Soteriology


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.

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