Archive for July, 2010

Lost in Translation

Posted in Soteriology, The gospel on July 19, 2010 by hoffnate

A common aspect of any subculture is a jargon unique to that culture. It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that Evangelicals in America have a particular vocabulary related to their faith community. While this vocabulary is generally understood by the community itself, it is often not accessible to the larger population. Consequently, when a person becomes a Christian he must first familiarize himself with this vocabulary if he is to fit into the circles in which he will now run.

Having been in the Evangelical community for most of my life I can tell you that our vocabulary is very important to us. It makes us feel safe. It assures us that a person is one of us. Therefore, when we talk to a new believer we want to hear that he has “accepted Christ into his heart” or “prayed THE prayer.” If he has not done these things we become uncomfortable and begin to question whether or not he is a believer at all. But are these two things essential to become a Christian? Must a person “accept Christ into his heart” or “pray THE prayer” to be saved?

In Ephesians 2:8-9 the apostle Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (NIV).” Paul’s emphasis is grace received through faith. Yet what do we communicate to new believers when we explain the gospel with our unique terminology? To tell someone that they have to pray to accept Christ is to require something of them that the Bible never requires. It emphasizes doing over believing. When we ask someone if he has “accepted Christ into his heart” we transform a result of salvation (Christ in us) into a contingency for salvation and make the gospel into something it is not. Salvation is by grace through faith. It is not received through a specific prayer or asking for a result of the gospel. If faith is what pleases God and is the means through which He bestows salvation, then we must emphasize faith. Rather than asking someone if he has “prayed THE prayer” or if he has “accepted Christ into his heart,” ask him if he believes.

John, an apostle and disciple of Jesus, wrote his gospel account for a specific reason. Concerning the content in his account he writes, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31; NIV).” John’s desire was that those who would read his account would be brought to faith in Jesus as Christ, or Messiah (therefore the gospel’s constitution provides the content for one’s faith). If the Bible emphasizes faith, shouldn’t we?

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Subjectivism and the Gospel

Posted in Hermeneutics, Soteriology, The gospel with tags on July 8, 2010 by hoffnate

We live in a culture that values individualism. An increasingly new emphasis within this individualism is the primacy of personal interpretation. In other words, the important thing is what something means to me rather than what it means from some outside objective standard. How do I see a particular something? How is it significant to me? How does it express itself in me (notice the favored pronouns in preceding few sentences)? Christianity, and biblical scholarship, is not unaffected by this growing trend. It is not uncommon to find commentaries, journal articles, and pop theologies seeking to understand the scriptures from some new ideological perspective. The goal in all these attempts is to find meaning from a particular vantage point rather than meaning from an inspired, divine, and textual perspective. In other words, while these attempts ask, “What does it mean to me (“me ” being subject to one’s ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, or sexual orientation)?”, they do not ask, “What does God mean?” Critics of the viewpoint expressed in this post will say discovering the intended divine meaning is an impossible task. However that is not the case. But to digress on that issue at the present time would take us on a course outside of that intended and, therefore, another post will be in order.

While many conservative Christians would claim to oppose this kind of subjectivism it has, nevertheless, crept into our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces specifically in the way we verbalize the gospel. I cannot tell you how many times I have personally said, or have heard others say, “Let me tell you what Christ means to me.” Yet the power of the gospel is not in who Christ is to me but rather in who Christ actually is. If there is any merit in my personal experience of Christ it is the fact that I have embraced the reality of Christ and not some subjective version. But it is easier to preach subjectivity. It’s easier to tell someone about “my” Christ rather than “the” Christ. Because to tell someone about “the” Christ does not permit them room to create their own personalization. The call is clear,”Here is who Jesus is, would you embrace Him?”

Who then can be saved?

Posted in Soteriology, The gospel with tags on July 3, 2010 by hoffnate

There is a soteriological controversy that has been present for quite some time: Do men choose God or does God choose men? This conversation, in essence, is another way of framing the classic Calvinism/Arminianism debate which is so popular in churches today. Due to the volatile nature of the topic many well-intentioned believers have abandoned the conversation all together, hoping to preserve unity in the church and refusing to allow themselves to be bogged down by the “nitty gritty” details of the faith. Unfortunately, such abandonment is itself an abuse and does not serve the Christian community well. Rather than propagating abuses it is important for Christians to learn civility when discussing theological topics because theology is worth discussion not abandonment. In fact discussing what we believe to be true about God is the most important thing we can do as what we believe determines the way we live. Conversely, the way we live is probably the best indication of what we believe, and here lies the crux of the matter. If there is a connection between what we believe and what we do then the implications of what we believe become extremely important. But how many of us spend time thinking through these implications, taking what we believe from the level of doctrine to that of practice? It is an important exercise and one that I would like to partake in today.

Yesterday I witnessed something truly remarkable. I saw the praises of God on the lips of the mentally handicapped. To see the joy, the love, and (dare I say) the faith of this young man was extraordinary. But as the evening wore on I found myself wondering, “Does this man’s inability exclude him from the Kingdom of God?” His handicap certainly does not exempt him from the need for salvation. As a member of the human race he was born condemned in Adam. As a member of the human race he was born completely depraved, having both a sin nature and his share of sinful deeds. Therefore at birth he existed as an enemy of God and in need of grace. But is he able to receive God’s grace? Having been on both sides of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate I can tell you that no one from either side would say that the man’s handicap necessarily excludes him from the Kingdom. But what are the implications of each belief system? If a component of the salvation process is an active choice on the part of the individual then one’s reception of God’s grace would rest on his ability to make this cognitive decision. Therefore a Christian holding to choice must either (1) believe that the salvation of the mentally handicapped is dependent upon the extent of the handicap, or (2) that such people fall under an “exception” clause and benefit from a “special” act of grace. If, however, the alternative view is held, that salvation is an act of God’s choice, then there are no barriers to who may enter the Kingdom, for one’s salvation rests upon God’s incomparable ability rather than on man’s limited ability.

What we believe really does matter. What we believe really does have broad implications and these implication are worth our consideration. It is my prayer that God may be glorified as His people seek to understand His ways in order that they might grow in faith and therefore in life. When I enter the Kingdom of God I think I’m going to be quite surprised at who I find. Perhaps then I’ll have a better understanding of the matchless and unending grace of God.