Saturday, September 6, 2008

No other name by which we are saved?

The following is a fictional dialogue I have written concerning the subject of tradition, exclusivity, scripture and Christ. The exchange takes place on a passenger train en route to Winnipeg. Justin, a university graduate and amateur theologian enjoys a cup of coffee in the restaurant coach, and as the train apathetically glides over prairie a slightly bombastic hyper-calvinist sits himself down across the table....

Justin: Might I inquire as to your intent of joining me? Has the aroma of this good coffee really destroyed the common ethic of privacy?

Gentleman: I was curious as to what book you are reading... ahh now, the sermons of Spurgeon?

Justin: Yes, of Spurgeon. The university library of my town left me this dusty tome as a parting gift. What was your name then?

Gentleman: My name is Mike, and stay away from Spurgeon.

Justin: Well his corpse is certainly due east of here, but I'm not about to persuade this train to turn around on the spot! That would make quick corpses of us too, and then we would have no choice but to engage with Spurgeon!

Mike: If I was unsaved, that would certainly be the case. Spurgeon spoke from both sides of his tongue; I wouldn't recommend him at all.

Justin: How do you mean?

Mike: That preacher was quick to affirm that Calvinism is the gospel, but in the same breathe he accepted Arminians as saved brothers! Can anyone be so stupid?

Justin: I'm afraid Mike that I still do not follow. Why was the Prince of Preachers stupid for accepting Arminians as brothers?

Mike: Calvinism is the gospel, and since Arminianism is antagonistic to Calvinism, it does not have the gospel. Thus it cannot have salvation, nor those who submit to its rules.

Justin: Well, as far as I'm aware the honorable Spurgeon used the term 'Calvinism' as a reputable phrase for what was already laid out clearly in scripture. Would you agree that Calvinism is clearly laid out in scripture?

Mike: Certainly. Calvinism is actually really a misnomer, a response to heresy. It should actually just be 'scriptural Christianity'.

Justin: And would you-by saying Calvinism- mean the doctrines promulgated at the Synod of Dordt, what laymen refer to as T.U.L.I.P.?

Mike: I mean just what Calvin taught and believed: the Bible.

Justin: And would you confess that both Calvin and the Bible are clear in teaching T.U.L.I.P.?

Mike: Absolutely.

Justin: So there we have it then: Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and perseverance of the saints. You meantioned earlier that Calvinism is the gospel. Would you take another step in saying that T.U.L.I.P. is the gospel?

Mike: Obviously T.U.L.I.P. is the gospel. It is the very good news of Jesus Christ.

Justin: Very well, and I think I now see your point. If T.U.L.IP. is the gospel-

Mike: It is the gospel-

Justin: -if T.U.L.I.P. is the gospel, and given that Arminians do not subscribe to T.U.L.I.P., they thus do not subscribe to the gospel and cannot be saved. We could not treat them as brothers.

Mike: Exactly.

Justin: So all then that really remains in favor of Arminians and their credibility as Christian men is if we can somehow establish either that Calvinism is not the gospel-

Mike: No, it is the gospel-

Justin: -or that it contains some parts of the gospel but not the central point, the determining point of our profession of faith before God.

Mike: You are a blasphemer. How dare you even consider that these precious doctrines of grace would not be the gospel! Your salvation is in question.

Justin: That very well may be, which leaves me in excellant grounds right now, given that I have someone sitting across the table who can re-adjust my thinking. Tell me, in determining any matter of faith and morals between two men who claim to be Christians, would it be of greater authority to make an appeal to scripture or to the writing of a theologian?

Mike: Scripture is perspicuous, and we have no other ultimate authority. The answer rests on scripture.

Justin: Agreed. And with coincidence the two of us both profess to be Christians, and we both find ourselves in a dilemma, a disagreement on a faith issue. The faith issue has already been mentioned, whether or not Calvinism is the gospel-

Mike: Calvinism is the gospel-

Justin: -And what this means for Arminians. So if scripture is of greater authority than a theologian, would it not be wise to see if we can search out some settlement to our problem from the scriptures alone instead of referring to the works of Calvin?

Mike: The two will no doubt agree, but you are right that we should use scriptures as our final authority.

Justin: Very well. I propose we start by looking for some reference to the word 'gospel' in the inspired text. Let us try to pinpoint an exact meaning for the word 'gospel', and then perhaps we can work out its context in the rest of sacred scripture. Is this agreeable?

Mike: That sounds good.

Justin: It is fortunate that I am just departing from my graduate studies to enjoy a ministry in Winnipeg. Greek is still fresh in my mind. Tell me Mike, what is the New Testament derivative for our word 'gospel'?

Mike: That one I am aware of. It is euangelion.

Justin: Yes, I am readily familiar with this word. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I by euangelion literally means 'Good news'.

Mike: I studied this in seminary long ago. Eu stands for 'good' and angelion for 'news'.

Justin: So can you and I basically agree that the gospel, according to the inspired text is 'the good news'?

Mike: Yes, we can agree on this.

Justin: Excellant, now it remains for us to find out what the inspired text means when it says 'good news', and to see whether the 'good news' is indeed Calvinism. Now we can approach this one of two ways. Either we can locate the literal word 'gospel' in the text somewhere and establish its context for definition, or we can try to deduce the good news by our own sleuthing of the whole council. Which do you think would be better?

Mike: Likely the first.

Justin: For our purposes you are probably right. To find an inspired synopsis of the good news would be greater than trying to piece together our own interpretation of the good news from what we glean from each text. It may also help us to establish an interpretive framework for how the rest of sacred scripture ought to be read.

Mike: Yes, that does make sense.

Justin: We do need some sort of interpretive rule, and I believe Calvin was quite a fan of the rule we are using. The analogia fide, I believe it was and is called. Could you turn to the beginning passage of chapter fifteen of Pauls letter to Corinth?

Mike: My Scofield Reference edition is at home, and I don't like to carry much other bibles around.

End of part 1