February 25, 2010

“Conservative” Evangelicalism: Threading a Frame Work for Discussion, Final

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

We have reached the final in this series drawn from a thread discussion with Pastor Will Dudding at Scott Aniol’s Religious Affections Ministries blog. You may read or go back to review Part 1; Part 2 and Part 3 at your convenience.

In the previous I cited Dr. Mark Minnick.

What is this paragraph [Romans 16:17-20] talking about? If you would look at verse 17 you will see that it is a paragraph dealing with people who are teaching contrary doctrine. . . . “If you take those terms [v. 17] and you ponder them for just a moment, what becomes apparent is this: our response in the first place is mandated. We have no subjective decision to make. The decision has already been made and the mandate is objective; it is in print! It has been in print for centuries! I exhort you, ‘mark’ them and ‘avoid’ them. . . . The response that we are given is a mandated response…. We are obligated to obey what is here!1
Furthermore, I also included:
For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Rom 16:17; Phil 3:17-19; 2 Thess. 3:6-15).” (Dr. Dave Doran from his series, Gospel-Driven Separation.)
Among “conservative” evangelicals we have some of the nation’s most influential instigators of charismatic theology, worldly methods of ministry (especially to their youth at Resolved and Passion) and ecumenical compromise with deadly “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). We have discussed the Charismatic theology, disgraceful speech and ecumenical compromise of certain conservative evangelicals. These things are “unbiblical, contrary” doctrine and/or practices. They are, “antithetical to the doctrines that are taught in Scripture.” I asked Brother Dudding if we agree on that point. John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Mark Driscoll, et. al., have been admonished by their brethren, but steadfastly refuse to respond to correction and are unrepentant.

At the Glory & Grace blog Dr. Dave Doran posted an article (2/24/10), which in part appears to be a rehash of elements from his Gospel-Driven Separation series. This new article is titled, Separation in Academic Contexts, which includes this opening paragraph.
*DBTS is committed to perpetuating and practicing biblical separatism to guard the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that there must be a clear line of distinction between those who embrace the gospel and those who deny it. Granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who deny fundamental doctrines of the faith is contrary to the Scriptures, harmful to the church, and dishonoring to God. We believe that we can, therefore, extend Christian recognition and fellowship only to those who hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We further believe that compromising the gospel through fellowship with unbelief is a matter of such serious disobedience that faithfulness to the gospel requires separation from those who practice it. (bold added)2
This is a clear, uncompromising biblical statement on the necessity of separation from those who deny the gospel and from those who extend to them “Christian recognition.”3 It is grounded in the Scriptures that every believer has the responsibility to obey. Yet one is left to wonder:

Why are there virtually no admonitions coming from men, who would draft and/or sign on to that statement without hesitation, to “avoid” and remain “separate” from the very men who have granted “Christian recognition… to those who deny fundamental doctrines of the faith?”4

I, of course, speak of Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan who joined Roman Catholic priests, rank theological liberals and full-blown ecumenicals to sign the Manhattan Declaration (MD). Which is, of course, “a matter of…serious disobedience.”5 With Mohler, however, signing the MD was not his first or only **foray into ecumenical compromise.

In the coming weeks there are two prime opportunities to practice, separation from those who practice fellowship with unbelief.6 To demonstrate a genuine application of the biblical obligations of Gospel-Driven Separation; to demonstrate “our separatist commitments.”7 To, “remain committed to the practice and perpetuation of biblical separatism.”8

Those two opportunities are John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Fellowship (Mar. 3-7) and even more so Together for the Gospel (T4G) in mid-April. Both of these conferences are lead by and/or are hosting as keynote speakers Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. If we are serious about obeying the Scriptures that forbid fellowship with men who are among the disobedient then we would refuse to attend or encourage others to sit under the teaching/preaching ministry of those men. We would, furthermore, openly call on those within our sphere of influence to refrain from endorsing or attending these conferences.

This is a difficult decision for some who crave the fellowship they find at these conferences. But one must ask where does his first loyalty lie: To the “biblical obligations” or to my friends and their fellowships?

Tragically with the growing disinclination to “admonish” or “withdraw fromconservative evangelicalism the likelihood of becoming desensitized to the evangelicals’ aberrant doctrine, practices and worldly methods of ministry increases. IMO the day is coming when some who presently claim the label “biblical separatist” will evidence little resemblance to what they once were in the best tradition of historic Fundamentalism. Instead they will have become themselves what evangelicalism is today, which they embraced apart from heeding the biblical “ministry of warning.”

In spite of all we have considered a growing number of self-professed separatists, including men who are years into their pastorates, are becoming:
  • Increasingly passionate for fellowship with the so-called conservative evangelicals, and…
  • Rarely find their voice to even do so much as “admonish” them openly.
For many men who are embracing conservative evangelicalism, its star personalities and fellowships, the “biblical obligations” to “withdraw from,” to “mark them…and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17) to “separate” at the moment appears to be completely out of the question.

Whatever else Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan have to offer they have, through signing the Manhattan Declaration, granted “Christian recognition and fellowship to those who deny fundamental doctrines of the faith is contrary to the Scriptures, [which is] harmful to the church, and dishonoring to God.” The final question then becomes:

Will those, claiming a “heritage as separatists,” who rightly call for separation from those who practice fellowship with unbelief make a personal application of that biblical principle without partiality?

Closing the Series the Way it Opened:
Dr. Peter Masters wrote an article to address numerous problems in and among “new” Calvinism’s conservative evangelicals. I chose this particular excerpt in regard to the T4G conference because it convenes just a few weeks from now.

A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm…is the Together for the Gospel conference…. A more adult affair…this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety. (Dr. Peter Masters, The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness)


LM

*DBTS- Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.
**See thread for listing of Mohler’s known forays into ecumenism.

Footnotes:
1) Dr. Mark Minnick, The Scriptural Response to Teachers of Doctrinal Error, Mid-America Conference on Preaching, Nov. 1997.
2) Dave Doran,
Separation in Academic Contexts (accessed 2/24/10)
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid.
7) Ibid.
8) Ibid.

UPDATE (3/2/10):
Because this article, and the series from which it is drawn, continues to attract widespread attention I am going to leave it up as the home page article for an extended period. I do have a number of new articles in various stages of production for publication, but I am going to hold them for the moment. One of the upcoming articles is an additional review and discussion of the Glory & Grace blog article, Separation in Academic Contexts.

Editor’s Note:
None of what I have shared in this series, or in any related article, should be misconstrued into calls for loyalty to any movement. The sole consideration for any believer must be fidelity to the Word of God. That is our first and only consideration. All the rest must bow and/or respond to what is there. Please continue to Thread Comment #10 (posted 3/1/10), which is an important appendix entry to this Editor’s Note.

February 22, 2010

“Conservative” Evangelicalism: Threading a Frame Work for Discussion, Part 3

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

If you have not had an opportunity to read the previous submissions I encourage you to do so by returning to Part 1 and then Part 2 to get the full details from this helpful discussion. I want extend my appreciation to Pastor Will Dudding for our discussion at the RAM blog and then the comment he submitted here under Threading a Frame Work, Part 2. And now more of the thread commentary with Brother Will. Be sure to continue through the editor’s notes that follow.


Brother Will:

I’ll wind down our discussion with sermon excerpts from Dr. Mark Minnick who the RAM blog article had to do with. I’ll draw your attention to Rom. 16:17-20.

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

In 1997, at the Mid-America Conference on Preaching, Dr. Minnick preached a two part series on that passage. His sermon title was, The Scriptural Response to Teachers of Doctrinal Error. Dr. Minnick said:

What is this paragraph [Rom. 16:17-20] talking about? If you would look at verse 17 you will see that it is a paragraph dealing with people who are teaching contrary doctrine. . . . These are people who are teaching as truth doctrine that actually is alongside orthodoxy. They are teaching what is a contradiction to, what is the opposite of, what is antithetical to, the doctrines that are taught in the Scripture.... But when some man is the prime instigator, promoter, and advocate of an unbiblical position, we must expose that man as we denounce the sin he is promoting.”

Charismatic theology, disgraceful speech and ecumenical compromise are “unbiblical, contrary” doctrine and/or practices. They are, “antithetical to the doctrines that are taught in Scripture.” Do we agree on that point? Piper, Mahaney, Mohler, Duncan, Driscoll, et. al., have been admonished, refuse to respond to correction and are unrepentant. If we agree, then as Minnick also said,

If you take those terms [v. 17] and you ponder them for just a moment, what becomes apparent is this: our response in the first place is mandated. We have no subjective decision to make. The decision has already been made and the mandate is objective; it is in print! It has been in print for centuries! I exhort you, ‘mark’ them and ‘avoid’ them. . . . The response that we are given is a mandated response.

We are obligated to obey what is here!”

Will, I appreciate we’ve had this brief exchange. Most in our circles, who have an affinity for the conservative evangelical camp, bristle at any suggestion that we must admonish, withdraw, mark and possibly avoid them.

In the near future I am going to post additional articles at my blog on the theme we’ve discussed. I’d enjoy discussing this more thoroughly, with you, Don Johnson and any others who are willing to do so.


LM

Editor’s Note:
Please continue to closing commentary drawn from this series. It will include an admonition to my IFB brethren who rush to embrace and/or endorse conservative evangelicalism- its star personalities, fellowships, conferences and coalitions.

I would also encourage my readers to visit Don Johnson’s blog to read his alternative approach to this discussion. You can peruse the comment thread where Will, Don and I shared our thoughts with one another. See The Vision Thing at an Ox Goad, eh?

Again my appreciation to Pastor Will Dudding who has been open and responsive to the legitimate concerns raised in regard to the doctrine and/or practices of conservative evangelicalism and, furthermore, what the Scriptural implications are. With so many in Fundamental circles becoming reluctant to make a personal application of the biblical mandates toward the conservative evangelicals, when they are clearly called for, Pastor Dudding’s willingness to give serious consideration to these things is encouraging. I am hopeful more will reconsider what their responsibility is to the Scriptures as they seek to strengthen their ties with conservative evangelicalism’s star personalities and their fellowships.

February 18, 2010

“Conservative” Evangelicalism: Threading a Frame Work for Discussion, Part 2

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

On Tuesday I posted the first of three excerpts from a charitable thread discussion with Pastor Will Dudding at the Religious Affections Ministries blog. If you have not read the opening exchange please return to Part 1 of Threading the Framework to bring yourself up to speed. Let’s continue with Part 2 in the on-going discussion.

Brother Will:

Thanks for the gracious, thoughtful reply to my previous. Our interaction is going to be much briefer than I would prefer. A thread does not allow for a thorough discussion and we are staying from the subject matter of the article. I’ll post my final thoughts here in two segments.

Clarifying my use of “ecumenism” is in regard to setting aside and/or tolerating (major) theological differences to (“mingle”) work in cooperation towards mutually shared goals. The kind of alliance the Scriptures clearly forbid. For example, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan formally mingled with liberals and unbelievers through the Manhattan Declaration. The MD is the fifth of five known and documented examples of ecumenical compromise in *Mohler’s resume. They are:
Naming the SBTS School of Evangelism after, and in honor of Billy Graham
Chairman of the 2001 (Louisville) Billy Graham Crusade
Dedicated a new SBTS pavilion in honor of past president Duke McCall- a rank liberal
Original signatory to the Manhattan Declaration
Board member- Focus on the Family
You wrote that ecumenism, Charismatic teaching and disgraceful speech are, “denounced at those conferences.” That is debatable in light of the fact that the prime instigators are in the leadership of and honored with a platform presence at these very same “conservative” evangelical conferences. John MacArthur has personally rejected these things he does, however, host, honor and share platforms with certain evangelicals who do, “mingle with unbelievers in spiritual union.”

You asked, “How can I teach separatism to them if they don’t know I exist and even care about them?”

Brother Will, the Scriptures have taught evangelicals “separatism.” Those passages are clear; they are not unknown to the evangelicals. None of us can improve on what the Lord has taught, but we can exemplify what He has taught, give Him the preeminence by believing and obeying Him in this regard. Demonstrate biblical separatism to them and admonish them to do likewise. Do so because you care first about absolute fidelity to the biblical mandates and that you care enough for the evangelicals to call on them to believe and obey the Lord’s mandates also.

Earlier I cited 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15. Briefly, the passage has to do with those, “working not at all, but are busybodies.” Then surely when we are faced with believers who engage in ecumenical cooperation with unbelievers and liberals (like that of Duncan & Mohler’s examples) the charge to “admonish” and if rejected then “withdraw from” must be our response; right? Ecumenism as I defined it, and unrepented of, is “disorderly;” isn’t it?

Here is Dave Doran from his series Gospel-Driven Separation,

For the sake of the clarity of the gospel, believers and churches must separate from those who compromise the faith by granting Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith (Rom 16:17; Phil 3:17-19; 2 Thess. 3:6-15).”

I trust we can agree signing the MD granted, “Christian recognition and fellowship to those who have denied essential doctrines of the faith?” That may not have been the intention, but clearly was the result.


Please continue to Part 3 in this series.

*For complete documentation of the above, see- Al Mohler Signs the Manhattan Declaration: Was This a First Time Foray Toward Ecumenism? Confirmation of Mohler’s long time board membership at Focus on the Family was ascertained after publication of the article.

February 16, 2010

“Conservative” Evangelicalism: Threading a Frame Work for Discussion, Part 1

A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm…is the Together for the Gospel conference…. A more adult affair…this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety. (Dr. Peter Masters, The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness)
Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Last week at the Religious Affections Ministries (RAM) blog I had a charitable and transparent exchange with Pastor Will Dudding. Brother Dudding is pastor of a local church in Fremont, CA. Much of what I discussed with Will was within the frame-work of thoughts and concerns I’ve had in regard to certain doctrines and practices of the so-called “conservative” evangelicalism, its star personalities and fellowships.

While not reproducing the entirety of Will’s end of our discussion I am reproducing excerpts from his perspective that I interacted with at RAM. At the conclusion of this article I link directly to the point in the RAM thread where you can see both Will’s and my discussion in their entirety.

For clarity and further development of my thoughts I have edited and expanded upon my RAM thread comments. This I have done because discussion threads limit the scope of interaction. I am resisting the desire to develop a full-blown expose such as I produced in my series on Al Mohler, the Manhattan Declaration and Ecumenism.

I liken the theme of my concern to what Dr. Peter Masters called “the ministry of warning,” which in Masters (and my) opinion is steadily being “killed off.” Killed off in regard to the doctrinal aberrations and questionable methods of ministry that are commonplace in the conservative evangelical community, in some discussions also becoming known as the “new” Calvinism.

Today I present the first in the series of expanded thread commentary as a frame-work for future discussion of conservative evangelicalism.


Brother Will, I appreciate much of your initial commentary to me above in the thread above. However, you wrote, “The attraction to the Sovereign Grace, Desiring God, Grace To You type ministries…

The subject matter of this article has been Dr. Minnick’s commentary on evangelicalism and Sovereign Grace music. Although valid concerns IMO the least of the disconcerting issues of the conferences such as: Desiring God, Shepherd’s, T4G, Gospel Coalition, Resolved, Passion, et. al. is their music choices.

The truly BIG issues, are that you have men, who depending on the personality, are teaching that the charismatic sign gifts are active and should be sought after today (John Piper & C. J. Mahaney), are unapologetic ecumenicists (Al Mohler & Ligon Duncan), or utilize disgraceful speech (“corrupt communication,” Eph. 4:29) in their preaching (Mark Driscoll).

Recently, at a *pseudo-fundamentalist site, Sharper Iron (SI), I read your note about going to John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference next month. What is the “attraction” of those things I noted above that draw you to those conferences? Those IMO far and away trump the danger of their music choices.

FWIW, I would not even have to squirm through CCM if it happened to be used in a conference because I’d be up and out before they finished the 1st stanza. However, with men on the platform who tolerate, stand for and/or propagate disgraceful speech, charismatic theology and ecumenism I’d never show up in the first place. I am obviously referring to conferences such as and in addition to Shepherd’s.

Part of the reason you cited at SI for going to the Shepherd’s Conference is to demonstrate to them separatism. You wrote,
…to influence some of the conservative evangelicals to exercise more discernment concerning biblical separation and unity if we do it properly first….
Unity is created by the Spirit, it is a good thing and should be sought after (Eph. 4:3). At what expense, however, is unity being encouraged and sought after with evangelicalism? Furthermore, and my primary concern is:

How can you teach separatism when you do not “withdraw from” men who are unapologetic ecumenicists and/or Charismatics?

That kind of participation with to “influence” them strategy is what I am now calling “Infiltration Theology” and is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures.


The “influence” you speak of is working exactly the other way around. It is men like you who are being influenced by the evangelicals- their doctrine, music and methods. Some of you have and/or will get caught up in those things and then, furthermore, bring their aberrant distinctives and disdain for balanced, biblical separatism back to your own ministries. A few weeks ago I spoke to a so-called “YF” who has now tragically come to accept as authentic the non-cessationism teaching of Piper and Mahaney.

One pastor (Larry Rogier) who identifies himself with Fundamentalism posted a statement at his blog suggesting there is a mindset that,
The men on ‘our side’ (Fundamentalism) we must say nothing bad about; the men on ‘the other side’ (Evangelicalism) we must say nothing good about.
Broad-brushed misrepresentative caricatures like that do not manifest integrity and must be necessarily dismissed.

Is everything coming from conservative evangelicalism aberrant or destructive; of course not. Is everything coming from Fundamentalism the ideal; of course not. There is IMO, however, more than enough in contrary doctrine and practice of the conservative evangelicals to cause a balanced Fundamentalist, who longs for unity in the body, to step back and instead,

Call on Them to Become the Best of What We Are in Balanced, Biblical Separatism.

But they are not going to do that; are they? Instead I see the rise of this “Infiltration Theology,” such as you noted. An outworking of a theology in which some IFB men decide to fellowship and/or cooperate with evangelicals allegedly for a chance to teach them to obey the principles of biblical separatism. To infiltrate evangelicalism, however, one must be willing to tolerate and allow for their aberrant doctrines, open rejection of biblical separatism and worldly methods of ministry that thus far would never be allowed for or tolerated in their own IFB ministries.

IMO, continued exposure to the conservative evangelical camp, through active promotion of and participation in their numerous conferences and on-line communities, apart from an active and vital ministry of warning will desensitize you and others to what they are and propagate. As Peter Masters noted, to attend T4G (for example), “the ministry of warning (must be) is killed off.”

Sorry for the blunt terms, but they are offered from one who desires to speak the truth in love.

Yours in His name,


LM

Please continue to- Part 2 of this series.

*Sharper Iron

Any who wish to read the thread exchange between Brother Dudding and I, in full context, please
begin here at RAM.

February 8, 2010

John MacArthur: Christ’s Eternal Sonship

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Questions occasionally resurface on the eternal sonship of Christ controversy. This teaching was highly controversial and caused a huge rift in the IFCA when John MacArthur took the position that, “Christ did not become the Son of God until He was born at Bethlehem.” In September 1999 Dr. MacArthur seemed to have repudiated incarnational sonship, but has he forsaken it entirely?

I am welcoming back JanH who is a frequent commentator and contributor for this compelling discussion and we will turn to it without delay.


LM

This blog typically discusses divergences from the gospel in the form of either Lordship Salvation or the Crossless Gospel. However, as sometimes happens in the course of conversation, a topic which gets little attention came to light in the comment section of Does “Final Salvation” Serve as Cover for Works-Salvation

The topic came to light because of this response Lou Martuneac gave to a question I asked:
Jan, you asked, Why does Piper (JMac) “get away with” these things [saying works are a requirement for final salvation]? Two thoughts: 1) Because of their popularity they go *almost entirely unchallenged by their peer group and followers. There are some Calvinistic men in my IFB circles who are troubled by statements like these [pertaining to the requirements for final salvation], will confide they find these troubling, but will not say so in any public venue....

*An exception being when MacArthur was challenged over and he subsequently retracted and disavowed his earlier teaching on the eternal sonship of Christ. His former teaching on that caused a major rift in the IFCA.
Here Lou noted an exception to the unwritten don’t openly challenge MacArthur rule, which involved the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. For 25 years Dr. John MacArthur had openly denied that Jesus Christ is eternally the Son of God. Instead, he aggressively promoted the Incarnational Sonship position, which says that Jesus was not always/eternally the Son of God but was the second person of the Trinity who became the Son of God at the incarnation, i.e. His birth in Bethlehem.

Pastor George Zeller (Middletown Bible Church, Middletown, CT) challenged MacArthur on this teaching (as well as several others). In 1999 Pastor Zeller was rewarded for his efforts by Dr. MacArthur’s public disavowal of Incarnational Sonship in the form of a published paper titled “Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ.” In this paper Dr. MacArthur states plainly that he no longer holds to the view that Jesus became the Son of God at His incarnation. He also states plainly that Jesus is eternally the Son of God and says why he now believes this is so. Good news! Or...maybe not as good as we would hope.

Unfortunately, Dr. MacArthur has left some loose ends. We will look at two of them here and compare them with Dr. MacArthur’s Reexamination… declaration.

Loose End #1
It is common knowledge that Dr. MacArthur is the President of The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California and senior pastor of Grace Community Church. Under the section “Statement of faith- GOD,” the doctrinal statement for The Master’s Seminary proclaims this orthodox confession on the Trinity:
We teach that there is but one living and true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 45:5-7; 1 Corinthians 8:4), an infinite, all knowing Spirit (John 4:24), perfect in all His attributes, one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14)—each equally deserving worship and obedience.1 (Bold added.)
We applaud and wholly agree with this statement on the Trinity. However, a little further along, in the sixth paragraph under the section “God the Son,” we read this:
We teach that, in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity laid aside His right to the full prerogatives of coexistence with God, assumed the place of a Son, and took on an existence appropriate to a servant while never divesting Himself of His divine attributes (Philippians 2:5-8).2 (Bold added.)
This statement affirms the doctrine of Incarnational Sonship, which we have been given to understand that Dr. MacArthur had disavowed in 1999. This presents a point of confusion. First we are told that God eternally exists in three Persons- Father, SON, and Holy Spirit. Then we are told that “in the incarnation, the SECOND PERSON OF THE TRINITY...assumed the PLACE of a Son.”

The first statement is just what we would expect from an orthodox teacher. But the second statement is troubling. It says that Sonship is a “place” that “the second person of the Trinity...assumed” in the incarnation. This is just what Dr. MacArthur used to teach before he declared his repentance on this issue. There are two problems here.
  • One, He is going in two directions doctrinally in this statement of faith.
  • Two, in 1999 Dr. MacArthur had made it truly plain that he had abandoned the Incarnational Sonship view, which would say that Jesus assumed the place of a Son at the incarnation, in favor of the Eternal Sonship view that Jesus was not merely and vaguely the “second person of the Trinity,” but the Son of God always/eternally.
So now we must ask, which one does MacArthur intend for us to understand is his actual position? And we may also inquire which position is taught and affirmed in the classroom.

Now it is true and must be noted that Dr. MacArthur said in his reexamination paper that, “I’ve often wished for the opportunity to review and amend all my own published material, but I doubt I’ll ever have the time or the energy to undertake the task.3

And indeed that would be daunting for him since he is a prolific speaker/writer. It is easy to understand how some comments in a series of his radio sermons may go unaltered due to obfuscation. We are, however, looking at a published doctrinal statements. This doctrinal statement is much more visible than a sermon given once or twice. I would think something so salient would have undergone some revision, especially when he says this:
If more precise understanding on an important point of doctrine demands a change in my thinking--even if it means amending or correcting already-published material--I want to be willing to make the necessary changes.

I have made many such revisions over the years, often taking measures to delete erroneous or confusing statements from my own tapes, and sometimes even preaching again through portions of Scripture with a better understanding of the text. Whenever I have changed my opinion on any significant doctrinal issue, I have sought to make my change of opinion, and the reasons for it, as clear as possible.4 (Bold added.)
While it is truly encouraging hear that Dr. MacArthur is a humble man who has the integrity to make changes when necessary and has indeed done so in the past (not everyone would), I wonder how it is, then, that his doctrinal statement could still confess Incarnational Sonship? One or the other statement is erroneous and both statements affirmed in the same document is confusing. Why, then, have measures not been taken to edit or eliminate one statement or the other? Could it be that a publication as visible as the doctrinal statement for The Master’s Seminary had somehow fallen through the cracks and thus escaped the necessary revision? But surely the official doctrinal statement of a seminary where future church leaders are taught doctrine in a careful and systematic manner is more important than a tape or a sermon? Yet it still has this confession of a doctrine which Dr. MacArthur has stated publicly he had abandoned.
To that end, I want to state publicly that I have abandoned the doctrine of “incarnational sonship.” Careful study and reflection have brought me to understand that Scripture does indeed present the relationship between God the Father and Christ the Son as an eternal Father-Son relationship. I no longer regard Christ’s Sonship as a role He assumed in His incarnation.5 (Bold added.)
How could this be? Surely after 25 years of preaching aggressively on Jesus’ Sonship, albeit from the Incarnational Sonship perspective, Dr. MacArthur has not come to the conclusion that this is not an important doctrine after all? No. It is not reasonable to conclude that Dr. MacArthur feels it to be an unimportant doctrine. There must be another reason for its continued presence in his doctrinal statement. But what could that reason be?

Perhaps the answer lies in this response Dr. MacArthur gave in 2006 when asked for an explanation of his view on Christ’s Sonship:
Let me make it real simple. He is eternally God. Jesus Christ is and always will be the eternal God—a member of the Trinity. He is eternally One of Three. And I don’t have any problem with calling Him the eternal Son therefore. But I do understand that there is a uniqueness to His incarnation in that the Scripture says, “This day have I begotten Thee.” And that’s related to His incarnation.6 (Bold added.)
I am afraid this is not real simple, though. In fact, this leads us to-

Loose End #2
If Jesus being eternally One of Three is what qualifies Him to be regarded as the eternal Son, then why could we not regard any of the Trinity members as the Son? They are all eternally One of Three. Jesus is the only member of the Trinity that has experienced incarnation, that is true. But He was not incarnated eternally. He was incarnated in time. So the incarnation would not make Him the eternal Son. But being eternally One of Three does not make Him the Son either. It makes Him One of Three. Indeed Dr. MacArthur recognizes this too, as he notes in his Reexamination:
If Christ’s sonship is all about His deity, someone will wonder why this applies to the Second Member of the Trinity alone, and not to the Third. After all, we don’t refer to the Holy Spirit as God’s Son, do we? Yet isn’t He also of the same essence as the Father? 7
This being the case, why, then, does he frame it the way he does in this answer given 7 years after his public statement that he has abandoned the doctrine of Incarnational Sonship? Instead of answers there are more questions. Instead of simplicity and clarity, confusion and perplexity.

I think Dr. MacArthur made it real simple in 1999 when he stated:
Expressions like “eternal generation,” “only begotten Son,” and others pertaining to the filiation of Christ must all be understood in this sense: Scripture employs them to underscore the absolute oneness of essence between Father and Son. In other words, such expressions aren’t intended to evoke the idea of procreation; they are meant to convey the truth about the essential oneness shared by the Members of the Trinity.

Careful study and reflection have brought me to understand that Scripture does indeed present the relationship between God the Father and Christ the Son as an eternal Father-Son relationship. I no longer regard Christ’s Sonship as a role He assumed in His incarnation.
8
However, since then we have the not-so-simple explanation that Jesus is the Son because He is eternally One of Three and His Sonship pertains to His incarnation after all. And in 2010 his seminary doctrinal statement still implies that Jesus assumed the place of a Son in the incarnation.

What then do we make of Dr. MacArthur’s Reexamination of the Eternal Sonship of Christ? What do we do with these loose ends? Where does Dr. MacArthur really stand on this issue? Has he indeed changed his view? Or must we reexamine his reexamination?


Jan H

1. The Master’s Seminary Statement of Faith, http://www.tms.edu/AboutSOFGod.aspx, (accessed Feb. 3, 2010). Also see the Grace Community Church Doctrinal Statement, p. 3, http://www.gracechurch.org/ministries/Resources.aspx?MinistryID=1&topic=Doctrinal%20Statement, (accessed Feb. 3, 2010).
2. The Master’s Seminary Statement of Faith, http://www.tms.edu/AboutSOFGod.aspx, (accessed Feb. 3, 2010).
3. John MacArthur,
Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ, Sept. 1999, http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/sonship/sonjm08.htm, accessed Feb. 3, 2010).
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. John MacArthur, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary radio interview, Oct. 2006, http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/sonship/sonjm12.htm, (accessed Feb. 3, 2010).
7. John MacArthur,
Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ, Sept. 1999, http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/sonship/sonjm08.htm, accessed Feb. 3, 2010).
8. Ibid

February 2, 2010

Can an Unregenerate Person Believe the Gospel?

Courtesy Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries

Many would answer this question, “Of course. How else could a person be eternally saved?” But there are some who would disagree, because they think that a person must be regenerated (born again) before he or she can believe the gospel. That perspective is demanded by their view of man’s sinfulness, which they call total depravity. But what does the Bible say?

The issue of total depravity
Total depravity is a theological term used by some to describe the sinfulness of man. The term itself is not in the Bible. After Adam’s fall in Genesis 3, man is considered “dead in trespasses and sins” as described in Ephesians 2:1 (see also Rom. 3:10-18; 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22). How one understands this spiritual death determines how one relates faith to regeneration.

Those who insist that God must regenerate a person before that person can believe define total depravity as man’s total inability to respond positively to God. They believe that an unregenerate person cannot even understand and believe the gospel. This view is held by Reformed theology and strong versions of Calvinism.

It would be more biblical to take “dead in trespasses and sins” as a description of man’s condition before God. Because of Adam’s sin and man’s relationship to Adam, man is totally separated from God and lacks anything that can commend him to God. Though sin’s corruption extends to every man and all of his being, man retains the capacity to respond to God’s initiative. Even after Adam sinned and died spiritually, he was able to talk with God immediately (Gen. 2:17; 3:1-19).


The biblical evidence that regeneration does not precede faith

Many biblical arguments show that man’s sinfulness does not require regeneration before faith.

Man remains in God’s image. Man was made in God’s image, which includes a measure of self- determination. The image of God was not destroyed by man’s fall, but marred or corrupted, with the result that man, when left to himself, is inclined toward evil and rejection of God. Self-determination, even if used to reject God, is essential to humanness and personhood. Without self-determination man would be nothing more than a robot with every decision and action determined and controlled by God.

Man is responsible. Because human beings can make self-determining choices, unbelievers are held accountable by God for rejecting the gospel (John 3:18, 36; 5:40-47; Acts 17:30; 2 Thess. 1:6-10). God would not be just or fair if He condemned people who could not believe because He did not regenerate them. That would actually make God the author of evil.

The invitation to believe is legitimate. God’s invitation to be saved through the gospel is a sincere and legitimate offer only if any and every person can believe it. If God must regenerate people before they can believe the gospel, then the invitation is not really to all people, but only to those already born again. But this is contrary to biblical statements that the gospel is for all (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 1 John 2:2). Just as Paul preached everywhere with the assumption that anyone could respond to the gospel (Acts 20:21), we also should share the gospel with everyone (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8) because it is a genuine offer to everyone. God regenerates anyone who believes the gospel.

God draws men to Himself. Because in his sinful state man does not seek God. The Bible teaches that before anyone believes, God draws that person to Himself (John 6:44; 12:32). God convinces or persuades the unbeliever of truth, righteousness, and judgment concerning Jesus Christ (John 16:8-11). The Holy Spirit works mysteriously in a person’s heart to bring her to the point of faith (John 3:8).

Faith is the means not the result. Nowhere does the Bible say that faith is created by regeneration. John 3:16 is a very familiar verse which, according to the preceding context of 3:1-15, explains how God gives eternal life as a result of faith, not a requirement for faith. Likewise, Ephesians 2:8 explains how it is through faith God made alive those who were dead in sins (Eph. 2:1-7). Regeneration is the result of receiving God’s eternal life, and that life is only available through faith (John 5:24; 20:31).

Faith is simply a personal response. Man can believe either truth or falsehood that is presented to him. An unregenerate person can believe the truth of the law of gravity, or he can believe the error of a flat earth. Likewise, an unregenerate person can believe the truth of Christ’s gospel or she can believe the error of a false religion. Since faith is only the instrument, the response of faith in the gospel is not a special kind of faith. Faith is simply faith. It is the object of faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is special and brings salvation.

Faith is not a good work. Those who define total depravity as total inability claim that if man were able to believe, then that faith would be a meritorious good work for salvation. But that cannot be true, because the Bible declares that faith is necessarily contrary to works (Rom. 3:27; 4:4-6; 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9). Faith is not the cause of our salvation; God is the cause. Faith is God’s designated means by which the unregenerate can receive His grace for salvation. Faith is passive because it means that one is convinced that something is true or trustworthy. It is not a work in the sense of actively doing something, thus it is non-meritorious.

Conclusion
The view that regeneration must precede faith is a theological construct,
not a biblical one.
To say that a person goes from being spiritually dead to eternally alive before he believes in Jesus Christ is both absurd and contrary to biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that man is so corrupted by sin that left to himself, he would not seek God or believe the gospel. Therefore, God must draw a person to the point of faith. Nevertheless, it is the person who believes. Faith is not man’s contribution or good work. It is the means through which man receives God’s grace in salvation. The unregenerate person believes in Jesus Christ as Savior precisely because he can contribute nothing to God’s work of salvation. Faith makes the new birth accessible to anyone, but that birth is God’s work.


Dr. Charlie Bing
GraceLife Ministries
Original article appears in GraceNotes

Editor’s Note: You can read more answers to regeneration before faith. Follow these links to Brother George Zeller’s

The Danger of Teaching That Regeneration Precedes Faith

The Danger of Teaching That Faith is the Gift of God