Saturday, October 29, 2011

Common Sense Christian Understanding of the Gift of Faith - Forlines

F. Leroy Forlines offers what I have found to be one of the best concise explanations of the gift of faith in the brief statement below. It effectively silences the Calvinist harp of monergism with regard to faith and presents the common sense Christian understanding of the synergistic nature of faith.

I believe that saving faith is a gift of God in the sense that the Holy Spirit gives divine enablement without which faith in Christ would be impossible (John 6:44). The difference between the Calvinistic concept of faith and my concept of faith cannot be that theirs is monergistic and mine is synergistic. In both cases it is synergistic. Active participation in faith by the believer means that it must be synergistic. Human response cannot be ruled out of faith. Justification and regeneration are monergistic. Each is an act of God, not man. Faith is a human act by divine enablement and therefore cannot be monergistic. - Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, Forlines, ed. Pinson, Randall House Nashville, 2011, p.24

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lydia, A Woman of Faith and a Recipient of Prevenient Grace

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. (Ac 16:14 AV)

A proof text for those who advocate a pre-faith regeneration, the above passage is sometimes abused by those who tend to read their theology into the text, a careless exercise by any measure.  Lydia has been presented as an unbeliever whose worship was tainted by insincerity. Is there any truth to that? There is nothing in the text to indicate any sense of vain worship. There is no revelation of her being far from the heart of God. It merely tells us that she worshiped God. Being from Thyatira or the modern city of Ahkisar in central Turkey (to the north-northeast of Ephesus), Lydia was a Gentile proselyte to the Hebrew faith. This tells us she came out of her heathen life and embraced the God of the Hebrews. The passage tells us at least that much, she worshiped God. This indicates that rather than being regenerated when God “opened” her heart in this instance, she came out of whatever depravity she was born into prior to the visit by Paul and the others of his entourage. By worshiping God, she was already a woman of faith. Granted, her faith had not been converted to Christ at that point but then, neither had King David’s faith been such in his day. Should we suggest that David’s faith and worship was done in vain? God forbid for the scriptures tell us he had a heart after the LORD.

It is important to recognize that not all of Judea was swallowed up in vain worship tainted by the religious rulers of the day. The bible tells us God has always had a remnant of believers among His people. Given the text, it seems entirely reasonable that God saw Lydia as one of that faithful remnant and when the time came for that Gospel to be preached, He provided the grace necessary to fully comprehend and embrace that Gospel. If Lydia is said to have worshiped God, it seems short sighted and rather hasty to delegate her to the spirit of this world rather than being of God the Father. To do so in order to further a philosophical, dogmatic teaching is, in my opinion, damaging to one’s faith in the veracity and infallibility of scripture. A surprising defense of this reading into scripture has been the suggestion that Luke was merely passing on his opinion of Lydia’s outward appearance of religion rather than the indicated truth of Lydia being a worshiper of God. That is quite convenient but at what point do we accept what the Bible instructs as truth rather than question that given truth? If the Bible tells us that someone worships God and gives absolutely no indication of a vain faith, we should accept what scripture tells us rather than try to force it into a poorly fitted argument.

The doctrine of pre-faith regeneration is forced upon this passage because it has God’s work of grace preceding the delivery of the Gospel through which faith comes to those who hear. However, God’s prevenient grace better matches the narrative especially when regeneration is regarded as that born again experience proceeding from the burying of the old self through conviction and repentance. As  a proselyte, Lydia was converted from her heathenism and entered the fellowship of those who worshiped the one true God, the God of the Hebrews. God tells us so in His very word. Lydia worshiped God. Whether one wishes to argue that regeneration precedes faith or not, it would have to go to the place where Lydia ceased being an unbeliever in the God of the Hebrews under the old covenant. It has to go to the same place that such occurred to David and every other saint who worshiped God, assumingly in truth and spirit.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Enmity of the World Toward Christ - A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer wrote a wonderful book entitled Man, The Dwelling Place of God. The following extract is of chapter 4 of this public domain publication and addresses the significance of two classes of human beings, the "born again" and the natural men of this world. The enmity of the latter toward the former and the characteristics of each identify the unique distinction of one from the other. It is as a result a contrast between an evangelical necessity and a contrary ecumenism.

The Once-born and the Twice-born

CLASSIFICATION IS ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT of all tasks. Even in the realm of religion there are enough lights and shades to make it injudicious to draw too fine a line between men and men. If the religious world were composed of squares of solid black and solid white classification would be easy; but unfortunately it is not.

It is a grave error for us evangelicals to assume that the children of God are all in our communion and that all who are not associated with us are ipso facto enemies of the Lord. The Pharisees made that mistake and crucified Christ as a consequence.

With all this in mind, and leaning over backwards to be fair and charitable, there is yet one distinction which we dare make, which indeed we must make if we are to think the thoughts of God after Him and bring our beliefs into harmony with the Holy Scriptures. That distinction is the one which exists between two classes of human beings, the once-born and the twice-born.

That such a distinction does in fact exist was taught by our Lord with great plainness of speech, in contexts which preclude the possibility that He was merely speaking figuratively. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," He said, and the whole chapter where these words are found confirms that He was speaking precisely, setting forth meanings as blunt and downright as it is possible for language to convey.

"Ye must be born again," said Christ. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." This clear line of demarcation runs through the entire New Testament, quite literally dividing one human being from another and making a distinction as sharp as that which exists between different genera of the animal kingdom.

Just who belongs to one class and who to the other it is not always possible to judge, though the two kinds of life ordinarily separate from each other. Those who are twice-born crystallize around the Person of Christ and cluster together in companies, while the once-born are held together only by the ties of nature, aided by the ties of race or by common political and social interests.

Our Lord warned His disciples that they would be persecuted. "In the world ye shall have tribulation," He said, and "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

These are only two of many passages of the New Testament warning of persecution or recording the fact of harassment and attack suffered by the followers of the Lord. This same idea runs through the entire Bible from the once-born Cain who slew the twice-born Abel to the Book of the Revelation where the end of human history comes in a burst of blood and fire.

That hostility exists between the once-born and the twice-born is known to every student of the Bible; the reason for it was stated by Christ when He said, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." The rule was laid down by the apostle Paul when he wrote, "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now."

Difference of moral standards between the onceborn and the twice-born, and their opposite ways of life, may be contributing causes of this hostility; but the real cause lies deeper. There are two spirits abroad in the earth: the spirit that works in the children of disobedience and the Spirit of God. These two can never be reconciled in time or in eternity. The spirit that dwells in the once-born is forever opposed to the Spirit that inhabits the heart of the twice-born. This hostility began somewhere in the remote past before the creation of man and continues to this day. The modern effort to bring peace between these two spirits is not only futile but contrary to the moral laws of the universe.

To teach that the spirit of the once-born is at enmity with the Spirit of the twice-born is to bring down upon one's head every kind of violent abuse. No language is too bitter to hurl against the conceited bigot who would dare to draw such a line of distinction between men. Such malignant ideas are at odds with the brotherhood of man, says the once-born, and are held only by the apostles of disunity and hate. This mighty rage against the twice-born only serves to confirm the truth they teach. But this no one seems to notice.

What we need to restore power to the Christian testimony is not soft talk about brotherhood but an honest recognition that two human races occupy the earth simultaneously: a fallen race that sprang from the loins of Adam and a regenerate race that is born of the Spirit through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

To accept this truth requires a tough-mindedness and a spiritual maturity that modern Christians simply do not possess. To face up to it hardly contributes to that "peace of mind" after which our religious weaklings bleat so plaintively.

For myself, I long ago decided that I would rather know the truth than be happy in ignorance. If I cannot have both truth and happiness, give me truth. We'll have a long time to be happy in heaven.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Importance of the Atonement - Forlines

... Of all the events in the experience of Christ, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His return, His death stands central. As important as the other events are, both in themselves and in relation to His death, the death of Christ remains central, because apart from atonement there would be no forgiveness of sins. Christianity would be nonexistent. It is the birth that makes the death of Christ possible, but it is the death that makes the birth important. It is the resurrection that makes possible the application of the benefits of His death. It is the death that makes His resurrection important and makes the one who has been restored to life the Redeemer.

It is of the utmost importance that we maintain a sound doctrine of atonement. The study of the atonement must be done with the whole personality, not just the rational mind. While a study of atonement is fascinating in its logical consistency, it must go deeper than that to be comprehended. It must grip the heart also. There is nothing that sheds light on the serious of holiness and sin like the atonement that God provided to bring forgiveness of sin. A proper view of atonement puts seriousness into the whole study of theology. Any system of ethics that does not read from atonement the seriousness of sin and understanding of God's holiness and God's love that is seen in atonement will be grossly inadequate. Any view of grace that is not grounded in the understanding of sin, holiness, and the high regard for law that is manifested in atonement will be empty, shallow, and shot through with the tendencies of antinomianism…(1)

1. Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, F. Leroy Forlines, ed. Pinson, pp 199-200, (Nashville, Randall House, 2011)

Friday, October 07, 2011


The Society of Evangelical Arminians published an excellent reference chart to help explain the differences between the Arminian acronym FACTS and the common Calvinist doctrine expressed by TULIP.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Old Earth Creationism: Orthodox, Heterodox or Neither?

"You do not believe the Bible"! "You are calling Jesus a liar"! "You could not have much faith in the Word of God if you believe that"! "That is nothing but the presumptions of secularists"! Just about every empty argument that can be made has been leveled at one or other persons who have examined the physical evidence around us and concluded that the earth must be considerably greater than a mere six thousand years. While young in the faith I took my young earth creationist teachers at their word and agreed with them about such things however as I have aged and explored the faith and scriptures, that is no longer a proposition I can hold to. Perhaps "pragmatic creationist" is a preferred nomenclature for that seems to address the incorporation of physical evidence with the faith one has in the creation account of Genesis. This of course demands a reconciliation of what we deem physical evidence with that of faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. The former we can measure and observe. The latter we accept as truth from the LORD who has changed us from those who cannot fathom what is beyond the physical sense to those who trust their entire being in hope and what is not seen. Can this evidence be reconciled with the substance of faith? Unless the evidence is wrong or merely a great deception through God's handiwork, it must be and if creation is to be believed and hence the Bible itself, one must fit rationally and neatly with the other.

Could or would God work His hand in the construction of an elaborate deception intended to cause men to handle evidence that clearly indicates an age of the earth that rather than being a mere six thousand years old is instead, millions or billions of years in age? If this would somehow fit into an end picture of God's plan for creation, the thought can be entertained but for the intentional deception. The coal miner in West Virginia whose mechanical shovel just unturned a seam of coal littered with fossils of plants long known to be extinct has uncovered physical evidence of a very old earth. It is not evidence that stands on its own but when included among the varying layers of stratified coal, shale and sandstone formations above this particular seam, it conclusively eliminates a certain cause e.g. a global flood. The extensive reach of fossil fuel and petrochemical deposits testifies to the sheer volume of organic material needed to produce such large quantities of fossilized carbon. Something other than a singular global event must have occurred to produce stratified layers of rock formations and fossil fuels. The math does not work and the physical evidence is there for us to see. Did the hand of God place the fossil fern in the seam and was that meant to deceive? I have a difficult time believing that would be the case and I have yet to read a convincing argument to explain the physical evidence fitting a day one creation account.

Old earth creationism (OEC) has been an acceptable theological premise at least since being included in the notes to the Scofield Reference Bible in the 1940s. Not limited to dispensationist minded believers, the Gap theory associated with OEC gained acceptance among fundamentalists, Baptists and non-denominational believers of varying persuasions. In that sense, the viewpoint should be considered within the pale of orthodoxy and certainly not heterodoxy given that there is no damage to the orthodoxy of the person and work of Jesus Christ e.g soteriology, birth, death, burial and resurrection of Christ. While Young Earth Creationists (YEC) might disagree with that assessment and they are entitled to their opinion, problems do not seem to arise until creationism is challenged and the core truths of scripture cross a threshold of unbelief.  While there are other streams of thought concerning OEC, the Gap theory sometimes referred to as "Ruin-Restoration" maintains belief in the creation account while making a purposeful distinction between Gen 1:2-3. Those of us accepting of this theory find no conflict with an old age of a previously ruined world and the restoration through the creation account provided at the beginning of the Bible. God did everything he stated in chapter one and restored this world in the six literal days mentioned. That is the Gap theory and it is reconciled with the abundant physical evidence all around us. There is no need to assume the impossible volume of organic fossil fuel through the global flood (something most GAP theorists also believe to be literally true). There is no need to imagine how Noah had a pair of T-Rex dinosaurs loaded onto the Ark. One fellow recently suggested that eggs were rolled onto the Ark rather than violently carnivorous adults. I am not sure how that works nor do I have any idea if T-Rex actually existed in the manner it is depicted in scientific "folklore". There is so much we truly do not know. However, we can be comfortable theorizing that there is a gap between a ruined world and a newly restored world that does not conflict with the creation account of Genesis and at the same time is wholly consistent with hard, physical evidence that cannot be reconciled with a 6,000 year age.

The argument of whether these matters are orthodox or heterodox really comes down to a question of essential doctrine. Is the rejection of Ruin-Restoration theory an essential position in the church? I do not believe so. Does orthodoxy hinge on the singular creation of all that has ever existed in eternity? I think it is silly to make such broad and sweeping generalizations .  Instead, pragmatic creationism allows believers to incorporate the witness of the creation around us without conflict into the text of scripture itself. I do not have to consider the evidence to have been a heavenly trick played on "science" nor do I have any need or desire to reject creationism as some of our "theistic evolutionists" are forced to do. Both reconcile neatly into my understanding and acceptance of scripture.