This morning, my old friend Nate left an insightful comment on the Facebook post of my review of David Platt’s book, Follow Me. I think he raises many valid points, and I would like to take the time to address them. I’ve chosen to do that here, on the blog, rather than on the Facebook thread so that I can better interact with his comments. To see what he is commenting on, please click here, and scroll down to the section titled, My Criticism. Nate’s comments will appear in the gray boxes, with my responses to each immediately following.
My first contention is with your statement that basically God initiated our salvation at the Cross and now he’s waiting for us to “make that salvation available.” What does the Holy Spirit do? Isn’t he the one who convicts and convinces of sin (John 16:7-8) and also the one who initiates our spiritual birth (John 3:5-8), or are these verses “metaphorical” as well? What is his mission? To wait around until we build up the gumption to surrender to Christ and then he moves in? That’s not Biblical in the slightest.
In my attempt to be brief, I left out a lot of important information, as you have pointed out. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is actively wooing nonChristians to Jesus through a variety of means, particularly convicting of sin. God is not sitting back in his heavenly arm chair waiting for us to accomplish his mission. But here’s the point I wanted to make–neither are we sitting back in our sinful arm chairs waiting for God to save us and everyone else. We are active agents in the Great Commission. We were told by Jesus, “Go. Make Disciples. Teach. Baptize.” (And surely he is with us, always.) God did what only he could do–pay the price for the sin of humanity on the cross, then destroy death through his resurrection. Then, as Matthew 28 makes explicit, he told his first disciples to tell the rest of the world about what has happened, and in that telling they would bring the message through which all could be saved. (Acts 11:14) God has partnered with his people to bring about salvation for all who will believe. Paul makes the point most clearly, I think:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:9-15)
To sum it up:
- We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord;
- We call on the name of the Lord because we believe in him;
- We believe in him because we have heard of him [and the Gospel];
- We have heard because someone has preached to us.
I’m not saying that you or I can save anybody. Nor am I saying that God has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation, now that the crucifixion and resurrection have happened. What I am saying is what I think both Jesus and Paul are saying, which is that God has sovereignly chosen to make his disciples active agents in his plan of salvation. Isn’t that what missions is all about? I think Platt would agree with me on that, at least.
Regarding your statement about the parable of the treasure; I think you’re missing an important component. Namely, how does this man know the treasure has value? I know that seems simplistic, but seriously, what tells this man “this is worth my life savings”? If you say it’s obvious that it’s valuable, then why don’t some people see this value? Why do many people who are saturated with the Gospel never see its worth? Are they not as smart as us? Not as spiritually sensitive? Are they simply more in love with their sin than we are? If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy (I’m not accusing you of intentional heresy, simply that you are treading on thin ice).
I thought this was a great point, and I thought about it for a long time. Then it struck me that Jesus may have had something to say about this.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”[Jesus then goes on to explain the parable.] “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13)
It seems to me that Jesus is describing four types of people that characterize four different responses to the Gospel. Jesus says that there are three reasons for why people reject the Gospel: 1) They don’t understand it, and so Satan has snatched away the message that was sown in their heart; 2) Trouble and/or persecution comes upon a new believer who has no root, and so they give up; and 3) The worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out the Gospel, so that it fails to bring forth fruit. The fourth soil–the only one in which the Gospel bears fruit–produces a thriving crop because, as Jesus says, someone heard the word and understood it. Jesus did not say that this was because of the grace of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Gospel took root in them and was fertile because they heard and understood it. So I will say what Jesus said: The difference between those who receive the Gospel and those who reject it is that the ones who receive it understand it.
At this point, it may be tempting to ask, “Why did they understand it?”, and then to answer, “Because of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not what Jesus said. He left it at “someone who hears the word and understands it.” To explain the mechanism of understanding is to eisegete the text. You said, “If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy.” But this is precisely what Jesus has said. I would argue that if your theological system puts you in the position of accusing Jesus of “potential heresy,” then it is time to abandon your theological system.
Your treatment of Ephesians 2 is confusing. If Paul didn’t mean that we are spiritually dead, then what exactly did he mean? Paul used the word nekros there, and while I don’t know Greek perfectly, that means dead. A corpse. Without life. You mentioned that it may be metaphorical. Honestly, if he were referring to our physical bodies, you would be correct because obviously the reader was alive and able to read. But our physical life isn’t what he had in mind, he was referring to our spiritual self. This isn’t Gnosticism, this is Biblical. Gnosticism is that the spiritual and the physical are unrelated so what happens to one is independent of the other. That’s not what he was teaching.
Also, I don’t think I need to go into detail that the Bible considers unsaved people to be dead. That is clear. To think that when I was unsaved I was ALMOST totally dead, but I had a spark of divinity that could choose God is semi-Pelagian at best. I don’t want to get aggressive here, but it concerns me that every time a passage is presented that contradicts your theological view, instead of trying to reason it out within Scripture, your default response is that it must be metaphorical. You’ve done it with both creation and prophecy in the past. I don’t argue those because they are not critical to the faith. But to say that the clear Biblical teaching that we are helpless corpses in our sin is simply metaphorical is untenable. If we start throwing this word around then we run into problems such as was the virgin birth simply metaphor? What about the miracles? What about the nature of the atonement? Was the resurrection metaphorical or literal? The Second Coming? I’m not trying to be belligerent, and I’m not questioning your fidelity on these issues, I’m simply saying you enter a slippery slope whenever you throw the word “metaphor” around loosely when the Bible doesn’t intend to be taken metaphorically.
You’re correct in identifying the basic teaching of Gnosticism. John saw this Gnostic storm brewing in his church at Ephesus, and so we got the incredible book of 1 John, which just so happens to be my favorite book in the Bible. But if Paul is saying that the spiritual can be dead while the physical is alive, isn’t he saying the same thing (though with the opposite side being dead or useless) as the Gnostics? Isn’t this kind of division of the spiritual and physical Gnostic, in and of itself?
As for Ephesians 2, perhaps I ought to go back to Ephesians 1 to help explain why I think Paul is using a metaphor. Ephesians 1:12-13 says this: “…we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (I’ve italicized the portions I think are relevant to this discussion.) Can dead people put their hope in Christ? Can dead people believe? Platt argues that dead people can’t invite Jesus into their hearts. In fact, dead people can’t do anything! But Paul says that these people, whom he calls “dead in your transgressions and sins” in chapter 2, believed in Christ. Paul does not say, in chapter 1, that they were infused with belief by God. Rather, he plainly states: When you believed. They were dead in their sins, and then they heard the Gospel and believed. (This sounds quite similar to the parable of Jesus I quoted above.) This, as well as the contrasting vocabulary Paul chooses in chapter 2 (You were dead in your…sins in which you used to live), leads me to believe that Paul is using the term dead metaphorically.
As for your concerns about interpreting Scripture, I try to remain as faithful as possible to the text, which, for me, means understanding the text within its original context, however much a thing is possible. I’ve used this quote from Fee & Stuart again and again, and I live by it: The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. What it meant when it was written is what it means today, though obviously we apply the text in a vastly different context. I’m not afraid of becoming liberal anymore. Many people believe that I’ve already arrived there. No, my greater fear is being unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures. The reason that I rail, at times, against certain Calvinistic doctrines is because I believe that they are, in fact, unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures.
Finally, (and this is turning out to be longer than I expected) while I agree with you that Genesis 1&2 are eternal and will return someday, the fact is that Genesis 3 distorted that image, like it did everything else. Certainly, Christ began the reversal of the curse on the Cross, and someday he will reverse it completely when he returns, but until then, sin rules this world and blinds the eyes of the lost. Before I was saved, I was dead, blind, and useless. When God gave me life and raised me from the dead spiritually, I was able to enter a relationship with him again. Not because I’m better than anyone else, but because God is gracious.
I agree with so much of what you write here, but I would say this: sin does not rule this world, Jesus does. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus, not sin, is Lord. Jesus is presently reigning from the right hand of the Father, that glorious place of cosmic authority from which he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet.
The core of our disagreement, I think, is that, in my opinion, you give sin too much credit. The creative act of God is more powerful and more enduring the destructive acts of Satan or humans. If Jesus is Lord, then sin, death, hell, Satan, or anyone or anything else is not. The Genesis 3 world is passing away, and the Revelation 21-22 world (which is really just the mirror image of the Genesis 1-2 world) is coming. Jesus has already defeated sin, evil, and death. He is defeating them. And he will defeat them.
I hope that I have sufficiently answered your concerns, and I look forward to continuing this discussion.