According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Faith? Holding an Arminianism that is Not Wesleyan

I like the Arminian system when it comes to explaining the relationship between man's libertine free will and God's prevenient grace, which is resistible to the Armenian but irresistible to the Calvinist (cf. Wikipedia).
I like that God's sovereignty can be kept in Arminianism's system without needing Calvinism to keep it as the centralizing interpretation of Scripture over other crucial doctrines. Why? Because I prefer a Christological reading of Scripture that does not require abandoning God's Sovereignty (cf. both the article below and this one here).

To this I like the fact that Relational Theism (see sidebar) may be utilized when thinking of God, and is due partly to Arminianism. Calvinism, however, requires the classic interpretation of theism which preaches a strict and rigid system of who God is in relation to who we are. With relational theism we are free to explore the claims of open theology and process theology in juxtaposition to the older versions of classic theism.

Another thing I like about Arminianism is its DAISY system of explaining salvation versus Calvinism's more inflexible TULIP system. I use to have to chose whether I was a 5-point Calvinist, a 4-point, a 3-point, and so on. But under Arminianism's DAISY system I can find a thoroughness that feels more biblical to me without having to dance around issues that would shove God's attribute of love to the rear of dogmatic teachings.

About the only thing that gives me pause to the Armenian system is the Wesleyan doctrine of losing one's Christian faith (addressed by McKnight in the article below). Whatever is left of the tattered remains of my Calvinism seems to rear its hoary head at this point and says, "Not so!" to John Wesley's understanding of the Christian faith. Moreover, I would prefer to hold on to an Arminianism that does not need to entertain Wesleyanism as its furthering (or completing) explanation. But see it rather as a denominational or sectarian dogma that uses Arminianism to further its own unique explanation of the Christian faith. A system that I do not subscribe to, nor think that I must subscribe to as an Arminian/impure-Calvinist.  To be sure, a system as near-and-dear to its Wesleyan adherents as Calvinism is near-and-dear to its Reformed adherents.

Why do I not subscribe to Wesleyanism's brand of Arminianism? My reasons are many. Here are a few. First and foremost Wesleyanism asserts that the Christian faith may be lost, or abandoned, but if a Christian abandons their faith than I stand with the Apostles James and Peter who state that it was never a true faith to begin with. It was all something else. Whether elevated head knowledge. Or owing to peer pressure. An impure repentance/conversion. A misunderstanding of who Jesus is. Or who we are. And so on. The reasons can be infinite. But the verses that tell us to "make sure our salvation" mean just that... make sure that your faith is based in Jesus. That it is a true faith. Not that you can lose your faith. Or lose your salvation. To me it seems to be reading more into the verse than is necessary.

But how can we be sure? This is a worry or a fear that is not my concern. God's desire is to redeem us. That is His responsibility. No quantity of faith on my part can redeem me. No doubts about my faith can refuse me. I will purposefully error on the side of God where my human psyche is concerned filled with all of its many ulterior, sinful motives that can dissuade me otherwise. For I know that God sees my heart. And if we seek Him. If we our hearts desire to follow Jesus. To believe that Christ's atonement heals my broken relationship to God, than my confidence is not in myself, but in God. God will do the rest to sort us out. It is enough. This is the "childlike faith" that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels to His disciples.

And so, God will not abandon us. But that doesn't mean that He won't purge our faith of its dross and impurities. That we have a free ticket to purity, conviction, confidence, morality, etc. No. God will test us. He will purify our faith. He wants our hearts, our minds, our souls to be in tune with His love, and grace, and mercy, and strength. Thus, our faith will be tested. And in the testing that very process will attest to us the surety of our faith. Count on it.

At which point the Apostle John and Paul jump in to remind us of the abiding presence of Christ and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (in Pauline terms this is called the "baptism of the Spirit"). As believers in Christ we have been stamped within by the Holy Spirit's unbreakable seal of ownership. One's faith cannot be lost or destroyed or abandoned. It is protected from all outside forces.

"He will never leave you nor forsake you." (Heb 13.5; sic, Deut 31.6)

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who oved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8.37-39)


Each individual experience of God is unique. Each faith walk different. What works for one doesn't work for the other. But we must allow God this differentiation in our understanding of the Gospel. Wesleyans describe this as periods of faith and non-faith. Periods of being in Christ's body and periods being out of Christ's body. Times when the Spirit leaves us and times when the Spirit abides in us. For myself I see no such necessity for these types of errant descriptions of our faith. Rather, I'm standing by what God's word teaches me of Himself, His salvation and its processes. And I'm allowing for a more humanistic experience of faith. A faith that is real at every moment unless, as stated earlier, it was never real to begin with (sic, James and Peter's Apostolic letters).

Thirdly, we are like sheep needing a godly shepherd but who respond to every false teacher that comes into our lives. Hearing and turning to every false doctrine that appeals to our pride and legalism. But this doesn't mean we're any less God's flock. Nor any less of Christ's body. Nor any less of the Spirit. And if that is so, what then is our recourse?

To confess and repent of the sin that withholds us. To seek God's face again. To allow God to work in our lives so that our faith becomes real in our behaviours and responses. That it becomes foundational to the core of our being. By taking these steps doesn't mean that our faith is lost. That our position in Christ has been severed. That the seal of the Spirit has been broken and that God has abandoned us (per Wesleyan claims). No. It simply means that our faith is allowed to be tested, to fail, to even doubt and be abandoned, but throughout this process God is still there wooing us to Himself. Making us stronger. More resilient. More faithful. We are still God's and He is still ours. The Holy Spirit makes it so in Christ testifying to us that our faith is growing, maturing, adhering to God's will, not our own.

Which is what I like about Arminianism. Its not too heavenly-minded, or too removed from this life of sin and struggle, to realize that the Christian faith is earthy. That it will have its highs and lows. Its imperfections and losses. Even events of non-faith, doubt, and questioning God. Perhaps being angry with God. Remember Job? Did God abandon Job in his doubt? Perhaps then God has to burn us down, remove our pride, our stubbornness, our lies and deceits, before He can rebuild our heart, our convictions, our doubts. Regardless, God abides with us despite the mess we have gotten ourselves into. It is not an issue of Fatherhood or sonship, but an issue of an earthy faith veiled by flesh and sin, world and devil, learning to become a heavenly, abiding faith. It is God's promise to His children, to His Church, to His Body, that He will abide with us. But to the one who isn't His child, God makes no such promise, except that of continually wooing us to Himself. To His Son. To the Cross of Calvary. He will never abandon His reconciliation of love to us until we come to Him and find atoning satisfaction in the Christ Child become man's Savior.

The real issue then, that I think Scot McKnight does not discuss (or leaves unstated), but one that James and Peter will support, is that those who have left the faith never were of the faith to begin with - for whatever reason they believed themselves to be of God. They may have fooled the fellowship of the body of Christ. They may have fooled themselves. They may even have tried this lie out on God in a barter-and-trade type of system. But God says they have only deceived themselves (1 John 1.5-10):

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Now the Wesleyan branch of Arminianism will say that the Christian faith can be lost. Scot McKnight below will capably argue their points from the basis of Hebrews primarily, along with several other culled texts of Scripture. McKnight isn't saying he's buying into this system. Just that he understands the Wesleyan system. For myself, I can to, but I still stand with a kind of opposition to the Calvinistic system of Eternal Security at this point... Namely that of Armenianism. But have added to that system my own Armenian flair. Not because of opposition to Calvinism's truths. But because it correlates better with my reading of Scripture - man's theological systems not withstanding - on either side of the doctrinal lines of demarcation! I hope this helps.
R.E. Slater
December 09, 2011

Calvinism: My History
Part 1

Scot McKnight
December 5, 2011

I was fortunate to have gone to college at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, and one of the high fortunes was that Grand Rapids was filled with bookstores and book-reading folks. As a student I came into contact with some Calvinist friends, and that set me off into reading Calvinism, and beside the standard textbooks and theologies, the theologians I read the most were Calvin and John Owen. After four years, Kris and I moved to Chicagoland for seminary. When I got to Trinity in the Fall of 1976 as a student, the first thing I noticed was how tightly the theological discussion was ratcheted. These folks knew what they were talking about, and they knew biblical texts and theological discussions, and the history of the Church. It took some work just to be conversant. It was a challenge for which I am grateful to this day.

Calvinism was not a front-burner issue, but was on the stove top waiting for someone to say something uninformed. I had some wonderful lecturers: H. Dermott McDonald was an eccentric theologian from London who told us that our syllabus was the library and we should get over there and read up on “God, Man, and Christ” and then come take his exam at the end. David Wells taught Sin and Salvation, and began by telling us that his wife said that he could teach the first half of the class by giving an autobiography. McDonald was not a Calvinist; Wells was. My NT teachers didn’t raise such topics: Norm Ericsen and Murray Harris. But, then Grant Osborne came to TEDS. (So, I can blame this journey on Grant, which he’d be happy to take credit for.)

Here’s what happened. Grant is famous for his handouts, and he had one on Eternal Security. It was a lengthy handout and he asked me to work through it, add some bibliography, and generally re-write it. It was a big task for me, but it was the first real chance I had to do something at that level. To prepare for it, Grant suggested I read I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God. Which I did. From cover to cover; underlined it; took notes; checked commentaries. It took a good long while. When I came up for air in Hebrews I had been persuaded that I was wrong about Calvinism. Like C.S. Lewis getting on a bus and then getting off converted, but not knowing when or how, so with me: from the beginning of working through Grant’s notes to reading through Marshall and arguing with him until he wrestled me to the ground and pinned me, I had become convinced that I was no longer a Calvinist. Which didn’t mean I gave up the architecture of Calvinism, but I did then consider high Calvinism an inaccurate understanding of the fullness of the Bible.

It was and still is my conviction that the five points of Calvinism belong together, and both Horton’s and Olson’s recent books have confirmed that view. You might be able to give up #5 (Perseverance) somehow (I don’t think so, but some think so) and you might need to add a #6 (Responsiblity), but if the Arminian understanding of “losing salvation” is right, that is, if the effectual calling can be abandoned or undone, then high Calvinism is not right. (I’ll eventually show why the expression “losing salvation” isn’t optimal.) Let me say this more clearly: if God’s saving, effectual grace can be resisted somehow, if believers can somehow choose to forfeit their salvation, then unconditional election and irresistible grace (and probably limited atonement) and surely perseverance (as preservation) of the saints are not right.

There are (so I think) two major weaknesses in Calvinism’s theology (and also a disorientation in its architecture):

First, the emphasis of its architecture is not the emphasis of the Bible. Its focus on God’s Sovereignty, which very quickly becomes much less a doctrine of grace than a doctrine of control and theodicy etc, and its overemphasis on human depravity are not the emphases of the Bible. The overemphasis of these two in high Calvinism comes more from Augustine and later Calvinists than from the rhetoric of the biblical authors. I do not dispute the presence of these themes; I dispute their narratival centrality and they are where the gravity of emphasis is found in the Bible. Yes, we all have metanarratives that put things together, and Calvinism is one such metanarrative. It works for some; it simply didn’t work for me.

Second, the exegesis of Calvinism on crucial passages is sometimes dead wrong. I was once standing, years later when I was teaching at Trinity, outside my door talking with two professors about my view of Hebrews, when I simply asked one of them, “Who do you think best answers the Arminian interpretation of Hebrews?” That professor said, “Philip Hughes.” I had just read Hughes and I thought it was weak. In fact, what I thought was this: “If that is the best, then there is no debate.” The other professor said, “I agree, Scot. Hughes doesn’t answer the questions.” Then he said, “I’m not sure any commentary really answers it well.” (Both of these professors were Calvinists, and still are, God bless ‘em.) What I’m saying is that the exegetical conclusions I was drawing (in all kinds of passages) were not answered adequately by the Calvinists I was reading. We all have to give them a fair shot. But at that time I had nothing to lose and it didn’t matter where I landed; I wanted to find out what the Bible said.

So this is where I found myself when I left for Nottingham to study for a Ph.D. in New Testament. I was reared among the eternal security Baptists who took what they liked from Calvinism and discarded most of the five points. Then I became more consistently Calvinistic by reading the Puritans and Calvin while I was in college.

Then I read the Bible from a different point of view, largely through the influence of Grant Osborne and Howard Marshall’s book, and that Calvinism all came tumbling down. If the Bible teaches that a human can be a believer and somehow forfeit that status, then the theology of high Calvinism cannot be right.

This left me with a strange mixture of theology: I was reared Baptist; I had done more than my fair share of reading the low church Anabaptists and considered myself one of those when it came to where theologizing ought to begin: with Jesus. And I was now studying the Bible with some Arminian conclusions on soteriology.

Following two years in England TEDS offered me a non-tenure track job to teach NT that lasted two years, and then (by the grace of God) it was ramped up to a full-time position when Wayne Grudem, in the providence of God, shifted over to Systematic Theology.

Within two years I was asked to teach Hebrews in a survey course, and I decided to spend my entire summer going through the exegesis of Hebrews and I was determined to concentrate on those dadgummed warning passages to see if I could settle the issues once and for all.

If the view to be presented in the posts ahead is right about Hebrews, (high) Calvinism is wrong.

Wednesday I’ll start on the warning passages in Hebrews, the most notorious of which is Hebrews 6:4-6.

Calvinism: The Book of Hebrews
Part 2
Scot McKnight
December 7, 2011

One of the courses I taught at Trinity, NT 612, included a survey of the book of Hebrews. In addition to teaching Hebrews there, once or twice I taught Advanced Exegesis and we marched through the entirety of the Greek text of Hebrews. The courses energized me deeply, and the students were alert to the significance of the topics we were discussing. (Not that any of us stayed alert when we talked about Melchizedek.)

One of the focal points of my lectures was the Warning Passages, texts that are one of high Calvinism’s (or at least monergism’s) biggest challenges [(monergism is the doctrine that the Holy Spirit can act apart from, and even against, the freedom of the human will. - res)]. If it can be established that genuine believers can fall away and lose their salvation then any sense of effectual grace or perseverance (as God’s preservation) are undone. There are five of warning passages. I’d like to copy them all into this post but it would take up too much space. Here are the passages:

1. Hebrews 2:1-4

2. Hebrews 3:7–4:13

3. Hebrews 5:11–6:12

4. Hebrews 10:19-39

5. Hebrews 12:1-29

Of these, #3 gets all the attention, and especially 6:4-6, which follows:
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
These verses deserve all the attention they get, but the others deserve more than they are getting.

What happens to Calvinism if those who lose their salvation in Hebrews are genuine believers?

It is standard for most Bible readers to find in Hebrews 6:6 (“and then have fallen away”) a bewildering sense that this text seems to suggest they can lose their faith, fall away, and never be restored to repentance, and that means bad things. Most respond by dissecting this text carefully, isolating each expression, wondering if maybe it is not as bothersome as it really sounds, and end up (in many cases) walking away convinced this text doesn’t actually teach that a believer can “lose his or her salvation.”

I offer to you two proposals, and I want to work these out with you to see what you think of my suggestions.

But, back to my class: what I thought I would do is present as clearly as possible an alternative (to typical evangelicalism’s belief in eternal security) understanding of the Warning Passages in Hebrews. To do this, I spent hours and hours working on these passages in their contexts and then finding my way through them.

So, in that class I suggested that we look together at two proposals: first, that we consider looking at all five Warning Passages as a whole. That is, read each one in context but also compare them together as doing largely the same things. This would allow us to synthesize these passages into a meaningful whole. Second, I discovered when we do this that we find four features in each Warning Passage.

Each passage has:

1. The audience or the subjects: who is being addressed? What does the author call them?

2. The sin the author warns this audience about: what is it that he think they may be doing?

3. The exhortation the author gives each time: what are they to do instead of the sin?

4. The consequences the author spells out if they don’t respond to his exhortation: what will happen if they don’t respond properly?

Here’s what happened in those classes: by and large students agreed with the conclusions we drew for each part of the Warning Passages. Now, as you know, my conclusions were that the author warned the audience of apostasy and warned them that they would forfeit their salvation. What surprised me is the number of students who agreed with me. After all, these were true-blue conservative evangelical types who by and large believed in eternal security and assurance of salvation and these sorts of ideas.

I’ll do what I can to get to the specifics Friday. I will begin with #4 and work my way up that list.

For now, may I challenge you to read those texts and think about those four categories for each Warning Passage.

Calvinism: The Book of Hebrews
Part 3
Scot McKnight
December 9, 2011

I am reflecting here in a series of posts on how “I changed my mind” about Calvinism and adopted a more Ariminian view of whether or not the Christian can throw away redemption. This journey took through the book of Hebrews, where I suggested we can find four elements to each Warning Passage. Today I want to look briefly at the fourth element, the consequences. Very few will disagree with this (I hope).

How would you describe the “consequences” in the Book of Hebrews?

The first comment is in Heb 2:2: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The implied answer is “There is no way of escape.”

Here are some more to consider:

3:11: They will not enter my rest.

6:4-6: It is impossible to renew them unto repentance (cf. 12:16-17).

10:26: no sacrifice for sins remains.

10:27: but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

10:28: died without mercy.

10:30-31: And again, The Lord will judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

10:39: destruction.

If we accept the proposal that the Warning Passages are dealing with the same subjects, etc., then we can synthesize this evidence into this conclusion: the author of Hebrews warns a specific group of people about some sin and tells them that if they commit that sin they will find themselves outside the company of God. Are there more clues?

Not let us say what the text says: the author gives an extreme warning regarding dire consequences in eternity.

Plenty of room here for theological debate: what Hebrews says is consistent with both the traditional/orthodox view of eternal separation from God as well as the more recent views of some British Evangelicals on annihilationism. The warning of Hebrews is extreme. This isn’t about a breakdown of fellowship but about the great divorce.

Monday, a blog on the exhortation the author gives to his audience.

continue to -


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