Monday, December 29, 2008

Responding to James Holden's Questions

This post's purpose is respond to James' questions left as a reply to my previous blog entry. I did read The Shack while I was in Alaska and will have a review of it up very soon, maybe even tonight.

I said that I wasn't looking to give answers in my last blog but receive answers. That was true. That does not mean that I didn't have answers to my own questions, but only that I am not satisfied with them. Bob Dylan wasn't really the point, which you all probably realized, nor did he really spark my questions as much as my own personal experiences did. Thanks James for your reply and you rightly discerned the influence my own experiences had upon my questions. The main reason I wanted to start blogging was for dialogue so I am grateful for the questions you asked. I hope I can allay your fears a bit. I am not placing my experiences on the level of the Scriptures. Experiences are too flighty and too easily misinterpreted to be the basis of truth. I agree with you that Scripture is true and reliable (and probably agree that there is absolute truth which is found in the Bible, you'd have to define 'absolute truth' for me though. I've always found it to be a very ambiguous term for such an absolute statement!).

But even if experience is an unreliable source of truth, it is an essential source for questions and questions are an essential tool of any serious thinker. And though the Bible is true, reliable, and revelation from God, it does not answer all of our questions. And many of the questions that it does answer are not answered clearly. This is not to find fault with the Bible, but with us humans who distort and misunderstand things all of the time. Even if we say, as I would, that Scripture is sufficient, that is not to say that we should cease to ask questions. If you do, you will ultimately rely upon your own understanding and presuppositions as your source of truth, not the Bible, because you will have no real way to analyze what you read or whatever curve ball life throws at you.

So let's get to James' questions,

So without regarding my experiences or the questions my experience asks I will attempt answers at your questions, on the basis of my theology alone - as best as I can.

1) According to the Bible, what saves a person?

Important question though I don't like the wording. I would answer simply that God saves someone. That's not what you are looking for. You want me to say believing in Jesus, or turning from sin or something along those lines, but really these do not save you. God saves you. Now on what basis does God save you? Isn't it on the basis of his own will? He saves you because he wants to? But here we run into some issues because I believe, based upon my debatable interpretation of Scripture, that God desires the salvation of all. We could go the Piper route and talk about God's differing wills, but, to be quite honest, that sounds ridiculous to me. Ultimately we cannot, methinks, really understand this from God's perspective. So what does God require of us if we wish to be 'saved' (I don't like that word...)? Repentance. Turning from your sin, the world system, and any other hope of salvation and follow Christ. This includes believing that Jesus died and rose from the dead, but believing these facts are not what save you, only prerequisites to really trusting in Jesus to save you.

2) According to the Bible, what keeps a person saved?

The Holy Spirit does. I do not believe that someone is saved forever because they believe in Jesus, no matter what happens afterward. Rather, the Holy Spirit preserves the elect (whatever that means).

3. What does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise?

I'll change the translation a bit to "sealed by the promised Holy Spirit". What does this mean? I'm not sure I can answer this fully, but I'll begin an answer anyway. The seal indicates ownership and, as 1:14 indicates, something of a preview or guarantee of our future inheritance. The real question is who receives this seal? The answer is obvious (I think): the elect. But who are the elect? From our perspective, I don't think that we can answer this.

4. What does Romans have to say about a person's life after he is saved?

Since I don't believe that Romans 7 refers to believers, I'll have to just say that they sound pretty darn near perfect.

5. Was Judas (a man who outwardly must have displayed some measure of faith) a true believer? I assume he gave up a lot to follow Jesus for three years.

Obviously not. But did he really display as much faith as we think? We are told little, but John knew that he stole from the money purse. He may not have seemed that good of a guy. We don't really know, we are told very very little.

6. What about the Pope or mother Theresa?

I think it is very possible that either are/were saved but I don't know. Even if I disagree with their theology, I recognize that it is not correct theology that saves a person (see James 2) but God saves a person. I can't answer this question from a human perspective either because I don't know their hearts. I'm more optimistic about Mother Theresa than I am about the average Baptist.

7. Why is it written, "They went out from us because they were not of us (1 John 2:19)?"

Because those false teachers that left the faith were never truly believers. But here's a better and more relevant question that I cannot answer, maybe you can: Did they know that they were not truly believers? Does anyone?

8. What did Paul mean when he rebuked the Galatians in chapter 3 for thinking that they needed to do something to keep their salvation?

That they were wrong to pervert the gospel by thinking that they had to follow the OTL in order to be saved.


I wasn't advocating works salvation in my last blog. Nor was I questioning the Scriptures. I hope it didn't sound that way. I was merely asking questions that were prompted by, yes, my experiences that do not seem to be clearly answered by Scripture. Here's my question in a nutshell James: Can someone ever really know that they are indeed a true believer? If the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, as you reminded us, how do we know that we aren't deceiving ourselves into thinking that our faith is genuine? If there are those who display, outwardly, evidence that their faith is sincere, yet they fall away, how do we test it? Works, it seems, is an inadequate test.

So for any of you who may have misinterpreted my last post's underlying question here it is more concretely: Can we ever be really assured of our salvation? Does the phrase 'assurance of salvation' even make sense?


Charlie Trimm said...

Interesting questions you leave us with, and some good thinking on the background to the questions. I was wondering if I could perhaps just throw in one further complication: epistemology, the nature of knowing. I'm not real sure I can "know" anything, if we are talking about knowing in a traditional sense of absolute certainty. But I do have a fairly high level of confidence on some things (such as, I haven't jumped off many roofs lately, based on my incomplete assurance of the effectiveness of gravity which might result in gravity not working for a few seconds when I jump). So perhaps "assurance of salvation" relates to knowing things in a more postmodern atmosphere: a spectrum (more assured, less assured, etc.) rather than a dichotomy (know, don't know). Just a thought.

Pastor Phil Perry said...

Charlie, you walk the fine line of truth and certainty carefully. What I would interject is this. Only truth in all of the universe is God. As we move from him, we move into uncertainty and therefore untruth (error). Pr Matt has correctly (and orthodoxically posited) that it is God that saves and secures; no prayer, or system of belief does this. From a human (and postmodern) perspective, we can not fully know truth--funny how the Greeks struggled with the same thing, guess Ecclesiastes is right. But we can know God, who is all truth; therefore we know by knowing God. I believe the whole book of I John was written to debunk gnosticism and confirm beleivers in the faith. Know God (and therefore your salvation) by knowing God (demonstrated by our works). The heart is wicked and we can be self-deceived; we must come back to the surety of scripture and the confimation of the Holy Spirit.

theone withabeard said...

It's easy, Matt. God said it, I believe it, that settles it. What's the big deal *sticking tongue in cheek*

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul