Cut-and-Paste theology

I am conversing with a person via email right now who has a bad case (maybe even a fatal case) of what I call “Cut-and-Paste Theology.”

In a previous post, I gave two reasons for why studying biblical theology is necessary: because you learn what God says about himself, and because it is God’s will for every Christian.

Let me give you a third one: a biblical theology saves you from a cut-and-paste theology.

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The purpose of theology

There are a lot of remarks people make that can discourage or frustrate me.

“We’re leaving the church.”

“I got a detention.”

“The doctor just called, and it’s not good.”

One that really gets me is when a Christian says: “Yeah, well, I’m just not a theologian. You study the theology. I just want a relationship with God.”

Here’s the truth: If you are alive, you are a theologian; that is, you have beliefs about God. Now, your theology may not be specialized (Systematic, Reformed, Historical, etc.). Your theology might even be “God doesn’t exist.” But you are a theologian, and that means that theology is important for you and it should be important to you.

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JODT Conference 2011

For the next couple of days, Saralynn and I will be at the “2011 JODT Conference” put on by Tyndale Theological Seminary. Tyndale is where I am working on my Master’s degree and through whom our church hosts a Bible Learning Center.

“JODT” stands for “Journal of Dispensational Theology,” Tyndale’s seminary publication. Yes, this is a theological conference.

Dispensational Theology has three primary tenets that Oak Tree, Tyndale, and I (personally) hold strongly in our teaching:

  1. There is a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. Israel is still God’s people and will still receive the many promises that God has not yet fulfilled. This is key in our End Times theology.
  1. The only valid meaning of the Bible is found through a consistently literal interpretation. The Bible was written to be understood literally. We don’t have to search for deep meanings or find hidden truths. God did not write a “word search” book to stump us.
  1. God’s own glory is the overarching, central theme of God’s work and of the Scriptures. The Bible is not about you and me, not about salvation, not about prophecy or end times — even though all of those things are in there. The Bible is about God. You and I are about God. Salvation is about God. Prophecy is all about God. When we read and study the Scriptures, no matter the topic or story, we are ultimately reading and studying about God and his glory.
For more information about how Dispensationalism approaches specific topics or passages, check out Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond by Tyndale Seminary Press. This collection of teachings by several well-known authors is a tribute to Charles Ryrie, one of the greatest advocates of Dispensationalism.

For the next couple of days, we’re going to be studying with men and women who hold this highest regard for God and his Word. It’s going to be a great time!

I’ll post notes and thoughts about some of the sessions as I can, so stay tuned to increase your understanding of the Scriptures along with us.

P.S.: We will be back to kick off our new series this weekend at Oak Tree Church – “Fruit of the Spirit”, honoring God in our day-to-day lives. Don’t miss it!

How secure is salvation? Part 3

People frequently ask me if I think that a person (usually a friend or relative who has turned away from God) can lose his or her salvation. In this series of posts, I am responding to this question by studying what the Scriptures say on this extremely important subject.

In my last post, I listed some passages that seem to teach that salvation is not secure, that we can lose it. We’ll explore these a little more over the next couple of posts. Here is the first one.

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1

At issue here is the phrase “denying the Master who bought them.” Does “bought” mean the same thing as “saved”? Or can a person be “bought” but not “saved”? What do the Scriptures say?

1. Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath for sin for all people.

He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:2

The traditional word, translated here as “atoning sacrifice,” is propitiation. A main definition of this word is the concept that God’s wrath on people because of sin is turned away or satisfied by Jesus’ death. Notice that Jesus’ took care of sin’s penalty, not only for those who believe, “but also for the whole world.”

2. Every sinner – whether they will ultimately be saved or not – is under God’s wrath until the point of salvation. This is what Paul taught the Ephesians.

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… Ephesians 2:1-3

So even though Jesus’ death turned away God’s wrath for sin for the whole world (“bought”), that wrath remains on people – even on those who will believe – until the point of salvation (“saved”).

This is Peter’s point: the false teachers could have had salvation. On the cross Jesus had “bought” salvation for them just like everyone else. But they denied him and his work, opting for their own plan instead. Because of this, they had no other options, and they brought “destruction on themselves”. God’s plan is salvation, not destruction.

This leads into the point the writer of Hebrews made in two other sometimes-confusing passages:

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6

For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Hebrews 10:26-27

The writer wasn’t making the case that a person could have salvation then lose it. His point was that, because Jesus’ death was once for all (all time and all people), it’s impossible to jump in and out. If you could fall away (“committed apostasy”) – which was not his point – you couldn’t be saved again. This goes against the teachings that you have to constantly make sure you’re saved. If you could lose it, you could never get it back.

Additionally, if a person claims to believe and even becomes a part of the community of God’s people, but never has the genuine life change that God provides at salvation (“deliberately keep on sinning”), there is no hope for him.

Because Jesus’ death is the only acceptable payment for sin, if someone plays with it then rejects it, or rejects it outright, what else is there? They have nowhere else to go.

We’ll tackle a couple more confusing passages in the next post.

How secure is salvation? Part 2

open vault door
Open Vault Door (Picture by Eric Rice)

One of the most important discussions I have with people has to do with the concern about their salvation. Many people believe that they can lose salvation, or have it taken away, depending on how they live, what sins they may commit, or what good things they never do.

In this post, I’d like simply to show the Scriptures most frequently used to support their beliefs, emphasize a phrase or two, and give some questions I’ve been asked.

For those who believe “once saved, always saved”, these passages can be troublesome and are often called “problem passages”. In the following posts, we’ll explore them a little further and see if they accurately represent the teaching of the rest of the Scriptures.

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1 Does this mean that I could deny God and lose my salvation?

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you– unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 What if I don’t hold firmly to the message?

You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! Galatians 5:4 I can fall away from grace if I return to my old ways?

So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Could I be disqualified?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me– and I in him– bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.” John 15:5-6 If a person doesn’t remain in Jesus, he is sent to hell? How can I be sure that I am “remaining”?

For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God– harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. Romans 11:21-22 Again, how do I know if I have continued enough to be spared and not cut off?

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6 What if I left the church for a long time and lived a sinful life? Is that apostasy? Is it impossible for me to be saved?

For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Hebrews 10:26-27 But I thought we would never stop sinning until we got to Heaven. How are we supposed to be perfect after we’re saved?

I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. Revelation 22:18-19 What if I have misquoted the Bible to someone – does that count as adding or taking away? Is that big enough to lose my salvation over?

Stay tuned, and we will study these and the rest of the Scriptures together.

How secure is salvation? Part 1

Question mark by Marco Bellucci.

A friend of mine asked a question on his Facebook page last week. It’s an important question. A matter of life and death really.

It’s a question that I have answered innumerable times – for people who just lost a friend or family member, for people whose marriages are falling apart, for people who can’t seem to get control over the sin that continues to dominate them.

It’s a question that everyone asks at some point. My friend asked,

“Salvation: is it eternal or can you lose it?”

I am going to write a series of posts on this extremely important topic. Together you and I will explore the Scriptures – those that seem to say salvation is forever and those that seem to say it’s not.

Before I do that, though, let’s open the comments on the question itself.

  • Has someone ever asked you? What was your response?
  • Have you ever asked someone else this question? How did they respond?
  • What passages can you think of that seem to contradict each other?

And then stay tuned as we ask and answer: “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3)

Why do people go to hell?

I have mentioned before that I am an avid reader. It’s been said that “leaders are readers,” and I think that’s true. In addition to the never-ending supply of books (many of which I review here), I also subscribe to over 40 blogs that are posted on a regular basis.

One of those blogs had a post that caught my eye today. In his post, “One White Lie Will Send You to Hell For All Eternity” and other stupid statements, Michael Patton wrote this paragraph:

It is important to understand that hell not is filled with people who are crying out for God’s mercy, constantly hoping for a second chance. People are in hell because they have the same disposition toward God that they had while they were walking the earth. They do not suddenly, upon entrance into Hell, change their nature and become sanctified. They still hate God. People are in hell for all eternity, not because they floated a stop sign, but because their fists are still clinched toward God. They are not calling on His mercy. They are not pleading for a second chance. They are in hell for all eternity because that is where they would rather be. It is their nature. As C.S. Lewis once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

Now this is very much a different view of hell than most people have. Many people can’t believe that a loving God would even create a place like hell, much less send people there. And that at the same time as saying that he wants everyone to come to repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

So what do you think? Why do people go to hell (if they do)? And how do you back up your reasoning?