Tag Archives: New City Fellowship

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Introduction (cont’d.)

“I am insignificant and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.” — Psalm 119:141 (CVOT)

April 10, 2015, ORTHODOX GOOD FRIDAY

Over the next few weeks, I plan to post episodes from what has been a momentous tragicomedy. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious—and deadly serious if it weren’t so side-splittingly funny. I’ve shed both kinds of tears over this perennial drama…soon to be a docudrama in the pages that follow.

Not infrequently, it has struck me, “This is theater!” So much staging and posing and acting and histrionics and show of force. I enjoy good drama, but, even though I’m from North Hollywood, knew actors in the neighborhood, went to high school with some—or maybe especially because of it—I steered away from theater myself. I couldn’t remember lines, or was paralyzed at the thought of forgetting them on stage.

However, interaction with ordinary “actors” in real life is another thing. We’re not following a script; we all forget our lines; we’re out of costume; we could all use better directing. Still, we’re all getting opportunities to practice. I’m remembering…Moses didn’t think he was too good at remembering his lines either, or at least speaking them in public. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts….” Thus Shakespeare (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).

Recently I read most of the autobiography of James Garner (who was likewise paralyzed at the thought of stage acting), The Garner Files, and watched a couple of his earliest movies—“The Americanization of Emily,” with Julie Andrews (both of their personal favorite of all their films), a dark comedy with a surprising dénouement, and “The Children’s Hour,” with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, a searing, dark drama. Both black-and-white films from the early ‘60’s play on superb writing, captivating plots, and extraordinary acting for their power to grip audiences. Out of such darkness, light still shines.

At the end of March, God used Dan Schutte’s devotional song from the “Glory and Praise” album “What You Hear in the Dark” to impress on me the urgency of speaking in the light what He had been showing me in the dark during previous weeks, in fact during quite a few nights of uneasy sleep by then. I herewith start to comply.  In a number of previous painful scenarios in my life, I have used writing, in effect (I was not intending it this way), as therapy.  But then I tend to bag the results and no one else ever sees the struggle or the results.  It’s different this time.  I sense the Lord is saying, O.K., therapy is complete for you; now I want others to start getting healed, this time around.

I have chosen Orthodox Good Friday—the Eastern church liturgical calendar differs from the Western by a single week, this year—to commence “An Open Journal” about my recent experiences at New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This will take the form of a series of blog postings that I will back date to the date each note was actually penned. In addition to the original note, I may make additional comments to place it in context or expound it further. Although I first attended on Sunday morning, February 1, 2015, my first reflection was written on March 9, but I shall actually begin with my entries of March 10.  In addition, although I did not make notes during the first few Sundays, I hope to pen some recollections about the sermons and relevant accompanying conversations or events.

Not infrequently, the notes betray “an attitude.” I contemplated editing out such matters as not being edifying to readers. On the other hand, they honestly reflect the emotion of the moment, so they really belong to the original setting. This is, after all, a Journal—an Open Journal—to the attendees of New City Church of Grand Rapids. I am no longer inclined to hide my findings. My feelings, however, are another matter, unless there are sound lessons to be learned and shared with propriety. My exposé of the doctrine of the Atonement has certainly not been done in a corner. I originally intended simply to cull professional responses from pastors and others I met who I judged qualified or appointed to an office whose duties require evaluation of such matters. This submission of my results was thus a scholarly undertaking, as originally conceived. It has unexpectedly morphed under the heat applied by the elders to bottle up my “teachings” and seal them under a ban instead of distributing their extraordinarily refreshing contents. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I urge you to ask the Lord for discernment as you proceed. This cup of polemical or scholarly tea may not be for everyone. Yet I would stress that I have no interest in abstruse, speculative theology. It is God’s revealed explanations that captivate me and provide my chief delight. “The words of Yahweh are clean words, silver refined in a kiln, fine gold refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6, CVOT). “Every saying of God is refined; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He should correct you, and you be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6, adapted from the CVOT). These have been working me over for some six decades by now. May God bless us all with growing discernment and “absorptive” powers as we examine together His oracles in the biblical Scriptures.

Since an apology is most unlikely to come from the elders of New City Fellowship for what has transpired recently, by default it appears that I shall have to be the person to issue one. Accordingly, this new blog series may be regarded as “My Apology”—that is, my defense (apologia). In the spirit of fair play, readers are welcome to respond by blogging, but if I can’t keep up, I may have to issue further apologies!

Let us press on to maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Introduction

“My zeal gnaws at me, for my foes forget Your words.” — Psalm 119:139 (CVOT)

April 5, 2015, EASTER SUNDAY

Nine years ago, today, I “published” my first piece on the Atonement.  I encourage you to click on the link to “Resurrectionary Atonement,” at the top of this blog site, and take a few minutes to read it.  In fact, I might suggest that you scroll to the end of the piece and click on the link to the original blog site where it appeared–Prof. Scott McKnight’s “JESUS CREED.”  My submission was evidently the final one in the discussion, thus it appears conveniently at the top.  But if you want to get a feel for the reason that compelled me to burst forth with this volley of words, I encourage you to scroll through the prior discussion (starting at the bottom; you’ll have to click the “Load more comments” bar to get to the very start).  My original version was in ALL CAPS–not an easy read, as McKnight was instant (within four minutes!) to point out.  It was my very first blog, so my etiquette was a bit rough at the edges, I confess.  But the cause seemed worthy of the attempt.  As the adage goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.”

Today, then, is the NINTH ANNIVERSARY of that blog post.  Woo hoo!!!

Now for the bad news.  What follows is a letter I received this morning from an elder of the church I have been attending since February 1st of this year–barely two months.  I even dressed up for the occasion in the nice black suit I wore at my daughter Marie’s wedding!  Plus the whimsical “Easter egg” tie that my sister Marilyn gave me for Christmas 2013!  It was shortly after I received it that one of her best friends, Tina Harrell, died after ten years of struggling with cancer.  An extended phone conversation with Marilyn after her return from Tina’s memorial service at Valley Baptist Church in Burbank, California (http://www.vbcburbank.org/, a Conservative Baptist congregation, http://www.usachurches.org/denomination/conservative-baptist-association-of-america.htm), which we all attended together in our youth, prompted me to respond to her charge (perhaps justified–you can judge) that I see the Atonement issue in too severely black-and-white, either/or terms.  The result was my most recent and arduously argued piece (save one), “Unscrambling the Easter Eggsplanation.”  If I may say so, that paper would also make a fine and edifying read in this Easter season…if you dare; it’s at the top, too.  Hence the Easter egg “tie” between the two occasions.

The approach I take to the Atonement that God accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation is exceedingly controversial.  Christians of all traditions would probably acknowledge that.  Any reader of this blog site will have to struggle–as, indeed, I myself have–with the challenge posed by what I have termed “premial inclusion” as distinguished from “penal substitution.”  If, in fact, I do see the choice in too black-and-white terms, I have yet to see an adequate argument for blending the two strikingly contrasting positions.  As you would expect, I allege that the premial position is in best conformity with Scripture, when understood on its own terms.

And that’s what gets me in trouble with nice churches like the one that handed me the letter below.  New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, MI (http://www.opc.org/feature.html?feature_id=220) is a mission church of Harvest Church, Wyoming, MI (http://www.harvestopc.org/), where it’s pastor, Mika Edmondson, had been an intern, and later a church-planting pastor.  These are congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC — http://www.opc.org/).  NCF is just one year old as of last Sunday; when they celebrated their Anniversary with a beautiful big cake and a prayer of thanks.

I first heard of NCF one Sunday evening in January when I visited Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (http://www.holytrinitypc.org/), likewise a recent church plant, located on the west side of downtown Grand Rapids, and walkable for me.  One of the elders from New City was attending that evening, too, and was in the lobby with one of his children when I arrived late.  We got into a conversation that came around to the fact that he attended an OPC church (Holy Trinity is Associate Reformed Presbyterian, a friendly sister denomination–the first Presbyterian denomination founded in America, 1782).  I didn’t know of any OPC churches in Grand Rapids!  I first learned about the OPC as a college student in the late 1960’s.  I had even once contemplated studying at their Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia (http://www.wts.edu/), especially with Robert D. Knudsen.  My wife and I attended the Christian Reformed Campus Forum (formerly, Geneva Forum) at the University of Minnesota during the early 1980’s, soon after we got married.  The pastor, Bob Drake, was a Westminster graduate, ordained with the OPC.  Since that was a campus ministry, you can imagine the stimulating conversations we enjoyed together during those years.  But the Atonement had not become a serious issue for me quite yet, so was never an occasion for controversy.

I started pursuing a Ph.D. in Ancient Studies at the Univ. of Minn. around that  time (1982-83).  However, after a year I transferred to the home campus of Bethel Theological Seminary (https://www.bethel.edu/seminary/, of the former Baptist General Conference [Swedish] denomination, now renamed Converge, http://www.convergeworldwide.org/about/facts-and-info/our-story) in nearby Arden Hills, 1983-85, before completing my doctorate, for reasons I may explain another time.  I graduated from Bethel College (now University, https://www.bethel.edu/) in 1970.  I studied at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO (http://www.covenantseminary.edu/), fall 1979, which the L’Abri Fellowship (http://www.labri.org/) ministry of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer had been giving increased exposure.  It was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA — http://www.pcanet.org/).  The reason I chose Covenant Seminary at the time was largely on the recommendation of my previous pastor, Rev. Jack Buckley, a Covenant graduate, founder of Fellowship of His People in Berkeley, California (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152658241222219&set=a.40379212218.55671.648752218&type=1&theater)–a daughter church of Fellowship of the Lamb, one of the L’Abri-inspired churches that popped up around St. Louis in those days.  I visited Covenant in the summer of 1979 with my dad, while on a cross-country trip to visit my sister in Pittsburgh.  I learned of their two new degree programs in Historical Theology and Exegetical Theology.  I chose the latter.

It was while I was at Covenant that Randy Nabors visited Grace and Peace Fellowship (http://graceandpeacefellowship.org/), the very first of those L’Abri-inspired gatherings, where I was attending.  Randy was pastoring a very vibrant congregation in Chattanooga (where Covenant College, the undergraduate component of the Seminary had earlier located, http://www.covenant.edu/).  Randy’s church was–are you ready for this?–New City Fellowship, Chattanooga (http://www.newcityfellowship.com/).  Ta da!!!  Okay, so now you know one reason why I dragged you through the above circuitous route to get from there to here.  Many Covenant College students attended this inner-city church, which was a powerful witness for inter-racial fellowship.  Randy was a livewire, wherever he spoke.  This is the heritage of New City Fellowship, Grand Rapids, whose pastor, Mika Edmondson, a very gifted young black Ph.D. student at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids (http://www.calvinseminary.edu/), is carrying on the legacy of Randy Nabors in sterling fashion.  In fact, Mika is from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area himself, although originally from a Baptist background.  He is preparing to defend his Ph.D. dissertation in a couple of months.  It’s on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sooo…  Back to Holy Trinity on a frigid February night.  Harold Schnyders (Assoc. Prof. of Physics, GVSU) was that visiting elder from NCF who informed me about New City Fellowship (though he must rue the night he ever told me).  It so happens that it meets in the former Hispanic Seventh-Day Adventist church on Burton near Eastern.  That was my old stomping grounds when we moved to Alger Heights in 1996 from Pella, Iowa.  And it’s right off the #4 bus route (I haven’t had a car for almost five years).  Voila!

But why, you may ask?  Why did this spark my interest?  Simple.  Take a look at the responses this present blog site has evoked over its three-year history.  ‘Bout a dozen.  It’s not as if I haven’t sent out e-mails (by the hundreds, which takes me two or three days to send because of Hotmail limits) and made personal contacts where I try to encourage folks with what I’ve been learning over the decades.  Even the hard copy papers at the top of this site I’ve distributed by the score, even hundreds, since I first went public nine years ago, today.  In fact, at one of the recent session meetings of NCF where I was grilled, the pastor asked me if I had done “this” before–i.e., passed out my documents to pastors in other churches.  That caught me up short.  I could think of a few occasions, right off, that might qualify.  And more came to mind.  But after going home and thinking about it, I started making a list (I’m an irrepressible list maker).  Two dozen churches later…!

But that’s not quite what Mika was fetching for, it seems to me on further reflection.  I’ve been “planning” (as I tell everyone) to write a book on the Atonement.  For years.  But in view of the few actual responses in terms of written or extended oral objections to my findings, I personally find it a bit difficult to polish up my arguments and shore up the evidence.  Then again, I’ve already posted nearly thirty years of earlier “Atonement Notes” already…although I am now roughly seven-and-a-half years in arrears in posting them.  In other words, except for my most recent series of 26 (so far) postings on the Governmental view of the Atonement, for the benefit of the powerful young open-air evangelist Jesse Morrell (http://www.openairoutreach.com/), almost everything else is well over seven years old.  My point?  I still haven’t been able to scare up much solid, informed critique that might correct blind spots, force me to examine Scripture passages I might not have considered in this connection, deal with weighty scholars I hadn’t known about already, etc.  So if my current methods aren’t culling much informed response…HOW DO I GET A REACTION?  At virtually all of those previous churches, I might slip a few papers, or maybe a whole folder full, to a pastor.  And if there was no response,  I would quietly slip away.  But this is really no behavior for an evangelist.  And at heart, that’s what I am.

That’s where NCF comes in.  The Orthodox Presbyterian denomination (we’re talkin’ a “sect” here, but, of course, from the inside they don’t see it that way) is concerned about “doctrine” in a very conscientious way.  That can be all for the good…if handled properly.  But what it means for the further development of my book is that if they disagree about a point of doctrine, they are not reticent to say so.  Aha!  So why not approach hard-core Calvinists with a position that they can, uh…”react” to?  Hmmm?  If I had known of an OPC church in Grand Rapids in earlier years, I might have had an earlier start on the process.

Therefore, I decided to pay them a visit and provide the pastor (initially) with the documents you see at the top of this site (except for the first one by my friend Donald McKay of St. Francis, Minnesota), and in normal page format (instead of the uniform narrow-column format I’m limited to within this WordPress “Pilcrow” theme) so that they are more readable.  This way he could mark up the hard copy with comments (my personal preference).  Sorry, I still don’t warm up to sophisticated marking methods that Microsoft Word facilitates.  (Only my brother and Prof. Peter Davids have ever even tried those on my stuff).  Later, I put them into the hands of another elder, and another.  The son of a Westminster Seminary professor whom I esteem, Richard B. Gaffin, also attends NCF, so, naturally, he became a doubtful recipient of my labors.  His father’s book, Resurrection and Redemption:  A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (1987), (http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Redemption-Study-Pauls-Soteriology/dp/0875522718),  has a significant role to play in what follows.

But nobody wanted to come out and play with me!  It’s not a matter of method so much as an issue of content that challenges deeply held assumptions.  (Okay, and also of not having time to read into a set of stapled papers, no matter what the content.  But I bracket that for now…)  It’s, frankly, just too scary to reconsider revising historic understandings of the most fundamental matters of our faith.  I quite understand how this goes.  If I had not been remaining in the Word of God as the Lord worked me free from a few “bedrock” presuppositions of my youth that turned out to be merely shifting sands of that much vaunted “historic Christianity” that traditionalists like to boast in, I too would surely never have been able to shoulder the psychological load of “error divestiture” that can be truly paralyzing.  To say it another way, folks naturally feel vertigo at the thought of “giving up” basic premises of their religious faith.  “Losing one’s faith” is not something to treat lightly.  “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” by Christ’s apostles is a LIFE or DEATH matter!  It’s not to be trifled with.  It has ultimate consequences, and many more immediate side-effects on ethics and practice.  But when the Word of God is going through the transition with you, there’s a different quality about the changes you undergo.

Ergo:  shouldn’t we try to become mighty sure that our denomination/sect–which may flaunt “antiquity,” size, respectability, devotion, “radical Christianity,” “orthodoxy,” fabulous worship, social conscience, global missions, vital evangelism, Christian schools, top-ranking universities, and a welter of other virtues–actually “has the goods” when it comes to an accurate grasp of “the givens,” or basic documentary data of apostolic origin?  Hmmm?  Well, I think so.

Problem is, Christian tribes that hold hard to old (it really doesn’t matter how old) “statements of faith” must somehow struggle with the problem of human fallibility (even “divines” are human, for heaven’s sake!) and obsolescence.  Things “under the sun” wear out, or in any case wear thin, unless renewed and recharged with the original fire.  And unless there is a way to revise or amend such statements (creeds, confessions, catechisms, etc.), they tend toward obscurity and harden up into shibboleths…and worse.

But we have to start somewhere, right?  My psychological comfort came with the territory of the kind of “concordant” hermeneutic (click my “About” link at the top of the site to read a thumbnail sketch) I have been pursuing since high school days.  As a young “fightin’ Fundamentalist,” the top of the list of my youthful beliefs was the authority of the Bible.  The “downside” of that belief (I thank my dear mother for doing things right!), was in how very seriously I took it.  The more and more I studied the Bible “with my concordance on,” as I like to say, the more and more the Lord blessed me with edifying (not merely speculative or highfallutin’) discoveries.  “Doggone it, this Book really does make sense!”  So after  a while I got bored just defending it and started using it.  You don’t defend a sword; you practice your swing and observe the effects.  There’s a feedback loop.

I say “downside” because the first casualty was Dispensationalism, I think,  This was something my mother adhered to with lifelong devotion and undiminished ardor.  So family ties were attenuated by learning the Bible just a bit too well.  Then simplistic evangelismism also fell before long.  Yet some positions didn’t fall.  Since the eighth grade, when Mom had the foresight to buy me a couple of books by Harry Rimmer on the Bible and science, and especially The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science, I was an ardent creationist.  But it did morph a little uncomfortably along the way and became much more nuanced, deepened, and supplemented.  Such books (I eventually procured most of Rimmer’s) early instructed me in the importance of argument–a virtue seldom applauded among church folk.  And this virtue is part of what got me in trouble with NCF.  They had done arguing over the faith some 350 years ago and only wanted to get everyone else (correction: the “elect,” i.e., the ones who happen to respond positively to the language of their “doctrinal standards”) to knuckle under without too much fuss and bind their consciences to understand holy Scripture “according to the Westminster Confession.”  Or do I have that reversed?  An NCF elder insisted it was the other way around:  they hold to the Confession “according to Scripture,”  But that doesn’t really work, as we shall explore below.

To summarize, I had been long and steadily familiarizing myself with the distinctives of Calvinistic Christianity even before moving to Grand Rapids in the summer of 1996 so Jan could teach at Calvin College.  It was then that I was introduced up close to the bondage of conscience that Calvinistic institutions could enforce.  In order to teach there, my wife had to sign a statement that she would not oppose the faith standards of the Christian Reformed Church, namely, the Belgic Confession (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession), the Canons of Dort (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/canons-dort), and the Heidelberg Catechism (http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism).  Since she taught Geography, Geology, and Environmental Studies, she was not expected to teach or expound them, of course.  Nevertheless, since I had been preparing to start a Vineyard-style (http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/) Reformational (http://kuyperian.blogspot.com/2004/08/introduction-to-kuypers-thought.html) hybrid on a cell-church model (http://www.touchusa.org/default.asp), I did feel the friction this could generate.  Feature a church planter whose worldview and vision for action must be trimmed by certain little silences imposed on a beloved spouse by her employer.  Don’t get me wrong; we came to Calvin with the red carpet treatment!  Jan was a celebrated scholar, greatly esteemed by the school and rightly so.  She held the Spoelhof Chair from the git go.  And there’s the rub.  With honor comes obligation.

I had already attempted to plant a hybrid Vineyard in Pella, Iowa–just a smaller version of Grand Rapids.  So I was gearing up for what it would take to do something bigger and better “right here in River City.”  Fact is, however, my Pella attempts were not particularly “successful.”  That was okay with me, so long as I was learning from all my mistakes (count ’em…).  In the meantime, we did join “a church in the Reformed tradition,” which was a requirement for virtually all Calvin faculty except for those whose spouses might happen to pastor a church outside of that tradition; that was still allowable.  We weren’t in that category yet.  And my wife never wanted to occupy that category.  She was a PK and had felt from the inside the sacrifice of quality family time that such a life could entail, not to mention expectations put on a pastor’s spouse.  But I’m getting too autobiographical.

The upshot is that we got involved with a very contemporary CRC congregation called Centre Pointe, pastored by a black pastor borrowed from the Reformed Church in America (RCA — https://www.rca.org/),  His co-pastor was a white Southerner.  They modeled reconciliation and mutual honor.  It was special.  We loved it.  Our daughters especially enjoyed the free-wheeling and laid back style of worship–all sitting around banquet tables at The Bluff in Grand Central Mall, able to draw or whatever.  Marie and Karis were baptized there.

But “doctrine” didn’t come up for review there.  I attempted to help them adopt a modified cell-church model, but just as it was about to be inaugurated, the co-pastor left for a congregation of his own (having just graduated from Calvin Seminary as an older student), and the new seminary intern had ideas of her own, so shelved what we had labored over so arduously.  (The up side is that the co-pastor took the plan with him to his next church, hoping to put it into practice.)

But that’s water over the dam.  My marriage suffered a divorce in late 1999, and the new millennium saw me in a wandering mode.  During the intervening years, the pain of that has worked hope and deepened insight, not to mention the mining of fresh comforts from the eternal Gospel.  Friends took me in at a decisive point and before long, I was back on track, wrestling with Scripture over the heart of the Gospel so as to teach it one day in a holistic setting designed to organize God’s people penetrate to the world with supreme effectiveness in the Spirit of Christ.

Then in the spring of 2006, I got terribly sick with influenza or undulant fever for about six weeks.  That’s the time, while staying in the extra bedroom of some dear friends, that the Lord chose to bring me more complete closure concerning the doctrine of the Atonement.  The rest is history.  But first a bit of recent history so you can see how my findings have so far played out in one “orthodox” setting.

Below you will find the letter I was handed by Doug Felch on Easter Sunday.  I will forbear commentary on it until the conclusion of these journal entries concerning NCF.

Bon voyage!


Dear Ron,

New City Fellowship provisional session has labored hard to do right by you.  We have given you a fair hearing, beyond your standing as one outside of the body.  We have presented you with the fullness of God’s word, and plead with you to merit the supreme abundance of Christ’s reward not through your own faltering obedience, but by the assumption of Christ’s righteousness through faith.  Ron, don’t underestimate just how righteous one has to be to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), if indeed the Lord “will by no means pardon the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).

We have additionally patiently sought your willingness, even as a sojourner in the midst of the Lord’s people, to submit to the rule that God has appointed for His people, the elders, in the very place where his people assemble to hear the message of salvation.  You have shown yourself unable to comply, and persist in obstructing others on the path of salvation, which itself bears a grave penalty (Matthew 18:6).

In spite of this, out of our desire that you not miss this great salvation (Hebrews 2:3), we offer you the opportunity to continue to receive the counsel of the elders of the church through contact by email, by phone, or by arranged meeting, while at the same time stating that until you repent to the satisfaction of the elders, you have no place in the assembly, neither during worship services, fellowship meals, nor any other New City activities.  If you are found on the NCF property again, we will consider it trespassing.  With the Lord’s voice, we firmly admonish you to respect this unanimous decision by the shepherds of the Lord’s people at New City.

The NCF Provisional Session

Harold Schnyders

Doug Felch

Jim DeRuischer

Mika Edmondson

2 Comments

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI—Day Four

“Roll reproach and contempt away from me, for I have preserved Your Testimonies” Psalm 119:22

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In Augustine’s time, controversies between Christian partisans were all too often “settled” by the sword, not by the Word of God—the carnal sword, not the Sword of the Spirit. This was repeated in Luther’s and Calvin’s and Knox’s day. True also in the days of the Arminian Remonstrance in the Netherlands in the early 1600s, in the Thirty Years’ War, during the English Revolution and Cromwell’s day around mid-century, during the Dutch Afscheiding of the 1830’s, on so on, and many episodes in between. It’s an old and pervasive imperial habit.

Although in the 18th to 19th century American republic a sea change was taking place, especially along the frontier, not until late 19th century did free churches start abounding in Europe.

* * * * *

I’ve been trying for years to scare up a conversation about some central issues of the faith. I’ve peddled my stuff around to churches and pastors. I’ve sent these pieces around for nearly eight years now—since Pentecost season of 2007. I crave high-level friendly exchanges where I can learn why my findings and discoveries seem to contradict so much of theology and dogma. I did get some heartening responses, but mostly silence (and, of course, a few rebuffs, which I only expected).

Then I started a blog site, “The Premial Atonement,” to rouse some conversation. It has just passed its Third Anniversary—March 11th. Yet I have only received about a dozen blog responses total. This is fine with me from one perspective: I can continue to load up my years of exegetical notes and systematic musings in peace and tranquility. Plus, I can even go back to correct and tweak whatever I’ve written. I can post “Papers” at the top of the site and revise them to my heart’s content without embarrassment.

However, pastors are too busy to broach the reading of my stuff. Professors have burdensome loads of papers to grade, their own lectures to prepare, and graduate students to supervise. But bloggers? They want something more “sexy” to read than my jargon and idiosyncratic approach. I get that.

Yet nobody takes time to dig into the Word these days! [Okay, okay—just a bit of rhetorical exaggeration there.] Even with the inestimable boon of computerized Bible search engines of extraordinary capabilities and vast libraries of biblical and theological reference works and commentaries at our fingertips, few take the time to exploit the treasures.

Now, granted the deleterious effects of electronic media on the emerging generations, I suspect that more fundamentally we need a sufficient reason—something with solid threat value—to stir us to action. Many of my writings would pose such a threat to traditional doctrines—doctrines formulated in days preceding development of our modern study tools. Since that day, their dogmatic errors, despite numerous and able objectors, have become enshrined and entrenched beyond criticism. Like the Talmud, which often tended to bumped the Torah in authority, they serve to divide the unity of Christ’s body into sects/“heresies” mutually contending for territory and human souls, on the lookout for “converts,” or at least pew sitters, to give some semblance of truth to claims to be “growing.” But growing up and growing fat are very different processes.

The early church at Jerusalem saw fit to make room for people willing and able to devote their time and skills to serving up the Word of God. Jesus himself was a rabbi, as scholars are coming to agree. [See Rodney Stark, “Jesus and the Jesus Movement,” Chap. 3 in The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), pp. 49-70] Thus he established this genetic code for his disciples/learners, and hence for the church at large.

Study of God’s Word—close examination—is normative for churches of God, in fact definitive. It is what makes us followers and “disciples”/“learners” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not sermons. Paul argued the Gospel from synagogue to synagogue, and even his epistles to churches are arguments. Being in that sense “argumentative” is not a bad thing…just so long as we keep up the argumentation over Scripture in sincerity, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and “believing all things” good (1 Corinthians 13) about one another, instead of fragmenting into sects and “fighting over words” and casting each other out of the church—think only of Diotrephes (“Zeus-nurtured”—thunderbolts and all!) in 3 John. Let God’s Word prevail among us. All progress starts when we heartily believe we might be wrong! For to believe that is to remain always repentant in mood. To be unwilling to engage fellow “fallibles” is to harden up, become stiff-necked, and risk “cardio-sclerosis” hard-heartedness. That is a prelude to judgment from God. And as we know, “judgment begins at the house of God.”

So in the spirit of last Sunday’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, let us submit ourselves to one another in love and proceed to investigate God’s life-giving Word from Heaven instead of remaining stuck in earthly creeds and confessions and catechisms whenever it becomes sufficiently evident that they have become human traditions that obscure God’s Word (as I now sincerely believe they have).

* * * * *

The apostle Paul charged that elders of the flock should be “apt-to-teach” (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24) presumably the Word of God in preference to “confessions,” “creeds,” or “theology”—doing their own digging instead of retrenching the ruts of fallible forbears, although paying due respects for their efforts.

* * * * *

You cannot become right unless you believe you might be wrong. Even so, you can’t become righteous unless you believe you might have done wrong and get forgiveness for it. Western civilization, granted its irregularities, has absorbed much of this wisdom. It is the mainspring of sustainable progress.

* * * * *

If you insist that everyone must agree with all your extra-biblical distinctives and shibboleths in order to stay under your roof, you are, in effect, a schismatic (i.e., a “heretic”) and will divide the one body of Christ, as indeed you have. You have let an imposter insinuate itself into the place of honor that should be reserved for Scripture alone.

Sunday morning adult discussion has been a real comedown for me, because it is never a time for real Bible study, investigation, or exposition. [I understand you have a week night small group where this may happen. Does it?] You tend to stroke your source of separation: confession and catechisms. Creedal assumptions simply shine your shibboleths.

* * * * *

Harold is, in effect, acting schismatically to insist on parroting the creeds (unless the Apostles’). We can do better. Diotrephes went so far as to expel the saints. If Harold is not a “Diotrephes,” he’s honing dangerously close.

* * * * *

It is my opinion that well-known mid-20th century evangelical author Leon Morris is guilty of a kind of criminal negligence in the field of theology. Moreover, he is a repeat offender. As I came across these instances I lost my composure and became indignant. Yet the man is highly honored among Evangelicals. J. I. Packer is similarly guilty, yet is still held in highest esteem. This baffles me. Don’t folks study the Bible for themselves? Isn’t the Word of God living among us? How can we be so put upon by such trifling with Scripture? “Them’s fightin’ words” for some fans of these popular authors. But whose indignation is the more justified?

Leave a comment

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Day Three

“Chief men, they persecute me gratuitously, yet my heart stands in awe before Your word.” — Psalm 119:161 (CVOT)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I owe Reformational or  Neo-Calvinists more than any other single communion of Christians.  And I am herewith attempting to pay them back.  Yes, it’s “payback” time, but I mean that in the kindest way.  I want to pay back the favor!  I can serve my fellow Calvinist brothers and sisters in no higher manner than to extend our joint Reformational agenda into the field of theology and doctrine.  I have been doing basic, fundamental research in theology, and I now hope to divulge the stunning results for the benefit of many others.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

I’m preparing to write a book on the atonement (plus justification, reconciliation, etc.) that fully documents my case for God’s premial justice in the event.  But I need informed objections in order to fine-tune it.  You could help me here.  If you either list your objections or mark up my papers and return them, I can address those issues systematically.  Would you consider doing this for me?  It will take time and hard effort, not especially pleasant, I know!  All I have to offer is my deep gratitude.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Might I suggest that we discuss only the pieces that everyone has read, so that we are all on the same page (literally)?  This would be rather important in view of the variety of genres and unfamiliar turns of thought.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Mika,

You asked me why, if I knew what you believed as a church, I would decide to attend New City Fellowship.  I answer with another question:  am I not obligated before the Lord, if I see brethren in error, to correct them in the Lord, gently, in love, but firmly?  (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

I have, accordingly, in a non-contentious manner, submitted my documents on the Atonement to all of the elders, official and unofficial, for leisurely consideration…for starters.  My method is calculated to light a light more than to curse the dark.  Light does the best job of chasing darkness.

In addition, where it seems appropriate, I hope to point out in the adult discussion session Scriptures and exegetical or lexical or historical details that may cast light on the points under discussion.  Aquila and Priscilla, you’ll recall, drew the worthy Apollos aside to instruct him more carefully in the truth of the Gospel.  Different historical circumstances may dictate different tactical procedures, but the abiding feature is always that God’s Explanation gets further elucidated and honored.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

A couple of weeks ago, Mika taught about opening our ears to God’s Word.  He stomped and shouted and jumped around for emphasis, but what’s the payoff today?  At this meeting?

Here I was anticipating a meeting with the elders that Mika wanted us to have in order to discuss limits on my talking about these ideas with others in NCF.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Already Harold has proven himself unable to represent my teaching accurately.  Therefore, I could request that our sessions be recorded in full and that I also receive a copy, complete and unedited.  Otherwise Satan is sure to take unfair advantage of us to the detriment of the Truth, not to mention our reputations and honor.

Harold quite rudely interrupted a conversation I was having with a sophomore at Calvin College, daughter of Christian school teacher Al Bandstra (http://dordt.edu/publications/dordt_press/beyond_control/author.shtml) of Sioux Center, Iowa (where I attended Dordt College years ago and she attended last year).  Mr. Bandstra wrote a book on discipline in the classroom http://dordt.edu/publications/dordt_press/beyond_control/) that I happened to give a daughter of mine last Christmas, after she completed her student teaching in middle school science (also Bandstra’s level).  After starting to read a little bit, I decided to read the whole book (fact is, I simply couldn’t put it down!) before giving it to my daughter, so wise was it.  (Don’t take my word for it: http://dordt.edu/publications/dordt_press/beyond_control/endorsements.shtml)  Our conversation turned to my own education, then my current pursuits.  My atonement studies naturally came up.

As I was explaining some of the salient features, such as the centrality of the Resurrection to the Atonement, I was interrupted by Harold, who evidently had been hovering nearby to catch me in my words.  He informed me that I had no right to “teach” [did he say “heresies”?] in “this church” (to the best of my recollection), much less to a “visitor.”  This was the first such outburst I have ever experienced.  I have been differed with; I have never been accused of “heresy” in public, and this outburst came without Harold’s prior warning or charges.  It was rude and disrespectful.  I had already given him a folder with my atonement writings and had invited a response.  I had expected a high-level, gentlemanly interchange.  But this butting in without warning is highly unacceptable and way out of line.  It embarrassed the young lady and was scarcely done in love—the timely topic of the sermon that morning by the guest pastor from Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ada.  Harold is welcome to confront me appropriately if he thinks my documents teach error.  But no one who has laid his position so totally open as I have, for brotherly review and correction should be subjected to such contentious raillery and needless embarrassment.  I would counsel self-control and hearing a man out, not factious, public, unsubstantiated accusations.

What is even more reprehensible, however, is Harold’s misrepresentation and twisting of my words.  I am a wordsmith.  I am quite conscious of the biblical usage of key words, having made the use of analytic concordances something of a specialty—my métier.  Still, it is quite understandable that where the consistent use of biblical words and concepts is contradicted by creeds and theologies, there must be a clash and Scripture should be accorded supremacy, although this may all too seldom be the outcome.  Therefore the clash must continue among us until God’s Word is supreme.  Sad to say, wars and rumors of wars “are declared unto the end” until contenders lay down their arms and bow the knee to the Victor, who seems all too patient with his erring churches (see Rev. 1-3).  But who are we to judge His wise timing?  He tells his angels to wait until the tares are grown to send in the sickles.

In the meantime, let us not prove contentious or churlish but humbly perform due diligence “with our concordances on,” as I like to say.

Defend the Bible?  Sooner defend a Sword!  Rather, use the Bible.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Day Two

“Many are my persecutors and my foes, yet I do not turn aside from Your testimonies.” — Psalm 119:157

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.” *

The Disney “Songs of the South” version of Uncle Remus’s famous tale, “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” is now regarded as politically incorrect—insufferably so. Nevertheless, the thought of occasionally having to “save my skin” by using Brer Rabbit’s wiley maneuver, I confess, appeals to me. Yet I have gradually come to the reluctant conclusion that many of my contemporaries do not share this delight at the prospect of having to defend oneself by direct appeal to Scripture, for this is the scenario I have in view here. Creedal adherence has created an entire ancillary industry of formulating belief-statements that abbreviate the painstaking struggle of grappling with “Scripture alone.” This is what I have now encountered up close and personal at NCF.

It is no longer “ecclesiastically correct” to appeal directly to Scripture for one’s doctrinal authority, at least not if the issue concerns matters that were “settled” some 350-500 years ago and provide us a chummy identity with folks of like dialect. Such identity, however, may not qualify as a fully catholic “communion of the saints” so much as a communion of the sects. This is ironic, of course, but so commonplace an occurrence in the American church that we scarcely rankle at the highly constricting outcome.

Therefore, when I began sensing that whatever reading of my Atonement documents the NCF elders happened to be doing was raising issues of doctrinal divergence from the Westminster standards (or the Heidelberg Catechism being discussed in the plenary adult Sunday School after the sermon), my reflexive defense mechanism defaulted to direct appeal to Scripture along the lines of concordant analysis. That’s what prompted the following brief notes:

“Explain my concordant method and my attempts to teach others how to use it.”

This is simply a method of analyzing the Biblical vocabulary by the use of concordances according to the original languages. I never got this far at NCF during my nine weeks there. I hope to illustrate it later on in this blog series.

“Not based on a theory; based on discoveries derived from basic research.”

The use of concordant analysis enables a student to get beyond merely traditional, creedal, denominational, and theoretical uses of terms, which not only can be confusing, but can separate Christians from one another and spawn unnecessary differences of opinion and even “word-fighting’,” which the apostle Paul condemns. The Word of God itself dissolves theological theories. I ask skeptics to hold their fire until I provide some telling illustrations of how this can advance sound theological reasoning and facilitate fresh discoveries from Scripture. I was born and bred in this briar patch.

“‘Stick to the Script!’

This is my admonition to those why by long habit are accustomed to deferring to confessions, creeds, catechisms, and similar statements of faith. By doing so, they inevitably depart from “The Script” often, and to the hurt of their faith.

“It was only especially among the Corinthians that Paul declared he would perceive nothing among them but Christ crucified (that was at the very beginning of I Corinthians) because they denied the somatic/bodily nature of the RESURRECTION! Paul never writes this way in any other book of his! He doesn’t need to. He adjusts his method depending on the errors of those he is addressing.” This has by now been very amply and convincingly documented in Alexander LaBrecque’s dissertation, “The Resurrection Faith: Paul’s Somatic Soteriology Apart from the Circumcision Controversy” (University of Sheffield, 1995/96), especially in the section, “The Strategy of Paul’s Soteriological Corrective,” where he elaborates on “The Cross versus Wisdom” (pp. 83-94) and “The Secret Wisdom of the Cross” (pp. 94-96).

“If Augustine’s use of Scripture on the ‘predestination’ issue is a fair sample of his method, he set an appalling precedent for later generations.”

Augustine there used a far-fetched verse as a springboard for bludgeoning his opponent with rhetoric—a default tactic when he was in controversy. Here his early-trained rhetorical strength becomes a snare and a curse.

“Luther declared he would have the ploughboy know/understand more of Scripture than the Pope.”

What excuse do we have, in a day that boasts universal literacy (at least that was true in America some two centuries ago!), to discourage our youth from becoming mighty in the Scriptures instead of reclining lazily on creedal standards?

“The root question is not whether I agree or disagree with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or the Canons of Dort, or the Belgic Confession of Faith, or the Heidelberg Catechism. The real issue is whether they agree or disagree with Scripture, for you have exalted them above criticism by Scripture.” Haven’t you sacrificed your own God-given powers of judgment to human beings from centuries ago? Is that wise? Prudent? Safe?  Naturally, you will immediately point to all the “proof texts” that accompany those “standards.”  I shall have plenty to say about those along the way.

“I realize that my documents on the Atonement require quite an investment of time and concentration, and that they may raise some initial objections from those of various traditions.  Therefore, in view of tight schedules, I would simply like to suggest that you could help me greatly if you maybe just jotted down your objections and questions even from your first impressions, and in an approximate order of importance.”

“The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is just around the corner.  Isn’t it our duty to get it right this time?  Isn’t it long overdue to stop boasting about being Reformed and actually continue reforming once again?  Let’s become Reformational!”

“I got close to Calvinists as a college student when the Lord led me to the Reformational movement of Canadian so-called Neo-Calvinists in 1968.  I owe them, big time!  These research findings of many decades are my gift to them and their fellow travelers.”

*  retold by S. E. Schlosser

 

Leave a comment

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Day One

Though distress and constraint have converged on me, Your instructions are my delectations.” Psalm 119:143 (CVOT)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“We can make no progress unless we believe we are fallible. The absolute condition for forward movement in any field of science is the abiding conviction that we could be wrong. If instead we try to silence, much less persecute those who challenge our rightness or “orthodoxy,” we risk dwelling in darkness and quenching the light.”

By this date, I had given a folder of my Atonement documents (usually 15-18 pieces, with lists of titles and dates of composition in chronological and length order) to Pastor Edmondson and two of the other three elders—Doug Felch and Harold Schnyders, whom I felt might be able to give me informed critique. I wasn’t expecting much any time soon. Mika was preparing to defend his Ph.D. dissertation at Calvin Seminary; Doug was busy teaching classes at Kuyper College in mid-semester; I don’t remember why I gave them to Harold unless because he was the person who first told me about NCF, but he was also teaching Physics at GVSU, plus maybe some departmental duties.

I had also given a set to Steve Gaffin early on, both because he showed some interest and awareness of the issues, and because his father, Prof. Richard B. Gaffin, now emeritus, of Westminster Seminary, wrote an important book (originally his dissertation for Westminster Seminary, 1969), Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (1987), formerly The Centrality of the Resurrection (1978), whose change of title betrays a willingness to back off the significance of this assertion simply because “some readers, and at least one reviewer, were misled by the word ‘centrality’, finding in it a suggestion of tension between Christ’s death and his resurrection, as if the former is somehow less central for Paul.” This reason should strike us as both strange and disturbing; in fact, it reveals the pivotal misunderstanding of the Gospel that is the very issue of this blog site and, by reflex, of this current controversy at NCF.

Still, Steve seemed intrigued with my position, which I had shared during a potluck around the second Sunday in February, when I first met him and learned who he was. I had been in communication with his father sometime after I started distributing my first major Atonement document, “77 Questions about the Atonement,” around Pentecost/Memorial Day of 2007. I had read enough of his book to realize that he had not arrived at a judicial understanding of Christ’s Resurrection, whatever else he may have to contribute to the topic. Prof. Gaffin had responded by sending me a brief email that simply asked who I was. I must have mentioned learning of his work through one of his former students, Bob Drake, who was pastor of the Christian Reformed Campus Forum near the University of Minnesota in the early 1980’s, where my wife and I attended at the time. The prospect of meeting Prof. Gaffin personally when he visits this June motivated me to finish reading his book recently in preparation for a more engaged discussion. I shall have more to say about his worthy treatment in later blogs.

However, in the meantime my fond wish for receiving some eventual critique of my documents was blowing up in my face. What little any of the elders (I include Mika who, within OPC ecclesial polity is included among the elders) had read of my pieces had aroused their instant fears lest I should communicate my position to anyone else. It should be kept in mind that although people have voiced disagreements with my position, which re-centralizes Christ’s Resurrection into pivotal soteriological significance, I had seldom (except for three recent encounters only since last fall) been lumped into the category of “heretic.” True, I had long been wondering when one or another sect would actually take the plunge. Now I have my answer. All are arch-Calvinistic Presbyterians of three different sub-sects, plus an arch-Calvinist of John Piper’s discipling. I see a pattern. Yet I still desired written objections to aspects of my systematic presentations so I could determine what the specific “offenses” are. Therefore I jotted down the following sentences to remind myself that now, since they had started putting pressure on me to keep silent about my “teachings” (as they called any communications of mine) at least in private, within their church, then I needed something solid to chew on in the meantime. It seems to me that communicating one’s opinions and teaching “doctrines” should be distinguished more accurately, fairly, and flexibly; or am I merely voicing a self-serving motive?

“I would be pleased and honored to take written objections to anything I have written. I welcome all criticisms and will, in turn, respond in writing to clarify, justify, or recant.”

By March 1st, which was pastor Edmondson’s fifth sermon on the Gospel of Mark since I first heard him on February 1st, it seemed to me that the elders, instead of reading my pieces carefully or trying to listen to my clarifications, were starting to voice impressionistic criticisms without much substance, and certainly without documentation. That’s what prompted the following:

“Mika’s sermon on March 1st was entitled “Listening to the Word” and focused on opening our ears to hear God’s Word. He harangued us. A lot of good that did if you [Mika] are not ready to hear the Word of the Lord I am now bringing! That sermon should have prepared us for today.”

Instead, I fear it was feckless.  Does this all sound slightly shrill to you?  Okay.  Granted.  I did start to perceive a glaring slip between preaching and practice.  Those words may well reflect the shrillness of a sermon that was just starting to edge on hypocrisy.  I’m probably wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  I’ve been wrong before.

After all, I don’t have to be right. The grand overarching Gospel truth of forgiveness allows me to be wrong, very wrong indeed, even wickedly wrong sometimes, and still have a graceful way out: repentance and forgiveness. I don’t have to feel I’m right about everything. Forgiveness gives us S T R E T C H. It takes us beyond brittle. That allows progress in civilization. In historic fact, it has fostered Western civilization. But more about this another time.

In fact, it would be wrong to label Mika’s sermonic dilation as personal hypocrisy. Rather, the greater slippage surely occurs between pulpit and pew. That’s different. Indeed, this very gap may have prompted such a sermon in the first place! Mika was justifiably worked up over what he perceived to be the big gap between what he saw Christ teaching and what he saw Christians living. So the issue is more a matter of effectiveness of communicating an urgent concern (of both preacher and God!). And a harangue is probably not the most effective way to achieve the desired results. But I sympathize with his expression of urgency that the Word of God should take deep root and starts producing worthy fruit among us.

And if you think that my point-blank words to Pastor Edmondson about being “not ready to hear the Word of the Lord I am now bringing is just a bit cheeky, let me ask you why you go to church. Is it to bring a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, a translation, as the apostle Paul urges (I Corinthians 14:26)? Or perhaps even a prophecy (I Thessalonians 5:20)? Is it to “Let the word of Christ be making its home in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves in psalms, in hymns, in spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), or was that only for the “early church” or for outside the church walls? The apostle Peter (on whose confession the church was founded) charges, if anyone is speaking, as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). He is not speaking to church officers here, but to all the gathered saints. The apostles want the church to abound in the Word of God. If we all come properly prepared to serve one another with the Word of God the best we know how, what a rich fellowship we would enjoy! What a true threat to Satan’s doomed kingdom!

If you really want the Word to get exposure and to penetrate the soil, Mika, shouldn’t you be thankful for reinforcements (even if only volunteers) to help get the job done? But what to do with differences of opinion…

Leave a comment

Filed under The Atonement

AN OPEN JOURNAL to NEW CITY FELLOWSHIP, Grand Rapids, MI — Retrospective #3

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On this Sunday (my third), Pastor Mika Edmondson preached on “The Parable of the Soils” in Mark 4:1-20.  He was very keen (in his sermon and his prayer) on stressing the security we can have in the confidence that the Holy Spirit has effectually called us.  He did not, however, derive this from the text he had chosen, for it is not there.  In fact, it is not anywhere in Scripture.  The pivotal issue concerns the power that generates faith — is it the Holy Spirit or the Word of the Gospel?  What does Scripture say?

After the sermon, I approached him to make some observations on the actual language of the text.  There is no indication that the Holy Spirit “prepares the soil of our hearts” to be receptive to the Gospel; that amounts to eisegesis–“reading into” the text other assumptions.  However, I well knew where his assumptions came from.  Therefore I decided to get him a copy of the following document, which I had originally prepared in the fall of the year in which I wrote my first major treatments of the Atonement (“77 Questions about the Atonement” and “95 Theses on the Atonement”), 2007.  Although it is not a document about the Atonement per se, yet its contents need to be emphasized whenever confronting the Calvinistic version of salvation in whatever aspect considered.

The New Testament documents are very consistent in teaching that God’s Explanation in the Gospel has been endued with the power and assigned the role of drawing sinners to salvation; the Holy Spirit is never said to function in this way.  The Holy Spirit inspired the persons who penned their testimonies also on this subject!  No human has any business altering or adding to this testimony, even if they were instructed in seminary to do so.  The Holy Spirit, in effect, wrote a Book, for Heaven’s sake!  So if any person blends what they hear from that Explanation with their own faith (which its testimony is credited with evoking!), then they can benefit from it in a saving way.  Every element has its divine role to play.  And woe be to those who dare tamper with those assignments.  The results, historically speaking, have been both unwarranted certainty and unwarranted uncertainty concerning salvation; both overweening cockiness and paralyzing phobia; both jaunty antinomianism and pathological legalism.

This all means that the Seed of God’s Explanation of the Gospel, although mighty to save, can be neutralized by our sovereign human response, because that sovereignty, mortal and finite as it is, derives from our being created in God’s own image and was not effaced by sin.  The parable of the soils is a powerful testimony to hard reality and should serve as a warning of the perils surrounding us.  Pastor Edmondson did not preach it with this emphasis, however.  It is for this very reason that I supplied him with a printed copy of the following compilation on the next Sunday, during the potluck.

GOSPEL PROCLAMATION / DECLARATION / EXPLANATION:

GOD’S LIVING POWER TO EVOKE FAITH UNTO SALVATION

Ronald L. Roper

“In the beginning was the Explanation….All came to be through it….In it was life, and the life was the light of mankind.” (John 1:1, 3, 4)

“For the Explanation of God is living and operative and keen above any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12)

Having been regenerated, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Explanation of God, living and permanentthe Declaration of the Lord is remaining for the age.  Now this is the Declaration which is being proclaimed to you.” (I Peter, 1:23, 25)

“Receive with meekness the implanted Explanation which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)

“For the Explanation of the cross…to us who are getting saved…is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18)  “We are heralding Christ…the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:23, 24)  “If Christ has not been raised, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins.” (I Cor. 15:17)

“No one can come to me if ever the Father who sends me should not be drawing him”; “and I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to myself.” (John 6:44, 12:32)

“If ever you should be confessing with your mouth the Declaration the Jesus is Lord, and should be believing in your heart that God raises him from among the dead, you shall be saved.  For with the heart it is believed unto righteousness, yet with the mouth it is confessed unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:9)

The Proclamation…is God’s power unto salvation to everyone who is believing…for a righteousness of God is being revealed in it, out of faithfulness unto faith, according as it is written:  ‘Now the just one out of faithfulness, shall be living’.” (Rom. 1:16, 17)

“Consequently, faith is out of tidings, yet the tidings through a Declaration of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)
The sacred Scripturesare able to make you wise for salvation through faithfulness, which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim. 3:15)

“Now I am committing you to God and to the Explanation of His graciousness, which is able to edify and give the inheritance among all who have gotten hallowed [by that Explanation of truth they believe, John 17:17-20].” (Acts 20:32)

November 2007; revised July 30, 2009, April 3-4, 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Atonement