…Our Theology

Theowarning

Introduction

One of the disciplines frequently accessed here at the Interface comes under the heading of “theology” and inquiring minds usually want to know a few more details as it will influence how they interpret what they read.  This author, with no apologies whatsoever, fully embraces the theology of orthodox Christianity as found in the Bible, including the exclusive nature of its claims to the true explanation of the reality we experience.  As there are many variations into which this broad statement might fall, let me expand and refine this statement further.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said of his own position:

I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist.  I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, “It is Jesus Christ.”

This is my position as well, and I am particularly fond of Spurgeon’s elaboration of this “creed” in his sermon entitled Christ Our Passover, delivered on Sunday evening, December 2, 1855, in the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, England.  At one point he expostulates:

What the Christian lives on is not Christ’s righteousness, but Christ; he does not live on Christ’s pardon, but on Christ; and on Christ he lives daily, on nearness to Christ.  Oh!  I do love Christ-preaching.  It is not the doctrine of justification that does my heart good, it is Christ, the justifier; it is not pardon that so much makes the Christian’s heart rejoice, it is Christ the pardoner; it is not election that I love half so as my being chosen in Christ ere worlds began; ay! it is not final perseverance that I love so much as the thought that in Christ my life is hid, and that since he gives unto his sheep eternal life, they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of this hand.  Take care, Christian, to eat the Paschal Lamb and nothing else.  I tell thee man, if thou eatest that alone, it will be like bread to thee – thy soul’s best food.  If thou livest on aught else but the Savior, thou are like one who seeks to live on some weed that grows in the desert, instead of eating the manna that comes down from heaven.  Jesus is the manna.  In Jesus as well as by Jesus we live.

The entire book of Colossians confirms the sentiments of the Prince of Preachers.

For those desiring yet further elaboration of the subsidiary doctrines which I embrace, you may look to the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (sometimes known as the London Baptist Confession), and the “solas” of the Reformation:

Sola Scriptura – by Scripture Alone

Psalm 19:7; 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Sola Gratia – by Grace Alone

Titus 3:7; Romans 5:15

Solus Christus – through Christ Alone

John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Sola Fide – by Faith Alone

Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9

Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone

1 Chronicles 16:23-31; Romans 11:33-36

The Elements of Faith

But what is faith?  In describing and defining saving faith, Reformation scholars (and Scripture) recognize three distinct elements. These elements help delineate the relationship of faith and facts. The first component is notitia, the data or content of the Christian faith. One does not, and indeed, cannot, worship a God with his heart if he has no prior mental awareness of Him. Or, in other words, biblical saving faith is not some mushy emotion of feel-good warmth and trust. This first and primary aspect of faith is cognitive. We believe in something, and thus there is factual content to our faith, whether or not there is a basis for those data, and whether or not you personally recognize it as such.  The Christian faith is rooted in historical facts, many beyond normal experience (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus Christ), the truth of which is foundational to the faith.

This lead us to the second element of saving faith, assensus, the assent of the intellect to the truth of the data of one’s faith. The heart cannot truly and fully embrace what the mind repudiates no matter how one tries to rationalize it.  One is not required to shut down the brain to become a Christian.

Having said this much, we must now note a vital point that Sproul, Gertsner, and Lindsley[1] make with some eloquence:

It is possible to have a lucid understanding of the data (notitia) and even give intellectual assent (assensus) to its truth without having saving faith. James verifies this in his caustic statement, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder” (James 2:19). To achieve notitia and assensus gives us no more qualifications than devils. Yet these two elements are integral ingredients of the full measure of redemptive faith and are not dispensable. In and of themselves they are insufficient, but redemptive faith does not flow without them. (page 21)

It is the third element that cements the redemptive value of the other two components into a saving faith, and it is this element that can only be applied by the operation of God’s Holy Spirit.  Fiducia is the personal trust in Christ and His saving work alone for redemption, i.e., the achieving of a right standing before an holy and righteous God.  Although the mind is engaged in fiducia, it goes beyond the intellect to encompass the heart, the will, the affections – in short, the whole man. Thus, the first and greatest commandment is “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30)  Failure to achieve this goal makes one guilty of the first and greatest sin, well worthy of an eternity in hell.  To use another word picture (not original to me), one can look at a chair and correctly identify it and its function (notitia).  One can even agree and affirm that, yes, if I sit in it, it will hold me up (assensus).  But it is not until you actually sit your body down onto it and take all your weight off your own feet, placing it on that chair, that you have demonstrated fiduciaFiducia was what was missing in my own life up until I became a Christian in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.  I was raised in a liberal Lutheran church and had the notitia and the assensus down.  But as noted above, this only brought me to the level of the demons.

For a biblical example of these three elements in the drama of human experience, read the story in John chapter nine of the man blind from birth healed by Jesus. The Pharisees have trouble determining and accepting the notitia and never get beyond a reluctant assensus (John 9:18). The man who was healed goes through all three stages, ending with the fiducia statement of “Lord, I believe” and worship (John 9:38).

So, faith and fact are intimately associated. If you place your faith in a falsehood, your faith is at best worthless, and more likely eternally suicidal.

How?

How does one enter into this fiducia relationship with the eternal God?  Or to use biblical phraseology, “What must I do to be saved?”  (Acts 16:30)  The first step is to acknowledge that you need a Savior in the first place.  This requires embracing the fact that you are a sinner and unable to save yourself (e.g., Ephesians 2:7-9).  This first step is usually the most difficult to overcome, and indeed, most never do so, because it requires the crucifixion of one’s pride.  It requires that you admit that you are not such a good person after all.  Most people when asked whether or not they believe they would go to heaven when they died, answer in the affirmative.  When asked why, you will get some form of “I’ve been good enough; my good outweighs my bad; oh, and I haven’t killed anyone!”  (Cf., e.g., Proverbs 20:6)  The problem is, they don’t see themselves from God’s perspective, only their own, which admits of some bias.

So, dear Reader, let me take an aside here an help you see yourself from God’s perspective by giving you “The Good Person Test.”  This is an objective test that measures how good you really are.  Ready?

First question:  have you ever told a lie of any kind?  Even what we call a “white lie” qualifies as a “yes” answer.  What does that make you?  Yes, it makes you human, but beyond that, it makes you…a liar.

Second question:  have you ever stolen anything from anyone, individual or corporate?  How about, for example, time at work your employer is paying you to do company business but you are using for your own personal business?  What does that make you?  Answer:  a thief.

Third question:  have you ever committed adultery?  Now I know many will answer in the negative, and will be correct in the literal sense.  However, Jesus said, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28)  Ouch!  By this standard virtually every warm blooded male is guilty!

Fourth question:  have you ever murdered anyone?  Here indignation enters the picture as nearly everyone would say, “Of course not!”  In fact, as I mentioned above, this is the single most cited instance of proof of one’s own righteousness.  “Well, I haven’t killed anyone, so I’m must be OK!”  Alas and forsooth, Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

The apostle John confirms this diagnosis in I John 3:15, where he says in unequivocal language:

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

So, to return to our questioning, have you ever been angry and hated anyone?  (Clue:  being “annoyed” with someone is being angry with them, albeit, at a more controllable level; anger need not be explosive.)  Be honest with yourself…and with God (He knows all about you anyway!).

The most likely conclusion at this point is that you are really just a lying, thieving, lusting murderer!  Yet if you are guilty of even one of these sins (James 2:10), you are guilty before God, you are not “good enough.”  God’s standard calls for 100% obedience to all His law for 100% of the time.  And for those who would still hold on to their own righteousness, you really need to listen to God’s verdict on your ability to do so at His judgment seat:

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Going back to the first and greatest commandment, have you honestly loved God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength from the moment of your birth until now?  If not (and that is a rhetorical if; cf. Romans 3:23), as I pointed out above, you are GUILTY of the first and greatest sin.  And that is why all men need a Savior.

So what to do?

Once you realize the danger you are in, that you stand justly condemned before a holy and righteous Creator God who has every right and every reason to consign you to the Lake of Fire for all eternity, the idea of substitutionary atonement becomes much more palatable.  Indeed, one should run to it as though you were being chased by all the demons of Hell itself (in reality, that is not too far from the truth).  Going back to the chair analogy, what must be done is to sit on the chair of God’s free gift of salvation, turning from your own pathetic efforts to make your own chair or your insistence that the chair doesn’t exist, or that you really aren’t tired and don’t need to sit down.  In heart contrition, sit down and take all your weight off your own efforts.  Agree with God on your offense against Him, on your need for Him, on your total dependence on His solution and not your own.  As J. C. Ryle says in his tract entitled, Do You Believe?:

True belief in Christ is the unreserved trust of a heart convinced of sin—in Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior. It is the combined act of the entire person’s mind, conscience, heart, and will. It is often so weak and feeble at first, that they who have it, cannot be persuaded that they have it. And yet, like life in the newborn infant, their belief may be real, genuine, saving, and true. The moment that the conscience is convinced of sin, and the head sees Christ to be the only One who can save, and the heart and will lay hold on the hand that Christ holds out—that moment there is saving faith. In that moment a person truly believes.

In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress, his character Hopeful provides for us a simple prayer (in The Ninth Stage) that would be well worth using (the exact words are not a magical formula; it is the heart attitude that counts):

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.  Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Saviour of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am – and I am a sinner indeed.  Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Once you’ve done this and you’ve entered into God’s family (John 1:12), then you are ready for the adventure of walking with God and learning of Him and His ways (Psalm 86:11).  And that has taken volumes to describe the how’s, why’s and wherefore’s and the depths of God’s ways have yet to be fully plumbed.  Contact me through this blog or my email (theinterface.townhall@gmail.com) if you really want further information on this aspect of the Christian life.

Evidence That Demands A Verdict

One final point germane to the purposes of this blog.  You have probably heard the somewhat common response to Christianity that it is just a crutch, and the person making this statement usually is doing so with disdain and contempt, for pride forbids them use a crutch they believe is either unnecessary or detrimental to their own “personal growth.”  This response, however, is based on two very critical a priori assumptions adopted by personal conviction and not a reasoned consideration of the evidence.  First, they are assuming that the crutch is not real, and second, that the broken leg is either not real or greatly exaggerated.  The alleged rebuttal falls apart, however, if it can be shown that the crutch is real and that the broken leg is real and as serious as it is made out to be.  To that end, before you can write off Christianity as a myth, you must seriously figure out how the objective evidence for Christianity fits into your worldview in the absence of the God of the Bible and without the associated doctrines of Christianity being true.  Probably the single best book containing this evidence is Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict [2].  The work cited in footnote [1] is also quite good.  In addition, let me point the reader to my series on Christian apologetics, which starts off with a two part prologue here, and at this time is still in process (i.e., I’m not done with the series yet).  I won’t repeat what I’ve written there but simply refer you to this series, all the posts of which are linked in sequence so you don’t have to struggle through all my other posts to find them.

Come, let us reason together!

References

[1] Classical Apologetics – A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics, by R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984 (ISBN:  0-310-44951-0)

[2] The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson, 1999 (ISBN: 0-785-24219-8)

  1. 15 Aug 2014 at 4:36 PM

    Thank you so much for your boldness and perseverance in sharing your thoughts and beliefs. My prayer is that many of those who read these will understand the bad good news you shared and by the power of the Holy Spirit come to saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Your efforts will not be in vain! God bless you!

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