Archive for October, 2012

Scattered Thoughts on the Uniqueness of the Gospel

Must one believe in Jesus to be saved? Can people who have never heard of Christ be saved somehow “through Christ” without believing in him? Here are some of my thoughts:

It seems fairly clear to me that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10), and this is the major motivating factor behind missions and evangelism. While I agree that salvation does not require a perfect theology, it seems that there is some bare minimum set of propositions which one must believe to be saved (i.e., the gospel is propositional as well as relational). “Jesus is Lord” or “Christ and him crucified” would be good places to start. I agree that all men have knowledge of God (Rom. 1), but it seems to me that Paul’s argument is that all men have enough knowledge of God to make them accountable but have rejected God and therefore cannot be saved by this knowledge. Men (even remote tribesmen who have lived and died without hearing the gospel) are not condemned for failing to believe the gospel; they are condemned because they have rejected God and are sinners. We don’t risk condemning people by evangelizing them and thus making them responsible for the gospel; they were condemned already, and we are providing them the only hope of salvation. It seems like a fundamental part of the good news of the New Testament is that the gospel is for all men, Jew and Gentile alike. It is in this sense that I interpret “all men” in verses like Titus 2:11 (“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”); the verse is not referring to every single person who ever lived. If it were, then every single person would be saved.

Do Jews pray to the same God we do? That’s certainly an interesting question, but it seems to me that we believe in a Trinitarian God. If Jews deny the divinity of Christ, not only have they rejected God’s means of salvation and his revelation in the New Testament (i.e. they no longer possess the oracles of God), but they have rejected the very nature of God himself. I am not advocating any kind of anti-Semitism; rather, I am advocating the best way in which we can show love to Jews: sharing the good news with them.

[NB: This is adapted from a note I wrote to someone about a previous discussion, in case it sounds slightly out-of-context.]

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The Dreadful New Testament

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

— Søren Kierkegaard [ ← Free e-book here!]

HT: Joe Carter

Dead to sin?

Today in our class on Romans, we were asked if we agree with the apostle Paul when he says that we have died to sin (Rom. 6:2) and, if so, what we mean by that. Since I’m a slacker of a Presbyterian, I didn’t have my catechism nice and sharpened to shoot from the hip, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. What I should have said is something like the following:

Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 29-31, 87

And, for good measure:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1

So, basically, union with Christ is awesome.