Wednesday, August 08, 2007
How Does Jesus Say We Are Saved?
Yesterday I was having lunch with Bruce Benson, a friend and one of my former philosophy professors at Wheaton. While we were at the restaurant he pointed out to me another Wheaton Christian Ed prof who was there as well, and told me about an assignment this professor gives to his freshman CE classes. He says, "There are four different things Jesus tells people about what they must do to be saved:
  1. To Nicodemus he says "You must be born again". (John 3:3)
  2. To the Rich Young Ruler he says "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor." (Luke 18:22)
  3. To Zacchaeus he says "Sell half of everything you have, and pay back those you've cheated as well." (Luke 19:8-10)
  4. To the paralyzed man he says "Because of the faith of your friends your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5)

The professor then tells his students: "Write a paper explaining why Jesus gave four very different answers to the question 'What must I do to be saved?' And why does only one of them (sort of - depending on what you think "born again" means) match up with the typical evangelical answer?"

Great question! How would you answer?

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posted by Mike Clawson at 3:46 PM | Permalink |


35 Comments:


At 8/08/2007 08:56:00 PM, Blogger Chris

#4 is a bit perplexing, I'm not completely convinced that the reference there is to salvation as it is typically understood in the Evangelical world.

BUT... As I read it, the other instances (and many more throughout the Gospels... e.g., "Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead") are specific, PERSONAL callings to self-denial. YES, as in #1 the new birth is required, but the substance of the new birth is "to deny oneself, take up the cross and follow Jesus." In #2 and #3, Jesus is simply naming the things that would likely inhibit self-denial...

A good thought-provoking question, no doubt. Definitely an effective tool for breaking down simplistic notions of salvation.

Chris Smith
Indianapolis

 

At 8/09/2007 03:05:00 AM, Anonymous Miko

I would say he actually gives at least nine different answers (or ten, if you want to split John 3:3-18 in two). Off the top of my head, Mark 2:5; Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 18:1-3; Luke 10:25-28; Luke 14:26-33; Luke 18:18-22; Luke 19:8-10; John 3:3-18; John 6:45-59.

Since the evidence seems to suggest to me that the different gospel authors didn't necessarily think they were writing factual accounts, I'd attribute the differences to their individual beliefs and desire to write a compelling narrative. Assuming the god hypothesis makes interpretation quite a bit more difficult, and would lead me to suggest some sort of 'individual path' argument, although that seems much more in line with Eastern thought than with (modern) Christianity.

 

At 8/09/2007 07:52:00 AM, Blogger olvlzl

I was going to point out that each of the examples you gave are advice to four different individuals, perhaps he was basing his advice on what each needed to do, considering their own situation. Which Miko implies.

The Eastern tradition I'm most familiar with is Theravada Buddhism which I'd have thought rather depersonalizes the path to enlightenment. The Yoga Sutras seem to imply a one way approach too.

"God hypothesis" is, I predict, going to become one of the weaker links in neo-atheism. Once you understand that nothing supernatural can be subjected to the methods developed for dealing with the physical universe, the idea of attempting any stage of logical or scientific argumentation to deal with the supernatural sort of falls flat. But people seem to think it's too picky to ask for that level of accuracy and consistency.

 

At 8/09/2007 09:30:00 AM, Blogger M James

[Before I respond to this question I need to clear two things up:

First, I believe that to properly understand the Bible, you need to first understand the history and culture that was prevalent when it was written. Also, I would say you need to understand a little bit about how Greek, Hebrew and Aramic was written and spoken. (For instance: I do not believe the "hell" mentioned in the Bible was written or meant to be a "literal hell". In most cases it is refering to an absence of God.)

Secondly, I believe that there are parts of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, that are a later interpolation.]

I would respectfully disagree with the first poster and say that Jesus is not giving one way to salvation, being born again, and then elucidating on that ideal.
There is an underlying theme in the works and stories of Jesus, that he was sent to Earth to show people the correct way to live their life. I do no think that being "born again" literallly means getting down on your knees and saying the phrase "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour", as th evangelicals will have you believe.
I think in every instance you mentioned, Jesus is asking the questioner to look at their own life, and the decisions they make and change theirselves for the betterment of the people around them. Live your life in a way that glorifies God and his works. What were his works? Creating man, and creating this world.
By caring for his creation, instead of uttering some mystical catchphrase that gives you a magical passport to the pearly gates, that is truly the way to find favor with God.

As an aside, I think the end of Jesus' story - the empty tomb - was also the most powerful of it. After showing the people how they could find favor with God, I believe he was also telling them not to idolize himself. That's why the tomb was empty. So the people would focus on the lessons he taught, not hold his dead body up as some sort of empty husk to be worshipped. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I can understand why the church doesn't agree with what I said above. It's hard to pack pews and get donations when all you have to do to gain God's favor is just be a good person and take care of his creation.

 

At 8/09/2007 04:44:00 PM, Blogger David Allis

Good question. I was reflecting on this yesterday ... particularly the contrast between the suggestion to Nicodemus re being born again, in contrast to the Rich Young Ruler.
Interestingly, the location of John ch3 indicates that Jesus is suposed to have told Nicodemus about being born again very early on in Jesus' ministry. Yet, this concept of being born again isn;t mentioned in the synoptic gospels, in the sermons (or anywhere else) in Acts, and nowehere in paul's writings or the rest of the NT ... John 3 is the only reference to it. Yet evangelicals make a HUGE dela of it. This is STRANGE.
Maybe a little light is shed on it by realising that the gospel called John was written very late cf other NT books ... probably written around AD90 or later.
My conclusion ... we have narrowed down on a formula which has little biblical basis, and is too narrow / simple / prescriptive about how individuals should respond to God.
David Allis. (down under in new Zealand)

 

At 8/09/2007 05:34:00 PM, Blogger M James

David,
Good point about John being written so late. Your comments dovetail nicely with mine. The message of being born again doesn't gel with the rest of Jesus' message.

 

At 8/09/2007 08:21:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I think I might clarify/qualify your statement Michael. The evangelical message of being born again doesn't gel with the rest of Jesus' message. However, I think what Jesus (or John) really meant by it does fit with the message as a whole.

In fact, I think John's gospel fits in even with the synoptics. He just tends to use different words and more symbolic language to talk about the same kind of things that the synoptics do. So while the synoptics talk about taking up your cross, leaving everything behind, and following Jesus, John talks about being born again. And while the synoptics talk about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven), John talks about Eternal Life (or more literally - the "life of the age to come"). It means pretty much the same thing, but John is presenting more imagistically what the synoptics present more narratively.

 

At 8/09/2007 10:53:00 PM, Blogger M James

Mike,
I would agree with that. I feel that the evangelicals have pulled one small portion of Jesus' message out of the Bible and focus exclusively on that; while neglecting the rest of his message.

What do you think about my other thoughts though?

 

At 8/10/2007 09:01:00 AM, Blogger jazzycat

I will have to say that you all are masters at deconstruction!

 

At 8/10/2007 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Michael,

I liked what you had to say, and I mostly agree. However, I was holding off on commenting too much because I don't want to shut down other feed back before I weigh in w/my opinion. So I'll let you know more in little bit. In the mean time I hope others feel free to keep discussing.

-Mike

 

At 8/10/2007 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Jazzy, I'll take that as a compliment. :)

(Though strictly speaking what we're doing is not deconstructing. Deconstructionism would be looking at the text and trying to discern what the underlying agendas and vested power interests are influencing what is written. A deconstructionist look at these texts would ask "Who is empowered and disempowered by Jesus' message of salvation? Who stands to gain, and who stands to lose?" But that's an entirely different conversation - though well worth having.)

 

At 8/10/2007 02:56:00 PM, Blogger M James

Thanks Jazzy! But unfortunately, Mike's right. Having a poignant conversation about critically analyzing a text is not deconstructionism.

More info here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstructionism

But I must say, even deconstructionism (which would be a good conversation, especially considering the Council of Nicea) is a lot better than your alternative! :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_picking

Cheers!

 

At 8/10/2007 03:58:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

Mike and m james,
I may not know exactly what deconstrution is, but I do know what you are doing and what you are getting all wrong. M James, what do you perceive to be my alternative?

 

At 8/10/2007 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Jazzy, I am suggesting that we look at Christ's gospel message in it's entirety and not just "cherry pick" the verses that support our particular theological assumptions while trying to squeeze the rest into boxes that don't quite fit. Is there something wrong with wanting to engage with scripture more fully?

 

At 8/10/2007 06:59:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

and not just "cherry pick" the verses that support our particular theological assumptions while trying to squeeze the rest into boxes that don't quite fit.

Interestingly enough, I seem to recall having recently seen some "motivational posters" critical of the Emerging Church that accused them of doing this too.

 

At 8/10/2007 09:45:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

Is there something wrong with wanting to engage with scripture more fully?

Not at all, but I think Paul made it very clear in Romans and elsewhere how Jesus said we are saved. Jesus also said directly the way was to "repent and believe the gospel." The same gospel that the N.T. writers especially John and Paul explained over and over. I was quite surprised that one commentor stated that regeneration (being born again) was mentioned only one time in Scripture and another seemed to not have a clue on the definition of regeneration.

In the rich young ruler parable, Jesus was simply telling him that what he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life," was impossible since to be saved by a works righteousness is impossible (see Galatians also). Since he asked what must I do, Jesus laid out what it would take. Rom. 3:20 and Galatians 2:16 also make it clear that this is impossible. Oops, I guess I cherry picked. I have a six part series on my site called Christianity 101 that I would invite anyone to take a look at. I must warn you that is is simply written and NOT deep and scholarly.

There are a lot of things in Scripture that are hard to understand, but how we are saved just isn't one of them. If the emergent church movement can't come to grips with this, then I certainly encourage them to go to Ligonier Ministries, or some other good teaching ministry to get it right.

 

At 8/11/2007 09:29:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hey Jazzy.

Your argument is the oft-applied kind of thinking that never sat well with me when taking my obligatory Bible Education courses in Christian high school. I would hear one thing from my teachers, read another in my Bible, raise an objection, and be shot down. Really the Bible does not seem to say what evangelicals say about getting saved.

Here's a compilation of verses (admittedly made by a site run by skeptics) that may or may not be related to salvation:

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/saved.html

Can you honestly say that all these seemingly disparate verses reconcile together to mean that you have to pray some version of a canned "sinner's prayer" and you'll get into heaven just so long as you have strong feelings that you're doing it in a spirit of sincerity?

I've prayed that damn prayer 50 times 50 different ways in my lifetime. And I'm still an agnostic. Tell me, which one of those prayers saved me?

 

At 8/11/2007 09:51:00 AM, Blogger jazzycat

Derek,
I was also an agnostic until around age 50. If you will check out my Christianity 101 series on my blog, it answers your questions pretty well. All of the apparent contradictions you mention can be reconciled.

 

At 8/11/2007 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hi Jazzy.

I've read your section on Christianity 101. In fact I lived it for the first 19 years of my life.

The unfortunate reality is that this sort of sound bite evangelical theology fails to deal with people who wake up and realize "Hey, what am I even doing here? Is any of this real?" And subsequently choose to follow a different path. Most people would call me either a prodigal (I'm backsliding but eventually coming back) or an apostate (I was never saved in the first place).

You see it was my Christian duty to aggressively try and make every Non-Christian a Christian, or else I either didn't care about them or didn't really believe in hell, which either way meant I was myself hellbound. Problem was my attempts were always met with failure and I never got any better at it. My attempts at proselytizing were emotionally draining and would leave me feeling empty and confused, and sometimes even seemed to push people further away from Christianity, and every time I wanted to do it less and less. Especially since I was always told that Christ was always supposed to be giving me the right words to say!

But you see I had to keep persevering, I could never say "screw this" and let someone else do the proselytizing because it would cast doubt on whether or not I was even a For Real Christian.

You say that the process of sanctification and discipleship is not burdensome to the true Christian. I am telling you honestly that I WAS a true Christian, believed with my whole heart that Jesus died and was resurrected to save me from the eternal punishment of hell, and I indeed did find the process of discipleship and sanctification burdensome. Especially when it came to the proselytizing.

You can say I wasn't a true Christian or these things would have bothered me. Just know I would find it extremely presumptuous of you to say so.

The words of Christianity 101 (or more appropriately, Evangelicalism 101) seem good on paper, but the reality is it puts so much emphasis on the conversion stage and pretty much relegates the "practical application" phase to an epilogue.

 

At 8/11/2007 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Minor edit: in the second-to-last paragraph, "would" should read "wouldn't".

 

At 8/11/2007 03:26:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

Derek,
Since I had no religious or Christian experience at the age you mention, It is hard for me to relate to your experience. I can remember feeling strange about it, but not enough to pursue any information about Christ or any church involvement. I imagine your experience and result is not unusual for many young people as they grow into adulthood.

I believe when Christian discipleship and service flows from a sense of fulfilling a duty rather than naturally from God’s grace it can be a burden. When churches and youth leaders push and insist that religious duties be performed out of a legalistic mindset (checking off duties), then failure will be the result. This may have been your experience. Christians that have been born again (regenerated) by the power of the Holy Spirit can also fall into this trap of mechanically trying to fulfill service out of duty rather than cooperating and being empowered by grace to freely express their love and service naturally.

The message of the Bible is not wrong just because churches and human beings screw up doctrine and how to live out doctrine correctly. There is no perfect human run church or denomination and all people would be wise to discern for themselves the message of the Bible as I believe it is God’s revelation about himself and our condition before him.

BTW, all true Christians have been born again by the Holy Spirit. They have been given spiritual life by God.

 

At 8/11/2007 03:56:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hey Jazzy.

Thanks for your comments. They're a bit more clarifying. I agree that anyone should discern for themselves what God's message is. And I'm not arguing that someone misinterpreting the Bible makes it wrong. However, I do *not* believe that the Bible is unambiguous and incapable of leading people astray and I believe there is scripture to support this (2 Peter 3:16), and in many cases (such as this one) interpretation is really all we have, and nobody can entirely fault another person or group for interpreting scripture differently.

If I'm not mistaken, I think what you're trying to say here is that the religious community I grew up around executed its interpretation of the scripture poorly which resulted in my wholesale rejection of Christianity. I assure you this is not the case. I *am* in conscious rejection of the brand of Christianity I was brought up around, which to one degree or another includes Evangelicalism, which is why at this point in my life I remain agnostic because I honestly don't know what I believe.

As such I find it hard to say one way or another whether my having prayed the sinner's prayer on so many occasions resulted in my irrevocable salvation or baptism in the Holy Spirit, which makes me really strongly doubt the accuracy of the Evangelical model of salvation. But that's just *my* experience. And I wonder how many practicing Christians have never received an unambiguous divine revelation but keep their mouths shut for fear of ostracisation.

 

At 8/11/2007 04:53:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good conversation here folks! Thanks, keep it going.

Just wanted to weigh in and say that my experience in some ways has been very similar to Derek's, though I was fortunate that around the same time I started to raise questions about my evangelical mode of faith, I also stumbled across the writings of people like Brian McLaren and others who helped me understand that there were different ways to be a Christian than those that I had come to reject. Otherwise I think I might very well be an agnostic too.

The problem that most of us are encountering Jazzy is exactly what you said above: "All of the apparent contradictions you mention can be reconciled."

Yes, they can, but not easily or well. Most of us here (myself, M James, and Derek I know for sure) are very familiar with the evangelical explanations for these numerous passages in which Jesus appears to be proclaiming a different salvation message than the evangelical one. The problem is that after you start having to explain away passage after passage, eventually you start wondering whether you might be starting with the wrong assumptions about what Christ's gospel message was in the first place.

Brian McLaren uses the analogy of a puzzle in which the box tops have been switched, and so as you try to put the pieces together into a coherent picture that resembles the one on the box, you start to realize that it can't be done. Nothing goes together they way the picture on the box seems to indicate it should. You don't even seem to have the right pieces!

If the picture on the box is our systematic theologies and our assumptions about how the "pieces" of scripture are supposed to fit together, then a lot of us are starting to wonder whether maybe we're trying to reconstruct the wrong picture with the pieces of scripture we have. Maybe someone has switched the lids on us. It sure feels that way when you look at all those passages where Jesus describes what salvation means, and so few of them seem to fit with an evangelical version of the gospel.

I guess you could say that some of us are done trying to reconcile and explain away the pieces that don't fit. We just want to come back to scripture itself and see if we can reconstruct what the picture is supposed to look like from scratch and just ignore what the lid tells us it's supposed to look like.

(Of course, here the analogy breaks down, because as we've argued about over at your blog Jazzy, I do still see value in learning from the theology and traditions of the historic church, not throwing it out entirely. I just would rather treat them as helpful conversation partners, not as normative authorities.)

Peace,

-Mike

 

At 8/11/2007 05:36:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hey Mike,

What's so UNfortunate about the path my spiritual journey has taken? Huh? Just messing with ya ;-) Actually I read ANKOC in 2004 and found its message quite positive and liberating.

What concerns me though is that to a certain extent I don't see a whole lot of novel ideas coming out of the postmodern church movement, and instead to me it feels a little too much like everyone's afraid to venture out theologically, and are just reciting BDM's literature rather than formulate their own views within the postmodern framework. It also feels (sorry to say) a bit like cafeteria Christianity in its approach to biblical interpretation. If feel you can convince me otherwise then be my guest ;)

But I keep coming back to your blog because I'm still very interested in the movement and I sort of know you personally through family. If I could find an emerging church body here in Nashville I'd probably start attending. As it is I've become pretty interested (though cautiously for now) in the Eastern Orthodox church because from my preliminary research some of their theology lines up better with my personal views.

 

At 8/11/2007 06:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Sorry, didn't mean to sound patronizing Derek. I actually had written a whole paragraph qualifying my statement so that it wouldn't sound that way, but deleted it because it would have been a tangent and made my reply too long. The gist of it is that in a lot of ways I am an agnostic... and that I don't think being an agnostic is a bad thing, because saying that you don't "know" then leaves room for faith and humility.

Anyhow, I'd encourage you to look a little deeper into the emerging church. Brian is not the only voice, and in a lot of ways he is just standing on the shoulders of many others who are doing the deeper theological work and really rethinking a lot of things. If you want to go "deeper" theologically, I'd recommend Brian Walsh's book "Colossians Remixed" or some of NT Wright's books like "The Challenge of Jesus" or "What St Paul Really Said". You might also like Dallas Willard's "The Divine Conspiracy".

And if you want to go more "controversial" among those who aren't afraid to "venture out" theologically, I'd recommend Spencer Burke's book "A Heretic's Guide to Eternity" or Steve Chalke's "The Lost Message of Jesus".

As for a "cafeteria approach" to scriptural interpretation, I assure you that it's not. It's just a more nuanced approach that takes into account things like literary genre, historical and cultural context, and the possibility that the Bible doesn't describe a static and unchanging theology, but demonstrates a dynamic and living faith that is still to this day unfolding as the people of God live it out. Of course, I've already written about this approach in a previous post How to Read the Bible linked in my sidebar. Give it a read if you haven't already. Also, you might appreciate NT Wright's book on the subject of scriptural interpretation, "The Last Word". I can assure you that Tom's approach is the furthest thing from being "cafeteria" like.

Anyhow definitely feel free to keep engaging here at my blog. As for emerging churches in Nashville: try some of the links listed here and see if any appeal to you. You might also enjoy plugging into the Nashville area Emergent Cohort. Let me know if you try any of these places out!

As for Eastern Orthodoxy, let me know how that goes. Sounds intriguing. I wouldn't have guessed that you'd be attracted by it. I agree there are a lot of things about it's theology that appeal to me too, but there are other things that I have serious reservations about. Anyhow, you should blog about any experiences you have in the EO world. I'd love to hear about it.

Sorry for the lengthy reply. :)

 

At 8/11/2007 11:06:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Michael, just wanted to say that I pretty well agree w/your first comment. That's more or less how I think we should understand Jesus' gospel message too. It's a way of life, not just a moment of conversation. (Actually I'd say it's a lifetime of conversion moments - each day choosing again to follow after Christ.)

Now before Jazzy or whoever accuses me of turning this into a "works based" salvation, let me clarify that I believe that the ability to live this life is also a work of God's grace in our lives, and that all that is needed is our willingness to begin the process. We have to want to follow after Christ. If we do, then he will help us along the way. After all, it's not about "earning" salvation anyway, as if salvation were some kind of reward God gives if we do enough good works (or alternatively, in the Protestant view, if we have enough "faith"). No, salvation is itself the process of following after Christ. The means are the end. To inherit the kingdom of God, one simply needs to begin living in it, according to it's ways of love, justice, joy, generosity, etc.

However, there's one slight point that I'd disagree on Michael. You said:
"It's hard to pack pews and get donations when all you have to do to gain God's favor is just be a good person and take care of his creation."

I'd say that it's hard to pack pews and get donations when you're asking people to do something as damnably difficult as actually being a good person and taking care of creation. It's a lot easier to fill a church simply by telling them that all they have to do is pray a prayer to get a golden ticket into heaven, and in the meantime God wants them to have a happy and prosperous life down here.

 

At 8/12/2007 08:59:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Ah but Mike, the Evangelical model *is* a works-based salvation. You see, all it takes is faith to *become* saved, but to *remain* saved, good works are essential.

This is what Jazzy and others call the Sanctification and Discipleship phase. Any "true Christian" will do good works joyfully because the Holy Spirit moves them to do so. If you're not doing good works, or doing good works grudgingly out of a sense of obligation, or willfully doing BAD works, you can't be truly saved.

The funny thing is -- this is often the hardest part of Christianity, and the conversion is usually the easy part. But Evangelicals like to play up the conversion phase and play down the sanctification phase to those outside the church to make Christianity more attractive. Or as one webcomic artist put it: "You'll be so happy you won't even notice!"

But no good Evangelical would ever consider that works-based salvation. The good works just come naturally and without effort as a side-effect of being saved. And I suppose Jesus was nothing but sunshine and roses while being beaten and battered while led to his unjust execution at the hands of the religious majority.

I applaud Evangelicals for accepting on faith things that make no sense. ;-) Perhaps that's harsh but c'mon. Don't say works are essential to salvation and then say it's not a works-based salvation.

 

At 8/12/2007 11:31:00 AM, Blogger jazzycat

Derek,
Since you have incorrectly stated my view, I would suggest that you re-read my part 6 on sanctification and discipleship again. Also, consider that Christian works and service are empowered and enabled by God's grace and not the will of man. True Christians are already redeemed and cannot fall away or be un-regenerated. Their salvation does not depend on doing good works to remain saved. This is your erroneous perception and cannot be Biblically supported.
In part 5 on saving faith, I said the following: "Therefore, a person that has been given the gift of saving faith has crossed from death unto life due to being regenerated (born again) with power by the Holy Spirit of God (John 3:3)." As Romans 9 makes clear, salvation it is all about God’s mercy and grace and not man’s effort.

 

At 8/12/2007 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Jazzy,

I don't need to re-read your blog. Please let me assure you that after 7 years of Christian Education I am very knowledgeable about how the Evangelical model works. Really you're arguing semantics at this point. Understand that Evangelicals are pretty evenly divided among those who say you can lose your "saved status" and those who say you can't. I see you fall into the latter.

I don't accuse you of saying that you have to do good works to keep your salvation. I am, however, saying that that is exactly the logical result of the Evangelical model. The Evangelical model says that if you don't do good works, you must not have received the Holy Spirit. Which means you were never properly saved in the first place.

Thus, the Evangelical model of salvation precludes people who "accept Christ" and then don't do anything different in their lives, and people who do lifetimes of good works but don't "accept Christ". Which means a person who does not "do the right things" and "say the right things" cannot be saved.

It's really not much of a stretch from there to say that to stay saved you have to do good works. Think about it.

 

At 8/12/2007 02:09:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Derek, were you responding to Jazzy's statements or the kind of evangelicalism they taught you at Wheaton Academy? I've run into that kind of approach too, though personally I grew up in a very Baptist type setting that didn't really overemphasize the works at all. We were just encouraged to constantly relive our conversion over and over again by "rededicating" ourselves every year at camp. Like you I probably "prayed the prayer" about 50 times. I was never taught that I'd lose my salvation if I sinned too much (though if you were taught that, I can understand why you felt like you had to walk away from your faith once you started "breaking some of the rules" - as you've written about on your blog).

Anyhow, I do still agree that evangelicalism is a works-based salvation, but perhaps for a different reason. I say it is "works based" because even if they hold to "faith alone", they don't seem to realize that faith itself is pretty damned hard work for those of us of a more intellectual and skeptical mindset. Having faith is a work, because it doesn't come easy to all of us, and if it is required for salvation, then yes, a "faith alone" theology is still a "works based salvation".

 

At 8/12/2007 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hey Mike.

Is that an "either/or" or a "both/and" question? ;-) I really feel that most forms of Evangelical theology say basically the same thing and differ more in the execution than the basic theory.

At Wheaton Academy I was taught that salvation was chosen ahead of time by God, which was realized in the sinner's life by praying the prayer, but that you could never be sure you really had it, which is why you had to stay vigilant. If you "sinned too much", then you probably were never saved in the first place. If you were truly saved, Christ would prevent you from sinning too much. Same message, different packaging.

The reality is while some of my concerns early in my life are just now coming to conscious fruition in recent years, seven years ago I felt that a (at least temporary) distancing myself from the Christian community would help me construct real, intellectual, tangible belief, over hearing and reciting one teaching or another until I internalized it. And really, I was afraid that if I re-entered a religious community with these sorts of objections (and my associated lifestyle changes) it would be deja vu all over again with people telling me the exact bible verses that prove I'm wrong, I'd face heavy reprogramming, and I'd still be stuck in a faith where I was miserable and that didn't follow the same wavelength as the rest of my life.

In fact it was only in the last year or so that I realized that I wasn't following any real form of Christianity except possibly by the most liberal definitions and was just hanging on to shreds of Evangelical belief out of a fear of burning for all eternity (a little Pascal's Wager for ya), and finally admitted that I'm really more agnostic than anything else.

As for "faith alone" still being works-based, well, I'm pretty sure the average Evangelical isn't gonna swallow that, since under that model faith is supposed to come from God, not from us. Though I know exactly what you mean.

I'm glad someone is reading my blog, though. Hope you aren't too frustrated by the more nerdy posts ;-)

 

At 8/14/2007 04:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

My name is Colin, another 'down under New Zealander'. This exercise is all new to me, but I couldn't resist making a comment. To me, many of the comments I have read here reflect a common problem within Christianity, i.e. it is all about our intelectual assesment of what the scriptures say. But unfortunately this will never lead us to the real truth, which will only come by revelation by the Spirit of God. And this revelation will only come to those who diligently and consistently seek God: Deut 4:29; Ps 119:2; Jer 29:13,14a; Heb 11:6 etc.

The real point in seeking God is that we would fulfill the deep desire of His heart, which is that we truly come to 'know' Him. In fact knowing God and Jesus is the 'essence' of eternal life: Jhn 17:3. Maybe this will also jog your memories about the major emphasis which Paul places on knowing Christ (that way I won't have to quote all the ref's).

I have to tell you that once you have had a personal revelation of God, it would be extemely odd for anyone to want to return to being an agnostic.

Colin Winters
New Zealand

 

At 8/14/2007 08:47:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Hi Colin,

People insinuating that I have never been a true Christian is not new to me. But you say that God reveals himself to those who earnestly and consistently seek him, right? So if a person is passionately intellectual by nature, why then is that person's seeking God earnestly and consistently in an intellectual manner incorrect? And further, what do you say about those who choose Christ without receiving a personal revelation? Is their faith completely invalidated because Christ failed to choose them?

I would also like to know how you experienced your personal revelation, as that would be extremely informative to me.

These are honest questions, Colin, not attacks. Each of us seeks God in his own way.

 

At 8/14/2007 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

And by "how", I don't mean what you did to get it. I mean I would like it if you could describe the experience.

 

At 8/16/2007 05:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Hi Derek,

Thanks for your reply. I wasn't mening to insinuate that have never been a true Christian. My point was that intellectual assessment alone leads to wide ranging conclusions as to what the scriptures are saying. The large number of denominations and other small Christian groups, with conflicting conclusion/understandings, would seem adequate proof of this. I believe that God is totally consistent in himself and in what he would want to communicate with people. This might be summed up as the 'truth' about God. And it is clear to me, both from the above observation, and from the personal understanding that I have gained from seeking God, that intellectual seeking alone will not lead to this 'truth' about God. But Jesus did tell us that when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will lead us to all truth.

So I am not suggesting that our intellect is not involved in this process, and perhaps I am not enough of an 'intellect' to be able to explain just what does make the difference between mere intellectual seeking, and the kind that does allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth. The only things that are apparent as I write are the need to truly humble ourselves before God, and come to him with the sole desire to 'know' him. I guess that intellect can involve a great deal of pride, which of course God hates and won't respond to. To know God means a lot more than knowing about him. It means knowing in a personal intimate way, as a husband knows his wife etc. But I am probably not telling you anything new there.

The primary means by which we get to know God is of course his Word and his Spirit, coupled with our personal, diligent seeking of him.

For the sake of time and space here at the moment, I think I will add more at another time and attempt to satisfactorally answer a couple of other Q's you have asked.

I do appreciate that you were asking honest Q's, and hope that I have made some sort of sense without coming across as having it all together. This is most certainly a long journey, and I have a long way to go yet.

Colin Winters.

 

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