Sacred Writings there is no doubt whatever. In fact, the perspicuity of the Scriptures requires this unity and simplicity of sense in order to render intelligible to man the design of their Great Author, which could never be comprehended if a multiplicity of senses were permitted. In all other writings, indeed, besides the Scriptures, before we sit down to study them, we expect to find one single determinate sense and meaning attached to the words; from which we may be satisfied that we have attained their true meaning, and what the authors intended to say. Further, in common life, no prudent and conscientious person, who commits his sentiments to writing or utters anything, intends that a diversity of meanings should be attached to what he writes or says; and, consequently, neither his readers, nor those who hear him, affix to it any other than the true and obvious sense. Now, if such be the practice in all fair and upright intercourse between man and man, is it for a moment to be supposed that God, who has graciously vouchsafed to employ the ministry of men in order to make known his will to mankind, should have departed from this way of simplicity and truth? Few persons, we apprehend, will be found in this enlightened age, sufficiently hardy to maintain the affirmative (Horne 1841:322; emphasis in original).

Then Horne defined the literal sense as it applied to Scripture:

The Literal Sense of any place of Scripture is that which the words signify, or require, in their natural and proper acceptation, without any trope [a figure of speech], metaphor, or figure, and abstracted from mystic meaning…. The literal sense has been called the Historical Sense, as conveying the meaning of the words and phrases used by the writer at a certain time….

Interpreters now speak of the true sense of a passage, by calling it the Grammatico-Historical Sense…. The object in using this compound name is, to show that both grammatical and historical considerations are employed in making out the sense of a word or passage (Horne 1841:323; emphasis in original).

We have similar meanings for understanding a literal meaning of Scripture from Thomas Horne in the early nineteenth century, Mickelsen in 1963, Ramm in 1970 and with a contemporary promoter of a literal interpretation of Scriptures in Mal Couch who wrote:

A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.  Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference between literalism and letterism (Crouch 2000:33, emphasis in original). 

J I Packer related hermeneutics and theological perspective:

J. I. Packer

J I Packer (photo courtesy InterVarsity Press)

The truth is that ever since Karl Barth linked his version of Reformation teaching on biblical authority with a method of interpretation that at key points led away from Reformation beliefs, hermeneutics has been the real heart of the ongoing debate about Scripture. Barth was always clear that every theology stands or falls as a hermeneutic and every hermeneutic stands or falls as a theology (Packer 1992:325).

However, Packer does see an interaction taking place between the interpreter and the text. It is not that of postmodern deconstruction, but he acknowledged that for both evangelicals and liberals, the text and interpreter have mutual impact on each other. He wrote:

A major insight is focused by what Gadamer, following Heidegger, says of horizons[4] . The insight is that at the heart of the hermeneutical process there is between the text and the interpreter a kind of interaction in which their respective panoramic views of things, angled and limited as these are, ‘engage’ or ‘intersect’ – in other words, appear as challenging each other in some way. What this means is that as the student questions the text he becomes aware that the text is also questioning him, showing him an alternative to what he took for granted, forcing him to rethink at fundamental level and make fresh decisions as to how he will act henceforth, not that he has realized that some do, and he himself could, approach things differently. Every interpreter needs to realize that he himself stands in a given historical context and tradition, just as his text does, and that only as he becomes aware of this can he avoid reading into the text assumptions from his own background that would deafen him to what the text itself has to say to him (Packer 1992:338-339; emphasis in original).

Melissa has imposed on my understanding of a post that I made to the Forum, a wooden literalism that really is a false view of my view of hermeneutics of the Bible. Thus she has used a straw man logical fallacy in presenting a false perspective of my approach to biblical interpretation. I suggest that it would have been better to pursue my view of hermeneutics, asking questions of me regarding definition and exposition of hermeneutics, rather than imposing what she thought I meant.

J I Packer has a realistic explanation of my view inThe Interpretation of Scripture‘. The plain, normal meaning of the text, whether it be reading Shakespeare, the Brisbane Times, or the Bible is what I use and Melissa’s words want to attribute a wooden literalism to my understanding. This is a false view.

What about the talking donkey? Isn’t that an ass of an idea?

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What about Balaam’s donkey talking? Isn’t that a stupid, ridiculous, nincompoop idea that Christians support and promote? That’s what some have said to me and in even more blasphemous, profane, anti-God sentiments!

But doesn’t this get down to one’s view of God?

Since the Lord God who created the universe out of nothing and raised Jesus from the dead, is the God of absolute omnipotence perfectly capable of doing what he chooses to do that is consistent with his nature? Therefore, we need to seriously consider what the Scriptures state. If one has an anti-supernaturalist perspective (presupposition), there is no way that you will want to consider the speaking donkey as one of God’s supernatural miracles.

This is what the Scripture says concerning Balaam and the speaking donkey – for a detailed description of the incident with Balaam’s donkey talking, see Numbers 22:22-41 (ESV). The specifics of the speaking donkey are:

26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse[a] before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” 35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak (Numbers 22:26-35 ESV).

Ronald Allen has noted in his commentary on Numbers 22:21-28,

We see the prophet Balaam as a blind seer, seeing less than the dumb animal. In this graphic representation of Balaam pitted against the donkey, we also see a more important contrast, as Goldberg avers, the contrast of Balaam and Moses. The long shadow of Moses falls across the pages of the Balaam story even though Moses is never named once. Moses spoke face to face with God [see Numbers chapter 12]. Balaam does not even know that God is near—but his donkey does!

This section is the ultimate in polemics against paganism. It is well known that the ass has been depicted from the earliest times as a subject of stupidity and contrariness. Yet here the “stupid” ass sees the angel of the Lord and attempts to protect her rider from God’s drawn sword. Three times the hapless Balaam beat his donkey.

Then the donkey spoke (v.28). Some have imagined too much here. The donkey did not give a prophetic oracle; she merely said what a mistreated animal might say to an abusive master if given the chance. There was no preaching from the donkey! Others have stumbled at the improbability of an animal speaking, for such is the stuff of fairy tales. What keeps this story from the genre of legend or fairy tale is the clear factor that the animal did not speak of its own accord but as it was given the power to do so by the Lord. Only an exceedingly limited view of God would deny him the ability to open the mouth of a dumb animal; such an objection should lead one to a rereading of Job 40 – 41.

Noth observes that the speaking of the ass is not particularly stressed but is an integral part of the story and is attributed to a miracle on the part of the Lord, “which indicates how directly and unusually Yahweh acted in this affair of blessing or curse for Israel” (p. 179). The speaking of the donkey is affirmed by the NT (2 Peter 2:16), a genuine element in the righteous acts of the Lord. It is not that this miracle is the focus of the text; it is not. It is just an amazingly humorous way to humiliate the prophet Balaam. Before the Lord revealed himself to Balaam, he first “got his attention” in this dramatic fashion. Balaam had to learn from a donkey before he could learn from God. This is one of the most amusing stories in the Bible (Allen 1990:891-892, emphasis added).

Therefore, the answer to the doubting Melissa and all others who doubt the credibility and authenticity of God’s using a speaking donkey to get through to Balaam, is: It is your extraordinarily low view of God that causes you to deny God, the Omnipotent One’s, ability to speak through a dumb animal – and an ass at that.

I invite you to read carefully Job 40-41.

Melissa is imposing on Scripture her anaemic understanding of God who cannot perform supernatural events – including speaking through an ass!

Works consulted

Allen, R B 1990. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 2, 655-1008. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Couch, M 2000 (gen ed). An introduction to classical evangelical hermeneutics: A guide to the history and practice of biblical interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Farrar, A S & Lardner, N 2009-2010. Horne, Thomas Hartwell (online), Library of historical apologetics. Available at: http://historicalapologetics.org/horne-thomas-hartwell/ (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Horne, T H 1841.[5] An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son. Part of it is available as a Google Book HERE  (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1992. Infallible Scripture and the role of hermeneutics, in Carson, D A & Woodbridge, J D (eds) Scripture and truth, 321-356, 412-419. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books / Carlisle, Cumbria, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press.

Ramm, B 1970. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Notes:


[1] Melissa #71, Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Dumb Dr. Lyn’, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=71&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122328 (Accessed 19 September 2013). I had supplied Melissa with this link to an article by creationist, John Morris, on flood stories.

[2] This is my response as ozspen #72, ibid.

[3] Thomas Horne’s lifespan dates and other biographical details are from Farrar & Lardner (2009-2010).

[4] Packer footnotes his edition of Gadamer as pp. 217ff (Packer 1992:415, n. 44). However, a discussion of Gadamer’s understanding of the concept of ‘horizon’ is in my edition of Gadamer (2004:301-305).

[5] Volume 1 of this writing was first published in 1818 and the last and eighth edition was published in 1840-1841 (Farrar & Lardner 2009-2010).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

‘As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach’.

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Spencer D Gear

Foolish Reply

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Can you imagine anyone with such a naïve approach to Scripture as stated in the title of this article? Well, I met one in an online Christian forum. He responded to one of my exegetical explanations of 1 John 2:29. He wrote:

Many thanks for the clarification [exegesis of 1 John 2:29]… but, to be honest, it’s all so obvious that no one should need to understand the ins and outs of the Greek to see the truth.
God never intended for anything to be that deep anyway!
Salvation is mostly for the poor, needy, desperate, hungry and thirsty soul who is below average in everything (and hence hurting) … and I suppose Scriptural proof will be required for this as well.
God intended that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit inside, would suffice very nicely indeed.
For those who have not been brainwashed with false doctrine, that is.
As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach.
Try it, everyone, you might like it.
[1]

My response was: ‘Not one of us comes to Scripture with a ‘totally bias-free approach’. All of us have our presuppositions that we bring to the text. For some of us, those presuppositions are challenged with the provision of extra evidence from the biblical text that we might not have seen before and then we change our view’.[2]

How do you think that a person who supposes he does not have bias-free presuppositions would respond when challenged about this? This is how he came back, even though it was very brief: ‘Please enlighten me with one of my so-called suppositions. Like, there is a God? Oh, wow … thanks’.[3]

What is a presupposition?

A presupposition is a phenomenon by which speakers or writers mark linguistically the information that is ‘taken for granted, rather than being part of the main propositional content of a speech act. Expressions and constructions carrying presuppositions are called “presupposition triggers”, forming a large class including definites[4] and factive verbs’[5] (Beaver & Geurts 2011).

Anthony Thiselton considered that the term presupposition ‘conveys the impression of rooted beliefs and doctrines which are not only cognitive and conceptual, but which also can only be changed and revised with pain, or at least with difficulty. Neither element is necessarily involved in [using the term] “horizon”’ (Thiselton 1992:45; emphasis in original). He prefers the term ‘horizon’, explaining that ‘every reader brings a horizon of expectation to the text. This is a mind-set, or system of references, which characterizes the reader’s finite viewpoint amidst his or her situatedness in time and history’. He emphasised that ‘patterns of habituation in the reader’s attitudes, experiences, reading-practices, and life, define and strengthen his or her horizon of expectation’. His perspective is that it is easier to change a horizon because a text ‘can surprise, contradict, or even reverse such a horizon of expectation’ (Thiselton 1992:34).

The Christian-based linguistics organisation, SIL International, defines a presupposition as ‘background belief, relating to an utterance’ that (1) must be known by both the speaker and addressee to be considered appropriate in a given context; (2) will be a necessary assumption for an utterance, whether the form is an assertion, denial or question; and (3) it generally can ‘be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance’ (SIL International 2004).

Presuppositions uncovered

I decided that the best way to do this was to take quotes from this person’s posts in this Christian Forums’ thread and try to expose his presuppositions. Here is what I discovered:[6]

I have taken the following numbers (identified as #) from your posts to uncover some of your presuppositions which you think that you do not have.

clip_image002_thumb#1, ‘May I suggest this for securing your eternal life?[7]
Presupposition: It is possible to secure a person’s eternal life.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘The Christian is responsible for maintaining his imputed righteousness! …
“… whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:35)
‘.
[8]
Presupposition: Imputed righteousness can be maintained by Christians through works of righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘Too many people just cannot handle the powerful threats contained in the warnings![9]
Presupposition: There are threats against salvation contained in the warning passages.

clip_image002_thumb#1: ‘Dunno, maybe this is the most important part of practicing righteousness: the sincere repentance of sin.’[10]
Presupposition: The uncertainty of sincere repentance of sin needed as the most important part of practising righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#3: ‘FYI, the grace boy messed up again … he meant to say … you have abandoned trusting in Jesus’ righteousness’.[11]
Presupposition: To obtain righteousness, one must trust in Jesus’ righteousness.

clip_image002_thumb#9: ‘IMO, your idea of most people being someone’s employee/slave is incorrect’.[12]
Presupposition: In the first century, most people were not someone’s employee/slave.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘no one should need to understand the ins and outs of the Greek to see the truth’.[13]
Presupposition: To understand an English translation of the Greek NT, one does not need to understand the grammar of Greek to understand the truth of what is written. A translated language gives the truth and it is not necessary for anyone to know the original language.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘God never intended for anything to be that deep anyway!’[14]
Presupposition: God never intended for the NT to provide deep knowledge and understanding for anyone.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘Salvation is mostly for the poor, needy, desperate, hungry and thirsty soul who is below average in everything (and hence hurting)’.[15]
Presupposition: Salvation is mostly necessary and provided for the poor.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘and I suppose Scriptural proof will be required for this as well’.[16]
Presupposition: Others may require Scriptural proof for a statement, but I don’t believe it is necessary.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘God intended that Scripture, and the Holy Spirit inside, would suffice very nicely indeed. For those who have not been brainwashed with false doctrine, that is’.[17]
Presuppositions: All that is needed to obtain Christian doctrine is the English Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s internal ministry. Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s ministry will be no good for those brainwashed by false doctrine. It is possible for a person to be brainwashed by false doctrine.

clip_image002_thumb#10: ‘As for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach. Try it, everyone, you might like it’.[18]
Presupposition: It is possible to go to the Scriptures with no presuppositions – a bias-free approach’.

clip_image002_thumb#14: ‘Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the verbs connected with the most important aspects of salvation, e.g. believe, in the continual sense?’[19]
Presuppositions: If I’m uncertain about the original languages behind the NT, I ask someone else about the meaning of the English language. There are some more and some less important aspects about salvation.

clip_image002_thumb#14: ‘A favorite example of mine … We are sanctified (set apart) one time, as in positional sanctification, and we are being sanctified (continually), as in progressive sanctification’.[20]
Presupposition: I have favourite examples of how there are differences in the uses of language in the NT in dimensions of salvation and this includes positional sanctification and progressive salvation.

clip_image002_thumb#19: ‘Please enlighten me with one of my so-called suppositions. Like, there is a God? Oh, wow … thanks’.[21]
Presupposition: When it comes to the Bible, I do not have presuppositions but OzSpen thinks I have. I can be cynical about the charge that I have suppositions because it is false – deserving a ‘wow’ and ‘thanks’ response.

Discovering more objective ways to identify presuppositions

Who am I?

ChristArt

How can one be as objective as possible in uncovering a writer’s or speaker’s presuppositions? The tendency is for presuppositions to be unspoken, even though they involve values that direct a person’s life. An excellent model for identifying presuppositions in an objective manner can be found in David Beaver and Burt Geurts article, ‘Presuppositions’ in the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Beaver & Geurts 2011).[22]

Examples of ‘triggers’ of this model for identifying presuppositions are here stated. Lexical dimension have been agreed by philosophers and linguists as examples of some of these presupposition triggers. They include: Factives, aspectual verbs, temporal clauses that begin with conjunctions such as before, after or since, manner adverbs, sortally restricted predicates of various categories, cleft sentences, quantifiers, definite descriptions, names, and intonation. Please refer to the Beaver & Geurts (2011) article online for examples of these triggers.

While I have prepared explanations and examples of these kinds of presuppositions, they cannot be shared here as the dissertation is in process.

Conclusion

It is an exaggerated claim, without foundation, that ‘as for me, I have come to Scripture with a totally bias-free approach’.[23] Everyone has a world and life view and in that view there are values that are accepted as true, without demonstration. These are part of an understanding of the nature of presuppositions.

In closing, Michael Lockridge’s comments are appropriate in summarising the nature of presuppositions and how they impact on everyone’s world and life view. He wrote:

Presuppositions are the foundation of any world view, and editing them is frightening and often difficult. Conflict between any individual’s world view and the new and expanded reality they might come to experience can be traumatic and even catastrophic. A defensive response is natural, and getting past such a response requires an act of the will. It is a matter of choosing presuppositions from which to operate….

In order to interact with our world, it is necessary to believe certain things. Some fundamental beliefs need not be formally structured or even articulated. Other living things interact with the world around them, exhibiting the “belief” that those things experienced in the world are real and significant. Again, not necessarily articulated….

Humans have a capacity to think about and articulate their choices. This capacity seems to vary considerably from human to human, but they do have this capacity and act on it to varying degrees. Temperament can be a factor in defining presuppositions, and experiences can define and redefine presuppositions for many humans. It is a necessarily complex process in a relatively complex creature (Lockridge 2010).

My own presuppositions are articulated in articles on my homepage, Truth Challenge. Some of my personal, primary presuppositions are:

  • The Lord God Almighty, creator of the heavens and earth, exists.
  • God is the one and only true God who is one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • He has revealed himself in the Christian Scriptures, the Bible.
  • The Christian Scriptures are inerrant in the original manuscripts.
  • To understand Scripture and nature, God has given human beings logical, reasoning abilities, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  • Scriptures are interpreted through a historical-cultural-grammatical understanding of the culture of the time and knowledge of the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek.
  • Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement provided salvation for all who will repent and believe in Christ alone. Eternal salvation is provided only through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Works consulted:

Beaver, D I & Geurts, B 2011. Presupposition, in Zalta, E N (ed) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (online), Summer. Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/presupposition/ (Accessed 22 September 2013).

Lockridge, M 2010.[24] Presuppositions, in Philosophy on purpose (blog online), 8 March. Available at: http://philosophyonpurpose.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/presuppositions.html (Accessed 22 September 2013).

SIL International 2004. What is a presupposition? (online). Available at: http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAPresupposition.htm (Accessed 22 September 2013).

Thiselton, A C 1992. New horizons in hermeneutics: The theory and practice of transforming biblical reading. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes:


[1] Extraordinary#10, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘May I suggest this for security your eternal life’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775405/ (Accessed 22 September 2013, emphasis added).

[2] OzSpen#12, ibid.

[3] Extraordinary#19, ibid.

[4] The term ‘definites’ is meant to convey the placing of limits or boundaries on anything. A definite is the antithesis of being imprecise or vague.

[5] A factive verb affirms the truth of the following statement or clause. An example is, ‘I know that Crossan’s view on the use of redaction by New Testament authors is correct’. ‘Know’ is the factive verb. However, sometimes a comparative meaning can be expressed with, ‘This is Crossan’s view….’, or some other sentence, where ‘is’ functions as the factive.

[6] OzSpen#26, ibid.

[7] Extraordinary#1, ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Extraordinary#3, ibid.

[12] Extraordinary#9, ibid.

[13] Extraordinary#10, ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Extraordinary#14, ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Extraordinary#19, ibid.

[22] This model is being used by the author of this article in writing his PhD dissertation in New Testament with a major university.

[23] Extraordinary #10, op cit.

[24] At the time of writing this article, Michael Lockridge, stated, ‘I am currently 59 years old. At present I am a retired correctional officer with 20 years of service’ and he lived in Medford, Oregon, USA (Lockridge 2010).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Spencer D Gear

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Maheno shipwreck (photo 2007), Fraser Island,

off the Queensland coast (about 3 hours north of Brisbane)

Courtesy Wikipedia

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The New Zealand hospital ship Maheno (before the wreck)

Courtesy Wikipedia

In the controversy between Calvinism and Arminianism it is not unusual to read or hear a back and forth about the ability or inability to lose eternal salvation through Christ. Since Calvinists believe that a person, once genuinely saved, cannot lose salvation, it is common to hear language like this:

clip_image006 ‘It is my opinion, and I stress opinion, that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation’ (CARM).

clip_image006[1]’56 Bible Verses about Losing Your Salvation’ (OpenBible.info)

One set of verses often raised about losing salvation is, First Timothy 1:18-20, which states,

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (ESV).

In commenting on these verses, one Calvinist wrote, ‘Did Paul say that they lost their salvation?’[1]

My response was:

So what does ‘shipwreck of their faith mean’? The Maheno ship wreck on the shores of Fraser Island (about 3 hours north of Brisbane on the Pacific Ocean coast) is useless, wrecked as a viable ship.

Is a shipwrecked faith viable or not to enter the sea of eternal life? Or is shipwrecked faith as useless as the Maheno as a ship in the Pacific Ocean?[2]

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(courtesy ChristArt)

The reply from this person was:

‘This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme’ (1 Timothy 1:18-20 NASB).

It would appear that Paul has I’m mind correction for these two. Not because they lost their salvation, but because they are not acting in the right manner. Paul is hoping that they will be corrected (taught).[3]

[4]Paul has a motivation to deal with ‘keeping faith and a good conscience’ or ‘holding faith and a good conscience’ (ESV). In context this is faith in the prophecies (apostolic teaching?) he had received.

What had Hymenaeus and Alexander done to ‘shipwreck’ their faith? Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning of this word from apwthew as ‘reject, repudiate’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:102). Therefore Lenski’s commentary, based on the Greek, concludes that

they got so far away from the apostolic prophecies that they did even what is here stated regarding their conscience and their faith. Paul himself had dealt with two of them, and when he held up to them the prophecies, i. e., the apostolic gospel teaching, and thereby tried to reach their conscience he found that they had actually thrust all good conscience away and had thereby lost their faith altogether. The true gospel teaching no longer made an impression on them, it had been smothered by their myths, etc (Lenski 1937:532-533).

The consequence for Hymenaeus and Alexander was that Paul has them ‘handed over to Satan’. What this means exactly has been the cause of much debate. However, it seems evident that these two men no longer have a good conscience and faith, so it seems that Paul means that these two are, according to exegete, Gordon Fee, ‘”put back into Satan’s sphere,” outside the church and the fellowship of God’s people…. Paul expects by such an “excommunication” they will “be caught not to blaspheme”‘ (Fee 1988:59).

What ‘blaspheme’ means here is not certain but there are hints in context. In 1:13 Paul says of his life before Christ, ‘formerly I was a blasphemer’ and in 6:4 he states that ‘slander’ (ESV) or ‘malicious talk’ (NIV) that come out of ‘a different doctrine’ (ESV) or ‘false doctrines’ (NIV). However the word is blasphemiai (i.e. blasphemies). This is from a list of what happens as a result of false teachers who had ‘an unhealthy craving for controversy’ (6:4 ESV).

Thus handing over to Satan seems to be an action of excommunication because they had rejected God’s grace for salvation and had pursued the arguments of the false teachers. It seems that Timothy was in Ephesus to deal with the false doctrine that was being perpetrated by false teachers and this was leading people away from the faith.

How would he respond? It was predictable for a Calvinist: ‘So you don’t think that they were apostate, right?’[5] To which I responded, ‘False! They had rejected, repudiated their faith. That’s what the Greek word means!’[6]

An artists rendition of the 1857 shipwreck (the Central America).

 Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

To another person, he wrote: ‘It still says nothing of them losing their salvation’.[7] To which I replied,[8] ‘Yes it does! That’s the meaning of ‘shipwrecked’, based on the Greek exegesis.

What had Hymenaeus and Alexander done to ‘shipwreck’ their faith. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning of this word from apwthew as ‘reject, repudiate’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:102).

Therefore Lenski’s commentary, based on the Greek, concludes that

they got so far away from the apostolic prophecies that they did even what is here stated regarding their conscience and their faith. Paul himself had dealt with two of them, and when he held up to them the prophecies, i. e., the apostolic gospel teaching, and thereby tried to reach their conscience he found that they had actually thrust all good conscience away and had thereby lost their faith altogether. The true gospel teaching no longer made an impression on them, it had been smothered by their myths, etc. (Lenski 1937:532-533).

Faith that is shipwrecked is faith that has been repudiated, rejected. It couldn’t be clearer, based on the Greek etymology.

To shipwreck one’s faith is to abandon/repudiate the faith, reject the faith. This is similar to the message given in Hebrews 6:4-6,

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (ESV).

For my lengthy exegesis and exposition, see: ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? (an exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6)’.

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

See also:

clip_image012 Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy;

clip_image012[1] Is the Holy Spirit’s seal a guarantee of eternal security?

clip_image012[2] Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image012[3] What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

clip_image012[4] Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

clip_image012[5] Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

This writer is convinced that it is possible to lose salvation if a person commits apostasy by repudiating the Christian faith. However, there are many fine Christians on both sides of this debate – Arminians and Calvinists.

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(courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Fee, G D 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Lenski, R C H 1937. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc.

Notes:


[1] Hammster #25, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Saved only by grace’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7773567-3/ (Accessed 14 September 2013).

[2] OzSpen #32, ibid.

[3] Hammster #34, ibid.

[4] This is my reply as OzSpen #39, ibid.

[5] Hammster #41, ibid.

[6] OzSpen #43, ibid.

[7] Hammster #37, ibid.

[8] OzSpen #42, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

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Interested in low interest rates? Try apologetics in the church!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Full Trust

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I was in a discussion on a Christian forum on the question, ‘Is Jesus God?’ A fellow responded:

I have the Bible to do that. If they don’t believe the Bible why woud (sic) they believe what some man says? You and I cannot convince anyone that Jesus was God. Only God’s Holy Spirit can lead people into the truth.[1]

Why was the ministry of apologetics dismissed in this response?

Our pluralistic world

I responded as follows:[2]

We live in a world that also has the Muslim Quran, the Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon, etc. How are you going to convince people that they ought to listen to the Gospel from the Bible?

The Mormons speak of a ‘burning in the bosom’ that awakened them to the ‘truths’ of Mormonism. How will you convince them that the Holy Spirit leading you into the truth is different from the burning in the bosom and that you have the truth?

Just believe

How would this person reply to such content?

I can’t convince them. It is not my job to convince gthem [sic]. If given the opportunity all I can do is tell them what I believie [sic] and why I believe it.  Then they are God’s problem….

All one can do with Mormons is show them where some things in the other writings, the BOM for example, contradict the Bible and wher [sic] some of the prophecies of past leaders did not happen.

Again I canot [sic] convince them of anything. All I can do is tell them wht [sic] I believe and why I beleive [sic] it. Then it is up to God.

I am in sales not management.[3]

This is an example of why the church is in such a sorry state with its ministry of pre-evangelism, known as apologetics. This ‘just believe’ mentality that it is not the Christian’s responsibility to convince anyone of the Gospel and to clear up difficulties with the Gospel, is expressed here as, ‘all I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it’ and the rest ‘is up to God’. This ‘just believe’ mentality is very damaging to the Christian’s and the church’s responsibility to exercise the ministry of apologetics when people have objections to the Christian faith.

It is also damaging to the promotion of thinking Christianity. Why are Christians required to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Rom 12:2) if they are not required to do some biblical thinking and living in the real world?

The problem with ‘only believe’ and apologetics

My response was as follows.[4] The problem with this fellow’s comeback is that it contradicts a command of Scripture, which is the primary reason for doing apologetics with people who have questions about the Christian faith, including questions about the reliability of the Bible.

This is what I find in the command of the fundamental statement of 1 Peter 3:15,

but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (ESV).

What is commanded of all Christians?[5] The command in the Greek language is translated at ‘honour’ in the ESV. Other translations have the meaning as:

 

  • ‘sanctify[6] Christ as Lord’ (NASB; NRSV; NAB);
  • ‘sanctify the Lord God’ (NKJV);
  • ‘revere Christ as Lord’ (NIV);
  • ‘you must worship Christ as Lord’ (NLT);
  • ‘set Christ apart as Lord’ (NET);

So Christians are commanded to honour, sanctify, revere or set apart Christ as the holy Lord and they do that by being ready/prepared to make a defence of the faith to anyone who seeks a reason for the hope that Christians have. They must always be prepared for an apologia (a defence of the faith). How is this to be done? It is delivered with gentleness and respect.

The exhortation here is that all Christians must honour Christ by being ready to do this. Whenever we come across someone who asks tough questions about the Christian faith, including penetrating questions such as, ‘Surely you are not telling me that you accept that Bible crap? (which someone said to me)’, we have to be ready to give a defence (an apologetic). What was this fellow recommending? His statement was that ‘it is not my job to convince them’. That is far from the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15. All Christians, including this fellow, are commanded to give a defence of the biblical perspective. I found him to be diluting – even running away from – the biblical exhortation to be engaged in the pre-evangelistic ministry of apologetics.

Apologetics is pre-evangelistic in the sense that it is an attempt to provide answers to objections to the Christian faith that may be in the way of a person receiving the Gospel message. These are some of the primary objections I have struck over many years of proclaiming the Gospel and defending the Christian faith and have addressed them on this homepage.

3d-red-star-small The existence of God.

See:

A biblical theist responds to an atheist;

Evidence for the existence of God;

What is a biblical method for defending the Christian faith (apologetics)?

3d-red-star-small The trustworthiness, integrity and accuracy of the Bible.

See:

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

3d-red-star-small The problem of evil and suffering.

See:

September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

Did God create evil?

Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

‘I will beat the hell out of God’;

Can God do anything and everything?

We may never come across anyone who doubts the authority and integrity of, say, the Bible, but we must be ready – prepared – to respond if someone asks. This is not being ready with this person’s remark, ‘All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then they are God’s problem’. That is fobbing off our biblical responsibility.

Yes, we need to be ready to share the truth of what we believe, but we are to give a reason (an apologetic) to those who ask questions – even penetrating questions like, ‘You Bible people don’t seem to have an answer for all the garbage that is happening in the world like Syria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, 9/11, the Japanese tsunami, etc.’

Not everyone will need this kind of pre-evangelism, but when they do seek answers, we must be ready, willing and able to give an answer. This includes being prepared to reply: ‘Wow! That’s a penetrating question and I’ll have to think further about it. Can I get back to you?’

Heart faith and defense of faith

What is interesting and critical about 1 Peter 3:15 is that it links heart faith with defence faith. Those who honour Christ the Lord in their hearts are also those who are ready and prepared to engage in apologetics for the Christian faith. This is not a, ‘Just believe’, or ‘I tell them what I believe’, kind of response.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, we will want to be obedient to the command of 1 Peter 3:15 and not fob somebody off with, ‘This is what I believe and this is why I believe it’. Instead, we will be eager, prepared and ready to ask: ‘What questions do you have about the Christian faith? Let’s see if we can dialogue to find answers for you and if I don’t know the answers, I’ll seek them out and get back to you’.

First Peter 3:15 goes hand in glove with our biblical requirement in 2 Corinthians 10:5, ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (ESV).

This requirement is that we, as Christians, not only confront the issues that trouble our own thinking, but also deal with the ‘lofty opinions’ of others that are raised against knowing God, the Bible and other aspects of the Christian faith.

This is some of what the ministry of apologetics involves, but this fellow on the forum fobbed it off with his statement: ‘Again I cannot convince them of anything.  All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then it is up to God. I am in sales not management’.

Biblically, I find this to be a false perspective. He is in sales so he knows that there will be those who object to some features of the product and, if he is pressing for a sale, he will deal with the objections. It is his responsibility to give an apologetic for the Christian faith – he is commanded to honour Christ the Lord and to do that requires that he provide an apologetic response to questions about the faith.

Of course God is involved in convincing people of the truth of the Gospel, but that does not exempt him from engaging in pre-evangelism. He is commanded to engage in apologetics with everyone who seeks answers for their objections to the faith.

Will he become ready and prepared to do this with gentleness and respect? Or will he continue to fob off this responsibility?

Resorting to use of a logical fallacy

When I shared some of the above material with the fellow mentioned, these were some of his responses:[7]

  • I can and do answer such quesions [sic] but I cannot convince them they are true and neither can you.  Does everyone you explain the Scriptures to fall donw [sic] and worship God?  There is no command to convince anyone that the Scriptures are true.  Only God the Holy Spirit can do that’.
  • ‘I am prepared to do that and do when somone [sic] asks me to, but I have not convinced many that what I beleive [sic] is true’.
  • ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’.

[8]Telling people what you believe and why you believe it is not the ministry of apologetics of 1 Peter 3:15. Apologetics is not declaration, but an endeavour to wipe away the cobwebs of doubt that are presented to us. It is pre-evangelism.

I told him that if his response to me is any guide, he doesn’t seem to be convinced of the need for the ministry of apologetics, so why would he want to give them an effective apologetic answer? I suggested that he become exposed to more of the teaching of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler on apologetics. Geisler’s book, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Books 1999) is a marvellous resource for so many aspects of an apologetic ministry with an evangelical Christian response.

When he stated, ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’, he was using a straw man logical fallacy. At no point have I ever stated to this person or anyone else on Christian Fellowship Forum that I’m 100% effective in convincing people. Here he has used a straw man fallacy.

What’s a straw man logical fallacy? Dr. Michael C. Labossiere, professor of philosophy Florida A&M University,gave this definition:[9]

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.

2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).

3. Person B attacks position Y.

4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Dedicated to 12 million Holocaust victims who suffered and died
at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime

When a person uses logical fallacies, it makes it extremely difficult – it is nigh impossible – to have a logical conversation. Therefore, I find it necessary to expose the use of logical fallacies in a conversation, especially online. I have engaged in discussions on other Christian forums in which I found it necessary to draw attention to such fallacies. Most will not admit to their fallacious reasoning. I think it’s often because they don’t understand what logical fallacies are and how they use them.

I find that in some/many TV and radio interviews, politicians are experts at using the red herring fallacy. No matter what question is asked by the interviewer, the politician has a political agenda he/she wants to push and will promote it, no matter what the question that was asked. Going off topic in the answer (a red herring) is commonly used by politicians when in mass media interviews.

In this person’s response to me on this Christian forum, there were also elements of a red herring logical fallacy. Dr. Lobossiere explained: ‘A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic…. This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim’.  [10]

Conclusion

Apologetics has reached a very low level of importance in the evangelical church, in my view, for these reasons:

  1. ‘To equip the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12) is not high on the agenda in many of these churches. Getting a handful of leaders to do the ministry by themselves is standard fare in some churches. So equipping other believers is not a strong suit for pastors and teachers in such churches.
  2. Learning to defend the faith, using apologetics, seems to be left to leading public apologists for the Christian faith. A pastor said to me recently, ‘Whenever I have people with questions about evolution and creation, I refer them to Creation Ministries InternationalThey have lots of pertinent responses. I’m not equipped to do that’. Amazing! A pastor who doesn’t want to equip himself to an adequate level to be able to provide a ready apologetic for those who question creation.
  3. When one has a presuppositional approach, ‘Just believe’ and ‘I cannot convince you’, which is being defended in some churches, then evidential apologetics will not be considered a necessary ministry.
  4. I attended an evening presentation in 2013 by leading Indian cultural apologist, Vishal Mangalwadi, ‘What GOOD is Christianity?’
  5. At question time I asked him, ‘Why is the ministry of apologetics given such a low priority in today’s evangelical church?’ He pointed to the contemporary emphasis in churches on telling stories about the faith and this does not harmonise well with the nature of apologetics. I found this to be a pointed and true observation. See Mangalwadi’s book, The Book That Made Your World; How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (2011. Nashville: Thomas Nelson).
  6. I consider that there is an additional problem: Thinking Christianity is in short supply. In churches that place such a strong emphasis on the experience of knowing Jesus and the charismatic gifts (I am a supporter of such gifts), there is a problem integrating a warm Christian faith with logical, thoughtful, apologetic ministry. That’s why it’s important to emphasise 1 Peter 3:15 as these two ministries go together. They are both needed for the health of the Christian Church. However, there is a necessary biblical emphasis on the need ‘to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph. 4:23) and Christians ‘have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’ (Col 3:10).(Col 3:10).
  7. I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon by a regular pastor of a church on the need to be a thinking Christian who engages in logical discussions, exposes logical fallacies, and uses discernment in knowing when to stop a conversation in pre-evangelism when it becomes argumentative.

If this minimising of the ministry of apologetics is not rectified, there are grim consequences for Christian upper high school and university students who have their faith challenged in these places of learning.

Why is apologetics of such low interest in the church? It is not given the place it deserves by church leaders in equipping believers for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12) AND I suggest it could be that not enough Christians are seeking answers for some tough, challenging questions that are asked of them by unbelievers. Or, are too many Christians out of touch with unbelievers and their issues against the Christian faith?

Notes:


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘Is Jesus God?’, Kermit, who responds sometime as ‘k’ for kcdavis222, #9, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=6&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[2] Ibid., ozspen #14.

[3] Ibid., kcdavis222 #16.

[4] Ibid., ozspen #20.

[5] For some of the following content, I used material from Norman L Geisler 1999. Apologetics, Need for, in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 37.

[6] The footnote was ‘set apart’.

[7] kcdavis222 #21, loc cit., available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=16&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[8] This is my answer at ibid., ozspen #24.

[9] The Nizkor Project 1991-2011, Fallacy: Straw Man, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[10] This quotation is courtesy of The Nizkor Project, Fallacy: Red Herring, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/red-herring.html (Accessed 31 August 2013).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.