Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dogmatic Assurance

When one first hears the phrase “Free Grace Movement,” the natural response is “Sure, I believe in free grace!” Reformed writers do not merely affirm the freeness of grace, but they affirm the sovereignty of grace and the sufficiency of grace. This is the one position that can truly look back upon salvation and say, “All of grace.” However, the Reformed position also affirms that we are not only saved by grace, but we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is not the basis of salvation, but it is the conduit of salvation. But to the proponents of the Free Grace Movement, to affirm a Biblical description of the nature of saving faith is to somehow make grace no longer free. In fact, to them, the Reformed position denies sola fide and sola gratia (even though it is the Reformed position that coined the phrases).

The Free Grace Movement is after assurance. They rightly believe that it is a necessary part of the Christian life. They rightly note that the Bible offers assurance. Jodie Sawyer wrote:

I think you misunderstand our theology when you claim that assurance is the purpose of F/G theology. Instead it is a key starting point. Why?

Because in that NT book written to unbelievers, for the purpose that they would put their faith in Christ, Jesus makes many clear and authoritative statements that encourage his listeners to entrust their future resurrection to him. Biblically, firmly expecting Christ to resurrect us on the last day is both assurance and faith. It is the same as Job’s expectation that he would see his Redeemer. In John, Jesus insists that the Trinity itself is committed to the safety of his believing listeners! What could possibly be more assuring? Since John states that he is speaking to unbelievers in his purpose statement (Jn 20:30,31) we see it as a proper place to perch in order to view the Lord’s sobering call to committed discipleship. And in fact, when John addresses that topic he is clearly on the same page as the other NT writers. And when they are on the topic of eternal salvation, the miracle of new birth, and justification they all are again on the same page.

So we can agree with the Free Grace Movement about the fact that the Bible offers assurance. However, there is an obvious leap in the position from here. Let’s write out the thought process syllogistically:

1. The Bible offers assurance to the believer
2. Assurance should look like A
3. Therefore, A is Biblical assurance, and anything that is not A is not Biblical assurance

This is why the assurance of the free grace movement is dogmatic. It is assumed that assurance should look like A. But this position does not base its assurance upon the Biblical model. Rather, it starts with a certain agenda and a certain dogmatic definition of assurance, and forces these assumptions into the texts that deal with assurance. Such a situation has already been documented. I mentioned that John wrote his epistle that we might know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and showed the means by which John has us obtain this knowledge (the “these things” that he wrote). Antonio da Rosa’s response, however, did not interact with the actual exegesis of the text, but questioned the assurance that I offered. This is because his position starts with a dogmatic definition of assurance and determines the Biblical text based upon that dogmatism. And, in the end, once it is shown that the text emphatically disagrees with Antonio’s position, the dialogue is brushed off because the Biblical version does not meet the standard of Antonio’s dogmatic version of assurance.

A fundamental mistake in the Free Grace position is how it defines the nature of faith. John and James, as well as Paul, make great efforts to present the nature of saving faith. They also, we must note, warn against those who claim to have faith yet do not really possess saving faith. Antonio stated in a recent comment:

You are the product of years of brainwashing concerning the essential nature of faith. That a person cannot know whether or not he has believed something, that he has faith, is a most unfortunate, and tragic error.

…I was thinking, Evan. A course in introductory logic may be appropriate for you. A can never equal non-A. Faith = faith. Faith cannot equal non-faith. Your position is at a disadvantage, for the Bible never qualifies its discussion of faith or belief with any modifier Traditionalism uses to create its doctrine of “substandard” faith. There is no head faith, spurious faith, false faith, etc. These are the machinations of those who oppose grace.

1. Where have I stated that a person cannot know whether or not he possesses saving faith? In fact, I have spent the time to show Antonio not only that one can know this, but the Biblical basis for knowing this. The problem is that the Biblical version of assurance does not meet Antonio’s dogmatic standard. But who made Antonio’s standard the standard?

2. Antonio’s appeal to “introductory logic” is pointless and a bit immature (one could see how dialogues with Antonio are less than pleasant). It also shows that he does not understand what Reformed writers mean by “false faith.” “False faith” is not faith at all. This isn’t an issue of A equaling non-A. It is an issue of comparing A with B. And the Bible certainly compares saving faith with the claim to have faith. It certainly compares genuine believers with those who claim to be believers. And to those who lack certainty concerning their own confession of faith, John writes that they might know that they possess eternal life.

Because the strength of the Reformed position is in the exegesis, I would like us to look at how Antonio handles James 2:14ff:

The propagators of false ‘gospels’ rightly fall under the curse of God. For whether the broadcasting of their perverted message is sincere and unintentional or flagrant and malicious the results are the same: the innumerable casualties of the hearers.

Much of the current debate centers on the issues of faith and works. One side believes that the eternal salvation that Jesus offers is received Absolutely Free! through the intermediate agency of faith alone in Christ alone. The other position forcefully states that mere faith alone is insufficient to appropriate eternal life. Their contention is that what saves is a faith that is not alone apart from works.

Antonio sets up two sides: those who affirm that salvation is free, and those who do not: those who have the “contention that what saves is a faith that is not alone apart from works.” The difference is between a theological system that affirms sola fide and a position that denies sola fide. What are the systems that are being compared?

I am not hesitant to explain how the opposing side elucidates their stance with sophistication. Although I admit that they claim the mantra “faith alone in Christ alone,” the logical conclusions of their theology mitigate against a simple understanding of that phrase.

Here, it becomes obvious that Antonio is not making a Protestant/Roman Catholic distinction. Rather, according to him, it is the Reformed position that is denying the freeness of salvation! His claim is audacious indeed. Antonio once again refers to “logical conclusions.” This is a phrase that you will hear him say over and over again in these dialogues. But Antonio doesn’t make an effort to show that these are indeed logical conclusions from the Reformed premise (we don’t even know that Antonio necessarily understands what the Reformed position is). Since Antonio is all about “introductory logic,” then he should know that a “logical conclusion” is something that is validly and necessarily deduced from a premise. But you won’t see any syllogisms coming from Antonio to back up his assertions concerning “logical conclusions.” Rather, he simply believes that the Reformed positions denies sola fide because it does not meet his dogmatic standard concerning assurance. Therefore, Antonio’s assertion that the “logical conclusion” of the Reformed position is to reject sola fide has no more warrant than if I were to say that the “logical conclusion” of the “Free Grace” position is to reject sanctification and the pursuit of holiness.

I assert that, what I will henceforth call Lordship Salvation, requires the added contingent element of obedient works in order to ultimately gain salvation. How can they do this and still, with out much offending of conscience, retain some allegiance to “Sole Fide” and “Sole Christo”?

This they do in one or both of two ways:

1) The impregnation of the word “faith”. I call this the “kitchen-sink” method. What those who espouse Lordship Salvation (from here on LS) do is to introduce into the semantic value of the word “faith” the very idea of works! One of the many dozens of quotes from John MacArthur, advocate of LS, should suffice : “A concept of faith that excludes obedience corrupts the message of salvation” (TGAtJ, 174).

Here we see that the radical redefinition of faith makes works necessary for salvation.

And it is as we figured. Antonio does not understand the Reformed position. He makes an error in a prescriptive/descriptive distinction. Saving faith naturally leads to obedience. This is a description of saving faith, not a prescription for salvation. Saving faith, by nature, is faith that produces works. If it doesn’t produce works, then, by definition and description, it isn’t faith to begin with. It is just a confession. So faith is the channel for salvation, not works; but faith, by nature, leads to obedience. Is this really that difficult?

2) The exercise of faith necessarily results in perseverance in a life characterized by works until the end. If such a one fails to persevere, hell is his destiny. For a great discussion of this very theme, refer to here and here (posts on my blog).

The same error is made here. Perseverance isn’t a prescription for saving faith. Rather, those who possess saving faith will persevere. They will be preserved by the sovereign grace of God. And if one does not persevere, it does not mean that he failed to meet one of the requirements of salvation. Rather, it means that he did not possess the channel of salvation: saving faith. We can plug our ears all we want and actively misrepresent the Reformed position, but where does that get us?

James 2:14ff has long been understood by those advocating LS to teach these things. This passage has been religiously used by them to silence and bludgeon their opposition. I am proposing a series on James pertaining to his writing on the relationship to faith and works. This post serves as an introduction to this study.

We have looked Antonio’s introductory statements in this study. Already he has committed various errors. Next post, we will look at how he handles the exegesis of the passage of James 2:14ff.

Evan May.

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