Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 1

Thanks for joining me. I’ve read some deeply disturbing articles lately about salvation, and I consider you a clear thinker. We don’t often agree, but I still find our conversations helpful. And (who knows?) maybe one day you’ll actually convince me of your views.

Hey! I enjoy our talks together. I’ve always said that you learn the most from those who disagree with you.

Let me start with the question of who is and isn’t saved. It seems that some Postmodern muddiness has crept into our thinking. And it shows! Evangelism is down. Baptisms are down. Preaching about hell is down.

Now, I’m the first to admit that we did some of that the wrong way, but Jesus talked about hell. Why can’t we?

You make a good point. But we’ve done it so badly over the years that even truthful preaching is sometimes taken as unloving. I mean, I wish it was true that God would save everyone …

Seriously?

Of course. What could be more obvious? I think of myself as a decent guy, and — yes! — I think it would be good if God saved everyone. I’d like to find a way to show that from the Bible, but I really …

I’m sorry, but you just aren’t making any sense at all. I mean, it sounds like you claim to be more loving that God! Do you really think that if saving everyone would be a good thing God wouldn’t do it?

Well, if you insist on putting it that way …

It is that way! God plainly does not save everyone. Therefore, it is good that not everyone is saved. Somehow. For some reason. In fact, if we were discussing God in a different context, you’d be the first to admit that — by definition — “good” means whatever God’s will is.

God’s wisdom is higher than ours. His justice is higher than ours. His love is higher than ours. God chooses to damn as he pleases, and whatever he pleases is “good” and the highest possible form of good, right, and just.

If we presume to want a higher good than God’s good, we diminish God and claim to be greater than he is. It’s very nearly blasphemy!

You’re getting a bit overwrought, you know. I wasn’t making a serious theological point. It’s just that I can’t bear the thought of people being damned.

Nor can I. The question is how do we respond to the thought of damnation. What we used to do is recruit and send missionaries, and plant churches, and talk to our neighbors about Jesus. Now we look for loopholes, hoping God won’t really do it — and (not coincidentally) relieving ourselves of any guilt from not doing a proper job of spreading the gospel.

You make an intriguing point. It makes sense at a superficial level that it’s good that there are damned people, as that appears to be God’s will, but if that’s so, why evangelize? Does God want there to be damned people?

Okay. You got me. Let me try to say this more exactly. For the same reason — free will — that God allows us to sin, God allows the damned to be damned. He doesn’t want sin to happen, but where there is no possibility of sin, there is no possibility of obedience.

We can only truly love if love is a choice, and thus not loving must be an available choice. In short, God accepts the inevitability of sin (and of damnation) in order to permit free will and so allow people to truly believe, to truly love, to truly worship, and to truly obey.

That’s a classic argument, and some Calvinists might not agree, but I do. But there is no possibility of faith if there has been no preaching of the gospel.

[to be continued]

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11 Responses to Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 1

  1. HistoryGuy says:

    Jay,
    Well that will get our Calvinist friends going… but seriously, there is a point that I want to highlight. I realize that “good means whatever God’s will is” is a quick explanation in a specific context, but I don’t want a reader to take that and get wrapped up in the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is really a false dichotomy. This does pertain to your post, I promise. God’s nature is good and thus what he does is good. From my Classical Arminian position, I would posit that both God’s holy wrath and grace are good; thus, the goodness of God is displayed in both the punishment of unbelieving [in Christ] sinners as well as the salvation of believers. God could have saved everyone, no one, unbelievers, or believers, but he chose — within himself — to save individual believers. Why God chose believers instead of non-believers or some instead of all is another topic. Nevertheless, I agree 100%; there is no faith if the gospel [1 Cor. 15:3-5] is not preached. Faith is 100% absolutely essential [Rev. 21:8] and Scripture gives countless testimonies that God sends the gospel to those who will believe, whereas not one will be missed! [Rom. 8:29-30; 10:15] While the gospel can be rejected, without God revealing it to us, we are just dead in our sins never seeking God [Rom. 3:9-18]. In simple terms, we are sinners under the judgment of God who need to share the gospel with everyone while living a life that reflects Jesus, because people are lost without Jesus and cannot earn heaven with their good deeds. You made many other good points, but I’ve written enough.

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    Wow! Now we’re cookin’, I can’t wait for more!

    HG, I tend more toward Reformed (not a 5 pointer..) but I don’t disagree with a word you wrote above. I reason though that had God not acted on my behalf I would not have had faith, I would not have heard the gospel, in fact there wouldn’t be a gospel. Romans 10 says it well. Faith comes from hearing the good news, told by one who is sent. Unless God initiates no one is sent and I don’t hear and can’t believe.

    In the Acts there are verses that years ago captured my attention. In Acts 5:31 and 11:18 God gives repentance. And Acts 13:48 “…those who were appointed to eternal life believed”. Then there is Jesus’ words in John 6 where he said ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” vs 44. God controls the destiny of men it seems to me. It was John 6, 10, and 17 that filled out the meaning of Paul’s words about boasting being excluded. What on earth could I boast about? God has done it all.

    I do look forward to more between you and Jay. It’s late, I’m sick, and need sleep.

    Thanks

  3. aBasnar says:

    Someone wrote on the New Wineskins:

    The purpose of the Law is to exclude people.

    In other words (as in the mindset of this discussion): The Law is not good, which means: Not as good, loving and merciful as … Jesus (?). Well, Jesus excludes the lawbreakers, doesn’t he (Mat 7:23)? No, the idea is: “We” are far more loving than even Christ!

    Yet, the purpose of the Law is NOT to exclude people, but to teach a way of righteousness, of pleasing God. Because of the problem that humans are not absolutely capable of achieving this – although some had the testimony of being righteous (e.g. Job 1:1), even by the standards of the Law (see Luke 1:6) – a new covenant was necessary. But this new covenant is not without Laws at all, but this Law that once was written on stone is now being written into our hearts by the Spirit (by this it was not “reduced” but brought to an even higher standard!). This means: Under the old covenant the Law was outside of us (and our nature), but now it becomes part of our innermost being in Christ.

    And still: If we live like lawless people, we will be excluded no matter how loudly we confess Christ as Lord. So breaking the Law excludes people, but still this is not the purpose of the Law; it’s not the purpose of ANY Law to put people in prison or even execute them.

    It is this misconception of God’s Word that leads to this distorted view of love and salvation that really is very troublsesome. It was really as if this Cartoon-Calvin (my favortie character BTW) wrote a number of these articles and comments …

    Alexander

  4. Alan says:

    God has said that he will condemn a lot of people. (For example: Matt 25:46; Rom 2:6-10, 2 Th 1:8-10) God always does what he says he will do. If that were not the case, he would not be good.

  5. Alabama John says:

    There is always a law. but, it is simply not always the law you are familiar with or “want it to be”. Same is true of faith, that faith is not always faith in the same things you have faith in and want all others to have it exactly like you or be lost.
    Same with the gospel, it is not the same for everyone as we see it. The gospel is how Jesus sees it as His gospel, not ours.

    Romans 2:14
    For when the Gentiles,which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law,these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
    15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
    Read all of Romans 2:6-16.

    It is not my way or hell no matter in what age or circumstance you lived which so many preach and actually believe.

  6. Charles McLean says:

    There is a real beam in our own eye here. We may say that we “can’t bear the thought of people being lost”, but our neighbors and fellow believers wouldn’t know that unless we said it out loud. We appear to be “bearing” that thought quite successfully, thanks. It has been said that actions speak louder than words. And after a lifetime among more conservative brothers, what I have heard and seen more closely tracks with the Pharisee’s “I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men are,” than it does with Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem. Such emotional fervor as I have seen among my brothers has been mainly over doctrines, not over the fate of the lost. Hell is preached with much righteous indignation and few tears.

    I cannot judge, but only express my skepticism, where our track record so little reflects our own history. As for me, I need to examine my own heart before I can claim such feelings about the lost as do not regularly show up in my own actions. In brutal honesty, there are times when not only does a person’s eternal damnation not trouble me, I find a certain morbid legal satisfaction in it. God help me.

    I wish I were the only one.

  7. Adam says:

    Maybe where I get stuck in this conversation is in the equating of God’s will with the choice to not save someone. I think that is backwards.

    God’s will is to save all – to be in relation with all. But relation requires the other, which requires mystery (what we simplify by saying “free will”). In order to have a true other that exists in mystery (the base for free will), there are necessary consequences that not even God can escape – like the existence of Hell.

    It isn’t that God’s will is to send people to Hell. It is, I think, closer to the point to say God’s will is to love – even if that means that people reject his love, causing God more pain and suffering than we can begin to imagine. And yet to him it is worth paying that ultimate price because not even God can escape who he himself is – a God of love that is, necessarily, directed out to the other eternally, no matter the cost.

  8. Norton says:

    An earthly judge who excuses wrong doing is unjust and not respected. Do we really wish for a God like that? On the other hand, do we wish for a God who endlessly tortures those who, in most people’s view, have not done enough evil to deserve such? I believe God’s definition of what is just is the same as humans, and we know He will do right.

    God has decreed the death penalty for all who do not find and accept the “loophole” in the Law created by Jesus, and has promised to give eternal life to those who do. Jesus paid the price for our sins by experiencing death. As far as I know, he did not experience endless torture. He had no sins to punish. He did receive the death penalty, but was raised back to life.

    What I am getting at, is that perhaps those who do not come to know Jesus will be given just punishment for the sins they have committed, and not given eternal life, but eternal death. That is still a fearful thing, but not nearly as gruesome as endless torture.

    I will leave it to others to confirm or poke holes in the above theory. Edward Fudge, I believe, was one of the first among us to propose it. I do not study “afterlife” theories or concern myself with them too much. I trust God to take care of me, and put me exactly where I should be after I pass from this life.

    As Christians, if we possessed a remedy that would extend human life on this earth thirty years, we would be preaching it far and wide. We have a remedy that will extend life forever. Our problem is that the remedy is advocated and received by faith, not sight.

  9. Tim Miller says:

    Norton said, “I trust God to take care of me, and put me exactly where I should be after I pass from this life.” That sounds like justice rather than mercy–at least the 2nd half of the statement does….

  10. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Alexander,

    Yes, I don’t agree with much that has been written in this month’s New Wineskins. In fact, I cannot adequately express the vehemence of my disagreement with much of it. However, I’ve decided to wait until the issue is complete before saying much more on the subject — other than this series.

  11. Jerry says:

    In the article above, Jay wrote:

    I think of myself as a decent guy, and — yes! — I think it would be good if God saved everyone. I’d like to find a way to show that from the Bible, but I really …

    I’m sorry, but you just aren’t making any sense at all. I mean, it sounds like you claim to be more loving that God! Do you really think that if saving everyone would be a good thing God wouldn’t do it?

    Well, if you insist on putting it that way …

    It is that way! God plainly does not save everyone. Therefore, it is good that not everyone is saved. Somehow. For some reason. In fact, if we were discussing God in a different context, you’d be the first to admit that — by definition — “good” means whatever God’s will is.

    That “conversation” reminds me of one that Barton W. Stone reports in his autobiography. During the time when he was still a Presbyterian Calvinist, but was also engaging in the camp-meeting evangelism for which he is famous, he said that he observed once that he wished for the salvation of all men. A friend who heard the conversation accused him of saying that he loved more than God loves, for God does not save all while BWS wished for the salvation of all. He immediately “repented” and asked God to forgive him – until he realized that God gave His son so that all could be saved because it is not His will that any perish, but that all come to repentance.

    It was that realization that caused him to leave the Presbyterian Calvinists, going first into the half-way house of the Springfield Presbytery and then (with The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery rejecting denominational affiliation completely.

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