Scot McKnight's soteriology

(Albert Leo) #61

Raymond, this quote is a good illustration of why I find a belief in evolution so sensible and liberating. Should we really believe that we must be saved from God’s justice?. Is that a healthy worldview? And as for the 5 points of TULIP Calvanism (quoted by @mitchellmckain below but NOT attributed to Calvin): “We humans are incapable of any good, i.e. total depravity; and God chooses people to be saved without looking for anything good in them, i.e. unconditional election.” All this nonsense disappears if we abandon the concept of Original Sin and replace it with Original Blessing: God bestowed on Homo sapiens the Gift of Mind and Conscience which conferred the potential to become co-creators with Him, using love, empathy and selflessness to strive to create a new Kingdom on this earth–not some imaginary realm above the clouds.

Life in the Old Testament days was rather brutal and short (no 900 yr. lifespans!) and the revelation left to us by Moses stressed the sternness of the Creator God. Only with the Incarnation could we appreciate that our Creator is first and foremost a God of Love. Why should we think we need saving from His judgement? Humankind is still a ‘work in progress’. Why should we believe that God sees us as depraved?

It its indeed hard–almost impossible–to follow the advice Jesus gave to the rich young man: “Sell all you own, give it to the poor, and follow me”. However, some humans come close–Mother Theresa for one. But I especially admire the Doctors Without Borders who give up a well-paying, comfortable practice to fight an Ebola epidemic in Liberia, putting their lives in danger doing so. In today’s world that certainly is “picking up one’s cross and following Christ.”
Al Leo

(Mervin Bitikofer) #62

I may be at least one of a guilty party here, though I certainly don’t know who all @mitchellmckain might be remembering. But I did comment that a teaching colleague of mine who is more of a Calvin enthusiast than I am pointed out to me once that Calvin never actually wrote of “Limited atonement” (the ‘L’ in TULIP) and that this concept was mostly an add-on from his enthusiastic followers - the irony being that Calvin himself might only be a 4-point Calvinist. I’m not a Calvin scholar at all and so will spend no time defending this either way. This is all I know on that matter.

(Christy Hemphill) #63

Ooh, this is a really good point. You are right that “works” for Paul usually meant Torah observance.

(Dennis Venema) #64

I’m glad that Marshall pointed this out - it was on my mind to point out as well, but Mondays and Tuesdays are my busiest teaching days! @Marshall said it better than I would have anyway. For Paul, “works” = “the boundary markers of Torah observance”. Re-read Romans in that light and much will become clear…

So, an interesting case where we moderns have inappropriately expanded the definition of one of Paul’s terms (“works” as all manner of actions rather than those specific to Torah) and contracted the definition of another (“faith” as mere belief/assent, stripping it of its connotations of loyalty and allegiance).

(David Heddle) #65

I would say that in some sense everyone (except universalists) affirm some form of Limited Atonement. Everyone, as far as I know, agrees that the Atonement is efficacious only for believers.

Personally, I don’t think 4-point Calvinism is a self-consistent position. On the other hand, I think 1-Point Calvinism is more accurate, the one point being Total Depravity, which is more accurately described as Moral Inability, i.e. the real position (as opposed to strawman position that nobody can do good) is that “nobody in their fallen state can do anything that pleases God.” If you accept that (and of course many Christians do not) then you better have Unconditional Election or nobody is saved. And once you have Unconditional Election, then a Limited Atonement follows, lest you have Christ paying for the sins of all but only the elect are saved, and God “double charges” (may it never be!) by making the non-elect pay for what Christ has already bought.

Let me be clear, I am not attempting to prove this position (though I do believe it) I am only arguing that it is self-consistent,

It has always been my belief, and I could be wrong, that 4-point Calvinists are reluctant to endorse Limited Atonement because it appears to some that the doctrine impugns God’s character.

Perhaps the best way to explain Calvinistic Limited Atonement is that it is the idea that salvation was actually accomplished on the cross, as opposed to made possible. While Calvin did not use the phrase “Limited Atonement” he did, without question, teach that salvation was accomplished for the elect.

(Mitchell W McKain) #66

I think there is a lot of truth to this. I believe God created us for a relationship in which there is no end to what He can give to us. The image of Himself which He sees in us is truly our potential to respond to all of Him in an eternity of revealing Himself. So I too cannot see this as being about measuring us according to what we have managed to accomplish so far.

Indeed, I believe Jesus was ready to keep throwing things at the rich young man, for there is plenty else we can find Jesus saying elsewhere – like turn the other cheek and give the robber your cloak also. The man’s attitude was all wrong – looking for the minimum requirements to get it done. When he asked which commandments, I was rather shocked! Jesus’ intention to push until the young man gave up is made clear in Jesus final answer to his disciples (verse 26) when they asked “who then can be saved?”

Yes. Honesty requires us to know that this is what God cares about even if we do not measure up, and integrity forbids that we should move the goal posts just so that we can reach them ourselves.

(Mitchell W McKain) #67

@heddle As for your comments on Calvinism I certainly yield to your greater expertise.

It is not a straw man when it is directly quoted from a site explaining the 5 points of TULIP Calvinism (though it occurs to me that a corollary to POE’s law may apply here). And your attempt to improve on this accomplishes nothing because there is no difference. Everything good we do pleases God, so to your revision of Total Depravity I still say ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is not even coherent since the Bible says that everything good comes from God – and so you say that God cannot even please Himself. Like I said, this is derived from a mistaken idea that we earn our way into heaven by doing good which is WRONG! We can do good, which will please God, but it will not save us, because salvation is not about helping us to do good, but about dealing with sin.

But I know where this is coming from… its those articles of remonstrance again trying to claim that doing good only counts if you are a Christian. Which is the epitome of Christianity evilly twisted into a justification for entitlement in 1610 to help all the Christians since that time commit endless evils under the cover of Christianity… slavery, genocide, torture of women, and rape of children, to name a few. That is what entitlement does to people – it turns them into monsters. Why? Because while you automatically exclude those who are not Christian from this measure of people by the good they do, you make them so much less than you are – less than human. And if the good they do counts for nothing because they are not Christian then why should the evil you do to them count for anything either? And if you force them to become Christian when you do what you want with them, then you can self-righteously think they have be amply paid.

(Raymond Isbell) #69

Is this meant as a taunt? What happened to respectful dialogue? It’s Ok to disagree, particularly in a forum where supposed Christians are debating for the purpose of learning/growing. Too often, however, in this forum I see these taunts that reflect something else going on. Since I’m clearly outside the mainstream beliefs of those who embrace the beliefs of Biologos, I sense that there’s great joy when a point is made where everyone believes I have been taken down. Is my body being dragged around the arena? There’s a lot of applause every time someone thinks they’ve scored a hit against an opponent.

Let’s try to rise above that. Some historically important issues are being addressed in this thread, e.g., the definition of faith, works, salvation, how to be saved, how to stay saved, etc. These topics have been address amid great tension over the past 2000 yrs, and there’s still a lack of consensus. We as a group are better informed and have substantially more resources to support our views as compared to the average lay Christian. Let’s use our knowledge constructively to understand why the differences exist. What’s really at the core of the dispute. Is it exegetical and hermeneutical methods? Are we committing eisegesis and reading what we want to hear into the texts? How can we detect that if we are? Can we be objective about it? I would love to continue this discussion and get to the bottom of our differences, but the continued taunts tempt me to conclude nothing constructive will come of it. What say you?

(Christy Hemphill) #70

No, of course not. I accompany my ungracious taunts with the tongue-sticking out emoji, not the winking emoji. :wink: I was just acknowledging that I knew you did not share my perspective.

(Raymond Isbell) #71

I’m using judgment in the sense of eternal judgment resulting in person going to hell. For the believer, I would use the phrase “parental discipline.” (See Heb 12:7)

(Raymond Isbell) #72

When I studied Greek academically we were taught an exegetical method that begins with reading the text, looking up the words in lexicons (BDAG, L&S, etc) to see the various usages (semantic range), then take each possible meaning and place it into the text to see if there is coherence considering the context to see which meaning best fits while being cautious to not allow preconceptions to dominate how we read it. We then look at larger contexts to insure continued coherence and consistency. Then we read the Journals to see the competing views to see how they interpret the words and passage. We then carefully identify the competing views and make list of pros and cons to the argument supporting each view. If it’s still not clear, then we shelve it and wait till we’ve done more research and collected more materials. Sometimes it goes quickly, but other times it does not and we’re forced to be patience and open minded.

πίστις (faith/belief) clearly has a semantic range that includes simple acceptance of the truth of the message and the reliability of the messenger, but also includes faithfulness, allegiance, etc. as you point out. To determine which best fits a particular passage, one must place that meaning in the passage and see if results in a coherent reading that is consistent with other passages addressing the same topic/issue.

Romans 4 uses the words faith and works to show how they contrast. This presentation is very enlightening. Notice that faith is defined by illustration where “Abraham believed God, and it (belief) was counted as righteousness.” Righteousness is a critical part of the gift that we received in salvation. Without it we cannot be saved. It’s given freely, not in exchange for faithfulness or allegiance on our part. Did Abraham promise to be faithful to God all his life in exchange for the gift of righteousness? No, the text says he believed God’s message to him about his descendants. God told Abraham He would do something, and Abraham responded with faith (accepting what God had just told him as true.) I know you don’t like the phrase, but he “intellectually consented” to God’s promise. Abraham made no commitments to follow God. Neither did he swear allegiance or promise anything back to God. He simply accepted what God told him as the truth. If you believe Abraham swore allegiance to God in the Gen 15 passage, you’ll need to show it. If you read the passage carefully, you’ll see that it’s not there, and must be read in (eisegesis).

To ensure we don’t conclude there was some quid pro quo going on, (righteousness in exchange for works/deeds/allegiance/faithfulness) Rom 4:4 states that if there was, God would be indebted to Abraham. Then Rom 4:5 states that God gives this righteousness apart from works. Abraham is not indebted to God by accepting this gift. Abraham owes God nothing, and the text (Rom 4:4) says it directly. There is no quid pro quo. Note carefully that these works are not deeds of the Law since the Law didn’t exist at the time of Abraham.) Thoughts? Where am I going wrong?

(Dennis Venema) #73

I’m glad we’ve come to agreement on that point. So, we agree that Paul is using a word that is well-known in the greek world of the day to include ideas of loyalty and allegiance.

So, why would he choose a word like that if he wanted to convey the idea that only intellectual assent was needed, and specifically that things like embodied actions are NOT needed and actually contrary to the idea being presented?

The idea that righteousness would have been counted to Abraham if he had only had intellectually assented that Yaweh was God but didn’t ever do anything else in light of that belief is quite a stretch:

Looks like faith is “doing stuff” to me. These actions are done “by faith”. Try reading these verses and substitute “because of his allegiance” in place of “by faith”.

Paul’s point in Romans 4 is that Abraham was counted righteous through pistis apart from doing the works of Torah. Thus, it’s in keeping with God’s plan all along that Jews and Gentiles both are brought into covenant with God apart from works of Torah.


If I’m alive my fingernails are growing. If I’m dead, they’ll stop growing within a couple of days.

But it’s not the growing of my fingernails that causes me to be (or stay) alive. There’s correlation there, but the causation is reversed. It’s my being alive that causes my fingernails to continue to grow, and not vice versa.

So it would be fair to say that “if there’s salvation there will be works” without making that mean “works causes salvation.”

Which I think is where the concern is.


After reading a fair bit of Wright and his justification for his definition of justification (see what I did there?), I think it might be fair to say that our “final justification” is not to or for God, but something like “for all Creation.”

In other words, we are “justified through faith in the Messiah” (right now) and just as Jesus was ultimately revealed as Messiah (vindicated, Wright would say) by his resurrection, our own justification by faith will be “recognized by all Creation” at the judgment. At the final judgment, the extent of our lives will reveal that God’s plan was “just” and he was “just” in approving those who placed faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Something like that.

(Raymond Isbell) #76

Can you remain alive without fingernails? Fingernails may or may not grow, but their presence and vitality have no bearing on whether you are alive and thriving. Good illustration. Thanks.

(Mitchell W McKain) #77

Could it be that insertion you have made in the text here…

Why should we accept your alteration of the text to change the reference of “it” from the fact that Abraham believed God to the content of Abraham’s beliefs? No they are not the same thing. So what is Paul referring to when He speaks of what scripture says here? It is Genesis 15:6, where God told Abraham that he would have a proper heir born to his wife Sarah even though she was past the years when women were able to do so. So it says that Abraham believed God’s promise and this was reckoned as righteousness. This is given as an example of faith, that Abraham kept his allegiance to God even when it seemed impossible that what God said could really happen. Though frankly this is not the best of examples of faith, explaining why God tested Abraham’s faith again with Isaac

Paul is making an analogy here, for we are in a similar situation with regards to salvation. We believe God can do what is impossible for us to do. But it would be a huge distortion to take this analogy in a way that contradicts the whole point of Paul’s argument which is against the idea of salvation as wages earned for obedience to some set of legalistic requirements. Of course as other have noted above, Paul was far more concerned with pushing Jewish laws and rituals like circumcision on the Gentiles than with works of caring for our fellow human beings which Jesus taught was a necessity. But again I think the key point here in the opposition between faith and works is an attitude of entitlement.

Should we believe God? Yes. Should we treat the stranger who comes to us as if he were God Himself, giving him food when hunger, drink when thirsty, clothing when naked, visit when sick or in prison? Yes. But do any of these things entitle us to salvation? No. And the fact that we do them without this – without proof, guarantees, and rewards is faith. But if we don’t do them for rewards then why do we do them? Why believe in God? Because God is good and worth believing in. Why treat the stranger with decency and hospitality? Because it is a good and right thing to do. These are things we should be doing for their own sake and not because we have a ledger in the back of our heads adding up all the things God owes us for doing so.

(Raymond Isbell) #78

It’s not an idea. It’s a fact. The text states it as fact, not hypothesis. God made Abraham a promise. Abraham volitionally chose to accept it truth. To be sure, Abraham has no proof that God will keep His promise, thus he trusts Him. Remember in Greek, faith and trust are the same. They both use πίστις. Separation appeared later with Latin where faith was represented by the the word fides, and believe was represented by credo. Other languages show a distinction, but Greek does not because Greeks saw faith and trust as identical concepts. God made Abraham a promise. Abraham believed/trusted that God would fulfill that promise. God counted that faith as righteousness. Inferring that Abraham made a lifetime commitment to God from Paul’s use of Abraham’s response to God’s declaration/promise is indeed a stretch.

This kind of thinking where exegetes go beyond the text to insert concepts that that the writer didn’t provide and likely didn’t intend is why we have so many errant interpretations of scripture today. If it’s Ok to do this, it’s not a big next step to interpret the “days” of Genesis as long periods of time. The problem with your approach to interpreting scripture is that there’s no limit to how far you can stray from the author’s intended meaning as long as it agrees with your narrative. Narratives become the driver of eisegesis which, in turn, lead to false doctrines and opens the door to all kinds of heresies. I approach interpretation of scripture by observing what it says, and its clear meaning. I stop at that point. If God wants to introduce what can and cannot be inferred from it, He’ll make it clear elsewhere in scripture.

In your example from Heb 11 you take the effects and results of a successful application of faith exhibited by Abraham and read it back into the basic meaning of the word “faith.”

You are commiting what is known as a lexical/exegetical fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.” Dan Wallace defines it as " Illegitimate totality transfer : assumes that all the uses that occur at a given time apply in any given instance." (See: D.A. Carson observes the same in his book “Exegetical Fallacies” where he says on pg 60, “The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of a word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range. This step is sometimes called illegitimate totality transfer.”

Carson, D. A. (1996). Exegetical fallacies (2nd ed., pp. 60–61). Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books."

What say you?

(Raymond Isbell) #79

Not sure I follow you. My insertion of belief (for clarity and emphasis) refers to “Abraham believed God,” i.e., his believing God was counted as righteous. I’m not sure I see where/how you conclude that “it = content of Abraham’s faith.”

(Phil) #80

Any yet there seems to be action on Abraham’s part that was part of the relationship with God in Genesis 23 (which is echoed of course in God’s giving of his son and blessing humanity):

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.” NIV

(Raymond Isbell) #81

Are you saying that if Abraham had failed to offer Isaac, God would not have fulfilled his promise to Abraham?