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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Christian Carnival 13 September

The newest Christian Carnival is up at

Thoughts of a Gyrovague.

While I am still perusing it fully, I noticed that there is a post
(Brain Cramps for God: What is a Christian?) that pointed to an issue that has come up over at UK John's blog.

It's worth a quick read, at least.

74 Comments:

  • Hammer,
    Thanks for that link. However, I'd like to point out that we're not addressing quite the same question. The question of whether someone is a Christian means "Do they belong to the Christian religion?" This question is the one CS Lewis addresses, and he is largely correct that it is answered by appeal to the creeds of the Church.

    However, the question I was addressing is, "Is this person going to Hell?" This is quite a different question, unless we want to identify the visible church with the saved. Of course, one could appeal to the old assumption that the invisible "true" church is contained exclusively within the visible church. However, that leads to problems of definition (how are we defining the invisible church?). I am suggesting that we have no right to say that the Body of Christ extends to the edge of the institutional church and no further. Indeed, more particularly, to say that the Body of Christ extends only to particular portions of the institutional church!

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/13/2006 03:05:00 PM  

  • John,
    I can in fashion see how you think that being a Christian means to be part of a human institution. A Christian is a follower of Christ.

    You didn't mention Hell until the 8th comment in your post, which clearly states that you don't think we can define what "being a Christian" is (your words).

    I suppose you just don't like being contradicted by Lewis. That's fine - but don't try to claim you said what you didn't, and don't try to make Lewis into a neo-orthodox theologian. He is specifically saying something very like I did - being a Christian means something, specifically, believing something.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/13/2006 03:18:00 PM  

  • a couple of things for John,

    first, it is not an "old assumption that the invisible "true" church is contained exclusively within the..." it is a new tradtition. Unless of course "old" is used in the relative sense, such as when a 7 year old refers to a 25 year old as "old".

    second, how could it be more appropriate to define who goes to hell as opposed to the limits of the Body of Christ? Seems like the opposite would be the safer judgement.

    By Blogger pyrosapien2819, at 9/13/2006 11:50:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    I know I've been inconsistent in my use of language. Largely, this has been down to trying to pin down for myself what the issue is here. Increasingly, it seems to come down to the distinction between "member of the Christian religion" and "part of the Body of Christ". Few people would want to identify these two, but it is a common assumption that "the Body" exists within "the religion". And this is what I was objecting to - there are parts of "the Body" that are outside "the religion" (understood as the visible Church, and most particularly as those who assent to certain formulations of the faith).

    That is, we can easily define what "being a Christian" is. We cannot, though, so easily discern whether someone is going to Hell (the original comments that sparked me off on this trail were strong ones, along those lines). I certainly wouldn't try and characterise Lewis as neo-orthodox - he was distinctively Anglican!

    Pyro,
    The distinction between the visible and invisible churches dates back more or less to Augustine of Hippo. Originally, the assumption was that the invisible (true) church was contained within the visible church. (It's in his City of God, I think.) That's pretty old :-)

    And I agree - the Body of Christ is the boundary for those who are not going to Hell. The question was, though, whether the Body is entirely contained within the Church, and (most particularly) within the holders of particular propositions. My point was that membership of the Body is sacramental and relational, rather than being about individual rational beliefs. Although I don't think it's a good thing to believe incorrect things about Christ, I do maintain that it is possible to do so while still being part of Christ.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/14/2006 03:30:00 AM  

  • Although I don't think it's a good thing to believe incorrect things about Christ, I do maintain that it is possible to do so while still being part of Christ.

    The accuracy of such a statement is heavily dependent upon the specific “incorrect things” that are believed.

    I’d be interested in a broader explanation of your point, especially in light of Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/14/2006 08:31:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    But what I'm saying is that it isn't dependent on the specific facts. Although I believe someone who denied the physical resurrection of Jesus is completely wrong, I do not think that this belief necessarily bars them from salvation.

    Your quoting from Mt 7:21 is actually bang on. This verse says straight out that what matters is not what we say (i.e. that we use the right creeds or the right names for God) but what we do (i.e. that we do the will of the Father in heaven). Following Christ is not primarily about having your facts right but about have your acts right. Sure, it's better to have the facts right as well, and it will make our walk easier if we do, but it's the following that's important.

    (And don't start thinking that I'm advocating a "works righteousness" or anything, either. That's totally different. The point here is that the sign of Christian faith, saving faith, is that we do the right things, not that we say the right things.)

    I readily concede also that having the facts wrong makes it harder to tell who Christ is, and harder to tell the paths that Christ will lead us along. But that still doesn't make it impossible to follow Him. His sheep know His voice, Jesus said. It's knowing the voice of the shepherd that I'm talking about here, not knowing his biography.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/14/2006 09:16:00 AM  

  • "Although I believe someone who denied the physical resurrection of Jesus is completely wrong, I do not think that this belief necessarily bars them from salvation."

    In my opinion, this is exactly where the discussion needs to be, becasue this is the defining issue. This is also where the idea of biblical inerrancy comes down. For if the Bible is inerrant, then the physical resurrection must be true. However, if the bible has fallible records that can be assumed may or may NOT be true, one can claim to be a Christian without believing in the physical resurrection!

    To claim to be saved, and not even understand WHAT was done to save you-I would contend that you CAN'T be saved! One must (as much as their mind can comprehend-let's not go down the mentally incapacitated road) understand that Jesus Christ was born a virgin birth, lived, died and rose again, so that we could have everlasting life.

    Believing in a Jesus who didn't do this, because one "has it wrong", only means one thing-they are believing in a false Jesus, taught by a false teacher. A Christian interested in their salvation would have taught them about the REAL Jesus and what He did for them.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/14/2006 11:20:00 AM  

  • RT,
    The problem with that is that, here on this blog, Hammer has stated his position very clearly on several occasions - that our salvation has nothing at all to do with us. It's entirely God's action. That must mean that our beliefs are irrelevant. God doesn't save us (or condemn us!) based on our beliefs.

    Now, I don't agree with Hammer's position on election and salvation (as you all know!) but our different positions both imply the same thing here - that our intellectual beliefs are not salvific. And that necessarily includes those central truths of the Christian faith!

    Christ saves us through His life, death and resurrection. We don't do it ourselves - and that includes intellectual beliefs. Of course, we should try to know the truth about the God we follow, but that is not the centre. God is the centre, our understanding comes after that.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/14/2006 11:30:00 AM  

  • "Hammer has stated his position very clearly on several occasions -that our salvation has nothing at all to do with us. It's entirely God's action. That must mean that our beliefs are irrelevant. God doesn't save us (or condemn us!) based on our beliefs."

    First, I think that is a slight misrepresentation of Election. I understand election to be an issue of a call we can't resist-therefore, if we are truly called, we will desire an understanding of who the real Christ is, what He taught, and what He is calling us to do.

    This call is what inspires us, via the Holy Spirit, to BE a Christian.

    Perhaps my understanding is skewed, since I am just beginning to study many of these concepts that simply didn't seem to be important a while back.

    For my journey, it simply always comes back to the idea that we must "believe" in Jesus. This belief was taught as being more than intellectual, but entirely encompassing. A partial belief, a partial acceptance, a partial conversion doesn't equal completely called, according to how I understand it...

    John 3:16 seems so simplistic, until we really try to understand what is required by "whosoever believeth in Him"

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/14/2006 02:40:00 PM  

  • …our salvation has nothing at all to do with us. It's entirely God's action. That must mean that our beliefs are irrelevant. God doesn't save us (or condemn us!) based on our beliefs.

    …our intellectual beliefs are not salvific. And that necessarily includes those central truths of the Christian faith!

    In each of the John’s statements above, the premise is correct, but the conclusion is flawed. They are similar, in that they both ignore one of the core works of the Spirit: enlightening the Shepherd’s sheep, giving them “ears to hear” the truth. By truth, I certainly mean “those central truths of the Christian faith”.

    ”And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in all humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

    Without question, neither belief nor volitional acts can save a sinner. It is God alone; and with salvation, come repentance (granted by God, incidentally), sanctification and understanding. The regenerate are assisted by the Spirit, who “makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8: 27) because “we do not know what we should pray for as we ought” (Romans 8: 26). So, it’s not “that we do the right things”; it is God—all three persons of the Trinity—who does it all. We are merely the beneficiaries of His grace.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/14/2006 06:02:00 PM  

  • RT,
    It's not that you're wrong, just that you don't quite agree with Hammer :-) The question is, what happens after the call? Do we immediately gain correct theology, or are we gradually led to a fuller understanding? I don't think anyone could maintain the former. Thus, we must gradually develop in our understanding of God. The question is merely whether we must, at the instant of conversion adopt certain rational propositional truths, or whether the conversion event is a sacramental and relational change. I maintain the latter - that conversion isn't a matter of propositional truths. Thus, one can be converted, saved, elected, and yet have incorrect fundamental beliefs about God.

    Now, of course, these incorrect beliefs ought to change as we learn what God is really like. But, still, even if they don't, the fact of our salvation remains.

    Robert,
    The above thoughts, I think, answer your criticism. You imply that, at the moment of salvation, we are miraculously given a full and true theology. Of course, this is nonsense, and I'm sure you don't mean it like that. However, that is what you seem to be saying: you say 'they both ignore one of the core works of the Spirit: enlightening the Shepherd’s sheep, giving them “ears to hear” the truth. By truth, I certainly mean “those central truths of the Christian faith”..' And you seem to think that this answers the question of whether any saved Christian must accept certain propositional truths.

    Now, I fully agree that the Holy Spirit works within us to "lead us into all truth" (John 6:13). The crucial point, though, is that this is a continuing process, not a once-for-all event. We do not gain "all truth" at the moment of conversion. Nor can we judge which aspects of "all truth" a particular person is being led into at a given time - God's purposes are not ours.

    So, we know that all saved people have partial knowledge of God, and that none of this knowledge, of itself, affects their salvation. That being so, I do not see how we can then stand up and say that certain pieces of knowledge do, in fact, have salvific importance. No matter how fundamental they are to the Christian faith and a correct understanding of God, they are not required for salvation - because God does not choose us based on our knowledge of Him. Nor does God miraculously impose particular pieces of propositional truth upon us - for if He did, all Christians would agree on theology and there would be no arguments! If we maintain that conversion involves the miraculous assent to propositional facts, how do we know what this set of facts is? It is nowhere spelled out in the Bible, and the catholic creeds were not formulated for centuries, so they can't be the basis for this "salvific knowledge" (if I can call it that).

    Remember, I am not at all saying that the truth is not true, or that we should simply accept anything. I am saying that we should debate vigorously and sincerely and charitably. But also that we must keep the distinction between "wrong" and "damned" clearly in mind.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/15/2006 04:47:00 AM  

  • John, in my previous comment I wrote: ”Without question, neither belief nor volitional acts can save a sinner. It is God alone; and with salvation, come repentance (granted by God, incidentally), sanctification and understanding.” I placed understanding at the end…intentionally; enlightenment is obviously a process. That said, however, the perpetually “wrong” are likely those who—according to the apostle Paul—are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

    It is not for me (or anyone else) to judge whether one is a genuine convert; but we, as defenders of the faith, ought to be ”correcting those who are in opposition”…to what?...in opposition to the truth. To hold the position that Christians can believe or disbelieve practically anything (as some do) is to do a disservice to “seekers” and new converts alike.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/15/2006 07:48:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    It looks like we agree. You see, I've been saying pretty much what you just said. That is, that 'the perpetually “wrong” are likely those who...are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”' - and the operative word is "likely". That is, they are possibly, even probably, not following Christ, but we cannot be certain of that. And, therefore, for us to say that they are definitely damned is wrong.

    Similarly, 'we, as defenders of the faith, ought to be ”correcting those who are in opposition”"' is precisely what I've been saying. We must debate and discuss, communicating our understanding and correcting errors where we find them (in ourselves not least!). This is totally different to saying that someone else is damned to Hell.

    We can and must spread the truth. We cannot and must not confuse this with declaring that (because of their lack of intellectual understanding) some people are certainly damned.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/15/2006 08:42:00 AM  

  • John,

    In what way do I disagree with Hammer? I just skimmed his series on Unconditional Election, and I am unable to see what disagreement you are referring to. Obviously, my terminology and depth of understanding is different, but I see no difference in the ideas.

    Until his series, this was a concept I had never even contemplated. In fact, at first read, it was almost "offensive" to me. Although, I gave it more time, more thought, more study and more devotion, because more often than not, if something in Scripture seems offensive, or is a new concept to learn, it deserves the time.

    My understanding is that the call is undeniable, and our answering this call is responsible for our desire to seek Christ, and to seek righteousness.

    To me, that's what seems to be lacking in those who have decided they will choose God in a more "mild" form.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/15/2006 11:19:00 AM  

  • RT,
    I said that you don't quite agree. And I just meant that the way you phrased it wasn't how Hammer would write it. You mean much the same thing but his emphasis IIRC is more on the preceding decisions of God and less on the calling event itself. There's nothing hugely different, but they're not quite the same. See what I mean?

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/15/2006 12:15:00 PM  

  • John,

    I see what you are saying ;)

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/15/2006 12:26:00 PM  

  • John, (I'm addressing the heart of the issue you brought up)
    While I do think one has to be very careful, we should, in a loving but straightforward way, confront people who claim to be Christians yet have dangerously flawed theology. We especially need to warn those who may be searching for truth and are led astray by people who think they are Christians. To say only that they may be Christians, but are wrong in their theology for fear of seeming judgmental, leads a seeker to believe there are many ways to follow Christ when indeed the Bible tells of a narrow path to salvation. There is only one way, and to say that there may be other ways (or other beliefs about Christ) is wrong. I would much rather be told I am intolerant and judgmental than lead a sinner down the road to hell when he thinks he is saved. You never commented on Borg, but if you think one can believe the heresies that he preaches and still be saved, you are sadly mistaken and are in danger of leading others astray in your effort to not offend anyone. It takes no faith to believe in a god who doesn't do anything, so not only does Borg not have intellectual belief, but he has no faith either. I will boldly warn others pondering his book, "The Heart of Christianity" that this is not what true Christians believe or what the Bible teaches, the author is not a Christian, and if you want to know the "heart of Christianity", read the New Testament of the Bible!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/16/2006 10:32:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "we should, in a loving but straightforward way, confront people who claim to be Christians yet have dangerously flawed theology"

    Absolutely - this is what I've been saying from the start.

    "To say only that they may be Christians, but are wrong in their theology for fear of seeming judgmental, leads a seeker to believe there are many ways to follow Christ"

    Again, this is basically something I've been consistently saying throughout - that we must stand up for what we believe to be true, and call people to account for bad theology and other errors.

    However, you are incorrect when you suggest that "fear of seeming judgmental" has anything to do with it. My objection has nothing to do with what other people might think! Rather, it's a fundamental theological objection to conflating two very different concepts - error and damnation.

    "if you think one can believe the heresies that he preaches and still be saved, you are sadly mistaken and are in danger of leading others astray in your effort to not offend anyone"

    But here is where we part company. I have still seen no reason to change my opinion that our theology has no bearing on our salvation. Or, more accurately, although bad theology may make us suspect that someone may not actually know Christ, we cannot be sure of this without specific spiritual revelation or personal knowledge. And neither of these appears to apply in this case!

    Indeed, I do not believe it to be possible to reconcile the ideas of election Hammer has put forward on this blog with any such assumption that salvation automatically imputes good theology. At the very best, it's a bolt-on assumption that does not tie in with anything else.

    If anyone has any theological reasons (rather than simple assertions) to question this position, I'd be most interested to hear them.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/17/2006 01:57:00 PM  

  • Indeed, I do not believe it to be possible to reconcile the ideas of election Hammer has put forward on this blog with any such assumption that salvation automatically imputes good theology.

    Regeneration, which most definitely is the consequence of election, doesn’t “automatically impute good theology” (except in rare cases: Saul of Tarsus, for example), but the true convert’s theology ought to improve as he /she matures spiritually.

    On the question of erroneous theology and doctrine, there are two major sub-categories of truth: let’s call them primary and secondary. Primary truths include: Christ’s divinity and simultaneous humanity, His death, burial and bodily resurrection, the triune nature of God, the sinful nature of mankind, etc. Secondary truths include election, justification by faith alone, the Sprit’s responsibility versus human responsibility in the life of the believer, Biblical inerrancy (I couldn’t resist) and so on.

    I would argue that a rejection of “primary truths” necessarily implies an unregenerate state. After all, Christ himself didn’t spare the feelings of the Pharisees (John 10: 25-27) when He said: “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I told you.” Conversely, “secondary truths” are somewhat esoteric and, in my view, require a degree of spiritual growth to fully appreciate; and every convert grows at their own pace.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/17/2006 04:24:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    So, we agree that theology should mature as the Christian grows. And, therefore, we agree that incorrect theology in and of itself doesn't mean that someone is damned.

    The problem comes in your second paragraph with this idea of first and second truths. Although I sympathise with the motivation, I don't think that we can justify it. There's nothing in the Bible to tell us which are these essential propositions without which one cannot be saved - and this is the central question: does salvation require that we assent to certain propositions? I still don't see why assent to propositions indicates salvation. I still see no reason to assume that God imputes certain propositions at salvation (and, indeed, you seem not to want to say this). This being so, I don't see how we can guarantee that any saved Christian will necessarily assent to every one of your "primary" truths.

    Salvation is not about acquiring correct beliefs. Salvation is a sacramental and relational event in which we are set right with God and adopted as children, and in which we begin the process of regeneration into perfection. But it is the beginning of the process - both practically and intellectually. And one may be stalled in the process without necessarily losing salvation. We do not say that a Christian who continues to gossip is obviously damned. How, then, can we say that a Christian who misunderstands God is necessarily damned? (It may be likely in either case, but can we say absolutely that it is so?) Notice also, as I said above, that this is not a question of worrying about what people think of us, or of appearing judgmental. It's a fundamental theological issue, of whether we can make this assumption that equates error with damnation.

    To avoid confusion, I fully agree that we want and expect the Christian to accept these truths - they are extremely important and foundational to a correct understanding of God and the whole Christian faith. I also agree that we should expect the Christian to move from an incorrect to a correct understanding as they mature. The sticking point comes when we move from these expectations to impose a blanket rule that, without passing certain qualifications, one cannot have been saved by God. And that is what this position seems to amount to.

    Your reference to the Pharisees doesn't really address the issue. They are condemned not for ignoring certain propositions about Him but for refusing to follow Him. They saw and heard Christ but rejected Him. What, though, of someone who hears and follows, but does not properly understand?

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/18/2006 05:21:00 AM  

  • John,
    I’m glad to see that we agree about something! ;-)

    There's nothing in the Bible to tell us which are these essential propositions without which one cannot be saved - and this is the central question: does salvation require that we assent to certain propositions?

    As I said in an earlier comment, it’s dependent upon which propositions. Now, granted, the specific language that I used (primary and secondary truth) isn’t articulated in Scripture. However, the concept most certainly is; it just requires a bit of logical inference.

    I still see no reason to assume that God imputes certain propositions at salvation (and, indeed, you seem not to want to say this). This being so, I don't see how we can guarantee that any saved Christian will necessarily assent to every one of your "primary" truths.

    Firstly, we must define salvation before we can say whether “certain propositions” are imputed thereafter (immediately or otherwise). Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, let’s use Jesus’ definition: ”Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” John 3:5). One must be spiritually regenerated before any meaningful or effectual assent can occur. Notice how Jesus responded to Nicodemus: ”Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10) and ”If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

    We know from Romans 1:16 that the Gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”. What is the Gospel if not those basic, “primary truths” that I mentioned? The Gospel is not deep theological concepts, or “solid food”, but rather elementary, almost self-evident truths (Why almost? See Nicodemus et al.), or “milk” (1 Corinthians 3:2). Remember, Paul initially only preached “Christ and Him crucified” to those at Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:2)…and I suspect in other cities as well.

    Salvation is not about acquiring correct beliefs. Salvation is a sacramental and relational event in which we are set right with God and adopted as children, and in which we begin the process of regeneration into perfection. But it is the beginning of the process - both practically and intellectually. And one may be stalled in the process without necessarily losing salvation.

    I agree that salvation is “sacramental and relational”, but more importantly, it is spiritual (again, John 3:5). We disagree, however, about the nature of regeneration. Perhaps you are confusing regeneration with sanctification, which is the process by which one’s newly re-born (regenerated) spirit grows and matures. Spiritual re-birth is instantaneous, whereas spiritual growth is gradual.

    How, then, can we say that a Christian who misunderstands God is necessarily damned?

    Genuine Christians are never damned; only the unregenerate, e.g., Nicodemus and his ilk.

    The sticking point comes when we move from these expectations to impose a blanket rule that, without passing certain qualifications, one cannot have been saved by God. And that is what this position seems to amount to.

    See John 3:1-21. Jesus seems to “impose a blanket rule” with respect to salvation.

    Your reference to the Pharisees doesn't really address the issue. They are condemned not for ignoring certain propositions about Him but for refusing to follow Him. They saw and heard Christ but rejected Him. What, though, of someone who hears and follows, but does not properly understand?

    Nicodemus was a Pharisee! He didn’t simply refuse to follow Christ. In fact, he seemed quite genuine when he said: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Furthermore, Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus to “follow him”; He told him that he “must be born again”, for no one can truly follow Christ before they have been saved; and no one can be saved without God’s predetermined election (Romans 8:29).

    So, the bottom line is this: faith and belief (assent) are distinct. Assent (or rather, authentic belief) is the consequence of faith, which is the consequence of regeneration, which is the consequence of God’s grace…in that order. There are, no doubt, many who “believe in God”, but lack faith; this is because they remain in an unregenerate state and their assent is purely intellectual, i.e., a carnal belief or wishful thinking. On the other hand, the regenerate is initially enlightened with those “primary truths” or “milk” (e.g. the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, the 3000 that heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, etc.) and progressively matures, being able to digest more and more “solid food”. Again, there are unsaved individual who “believe”, but there are no truly saved individuals who are ignorant of the primary spiritual truths that I mentioned earlier.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/18/2006 06:53:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    I'm now slightly confused. As I recall, you agree largely with Hammer about election - that we are saved through God's actions alone, regardless of ourselves. That is, you believe that our understanding of God and religion is irrelevant to whether God will save us. However, you are also now suggesting that, once we are saved, an infallible sign of this event having happened is that we now assent to certain (undefined) intellectual propositions about Jesus, God, Creation and the Church. Am I understanding correctly?

    That being so, I can only assume that you are suggesting that God does miraculously change our intellect on conversion, so that we now assent to these "primary" truths. I find this odd because you previously seemed to deny that this was what was happening. In any case, if this is what you are suggesting, I'd be interested in evidence from Scripture or tradition that would support this idea. And, most particularly, in some definition of precisely what these infallible signs of salvation are.

    "We know from Romans 1:16 that the Gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”. What is the Gospel if not those basic, “primary truths” that I mentioned?"

    The Gospel is the Good News of Christ. It's not about propositional truth but about a person - the Person of Christ. Now, this necessarily involves certain propositions but these are not the heart of the matter. To act as though the propositions are what matters (which is what this argument is essentially saying) is, I believe, to miss the point of the Christian faith.

    Indeed, I'm puzzled about how you understand what you wrote. For you quote a verse saying that the Gospel is the power of God, and then say that the Gospel must therefore be certain propositional truths. This doesn't make sense to me - the power of God does not rest in propositional truth!

    "The sticking point comes when we move from these expectations to impose a blanket rule that, without passing certain qualifications, one cannot have been saved by God.
    See John 3:1-21. Jesus seems to “impose a blanket rule” with respect to salvation."

    John 3 doesn't address the issue at all! Jesus talks about believing in Him (not propositional truth), about following Him, about being born again and about Jesus' mission to save the world. There's barely a hint here that could be used to support the idea that certain propositional truths act as the sign of salvation. Jesus is talking about how salvation works, about the radical change that it works in us. He talks about his disappointment that the leaders of Israel, even those who come to talk with Him, don't understand the things of God. Jesus doesn't talk about intellectual assent being required - He talks about obedience being required ("all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God"). Notice, particularly, that Jesus isn't saying that understanding was expected of the elect - He was saying that He expected understanding from the spiritual leaders of Israel.

    "Assent (or rather, authentic belief) is the consequence of faith"

    But is it the inevitable consequence of faith? Can we establish a set of propositions by which we can divide the sheep from the goats, without excluding any of the sheep? And on what basis do we construct this set of propositions (whose version of the Christian faith is to be fundamental)? Why should we expect the existence of a sacramental relationship to be signified by assent to propositional truths?

    "There are, no doubt, many who “believe in God”, but lack faith"

    But this isn't the question. The question here is the opposite of this - are there those who do not "believe in God" and yet have faith? (Using "believe in God" as shorthand for this as-yet-undefined set of propositions.)

    "there are no truly saved individuals who are ignorant of the primary spiritual truths that I mentioned earlier"

    And here's your answer. But I still have little idea of (a) the basis for this statement and how it can be reconciled with your understanding of election, and (b) the nature of these "primary" spiritual truths.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/19/2006 06:17:00 AM  

  • John, we seem to have reached the point at which we will simply be reiterating our previous points. Nevertheless, I’ll have one more go at it.

    I still have little idea of (a) the basis for this statement and how it can be reconciled with your understanding of election, and (b) the nature of these "primary" spiritual truths.

    a.) Election has everything to do with God’s will, purpose, plan, desire, etc. and absolutely nothing to do with human “free will”, volition, assent to propositions, etc. Here’s what I wrote in my last comment: “Assent (or rather, authentic belief) is the consequence of faith, which is the consequence of regeneration, which is the consequence of God’s grace…in that order.” Notice that assent (authentic belief) is the last item, in terms of chronology.

    b.) Here’s what I wrote several comments ago: “Primary truths include: Christ’s divinity and simultaneous humanity, His death, burial and bodily resurrection, the triune nature of God, the sinful nature of mankind, etc.” That’s the Gospel! A denial of these essential truths indicates that one has not been regenerated (perhaps not yet…after all, everyone begins life as a blind, ignorant sinner). This is precisely what Jesus was alluding to when He spoke to Nicodemus, the other Pharisees, the “rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18-23) and so on. This is not a novel concept.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/19/2006 08:45:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    Sorry, I'd seen that list but didn't read it as being exhaustive (you said that the primary truths "include" those listed). There are two problems with your list. First, some didn't apply to the early Christians - they had no formulation of the dual natures of Christ, nor of the triune nature of God. These ideas were only clearly laid out after some centuries of debate and discussion in the Church. So, clearly, these "primary truths" were not imputed to all believers in the early Church. Many of the early Church Fathers had theologies that were distinctly suspect on these matters by the standards of those who followed them, yet few people would suggest that they were therefore obviously damned as a result. For example, consider the huge debate over homoousios versus homoiousios (whether Christ's nature was the same as or similar to God's) - one side won and Christology has followed that path ever since. But do we really want to say that each and every supporter of homoiousios was obviously damned, because they upheld an incorrect fundamental picture of God?

    Second, others of these "truths" are so woolly as to be near useless in defining who's "in" and who's "out". What, for example, does "the sinful nature of mankind" mean? All three crucial words in that sentence are horribly difficult to pin down, and you'd be hard pressed to find agreement among the majority of Christians as to the "correct" meaning. Which means, again, that we have not been given a clear "correct" understanding.

    After making your list, you again merely assert that "A denial of these essential truths indicates that one has not been regenerated" without explaining to me why such a denial means this. I still see no theological connection between regeneration and assent to these propositions. As such, I maintain that it is possible (although undesirable) for someone to be regenerate, saved, elect, and yet not to assent to certain of these truths.

    As to saying that Jesus was saying this to Nicodemus and the rich young ruler - I simply cannot see how we can stretch either passage to cover assent to propositional truth. Nicodemus was told that he needed to be born again and to follow him and that Jesus had come to save the world. He was criticised for failing to understand before he had been born again! There is nothing here to suggest that assent to propositions automatically follows regeneration. The RYR is even less apt - understanding doesn't even appear in that story. He was told simply to go and do something (sell all had and follow Jesus). Nothing there about gaining knowledge.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/19/2006 09:24:00 AM  

  • John,
    Basically I see your argument as boiling down to this: There is no clear definition of what it means to be a Christian. The cults of the world, although they don't understand the nature and work of Christ, are just as valid for salvation as Christianity. Mormons who do not understand that Jesus is God (but think he is an angel), Jehovah's Witnesses who deny the trinity, and other offshoots of "Christianity" (and most don't even claim to be Christian!) have equal standing with Christianity when pertaining to salvation.

    If someone doesn't even understand that they are a sinner (the sinful nature of mankind!) and what Jesus did for them to save them, how then can they be saved??

    Not trying to be rude, but you simply don't understand election or just how big God's grace really is. There is nothing I or anyone else can say about election that can make it any more clear. The elect WILL understand the primary truths (that Robert defined) about God that saved them- and if they don't then they aren't the elect. It's just that simple.

    It's not our job to separate the sheep from the goats (see the parable on the wheat and the tares). That's God's job. We should be aware that there ARE goats among the sheep and warn others who are led astray by goats in sheep's clothing. We should be careful to go beyond that because damnation is God's doing, and not up to us to condemn others. We should do all we can to continue to witness to and lead those to Christ whom we believe to be unsaved (including those who call themselves Christians). We should point out flawed theology in a way that will alert the "goats" that they may not be the "sheep" they think they are. The Bible gives us clear guidlines as to who is saved and who isn't, and warnings about the goats in the world and false teachings to avoid. I would go further than Robert and say that a few of his "secondary truths" are actually primary. Biblical innerrancy being one. If you don't believe the Bible that describes who God is, then you are in danger of creating a God in your mind that is more suitable to your liking and your sinful nature (an idol!)
    While it is true that someone who has never seen or read a Bible can be saved by hearing the gospel preached, once they are saved they will hunger for the word of God and treasure any bit of it they can get their hands on to know more about the God who saved them. If, after being "saved", they reject the Bible's teachings and the secondary truths instead of growing in spiritual understanding, their "salvation" should be in serious question. I would also say that "salvation through faith alone" (not works) is a fundamental Christian concept. If you don't understand this primary truth, you don't fully understand what Jesus did for you on the cross (the COMPLETE work of salvation) and you will be constantly trying to earn favor with God through your own works, undermining the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and in essence saying He died in vain.

    On the other hand, I believe even a child can understand the basic gospel and be saved, without fully understanding immediately the triune nature of God or that Jesus was both human and divine. What MUST be understood by anyone who is saved immediately before, during and after conversion is this: We are sinners and there is NOTHING we can do on our own to be made right with God. Jesus Christ came to die on the cross for our sins and defeated death(you MUST understand that you are a sinner, and specifically renounce your sins and turn from them!) so that we may be reconciled with God and have eternal life, despite our sinfulness. If you don't understand this, you are not saved, period!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/19/2006 01:27:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "I see your argument as boiling down to this: There is no clear definition of what it means to be a Christian. The cults of the world, although they don't understand the nature and work of Christ, are just as valid for salvation as Christianity."

    I'm sorry, then, but you've simply not been reading what I've been writing. Nowhere have I even hinted that there is any way to the Father except by Jesus Christ. I have been extremely emphatic, in fact, that following Christ the the centre of the issue. Nor have I come anywhere close to saying that what we believe is unimportant, nor that errors should not be challenged.

    The only thing I am saying is that it is, at least, dangerous (and at worst blasphemous) to assume from someone's theology whether they are saved or not. There is no sound theological connection that I have seen between salvation and correct understanding.

    "If someone doesn't even understand that they are a sinner (the sinful nature of mankind!)"

    These are two quite different concepts - personal guilt and sinful nature. As I said to Robert, pinning down what these cant phrases mean is crucial, and very difficult.

    "The elect WILL understand the primary truths (that Robert defined) about God that saved them- and if they don't then they aren't the elect. It's just that simple."

    Why?

    I've heard nothing, in this comment thread or anywhere else in this discussion that even attempts a defence of this position. All that happens is that the assertion is repeated over and over as though it mere volume will make it true.

    "We should be careful to go beyond that because damnation is God's doing, and not up to us to condemn others."

    That's all I've been asking for! This step from "you are wrong" to "you are damned" is precisely the step that I have explicitly and repeatedly been opposing. And now, finally, it appears that we agree!

    "I would also say that "salvation through faith alone" (not works) is a fundamental Christian concept."

    Actually, it's a fundamental Reformed Protestant Christian concept. That's not the same thing at all. (Which is not to say that other Christians deny it, but that most do not give this single principle such elevated status.)

    "what Jesus did for you on the cross (the COMPLETE work of salvation)"

    Now there is an interesting misconception. The cross is only a small part of the work of salvation - what about the incarnation, life and (especially) resurrection of Christ? The cross does not (must not) be understood in isolation. In particular, any attempt to understand the Cross without considering the resurrection is fatally flawed - only in the resurrection is the nature of the crucifiction revealed and the victory declared.

    "What MUST be understood by anyone who is saved immediately before, during and after conversion is this: We are sinners and there is NOTHING we can do on our own to be made right with God. Jesus Christ came to die on the cross for our sins and defeated death(you MUST understand that you are a sinner, and specifically renounce your sins and turn from them!) so that we may be reconciled with God and have eternal life, despite our sinfulness."

    OK, that's one succinct summary. Notice, though, that it both excludes things Robert thought essential and includes things he thought inessential. Notice also that it completely avoids all the questions of "theology" - the knowledge required here is (a) not exclusively propositional (our own sinful state and our reaction to it, for example) and (b) not primarily theological (and thus lends itself to varied theological understandings).

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/19/2006 02:18:00 PM  

  • John,
    Here, as on your own blog, you have used words that, essentially, mean nothing.

    You say that someone can be wrong, but refuse to say that there is any real consequence to it. In essence, you are saying that we can say and believe we are following Christ, no matter what we are following, and we're not damned. (I understand you put it the converse way - just stick withme for a minute) You posit a ludicrous idea - that we can call right wrong, and wrong right, yet somehow still be correct in belief, if not in fact, or incorrect in belief, yet correct in fact. How can I be following a green Rolls Royce if I believe I am following a Hyundia, and base my belief that I am following a red Hyundai because I can describe it as I look at it - and what I describe exactly matches red Hyundia, not a green Rolls?

    You say "follow Christ", but refuse to allow that those who deny core aspects of Christ (even those who, like Marcus Borg, deny them all) are not following Him, but a god of their own making. Can we fail to recognize someone whom we know intimately? On your blog and here, you have been challenged repeatedly to say what following Christ means, and if anyone who claims to be a Christian cannot be told that they are not.

    The silence is deafening.

    (PS - Sorry for the posting delay. I am being crushed in school right now and need to focus)

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/19/2006 03:25:00 PM  

  • This idea that Christianity is merely what one feels, (therefore malleable and undefineable) in relationship with God, is what many find hypocritical in Christianity.

    Many people refuse to take a stand on what is right and wrong, and sincerely lack the light that should be emitted from a Christian.

    The light isn't emitted via a pat on the back for sin, lack of clarity about what is right and wrong, questioning what God may have alternatively communicated through His Word, and a redefinition of who God is, based on the stance of a church who says He is something else.

    The light is something I have seen emitted in fewer people than the number that actually claim to be a Christian! (I say this from a place of humility, as I was convicted when I wasn't following Christ, and absolutely every aspect of my life has changed since) This light is a clear presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Seeking holiness convicts a soul about sin, and in the absence of understanding what sin means for us, we will subsequently lack the light.

    To lack the light of the Holy Spirit within, presents the world with a hypocritical face of Christianity. A person who claims the Word is true, yet doesn't claim inerrancy, a person who says that some sort of additional knowledge must be revealed beyond what is present in Scripture, and a person who says they are a Christian, but lacks definition of what that actually means, presents as a hypocrite.

    I become concerned that Christianity then just becomes a tradition amongst many others, rather than salvation-because if salvation isn't defined via a complete surrender to the truth of what Christ is and what salvation means, then it is for naught.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/19/2006 05:21:00 PM  

  • I’d like to clarify a couple of things (hopefully, this won’t be one comment too many).

    “…some didn't apply to the early Christians - they had no formulation of the dual natures of Christ, nor of the triune nature of God.”

    I was thinking of those of “us” who, for centuries now, have had easy access to the Scriptures. However, the “original” apostles certainly had a full-orbed understanding of the truth, which they taught to God’s elect, a remnant if you will. Moreover, God has had a remnant since the beginning. Moses, Joshua, David et al were among the elect before Christ, so obviously the degree of enlightenment available to the elect has increased over time. Again, I’m thinking of post-Pentecost believers; but the watering-down and clouding of the truth that occurred sometime after the fourth century, when theology was formed by committee, is another issue entirely (I hope I'm not opening another can of worms here).

    As to saying that Jesus was saying this to Nicodemus and the rich young ruler - I simply cannot see how we can stretch either passage to cover assent to propositional truth.

    In both cases, Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Also, in both cases, Jesus told them to do something that was beyond their ability, because they remained unchanged: regeneration and losing one’s life (or lifestyle) for the sake of Christ. It is only the Holy Spirit that regenerates, which enables one to “sell everything and follow Christ” (i.e., denying the flesh and acknowledging God’s preeminence). Neither salvation nor obedience to Christ is possible without grace, through faith, which is the gift of God. Assent to this truth is a result of faith, which the unregenerate do not and cannot possess.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/19/2006 06:55:00 PM  

  • Wow - three comments to reply to!

    Hammer,
    "In essence, you are saying that we can say and believe we are following Christ, no matter what we are following, and we're not damned."

    No, that's not what I'm saying at all. I am saying that provided that we are really following Christ it doesn't fundamentally matter what we believe about Him. There is a real Person to follow and all that matters is whether we are actually following. It is absolutely true that we ought to understand, and that we should try to understand. But our understanding is not required, only our obedience and our love.

    What baffles me about this whole discussion is there seems to be a confusion between two quite different things: "What we believe Christ to be" and "What Christ actually is". I have repeatedly said that what matters is following the real Christ. What I seem to be hearing as a "rebuttal" is that our understanding of Christ must be correct. Indeed, I am charged with allowing people to follow a Christ of their own making - when this is precisely the opposite of what I am saying. Everything I say here is predicated on the single fact that the person is actually following the real Christ. It is you folk who are insisting that our understanding is central - that what we believe Christ to be controls what we do. By contrast, I believe that, for the follower of Christ, it is Christ's actual nature that controls what we do, not what we believe about it.

    "Can we fail to recognize someone whom we know intimately?"

    No. But we may describe that Person very differently to someone else who also knows them.

    Again, and apologies for shouting:
    I AM NOT SAYING THAT WRONG BELIEFS DON'T MATTER. I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD IGNORE FALSEHOODS.
    I AM SAYING THAT INCORRECT BELIEFS ABOUT CHRIST ARE NOT AN INFALLIBLE SIGN OF DAMNATION.

    "On your blog and here, you have been challenged repeatedly to say what following Christ means, and if anyone who claims to be a Christian cannot be told that they are not."

    To take the second part first (because it's easier to answer!), I have repeatedly answered this - right back to the original post itself. Falsehood and error should absolutely be confronted and challenged, in charity and sincerity. If someone claims to be a Christian and their manner of life or belief contradict that, they should be challenged on that basis. What we cannot do, without specific divine revelation, is state with certainty whether they are truly saved or not - all we can do is point out their error. If they are unrepentant, that will have consequences for continued fellowship. Once again - we may say that someone is wrong; we may not say (without divine revelation) that they are unsaved. That is, "correct" and "saved" are not identical concepts, and nor are "incorrect" and "damned" - even in fundamental matters. (Just look at the disciples. Even after living with Jesus for nearly 3 years, Peter could so profoundly misunderstand the nature of Christ and His mission, that Jesus had to rebuke him in the strongest possible terms, calling him "Satan"! And yet this was the man whom Jesus had chosen to lead the Church.)

    Now, for the first part - what does following Christ mean. This question hasn't, AFAIR, actually been asked before. And, if it has, I suspect I skipped it because the answer is so blindingly obvious and simple. Following Christ means following Christ (if you'll excuse the tautology). "Follow" as in "walk in the way of", "go with as a companion", "do what He says and does". "Christ" as in "Jesus", "the Son of God", "the second Person of the Trinity". There is a real Person to follow, and we are called to live our lives focused on Him. We should follow His teachings and example, we should seek to become more like Him, we should try to please Him and the One who sent Him. But the central truth is that it is Christ that we must follow - the real Christ. Whatever we understand Him to be is irrelevant if only we hear His voice and do as He commands.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that I take "following Christ" in a far more straightforward way that you folk do. It's not something fenced around with creeds and congregations and churches. It is a matter of one real person and their relationship with another real Person - not their intellectual knowledge but their love for each other.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/21/2006 04:30:00 AM  

  • RT,
    I won't say much in reply, because what you wrote doesn't address what I've been discussing. (It's no less valuable for that, though. I heartily agree with most of what you wrote.) However, a few sentences seemed clearly aimed at me, and I will reply briefly to those.

    "This idea that Christianity is merely what one feels, (therefore malleable and undefineable) in relationship with God, is what many find hypocritical in Christianity."

    You could be right. But this has nothing to do with what I've been saying. Indeed, my emphasis is entirely outside the individual Christian, on the Christ they follow. This could hardly be less related to "what one feels".

    "a person who says they are a Christian, but lacks definition of what that actually means, presents as a hypocrite."

    Surely, someone who says they are a Christian but cannot explain what they mean is merely confused? Hypocrisy requires that we say one thing and do another. And, to some extent, we are all guilty of that.

    "if salvation isn't defined via a complete surrender to the truth of what Christ is and what salvation means, then it is for naught"

    I would say, in contrast to this, that salvation is defined as "a complete surrender to the Person of Christ." The truth about Christ is important, but what is central is who Christ is - that real Person who is the centre of our faith. My issue here is that the way you said it places the entire focus on our understanding of propositional facts. By contrast, I believe that the correct focus is our relationship with Christ.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/21/2006 04:39:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    I can't go along with you down the road you described. To think that believers at certain times had access to "all truth" but that those at other times did not simply doesn't make sense to me. To say that, after the fourth century, there was some sort of spiritual darkness until the Reformation simply ignores the history of the Church (many of the Church's greatest saints and theologians date from that era).

    My original point, which you didn't address, was rebutting the idea that your "primary truths" have been universally believed in the Church - which would have to be the case for them to be central, "salvific" truths. If these truths (having not been formulated yet) were not known to Christians for centuries, they cannot have the central status you suggested. I cannot accept that salvation requires a different set of propositions now than it did in the second century, or the twelfth! Indeed, if Moses, David etc. were saved in the same way that we are, then no fact about Jesus can possibly be "salvific" because they could have no knowledge of Him!

    Then, addressing Nicodemus and the RYR, I won't disagree with your assessment until the last sentence. You make a good point that they are unable to make that step because they are unregenerate. But there is simply no basis in these stories to take that final step - to say that, after regeneration, we are somehow imbued with certain facts that are the infallible sign of that regeneration. Because neither of these men has taken this step, there is simply no evidence for what would happen afterwards!

    If you want to provide biblical evidence for (a) this idea that assent to certain facts is invariably and miraculously given to the regenerate, and (b) what these facts actually are, you will have to do an awful lot better than that. The problem, of course, is that this idea isn't actually found in the Bible. What evidence there might be will be circumstantial and vague. Which is a problem if we want to propose this idea as an infallible sign of regeneration!

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/21/2006 04:52:00 AM  

  • John,
    If people can be "saved" without having to hear the facts about who Christ is and what He did for them, then what is the point of spreading the gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission? If all Christianity is is a relationship with the person who we think Jesus is, why can't anyone, with any name for God, be saved?
    How do we know that we're actually following Christ if our definition of who He is differs so widely with someone else who also calls themselves a Christian? The devil is a great deceiver, disguising his voice to sound just like Christ's if he so chooses, decieving a multitude of people who think they are following Christ.
    You dismissed my point that Jehovah's witnesses and Mormon's (who are very offended if you say that their religion is not 'Christian') who think they are following Christ, but DON'T UNDERSTAND WHO HE REALLY IS- GOD!, would be equally saved in the confines of your argument here. This IS in essence what you are saying!!!! These cults claim to be following the one true Christ, but their definition of who He is does not match the Bible's definition of who He is. In the same way as the cults, Borg's definition of who Jesus is does not match the Bible. Can all of these people really be following the same Jesus when their opinion of who He is differs so drastically!??? Just because they are sincere in their belief doesn't make it right or mean that they are saved. This is why there HAS TO BE a clear definition for who Christ is and what He did to save us. Those who deny the Jesus of the Bible and who He is as defined there cannot be saved according to the Bible- like it or not!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/21/2006 07:05:00 AM  

  • What I meant to say in my first paragraph is "if people can be saved without having to hear OR BELIEVE the facts..."

    I should have proofread first!!!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/21/2006 07:07:00 AM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "If people can be "saved" without having to hear or believe the facts about who Christ is and what He did for them, then what is the point of spreading the gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission?"

    Good question. Of course, one could with even more justification ask what the point of spreading the Gospel is if people have no power to accept Christ until God changes them!

    If you want an answer, though, the point is that Christ, when He is known, is immensely attractive. Making Him known is therefore never a bad thing. Someone is far more likely to follow Christ if they have heard of Him and about Him.

    "If all Christianity is is a relationship with the person who we think Jesus is, why can't anyone, with any name for God, be saved?"

    Except that that's the exact opposite of what I've been repeatedly saying. (Is there a reason I have to say this again and again and again?) To use your words and alter them slightly but crucially: "Christianity is a relationship with the person who Jesus actually is." What we think Jesus is like is largely irrelevant to this point (although crucial in other ways!). The important point is that we have a relationship with the real Jesus.

    "You dismissed my point that Jehovah's witnesses and Mormon's ... who think they are following Christ, but DON'T UNDERSTAND WHO HE REALLY IS- GOD!, would be equally saved in the confines of your argument here"

    You're still not reading what I'm saying. I have never said that these people are definitely saved - I said that we cannot be absolutely sure that any particular individual is damned. These two things are miles apart, surely you can see that?

    JWs and Mormons are profoundly mistaken in their views of God and Jesus, and their religions are false. However, I do not believe it to be impossible that someone within those religions might yet have a relationship with the real Christ - after all, people do leave both for Christianity, which means that (for some unknown period) they have been Christian while yet being inside JW or Mormonism.

    "Just because they are sincere in their belief doesn't make it right or mean that they are saved."

    Absolutely. But just because they're wrong doesn't mean that Jesus hasn't claimed them for His own.

    "Those who deny the Jesus of the Bible and who He is as defined there cannot be saved according to the Bible- like it or not!"

    "According to the Bible" exactly where? The Bible doesn't say that salvation is signified by assent to a particular set of facts. The NT writers are rather emphatic that it is signified by a change of a person's nature and their consequent actions. Facts barely enter into it. Facts are used to tell the story and attract people to Christ. They are the bait, not the fish.

    Again, can someone please give me biblical evidence for this assertion that saving faith is infallibly signified by the assent to a particular set of facts (and, most especially, what this set of facts is)?

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/21/2006 08:02:00 AM  

  • John,
    Thanks for your patience.

    I, too, keep repeating myself.

    How can we follow someone we can't recognize, when the characteristics are so obvious? You are asserting that no one can tell for sure if another is following Christ. Am I correct in my assessment of your position?

    This is a direct quote from my comment on your blog, heretofore still unanswered - "Where do we get the maxim that there is a line between “you are rejecting the risen Christ and worship a false god” and “you have not yet experienced the might grace of God Almighty”?"

    Please present scriptural backing, as you demanded above.

    You wrote, "The facts are proclaimed so that we may know Christ, not the other way around." If so, how can we know Christ if we are not merely ignorant of some facts, but deny some or all of the critical ones?

    The NT writers are rather emphatic that it is signified by a change of a person's nature and their consequent actions. Facts barely enter into it.

    No, it actually says that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of yourselves, but rather it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest and man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

    It is, in fact, signified by belief.

    But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    (2 Th 2:13-14)

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
    (Ro 1:16)

    the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
    (Ro 3:22)

    The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well (Ro 4:11)

    For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Ro 10:4)


    For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
    (1 Co 1:21)

    In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit(Eph 1:13)

    For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Th 4:14)

    all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Th 2:12)

    The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Ro 10:8-12)

    What is this word of faith? It is the creed, John. Because of heresies in the early church, like what you propose, the early fathers composed the following three questions presented to candidates for baptism:

    "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?"

    "Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?"

    "Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, and the ressurection of the flesh?"

    There are your core beliefs. In the word of faith we find the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, the virgin birth, the crucifixion, His bodily resurrection, the establishment of the church, the judgment, and the resurrection to come. Your proposition that we can believe whatever we want about Jesus is utterly ahistorical and abiblical.

    Again, my challenge is yours - show the biblical precept that believing any of these core specific facts about Jesus are optional, in that, one can continue to deny them and yet still has the Spirit of Truth? This is not about ignorance, it is about certain people who are in the church who have crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly people, who are denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

    There is no man that can follow someone he can't recognize. Claiming we can follow Christ yet deny his core attributes means absolutely nothing. It is like saying we can draw a square circle.

    PS - When you talk about election you sound silly. You should drop it for now. It supports my position.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/21/2006 02:13:00 PM  

  • "The important point is that we have a relationship with the real Jesus"

    You aren't willing, John, to define WHO Jesus is, though. To do so would mean that there would be a resulting definition of what it means to be a Christian, and therefore draw boundaries around salvation and condemnation.

    "(Is there a reason I have to say this again and again and again?)"

    Yes. The reason is because you repeatedly say the same thing, and others don't believe it-you say you don't really have to know why you are saved to be saved, and can be part of a cult and still be a Christian, and then you go on to say "you have to know who Jesus actually is"...right..who IS He, actually? He is actually what He claimed to be and He is actually represented perfectly by the inerrant Word of God.

    "JWs and Mormons are profoundly mistaken in their views of God and Jesus, and their religions are false. However, I do not believe it to be impossible that someone within those religions might yet have a relationship with the real Christ - after all, people do leave both for Christianity, which means that (for some unknown period) they have been Christian while yet being inside JW or Mormonism."

    No, that means they were in a cult, and found salvation via Christ. It does NOT mean that they were Christians while being a cultist! This is why definitions CAN be necessary! I am not comfortable with any soul complacently believing they are saved and attending "meetings" at the JW hall!

    This is the reason why Christianity has a Biblical definition. If it didn't, salvation would be broad, rather than narrow, and a cult could also have paths to salvation because they are simply mistaken.

    Didn't you also say that it is imperitive to know who Jesus actually is? Well, then, is He the spirit brother of Satan, or is He the Risen Christ with whom we must be personally surrendered to for the ONLY method of salvation?

    These are the fundamental ideas that some of us aren't willing to bend the "rules" for. It's the way it is, because it is the way it is, whether or not that is exclusionary to those who deny it.

    The church of the world, that defines Christ differently than the Bible does, with resulting inability to pin down what it means to be a Christian may be warm and cozy to the world, but it is a heretical stumbling block to the journey of righteousness.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/21/2006 02:20:00 PM  

  • I've only skimmed this conversation, but to a large degree I think the "elephant in the room" everyone is ignoring is prayer.

    If you fundamentally believe you can talk to God and receive answers through prayer, you'll tend to agree with John. If you fundamentally disagree prayer works, you'll tend to go the other way.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/21/2006 03:36:00 PM  

  • John,
    After reading your comments on Ruth's blog, it is much clearer to me now why you don't think we should tell someone who thinks they are a Christian that they may in fact not be if their words and beliefs do not match their "walk". You don't even believe in a literal hell, and don't believe anyone is in it! If all there is for the unrepentant sinner (or false convert) is eternal extinction, of course there's no urgency to bring them the gospel or warn them of damnation if they choose not to repent and turn to Christ. The gospel is pointless and Jesus's work of the cross (which I thought was obvious to all that I meant the complete work of the cross- His death, burial, resurrection- the whole nine yards) means nothing if there is no justice or punishment for sin, no real hell that is repeatedly described in the Bible.

    If hell isn't a real place, John, then what did Jesus come to save us from??!!!!

    Christ, when He is known, is immensely attractive. Making Him known is therefore never a bad thing..

    Making Him known isn't a "bad thing"?? It's greater than anything the world can offer! If Jesus is optional for salvation (which isn't what you are saying, but it's implied) then missionaries are wasting their time. In fact it's all a waste of time, this whole Christianity thing. Sin is much more fun, so why follow Christ? Christ was despised among men, and there's not much "attractive" about taking up your cross to follow Him- He was mocked, tortured and killed and we can be promised similar persecution (at least the former) from the world for following Him. The ONLY thing that's promised that's "attractive" about Jesus is the peace that passes all understanding that comes from knowing our eternal salvation is secure through faith in Him.

    Someone is far more likely to follow Christ if they have heard of Him and about Him.

    I hope this is a typo on your part because you seem much to smart to make a nonsense statement like this (although much of what you've said in this line of discussion is nonsense...) So, are you saying that someone can follow Christ even if they've never heard of Him or about Him?

    Facts are used to tell the story and attract people to Christ. They are the bait, not the fish.

    It's good to see you at least admit that people must hear the facts about who Jesus is and what He did to be attracted to Christ. If they deny these facts, but go on to imitate some of the "fruits" of Jesus's life- his compassion, love, etc- you are saying that we can still call them a Christian because they "walk the walk" even if they don't "talk the talk"?? This seems to be what you are saying. You have said that we can't judge someone by what they say, but isn't it true that out of the mouth we speak what's in our hearts?? Anyone can put forth a false front and "walk the walk" for a time, but it's "BELIEVING IN YOUR HEART AND CONFESSING WITH YOUR MOUTH" the Jesus that saves you. Re-read my post on Borg if you are looking for specific Bible verses that support that assent to the facts about Christ are essential for salvation. Borg says he is a Christian, but denies that Jesus is God. I don't have time to look up the verse, but it basically says that if you deny that Jesus is God you are a liar and the truth is not in you! If the truth is not in you, you are not saved and are headed for eternal destruction and will not inherit the kingdom, according to the Bible. Read the book of 1 John, it couldn't be any clearer than that!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/21/2006 03:49:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    I disagree completely. You think that I, mrshammer, RT and Robert don't think God listens to prayer? How in the world did you get that notion?

    The core of the discussion is about the Bible, which is why I must finish the inerrancy series. I plan on putting it together and posting it Saturday night.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/21/2006 04:03:00 PM  

  • No, I never meant to imply there was a disagreement about God listening to prayers. I thought there was a disagreement about information traveling back the other way, about the ability of people to listen to God through prayer.

    John will have to speak for himself, but it seems to me his definition of "following Jesus" boils down to the personal relationship which, in turn, boils down to prayer. If you believe Jesus can tell you what to do and where to go through prayer, then what is meant by "following Jesus" is pretty obvious and has little if anything to do with one's exact understanding of the Bible or the details of that relationship.

    But it also opens a can of worms, one you are trying hard to keep shut.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/21/2006 05:54:00 PM  

  • John,

    Before I respond to the points about which we disagree, let me say that we seem to be in full agreement about whether or not one can judge another’s heart; but I would make a distinction between the elect: those who have been regenerated and those who will be regenerated before they die (e.g. the thief on the cross, who, by the way, no doubt heard the Gospel before his execution, but only believed it after he was saved). Both are saved from eternal damnation; the former happen to be spiritually enlightened whereas the latter remain in the dark…for now.

    To think that believers at certain times had access to "all truth" but that those at other times did not simply doesn't make sense to me.

    You’ve put words in my mouth. I wrote: “the “original” apostles certainly had a full-orbed understanding of the truth…”. I never wrote “all truth”; namely because God alone possesses “all truth”. Perhaps I should have said “well-rounded” instead. Nevertheless, my point was that they knew the truth that is now codified in Scripture, which is certainly not everything that God knows; it’s just all we need to know (theologically speaking) on this side of heaven.

    Indeed, if Moses, David etc. were saved in the same way that we are, then no fact about Jesus can possibly be "salvific" because they could have no knowledge of Him!

    Read and then re-read the book of Galatians! Then read about Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16) and Romans 3:21-26…for starters. It is clear that those who were saved before Christ lived under the Law; but from the day of Pentecost forward, the elect are saved “by grace, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) and faith is knowledge of the truth. (Hebrews 11:1-7)

    To say that, after the fourth century, there was some sort of spiritual darkness until the Reformation simply ignores the history of the Church (many of the Church's greatest saints and theologians date from that era).

    I never said that either! I wrote: “God has had a remnant since the beginning.” I will say, though, that ‘spiritual darkness’ has affected the vast majority of humans since Adam (and it continues to this day), not just between Augustine and Luther! And I happen to disagree with some of the Reformers’ key theological positions (i.e. mandatory corporate worship, their interpretation of the “sacraments”, their particular view of election, etc.—note: that’s not an exhaustive list.)

    My original point, which you didn't address, was rebutting the idea that your "primary truths" have been universally believed in the Church - which would have to be the case for them to be central, "salvific" truths.

    By “the Church” I suppose you mean “the visible Church” (i.e. Catholics, Protestants and the like). If so, then I can’t disagree. However, again, I mentioned that “the ‘original’ apostles certainly had a full-orbed understanding of the truth, which they taught to God’s elect, a remnant if you will.” (Romans 11:5) I would argue that the true, invisible Church (the elect) have always believed these things.

    I cannot accept that salvation requires a different set of propositions now than it did in the second century, or the twelfth!

    I have repeatedly said that salvation is not dependent upon propositions or beliefs per se (belief is, however, a consequence of salvation); salvation is solely dependent upon God’s sovereign election. Now, I answered your assertion when I mentioned “post-Pentecost believers” (Acts chapter 2), as distinct from pre-Pentecost believers (i.e., the difference between the degree of revelation of the OT versus that of the NT).

    If you want to provide biblical evidence for (a) this idea that assent to certain facts is invariably and miraculously given to the regenerate, and (b) what these facts actually are, you will have to do an awful lot better than that. The problem, of course, is that this idea isn't actually found in the Bible. What evidence there might be will be circumstantial and vague.

    John 8:37-47 - Jesus speaking to the Pharisees: “Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my Word.” (verse 43) and “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” (verse 45) and “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (verse 47). Notice the choice of language. There is a one-to-one correspondence between knowing the truth (understanding, hearing, believing) and being regenerated (“able to listen”, “of God”). The converse is equally true. Similarly, look at John 10: 25,26. Jesus said: ”I told you and you do not believe…you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you”. Belief (that which is born of genuine faith) is not possible without first having been regenerated. Additionally, Jesus, in a prayer to His Father, said: ”I have given them your word… (John 17:14) and ”Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

    I have a few related questions for you, John. How much of Christ’s nature can be denied before one is no longer a genuine Christian (e.g. Mrs. Hammer’s question regarding LDS and JW)? Can a Christian deny Christ’s divinity? What about Christ’s humanity? What about Christ’s bodily resurrection? Can a Christian deny his own inherent unrighteousness? Where is the line of demarcation…or do you think that there isn’t one?

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/21/2006 06:52:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    "You are asserting that no one can tell for sure if another is following Christ."

    Yes - unless we receive a spiritual revelation. We cannot tell by reading what someone has written. From that, we can only tell whether they're right or wrong (or, at least, whether we agree with them or not!).

    "This is a direct quote from my comment on your blog, heretofore still unanswered - "Where do we get the maxim that there is a line between “you are rejecting the risen Christ and worship a false god” and “you have not yet experienced the might grace of God Almighty”?""

    I don't think that there is a line, and I've never said there was - although I am not sure whether someone might not reject Christ after experiencing God's grace. But I do not think that I ever said this. It's completely different to what I've been talking about.

    "You wrote, "The facts are proclaimed so that we may know Christ, not the other way around." If so, how can we know Christ if we are not merely ignorant of some facts, but deny some or all of the critical ones?"

    Because Christ is real! This is not an academic exercise where the objective is to gain a passing grade. Christ is real and Christ's call is real. I may recognise someone's voice without knowing anything about their biography. I recognise Britney Spears but I know almost nothing about her life. Just in the same way, one may recognise Christ and be attracted to Him without knowing His story. After one comes to Him, one may then learn about Him.

    Proclaiming facts (and they can only ever be a few of the facts) about Christ is one way in which we can attract people to Christ. And it's not the most powerful. It has been consistently shown that the most powerful factor drawing people into the church is the example of friends and acquaintances who are already Christians - it is our lives that show Christ. I'll repeat that saying of St Francis again: "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

    "The NT writers are rather emphatic that it is signified by a change of a person's nature and their consequent actions. Facts barely enter into it.
    No, it actually says that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of yourselves, but rather it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest and man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
    It is, in fact, signified by belief.
    "

    That doesn't contradict what I wrote at all. I said that salvation is signified by a change in someone's nature. That quotation says that salvation comes by grace and is a gift. There's nothing even slightly contradictory there! Indeed, your final sentence is a total non sequitur. Eph says that salvation comes by grace through faith and is not of ourselves, and you somehow deduce from that that it is therefore signified by belief (which, in the context of this debate presumably means assent to propositional facts). There is no connection between these two things. Or, at least, no demonstrated connection.

    You then give a list of quotations that are interesting to me just now primarily because they indicate that our belief in the truth is the means of our salvation not the result of it! And, notice also that the belief talked about in these passages is not assent to facts but belief in a Person who is Truth (Ro 3:22, Ro 10:4, Eph 1:13, 2 Th 2:12).

    Now, there is one particularly interesting passage there which does indeed list the facts that we ought to believe in order to be saved (and notice that the order here is "believe and then you will be saved", not "once you are saved you will believe this"): Ro 10:8-12. And what is most interesting here is the list itself. It contains precisely two items: confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. The first of these isn't a propositional fact, it's a relational declaration. It says, "I place myself under Christ's Lordship". It's essentially the strong form of the declaration, "I am a Christian" and I would be quite happy to say that anyone who claims to be a Christian but doesn't acknowledge Christ as Lord isn't following Him. Because, unless Christ is Lord, he is not our leader and so we cannot follow Him. A claim to be a Christian without a Lord Christ is merely a claim to follow his teachings, not a claim to follow Christ.

    The second of the items is the sole propositional fact that we must apparently believe in order to be saved - that God raised Jesus from the dead. Now, the first thing to notice is that this is, again, a logical necessity for any claim to follow Christ. If Christ is dead and gone, there is no one to follow; we would be following only his teachings, not the Person of Christ. The second thing to notice is that the requirement is to believe in the resurrection event, not in any particular interpretation of that. Now, obviously, the biblical story and the Christian belief is that Jesus was raised bodily from death, showed Himself to the disciples, ate and drank with them, and was then taken up into heaven. But, we have to admit, the resurrection body was rather different to His original one - He could appear and disappear behind locked doors, for example. Indeed, His appearance was different enough (perhaps because of His glorification) that even his closest companions didn't recognise Him at first (Mary in the garden, and the walkers on the road to Emmaus). So, even for we who believe in a physical resurrection, it's not as simple as "the dead body just got up and started walking around". No, there's a lot more to it than that. "God raised Him from the dead", yes. But how, precisely? That is left open to debate. We both agree on the correct answer. But the correct explanation is not required for salvation according to this passage, only the fact itself. (Notice that this is a weakness inherent in fact-based schemes of knowing - interpretation is crucial, but is itself not fact-based.)

    "What is this word of faith? It is the creed, John"

    No, that's not what these passages say. The creeds were attempts to define orthodox doctrines by excluding those who taught wrong ideas. They came after the wrong ideas had been discovered and had spread and been discussed and discerned. If the wrong beliefs had not deceived the elect, there would have been no need for the creeds.

    "Again, my challenge is yours - show the biblical precept that believing any of these core specific facts about Jesus are optional, in that, one can continue to deny them and yet still has the Spirit of Truth"

    That is asking me to prove a negative. I cannot show biblical evidence that these are not required. As with any proof, the null hypothesis is "no correlation". Here, that means that facts and salvation are not to be assumed to be linked until they are shown to be linked. All the evidence presented so far talks either about believing in the Person of Christ, or about believing in "truth" (undefined). Only in one instance, discussed above, do we have any concrete indications of specific required facts, and I've got no problem with that, as I said.

    "There is no man that can follow someone he can't recognize. Claiming we can follow Christ yet deny his core attributes means absolutely nothing. It is like saying we can draw a square circle."

    The difference between us, though, is whether we have to know facts about someone in order to recognise them. You say yes, I say no. It's not like a square circle. It's like agreeing that there is a circle but arguing about whether it's red or blue. One answer is right, but we're discussing the same circle.

    As I said above, I can recognise a Britney Spears song on the radio and yet I know next to nothing about her. What I recognise is her voice. Just in the same way, because Christ is real, we can recognise His voice and follow it without knowing facts about Him. We ought to expect that a follower will learn facts as they follow, but that's not the starting point. And, given the infinity of truth that there is about God, it is possible that some followers will learn a quite different set of those truths to normal - which may lead them to have a distorted picture of Christ. And yet they are still followers. For example, I have grave problems with anyone who says that following Christ will make you rich, or with anyone who says that God's primary emotion towards this fallen Creation is anger or hate - neither is biblical. And yet I will not say merely on that basis that they cannot be following Christ. They are wrong, but may yet be members of the Body.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 04:49:00 AM  

  • RT,
    "You aren't willing, John, to define WHO Jesus is, though"

    How can I define Him? Jesus is a real Person and I can no more define Him that I could define you or Hammer or myself. We can give certain facts about Him, but that doesn't help us to recognise His voice. Only the voice itself can teach us that.

    ""(Is there a reason I have to say this again and again and again?)"
    Yes. The reason is because you repeatedly say the same thing, and others don't believe it
    "

    Why, then, do people simply repeat the same (incorrect) allegations against me? Why do I repeatedly have to explain that these distortions of what I'm saying are distortions?

    The problem isnt with evidence for or against my position. The problem here is that people aren't reading what I write, and instead reply to what they think I might have written. This is, I am sure you can see, somewhat frustrating! This may be happening because I am being unclear, but that still doesn't explain why I keep being accused of things I've explicitly denied.

    "people do leave both for Christianity, which means that (for some unknown period) they have been Christian while yet being inside JW or Mormonism."
    No, that means they were in a cult, and found salvation via Christ. It does NOT mean that they were Christians while being a cultist!
    "

    So, you are saying that if God adopts them as a child while they are a JW, they don't gain salvation until they have left the JW religion and joined a church? That doens't make sense. The true sequence must be that God convicts someone of their sin and error, and saves them - and only then will they leave the wrong religion. If they had not been convicted and saved, why would they leave first? The period of "being saved but still being in the JW religion" may well be very short, but it nonetheless exists.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 04:57:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    "Before I respond to the points about which we disagree, let me say that we seem to be in full agreement about whether or not one can judge another’s heart"

    Excellent! Between the two or us, then, I'm happy to say that the discussion is over. Apologies for those instances where I misunderstood you, and many thanks for the debate. It's been instructive for me, particularly, in pinning down where the issues lie.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 05:12:00 AM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "After reading your comments on Ruth's blog, it is much clearer to me now why you don't think we should tell someone who thinks they are a Christian that they may in fact not be if their words and beliefs do not match their "walk". You don't even believe in a literal hell, and don't believe anyone is in it!"

    Piffle. The nature and existence of Hell has nothing to do with it.

    What's particularly galling about that accusation is that you conflate "literal Hell" with "my own personal belief about Hell", which presumably means flames and demons with pointy pitchforks. The Bible presents different pictures of Hell. And our culture's beliefs about Hell (which heavily influence the general church's beliefs) come in large part from graeco-roman beliefs about Hades. That's where the pointy pitchforks come from! Nowhere in the Bible will you read that the souls in Hell are tormented by demons. Nowhere in the Bible will you find it explicitly taught that souls are in eternal conscious torment in Hell. That there will be torment, we know. Its extent and duration, we do not.

    The reason I don't think we should say that people with wrong theology are damned is simply that the two are not identical concepts! "Wrong" doesn't mean "doesn't know Christ", and "Knows Christ" doesn't mean "has a correct theology". It may be likely that someone who claims to follow Christ but (for example) denies the bodily resurrection isn't saved, but we cannot say so absolutely - and so we must not say so! We may tell people they are wrong. We may not say that they are damned without spiritual revelation.

    "If hell isn't a real place, John, then what did Jesus come to save us from?"

    Sin and death. That's what the Bible says, at least. John 3:16 is another good pointer: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." What we are saved from is clearly perishing, dying, ending. What we are saved to is even more important - everlasting life.

    "If Jesus is optional for salvation (which isn't what you are saying, but it's implied)"

    NO IT ISN'T IMPLIED!!!

    This is exactly what I talked about above in reply to RT. Not only is this not implied in what I've been saying, it is in absolute opposition to it! The single most important point I have been talking about is that salvation depends on a relationship with the real Christ, not on words or facts or anything else. Christ is before all and over all.

    If I hear much more of this I am just going to give up, really. I'm fed up to my back teeth of defending myself against such ludicrous and frankly offensive accusations.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 05:16:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    To answer your questions:
    "How much of Christ’s nature can be denied before one is no longer a genuine Christian...Where is the line of demarcation or do you think that there isn’t one?"

    By "Christian" do you mean "member of the Christian religion" or "follower of Christ"? If the former, none of it. If the latter, all of it apart from His existence (but that's very dangerous and in no way a good idea). Denying facts about Christ make it harder for us to follow, because we misunderstand His nature. But it doesn't make it impossible if Christ has called us.

    The Christian religion has clear demarcations (although the differ by denomination). Being a follower of Christ has a clear demarcation, but it's not based on propositional facts - it's based on a relationship and therefore is not amenable to analysis using propositional facts.

    Hope that's clear enough!

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 06:04:00 AM  

  • John,

    Thanks for answering my questions...we’re getting closer.

    By "Christian" do you mean "member of the Christian religion" or "follower of Christ"? If the former, none of it. If the latter, all of it apart from His existence (but that's very dangerous and in no way a good idea).

    Obviously, I’m speaking of the latter. I’m sorry, but denying “all of it apart from His existence” simply doesn’t fly. ”You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19)

    Being a follower of Christ has a clear demarcation, but it's not based on propositional facts - it's based on a relationship and therefore is not amenable to analysis using propositional facts.

    Alright, a few more questions: does your definition of “follower of Christ” cover everyone who merely declares themselves to be? In other words, what exactly does it mean to “follow Christ” or, for that matter, to “hear His voice”?

    How can one judge oneself (i.e. how do I know if I’m really saved; and how do you know)? Lastly, how would you answer one that genuinely questioned their own salvation? For example, suppose that a friend said to you: “I think I’m saved, but I’m not sure…how can I be certain?” Do you have an unambiguous, unequivocal answer?

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/22/2006 08:29:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    "Even the demons believe—and tremble"

    Indeed, which is why I keep saying that it's the existence of a relationship with Christ that is crucial. Facts won't save us. So, if someone has that saving relationship with God through Christ, then they are saved. Facts are not needed on top of that. For some (many perhaps, even most) people, facts will be needed before they will establish that relationship. But the absence of facts (or even their denial) doesn't prove that the relationship is absent.

    "does your definition of “follower of Christ” cover everyone who merely declares themselves to be?"

    No. Our opinion is (in this situation) irrelevant. It's the actual following of the actual Christ that is the issue here. Don't forget, I'm not talking of whether someone is saved or not. The issue has been whether I can tell whether someone else is truly saved merely from their stated beliefs.

    "suppose that a friend said to you: “I think I’m saved, but I’m not sure…how can I be certain?”"

    As ever, in a real situation, the answer would depend on the person. But, as a start, I'd suggest Hammer's quotation from Romans above:
    "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
    That's a very low bar. "Believe in your heart" doesn't mean "believe with every fibre of your being", as is sometimes suggested. It doesn't mean "never have doubts or questions". It means what it says - do you really believe, inside, that Jesus was raised from the dead? Do you reckon Christ as your Lord? Everything else follows from that.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 08:42:00 AM  

  • John,
    Thanks for all your efforts - we could have avoided much of our discussion, though, if you had simply led with some short, up front statements that were more clear, such as:

    "If someone says they are a Christian, we have no basis on which to question their salvation. You can believe almost anything you want about Jesus and still be an heir to the kingdom. I have no Biblical basis for this belief, but I propose that it is not only true for me, it is true for everyone else."

    At that point I would have merely said, "Interesting position John, but one that fits right in with what I perceive is your theology. The rest of the inerrancy series will help everyone see why you and I differ here and many other places."

    13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
    (Matthew 7:13-27)

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/22/2006 01:25:00 PM  

  • John,
    After reviewing the comments again, I amend my proposed succint statement I would have recommended you make to the following:

    "If someone says they are a Christian, we have no basis on which to question their salvation. You can believe almost anything you want about Jesus and we cannot question whether you are an heir to the kingdom. I have no Biblical basis for this belief, but I propose that it is not only true for me, it is true for everyone else."

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/22/2006 01:31:00 PM  

  • I probably should also post what Lewis said, since he said it better than I ever could, and he is aligned with me, and not with John (though neither are infallible!):

    C.S. Lewis in the "Preface" to Mere Christianity:

    Far deeper objections may be felt - and have been expressed - against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: 'Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?': or 'May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?' Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

    The word gentleman 'originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone 'a gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not 'a gentleman' you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said - so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully - 'Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?' They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man 'a gentleman' in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is 'a gentleman' becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

    Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We' cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

    We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 26) to 'the disciples', to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were 'far closer to the spirit of Christ' than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian."

    Thus, a Christ follower, in my, Lewis', and the apostles' view, is one who acceptes the doctrines of the faith once for all given unto the saints. It is that by which we call men Christians, and it is the name "Christians" which names the chosen.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/22/2006 02:34:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    You've still completely missed the point! I didn't state things like that because it's simply not what I've been saying.

    It is absolutely OK, according to everything that I've said here, to question someone's beliefs and commitment - to debate, to challenge, to contradict. It is perfectly OK to say that someone is wrong, that their picture of God is not correct, that they are misinterpreting or ignoring the Bible.

    Where I'm drawing the line is declaring absolutely that "You are going to Hell" based on nothing more than theology.

    You also have totally failed to answer my point. You demand that I prove a negative from the Bible (that there is no link between salvation and assent to facts), but make no attempt to perform the much easier task of proving a positive. If there is such an infallible link between correct beliefs and salvation, as you have been saying, I would expect it to be clearly taught in the Bible. After all, it's an infallible sign that we should rely on to tell people that they're going to Hell! And yet nothing has been forthcoming - nothing that addresses this issue of propositional fact as evidence of regeneration. I've seen verses saying that we have to believe things before we can be saved (quite a different thing!), and more verses saying that we have to follow Christ. But nothing to support the case I've been arguing against:

    We can safely declare that someone is damned to Hell based on facts they deny.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 02:36:00 PM  

  • John,
    I needn't prove the proposition you claim we are saying - I just realize you straw manned us for 53 comments!

    My position, from the beginning, is that being a Christian means something. While the words of Scripture assent that failure to follow Christ (be a Christian) indicates eternal damnation, you brought up hell, not us.

    Furthermore, none of us ever claimed we have an infallible method of determining the eternal state of a person. We claim we have a pretty solid ground for doing so.

    We don't have perfect knowledge, and aren't expected to. We are expected to decide based upon what knowledge we have, in all things.

    I didn't ask you to prove a negative. I asked you to prove that there is a maxim that declares we cannot question someone's salvation. You say you never said that, by playing word games with "wrong" vs "damned", "belief" vs "following" and "question" vs "declare".

    How do we question someone's salvation if by not telling them that their religion is false? Where is the line between worshipping a non-existent god and damnation?

    Lastly, your interpretation of the Scripture verses is fundamentally flawed (quite different from leading to damnation). There is no causal link in Ro 3:22, Ro 10:4, Eph 1:13, or 2 Th 2:12. Those who believe are saved, those who are saved believe. Whether you are Arminian, Calvinist, or something in between, that truth remains - that, like Paul, we must know in whom we have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day.

    "And, notice also that the belief talked about in these passages is not assent to facts but belief in a Person who is Truth

    Actually, you made that up. In fact, 1 Cor 1:21 is clear that the belief is in what was preached - the gospel. "Hearing God's voice" is not believing the Gospel.

    Robert also posted excellent links between belief in the gospel and salvation.

    ohn 8:37-47 - Jesus speaking to the Pharisees: “Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my Word.” (verse 43) and “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” (verse 45) and “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (verse 47). Notice the choice of language. There is a one-to-one correspondence between knowing the truth (understanding, hearing, believing) and being regenerated (“able to listen”, “of God”). The converse is equally true. Similarly, look at John 10: 25,26. Jesus said: ”I told you and you do not believe…you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you”.

    Jesus what did they not believe? That He was God, the Messiah, come to earth to save men from their sin. He told the truth, that He was the truth, and they refused to believe His words, which testified of Him, not merely His existence.

    You have yet to establish your alleged positive correlation with Scripture - that we cannot identify a non-Christian from their statements of their beliefs. I recognize that my statement of your position is a negative, but to make it positive all you have to do is show me ANYTHING ELSE that we should make a decision by. To make it simple for us, who you surely believe cannot understand what you are saying, just put a single sentence describing your position, and the justification for that position from Scripture.

    Mine, for example, would be: Those who deny the core truths of Christ cannot know Him and are not His.

    Scripture:"
    Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my Word.” (verse 43) and “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” (verse 45) and “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (verse 47)."

    No time to proof!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/22/2006 03:13:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    "Furthermore, none of us ever claimed we have an infallible method of determining the eternal state of a person. We claim we have a pretty solid ground for doing so."

    Which is fine, except that you finish that post with this statement of your position:

    "Those who deny the core truths of Christ cannot know Him and are not His."

    Which could hardly be a clearer statement that you do, in fact, believe that denial of "the core truths of Christ" is an infallible sign of damnation! So which is it? You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say both that denial of some (undefined) "core truths" is a sure sign of damnation and that you have no "infallible method of determining the eternal state of a person".

    If, in fact, none of you ever claimed anything more than "fairly good evidence", why did any of you question my assertion that we cannot be certain? You're now simply stating my original position (with which every one of you apparently disagreed violently enough to prolong this thread) and claiming that that's what you were saying all along! And, what is more, blaming me for somehow contradicting that position and saying I've been "straw manning" you. If the problem is that you've misunderstood me, fine. But don't accuse me of inventing fallacies just to bait you.

    If I may quote my original post:
    we simply cannot determine whether someone is truly Christian by what they say...The most we can say is that someone’s understanding is confused or wrong...we have to accept the company of those we disagree with even on central issues. We can disagree with them, even vehemently. But we cannot, without the gravest reasons and with the gravest care, declare that someone else isn’t following Christ simply because of that disagreement.
    We can say that they are wrong. We cannot say that they are not following Christ.


    Do you see what I said? It's pretty much exactly what you said - we can disagree strongly with someone, tell them they're wrong in what they believe God to be like. What we cannot say with certainty (not probability - certainty) is that they are not following Christ in their lives.

    "I didn't ask you to prove a negative. I asked you to prove that there is a maxim that declares we cannot question someone's salvation. You say you never said that, by playing word games with "wrong" vs "damned", "belief" vs "following" and "question" vs "declare"."

    Once again, you misrepresent my position - and these aren't "word games", they're simple and clear concepts. I have never suggested that "we cannot question someone's salvation". Indeed, I have repeatedly said the exact opposite. (See the above quotation from my original post, for starters.) What I have said is that we cannot declare with certainty that someone is damned judging only by their theology. This developed during the course of the discussion into the slightly clearer and more distinct position that salvific status and acceptance of specific propositional facts are not necessarily related. It was this latter statement that I was asked to "prove" from the Bible - and that is precisely proving a negative (I said that there was no correlation, a classic null hypothesis).

    If there's nothing more constructive to come, I won't post again in this thread. It has, I'm afraid, got me too annoyed because there's been too much "assuming" what I mean without actually reading what I am saying. I've lost count of the number of times I've been accused of holding positions diametrically opposed to something I had only just said. And now, I'm being taken to task for supporting something that, apparently, you all accept while at the same time explicitly denying. I'm confused, tired and angry. Which is a first for me here, I'm afraid.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/22/2006 06:00:00 PM  

  • I feel your frustration, John, because I have it, too! I am sure others do, as well. If you'll bear with my non-theologian description, maybe you will see that my comments have not been made with any malice!

    You say that we cannot declare with certainty that someone is damned judging only by their theology. You said we can't have it both ways-in saying we can't be certain about damnation and then say that we can be certain.

    It is my observation that none of us here have taken on the task of determining what God will ultimately do with a soul. To do so would be arrogant and presumptuous in that God says only He has that authority.

    What my stance is, is that the Bible gives definitions of who/what/why and for whom God and Christ is. The who is important because we need to know who we are following. The what is important to know (as much as possible) what His character is, and how we measure up (or don't!) to His character. The why is important because we must know why we must be saved, and from what. The hell discussion becomes important here, because if hell isn't what it was described to be, then we really don't need to seek salvation. The for whom is important because we need to know if salvation is broad or narrow. Is everyone saved? Are a few saved? Are masses saved, and if so, based on what evidence?

    This is hugely important, not because we are judging the final resting place of souls,(although the Bible is quite clear about what salvation requires-so logical deduction and evidence of transformation helps to visualize the Kingdom) but rather because some of us are completely surrendered to the Christ of the Bible, who has told us that we must follow Him to be saved, and why we must be saved, from what we need to be saved from, and what the result of 'not following Him' will be.

    Some characterize Christianity in a completely anti-biblical manner. Case and point-Borg. One cannot say, after reading his books, (and I am familiar with his work) that he is in alignment with the Biblical description of Christianity. If we follow this differing description of Christ, are we following Christ? The Bible says we aren't. We will not wager our salvation on a non-biblical outline of salvation and Christ. To do so, for those of us who believe in biblical inerrancy, would mean that we are questioning the actual descriptions, and therefore jeopardizing salvation.

    I hope this rambling makes sense. I won't tell Mr. Smith (a self-professed Christian that believes Borg is so wonderful) that he is going to burn in hell. What I will tell Mr. Smith is that his ideas are his and not supportable with the Bible. I will not attend his church, and I will question his desire to spread a false doctrine to non-believers.

    Does that in any way clarify my position? I would say "our position", but I am not the most eloquent, so I won't risk mischaracterizing others' thoughts!

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/22/2006 07:44:00 PM  

  • John,

    I think I see the source of our miscommunication. Allow me respond to a recurring theme (note: the following quotes from you are related, but not contextually consecutive).

    Where I'm drawing the line is declaring absolutely that "You are going to Hell" based on nothing more than theology.

    So which is it? You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say both that denial of some (undefined) "core truths" is a sure sign of damnation and that you have no "infallible method of determining the eternal state of a person".

    We can say that they are wrong. We cannot say that they are not following Christ.


    When I said “we seem to be in full agreement about whether or not one can judge another’s heart”, I added a crucial caveat: “I would make a distinction between the elect: those who have been regenerated and those who will be regenerated before they die.”

    Correct me if I’m misunderstanding your position, but you seem to be conflating “not following Christ” (at this moment) and “a sure sign of damnation”. That is, it seems that you have mistakenly equated two very distinct types of people: not saved yet and never will be saved. The latter are among the “non-elect” (Romans 9:6-7, 13, 17 and 22), whereas the former are virtually indistinguishable from the elect (before the elect are actually regenerated, i.e. the “thief on the cross”, Saul of Tarsus, me and so on). Also, it’s worth noting that the “not saved yet” group is populated by both the elect and the non-elect (the “never will be saved” distinction is self-explanatory).

    Now, here’s the rub: no one knows the category in which a hypothetical unregenerate person resides. However, one can know whether or not a “professing and confessing believer” has been regenerated; the proof lies in who one says Jesus is (Matthew 16:13-20). We know that one cannot follow or recognize Christ on one’s own (i.e. not before one is regenerated). Don’t take my word for it; Jesus told Peter: ”flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven.” Compare that with a paraphrase of Isaiah 6:9-10 - ”He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, lest they turn, so that I should heal them” (John 12:40) and ”…they stumbled at the stumbling stone.” (Romans 9:23-33).

    God alone reveals himself to His elect; no one is able to “follow Christ” without that revelation, which is simultaneous with, or immediately follows, the regeneration of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit.

    By Blogger Robert, at 9/22/2006 08:08:00 PM  

  • John,
    My husband made this comment and this is why: none of us ever claimed we have an infallible method of determining the eternal state of a person. We claim we have a pretty solid ground for doing so."

    We only can determine where someone stands with Christ at this moment in time. We cannot determine if Christ will work in their life to lead them to repentance and salvation down the road. Therefore, we cannot make a determination of their eternal state because we don't know the future and what God has planned. We can only know where someone stands today based on their proclaimed beliefs and how we need to relate to them- as a brother or sister in Christ, or as a witnessing opportunity.

    The neat thing is that I wrote this comment before reading RT's and Robert's and all three of us are on exactly the same page. I hope this clears up the confusion and alleviates some of your anger and frustration.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/22/2006 09:58:00 PM  

  • MrsHammmer, RT and Robert,
    It looks like I can sum you all up with this quotation from MrsH:

    "We only can determine where someone stands with Christ at this moment in time."

    My entire point has been that we cannot tell this from the facts that someone assents to. I have yet to see any evidence for this alleged infallible connection between regeneration and assent to specific facts.

    Notice that you would need to provide two things for this to be even vaguely plausible: (1) the list of specific facts and their biblical basis; (2) the biblical evidence that we are miraculously and infallibly changed at regeneration to assent to these facts. No vague verses saying that Christians recognise "truth" will do - you are claiming that Christians must recognise specific facts to be genuinely saved.

    So far, we have established from Romans that we must confess Christ as Lord. This is not a propositional fact but the establishment of a relationship. We have also established that a belief in the resurrection is required - although any claim to follow a Christ who is not alive is illogical. (And, remember, this verse just says that God raised Him from the dead. It doesn't require any particular understanding of that fact - even Marcus Borg would fit under that dictum.)

    We've so far established exactly nothing more than that, although we've had a few proposed lists - none of which overlapped more than slightly!

    To avoid any further confusion, I am not talking about the "not yet saved". It doesn't matter for these purposes whether someone will be saved in the future or not at all. The point is that, now, we cannot tell whether they are in the Kingdom by their theology. What started this was a declaration on this blog that Marcus Borg was going to Hell. I am saying that we cannot and must not say so - indeed, I think that such a statement verges on blasphemy. However much we disagree with him, and however right we are, we cannot make that statement. We cannot even say that, if he carries on as he is doing, he will go to Hell. Theology does not control our salvation, and nor does it signify our salvific status.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/23/2006 04:26:00 PM  

  • In regards to Borg. If he denies that he needs to be saved, which he does, then at this point the Bible tells us he hasn't been reborn-he isn't saved. God has ultimate control, of course, but we must make decisions about what is fact and what is fiction.

    In fact, if he continues to lead people to believe that they don't need to be saved to escape hell, then he is even more culpable of heresy and the souls that he has led astray.

    If you do not believe in the biblical teachings that their are "deceivers of men" and that there is a negative result for that deception then I really don't know what else to say.

    Is there hope for Borg and those who love his books and seminars-essentially denying that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation? Of course! However, as long as he lacks Christ, and invents a false god who bears no resemblance to Christ, then he will be without him-just as all the other who believe in a false God are.

    I have one question left for you. How is a person saved? If you say via the substitutionary death, then you have just admitted that a person who denies that measure of love cannot possibly be saved at the time they deny it!

    I'm done..there is nothing left to say!

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 9/23/2006 04:58:00 PM  

  • John,
    You are so funny! I'm glad we're moving on.

    Your demand for evidence is humorous. You demand very specific Biblical evidence, yet have never presented any otherwise, only dismissed what we present as insufficient, because "you would need to provide two things for this to be even vaguely plausible: (1) the list of specific facts and their biblical basis; (2) the biblical evidence that we are miraculously and infallibly changed at regeneration to assent to these facts. You are a riot John! Not only would that make it bloody iron clad (not merely vaguely plausible), but when do you ever show us an exact statement from the Bible to exactly reflect ANY of your propositions? I know why you never do - but that issue is different, and will come up in the post on alternate treatments of Scripture besides inerrancy.

    We cannot believe in whom we do not recognize. That is simple logic. We can't follow a voice we don't know. No matter what term you choose to couch salvation in, it remains that it must mean something. You use "following Christ" and "hear His voice", yet refuse to acknowledge that "his voice" has specific characteristics that we must know, or we could not "hear" it, and that He personally has specific characteristics that we must know to recognize and "follow him". Not all of them, just a few important ones that distinguish him from false gods.

    Which ones? The ones in the creed, without which affirming a person could not be baptized and was not allowed into the church community. They had to do this because they know that those who did not affirm the basic truths about God were not saved.

    You said, "I cannot accept that salvation requires a different set of propositions now than it did in the second century, or the twelfth!" Yet you refuse the evidence demanded by the second century church. Why is that?

    You also said you never said we can't question someone's salvation, and presented a quote. That quote only described questioning someone's beliefs, not their salvation.

    To help me understand, if you are allowing us to "question someone's salvation" yet not "say they are not saved", how would we do that? By saying, "you might not be saved?" Is that what this is all about?

    Lastly, to separate a belief in the ressurection from the historical event of the empty tomb makes the words "believe that he has been raised from the dead" mean nothing, just as to claim one can be a Christian yet deny every core doctrine of His being makes the word "Christian" mean nothing - just as C.S. Lewis clearly stated.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/23/2006 05:31:00 PM  

  • I must say, this whole conversation has been humorous and kind of silly. Near as I can tell you all agree with every point within the scripture. The disagreement is:

    John: Christ is real and Christ's call is real. I may recognise someone's voice without knowing anything about their biography.

    Hammer: We cannot believe in whom we do not recognize. That is simple logic. We can't follow a voice we don't know.

    I found it particularly strange that Hammer complained that John's argument wasn't based on scripture, when Hammer's own argument isn't either, it is based on "simple logic".

    I see the same thing happen in other debates outside of religion. you can get two sides to agree to all the facts, agree to almost everything up until the final moment, then veer off in completely different directions once the final decision is made.

    Personally, I think the cause is we each fear different worst case scenarios, worry about different slippery slopes. From the right the worries tend to be about individuals abusing the system or trying to get a free ride, thus:

    The devil is a great deceiver, disguising his voice to sound just like Christ's if he so chooses, decieving a multitude of people who think they are following Christ.

    and

    To say only that they may be Christians, but are wrong in their theology for fear of seeming judgmental, leads a seeker to believe there are many ways to follow Christ when indeed the Bible tells of a narrow path to salvation.

    From the left there are concerns of men trying to take the authority that belongs to God and use religion as a means of solidifying their own power, thus:

    Nor can we judge which aspects of "all truth" a particular person is being led into at a given time - God's purposes are not ours.

    You guys spend so much time fighting about which extreme to worry about the most, you ignore the fact you fundamentally agree with all the basic points the other side put out. You just don't agree those points are important, that those are the points one should be focused on.

    I'm sure both sides think I'm full of bull pucky on that, but that is how I see it. Personally, I don't think there is such thing as a Christian in the first place. (A sentence that would make no sense in most any other context, but here I think everyone knows what I mean.)

    By Blogger Mark, at 9/24/2006 03:56:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    "Your demand for evidence is humorous. You demand very specific Biblical evidence, yet have never presented any"

    I ask for evidence because (a) you allege that the Bible says that there is a link between salvation and assent to facts, and (b) you claim that your beliefs are based only on the Bible. Given that my claim is that the Bible doesn't make any such link, I do not see how it is possible to provide biblical evidence for this - one cannot provide quotation that proves there is no such quotation! (That is, I do not claim "The Bible says there is no link", I claim "The Bible does not say that there is a link". I am sure that you can see the difference between these two claims.)

    "We cannot believe in whom we do not recognize"

    Absolutely.

    "You use "following Christ" and "hear His voice", yet refuse to acknowledge that "his voice" has specific characteristics that we must know"

    No, that's not right. My point is that one does not recognise a voice by being told someone's life story. I do not recognise Britney Spears' voice because I have read her biography but because I heard her voice and was told that it was her singing. Just in the same way, we do not recognise Jesus' voice by learning facts but by hearing.

    Now, that voice must be connected to certain facts - but the facts are subordinate, and may be wrong without denying that the voice has been heard. This arises from the simple fact that Christ is real. We do not define Christ into existence by precise theology. We do not diminish Christ by incorrect theology.


    Mark,
    Actually, I think you're right. What has driven me to distraction in this debate is the refusal to read what I've actually said, preferring instead to assume that I'm saying something "dangerously liberal". Patterns of emphasis are crucial, and strongly affect our conclusions.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/24/2006 04:38:00 AM  

  • John,
    I and Robert gave several Biblical examples. The fact that you choose to dismiss them is the quarrel. I stand with Lewis and the historical Christian faith. You do not.

    On with the next post!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/24/2006 10:30:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    Neither you nor Robert has provided anything more specific than that the saved know "the truth" or "my words". That won't do unless you are suggesting that all true Christians have perfect theology and understanding of God. Which I know you aren't. That being so, we must have a specific, justifiable list of these "primary truths" before this allegation (that facts signify salvation) becomes anything more than a club to beat people with until they agree with you.

    The only propositional fact that has actually been produced so far from the Bible (rather than early creeds) is the requirement for a belief in the resurrection. And with that I readily agreed, for the reasons I explained.

    BTW, the reason I'm excluding creeds is because they're not Scripture - your own benchmark for inerrancy. You are proposing an infallible law that has no explicit support in the Bible or (in this form) in tradition. Unsurprisingly, I feel, I want some pretty good evidence before I'm going to agree with you.

    (Indeed, checking back, there have been very few posts here with biblical evidence from your side. Almost all of the verses come in a single one of your posts, and only one of those even touches on this issue of specificity - without which there can be no "infallible test". That one, I've already discussed in some detail (Christ as Lord and the resurrection).)

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/24/2006 05:15:00 PM  

  • John-
    Please read my new post. It is actually a comment back to you, but I did it as a new post, mainly because I had so many quotes from you italicized that it would have taken forever to convert it to a comment from where I typed it in Microsoft Word.

    You have dismissed the verses referring to the resurrection as not having to mean an actual bodily resurrection, but that we can interpret it however we want. And, "Christ as Lord" means believing Christ as Lord (God, divine, Son of the Father God!), not just lordship! See how you have dismissed the verses we have given as not actually (literally) meaning what they say!?

    I have put some more verses to clarify our point on my new post. Salvation also requires a belief in Jesus as the "Son of God"- He is Divine! Borg denies this and as I have showed with Scripture this is crucial for salvation. So please stop trying to say we haven't showed you 'good enough' verses to support our argument. We have- you just choose not to see it.

    JW's dismiss the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit because they can't find an exact verse that identifies this concept- so they therefore completely deny who Jesus is and make Him into something He is not. They are not saved because of it. However, it is written all over the Bible even though the word "Trinity" is never used. You sound frighteningly similar in your demand to see the exact evidence before you will believe that you have to assent to the facts about WHO JESUS IS and WHAT HE DID to save you in order to be saved.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/24/2006 06:04:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    I'll read your new post when I've time (this is just a flying visit while I have my breakfast!). However, to clear up one point, again:

    ""Christ as Lord" means believing Christ as Lord (God, divine, Son of the Father God!), not just lordship!"

    So, you think that "confess with your mouth that Christ is Lord" actually means "believe that Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity and Son of God"? If that's so, why didn't Paul write that? What he actually wrote was "confess that Christ is Lord". And that statement is not really propositional fact (as I said). It is a declaration of the relationship that exists - in general between Creator and Creation, but most importantly between the person making the confession and Christ. And it is a declaration of intent to live out that relationship.

    "You sound frighteningly similar in your demand to see the exact evidence before you will believe"

    You miss my point. I do not dispute in the slightest that the truths are what you have been saying (and I never have). The question isn't whether these things are true, nor whether Christians ought to believe them. The question is: is it possible to know Christ without knowing some of these facts? And, most particularly, is it possible to express these facts in ways that you wouldn't recognise?

    Or do you think that everyone should simply take your word for everything?

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/25/2006 03:21:00 AM  

  • No, John, I do not think that someone should simply take my word for it. I am not infallible and am often wrong. I think you and others should take God's word for it- the Bible's word- and go prayerfully study these ideas for yourself. It alone is infallible and inerrant and can be fully trusted.

    I think confessing "Christ as Lord" means confessing Him as the promised Messiah, fulfillment of the Scriptures, our personal Redeemer and God. You seem to be wanting to use a lower case "L", as in lord.

    When Thomas demanded that he would not believe in the resurrected Jesus until he could put his hand in His side, and put his finger in the nail holes, Jesus told him to go ahead: "Be not faithless, but believing" Jesus told Thomas. And what was Thomas' very next declaration upon realizing his arrogance and lack of faith??

    "My Lord and my GOD!" He declared his belief in Jesus as God- HIS GOD- his personal Redeemer. This is what we, too, must do to be saved. Repent of our arrogance and doubt and pride and disbelief of the facts and proclaim as Thomas did: "My Lord and my God!" and confess Him as Lord (with a capital "L"!!!)

    The reason I said this:
    "You sound frighteningly similar in your demand to see the exact evidence before you will believe"

    is because you are saying you do not believe you have to assent to the facts about Jesus and what He did to be saved. You will only believe (or it will only be "vaguely plausibe")if you can see an exact verse that encompasses our entire debate. Similarly, the JW's deny the Trinity because there is no exact verse identifying this terminology, so they build a case against the whole idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit being God.
    You claim this has nothing to do with your own personal beliefs, but just that we shouldn't make a blanket statement that you have to believe the facts about who Jesus is and was to be saved. But, are you sure this doesn't really have more to do with your own beliefs about Jesus? You seem to be wanting to widen the road when it is indeed narrow.
    You don't need to respond to this last question- I'm not attacking your beliefs here because even after all of these debates I'm really not even sure what they are- it's just something to think on...

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/25/2006 03:04:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    ""My Lord and my GOD!" He declared his belief in Jesus as God- HIS GOD- his personal Redeemer."

    Absolutely - Thomas' declaration isn't an abstract assertion of facts. It's a profoundly personal statement of relationship. It is saying "You are my Lord and my God." To confess Christ as Lord (capital L) is not to assent to abstract facts but to acknowledge, establish and affirm the relationship between myself and Christ - between creature and Creator, between sinner and Saviour.

    That's exactly what I said, and apparently exactly what you're saying. So why are you disagreeing with me? Yes, there are elements of propositional fact in there, but they are subordinate to the personal affirmation of submission.

    "you do not believe you have to assent to the facts about Jesus and what He did to be saved"

    No, I don't. And nor does your husband, according to his writings about salvation. According to his Calvinist position, our salvation does not depend in any way at all upon our choices or beliefs. We are chosen for salvation for no reason beyond God's whim. Any assent comes afterwards, apparently, over-riding whatever our previous opinions were on these matters.

    It is for this reason that I express my doubts about reconciling this position with his ideas on election. It requires the bolting on of an extra level of miraculous change for no detectable reason beyond "so that we can tell who's saved".

    "I think you and others should take God's word for it- the Bible's word- and go prayerfully study these ideas for yourself. It alone is infallible and inerrant and can be fully trusted."

    Indeed. And, if you read Hammer's definition of inerrancy, you will see that inerrancy only occurs after we have read, interpreted and pondered the words contained within the Bible. Inerrancy isn't about taking a verse and extending it to cover the point we're trying to make - which, I'm afraid, is what you and your companions here have been doing. There is still a startling lack of specificity in this alleged "salvific truth". We've had anything between "confess Christ as Lord and believe that God raised Him" and the full Nicene creed put forward as being this basic "minimal set" of beliefs that prove that we're saved.

    Given this extreme lack of consistency and specificity in establishing this apparently infallible rule for detecting the saved, can you not understand at least a little reluctance at subscribing to it? It seems to amount to little more than whatever its proposers say it is - "agree with me or you're against God".

    "You seem to be wanting to widen the road when it is indeed narrow."

    You still don't seem to understand what I'm saying. Christ leads us down the narrow path, indeed. But the path isn't about intellect but about obedience. There are things we should know about our guide, I've never questioned that. But the path is different for each of us, and it is correspondingly hard for us to tell whether someone else is walking the right path or not.

    In response, I could suggest that you seem to want to turn the welcoming father Jesus talked of (for example, in the parable of the prodigal son) into the older son, who could see no reason to welcome the straying son who had returned.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/25/2006 05:13:00 PM  

  • As my husband has already said, you should drop the discussion of election here because you just sound "silly".

    I don't see any correlation to the parable of the prodigal son here either- sorry.

    Listen John, I don't make it my goal in life to go around detecting who is a Christian and who is not, claiming I have an "infallible rule". I would never choose to use the words that you've put into our mouths here and tell someone, "you are definitely damned to hell!" That's not the way to win souls to Christ and I don't know who's definitely damned. The Bible tells us to beware of false teachers and false doctrines, and I keep a watchful eye and careful ear to discern the truth from lies based on Biblical teachings. When I hear heresy like that of Borg, JW's, Mormons, etc, who are doing so under the banner of Christ and so called "Christian teachings", I'll speak up and defend the faith- especially when those teachings are being preached to those who aren't able to fully discern the truth for themselves because they don't yet know the Lord (those who don't even claim to be Christians, or who claim they are but their sincerity is questionable because of either their lack of understanding, or they are continuosly walking in sin after claiming they have been saved.) I don't always claim (or even attempt to) to be certain if someone is a Christian or not, but with Borg it's very clear. If He can be saved despite His denial of Jesus being the only way, his denial of Jesus being the divine Son of God and every other doctrine that Christians hold as a fundamental belief of the faith, then I have no clue what the Bible is talking about in 1 John and many other books in the Bible regarding false teachings and the falling away of the church.

    When Jesus asks "who do you say that I am?" (after He tells us who He is throughout the gospels!)
    and we respond with: "a spirit person who had a close relationship with God" (as this is the essense of who Borg says Jesus is- go re-read the "Borg Exposed" post)
    how is that not denying Him??? It's not that Borg doesn't have a Bible, and hasn't read and studied it- it's that he chooses not to believe it and makes his own assessment of who Jesus is that is contrary to Scripture!

    Then when Jesus says, "If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven." What does this mean in respect to what Borg has done? Borg and his fans have denied (not just misunderstood) the essense of who Jesus is and what He came to do.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/26/2006 01:03:00 PM  

  • As my husband has already said, you should drop the discussion of election here because you just sound "silly".

    I don't see any correlation to the parable of the prodigal son here either- sorry.

    Listen John, I don't make it my goal in life to go around detecting who is a Christian and who is not, claiming I have an "infallible rule". I would never choose to use the words that you've put into our mouths here and tell someone, "you are definitely damned to hell!" That's not the way to win souls to Christ and I don't know who's definitely damned. The Bible tells us to beware of false teachers and false doctrines, and I keep a watchful eye and careful ear to discern the truth from lies based on Biblical teachings. When I hear heresy like that of Borg, JW's, Mormons, etc, who are doing so under the banner of Christ and so called "Christian teachings", I'll speak up and defend the faith- especially when those teachings are being preached to those who aren't able to fully discern the truth for themselves because they don't yet know the Lord (those who don't even claim to be Christians, or who claim they are but their sincerity is questionable because of either their lack of understanding, or they are continuosly walking in sin after claiming they have been saved.) I don't always claim (or even attempt to) to be certain if someone is a Christian or not, but with Borg it's very clear. If He can be saved despite His denial of Jesus being the only way, his denial of Jesus being the divine Son of God and every other doctrine that Christians hold as a fundamental belief of the faith, then I have no clue what the Bible is talking about in 1 John and many other books in the Bible regarding false teachings and the falling away of the church.

    When Jesus asks "who do you say that I am?" (after He tells us who He is throughout the gospels!)
    and we respond with: "a spirit person who had a close relationship with God" (as this is the essense of who Borg says Jesus is- go re-read the "Borg Exposed" post)
    how is that not denying Him??? It's not that Borg doesn't have a Bible, and hasn't read and studied it- it's that he chooses not to believe it and makes his own assessment of who Jesus is that is contrary to Scripture!

    Then when Jesus says, "If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven." What does this mean in respect to what Borg has done? Borg and his fans have denied (not just misunderstood) the essense of who Jesus is and what He came to do.

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 9/26/2006 01:05:00 PM  

  • John,
    I thought you were taking abreak from this.

    I'll give you the very best position on the necessity of believing certain facts in addition to trusting Christ with your whole being in a separate post, because it will take work. However, what you should do, to be intellectually honest, is stop demanding exact Biblical evidence for the position - because you do not hold yourself to that standard.

    My post (to be completed after the inerrancy series) will be Biblically based, of course. Yet, even if we were to produce a heretofore unmentioned verse that laid out exactly the facts to believe about Christ in a single swoop, you still wouldn't accept it. How do I know? You exposed your predisposition with this comment:

    Notice that you would need to provide two things for this to be even vaguely plausible: (1) the list of specific facts and their biblical basis; (2) the biblical evidence that we are miraculously and infallibly changed at regeneration to assent to these facts.

    So, if I produce said imaginary verse, it would merely make the idea "vaguely plausible". I'd say it makes it something there is no discussion over.

    That disagreement is what the series is about.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 9/26/2006 04:01:00 PM  

  • MrsHammer,
    "As my husband has already said, you should drop the discussion of election here because you just sound "silly". "

    Well, to me, the suggestion that unconditional election and salvific assent to facts go naturally together sounds silly. That's why I keep mentioning it. Just possibly, if the connection isn't clear, it's because you haven't explained it. Simply saying that I sound "silly" doesn't actually adress my point - I keep making it because it's genuinely a stumbling block.

    "I don't see any correlation to the parable of the prodigal son here either- sorry."

    You suggest that my approach turns the "narrow road" into a "wide road". I suggest that your approach turns "the welcoming father" into the "rejecting older brother". I'm simply applying another parable to try and indicate why your emphasis seems wrong to me - just as you used a parable to indicate why mine seems wrong to you. There is danger in taking any position too far, lest we lose sight of other truths.

    "I'll speak up and defend the faith"

    That's an excellent trait, and one of the reasons I continue reading this blog. However, there is a persistent danger (here and elsewhere) of confusing "my understanding of the faith" with "the faith". Orthodox Christianity is wider than your evangelicalism. It always has been and it always will be. There are things about God that evangelicalism is not good at grasping, just as there are things that it is good at grasping. So, when people say things that are outside evangelicalism, don't make the mistake of assuming that they are therefore outside God.

    "If He can be saved despite His denial of Jesus being the only way...then I have no clue what the Bible is talking about"

    Then admit that ignorance! Sometimes, the correct answer is, "I don't know." As I've consistently said, Borg is wrong. He may not be saved - but his friends who are 'orthodox' Christians (like NT Wright, who I don't think anyone here would regard as clearly damned, despite theological differences) say that his faith is real and living. With that weight on the "possibly saved" side, perhaps we have to admit that we really don't know - that there are things about God and His works that are beyond our understanding.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/27/2006 04:28:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    " I thought you were taking abreak from this."

    The discussion moved on... And, sometimes, I can't help myself. However, we have made some genuine progress since then.

    "what you should do, to be intellectually honest, is stop demanding exact Biblical evidence for the position - because you do not hold yourself to that standard."

    Two things there. Again. (a) I don't hold myself to that standard here because one cannot prove a negative by quotation. It's simply not possible. (b) You do make that claim to biblical justification. That being so, it is surely entirely reasonable to request that justification?

    "if I produce said imaginary verse, it would merely make the idea "vaguely plausible". I'd say it makes it something there is no discussion over."

    Ah. Here, you've misunderstood what I wrote. I didn't say "for it to be vaguely plausible". I said "for it to be even vaguely plausible". That one word was meant to signify a big difference - without the evidence, the suggestion isn't even vaguely plausible. With evidence, it would enter the realms of plausibility. And, of course, how plausible the argument is depends on how good that evidence is. Give me good evidence and I will readily concede it. Just look above - when the verse from Romans surfaced, I readily conceded it. Give me better evidence for more extensive salvific facts and I'll concede them as readily. But don't expect me to take "believe in the truth" as being in any way specific, because it isn't.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 9/27/2006 04:35:00 AM  

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