Rob Bell defends his book on MSNBC

Martin Bashir does a good job of asking the right questions and getting to the heart of the issue in the controversy about Bell’s new book Love Wins.

[youtube id=”Vg-qgmJ7nzA”]

 

The review that Bashir refers to is the excellent response written by Kevin DeYoung.

42 replies
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    That interviewer was really good! He stuck to the question, and wouldn't let Bell off the hook till he answered directly. He knew his stuff, and cut right to the heart of the issues.

  2. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    Agreed.

    What did you guys think of Bashir's first question? How would you have you responded to that dilemma in the short time-frame available?

  3. Constant Laubscher
    Constant Laubscher says:

    I think the interviewer is biased. He keeps saying 'that is what you have done isn't it?' It seems very accusing. I would have phrased it 'Is that what you are saying?' as a more objective approach to give him a fair chance to answer. Leave the possibility of approval open and peoples real views tend to come out :)

    Is Rob contradicting himself? I have not read the book, but it seems he is denying what interviewer claims he asserts in his book. Would have been good to pull some quotes out of the book and see how Rob replies to that. I wonder what Rob does with hell then?

    Rob is very evasive in his answers. Who knows where he really stands (and this is where the risk lies), he is dancing around the issue. There is a fine line between engaging in the debate and actually supporting heretical doctrine.

    There are some interesting things coming out of the Emergent Church, and not all of it is kosher…

  4. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    If a person is, as Bell exemplars, abused by their pastor when young, and so lives their life running away from Christ and dies a non-Christian. What then?

    If such a person goes to Hell, then God is irrelevant. Bell's God isn't.

  5. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    I think this video makes it quite clear that Bell is either an idiot or a liar. Either he genuinely does not understand these issues well enough to answer the simple questions this excellent reporter posed him, and to evaluate the historical evidence for the positions he's promulgating, and to spot the historical and philosophical and theological fallacies that riddle his beliefs; or he does understand these things and simply chooses to publicly deny them.

    Given the way he answered the first question by calling it a paradox, rather than by giving the answer that the Bible gives—that the dilemma is a false one and that disasters are a result of sin, both original and otherwise—my sense is that he's actually just an idiot. But I guess he could be both.

    Either way, being an idiot or a liar makes you thoroughly unqualified to be a pastor. And either way, his grip on the gospel is far too poor for him to be reasonably considered a Christian.

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Thats probably too far, Bnonn. I think the severest criticism that is warranted is that he uses his pastoral interaction with people struggling with issues as justification for making heterodoxy theologically permissible.

  7. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stu, I don't think it's too far at all; at least, not if Kevin deYoung's review is to be trusted:

    According to Bell, salvation is realizing you’re already saved. We are all forgiven. We are all loved, equally and fully by God who has made peace with everyone. That work is done. Now we are invited to believe that story and live in it (172–73).

    Bell is not saying what you think he might be saying. He’s not suggesting faith is the instrumental cause used by the Spirit to join us to Christ so we can share in all his benefits. That would be evangelical theology. Bell is saying God has already forgiven us whether we ask for it or not, whether we repent and believe or not, whether we are born again or not. “Forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up—God has already done it” (189).

    Compare with Galatians 1 & 3:

    Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

    I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

    I think that last line sums it up pretty well, actually.

  8. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    But Bnonn, this is not what you were saying. You said that Bell is either an idiot or a liar or possibly both, and (on the basis of his understanding of the gospel) he cannot reasonably be considered a Christian.

    These quotations only go as so far to conclude Bell is wrong.

    At any rate, I was supposing the judgment was only informed by the video provided above.

  9. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Yeah, I was speaking more generally; I don't think the video gives you enough to go on as regards the gospel.

    Anyway, the quotations go so far as to say that (1) Bell is wrong in regards to what the gospel is, (2) if you're wrong in regards to what the gospel is then you have no gospel at all (ie, you are not a Christian); and (3) if you preach this false gospel you should be accursed by the church at large.

  10. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    (2) is false. You can be saved without knowing you're saved. This entails that you don't need to know what the gospel is to be saved, and you don't need correct theology to be saved. Thank God!

    Not sure about (3), I'll have to think more on it.

  11. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    I'm joining the conversation rather late but, Stuart, there is a difference between not knowing all the details and denying what God has revealed to you. This is all (2) is saying: if one denies the gospel, one cannot be saved. It is impossible to have faith in something you disbelieve. And if you think differently, I'd be curious as to how you justify this according to Scripture.

    We do need correct theology to be saved. After all, the knower must have some knowledge of the known in order for a relationship to exist. Sure, that knowledge doesn't have to be exhaustive, but – however incomplete and partial – it must be true.

  12. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hello, (I think we've left Rob Bell behind)

    I do believe that certain knowledge is needed for salvation. However, you raise the issue as to the extent of that knowledge.

    Firstly, I don't think you need to be deliberately aware of things to know things. This is an important epistemological point to consider.

    Second, I'm inclined to think the answer to that issue is a very minimal set of propositions, perhaps even limited to the inadequacy of the knower, and a trust in the one who saves.

    Coming to faith in Jesus is an interaction of persons: an offer, and a response. A personal relationship of two knowers. I think we have a tendency to forget this very personal foundation. We like to make the creedal and confessional statements of our traditions the plume-line, as if we cannot be Christian without ticking every box beside a list of propositions. But we shouldn't equate signing up to accepted beliefs with the salvation of an individual. If so, we run the risk of judging who is saved and who is not. This is God's prerogative and his alone. Consider when you hear about someone you previously didn't know about. You begin to learn about him or her. Perhaps by talking to others that know them, or reading about them on the internet. You may even interact personally with each other. You may eventually know a great deal about them. But when do say you actually know them? When does an acquaintance become a friend? Or a friend become a lover? Its a fuzzy line and different from individual to individual. Its a growing awareness that one day becomes conscious. For some it dawns on them and realize then and there, but for others they realize that they actually transitioned a while ago.

    And when they have the Spirit, then he'll lead them into all truth.

  13. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    (2) is false. You can be saved without knowing you're saved. This entails that you don't need to know what the gospel is to be saved, and you don't need correct theology to be saved.

    I'm not sure what you're trying to say Stu. I assume it's not what you seem to be saying, which is that you can be saved apart from knowledge of the gospel. Paul's very point in the passage I quoted was the opposite of that position, and there's just no scriptural justification for such a view. Everything in the Bible says otherwise.

    Since salvation is by justification, and justification is by faith, and the object of faith is the atoning work of Christ, it is impossible to be saved apart from knowledge of, and trust in, that atoning work. It's impossible to not know that you are saved.

    I really do hope that you're not saying what I think you're saying, because then you would be preaching a gospel different to Paul's (ie, different to Jesus's)!

  14. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn,

    I believe we were typing at the same time and I have answered the concerns you raised in the previous comment of mine. Also, that I think this has been a similar sticking point in previous exchanges we have had. Obviously, we use the term "gospel" in different senses. and to further complicate things, I know I use it with both senses at different times.

    The gospel, I believe, properly speaking, is the man Himself, Jesus Christ. But then there is the message of salvation which we call the gospel, which includes a whole lot of propositions about Jesus and the work of atonement he has accomplished. And then we also use the same term to refer to a whole lot of extra propositions that form the whole of Christian theology.

    Salvation of an individual, I take it, involves only acceptance of the man. We are then given his Spirit, who leads us into all truth.

  15. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Firstly, I don't think you need to be deliberately aware of things to know things. This is an important epistemological point to consider.

    Could you point me to an epistemologist who takes (or even concedes) this view? By definition, knowledge is at least a warranted, true belief. I don't see how a person, S, can believe a proposition, P, without being deliberately aware of believing P. By definition, if there is no deliberate awareness, then there is no belief. There may be certain conditions that will make belief that P likely or even certain, were S to consider P—but without deliberate awareness there is no belief; and without belief there is no knowledge.

    Second, I'm inclined to think the answer to that issue is a very minimal set of propositions, perhaps even limited to the inadequacy of the knower, and a trust in the one who saves.

    Initially, perhaps, but seem to be implying that this set of propositions remains identical regardless of spiritual development. Why think that? The thief on the cross clearly did not have a systematic understanding of the gospel. But had he lived, he could hardly have gone the rest of his life without developing a more fully-orbed understanding of his salvation. If, during that process, he had adopted all manner of false beliefs to the point that he mitigated the gospel entirely, then he certainly would not have been saved. Call his initial, saving belief in Christ B1. Say he then meets Paul, who teaches him justification by faith alone, B2. He rejects B2 but continues to believe B1. We could hardly then say he was still saved, could we? The issue at hand is not only what you must believe to begin with, but what you must not believe as you develop your understanding of your salvation. Bell is not a child in the faith—he is pretending to teach "solid food", not "milk". But his food is rancid. The Bible has a word for people like him: wolves in sheep's clothing.

    The gospel, I believe, properly speaking, is the man Himself, Jesus Christ

    But that sounds a lot like Bell, saying that "we are the gospel". It doesn't make a lick of sense. The gospel is a message; "gospel" means "good news". News must have propositional content. Jesus might be the object of the gospel (more properly, his atonement is the object), but he is not the gospel itself.

    Salvation of an individual, I take it, involves only acceptance of the man.

    Even if this is true, which I don't necessarily grant, who the man is depends on good theology. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons also claim to accept the man Jesus. But he is not the same man as the Jesus of the Bible. Similarly, how you accept him depends on good theology too. Catholics claim to accept the man Jesus, and their Jesus is the one of the Bible. But they do not accept his salvation as a complete work, applied by faith. Thus they also mitigate the gospel and so have no gospel at all.

    But we shouldn't equate signing up to accepted beliefs with the salvation of an individual. If so, we run the risk of judging who is saved and who is not.

    I agree salvation we should not equate salvation with assenting to a creed of beliefs accepted by some particular denomination. But we certainly should should equate salvation with signing up to certain beliefs the Bible puts forward as necessary for salvation. I don't see how judging whether someone is saved or not is a "risk". If anything, it is an obligation of Christian discernment. It is part and parcel with the obligation to test everything. How can we know who to witness to, who to correct, who to fellowship with, who to defend the faith against, if we cannot "run the risk" of judging who is saved to begin with?

    This is God's prerogative and his alone.

    Nope. It's God's prerogative to save. It is our duty to exercise discernment with regards to the likely salvation of others when necessary (as in cases such as this).

    And when they have the Spirit, then he'll lead them into all truth.

    If that verse meant what you seem to think it means, there wouldn't be universalists and annihilationists and traditionalists and Arminians and Calvinists and everything else. There'd just be Christians, with a long history of doctrinal agreement.

  16. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn,

    I'll start with this and maybe get to the other bits a bit later. I'm tired and can't be bothered right now.

    On my thoughts regarding the unnecessary need to be deliberately aware of things to know those things, Craig (though not an epistemologist) is one philosopher who would agree. In opposing to an argument for universalism, he says

    "it fails to distinguish between knowing that p and being aware that p, where p is any fact. . . . I find [this] even more appealing: the redeemed do retain knowledge of the fate of the damned but they are not conscious of it. When you think about it, we're not conscious of most of what we know. . . ." (See "Question 86" Reasonable Faith Q&A archive; <a href="http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6765)

    ” target=”_blank”>http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6765)

    The post-critical philosophy of Michael Polanyi is also instructive, where he recognizes that, prior to human awareness of the world as other, is a fundamental unity of knower and known, of subject and object, of self and world. He calls this Personal Knowledge.

    I'm not suggesting that this knowledge is absent propositions. What I am getting at is knowledge is more than just its propositional content. How, Polanyi asks, does a scientist intuit scientific breakthroughs? Or how does a child learn to ride a bicycle? Or how do you pick out your wife's face in a crowd? There is a knowledge that surpasses Plato's standard definition which is profoundly personal, and the combination of experience and theory is crucial for providing "clues to truth," or an "intuition of reality."

    But I'm mostly drawing on the insights of depth psychology that there is vastly more to person than waking consciousness.

    The whole project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which we are only dimly, if at all, aware. Charles Harris explains, a person under hypnosis may be informed of certain facts and then instructed to forget them when he "awakens," but
    "the knowledge is truly in his mind, and shows itself in unmistakable ways, especially by causing him to preform . . . certain actions, which, but for the possession of this knowledge, he would not have preformed. . . . What is still more extraordinary, a sensitive hypnotic subject mat be made both to see and not to see the same object at the same moment. For example, he mat be told not to see a lamp-post, whereupon he becomes (the the ordinary sense) quite unable to see it. Nonetheless, he does see it, because he avoids it and cannot be induced to precipitate himself against it." (Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview, p. 611)

  17. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    Stuart,

    You seem to be arguing against a field of strawmen. Who in this thread has denied that salvation is more than assent to propositional content? Faith is more than mere knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done, but it is never anything less. And if a person does not know or believe this bare propositional content, how can that person also claim to be saved?

    Otherwise, why would Paul himself ask of the lost and unreached, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?"? (Romans 10:14)

  18. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stuart, no offense meant dude, but you need to start reading Craig more critically. And read some epistemologists too. (And while you're at it, take a look at Dean Zimmerman's critique of molinism!)

    Anyway, Craig's distinction between knowledge and awareness is rather idiosyncratic. When he draws this "distinction" and talks about awareness, he is really just talking about the act of recalling existing knowledge; about some agent S bringing prior knowledge that P to mind at some particular time, t. There's no meaningful distinction between awareness and knowledge here from the point of view of salvation—in fact, the only distinction being made is that awareness involves both knowledge and its recollection by the knower at a point in time. But for it to be recollected, it must first have been apprehended. So recollection is really just a re-apprehension of the knowledge. Thus you cannot know that you are saved yet never be aware that you are saved, because knowledge is predicated on awareness, in Craig's idiosyncratic lingo. The logical order is Awareness ? Knowledge [? Awareness ? Knowledge]

    In any case, as regards the rest of your comment, I'm not contending that all knowledge must consist of propositions. It's fairly trivial to note the distinction between propositional and procedural knowledge. Someone who has never learned language can obviously still have knowledge of some sort. He would just be unable to accurately, communicably, and repeatably articulate it. But the gospel is not that sort of knowledge. It is propositional, and so someone who is unable to entertain propositional knowledge is unable to be saved by means of it.

    Btw, I wouldn't read too much into Craig & Moreland's use of the term "knowledge" in the passage you cite—they are clearly using it in a colloquial sense, and not in the more rigorous philosophical sense.

  19. Dan
    Dan says:

    I have to say that I lean toward Stu on this. Many times, in the gospel accounts, prior to any of it being written down, prior to Paul, prior to the Council of Nicaea and prior to the reformation and most importantly prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus – you could be saved through faith.

    You could sit in the dust, blind or deaf or bleeding or diseased or illeterate and you could reach out to the living word of G-d, who walked the earth in perfect love and you could be healed, saved and enter into the shalom-peace of the kingdom. Jesus didn't say "First, let me explain . . ", instead: 'immediately he saw again.'

    It is nice to have metaphysics and philosophy but rhetoric by its very nature frustrates the immediacy of faith. And I want it now ;)

  20. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Dan,

    Thats a good argument I think. I thought of it myself when Bnonn mentioned the thief on the cross. Bnonn speculated thats if the thief somehow had lived, but then denied Paul's teaching that salvation was by faith alone, instead adopting a faith/works theology, then this guy would show that he is not saved. But that seems to me ridiculous. All that would mean was he was wrong on an essential point of Christian theology – not that he was not saved. If Jesus could forgive him for his previous sins (which I suppose were many), he surely could forgive him his mistaken theology as long as he remained committed to the person he almost died beside.

    Another example might be those villages filled with Muslims we hear about occasionally from missionaries. These Muslim villages all have a collective dream about Jesus the same night, but they know next to nothing about him. All they know is that if they want to be saved from their inadequacies they need to trust the one who appeared to them. When the missionaries turn up and start to interact with them, they hear of this personal encounter with Jesus, and find that they are all eager to lean about the one they met in their dreams only days before. Now suppose one of the villages responded in faith to this person, yet did not know his name, that he was the true God, that he was risen from the dead, etc. Say he came to believe something false about him, and before the missionaries could come and correct him, he tragically died. His response of faith to Jesus' personal invitation into relationship was undiminished by his false beliefs, so surely, its mad to think that this fellow was not saved.

    I'm inclined to think that we are saved on the basis of our response of faith to a personal invitation, and then, no matter what doctrine you pick up after that, true or false, your salvation remains solely on that basis of your trust in that person, the Savior. I understand Bnonn to say that once you "develop spiritually", or as time goes by and you learn more, then your salvation becomes based upon your response of faith in that person as well as the true beliefs that you adopt.

    The consequence for Bnonn's theology (if indeed that is what he is saying – it sounds like it) is that different streams of Christianity (such as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) are false churches and its members are not saved because they have false beliefs. Whereas the consequence of the theology I have articulated allows people to hold false beliefs (such as do Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) and, as long as they respond in faith to Jesus, can still be saved. Mormons and JW's have a false view of Jesus, but it doesn't follow that Jesus cannot genuinely save those who have and continue to believe those falsehoods about him. If they respond appropriately whenever and however the invitation comes to them, and as long as that invitation was to him.

    With respect to my assertion that we are saved on the basis of our response to the Savior himself, Jesus Christ, and not by the auxiliary true propositions about him, Bnonn is, as far as I can tell, merely asserting the contrary. Not really offering any arguments against.

  21. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stuart says…

    Bnonn speculated thats if the thief somehow had lived, but then denied Paul's teaching that salvation was by faith alone, instead adopting a faith/works theology, then this guy would show that he is not saved. But that seems to me ridiculous.

    Paul of Tarsus says…

    I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

    Ridiculous Paul, ridiculous!

    All that would mean was he was wrong on an essential point of Christian theology – not that he was not saved.

    By that logic, "essential point of Christian theology" is a meaningless term. If you can deny an essential point and still be a Christian, then the point is not essential.

    If Jesus could forgive him for his previous sins (which I suppose were many), he surely could forgive him his mistaken theology as long as he remained committed to the person he almost died beside.

    Being committed to the person means being committed to the message. If he denies the gospel of grace that Jesus preaches, then he denies Jesus. It doesn't matter how committed he thinks he is.

    His response of faith to Jesus' personal invitation into relationship was undiminished by his false beliefs, so surely, its mad to think that this fellow was not saved.

    If you have to create a fantastical, imaginary, decidedly non-normative scenario to prove your point, then your point doesn't appear well fitted to normative reality.

    I'm inclined to think that we are saved on the basis of our response of faith to a personal invitation, and then, no matter what doctrine you pick up after that, true or false, your salvation remains solely on that basis of your trust in that person, the Savior.

    As I've already pointed out, this is a nice sentiment concealing a logical contradiction. Your trust in Jesus is not somehow dissociated from your doctrine. It is defined by your doctrine. If you are trusting in someone you call Jesus who isn't the Son of God, or you're trusting him equivocally, then the Bible says flatly that you are not saved.

    The consequence for Bnonn's theology (if indeed that is what he is saying – it sounds like it) is that different streams of Christianity (such as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) are false churches and its members are not saved because they have false beliefs.

    Of course. Why do you think the Reformation occurred for crying out loud? Why do you think the Reformers routinely refer to the Pope as the Antichrist? No sound-minded Christian who understands Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy could think other than that they are false churches; synagogues of Satan.

    Whereas the consequence of the theology I have articulated allows people to hold false beliefs (such as do Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) and, as long as they respond in faith to Jesus, can still be saved.

    Which is so much the worse for your theology, I'm afraid. Inclusivism might be popular, but it's also unbiblical and wrong.

  22. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    From a post on this site:

    Inclusivism: "This view can be broken down into different positions. Generally, inclusivists affirm the truth of fundamental Christian claims, but nevertheless appeal to the love of God and insist that God has revealed Himself, even in saving ways, within other religions. All who are saved are in fact saved on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but conscious faith in Jesus is not necessary: some may be saved who have never heard of him, and may respond positively to the light they have received."
    http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/12/is-there-sa

    If the shoe fits….

  23. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Jared, that shoe doesn't fit me. The difference here is that I don't think that God has revealed himself in other religions, and I don't think other peoples response to their false religion matters in the slightest with respect to their salvation. I think that God reveals himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and they are saved solely on the basis of their response in faith to the Savior. Additionally, I think that false beliefs about Jesus and what he has done do not effect their salvation. If they are truly saved, then they will have the Spirit of God who leads them into all truth. Therefore I expect that when the truth comes to them (say for instance in the missionaries who turned up to that Muslim village) they will eventually be led to abandon false beliefs and adopt true ones.

    My view is not inclusivism. It does however give God the liberty to do his saving work on people in other religions. I accept that this may not be God's normal way of doing things, but ones view has to be able to deal with these types of extraordinary situations.

  24. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Jared, that shoe doesn’t fit me. The difference here is that I don’t think that God has revealed himself in other religions, and I don’t think other peoples response to their false religion matters in the slightest with respect to their salvation. I think that God reveals himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and they are saved solely on the basis of their response in faith to the Savior. Additionally, I think that false beliefs about Jesus and what he has done do not effect their salvation. If they are truly saved, then they will have the Spirit of God who leads them into all truth. Therefore I expect that when the truth comes to them (say for instance in the missionaries who turned up to that Muslim village) they will eventually be led to abandon false beliefs and adopt true ones.

    My view is not inclusivism. It does however give God the liberty to do his saving work on people in other religions. I accept that this may not be God’s normal way of doing things, but ones view has to be able to deal with these types of extraordinary situations.

  25. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    If you're saying that Christ is ontologically necessary (Christ and His death are the actual grounds for our salvation) but not epistemologically necessary (we don't need right beliefs about who he is and what he has done) than this is clearly soft inclusivism.

  26. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    Here's Ronald Nash:

    "[T]he picture is clear: Inclusivists hold that faith can save people even though it is deficient in theological content, yet there is no place in Scripture that asserts this. Indeed, Scripture teaches the precise opposite. While I agree that people are not saved simply by assenting to discrete information, I nevertheless maintain that saving faith has an awareness of such information as one of its necessary conditions (Rom. 10:9-10).

    I believe it is reckless, dangerous, and unbiblical to lead people to think that the preaching of the gospel (which I insist must contain specifics about the person and the work of Christ) and personal faith in Jesus are not necessary for salvation. If we do not accept the inclusivist definition of faith, we cannot very well accept the rest of the inclusivist system. "(Is Jesus the Only Savior?, 126)

  27. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    I agree with Ronald Nash there. I don't see the justification for calling that "clearly soft inclusivism." I'm an exclusivist. I think Christ alone saves, and the Christianity alone is the religion that you must adopt if you are going to show that you are saved.

  28. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stu, you're contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you say that it doesn't matter if you deny core Christian doctrines once you have accepted Christ. On the other hand, you say that you must adopt Christianity if you are going to "show that you are saved". But denying core Christian doctrines is logically incompatible with adopting Christianity. So which is it?

    I think that God reveals himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and they are saved solely on the basis of their response in faith to the Savior.

    So far, so good.

    Additionally, I think that false beliefs about Jesus and what he has done do not effect their salvation.

    And here the wheels fall off. So, in your view, could someone convert to Mormonism, where Jesus has attained godhood rather than being the uncreated God, and still be saved? If not, why not, since this person's false beliefs about Jesus do not, according to you, affect her salvation? Or could she convert to Roman Catholicism, where Jesus did not complete a finished work of justification that is applied by faith to make her righteous in God's sight, but where instead she must constantly work for her justification by taking the sacraments, which involve (among other things) a "re-sacrifice" of Christ in the Eucharist every Sunday—could she do this and still be saved? If not, why not, since according to you her false beliefs about what Jesus has done do not affect her salvation?

    More to the point, could you defend your reasons for saying that someone could convert to Christianity, later deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone (also known as the gospel), and still be saved? You have given utterly no reasons for your beliefs that I can see. Whereas I have quoted Paul saying plainly that he is astonished that the Galatians are abandoning the gospel by abandoning the doctrine of sola fide; astonished that they are turning to a different gospel—but not that there is any other.

    Either the gospel is what describes what we must do to be saved, or it is not. If it is, then to abandon it is to abandon salvation. If it is not, then you are basically affirming the once-saved-always-saved view.

    If they are truly saved, then they will have the Spirit of God who leads them into all truth.

    Yet this isn't how you're treating the matter in the hypothetical situation I gave. When the thief on the cross lives and later rejects sola fide, you didn't say, "That wouldn't happen because he has the Spirit." I accept that answer! A person who is truly saved would not reject the gospel, and so would not reject sola fide! But what you are saying is that it doesn't matter if he rejects sola fide, because he has the Spirit. But in that case, the Spirit is not leading him into truth. Again, another logical inconsistency within your view.

  29. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn,

    Stu, you're contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you say that it doesn't matter if you deny core Christian doctrines once you have accepted Christ. On the other hand, you say that you must adopt Christianity if you are going to "show that you are saved". But denying core Christian doctrines is logically incompatible with adopting Christianity. So which is it?

    I don't believe I have said that it doesn't matter if you deny core Christian doctrines once you have accepted Christ. I don't even know what you mean when you say "core Christian doctrines." Does it mean essential Christian doctrines with respect to the salvation of the individual? It doesn't matter because even then those options are not logically incompatible. The act of denying essential Christian doctrines is behaviorally inconsistent with persons who believe those essential Christian doctrines. There is a difference between being saved and showing that you are saved.

    Now is what you mean to say there is a logical incompatibility between thinking essential Christian doctrines with respect to salvation are false and being saved? In that case, I would have to say it depends very much on the set of beliefs you consider essential. And I don't consider believing that some things-like sola fide for instance-are true is essential for the salvation of an individual. I believe that salvation depends upon the response of faith alone to Christ's invitation into relationship with Him.

    So, in your view, could someone convert to Mormonism, where Jesus has attained godhood rather than being the uncreated God, and still be saved? If not, why not, since this person's false beliefs about Jesus do not, according to you, affect her salvation?

    Salvation, from an evangelical perspective, in the Church of the Latter Day Saints isn't so cut and dry of an issue, since there is the version they preach to their initiates, and the version they eventually reveal to the long-standing members. But anyhow…

    You got to believe in the real Jesus. My point is the real Jesus can forgive this woman's, and any other persons, theological mistakes, such that we cannot know if any confessing Mormon is or is not truly saved. However, if she is truly saved she will have the Spirit of God who will lead her eventually to recognize the false beliefs propagated by the Church of the Latter Day Saints and adopt true beliefs.

    Thus we have ample motivation to evangelize amongst Mormons, and do counter-cult apologetics.

    I assume you'll say she [the Catholic] can [deny] this [sola fide] [and be saved].

    I'm not sure you've characterized Catholicism correctly, but no matter. Good assumption.

    How do you defend this view from Scripture? You have given utterly no reasons that I can see. Whereas I have quoted Paul saying plainly that he is astonished at the Galatians for abandoning the gospel by abandoning the doctrine of sola fide; astonished that they are turning to a different gospel—not that there is any other.

    You are assuming that the Galatians abandoning the gospel Paul preached to them is the same as the Galatians loosing their salvation or proving they never were truly saved in the first place. This assumption is not justified from the text. This assumption becomes explicit here,

    Either the gospel is what describes what we must do to be saved, or it is not. If it is, then to abandon it is to abandon salvation.

    This is an obfuscation in terms. The "gospel" does describe what we must do to be saved, and that is to accept the "gospel." These are two uses of the term "gospel." There is a what-gospel you must believe, and there is a who-gospel you must believe in. The two are one. But the who means salvation is assured by their personal commitment the Savior, and the what is the truth which is a signpost for us to know they are committed to Him.

    Yet this [the Spirit will lead them into all truth if they are truly saved] isn't how you're treating the matter in the hypothetical situation I gave. When the thief on the cross lives and later rejects sola fide, you didn't say, "That wouldn't happen because he has the Spirit." I accept that answer!

    I accept that would generally be the case, but not necessarily.

    A person who is truly saved would not reject the gospel, and so would not reject sola fide! But what you are saying is that it doesn't matter if he rejects sola fide, because he has the Spirit. But in that case, the Spirit is not leading him into truth. Again, another logical inconsistency within your view.

    Again, not a logical contradiction. This example is a behavioral inconsistency or theological blunder with respect to being led by the Spirit into adopting true beliefs. As long as God is forgiving, and as long as they are eventually led to adopt true beliefs then the supposed logical contradiction is shown to not logically contraditory.

    On that point you have said before,

    If that verse meant what you seem to think it means, there wouldn't be universalists and annihilationists and traditionalists and Arminians and Calvinists and everything else. There'd just be Christians, with a long history of doctrinal agreement.

    That is false. You are placing an unnecessary time barrier on God and his work. The Spirits works to bring about our glorification. Except for Jesus, no other human has yet been glorified. Does this mean that the Spirit is unsuccessful? In the meantime, it could be that God permits Calvinist's doctrinal error to continue because they remain a salvific community. ;-)

  30. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey Stu

    I don’t believe I have said that it doesn’t matter if you deny core Christian doctrines once you have accepted Christ.

    Taking "doesn't matter" to mean "isn't of salvific import", as per the context of our discussion, that is exactly what you have said. For example, you commented to Jared that "I think that false beliefs about Jesus and what he has done do not effect their salvation." And you said, "…then denied Paul's teaching that salvation was by faith alone, instead adopting a faith/works theology, then this guy would show that he is not saved. But that seems to me ridiculous. All that would mean was he was wrong on an essential point of Christian theology – not that he was not saved." Among others.

    I've also made it clear, by using the examples of sola fide and the deity of Christ, that a "core Christian doctrine" is one which, if denied, logically entails the denial of the gospel.

    And I don't consider believing that some things-like sola fide for instance-are true is essential for the salvation of an individual. I believe that salvation depends upon the response of faith alone to Christ's invitation into relationship with Him.

    So you have repeatedly said. But merely restating your position doesn't advance the argument. I've quoted Paul saying that denying sola fide is equivalent to abandoning the gospel. Where is your counter-argument? The response of faith alone to Christ's invitation presupposes sola fide. Ie, ditch sola fide and you ditch salvation.

    You got to believe in the real Jesus. My point is the real Jesus can forgive this woman's, and any other persons, theological mistakes, such that we cannot know if any confessing Mormon is or is not truly saved. However, if she is truly saved she will have the Spirit of God who will lead her eventually to recognize the false beliefs propagated by the Church of the Latter Day Saints and adopt true beliefs.

    That's fine; of course Jesus can forgive those mistakes if she repents of her error. But if you have to believe in the real Jesus to be saved, and your theological mistakes include thinking that Jesus is not of one essence with the Father, then you are not currently saved. There are no two ways about it. Whether or not Jesus can forgive this mistake, the fact is that he won't unless you repent, because forgiveness is predicated on believing in him, which this woman is not doing. You seem to be using the term "saved" to mean "elect". But that isn't how it's normally used, and it's certainly not how I'm using it, as I thought the context made clear. We are well within our rights as Christians to say that a good Mormon is not saved. The word "saved" is present tense for a reason. It means that a person shows evidence of being currently justified by faith. So saying someone isn't saved is not logically equivalent to saying she isn't elect. We don't balk to say atheists are not saved; but we certainly don't presume to say they aren't elect. God might draw them to faith in future. But if they don't presently have faith in Jesus, they are not saved. If they died tonight, they would not find God's presence a comfort and a joy.

    You are assuming that the Galatians abandoning the gospel Paul preached to them is the same as the Galatians loosing their salvation or proving they never were truly saved in the first place.

    Indeed I am. If you abandon the gospel, you abandon Christ. The gospel is the offer, command, and means of salvation. You can't abandon the means of salvation without abandoning the salvation itself.

    There is a what-gospel you must believe, and there is a who-gospel you must believe in. The two are one. But the who means salvation is assured by their personal commitment the Savior, and the what is the truth which is a signpost for us to know they are committed to Him.

    If the what and the who are one, then denying the what is to deny the who. You seem to be confusing a sincere commitment with a right commitment. But one can be sincerely wrong. One can be sincerely committed to a false gospel, and to a false Christ.

    I accept that would generally be the case, but not necessarily.

    Again, sans argumentation.

    Again, not a logical contradiction. This example is a behavioral inconsistency or theological blunder with respect to being led by the Spirit into adopting true beliefs. As long as God is forgiving, and as long as they are eventually led to adopt true beliefs then the supposed logical contradiction is shown to not logically contraditory.

    I accept that, but it doesn't have any bearing on the actual discussion, which is as regards judging the present state of salvation of someone who denies the gospel (or some integral doctrine thereof).

  31. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn,

    The response of faith alone to Christ's invitation presupposes sola fide. Ie, ditch sola fide and you ditch salvation.

    Thats true, but your uncurling of that statement is false. Imagine this inner dialogue of Betty.

    "I am such a wicked person. I've done so many things to displeased God. He and I are totally estranged. If I'm ever going to be worthy to get to heaven, I'll have to trust in Jesus to save me. It can't be by any of my efforts. The distance between us is far too great, and besides, I've already spoilt my record.
    But look at Sandra over there. She's so perfect. She's never done anything to displease God. She doesn't need faith in Jesus. I bet she'll get to heaven by just continuing what she's doing."

    Here Betty has denied sola fide is true. However, she is saved on the basis of her response to Jesus that has presupposed sola fide. Moreover, poor confused Betty has also denied the universality of sin, which is part of the gospel. She is saved by the gospel, yet has denied the gospel.

    But if you have to believe in the real Jesus to be saved, and your theological mistakes include thinking that Jesus is not of one essence with the Father, then you are not currently saved. There are no two ways about it. Whether or not Jesus can forgive this mistake, the fact is that he won't unless you repent, because forgiveness is predicated on believing in him, which this [Mormon] woman is not doing.

    Extend this argument out logically. If this is true it would mean that church-going children who profess to love Jesus yet think that Jesus is one God out of three other God's is not saved. It means unlearned converts are not saved. A great deal of pre-nicene saints were not saved. The other logical consequence is that if salvation is dependent on having correct theology – this is itself is a denial of salvation sola fide. Reductio ad absurdum. Your position is by two counts absurd.

    You seem to be using the term "saved" to mean "elect"

    Nope.

    It ["saved"] means that a person shows evidence of being currently justified by faith.

    Nope. "Saved" means that person is justified by faith. Thats how I'm using the term.

    Faith is the only evidence required for salvation. This faith is primarily a trust in a person, but is not absent a minimal set of propositions. This limited set is perhaps limited to these two: "I cannot save myself." and "I need to rely on the person of Jesus Christ." If this is correct, therefore you don't need to know he is the only one who can save, which is also the gospel. Nor do you need to know the name Jesus – you just need to know of the one who is called Jesus.

    You seem to be confusing a sincere commitment with a right commitment.

    Nope. You are refusing to acknowledge the distinction between the who-gospel (Jesus Christ), and the what-gospel (certain propositions about the "offer, command and means of salvation.")

    Here is another illustration:

    Alfred meets someone he hasn't met before. He starts relating with this person and finds out this guy is the one responsible for sweeping the street you live on. He finds out his name is Brian. Alfred comes to trust this person. He becomes a friend and he knows him for years. They call each other "Mate," because thats just what they are – good mates!
    Walking the streets Alfred bumps into one of his neighbors whose name is Darryl. Brian has mentioned that Darryl is a good friend of his also. You comment on how good the street looks, now that Brian has cleaned it. And Darryl looks perplexed.
    "Who?" Darryl says.
    "You know… Brian." You reply. "He's the one who cleans the streets. He works in sanitation." Darryl is utterly confused now.
    "The name of the guy who cleans the street is Braden." He says. After further discussion you find out that all this time, Alfred had been mistaken. Their mutual mate's name is actually Braden, not Brian. And he works for the food suppliers Sanitarium, not in Sanitation.

    In this illustration, it turns out Alfred didn't know Brian/Braden as well as he thought he did. He was mistaken about some key things that are central to knowing Brain/Braden. This is the point – Alfred still knew him. They were, and remain to this day, good mates. (They had a good laugh at his confusion). Alfred, though wrong in some areas, was right in other keys ways. Brian/Braden was responsible for cleaning the streets. He was wrong in thinking that this was the job he had. Braden did it because no one else would, he felt a responsibility because he was given a street cleaner for his birthday one year, and it was a good way to relax and be alone while his wife was fuming at him for not putting down the toilet seat.

  32. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stu, Sandra may be implicitly denying sola fide because she has misunderstood the universality of sin, but she is also affirming sola fide and her own sinfulness in the case of her own salvation. If you were to point out to her that the Bible says there is none good, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, she would presumably correct her mistake. If she didn't, then we'd have cause for concern.

    …church-going children who profess to love Jesus yet think that Jesus is one God out of three other God's is not saved. It means unlearned converts are not saved. A great deal of pre-nicene saints were not saved.

    I've been talking about informed, considered rejection of core doctrines. What do children, unlearned converts, and other people in no position to make informed, considered doctrinal choices have to do with this?

    The other logical consequence is that if salvation is dependent on having correct theology – this is itself is a denial of salvation sola fide.

    As I've said several times, it is the object and nature of faith which is defined by correct theology. In other words, sola fide is shorthand for a complex of doctrines: things which must be believed and acted upon. Your "reductio" would imply that faith has no specific nature, nor any defined object.

    Faith is the only evidence required for salvation. This faith is primarily a trust in a person, but is not absent a minimal set of propositions. This limited set is perhaps limited to these two: "I cannot save myself." and "I need to rely on the person of Jesus Christ." If this is correct, therefore you don't need to know he is the only one who can save, which is also the gospel. Nor do you need to know the name Jesus – you just need to know of the one who is called Jesus.

    Again, even if I grant this, you're talking about spiritual milk. But the context of this discussion is Rob Bell, who purports to be teaching spiritual meat. You don't get to fall back on the minimal set of propositions when you're in a position to understand their nuances and qualifications and extensions, and when you've built up a considered theology that nullifies them. "I cannot save myself and must rely on Jesus" might be enough for the thief on the cross or for a new convert who is just learning about his salvation and has no explicit beliefs like, "Jesus is not God" and "Relying on Jesus means taking the sacraments" and so on. Or, in Bell's case, "How you respond to Christ in this life is irrelevant to your eternal destiny" and "What happens after you die is speculation". But once you start adding those sorts of beliefs, you have nullified those minimal propositions—it's just that you've stated them so vaguely that it isn't obvious.

    As regards your "Brian" analogy, perhaps if you could point me to what you intended the points of analogy to be with God, then I could respond accurately.

  33. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Your "reductio" would imply that faith has no specific nature, nor any defined object.

    This is incorrect. The nature of faith is trust in a person. The object of faith is the person. These considered the reductio of your position stands. And these I have repeated over and over. In the very next quotation form me that you cite, I say it explicitly. (This is one of the things that is so annoying with communicating with you – you pick at one thing when read alone in isolation, when the very next part deals with what you're picking at.) You are the one who wants to add superfluous propositions with respect to salvation.

    The context of this discussion was your comment that Rob Bell was not a Christian. As I said before, and now say again, all you are justified in concluding is that Rob Bell is wrong. Alternatively you could say Rob Bell is not teaching historic Christian orthodoxy, or (perhaps) Rob Bell is teaching doctrine that is inconsistent with evangelical theology.

    You have no special insight into his relationship with the Savior. You cannot judge that, for you are epistemically limited being.

    But once you start adding those sorts of beliefs [such as "Relying on Jesus means taking the sacraments"] you have nullified those minimal propositions ["Such as "I must rely on Jesus"]

    I don't believe the former proposition does nullify the latter. This was the point of the Brian/Braden illustration – which I quite simply and explicitly at the end: You can know someone and be mistaken on propositions about them.

  34. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    The nature of faith is trust in a person. The object of faith is the person. These considered the reductio of your position stands.

    It doesn't give me much hope for agreement if you can't get this right. The nature of faith is not merely trust in the person of Christ, but unequivocal trust; trust in him alone.

    And the object of faith is not merely the person of Christ, but the atoning work which he has performed.

    These are all described by doctrines.

    As I said before, and now say again, all you are justified in concluding is that Rob Bell is wrong. You have no special insight into his relationship with the Savior.

    Except I have given arguments for my position, whereas you have just asserted and re-asserted your view, and offered fanciful analogies in lieu of scriptural reasoning.

    I don’t believe the former proposition does nullify the latter.

    Then I suggest you read some of the great works produced by the Reformers, where they talk about how Rome is a false church and preaching a false gospel precisely because they add the former proposition. You are deeply and seriously mistaken, and it deeply and seriously worries me that you don't see it.

  35. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn, I despair the fact that talking to you like talking to a brick wall. You've completely failed to see the points I have been making and the dis-merit of your own position when pointed out to you. And if that weren't sad/bad enough, you then have the gall to say I haven't been arguing for my position.

    I've been talking about informed, considered rejection of core doctrines. What do children, unlearned converts, and other people in no position to make informed, considered doctrinal choices have to do with this?

    I have been talking about how no one can judge or determine by the theology someone else holds if they are or are not saved, since you do not have special insight, given your epistemic limitations, into the relationship between Jesus and the person under consideration. I have argued this by maintaining that if a person is saved on the basis of a personal encounter (an encounter not absent a minimal set of propositions) with Jesus they remain saved solely on the basis of the maintenance of that personal relationship. What these people [children, unlearned converts, pre-nicene saints] have to do with this is that they show your position to be absurd, because if ones salvation is also based upon the acceptance of supplementary propositions (that are part of the gospel, but beyond the minimal salvific set I tentatively suggested) it would mean these types of people are not saved. Thus it is reasonable to think that one can deny (by being mistaken, or in disobedience to the leading of the Spirit) certain propositions that are apart of the saving gospel, and yet be saved. Betty's internal dialogue illustrates this with sola fide. Thus, we cannot know if a person is saved. Thus, we cannot say that Rob Bell is not a Christian.

    You want a biblical argument – here is one.
    Paul says that the Galations have abandoned the Gospel. You assume that their abandonment of the gospel means they are not saved (either by not being in the faith to begin with or that they have lost their salvation.) Based on this assumption, the Galations are not saved. Yet Paul, to whom it is clear they have abandoned the gospel, is far from clear that the Galations are not saved. He says things like, "I fear that my labour amongst you has been in vain." Therefore, as I said before, you are not justified in your assumption, since neither was Paul.

    Thus the most we can say about people like Rob Bell is that they are wrong, and are not teaching Christianity. Not that they are not Christians (i.e. saved).

    Then I suggest you read some of the great works produced by the Reformers, where they talk about how Rome is a false church and preaching a false gospel precisely because they add the former proposition

    The Reformers hubris against Rome is irrelevant, since the issue is not whether Catholicism is a false church, but if they have enough of the gospel to make their community salvific. That is to say, if a person who does not know the falsehood of former proposition [namely, "Relying on Jesus means taking the sacraments"] can be saved.

    As I say, we cannot know. Now if my argument is correct that means God is big enough to work salvation in the heart of a person who has and maintains this belief. Yet because of this belief, we are able to rightly determine we have reason to think that they are not saved since they continue to believe a falsehood. Epistemic humility.

  36. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stu, I'm sorry you find arguing with me like talking to a brick wall. The simple fact is that I don't see any merit in anything you've said—nothing you've presented approaches a serious argument, let alone a convincing one. You just seem to be presupposing the falsehood of my position because, well, it's not epistemically humble or something. Or it wouldn't be fair. But I'm not really interested in your intuitions or irrelevant analogies; I'm interested in what the Bible says. And the Bible says that to abandon certain doctrines (whether by explicit denial or by accepting contrary doctrines) is to abandon the gospel, and that the gospel is the only means of salvation.

    Your notion that people are saved by their personal relationship with Jesus despite whatever nonsense they believe about him or his atonement is terribly progressive and tolerant and ecumenical; awfully people-pleasing and humble and do-not-judgy; extremely emergent and conversational and touchy-feely…but it's also flat-out, plain wrong, and seriously so.

  37. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bnonn, I'm not continuing this discussion for obvious reasons. Its apparent that all you have left is repeat your argument that I have pointed out is defective, to caricature, ridicule, and continue with the ridiculous notion I have not argued for my position.

  38. Apologia New Zealand
    Apologia New Zealand says:

    And back to Rob Bell ……

    Why does this man have such a following? It seems he cannot answer a straight question without riddles. His theology appears terrible, his beliefs un-Christian. Are American "Christians" really so dull as to waste their money on his nonsense? Perhaps approaching the Christian bookshops and telling them we will not be using their stores if they stock his heresy would help…?

  39. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    I think the reason he's popular is for exactly the reason Bashir accuses him of: he's making up a kinder, gentler gospel to please people's sensibilities. People always want answers to spiritual questions, but they don't (unless they are regenerate) want the answers the Bible gives. So false teachers will always tickle their ears with whatever happens to be fashionable. Bell is just very good at it; he's very trendy and sincere-seeming (he probably is sincere, from what I've seen; just a sincere moron).

    Frankly, I doubt telling Christian bookstores you won't patronize them if they stock his book will have any effect. For one thing, it's classic loon behavior, and people ignore loons. For another thing, people don't respond well to threats. But most importantly, Christian bookstores stock utter tripe already; Bell is hardly the bottom of the barrel for them.

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