April 25, 2017

Reformed Theology vs. Keswick Theology

The following Q&A recently appeared at Dr. John VanGelderen’s Revival Focus blog.

Dear John: Would you please explain the main difference between the Reformed theology sanctification model and the Keswick model?
Thank you for this relevant question! Much misinformation has been communicated on this subject,
Dr. John VanGelderen
so I’m glad to address it. Although pages could be written on the various differences, dealing with the main difference can be addressed briefly. For years I have maintained that the underlying issue between Reformed theology and Keswick theology (and for that matter Arminian theology) revolves around one’s view of faith.
Basically, there are three views of faith: unfettered choice, inevitable faith, and responsible faith.
  1. Arminian theology (at least with those of a thoroughgoing persuasion) views faith as unfettered choice. Man is responsible to believe and can believe when he wants to.
  2. Reformed theology (with those of a thoroughgoing persuasion) views faith as inevitable for “the elect.” Faith is viewed as a human work. So, to insure salvation by grace, and keep “works” out of salvation, those whom God elects are regenerated in order to believe. Regeneration precedes faith. If you are regenerated, it is inevitable that you will believe, and it is inevitable that you will persevere in progressive sanctification.
  3. Keswick theology views faith as responsible faith. Faith is not viewed as a work, but rather as dependence on the Worker—God. Faith is man’s response of God-dependence to God’s convicting work. But man can resist or respond to God’s conviction. It is not inevitable. This principle would apply to salvation and Christian growth. Faith is a responsibility that is not a human work. Faith is the cooperation of a relationship of trust in God, both His will and power. Keswick is often defined as “sanctification by faith.”
Personally, I believe God’s divine order is divine initiation, human responsibility (faith), and divine enablement. For example Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The phrase “it is God which worketh in you” reveals the need for divine initiation. Man does not choose right without God convicting him to do so. The phrase “to will” highlights man’s response of faith. The phrase “and to do of his good pleasure” expresses God’s divine enablement. This order holds true for salvation and for Christian growth. Arminian theology minimizes divine initiation. Reformed theology minimizes the responsibility of faith by making it inevitable. Keswick theology embraces divine initiation, the faith response, and then divine enablement.
The key here is discerning whether or not faith is a human work. Some Reformers thought of faith as a human work, and thus the system of inevitable faith. But faith is not a work. Romans 4:5 makes this abundantly clear by saying, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him.” Faith then is not a work, but dependence on the Worker. Faith says, “I can’t, but God can.” Faith is man’s responsibility, but it is not a work—the Bible says so. But because of misunderstanding regarding this truth, some Reformed theologians tend to accuse Keswick of being man-centered because Keswick emphasizes faith. But this reveals a misunderstanding of faith. For it is impossible for God-dependence to be man-centered!
John R. VanGelderen

Related Reading:
Keswick: A Good Word or a Bad One?

Keswick theology teaches that “progressive sanctification” does not mean an inevitable gradual sanctification, but rather that sanctification is accelerated by faith choices and is hindered by choices of unbelief. Obviously, the Holy Spirit keeps working, but believers are responsible to cooperate in faith for sanctification to progress according to God’s will. Keswick teaches that just as justification is by faith, so also sanctification is by faith.

April 17, 2017

Who Taught You to Think?

There are two basic premises in the process called thinking. Within each premise there are a variety of differences, but at the poles of each there is a difference as great as that between night and day. In philosophy, this idea is demonstrated in Raphael’s painting, The School of Athens. At the center of the painting, Plato is pointing upward and Aristotle holds his hand downward. Each of them is emphasizing his center of thought and authority - Plato the absolutes or ideals and Aristotle the particulars of earth.

The difference between these two foundational issues is critical to life and death. It is clearly demonstrated in the third chapter of Genesis. God is the authority, and everything He utters is true and flawless. Eve allows the devil to deny God’s Word and add his own ideas to God’s words. Then Eve follows that error and adds some words of her own. God’s Word is wholly without error; its statements are pure truth. Repeating what God has said is always trustworthy. This is the correct process of thinking with the words and mind of God. The majority of individuals in our world, however, have followed the thinking process that Satan invented. They deny truth or add error where they choose. Here you have the conflict between pure truth and truth that has been corrupted.
Some years ago, I started using a term to clarify this contrast. There are only two religions on earth. I know Christianity is not really a religion, but please bear with me. Christianity holds that the eternal, sovereign creator is God and that our authority is the pure Word of God. The other religion is “Humianity,” a play on words. All other religions are part of this. The god of Humianity is man, and his authority is human reason. Once again, you have the contrast of two authorities, two ways of thinking.
The problem is that human authority often borrows true statements from God, but then adjusts them to fit flawed human reason. The sad commentary is that believers who should know better often take the clear statements of scripture and either add to them or do the unthinkable - they deny the plain statements of scripture. Believers who can’t find the answer they were looking for simply go ahead and invent one. Unfortunately, the discipline of Systematic Theology is full of these inventions. They call them “different points of view.”
Just a reminder, in case you may have forgotten: Shepherd’s Staff isn’t about forcing answers on the reader; it is about making people think. So, before you get all bent out of shape, do some thinking, and beware of borrowing from flawed human reason.
We began this discussion by asking “Who taught you to think?” Thank God for churches, pastors, professors, parents, etc., who have reminded us that true thinking begins and ends with the Word of God. All other expressions are opinions. On the other hand, though, we also had teachers who ought to know better tell us that science, physical evidence, philosophers, and scholars are the true source of authority. As a result, we borrowed from human thought, experience, physical evidence, etc., and made them part of our authority. State education is particularly culpable in this shift of authority. In fact, almost everyone reading this - if not all of us - have been moved in our thinking and have adjusted the one trustworthy authority.
Science, as defined by man, has become an authority higher than God. Let me ask you this: has science ever been wrong? In the Old Testament, if a prophet gave one false prophecy, he was stoned. Why would believers ever doubt the clear statements of Scripture in order to please the false prophecies of science? Is God wrong - was there indeed a “big bang?” Read the plain statements in the book of Romans, and consider what God says about those who deny Him as creator.
This, however is the problem; the god of intellectualism permits men to deny the things that God has simply stated in His Word. Their argument is that it can’t really be that simple, so they borrow from another authority to get their way. That is why “intellectualism complicates to confuse” while the biblical thinker “simplifies to clarify.”
Science, falsely so-called, has information, but not truth. It is intellectual, but it does not have intelligence. Did you forget that those who deny the creator are absolutely sure that there was no “intelligent design” in what they call “nature”? It has knowledge, but it does not have wisdom; it has opinion, but not fact; it has belief, but no final authority.
It is easy to pick on intellectual pagans; however, we shudder to consider how deeply the wrong kind of thinking and the final authority of flawed human reason have made their way into theology. Most of my day, at this point, is spent in study and research in the Word. How can it be that theologians in our camp can go to the same text and come away with a dozen different conclusions? If they go to the same statements, with the same authority, why do they disagree? The answer is simple; you cannot go to the same text, and use the same language system and universal rules, and get more than one answer. I know that scholars tend to hate simplicity. It robs them of human creativity and the power to have it their own way. Remember, though, that the Bible was not written to scholars; it was written to the ordinary humble believer who finds peace in the fact that each text has only one interpretation. If the answer is illusive, there may not be an answer; but we certainly are not free to invent one. That is a major problem with historical theology - it certainly does have value, but it is not authoritative. An error long held is still an error. Any idea as to what you are thinking, or how you are thinking? Your next words will reveal that.

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address shepherdstaff2@juno.com or Shepherdstaff

April 10, 2017

Archival Series: Lordship Salvation, A Misuse of Scripture

For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

There is one passage of Scripture that virtually always comes up in the discussion of repentance with advocates of Lordship Salvation and needs to be carefully explained. How does John MacArthur, for the Lordship view of repentance, interpret the first verse of this passage?

As metanoia is used in the New Testament, it always speaks of a change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin. In the sense Jesus used it, repentance calls for a repudiation of the old life and a turning to God for salvation. Such a change of purpose is what Paul had in mind when he described the repentance of the Thessalonians: “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Note the three elements of repentance: turning to God, a turning from evil, and the intent to serve God. No change of mind can be called true repentance if it does not include all three elements. The simple but all too often overlooked fact is that a true change of mind will necessarily result in a change of behavior. Repentance is not merely shame or sorry over sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse. It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead. 9

What is the gospel, after all, but a call to repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30)? In other words, it demands that sinners make a change—stop going one way and turn around to go the other (1 Thess. 1:9). 10

Those quotes represent Lordship’s classic misuse of 1 Thess. 1:9. MacArthur starts by addressing the Greek word metanoia as it is used in the New Testament, and then quotes a verse that does not even contain the word metanoia. The Greek word for “to turn” is completely different; it is epistrepho (epistrephō) and means simply “to turn, turn to or toward.” Epistrephō does not mean “to repent.”

Through the balance of this section I am going to draw from the Inspired Commentary, the Word of God, to bring out the meaning and context of 1 Thess. 1:9. Before we can draw a conclusion on 1 Thess. 1:9 we need to begin by reviewing Paul’s initial evangelistic ministry to the Thessalonicans. In Acts 17:1-4 we find Paul arriving at Thessalonica and, “as his manner was,” preaching the gospel. He was preaching Jesus who suffered and rose again. He said, “…Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” He is exhorting the Thessalonians, in their unsaved condition, to change their mind about Jesus. In verse four we see that some were persuaded, “some of them believed,” but some “believed not.” What was it in Paul’s preaching that some were persuaded of and believed? That Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again, was the Christ. In Paul’s evangelistic appeal to the Thessalonians is there any call or exhortation for “turning from evil” or the “intent to serve” for salvation? No, there is not! MacArthur is forcing “turning from evil (sin) and the intent to serve God…to forsake all unrighteousness” into the narrative of Paul’s sermon.

Those who “believed not” set in motion a wave of persecution against the new believers (Acts 17:5-9). The events at Thessalonica set a pattern for what we find in Paul’s two epistles to the Thessalonian believers.

In 1 Thessalonians 1 Paul acknowledges and praises them for their “work of faith” and “labor of love.” They set an example for others on what Bible Christianity should look like. Their fine example was being set with “patience” (v. 3) in the face of “much affliction” (v. 6; Acts 17:5-9). They were setting the right example for fellow believers (Macedonia and Achaia, vv. 7-8) to emulate how to go through persecution. The reputation of the Thessalonian church preceded Paul in his missionary travels; therefore he did not need to speak of it (v.8). Their testimony of faith and patience in the face of persecution was a living example and a sermon without words. With respect to Lordship Salvation, this raises a serious problem. If the example of the Thessalonians in their willingness to change their behavior after they believed is considered the necessary condition of true saving faith, then in what way were the Thessalonians “examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (v. 7)? How could they be the example to all other believers when all believers in Christ will necessarily live and behave just like the Thessalonians as Lordship advocates insist?

1 Thess. 1:9 opens with, “For they… .” The “they” is their “faith to God-ward,” which became known abroad. The Thessalonians “turned to God,” which put them in a position for the capacity to serve God. The example they became to other believers was the result of their believing the message Paul preached unto themthe One who suffered and rose again is the Christ. The “patience of hope” (v. 3) is defined in verse 10, “And to wait for his Son from heaven.” While they expected and patiently waited for Him to come they kept working out their faith and labored in love. Today when so many are occupied with His coming, we would do well to learn from the Thessalonians that we should keep occupied (doing something for Him) until He comes.

Lordship advocates who use this passage as an illustration of repentance only quote verse 9, “and how ye turned (epistrepho) to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Grammatically, however, there are two parallel infinitives of purpose, which are found in verses 9 and 10. The sentence structure, therefore, if breaking it down into main points and sub points, could be visualized this way:

v9, For
     they themselves shew of us
           - what manner of entering in we had unto you
           - how ye turned to God from idols
                 - to serve (douleuein) the living and true God
v10,             and 
                 - to wait (anamenein) for His Son from heaven,
                              -whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus,
                              - which delivered us from the wrath to come.

There is a major problem for the Lordship position in claiming that 1 Thess. 1:9 is making the intent “to serve” a necessary description (thus condition) of genuine repentance/faith. If “to serve” is a condition/necessary description, then syntactically so must the phrase “to wait” be as well. Wait for what? “His Son from heaven,” i.e. the Second Coming of Christ. There is no other passage in Scripture that conditions the reception of eternal life on believing in Christ’s Second Coming or waiting for it!

There is simply no way the two infinitive clauses can be separated. They are both present tense, active voice, infinitives, and they are both subordinate, dependent clauses that are parallel to one another and dependent upon the main, independent clause of 1:9, “how ye turned to God from idols.”

To be born again do the lost need to believe in the Second Coming of Christ? If we accept MacArthur’s view that the Thessalonians were saved by “turning from evil and the intent to serve,” then the Scriptures also demand waiting for the second coming of Christ as a third condition for conversion.

There is, however, an even larger point with 1 Thess. 1:9-10. This passage is not even describing their initial, saving faith. The emphasis of the passage is clearly upon describing their faithful example in following the Lord subsequent to their initial, saving faith. In 1 Thess. 1:9 Paul is not speaking of how to become a believer; he wrote to them about their growth and testimony as believers.

This interpretation fits perfectly with Paul’s introductory description of these Thessalonians in 2 Thess. 1:3-4. Notice there too they are described not as to their initial, saving faith, as if Paul is saying to them there, “Your conversion was genuine.” No, he is pleased with the fact that their “faith groweth exceedingly” (1:3) and that they were exercising “patience and faith” amidst the trials they were enduring (1:4).

This interpretation, furthermore, fits perfectly with the Inspired Commentary on the Thessalonian Epistles that we have in Acts 17, where the Thessalonians’ initial, saving faith is described in 17:1-4, esp. v. 4 “persuaded” (peitho) or “believed” (KJV) and v. 5 “were not persuaded” (apeitho) or “believed not” (KJV). The content of their faith is described in v. 3, that is, they believed in Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, which were according to the Scriptures (1 Thess. 4:14; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). There is no mention of turning from idols, serving the living God, waiting for the Second Coming, etc. Instead, what we see is that immediately upon believing, these baby Christians in Thessalonica were persecuted for their faith (Acts 17:5-9), particularly by Jewish unbelievers (1 Thess. 2:14-16).

From the Scriptures we can firmly conclude that 1 Thess. 1:9-10 is a post conversion passage. Paul is addressing the things that followed their conversion. He was teaching them post conversion truth. In verse ten he concerns himself with their growth in light of the Lord’s imminent return. At the time of their persecution Paul and Silas were ministering to them as new believers (1 Thess. 2:8). In both epistles to the Thessalonians Paul is ministering to them as new believers. Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with Paul referencing the Second Coming of Christ, which is a vital truth for believers. In 2 Thessalonians 1 we find Paul speaking of their growing faith, charity toward one another and patience in persecution. Paul is commending them for their faith that grew out of their believing the gospel.

Lordship’s repentance, as MacArthur defines it, is to “stop going one way,” i.e. stop sinning and replace sinning with the “intent to serve,” i.e. do the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of a born again believer. MacArthur changes the gospel from repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to a man-centered message that conditions the reception of eternal life on the lost man’s, “purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness,” which is an upfront commitment to certain expected levels of behavior. Believing the gospel should result in some form of a change in behavior as one grows in grace. However, nowhere in Scripture is the gospel for the reception of eternal life defined by a sinner’s intention, commitment or resolve to change his behavior.

In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation, from the chapter, What is Biblical Repentance, pp. 133-138.

9) John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith,
p. 178.

10) John MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, p. 33.