Friday, March 20, 2009

Working Together

A good friend of mine sent me a quick note concerned about my post on evangelism methods. I basically stated that Calvinists may not use the method of walking up to complete strangers and unbelievers and say "Christ died for you". This has become a test of faith for many Southern Baptists. Yet I think this point of contention may easily divide unnecessarily. So I thought I'd take another post to explain a situation that has arisen among Southern Baptists.

1) First, I think for many, the phrase "Jesus died for you" is inconsistently being used by the non-Calvinist. However, I don't think there is real detrimental harm in its usage depending on how it is defined. For instance, even Calvinists such as John Piper will use this phrase when witnessing to the lost. But as in his conversation with Bruce Ware on Limited Atonement makes obvious, Piper is careful as to what he means by this phrase. The average Christian probably is not.

The average non-Calvinist when using the phrase "Jesus died for you" most likely means what the Calvinist means when he says, "Christ's death is able to save all those who will trust in His finished work on the cross." This is a point of agreement and something we should all work together in advancing the Kingdom of Christ. We all want the same thing. We want all men everywhere to be reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ.

2) Second, simply because the Calvinist may not want to go to unbelievers and say "Jesus died for you", does not mean he is not willing to evangelize. The non-Calvinist must keep in mind that the Calvinist desires to be Biblical in his method of evangelization. The Calvinist does not believe that God has been silent on the issue and also believes God has ordained certain means to accomplish the salvation of the lost.

A side point must be made. Hyper-Calvinists may strongly disagree with this side point. For they not only seek doctrinal perfection. They see doctrinal perfection a must in order for anyone to be saved. This the Calvinist does not believe. Many people are saved through poor or inconsistent presentations of the Gospel. For years, I believed certain beliefs that are either inconsistent with the Bible or just plain wrong. I have used poor theology and means of evangelization. I am glad that God uses weak vessels to save the lost.

Nevertheless, the non-Calvinist must grasp this side point to understand that the average Calvinist desires to be consistent in his theology. If you are a non-Calvinist please grasp this next point. If you do, much heart-ache may be alleviated.

For the Calvinist, the phrase "Jesus died for you" is defined to mean that Jesus actually takes away the sins for those whom He died. In other words, this phrase must be understood in the context of the doctrine of Vicarious Substitutionary Atonement. Calvinists believe that on the cross, the union of the elect in Christ have their sins dealt with. That Jesus actually satisfies the wrath of God in the place for whom He died. This is not a hypothetical idea where Jesus makes men saveable, but actually accomplishes the work of redemption as a perfect substitute.

Therefore, for the Calvinist to say to an unbeliever that "Jesus died for you" is to say "Jesus took away your sins, you are already forgiven, now believe and get to heaven."

This simply makes no sense and is completely inconsistent with the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. The Calvinist is simply seeking consistency in how he evangelizes. If this is going to be something which Paige Patterson and others seek absolute unity, then they will drive a wedge between believers that neither Scripture nor our Confessions require.

3) I realize this post is getting long, but I believe I need to make one last point about the non-Calvinist's use of the phrase "Jesus died for you." Since it is often used inconsistently, this statement may lead to Universalism or some bizarre form of Universalism. I once asked Dr. Tom Nettles of Southern baptist Theological Seminary why some pastors will say "Your sins are already forgiven now believe and get to heaven" based upon verses such as 1 John 2:2. His response was interesting.

What happens is that certain pastors see some Biblical texts and see Jesus dying as a perfect substitute. They also see texts such as 1 John 2:2 and incorrectly interpret these texts as being universal. On the other hand, they see other texts that speak of men going to hell. Since they start with an incorrect interpretation of certain texts, they still try to be consistent with what they understand. Therefore they attempt to reconcile these two beliefs (universal atonement and men going to hell). Therefore the conclude falsely that men, who go to hell, have their sins forgiven, but they just did not believe to get to heaven.

Although there are other false presuppositions that go into this view, this view simply doesn't work with other texts such as Revelation 20 and John 5 and Mathew 28. Jesus speaks of men being judged and their works play a major role in their judgment. Therefore this view should be rejected by all Christians, while recognizing good Christian men have erroneously held this position.

In conclusion, Baptists and other Christians can and should work together in the proclamation of the Good News of Christ. We should not let the phrase "Jesus died for you" divide when quite often we may very well mean the same thing. Although theology matters and we should seek to be consistent with our theology (even my son has said to me, "What you save them with is what you save them to"), God is able to take a sinner like me with imperfect theology and use me to His own glory. This I believe is true for all Christians.

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