[PhilThreeten] Life and Death; Good News and Bad News

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Jan 16, 2006, 9:38:09 AM1/16/06
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Tim Challies has posted articles over at challies.com (here, here, and here) that are supposed to give encouragement and direction about a person’s assurance of salvation. It, unfortunately, does anything but that. I was going to comment on his site, but realized that it would take up almost an entire post to comment on the various issues, so I decided to post it here instead.

- nsbeal states in the comments that,
“In the first installment, you said that Packer's definition of regeneration is "thoroughly Reformed, and so thoroughly biblical." I think equating any theological system to the Bible is probably arrogant, regardless of how close it gets, because if the theological system is really that valuable, with all of its neat definitions and ways to solve all the mysteries of the Bible, God would have just written that down instead of the perfect, infallible Word He gave us. To equate any logical associations of ideas with the Truth from God's Word will ultimately lead to system-driven conclusions, not biblical ones.”
I couldn’t agree more. We’ve been down this road with Tim before. His statements equating Reformed theology with Biblical theology seem to overlook one of the core components of Reformed theology – the depravity and brokenness of man. None of our theologies can be equated with Biblical theologies simply because our theologies will always distort God in some way. My guess is that he would grate his teeth if I were to state “I pull thoroughly Biblical truths from both Reformed and Arminian theologies and thus hold to a thoroughly Biblical theology.” One hopes that he doesn’t realize how his own statement comes across.

- Tim states,
“The second view is that the Holy Spirit regenerates a person at a time of God's choosing. We could call it "monergistic regeneration" to indicate that it depends solely on God. This regeneration does not depend on man or on any desire or decision on his part. The Spirit moves in the person, giving him a new nature and allowing him the capacity to express faith and a desire to know and trust God. This view is closely associated with Calvinism and the Reformed faith and its high view of God's sovereignty.”
As I’ve noted in the past with Tim, though Calvinism may hold to this, there is no Biblical support for it. In RC Sproul’s book “What is Reformed Theology,” he spends an entire chapter stating that regeneration must come before faith, but gives not one verse that states this ‘truth.’ In reality, this is a required logical necessity brought about by Calvinism’s propositions. Here is the logical order that Calvinism demands:
- Holy Spirit regenerates a person giving them a new nature – they are no longer dead in their sins and in some way are given life but not eternal life (even though Scripture never speaks of another kind of spiritual life that isn’t eternal) – this regeneration without faith can last, based on Acts 17:11-12 for at least two partial days (assuming Jewish day-reckoning in this passage). It is also noteworthy here that although the Holy Spirit is working on a person, He is not in a person since the indwelling comes after faith. Thus, a person has spiritual life but neither eternal life nor the presence of the Holy Spirit in them.
- Faith is either given to them (which has no Biblical support) or they are enabled because of regeneration to exercise faith – most Calvinist monergists that I’ve come across prefer the former since it leaves out any ‘work’ on the part of the person even though Scripture never equates faith with being a work that can earn salvation.
- A person because of their faith is given eternal life – but, remember, this eternal life is different than the life that was given to them at regeneration even though Scripture never suggests life prior to faith. It is also at this point that the Holy Spirit indwells the person.
Against all this, of course, is the fact that everywhere in Scripture where faith and life are spoken about together, life is always placed after faith. Calvinists, Tim included, cannot simply stonewall on this and state that regeneration MUST come prior to faith because of their other theological beliefs. Then we would be interpreting Scripture through our theology rather than allowing Scripture to interpret our theology.

- Tim confuses salvation and faith. For a person to believe that Jesus has saved them through His death and resurrection is not salvation. It is the means – the requirement that God has ordained – for the application of the salvation that has already been purchased for them. Faith does not redeem us or forgive us – God has done that through the work of Jesus. A person who believes that the individual exercises faith is not synergistic. God completely saves a person through the death and resurrection of Jesus. By His grace He applies that salvation on all who will believe in Him – but it is His perogative to decide whether He will apply it on all, some, or only those who fulfill a requirement that He has ordained – faith. There is no synergism here. So the monergism argument that Tim always pulls out is a false argument.

- Tim writes,
“When the final judgment comes, there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they are not true believers. They will go to the grave confident that they are saved, but come to the judgment and find that they are to be cast out of Jesus' presence.”
In the context of Matthew 7, and prior to this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks about the life that is lived in faith towards God. The people that Tim quotes here could do many miraculous things, but they did not live their lives in faith towards God and thus are not known by God. Jesus’ point here is not about assurance at all. His point is that just because a person calls Him Lord does not make Him their Lord. If He truly is their Lord, their lives will show it. To apply it to assurance is certainly applying it in a way that Jesus does not seem to intend here. Even worse, the implications of Tim’s statement is that no one can have assurance. If he is going to rely on his first statement that the Holy Spirit works in my life to assure me, then this adds no further assurance. I can fabricate feelings of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life. I can certainly do actions that look fruitful. I can rationalize all sorts of assurance in my mind if need be. And I can gather others around me who will tell me that they see the Holy Spirit and fruit in my life. So, based on what Tim writes, how can anyone have any assurance? How can I know for certain that I am saved? It must come through my own personal faith in God. That faith believes the promises of God, motivates me to live for Him, and is the means through which God renews my mind.

- The good news is no longer any good news. The Calvinist holds that there is nothing wrong with telling all people ‘Everyone who believes will be saved,’ because they state that this is a true statement. Only those who are regenerated can believe and so everyone who believes will truly be saved. However, if Tim is correct that there are those who are deceived into believing they are saved through faith that is false faith until the day they die, then have we not contributed to that by this type of Gospel? By not calling the person to action – to believe – have we not given people a false hope? But how would we ‘call people to action’ in a Calvinist model? Should we not tell people the whole truth? ‘You will not believe until God regenerates you after which point it is a foregone conclusion that you must believe.’ This would avoid the false hope that is given and make sure that it is not by our miscommunication that people go through life with false hope. But, the Calvinist says, that is not what Scripture says. It tells us to tell people that everyone who believes will be saved. So, we push the blame back onto God. And what we have is no longer good news for all people, but good news for some people – bad news for everyone else.

All this being said, Tim ends well. I appreciate his final post and his emphasis that assurance comes by faith in God’s past actions and promises to us. But Tim forgets that one of those promises is that everyone who believes will be saved. This statement is true not because it presumes regeneration but because God really has purchased salvation for all mankind and the good news is that it is available to everyone.

For more of my articles that deal with these and other issues with Calvinism, go here.

Posted by PhilThreeten to PhilThreeten at 1/16/2006 09:21:00 AM
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