Repenting from Lordship Salvation…Halfway

28 August 2011

The first error of lordship salvation is thinking that God won’t save you (or hasn’t saved you) if you have a rotten life.  Entry into heaven goes with a good life (conditionally or inevitably), and if you examine your life and see that it’s not good, you’re not going to heaven.

The second, and more subtle, error of lordship salvation is thinking that Yahweh is the sort of god who would send you to hell if He could.

I’m finding that there are an awful lot of people who have halfway repented from lordship salvation.  They no longer believe that Yahweh requires sanctification in order to enter heaven.  However, in their heart of hearts, they still believe in a furious god who would send them to hell if he could.

So they invest themselves in the Free Grace gospel: Jesus saves us on the sole condition of faith alone, with no works before, during, or after the moment of faith required.  No front-loading the gospel; no back-loading either.  Just belief in the proper content.  God won’t weigh your works at heaven’s gate to determine your eternal destiny; He will ask a simple question about your soteriology.  Pass that theology test, just once, at any point in your life, and you’re golden.  That done, you can forever fend off the vengeful deity: you have already done all that is required of you, and he can’t send you to hell, no matter how he might want to.  This would, in fact, be good news…if Yahweh were even remotely like the god they’re describing.

***

Do you see that there’s a lot of self-effort going into passing the theology test?  That the good news of the freeness of God’s grace is being turned into a weapon to hold a (fictitious) angry deity at bay?

Do you see that when we do this, we don’t actually trust God at all?  That if we did, we could just trust Him to guide us into whatever content we need to know?

***

To the people I’ve just described, I have a message.  I didn’t think of it myself; I inherited it from someone who lived five centuries ago.  He was a Roman Catholic, confessor to a neurotic Augustinian friar named Martin Luther.  Luther was so obsessed with his sins that he would be in the confessional for six hours at a time, trying to get forgiveness for everything, lest he be damned.
Finally–so the story goes–his confessor shouted at him, God doesn’t hate you; you hate Him!  Don’t you know the Scriptures command you to hope?”

Exactly.

God doesn’t hate you.  And if you’re trying to hold Him at bay, be it with a stack of good deeds, a saving proposition, or with the very words of John 3:16, then the problem is that you hate Him.

But you don’t believe the very first words of the verse.  “God so loved the world…”

The solution is simple: trust Him.  He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.


Mystical Union: Knocking the Bottom out of the Swimming Crib

24 July 2011

During the summer, people generally prefer to swim outside.  Although it is common to swim in pools these days, old-school swimming facilities usually depended on natural water features: ponds, rivers, and oceans.  An ideal natural swimming location would have clean water, a gradually sloping, sandy bottom, and very little current.  Such places existed, of course, but they weren’t as common as one might hope.  In response, waterfront staff developed a variety of work-arounds to allow swimmers to safely use the water in the absence of perfect conditions.

In situations where the water was very deep, or the current too fast-moving, one of those work-arounds was called a swimming crib.  The crib was basically a very large wooden crate, ballasted and tethered to function sort of like a ‘swimming pool’, immersed in the lake or river.  (You can see an example here.)  One of the most basic uses for a crib was to provide a shallow area for beginners to swim in water that was naturally very deep.  The lake bottom could be thirty feet down, but a 3-foot crib provided an artificial ‘shallow end.’

***

One typical take on eternal life is that it’s “living forever with God” — a simplification that I have certainly been guilty of, myself.  The focus is revivalistic, focused on a heaven-or-hell afterlife.  A person who ‘has eternal life’ is ‘saved,’ which means that he’s going to go to heaven when he dies…and that’s pretty much it.

Given that definition, the Gospel of John, which is very, very focused on eternal life, takes on the appearance of being all about whether people go to heaven or hell.  The purpose of the book, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name” is understood to be about taking people who were going to hell and making it so they’re going to heaven…and that’s pretty much it.

This is the theological equivalent of building a 3-foot swimming crib in some very deep, very fast-moving water.  Problem is, what we’re protecting people from, in this instance, is God.

***

Eternal life has to be “living forever” — otherwise, as Zane Hodges aptly observed, “eternal life” isn’t a very good name for it — but is that all we need to say about it?  Jesus didn’t think so.  “And this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed to His Father, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”

Eternal life, according to Jesus, is knowing God.  How?  Through Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  That’s inexhaustible.  It’s far, far deeper than “going to heaven when you die.”  And while, of course, lip service is paid to this notion, in fact it is largely ignored.  We keep everybody in the 3-food swimming crib of going to heaven, when they could be diving deep into relationship with God Himself.

The solution?  We need to knock the bottom out of the crib.  This will undoubtedly be the occasion for much whining, but we have no right to speak in a way that stands between people and a living relationship with God.


Crock-Pot Theology

10 July 2011

There are times when it is necessary to say nothing, to wait and grow.  There are also times when the growing is done, and it’s time to let your hard-won light shine.  We all go through such seasons.  I’m going through a wait-and-grow season vis-a-vis the Free Grace Food Fight presently, which is why I’ve had nothing to say about it for a while.

Then, too, different people have different gifts.  Some people are theological microwaves; pop in a question and get an answer back 30 seconds later.  Others are crock-pot theologians.  Answers may be few and far between, but rich and flavorful for having been so long in the preparation.

My friend Michele is such a person, and she’s just delivered a crock-pot feast over at Sanc’s Blog.  The specifics are aimed at a narrow segment of the Christian community; if you don’t live in that end of the pool, just let the references to modern-day Euodia and Syntyche pass you by.  The meat of the matter is accessible enough, and it’ll be a blessing to you, if you can hear it.


A Problem of Generations

8 May 2011

After his Romans 1:17 insight, Martin Luther did not doubt his salvation. He had been delivered from the crushing weight of having to earn his salvation — a thing which he knew he could never do — and he had no doubt that the God who delivered him would make good on His promises.

When he got around to filling in the theology to explain his experience, Luther couched it in terms of the Reformation doctrine of election, as did John Calvin and the other early Protestants.  Now this doctrine is the occasion for a great deal of suffering today, as people torment themselves with doubts about whether they are elect.

Luther was no stranger to the question, and he has an answer for it: “Do you doubt whether you are elected to salvation? Then say your prayers, man, and you may conclude that you are.”  For Luther, basking in the glow of his deliverance from bondage, it was a simple question.  God doesn’t hate you; He loves you.  He’s trustworthy.  So stop worrying and trust Him.

Fast-forward a generation or so, though, and there’s a real mess among the Protestants.  The question Luther could not take seriously, dazzled as he was with his epiphany, remained: How can I be sure I’m elect?

Answers flew thick and fast: Do you exhibit real sorrow for sin?  Do you love hearing God’s Word?  Do you love God and His people?  and so on.  And of course, if people were honest with themselves, the answers came back a bit dodgy.  We aren’t as broken over our sin as we should be.  We don’t always love hearing God’s Word — sometimes we want to sleep instead.  We certainly don’t love God, let alone His people, as well as we ought to do.  The more people looked at themselves, the more doubt abounded.  Again, this was not a new problem that just appeared.  John Calvin himself considered the issue, and wrote that when we look at ourselves, we doubt, but when we look at Christ, we trust Him and doubts vanish.

But Calvin’s advice fell to the wayside, and people turned from looking to Christ to examining their own hearts: their works, their affections, their sorrow over sin (or lack thereof).

***

Do we suppose that Free Grace is so different, so special, that this same thing cannot happen to us?

It’s already happening.  No doctrinal formulation, however correct, is immune to getting Pharisee-ized by someone who doesn’t actually walk with God.  Unstable people can and do twist the truth, to their own destruction.  I may talk more about that in coming weeks.

***

But first I’d like to talk about a positive second-generation agenda.

The signal concerns of the Free Grace movement as a whole are first-generation concerns.  For the person who is escaping the crushing weight of Roman legalism, or slavery to the never-ending introspection of Puritan-style Calvinism, or the soteriological roller coaster that is fear of losing one’s salvation — for that person, the hallmark books and talking points of the Free Grace tradition are a kiss on the lips.

I would take nothing from that.

However, the way it’s articulated causes a different set of problems a few years down the road, and this is the thing that it is hard for first-generation Free Grace people to see.

But then, I am not first generation.  My parents were Free Grace before I was born.  I am 35 years old, and have attended Free Grace churches my entire life — and a Free Grace college, and a Free Grace seminary.  This is an enormous privilege, and I am incredibly grateful for it.  I take the signal talking points of Free Grace as a matter of bedrock reality.  But my heritage also gives me a different perspective.

My concerns are second-generation concerns.  Yes, receiving eternal life is free — but then what do you do with it?  Of course the moment you came to Christ was important, but the most important moment of your life?  I hope not — I shudder to think that the most important moment of my spiritual life could have happened when I was four years old, and it’s all downhill from there.  Sure, eternal rewards is a liberating and motivational doctrine — but given that motivation, by what ethic shall we make decisions?

The common theme here is a quest for a coherent, understandable, biblically faithful doctrine and practice of sanctification.  That’s not too much to ask, and it will require breaking new ground.  Best we roll up our sleeves and get crackin’.


Gordon Clark Refuted in Three Sentences

22 January 2011

Faith is trust/reliance/persuasion/belief — frame it how you will — in something which one holds to be truth.  All faith is propositional only if all truth is propositional.  But John 14:6 has already shown us that this is not true.


GES Conference 2010

25 April 2010

I spent the better part of this past week at the annual GES conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Lord blessed us with a number of good speakers, and the mood of the conference was phenomenal.  I got a strong sense that the majority of the attendees really desire reconciliation within the Free Grace movement.  This is a marked change from when I was last there two years ago.  That, for me, was the highlight of the conference.

Some other personal highlights:

  • Bob Swift’s session on the Johannine prologue was both simple and very, very deep.  It goes well with Jim Reitman’s “Gospel in 3-D” series, which presents some additional refinements.
  • Dan Hauge’s workshop on 1 Samuel.  He aimed to equip us to teach 1 Samuel and convince us of the value of doing so.  It worked.
  • John Niemela’s presentation on Hebrews 12:14 was very good.  His thesis: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (in you).”
  • I had the privilege of presenting a plenary session on Hebrews, and a workshop on worship.  You can find them both here.
  • My good friend and future co-worker Joe Anderson came to the conference, and we partnered up for some serious psalm-singing (more info here).  Monday night we spent working on matching lyrics and tunes, Tuesday night we spent a few hours in a corner of the Riley Center with a few friends, singing, sharing, and praying until midnight or so.  Wednesday night the same, but with a very good conversation about worship dance…and a little actual dancing, even.
  • We also got the chance to introduce psalm-singing to the whole conference in the main session after lunch on Wednesday, and in the prayer time.  That was a lot of fun, and very well received.
  • The fellowship was outstanding, as always.  Made new friends, reacquainted with old ones, and got to meet an online friend and fellow worker in person for the first time, which was a real pleasure.
  • Jim Reitman (knowing that my presentation would be discussing unity in the body of Christ) brought me a t-shirt that said “Ask me about my dysfunctional family.”  Priceless.

A good time was had by all — as far as I know — and I’m looking forward to next year.


The High Personal Cost of Maintaining Unity

18 April 2010

There is such a thing as a false gospel, a cancer which must be cut out of Christ’s body. But there is also such a thing as having a sense of proportion, and if we expect anyone to believe us when we need to sound the alarm about genuine heresy, then we need to stop crying wolf all the time.

Christ only has one body, and the gospel of grace tells us that all our brothers are a part of it. Even when the argument is about the gospel, if we respond to every piddling difference by carving off major parts of the Body, how are we defending the gospel that brings us together? If you get a carving knife and flay off every freckle and skin blemish because it might be cancer, are you helping your body, or hurting it?

So the charge is to do what Paul did. Tell the truth, and tell it as starkly as it needs to be told. Then go to meet your erring brothers and have it out. This will cost you—money, time, energy, pain, everything. Keep at it until you all come to one mind. If they throw you out, that just puts the process on hold for a while. Maybe a week, maybe a decade or a century or even longer. Keep working anyway, however God gives opportunity. The prize is worth it.

Christ will build His church, and the whole body will come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. On that day, we will no longer be children, and the whole body will have grown up in all things into Christ our Head.

This is the prize. Christ purchased it; He calls us to live worthy of it. It is worth what it will cost us to serve Christ in this. So look to your own connections with this in mind, and pray for me as I attend to mine this coming week.


Truth is a Person

4 October 2009

A further thought to add to the earlier reflection on universals and particulars:

Ultimate reality — truth — is a Person: “I am the Truth,” Jesus says. Because the Truth is also the divine Word, one expects propositions, and there are propositions. But because the Truth is a Person, one expects more than propositions: one expects acts in history, questions, commands, stories, emotions, all the true things of which a person is capable. And there they are. These lay claim to truth in the same way that propositions do: they are the derivative truth that comes from being a reflection of Truth, the Person.A life that honors God — “walking in the truth,” the apostle John calls it — derives its truth in the same way: by reflecting Christ.

This is another reason why universals and particulars are equally ultimate. When the divine Word is made flesh, when Truth is a person with hair of a certain length and eyes of a certain color, particulars and universals have met and kissed, and can never be separated.

Which leaves us with a burning question: how are universals and particulars related?  It’s a question that has plagued philosophers for centuries (again, see Rushdoony’s The One and the Many for details on the history).  Christians have an answer to this question: “The same way unity and diversity are related in the Trinity.”  We have a word for it: perichoresis, the mutual indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity in one another.  So we might say that in the world, universals and particulars are perichoretically related — each indwells the other, as in the Trinity.  Which is to say, we don’t understand the phenomenon in the world any better than we understand the Trinitarian phenomenon of which it is a reflection.  But since the world is created by the Trinity and reflects the Trinity, we expect to encounter a mystery on this point, and it should not surprise us that the answer is beyond our ken.

Discovering that the thing is, finally and forever, beyond our reach forces us to realize that we are not God, and never will be.  There are two possible responses to this: glorify Yahweh in gratitude, or be offended and ungrateful.  One of them is life, health and peace, and the other is struggle, sickness and death — the same two choices humanity has always faced, from the Garden right down to today.


Update

1 October 2009

I have updated the Gospel Discussion page, for those of you who follow such things. Not much new info, if you’ve been reading here regularly, but maybe organized a bit better.


Whom to Ban from Theological Debate

30 August 2009

We’ve been talking theology here of late, and people being what they are, talk about important things like theology often leads to controversy.  I’ve been involved, willingly or not, in several such controversies, and there are definite patterns, one of the more important ones being this: very often, the fight is more about the people fighting than it is about the theology they’re supposedly fighting over.  This makes it very hard to find a solution, because the real problem is not even being discussed.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the theological issue on the table will be trivial — although that often happens.  In fact, this dodge works best if the issue is quite important.  A weighty theological disagreement conceals unaddressed relational sins so much better than a trivial one.  If the disagreement can somehow be tied to the gospel, for example, then both sides can invoke Galatians 1: 8-9 (while ignoring what Paul actually did in that instance, but that’s another post).

Now as Americans, we have the notion that everyone has a right to a voice in the discussion.  Everyone should be heard; freedom of speech and the press and all that.  But this is not universally true in such theological arguments, precisely because warped and sinning Christians, especially in positions of leadership, often cause division and then cover their tracks with a doctrinal difference.  As much as it galls our democratic ideals, some people need to be silenced (Titus 1:10-11).  They simply shouldn’t be allowed to participate in discussions of controversial issues.

People who cause division, for instance.  Jesus said,

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Our unity, Jesus says, is a necessary part of our gospel witness.  Some people refuse to be unified, and persist in dividing the body for their own selfish ends.  They will say that they’re trying to protect the gospel, but in fact their deeds are lying about Jesus and what He came to do.  So if a man’s deeds lie about the gospel of grace, why in the world ought anyone to listen to what he says about the gospel?

And so the divisive, those who exhibit hatred of their brothers, and other such people simply shouldn’t be heard.  A man whose life does not tell the truth about Jesus simply should not be listened to — even if he’s a pastor or a Ph.D., even if he’s a towering theologian or a great exegete, even if he’s right.

Why even if he’s right?  Because “he who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”  The man may be right on paper — i.e., the propositions he would affirm are technically correct — but in a way, that only makes it worse.  He is privy to the wisdom of the Word, and yet it is not profiting him, and that’s a comment on his character: “Like the legs of the lame that hang limp, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.”  You do not want bad counsel, and — trust Solomon on this — the counsel from this guy is going to have a flaw in it somewhere.

Picture yourself at the Bema Seat, answering for acting in accord with this guy’s counsel.

“But Lord, his doctrine was correct.”

“I told you not to associate with people like him.”  Jesus says.

“But he was so well educated.  He was right about the doctrine!”

Jesus shakes His head.  “I didn’t say, ‘the companion of fools will be destroyed, unless the fools are really well educated, and right about some stuff,’ did I?”

Better just to steer clear.  The ones who lack Christian character are going to be evil company no matter what their doctrinal statement says.  You can’t walk in the light and walk with fools and liars at the same time.