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Christ & Nonchristians

questioningQuestion: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?

For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)

Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

The basis for this view is here: (more…)

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Praying With A Sincere Heart – Psalm 17:1-5

Wesley Study BibleThe Wesley Study Bible contains this little overview of the themes of Psalm 17:

Has anyone ever said to you, “Life is not fair,” and you thought, “Well, it should be!”? Life is filled with ups and downs, times when what seems fair to you is not fair to another. Psalm 17 begins with “Listen to what’s right, LORD; pay attention to my cry!” (17:1a). This is a prayer for deliverance from the wicked and for the freedom to live in God’s righteousness. While life is not fair all the time, it is right at all times to pray to God for deliverance from wrongdoing and for justice for all the children of God.

The Psalmist (David, we are told) begins by declaring his own faithfulness. Why would God want to listen to those who are not faithful to God’s purposes? Why would God listen to the deceitful? Surely God hears the prayers of the repentant and remorseful, but sincerity of heart is always a precondition of effective prayer. (more…)

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John Wesley: Offering Salvation to Every Creature

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

I appeal to every impartial mind…whether the mercy of God would not be far less gloriously displayed, in saving a few by his irresistible power, and leaving all the rest without help, without hope, to perish everlastingly, than in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that consent thereto, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power, and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved.

 

— John Wesley, “Predestination Calmly Considered.”

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John Wesley: The Faith That Saves

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” or, in one word, our salvation.

— John Wesley, Sermon #1: “Salvation by Faith”

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Christ & Non-Christians

worldview1Question: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth?  Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?

For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today. (more…)

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James Denney: Atonement and New Life

James Denney (1856-1917)

James Denney (1856-1917)

An interesting admission from a man who was a strong defender of the penal substitution theory of the atonement:

The demand that the Atonement shall be exhibited in vital relation to a new life in which sin is overcome… is entirely legitimate, and it touches a weak point in the traditional Protestant doctrine.  Dr. [Thomas] Chalmers tells us that he was brought up — such was the effect of the current orthodoxy upon him — in a certain distrust of good works.  Some were certainly wanted, but not as being themselves salvation, only, as he puts it, as tokens of justification.  It was a distinct stage in his religious progress when he realized that true justification sanctifies, and that the soul can and ought to abandon itself spontaneously and joyfully to do the good that it delights in…  An atonement that does not regenerate… is not an atonement in which men can be asked to believe.

James Denney (1856-1917), The Atonement and the Modern Mind [1903].

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Reflections on the Last Judgment

Reason_for_HopeIn the following paragraph from his book Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989) Stanley J. Grenz does a good job summarizing some themes in Pannenberg’s view of the final judgement:

On the basis of [the] function of Jesus’ message [as the criterion of God’s judgment]  and the New Testament emphasis on the all-encompassing love of God (e.g., Matt. 8:11; John 10:16), Pannenberg asserts that correspondence with the will of God as reflected in Jesus’ proclamation — that is, the command to seek first God’s kingdom and the double command to love — rather than an actual encounter with the Christian message, is the basis of final judgment (Matt. 25:41ff.). The step in this direction is prepared by a thesis, developed in the Christology and ecclesiology sections, that love for others entails participation in God’s love for the world. This understanding of the criterion for judgment means that persons who live in accordance with Jesus’ message will be included in the divine salvation, whereas nominal Christians may find themselves excluded. To the resultant question, If an encounter with Jesus is not the sole condition for salvation, what is the Christian’s advantage? he replies that Christians have the advantage in that they know what the standard of judgment is. Although he emphasizes the universality of the possibility of salvation in this manner and even moves the concept of eternal condemnation to that of a border situation, Pannenberg is unwilling to embrace universalism.

This resonates very well with the sense I remember getting from my initial reading of Volume 3 of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology.

And, there is so much here to like. (more…)

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Thomas Jay Oord: On Salvation

A friend shared this video with me on Facebook. I liked it, and so I am sharing it here.

Thomas Jay Oord is a well known and respected theologian in the Church of the Nazarene.  He has written or edited more than twenty books. His website is: For the Love of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Love.

In this video Dr. Oord gives us “a short explanation of a Wesleyan view of God’s offer of salvation and free, creaturely response.”

 

 

 

 

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John Wesley: The Nature of Christian Salvation

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby, “through grace,” we “are saved by faith;” consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favour of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, shows this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds,” but afterwards puts forth large branches, and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed, from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more, till we “grow up in all things into him that is our Head;” till we attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

— John Wesley, Sermon #83: “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”

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Walls & Dongell: Faith is Not a Work

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8 NRSV)

Many Calvinists fear that any retreat from the conviction that God causes faith will make salvation a human accomplishment. If faith is something we do, then salvation rests on our deeds and no longer on God’s grace. If faith is viewed as our part in the process of salvation, then salvation must he viewed as a cooperative affair, and we should then describe ourselves as self-saviors in part.

102121463But the flaw in this Calvinist fear lies in its improper understanding of the nature of faith itself. The Bible itself does not describe faith as a work that accomplishes a task, or as a deed that establishes merit, or as a lever that forces God to act. Instead, we find that genuine faith is something quite different. As Paul’s treatment of Abraham shows, the patriarch’s faith had no power over God, earned no merit before God and stood as the polar opposite to honorific deeds. Abraham believed God, and righteousness was ‘credited’ to him, not paid to him. God alone justified Abraham freely on the basis of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:1-6). Since by its very nature faith confesses the complete lack of human merit and human power, it subtracts nothing from the Savior’s grace or glory. By its very nature, faith points away from all human status and looks to God alone for rescue and restoration.

— Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (2004) pp. 77, 78.

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Calvin on John 3:16

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” — John 3:16 (NRSV).

JOHN CALVIN COMMENTS (my responses are in blue):

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

“’That whosoever believeth on him may not perish.’ It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.”

Um. Okay. I think I’m with you there, brother John. (more…)

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John Wesley: Why Aren’t All Saved?

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

If you ask, ‘Why then are not all men saved?’ the whole law and the testimony answer, First, Not because of any decree of God; not because it is his pleasure they should die; for, ‘As I live,’ saith the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.’ (Ezek. 18:3, 32) Whatever be the cause of their perishing, it cannot be his will, if the oracles of God are true; for they declare, ‘He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;’ (2 Pet. 3:9) ‘He willeth that all men should be saved.’ And they, Secondly, declare what is the cause why all men are not saved, namely, that they will not be saved: So our Lord expressly, ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye may have life.’ (John 5:40) ‘The power of the Lord is present to heal’ them, but they will not be healed. ‘They reject the counsel,’ the merciful counsel, ‘of God against themselves,’ as did their stiff-necked forefathers. And therefore are they without excuse; because God would save them, but they will not be saved: This is the condemnation, ‘How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not!’ (Matt. 23:37)

— John Wesley, Sermons: “Free Grace.”

 

 

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John Wesley: The Original Design of the Church

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

 

This is the original design of the Church of Christ. It is a body of men compacted together, in order, first, to save each his own soul; then to assist each other in working out their salvation; and, afterwards, as far as in them lies, to save all men from present and future misery, to overturn the kingdom of Satan, and set up the kingdom of Christ. And this ought to be the continued care and endeavour of every member of his Church; otherwise he is not worthy to be called a member thereof, as he is not a living member of Christ.

— John Wesley, Sermon #52: The Reformation of Manners.

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William Birch: The Modern Reductionist Gospel of Evangelicalism

Billy_Birch

William Birch

Guest blog by William Birch, who used to blog at Classical Arminian, etc. now has a blog here: The Episcocrat. He says about himself: “…I came to faith in Christ in 1995, thereafter developing interests in theology and Church history. I hold two degrees: one in English and another in Biblical Studies. (I plan to begin a Masters degree program in the near future, degree focus as yet unknown.)”

Billy used to regularly blog on Arminius and Arminian theology. He did this beginning in 2007. He doesn’t do that anymore. He has moved on to other topics. (more…)

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Chad Holtz: Is Your God Big Enough?

Chad_Holtz

Chad Holtz

In this post Chad Holtz, pastor of Mountain View UMC in Dayton, TN, and who blogs at Desire Mercy and at umc holiness, explains why he no longer believes in Christian universalism: that everyone will be saved. He says that this idea has present day implications: “… in making God so big that he saves everyone I unwittingly created a God who saved no one.”(I attempted to use the WordPress reblog feature to post this, but it didn’t work. So, I pasted it here from umc holiness.) (more…)

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