Exposition of Romans 3:27–28 Doing something differs from receiving something

One of the biggest barriers to fully accepting God’s way of saving us is that it does not involve the performance of actions over which we have control. Both in Jewish and Christian history, there has been a persistent tendency to create systems of works related to salvation. For example, some Christian groups make water baptism or attendance at mass into requirements that must be met to attain salvation.

But God has rejected salvation by works and replaced it with salvation by his gracious gift, which we may receive through faith in Jesus Christ. By this means, even the thief nailed to the cross next to Jesus was able to receive salvation through his faith apart from works (Luke 23:39–43).

(ESV) Romans 3:27–28  Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Thomas Schreiner explains the meaning of these two verses: “Since righteousness is based on faith in what God has accomplished in Christ (verses 21–26) and not human works, boasting is ruled out.”[1]

Consider the NET’s translation of Rom. 3:27: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded!” The initial word where expresses the Greek adverb pou, an adverb of place. The same adverb occurs in Matt. 2:2 when the wise men from the east asked King Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They were asking for a place.

This spatial language inspires a model of what Paul is saying. Imagine a sphere whose interior volume represents faith in Jesus Christ as the means of receiving righteousness from God. Any boasting about human effort belongs outside that sphere; human works and their associated boasting have nothing to do with righteousness from God. They are excluded from the sphere of salvation by faith.

Many of us have seen an analogy of this in Sumo wrestling, a sport popular in Japan. The sumo match takes place within a ring 15 feet in diameter. The match is won when one wrestler forces the other out of the ring. In the same way, faith pushes boasting and works right out of the circle of the gospel.

Paul is certainly not attacking the Law of Moses (see 3:31). Instead, he is restating his teaching that righteousness from God is “by faith from first to last” (Rom. 1:17, NIV).

Romans 3:28 plays an important role in Christian history. Martin Luther (1483–1546 AD) was expelled from the Roman Catholic Church in part for his stand in defense of justification before God by “faith alone” (Latin sola fide). When Luther translated the New Testament into German, he rendered 3:28 with the phrase “faith alone,” and that became one of the rally-slogans for the Protestant Reformation. There were others: “Christ alone” and “grace alone,” for example.

Insofar as these Reformation slogans highlight Christ and faith and grace because of the emphasis the Bible places on them, they serve a constructive spiritual purpose. However, slogans forged in religious conflict can distort the biblical picture as well. It does not take much thought to realize that faith cannot truly be alone without slighting both Christ and grace.

There is another danger: the potential for overemphasis on faith that discourages both love and kindness. Schreiner supports Schlatter who says, “The effect of the glorification of faith, the sola, was disastrous if it meant the truncation of life that separates action from it [i.e. from faith] and leaves behind nothing but faith.”[2] This is exactly the kind of abstract, loveless faith that the apostle James spoke against in James 2:14–26.

But such potential problems pale in comparison to the advances made by the Reformation in helping the people understand God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Historian Stephen Osment describes those the Reformation attempted to enlighten: “Full, unconditional forgiveness of sin and assurance of salvation were utterly foreign concepts to medieval theology and religious practice.”[3]

Paul has reached his conclusion (“we hold” 3:28). Doing something, even actions compliant with the Law of Moses, may result in empty boasting, because no one keeps the law or puts God under obligation. Only by receiving God’s grace — his merciful gift — through faith in Jesus Christ may a person be declared righteous in God’s sight.

Grace and works are different

The idea of working for salvation easily crosses over into other abuses. Martin Luther fought against the sale of indulgences, a paper making a spiritual promise issued in exchange for compensation. Luther (Thesis 27) objected to one sales pitch which claimed, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” But God’s blessing, mercy and justice are not for sale!

1. How do we get confused about working to make a grade or get a paycheck and believe similar work is needed to earn salvation? How does this blur the line between cultural ideas and biblical truth?

2. Perhaps the opposite of working for salvation is the complete disregard of salvation either by faith or by works. Who among your non-Christian friends employs such a strategy? What can be done about it?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8–9, ESV).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 200.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 203, footnote 5, citing A. Schlatter, Romans, Trans. S.S. Schatzmann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995) 104.

[3] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform: 1250–1550 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980) 216.

Books: The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith

Roger E. Olson, a church historian and theologian at Baylor University, is conducting an illuminating dialogue on his blog concerning the book The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. Smith is Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and he identifies himself as a former evangelical who has now joined the Roman Catholic Church, partly because of the issues he raises in his book.[1]

Obviously, Smith has given his book a provocative title. That action appears to imitate the sad and blasphemous trend championed by such enemies of the Bible as Bart Ehrman (with titles like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Misquoting Jesus: The story Behind who changed the Bible and why) and atheist Christopher Dawkins (The God Delusion). In saying that, I do not question the Christian faith of the author, just his wisdom.

At least outwardly, Smith wrote this book to attack what he calls biblicism. You probably want to know what he means by that term. I’m sorry you asked, because the answer is way too long. (Smith tends to unload everything in the truck in an apparent attempt to overwhelm the reader or critic.) Rather than giving you a data dump from the book, I will summarize each point in my own words.

Biblicism, according to Smith[2], consists of ten assumptions about the Bible — which I have greatly simplified — including its interpretation and its application:

  • Divine Writing: The words of the Bible are exactly what God wanted to say to us.
  • Total Representation: The Bible alone contains all that God has to say to us.
  • Complete Coverage: The Bible addresses every issue relevant to Christian faith and life.
  • Democratic Perspicuity: Christians can correctly understand the plain meaning of the Bible’s content simply by reading.
  • Commonsense Hermeneutics: The best way to understand the Bible is to accept the text’s most obvious literal sense, sometimes considering the original cultural context and sometimes not.
  • Solo Scriptura [a needless variant of the Sola Scriptura phrase (“The Bible alone”) of the Protestant Reformers]: Theology may be derived directly from the biblical text without regard for conclusions reached in church history.
  • Internal Harmony: All of the Bible’s statements about any theological subject may be harmonized.
  • Universal Applicability: What the Bible says to God’s people at any time is universally valid for all Christians, unless later revoked.
  • Inductive Method: Careful study of the entire Bible will allow the reader to discover the correct beliefs and practices.
  • Handbook Model: Using the Bible, the reader can assemble a complete handbook for Christian belief and practice on many subjects, “including science, economics, health, politics, and romance.”[3]

What is Smith’s complaint?

Smith believes the assumptions sketched above — collectively called “biblicism” — are held by as many as one hundred million American Christians.[4] Since he rejects all ten assumptions, Smith is greatly disturbed by that prospect.

Smith identifies the biggest problem with the form of Bible interpretation called biblicism to be “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (chapter 1). Smith says, “The very same Bible — which biblicists insist is perspicuous [clear] and harmonious — gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest.”[5] In the remainder of this post, I will abbreviate “pervasive interpretive pluralism” as PIP.

Concerns about Smith’s critique

When I look at the specific way Smith has worded the assumptions that he says amount to biblicism, I find myself in agreement with only one of them, possibly two. So, my biblicism score is low even though my respect for the Bible could not be greater! Here are some other concerns.

First, I consider it disingenuous that Smith hammers evangelical Protestantism for PIP when the same theological diversity can readily be found within the ranks of his new faith, Roman Catholicism. Smith admits as much but buries the admission in the massed chapter notes at the back of the book (page 180, note 9). Smacks a bit of currying favor with his new management!

Second, I am a lot less concerned about PIP than Smith is. When I am reading Douglas Moo’s fine commentary on Romans and he describes ten different views that have been held about some Bible verse through the ages, it does not lead me to run screaming into the night and wailing about disunity. Sorry. As I read the Gospels, there seems to have been a divergence of viewpoints even among the twelve who walked with Jesus. Peter and Paul had some disagreements. Why does this diversity cause Smith such panic?

Third, the use of many quotes from evangelical doctrinal statements and other position papers to establish a baseline of belief seems misguided. It has unfortunately been a longstanding trait of human beings, Christian or not, to oversell their ideas. Reading a long doctrinal statement is often like reading the platform of a political party. Doctrinal statements are not the Bible, and they serve a limited purpose.

Fourth, Smith defines biblicism in such a way that it seems unlikely to fit very many of the people who call themselves evangelicals. I agree with Roger Olson that fundamentalists are Smith’s primary target. Yet Smith speaks as if the definition fits a much larger group of people (“perhaps as many as a hundred million” page 6).

Fifth, I must agree with Smith about the lame idea of using the Bible as a handbook for everything (cooking, exercise, health, cosmology, etc.). Some Christian publishers and bookstores are a scandal in that they offer so much theological junk!

Sixth, I don’t understand why anyone would think the Bible is easy to understand, no matter who said so! Even the Apostle Peter said some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). When I have Peter’s comment on the subject, not even Calvin and Luther can change my mind.

All in all, Smith has made a few cogent points, but I see a swarm of problems. As we work further into the book it will be interesting to see if the magic solution is to allow some higher authority — say, for example, the Roman Catholic Church — to get rid of PIP by telling us the one authoritative interpretation for each Bible passage. No thanks!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.



[1] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011) xiii.

[2] Smith, Impossible, 4–5.

[3] Smith, Impossible, 5.

[4] Smith, Impossible, 6.

[5] Smith, Impossible, 17.

Review of NIV 2011 by Daniel Wallace

In late July, 2011, Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary completed a four-part review of the NIV 2011, the latest major entry in English Bible translations. It is well worth your time to read his views. I forewarn you that when you first land on his blog, Dan’s picture makes him look like a Scottish mullah — however unlikely you find that description. Don’t let that stop you!

In Part 1, Dan provides a brief history of English Bible translation in order to set the NIV 2011 in its historical context. That is a helpful way to begin, especially for those who have no knowledge of trends in the production of such translations. Please don’t be one of those people who think history does not matter, because this field would prove you wrong.

In Part 2, Dan gives his now-familiar spiel on how literal translation is totally inadequate for idioms, and I suppose he does so to forestall those who demand that a translation always be literal. His argument is convincing, though it fails to address the legitimacy of less-than-literal translation in the vast territory outside of idioms.

One key statement says, “The primary focus of the NIV 2011 is an accurate translation (more on this later), and one has to admit that they have accomplished this objective admirably.” Another summary conclusion says: “The scholarship behind the NIV 2011 is probably as good as it gets. And the textual basis [Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic text within the Bible] is both bold and exceptionally accurate.” This is high praise from someone of Wallace’s standing among textual critics.

In Part 3, Dan discusses weaknesses of NIV 2011. The most important finding, in my opinion, is stated this way: “In this instance [1 Tim. 3:2], as in many instances throughout the NIV, I would have preferred that the translators retained a more interpretive-neutral stance as long as the English rendition wasn’t nonsense.”

Wallace offers “husband of one wife,” in 1 Tim. 3:2,  but NIV 2011 has “faithful to his wife.” This translation by NIV 2011 picks a favored interpretation from “a myriad of views.” The translation “husband of one wife” is what Wallace calls “an interpretive-neutral stance,” but the reader who has no skill with New Testament Greek reads the narrower “faithful to his wife” and does not realize that a choice has been made when other viable choices were available. NIV 2011 does not even provide a footnote, which would have been preferable here.

Wallace has some other material you will not want to miss, including a table that compares the NET Bible, NIV 2011, ESV, KJV, RSV, NRSV, RV, ASV and NASB in relation to elegance, accuracy and readability. Fascinating! One thing Dan did not do was to sum up all the scores and see how they stood in relation to each other. Out of a possible 30 points, ESV took the honors with 24, closely trailed by NET Bible and RSV at 23 points and NIV 2011 at 22 points. Remember that I am the one who summed up the points; Dan would probably say that elegance, accuracy and reliability are only three factors among many ways to compare translations. But it was still fun!

In Part 4, Dan puts a nice bow on the package: “As with the handful of other exceptional translations, the NIV 2011 definitely should be one that the well-equipped English-speaking Christian has on his or her shelf, and one that they consult often for spiritual nourishment.”

For what it’s worth, that is my conclusion as well.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Will Rick Perry run for (Christian) President?

Yes.

There has not been any real doubt about this question for months. Consider Perry’s book, cleverly titled Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America from Washington (released November 15, 2010). Ever since Barack Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope (July, 2008) and Dreams from My Father (January, 2007) before the 2008 election, it has become fashionable for presidential candidates to write a book to spell out their vision for America before running for the highest office in America. That’s also why we have Sarah Palin’s books Going Rogue (November, 2009) and America by Heart (November, 2010).

Perry has known for a long time that he planned to run for the presidency. That’s why he moved from Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin — which he and his wife, like George and Laura Bush, had attended since the 1990s —  to Lake Hills Church in Austin. The Dallas Morning News ( 8/7/2011, page 2A) describes Lake Hills Church as “an evangelical megachurch.” Any political advisor who knows evangelicals can tell you that you do not reach evangelicals from Tarrytown Methodist Church. You do reach them from Lake Hills Church in affluent west Austin.

After courting pro-life voters, Perry’s next step in religious terms was the prayer rally which involved 30,000 Christians in his plans. He initiated a prayer gathering called “The Response” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday (8/6/2011). That event was an important step for Perry, who has not formally announced his candidacy, because religious conservatives have a major influence on the Republican primary races in Iowa and South Carolina. Some Christians ate it up and immediately took Perry as their candidate!

It is my assessment that evangelicals are not going to flock to Mitch Romney, a Mormon, when the purported evangelical Rick Perry is running. Michele Bachmann also claims the evangelical mantle, so Perry is trying to gain support at her expense. Of course, spiritual theater is not the only thing evangelical voters think about — consider that my prayer — and a deeper look will have to play out over time. I hope evangelicals see Perry’s maneuvers with a clear vision.

Rick Perry’s performance in Texas will come under careful scrutiny. He is already claiming credit for the relative economic resilience Texas has shown, though his decisions have had little to do with what has happened. For historical reasons, the governorship is not a powerful position in relation to the Texas legislature, but it makes a nice pulpit. (The lieutenant governor actually has more power within the Texas state machinery.)

In my opinion, Perry is not primarily concerned about the cause of Christ; he is mostly concerned about his own prospects. Rick Perry’s election would result in further reaction against Christian faith in America. George W. Bush brought credibility problems — consider the easy access to power by certain Christian leaders in a distinctly Christian White House — and Perry would further harm the way non-Christians look on Christian faith. Non-Christians want a theocratic government about as much as they want rule under Islamic law.

Perry argued passionately that Texas had to cut its spending to avoid the moral taint of putting a debt on our children. He also signed into law cuts of four billion dollars from education funding aimed at preparing those same children for the future. In net terms, Perry took from the children to help the children! That is a mean-spirited and contradictory policy. I see plenty of Tea Party politics in that policy, but no sign of the concern for the poor and the weak that is strongly asserted in the teachings of Christ. Yet these types of decisions are never discussed in relation to the candidate’s asserted Christian faith. It is as if policy decisions are totally isolated from their alleged Christian faith.

Careful readers of this blog already know that I consider the marriage of evangelical faith with the Republican Party to be a grave error by the Christian community. For now, I will cite only two reasons: (1) our primary loyalty must be to Jesus Christ, not to a secular political cause; and (2) the Republican Party cares nothing for major social values expressed clearly by Christ in the New Testament.

Being against abortion and homosexual rights is only half of a loaf. While the Republican Party has a vision for the national debt, it has none for the poor or the elderly. The Bible is clearly immigrant friendly, but the Republican Party wants all undocumented aliens deported as criminals.

To be clear, the Democratic Party is also unworthy of Christian loyalty, but at this writing there is little sign within evangelical circles of that specific misplaced loyalty.

As Christians, we should weigh all issues in making political decisions. To carry out our role as life-managers for Christ, it makes more sense to be political independents than it does to support extremist political parties. They often want to use us to get elected.

It would be far better to spare the cause of Christ in America another detour into vicious, heartless politics.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Books: Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin (Part 1)

Since life is both complex and difficult, we all need a method to search for life’s meaning. Lesslie Newbigin provides a fascinating survey of how that task has been carried out in Europe and America. Newbigin (1909–1998) was a British missionary and pastor whose liberal theology expressed a high view of Christ but a flawed commitment to the reliability of the Bible.

Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) does two things really well. First, he presents a convincing history of how people in the West perceive reality and develop a worldview. Reading the first three chapters reminded me of how excited I felt reading Francis Schaeffer’s cultural analysis for the first time. The second thing Newbigin does well is to summarize the idea of “personal knowledge” developed by the Hungarian scientist Michael Polanyi.

Newbigin sees two streams of thought as combining in Europe and America: (1) the philosophy of classical antiquity (Greece, Rome, Plato and Aristotle), and (2) the history of the people of God mediated through Israel, the Bible and the Christian church. Classical philosophy followed Plato in seeking an ultimate reality of ideas through asking questions (Plato) and analyzing causes (Aristotle). God’s people claim that ultimate reality is knowable through Jesus Christ, God personally with us.

Newbigin makes the interesting point that classical philosophy sought answers by asking questions of (impersonal) nature and our experience; in this approach, questions flow one way. But the Christian viewpoint asks questions within personal relationships with Christ and with other Christians; questions flow both ways. So, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

One important development in the Christian understanding of reality was the slogan of Augustine of Hippo (354-430): “I believe in order to know.” Augustine said that knowledge begins with the faithful acceptance of the fact that God revealed himself in Christ. But Newbigin points out that such personal knowledge involves risk. To gain the knowledge that Christ brings involves a total commitment to him.

In the next post about this book I will try to summarize the ideas of Michael Polanyi and show how they relate to Christian discipleship.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Books: Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley

Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley is an outstanding book, but it is a challenge for anyone not prepared to deal with the twists and turns of Calvinistic theology. If you want to learn about Calvinism and its limitations, this book is outstanding.

For starters, don’t judge this book by the cover, which lacks any appeal whatever. The publisher let the author down; that is a common experience.

Aside from clear writing about a complex subject, the special value of this book is that it tries to explain how Molinism (see below) combines with Calvinism to make a biblical and sensible explanation of salvation and sovereignty. At the end of the day, I don’t buy it, but there was never much chance the author could bring me to the somber shores of Calvinism no matter what boat we sailed on.

Molinism

Let’s take a minute to introduce Molinism (also known as “middle knowledge”). The Jesuit scholar and priest Louis Molina (1535–1600) originated a way of applying God’s comprehensive knowledge to the issues of sovereignty, human freedom and salvation. It’s a bit of a head-spinner, so hang on!

Molinism hinges on the words could, would and will. First, God knows everything that could possibly happen; he knows all possible worlds that could be created. Second, God knows everything that would happen; he knows which worlds — out of all the possible worlds — would accomplish his purposes. Third, out of all the possible worlds that would accomplish God’s purposes, he chooses one and creates that one world. In that one created world, God knows everything that will happen.

Now, let’s stop and ask one simple question: where is any of that stated in the Bible? If you answered “Nowhere!” to that question, then give yourself a reward. Keathley says: “Scripture never states explicitly that God utilizes middle knowledge to accomplish his will. But when all the disparate components of the biblical witness are brought together it becomes clear that Molinism is a reasonable proposal.”[1] The kind of philosophical reasoning such as that in the previous paragraph is typical of the sixteenth century, and here we are talking about it in 2011. See my previous post for more on how that happened.

Back to the story of Molinism — the key to the Molinist argument is a kind of trick typical of this kind of philosophical theology. Because God knows everything that would happen in the possible worlds that would accomplish his purposes, he also knows how humans would behave in those worlds. But because God has not yet selected which world he will ultimately create, the human beings in those worlds are acting freely in making their decisions. That being so, there can be no accusation that anyone other than those people are responsible for their behavior. They have complete free will, so this (hypothetical) fact upholds human freedom. It also means they are responsible for the sins they commit.

Next we get to the final step where God picks the world that best suits his purposes. Once he chooses that world and creates it, he has picked a world where nothing can happen other than what he has chosen. He knows what will happen in that world — our world, by the way — so God is shown to be sovereign over every detail of that world. Yet he cannot be responsible for the sin in that world because the humans inhabiting it freely chose such sins before he chose to create that world.

This clever scheme upholds both human freedom and divine sovereignty. So, I guess it is time to break out the champagne and celebrate. Not so fast! Many Calvinists and Arminians have rejected middle knowledge, each because it makes concessions to the other side of the argument. Some on each side are still trying to work out the issues.

I see several problems with this theory of middle knowledge, at least in the form Keathley describes:

  1. The system is still deterministic enough to leave God responsible for sin.
  2. The created world lacks any life-like dynamism because all the choices were made before the world was created.
  3. The system fails to account for the real-time emotions, actions and contingencies that God initiates in the scenes described by the Bible. A good example is the suffering of Jesus and his resulting prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–44).

Objection 1: Molinism leaves God responsible for sin

Consider my first objection, that Molinism makes God responsible for sin. When God picks world 321 — just one among the infinite possibilities — along with all the specific actions and choices its contains over the course of time, and then creates that world, God is in fact determining that all the actions and choices contained in world 321 will occur without fail. When you think about it, that means God is determining all the murders, instances of sexual slavery, genocides and so on that will occur in the pre-selected “life” of that created world. So, how does Keathley get around this problem?

Keathley treats the would-stage — the specific world 321 that God has not yet created — as if it were an independent compartment sealed off from that world when it is actually created by God at the will-stage. In effect, each person in world 321 is created already responsible for their as-yet-future sins. If not, then God would be responsible for effectuating their lives while already knowing he has determined that they will sin.

How did God pick world 321 for creation? Keathley explains: “William Lane Craig suggests that God ‘chose a world having an optimal balance between the number of the saved and the number of the damned.’ In other words, God has created a world with a maximal ratio of the number of saved to those lost.”[2] Keathley appears to argue that God did the best he could; he made the least bad choice, though Keathley never says so straight out.

Keathley illustrates this view using the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. General Dwight Eisenhower genuinely desired that none of his troops perish, but he ordered the invasion knowing that some were doomed to death by that decision.[3] To demonstrate Molinism more fully, Keathley later expands that illustration by imagining that General Eisenhower knows exactly what will happen to each soldier in every possible invasion scenario and picks the invasion plan that will result in the least fatalities overall.[4]

Keathley seems to think this least-lost scheme puts God in a favorable light. In fact, the only thing Keathley has done is to maintain what he calls God’s “meticulous command of the minutest details,”[5] which he considers to be a firmly established biblical doctrine. So, in Keathley’s understanding of Molinism and his understanding of the Bible, determinism is alive and well.

Objection 2: Molinism gives us a world without dynamism

Once God decides to create world 321, nothing can happen in the unfolding of that world’s human lives other than what he has already foreseen and determined will occur. Such a world has all the real-life possibilities as a movie on a DVD: that is, it has none! Nothing is going to happen in that world except what the laser has already cut into the grooves of the DVD.

You remember Abraham’s famous string of requests for God to spare Sodom from destruction (Genesis 18)? It reads like a dynamic interchange between the living God and a man concerned for his kinsman. But no, it already happened as part of world 321  a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Once God decided to enact world 321, then Abraham would play his part in due time, just like in the movies. The DVD of world 321 does not change. It can’t!

Objection 3: Molinism mocks contingency and emotions

The Bible is filled with contingent situations, usually marked with the word “if.” Read in Jeremiah 18:5–10 how God shapes his actions to match the repentance or stubbornness of those nations he threatens with judgment. Read in Ezekiel 18:1–32 how God interacts with individuals based on their obedience or disobedience. These chapters express simple contingency where God blesses or curses based on the faith or rebellion of those he is dealing with.

But remember that, in Keathley’s Molinism, world 321 — my designation for the specific world God chose to create — comes into existence with all its questions settled in advance. How can “if” possibly mean anything in world 321? The ugly truth is that in such a world God is not free; never mind the fact that man is not free either.

Molinism also seems to mock emotions. Consider the powerful emotions Jesus expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–44 and Mark 14:32–34). It is even more wrenching in the Greek original than in English translation. Jesus said, “Abba, Father . . . everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Does the Father really have a choice here? Jesus says he does, but how is that possible in the pre-determined world 321? How can Jesus feel such strong emotions here and in other cases if he has known for 13.5 billion years — or 7,000 years for you young-earth folks — what was going to happen?

Quick Summary on Keathley’s Molinism

Maybe I’m missing something, but for now it seems that Keathley has only traded problems. He does a terrific job of respectfully showing the shortcomings of standard Calvinism. Keathley appropriately notes that while Calvinism stresses God’s sovereignty above all else, Molinism stresses God’s omniscience the most. Molinism is indeed preferable. Unfortunately, both roads still lead to determinism.

A Final Word

I would add that Keathley does a great job discussing ROSES, the new replacement for Calvinism’s famous TULIP. I may address that another day. He also has some useful insights from historical theology. If you like philosophical theology that has a high view of Scripture and is very well written, this book is for you. I really enjoyed it.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010) 41.

[2] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 153.

[3] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 153.

[4] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 160.

[5] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 23.

 

A Short History of the Western Church – Part 3 (end)

If you have not read the previous segments of this history, I recommend you start at the beginning, here.

Note that as we approach our own times some readers will find that the history of their denomination or church may move away from that shown in this final segment. This segment was originally designed to help people in my home church — Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas — learn our particular spiritual heritage.

At the end of the second segment of this history, available here, we paused at the beginning of the nineteenth century in America. That is where our story will resume below.

Religious Change in America

After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, our focus shifts to America, where Protestants prospered in a religiously pluralistic society in which they viewed denominations as “voluntary organizations that believers create and join according to their convictions and preferences.”[1] But immigration was rapidly changing the national mixture of faiths. Gonzalez says, “The Catholic Church (which, at the time of independence, was a small minority) had, by the middle of the nineteenth century, become the largest religious body in the nation.”[2]

We should not ignore the sad fact that one issue held back America and the progress of the gospel: slavery. Eventually this led to Civil War followed by an oppressive Reconstruction. Afterward the greatest wave of immigrants came. Davies notes, “Europe lost 25 million emigrants to the USA in the last quarter of the century.”[3]

Poisonous German Ideas

As important as the flow of people across the Atlantic was the westward flow of ideas. The second half of the nineteenth century saw a burst of scientific and engineering triumphs as well as the spread of the theory of biological evolution. German scholars produced a stream of ideas that questioned the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible: Jesus was just a great man ? they said ? and certainly could not have risen from the dead. Miracles either had a natural explanation or were just products of inspired imagination. There was enormous faith in man, his future and perfectibility.

Of these developments Gonzales says, “Protestant Liberalism was an attempt to couch Christianity in the mold of those ideas, and gained wide acceptance among the intellectual elite of the United States.”[4] Seeing this as a threat to the very core of Christian faith, an anti-liberal reaction developed that came to be known as “fundamentalism.” The fundamentals may be considered to include the following essential doctrines: the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the miracle-working power of Christ.[5]

The Rise of Fundamentalism

But fundamentalism did not arise in a vacuum. One driving force may be found in the fellowship and Bible teaching enjoyed by Christian leaders who met annually for 1–2 weeks at the Niagara Bible Conference, held mostly at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, from 1875 to 1900.[6] Such meetings have been widely copied over the years and often given the name “the prophecy and Bible conference movement.”

But fundamentalism had another strong support, the independent Bible institutes. Sandeen says, “During the last two decades of the nineteenth century the unordained Dwight L. Moody [1837–1899] was the most influential ‘clergyman’ in America.”[7] From 1873–75 Moody presented evangelistic sermons to over 2.5 million people in England and Scotland. The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago was established in 1889 and has profoundly influenced evangelical Christianity in America. Across the country, in 1907, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles was also important.

Historian George Marsden has said that fundamentalism was rooted in the eighteenth century idea that truth is available and can be obtained through the inductive method — when used to analyze the Bible.[8] To this Marsden added the nineteenth century experience that combined individualism, revivalism, the centrality of the Bible, personal comitment and inward holiness. Finally, he summarized fundamentalism as an “anti-modernist coalition” that was resistant to religious and cultural change. [9]

Perhaps the most crucial publication of early fundamentalism was the Scofield Reference Bible, which emerged in 1909. It provided helpful notes and cross references along with the interpretive framework of J.N. Darby’s views about the different ways God had interacted with man through the ages, a system known as “dispensationalism.” C.I. Scofield (1843–1921), a Dallas minister from 1882–1895 and 1902–1907, was not famous before the reference Bible came out, but he certainly was afterward.

The Modern Church: World War I (1914-1918) to 1970

From the viewpoint of those who consider the Bible completely trustworthy and accept supernatural acts by God through Christ, the most notable Christian development following World War I was the degree to which American denominations struggled with the penetration of Protestant Liberalism into denominational seminaries. The Presbyterians and the Baptists experienced denominational splits over the matter, and the issue still simmers today.

However, Bible-believing Christians had new options. Sandeen says, “Dissatisfaction with the denominations certainly grew stronger with the progress of Liberalism, but the really decisive factor seems to have been the development of nondenominational institutional structures which could function in the same manner as the denomination.”[10] By this he means the Bible institutes and the new seminaries and churches that formed in loose relation to them.

One such seminary was Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) which began in 1924. DTS was formed by Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952), who had served from 1914–1923 on the faculty of the Philadelphia School of the Bible. DTS was founded as an institution centered on the Bible. The seminary stands in the stream of theology known as the Protestant Reformation, and within its American successor the early fundamentalist movement.

Sandeen notes that since 1950, the more moderate wing of the fundamentalist movement has called itself Evangelicalism and “has manifested an unexpected vitality and appeal.”[11]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1984) 2:242.

[2] Gonzalez, 2:243.

[3] Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 782.

[4] Gonzalez, 2:256.

[5] Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970) xviii.

[6] Sandeen, 134.

[7] Sandeen, 172.

[8] Cited by John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 43.

[9] George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

[10] Sandeen, 240.

[11] Sandeen, xiii.