Tuesday, December 12

New Study Bible!

My parents gave me a new study Bible for my birthday. Some of you know I have been looking for one for some time, specifically for one with good "reformed" study notes. I considered many, but in the end decided on the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. With regard to the NIV, keep in mind that this is not my "every day" Bible (which will remain my NASB Open Bible).

So, why did I choose this Bible? Good question. I had narrowed it down to this one along with the ESV Reformation Bible and the NASB Scofield Study Bible III. The Scofield was the first of these to be "cut", primarily due to the fact that the other two have more comprehensive notes. Finally, I chose the NIV over the ESV not because of translation - but because the "Spirit" Bible links Scripture to the various confessions throughout the Bible and has more notes on the text. I personally see much value in these references to the confessions, and would have trouble reconstructing them on my own. The Spirit Bible has the following catechisms/confessions in its appendix:

The Heidelberg Catechism
The Belgic Confession
The Canons of Dort
The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Larger Catechism
The Westminster Shorter Catechism
Honestly, I haven't studied much about these - but plan to do some research on them and post some of the content here. I'm interested in anyone's "take" on these.

Friday, December 1

Lordship or Free Grace - so which is it?

OK, I’ve been hedging. I have purposely left the impression that I disagree with both the ideas of “Lordship Salvation” and “Free Grace”. I’m sorry, it simply isn’t true. In fact, I do have a position – and it isn’t “in the middle”. As much as I like compromise, it just can't be done here.

John 1:14 NASB And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Christ is full of grace and truth. He isn't 50% of one and 50% of the other, but 100% of each. The two aren’t at odds, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. If it is Christ who saves us, why is it that we aren’t saved by both grace and truth, since He is both? Why is it that we feel compelled to move to one of those extremes while ignoring the plain Biblical truths of the other? Is there really a contradiction, or have people like John MacArthur and Zane Hodges built their own apparent contradictions by their inability or unwillingness to give ground where it obviously needs to be given?

With regard to Lordship, consider this passage:
Luke 23:43 NASB And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
I look at this passage thinking about MacArthur’s “Lordship”, and I wonder what he would say about the thief. Was there time to comprehend the Gospel adequately? Where did he serve? What actions of discipleship did he take part in? I’m guessing there wasn’t much time. I’m guessing he was saved by grace through faith, and without having done much more than to have said, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" That sounds like “bare mental assent” to me, but it was credited to him as much, much more.

With regard to Free Grace, consider this passage:
John 5:14 NASB Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you."
When looking at this passage in view of Hodges “Free Grace”, I wonder where the “free” part comes in to play. Surely Jesus said exactly what He meant to say to this man (and to us). I note that the man was “made well”, and is then instructed to “sin no more”. While it isn’t stated conditionally, there is a definite relation of the command of truth to the act of grace. I’m guessing the man did his best to “sin no more”. If only Christians could recognize that they too have been “made well”, perhaps we would work out our salvation with more fervor if we would recognize what has happened to us inwardly what this man recognized was done to him outwardly.

Randy Alcorn, in his book The Grace and Truth Parodox writes:
If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation. To show the world Jesus, we must offer unabridged grace and truth, emphasizing both, apologizing for neither. The Colossian church “understood God’s grace in all it’s truth” (Col 1:6).
For me, this goes along with what Sawyer writes when he says that “both are right in what they accept and wrong in what they deny.” In other words, not only are they not mutually exclusive as both extremes would have you believe, the are in fact interdependent upon one another. One without the other is meaningless.

More from Alcorn:
Truth is quick to post warning signs and guardrails at the top of the cliff. Yet it fails to empower people to drive safely – and neglects to help them when they crash. Grace is quick to post ambulances and paramedics at the bottom of the cliff. But without truth, it fails to post warning signs and guardrails. In doing so it encounters the very self destruction it attempts to heal.
Truth without grace crushes people and ceases to be truth. Grace without truth deceives people and ceases to be grace.

Truth without grace degenerates into judgmental legalism. Grace without truth degenerates into deceitful tolerance.

Grace and truth are both necessary. Neither is sufficient.

Truth hates sin. Grace loves sinners.

Those full of grace and truth do both.

Like I said, I just don't see the confusion. Again, for me each side is 100% correct in what they accept, and are wrong only in their fierce denials of the other view. Accepting both is comforting to me, not confusing. I thank God for both.

Thursday, November 30

Free Grace

Surely you are expecting me to support the idea of Free Grace after my post on Lordship Salvation yesterday - right? It makes sense. Scott argues against Lordship (at least MacArthur's version), so he must be a Free Grace guy. After all, it must be one of those positions or the other - right?

Um, not so fast.

While I believe MacArthur has taken Lordship too far, I also believe that Zane Hodges and others have taken the idea of Free Grace too far. As with nearly any doctrine, proponents tend to harden their positions, ignore context, set up straw men, and call the other side heretical - all much easier than attempting to look at the broad scope and find common ground. I referenced this article by Dr. James Sawyer in my post yesterday, and believe that he has found the common (and Biblical) ground between two unacceptable extremes.

So, what is "Free Grace"? Here's the definition that Sawyer gives:

[Free Grace] is a free gift offered without condition or precondition to those who will simply stretch out the empty hand of faith and receive it. Once one exercises faith, he is secure forever in his possession of that gift, even should he cease to believe.
And here is the Free Grace view on Lordship:
Any talk of works even in a post-conversion state smacks of mixing faith and works and ultimately of a compromise of the free offer of salvation...
Sawyer argues that the view espoused by Hodges is every bit as dangerous as the extreme Lordship view. In fact, one gets the sense that while in the end the Lordship view bothers Sawyer more, he finds far more disagreement - at least in practice - with Free Grace. Following are some of his problems with this viewpoint and its differences with Lordship:
  1. Hodges in particular is attacking a caricature of the Lordship position by insisting that the Lordship view makes works a condition of salvation (I must apologize for having done this myself in yesterday's post). He is, in short, attacking a sort of straw man.
  2. Free Grace adherents tend to place a divide between justification and sanctification that simply doesn't exist.
  3. Free Grace implies that faith arises from within the individual, not as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Salvation is seen as a legal transaction not related to the experience of the individual.
Sawyer summarizes as follows:
In Hodges and those who follow him there is an explicit disavowal of the concept of the witness of the Spirit in the life of the believer, as well as a decidedly "anti-mystic" tendendcy which, in effect, strips the Christian life of its relational qualities in order to raise the authority of the Scripture as that to which the individual can cling for assurance. The next problem is the greatest, that is the reduction of faith to something close to bare mental assent...

In his discusssions of faith, his working definition seems often to have reference to [an assent to facts rather than trust in a person].

As his positions are worked out he insists that faith can exist without commitment. If pressed, there is a danger of reducing salvation to a kind of magical incantation... whereby, for example, the individual repeats the prayer at the end of the Four Laws, with the barest assent to the Gospel, and then is eternally saved, assured by the promises of Scripture.

The Free Grace position, along with much of evangelical Christianity, has succumbed to an unBiblical bifurcation between justification and sanctification. While justification is by faith alone, the Christian life is variously viewed as being accomplished by works, or as beginning sometime after salvation and coming through an experience, a second blessing, a dedication, or some such thing. Zane Hodges has constructed a theology of inheritance based upon the concept of being an heir with Christ. For him, it is the hope of reward that serves as the sole basis and motivation factor for Christian growth. Specifically, he sees no necessary relationship between the salvation of an individual and any reflection of God's character. This he labels as works salvation.
It is clear to me, reading Sawyer's opinions on these two views, that he is right in saying that both are "right in what they accept and wrong in what they deny." I simply cannot sign on to one of these extreme views when it is obvious, at least to me, that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Next up - The "Middle".

Wednesday, November 29

Lordship Salvation

John MacArthur is one of the primary proponents of what is called "Lordship Salvation". Now, before I get too far with this view we need to find a suitable definition (too often when we discuss things like this, one person has a different opinion of how to define the viewpoint being discussed). Here are some definitions that I have found:

Lordship Salvation emphasizes that submitting to Christ as Lord over your life goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ to be saved. It also focuses on a changed life as the result of salvation.

All About Jesus Christ
The theology of Lordship Salvation stresses that submitting to Jesus as "Lord of your life" goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ at salvation. A changed life should result.
As I'm reading these two definitions (and both of these sites disagree with the Lordship view), I'm thinking, "who could have a problem with that"? We all know that the Bible teaches that our faith will result in a changed life - most of us even know that the Bible tells us to confess Christ as Lord. And this is the problem, at the surface level the Lordship view looks to be entirely Biblical - yet we haven't really delved into the specifics and resulting theological implications. Consider this definition of the Lordship view from Bible.org's Theology Program (they also disagree with Lordship):
The Theology Program - Soteriology - The Doctrine of Conversion
Salvation includes both faith and repentance, which are two sides of the same coin. In repentance, the believer is committing to give up all known sin, thereby making Christ Lord of his or her life.
Wait, do you see the difference yet? This seems to be getting more legal, and, in a sense - it is. This definition is much closer to what MacArthur would actually teach about this view - because it places faith and repentance in the same breath. In fact, it actually places repentance before faith - since this view teaches that you must make Christ the Lord of your life in order to be saved.

What has occurred here, is that the cart has been put before the horse - and as a result something we "do" has contributed to our salvation. It is the same argument as the "baptismal regenerationists" who claim that we must be baptized with water in order to be saved. In fact, I would be interested in knowing how anyone can adhere to the Lorship view and argue against baptismal regeneration, because the arguments are so very similar!

Consider the full text from GotQuestions.org:
Lordship Salvation emphasizes that submitting to Christ as Lord over your life goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ to be saved. It also focuses on a changed life as the result of salvation. Those who believe in Lordship Salvation would have serious doubts about a person who claims to believe in Christ but does not have good works evident in his life. The Bible does teach that faith in Christ will result in a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:22-23; James 2:14-26).

However, depending on the person and his circumstances, spiritual growth sometimes occurs quickly, and other times it takes a long time for changes to become evident, and even then the changes may not be evident to everyone. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible also declares that a life changes after salvation (Ephesians 2:10). So, as you can see, it is a difficult balance to make.

So, is Lordship Salvation Biblical? Again, it cannot be denied that faith in Christ produces a change (2 Corinthians 5:17). A person who has been delivered from sin by faith in Christ should not desire to remain in a life of sin (Romans 6:2). At the same time, submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is an issue of spiritual growth, not salvation. The Christian life is a process of submitting to God in increasing measure (2 Peter 1:5-8). A person does not have to submit to God in every area of his or her life in order to be saved. A person simply has to recognize that he or she is a sinner, in need of Jesus Christ for salvation, and place trust in Him (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10). Christians absolutely should submit to Him (James 4:7). A changed life and submission to Christ's lordship are the result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation.
I believe that last statement to be key. And notice that this places the emphasis back on God, and away from what man does in order to achieve and even aid in the process of salvation.

This issue, of course, is much more complex than the above summary and my thoughts. Dr. James Sawyer wrote a fantastic article that goes much more in depth, and even shares the benefits of the "Lordship" view and the problems with the "Free Grace" view. His argument is that both sides have polarized the argument and set up straw men. But in the end, he is compelled to reject the Lordship view:
While I applaud the Lordship position in its insistence that the believer in Jesus Christ will show by his life that he is a believer, the rhetoric I hear is akin to a General George Patton slapping the G.I. who was hospitalized for nerves during WWII. Lordship teachers appear to be forcing all teaching on salvation through one grid, discipleship. This, I would argue, the Scripture does not do. I would argue that many (most?) who come to Christ are bruised, battered and shattered emotionally, as a result of the ravages of sin, both personal and corporate. They need spiritual and emotional healing, a healing that goes far deeper than most of the intellectualized theology which focuses upon positional truth as abstract and unrelated to the life of the believer. The lack of spiritual maturity in the lives of professing believers may be the result of rebellion, it may indeed be an evidence of the fact that a professing believer is in fact unregenerate, or it may in fact be a result of the deep seated psychological problems/needs which can be truly solved by learning how the believer’s identification and oneness with Christ can existentially transform his/her daily existence. I find it significant that the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:3-11), when referring to believers who were evidently not displaying Christian grace in their lives, did not call their salvation into question, rather he noted that they were, “nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Pet. 1:9).58 This condition arises when justification is separated from sanctification and made to be unimportant, abstract or theoretical.
I couldn't agree more. Next up: Free Grace

Post Frequency

One thing I've learned over the past couple of months is that I simply am too busy (and don't have either the will or the material) to post on a regular, daily basis. I am resigned to the fact that I am a better student than teacher, and as such all I have to share is what I think I learn in my studies.

So while the Christian Telegram will continue, there may be some times when I post daily, and there may be other times when I take a week (or more) off. We'll all be better off for it!

Thursday, November 16

Still Alive!

A few of you have e-mailed me, concerned that perhaps I was raptured and you all were left behind. Worry not...

I've been very busy after the conference with some new customers and follow-ups - too busy to blog. I'll try to get back into a routine after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Question for anyone with an opinion. I'm looking for a new study Bible - and I would prefer to stick with the NASB translation. I currently use the Open Bible, which I like, but the textual notes are limited. I have narrowed it down to the NASB Study Bible by Zondervan (that's the frontrunner currently), and the NASB Scofield Study Bible III. I've ruled out, for now, the MacArthur Study Bible and the Ryrie. Comments?

Saturday, October 21

National Conference - Philadelphia

I'll be away from home at a conference Sunday through Wednesday, and may not get a chance to post while I am there. I will likely get an opportunity to read some of your blogs while I am away though, so don't think you're not being watched...

God's Word for Today