Scot McKnight's soteriology

(Raymond Isbell) #21

Remember, we’re talking about how to be saved, not how to live the Christian life. That’s why I brought up the two categories of message in the Bible. One is to the unbeliever and it’s evangelical, viz. “What must I do to be saved?” The other is to the believer, viz., “How must I live in this life as a believer to honor and fulfill God’s intended purpose for me on earth” If you present to the unbeliever the requirements for living a Godly life as the way of salvation, you err. The unbeliever needs to know how to become a believer, not how to live as a believer where the 2nd message is relevant. No unbeliever can possibly live the Christian life apart from hearing and believing the gospel whereupon he/she is regenerated and becomes indwelt by the Spirit. The only role for the Spirit in the life of the unbeliever is one of conviction of the truth of the gospel. After they believe and become a believer (regenerated) they need to grow just as a child grows. First with milk, then meat as they mature. That growth is enabled and guided by the Spirit. You don’t demand adult performance from a child, and you surely don’t demand adult performance from an unborn fetus and tell the fetus they can’t be born unless they commit to a particular life style.

From the rest of what you said, I expect that we won’t agree on much. Many in the Reformed crowd label my views on faith as “easy believism” and “cheap grace.” My response is simple. I believe in “free believism” and “free grace.” My salvation isn’t just easy, it’s free. How about yours?

(Raymond Isbell) #22

Allegiance may follow as the result of faith, but faith itself is reliant trust. We look outward to Christ accepting as true who He claims to be and what he did to save us so that we’ll have confidence that the offer is genuine and will not be revoked. In contrast, we do not look inward to a feeling of self reliance, commitment, allegiance, etc. Christ’s person, work, and integrity of character are the objects of saving faith. That may indeed produce allegiance, but the allegiance is separate and distinct from faith.

(Dennis Venema) #23

The ancient greek word pistis has a semantic range that covers present-day English words like belief, trust, loyalty, faithfulness, and allegiance. You can’t just redefine a ancient greek word. It had that semantic range back when Paul used it, and Paul chose that word to describe what was needed.

(Dennis Venema) #24

I’d pay good money to see someone propose that to the apostle Paul (or any early believer) and watch the resulting conversation.

As James says, allegiance without works is dead.

(Laura) #25

Didn’t you preach a sermon on this topic somewhat recently (that was shared on the forum)? Or am I thinking of someone else?

(Dennis Venema) #26

Yep, that was me - the video is a bit difficult to find but it’s here for those interested. I use Scot and especially Matthew Bates’s book Salvation by Allegiance Alone (highly recommended).

(Jay Johnson) #27

Your view is spelled out by Zane Hodges in Absolutely Free, The Gospel Under Seige and other books. I understand the distinction that you’re trying to make, since I grew up hearing and believing the same, but one passage in Matthew 7 always gave me pause:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

I always wondered how these people evidently knew the gospel well enough to perform “religious” works in Jesus’ name, yet they were sent away. Why?

In any case, I won’t try to change your mind. Just letting you know I disagree, as usual. haha.

(Christy Hemphill) #28

I think the clear division between the two is something imposed on the message of the Bible. In the NT to be saved was to live the Christian life. The “Plan of Salvation” stuff is a construct we have imposed on the message. In NT times, being baptized into the faith was being made a member of the Christian community and the community had lifestyle standards. There wasn’t this concept of an individualistic “personal relationship with God” outside of belonging to the body of Christ. Ex-communication meant more.

True. But that is not what I or Scot McKnight are doing. We are saying that real faith produces fruit. This is a biblical concept.

Grace is free and unconditional. Salvation is a gift. But, the Christian life is hard and we are specifically told to count the cost. So I would say, salvation is free but the Christian life is costly. We are justified by faith, but Scripture also says we will be judged according to our works, so there is a tension there.

Here is an explanation of the theological terrain pertinent to this thread: (From Alan Stanley’s intro the the Zondervan book Four Views on The Role of Works at the Final Judgment)

Fast-forwarding to the latter half of the twentieth century, many have sought to reconcile the juxtaposing themes of justification by faith and judgment according to works. Invariably these studies have tended to focus on Paul for it is there that we see the contrast most starkly. Furthermore, E. P. Sanders’ 1977 watershed book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, marked a new era in Pauline studies. Arguing that Judaism was not in fact characterized by works-righteousness (i.e., salvation by works), as Martin Luther and most of us had thought from our readings of Romans and Galatians, Sanders’ work inevitably spawned a flurry of literature on Paul in what came to be known as the New Perspective.

Since the New Perspective impinges on the role of works at the final
judgment, much of what has been written has also addressed this issue in relation to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Nevertheless the last century still brought with it no coherent thought on the subject. The IVP Bible Dictionaries that came out in the last decade of the twentieth century — and have as their subtitle, “A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship” — confirm this point. In the 1992 and 1993 volumes Stephen Travis argued that at the final judgment works provide evidence as to whether “the basic direction of one’s life” has been toward God or away from him. But according to Mark Seifrid, in the 1997 volume, works cannot be reduced to mere evidence.

Rather just recompense best describes a judgment that is in accordance
with each person’s works. This does not deny justification by grace since
believers must not presume upon grace, for “where saving realities are present they manifest themselves in persevering faith and obedience,
which secure the believer in the final judgment.”

Admittedly, this is a simplified portrayal of things. The reality is that while there are a limited number of ways of explaining the role of works at the judgment, there are many nuances. Others view the final judgment as the place where divine commendation will be given or withheld. Either way, the believer is saved (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:10 – 15), and a passage like Romans 2:5 – 16 is theoretical/hypothetical rather than actual. For others, while rewards and not eternal life is the issue, believers will not be at the final judgment.

John Piper and N. T. Wright
However, many of these debates have occurred in scholarly journals and monographs. This doesn’t mean they are not accessible, of course, but generally speaking they have remained in scholarly circles. Yet as one of my former students, now a pastor, said when hearing about this book, “This is not just a scholarly debate . . . to get this wrong is serious.” Indeed. True, blogs are undoubtedly making a difference, yet most Christians I know are completely unaware of the issues. However, two prominent figures in evangelicalism have brought these issues out into the open in recent years. I am referring to British New Testament scholar N. T. Wright and American pastor John Piper. While the role of works at the final judgment was not the main point of disagreement between the two, it was indeed a major one. The problem was that Wright, one of the leading proponents of the New Perspective, kept on saying — or at least we all thought he did — that at the final judgment the believer’s final justification will be on the basis of the whole life lived or something to that effect (e.g., “Justification, at the last, will be on the basis of performance”).

Piper tackled Wright head-on in The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. One of Piper’s central concerns was that “Wright makes startling statements to the effect that our future justification will be on the basis of works.” Piper believed that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real… . . Our deeds are not the basis of our salvation, they are the evidence of our salvation. They are not foundation, they are demonstration. All our salvation will be by grace through faith. . . . So when Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5:10) that each “[will] be recompensed . . . according to what he has done,” he not only means that our rewards will accord with our deeds, but also our salvation will accord with our deeds.

So what was Piper’s beef with Wright? Actually, it was more that Wright was simply ambiguous on the issue of “faith alone,”(pp. 130 – 31), leaving the door open for a “Catholic” interpretation of justification. (p. 183). According to Piper, “it may be that Wright means nothing more here than what I mean when I say that our good works are the necessary evidence of faith in Christ at the last day. Perhaps. But it is not so simple.” Thus, “I would be happy,” wrote Piper, “for Wright to clarify for his reading public that this, in fact, is not what he believes.” Piper, as we have seen, does not have a problem with judgment and even with works being necessary for one’s final salvation.

His central concern was that for Wright the ultimate basis or ground
of final salvation appeared to be works rather than faith alone in Jesus
Christ and his finished work on the cross. For Piper, “Christians are free from law-keeping as the ground of our justification” (italics mine).

Wright responded with Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, and he qualified that he didn’t mean salvation is earned or that a perfect life was required. What he did mean was that because of our union with Christ (Rom. 6:1 – 11), the presence of the Spirit (2:25 – 29) and God’s work in us, we are now able to live a new life (6:6 – 11), obey the law (8:4), put to death the misdeeds of the flesh (8:13), and live eternally (8:13). Hence, “humans become genuinely human, genuinely free, when the spirit is at work within them so that they choose to act . . . in ways which reflect God’s image, which give him pleasure, which bring glory to his name, which do what the law had in mind all along. That is the life that leads to the final verdict, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ ” This is not to do away with faith for “if God justifies people in the present, ahead of the final judgment, faith must be the characteristic of those thus justified.”

Wright’s response, however, was not enough to stave off his critics. Still ambiguous was the ground of final salvation. Wright and Piper were then scheduled to go head to head as plenary speakers at the 2010 Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta. Piper couldn’t make it and Tom Schreiner, the second contributor in this volume, took his place. Schreiner called for a more thoughtful explanation on this issue:

“I think what Wright says about justification by works or judgment according to works could be explained in a more satisfactory way since he occasionally describes good works as the final basis of justification. On the other hand, Wright reminds us of a critical theme that is often ignored in evangelical circles. Paul does teach that good works are necessary for justification and for salvation, and Wright rightly says that those texts are not just about rewards.”

Wright helpfully clarified that “justification is anchored firmly and squarely in Jesus the Messiah, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” More specifically, “When I,” says Wright, “have spoken of ‘basis’ . . . I have not at all meant by that to suggest that this is an independent basis from the finished work of Christ and the powerful work of the Spirit, but that within that solid and utterly of-grace structure the particular evidence offered on the last day will be the tenor and direction of the life that has been lived.” And again:

"The future justification, then, will be in accordance with the life lived, but the glorious conclusion of [Rom.] chapter 8 makes it clear that this is no ground for anxiety. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” This is looking to the future, trusting that the Jesus who died, who rose, and who now intercedes for us will remain at the heart of the unbreakable bond of love with which God has loved us. Thus, “the final, future justification, then, is assured for all who are ‘in the Messiah.’ ” As a result, “this future justification, though it will be in accordance with the life lived, is not for that reason in any way putting in jeopardy the present verdict issued over faith and faith alone. . . . All that I have said looks back to the finished work of the Messiah.”

Tom Schreiner responded: “I am delighted that Tom [Wright] now speaks of the final judgment as one that will be in accordance with our works instead of on the basis of our works. I think this adjustment and clarification is exactly right. . . . I am in full agreement with his formulation: we are judged according to our works, but not on the basis of our works.”

However, Wright wrote into one blog cautioning such excitement:

". . . don’t get too excited. I haven’t retracted anything that I meant in my many, many earlier statements on this subject. How could I, since I was simply stating what Paul states rather than trying to squash him into a dogmatic framework? . . . Clearly I did say “basis.” But . . . I have always made it clear . . . that I did not mean or intend the kind of thing that clearly some theologians think that word “must” mean. Since the word “basis” is not itself a biblical word I’m not claiming any great status for it. Obviously people have read it without reading the other things I say and then jumped to conclusions which are not warranted by the fuller exposition I give. . . . Let me say it again: all I am saying is what Paul says in Romans 2 (and elsewhere). Our own technical terms (“basis,” etc.) are fluid and flexible in our discourse and, like all summary terms, need to be teased out in terms of the larger discourse — Paul’s, and mine. . . .The point, again, is that by the Spirit those who are already justified by faith have their lives transformed, and the final verdict will be in accordance with that transformation, imperfect though it remains.

See the original for all the footnotes and citations

(Christy Hemphill) #29

If I remember correctly, King Jesus Gospel includes a pretty in-depth study of how the word “gospel” is used by Jesus and Paul, and McKnight is trying to bring people back to the NT usage and away from what it has come to be associated with in 20-21st century Evangelicalism, which tends to be more the contents of the “Romans Road” tract. So yes, clearly defining terms is a big part of much of these discussions.

Some people follow the Kardashians, other people follow the latest dust-up between Evangelical Bible Scholar bloggers. I like to think my preferred form of gossip is more sanctifying and high-brow, but if I’m honest…maybe not so much.

(Albert Leo) #30

Raymond, perhaps there are others like myself who would like to get more from this topic (soteriology) if it were more ‘down to earth’. For instance, scholars have titled this field, Soteriology, but I am not well enough acquainted. with their works to know the significant differences they may have in what it really means ‘to be saved’. As a child in parochial school, it sufficed for me to believe that following church rules “saved you from Hell and earned you Heaven” (where you would spend an eternity singing God’s praises in a celestial choir). Of course I have (appropriately?) modified this belief as I matured, but I would like to compare it to that held by current scholars in this field. Specifically, I would greatly appreciate some clarification of a few points in your recent post.

From the sentence I’ve highlighted, I presume you believe that ‘to be saved’ it is NOT absolutely necessary to live a Christian life. (?) You also cite two categories, believer/unbeliever. Must a believer also hold to sola scriptura; or do you allow some ‘liberal interpretation’ based on the newer knowledge afforded by modern science? My own worldview centers around “finding purpose in this life”. For me, this is what “being saved” is all about; the earthly happiness it affords is it’s own reward, and, chances are, there is an eternal reward as well. Truly a win/win situation. During my long career as a scientist, many of my most valued collegiate friends considered their research in this way, even tho they were agnostic about God’s existence. Were they Saved? I think so, even tho I don’t exactly know what that means.

Perhaps I am living in some Fool’s Paradise, but I feel God’s presence beside me at all times–as a friend who, when I am faced with an important decision, can very subtly nudge it in a favorable direction instead of it being just a ‘coin toss’.

Judging from by esteemed Asian colleagues who are NOT believers in the Christian gospel in the accepted sense, they can recognize it’s Truthfullness nonetheless.
Al Leo

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #31

@mitchellmckain, theology is the study or science of God. Since I believe that Christianity or faith in Jesus Christ is true, I take theology very seriously. The definitive doctrine of Christianity is the Trinity that spells out the relationship between One God as Three Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the foundation of Christian theology as defined by Augustine in the West and the Councils in the East.

Eastern Orthodoxy is quite concerned about theology and the Trinity. It split with the West theologically over this issue. I do not se how evangelicals can make any progress in theology until they reject the mistake that the Bible is the Word of God.

George Finney took the gospel to the people, which was an extension of what John Wesley did. Wesley is also credited with making the Holy Spirit a living part of our understanding of God, the Trinity. This is I think the last original theological contribution, some three centuries ago, which is our problem.

I do think that you are concerned about theology, but you need to find the best entry, which is the Trinity.

(Raymond Isbell) #32

That was done to clarify the message, not to stuff words in the mouth of others. Surely you get the point. I was simply conveying for clarity’s sake the content of the message of the gospel as though God were saying it to one who is faced with the decision to receive it or not. The point of our discussion is to identify the message of the gospel of salvation. I observed McKnight adding requirements to that message other than faith for the one hearing it. I believe those additions turn the gospel into something that must be earned rather than be a free gift.

(Phil) #33

Good discussion. I can’t help but refer back to Luke’s acoount of the rich young ruler:
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Obviously, the change that needed to take place was in his heart, and was evidenced by outward action. I would say the change of heart is necessary, but the action necessarily follows.

(Raymond Isbell) #34

Those who push a works salvation have traditional and well known tactics of taking the basic meaning of a word like (faith - πίστις) and stretching its meaning to encompass results, effects, implications, etc. of the word. Context is the primary determinant of the word’s meaning from usage. Faith when used by Paul to convey the way of salvation from the wrath of God (God’s application of His Justice against sin) is always simple childlike trust. In fact, Paul goes to extremes to ensure readers don’t confuse it with the range of applications and results of faith, e.g., works. Allegiance is generally the result of having seen the object of faith (Christ’s person and work on the cross) perform as predicted, stay faithful to His word, and recognizing the goodness and fidelity of Christ over time. That takes time and growth. We’re not saved by how our faith migrates from simple acceptance/belief of that truth to an unbreakable allegiance. We are save the moment we take our first spiritual breath and cry out for mother’s milk. We don’t have to wait to be born till we’re capable of eating meat. New Testament authors use the babe to adult analogy to illustrate an important point. Catholics, Arminians, Calvinist, Restorationists, etc. all insist on imposing spiritually adult behavior on newborns as a requirement to be born. Paul goes to great lengths to show the Christian life is one where spiritual growth is the mechanism to bring about adult behavior just as a human child must grow to reach adulthood. Paul tells us to transform our thinking till Christ is formed in us. When our thinking is transformed so we can think like Christ, we will behave like Christ. That’s maturity. Mature behavior should never be a requirement imposed as part of the evangelistic message. The goal of evangelism is to convey the gospel so unbelievers can believe, be saved, and begin the growth process to achieve spiritual maturity.

Finally, the works gospel essentially denies it followers of any form of assurance. They must wait till the end of their life to find out if their works met an unspecified threshold. Why would anyone embrace such a concept? Little wonder that so many reject the gospel. Who wants to serve a God who holds hell over their heads and leaves uncertain the possibility of eternity in hell?

(Christy Hemphill) #35

It’s not a tactic. Speaking of a semantic range that is imperfectly captured in translation is linguistics.

We both have Logos on our computers, right? We must have different versions, because when I look up faith in the word study tool, I’m seeing something a bit more complex than that.

Again, we are not talking about the recipe for salvation, we are talking about the recipe for faith. We agree with you that we are saved by faith alone. We are arguing about what faith actually is.

Nobody here is arguing for a “works gospel” (Except maybe Al, who is Catholic). It would help if you would interact with what people are actually saying instead of automatically labeling it something it is not and then arguing against the contents of your misapplied label.

Who is promoting this idea here? No one.

(Raymond Isbell) #36

This passage is used as the basis for a classic rebuttal against Free Grace Soteriology. If, however, you read it carefully, you can also see that it can just as easily apply to those who proclaim a works gospel. They know the gospel, worship God, drive out demons, and perform miracles, but they reject that salvation is given as a simple gift, and deny others from hearing it. Instead, they add works, allegiance, obedience, etc. to the simple message of free grace. In the end, God will tell them they have not part in his Kingdom, and calls them evildoers. If you preach a works/allegiance gospel, you should consider carefully what you are doing? The outcome can be very bad. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”

Regarding Zane Hodges, I know him well and have read all of his writings. I’ve also read R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, et al. who take the opposite side of the issue. I side with Hodges on most things, but his view of assurance is one I challenge. That’s a different topic that has nothing to do with salvation, so enough said. For any who would like to read some of Hodges excellent Journal Articles and more generally a scholarly defense of the Free Grace position, Here are two links:

Both links provide a significant challenge to Reformed Calvinism.

(Jay Johnson) #37

The problem with your explanation is that everything I put in bold is not in the text, and is not even implied by the text.

Edit: I read MacArthur’s reply to Hodges back when I held the same view as you and Hodges. I wasn’t impressed then, and I’m less impressed in retrospect.

(Christy Hemphill) #38

So you just decided they are the same thing, huh?

(Christy Hemphill) #39

What salvation would that have been anyway? Jesus had not died and rose again. So obviously the “gospel” was something different than “have childlike faith that Jesus died for you and you can be assured you will go to heaven when you die.”

(Raymond Isbell) #40

Then why do you still sin? If you had real faith, would you not instead of sinning be doing good works? Sin is turning your back on God, pure and simple. Every believer sins, and does so frequently. To address that God provided 1 Jn 1:9 where confession restores the broken harmony caused by sin so that the believer may continue to grow and get stronger and be able to resist temptations to sin.