You Can’t Leave Out the Dirt

In the preceding post, I concluded by claiming that an abstract proposition is not the story “boiled down to essentials” because God made the world ex nihilo, entered it Himself in a body, and will resurrect it all one day.

Why would I say that?

God made the world.  Created it all from nothing, spoke it into existence.  In that world, things happen.  God enters into the world He made and acts within it.  God put us in that world — this world — and we act within it.  This is what really happens.  The stories are accounts of what really happened.  The abstractions are short summaries or interpretations of what really happened — but it’s the happening itself that is the reality.

When we say that “by grace you are saved through faith” is the gospel, stripped down to bare essentials with all the extraneous information left out, we are saying that it’s the idea — make that Idea — that matters, and not the incarnational reality.  We are moving, in other words, from Yahweh’s world to Plato’s.

This is a problem, because Plato’s world doesn’t exist.

Yahweh made dirt.  The Word of Yahweh became flesh and dwelt among us, and got dirt under His fingernails.  In the resurrection, redeemed men will get redeemed dirt under their redeemed fingernails, and glory to God for all of it.

Abstractions, important a tool as they are, are not the thing itself.  They always leave out the dirt.


13 Responses to You Can’t Leave Out the Dirt

  1. Drew says:

    It’s all good in theory, but somewhere along the way we have to get down to the practicalities of figuring out who’s saved and who isn’t. And since we’re not all physically encountering Jesus like the woman at the well did, we need some way of knowing whether we’ve actually found him.

    I do agree that the GES/FGA fissure is pretty stupid, though. We’ve got Eastern Orthodox running around practically denying the atonement and many Calvinists equating faith in Jesus with faith in the law, and yet here we are arguing about trivialities.

  2. Sanc says:

    Drew & David & Tim,

    I left a new comment under the post third from the latest. I believe wordpress re-orders the comments not by date of entry but by some other sort of consideration so it might have been missed it since it’s not at the bottom of the page like it would be on blogger….

    It’s here. I am probably way off though I’m trying to figure out the same thing Drew and David Wyatt are.

    Thank you, Michele

  3. Sanc says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks, because this is another great post; I appreciated “dirt” as a characteristic of the issue. We use the abstract “idea” scriptures to discern spirits versus the Spirit, is this right? Meanwhile, grace comes through dealing personally and privately with God. I know in my own walk that there is always this factor of “how is God going to respond to me?” – God’s ways, ideas, plans and so forth are different than mine. I would be a fool to forget that.

    Glad you’re writing…

  4. Jim Reitman says:

    Completely concur with your allusion to “Platonic forms” as an analogy to making the “Idea” the “true” reality. It is so tempting to live out of my head, rather than “play” in the dirt God made.

    Also, I had the same problem as Michele on the same thread (as per her first reply above). Was wondering if you had a rejoinder to my last take on your take on my take on Matt 13 here; and, any further thoughts on this post on the Propositions Matter thread?

  5. Missy says:

    Why do we HAVE to get down to figuring out who’s saved and who isn’t? Don’t you think it’s as important to evangelize the saved as it is the lost – we all need the same grace from the same story/ies. It seems more genuine to simply share these stories of Jesus with everyone in my life than to try to make a judgement on another’s needs from my limited knowledge of such.

    Tim, I’m enjoying your recent posts very much.

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim and Michele,
    My internet access and time are severely limited for the next several days. I owe you both a couple of responses each, but they’re going to have to wait for about a week when my access issues resolve. In the meantime, I must presume upon you patience; I am sorry I can’t get to it faster.

  7. Tim Nichols says:

    Thanks for your kind words. I think there may be a need for some kind of determination, but let’s see what Drew says in answer to the question.

  8. Tim Nichols says:

    I have an answer to this, but I’d really like to hear yours: under what conditions do I need to know whether the person I’m talking with is a believer? When does it make a practical difference in how I treat the person?

    Regarding the Eastern church denying the atonement, there’s a case to be made that what Romanides, et al. represent as the historic Eastern position is in fact a relatively recent innovation, and the position they demonize as “western” is in fact well-represented in the early Eastern church. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it — I’m not a church history scholar, yet — but if your concerns run that direction, you should look into it.

  9. Drew says:

    The two main reasons I can think of are these:
    1. If we know someone is saved, we can fellowship with him and treat him as a brother.
    2. If we know someone is probably unsaved, we should exert more effort to evangelize to him.

    It probably doesn’t seem like a big problem to you because you’re just envisioning people on a desert island or new Christians who haven’t yet read the whole gospel of John. But overall, I think the FGA gospel harmonizes a lot better with church history and with the Protestant Reformation because it doesn’t (necessarily) require belief in eternal security for salvation. That is, an Arminian — perhaps like Martin Luther — could possibly be eternally secure without knowing it. The promise-only GES gospel, on the other hand, basically states that no other doctrines are necessary for salvation *except* eternal security. It essentially anathemizes most of Christendom, past and present, and it implies that we should not fellowship with the vast majority of other professing believers.

    But anyway, I didn’t really mean to divert your post too much. This issue has just been really bothering me lately. I do think there’s a certain elegance to the GES gospel, especially considering the spin you’ve thrown on it, and the model of Abraham seems to lend it support. But I’m trying to harmonize Free Grace with prophecy, and history, and the development of doctrine and the canon, and spiritual heroes of the past — and I’m having trouble doing it when I adopt the GES model.

  10. Drew says:

    Wow, I actually just found a pretty good blog post that somewhat weakens what I just wrote and makes me more sympathetic to GES. Maybe I spoke too soon:

    (And this post doesn’t even bother to mention Jovinian, who most likely accepted eternal security.)

  11. Tim Nichols says:

    It doesn’t seem like a big problem to me because there are so few situations where it matters.
    If someone is messed up on, say, assurance of salvation, he either is, or isn’t, a believer. If he’s a believer, then the thing I must do is help him to understand assurance…which is exactly the same thing I’d do with an unbeliever. Doesn’t matter.
    If the person is engaging in rampant sexual immorality, and I need to know whether I can associate with him or not, the question is not whether he’s actually a believer, but whether he’s named a believer. If so, I can’t. If not, I can.

    It isn’t that it’s not a problem because I’m envisioning some rarely-occurring hypothetical scenario; it’s not a problem because it’s not a problem.

  12. Drew says:

    I kinda doubt that you truly believe that. For example, would you honestly consider a devout Catholic or Mormon to be your Christian brother as long as they didn’t engage in blatant sin? We all have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, Galatians imposes a curse on false teachers, and John says not even to offer them well-wishes.

  13. Tim Nichols says:


    I don’t think you’ve read me correctly at all. I didn’t say anything like what you’re suggesting.

    God doesn’t tell you enough to allow you to intelligently work the door in Heaven. Happily, you won’t be doing that job anyway, so you don’t have to know whom to let in or whom to keep out.

    You do have to know how to treat the people who are here, and in God’s providence, that generally depends on how they act more than whether they will one day be in heaven. The example you cited in 2 John 10-11 is actually a perfect example. It doesn’t matter if the person will go to heaven or not; he doesn’t talk about that. What he does say is that if the person is presently preaching that particular false doctrine, then don’t receive him.

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