Soteriology


One of the arguments Arminians level against Calvinism is that it makes evangelism superfluous.  After all, if your neighbor is part of the elect God will ensure that he comes to faith whether you preach the Gospel to him or not.  As part of God’s elect, it would be impossible for him not to come to faith.  Likewise, if your neighbor is not part of the elect, no amount of evangelism will be effective for his conversion.  So why evangelize if Calvinism is true?  What’s the point? 

Calvinists typically respond by saying God doesn’t just predestine the ends, but also the means.  While God may have predestined your neighbor’s salvation (the ends), He also predestined that your neighbor would receive that salvation in response to your evangelism (the means).  

While I can appreciate this response in principle, how exactly is God using your evangelism to bring about your neighbor’s salvation?  To speak of God using evangelism to bring about salvation implies that evangelism contributes to the desired end in some way.  I fail to see how this is so, given the strict monergism of Calvinism.  Let me explain. 

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Inclusivism is the doctrine that while no one can be saved apart from Christ, one need not have conscious faith in Christ to be saved.  So, for example, while a good Buddhist may not trust in Christ for his salvation, since he is a good Buddhist Christ applies the merits of His substitutionary atonement to him. 

The NT is opposed to inclusivism.  It is quite clear that one must exercise conscious faith in Christ to experience salvation: 

John 3:14-18  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

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Would you still serve God if there was no hell in which to be punished for your evil?  Would you still serve God if there was no heaven in which to be rewarded for your good?  Would your behavior change at all?

I would venture to say that most church-going Christians serve God, not out of a desire to be in relationship with God, but out of a desire to avoid hell.  If there was no hell, they would not serve God, or at least would not continue to live the way they do morally speaking.  While desiring to avoid hell is natural and a good motivator for initially deciding to serve God, it is a very poor motivator for continuing to serve God.

I don’t necessarily want you to respond in the comments section with your answers, but I do think this is something worth thinking about in the way of self-evaluation.

Update on 6/21: A new study appearing in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE, has evaluated crime rates involving 143,197 people in 67 countries over a span of 26 years and found that crime rates are lower in nations that believe in the possibility of some sort of divine punishment after death, and higher in nations that do not (or that only believe in divine rewards after death).

In The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight argues that the gospel being preached in evangelicalism today is a truncated or distorted version of the original.  Some think the gospel is justification by faith, while others identify it as the saving work of Christ.  However it is characterized, the gospel is understood to be all about personal salvation.  While that is surely part of it, the gospel is much more.[1]

McKnight argues that the gospel as preached in the NT consists of four elements:

  1. The story ofIsrael
  2. The story of Jesus
  3. The plan of salvation
  4. The method of persuasion

We cannot make sense of the method of persuasion apart from the plan of salvation, and we cannot make sense of the plan of salvation apart from the story of Jesus, and we can’t make sense of the story of Jesus apart from the story ofIsrael.  All four elements were integral to the preaching of the gospel in the early church.  

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In the latest edition of Philosophia Christi[1], Jerry Walls argues that no Christian should be a theological determinist.  What is a theological determinist?  It’s someone who believes that God’s sovereignty extends meticulously to every aspect of the world, including human “choice.”  The problem with determinism is that it eliminates human freedom since there are factors external to humans sufficient to determine our choices, such that we could not do otherwise (or even want to do otherwise since even our desires are the product of God’s sovereign acts).

Most theological determinists are compatibilists.  Compatibilists think determinism can be reconciled with free will: If one acts according to their desires, then their choices are free.  But this is a veneer.  At best this shows that we may feel like we our will is free, even though it is not.  The fact remains that both our desires and our choices are determined by God wholly independent of our own volition.  It should be no surprise when our desires match our actions when God has determined both.  Given theological determinism, there can be no freedom of human will, despite attempts by some to evade the obvious.

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I’ve read a good number of books since my last “What I’ve Been Reading” post, but have failed to write about them.  I hope to write about these books in the coming days or months, but for now I’ll just write about my most recent reading escapades.

I recently finished reading Christianity without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism (thank you Michael for purchasing this for me from my Ministry Resource List!).  Historian Thomas Fudge has written a well-researched history on the history of the doctrine of salvation in the United Pentecostal Church.[1] Fudge documents the evidence that those involved in the merger of the Pentecostal Church International (PCI) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ (PAJC) into the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) in 1945 held two different views of salvation.  The majority believed that one is born again only after they have repented, been baptized in Jesus’ name, and baptized in the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.  A sizable minority (mainly from the PCI), however, believed one was born again at the point of faith/repentance.  While they believed in baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, they understood such to be the result of salvation, not the cause of salvation.  The two groups agreed to fellowship their soteriological differences, not contending for their own views to the disunity of the new fellowship.

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All of us tend to think of ourselves as good persons.  This assessment is largely true.  All of us are capable of, and often do many good things.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, this isn’t the whole story.  All of us are equally capable of evil, even if we are unequally guilty of evil.  Sure, you and I are not as bad as Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler.  Compared to them we are saints, relatively speaking.  But how do we stack up when compared to God?

God is a morally perfect being.  He requires that we be morally perfect as well, and yet we aren’t.  Whether our acts of evil are big or small, many or few, they are all violations of God’s moral perfection, and these violations have consequences.  Even if you only committed one sin per day between the ages of six and 75, that adds up to more than 25,000 violations of God’s moral law!  If you were guilty of breaking that many human laws, no judge could ignore it.  How, then, can we expect the God of perfect justice to turn a blind eye to our moral failures?  While God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice and cannot ignore these violations.  Acts of moral evil are deserving of punishment (death), and no amount of good works we do can negate those acts.  That’s bad news for you and me!  But Christianity offers a solution, and hope.

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Many holiness-minded individuals fear the doctrine of grace by faith because they think it leads to antinomianism. I have no doubt that some have used grace as a pretext for sin, but they do so without the support of Scripture. Scripture is clear that the grace that saves is the same grace that teaches us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:12), and empowers us for holiness (Romans 6:14). To calm the minds of grace-fearers, and to correct the minds of grace-abusers, let me offer the following medical analogy.

Sin is like a cancer. It destroys the good cells in our body, and eventually leads to death. To treat this deadly disease one must undergo chemotherapy (grace). But would anyone in their right mind willingly inject their body with cancerous cells simply because a treatment for the ensuing cancer is available? Of course not! So why would anyone intentionally sin simply because grace is available to treat it? The purpose of the New Covenant was not to provide us with a license to sin, but to provide us with grace that would not only wipe away our past transgressions, but give us the power to avoid future transgressions.

I’ve been giving some additional thought to the traditional OP interpretation of Matthew 28:19, particularly our emphasis on the importance of the singular nature of “name.” We argue that if Jesus meant for us to actually invoke three names over the baptizee (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), He should have used the plural form, “names.” Instead, He used the singular form, “name,” which is grammatically incorrect. Why did He do so? Because He only had one name in view. The disciples properly discerned that name to be His name-Jesus-and used His name exclusively in their baptismal formula. They obeyed, rather than repeated Jesus’ words.

I’m not so sure our emphasis on the singular form of “name” is justified. The use of the singular “name” is grammatically justifiable. “Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is a string of three genitival phrases modifying “name.” It could be argued that the prepositional phrase, “in the name,” is implied for both the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the intended sense of the verse is, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and [in the name] of the Son, and [in the name] of the Holy Spirit.” It would be similar to my saying, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and the queen, and the motherland.” Here, the singular use of “name” is justified because “in the name of” is implied for both the queen and the motherland. The sentence should really read, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and [the name of] the queen, and [the name of] the motherland.” If the same is true of Matthew 28:19, then the singular “name” is being applied to each of the three appellations individually, and hence the singular use of name is grammatically justified.

If I am right, then making an ado over the singular use of “name” as an obvious signal that Jesus meant for the disciples to pick up on some deeper meaning is misguided, and irrelevant to understanding how Matthew 28:19 squares with the baptismal formula used by the apostles in Acts.

If I am right, how should we understand what Jesus said against what the apostles did? Why did they baptize in Jesus’ name? What clued them in to the fact that Jesus did not mean for them to literally repeat His words? If it wasn’t His singular use of “name,” maybe it was what Jesus said before speaking those controversial words. He prefaced His command to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the F/S/HS by saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore…” (28:18). After He issued His command He continued to speak exclusively of Himself: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always” (28:20). The emphasis was on Christ alone. Together with the disciples recognition that Jesus encapsulates our experience of God, they understood His words to mean that they were to baptize in His name. The authority (name) in which we are baptized is the same as the one who just claimed all authority in heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that we are baptized in His name.

Whether it was due to the singular use of “name,” or the context of Jesus’ command, the fact remains that the apostles understood Jesus to mean they were to baptize in His name, and we should follow their lead.

Any thoughts? Any grammatical or theological insights?

UPDATE: Someone emailed me a link to an article by a Oneness Pentecostal making the same points I made here, but in expanded form. The author, Mark Kennicott, also exegetes some of the key passages cited in support of the conclusion that Jesus is the singular name of the Father and Spirit. Check it out.

A blogger asked a question in the comments section of the “The Oneness of God and Baptism in Jesus’ Name are not Joined at the Hip” thread that deserves its own post. The question had to do with the validity of hybrid baptismal formulas.

Do you think it is acceptable to baptize someone with either of these hybrid baptismal formulas?:

  1. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is the name of Jesus Christ.”
  2. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Why or why not? Do you think someone who was baptized with such a formula is saved? Would you require them to be rebaptized?

I would like to hear your thoughts on this matter.

All of my Pentecostal life I have heard how the issues of baptism and the Oneness of God are joined at the hip. It’s been taught over and over again that one will not “see” baptism in Jesus’ name until they “see” the Oneness of God. That idea never sat quite right with me. I saw the connection, but did not see any logical connection. While an understanding of the Oneness of God is sufficient to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name, I do not think it is necessary to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name.

One not need not believe in the Oneness of God to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism (I have heard there are Trinitarian churches that baptize in Jesus’ name, although I cannot point to any specific church). Indeed, even if God were a Trinity, it would not change the fact that the intended baptismal formula is the Jesus’ name formula. Think of prayer. The Bible is clear that prayer is to be “in Jesus’ name.” No Trinitarian argues that since God is a Trinity, one should pray “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They accept the teaching of Scripture that prayer is to be said exclusively in Jesus’ name, and do not see that as detracting from the Trinity. Likewise, the Jesus’ name formula-if the intended formula-poses no challenge to Trinitarian theology.

The question of how many persons are in the Godhead and the question of the proper baptismal formula are two related, but separate issues. To determine the number of persons in the Godhead we examine those passages that teach us about God. To determine the proper baptismal formula we look to those passages that instruct us on that matter. When we do, it becomes apparent that the early church interpreted Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a command to baptize in Jesus’ own name, as evidenced by their exclusive use of the Jesus’ name formula in evangelism.

The Jesus’ name formula makes sense given the purpose of baptism: to identify us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-4). In Trinitarian theology, the Father and Spirit did not die, were not buried, and were not resurrected. It was only Jesus. Therefore, even on a Trinitarian view it would be entirely reasonable to be baptized only in the name of Jesus.

I think all can agree that baptism in Jesus’ name makes more sense on a Oneness view of God, but the fact remains that both Trinitarians and Oneness believers alike can see (1) that the Jesus’ name formula is taught in Scripture, (2) that it is the authoritative apostolic interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19, (3) and that it makes theological sense to be baptized using the Jesus’ name formula given the purpose of baptism. We should continue to reach out to Trinitarians to help them understand the nature of God more perfectly, but we should not think their ability to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism depends on their ability to see the Oneness of God.

What did Paul mean when he said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Cor 1:17)? Here is the full context:
Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 1:13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 1:16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. (I Cor 1:11-17)

 

This passage poses a challenge to those of us who understand the Bible to teach that baptism is essential to salvation. It’s one thing to say, “I did not baptize many of you,” but it is an entirely other matter to say, “Christ did not send me to baptize.” The first is an incidental fact of history and circumstance, but the latter appears to speak of purpose. Paul seems to be saying that baptizing people is not part of His ministerial call. It seems strange that Paul, a minister of the Gospel, would not be sent to baptize when baptism is a proper response to the Gospel message. And it’s not as if Paul’s type of ministry would not have required him to baptize much. A teacher may not be required to baptize much because his ministerial function is primarily to believers, but Paul was an apostle. It would seem strange that someone whose job was to make converts for Christ would not be sent to baptize, if baptism was essential to their conversion. Taken at face value, this appears to diminish the importance of baptism, calling into question whether it is indeed necessary for regeneration. So how do we understand Paul, then?

One possibility is that Paul is employing a Hebraism. Hebrews used a “not this, but this” construction to communicate the idea of “not only this, but also and especially this other.” It is a way of emphasizing what’s named second over what’s named first. For example, when Jesus said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life” (Jn 6:27). Clearly He did not mean we should not work so that we can buy food, but rather that we need to do more than that. We need to work to obtain food that is more important: food that will last forever.

The problem with this explanation is that it still doesn’t fit with our understanding of the importance of baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation, how could preaching the Gospel be said to be of more importance? It would seem to me that both would be equally important. Without the preaching of the Gospel one could not have faith; without baptism one could not properly exercise their faith to be born again. So while this explanation seems plausible at first, it ends up just recycling the problem. In the end the role of baptism is denigrated.

What are your thoughts on this passage? How would you explain it in light of other Biblical passages?

 

 

All I have ever heard in my Pentecostal life is that the purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. I do not doubt that baptism involves the forgiveness of sins, but I think it is more proper to understand forgiveness as the consequence of the primary purpose of baptism: to unify us with Christ. Romans 6:1-6 and Galatians 3:27 are key texts: 

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 6:2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 6:5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6:6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6:1-6) 

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27) 

According to Paul, when we are baptized in Jesus’ name we are clothed with Christ. We are baptized into Him, not merely unto Him. This union Paul describes appears to be a legal union. When we are baptized into Christ we join ourselves to Him so that what He accomplished spiritually on our behalf can be legally credited to us as if we had done it ourselves. When we are baptized into Christ we die to sin just as He died to sin; when we are baptized into Christ our old man is buried with Him; when we are baptized into Christ we are raised with Christ to newness of resurrection life (Notice how baptism is connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is in contradistinction to our normal way of explaining salvation wherein we die at repentance, are buried by baptism, and rise to new life in Spirit baptism. According to Paul baptism does all three.) Baptism allows for Christ’s victory over sin to be accounted to us as if it were our own. Understood in such a fashion it is obvious why Scripture says baptism if for the forgiveness of sins. It is the natural byproduct of this spiritual-legal transaction. To be dead to sin and experience new life in Christ is to be forgiven. So while forgiveness is definitely a purpose of baptism, it seems to be secondary in effect. It is a consequence of our union with Christ. 

As a side point, is anyone willing to take a stab at explaining the relationship between the forgiveness we receive when we repent of our sins, and the forgiveness we receive when we are united to Christ through baptism?

Can someone lose the Holy Spirit? This is an oft-asked question in Pentecostal circles. Rather than simply stating my position on the question I will offer a few thoughts and insights to stir up your own. Once there has been sufficient discussion I will state my position.

I am somewhat uncomfortable with the way the question is even framed. While it could be a mere limitation of language, I wonder if the way we frame the question reflects a theological misunderstanding of the nature of Spirit baptism. To be filled with the Spirit is not merely having the spiritual substance of God enter your body and spirit in a special way. Spirit baptism involves the regeneration (making-alive) of an individual’s spirit that was “killed” by sin. It is a rebirth as Jesus described it in John 3.

If this understanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit is correct, then to lose the Spirit would mean our spirit has to be spiritually “unborn.” Losing the Spirit would not be a mere departure of God’s spiritual presence from one’s body/spirit, but a removing of the spiritual life God infused into the individual, so that her human spirit is left for dead once more.

Is this feasible? Is it possible for God to undo a spiritual birth? Nicodemus asked Jesus how a man could re-enter his mother’s womb to be born again. He recognized that birth is a decisive moment in time that cannot be repeated, nor undone. If such is true of the first birth, is it also true of the second? Can the spiritual birthing of our spirit from a state of death to life be undone, yet alone repeated (for those who believe one can lose and then regain the Spirit)? We know it is not possible to undo a natural birth, but is it possible for God to undo our spiritual birth?

If so, how? What Biblical or rational evidence leads you to this conclusion? What would it take for God to “unbirth” you? Is it persistent sin? If so, how long does one have to persist in that sin before God reverses their regeneration? Is it a particular amount of sin? If so, how much is too much?

If regeneration is not reversible, how do you explain the many passages of Scripture that warn of believers falling away from God?

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