Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Soul SearchingWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this web comic by Adam4d.com. The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” was new to me, so I did a bit of digging. What I found was that the concept describes very well what I believed before I came to know Christ.

What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?

The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (or MTD) was coined by American sociologist Christian Smith in his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. What Smith found was that many if not most self-identified Christian young people he surveyed did not hold to the traditional beliefs of any particular church or denomination, but their theology instead boiled down to a handful of beliefs he dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:”

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith concluded from his research that, when it came to the most fundamental questions of faith and beliefs, most adolescents reacted with, “Whatever.” Yet, they all seemed to have some vague, basic beliefs. Most believe in a moralistic god who wants people to be good; a therapeutic god who wants people to feel good about themselves; and a deistic god who is “out there somewhere” but not especially involved in people’s everyday lives.

Smith primarily identified MTD with youth in American churches, but, from my experience, it’s not just a youth thing. Many of the religious adults I know are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. Most of so-called “liberal Christianity” is in reality a form of MTD.

Is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism the same as Christianity?

MTDgodMoralistic Therapeutic Deism is just a fancy name for religious humanism. It’s the theology of American liberalism, of Oprah and Joel Osteen. MTD denies fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, original sin, personal salvation, and Hell. To a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist, the Gospel is about how God loves everyone and wants us to be the good people he created us to be, rather than that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It teaches that good people who do good things go to Heaven, rather than that “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

MTD is not Biblical Christianity. It cannot save a person from Hell. All it does is fools people into feeling good about themselves, without dealing with the reality that each of us is separated from God because of sin – a separation that can only be reconciled by the blood of Jesus Christ.

My personal conversion from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I grew up in a liberal denomination. A typical Sunday sermon was little more than a pep talk to go out and be a good person. I believed in God, but God was an impersonal spirit out there somewhere, who created everything good, and wanted everyone to love each other and get along. I cannot remember ever hearing in church that I am a sinner in need of salvation. Hell was a place reserved only for the truly evil people like Hitler if it existed at all. My religious purpose was to be a good person, to feel good about myself, and to help others be good and feel good. This, to me, was what Christianity was all about.

I remember during freshman orientation week in college taking a survey. The survey contained many questions about my political, religious, and social views. Two questions buried among the hundreds on the survey, I remember quite well: Do you consider yourself a Christian? Do you consider yourself a born-again Christian? I answered yes to the first, but no to the second. To me, being a Christian was about being moral, feeling good about myself and others, and belief in God. “Born again” Christians were legalistic nut cases.

In reality, my theology was extremely shallow. I gave very little thought to what I believed, and even less to why I believed it. “All you need is love” pretty much summed up my theology.

My theology (or lack thereof) was shattered by the simple question, “Who is Jesus?”

I realized that if Jesus was just a man, then the cross was nonsense. But, if Jesus is God in the flesh, then the cross was the most important event in history. If Jesus was just a man, then “all you need is love” is a nice sentiment, but nothing more. But, if Jesus is truly God, then “all you need is love” is just flat-out wrong.

I came to realize that my sin separated me from God and that only God in the flesh as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, could pay the penalty for my sin. I placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I came to realize that, while God does want people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, being good cannot get me into Heaven. My purpose in life isn’t to be happy and make others happy; it’s to know Jesus and point others to Him. God is only distant for people who don’t know Him. For those who are saved, the Holy Spirit lives in us and is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives.

I came to reject MTD and to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Why is any of this important?

“Why is all of this so tragic? Because MTD is not Christianity. It’s not even a version of Christianity.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a false religion created by and for members of the most rich, catered, defensive, politically-correct, over-protected, over-nurtured, over-fed society the world has ever known, and the fact that it uses the name Jesus and various select Christian buzzwords allows it to be passed off as Christianity.

It has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. It’s not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t teach it. Paul wouldn’t recognize it.

And yet it calls itself Christianity and it’s taught every Sunday by pastors in church buildings all over the place.” adam4d.com/mtd/

How many of us have loved ones who subscribe to MTD? How many of our friends think they’re Christians, but aren’t, and are on the path to Hell?

What about yourself? Do you subscribe to the feel-good, do good distant god? Or do you know the God who sent His only begotten Son to die for your sin? Do you believe you’re basically a good person, or a sinner who needs a Savior?

Make sure you know the Truth. There are eternal consequences if you don’t.

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Thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling on Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage BarsThis past Friday, the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Time will tell, but I believe that this ruling, along with Roe v. Wade, and a few others, will lead to the eventual downfall of the United States. Judgement Day is coming, and I believe God’s judgement has already begun.

How should Bible-believing Christians respond?

First, Christians must reject hatred of homosexuals and their supporters. We must hate sin, but show the love of Christ to sinners. It’s easy to forget that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We need to understand that not all who claim to be Christian are actually born-again followers of Jesus Christ, and that many saved Christians are spiritually immature, and are easily deceived by Satan’s lies. We need to remember that we, too, still sin, and we, too, need to seek forgiveness daily from our Lord and Savior for the sins we still commit. We need to “remove the plank” from our own eyes before we try to “remove the speck” from someone else’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5). The Bible 070812_0138_pushingpeop1clearly teaches homosexual activity as sin, describing it as an abomination. Followers of Christ must not compromise this truth. However, we must also not compromise Christ’s love. Christ-followers need to speak the truth, in love. We can use the issue as a means to open discussion to share the Gospel with the lost.

I’ve been a bit dismayed by the number of self-professing Christians who have come out on social media as supporting gay marriage. Dismayed, but generally not surprised, although some of the individuals have been a bit surprising. There are many people who profess Christianity, but who don’t actually know Jesus, and the issue of gay marriage seems to be rooting a lot of them out. This is not to say that someone who supports gay marriage is necessarily unsaved, but it certainly has brought a lot of the pretenders out into the open, and shown the spiritual immaturity and confusion of many who profess to follow Christ.

What is Marriage?

Perhaps Christ-followers need to understand how marriage is actually defined. There are two kinds:

  1. Biblical Marriage: Christian marriage was created by God, and is described in Genesis 1 and 2, and affirmed elsewhere in the Bible. Biblical marriage is between one man and one women – both being believers – and lasts a lifetime. Each leaves father and mother, and cleaves to the other. The purpose of a Biblical covenant marriage is to imitate redemptive covenant between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This definition has been ordained by God since the beginning of creation, and will never change.
  2. State Marriage: This form of marriage is a contractual status given by secular governing bodies for legal purposes. The definition of what constitutes state marriage will change as the culture changes, and legal challenges force it to change.

The first kind of marriage is a covenant between Believers, approved by God. The second is a secular legal status.

weddingThe difference between these two kinds of marriage illustrates how, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are no longer part of this world. We are no longer to define ourselves and our beliefs according to the opinions of men, but according to the Word of God.

Those who have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ cannot understand the things of God. They cannot comprehend their own sin. They do not have the Holy Spirit in their lives to guide them. We cannot expect them to act in a godly manner, because the truth is not in them (John 8:31-32). We should not be shocked or surprised that gay marriage is apparently now the law of the land; it’s completely consistent for lost people to embrace all sorts of sin.

A Question Regarding Bible-Believing Pastors

Is it time for Bible-believing pastors to give up their state approved licenses to marry?

I’m not really sure what the answer is to this question.

One of the biggest legal challenges for pastors and churches that will probably come out of the Supreme Court decision will be the legal status of churches that refuse to perform homosexual marriages. One possible solution would be for pastors to voluntarily give up their licensure to perform legally recognized weddings.

Do we really need the secular state to recognize a practice in the church that it can never understand?

Biblical marriage is from God, not from the state. Back in the day, churches performed weddings and recognized marriages long before governments issued legal documents and recognized status. This wouldn’t stop Christians from registering with the government later to get legal status and tax benefits. Biblical marriage is like baptism or ordination. A baptism does not need to be recognized or registered with the secular government, nor does ordination. Most ordained pastors do register in order to gain certain legal benefits, but it’s not required. Why should Christians be required to register marriages? And, why should pastors be required to be licensed by the government to perform a Biblical practice?

I wholeheartedly agree that it is sin for people to live together and have sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage. But, which definition of marriage applies? For the follower of Jesus Christ, it’s only God’s definition that matters, not the secular definition.

Something to think about. Comments are welcome, as long as they are kept civil.

 

Thanks to Steve Ham for the Facebook post that inspired this post!

Mercy and Compassion Toward Gays

inigo-montoyaIn reading comments and blogs by so-called “liberal” Christians on LGBT issues, I have noticed a common thread: Many of the arguments are based on the belief that in order to show homosexuals mercy and compassion, Christians cannot condemn homosexual behavior, but must accept their behavior as normal. They argue, gays cannot help being gay, so the merciful, compassionate thing to do is to accept them for who they are.

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya in the classic movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”

What is Mercy?

According to Merriam-Webster.com, mercy is:

1
a
:  compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; also
:  lenient or compassionate treatment <begged for mercy>
b
:  imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder

2
a
:  a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion
b
:  a fortunate circumstance <it was a mercy they found her before she froze>

3
:  compassionate treatment of those in distress <works of mercy among the poor>

Let’s consider the primary definition first. Mercy is “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender…” Mercy is shown to someone who is guilty. Mercy cannot be shown toward someone who is innocent.

If you appeared in court on a charge of shoplifting, and were found to be innocent, it would make no sense for the judge to say, “I have found you innocent; but I am going to show you mercy, and let you go.” It would only make sense for the judge to show mercy if you had been found guilty.

To argue that Christians must accept homosexuality as normal (not a sin) in order to show mercy, is like arguing that a judge must declare shoplifting to not be a crime in order to show mercy to a shoplifter. Such an argument demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of mercy.

What is compassion?

All three definitions of the word mercy include the word compassion or compassionate. What does compassion mean? Again, according to Merriam-Webster.com, compassion is:

: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

In the case of homosexuality, what the source of this distress? From the perspective of those who try to justify homosexuality, the distress is caused by society’s refusal to accept gays for who they are. If society would simply accept homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and embrace gay marriage, the distress would be alleviated.

I must respectfully disagree with this assessment. True, many homosexuals have been bullied, attacked, and rejected, often by self-righteous Christians. This is where the third definition of mercy applies: compassionate treatment of those in distress. Bullying gays is clearly wrong, and shows a complete lack of true mercy and compassion by those who perpetrate such actions. However, there is a much deeper source of distress for homosexuals. It’s called sin. All sin separates people from God, whether it’s homosexuality, adultery, pride, arrogance, hatred, lack of compassion and mercy, or gluttony. All sin needs to be alleviated. The only true alleviation for sin comes from Jesus Christ, who died in our place to take our guilt upon Himself. True compassion for the homosexual, or anyone else, for that matter, means confronting them with their sin and showing them Jesus Christ. The distress of sin can only be alleviated through repentance and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is where the second definition of mercy applies: a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.

To argue that compassion requires accepting homosexuality is to misunderstand both the meaning of compassion and the seriousness of sin.

How should Christians show mercy and compassion to homosexuals?

There are several points that should be kept in mind as a follower of Jesus Christ in order to show compassion and mercy to homosexuals:

  1. James 5.11Homosexual acts need to be recognized as sin. The Bible clearly teaches that homosexual acts are sin (Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 1:7; and others). Don’t listen to those professing “Christians” trying to convince you that the Church has been misinterpreting Scripture for 2,000 years and that the Bible really doesn’t actually condemn homosexual behavior. Yes, it does. Read it yourself, and trust God’s Word, not people’s opinions about God’s Word.
  2. All have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23). Embracing homosexuality is no different than embracing any other sin. All sin separates us from God. You and I are just as much sinners as any homosexual, and we all need the Savior.
  3. Combat anti-gay hatred. Christians should be deeply troubled about people being bullied for being gay and do all we can to combat it. In fact, Christians should be leading the way by showing Christ’s love to homosexuals.
  4. Be willing to admit that we don’t fully understand homosexuality. All sin is highly addictive; acknowledge that those who struggle with homosexuality may not have any control over who they’re attracted to. Isn’t that the point? We cannot control sin. Some people are compulsive liars; others have chemical or eating addictions. Others are addicted to other types of illicit sex, or power, or wealth. Some of us are addicted to pride. Everyone has areas of sin in their life, and none of us can stop it. There are undoubtedly deep psychological issues involved with many homosexuals, and there is much we still don’t know.
  5. Share the love of Jesus Christ. Get to know homosexuals the same as you would anyone. Build relationships. Make friends! Invite them into your homes and churches, go into their homes, share meals, have deep discussions, go to ballgames, whatever. Accept these people – not their actions – as you would anyone, and love them unconditionally, as Christ loves you.
  6. Share the Gospel. The only solution for homosexuality, or any other sin, is the grace of Jesus Christ. The most merciful and compassionate thing we can do for a gay person, or any other person, is to explain how to obtain God’s mercy and compassion through the blood of Christ.

When followers of Jesus unwaveringly hold to the truth of Christ, while extending the love of Christ to the lost, including gays, hearts can be softened and changed. While Christians must be adamant about extending mercy, compassion, and a humble attitude toward the gay community, it’s also imperative that we be just as adamant about standing firmly in the truth. Homosexuality, like any sin, destroys our relationship with our loving Creator. Mercy and compassion do not mean denying the truth. The most merciful and compassionate thing we can do is to share the truth about sin and the truth of the Gospel, while loving the sinner, as Christ first loved us.

Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?

A February 22, 2013 blog by Stephen McCaskell on patheos.com entitled “Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?” highlights the primary reason I am not a Calvinist. This is my response to McCaskell’s article.

cross-earthOne of the biggest dilemmas of Calvinism is, how can a loving God elect some people for eternity in Hell? If God chooses who is saved, and who is condemned, then God must not love all people. As McCaskell admits, “It would seem that it’s not exactly the easiest thing to reconcile the doctrine of election and God’s universal love.”

Some Calvinists see no problem here. They believe God loves the elect, but hates the non-elect. But in order to do this, they must twist the clear teaching of Scripture. If this view were correct, John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever God elects will believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.” However, that’s not what it says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Other Calvinists, such as McCaskell, cannot ignore the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s love is universal. This creates the paradox that God loves the very people He sends to Hell. McCaskell explains his solution to this paradox:

In the Scriptures we read of God’s amazing love towards sinners, but normally it’s towards his people, the elect. Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. If he loved everyone in a saving manner, then all would be saved. But we know this is not true. Not all are saved.

Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. This solution to the paradox is even more problematic than the paradox itself. McCaskell simply redefines God’s love in a way that is obviously nonsensical. Note some of the comments posted on his blog page:

Sagrav says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:04 am
A love that sits by passively as you are tortured for eternity is a hollow thing indeed.

Sharon says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:28 am
Your definition of love is morally bankrupt if you can say with a straight face that God both loves and chooses some people for damnation.

So, what’s the answer to this paradox?

The problem with Calvinism is that it’s based on a logical fallacy. According to every Calvinist I’ve read or talked to about the subject:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, free will cannot exist.

The fallacy is in point 3. Free will does not take away from God’s sovereignty. God can, and does, remain entirely sovereign, while at the same time granting Mankind free will. Free will is the essence of what it means to be created in the image of God. No other creatures have the ability to make moral choices. God created Mankind in His image so that we would be capable of having a love relationship with Him. Without free will, love is impossible. Love must be chosen, or it’s not really love. God made the sovereign choice to give Mankind the gift of free will in order to allow us to have a love relationship with Him. This in no way detracts from or diminishes His sovereignty, but in fact, affirms it.

How do we reconcile God’s universal love and the reality of eternal damnation? It is only because of Mankind’s free will that this paradox is avoided. God gives everyone the universal invitation to be saved. Those who accept God’s invitation are saved; those who reject it are damned:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

Calvinism falsely teaches that Mankind cannot choose to accept or reject the Gospel, and this is heresy.


On a side note, ironically, Armenianism (the opposite of Calvinism), is based on the same logical fallacy, but with a different conclusion. According to Armenian thinking:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, God is not totally sovereign.

This logic is based on the same fallacy as Calvinism, and the conclusion is equally heretical.

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 3

Losing Your Salvation, or Conditional Preservation of the Saints

According to some, once a person is saved – they have repented of their sin, placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and received eternal life – it is possible for them to lose that salvation.  This is the Arminian belief that believers are preserved by God in their saving relationship with Him upon the condition of a persevering faith in Christ. If a Christian stops believing, they are no longer saved.

This makes no sense to me.

In order to analyze this position, one must first understand exactly what happens to a person when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior.

Why does a person need to be saved in the first place?  In Genesis, God created humankind (Adam and Eve) to live sinless lives in a perfect relationship with Him.  However, they sinned, and that sin has been passed to all of humanity (Romans 5:12).  Sin separates us from God.  We are all born condemned because of sin (Romans 5:18).

How does a person get saved?  Romans 10:9-10 states, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  John 1:12 says, “12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name,”  and John 3:16 says, “16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  So, salvation is based on believing in Jesus Christ and His resurrection, and receiving His forgiveness.

What happens to a person when they are saved?  First, the penalty for the person’s sins is removed, and placed on Jesus Christ, Who paid the penalty for sin on the cross.  Second, they are “born again” (John 3:3-8). When a person is born, their spirit – the part of us that connects us to God – is dead.  When we are saved, our spirit is brought to life.  This is eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Third, at the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer; he or she is then sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  The person becomes a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The new Christian undergoes an instantaneous transformation from death to eternal life.  He or she is instantaneously changed from guilty to innocent before God, and immediately saved against the wrath of God.  They are immediately placed into God’s family, and are instantly given the Holy Spirit within them who will guide and direct them.  But, the new Christian does not become instantaneously perfect and sinless. They are still trapped in a fallen, sinful body, with fallen, sinful minds.    But, the process of becoming like Christ – called sanctification – begins immediately.  Christians don’t receive new, perfect bodies and perfect, sinless minds until we arrive in Eternity.

There are numerous Bible passages that allude to salvation being permanent and unable to be lost.  Here is a partial list (links provided for context verification or translation change):

  • John 6:35-37  35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
  • John 10:27-29  27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  • Romans 11:29  29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
  • Ephesians 1:13-14  13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 whois the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
  • Hebrews 9:11-15 But Christ came as High Priest … with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
  • 1 John 5:11-13  11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

There are several passages that seem to indicate a Christian can lose their salvation.  Under closer scrutiny, each passage can easily be understood to either refer to persons who were never saved in the first place, or refer to something other than salvation.  Here are two of the most problematic:

Hebrews 6:4-6  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

The first question is, what is the context?  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians of the first century.  The author has just completed a discussion of spiritual immaturity.  He then continues by discussing the consequences of not progressing from immaturity to maturity.

What does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean?  Some would argue that it means Christians can lose their salvation – “fall away” – and can never be again saved.  I disagree; in fact, I believe the author is arguing exactly the opposite.  It appears to me that he is arguing that since it would be impossible for someone to be saved again if they lost their salvation, it is therefore impossible to lose one’s salvation.  In context, the author is arguing that spiritual immaturity cannot result in a loss of salvation!  The author continues in verse 9:  “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation.”  He is saying that what he just talked about – losing one’s salvation – does not apply to them.  In verse 11, he mentions “the full assurance of hope until the end” – eternal security!  In verse 19, he states that “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Again, our hope – salvation – is an “anchor” that is “sure and steadfast” – eternal.

Another key verse that some claim says that Christians can lose their salvation is Hebrews 10:26:  “26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  The question is, to whom is this referring?  The saved, or the unsaved?  I contend that receiving “knowledge of the truth” is not the same as being saved.  Many people understand the Gospel message, but reject it.  These are the people Hebrews 10:26 talks about.  The author is saying that when a person fully understands the Gospel, yet consciously rejects Jesus Christ anyway, it makes no difference that they understand.  Belief is more than mere intellectual assent; it involves receiving and applying the truth to one’s life.

There are several other passages that proponents of conditional preservation point to in order to support their position, but a closer examination of each shows that the texts either do not refer to salvation, or else refer to the unsaved, not the saved.

With all of this background information in mind, let us now consider the possibility of losing one’s salvation from a logical viewpoint.  How can a person who has been “born again” become “unborn” again?  How can eternal life become temporary?  If the penalty for sin has been removed by Jesus Christ on the cross, does Jesus give it back to the person if they stop believing?  How can a person who has been eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit become unsealed?

When a person is saved, there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The human spirit, which is born dead, is brought to life.  For a person to lose their salvation would mean that they would have to spiritually die again.  The fundamental change known as being “born again” and becoming a “new creation” would have to be reversed.  The Holy Spirit would have to leave them.  And, according to Hebrews 6:4-6, they could never again be saved.

The Christian is promised eternal life upon trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.  If this can be lost, then it isn’t eternal.  If a Christian could lose their salvation, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in and remains obedient to Him should not perish but have everlasting life, as long as they continue to believe and remain obedient.”  However, that’s not what it says.

What then of those who have professed to be Christians, but later deny Jesus Christ?  I see two possibilities.  By far, the most common view is that they were never truly saved in the first place.  Many people have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, but never actually put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I believe these are the people Hebrews 6:4-6 talks about.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

How horrible it will be for those who understood the Gospel, but never received Jesus Christ as Savior!

The second possibility is considerably more controversial.  I believe there are some true born-again Christians who later change their minds, but are still destined for heaven nonetheless.  I believe some people can come to true faith and trust in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life, but at some later time are deceived by Satan, and intellectually conclude that Christianity is false.  Perhaps they backslide to the point where they no longer care; or perhaps they suffer a hurt so deeply that they blame God, and want nothing more to do with Him.  Whatever the circumstances, they are deceived into the intellectual conclusion that Christianity is false.  However, since they are eternally saved, and have eternally received the Holy Spirit, they will still go to Heaven when they die.  And, since they still are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who continues to convict them of their sin and unbelief, they are probably the most miserable people on the face of the earth.  Some of the so-called “angry atheists” may fall into this category.  The only way they can maintain their intellectual atheism is by actively ranting and persecuting anything related to God, the Bible, and Christianity.  I do not think there are many who fall into this category, because it would be extremely difficult for a person to deny the Holy Spirit when He lives inside of them, but I think there are some that do.  How extremely miserable they must be!

In conclusion, I do not understand the belief that a Christian can lose their salvation.  I understand where the belief comes from; but, I don’t understand how it makes any sense whatsoever.  As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12, “for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”  If eternal life can be lost, then it wasn’t eternal life to begin with.

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 2

Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.

There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand.  I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines.  If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.

The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.

I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines.  The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs.  My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation.  I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons.  This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.  Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.

These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it.  If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved.  Human beings have no choice in the matter.

There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic.  Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice.  It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.

The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines:  what happens to the unelected?  If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved.  If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity.  God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world.  The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving.  How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption?  How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell?  Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone?  How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?”  This makes no sense to me!

It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible.  I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me.  Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin.  The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined.  How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?

If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.”  The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.

BibleThe Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices.  It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time.  It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite.  There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.

If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding.  Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 1

“The King James Bible is the ONLY Inerrant Bible”

There are several theological positions held by Christians that make no sense to me.  This is the first in a series exploring these beliefs. I am NOT arguing that these beliefs are necessarily wrong – I’m just raising questions for which I have not been able to find a reasonable explanation.  If a good explanation exists, I’d love to see it.

There are a number of Christians who hold to the “King James Only” position – the belief that the King James Bible is the only Bible that should be used.  There are two main versions of this position:

  1. The King James Bible is the only Bible that should be used, because it is the best translation.
  2. The King James Bible is the only Bible that should be used, because it is the only inerrant translation.

The first position is less difficult to me, because it is largely an opinion.  Such a position does not exclude all other translations, nor claim inerrancy for the King James Bible.

The second position is quite problematic.  There are two imbedded claims that need to be evaluated:

  1. The King James Bible is inerrant.  It contains no errors.
  2. No other English Bible is inerrant.  All other translations contain errors.

The second claim follows logically, IF the first claim is true.  There are differences between the King James Bible and all other translations, so if the King James is inerrant, then the others must contain errors.  Every argument I have ever seen defending the “King James is the only inerrant Bible” position focuses almost completely on this point.

The first claim, that the King James is inerrant, is a claim for which I have never found a cogent explanation.

I don’t understand:

  1. There are several different texts used in Bible translation.  How do we know the texts upon which the King James was based are inerrant?
  2. How can any translation be inerrant, since we don’t know what some Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible actually mean?  How could they have been translated correctly?  For example, the Hebrew word תיבת or teiveh only appears twice in the Old Testament.  It is the word for Noah’s ark, and the word for Moses’ baby basket.  Nobody knows exactly what it means, though.
  3. A related problem is that there are many Hebrew and Greek words for which we do know the meaning, but there is no corresponding English word with exactly the same meaning.  How can any translation in any language be inerrant?
  4. Even if it were possible to have a perfect, inerrant translation – how do we know it’s the King James?
  5. Even if the King James Bible was inerrant in 1611, when it was written, how can it be inerrant now, since the English language has changed so much in the last 400 years?  Many English words do not mean the same thing in today’s English as they did in 1611 English.

I’ve looked for a cogent explanation supporting the “King James is the only inerrant Bible” position, but have yet to find one.  Every argument I’ve seen is either completely arbitrary or entirely circular.  If any of my readers can point me to a logically sound explanation detailing why the King James Bible is inerrant, I’d love to see it.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to file this under, “Theological Positions I Don’t Understand.”