Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Applause

posted by Scot McKnight

REOlson.jpgI give Roger Olson an applause for an accurate sketch of the American evangelical coalition, of the influx of a fundamentalist spirit that is taking over (and rob our freedom in Christ), and of the difficulty of the middle road. What I find grieving, too, is the lack of understanding on the part of many loud voices today of the history of 20th Century evangelicalism. What was clearly fundamentalism and what was “neo-evangelicalism,” which the former decried constantly as a wash out, has blended into “evangelicalism” today with the former thinking the latter don’t belong.

Do I hear a witness?
Roger Olson:
My heart has grieved over what has happened to the evangelical movement.  On the one side one finds popularizers peddling a “gospel” of health and wealth through positive thinking.  On the other side one finds fundamentalists trying to exclude as non-evangelical everyone who doesn’t think just like them.  The middle (which I think of as the historical evangelical position of tolerance of differences of opinion within a general embrace of historic Christian orthodoxy) is hard to inhabit.  People there get shot at from both sides.


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James-Michael Smith

posted August 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm


AMEN and AMEN!



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Pat

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm


What James-Michael said!



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Tim

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm


Thanks for that post Scot – that definitely helps to flesh out my understanding a little of historic Evangelicalism. Though to be honest, I still am fuzzy on the concept – just as Roger Olson bemoaned many are when he identifies himself as a postconservative Evangelical. I wonder what it would look like if one were to draw a dividing line would be between the most Mainline-ish Evangelical and the most Evangelical-ish Mainline Protestant.



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Kenny johnson

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm


Awesome. This is the 2nd blog post I’ve read of Olson’s and I’m loving it. I just added it to my Google Reader.



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Tim

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm


…sorry about the bad grammar on the last sentence. Should be:
“I wonder what it would look like if one were to draw a dividing line between the most Mainline-ish Evangelical and the most Evangelical-ish Mainline Protestant.”



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:24 pm


Tim, that’s the same line. A good read for you would be Bebbington’s book on the Dominance of Evangelicalism. Or Noll’s book that began that series.



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AHH

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm


Similar ground is covered in Olson’s excellent 2007 book, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology



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Joshua Wooden

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm


Kurt Peterson had us read “Understanding Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism” by George Marsden (Notre Dame) for our church history class. I can’t help but see the truth in the comment that there is a “lack of understanding on the part of many loud voices today of the history of 20th Century evangelicalism.” What is so frustrating is that many Christians who are, in truth, evangelical (in the historical sense), want nothing to do with the movement because fundamentalist seem to believe that they are the end-all and be-all of evangelicalism. Where are people to turn when their desire is to be evangelical AND assertive at the same time?



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dopderbeck

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm


I second AHH (#7) endorsement of Olson’s Reformed and Always Reforming.
And I am becoming more and more convinced that the term “Evangelical” shouldn’t be so hotly contested anymore and that if there ever really was an “Evangelical Coalition” that moment has passed perhaps even providentially. I like “Missional” if we have to have a label.



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Stacy Morgan

posted August 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm


We have stopped listening to each other. That’s the problem. The first step toward being an influencer in any situation is to listen and then talk. In evangelical circles, it’s been the reverse for way too long.



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Ron Newberry

posted August 18, 2010 at 4:24 pm


Thanks for the post and for Roger’s insightful comment. It is very true.



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 4:52 pm


Nobody likes to be shot at, Scot. But perhaps you might reread your opening post and note who it is you yourself are shooting at. I really appreciate Roger Olson’s writings, and I’m delighted that he now has a blog, but even he is taking some shots at believers in the article you quote — and I think he has misrepresented at least one of the groups in the process.
The “middle” (one always likes to think of himself as being in the middle, “balanced” position — not extreme like those other people on either side) may be hard to inhabit when one is not tolerant of those who are not in the “middle.”
Its a two-edged sword that’s getting waved around.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 5:06 pm


Jeff, I’m happy to hear your complaints but they will have to be specific and not allusive.



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 5:34 pm


Well, you seem to be shooting at those of the fundamentalist spirit who are “taking over” and “rob our freedom in Christ.” I’m not sure who these fundamentalists are, but apparently they have blended into evangelicalism while thinking that those once referred to as neo-evangelicals don’t belong. But it appears to me that you think these fundamentalists don’t belong (seeing that you bemoan them “taking over” and accuse them of robbing our freedom in Christ). That looks to me like you are taking shots at them — doing to them what you would not have them do to you.
And Roger Olson seems quite exercised over those who are not of the “tolerant middle.” It seems to me that if that middle, oh-so-balanced position was really all that tolerant, those in it would be more tolerant and less aggravated at those who do not share that tolerant middle position with them.
It is a funny kind of tolerance.



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barb

posted August 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm


tim@5
why does there need to be such a line? Do I as a evangelical main-liner need to know that I’m not a main-lineish evangelical? Aren’t these really the same. Shouldn’t we focus on how we believe the same things instead of some of the few non-essentials that divide us?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 5:40 pm


Thanks Jeff. Yes, you see what I’m saying. I’ve been an advocate, for a long time, for Big Tent Evangelicalism, which means we embrace all who are crystallized around those four big ideas. There are a number who are contending that we can’t do things that way but must have a tighter and firmer constellation of ideas, and anyone who doesn’t embrace those ideas is not genuinely evangelical. My contention is not that they are not evangelical but that they must tolerate the more moderate, and folks like Pete Enns and Kent Sparks and Joel Green and Clark Pinnock are evangelicals, and they ought also to be at the Tent. Some of the more fundamentalist side really are not evangelicals. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that, but the way things are shifting they think they are the true evangelicals.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:02 pm


Scot, can you clarify what you mean when you say “Some of the more fundamentalist side really are not evangelicals”? If those on the fundamentalist side are wrong to say that moderates aren’t genuine evangelicals, how can you then argue that hardcore fundamentalists aren’t genuine evangelicals?



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm


Those fundamentalists — they are not us, we who make no distinction between us and them. No, they are them.
Somehow, I thought that Big Tent Evangelicalism would be bigger than that. Big enough for Enns and Sparks and Green but, alas, not big enough for those fundamentalists who are not as tolerant as us.
The irony is pretty thick, I think, but seems to be lost on some. Anyway, I rejoice that both Jerry Falwell and Clark Pinnock are now together in the Big Tent that really counts.



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Ben Wheaton

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm


“Some of the more fundamentalist side really are not evangelicals. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that, but the way things are shifting they think they are the true evangelicals.”
But Scot, that’s precisely what Jeff is concerned about. You are trying to determine who’s “in” and who’s “out” of evangelicalism. You want to expel those whom you refer to in the above quote. They’re not “real” evangelicals. They must be tarred and feathered as the fundamentalist goons they truly are! But who are they? Are they everyone who thinks that Kent Sparks has gone much too far (etc.)?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm


Sacred Frenzy, because they are not crystallized around those four themes.
Good example: I’ve heard more than one say something like this: No one who believes in the New Perspective is a Christian.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm


Ben and Jeff, what about the example I give in #20. Would you consider someone who pushed Tom Wright out of the fold of “Christian” an evangelical?
The Fundamentalists, friends, wanted no part of the Neo-Evangelical movement in the 60s and 70s. Billy Graham was seen as too soft. Go back and read your American history of the fundamentalist and evangelical movements.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm


I have to agree. And I’m tired of all the controversy. I’m getting to the place where I don’t care what lines are drawn. They’re going to say that you’re not really solid, or preaching the gospel. And that you’ve caved in to the world and embrace political correctness, etc., etc., ad nauseam. I say let’s just say what where we stand unequivocally, and let the chips fall where they may. They’re not interested in unity, except on their terms.
I can speak so forthrightly but many can’t who probably think the same. But this bent has hold on many parishioners today. And it’s related in my view to politics as well. If you are liberal there, we can predict where you are elsewhere. In other words it must embrace a certain stance.
I firmly believe that. Politics is brought into this, period. Along with the certain theological mind frame.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm


Let me try it this way: I’ve heard the argument that saying such folks are not being evangelical is doing the same thing they fundamentalists are doing. My contention is that it is not. Here’s why:
What I see going on is what Roger Olson is saying. Some are saying certain folks are not evangelicals, or true evangelicals, etc..
Those folks are shrinking the Tent to the size of their theology, and my contention is that is not evangelical. What is evangelical is to embrace those who affirm their theology along those four lines and who embrace those who say they embrace those four themes. When you insist that the four themes have to be affirmed just as they do, then that’s not the evangelical coalition that has settled over American Christianity.



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm


So, on one side of the evangelical tent are those of a more fundamentalist spirit who do not want to allow the New Perspective. On the other side are some who don’t want to allow those of the more fundamentalist spirit in. Each side seems to want to be the gatekeeper.
Has one’s opinion of the New Perspective (whether for it or against it) now become determinative about who belongs in evangelicalism and who does not?
Ironic.



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Jayflm

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm


Dr. Olson has just begun to blog, so go to http://www.rogereolson.com and you can catch up on his thinking on this and the Arminian/Calvinist discussion. What he has to say in an early post on the site (the same thing he put forward in “Reformed and Always Reforming”) is that evangelicalism is best described as a “centered set”, and not a “bounded set”. He contends that those on the fundamentalist side are all about boundaries, when what is needed is to emphasize the center.



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Ben Wheaton

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Scot,
I think it comes down to this: if you define evangelicalism as theological (the four elements Olson mentioned), then the person’s attitude doesn’t matter. If, on the other hand, evangelicalism is defined by a tolerant attitude when it comes to theology, then definitely that person who denied the salvation of Wright et al. is not an evangelical. The trouble is that in that case the term has lost all meaning; I remember reading on the United Church of Canada’s website that they are the “authentic” evangelicals; are they included? After all, they’re very tolerant of any and all theologies. It becomes a totem used to beat down all serious criticism.
But here’s the main problem I have with branding people “fundamentalist” if they themselves don’t claim it: “fundamentalist” shuts down the debate. This is because in our current societal context, “fundamentalist” refers to people who are physically violent. The image in most people’s minds when they hear the word “fundamentalist” is not a KJV-only Baptist, but Osama bin Laden. There is a key difference between them, not always fully appreciated: one of them has a price on his head, the other does not.
The problem comes when they are conflated. I once had a friend of mine in university insist to me that Pat Robertson would cheerfully order a terrorist attack if he thought that he could get away with it. Our use of the term, no matter what we ourselves mean by it, carries this connotation.
So I prefer to use the term “fundamentalist” only of people who fit a very precise definition, which for me basically comes down to KJV-only churches.



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm


“Some are saying certain folks are not evangelicals, or true evangelicals, etc.” ~ Scot
Apparently there are some fundamentalistic evangelicals who are doing that. And on the other side of the tent, there is Scot McKnight, who, as far as I can tell, seems to be doing the same thing to those fundamentalist evangelicals.
Who is the gatekeeper for Big Tent Evangelicalism? Who gets to call the shots and issue the blackballs? And how does one go about getting appointed to that role?
So far, I’m not terribly impressed with the performance on either side.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:45 pm


Jeff, I think you’re missing Scot’s point. They don’t think we should be in. It then becomes a question of meeting their demand which is not in keeping with historic evangelicalism at its roots.



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Jeff Doles

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:54 pm


Thanks, Ted. But I think you’re missing MY point. They don’t think you should be in; and you, in turn, don’t think they should be in. If we start to disallow those who don’t think others should be in, then you will be out with them.
If evangelicalism is center-based instead of boundary-based, then we cannot complain that fundamentalists are out of bounds for thinking that we are out of bounds. When we’ve just supposed that evangelicalism is not boundary-based, we can’t very well turn around and start erecting boundaries.



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Dan

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:57 pm


Jayflm. A center without a boundary is a dot. There can be no center without a boundary. What is objected to here is that Scot seems to be saying the fundamentalists do not have the right to draw a particular boundary (inerrancy was described by Schaeffer as the “watershed” and I suspect that is the stickiest point), but that others in the postconservative camp can exclude the fundies, thus drawing a different boundary (probably rejection of the anti-intellectualism of inerrancy). So the fundies can’t be evangelical anymore, because the fundies were too exclusive.
In either case, to claim the center implies an equal distance from at least two boundaries. One can’t claim the center without drawing lines and excluding those who go beyond them.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted August 18, 2010 at 7:02 pm


Still trying to understand this…
An Old Perspective guy says that N.T. Wright isn’t a Christian. The McKnight/Olson response to Old Perspective guy seems to be either…
(A) By saying that N.T. Wright isn’t a Christian, the Old Perspective guy is defining the core so narrowly that he isn’t a true evangelical.
(B) By saying that N.T. Wright isn’t a Christian, the Old Perspective guy is failing to grasp the core of evangelicalism, in which case he’s evangelical but isn’t really practicing it because of how rigid he is.



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Tim

posted August 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm


Well, now I am totally confused. I’ll take a look at the recommended reading Scot posted (thanks by the way), but now it seems like people’s evangelical credentials now have something to do with how narrowly they define (I suppose inappropriately so) Evangelical orthodoxy. I mean, I have a brother is Evangelical Free who doesn’t consider Evangelical Covenant, well, evangelical. Now, I thought they were both Evangelical and my brother was just a mistaken fundamentalist – but now my brother isn’t an Evangelical? Again, I’m confused here.



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Linda

posted August 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm


A person needs to hold to these essential doctrines listed in the following article to be an evangelical:
http://www.carm.org/essential-doctrines-of-christianity
Therefore Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Roman Catholics, Muslims, atheists would surely not be evangelical.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 18, 2010 at 7:29 pm


Jeff, Thanks. I do think they should be in, period.
Maybe the real point here is a change in definition and a wrestling over just what “evangelical” should mean today. Seems as plain as the nose on one’s face after reading Olson on this.
The sad part is that I think some are on the offensive, and then others on the defensive. And those on the offensive can always cite this or that which is “wrong.” So there can be no real worked out, tangible unity.



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RJS

posted August 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm


Jeff,
I don’t see the original post as putting anyone on the outside.
I do see a post that decries and grieves over our inability to have any real brotherhood as Christians. We either agree on details or we fracture into a multitude of independent noninteracting factions.
What do you think requires essential agreement in order to cooperate under the big tent as fellow Christians?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm


This is bordering on silliness, but I’ll try one more time:
Inherent to evangelicalism is diversity of beliefs around four themes. The coalition centers on the four and knows diversity around those.
Inherent to fundamentalism is non-diversity but uniformity. When one refuses the diversity one denies a characteristic of evangelicalism.



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Kenny johnson

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:17 pm


Maybe it’d be better said that the fundamentalists wouldn’t want to be in the tent with people like Greg Boyd, Peter Enns, or N.T. Wright. And because they couldn’t stand to be in the same tent, they are then excluded from the tent.



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Tim

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm


Here’s what I don’t get though, neither diversity nor conformity are implicit in any of those 4 themes – so what do they have with defining who is an evangelical? I mean, you can be as intollerant of other views as you like and be an evangelical right – because tolerance isn’t implicit in any of the 4 themes correct?



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RJS

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm


Kenny,
No – not excluded.
The point isn’t to exclude anyone but to call for some level of unity and cooperation.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm


“Inherent to evangelicalism is diversity of beliefs around four themes. The coalition centers on the four and knows diversity around those.”
I agree 100%, but I’m still lost. Is evangelicalism uniform on this point?



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Bill

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm


While I cannot presume to speak on behalf of Mr. Olson, from the few postings on his blog, and after reading several of his books, I do not see him as posing any type of gate keeper obstacle to the big tent of evangelicalism ? not to say that doesn?t exist on both sides, or many sides?, of that big tent. I read his blogs as acknowledging continuity from fundamentalism through neo-evangelicalism up to his label of post conservative evangelical. The qualifiers presented by Bebbington, nuanced by Noll, Marsden and Stackhouse, seem to be pretty much understood as markers of evangelicalism and while I acknowledge the point made by Scot that diversity of beliefs is essential I do not find that to be an inherent characteristic of evangelicalism per se, but a foundational tenet – its not about the law but I digress. I think his point is along the lines that for there to be a tent, there must be an agreement to conduct a dialogue ? just as a fundamentalist becomes pharisaic without a pull toward grace, those on the more liberal side (emergent?) become insular in their march toward social equality (am I seeing a theocracy forming whichever way I go?). While at times on this blog in a number of responses, the harshness and frankly less than grace-filled criticism of our more conservative thinking brothers and sisters is high, and at times a push back with grace would seem necessary, nevertheless it seems the difference between those conservative leaning brothers and sisters, and my brothers and sisters who stand on a more liberal footing, is one of degree and not kind. Is a time out appropriate while someone prays out loud for a healthy dose of grace?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm


Bill, if you could but read my mailbox’s e-mails from those on the left calling me a fundamentalist.



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Bill

posted August 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm


Scot with that bit of irony leaving me laughing, I will crack open my copy of Hannah’s Child by that other theologian who seems to stir up some feelings as well.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted August 18, 2010 at 9:20 pm


Scot, is evangelicalsm uniform on centering and having diversity around the four themes, or is there room for some diversity on the themes? If so, how much?



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Clay Knick

posted August 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm


I read this on his page a day or so ago and thought it was great. Amen and amen.



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Linda

posted August 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm


I think an article entitled “Jesus Perspective on Sola Fide”, by John MacArthur, will help people understand why N.T. Wright is wrong on justification, and why justification by faith is a central distinctive of historical evangelism, here is a short excerpt of that article:
“Historic evangelicalism has therefore always treated justification by faith as a central biblical distinctive?if not the single most important doctrine to get right. This is the doctrine that makes authentic Christianity distinct from every other religion. Christianity is the religion of divine accomplishment?with the emphasis always on Christ’s finished work. All others are religions of human achievement. They become preoccupied, inevitably, with the sinner’s own efforts to be holy. Abandon the doctrine of justification by faith and you cannot honestly claim to be evangelical.
Scripture itself makes sola fide the only alternative to a damning system of works-righteousness: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5, emphasis added).
In other words, those who trust Jesus Christ for justification by faith alone receive a perfect righteousness that is reckoned to them. Those who attempt to establish their own righteousness or mix faith with works only receive the terrible wage that is due all who fall short of perfection. So the individual as well as the church stands or falls with the principle of sola fide. Israel’s apostasy was rooted in their abandonment of justification by faith alone: “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
Biblical justification must be earnestly defended on two fronts. No-lordship theology (the error we dealt with in the November/December issue of Pulpit) twists the doctrine of justification by faith to support the view that obedience to God’s moral law is optional. This teaching attempts to reduce the whole of God’s saving work to the declarative act of justification. It downplays the spiritual rebirth of regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17); it discounts the moral effects of the believer’s new heart (Ezek. 36:26-27); and it makes sanctification hinge on the believer’s own efforts. It tends to treat the forensic element of justification?God’s act of declaring the believing sinner righteous?as if this were the only essential aspect of salvation. The inevitable effect of this approach is to turn the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 4). Such a view is called antinomianism.
On the other hand, there are many who make justification dependent on a mixture of faith and works. Whereas antinomianism radically isolates justification from sanctification, this error blends the two aspects of God’s saving work. The effect is to make justification a process grounded in the believer’s own flawed righteousness?rather than a declarative act of God grounded in Christ’s perfect righteousness.
As soon as justification is fused with sanctification, works of righteousness become an essential part of the process. Faith is thus diluted with works. Sola fide is abandoned. This was the error of the Galatian legalists (cf. Gal. 2:16; 5:4). Paul called it “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6, 9). The same error is found in virtually every false cult. It’s the main error of Roman Catholicism. I’m concerned that it may also be the direction many who are enthralled with “the New Perspective on Paul” are traveling.”
You can read the entire article here:
http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sf-solafide.htm



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Tim

posted August 18, 2010 at 9:50 pm


Linda,
I don’t think your post helps one bit in understanding anything for or against N. T. Wright’s position. You are simply adopting the traditional understanding of “works”, and pinning proper orthodoxy on interpretation of Paul based on this traditional understanding of “works”. The whole point behind the New Perspective on Paul is that “works” is seen as meaning something very different. From what I have read, you haven’t addressed this point at all. This type of dogmatism is one of the first things that disenchanted me with the Evangelical Free church I grew up in.



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Percival

posted August 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm


Linda,
Since you brought up the issue, I will use it as an example of the evangelical vs. fundamentalist spirit.
Macarthur says, “Abandon the doctrine of justification by faith and you cannot honestly claim to be evangelical.”
What he means is that if we do not hold to the doctrine as he defines it in the writing you quoted! There are others ways to look at the issue that are evangelical.
The following brief explanation of grace and salvation would most like alarm MacArthur. Notice the way the topic is handled. There is no expulsion of dissinters from the evangelical tent. Not every issue needs to be a battle line.
http://nijaygupta.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/interview-with-ben-witherington-iii-on-the-indelible-image/
“If salvation is purely a theological matter, we are saved by grace through faith plus nothing, then ethics can be no more than the grateful response of a person to what God has and is doing. The problem with this view of salvation is considerable. Salvation has three tenses in the NT? I have been saved (conversion, the new birth) I am being saved, and I shall be saved to the uttermost (involving finally the resurrection and full conformity to the image of Christ). According to the NT, while the new birth is by grace through faith, the working out of salvation, in the form of sanctification is a joint project? God working within us, and us working it out with fear and trembling. In other words, we participate in our own progressive sanctification not merely by what we believe, but by what we do, and what we don?t do. Of course this would not be possible if there were not the grace of God to draw on each and every day, but in fact our sanctification is affected by our behavior, either positively or negatively.”



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Chris

posted August 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm


Hi Everyone,
It seems for many that ‘big tent Evangelicalism” is the norm and what people should be shooting for versus some kind of “small tent Evangelicalism.” All I can say is I have seen the tent get bigger and bigger over the years so that not only are the boundaries fuzzy, but it does not surprise me that the center gets debated at times as well. Evangelicalism has grown up and gotten so big that it stands for very little any more much less a growing confusion over “what is an Evangelical?” Unless Evangelicals get their own house in order (and I consider myself one too) and firm up on some of its distinctives or bundaries, I suspect that tommorows Evangelicals will be todays liberals (and possibly todays fundamentalists will be tommorows Evangelicals—I quess old school type :–) And I say all this in perfect agreement over some of the kind of mean-spiritedness and power flexing over who is in and out among Evangelicalism that Scot laments. I could be wrong but I think the term “Evangelical” has lost much of its power and meaning.



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