Monday, August 26, 2013

Saving Humans via the Faith of Demons? Part 3

In the last two posts, we started picking through James 2, taking an extra-close look at James 2:19, the frequently cited "Demons believe and tremble" line. By now I think you can see that there's at least good reason to question how the translators placed the quotes in James 2:18-20, and that there is a third way to place the quotes which is, at the very worst, plausible and, at the very best, far more sensible.

In verse 18, James introduces a hypothetical objector. And I've decided to name him "Newman." The KJV, NKJV, ESV and NIV all depict Newman's argument, which James is anticipating, as consisting of seven whole words: "You have faith and I have works." While the NASB puts those seven words, plus the balance of verse 18 into Newman's mouth. It reads, "You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works."

But the template that we discovered in Romans 9 and 1 Corinthians 15 shows us another possibility:

But someone will say…

You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God you do well even the demons believe and tremble.

But do you want to know, you foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

This breakdown follows the pattern of the Romans and 1 Corinthians passage, and when we consider the discussion that leads up to it, a much more coherent discussion emerges.

But now it's time to bounce back to James 2:14 and revisit the popular teaching on this passage:
"What [does it] profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"
We've already seen that popular teachers are fond of using this passage to teach that, well, you can't just say that you have faith. For example, Greg Koukl has this to say, and notice his reference to James 2:
"There are other passages which have to do with our behaviors and our works, and the classic one is James Chapter 2, but I see these as indicatives. In other words, the genuine Christian is going to display a change in life in some measure that's palpable, that's measurable… You can't just talk it. You've gotta walk the walk."
But wait a minute, I have a question: Where are the teachers who are out there teaching that you can just say that you have faith? What are their names? I know of some Free Grace teachers that say that good works are not necessary for salvation, and that's certainly my view, but they're not out there teaching that anyone can "just say" that they have faith. Why would anyone think that "just saying" you had faith would save anyone? When Jesus says "He who believes in me has everlasting life," He doesn't give any hint whatsoever that you can "just say" that you believe in Him. That the belief has to be genuine is a given, is it not?

Here's an illustration which will connect up again with the metaphor for this blog: Suppose I write a book about how to skydive. And in this book I describe all things you need to know… what gear to buy, how to set it all up, etc. And suppose I also describe in the book when to pull the ripcord. Do you suppose I'd have to tell you "Oh, by the way, you can't just say you pulled the ripcord. You really have pull the actual ripcord. Just saying that you pulled the ripcord will do nothing at all, and you'll plunge to your death."

Why would I need to write that? This is exactly what these folks are saying that James is doing. But is that even reasonable?

And in addition, their remedy never really addresses the insincerity of the belief directly. Instead, notice that their remedy is works. That is how they aim to prove that the faith is sincere. But… can this be valid? Well, for that to be valid, we need to think that works are a reliable indicator that someone is saved. Right? And if works is a reliable indicator, and we actually mean "reliable," then wouldn't we have to say that anyone who exhibits good works is saved? That would be a problem, wouldn't it?

Fred Lybrand offers a powerful challenge to the notion that "works proves faith" in his book "Back To Faith." He describes talking to seminary students and asking them a question that goes something like this:
"When you see someone doing a lot of good things--for example, they're really active in the church, they participate in a lot of charity functions, they lead very moral lives--from that observation, is it possible to conclude that they are saved?"
And when the students answer with "No, of course not… they might be doing that stuff because they think they have to earn their way to Heaven," Fred hits them with a difficult question:
"Well then how can you tell that someone's not saved by their lack of good works?"
The bottom line is this: Works are not a reliable indicator of whether someone is saved.

To be fair, neither is what someone says. If someone says they're a believer, if they say they're saved, that isn't a reliable indicator either. Notice that "works" consist of anything you do. And speech is something that you do. So if what we say isn't a reliable indicator, then why would we think that what we do is a reliable indicator?

For a real-world example of what happens to assurance when you attach it to your own performance, please read here.

So that's all very interesting, but then what is James saying in verse 14?
"What [does it] profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"
Verse 14, if read all by itself, sounds like the popular teaching is right on the money, doesn't it? But if you zoom out the book of James, and if you bring into the discussion the things that James said, for example, in Chapter 1, then something very different emerges.

Earlier we mentioned that "save" doesn't always refer to eternal salvation from Hell. That understanding will be useful here. The word doesn't automatically have a religious, eternal salvation connotation to it, it simply means to be rescued or delivered from some danger, some impending threat, some unpleasant circumstance, the specifics of which should be determined by the context.

So the book of James starts out talking bout various trials and temptations… James 1:2-3 reads:
"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."
And verse 12:
"Blessed [is] the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
And verse 21:
"Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."
Hmmm. Save your souls? Is this talking about eternal salvation from Hell? There seems to be little debate over the notion that James' letter here is written to believers… people who are already saved in that sense. So what else could our souls be saved from? How 'bout various trials and temptations?

I think that verses 23-24 are recapitulated in James 2:14-20:
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was."
Here again, I think many folks jump to the conclusion that this pertains to eternal salvation, and that "The Word" here necessarily means "The Gospel." But it's not that specific, is it? "The Word" here is most likely a reference to Bible Doctrine generally. That is, it is a compendium of precepts we learn and believe by studying God's Word, and these precepts are intended to be used and to be useful in our everyday lives. Things like, for example, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And that's just one example.

So what is a "hearer only" of the Word? Isn't it obvious that this is someone who listens to these precepts but never actually puts them to use in their life? A doer of the Word would be someone who listens and also alters their actions and attitudes accordingly. And for that person, those precepts become useful.

James 2:8-10:
"If you really fulfill [the] royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one [point], he is guilty of all."
Here James can be seen, perhaps, to be offering an example of what it would be like to be a hearer only and not a doer. James cites the "royal law according to the Scripture" as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." So that precept is the example James gives of "The Word," or "Bible Doctrine" which these folks should have known. But in the example, the person doesn't fulfill this royal law and instead shows partiality. He has heard the precept, but he has not conformed his own actions and attitudes to it and so that precept doesn't benefit him nor does it benefit anyone around him.

Skipping ahead to verse 14, James still has in mind the same idea; the same problem. He asks,
"What [does it] profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"
Profit here has to do with benefit, with utility. And the word "faith" is a collective noun which is used here synonymously with "The Word" from James 1:23-24. It's that compendium of precepts and principles which we have learned. James is asking whether those precepts can benefit someone--either by delivering them through trials or by otherwise solving a problem--if they don't conform their actions and attitudes to those precepts and actually put them to work. In other words, if you've only been a hearer of those precepts and haven't been a doer of those precepts, what good are they to you or those around you? How will they solve your problems? How will they deliver you from trials? They can't, can they?

This is the idea in James 2. It has nothing to do with salvation from Hell.

And then in verses 15 and 16, James gives an example of this very phenomenon:
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what [does it] profit?"
Here, a brother or sister has a logistical problem, a logistical trial, which they need to be delivered from. But if you don't provide for them as you have been taught to do, then you are a hearer of the word only, not a doer, and you have rendered that word useless. It benefits no one. And then James summarizes again in verse 17:
"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
There is a question about the word "dead" here, because the popular teaching is that it means "not real" or "invalid"; that without works your faith (in Christ, so it goes) isn't genuine. But "dead" doesn't mean non-existent or fake. When you see a raccoon alongside the road, the raccoon is real… it's actually there. It's not a figment of your imagination. The problem is, since it's dead, it just lays there. It doesn't do anything. This is the idea behind "dead" here and we'll see further reinforcement of that a bit later.

So this takes us right up to verse 18, when James will now introduce the argument from "Newman." And perhaps with the understanding we've developed up to now, we'll be able to see what Newman's trying to accomplish with his argument (which we understand doesn't end until the end of verse 19) and, I think we'll see a conversation between James and Newman that actually makes a lot more sense… it might even be coherent!!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saving Humans via the Faith of Demons? Part 2

In the previous post I introduced some problems with the more traditional understandings of James 2, in particular verse 19. Now I'm going to delve deeper into James 2:18-20 to try to understand just what is being said there and by whom. As it turns out, there's some scholarly disagreement about the placement of one simple little punctuation mark, which really opens up a can of worms.

Before we get there, I want to set this up a little with an experiment using two other New Testament verses. As we get into it, it's important to understand that the original Greek text (or manuscript copies) lacked such things as quotation marks and even periods and commas. In fact, the Greek text was just solid "uncial" (upper case) Greek letters without so much as spaces between words. And so wherever you find things like quotation marks in your English Bible, the translators inferred those quotation marks… they weren't in the original text.

The other thing to keep in mind is that translations, in fact not even the manuscript copies, of the New Testament are not considered to be divinely inspired. That description is reserved only for the "autographs" or original text, which has never been found and is probably long gone. This means that we have a "permission" of sorts to ask certain questions of decisions that translators made, and maybe even to make certain corrections… so long as we have good reason to do so.

With all of that in mind, let's take a look at two New Testament passages in a way that approximates how they would have been read in the Greek. We'll look at Romans 9:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-36. I have removed the punctuation from these passages, though I've left in the word spaces, and I've made all the text lower case, so that it's uniform and easier to read. In each of these passages, the author (Paul) introduces a hypothetical objector and he lays out the argument which he expects this person to make, and then he responds to that argument. Now here's the game: Read these passages just a they are below and decide where the quotation marks need to go in order to accurately represent the conversation.
Romans 9:19-20
you will say to me then why does He still find fault for who has resisted His will but indeed o man who are you to reply against God will the thing formed say to him who formed it why have you made me like this
1 Corinthians 15:35-36
but someone will say how are the dead raised up and with what body do they come foolish one what you sow is not made alive unless it dies
In each case the correct placement of the quote marks is pretty obvious. It might help to represent the conversation using something like a script format, like for a movie. And let's give the hypothetical objector a name. Let's call him "Kramer."

Romans 9:19-20
You will say to me…

Then why does He still find fault, for who has resisted His will?

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it 'why have you made me like this?'
1 Corinthians 15:35-36
But someone will say…

How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?

Foolish one! What you sow is not made alive unless it dies.
What's funny about this is that we do this all the time in our own conversations with people, and we never use quote marks to clarify who says what… as we listen to someone, we usually know intuitively where the quote starts and when it stops. These cues, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, are present in these two passages. The beginning of the quote is a little more obvious… clearly, "Someone will say…" is the author speaking, and what follows is the content of this hypothetical person's speech… and even though those words are uttered by the author, those words don't express thoughts and attitudes held by the author. Quite the contrary, often times the author disagrees with that content and he's about to show you why.

And because the content of the objector's speech is contrary to the author's thoughts and attitudes, the author can only begin his rebuttal with something that indicates a change in direction… because the author's rebuttal will run contrary to the objector's argument. That's what a rebuttal does. So, we can see that the end quote in the Romans passage belongs just before "But indeed, O man…" The word "but" is an adversative conjunction, which indicates a change in direction. And in the 1 Corinthians passage, the end quotes belong right before what amounts to an insult. "Foolish one!!" Those are Paul's words, expressing his low opinion of the argument that he's now responding to.

When you double-check this on any online Bible or in a printed Bible, you'll see that for these two passages there is no disagreement as to the placement of the quotes across our English translations… they follow the pattern above. But interestingly enough, we find that there IS disagreement in James 2:18-20, and even more interesting is the fact that for this passage, no English translation follows the pattern above!

So, how do the English translations render this passage? Where do they place the quotes?

Again, we'll use a movie script format to help make the breakdown more clear, and we'll name the hypothetical objector "Newman." First we'll explore the King James, New King James, English Standard and New International versions. Here's how they deal with it:
But someone will say…

You have faith and I have works…

Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works you believe that there is one God you do well even the demons believe and tremble but do you want to know, o foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
So, let me get this straight. Newman is coming at James with what argument? "You have faith and I have works?" That is Newman's argument? That's the whole thing? Seven words? That's not much of an argument, is it? What exactly do you suppose Newman thought he was going to accomplish by telling James that "you have faith and I have works?" Does that make any sense?

Also, remember that this passage is commonly used to teach that if works doesn't accompany faith, then the faith isn't real. But notice that (according to these translations) James seems to say just the opposite here… that Newman's faith can be shown without works! James seems to be saying that faith can be shown without works, (Show me your faith without your works) or by works (and I will show you my faith by my works) Good Lord, what's going on here?

But let's suppose that it all does make sense. Let's suppose that really is the totality of Newman's argument. How does James respond to it? Does James' response fit? Let's take a look…

James says:
"Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works…"
Okay, wait a minute. Newman just said "You (James) have faith and I (Newman) have works." So why is James asking Newman to show his faith when Newman never claimed to have faith? Newman only claimed to have works.

According to the KJV, NKJV, ESV and NIV, James continues:
"…you believe that there is one God you do well even the demons believe and tremble but do you want to know, o foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"
Notice that in this translation, the "demons believe and tremble" line is depicted as James' own thoughts and attitudes.

I don't know how to pull a coherent conversation out of that breakdown, do you? What does "you believe that God is one, even the demons believe…" have to do with Newman's incredibly brief and, apparently irrelevant "You have faith and I have works" argument? How does this make sense? This just doesn't add up!

Well, we could always try the New American Standard translation and see if their solution is helpful. Here it is:
But someone will say…

You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.

You believe that there is one God you do well even the demons believe and tremble but do you want to know, o foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
So okay… now at least we have Newman giving something that looks a little more like a serious argument. The crushing seven-word argument that the other translations leave him with is just plain insulting!

But even so, is this right? Whatever Newman's argument is supposed to mean, why does it deserve a rebuttal involving demons and what they believe? What relevance does this have? When you break it apart this way, it looks as though James hasn't paid any attention at all to Newman's argument.

I really don't see how this breakdown is much better in terms of coherence.

So what if we try something else? Remember the pattern we saw in Romans 9 and 1 Corinthians 15? Why don't we see if that pattern can be discovered in James 2:18-20? How would we test that?

Well, let's try reading without any punctuation and see if we notice any similarities…
but someone will say you have faith and I have works show me your faith without
your works and I will show you my faith by my works you believe that there is one God you do well even the demons believe and tremble but do you want to know, o foolish man, that faith without works is dead
Right away we see the same cue at the beginning as we did in Romans 9 and 1 Corinthians 15.
"Someone will say…"
This, we know, is James.

And now we have to look for a place where the flow of thought changes direction. And in Romans 9, that was the adversative conjunction "but" and in 1 Corinthians 15, it was an insult. So… do we find either of these in the James passage? Yes we do!! In fact, we find both of them!
"but do you want to know, o foolish man…"
So now we have a whole new way to look at this passage. And guess what? If this is right, then the infamous "demons believe and tremble" line isn't even something that James himself says… that line is in Newman's mouth, and James thinks Newman is a "foolish man!"

So the next step will be to re-examine this exchange with a completely different breakdown, and we can also look at verse 14 and work forward to see what point Newman is trying to score against James. Then we just might see something that approaches a coherent conversation. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Saving Humans via the Faith of Demons? Part 1

What does the faith of demons have to do with the salvation of humans? Well, a vast majority of Christians think that one has quite a lot to do with the other, and they think this because of a peculiar passage in the book of James. But I think it can be demonstrated that James 2 has been misused and abused as a way to justify strapping on a reserve 'chute.

The particular passage in question is James 2:19, but we'll end up exploring the rest of James 2 also, because it's very easy to take away from James 2 that faith in Christ isn't really enough, that we also need works in order to prove that our faith is valid.

I have several examples of how this text is abused. The first comes from the Bible Believer's Commentary on James 2, where the author writes:
"These verses are commonly misused to support the heresy that we are saved by faith plus works, called 'synergism.' In other words, we must trust the Lord Jesus as our Savior, but that is not enough. We must also add to His redemptive work our own deeds of charity and devotion."
So the author here begins with a proper smack-down of this idea of "synergism," the notion that works must be added to faith. Bravo on that. Notice, also, that the author believes that adding works to faith is heresy. But in the very next paragraph, he steers the reader right back to that very idea:

"James insists that a faith that does not result in good works cannot save. There are two keys which greatly help in the understanding of this verse. First of all, James does not say 'What does it profit ... though a man has faith ... .' Rather he says, What does it profit ... if someone says he has faith. In other words, it is not a question of a man who truly has faith, and yet is not saved. James is describing the man who has nothing but a profession of faith. He says he has faith, but there is nothing about his life that indicates it. The second helpful key is brought out in the NASB. There, the verse closes with the question 'Can that faith save him?' In other words, can that kind of faith save? If it be asked what kind of faith James is referring to, the answer is found in the first part of the verse. He is speaking about a say-so faith that is not backed up by good works. Such a faith is worthless. It is all words, and nothing else."
So after the author soundly refutes this idea of adding your works to faith, and right after he appropriately deems it "heresy," he turns right around and affirms exactly the same idea when he insists that if your faith is not "backed-up by good works" then you're not really saved. Partly, the confusion comes because the author assumes that when James uses the word "save" in verse 14, he's talking about eternal salvation from Hell and that "faith" necessarily refers to one's faith in Christ. The logical result of those assumptions is that faith isn't really enough, you must add works. And that right there is synergism, is it not?

Another example comes from Norm Geisler's book "When Critics Ask," page 527, where Geisler writes:
"The demons are not saved because they do not exercise a saving kind of faith. This is James' very point, namely, not any kind of faith can save a person. Only the kind of faith that produces good works can save. While we are saved by faith alone, nevertheless, the faith that saves is not alone. It is always accompanied by good works."
Once again, good works are a part of the equation because if you lack good works, then you're not really saved. And yet somehow we're supposed to think this is not synergism? Just what is going on here?

Well, there's an entirely different--and very sensible--way to understand James 2 which does not require any doublespeak whatsoever. But to get to that, I think it makes sense to dive into verse 19 first. And here we will learn some very interesting things about how how our English Bible was translated.

First, take a look again at Geisler's statement:
"The demons are not saved because they do not exercise a saving kind of faith."
Hmmm. Is this true? Would the demons be saved if only they would exercise the right kind of faith? Doesn't that imply that there is a plan of salvation in place for demons, and that, as it is for humans, it is based upon faith in Christ? But is there a plan of salvation for demons? Did Jesus die for the sins of demons? How could Jesus pay for the sins of demons unless He, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, become a demon as well as a man? Well, the answer is "No." There is no plan of salvation for demons. So then why would James write this?

By now it should be apparent that, in general, Christians are having trouble making sense of James 2 and reconciling it with other New Testament passages. And this goes all the way back to Martin Luther, who wanted to remove the book of James because he was convinced that it contradicted Paul. Well, Martin Luther has a point… sort-of. I think that if, by the word "save" in verse 14, James means "eternal salvation from Hell," then I don't know what other conclusion you could reach, but that James is contradicting Paul. Clearly, if James is saying that faith isn't enough to save a person from Hell, then not only is he contradicting Paul, but he's contradicting Jesus Himself.

But, of course, if James did not mean "salvation from Hell," then all bets are off.  And if that sounds far-fetched to you, just ask yourself this question:
"Do I mean 'eternal salvation from Hell' every time I use the word 'save?'"
The answer is "Of course not!" I might say "I was saved today," but you might discover that I was on a rafting trip and fell out of the raft in a dangerous rapid. In that context, the word "save" has nothing to do with salvation from Hell, does it? No, it just means that someone pulled you back into the boat, rescuing you from the dangerous rapid!

And we find something similar in the Bible… sometimes the word "save" is used to refer to eternal salvation from Hell, and sometimes it's used to refer to salvation from something else. And how do we know? Same way we'd know about the rafting accident: context.

So, let's zero-in on James 2:19 first, and then we'll step backward to verse 14 and piece it all together. Here it is:
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!"
The standard teaching of this passage suffers from three basic problems:

First, consider the statement "You believe there is one God…" This might be useful for understanding our salvation if our salvation was contingent on believing there is one God. But this is not the case… our salvation is contingent on believing in (trusting in) Jesus Christ. In other words, the person who merely believes that there is one God isn't saved any more than the demons are.

Second, there is no plan of salvation for demons. Christ died for the sins of humans, He didn't die for the rebellious angels. With this in mind, it's hard to imagine how this verse informs us about our own salvation at all. If demons are trembling, it's because there's no plan of salvation at all for them, not because their belief isn't the right kind of belief.

Third, do the words in verse 19 reflect James' own thoughts? Over and over again these words are attributed to James himself… after all, these words are found in an epistle written by James. So, isn't it a foregone conclusion that these words reflect James' own thoughts?

Well, it turns out the answer to that question is "No, it's not a foregone conclusion." And this is because of three very simple words recorded in James 2:18:
"Someone may say…"
With those three words, James is bringing into his discussion an argument which he anticipates someone making, and James intends to respond to that argument. Notice that he's not talking about an actual person here… he's speaking hypothetically. The question is, "What might someone say?" What is the totality of that person's argument, and what is James' response to it? And here's what's interesting: Our English translations do not agree on this point, and what's even more interesting, is that the vast majority of popular Bible teachers seem to be utterly unaware of it.

So next time we'll examine this problem more closely, we'll compare the English translations, and we'll track the interchange between James and this hypothetical objector and see what we can make of it. I think you'll be amazed at what we'll find.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Recently The Gospel Coalition posted an outline from a 1994 book by Don Whitney called "How Can I Be Sure I'm a Christian: What the Bible Says About Assurance of Salvation". To be fair, there are a few things in the outline that the author gets right. But the take-home message in the outline is this: None of us can really be sure that we're saved. And that's ironic, since it's a book about assurance of salvation.

Remember that the metaphor for this blog uses a skydiver to illustrate something important about trust. A smart skydiver always packs a reserve 'chute. But the reason he does is simple: He doesn't trust his main 'chute. If the main 'chute fails to open, the skydiver can cut the main 'chute loose and deploy the reserve 'chute, and the skydiver lives to tell the tale.

The gospel is different, however. It requires no reserve 'chute. In fact, it demands no reserve 'chute. In the gospel, God has invited us to jump out of the plane with one 'chute, Jesus Christ. Those are the terms. When we bring a reserve, we have failed to trust in the main 'chute.

So, I'm going to take a closer look at this outline and see how many reserve 'chutes it contains.

I. Assurance of Salvation: Is It Possible?
  1. It is possible, indeed normal, for Christians to experience assurance of salvation
  2. It is possible, indeed normal, for a non-Christian to have a false assurance of salvation

Now, it's not that I disagree with the author's two sub-points here… but it's curious that he's left out a category: It's also possible, indeed normal, for people to have no assurance. Anyone who isn't Christian in the broadest sense of the word would fall into that category. And this is interesting, because by focusing here on non-Christians with false assurance, he reveals that Christians can't really have assurance. After all, maybe the assurance you think you have is actually a false assurance and you're not really a Christian. How would you know?

Of course, we would expect, since this is a book about assurance, that the author will give us a way to know. But what we'll discover is that, well… he doesn't. In the end, the author does more to create doubts than he does to squash them.

II. Having Doubts about Your Salvation: It is possible, indeed normal, for Christians to have occasional doubts about their salvation. Doubting assurance is not unbelief. The causes of doubt are many:
  1. Spiritual immaturity may contribute to doubts about assurance.
  2. Sensitivity to sin may cause confusion about assurance.
  3. Comparison with other Christians may cloud assurance.
  4. Childhood conversion affects the assurance of some.

I agree with this group of points as well. All those things can contribute to a Christian's doubts about their salvation. But here's an interesting question: "Why?" And the answer is very simple. Because many Christians are taught that if they are failing to grow spiritually, they might not be saved. And because many Christians are taught that if they sin too much, they might not be saved. And if they aren't as good as the next guy, they might not be saved, and if their conversion happened during childhood, they might not be saved. And oddly enough, this very book will teach exactly those things. So why should we be surprised that having doubts about your salvation is normal? We are typically taught (quite erroneously) to be skeptical about our salvation. And the author of this book only makes that worse.

III. The Basis of Assurance: The assurance of salvation rests primarily on
  1. the character of God 
  2. the works of Jesus Christ
  3. the truth of God’s promises

Ahhh. Yes. Absolutely right. Now, let's see if the author sticks to these three things as the basis for assurance.

IV. An Inner Confirmation: Assurance may be experienced partly through the inner confirmation of the Holy Spirit. How does the Holy Spirit give Christians this assurance?
  1. He opens our minds to understand the Bible in ways that give us assurance.
  2. He guides our thinking about the biblical marks of salvation in our lives.
  3. He brings Scripture and its truths to our minds in various ways that assure us.
  4. He causes an inner sense of assurance without words.

This is an interesting point because it seems eerily similar to what Mormons teach. They claim to receive an "inner witness" or "inner testimony" that, for example, the Book of Mormon is true. This, for obvious reasons, makes me a little uncomfortable. It's very subjective, isn't it?

Having said that, because the Holy Spirit inspired the words of scripture, we can say that the HS gives us assurance because there are verses of scripture that are intended to give us assurance. So, I'm on board with that.

I'm concerned, however, about these "Biblical marks of salvation in our lives." This is another area where doubts are created, not destroyed. A "mark of salvation" is a sign; an indicator that a person is actually saved. But if we were to base our assurance on such indicators (assuming they exist) then these indicators would need to be reliable, unmistakable. If, for example, it's possible for unsaved people to exhibit any of the same indicators, then it could not be said that such indicators are "reliable." A "reliable" indicator is one that can't and won't lead you to a false conclusion.

V. Signs of Eternal Life: Assurance may be experienced partly through the presence of the attitudes and actions the Bible says will accompany salvation [1 John].
  1. Do you share the intimacies of the Christian life with other believers?
  2. Do you have a deep awareness of your sin against the word and love of God?
  3. Do you live in conscious obedience to the word of God?
  4. Do you despise the world and its ways? 
  5. Do you long for the return of Jesus Christ and to be made like him?
  6. Do you habitually do what is right more and sin less?
  7. Do you love other Christians sacrificially and want to be with them?
  8. Do you discern the presence of the Holy Spirit within you?
  9. Do you enjoy listening to the doctrines the apostles of Jesus taught?
  10. Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ?

And here the author begins to reveal some of these indicators, these "Biblical marks" of salvation. And while all of these things are good, desirable, admirable… only one of these can actually provide assurance, only one of these is actually a reliable indicator. Do you believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ? If the answer is "Yes," then all the rest is superfluous. And the other points--all nine of them--are reserve 'chutes. For example, I might ask myself (as the author suggests):

"Do I live in conscious obedience to the word of God?"

And if I answer "Yes" and if I take that as confirmation that I am saved, then I have just donned a reserve 'chute. I'm no longer relying or trusting on the main 'chute.

And what's the main 'chute? Well, the author himself told us in Point III what the "primary basis of assurance" consists of. The author said those three things were 1) the character of God, 2) the works of Christ and 3) the truth of God’s promises.

But now the author wants me to base my assurance on whether or not I live in conscious obedience to the word of God. He's actually telling me to trust in something other than the three things he said form the basis of assurance!! And not just one thing, but nine other things!

VI. A Spiritual Mind-set: Only those who are spiritually minded are Christians. You are spiritual minded when you think about the things of God:
  1. spontaneously and without external causes
  2. more than anything else
  3. with more delight and enjoyment than anything else.
  4. You are not spiritually minded if “God is not in all [your] thoughts.”

This entire category is not only ambiguous and subjective, but it's one big, giant reserve 'chute. Why should I stake my salvation on how "spiritually minded" I am if I'm really relying on the one thing that can really give me assurance? (Point III again) The truth is, the only reason I would need to make such an assessment is if I was not relying on God's character, promises and Christ's work. And that means I'm packing a reserve.

VII. Things That Erode Our Assurance: A true Christian may lose a sense of assurance of salvation because…
  1. he or she refuses to deal with known sin
  2. of spiritual laziness
  3. of satanic attacks 
  4. of trials or harsh circumstances
  5. of illness or temperament
  6. God seems to withdraw a sense of his presence and blessing.

I could add something like:

    7. Books like "How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?" by Don Whitney

Seriously, though… the refusal to "deal with known sin" may, in fact, erode a person's assurance. But only if they haven't fully comprehended the magnitude of God's grace and only if they've failed to understand the gospel. What does 1 John 2:2 say? It says that if anyone sins, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ. Jude 24 says Jesus Christ presents us faultless before the Glory of God.

This is what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ, and remember that believing what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ was the one thing from Point V that can actually give you assurance!

The person who has jumped out of the plane with one 'chute (Christ) has no reason to think that sin theaters their relationship with God. This person understands and believes that Christ has taken care of that completely, and so it's no longer an issue when it comes to salvation. This person understands Romans 8:1 when Paul says "There is no condemnation to those are in Christ Jesus," and they understand John 5:24 when Jesus Himself says "…he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment."

In other words, the person who relies on Christ, believes and understands that their sins are forgiven. Period.

VIII. Common Problems with Uncertainty
  1. Those converted as children may experience special difficulties with assurance.
  2. Those who remember little else besides following Christ sometimes have doubts that those with adult or dramatic conversions do not.
  3. Concrete childhood thinking differs from more abstract adult thinking.
  4. An awareness of the Lordship of Christ must expand to cover all the ever-expanding circle of life that comes with maturity.
  5. Stay-at-home mothers of young children may experience special difficulties with assurance.
  6. True assurance won’t lead to spiritual carelessness.
  7. Those worried about the unforgivable sin have not committed it.

That people who don't "convert" until adulthood might have more dramatic conversion experiences than people who accepted the gospel as children is a reality… but it shouldn't be a source of doubt because everyone should understand that it's not about the experience.

The final point about the unforgivable sin is worth commenting on as well, but it's hard to do so without getting into the controversy over just what the "unforgivable sin" is. I'm going to avoid that, however, and just say that if his statement is true, then whoever is worried about the unforgivable sin is saved. Belief in Christ isn't necessary… just make sure you're worrying about the unforgivable sin. Then you'll be alright.

I analyze a similar argument in Assurance by Works; A Reserve 'Chute Case Study.

IX. False Assurance of Salvation: Sources of a false assurance of salvation
  1. A public commitment or outward response to the gospel
  2. Baptism
  3. Involvement with church
  4. A strong Christian family heritage An abundance of good deeds
  5. An extraordinary experience
  6. A dramatic personal or lifestyle change
  7. Material blessing and financial security
  8. A false understanding of God
  9. A false understanding of sin and hell

I agree completely that the first eight indicators listed here are unreliable indicators of salvation. In other words, just because someone has been baptized doesn't necessarily mean they're saved. That someone's involved with church doesn't necessarily mean they're saved. That someone has an abundance of good deeds doesn't necessarily mean that they're saved. That someone had a dramatic lifestyle change doesn't mean that they're saved. But we'll see very shortly that the author recommends that you do some of these very things if you're still not sure. We're almost there.

X. Characteristics of the falsely assured
  1. They are either unconcerned or angry when warned about false assurance.
  2. They are either legalistic or loose with spiritual disciplines and duties.
  3. They are either very weak in or very confident of their Bible knowledge.
  4. They have either a vicarious Christianity or an overly independent spirit.
  5. They may be constantly resisting the truth or never able to come to the truth.

This is an interesting list of characteristics. Notice the contrasts… on one end of the spectrum you might be apathetic when warned about false assurance, and on the other end you might be angry. You might be legalistic, or you might be sloppy with spiritual disciplines. You might be very insecure about your knowledge of Bible doctrine, or you might be overly confident. You might depend on other's too much, or you've gone off on your own.

Makes me think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. If your porridge is too hot or too cold, you might be falsely assured. But if your porridge is "just right" then I guess you're okay. Either way, your experience with respect to assurance now depends upon your performance in the categories put forth by this author. If you set off this author's alarm bells, then you should have doubts.

But should we have doubts? Is Christ trustworthy or not? In Point II of the outline, the author wrote:
"Doubting assurance is not unbelief."
Hmmm. Let's take a look at it: What is "assurance," exactly? Assurance is an abstract noun which refers to the state of being assured, is it not? What does it mean to be assured of something? Or, what does it mean to assure someone else of something? Is that not synonymous with making a promise?

"I assure you, I will be there to pick you up at 10:00." Would the expectation be any different if I said "I promise you" instead of "I assure you?" No, it wouldn't. Would it make any difference if I said "Verily, verily I say unto you, I will be there to pick you up at 10:00." Or maybe I would say "Most assuredly…" or "Truly, truly." Makes no difference, does it? These are all PROMISES. And what did Christ say in John 6:47 and about a dozen other places? He said:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."
If I've promised to pick you up at 10:00, and you have doubts about whether or not you'll be left stranded, why wouldn't we call that "unbelief?" If you believed my promise, how could you have doubts?

Is Christ trustworthy? If He is, then why not just believe Him? He said that if you do, then you have everlasting life. What's to doubt?

So what does this mean, then? Does this mean I'm "unconcerned" about assurance? Or am I angry? Am I being legalistic or loose with spiritual disciplines? Am I being either weak or over-confident in my knowledge of Bible doctrine? Am I overly independent? Am I guilty of an offense by simply believing Christ's promises and being confident in them?

Simply put, doubting assurance (or salvation) is the very definition of unbelief. If you believe, then you have accepted Christ's assurance to you. End of story.

The final point in the outline is a list of things to do in case you're still not sure. Let's take a look:

XI. What to Do If You’re Still Not Sure
  1. Don’t take for granted that you understand the gospel.
  2. Think deeply about the gospel.
  3. Repent of all known sin.
  4. Submit everything to the Lordship of Christ.
  5. Meditate much on 1 John.
  6. Don’t doubt the promises of God.
  7. Believe as best you can and pray for greater faith.
  8. Practice the spiritual disciplines.
  9. If you really love God, take assurance because non-Christians don’t love God passionately.
  10. If you hate your sin, take assurance because non-Christians don’t hate sin deeply.
  11. If you’ve never been baptized, present yourself as a candidate in obedience to Christ.
  12. Don’t neglect the Lord’s Supper.
  13. Don’t compare earthly fathers to your Heavenly Father.
  14. Seek godly counsel if the doubts persist.
  15. Pray for assurance.
  16. Wait patiently upon God to give you a fuller experience of assurance.

Hmmm. Okay, I'll grant that it's possible to have a poor understanding of the gospel. But if I can never reach a point where I say "Yes, I understand the gospel," then how in the world can I ever have assurance?

Think deeply about the gospel? What does this mean? Repent of all known sin? Submit everything to the Lordship of Christ? How will what I do help give me assurance?

Meditate much on 1 John? I think he means "Meditate much on the way I understand 1 John." First John is a difficult book, and I'm convinced that it's widely misunderstood. It should be a source of assurance, because (the way I've come to understand it) it emphasizes our secure position in Christ. It emphasizes that God sees us as without sin. But the popular view of 1 John is a view which could be added to the authors list of things which erode assurance.

Number 6 is the only valid point among fifteen: Don't doubt the promises of God. In other words, believe!!

We began talking about reserve 'chutes. In Point 9, the author says that you should be assured if "you really love God." This is a reserve 'chute. Your love for God cannot provide you assurance. believing God's promises, however, can. Likewise, hating your sin cannot provide you assurance. But believing God's promises will.

The next point is very interesting, because earlier the author presented a list of sources of false assurance. And what was the second item in that list? It was baptism. Baptism, the author says, is a source of false assurance. And yet, here he offers baptism as a solution to doubts about assurance!!

He also says that not neglecting the Lord's Supper is a solution to doubts about assurance. So with respect to baptism and the Lord's Supper, we are supposed to rely upon rituals which we perform for our assurance? That's stuff that WE do. That's a reserve 'chute. How 'bout this instead: "Don't doubt the promises of God. Believe!!"

Alright, I'll give the author point 14 too… seeking godly counsel is not a bad idea. Hopefully that Godly counsel won't consult this book, however. Hopefully the Godly counsel will exhort the doubting person to simply believe.

Pray for assurance? In the Bible, God has already given us every assurance, has He not? I'm not opposed to prayer in general, of course… and perhaps if someone does pray for assurance, God will find a way to remind them of just what assurance is, and that if they'll simply believe His promises, they'll have assurance.

Don Whitney's "How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?" really adds up to one giant discouragement regarding assurance of salvation. It snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. The sum total of the message is this: Assurance is really impossible, but we're going to pretend that relying on our own performance gives us some kind of assurance, even though we know it can't.

Almost all of Whitney's solutions amount to relying on things other than God's promises for assurance of salvation. In other words, he's telling folks to carry a reserve, and this just reveals (or requires) distrusting their main 'chute. And because we know that the fabric and thread that we use to sew our reserve 'chutes together with are inherently defective, our reserve 'chutes can never give us assurance. Only one thing can: Believing Christ's promises.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thinking About Divine Freedom

In my last post I said we'd get to the issue of Divine freedom. Recently Bob Nyberg of New Tribes Mission  sent me a link to an interesting critique of Libertarian freedom, and in it the author affirms what I've concluded about how best to describe God's freedom. But before I get to that, there are a few items in this author's critique that stood out and which warrant a response. In the critique, J.W. Hendryx wrote:
"One of the main objections of Arminians, Semi-pelagians and other synergists to divine election is based on moral rather than exegetical grounds."
This statement is a good example of the warped paradigm that the Calvinist must operate within. That the author considers the view he's opposing to be "synergism" demonstrates a disregard for the notion, as taught by the apostle Paul, that trusting in something is not work, has no merit, has no value. If I trust my neighbor to feed my pets while I'm away, I am not going to be the one feeding my pets. My neighbor gets all the credit for that, I am indebted to my neighbor for doing that work for me. So, this author has a distorted view of Monergism and, as a Calvinist, it is actually he that will end up embracing synergism. For a more in-depth exploration of this distorted view of Monergism, read Monergism Distorted.

There's more in the statement that's worth commenting about. Where do we get our ideas of what is moral and immoral? Is it not from exegesis? Where do we get our ideas of what is just and unjust? Is it not from exegesis? Have we no exegetical basis on which we can say "God is Just?" In other words, to characterize the objection as based on "moral rather than exegetical grounds" is to advance a false dichotomy. If a person's sense of morality comes from exegesis, then their objection is based upon exegesis!

Hendryx also wrote:
"I have heard many of them contend that the Augustinian view of God is morally repugnant since God could and would never force humans to do something against their will."
Here, the author mischaracterizes the objection. If God created humans without free will, there's nothing morally repugnant about that. God created lots of things which lack free will. That God would create humans without free will, and then hold them responsible for something… that is morally repugnant.

If someone created a robot and programmed that robot to kill another person, would it be just to hold the robot responsible? Of course not! We would know that the robot was merely doing what it was programmed to do and we would prosecute the person who programmed the robot! If the only way to understand God's sovereignty is to say that He determines our actions and we lack the freedom to choose, then why would God hold us responsible for doing things when He was the one who caused us to do it?
"We all know that the Arminians teach that man has a free will in the libertarian sense. What this means, simply is that they believe man has the ability to choose otherwise. That is, they affirm that human beings are free to choose between opposites ... to make choices uninfluenced any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. They believe the will, being neutral, can just as easily choose good or evil. On the surface this may seem reasonable but when you think about it for a moment it makes no sense because deep down we know, and the Scriptures affirm, that a person must always choose according to what he is by nature, otherwise how could the choice be rightfully said to be his own? Let us never forget that the nature of a person is not a thing he possesses. It is something he is. For example, When a person loves evil by nature, he will always make choices in line with what that nature desires most."
This paragraph contains at least a couple examples of deliberate distortions of Libertarian freedom. The author claims that under Libertarian freedom the will is "neutral." But this is not necessarily the case. There is no denial that the will is inclined toward evil. But Libertarian freedom simply allows for the possibility of making choices contrary to that inclination. That's not the same as neutrality.

The author is quite confident that a person "must always choose according to what he is by nature." And yet, it's quite clear that even fallen, unregenerate people choose against committing sin at least on occasion. And we also know that Christians choose to commit sin, something that is contrary to their new nature in Christ. So the ability to choose contrary to our nature--whether unregenerate or regenerate--is demonstrable. So, the author's statement that:
"When a person loves evil by nature, he will always make choices in line with what that nature desires most."
…is demonstrably false.

Then the author asks:
"The question is, does God have a free will in the libertarian sense? i.e. Is God able to …choose good or evil? And if not does this mean human beings have more freedom than God?"
This is a very interesting question. Is the ability to choose good or evil necessarily superior to the ability only to choose good? Is that what we want to say? This is what is implied by the author, is it not? He believes that if we think of humans as having Libertarian freedom, then humans have more freedom; a superior kind of freedom, when compared to God. The author would be right to expect that God's freedom should be superior to man's freedom. But superior in what way, exactly? Perhaps we shouldn't jump to conclusions about what kind of freedom is superior.

I think the author is right when he says that God's freedom should be described as "Compatibilist" freedom. I think Compatibilism is a very good way to describe God's freedom as long as we are careful to point out that we do not believe that God's decisions are determined by any external cause. And, because of how Compatibilism is sometimes defined, this can be difficult to do. The very name "Compatibilism" refers to a supposed "compatibility" between determinism and free will, which essentially means it would affirm both.

But wait a minute… determinism is the idea that choices are determined by an external entity. For example, a marionette's actions are determined by the puppeteer; they are not the product of the marionette's will. The marionette, in fact, has no will. So, to the extent that Compatibilism affirms determinism, we cannot use Compatibilism to describe God's freedom, can we? How could God be God if His actions were determined by some external entity?

So, some care must be taken when it comes to defining Compatibilism if we're going to use that term to describe God's freedom. It seems like the aspect of Compatibilism that the author has in mind is the idea that God's own character or nature constrains God's choices. To use the author's example, God is not free in the sense that He cannot choose to lie. And I agree entirely with the author on this point. We might say that God freely chooses to do good, but only good. The choices to do evil are not available to God, but only because of His nature, not because some external entity is preventing Him from going in that direction.

We could use J Warner Wallace's term for Compatibilism, which is "self-fettered free will." Wallace uses the term "unfettered free will" as an alternate term for Libertarian freedom. With these terms, it's easy to see that God's will is "self-fettered." His own character, His own nature, constrains His choices. And yet, since no external entity is determining His choices for Him, we can say that He is truly free.

J Warner Wallace describes Compatibilism (self-fettered free will) this way:
  "Humans have the ability to choose something, …but they always are restrained by their pre-existing nature… You are limited in your choices because you're not going to choose [those things which are contrary to your nature]. You only choose WITHIN YOUR NATURE."
And of course, he's talking here about human freedom. But I think it's obvious that God is restrained in His choices by His pre-existing nature. He will not choose those things which are contrary to His nature, He only chooses within His nature. But is this an apt description of human freedom? Well… certainly not in this life. For more analysis of this question, please read here and here.

If our nature inclines us toward evil and we are unable to choose contrary to that inclination, then how do you account for the fact that unregenerate people do not commit sin at every opportunity they're given? It ought to be impossible for an unregenerate, "natural" man to choose against committing any particular sin at any point in time.

Also, we know that regenerate (born again) persons choose to commit sins, even though this is clearly contrary to the new nature that they've been given. As a description of human freedom, Compatibilism utterly fails to explain this, while Libertarian freedom seems to accommodate it quite comfortably.

And by the same token, Libertarian freedom would be an inappropriate description of God's freedom because if God had Libertarian freedom, then He would not be constrained by His nature and, if He wasn't constrained by His nature, then He wouldn't be God.

So, perhaps the author here has jumped to a conclusion about which freedom is superior. If God is the greatest possible being (and I think He is) and God has Compatiblist freedom, then Compatibilist freedom must be the greatest possible kind of freedom! And because we affirm that mankind is made in the image of God, and yet isn't God's equal (read this for more about being made in God's image) then we should expect that man has an inferior kind of freedom.

So maybe it's wrong to say that Libertarian freedom is a superior kind of freedom. Maybe the ability to choose contrary to one's nature should be viewed as a defect, not an advantage!

There's still one remaining issue, though… human freedom in Heaven. We're not given many details about Heaven, but we are told that we will be free from sin. And that's difficult for any of us to imagine. But I think that some of the mystery goes away if we anticipate that when we receive our resurrection bodies, we will lose our defective Libertarian free will and our freedom will become like God's in the sense that we will freely choose to do those things which are consistent with our new, glorified nature. At that point, Compatibilism will become an apt way of describing human freedom. We will be free from the Old Sin Nature and the new nature will reign absolutely.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hindsight's Monday Morning Quarterbacking

There's another argument which gets deployed as a challenge against the idea of Libertarian Freedom, and it's an argument which, at first glance, seems to have some rhetorical force… but when you think it through carefully, the argument absolutely collapses.

Basically, it goes like this: If, in this life, we can choose where we want to live in the future, (Heaven or Hell) but we can't choose a different option once we are there, then we must not really be free. If God gives us freedom, why doesn't he make that freedom permanent? If God can remove our freedom in the future, why must He give us freedom now? If God allows us to choose either Heaven or Hell during this life, then why does He take that choice away once we're in Heaven? On Earth, I'm free to choose Heaven or Hell because God gave me this freedom, but in Heaven I'm not free to choose Heaven or Hell because God removed this freedom. That's the argument.

But this argument really fails on a few levels. First of all, it's really quite misleading to say that we choose Heaven or Hell in this life. There's no denying that the choice we make in this life results in Heaven or Hell. But we don't actually choose Heaven or Hell directly. Our choice is between believing the gospel or not believing the gospel. The Heaven or Hell part is really God's predetermined choice, not ours. That is, God decides that whoever believes the gospel will go to Heaven and whoever doesn't believe the gospel will go to Hell. To say that we choose Heaven or Hell directly is to erect a straw man.

The distinction here is subtle, but important. The effect of a choice is not the same as the choice itself. I can agree that we are "effectively" choosing Heaven or Hell. But the effects are what they are because of God's choice, not because of my choice. So it creates confusion to say that we're choosing Heaven or Hell. We're not. Nobody chooses Hell. God chooses Hell for everyone who does not choose to believe the gospel. Oh, sure… people want to rebel against God and they choose to do so… no dispute there. But nobody chooses to go to Hell. They choose not to trust in Christ, they choose to continue in their rebellion, and the effect of that choice is that they wind up in Hell.

This simple distinction really knocks the legs out from under the argument. But we can go further…

Even if we grant that our direct choice in this life is between Heaven and Hell, the case still cannot be made that our "choice is taken away" in Heaven because at the point that we "choose Heaven," we understand that Heaven is a place we won't be able to leave. And it's worth pointing out that we also understand that Heaven is a place we won't want to leave, and this is precisely why we would choose it. In other words, if we grant (for the sake of argument) that we directly choose Heaven or Hell, you could say that, when we choose to believe the gospel, we choose to forfeit the choice to leave Heaven. So even if we grant the premise, God can be seen to honor our choice by not allowing us to leave Heaven.

Even so, we shouldn't approach the question from such an invalid starting point. We should approach with the understanding that Heaven or Hell are consequences; effects; results of our choice either to believe the gospel or continue to reject it, and that God's plan of salvation makes salvation available to us during this life only and that salvation (Heaven) is the result of our choice to believe the gospel, not a result of our choosing Heaven.

If we choose Heaven directly, then everyone who chooses Heaven will go there.  I'm aware of a particular passage where assorted individuals are "choosing Heaven" in the direct sense and yet they're driven away by Christ. That is, these folks want in. They've chosen Heaven. The passage I'm thinking of is Matthew 7:21-23. This passage illustrates the unfortunate reality that lots of people "choose Heaven" directly and yet never get there. Why? Because although they chose to go to Heaven, they did NOT choose to trust in Christ but chose instead to trust in their works. And as a result, Christ ordered them to depart from Him. If we simply "choose Heaven" then Christ should have let those folks in. This underscores the important distinction between our direct choice and the effects or consequences of our choice. Those people chose to trust in their works rather that trust in Christ and as a result of this, Christ refused them. They chose Heaven, but ended up in Hell.

Essentially, this characterization of choosing Heaven or choosing Hell and God "taking our choice away" once we're in Heaven as an argument against Libertarian freedom is really a straw man and like any straw man argument, it fails spectacularly. There's a deep-seated desire to portray the Libertarian view as having elevated man to a position where he calls the shots. But what we see here is that man doesn't call the shots, he merely makes a choice: Believe the gospel, or continue to reject it.

Also related to this question of God "taking our freedom away," it's important to understand that God's plan of salvation is only available to us in this life. When we check out of this life, the opportunity for salvation has passed.

Hebrews 9:27: And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

This means that when we pass from this life to the next, our fate is sealed one way or the other. There is no plan of salvation beyond that point. People in Hell don't have any further opportunity to be saved. This life is it. And those are the rules God put in place… there's nothing we can do to change them. He determines the consequences of our choices and in that way, He remains in charge. No one's usurping His authority. And the consequences, as God has determined it, are permanent either way.

We deal with this sort of thing regularly in the course of everyday life. It's why we have expressions like "Hindsight's 20/20" and "Monday morning quarterbacking." All the choices we make are permanent in one sense, and we all accept this.

If a skydiver has jumped from the plane, he cannot undo that choice. The rest is up to gravity. From the time he leaves the plane to the time he reaches the ground, his choices are very limited. He can't stop off at McDonald's on the way down, for a cheeseburger. That choice is unavailable to him. And if he forgot to strap on his parachute, well… there's no undoing history. He jumped out. That he will fall to the Earth (with or without the aid of a parachute) is simply inevitable. This doesn't violate the concept of Libertarian freedom in the least. Or if someone thinks it does, then they have a distorted understanding of just what Libertarian freedom actually entails.

The skydiver is free to choose to jump from the plane, but he's never free from the consequences of that choice. If his 'chute malfunctions, he can't alter the historical fact that he jumped from the plane. Libertarian freedom doesn't mean that we're free from the consequences of our choices… consequences are the whole reason we make choices to begin with! I choose to go fishing because that choice brings with it consequences: Fun. Peace. Quiet. Satisfaction. These are consequences. If I was free from consequences, why would I choose anything?

During this life, we make our choice: Believe the gospel or continue in unbelief. (there's no neutrality here) When death comes, the effects of that choice become permanent. Those are the rules which God set forth. We are free to choose to believe the gospel or continue to not believe the gospel, but we are never free from the consequences of those choices.

And a third and related point is that if a person understands the gospel properly when they choose to believe it, they understand that the choice they're making has permanent results. They understand that the consequence of choosing to believe the gospel is that they receive everlasting life. Frankly, that's  why they choose to believe!! If it wasn't permanent, if their future would remain insecure even after they made the choice, then why bother? For this reason, it makes no sense to say that God takes away my choice once I get to Heaven. The permanence of Heaven doesn't represent a forfeiture of my choice. Rather, it represents God delivering His promise of everlasting life.

Another related challenge is to point out that, apparently, we lose the freedom to sin once we're in Heaven, and so doesn't that represent a loss of freedom?

And here's where we'll launch into another discussion about Libertarian freedom vs. Compatibilist freedom. I have been careful in previous posts not to say that compatibilist freedom is never a reality. With certain qualifications, I'm convinced that Compatibilist freedom is an appropriate way to describe God's freedom and it's an appropriate way to describe our freedom once we're in Heaven.

I'll explain that further in the next post.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Playing Dominoes

There are many subtleties in this discussion of human freedom, and many ways that the debate gets skewed and misdirected by straw man arguments and red herrings. I'm going to attempt to deal with one of these fallacious arguments here, and then in my next post I'll deal with another.

Let's look at a common straw man argument which represents Libertarian Freedom in a way that makes it sound obviously false. This mischaracterization seems to say that to affirm Libertarian freedom is to affirm that man's ability to choose is free from any external pressures or influences. But this is not what Libertarian freedom entails. Libertarian freedom entails freedom from an external cause. Pressures or influences are not causes.

Consider a chain of dominos. The first domino falls, which causes the second domino to fall, which causes the third domino to fall, etc. But the dominoes that fall are not victims of mere "influences" or "pressures." They are victims of causes. That the dominoes fall is a direct, mechanistic result of something pushing the first domino over. The dominoes themselves don't know what's happening to them,  they have no choice in the matter. They aren't really "acting" at all, though they do move… at least for a moment. But their movements are entirely determined by the laws of physics. The dominoes lack agency.

But why did the first domino fall? The first domino fell because someone with agency decided to knock it down. And so we see the stark contrast between agency and the absence of agency.

This, ultimately, is the question we're wrestling with when it comes to human freedom: Are we dominoes, or are we agents?

And if we're just dominoes, then who is responsible for our actions? Can dominoes be held responsible for their actions? Or would we say that the agent must be responsible?

Here's a question: Let's suppose the agent's name is Fred, and let's suppose he knocked over the first domino. Did he do so free from any external influence or pressure?

We could say that the Fred's decision wasn't caused by any external entity, but we can't really say that Fred's actions weren't influenced by some external entity. Maybe, for example, a second agent (Bob) offered Fred $10 to start the domino chain. This could only be described as a "cause" if Fred lacked the ability to reject Bob's offer. But maybe $10 isn't enough. Is Fred free to say "I'm sorry, I won't knock the dominoes over for only $10." If Fred could reject Bob's offer, then the offer is merely an influence. Influences can be resisted.

So, back to the straw man: Is the person who affirms Libertarian freedom saying that our decisions are free from influences and pressures? Of course not!

Most of our decision-making is goal-oriented. That is, we have the consequences in mind when we make decisions. I might decide to turn right at the intersection because going straight would place me on a longer route. A longer route has consequences: More fuel is used and therefore it costs more money. The longer route also takes more time. So to avoid those negative consequences, I choose to turn right. And that choice also has consequences. Since it's a shorter route, it'll use less fuel and won't cost as much and won't take as much time. Those are the positive consequences. But the right turn might have negative consequences, too. Maybe the longer route is more scenic, while the shorter route sends you though an industrial area. Either way we go, there are consequences… both positive and negative. Those consequences certainly do apply pressure within our decision-making process, and so it can be said that those consequences influence our decisions. But those consequences cannot be said to cause our decisions and here's why: There are positive influences and there are negative influences. If influences are causes, then I'd have to choose both. But we know that's impossible.

Libertarian freedom is also called "indeterminism"; the opposite of determinism. It's the idea that my decisions or actions (a decision is an action) are not determined for me by any external entity. In other words, I'm the agent, not the domino.

If Divine Determinism is true, then I'm the domino and God is the agent. And if I am the domino, then I have no agency and I have no responsibility. If I'm not the domino, then I have to be an agent and I have responsibility. There is no third option.

I hope by now it's evident that influences are not causes and that Libertarian freedom isn't about making choices apart from influences. It's only about making decisions apart from external causes. It's only about having agency as opposed to being a domino.

To reinforce this, I'll recycle a quote I used in the post called "Human Freedom: Denying The Upper Story."

In the quote, J Warner Wallace--a Calvinist apologist who rejects Libertarian freedom--seems to appeal to Libertarian freedom (and reject determinism) as he defended the personhood of infants:

    "So what makes us 'morally relevant'? It seems that morality is based on the ability to say that we have free agency, that we could have chosen otherwise. If we can't choose otherwise, and we're just another domino falling because some synapse fired in our brain that was caused by something we ate or something that was already pre-designed in our genes, we can't step out of our nature and make a decision that's above our nature, then you really can't hold us morally accountable for anything. Fault requires the freedom to choose something that you should or shouldn't choose."


    "…Morality is based on the ability to say that we have free agency, that we could have chosen otherwise. If we can't choose otherwise, and …we can't step out of our nature and make a decision that's above our nature, then you really can't hold us morally accountable for anything. Fault requires the freedom to choose something that you should or shouldn't choose."

These are very simple principles. Holding someone responsible for something requires that they have agency. If they don't have agency and they're really just a domino falling, then they cannot be held responsible.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Monergism Distorted

I stumbled upon another Mark Driscoll video dealing with the issue of monergism vs. synergism which I found very interesting. Driscoll launches the clip with this:

"Here is the gist of the question: Some people love Jesus and go to Heaven, other people don't love Jesus, they go to Hell… Why? Why is it that some people to Hell, and others go to Heaven? Is it because they didn't choose Jesus, or is it because Jesus didn't choose them?"

Now this is an interesting quote because Driscoll seems to want to base salvation upon loving Jesus, not trusting in Jesus. This may seem like a small point, but let's be precise here. Is eternal salvation from Hell contingent upon loving Jesus, or is it contingent upon believing in or relying upon Jesus? I can find no scripture making salvation contingent upon loving Jesus. Paul and Silas didn't tell the Philippian jailer that he should "love the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Jesus didn't say "whoever loves Him has everlasting life."

Driscoll goes on to outline the two positions, monergism and synergism:

"The monergistic position--we'll call it the 'one-handed' position since it's an easier word to remember--is that God reached down and grabbed some people and saved them through Jesus. The synergistic position is that God reached down His hand to lost sinners, and that they reached back to Him so that they took hold of God's invitation and in so doing, God pulled them out of death and damnation, but He did so by their partnership with Him."

What's interesting is that as he sets this up, he makes it pretty clear that the "two-handed" position, which is "synergism" is a heretical view. Now I agree that synergism is heretical, however compare Driscoll's definition of synergism with William MacDonald's definition, excerpted here from the Bible Believer's Commentary on James 2:

"[the verses in James 2] are commonly misused to support the heresy that we are saved by faith plus works, called 'synergism.' In other words, we must trust the Lord Jesus as our Savior, but that is not enough. We must also add to His redemptive work our own deeds of charity and devotion."

This is a bit different from how Driscoll characterizes synergism, though there is a relationship.

The common thread between the two characterizations is that synergism has us adding our meritorious work of our own into the equation. For Driscoll, the "reaching" he describes is apparently meritorious and For Macdonald, it's our deeds of charity and devotion. "Good works," you might say. Now "good works" may be a very broad category, but "reaching" is much more nebulous. Exactly what is he talking about? Well, it seems like Driscoll is talking about the act of putting one's trust in Christ. Faith, on Driscoll's view, is meritorious. Faith has power. Faith saves. However, is this the view of the apostle Paul?

There are three passages I'm immediately aware of which demonstrates that Driscoll disagrees with New Testament teaching on this issue.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

In this passage, Paul describes that we have been saved by Grace, through faith. And this by-grace salvation which we receive is a gift from God and is not of works. Well, if it's not of works but it is through faith, then faith must not fall into the category of "works" in Paul's mind. (and in the mind of God) Faith is not work.

Rom 4:5     But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness

Here again we have a very clear distinction made by Paul. Paul describes a man who does not work, but the man does believe on Him who justifies the ungodly. Well, if faith was a work then Paul couldn't describe a man who does not work but believes. If belief is a work, then clearly the man works. But Paul's describing a man who does not work, but believes. This can only mean that faith doesn't not fall into the category of works.

Rom 4:16     Therefore [it is] of faith that [it might be] according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed…

This passage further reinforces the principle. Faith is entirely compatible with grace. Salvation can be described as "by grace" and "through faith" without contradiction because "faith" is not work.

It's rather easy to see why this is the case, even in our ordinary life, by conducting a simple thought experiment:

If I trust my neighbor to feed my pets while I'm out of town, is that equivalent to me feeding my pets? Of course not!! My neighbor is the one feeding my pets. I'm merely trusting him to do it. If my trusting him to feed my pets was equivalent to me feeding my pets, then my neighbor would find that the food dish is already full when he gets over to my house! But that doesn't happen… I trust my neighbor to feed my pets and if my neighbor fails to feed my pets, my pets will go hungry in spite of my faith in my neighbor, which demonstrates that my faith doesn't actually have the power to provide food for my pets. But my neighbor does have that power, and that's why I'm trusting him to do it. Trusting my neighbor to do the work of feeding my pets is not equivalent to doing the work of feeding my pets.

So let's apply this more directly to the salvation question. If avoiding the lake of fire (salvation) requires that my name be written in the book of life, and in effect, Jesus is the one who writes my name in the book of life, and I trust that He will do that, then how does my trusting Him to do it equate to me writing my name in the book? How does that give me the pen? How does that give me access to the book?

It doesn't.

The bottom line is this: If by "reaching back to God" Driscoll means a positive faith response to divine revelation, then this is not work. And if a positive faith response is not work, then affirming that such a thing happens and is necessary in no way constitutes "synergism."

The Calvinist wants to bully us into thinking that if we reject unconditional election and affirm libertarian freedom we necessarily reject Monergism. They want us to think that trusting my neighbor to feed my pets is as good as feeding my pets myself. But clearly this is in error both logically and Biblically. Logically, because the merit is always found in the object of faith, not in the faith itself. Faith accomplishes nothing. And it's in error Biblically because Paul tells us as much in (at least) these three passages. So to treat faith as a work is to deny Paul's clear teaching on the subject.

The assertion that I'm "saving myself" because I affirm that it was my own libertarian free will choice to believe in Christ is simply nonsense. And to say that such a choice undermines God's sovereignty is just as ludicrous.

Libertarian freedom only means that people have the freedom to choose from the options that are available. It doesn't mean that we can create our own options. If I'm a contestant in a game show and I'm given a choice of prizes between what's behind door number 1 and what's behind door number 2, and I choose door number 1, I get whatever prize is there. But the rules by which I arrived there, the existence of the prize, the placement of that prize behind door number 1 are all things that the organizers determined. Have I usurped their "sovereignty" by choosing one of the two options they presented me with? My choice of door number 1 didn't determine any of that, did it? All I did was make a choice from the available options and the organizers are the ones that defined those options and made them available. But the Calvinist wants to say that if I'm making a libertarian free will choice to trust in Christ and I believe the result of that choice is eternal salvation, then somehow I'm creating my own option, that I'm determining my own outcome. But this is simply indefensible. God determines the outcomes. All I do is choose between them.

It is entirely consistent to say that Monergism is true and we have libertarian freedom and the ability to simply trust God to do what He promised to do, what only He can do. To say that our libertarian free will choice to trust in Christ is required for salvation is not to advocate synergism because that choice has no value, no power, no merit. That act of faith itself properly locates the merit, the power, and the value in Christ. He is the one who does the work. We simply trust Him to do it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Throwing Unconditional Election Under The Bus

A few years ago I stumbled upon a YouTube vid featuring Mark Driscoll, who offered an interesting personal story as a means of illustrating--and apparently justifying--the doctrine of unconditional election. As an interesting side note, were it not for public relations considerations, we could just as easily call this doctrine "unconditional damnation" because just as there are no conditions under which God's elect could escape Heaven, there are also no conditions under which God's non-elect could escape Hell. That is, according to the doctrine (whatever you choose to call it) God has unconditionally chosen some for Heaven and unconditionally chosen some for Hell… and there's absolutely nothing that the individuals within each group can do about it.

Back to Driscoll's illustration. He tells the story of when his family lived along a very busy street in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace. As the story goes, Mark was about to put his 3-year-old daughter in the car when, in a moment when her dad was distracted, she managed to break away, running toward traffic on Mountlake Boulevard. Mark describes that she had been warned repeatedly about the danger of the nearby street, but that his daughter freely chose to disobey his warnings and ran toward the street anyway. He then describes how he chased after her, shouting for her to stop, but she continued on and at the very last moment, just as a large truck was about to intercept her, Mark, a loving father, grabbed his little girl by the back of her coat and yanked her away, saving her from catastrophe. Mark sums up the story with this:

"That is election. When the Father, in love, pursues foolish, obstinate, disobedient children who have chosen death, and He decrees that, more important than their will is His love. And anyone who is here and who is a Christian should thank God that not only did He call out to them, but He pursued them. And then, in Jesus Christ, He extended a hand and He grabbed them, and He yanked them unto Himself. And anyone else who would run from God has no right to declare Him unjust. They're morally responsible for their own rebellion."

Now this is a very interesting story, and I think it can serve as a good illustration. But I don't think it accomplishes what Driscoll expects it to accomplish, and in part this is because of what Mark has chosen to leave out of the illustration. Namely, the fact that while God grabs some people and yanks them away from traffic, He chooses not to grab others. He lets them get squashed.

Now there's no escaping one fact here: Those who are let go do, in fact, get what they deserve. There's no dispute on that point. But we can use Driscoll's illustration to demonstrate something very important about the scenario that Driscoll presents by conducting a little thought experiment. And we'll use Driscoll himself as the loving father, and we'll suppose that he lives along this same busy street, but that he has five children. To make Driscoll a better stand-in for God, let's suppose that he is omnipotent. He is all-powerful in the illustration.

Now suppose that all five of Driscoll's kids run out toward traffic. Of course, it's likely that an ordinary father--one who lacks omnipotence--would be physically unable to apprehend every one of five children in time. But we're not talking about an ordinary father here. We're talking about a father who isn't constrained by physics. The omnipotent Driscoll can save all five just as easily as he can save one. But he doesn't save all five. He only grabs two and he allows the other three to get run over.

Let that sink in. He lets the other three go in spite of the fact that He is perfectly capable of saving every one of them.

Here's a question: In such a scenario, where a father had the ability and opportunity to save all five of his children from certain death, but only rescued two, would that father be charged with a crime? Would society view this father as "just?" Should society view this father as "just?"

I don't think that society would view this father as "just" at all, nor do I think they should. In a situation like this, the death of any children may well be the result of their collective decision to run out into the street… or participate in whatever dangerous activity the father might save them from. But when someone comes upon the scene who has the capability to save all five children and chooses not to save 3 of them, it's hard to imagine that such a person wouldn't be brought up on charges. And it's easy to see why: This fictitious father had the moral authority, the physical ability and the opportunity to save all of his children but only two of them were saved. Given this set of circumstances, there's only one way to account for why the father didn't save the three children: He didn't want to save them.

Someone might reply that this projects a "human" concept of justice onto God, and that we don't have the right to dictate to God what's just and what's unjust. Okay…  then shouldn't we emulate God's standards of justice? Isn't that what laws against murder and adultery and theft are all about? Reading through the ten commandments, it's pretty clear that all but one are an expression of God's perfect justice. Why should you not steal? Because it's unjust to get for free what someone else worked hard to create. Why should you not murder? Because it's unjust to end someone else's life without proper justification. Why should you not commit adultery? Because it's unjust to violate the promises you made to someone and betray their trust.

The scenario that Mark Driscoll describes presents God as unjust and capricious. When God tells us that He is perfectly just, He assumes we know what justice is. If we can't understand what "justice" is, then God telling us that He is "just" informs us of precisely nothing. God's attributes are important, and one reason they're important is because they serve to govern our understanding of certain aspects of His plan for mankind. Knowledge of His attributes acts kind of like the training rails that pop up on either side of the lane at a bowling alley, often used by very young children, that keep the ball from slipping into the gutter. When our conclusions are inconsistent with what we know of God's character, this is supposed to cause us to regroup and reassess our understanding. Man is made in God's image. We know instinctively what is and is not "just" because not only has He told us in His word, but He's written it in our hearts.

Honestly, I'm horrified that pastors like Mark Driscoll are teaching congregations that this is who God is. And what application do these questions have for Christian apologetics? How can we defend such a view of God? How can we tell people that the God who Mark Driscoll describes should somehow be regarded as "just?" Should we try to hide this reality from them until after they've trusted in Christ? I don't think so.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Assurance by Works; A Reserve 'Chute Case Study

I should never be the one complaining about someone else being cynical, but in popular Christianity, it's very popular to be cynical of people who make certain claims… who "profess" things. In particular, people who "profess" to be Christian. This cynicism often emerges when Christians discuss passages like James 2, where James is frequently misunderstood to be warning against a false claim of faith, a "say-so" faith, which is shown to be a pseudo-faith by a lack of accompanying works.

What they're often getting at is that you can't trust what people say; you can't trust the claims that they make because those claims might be false.

Now I don't think James is saying anything of the sort, however I do agree that you can't trust what people say. If we're looking for a reliable indicator of whether someone is saved or not, a person's claim to believe in Christ doesn't really settle the issue. And nothing will, actually… I have good reasons to believe that making such determinations is above our pay grade.

However, it's often taught (from James 2 and other misunderstood passages) that works must accompany, complement, or otherwise "back up" one's faith in order to prove that faith to be valid.

But folks seem to overlook something obvious here… a person's good works can be no more reliable as an indicator of whether they're saved than their speech can. Neither is reliable because either one can be falsely motivated.

That aside, a victim of this popular teaching called in to Stand To Reason--an apologetics-oriented radio program and podcast hosted by Greg Koukl--and the discussion which ensued was, I think, instructive… though not in the way the host probably intended.

The caller, whose name is Art, identifies R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur as teachers he listens to frequently, and the host affirms that these are "solid" teachers. But Art has a problem. He isn't sure whether he is a "true" believer or not. And the reason he gives is that he doesn't see any evidence of a change in his life. Art has been taught to depend on his performance for assurance of his salvation, and since he sees poor performance, he is fearful that he is not saved.

This comes out vividly when the caller says "I'm pretty well convinced that I'm going to hear 'Depart from me, I never knew you.'"

The odd thing about the caller's allusion to Matthew 7 is this: For some reason the caller thinks that the folks Jesus turned away in that passage were turned away because they lacked works. Now that's just strange, because clearly the folks in that passage did have works. They prophesied; they cast out demons; they did many wonderful works. But Jesus tells them "Depart from me, I never knew you." But weren't these people looking at their works for their assurance? And isn't that exactly what Sproul and MacArthur have taught Art to do? Because the folks in Matthew 7 have held up their works as their justification, Jesus turns them away… they're not turned away for a lack of works. It's clear that the caller has been taught to rely on his works and now he's fearful he'll be turned away because of his poor performance.

Now the way Koukl responds to this is very interesting. But first, consider a quote from Koukl on a previous program when he was discussing "faith alone" vs. "faith plus works."

"There are other passages which have to do with our behaviors and our works, and the classic one is James Chapter 2, but I see these as indicatives. In other words, the genuine Christian is going to display a change in life in some measure that's palpable, that's measurable… You can't just talk it. You've gotta walk the walk."

Notice there's no equivocation in this statement. According to Koukl, a genuine Christian is going to display a change in life. The caller, however, is saying that his life displays no such change. If Greg Koukl's understanding of this issue is correct, then the caller's doubts are appropriate… are they not?

Over and over again I hear, from various popular teachers, that good works validates faith in Christ, and necessarily so. In other words, if you lack good works, then you were never really saved to begin with. Here's a quote from Norm Geisler which reflects this view:

"Only the kind of faith that produces good works can save. While we are saved by faith alone, nevertheless, the faith that saves is never alone. It is always accompanied by good works."

And here's what Jim Wallace--a frequent substitute host on Greg Koukl's show and host of his own "Please Convince Me" apologetics podcast--says about this:

"…as a fruitful Christian, a Christian who has been transformed, you will see a difference in my life, I will see a difference in your life, and James talks about it. If you're not seeing that difference in your life, there's good reason to believe that maybe you were never saved to begin with."

John MacArthur backs this up with this:

"Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one's faith is real. On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith."

So when the caller says, quite emphatically, that he HAS NOT undergone a change in life, you would think Koukl would have to say something like, "Well, I'm afraid the Bible is rather clear on this question: If you lack works, you must not be saved." Of course, it would be a pretty brutal thing to say to someone under the circumstances. But… does Koukl believe that the Bible teaches what he says it teaches, or doesn't he?

So, in response to the caller Koukl asks the caller if he's concerned about this. And when the caller then professes to be concerned, Koukl renders his verdict and concludes that the caller really is saved. Where in the Bible would we find the idea that you can be assured of your salvation if you're concerned about whether or not you're saved? 

And notice something else… now all of a sudden we're trusting the caller's profession that he's concerned What happened to all that skepticism over what people say? When it comes to people professing to believe in Christ, Koukl is full of skepticism toward their claims. And so are many Calvinist teachers, such as James MacDonald:

"Profession does not equal conversion."

And here's the same idea in the Bible Believer's Commentary on James 2:

"…James is describing the man who has nothing but a profession of faith. He says he has faith, but there is nothing about his life that indicates it."

So, the message here is to not trust someone's claim regarding their faith in Christ. But if we can't trust someone when they claim to believe in Christ, then why should we trust them when they say they're concerned about not being saved? What if Art isn't really concerned and his profession of concern is just an act? If Art's profession of concern doesn't have to be backed up with works, then why must his faith be backed up with works? If Art is really concerned, then why doesn't he straighten up and fly right?

In the end, Koukl does get something right because he does finally direct Art back to the question of whether Art's trust is in Christ. But unless someone reaches Art and explains to him that his salvation doesn't depend on his performance, then Art will never know whether he's saved or not until (perhaps) it's too late.

There's a good reason for all of this confusion. Certain passages in the Bible have been distorted and misunderstood to teach that we can get assurance from our works. But there's a very simple reason why this is impossible: Our works didn't make us any promises.

What I mean is this: To make a promise to someone is to "assure" them of something. That promise is the "assurance," and you either believe the promise, or you don't. It makes no sense to say "I believe the promise" and then say "But I don't have assurance." If you have the promise, then you have the assurance. The only reason to lack assurance is to not believe the promise!

What we have here is a situation where popular Bible teachers are teaching their congregations not to believe the promises that Christ made. They're teaching people to rely on their own works for the assurance of their salvation rather than to rely on the promise of salvation itself. And from this, we get people like Art who, by evaluating their works, have no reason to believe they're saved.

When pastors teach their congregations to rely on their works for assurance, they are asking their congregations to wear a reserve 'chute when they jump out of the plane, because they fear the main 'chute might not open.