Do Southern Baptist leaders and other evangelicals really not know what a Christian is or how you become one? Is it being born into an ethnic group that denies the dual-nature of Christ in his full deity and humanity? Is it embracing a meritorious, works-based salvation nearly identical to that of the Roman Catholic church? Is it in aggressively denying salvation by a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ? We ask because that’s what Coptic ‘Christians’ believe. This really isn’t new, and we have to wonder why our leaders don’t know what Coptics believe and if they do, what on Earth makes them think they should be categorized as Christians.
i) The interpretation of Oriental Christology is very intricate. I wonder if JD Hall has actually bothered to inform himself on the permutations of that debate:
ii) Many evangelical laymen have technically heretical views of the Trinity and the person of Christ. Does Hall think only theologians have saving faith?
iii) In addition, the classific of heresy is often a traditional definition, based on Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic paradigms. For instance, Reformed theologians like Paul Helm and B. B. Warfield would be classified as heretics because they deny eternal generation and Nicene subordinationism.
The Eastern Orthodox would classify Protestants in general, including JD Hall in particular, as heretics. So let's avoid a self-incriminating standard of comparison.
iv) Obviously there are lots of nominal Christians. However, I generally respect Middle Eastern Christians because they've retained their identity over the centuries despite enormous pressure to cave. It would be so easy for them to convert to Islam.
v) I don't know if ISIS gave the Copts a choice between martyrdom and conversion to Islam. If so, the fact that they chose imminent martyrdom is a further testament to their faith.
vi) In addition, some ways of dying are far more fearsome than others. To have your head sawed off must be one of the most agonizing and terrifying forms of execution. It would be understandable if a true believer lost his nerve in the face of that prospect. Consider how Peter lost his nerve.
vii) I make allowance for the opportunities that people have. Middle Eastern Christian laymen don't have the same opportunity to revise their theology as American evangelicals have.
To take a comparison, you couldn't have a Calvin without a Luther, and you couldn't have a Luther without a Valla or Biel. Were there no true believers between the death of St. John and Luther?
viii) One doesn't have to vouch for the personal piety of each Coptic victim to exercise a general judgment of charity. When Muslims murder professing Christians in Africa and Asia, must we presume they weren't true believers? Is our standing policy to assume the worst?
ix) There's a difference between faith in Christ alone and faith in faith alone. Faith in Christ alone may be theologically unreflective. It is not, in the first instance, what we believe about faith but what we believe about ourselves in relation to what we believe about our Savior. Sola fide is theologically self-reflective. There's a necessary place for that in orthodox theology. But it's not the essence of saving faith. Faith is not its own object.