Sunday, October 4, 2009

Recovering the Gospel - Part II

Again, this preface is by J. I. Packer in the The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. I present it to you for your consideration for a number of reasons, among which I think that as some one once said, "it is worth the price of the book alone."
I also am spending quite some time reflecting and meditating on the gospel as it applies to my everyday life. Murray Brett challenged me in his book Growing Up in Grace in chapter nine where he wrote the chapter entitled, "A Catalogue of Sins Seldom Confessed or Repented Of." He listed quite a number of sins, more than I care to reflect on, and in his first section of sins, which he entitled Sins Related To Not Ordering My Life According to the Gospel, he listed this sin:
"not seeking the practical knowledge and experience of the mystery of the gospel."
This has made me stop and think. How have I sought the practical knowledge or understanding and the practical application of the gospel in my life? I confess I haven't given it much thought along those lines. However, now I am trying to find some time each day in order to reflect on the gospel and its practical application in my daily life.
This reason caused me to think of Packer's preface. I want to share it with you. Many have no dbout seen this preface and read it and have reveled in it. In the small chance you haven't I offered a second portion of it in this post for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
"From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of 'helpfulness'. Accordingly, the themes of man's natural inability to believe, of God's free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not 'helpful'; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered: it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God's love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence 'at the door of our hearts' for us to let them in.
It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that Owen's treatise on redemption can give us help.
'But wait a minute,' says someone, 'it's all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement - one of the five points of Calvinism? When you speak of recovering the gospel, don't you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?'
These questions are worth considering, for they will no doubt occur to many. At the same time, however, they are questions that reflect a great deal of prejudice and ignorance. 'Defending limited atonement' - as if this was all that a Reformed theologian expounding the heart of the gospel could ever really want to do! 'You just want us all to become Calvinists' - as if Reformed theologians had no interest beyond recruiting for their party, and as if becoming a Calvinist was the last stage of theological depravity, and had nothing to do with the gospel at all! Before we answer these questions directly, we must try to remove the prejudices which underlie them by making clear what Calvinism really is; and therefore we would ask the reader to take note of the following facts, historical and theological, about Calvinism in general and the 'five points' in particular.
First, is should be observed that the 'five points of Calvinism,' so-called, are simply the Calvinistic answer to a five-point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by certain 'Belgic semi-Pelagians'
1 in the early seventeenth century. The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified.) From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions:
Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. God's election of those who shall be saved is prompted by his foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.
Christ's death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift): what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.
It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man's salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man's own work and, because his own, not God's in him.
The Synod of Dort was convened in l618 to pronounce on this theology, and the 'five points of Calvinism' represent its counter-affirmations. They stem from a very different principle - the biblical principle that 'salvation is of the Lord';
2 and they may be summarized thus:
Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him.
God's election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith, and brought to glory.
The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect. The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object.
Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory. These five points are conveniently denoted by the mnemonic TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Preservation of the saints."

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