Friday, November 25, 2011

Going To Hell?

As the Evangelical churches continue to follow in the path of their Mainstream brethren, they are starting to question the existence of Hell. Is it real? Does the Bible really teach that? Can I and my loved ones be saved when our lives are indistinguishable from those around us?
Okay, I threw that last one in there, but it’s important. What happens when a church, which has traditionally seen itself as a moral leader—the moral leader—starts taking its cues from the world around it? Doctrines of election and Hell start to become a problem. Who is saved and what happens to those who aren’t?

The traditional Reform answer follows a determinist understanding of God and the universe. Even before creation, God determined who would be saved and they cannot be unsaved. By implication the rest are unsaved, were always unsaved and cannot be saved. These days Protestants don’t make too much of this. It’s not a popular idea. It’s been said that most Protestant clergy are determinists and most Protestant laity are Arminians; that is, they believe in free will. (In Pentecostalism both our clergy and laity are Arminians.) Imagine a Venn diagram. There is one big circle and one much smaller circle. The smaller one is almost eclipsed by the larger one, but a little of it sticks out. Mark the big one U, the area of the small one within the big one H, and the part of the small one that sticks out S. The U represents the unsaved, the S saved, and the H those who think they’re saved, but aren’t. The H stands for hypocrite—though to be fair many of these are just ignorant. They earnestly believe they are doing the Lord’s work, walking the walk, but they aren’t (Matthew 7:23).

Now some may object to this characterization and I would reply that, first off, for a summation of less than 200 words, it’s not bad, even if it misses some subtleties. More importantly, it is not misleading. Arminianism sprang from the realization that the Reform view of election produced a God at great odds with the one of the New Testament. A God that condemns people to Hell for sins they had no choice but to commit. Arminianism teaches free will, not to praise human agency, but restore to us an understanding of God that loves, and died for, everyone.

If Reform Christians are uncomfortable with their determinist heritage, adopting an Arminian perspective would seem an obvious alternative. Instead, two other ideas have been popularized. One is called Eternal Security. The Classic Reform view recognized that not everyone who said they were Christian truly was, and that the truth would show itself in their lives. Sociologist Max Weber argued that the psychological unrest caused by this teaching gave rise to the Protestant work ethic. Referring you back to the mental Venn diagram you’ve drawn in you head, advocates of Eternal Security want to erase the line between the Saved and the Hypocrite. All you have to do is accept Jesus as your saviour and you’re saved. Nothing else matters. The other idea is called Universalism. Now if Reform theology teaches that if it’s not God will that any perish (2 Peter 3:9), yet people do, then God’s actual will must be that none of His elect perish and cannot but be saved. Universalism takes this idea a step further. If it’s not God’s will that any perish, then no one perishes. Human agency and the life you lead are irrelevant. There is just one big circle marked S.

The important thing here isn’t to save Hell. It is to save the scripturally based teaching that the life you lead matters. Just as Jacob Arminius realized that the Reform view of election produced a morally stained conception of God, we have to realize that in a world without consequences most people will never do more than they feel they have to. No more than what everyone else is doing. Ironically, while these teachings proclaim God’s grace, they deny its ability to transform the lives of believers. The Church is meant to be a city built on a hill, a light unto the whole world, and holiness is not meant to be something for the special few.


Anonymous said...

Actually what you describe for "eternal security" would be better known as easy believism.

The true Eternal Security position reads 1 John 2:19 and sees that those who have a false faith will eventually leave the fold demonstrating they were never truly one of us to begin with. The true believer no matter the hardship will perserve and finish the race.

As Jesus taught in John 6, he loses none that are given to him, and when we remember 1 John 2:19, Jesus didn't lose those that leave, they were never truly saved to begin with.

Eternal Security doesn't erase the line between Saved and Hypocrite, it recongizes only the Saved have Eternal Security, the hypocrite never had it.


David Bird said...

I agree that Jesus never loses any that are given to Him, but His unstining love for us does not diminish our free will. He will never desert us, back we can turn our backs on Him.

From what I've read and observed "easy believism" is simply a disparaging term for the doctrine of Eternal Security and how you've described the doctrine is more in line with classic Reform teachings on Election. The idea that those who leave the faith were never truly saved to begin with sounds an awful lot like affirming the consequences. If the saved are always saved and the lost always lost, why does God, through scripture, constantly encourage and admonish His people? What would be the point if it were all a cosmic puppet show?

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between losing one's salvation and not living up to God's holy standard. He calls his people to be holy because he is Holy. Like a father disciplines a son, so to God will discipline his children. But none of this means salvation was ever at stake of being lost.

The sinful nature of man is what separated Man from God in the first place, it would be a awful cure that required the removal of the sickness first before it could work.

A Shepherd does not ask a lost sheep if it is willing to come back, a good shepherd will go and bring back the lost sheep because that is the task of the shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he said his sheep hear his voice and respond.

Scriptures don't seem to support the idea of a believer walking away from salvation that is philosophy being read into Scriptures.

And since regeneration is the Union of our Spirit to Christ's Spirit by the Holy Spirit, no mere man has the power to remove the Holy Spirit from within the believer, so once Christ himself decides to leave one cannot simply turn their back on Christ who is within them.


David Bird said...

It's not a question of reading things into the scripture, rather it's a question taking at its face value. When Paul writes, for example, of his need to practice self-discipline, he raises the possibility of losing his own salvation even as he leads others to Christ (1 Cor9:27). His salvation isn't decreed, determined, from the beginning.

I've only recently realized how often Reform theologians stop to direct people from the obvious reading of a text to tell them what it "really" means. Its ironic given their original intent was to free the scriptures priests and make it available to all.

Anonymous said...

The obvious and plain reading of the text does not come from english translations but from the obvious reading of the Greek. As Dr. Mounce says

Words + Grammar + Context = Meaning

English words or as some do looking up greek words in a lexicon does not establish that the correct meaning of a passage has been determined if one doesn't support that with a discussion of the grammar and context.

So I do not agree that Reformed Theologians do not send people to the text, I have yet to see the kind of biblical exegesis from Arminian theologians that I can find from Reformed Thelogians it is always Dave Hunt style "all means all", as if Greek grammar rules were built on English grammar.

Did not Paul already state in 1 Cor. 3:14-15 someone could still be saved but their works burned up? how could he stae 1 Cor. 3:14-15 if these people could lose their salvation?

The reason I said interpretation is because it is an interpretation to say its the plain meaning of the text is to ignore the interpretation part that goes in to it. If held that Salvation couldn't be lost you'd come up with another "plain" reading of the text, your presupposition that salvation can be lost affects how you interpret the verse.

ex. If it is not talking about losing salvation, then the plain reading of the text is the teaching of Perserverence of the Saints. That only those who finish the race get the prize 1 Cor. 9:24.

Paul then is saying he disciplines himself to make sure he finish lest he be disqualified because a life of living the "christian" life means nothing if one doesn't finish the race. The Christian will be ilke the athlete who keeps himself under control to finish. 1 John 2:19 then applies again, the non-christian is the athlete is does not finish the race but is disqualified, but holding to tota scriptura, we then don't say they lost their salvation.

We say they were never saved to begin with.

If you can't show how the greek words, grammar and context support your interpretation, you cannot say you have the obvious reading of the text simply because you read it in english.

Any reading of Scriptures is an interpretation and what that interpreation is supported with is the question, Interpretations supported by English and english grammar rules may not necessiarly be correct when we realize that English is not as nuanced as Greek and the orginal language can convey meaning that the English translation loses.

I find Arminian apologists then to act with anti-intellectualism and charges of elitism if you say that not only must they go to the text, but to truly settle a matter we should go to the greek text.

Yes I do believe what a text "really" means is found in Greek not English. But it isn't elitism to say so, its the realization that the Hebrew, Aramaic OT and the Greek NT are what is inspired not any other languages translations and the interpretations the translators had to do in order to translate it.

- SLP2

David Bird said...

It is not anti-intellectualism to point out either a fallacious argument (affirming the consequence) or the trend among Reform apologists to restort to obscure readings when the text does not support them. Do you actually speak Greek? How fluently? How is it that the Greek Orthodox Church, whose familiarity with the language isn't up for debate, has not adopted a Calvinist position on this matter?

To continue the analogy of a race, if an athelete does not finish they are disqualified, but they did run. They were in the race up to a point and on one would pretend otherwise. Likewise, if someone became a Christian, but backslid, they were a Christian to that point.

But the Arminian objective is not an attempt to provide man with a free will. That is only an instrument. Aminius' concern was that the logical implication of Calvin's teaching is that, while those who are saved are always saved, those who are damned are equally always damned. That God is sending people to Hell and there is no way for them to avoid it. He created them to burn. That is not the God of Calvary.

Anonymous said...

What is the standard by which something is determined to be an obscure meaning? Is it because you say the greek grammar makes it so or an english reading makes it so?

Can you give an example of a reformed position that is some obscure meaning in Greek, or is this position based on english readings?

Indeed I agree, I have seen many who because of the problem of reporbation end up denying biblical truths like Unconditional Election and the Soverignity of God's Will in order to deny reporbation.

I am able to hold to Unconditional election and not hold to a position that makes Man's will Soverign over God's will (while claiming this is how God wanted it) and yet I do not have to hold to reporbation that those who go to hell had no choice. I agree both Modern Calvinists and Modern Arminians are wrong (obviously my own opinion that both Calvints and Arminians disagree with) on Total Depravity.

Calvinists sees the depravity as a natural depravity instead of a moral depravity and sees the inablity to come to God as a natural one instead of a moral inability due to men's desires to rebel against God. Man cannot come to God because he doesn't have the natural capability. He cannot do it because he does not have the natural desire to do so Romans 3.

Arminians do not take Depravity seriously enough and have created inconsistent positions of prevenient grace, soverignity of God, and total depravity, because in the end their only real aim is to deny reporbation, not create a consistent position that realizes paramount to all is God's Soverignity to do has he wills Psalm 115:3, not God allowing his Will for any individual to be saved to be overridden by the choice of that individual to not be saved, so that final authority of who is and isn't saved belongs to the Man and not God.

Man cannot come to God unless God draws man because man's depraved nature instead has man CHOOSING to rebel against God. Every single man has the ability to come to God for Salvation. Every single man chooses to rebel except for those whom God chooses to save in order to bring glory to his name.

They had a way to avoid Hell, they did not choose it because they hate the light and love the darkness, but God has always perserved for himself a remnant (note his remnant never perserved itself, it is an act of the Will of God that creates and perserves a remnent for his Glory). He does not allow all of man kind to choose to perish because He wills to have an inheritence of his own, so he chooses an elect to save and allows the others to freely choose to rebel against him and to suffer the consequences for their rebellion.

He is under no obligation to save anyyone, or to prevent anyone from suffering the consequences of CHOOSING rebellion. He mercys whom he mercys because He is soverign to do so.