Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sympathy for the Aloof


Many of the books that I review on my blog come through crossfocusedreviews.com. As part of receiving the free book, I agree to post my review on my blog as well as on amazon.com. Occasionally, I will receive feedback from my blog readers, but most of the negative comments I receive are responses to my book reviews posted on the Amazon website. Therefore, I'm starting a new series that I've labeled Countering Criticism where I evaluate the validity of the negative feedback I receive. Today, I would like to look at one comment from a poster named Aloofbob regarding my book review on Honest Evangelism. You can read my original review here.

On May 15, 2015, Aloofbob wrote:
"Painful to see you keep falsely critiquing useful books because of your misunderstanding of the difference between the mechanics of soteriology and the offer of salvation ("come to me, all you who are hungry and thirsty", etc.). The fact that God sovereignly elects people from eternity does not alter the Biblical imperative to "repent and believe"; which leads to salvation from God. Human responsibility and the necessity for human action sits alongside God's sovereign action - it is not obliterated by it as you so unhelpfully keep repeating."
As you can see there are no biblical references given, and although Aloofbob appears to quote part of the Bible ("come to me, all you who are hungry and thirsty"), there's no verse that says exactly what he quotes (even in the modern versions). This is typical of the feedback I receive. Most people don't know their Bible. They go by what they heard, or what they thought they heard. They take one phrase that sounds biblical, pull it out of context, and try to defend a position that's not supported in Scripture. Here are three verses that Aloofbob could be alluding to:
  • Isa. 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
  • John 7:37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
  • Matt. 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
I think that Aloofbob is referring to Matt. 11:28. His critical remarks stem from my Reformed Baptist stance that God has chosen His elect "before the foundation of the world," (Eph. 1:4) and "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will," (Eph. 1:5). In other words, God elects His people according to His will. That's plainly written in Ephesians. If we read a little further, we are told that "[f]or by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Not of works, lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:8-9, emphasis mine). Clearly, salvation is a monergistic work of God. There is no free will in salvation. After the Fall in Genesis 3, man does not have the capacity nor the desire to choose Jesus. We read in Rom. 3:10-11, 23: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God...For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Finally, in the words of Jesus Himself: "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father," (John 6:65).

However, Aloofbob contends that there is an offer of salvation which necessitates human action in addition to God's call. He states that man needs to repent and believe to achieve salvation. The biblical order of salvation is the opposite of this; God predestinates salvation and then effectually calls sinners to repent and believe. Since he didn't give any Bible references, let's look at what he tried to quote from Matthew 11 with surrounding verses for context:
Matt. 11:25-30: "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Aloofbob is trying to quote part of Matt. 11:28 ("come to me all you who are hungry and thirsty") and show that this is Jesus' offer of salvation. However, in context, Jesus shows (1) that all power is given to Him from the Father, and (2) that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. We see this again in John 6:44 when Jesus says: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." Therefore, 'come to me' is a general call for salvation, but no one will respond unless the Holy Spirit convicts them of their sin, (John 16:8).

So does man have free will? Only in the sense that we are free to sin because we are servants to sin, (John 8:34). In Chapter 9, Of Free Will, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states in paragraphs 3-5:
"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto, (Rom. 5:6, 8:7; Eph. 2:1,5; Titus 3:3-5; John 6:44). When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin, and by His grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions, he does not perfectly, nor only will, that which is good, but does also will that which is evil, (Col. 1:13; John 8:36; Phil. 2:13; Rom. 7:15,18,19,21,23). This will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only, (Eph. 4:13)."
Context is critical when reading the Bible. Daily Bible reading and study along with sitting under sound biblical preaching is important for a Christian's sanctification. I strive to be discerning and biblical in all the I write. The popular feel-good, free-will Christianity today is not the orthodox Christianity of the Bible. I pray that Aloofbob will prayerfully consider what I have written and read God's Word in context without the blindness of the false gospel that he has been deceived by.

***
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," (2 Tim. 2:15).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: History, Law and Christianity

In his book History, Law and Christianity, John Warwick Montgomery includes two publications: 'Historical Evidence' which answers the question, Who is Jesus Christ?, and 'Legal Evidence' which shows how Christianity is juridically defended.  These two publications are put together to "represent complementary ways of investigating the critical question of Jesus' historicity," (p. xiv).  This book is academic in nature, difficult to read at times, and not very enjoyable.  The author appeals to the intellect to prove that Jesus Christ is not only a real historical figure, but also God.

In the first publication, Mr. Montgomery argues that Jesus is the Son of God.  He then asks how we react to Jesus' claim of divinity and answers:  "We come to the point of acknowledging that the ultimate problems of our existence, such as death and the self-centeredness that gives death its sting, can only be solved in his presence.  We look away from ourselves to his death and resurrection for the answers to our deepest needs. We put ourselves into his hands," (p. 44).  

This not the Gospel.  The author never address every individual's inherent sin nature which deserves the wrath and punishment of God.  The only way of escape is through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance (turning away from our sin).  The Apostle Paul clearly states the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:3-4: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

According to Mr. Montgomery, faith is achieved when an individual can positively affirm (1) that the historical records of Jesus is solid enough to rely upon, (2) that the testimony in the records concerning Jesus' life and ministry is sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself, (3) that the accounts of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, establishes those claims, and (4) that Jesus' deity places a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as to render its pronouncements apodictically certain, (p. 51).

However, "[t]he grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word," (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 14, para. 1).  We are justified by faith, not because of faith, (Eph. 2:8-9).  In other words, faith is the means of our salvation, not the cause.

Saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also grasps the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  Sandemanianism is the heretical belief that all you need to do to be saved is to give intellectual assent to the Gospel.  However, the Bible teaches that salvation is not merely a matter of the mind and of the tongue, but of the heart and of the will.  We should give intellectual assent to the Gospel, but we should also have a change of heart and of the will. [1]

In his second publication, Mr. Montgomery states that "Jesus' deity in itself establishes the truth of the Christian message," (p. 74).  The affirmation of the historicity of Jesus and even the belief that He is God is commendable, but it won't save anyone.  The Bible tells us that "[t]hou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble," (Jam. 2:19).  Therefore, I cannot recommend this book for the average Christian, but it may be beneficial for academic research and writing.  Because of the faulty premise of how salvation is achieved, I do not recommend History, Law and Christianity as an apologetic resource.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[1] Pastor Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church from his March 23, 2014, teaching on Spurgeon's Catechism Question #69, 'What is Faith in Jesus Christ?'

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli by William Boekestein is part of the Bitesize Biographies Collection of EP Books.  The narrative begins with the birth of Zwingli in 1484 and ends with his death in 1531.   The writing is fluid and easy to read, and the author's style is engaging.  To aid the reader, I think a map of the cantons of Switzerland, as well as the alliances that were formed, would have been helpful to understand the political and religious unrest during the birth of the Reformation.

Mr. Boekestein points out that while Luther was promoting the Gospel in Germany, Zwingli was doing the same in Switzerland.  He shows that the Reformation was equally spurred by the preaching, teaching, and writing of Ulrich Zwingli.  Before reading this book, I did not realize that Luther and Zwingli were contemporaries of each other.  Amid the heavy oppression of Roman Catholic dogma spiritually and politically, both of these Protestant men turned to the Holy Scriptures as their only certain rule for saving faith.

Overall, I would recommend this book to any Christian individual or family who wants to learn more about one of the pillars of the Reformation.  This book would be valuable in a family devotion or homeschool setting.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.