In this post: Introduction; Naming of Parts: Orthodoxy, Heresy, Aberrancy, Orthopraxy and heteropraxy, Monergism vs. synergism, Christian brother or sister; Orthodoxy is narrow; Questions of orthodoxy: On monergism, On the doctrine of hell, On the dangers of mysticism; Final thoughts
Having previously laid the foundations for a correct understanding of Christian discernment, I turn now to the question of orthodoxy.
Over the course of several recent episodes of his Fighting for the Faith programme, Chris Rosebrough has fiercely defended his friend, Dan Kimball. Chris has not merely declared Dan to be ‘a brother in Christ’, and not a heretic, but has repeatedly asserted that Dan ‘preaches, teaches, and confesses, historic orthodoxy’. This has been the source of no minor controversy.
In this article, I first define several terms that are necessary for us to enter meaningfully into the debate, and I endeavour to give them a Biblical basis. I then give voice to several questions that have occurred to me (and I know also to others) as I have heard the debate rage, and particularly as I heard Chris interview Dan.
In asking these questions, I am not so much concerned with Dan Kimball per se, but with the implications that the answers have for how we are to understand what it means to be orthodox. Simply, then, I embrace an opportunity to think aloud about orthodoxy.
The audio of Chris interviewing Dan is available, as is a transcript produced by Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries:
- Audio: Chris Rosebrough interviews Dan Kimball on Fighting for the Faith
- Transcript: Dan Kimball on the Record
Let me be very clear that my aim is not to inflame the controversy, but rather to tame it: first by preparing the ground for us to understand one another, and then by giving both Dan and Chris an opportunity to elucidate their positions clearly, succinctly and publicly. I hope that they will consider serving the church by responding in this way, although they are certainly under no obligation even to listen to anything I have to say, let alone to address it.
‘Today, we have naming of parts’
If we are to understand one another and avoid talking at cross purposes, it is necessary to define our terminology. Unless we do this, we risk erroneously assuming that we have understood what someone else means when they use a particular term.
I shall therefore provide several definitions that I believe are in line with generally accepted usage. In any case, you will at least know with precision what I intend when I use a word:
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
‘The question is, said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’
(Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines orthodox as meaning ‘right in opinion’. A person therefore adheres to orthodoxy if he maintains right opinion. The word derives from two Greek words: orthos, meaning ‘straight or right’, and doxa, meaning opinion or glory. (The English word ‘doxology’ also derives from the latter; it means ‘the speaking of praise or glory’.)
In his book, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, Harold O.J. Brown writes (p. 1):
“Orthodoxy” is derived from two Greek words meaning “right” and “honor.” Orthodox faith and orthodox doctrines are those that honor God rightly, something that ought to be desirable and good.
I like Brown’s statement because he gets to the heart of the rightness of orthodoxy: something is right (and therefore orthodox) if it honours God and brings Him glory (or ‘honour’, as Brown puts it).
As our almighty, everlasting and holy God is perfect in all His attributes and ways, any statement made of Him is honouring only if it portrays Him and His work accurately. To portray God other than as He is is de facto to dishonour Him by detracting from His perfection. Since the Scriptures are the sole source we have of authoritative self-revelation from God – that is, they are the only place where we can presently discover with certainty what He is really like – it follows that we honour God by our belief, teaching and confession only if they accord with the Scriptures.
My definition of Christian orthodoxy, then, is this: belief, teaching and confession that is in full accordance with the Scriptures.
In my previous post, I asked the question, What is the activity we call discernment really all about? I argued there that Christian discernment is built upon the foundation of paying close attention to the Great Salvation that is only to be found in Christ. I said this:
Discernment thus begins and ends with Christ. It is always about Christ, His person, His work.
Discernment abides in Christ. It feasts richly on His Word, for in the Scriptures alone do we find authoritative revelation of the person and work of Christ. All the Scriptures speak of Him, and in them we encounter God in human flesh, crucified for our sin and raised for our being declared righteous.
It therefore follows that orthodoxy is especially concerned with belief, teaching and confession concerning the person and work of Christ.
Brown (ibid., p. 3) has this to say about heresy:
The word “heresy,” as we have noted, is the English version of the Greek noun hairesis, originally meaning nothing more insidious than “party.” It is used in this neutral sense in Acts 5:17, 15:5, and 26:5. Early in the history of the first Christians, however, “heresy” came to be used to mean a separation or split resulting from a false faith (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). It designated either a doctrine or the party holding the doctrine, a doctrine that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence. Practically speaking, heresy involved the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ—later called “special theology” and “Christology”.
Corruptio optimi pessimum est, says the proverb: “the corruption of the best is the worst.” The early Christians felt a measure of tolerance for the pagans, even though they were persecuted by them, for the pagans were ignorant. “This ignorance,” Paul told the Athenians, “God winked at” (Acts 17:30). But Paul did not wink at him who brought “any other Gospel” within the context of the Christian community. “Let him be accursed,” he told the Galatian church (Gal. 1:8).
My definition of heresy is therefore this: belief, teaching or confession contrary to the Scriptures that is sufficiently intolerable as to destroy the unity of the church.
Heresy presupposes orthodoxy. It sets itself up in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and thereby traduces God by painting a false picture of Him and His work. Heresy is divisive, because it comes from within the church and God’s people properly react to it in horror, not wishing to see God’s name defamed and unwilling that anyone should perish through a corruption of the Gospel.
Not withstanding the hazard that heresy poses to the cause of the Gospel, the disunity that it brings is in damnable opposition to the repeated commendation of Christian unity and exhortation towards it found throughout the Scripture (e.g. Ps. 133:1; John 17:21; Acts 1:14; 2:1, 46; 5:12; Rom.15:5; 1 Cor. 11:17–33; Eph. 4:3, 13; Phil. 2:2–4).
Note well that it is the one bringing heresy who is responsible for the division that it causes, not those who oppose him by holding fast to sound doctrine. Thus, Paul instructs Titus that he is to:
‘Reject a divisive [hairetikon (αἱρετικὸν)] man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.’ (Titus 3:10–11)
Paul had previously told Titus that it is a positive responsibility of every elder (pastor) to be ‘holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict’ (Titus 1:9).
Indeed, Paul shows that standing firm in the traditions received from the Apostles is the natural implication for all believers of our having been chosen and called by God for salvation and sanctification:
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2:13–15)
Notice how Paul connects the proper giving of thanks to God (that is, expressing the glory and honour due to Him) with our election, calling, salvation and sanctification. Observe that these things are all ‘for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’. ‘Therefore,’ Paul says, ‘stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle’. The whole process of salvation being worked in us for the glory of Christ has as its inevitable implication our standing fast in the teaching that we have received from the Apostles.
All believers are thus commanded to cling to orthodoxy, and elders are especially called to ‘exhort and convict those who contradict’. The proper response to heresy is therefore to identify it and warn the person advocating it. If the person persists in his divisiveness after two admonitions, he is to be rejected – he condemns himself by refusing to submit to the truth revealed in Scripture and by spurning its call to stand fast in the faith.
If orthodoxy is that which is in full accord with Scriptures, and heresy is that which is contrary to it in an intolerable way, it is clear that there is a category between the two: doctrine that is not properly orthodox, but which is not such an egregious offence to the faith as to undermine it fatally and be a cause for division. This lesser category of error is called ‘aberrant’, meaning simply that it is ‘straying from the accepted standard’.
Some use the term heterodox (‘other opinion’, not conforming to that which is orthodox) in a similar way, but that term seems to me be to be wider, potentially encompassing even heresy in a way that aberrancy does not.
Thus, aberrant belief, teaching or confession is that which is not in full accord with the Scriptures, but which does not pose an immediate threat to the unity of the church.
That which is aberrant must of course be corrected, not least because we are commanded ‘to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). But also because such errors tend to multiply, and aberrant doctrine can very quickly descend into full-blown heresy. But, in and of itself, aberrancy is not so serious as to call for separation between those who are in error and those who are holding fast to the full counsel of the Scriptures.
Orthopraxy and heteropraxy
Whereas orthodoxy is ‘right belief’, orthopraxy is ‘right practice’. There are some who have maintained a clear distinction between the two and, in one sense, this distinction is valid: it is conceivable that someone may act through weakness contrary to his own opinion.
Nevertheless, people draw conclusions about our beliefs not only from our words, but also from our deeds. Our practice is therefore an integral component of our confession. Heteropraxy (‘other practice’, not conforming to orthopraxy) is thus inevitably unorthodox, because it is a failure to confess with our deeds that which is in full accordance with the Scriptures, and it thereby does not give God the right honour that is due to Him. Conversely, the public confession of our faith is something we do, and thus most surely a matter to be considered part of our practice.
At its best, heteropraxy might simply be due to a lack of having thought through the implications of one’s beliefs. At worst, fear of controversy, or of being disliked, could result in a public failure to be clear about the message of Law and Gospel: God’s wrath is upon all mankind because of sin, but Christ died for sinners that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Such scenarios are not hypothetical – prominent leaders in the visible church have equivocated when under the spotlight. Peter denied Christ. And Paul had to rebuke Peter for not being ‘straightforward about the truth of the gospel’:
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:14–16)
Even as we consider these examples, we see that any attempt to make a distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is artificial. For a correct understanding of orthodoxy is that which gives right glory and honour to God; it is belief, teaching and confession that is in full accordance with the Scriptures. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are inseparably intertwined.
If we equivocate such that our confession is unclear about the fate of those not trusting in Christ, we diminish both His person and His work, and we are not orthodox, because we thereby fail in our public profession to give God the glory and honour that are His due.
Bob DeWaay firmly linked practice and confession in an excellent 2005 sermon:
- Holding Fast the Good Confession (MP3, 9.5MB)
(Although Bob DeWaay is sadly no longer pastor of Twin City Fellowship, that fact does not undermine his long and notable record of teaching sound doctrine. This particular sermon is well worth hearing, and I am grateful to Paula Coyle for bringing it to my attention.)
The link between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is especially strong for pastors and teachers in the church. Peter perhaps understood this better than most, having suffered public rebuke from Paul for his separation from the Gentiles. This is what Peter had to say, writing some time after:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:1–4)
Orthodoxy – that which is in full accordance with the Scriptures – thus requires elders (pastors) to be examples to the flock. This is an essential element of their role. The failure of an elder to be a suitable example is thus an implicit denial of orthodoxy. It could hardly be otherwise, for how could any teacher ‘Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority’ (Titus 2:15) if he had undermined his own authority by practising contrary to his confession?
Thus, we see that orthodoxy implies orthopraxy, both as a matter of confession and of requirement. This is especially true for pastors and teachers in the church.
Monergism vs. synergism
Scripture teaches monergism, the doctrine that regeneration (our being born again from above) is the work of God alone, and that we contribute nothing to it. Thus, glory is due to God alone for our salvation, as it is in all things: soli Deo gloria.
Monergism is comforting: if our salvation depends solely upon the will of God and His work, then it can never be imperilled by our sin and frailty. Thus, Paul is able to say boldly (my emphasis):
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:3–6)
Christ has begun a good work in us; He shall surely complete it. He is both ‘the author and finisher of our faith’, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross’ (Heb. 12:2).
Synergism is the opposite of monergism. Synergism is the counter-Biblical doctrine that the human will cooperates with God in the work of regeneration.
Monergism asserts that God will save whomsoever He wishes; synergism claims that God does not violate man’s free will by saving someone who has not first chosen God. Monergism’s view of salvation is centred upon the will of God; synergism sees salvation as dependent upon the will of the creature.
It is essential to realize that monergism does not teach that God does violence to our wills in the work of regeneration. Rather, it teaches that the Holy Spirit works within us to change our wills, such that we go from a determined opposition to the Gospel, to willing and joyful faith in Christ.
In his sermon, God’s Will and Man’s Will (a sermon whose introduction, incidentally, has more than a passing relevance to the present controversy), C. H. Spurgeon put it like this:
But we do hold and teach that though the will of man is not ignored, and men are not saved against their wills, that the work of the Spirit, which is the effect of the will of God, is to change the human will, and so make men willing in the day of God’s power, working in them to will to do of his own good pleasure.
St. John states plainly that, even though it is those who receive Christ who are saved, the underlying cause of their regeneration is ultimately not the will of man, but that of God:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)
Jesus Himself testifies similarly:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
The word translated ‘draws’ there in Greek is helkuse (ἑλκύσῃ). It has the sense of moving ‘an object from one area to another in a pulling motion, draw[ing], with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself or in the case of persons is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover’ (BDAG). Thus, Jesus is saying here that no one comes to Him voluntarily, but the Father must instead drag each person to Himself such that he who was initially unwilling to come of his own accord at the last receives Christ gladly.
This is entirely consistent with Paul’s teaching that, until the Holy Spirit regenerates us, we are as a result of the Fall dead in our sin and enslaved to it – utterly unable and unwilling even to seek God. In a meticulously constructed argument showing that everyone is confined under sin and condemned by the Law (Rom. 1:18–3:20), Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53:
There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.
Except the Father draw someone by the work of the Holy Spirit, no one is righteous (having a right standing before God), no one understands (believes rightly), no one seeks after God, no one does good. Not even one single person, excepting Christ Himself. This is why Paul says:
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:22–25)
To the natural, fallen human mind, the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead is either a stumbling block or foolishness. Such a mind unaided by the Holy Spirit is therefore unable either to understand or accept the message. It has no more power to adopt right belief than a person dead at the bottom of well has to make an effort to climb out. Paul writes (my emphasis):
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We were dead in our sins and unable to seek God, but now we have been made alive in Christ and receive Him willingly.
Our being ‘saved through faith’ is by grace alone – that is, by the unmerited favour of God towards us on account of Christ. In the Greek, our being ‘saved’ is passive; it is something done to us, not by us. Our salvation by grace through faith is the gift of God, and most certainly not the result of anything that we do – no, not even the act of choosing right belief – because, as Paul makes so clear, we were dead in our sins and thus utterly unable to understand or seek after God. We are therefore ‘His workmanship’, not our own, ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works’.
How then did we come to faith? Again, Paul is clear: ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (Rom. 10:14)
The Holy Spirit works repentance and faith in those He is effectually calling by ‘the hearing of the word of God’. Thus, the selfsame Gospel message that is a stumbling block and foolishness to natural minds becomes the very power of God for salvation to those who are being saved by Him. When we put the earlier quote from 1 Cor. 1 into context, this becomes absolutely clear:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(1 Cor. 1:18–25)
There we see clearly that we can never by knowledge come to know God: ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God’. God in his wisdom has ordered things such that no one comes to faith through wisdom – or, we might say, through adopting right belief. Rather, ‘it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’.
R. C. H. Lenski rightly comments on this passage:
The world of men failed completely in regard to the one and supreme thing it needed: it did not know God. The aorist οὑκ ἔγνω [‘not know’] states the whole tragic [situation] as a fact. Ἔγνω [‘know’] does not refer to mere intellectual knowledge but to the genuine realization which grips, holds, and dominates the entire person. Men never attained to this real knowledge of God; they did not know him. When he speaks to them in the gospel even today, they laugh; they do not think that it is God speaking. See John 8:19 regarding the Jews with reference to this point; even though they talked about God and boasted about him they did not know him. (The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians, p. 59)
Thus, we are not saved by our choosing to adopt right belief. The fallen mind, dead in sin, has neither the will nor the ability to do that.
Recall Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. The bones had no power in themselves, but the word of God proclaimed to them caused them to be covered with sinews, flesh and skin. As Ezekiel prophesied (37:9) to the Breath (ruach, the same word as for ‘spirit’) to come from the four winds and breathe on the slain that they may live, so it is with our salvation: the Holy Spirit blows wherever He wishes, breathing life into everyone who is born of Him (John 3:5–8).
Life always comes from the breath of God, as it did in the very beginning when ‘the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being’ (Gen. 2:7). It is surely no coincidence that the life-giving Scriptures are themselves described in 2 Tim. 3:16 as having been given by the ‘out-breathing of God’ (theopneustos, θεόπνευστος).
We are saved, then, because the Holy Spirit has so worked in us by the hearing of the word of God as to regenerate us, convict us of our sin, and bring us to repentance and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sin and our right standing before the Father.
Right belief and faith in Christ is thus the result of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration, not its cause.
Paul puts it to Titus like this (my emphasis):
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7)
Christian brother or sister
What does it mean to call someone a brother (or a sister) in Christ? Does it mean that we believe him to hold fully orthodox doctrine, or at least some subset of orthodox doctrine that is considered essential to the faith?
We have already seen that it is not by anything that we do that we are saved. Rather, God has elected us in Christ, predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, called us through the hearing of the Gospel, regenerated us, given us faith and repentance, declared us righteous, sanctified us, and, one day, will even glorify us (Rom. 8:29–30). All this is His work, done for His own glory.
Since it is not by our adopting right belief that we are saved – and, indeed, nothing at all that we do – but rather the work of God alone ‘through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’, it follows that someone could be regenerate without having a proper grasp of orthodox doctrine. This is simply a question of arranging the cart and the horse in an appropriate order: right belief flows from our having been regenerated; right belief is not the cause of regeneration.
Consider John the Baptist in his mother’s womb:
‘And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Luke 1:41)
How is it that John in the womb recognized Mary (and most likely, the presence of the baby Jesus within her)? Well, Luke helpfully tells us just a few verses earlier, by recording the angel’s words to Zacharias:
‘But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”’ (Luke 1:13–17)
We see then that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from His mother’s womb, and thus enabled to recognize the presence of the incarnate Christ.
John – filled with the Spirit as he was – was clearly regenerate even before he was born (cf. Acts 10:47) . And yet, his cognitive abilities could hardly then have been so sufficiently developed as for him to have been able to give mental assent to any doctrines at all, let alone the core doctrines of the faith.
This example should encourage us: saving faith is a gift of God, and does not depend upon anything that we do – not even our giving of mental assent to particular doctrines. God may bestow saving faith upon anyone He chooses, from the youngest unborn child to the oldest man. Salvation is God’s work, and His alone.
I labour this point because it would be a grave mistake to equate having orthodox beliefs as being synonymous with salvation. Saving faith can be bestowed upon even those without developed mental facilities. Again, this is good news: as well as the youngest child, even a severely mentally disabled person can be saved – no one is outside God’s saving reach, if He so wills to save. (The corollary shows the full horror of synergism: infants and the severely mentally impaired would all be lost if our salvation were to depend upon our making a first move towards God. Of course, synergists invent schemes to avoid this implication, but they do so without Biblical support.)
Now, of course, in the normal course of events, the good fruit of the good tree that is the saved person will include right belief. But that comes through nurture and good teaching that immerses the disciple in the Scriptures. Good trees, well tended, bear good fruit. Jesus says, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me’ (John 10:27), and we have Christ’s voice recorded for us throughout the Scriptures. I say again, therefore: the fullness of right belief follows regeneration, not vice versa.
The implication of all of this is that someone might have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, having heard the Gospel, and yet not be sufficiently instructed in the Scriptures so as to believe, teach and confess full orthodoxy.
Indeed, very many people in the visible church today erroneously believe that they made a first step of faith towards God, and that He then responded to this by regenerating them. This back-to-front belief is very far from orthodox, as we have already seen, yet nevertheless some of the people who hold it bear all the signs of a genuine saving faith. Far be it from us to judge their standing before the almighty and everlasting God. Their salvation is His work, and His alone to judge.
Thus, to recognize someone as a brother or sister in the Lord is emphatically not the same as asserting that he or she has right belief, even concerning major doctrines of the faith. (Though that statement should not to be understood as saying anything regarding the salvation of one who expressly rejects core doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ.)
Orthodoxy is narrow
Having defined our terms, we may now make a further observation: historic Christian orthodoxy is narrow. It has been from the very beginning, it has been throughout Church history, and it shall continue to be.
As an example, consider a passage that contains what is perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament. Jesus explains the Gospel to Nicodemus:
10Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
In v. 16, we have an affirmation that whoever believes (has trust in) Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life. Christ was not born into the world to condemn it, but that through Him it might be saved.
This is wonderful news.
And yet, if we were to proclaim only that message, we would be doing violence to the whole counsel of God and to the Gospel. We would be leaving people ignorant of their certain need for Christ, and thereby risking their eternal destiny.
Because asserting that faith in Christ saves does not in itself proclaim the exclusivity of Christ. Even a Hindu might be willing to accept that Christ saves – after all, what would accepting one more god among many be to him? Ask him, however, to forsake all his other gods for Christ alone, and you will soon discover the narrowness of orthodoxy.
No, such a truncated Gospel neglects to warn people that, unless they believe in Christ, they shall perish. Thus, if our proclamation contains only the message that Jesus saves, the Gospel is emasculated – robbed of its urgency and made impotent. We must also tell people that without Christ they will surely perish in the face of the fierce wrath of God for their sin – recall Eph. 2:3, where we saw that even we ourselves were ‘by nature children of wrath’.
To be orthodox, we have therefore to proclaim the whole counsel of Scripture. We have to believe, teach and confess not only John 3:16–18a, but also v. 18b: ‘but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.’
Orthodoxy and basic kindness constrain us to warn people of the coming day of judgment for their sin, for we love them enough to tell them the truth, earnestly hoping that they might turn in repentance and receive the forgiveness of sins. This is exactly what Paul did for the Athenians at the Areopagus:
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31)
The mix of reactions Paul encountered to his proclamation of Law and Gospel is typical. Some mock, others wish to hear more, and some come to faith:
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:32–34)
Orthodoxy is exclusive. Orthodoxy is narrow. Orthodoxy lovingly warns of the exclusion from salvation of those who have not been regenerated and granted a saving faith in the person and work of Christ. The is why Jesus says:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13–14)
He even couples this exhortation with a warning against those who would speak falsely in God’s name things that He has not said:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15–20)
It is orthodoxy’s insistence on exclusivity and narrowness – its rejection of any other way to God except faith in Christ – that is anathema to our postmodern culture. That culture would grant us Christ as a way to salvation, but not the way.
A failure to profess boldly and clearly to our own generation the narrowness of orthodoxy and the exclusivity of Christ as the only Way, Truth and Life is thus a dismal failure to love people by sharing with them the whole counsel of God, such that they might come to repentance and receive forgiveness in Christ.
Questions of orthodoxy
I have been listening to every episode of Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith programme since the premier back in July 2007. From everything I have heard, I have no doubt that Chris is driven by a desire to be faithful to the Scriptures and to reach out to the lost with the true Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead.
Until two weeks ago, I knew relatively little of Dan Kimball. I owned only one of his books, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. I was unhappy with some of its content, and in particular with some of its endorsements, but Dan was not sufficiently on my radar for me to have taken steps to contact him and ask him about it.
I was therefore pleased to hear Chris tell us all that, having spent some time with Dan, he regarded Dan as a brother in Christ who was genuinely seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures. It is immensely encouraging whenever anyone professes this desire, and the prospect of a fruitful engagement with a such a person is enticing.
Yet, given Dan’s apparent track record with the books that he has published, I maintained reservations. Having heard Chris interview Dan, I have to say that he seemed pleasant and likeable, and I have no reason to doubt his willingness to discuss what he believes. However, I was both puzzled and more than a little perturbed by Chris’ apparent ringing endorsement of Dan’s orthodoxy, given what Dan said – and didn’t say – in the interview.
The most direct way to clear up my puzzlement would seem to be by asking a few questions of Chris and Dan. Since I know I am not alone in desiring clarity on the issues I raise, I ask these questions in public. Chris and Dan both thereby have an opportunity, if they wish, to respond clearly, succinctly and publicly, via whatever channels they see fit.
A. On monergism
Semi-pelagianism is the belief that man and God cooperate in the work of salvation: man makes a beginning of his faith through a free act of will, and God then reciprocates by increasing and guarding that faith, completing the work of salvation. Semi-pelagianism is thus synergistic; it stands as a rejection of monergism.
The majority of evangelicalism undoubtedly holds to semi-pelagianism, believing that we have first to take a step of faith toward God (‘make a decision for Christ’), and that God will then respond by saving us.
Chris Rosebrough is firmly on record as defining historic Christian orthodoxy as expressly rejecting semi-pelagianism. Chris believes, and it will be clear from what I have written above that I agree, that semi-pelagianism is emphatically not orthodox. It is not what the Scriptures teach about our salvation, and it is not what the early Church believed.
Indeed, not only was semi-pelagianism regarded as non-orthodox, it was actually pronounced to be heresy by the Second Council of Orange in 529. I know that Chris agrees with this Council, because he wrote on this very subject back in June this year:
Why do I raise semi-pelagianism? Because I heard Dan say this during the interview:
‘There is [sic] those that God has elected, and that’s what the Scriptures teach. And it seems like there’s also Scriptures that teach there is human choice as well. And I loved the book that Norman Geisler wrote…’
Believing that God elects but that humans also have choice in matters of salvation is, surely, the very essence of semi-pelagianism, and this is exactly what Chris said in his article on the Second Council of Orange:
The church in the United States has been ooozing with the heresy known as Semipelagianism since the time of Finney and the frontier revivalists. What few in the church understand is that Semipelagianism is a heresy that misdiagnoses man’s sinful condition and incorrectly puts the responsibility of man’s conversion upon himself. This is not what the scriptures teach at all and what is at stake is the Gospel itself and the salvation of those who have been wrongly taught that they are saved by their decision to follow Christ.
Although Dan couldn’t remember the name of Norman L. Geisler’s book in his interview, the one he was referring to was Chosen but Free. That book is a full-blown assault on monergism (specifically Calvinism – although certainly not all monergists are Calvinists, as is shown by Confessional Lutheranism). Geisler launches a blistering attack on the traditional understanding of total depravity (original sin), unconditional election (some being chosen by God for salvation according to His own good pleasure, not upon the basis of foreseen faith), and the triumph of God’s grace in the elect – all foundational to monergism. Apologist James White even went to the trouble of writing a book, The Potter’s Freedom, to refute Geisler. This is what White’s website says about The Potter’s Freedom:
Geisler’s Chosen but Free sparked a firestorm of controversy when he labeled Calvinism “theologically inconsistent, philosophically insufficient, and morally repugnant.” White steps into the breach with his cogent response. His systematic refutation of Geisler’s argument will help you understand what the Reformed faith really teaches about divine election and how Reformed thought conforms to the Gospel.
With regard to the third edition of Chosen But Free, White said in August that it teaches that ‘evangelical synergism is now the “balanced view”’.
Perhaps White has misunderstood Geisler? But no, here is Michael Horton, Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, writing on Sola Gratia: Our Only Method (my emphasis):
On the eve of the Reformation a number of church leaders, including bishops and archbishops, had been complaining of creeping Pelagianism (a heresy that denies original sin and the absolute need for grace). Nevertheless, that heresy was never tolerated in its full expression. However, today it is tolerated and even promoted in liberal Protestantism generally, and even in many evangelical circles.
In Pelagianism, Adam’s sin is not imputed to us, nor is Christ’s righteousness. Adam is a bad example, not the representative in whom we stand guilty. Similarly, Christ is a good example, not the representative in whom we stand righteous. How much of our preaching centers on following Christ–as important as that is–rather than on his person and work? How often do we hear about his work in us compared to his work for us?
Charles Finney, the revivalist of the last century, is a patron saint for most evangelicals. And yet, he denied original sin, the substitutionary atonement, justification, and the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In short, Finney was a Pelagian. This belief in human nature, so prominent in the Enlightenment, wrecked the evangelical doctrine of grace among the older evangelical Protestant denominations (now called “mainline”), and we see where that has taken them. And yet, conservative evangelicals are heading down the same path and have had this human-centered, works-centered emphasis for some time.
The statistics bear us out here, unfortunately, and again the leaders help substantiate the error. Norman Geisler writes, “God would save all men if he could. He will save the greatest number actually achievable without violating their free will.”
Geisler’s statement quoted there is nothing other than an explicit rejection of monergism.
We thus seem to have a plain declaration from Dan that he embraces the idea that ‘humans have a choice’ in matters of salvation – a view that Chris has himself previously labelled heresy – along with an enthusiastic declaration of love for a book that outright rejects the historic Reformation understanding of unconditional election and total depravity, and which instead advocates an evangelical synergism dressed-up in the clothes of Reformation theology.
Now, I am not painting Dan’s position on election as being any worse than that of mainstream evangelicalism, for I can discern no difference between the two. But Chris does not consider evangelical synergism to be remotely orthodox, and has in fact agreed with the Church’s having called that belief heresy in 529. Thus, there appears to be a disconnect between Chris’ view on synergism on the one hand, and his vigorous affirmation of Dan’s orthodoxy on the other.
My concern here is that, if we point to what Dan has said on the show and say that it is orthodox, we concede monergism, and with it, the very foundation of Reformation theology – which, of course, is nothing less than the theology of the historic orthodox universal Church. As Chris rightly said in his article on the Second Council of Orange, ‘what is at stake is the Gospel itself and the salvation of those who have been wrongly taught that they are saved by their decision to follow Christ.’ I wholeheartedly agree with what Chris wrote there.
I therefore ask the following questions:
A1. Chris, given what Dan stated during your interview, do you acknowledge the apparent inconsistency between your affirmation that the universal Church declared semi-pelagianism to be heresy, and your affirmation that Dan ‘preaches, teaches, and confesses, historic orthodoxy’?
A2. If so, are you willing to clarify or nuance what you mean when you say that Dan ‘preaches, teaches, and confesses, historic orthodoxy’?
A3. Dan, given that you appeared desirous to agree with Chris’ affirmation of your orthodoxy, and given that you have now seen that the universal Church expressly rejected semi-pelagianism in 529, will you affirm in accordance with Scripture and historic orthodoxy that salvation is the work of God alone, and that this fact gives us great confidence and comfort as to the security of our salvation?
B. On the doctrine of hell
Dan declared clearly in the interview that he believed in hell. He started well:
Yeah. Um, we—I mean—this is another thing. I-it’s so funny to read things. We preach on Hell, a sermon about every single year in our church. I was just down at the Outreach convention in San Diego. My whole topic was teaching emerging generations about Hell. Last night in our own church, I’s reading the horrific, uh, sounding verses, y’ know, about judgment, in, uh, 2 Thessalonians with—y’know, about being “shut out” from the presence of, of, y’know—tha-He will punish those that do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus and they’ll punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. Y’know, an’ I was pleading with our church last night. I’m like, “These are difficult things to hear and say, but we have t”—I-um-I am, I’m passionate to talk about it.
Had he stopped there, I’d not have thought further on this. But Dan continued:
But then I’d deconstruct—an’ this is important because someone will say, “What Hell are you talking about?” Y’know, um, I believe we need to deconstruct, you know, Dante’s Inferno and the images of Hell that have come up through artistic poetry and not based out of Scripture.
Or that we ha—because most Americans today, when they say, “Hell,” they’re thinkin’ of a cartoon sort of Devil with horns, and that, y’know, he runs Hell. Ah, and so I think what our job is, is to also deconstruct what Hell is culturally; an’ y’know, Satan is not ruling Hell, he would be in Hell. Hell was created for, for Satan and his angels. So I think we have ta teach correctly what it would be, but then deconstruct what the average American may think of it. And so, I’m passionate about that because I am so grateful that I am saved from Hell; and that compels me to wanna share that with other people.
I don’t use Hell as my driving force of evangelism, you don’t see th—I don’t think—the-there’s judgment talked about in Scripture a lot; y’know, but I, ah, we speak about it, we teach about it, an’ I—we have to teach about it; so.
I agree with Dan entirely that cartoon images and other unbiblical views of hell are unhelpful – he makes an excellent point. But I wasn’t sure from all this whether he personally believed that hell was a place of eternal torment. Nothing he said in the interview clarified that for me, and Chris regrettably did not press him on the topic.
I therefore searched for anything Dan might have said online concerning hell, and came across this article (which Chris also mentioned at the end of the interview):
As I read, I agreed with much of what Dan had to say there. And then I hit this:
I try to approach this topic humbly and with mystery but also teach it is a reality. I specifically state that only God knows someone’s eternal destiny. We walk through various Scriptures explaining that it is appointed for people to die and that everyone will face judgment (Heb. 9:27). We also look at the differences in judgment between a Christian and non-Christian. I share that much of what hell will be like is a mystery, but that we can know it is eternal, a place of regret, etc. I do share that there are varying views about hell among Christians, including annihilation (when people cease to exist and don’t experience eternal suffering).
I am pleased that Dan approaches this topic humbly and teachably – he sets us a good example. However, I am left unclear as to what Dan believes. Yes, I can see that he teaches various views on hell – including, presumably, the view that is a fiery place of eternal punishment and torment where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But he also teaches the annihilationist view, and nowhere either in his interview or in that article did I hear or see Dan actually state which view he holds. It is also not at all clear from what he writes whether he takes a firm position in his teaching on which view of hell is correct.
I was also astonished to see Dan write that hell is ‘eternal, a place of regret, etc.’ While true, ‘a place of regret’ is irrefutably an astonishingly soft way of describing the hell depicted in the Bible.
Having failed to ascertain Dan’s actual belief about hell either from Dan’s interview or his article on that topic, I turned to the Lausanne Covenant, which is the statement of faith that Dan has adopted.
This too was of little help in clarifying Dan’s view of hell, because it does not actually mention the word. The closest it comes to the concept is this:
All men and women are perishing because of sin, but God loves everyone, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God.
This statement is extremely problematic. Can it be orthodox to declare only that those who (perhaps actively) reject Christ are condemned, as opposed to all those who are not trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and their right standing before God, as we hear from the very mouth of Jesus is the true position? And is it orthodox to define the unsaved’s eternal state weakly as ‘eternal separation from God’ (a prospect that I suspect many would welcome), rather than as punishment in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels?
I wonder whether such statements as these show love for the lost by revealing to them the full horror of the fate of those who do not trust in Christ, that they might repent and receive the forgiveness of their sins through the Gospel?
God’s kindness leads us to repentance – and part of the outworking of that kindness is a revelation of the terrible destiny of those who, on the final day of judgment, are not clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
I therefore have the following questions, all for Dan except the first:
B1. Chris, do you believe the Lausanne Covenant falls short of orthodoxy in its failure to show love for the lost by declaring clearly the true severity of hell?
B2. Dan, which view of hell, if any, do you believe, teach and confess as being correct? Do you teach that the others are incorrect and contrary to Scripture?
B3. In view of the fact that God has kindly revealed to us as a warning the severity of hell as a place of eternal punishment, such that we might flee from the wrath to come into the arms of a loving Saviour, and given that the eternal punishment of the lost features so prominently in Jesus’ teaching in the gospels, will you reconsider your non-use of hell as a driving force for evangelization?
B4. Do you affirm that all those without a saving faith in Christ will be punished eternally in hell, not merely those who expressly reject the Good News of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead?
B5. For clarity, will you confirm that you believe, teach and confess that, at the least, 1 Cor. 6:9–11 teaches: (i) no one will inherit the kingdom of God if he is affirming in open rebellion to Scripture that his sin is a gift from God, and is therefore unrepentantly living a lifestyle of sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexual practice, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, abusiveness or extortion; (ii) that the Body of Christ contains many who have been saved out of such sin, having rejected it in obedience to Christ, being washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Holy Spirit?
B6. As a church leader, do you lovingly warn those who look to you who are engaging unrepentantly in a lifestyle of such sin that they are in danger of receiving God’s eternal condemnation in hell (thus using God’s Law for its proper purpose of convicting us of our sin), pleading urgently with them that they might repent and turn to Christ for the forgiveness of all their sin?
C. On the dangers of mysticism
In the interview, Dan clearly distanced himself from mysticism and mystical practices. He explained (a little indignantly) that, although he used terms such as lectio divina in his books, his own understanding of those practices when he wrote his books did not in any way involve mysticism or altered states of consciousness.
In Dan’s 2003 book, The Emerging Church (which is still for sale), a copy of which I have open in front of me as I write, Dan cites prominent teachers of mysticism Dallas Willard (from at least three of Willard’s books, on pp. 203, 216, 223, 258), Gary Thomas (p. 221), and Henri Nouwen (pp. 233, 257). Of Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, Dan writes (p. 258):
Without a doubt, the books that have had the most influence on my thinking on discipleship and spiritual formation for the emerging church are this one and [Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ] by Dallas Willard.
Anyone reading Dan’s book would also see an un-nuanced endorsement of lectio divina (p. 223), ‘practicing silence’ (p. 223), ‘practicing the presence through prayer’ (p. 216), and ‘ancient disciplines’ (pp. 215, 223, 258). No definitions of these terms are given to steer the reader away from mystical practices.
Now, to be fair, Dan also makes sound, Biblical statements, such as this one (p. 216):
‘The Holy Spirit is the one who changes, grows, and sanctifies us (Rom. 6–8)
But his apparent endorsement of extra-Biblical spiritual disciplines as some of the means by which the Holy Spirit works (p. 216) remains troubling. And it doesn’t help that, despite his intentions to the contrary, he sounds like so many other advocates of spiritual formation through spiritual disciplines (p. 217):
So how can we create systems for discipleship that do not smack of modern business or academic structures and don’t feel programmed but rather embrace the mystery, awe, and wonder of God’s transforming work? One thing we can do is simply rename the classes to emphasize the spiritual aspect and to reflect values of emerging culture. Mosaic church in Los Angeles uses names like River to describe a spiritual formation retreat that “is an immersion of your sense, emotions, body and intellect as we quest to explore our connection to God.” They have another retreat called Snow, which is a “quest for forgiveness.” Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland has spiritual formation classes named Soul Findings, Journey, and Kindle.
Titles which sound more spiritual as well as classes which encompass depth with an organic approach fit much better in the fluidity of the emerging culture. But titles are only the packaging; we need to think through how to encourage spiritual formation through a holistic approach of mind, heart, senses and bodies. We can’t just change the name and then just keep dispersing information. We need to change how we approach spiritual formation.
The question there that Dan begins by asking is a good one. But his answer could have been written by any proponent of mysticism, and section titles such as ‘Restoring the ancient disciplines to create vintage Christians’ (p. 223) don’t help to counter the impression this gives. If people read Dan’s books and come away with the idea that he is an advocate of extra-Biblical mystical practices, I therefore wonder whether that is really anyone’s fault but his own.
Apprising Ministries similarly reports that Dan’s 2004 book Emerging Worship (co-authored with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler, and also still for sale) recommends (under the heading of ‘Helpful books’) Tony Jones’ Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality and Contemplative Practices in Youth Ministry. Ken Silva comments:
In Soul Shaper Tony Jones advocates some sixteen “ancient-future” spiritual tools such as The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, Silence and Solitude, Stations of the Cross, Centering Prayer, and the Labyrinth. Here Jones begins defining his postmodern approach to youth ministry by combining aspects of what he sees as common spirituality in Evangelicalism, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions along with eastern religious practices gleaned from Buddhism and Hinduism. These soul shaping “disciplines” will later become even more developed in his next book The Sacred Way.
My (rather obvious) questions for Dan are therefore:
C1. Would you accept that, even though you did not ever intend to commend mysticism by your named endorsement of certain practices, someone reading your books might likely seek to discover more about those practices and thereby become involved with mysticism?
C2. Would you accept that writers such as Dallas Willard, Gary Thomas, Henri Nouwen and Tony Jones – all of whom you have favourably cited or recommended in your books, do teach mysticism – and that your implied or explicit endorsement of them might lead someone reading your books also to read their works, and thereby to become involved in mystical practices?
C3. Will you acknowledge the dangers of the extra-Biblical spiritual disciplines advocated by these writers?
C4. Do you accept that, as a prominent Christian leader, your endorsement carries weight and that you therefore have a God-given responsibility to be sure of what and whom you endorse before you promote them?
C5. Will you therefore agree that your unwitting endorsement of these practices and the writers who advocate them poses a clear and serious spiritual danger to your readers?
C6. If so, would you also agree that it follows that you now have an urgent duty to: (i) until such time as they can be revised, withdraw from sale any books of yours that might be understood to imply endorsement of any mystical practices, or of authors advocating such practices; (ii) publish a clear statement on your website naming those teachers and writers whom you can no longer endorse because they promote potentially dangerous extra-biblical spiritual practices, in that statement also identifying those practices and warning against them?
There are many other questions that could be raised, but these were those that seemed most pressing to me – and also most useful in helping us to think about the outworking of what it means to be truly orthodox. I pray that, if the discussion continues, it will do so in a spirit of kindness and gentleness, as we bear with one another in love. For we who trust in Christ are all sinners, saved by grace.
May we all ‘come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13). And as we endeavour to speak the truth to one another in love, may all our words resound to the glory of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour!
- Reformation Essentials – Five Pillars of the Reformation by Michael Horton
- Dan Kimball Gives A Statement
- The Power of the Gospel
[Minor edits made 7:10 pm GMT on 26 November 2010 in the light of Jason’s comments.]
68 thoughts on “Thinking about orthodoxy: defining terms and asking questions”
Thank you for this post. I pray that God uses it to bring glory to Himself and healing to His people.
Amen to your prayer, Malissa. Thank you for dropping by.
Wow. So much packed into a single article. I have been casually watching this “controversy” from the sidelines and believe your efforts to establish a baseline from which everyone involved can engage in a reasonable and coherent dialogue is to be commended.
I won’t comment on the particulars of the past couple of weeks or those involved, but just wanted to say thanks for clearly defining the essential elements and asking the pertinent questions. I also very much appreciate the sections on monergism and synergism as they relate to orthodoxy.
I pray these questions will be addressed and your goals be realized. May our sovereign Lord Jesus Christ be glorified and His Church be edified by what you have done by the grace of Almighty God. Thanks, brother.
Thank you, Justin. I appreciate your comments. May the Lord grant your prayer.
Excellent. I am very glad that you have weighed in on a controversial topic with rational, biblical thought, and a direct quote of the individuals involved, as well as an explanation of the responsibility we all have when we put our thoughts into a public forum.
I look forward to the responses (if they’ll come). I believe the answers to these *much more* specific and pointed (and VERY important) questions will help to set the record straight permanently.
Thank you for visiting, Frank, and for leaving your comments. I too look forward to the response, if any comes.
Thank you for the time and effort in putting this together. It clarified a lot of issues for me. I too, pray for those within the ‘controversy’ that they be led by Christ’s love and gentleness in working out the particulars.
Thank you very much for this. Answers a lot for me why I wasn’t feeling right about all this, you have explained well. Blessings
“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7
“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Ephesians 1:15-17
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!
In Christ alone, Charisse
Great post, extremely helpful. Your comments about Dan and mysticism remind me once again how prevalent this is in the evangelical church and how woefully ignorant most christians (including pastors) are to the dangers of these practices. Great job on being loving and graceful, but still standing firm in the faith. God bless brother.
Very good well thought out article. The biggest problem with Dan Kimball is asking him to answer straight forward questions is like trying to nail jello to a tree.
My question also to Dan would be how could he continue to fellowship and write books with (Emergent Manifesto etc..) with people who teach and support heretical teaching such as Brian McLaren.
That would seem like an endorsement of heresy to me.
At the very least what about causing a brother or sister in the Lord to stumble by writing books with these heretical false teachers.
Again though thank you for the very well thought out article.
Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland has spiritual formation classes named Soul Findings, Journey, and Kindle.
Hm… Cedar Ridge Community church… isn’t that Brian Mclaren? Now, I ask, is this guilt by association or guilt by endorsement on the part of Dan?
sigh. You’re right, it’s his own fault if people think he endorses mysticism. He can go around commenting here or there to deny it and bury his denial in a sentence in a podcast, but never actually write on it where people can see it or actively warn against it. He can come and answer your questions and people who read him and never read you will not ever see it. They are the people that need to see it. And they are the ones he will get the flack from for teaching sound doctrine. I have the impression he wants to avoid that sort of flack from reading the stuff he writes at his blog.
Yes, I think you’re right with regard to Cedar Ridge and Brian McLaren (good catch!):
(As you know, but perhaps others won’t, one of the forewords in The Emerging Church is by McLaren, too.)
Of course, Dan was writing in 2003, and McLaren hadn’t then made his theological position expressly clear, as he has subsequently with books like A New Kind of Christianity. And given that Dan has already said that he was unaware when he wrote what he did that anyone else would understand him to have been advocating mysticism, I thought that giving Dan another opportunity to clarify his present position would be a more profitable line to take.
Thank you for commenting, Paula, and especially also for making it through to the end of my post 🙂
Lorraine, Jude, Charisse, Al, Tim – thank you visiting and wading through my article. I really appreciate all your comments.
Thank you for this wonderful post.
I will have to read again, and maybe a few more times.
All I could think about when reading this is how you are being used by God to be the ‘balm’ between brothers and sisters that in disagreement, by raising all the pertinent questions to the right people. Some of us are mere spectators, and I am very grateful for this piece you have written!
Thank you, Stephen. I pray that you are right and that God will, by whatever means pleases Him, bring healing balm to the present situation.
Great article. I intend to use theses guidelines in my blogging endevours. Before the controversy regarding Dan Kimball began on Fighting For the Faith radio program, I’d also began researching Kimball. My former church heavily promoted Chip Ingram’s DVDs, books, etc., and I’d noticed Ingram endorsed at least one of Kimball’s books. What I’d read about Kimball was very troubling, but I could not find any hard evidence to lump him with true heretics. I think time will tell, as the smoke is clerared. I would include him in the Purpose/Seeker driven camp — a camp I stay far away from.
Then the controversy began on FFW with another discernment radion program. I was more troubled with the controversy than with anything else.
It’s like watching two family members fight. I hope and pray that your recent articles will help bring healing, clarity, love and understanding to this issue and bring the controversy to a hault. There are too many wolves that need to be attacked, instead of biting and devouring one another.
Peace and Happy Thanksgiving!
dh @ FFW
Thank you, Danny, both for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment. Your ‘family members fighting’ simile is apt – it is painful for all of us to watch, and I rather doubt that it is advancing the cause of the Gospel that I believe everyone involved loves.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.
I just have a question for you on your definition of what is included in historical orthodox christian beliefs. Do you include infant baptism and ammilennialism in this category? The early church held to both of these beliefs, infant baptism until the reformation when I believe the anabaptists said you had to make a choice for Jesus to become a christian. The popular rapture and millennial reign on earth came about in the late 1800’s I think.
That is an excellent question.
Given my article, I suppose that your question really becomes an enquiry into whether doctrines of either baptism or eschatology should be things over which the Church divides. Certainly they have been, but should they be?
I guess it rather depends on what is being taught – I am generally sympathetic to exegetically sound and well-reasoned arguments from Scripture, and respectful of those who make them, even if I disagree with some of their conclusions. Clearly, though, there are some making very poor arguments on these topics and causing unnecessary division. That, at least, is unhelpful.
If someone maintains a position arrived at through sound exegesis, and the flaws in their arguments cannot readily be identified and rebutted from Scripture, it does not in general seem to me that his doctrine ought to be cause for division, even if we hold a differing understanding ourselves. Rather, such a thing would seem to be a matter for continuing discussion, conducted in a spirit of gentleness and kindness, with a genuine endeavour to really grasp the nuances of a position other than our own.
What I have observed in much of the paedo/credo-baptist debate (including, occasionally, discussion between paedo-baptists of the substantively differing Reformed and Lutheran traditions) is a fair amount of the various sides talking past one another, each not realizing that the presuppositions they consider obvious are not at all apparent to those from other traditions. (Sometimes, I am sure, it is also the case that one side simply has no idea at all what the other actually believes.)
And yet, when debate is conducted in a godly manner, I find that the Scriptures perhaps not given proper weight by one tradition are given an appropriate emphasis by another, and vice versa. Thus, it seems possible to me that perhaps Christ allows such differences to persist so that we are each driven back to the Scriptures to discover new riches there – ones that perhaps our own tradition has been inclined to overlook.
This is not at all to say that all traditions on baptism have equal value, of course – some accord with Scripture much more closely than others. But, where beliefs genuinely seem to have plausible Biblical foundation, friendly discussion between those of such differing views can be incredibly helpful.
Thus, I think the question of division with regard to baptism must come down to whether we believe a particular view on baptism is contrary to Scripture in such a way that it is injurious to the proper proclamation or reception of the Gospel. Ultimately, then, does someone’s view of baptism honour God by being faithful to God’s self-revelation of Himself in the Scriptures and, most especially, in the person and work of Christ?
With regard to eschatology, similar principles would apply. However, I simply haven’t undertaken enough study to wish to make any firm pronouncements on that subject – it is on my (long) list of things I’d like to spend time on, but I’ve not done that yet, and I endeavour not to speak from ignorance. I would say that it seems likely to me that many of the Scriptures that are now hard to understand will become clearer when the events they speak of take place. Clearly, though, if someone were to be teaching something contrary to the Scriptures, he ought to be taken into hand.
I apologise if all that seems something of a rather lengthy non-answer – my aim at present is to promote reconciliation between those in the Reformation traditions, rather than to open up a new cause for contention. There is undoubtedly a proper time and place for a thorough discussion of baptismal and eschatological issues, but I rather suspect that it is not here and now.
Thank you again for your insightful question – I am sorry that I have not been able to do it the justice it deserves.
I like the three-fold prioritization of doctrine that I’ve seen Sproul and Challies use (I don’t know with whom it originated), where things foundational to Christianity are level one (I call them definitional distinctives, because without them you no longer have Christianity). Things which are very important but about which Christians can disagree in good conscience would be level two (these things often produce different denominations). Level three would be everything else, where the idea is that people holding different positions on a given issue would still be able to participate in full fellowship in a local congregation.
Heresy and aberrancy often comes from people mis-prioritizing a doctrine, either by making a critical teaching (i.e. Christ’s bodily resurrection) less important, or elevating a secondary or tertiary instruction to the point of primacy.
This gets complicated because most categories of instruction include more than one “level” in my three-tier model.
For example, I’d argue that Christ’s second advent (i.e. that He is coming back in glory and triumph, and that his return is still immanent) is absolutely crucial to Christianity; it’s tier one (I understand that might offend full preterists, but I’ll try to sleep at night). However, further differentiation between eschatological positions (pre-mil, amil, post-mil, etc.) seems to be level two or even level three, to me.
Baptism is even more intricate, and honestly, it’s one of the topics I’ve been wrestling with for quite a while. I started trying to break it down here, but it just got confusing, even for me as the writer. I’d argue that the only thing to make primary is the command to be baptized (despising that command is not orthodox). Beyond that, I won’t say, other than to assert that one’s position on baptism must be consistent with the core doctrines of the faith, and will undoubtedly affect other less core ones.
You we doing well until you enforced Calvinism/Mongerism as a test for orthodoxy.
>You we doing well until you enforced Calvinism/Mongerism as a test for orthodoxy.
Calvinism is part of monergism, but Lutherans are monergists as well.
Sorry , but if you are hoping to share credit for your salvation with God, you aren’t orthodox.
It doesn’t mean you aren’t saved, as you may just be very confused by the traditions taught by people who somehow have picked up the idea of the freedom of the will from verses that only teach that man is indeed both RESPONSIBLE for his sin and UNABLE to avoid sinning.
Here is a good article by Todd Wilken (a very orthodox Lutheran pastor) that explains the problem:
Legalism and License
I take no offense at your comment. I consider it a complement to be considered unorthodox by a Calvinist. Calvinism is not the historic Christian faith, but a corruption of it steeped in intellectualism and philosophical argument.
Paula said “Sorry , but if you are hoping to share credit for your salvation with God, you aren’t orthodox.”
The subtlety of the deceit in this statement is at the heart of the problem. As if I am hoping to share the credit for my salvation in any truly orthodox sense. Christ is my only hope, my righteousness alone. I take no credit whatsoever for my salvation. That doesn’t mean God has not made us with of will and ability to respond to Him. By your saying that I am hoping to share credit only shows how Calvinism adds a level beyond the simplicity of belief in the true Gospel and what is true orthodoxy.
You said – “The majority of evangelicalism undoubtedly holds to semi-pelagianism, believing that we have first to take a step of faith toward God (‘make a decision for Christ’), and that God will then respond by saving us.”
Wow what a generalization made in complete ignorance – I am not calling you ignorant – just a statement made in ignorance – please let me attempt to explain. You have just tarred people with a view of things which is obviously wrong in order to discredit anything that questions your view. The statement you made is an over simplification and is simply untrue in most cases. You also assume that if your not a Calvinist then your an Armenian, this is yet another fallacy commonly held within the Calvinistic camp. It’s the basic straw man scenario.
What you and others are guilty of is making assumptions about what others believe. You then misrepresent the view of those who differ from you without ever actually understanding what their view is.
I have spent a long time reading and understanding the teachings of and history of Calvinism. I have truly wrestled with it on a number of points. Some of the basic tenets contain truth but go beyond the truth and the truth suffers. God is sovereign, God draws us and predestines us – according to foreknowledge. The sovereignty of God is displayed not in foreordaination equaling foreknowledge, but in God’s will being perfectly carried out according to foreknowledge irrespective of all that man and even Satan will.
How can man be held accountable if only those that are elect can believe. Its because the invitation is to all – God draws us but we play a role even though God is the initiator. God created us with the ability to chose him, to respond to Him through our will.
Certainly lots of interesting ideas there, Mark. I was just trying to square that ‘accountable’ comment in the light of Romans 9:18-24 (NKJV):
18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Any further thoughts, anyone, particularly in regard to Verses 19-20?
Regarding Romans 9:18-24 – The conclusion I have arrived at after looking into Calvinism and studying the Scriptures is that it really all gets down to the doctrine of ” The eternal decrees of God” as taught according to Calvinism. If you accept that foreknowledge==fore-ordination then you will see these verses as a proof text for your beliefs. If however you take of the goggles with which you view things for a moment ( we all have to take a fresh look from time to time) then you may see what I mean.
Let’s say that foreknowledge is not equal to fore-ordination and that we are elect according to God’s foreknowing only and not by decree. God is still sovereign – probably even more so than according to Calvinism, because God’s perfect will is carried out taking into account His foreknowledge of every thought and action that occurs – in the midst of the many and various plans/wills of men – I don’t think that diminishes God’s sovereignty in any way. Now looking at Romans 9 –
v 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Yes, God will have mercy on whom He wills. He foreknows those that will respond to Him. Note I say respond, its God that draws us.
v 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
According to foreknowledge, Pharaoh hardened his own heart first towards God.
v19-20 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus?
Who has resisted God’s will/purpose according to foreknowledge. It all works out just the way God has foreknown us. God’s will to save those He foreknew would respond to His call. As beings created by God we can’t argue against God’s will who has formed us according to foreknowledge.
I hope I have made sense to you in presenting this view of things, It’s getting late here and I am tired. For several reasons I totally reject the idea that foreknowledge==fore-ordination. I think this teaching lacks scriptural support, relies heavily upon philosophical argument and also relies upon some real double talk to avoid the obvious conclusion that it is completely fatalistic.
Mark, thank you for explaining where you are coming from.
It seems to me that which side of the fence one comes down on surely depends upon one’s view of Original Sin. Are we actually dead in our sins, in the sense that we are utterly unable to make a move towards God unless He first works in us? Or are we, to borrow a phrase or two, merely ‘resting’ and ‘pining for the fjords’? In other words, is our ability to choose God merely impaired, or are we utterly powerless to do anything positive towards our own salvation, like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley?
With regard to Pharaoh first hardening his own heart – a monergist (at least, one who holds to the Doctrines of Grace) would simply say that yes, of course he did that. This is what we all do by nature in response to God’s word, unless the Holy Spirit works within us to cause us to do otherwise. Indeed, this is all we can do unaided, and worse, all we want to do. This is what I understand Scripture to mean when it says that, prior to our regeneration, we were ‘dead in our sins’ and ‘slaves to sin’.
You have a different view, as I once did, and I respect that, although I respectfully also disagree with it. I appreciate your willingness to discuss these matters in a friendly way.
Thanks for allowing me to post my comments on your blog. I just feel the need to address these issues from time to time. I have been a frustrated of late because some reformed folk I have come across have tended to present their own view with an air of infallibility almost, while presenting opposing views unfairly. But I know that can work both ways. But I will still take issue with you that mongerism should be included as a test for orthodoxy. I take issue with the hijackacking of the “historic Christian faith” to belonging only to those that hold to Mongerism.
Anyhow, Thanks again.
Thank you, Mark – I think you have made your point very clearly!
I have to agree with Mark here. I love some stuff by John Macarthur. Truth Wars was a great book. But I also love Dave Hunts “What Love Is This”.
I prefer just to remain a biblical Christian.
I have a habit of getting in trouble with people from both the Calvinist and Armenian camps.
Problem is both camps in part right are about some things.
Here is a article that I have found helpful in this debate from my friend and brother in the Lord Sandy Simpson
PS Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving we have a lot to be thankful for
Mark, Tim, thank you both for reading and taking the time to leave your comments. You are welcome here, even though we disagree.
With regard to whether or not I am speaking out of ignorance, I shall leave that for you to decide, but you might wish to read my response to Diana’s comment below to get an idea of my background.
Peace and grace to you both in our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I am happy to apologise. It just seemed that you made an unfair presentation of those with differing views from your own. A generalisation can do that, I don’t doubt that some view things as you stated, but there are differing views.
Thank you, Mark 🙂 I of course accept your apology, although I had taken no offence at what you had originally said. I realize that my article was provocative – and I was content with that (although I nonetheless endeavoured not to be offensive in my manner), as I believe that these are important matters and I wanted to help people think them through.
I will be saving this article to refer to and study. A great help in seeing the situation in the clearest terms and light of The Word. I believe this will be applicable to future situations that any one of us may come across and probably will, as I see the emergent/seeker friendly/mystical notions taking root all over the place. I am so grateful for the education.
I was thinking that most of this article should be just one chapter (or more) of a whole book, that I would find most useful.
Thanks again Daniel
>Wow what a generalization made in complete ignorance – I am not calling you ignorant – just a statement made in ignorance – please let me attempt to explain. You have just tarred people with a view of things which is obviously wrong in order to discredit anything that questions your view. The statement you made is an over simplification and is simply untrue in most cases.
I would say that you are arguing from your own experience rather than looking at the whole of evangelicalism, at least that which is prominently displayed on television and radio. Daniel’s assessment of evangelicalism is right on.
I would suggest people read Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. It will take you a while because it is thick reading. I would suggest the Packer Johnston translation rather than the Cole translation which uses much more archaic English.
as well as spending some time on monergism.com
Oh Paula, how I wish I could have every Christian read and understand Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Doing so was certainly the ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for me. And you’re right, the Packer–Johnston translation is excellent and thoroughly readable, and Packer’s introduction is well worth the price of admission in itself. It’s available at Amazon.com, here:
The Bondage of the Will
Very nice work. In particular, I appreciate the differentiating of orthodoxy, heresy, and aberrancy (IMO, one of the sources of confusion in what Chris has said comes from him overloading the term “orthodoxy,” so that what you’ve called “aberrancy” is at various times identified as orthodox and at others, heretical).
Separating consideration of one’s salvation from the orthodoxy of their doctrine is likewise excellent. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t heard Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s talk on “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” to find it; he expands brilliantly upon this point and its enormous implications. I thought Chris supported this same point fairly well but overextended in application (e.g. he seemed to argue that also gave a pass to Kimball’s greater accountability as a teacher). Making this distinction gave you freedom (no pun intended) to build upon monergism as a foundation for orthodoxy without damning those who would reject it.
I also am grateful for the amount of source material quoted; there has been too much appeal to outside (even privileged) conversations as evidence in this debate.
Having said that, I have a couple of nuances to suggest.
First, (and this is admittedly minor) I wouldn’t consider semi-pelagianism to be “synonymous with synergism;” that seems too limiting. Synergism is a set of doctrines, where that set is defined as any doctrine that is not explicitly and consistently monergistic. Beside semi-pelagianism, full pelagianism and at least some Arminianism would be synergistic, and I’d argue that Mormonism and other religions outside the Christian pale could also be seen as part of that set.
Second, as someone with a Lutheran background and strong appreciation for both Lutheran and Reformed thought, I wanted to agree with Chris in affirming that monergism is foundational within historic Lutheranism. A full defense is not my place here, but I’ll quote the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”
I make this point because a couple of times, you use Calvinistic terms in describing monergism (e.g. “unconditional election and irresistible grace”). Implicitly or explicitly, this starts to narrow the scope of the discussion further than monergism itself, into specifically Reformed theology. While Lutherans and Calvinists have significant disagreements (and those arguments are worth having; iron sharpens iron), I’d say those differences are within the larger bounds of monergism itself. No doubt some Calvinists would disagree with me, but that discussion would require fuller definitions of monergism and be outside the scope of your article…
Thank you Jason, I appreciate your nuancing things in the way that you have. With regard to the scope of synergism as compared to semi-pelagianism, I dare say that you have a point.
Thank you too for the quote from the Small Catechism. Luther writes so clearly there. I was certainly endeavouring to write my article in a way that was inclusive of Lutheranism. My use of the terms ‘unconditional election’ and ‘irresistible grace’ was in relation to Norman Geisler’s book, which specifically goes after Calvinism (rather than monergism or Reformation Theology in general). Geisler was, as I understand it, attacking doctrines under those names. No doubt, however, I could have better nuanced what I wrote so as to keep my Lutheran brothers and sisters with me – I certainly see Lutheranism as being monergistic, and it is therefore a mistake for anyone to think that the only monergists are Calvinists.
With regard to Dr. Rosenbladt’s, ‘The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church’, I seem to remember thinking that very good indeed when I heard it some time ago, and I therefore second your recommendation.
Jason, I’ve tweaked the article in an endeavour to address the points you raised and make it more amiable to Confessional Lutherans. I am sure that it is still not perfect, but I hope that it is at least improved.
Regarding references to those of us on the front lines of “biting and devouring one another”, I would encourage you to remember the different roles in issues like this that Christians play. Your gifts in explaining things in a detailed theological manner are helpful to many, myself included. There are many sheep, however, who do not possess your theological lexicon. I would not hesitate to say after doing Christian radio talk programs for two decades that the majority of Christians do not have a grasp on some of these terms and concepts, even biblical Christians. So for those who do not even know what a “monergist” is, or a synergist is, or who are unable to follow your detailed and intelligent biblical reasoning, God uses some of us to do programs like Crosstalk and interpret things, in a brief amount of time we are given, for lay people–the ones who simply need to know that Dan Kimball has never pulled his troubling books, ended his troubling affiliations or clarified his positions on many issues (even when asked to repeatedly.)
If it is “painful” for people to watch the battles, it is even more painful for those of us on such programs to experience. I worked with Mr. Rosebrough for several years, shared information, discussed strategy, etc. There are simply no words to describe what it is like to go from that kind of relationship to having yourself publicly ridiculed and shredded by name, something I did not do on my radio program for a reason, when just a few months ago, he was a featured guest on Crosstalk.
Over the years at VCY America we have had to remove radio programs dating back as early as 1992 when Chapel of the Air began introducing contemplative spirituality and mysticism to our radio audience. We took unbelievable incoming flak for our removal of that program and had 150 pastors jam our conference room to hear our warnings and explanations of these strange new teachings making their way in to mainstream evangelicalism. We were accused of biting and devouring brethren. Indeed, we wanted nothing of the kind. But we had to draw a line when the teachings of Richard Foster and the teachings of Roman Catholic mystics were airing over our airwaves.
I write this because I don’t appreciate the portrayal of my work by some as that of some lose cannon, rolling around the deck of a ship, taking random shots at brothers in Christ. We have been here before many times (don’t even ask about our battles in the mid-90’s in warning about Tony Campolo, one of the early shock troops of contemplative spirituality.) It has been difficult work that challenges us emotionally and spiritually and sometimes physically as a result.
Thank you for your work here, Daniel. It is very helpful and provides an additional resource for those troubled by this present controversy. You can pray for those of us who have a different kind of ministry related to these false teachings. Our struggles are there daily and we need wisdom.
Ingrid, thank you so much for your clear rationale for the important work that you do, and the eloquent portrayal of the pain you are suffering in this present controversy. You make evident the fact that this is not merely an abstract debate concerning ideas, but that there are real, hurting people involved.
To clarify, when I mentioned that this is painful to watch, a very large part of that pain is seeing people whom we love, value and respect (a category into which I personally would place both you and Chris) taking fire from those who ought to be (and have been) friends.
You continue to be in my prayers – and also, I know, those of many others. May the Lord comfort you and strengthen you by His grace, and give you in overflowing abundance the wisdom that you seek.
This is a very good book, er..I mean blog post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I will need to read through it several more times and will be sure to refer it to others.
This is a really interesting article. I am particularly intrigued when you say that it is not our beliefs that save us, but rather having been regenerated by God’s Spirit, and thus it is possible to be saved whilst holding unorthodox views. This is a comforting view, for I have to say I have changed my understanding on various issues since becoming a Christian, such as Calvinism/Arminianism for one.
Would it be possible for someone who has been regenerated to deny that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh and not be lost, ie holding to the Gnostic heresy?(I John 4:1-3) Or taking the argument to its logical conclusion, could someone who had been regenerated deny that Jesus is Lord? (Romans 10:9). Or would you argue rather that someone who has been regenerated would have no option other than to declare this, simply because they had been regenerated?
Thanks for a thought-provoking article!
It certainly is comforting and, like you, I have changed my views on this topic. I was brought up in the UK in what I suppose would be considered evangelicalism, in a mixture of Baptist Union (these are Arminian, not Calvinist), Pentecostal (the saner kind), and non-denominational soft-charismatic evangelical congregations. I believed what everyone else around me did, which is that we had first to make a decision for Christ, and that God would honour that and save us.
It wasn’t so much that our free will in matters of salvation was expressly taught – it was just assumed, and everything else that was said and done was founded upon that unspoken assumption. When I look now at the churches around me, visit their websites, talk to people who go to them, hear their sermons – I see that what I grew up believing is what is still assumed by the vast majority (not all) of fellowships today.
In my teens, I had a friend at school who was Reformed (and how rare a species was he!), and we used to argue back and forth over what are termed the Doctrines of Grace – not to either of our credit, I fear, as we were both simply stating our prejudices and arguing from those, rather than going to the Scriptures and finding out what they actually said and endeavouring to harmonize them so as to arrive at a rounded, Biblical position. Back when I was 18, I even wrote a paper arguing vehemently against God’s sovereign election, and for the Arminian position that God chooses us on the basis of foreseen faith. Later on in my life, as I had come to know the Scriptures a little better, I wrote another essay, this time arguing for what I thought was a ‘plague on both your houses’ position.
And then, one day, I was reading Romans 9, and I suddenly understood for the very first time the shape of Paul’s argument there concerning God’s election – it was not on the basis of anything we had done or would do (such as making a decision for Christ), but simply according to His good pleasure. Thus began my journey from synergism to monergism. I started reading Scripture with fresh eyes, seeing things there – wondrous things – that, somehow, I had previously missed. (How could I have been so blind?) I sought out the teachings of people who seemed to have an understanding of these things and, gradually, my understanding grew.
Later on, I read Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and this was when another huge piece of the puzzle clicked into place: God didn’t give the Law because He expected us to be able to keep it, but to show us that we couldn’t, and thereby reveal to us our sinful nature and so drive us into the arms of a loving Saviour who had kept the Law perfectly for us! Everything became so clear! In all my years as a Christian in evangelicalism, why had no one told me this primary purpose of the Law before? How could anyone even hope to make sense of Scripture without knowing this?
With that key, I was able to read passages such as Romans 1–3, the book of Galatians, and the Sermon on the Mount, and understand them for the first time in a way such that they were consistent with all the other Scriptures I knew. I saw that what Luther taught about the purpose of the Law was exactly what the Scriptures taught.
Well, my writing all that was to use many words simply to say this: I have been on a long journey from there to here, and it is not yet over. I have an immense sympathy with those who are still on the earlier stages of that journey, and who are still trying to figure these things out. And it perturbs me not at all that some of my Christian brothers and sisters are as yet vehemently opposed to the understanding I now hold – how could I think less of them for maintaining positions I once held myself?
Now, to your excellent question: ‘Would it be possible for someone who has been regenerated to deny that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh and not be lost, ie holding to the Gnostic heresy?’
There was someone at a church I was once part of who, rather surprisingly (because he had been taught sound doctrine), appeared to believe that the Holy Spirit was merely some impersonal force by which God worked, rather than a distinct person in the Godhead. He’d gotten this idea from an article in a magazine produced by some offshoot of Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. I came back later in the day with a list of Scripture passages showing the personhood of the Holy Spirit. He took that away and returned later having immediately changed His position. He now acknowledged that yes, the Holy Spirit is indeed a person of the Godhead, and that this was what the Scriptures clearly taught.
This is illustrative, perhaps, of the working-out of what Jesus says, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me’ (John 10:27). When we are taken to the Scriptures and have them explained clearly to us, the Holy Spirit works within us and causes us to hear our Master’s voice. Sometimes, this process is immediate (as with my friend), and other times it takes more time. But, ultimately, I think, it is an extremely concerning sign if we see someone who professes to be a Christian stubbornly holding out over a period of time against the clear word of God. (I write more on this topic here.) Not for nothing does James say:
Now, your particular question goes to the heart of our faith. If Jesus did not come in the flesh, He did not bodily die on the cross, and where then is the sacrifice for our sins? And if He did not come in the flesh, there can have been no bodily resurrection, and where then is our hope?
Paul makes exactly this point, immediately after having proclaimed the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:
So, we see that a denial that Jesus has come in the flesh is a very denial of the faith. If someone persists in such a denial despite having had this explained to them, they are expressly rejecting Christ as having died bodily as a sacrifice for their sins, and they are expressly rejecting Christ as having been raised for their justification (being declared righteous). They thus reject the faith, and they are not in fact trusting in Christ either for the forgiveness of sins or for their right standing before the Father.
This is why John is able to write such a clear answer to your very question:
In his second epistle, John writes further on the same subject:
(It is, of course, over the proper application of this latter passage that Ingrid and Chris differ, but that is a debate for another day.)
I hope this helps a little, and I pray that God will give you an ever clearer understanding of these things as you continue to seek Him diligently in the Scriptures. Our salvation by grace in Christ is a truly amazing thing, and I do not suppose that we shall ever exhaust its riches, though we have an eternity in which to contemplate it.
It is interesting Dan that a lot of us who point out monergism from from the background in free will decision background. I have recently been kicked out (yes, expelled) from a very long time fellowship at an online place that has big ties with the Calvary Chapel movement. The reason was precisely I have started moving towards monergism in belief. That online fellowship has recently declared all varieties of Calvinism i.e. monergism as false teaching.
It gets lonely – they no doubt sincerely believe (Mark from a comment above would reflect pretty much their stance) that they do truly believe the Bible teaches synergism, and think it is their duty to oppose false teachers, including all Reformed teachers. I guess we could count it as suffering for the sake of the gospel. (Grin)
Or suffering for the sake of being wrong perhaps 🙂
Do you just make assumptions about what others believe, and think the worst to make it easier to just believe as you do and not have to ask the hard questions? I can help but have a problem with the doctrine of “The eternal decrees of God” as taught by Calvinism. For several reasons I totally reject the idea that foreknowledge==fore-ordination. I think this teaching lacks scriptural support, relies heavily upon philosophical argument and also relies upon some real double talk to avoid the obvious conclusion that it is completely fatalistic.
Interesting, MJ. My experience has been the opposite; any argument separating foreknowledge and fore-ordination devolved rapidly into philosophical arguments or used circular reasoning masquerading as biblical evidence as support.
Daniel’s article isn’t the place for exploring this, but do you have a link to any in-depth defenses of your position? I’ll admit to being very skeptical, but I’m always interested in finding the best defense for a position, whether I agree with it or not. Thanks!
Joel, I am so sorry that you have had to go through that experience – being forced out of a local church is incredibly painful. And yes, you are right, very many of us in the monergism camp have moved out of synergism. It can seem very lonely at times, and I pray that, if you have not already found one, you will quickly find a fellowship that can both encourage you and build you up in the faith into maturity in Christ. One that will use God’s law lawfully to convict you of your sin, and never neglect to remind you of the Great Salvation that we have in Christ, even the forgiveness of all our sins and a right standing before a just and holy God.
I am pleased that you don’t seem bitter, but understand that your brothers and sisters in Christ were acting as they believed Scripture required. And, for whatever little my opinion is worth, I do not think it inappropriate to consider this suffering to have been for the sake of the Gospel.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, and cause His face to shine upon you.
Thanks for your word of encouragement Dan. I just want to clarify that the place is not a physical church, but rather, an online discussion forum that is a discussion of eschatology (Bible prophecy) – all of us share the pre-tribulation premillennial stance when it comes to Bible prophecy. There was no particular doctrinal orientation on that forum pertaining to election and salvation, but I have notice those who hold to monergism have been gradually moving out of the place.
On the physical/local church side, I recently switched to a Reformed-leaning evangelical Anglican church. The church’s Bible study groups finished studying the Book of John this year, and I have been convinced that monergism is the biblical position as the studies went on.
Meanwhile, the online forum is becoming increasingly intolerant of any varieties of Calvinism and I think the last remaining Calvinist-leaning moderator at that forum resigned and left soon after he posted an article series about Rick Warren, Pelagianism, Charles Finney. The remaining moderators have recently posted an article that basically says all monergism equals to Calvinism, which equates to false teachings. Sad to say, I have been kicked out of that forum soon after.
So God has been working in my circumstance on the local church scene – it is a separate amazing story that I wouldn’t explain here. The people are kind and genuine Christians, very different from my previous background (it is a Baptist Union of New Zealand Baptist church).
PS: 1. I’m from New Zealand, which in many ways mimics the Christian church scene in the United Kingdom since many pastors were trained there. Most churches, at least those that still preach Jesus is God’s only Begotten Son, died on the cross and resurrected on the third day variety, are charismatic, so by default are not monergistic. Reformed churches are rare, and churches that emphasise a pure proclaiming of the gospel rather than a more social type of outreach programme are similarly rare.
2. Charles Finney is still regarded as a very godly man by a vast majority of American evangelical Christians even though by every means he is a heretic. Mention Finney=heretic in front of fundamental independent Baptists, and you will be hissed even though Finney believed very different things from modern Baptist Christians.
Sorry, Joel, you were clear in your original message as you said ‘online place’. I read ‘fellowship’ and ‘ties with Calvary Chapel’, and somehow missed the ‘online’. My mistake, thank you for clearing it up. Glad to hear that your local church situation seems solid, at least!
I appreciate the background on the New Zealand scene. I don’t know whether you are on Facebook, or listen to Fighting for the Faith, but there was a Quentin Gibson on Chris Rosebrough’s wall asking yesterday to make contact with other NZ listeners:
With regard to Charles Finney, it’s difficult to understand why he has any credibility at all, let alone is defended so fiercely in some quarters.
Thanks again for visiting!
Hi Joel, nice to run into you here. 🙂
Although you are correct that I left soon after I posted the thread on Pelagianism, etc., the ultimate reason for my resignation was due to disagreement on the Gospel. They vehemently oppose what is known as “lordship salvation”, which of course is nothing short of the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. Some also make a distinction between a believer and a disciple, when in fact every believer IS a disciple.
I think it is safe to say that anyone who rejects what is known as “lordship salvation”, which in essence is the biblical truth that we surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23 etc), would be considered unorthodox according to what Daniel has presented here. This unorthodox view of Scripture leads one to believe practical/progressive sanctification does not necessarily follow justification. They might believe that as long as you “ask Jesus into your heart and are sincere” you are saved, despite living a continuous lifestyle of rebellion against a Holy God. This line of thinking results in many a false convert.
In any case, the same hatred for monergism seems to apply to “lordship salvation”. It’s quite unfortunate and sad to see. All we can do is pray for them and show compassion and patience towards them.
And then, one day, I was reading Romans 9, and I suddenly understood for the very first time
I remember that same day for me too. I had a friend who had insisted people are predestined… I had been a waffling arminian not realizing how confused and unscriptural some of my understandings of the human will were. But when Romans 9 clicked into place and I stopped trying to equivocate what was being said there, it really was an amazing comfort and sense of surrender that washed over me. As it has been said, it’s like being born again AGAIN.
I found the White Horse Inn’s 2006 series “The Romans Revolution” to be extremely helpful. I never knew how much good stuff was in Romans before that even though I had been through a very conservative Lutheran Bible School.
Thank you Paula for that, I like how you put it 🙂
‘The Romans Revolution’ series you mentioned looks like it comprises the episodes mentioned here, beginning 8 January 2006, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like the audio is online. Still, there are lots of links to other resources that look helpful.
Amazing! Romans 9 was the crossroads for me as well and began my journey to discover the eternal truths of God’s sovereign grace.
Thank you, Daniel, for such a clear and helpful article on this matter.
In the statement that Dan Kimball gave – as well as his brief back and forth interaction with me – it struck me that he continued to insist that he was not a mystic and had never been a mystic – when I had made it clear, from the very start as well as throughout our exchange, that I did NOT consider him to be a mystic nor did I believe that he himself had ever taught mysticism. That was not the issue for me. But as you stated, the problem remains that, regardless of what Dan Kimball himself believes and teaches with respect to mysticism, his book Emerging Worship points his readers/followers toward mystical practices and other authors who most emphatically do practice – and teach – mind-altering mantra meditation and mysticism. It doesn’t really matter that Dan Kimball himself doesn’t teach mysticism: he has pointed his readers/followers towards those who do, and is thus, from a position of leadership, endangering those who look to him for guidance.
Precisely, Christine 🙂
Thanks Dan for your kind words. In fact I’m on your facebook friends list (I don’t list my last name here, but my last name starts with H).
My new church is quite interesting, it is quite famous for being an expository Reformed-leaning church around in Christchurch and I heard the liberals in the Anglican diocese look and consider us as the bad boy. But almost all Christians, even those who are synergistic (charismatic or otherwise), have nothing but praise towards the teachings at that church.
Feel free to come visit this blog, it is Reformed in orientation with contributions from teachers from churches in NZ. A few are staff from my church and some commentators are Bible study group leaders:
Once again, thanks for the encouraging words in Christ.
Thanks Joel, I have found you on Facebook 🙂 I’ll check out the link!
You’ve addressed the main concerns that I had with Dan Kimball’s statements during his discussion with Chris. I knew that I’d heard him use the words “deconstruct” and “hell.” In addition, I was interested in the Lausanne Covenant’s skirting hell as a real place, in light of Dan Kimball’s citing this document as proof of his orthodox views.
You have done a masterful job. Thank you for going into such depth on the issues of heresy, abberance, orthodoxy and praxis and for surveying the role of pelegianism in American evangelicalism – for doing our homework, so to speak.
And focusing on the person of Christ at the center of all discernment.
Thank you, Martha. I do think that the Lausanne Covenant is generally rather more problematic than it might at first appear.
And yes, Christ should be our focus in all of this, as in everything!
It is a difficult struggle to work through the Sovereignty of God.
Two passages that were of considerable help:
2Timothy 2:25 “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”
Romans 2:4 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
“if perphaps God may grant them” and “not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance” makes it clear that even our own ability to “repent” must be granted to us by God.
But what should my reaction be to this? Praise God for His grace and His mercy, knowing that there was nothing I did or could do to remedy my own situation. Thankfulness overflows from whom much has been forgiven. This is the opposite of fatalism.
“Therefore, we are AMBASSADORS of Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20. We are blessed to be the beautiful feet who bring the Good News of Christ to those who are perishing. We proclaim this life giving message without reservation because we can not know who will or will not respond to the message, but that is not our concern. Out of utter thankfulness we in love and devotion to Christ for what He has so graciously done for us wish to give to others.
In the everlasting, lovingkindness, of Christ Jesus,
Hi Daniel. I’m very late to the party, but I want to say what an incredible article this is! I will be reading it a few more times as it is very educational and I am challenged to dive deeper into these subjects.
I was wondering – did Dan or Chris ever reply to any of this? It’s been 6 years, I wonder if anything has changed.
Thank you for your kind words, and being late is absolutely fine 🙂 I never did receive a response from Dan or Chris, no.
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