Apparently (unless something changes), I am going to be teaching a class in Evangelism at seminary. It seems strange that I would do this, since I am invariably awkward when I do evangelism. I suppose part of it is that I like to dwell on the complexities and paradoxes in life (including salvation). This interest tends to make things difficult to simplify into a clear presentation. Personally, I always think that the best presentation of the gospel is a personal testimony anyway. It should be an interesting class. I am going to try to find that balance between intellectual speculation and practical action. No sense having a class about Evangelism where no evangelism happens after all.
1. Savior Salvation. In recent years there has been a question about something about “Lordship Salvation.” Can one accept Christ into one’s heart without accepting Him as Lord. To me the answer is NO. I think much of the problem stems from confusion of what Faith is. After all, Satan believes but does not have faith. Faith is placing trust in or agreeing to follow. To have Biblical faith without Lordship appears to be inherently contradictory. That does not mean that a person doesn’t fail (and sometimes fail miserably). It means someone has agreed that he replaces the god in his life (usually himself) with God.
But to me, there is a more interesting question. We often ask in evangelism whether the person will accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. To me, the Lordship of Christ is critical in salvation. But what about Savior? Does one have to recognize that he was lost to agree to follow Christ. Commonly, in our gospel presentations, we spend a considerable amount of time emphasizing how bad people are and unable to be saved without Christ. I believe it is doctrinally sound to say that people cannot be redeemed by Christ without Christ. But can one agree to have Jesus as Lord (and thus be saved) without first recognizing Jesus has saved them from punishment? Previously, I have brought up that when Jesus had called His disciples, He did not (as far as we know) first try to convince them as to how bad they were, how unworthy they were to follow Him, and how gracious He was to invite them despite everything. Maybe He did do this, but I doubt it. I certainly agree that in discipleship, issues of God’s grace and justice should be clearly laid out… but is it a prerequisite for salvation? Not sure.
What brings this to mind for me was a parallel issue. I have had friends who have argued that people from a certain denomination could not possibly be saved because they were not assured of their salvation. They believed that they could not be sure of their salvation until they stand before God at the end of this age. I do believe that God has made promises that can assure us of our place in His family… baptized of His Spirit into His Church. But does one have to know this to be saved? I would argue NO. My basic reason for this is the book of I John. The book appears to be written, in part, so that people will know they are saved– children of God. But this implies that there are people who are saved but had to be assured of this by John.
So what is the Gospel? Is it that we were bound for Hell and God has given us a way to Heaven? Or is it that we were disconnected from God and God has given us a way to be joined to Him, recognizing Him as our Lord, and our Father? Both are true but is both necessary? And if not, which one? <As you might guess, I am not trying to give answers… just asking questions.>
2. Fallen from Grace. I was talking with a missionary friend of mine. He was talking about a meeting he was in (actually more than one meeting) where a person was described ashaving “fallen from grace.” He was disturbed by this. He seemed to have a point.
Now the term, “Fallen from Grace” may mean different things to different people. For someone who believes that one cannot lose one’s salvation (I hold to this position), one might use the term “fallen from grace” to suggest that a person has backslidden and so does not experience God’s grace (blessing) in a particularly tangible/temporal way. For someone who believes that one can lose one’s salvation, one might use the term to suggest that a person has temporarily rejected God’s love and pardon, but will (prayerfully) return to God’s fold.
But the term doesn’t really sound like either of these. It sounds like a person has done something so bad that God’s love for him is not enough and the person is no longer redeemable. I do know that some people talk about the “unpardonable sin” and some even try to define it. The Bible appears to be pretty vague about it. The Didache seemed to suggest that it involved doubting the words of an apostle or a prophet (but then goes on to describe ways of testing whether an apostle or prophet is saying what is true… confusing). It seems to me that if God really wanted us to know that someone was truly unredeemable, He would have let us know how to know and how to judge. Yet, Jesus made it clear that judging is not really our job.
I would say that we should never describe someone as fallen from grace. God’s grace is far beyond our ability to limit with words. God is certainly the one to judge not us.