16 August 2006

The "It's not for me to say" dodge

by Dan Phillips

Billy Graham.

N.T. Wright.

What do they have in common?

"Not much," you'd think. Okay, they both talk funny. But that's it. Billy

Popular conceptions have the former as the straight-shooting, simple "The Bible says" evangelist, and the latter as the sophisticated, well-spoken, ultra-scholarly academic clergyman.

Well, here's something "Rev."* Graham said in a recent Newsweek interview with Jon Meacham:
A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."
Nor is this the only time Graham has expressed such notions—and worse.

Now here's something Right Hon. "Rev." Dr. Wright said in an interview:
Q So we won't all be saved?

A According to the New Testament there is a real possibility…

Q No according to you … I want you to tell me.

A … I'm sorry - I'm a Christian theologian - therefore the New Testament is where I must start. And yes I'm affirming this. That there is a real possibility of loss but just at the point where we think the New Testament is going to say 'Bang - there it is. We're going to tell you who's in, who's out,' there are hints and vague suggestions, that actually yes, there will be those who will look God in the face and say 'Sorry that's not for me and I'm going to go the other way,' and that God will ratify that decision, because we are human beings with the dignity of making those decisions - that there are many others who are being drawn towards the light, many others who are being wooed into the love of God. And that it's not up to me to say exactly where that line is drawn on a page. I do believe that there is a real possibility and actuality of final loss, but that immortality is this strange, new gift. It's not that, as Plato said, we've all got an immortal soul and we're all just going to carry on. No, that's not the Christian belief. The Christian belief is that God promises this as a fresh gift to be received gratefully....
(H-T to CraigS, an admirer of Dr. Wright's who nonetheless expresses concern about Wright's unclear position on universalism, and provides further quotation as grounds for concern.)

At this point, everyone knows what I'm going to say. Right? Some are already really angry about it, and already know how they're going to blister the comments section. Well, don't be so sure.

Both of the interviews contain other statements by both men that range from good to very good. And I don't, by these two interview, judge the entire ministry or career of either men. (Though, candidly, it's awfully hard to have read Iain Murray's excellent but depressing Evangelicalism Divided and not see Graham's remarks as further points along a decades-long path. But I digress.)

And do I object to either man saying "I can't guess every aspect of God's judgment in every case"—if that's what they're saying? Absolutely not. I've often said, and with great sincerity, that I couldn't be happier that those decisions are not mine to make. I couldn't be happier that they are God's provenance alone (Psalm 50:6; John 5:22).

Here's my problem: it's the "It's not for me to say" dodge. What's that? It's where someone asks you point-blank—
  • "So if someone lives a good life, gives to charity, and never hurts a fly—will he go to Hell forever when he dies, just because he didn't believe in Jesus?"
  • "So what about good, moral Jews, or Moslems, or Buddhists, who live good lives, are just and kind and loving—they go to Hell if they're not Christians?"
  • "So what about folks who never hear the Gospel, but they're not like headhunters or rapists. They go to Hell forever?"
  • "My mother wasn't a Christian, but she was a really good mother and loved me. Is she in Hell?"
Maybe they're sincere questions. Maybe they're trick-questions. Often they're trick-questions, feints, ploys. The questioner thinks it's a slam-dunk damning question, guar-on-teed to make you and your whole Jesus-thing look foolish and mean and stupid. He can't even imagine you giving him a straight-up answer.

And you feel the pressure. You know how you'll look and sound if you fall into his trap. So... you have the temptation to hedge. You have the urge to just wiggle a little, just apply an itty-bitty touch of verbal lubricant, and slip the noose you think is hanging in front of you.

Now, one would hope that if someone has put himself forward, and thrust himself into the spotlight as a spokesman for Christianity—as, say, Billy Graham, and N. T. Wright, and Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes have done—one would hope, I say, that they'd be ready not to dodge the hard ones.

But it sure looks to me like Graham and Wright have given in to the temptation. They punted, where God spoke plainly. Billy Graham certainly gave his interviewer that impression. Here's what Meacham writes, in hardy praise of Billy Graham:

But more recent years have given him something he had little of in his decades of global evangelism: time to think both more deeply and more broadly. As he has grown older, Graham has come to an appreciation of complexity and a gentleness of spirit that sets him apart from many other high-profile figures in America's popular religious milieu—including, judging from their public remarks, his own son Franklin Graham, and men such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Others relish the battlefield; Graham now prizes peace. He is a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental; a steady social conservative in private who actually does hate the sin but loves the sinner; a resolute Christian who declines to render absolute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not....

You give answers like this because you want to be liked. You want to be everybody's friend. You want to be admired by all. You don't want to be mocked and scorned. You want to be well-thought-of. By men. And you've forgotten how deadly that motivation is (Proverbs 29:25; Luke 6:26; James 4:4).

My sputtering readers are still sputtering. "So... so what are you saying?! You're ready to say who's going to Heaven, and who's going to Hell?"

Well—of course I am. Aren't you?

In fact, I'm not just "ready"—I'm obliged. At worst, it would be craven, rebellious, cowering unbelief to know my Lord's standard of judgment, and not to affirm it.

Beyond that, it would be loveless, and would paint me with the blood of my hearers, whose admiration and applause I would win at the cost of their souls (Proverbs 24:11-12; Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8; Acts 20:26-27).

Now, I'm not ready nor able to read off a list of names, and I'm not prepared to predict the end of every specific circumstance. But here is what I am ready to do:

I'm ready to tell my questioner that all—all natural-born sons of Adam, without exception—have sinned, fall short of the glory of God, are without excuse, and can justly demand nothing of God but His eternal wrath and the fires of Hell (Romans 1:20; 3:9-20, 23).

I'm ready to tell my questioner that, whatever excuse he may try to apply to a tribesman who never hears the Gospel, it will not work for him, nor anyone else within hearing (Matthew 11:22, 24; Luke 12:47; John 15:22).

I am ready to tell my questioner that the only hope God holds out is personal, conscious faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), through faith in whom alone we can find forgiveness and reconciliation to God by grace alone (Ephesians 2:4ff.).

I am ready to tell my questioner that his hearing of the word of the Gospel from me serves to heighten his guilt before God if he rejects it, if he refuses to repent and believe in Christ (Luke 12:47; John 3:36; 12:48; Romans 2:4-5).

I am ready to tell my questioner that what the Bible says, it isn't saying to the other guy; it's saying it to him, and to me —and besides, he won't do the other guy any good by going to Hell with him.

No, it isn't for me to say—but it is for God to say, and it is for me to affirm what He has said, boldly and plainly.

And honestly: suppose I ever get too sophisticated, or too educated, or too popular (bwahhhh hahahaha), or too feeble to be willing to say that much, just that plainly. In that case, please, someone—gently, firmly, love God, and love souls, and love me enough tell me to stop talking where people can hear me. Give me something else to do, where I won't obscure the Gospel issues, and bring damage to the cause of Christ.

Dan Phillips's signature

*It's not the men, it's the title that bugs me. Don't ever call me "Reverend."



118 comments:

Steve Weaver said...

Amen! 100% agreement.

centuri0n said...

[1] You're already too popular in my book. You're like Pete Best, and I'm going to talk to Brian Epstein about you.

[2] But that said, this is exactly right -- as usual (which is also galling). How can there be Mercy without Justice? How can there be gratitude and praise if there is nothing that could have hurt us in the first place? You know: how's God a "savior" if he's not actually "saving" anybody from danger?

Spot on, Pete Best -- the trouble here is how we allow the world to define love for us.

DJP said...

Frank, how could I be associated with you and Phil all these months, and not pick up at least some smarts, however vestigial?

Gummby said...

Not to stir up trouble here, Cent, but you're saying Best was canned because he was popular?

Steve said...

An exhortation to this kind of boldness is always encouraging to see.

Now if only the professed Christian leaders who appear on Larry King Live would read this before they go on the show. John MacArthur excepted, of course. He's been faithful to uphold what Scripture makes so very clear.

Mister Larry said...

Sounds like you are just a...... FUNDAMENTALIST!

.... now if only you'll take the title minus the contemporary contextual meaning of what one is (i.e. IFBx).

Well said, Dan!

DJP said...

You know, Steve, I think you make a great point. When I've read or seen some of these Larry King things, I've thought -- "Wait... you didn't know King was going to ask you that? He asks everybody that! You didn't prepare?" In a situation like that, I'd give good money to know in advance what questions I'll be asked. And they MUST have known!

I also agree with you about MacArthur. He's one who I know will never give me a cringe-moment in such a situation; he'll stick to the Bible, and the Gospel, no matter what's thrown him.

centuri0n said...

Gummby:

I'm saying that John never liked sharing the spotlight with anybody, and Paul wanted to be the cute one. Ringo and George weren't into politics.

That's all I'm saying, fhqwhgads.*

_____________________________________

*not to sell out to a secular meme, btw.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Adda boy, Dan.

Chris Freeland said...

Reverend Phillips,

Great post.

natalie said...

Amen.

Jenson's Blog said...

"In fact, I'm not just "ready" -- I'm obliged. At worst, it would be craven, rebellious, cowering unbelief to know my Lord's standard of judgment, and not to affirm it."

I agree with your point. We point out the danger and show the right path.

However, I would do that with care. I don't think it is our right to say who has gone to heaven or hell.

If you don't believe me, try preaching at a funeral of a hardened unbeliever.

Pity about the 2 leaders. They have seriously muddied the waters.

Gummby said...

Now if only the professed Christian leaders who appear on Larry King Live would read this before they go on the show. John MacArthur excepted, of course.

I'd also include Al Mohler in the exceptions. Sorry, Fundies.

4given said...

I wrote about Graham and got HAMMERED. You write about it and get alot of "You go girl" (I mean, "boy") comments. But I am sure the dung will hit the fan.

Answers to the questions:
* "So if someone lives a good life, gives to charity, and never hurts a fly -- will he go to Hell forever when he dies, just because he didn't believe in Jesus?"

Yes. Straight to hell because none are good apart from Christ... no not one.

* "So what about good, moral Jews, or Moslems, or Buddhists, who live good lives, are just and kind and loving -- they go to Hell if they're not Christians?"

Yes, hell. Because there is only one way, one truth, one life.

* "So what about folks who never hear the Gospel, but they're not like headhunters or rapists. They go to Hell forever?"

To hell because there are no excuses. God is perfectly holy, righteous and just.

* "My mother wasn't a Christian, but she was a really good mother and loved me. Is she in Hell?"

Yes. No excuses.

:-/

So how would you preach at a funeral where the person was a blatant unbeliever? I have tried to think of what I might say at my mothers funeral if I gave a testimony there and the only thing I can come up with is that it is my hope that on her death bed, she was like that thief in Luke 23:40-43.

Gummby said...

I'm saying that John never liked sharing the spotlight with anybody, and Paul wanted to be the cute one. Ringo and George weren't into politics.

That's all I'm saying...


I'd cast Pecadillo as Ringo. As for the rest, I dunno.

DJP said...

jen_est -- I don't think it is our right to say who has gone to heaven or hell.

If you don't believe me, try preaching at a funeral of a hardened unbeliever.


Been there, or very close, and I quite totally agree. I only know three individuals who certainly will be in Hell: Judas, the Beast, and the False Prophet. But I do know what sorts will be, and will not be, in Hell -- and why.

But here again, it isn't in our job description to preach people into our out of Heaven, at their funerals.

My first funeral was extraordinarily difficult. A young man had died tragically. He'd been a churchgoer when in his single digits, but what I could learn of his life after gave no evidence of salvation. His parents were sure he was in Heaven.

It was a great relief to know that it wasn't my job to decide. So what did I do? I spoke, at one point, of the lad as his friends and family had known him. Then I preached Christ, straight up, no hedging.

DJP said...

Lisa, I unknowingly responded to your question. I'm in a similar situation with regards to my late, dearly-loved and bitterly-missed father. He gave me something to hope on, on his deathbed. So I hope, and trust to the justice and mercy of God.

But if he's in Heaven, as I dearly and ardently hope, it won't be because he was a great guy, though he was; and it sure won't be because he was my dad and I loved him. It will be because of Jesus. Period.

Gordon Cloud said...

Dan I agree with you concerning the fact that we need to take a bold stance on preaching the Gospel.

I also understand the concern that this comment by Graham can raise if it is taken as a stand-alone comment.

I think if we compare this comment to the backdrop of Graham's life and ministry, could we not take it to mean that he is saying, "I preach the Gospel as God has commanded me to do, it is up to Him who gets into Heaven". Is that so very different from what Calvinist's believe?

I am not saying that I agree with everything Graham does or says, but if we look at his message, as well as what I have heard his children you say (you alluded to this), I believe we will find that he is stronger on this point than what one comment may indicate.

Daniel Calle said...

This is the way that you should respond in the Larry King Show. Look how at 2:30, LarryKing made the right inference when he asked the bishop: If christianity is right, then all the other religions are wrong?

DJP said...

Did you go to the link I gave on Graham, Gordon? have you read Evangelicalism Divided? (Those aren't hectoring, sarcastic questions; I'm asking.)

Chris Freeland said...

4given,

I "got" to do one of those funerals. I took the "If Bill was here now, he'd want us to know..." route, and didn't speculate on where he'd tell us those things from.

What Graham probably "meant" to say was that it isn't up to us to decide who is in and who is out. Obviously, the criteria for heaven/hell is black and white in Scripture, but it's not our responsibility to play the in or out game.

Even So... said...

I apologize ahead of time for the long post, but I believe it will be well worth it.

I have also done many funerals, and to be able preach an evangelistic message is the only way I will agree to do it...

As a minister at a funeral, you must remember one important word about your functioning, from a practical standpoint...

Officiating...

That is what you are supposed to do. Don't learn the hard way.

A while back, before I knew better, I did do a funeral where the young man, in his early twenties, died just down the road from the church in a late night car wreck.

He had been a member of our church as a youth, long before I ever got there. He hadn't attended church since then and gave no evidence of saving faith, considering the testimonies given at the event, and the witnesses I spoke to for the days before the ceremony.

I agreed to have the funeral at our church because of church members who remembered him, and the former youth minsiters who pleaded with me that this was the only church he ever went to.

The boy's mother was in jail, and the father was dead, only his younger brother was left. Sad, yes, but 200 of his friends showed up, and many were hardened and some appeared to be drunk or high at the very event...

They physically kept me from speaking with a whirlwind of unexpected activity, and a rush to the front, followed by all the gang going to the place down the road where he died.

The only saving grace, indeed, that was preached was my opening and the testimony of one man who proclaimed Christ alone, and was fearless in his proclamation that this boy may or may not have known Jesus, but that if the others who were left behind didn't, they would end up in hell. Praise the Lord.

I have since done funerals where the situation was akin to this one, but I plan ahead for the unexpected, and I made sure to speak first, at least.

As an example, I have done this:

What I do will be to introduce the event, open with prayer, and then I will sing a line of "when we all get to heaven". Everyone is pleased, but then I tell them that this "all" is only for "all" the people who follow Jesus. I say to them Galatians 3:26, and then tell them that we are born into the kingdom of men, but born again into the kingdom of God.

Yes, this tack gets some mean stares sometimes, but it is your obligation, especially at this time, to choose between the Cross and the crowd.

As well, you might be surprised at how many times by God's grace He opens up the ears of the listeners. The last funeral I did, ther were many who weeren't saved people it seemed, but many talked to me afterwards, and one young man was defintely saved, as far as I could tell. I 'll save that story for later.

Also, you might not know how many other ministers might be there and need an object lesson. At this last funeral, there were 4 other ministers, including my former pastor, and the pastor of the presybterian church, both of whom said, separately, that funerals were no fun, but that this was the best funeral they had ever been to, and that they were glad to see someone do it right and with the right boldnesss. A third minister, a Willow Creek churchman, looked at me with his mouth wide open, seriously, for about 30 seconds. He needed this too...

By God's grace, do the right thing...

Even So, come Lord Jesus

Gordon Cloud said...

Dan, I read the link, I have not read Evangelicalism Divided. As I said, if his comment is taken alone, it could indeed be perceived as troubling.

I personally would like to see him make the statements in a more bold fashion, but I am not prepared to label him a "universalist" when he has devoted his entire life to evangelism. He would basically have to renounce everything he has ever said or done to adopt that viewpoint.

Again, I am not defending him categorically. I am just comparing this statement with his life and giving an old man the benefit of the doubt.

BTW, I completely agree with you on the use of the word "reverend".

centuri0n said...

Let me add something to EvenSo's very realistic view of tings: God be merciful to me, a sinner.

Let me tell you that Piper's reading of Luke here is taking hits on the internet, but that's the Gospel, kids. God be merciful to me, because I am a sinner. God doesn't owe me a nice funeral, or my family the comfort of a false satisfaction that when I am dead, because God is "nice" (proof text anybody?), I'm just fine and so are you.

God be merciful to me, a sinner: in every gift, and every benefit, and every morsel of love and happiness we receive and give, God be merciful to me, a sinner, because all that other stuff is not enough to make me right with Him.

The cross is the emblem of this motto, and if we try to hide behind "it's not for me to say", we have ignored (as Dan has already made clear) what God has said in certain terms.

God be merciful to me, a sinner. Because that's all I have: His mercy.

Steven said...

Amen, Amen. (Check out Paul Washer on crosstalk today- He is the example of a faithful servant of Christ Jesus.)

SolaMeanie said...

I sometimes wonder if, while standing before the Great White Throne and hearing the Lord say "Depart from Me," some will ask Him exactly what He means by "depart?"

It must be awful for some theologians to go through life not knowing what anything means.

Todd H said...

I like Lesslie Newbigin's take on the issue of knowing the ultimate destiny for another person. He says, "Nothing could be more remote from the whole thrust of Jesus' teaching than the idea that we are in a position to know in advance the final judgment of God." He is referring to Jesus' many parables, statements, and warnings that the last day will be a day of surprises, reversals, and astonishments. I guess I'll go with Jesus on this one.

Steve said...

Todd, no one here is advocating that we place ourselves in God's position as the final judge of someone's destination. Rather, Dan is affirming the need to communicate to others that Scripture is VERY clear on who is going to heaven and who isn't. Scripture has already made that pronouncement for us, and we need merely to uphold what it says.

You say that Jesus said that last day will be a day of surprises. But note carefully, according to Matthew 7:22 and Matthew 25:41-46, WHO it is that will be surprised...those who will be shocked at why Jesus WON'T let them into heaven.

When someone holds to a wrong perception of what it takes to get to heaven, isn't it only loving that we point that out?

Jesus certainly pointed it out.

donsands said...

Good topic to be discussed for sure, with all the inclusivism being blown around in the Church today. Eph. 4:14

Dan, you have some priceless ways of expressing things. You are a gifted teacher/writer.
It's always a pleasure to read your posts.

And some good comments as usual.

CalvDispy said...

It seems to me that many well-intentioned evangelists want to have as wide an audience as is possible to proclaim the gospel. On the surface, there seems to be nothing wrong with this. I wonder however, if there is not a subtle intoxication with the thought of having broad appeal. Intoxication leads to addiction when there is success with broad appeal. But how can one maintain broad appeal without compromise?

The gospel inevitably makes enemies. If you are trying to minimize enemies as a primary principle (I am not saying we go out of our way to make enemies, especially in our manner) you must of necessity tweek the message with some sort of tolerance/ non-offensive rhetoric to maintain broad appeal.

Furthermore, once you have gained a sympathetic audience with those whom you know will not tolerate an unadulterated message (i.e. Popes, presidents, politicians and other people of places high and low) it becomes extermely difficult to extricate yourself from their affirming embrace. At that point it is easy to justify that doing so seems unloving, mean-spirited and down-right un-Christian. The reality perhaps is, we just wanna be loved - right?

I can't help but wonder whether Billy Graham has lived in this atmosphere for a long time. It seems to be the same kind of atmosphere that many other high-profile Evangelicals live in too. Oh! how we love to be affirmed by the masses and the power brokers of the culture! Who can resist the lure? As a pastor I know how powerful it is. That makes the uncompromising message of the MacArthur's and Mohler's in the public square all the more remarkable.

Jim Crigler said...

Re: Evangelicalism Divided: I read this a couple of years ago. There were passages I read, that when I finished them, I realized I wasn't breathing, and I had to remind myself to start.

Re: What to preach at funerals: A couple of years ago on The White Horse Inn, Rod Rosenbladt told about officiating a funeral at Forest Lawn. Forest Lawn supplied an organist for the occasion, and when the funeral was over, the organist said something like, "I've never heard what you spoke about before --- what was that?" Dr R replied: "That was the Gospel."

DJP said...

Jim, my memory of reading Murray's ED is of a steady, throbbing heartache and a sick feeling in my stomach. So many wrong turns, so many missed opportunities, so many disastrous compromises to be popular and respected.

Malchymist said...

Dan
Thank you for going to the real issue here. So many have condemned Billy Graham for his ecumenicalism in setting up his crusades. Others for his arminianism for calling on people to make the choice. Some for his assertion that "praying this prayer" will save you.

We (Christianity) must take our responsibility in our conversation in order to say, "It is not for me to "judge" this person, but I can tell you what the Lord has said. I can judge this person's statements as being NOT in accordance with those."

2. I don't know how anyone can go on Larry King. He always interrupts if the guest starts talking about Christ. I really couldn't take it anymore after seeing the two men ?relatives? who lived with Elvis. They rarely were allowed to finish an answer.

3. Yes, indeedy, John MacArthur sat straight and told King and the mollycoddlers what the truth was. And he was so much more tactful than I could have been.

Karen said...

"My mother wasn't a Christian, but she was a really good mother and loved me. Is she in Hell?"

Only if she wants to be.

Time out, folks. The Bible doesn't say what happens to unbelievers when they die. It says believers go to be with God, and wherever God is is heaven. But unregenerate at death doesn't necessarily mean reprobate at death. God is not constrained by time as we perceive time. The Holy Sprit can regenerate the mother spoken of above in any part of her time. We can't see how this is, but God acts from eternity. If you say God has chosen in a 'before' sense, then I counter the Holy Spirit, who is God, applies that choice in time, and He acts from eternity and is not constrained by time as we perceive time.

The mother in question is dead in sin whether she's alive or actually dead. The message is a real dire one to her. All we can do though is give her the truth of her situation and the good news of the Gospel, and if she responds she responds, in time, by God's grace. If she's dead, we can give her daughter the message. But we don't assume the dead mother is in final judgment hell. Hell is something a reprobate is judged to at the great white throne judgment. The Bible, again, doesn't say what happens to unbelievers when they die (in the time between their individual death and the second coming of Jesus and general resurrection).

The parable of Lazarus is a parable and doesn't provide doctrinal clarity on this subject. Sheol/Hades is not uniformly a totally bad place as represented in Scripture.

The Bible is clear that true believers go to heaven upon physical death. It is not clear regarding where unbelievers go or what happens to them until the Second Coming.

I could speculate for you using an impressive Greek term used by one of the Church fathers, but it isn't necessary. The Bible just leaves it in mystery.

Time, eternity, our perception of time, the limitations of our perception, can obviously play a role in this. To say a person's mother is in hell is not only presumptious, and not based on Scripture, it is silly. You can say the mother died in sin and was worthy of hellfire. You can say a poisonous snake is not condemned because it strikes but because it has poison in it. You can be bold regarding the biblical doctrine of sin. But you can't say the mother is in final judgment hell for eternity. The Bible doesn't give you warrant for saying that.

Jim Kirby said...

This is reminiscent of the recent title page of the Wittenberg Door (8/15), which, although obstenibly dealing with immigration issues, does make the point with the acronym WWJE? ("Who Would Jesus Exclude?").

I agree there are those who will be excluded from the kingdom. Honesty in spiritual matters dictates that proclamation.

H.C. Ross said...

Brother Dan,

I agree with the doctrinal point you're making 100%, but not with the manner in which you hold grace and truth in tension. Jesus was full of both (John 1:14, 17), as we are called to be. I think your post does manifest both, but I would have hoped for more of the former.

I honestly don't know if Graham's views are heretical or heterodox or borderline heterodox or simply easily misunderstood. I DO think the quote offered is ambiguous enough, without the added context of what he said before and after, to warrant proceeding with charitable caution before raising a red flag over his name. He did actually give, as the basis for his optimism about Jews, Muslims etc. the fact that God gave His Son for the world -- he didn't say or imply that God might be easy on folks because they happen to be especially decent:

"I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

Yes, if Graham means what you imply he may mean, he ought to be hoisted up as an example and all the body of Christ should be alerted. I just want to urge you to be more protective of the reputations of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Couldn't you make the same great point without casting a shadow on the name of this brother? You may say you didn't intend to do that, but that's what posts like this do in the minds of those who read them. I'm not saying we should let older, more 'proven' saints preach heresy with impunity, but why not err on the side charity in their cases?

There is a tendency, as real as the one towards man-pleasing, which begins when someone identifies the most obvious heretics, and then moves on to less obvious ones, and then proceeds to those who may or may not be, and then on to those who probably aren't but say dubious things now and then, and then on to those who once said something that could be construed as theologically 'iffy', etc. etc., until you end up with the theological equivalent of the French Terror of 1793, and the only ones left unscathed are a handful of pristine Robespierres who hold to a tightly bound set of approved doctrines.

This blog is yours and the space is yours to say whatever you want. I'm just requesting that you consider some more positive, charitable ways to pontificate. We're all told as children that it's good to be honest, but we're also told that that doesn't mean we can tell Aunt Greta she's overweight and her breath smells -- even if she truly is, and it does. The body of Christ needs to know the honest truth. The truth SHOULD be broadcast from the rooftops. But can't we speak the truth with more grace?

Tiffany said...

:) I agree completely... at the same time though of telling people that their sin will lead them to hell (despite their notions of they being good) Its just as important to point them to Christ, the one who washes away the scarlet sins and clothes us in his righteousness.

Thank you also for providing the verses after each statement. You can then truly say that it not on my authority, but God's that I say this.

Bob said...

It is always grievous when the limelight Christians will shuck and jive the biblical reality of hell. You come to expect it from guys like Osteen, but when people like Billy Graham who's seen as the example of what a Christian is to many starts doing that it is just sad. I don't think it can be interpretted as anything but buying into the spirit of the age.

I know Graham has been saying similar things for some time now, I think Micheal Horton had an interview transcript up between Graham and Robert Schueller where Schueller was applauding Graham's view of a "wideness" in God's mercy. I guess by "wide" that means no longer is salvation to be viewed exclusively based upon resting in Christ's righteousness alone.

centuri0n said...

HC:

Your complaint is not very convincing. It's interesting that Billy Graham -- who has never even been the pastor of a church (tho I admit he was a University president) -- gets your protection in this matter and NT Wright -- Bishop of Durham and a sitting pastor -- does not. That seems to indicate to me that this itinerant man who has never really had to be faithful to a local body has more to lose than an ordained Bishop who has thousands under his care.

In the end, I think that's exactly right -- that the Bishop doesn't have to worry about public opinion because he's got a church that ought to (whether they do or not is another matter) inspect his orthodoxy, so posts from Dan don't mean anything to him. TeamPyro? Pheh!

But Dr. Graham -- that's another story. His entire reputation hangs on whether or not he has in the past and continues to this day preach the Gospel. And if it turns out that he has accepted a fudgy universalism, his reputation is ruined. And that's all he has.

Sure: he has a $100-million dollar NPO to support his work. But again: when the rep of that organization hangs on the definition of the "Good News of Jesus Christ", let's makes sure we agree about what we are talking about.

Here's what I'd like to see: I'd like to see someone who is making your objection go back to the interview and demonstrate that Dan has misunderstood what Dr. Graham has said. I think it is impossible to do that, but I may be biased toward my friend and co-pyro. If there's someplace where Dr. Graham has said that his statement about the love of God is not a statement of universalism, I'm wide open to see it.

Until then, poking Dan in the chest about being ungracious is just huffery.

Gummby said...

Karen: interestingly, my pastor holds that the story Jesus relays about Lazarus and the rich man is real, not a parable, because Jesus uses names.

I would also say that you're picking at nits here, since it seems as though the key issue for the girl is the mother's final destination, and why she is going there if she was "a good mother." That betrays a clear misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel, and I would submit that it would be better to focus not on the (possibly less certain) intermediate state but the certain ultimate outcome of those who are not found "in Christ."

Perhaps none of us can say for certain that her mother is in Hell, and perhaps we wouldn't want to. But if we rephrase the question to "what does the Bible say about judgment of non-Christians?", I think we can answer that question in a way that gets at the woman's need.

Finally, if the Bible is unclear about the intermediate state, then it seems (to me anyway) that to speculate that God will save people who are in that state is questionable at best, and reckless at worst.

donsands said...

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matt. 10:28


God doesn't "destroy both the body and soul in hell", it's the devil the Lord is speaking of here.
This is what I read of how Billy Graham interprets this verse.
I think it somewhat reveals Mr. Graham's heart.
Seems that many in the pulpits have this extreme teaching on God's compassion. Not that God's compassion isn't beyond measure, but His holiness, wrath, and judgement of sin are very essential to understand, like someone already noted, and I think it was Frank, that there is no good news, unless there is bad news.

Backwoods Presbyterian said...

Speaking of Religious Leaders on Larry King Albert Mohler was on about two months ago on a forum of religious leaders during the Anglican and Presbyterian(USA)assemblies. Being the only "conserrvative" on the panel he was laughed at and scoffed at by the other "liberal" (I hate labels) religious leaders. But when asked point blank about the innerency of scripture he did not balk. When asked if he-Albert Mohler-were a sinner he repeated Paul's reminder of his own sinfulness verbatim. Not surprisingly the other guests danced around the question or just refused to answer.

Sharon said...

Another issue that bothers me greatly is Billy Graham's embracing of Roman Catholics as "brothers and sisters in Christ." Sure, there are rare individual exceptions, but the RCC system is a false religion based on salvation by works, which damns souls to hell. As my pastor says, "Catholics are not our fellow believers, they are our mission field!"

Kyle said...

Only if she wants to be.

And if she lived a life in rebellion against God, with no repentance, where do you suppose she wants to be?

I think the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is clear enough—and your dismissing its clarity because it's a "parable" is absurd. The unregenerate, upon death, suffer torments in hell, until the final judgement; the regenerate enjoy peace in heaven. What distinguishes them is that the former did not believe word of God in life, while the latter did.

The final judgement will mean that men, in their resurrected bodies, either suffer in hell for eternity or enjoy a renewed creation and communion with God for eternity. If we are judged, we are judged according to the lives we led while on earth, and apart from God's regenerating mercy, those lives can only be sinful and rebellious.

Thus the unbelieving relative, no matter how "moral" or "kind" or "good" he or she was in the eyes of men, is damned—and this is the righteous judgement of God. Where we may suppose someone's salvation is when that person has expressed faith and borne fruits in keeping with their professed faith.

We do not overstep our bounds in affirming, in accordance with God's own testimony, that unrepentant unbelievers end up in hell. Rather, it is foolish and unscriptural to speculate that anyone dying in unbelief will be saved.

Carrie said...

Dan, I'm very disappointed in you. You forgot about the guy on the deserted island who never heard of Jesus.

I find this stuff particularly sad b/c many non-believers I meet are hung up on the Jesus is the only way. A friend of mine just the other day said that my viewpoint comes off as very "elitist". I told her it isn't so much my viewpoint as God's, I'm just passing along the message.

BTW Dan, I think you showed plenty of grace here. I read it as condemning the watered-down message and not the whole man.

Karen said...

Kyle, peruse a very orthodox, very Calvinist theologian like Louis Berkhof on this subject. Nothing I said was about 'second chance' or universalism or anything like that. The fact is: the Bible is not clear on what happens to unbelievers when they die. I believe in giving the hardcore message of hellfire, but as I said, I wouldn't say somebody's mother who died an unbeliever is in final judgment hell (and here again you need to do some study; Hades/Sheol are presented in different ways in Scripture and to state dogmatically that an unbeliever in Hades is in torments of Hell is not given warrant by Scripture.)

You mistook my very first sentence as well. When I said the mother would be in hell if she wants to be that is saying there is nobody in hell who doesn't want to be there. That is a very Calvinist saying. I also stated that a poisonous snake is not condemned for striking but for having poison in it. Think on that.

Nobody anywhere is going to out-hardcore me or out biblical doctrine me. I'm a hardcore, real Calvinist (i.e. I understand why I'm a Calvinist).

And the fact is you can go to any good evangelical or Reformed dictionary of theology and peruse the article on time and eternity and see the very same things I said about that subject. It's just a fact that God acts from eternity and He is not constrained or limited by time as we perceive time in our limited way. I stated I could go into it via terminology used by one of the church fathers, but I stated the Bible leaves it in mystery, so, so be it, let's leave it in mystery. But the biblical warrant is not there to tell somebody their dead mother is in the torments of final judgment hell because she died an unbeliever.

Bhedr said...

Amen! A most excellent post!

centuri0n said...

Karen:

whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.

if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

If Berkhof (or anyone) says any different, they are simply wrong. Scripture can't be any more clear on this issue.

Chris Freeland said...

It's interesting that Billy Graham -- who has never even been the pastor of a church...

Not true. Billy Graham was the pastor of Western Springs Baptist Church in Western Springs Illinois from 1943-44. :)

http://www.churchstaffsearch.com/jobs/listings/2053.html

Steve said...

Karen: Though you say you do not speak of a second chance, still, when you say, "But unregenerate at death doesn't necessarily mean reprobate at death. God is not constrained by time as we perceive time. The Holy Sprit can regenerate the mother spoken of above in any part of her time. We can't see how this is, but God acts from eternity," you are leaving room open for the possibility that an unbeliever's state at death is not necessarily a fixed state, contrary to what Jesus stated in John 8:24.

Karen said...

If Berkhof (or anyone) says any different, they are simply wrong. Scripture can't be any more clear on this issue.

Please cite Scripture. This should be interesting. We are talking about what the Bible says about what happens to unbelievers when they die. The Bible is clear on what happens to believers when they die, but not unbelievers. Doctrines involving 'intermediate state' are the fuzziest in the books (and newer than people think). The Reformed confessions, on the other hand, are dogmatic and sure, but that is the stand they take on assumption, not biblical documentation.

And I'm not arguing against the hardcore doctrine of hell which Jesus presents. I'm saying there is no biblical warrant for telling somebody their dead mother is in the torments of final judgment hell. I.e. there is no biblical warrant for assuming unregenerate at death equals default reprobate at death.

DJP said...

Karen -- Please cite Scripture. This should be interesting.

Yes, it should, since my running count of explicit Scriptural citations in your comments stands at 0.00.

Like half the Supreme Court, you strike me as being far more fascinated with the penumbra than with the text itself.

Gummby said...

I.e. there is no biblical warrant for assuming unregenerate at death equals default reprobate at death.

How exactly would one become regenerate after death?

Karen said...

Karen: Though you say you do not speak of a second chance, still, when you say, "But unregenerate at death doesn't necessarily mean reprobate at death. God is not constrained by time as we perceive time. The Holy Sprit can regenerate the mother spoken of above in any part of her time. We can't see how this is, but God acts from eternity," you are leaving room open for the possibility that an unbeliever's state at death is not necessarily a fixed state, contrary to what Jesus stated in John 8:24.

Absolutely not. If I was talking of some kind of reincarnation or a second chance in Hades, or something similar, you could say that. I am talking about a person's life, period, one time around. What you need to see is birth to death linear time is reality for us, but God is not limited either in perception or in action to that. The Bible gives us the message as we perceive things, of necessity, and to instill the terror of the situation, so to speak, but at the same time what is not possible with man is possible for God, and we certainly don't consign anyone to eternal hellfire when that is a judgment made by Jesus at the final judgment. How people are regenerated, when they are, is God's perogative, and He, in the mystery of the Godhead, whether Father or Holy Spirit, is not limited as we are limited in acting in time. And there is nothing in Scripture that tells us God self-limits Himself regarding this subject. If God has chosen in a linear time like 'past', then it is still the Holy Spirit who applies that redemption (regeneration) in time, acting from eternity. So, this is left in mystery.

God does it. How God acts in time from eternity is not something we can perceive and certainly not something we can be dogmatic regarding.

This is not about the biblical doctrine of hell. This is about what the Bible says, and doesn't say, regarding what happens to unbelievers when they die. What is usually staked out in doctrine under 'intermediate state.' It is fuzzy doctrine, and that is because the Word of God does not give warrant for being dogmatic on it but is one of the areas of God's plan that it leaves in mystery.

Karen said...

Like half the Supreme Court, you strike me as being far more fascinated with the penumbra than with the text itself.

Hm. And right back at you?

I'm saying there is no Scripture. For the record. Read immediate comments above for what is actually being talked about here.

DJP said...

Hm. And right back at you?

Deep. As I suspected: actually reading the post you're putatively "commenting" on could have messed up your whole line.

Kyle said...

I wouldn't say somebody's mother who died an unbeliever is in final judgment hell

I thought I made it quite clear that there is a difference between the intermediate state and the state of final judgement, e.g., the resurrected body is involved in the latter. What I'm disputing is what you call a lack of clarity regarding the intermediate state between death and final judgement for those who die unregenerate.

(and here again you need to do some study; Hades/Sheol are presented in different ways in Scripture and to state dogmatically that an unbeliever in Hades is in torments of Hell is not given warrant by Scripture.)

Frequently sheol has no referrence to hell per se, but simply to the grave. However, it is perfectly clear that in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, "hades" does not merely referrence the grave! The only way to dismiss this parable's impact on our understanding of the intermediate state is to do what you have done: to say it's not clear enough because it's a parable. That is not in the least bit convincing; does anyone think the parable of the sheep and the goats leaves us unclear as to the final judgement?

You mistook my very first sentence as well. When I said the mother would be in hell if she wants to be that is saying there is nobody in hell who doesn't want to be there.

I didn't mistake your first sentence at all. As I said, if one dies an unbeliever, he has demonstrated where it is he wants to be.

It's just a fact that God acts from eternity and He is not constrained or limited by time as we perceive time in our limited way.

This does not give you any warrant to speculate that God may save someone who has died an unbeliever. Indeed, all scriptural warrant is in completely the opposite direction. If we know someone to have been an unbeliever, we can speculate only that they will receive their just reward, i.e., eternal damnation. (Consequently, if Scripture is clear about the intermediate state for those who die in unbelief, we can ALSO say that.) The ONLY ESCAPE revealed in Scripture is faith in Jesus Christ—and that is a faith obtained while we are yet on earth, not after we have died.

But the biblical warrant is not there to tell somebody their dead mother is in the torments of final judgment hell because she died an unbeliever.

I never said that anyone is in "final judgement hell."

Uncynic said...

As a possible followup, I'd be interested in how you square the doctrine of election with your post.

I'm sure you can dig the ramifications out yourself, but essentially the question I have is whether God's election produces belief in the elect. In other words, does everyone who is elect necessarily believe?

Thanks for the post.

Karen said...

How exactly would one become regenerate after death?

From our perspective that is not possible. From God's side of things He is at least not limited in time as we are.

We act on the biblical teaching as it is presented to our limited observational selves. But when it comes to declaring people to be in final judgment hellfire that is going beyond what is necessary or proper or useful as one who is to bring the law and gospel to people. To the person concerned about their 'good' mother who died an unbeliever we say she is in God's hands, because she is, and possibly in ways we can't see as possible from our limited perception, so we can legitimately think it may be OK for her, but now let's talk about the concerned daughter or son... I.e. our responsiblity is to proclaim the Word. That is what God wants you to do.

Steve said...

Karen said, "How people are regenerated, when they are, is God's perogative, and He, in the mystery of the Godhead, whether Father or Holy Spirit, is not limited as we are limited in acting in time."

Though God is eternal and not constrained by time, the consistent evidence of Scripture is that when it comes to our eternal destinations, he has chosen to act within the boundaries of time. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that allows us to consider an alternative--nothing to even suggest that one's eternal destination can be altered after death.

H.C. Ross said...

Brother Centurion,

You said:

"Here's what I'd like to see: I'd like to see someone who is making your objection go back to the interview and demonstrate that Dan has misunderstood what Dr. Graham has said."

My point was that we all ought to offer Graham the benefit of the doubt until ANY of us know for sure whether what he said was truly universalist.

Now you're saying someone with my objection is obligated to prove Graham WASN'T being universalist in order to make a case for being gracious? Otherwise leave suspicion of Graham's soundness alone?

So when a Christian leader utters an ambiguous or questionable statement, he or she should be assumed guilty of heterodoxy or worse until proven innocent? Is that how you want to be treated?

Why should anyone have to make a case for showing humility, and deference, and decorum, and reverence, and gentleness? I'm not trying to 'poke Dan in the chest' or anyone else. This is not about getting one up on someone else.

Jesus said, 'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you' (Jn 15:12). He was talking to his disciples, specifically. So you and I and Dan and Dr Graham and every other believer share that charge from the Master, and it concerns how we treat each other. That was the big commandment he saved for last. I'm saying that in this context it means giving Dr Graham the benefit of the doubt. I think Wright has given a considerable amount more evidence than Graham that he stands outside the boundaries of evangelical orthodoxy, but to be honest, I haven't read enough background on him to comment much.

I'm not trying to be adversarial. Perhaps we just need to agree to disagree.

There's a danger here:
"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!"
Galatians 5:14-15

Karen said...

Whether it's those Allstate type hands, or it's 'sinners in the hands of an angry God' type hands, the departed unbelievers are in God's hands (and I havn't been throwing in the caveat regarding nobody can ultimately know whether a departed person was a believer or not...we can have an idea, of course, maybe even a pretty good idea, but ultimately we can't know, that just has to be thrown in there).

The wildcard here is time and eternity and how God acts in time from eternity and what is possible for God vs. what is not possible for man or to man's perception.

That and the fact that regeneration is applied by God, by the Holy Spirit, from eternity acting in time, without the limitations man has. Obviously, one has to see that from God's persepctive in eternity a human life is not a birth to death linear series of present moments. It is a living time. It seems impossible to man that God could regenerate a person at any time of his life, when to us that person has even passed on, but what is not possible for man is possible with God.

It in the least, since the Bible is not dogmatic on what happens to unbelievers when they die, should instill humility regarding consigning anybody to hellfire, for any reason.

Saying people are in God's hands, and giving people the Word of God is enough.

It's enough that Jesus tells us (ourselves) we are in danger of hellfire. We don't have to tell a person their mother is in hellfire. That's not the same thing. We have no biblical warrant for doing that, and we can't know how that person is going to be judged at the final judgment. And the Bible is not clear on Hades a holding pit that is 'like final judgment hell.' The Bible is unclear regarding what happens to unbelievers when they go to Hades.

Kyle said...

(and I havn't been throwing in the caveat regarding nobody can ultimately know whether a departed person was a believer or not...we can have an idea, of course, maybe even a pretty good idea, but ultimately we can't know, that just has to be thrown in there).

If a man dies never having confessed Christ, we can conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not believe.

That and the fact that regeneration is applied by God, by the Holy Spirit, from eternity acting in time, without the limitations man has. Obviously, one has to see that from God's persepctive in eternity a human life is not a birth to death linear series of present moments. It is a living time. It seems impossible to man that God could regenerate a person at any time of his life, when to us that person has even passed on, but what is not possible for man is possible with God.

Does Scripture ever suggest that God regenerates people after they have died? Honestly, this is speculation with utterly zero support from Scripture, "inasmuch as it is appointed to men to die once and after that comes judgement." If one has not been brought to Christ before death, then he has only judgement to await.

That is the clear position of Scripture, and no amount of cavilling about parables or the timelessness of God will obscure it.

Mustard Grains said...

Ah yes...we see again the attribute of God that was lost in times past...that of Fairness!

Karen said...

This does not give you any warrant to speculate that God may save someone who has died an unbeliever.

It may be how He's saved you? be careful? Seriously... You are intent to not see it from God's persective from eternity. What is it to us, anyway? The unbeliever has passed on. Our concern is our own salvation (work out your own salvation in fear and trembling) despite it being by God's grace, and our concern are those we, as bearers of God's message, may be able to reach, to plant a necessary seed (it doesn't take much!), that only God can grow.

My speculation is not motivated to contradict hardcore, biblical doctrine, it is to be humble and recognize that what is impossible with man is possible with God. And to point out what is biblically true: the Bible leaves in mystery what happens to unbelievers when they die, unlike what the Bible says about believers when they die, of which it is very clear.

H.C. Ross said...

Centurion,

Got any Wings records, or are you a purist who shuns all Beatles spinoffs?

It's hard to deny that Harrison had a good thing going, even given the syncretism of 'My Sweet Lord' ...

Karen said...

Ah yes...we see again the attribute of God that was lost in times past...that of Fairness!

Oh, you're going to try and out-Calvinist me, Mustard Grains? (I guess Berkhof too.) You will have a long row to hoe (no pun intended).

Kyle said: "If a man dies never having confessed Christ, we can conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not believe."

This is a side issue, but the point is, though the evidence is usually pretty plain, nevertheless we have to throw in the caveat that we can't know what occurs between a person and God up to the very point of their death. Or what comes out of their mouth. Maybe they don't feel a need to confess Jesus to you.

Kyle said: "Does Scripture ever suggest that God regenerates people after they have died? Honestly, this is speculation with utterly zero support from Scripture"

You really have to try to see that from God's perspective it wouldn't be 'after they died.'

I'm not saying this to suggest God 'really' saves the unbelieving mother. I fully embrace the doctrine of hell and the terror of it and the reality of it as it is presented in Scripture, and from the mouth of Jesus at that. As I stated, the mother is a poisonous snake, and whether she was 'good' (i.e. didn't strike anybody) in her life or not it doesn't matter because she has poison in her and that does her in.

mensa reject said...

"Nobody anywhere is going to out-hardcore me or out biblical doctrine me. I'm a hardcore, real Calvinist (i.e. I understand why I'm a Calvinist)."

Karen, you forgot to include humble.

CraigS said...

As DJP said, I've been a Wright admirer for some time - his apologetics book Who was Jesus? was very helpful to me when I was struggling with my faith after reading AN Wilsons book on Jesus.

But the Bishop has made things very hard for me. A few years ago I had him in the "CS Lewis" category. He has slowly drifted into the "Karl Barth" category.

If he says anything else that's whacky, he's in danger of being assigned to the "Benny Hinn" category...

Kyle said...

It may be how He's saved you? be careful?

Huh? Um, last I checked, I was still physically alive when I was converted (though I had been spiritually dead). The same holds true for all cases of regeneration in Scripture.

Seriously... You are intent to not see it from God's persective from eternity.

I'm afraid doing so is impossible for a spatio-temporal being. I can only approximate His view. But at any rate, His revealed word gives me no room to suppose that some people may indeed be regenerated after they have physically died.

What is it to us, anyway?

To me, it's about the integrity and authority of God's word.

the Bible leaves in mystery what happens to unbelievers when they die

Which I and others have disputed.

Taliesin said...

Dan,

Thanks for the post. I agree that we cannot sidestep such important issues. I also want to remind H.C. that you said "And I don't, by these two interview, judge the entire ministry or career of either men."

Whatever we might, after extended reflection, say about their ministries, we must state that Dr. Graham's statements are not reflective of Biblical Christianity. We can do this without passing judgment on an entire ministry. Also, from my own heart, if I should ever utter such statements I hope that there are those around me with the courage to remind me of the truth.

Karen: the time/eternity angle sounds great, but Scripture says, "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The passage is saying that death is the spiritual Rubicon; once crossed, there is no going back (the die is cast). The Bible leaves no mystery about this.

Now, we might say that if she had heard the gospel, there might have been a deathbed conversion. But a person who dies in their sins is lost (compare John 8:24 with 1 Corinthians 15:17-18).

Kyle said...

You really have to try to see that from God's perspective it wouldn't be 'after they died.'

This is unbiblical nonsense.

Do you consider God incapable of telling physical life apart from physical death?

Yankeerev said...

Hey...I'm offended! Where is the Grace in all of this?

Oh...I almost forgot. Speaking the "whole" truth in love "is" grace at work...

Thanks for your post...

Seriously, is there someone who is coming along side Dr. Graham and saying to him... "Do you really understand what you are saying?" There have to be Evangelical brothers who have the boldness to challenge him on these "off the wall" and "undermining" statements.

This is extremely confusing for our Christian culture -- which is already confused enough...

H.C. Ross said...

Bros. Dan and Centurion,

To show my own great (eh-hem!) magnanimity and humility, I offer the following apology:

Sorry. I just read through the other interview you link to with Dr Graham and Dr Schuller -- and now I am a more concerned than I was. I've heard very believable anecdotes about people in the Middle East having dreams about Jesus being the Christ and getting converted that way (admittedly they've all been anecdotes, but many from trusted sources, eg, a missionary friend in the region) and if that's what Graham means then I'm with him. But he seems to go further than that, and that's troubling.

I should have checked all your documentation before commenting, Dan. My sincere apologies.

To preserve my fragile ego, I still affirm that humility and deference and assuming the best until one knows otherwise are good things. Ahh ... ego intact.

Centurion, I hope you'll overlook my huffery this time.

Grace and peace.

ZF said...

What we've read in these quotes from Graham and Wright are what I call conservative universalism. It seeks to avoid an appearence of flat-footed traditionalism while squeeking by sentimental liberalism. It doesn't deny the existence of hell, just the possibility of people going there. IMHO, the modern roots are neo-orthodox. Barth, Von Balthasar, Neuhaus, Wright and Graham and more and more who call themselves conservative. It always attaches piety to it..giving full weight to "hope" and so forth. It abounds in conservative Catholicism and now that I've, by grace, came into the Reformation I've noticed it there too.

Phil Johnson said...

HC Ross: I hear what you're saying, and I definitely agree with you in principle. But in Graham's case, he has made numerous confusing statements over many years' time about the eternal destiny of people who are devoted to non-Christian religions (and about where others who die in unbelief go after death).

Though I've read remarks from the BGEO where Graham's handlers excuse his remarks by attributing them to the confusion of old age, Parkinson's disease, or whatever, I'm unaware of any clarifying statement Graham himself has ever issued. Meanwhile, the confusing statements--which go back to the 1970s--add up to very troubling evidence that Graham himself is a committed "inclusivist" (though I would grant that Graham is probably not a full-fledged universalist).

Still, he has been asked many times to make a public clarification and to speak with more clarity when asked this question. But the problem seems to be getting worse instead of better.

Since you said, "Yes, if Graham means what you imply he may mean, he ought to be hoisted up as an example and all the body of Christ should be alerted," I'm curious: what, in your view, would be sufficient evidence that Graham means what he seems to have said every single time anyone from the secular media has asked him about the eternal state of unbelievers?

DJP said...

h. c. ross -- I should have checked all your documentation before commenting, Dan. My sincere apologies.

Totally accepted, and appreciated. I was just about to ask you whether you'd followed that link, where Graham explicitly says that they needn't even know Jesus' name, and can be Muslims or Buddhists or whatever, and go to Heaven if they "know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have."

DJP said...

CraigS -- If he says anything else that's whacky, he's in danger of being assigned to the "Benny Hinn" category...

Then, after that, "Benny Hill."

(Which is actually how I first read your post.)

Yankeerev said...

DJP...

O.K. so now I have a mental image of Graham, Wright, Osteen and Jakes being pushed around in wheelchairs to the tune of "We are One in the Spirit, We are One in the Lord."

And it's all your fault!!!

H.C. Ross said...

Thanks, Phil, for your comments, and thanks, Dan, for YOUR gracious pardon.

It's after midnight here in Scotland and I'm retiring, but I'll check back to read more comments tomorrow. It's been engaging.

In parting I want to hold up J. Robertson McQuilkin for being admirably firm on this issue. Here's the concluding paragraph of his excellent essay, 'Lost -- Are Those Who Haven't Heard Really Lost?':

"When all has been said that can be said on this issue, the greatest remaining mystery is not the
character of God nor the destiny of lost people. The greatest mystery is why those who are charged
with rescuing the lost have spent 2 thousand years doing other things, good things, perhaps, but have
failed to send and be sent until all have heard the liberating word of life in Christ Jesus. The lost
condition of human beings breaks the Father's heart. What does it do to ours?"

The essay can be downloaded in PDF here: www.calebproject.org/userfiles/MIB-lost.pdf

Phil Johnson said...

HC Ross:

My turn to apologize. You posted your second-to-last comment while I was composing mine, and your latest comment while I was composing this one.

Incidentally, I wrote an article about Billy Graham's comments on Robert Schuller's program sometime around 1998. I first verified the accuracy of the quotations; I wrote to the Graham organization; and I received the standard reply that they issue to anyone who asks this question.

Versions of that same reply have been forwarded to me by others who have written the BGEA for clarification. (The letter offers no retraction or personal explanation from Graham about his remarks to Dr. Schuller.) The BGEA letter does include some remarks from Graham about Christ's being the world's only Savior. But the letter does not actually demonstrate that Mr. Graham believes a fully sentient adult person must actually hear the gospel and confess faith in Christ in order to be saved. In fact, the letter quoted Graham as saying that he believes God will give a person light "in ways we may not fully understand" apart from the preaching of the gospel. Nothing in the quotes cited from Graham himself actually refute or retract anything he said in the Schuller interview or in similar venues. Both the inclusivist position he took with Schuller and the carefully nuanced statements in the BGEA letter could be affirmed simultaneously.

(If I can locate a copy of the letter, I will post it. I've seen a version of the BGEA standard reply on line. If someone who has time wants to search for it and link to it, that would save me the effort.)

In the article I wrote in the '90s, I acknowledged that Graham's statements on Schuller's program seem to conflict with what he has preached. For the record, my concern is not about what he preaches. My concern has to do with what he said in the Schuller interview and what he has repeatedly said in other similar situations. If what he preaches and what he actually believes are different, the problem is compounded, not mitigated.

I mentioned that Graham's public fumbles on this issue go back almost four decades. Here's one example: In 1978 he gave an interview to McCalls magazine, which they ran in a 5-page article. Here's an excerpt:

"I used to play God," he acknowledged, "but I can't do that any more. I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost—were going to hell—if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that," he said carefully. "I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God—through nature, for instance—and plenty of other opportunities therefore, of saying 'yes' to God." ("I Can't Play God Any More," McCalls Jan. 1978, p. 156).

Dr. Graham's actual position seems to be that Christ is the only Savior, but that He saves some people without their explicit knowledge of Him—and without their knowledge of or consent to His Word. That view is consistent with the statements he made on Schuller's broadcast, and it is not expressly refuted by the statement the BGEA distributes.

A helpful analysis of the Schuller transcript may be found in the Reformation and Revival Journal, vol. 7, no. 2 (Spring 1998), pp. 151-164. In a review article examining Billy Graham's book Just as I Am, R&R editor John Armstrong told of his efforts to try to get real clarification of these comments from the Graham organization. Armstrong writes,

"I finally wrote the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a gracious letter asking for an explanation of such comments. I included the verbatim transcript of Schuller's interview. (I suggested that Graham's Parkinson's disease might be a possible clue, or even that he might have been unprepared and might now retract those words upon further reflection.) The reply I received was not helpful at all. It suggested that Dr. Graham's views are the same as they have always been. Included in the response was an article from Decision magazine (from the 1960s). There was no recognition that the statements reflect the serious inroads of missionary inclusivism and religious pluralism. It seems quite apparent that Dr. Schuller understood the response of Graham as I do, since he seemed so delighted with it. I hope that I am wrong in my evaluation, but this episode underscores an ongoing problem. . . . "

Since then, Armstrong has repudiated a lot of what he once taught, so it's not really clear whether Armstrong would still have a problem with Graham's inclusivism, but I concur with his 1998 assessment of Graham's position.

If Dr. Graham does not really believe what he said in the Schuller interview, then he needs to retract those statements publicly. He himself raised these issues in a very public venue. And if a verbatim transcript of what he said actually misrepresents what he "really" believes, then he needs to explain himself clearly. Unfortunately, the BGEA reply erases none of the concerns most people have raised.

If any retraction or clarification of these comments is ever issued by Dr. Graham, the PyroManiacs will be among the first to try to publicize it. In the meantime, however, we have a duty—not an agreeable duty, but a duty nonetheless—to stand against the deadly notion that people can be saved without ever hearing the gospel.

Phil Johnson said...

karen: I finally realized who you are.

For the record, you were banned permanently from posting comments here several weeks ago because of your deliberate and repeated use of childish profanities. The ban has nothing to do with your doctrinal idiosyncrasies.

Our ban against your commenting has not been lifted, nor will it ever be lifted if you continue changing identities and posting anyway. Further remarks from you will be deleted regardless of their content. If you want to have the ban lifted, you are going to have to negotiate that via private e-mail after you have established your willingness to abide by our posting guidlelines.

CraigS said...

I'm sure BGs synergism has led to this error. After all, if man must co-operate with God's grace, then God owes every man an equal chance at salvation - He would be unjust otherwise.

Phil Johnson said...

CraigS:

Good observation. I understand the reluctance people have to criticize such a widely-revered figure as BG, even when they have strong reservations about his methods and his public statements.

In that very respect, I think BG is this generation's Charles Finney. I smetimes wonder if the long-term effects of the Grahamization of American Evangelicalism will have as many far-reaching negative effects as Finney's legacy has left us with. I don't think Graham ought to be put on a pedastal and exempted from any kind of critical evaluation, especially when he is making statements that seem to suggest that the gospel he spent his life preaching is optional.

DJP said...

...and, to appreciate (if that's the word) the far-reaching damaging effects of Finneyism, Iain Murray's Revivals and Revivalism lays it out straight and solid.

Jay C said...

Kudos go to my wife, who reminded me that the 'parable of Lazarus' isn't actually a parable. It begins with "There was a certain man", which sounds an awful lot like a historical narrative.

And if Jesus can refer to the eternal destiny of one man, then who are I to disagree?

Mark W. said...

As commentor number 80-something,
who knows if this will even be read, but I must say that your post today has been overzealous to say the least, especially your comments concerning "a tribesman who never hears the gospel." In truth, the beginning verses of Romans 2 should be warning enough to you not to go overboard splitting hairs about who "gets in" and who doesn't. No - I'm NOT using Romans 2 to justify faith by works, but I do interpret that verse the same way the eminent Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig has, when he stated in his February 1995 debate:

"In Romans chapters 1 and 2 in the New Testament Paul says that salvation is available to any person who responds to the light of nature and conscience, if he hasn't heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, say, a person living in North America during the Middle Ages, before missionaries came. If this person will respond to the witness of God in nature---he can see there's a Creator God, say---and he senses the moral law of God written on his heart, and he responds, Paul says in Romans chapter 2 in verse 7, God will give that person eternal life. Now that doesn't mean he's saved apart from Christ, but it would mean that he may not have a conscious knowledge of Christ, which is the basis of his salvation. He would be like a person in the Old Testament who was saved through Christ, even though he hadn't yet heard of Christ; he responded to the light that he had. So I think God gives sufficient grace or salvation to every person. God is fair and He's loving and He wants everyone to come to know Him and be saved."

All Reverend Graham and others are saying is that epistemologically we are not in a position to know for sure whether a given individual has "respond[ed] to the witness of God in nature" or not. And for reasons mentioned by others commentors today, I believe it is never proper for someone (including you, sir) to presume that you can say with certainty what was in a given person's heart. The high and mighty attitude with which you exclaim that all cases of "tribesmen" are "excuses" that will "not work" is crass and unwarranted. Your assumption that it is possible for a person to become "too educated" also betrays your anti-intellectualism. Please know that in light of this post you stand far from being accused of any overeducation at ant rate, and "gently, firmly" or whatever, perhaps it is truly time for you to stop talking.

Sincerely,
MW

sparrowhawk said...

Now that's a fascinating thought, Graham being this generation's Finney. Yes, for all the obvious reasons, and no, primarily because back in Finney's day most folks were far more theologically grounded, even if they denied the faither later in their lives. Because more folks on average had a better understanding of things theological back in that day, I suspect they were more susceptible to think their way into error faster. At least they were thinking, in vivid contrast to a majority of modern evangelicals.

Perhaps then, taking the comparison even further, its no surprise the effects that Finney and Joseph Smith had in their common era.

Evangelicalism Divided: I ordered my copy from Banner of Trust in 2000 shipped to my home in Texas. I remember it took months to read. Reason: I kept having to sit the book down for several minutes at a time just to digest and reflect upon what I had just read.

CalvDispy said...

A number of Jesus' parables in Luke begin with the phrase, "a certain man." See Luke 10:30; 13:6; 14:16 and 15:11. Aside from the personal name, I believe the 'Rich man and Lazarus' has all the earmarks of a parable.

CraigS said...

MW, Romans 1-2 does not say that anyone who "responds" to general revelation will be saved. Rather, it shows that both mediate and immediate general revelation testify to mankind's condemnation. Note that all will be judged with absolute justice.

I like Lane a lot, but he is quite mistaken in this case. The text simply does not say what he says it does.

For the monergist, "those who haven't heard" do not present a problem, as God knows who His children are and will ensure that they hear the gospel.

centuri0n said...

Oh brother -- I've heard Dr.Craig say that (over and over), and that may be the worst reading of that passage on record by an educated man. The point -- the entire point -- of the first half of Romans 2 is not that some men are saved by their incomplete knowledge of the Gospel, but that all men are without any excuse of ignorance regarding the moral decrees of God.

Paul is not pleading that some are coincidentally saved here: he's making the strong case for universal depravity among men -- the Jews because they have received the Law, and the gentiles for knowing intuitively what the Law is, but both now guilty because none could keep it.

It's horrible exegesis to say that Romans 1 & 2 hints at a secret, natural "gospel" which saves men -- and wicked, anti-evangelistic theology.

that's a topic which I would gladly take on with anyone over at Ask A Calvinst (aka DEbateBlog).

centuri0n said...

As for Dan being "anti-intellectual", that's simply a drive-by.

You're not a serious person, MW.

Kyle said...

William Lane Craig far overstates his case, and really, he turns the meaning of Rom. 1 & 2 on its head; Paul's meaning is not that one can be saved apart from knowledge of Christ, but that everyone has sufficient knowledge to be condemned.

At any rate, it seems Dr. Craig didn't read on to ch. 3:

We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

"There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. There throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.


And perhaps he also missed ch. 10:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved." [cf. Acts 4:12] How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!" However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Sola fide!

jazzycat said...

This post was not only well written it was an inspiration in good apologetics.

Carla said...

Well brother Dan... look at what you've gone and done this time!

I noted this post to read later, and at the time it had 30something comments. I came back to 90something! I almost never read all the comments all the way through, but I have to tell you:

This was a great post, and the comment thread discussion was quite likely one the best I have read in a long time.

I'm glad I came back later. :o)

SDG,
Carla

Mark W. said...

centuri0n - My assertion was hardly a mere "drive by." Any rhetorician can see that the exaggerated descriptions such as "ultra-scholarly academic" and specifically chosen metaphors like "verbal lubricant" being used to describe the "sophisticated" theologians whom Phillips is criticizing are language choices deliberately invoking a common, negative intellectual stereotype and applying it to those Phillips is arguing against...Rather underhanded ad hominem if you ask me. Perhaps I should have been more specific and said "anti-academic."

craigs - Thanks for the precise and articulate comments to me. I can tell that you are certainly trying to solve the theodical quandry of Phillips' "tribesmen" in a logical way. However, I think Dr. Craig's view is more logically solid given the attributes of God. My problem with Calvinism is that I've never seen it able to deliver the "just" God that it promises. Simply retorting that God's justice is "unknowable" is not any stronger a position than the statements Phillips is condemning in his post. At least Craig's view maintains the traditional theodical attributes of the Christian God: Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnibenevolence (which implies "justice").

CraigS said...

However, I think Dr. Craig's view is more logically solid given the attributes of God.

You would need to develop this. But we can't abstract the attributes of God from the scriptural revelation of them. The Bible not only tells us that "God is love" - but it also tells us what that looks like.

My problem with Calvinism is that I've never seen it able to deliver the "just" God that it promises.

Strange, it seems to me to deliver a perfectly just God. God will judge every man perfectly according to the revelation they have. All are sinful, so all will be condemned, apart from the objects of God's mercy.

The elect receive mercy. The reprobate receive justice. No-one receives injustice. The problem you posit simply doesn't exist.

Simply retorting that God's justice is "unknowable" is not any stronger a position than the statements Phillips is condemning in his post.

I agree. Fortunately I've never "retorted" that God's justice is unknowable. It is perfectly knowable, and I've just explained it above.

Kyle said...

Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnibenevolence (which implies "justice").

You and Dr. Craig imply that God would be unjust for condemning a person without giving them sufficient revelation to be saved. The question is, Why? There isn't a soul who deserves such revelation, and so it cannot possibly be unjust to withhold it from any.

Mark W. said...

craigs -
The elect receive mercy. The reprobate receive justice. No-one receives injustice. The problem you posit simply doesn't exist.

Translation: An unknowable and undeserving elite are divinely "picked" to receive mercy while others in exactly the same predicament are left to eternal torment without having any choice in the matter? Hmm, sounds like the kind of justice extended to African Americans pre-civil rights.

Also - For the monergist, "those who haven't heard" do not present a problem, as God knows who His children are and will ensure that they hear the gospel.

Actually this reasoning looks like a fairly typical Calvinist problem - that of begging the question:
Q: "So, how do you know that God's children will all have the opportunity to hear the gospel?"
A: "Because God's children are always among those who will have heard the gospel."
Uh, yeah...that's just the question spit back at me.

Clear these up too?

Mark W. said...

kyle -

You and Dr. Craig imply that God would be unjust for condemning a person without giving them sufficient revelation to be saved. The question is, Why?

Because the entire divine redemptive plan for the universe which God brought into being with perfect foreknowledge was, in the most powerful sense, caused by HIM. Thus, the very existence of every soul not-receiving mercy in a universe where some are receiving mercy would be evidence against God's omnibenevolence. I don't see how one could hold on to omnibenevolence without revelation avaliable to all. This is the only scenario wherein the responsibility falls upon man, not God. Romans 3:23 identifies our "own" sins - not Adam's. If I am to be condemned for my own actions, I must have the opportunity to be confronted with knowledge of the consequences of my actions, otherwise I should be held as innocent.

CraigS said...

Translation: An unknowable and undeserving elite are divinely "picked" to receive mercy while others in exactly the same predicament are left to eternal torment

Yes - it is called "grace".

Hmm, sounds like the kind of justice extended to African Americans pre-civil rights.

So, what you are saying is that Calvinists are morally equivalent to lynch mobs? Helpful.

Actually this reasoning looks like a fairly typical Calvinist problem - that of begging the question:
Q: "So, how do you know that God's children will all have the opportunity to hear the gospel?"
A: "Because God's children are always among those who will have heard the gospel."
Uh, yeah...that's just the question spit back at me.


The correct answer to your question is "Because God has promised He will save His people." We believe His promise. You are creating problems where they don't exist.

The real issue is that you don't like the God revealed in Scripture.

CraigS said...

Mark, perhaps you can answer a question that no synergist has been able to answer - according to your scheme, *why* is it that some accept and some reject God's grace?

Kyle said...

Because the entire divine redemptive plan for the universe which God brought into being with perfect foreknowledge was, in the most powerful sense, caused by HIM. Thus, the very existence of every soul not-receiving mercy in a universe where some are receiving mercy would be evidence against God's omnibenevolence.

If this is the case, for God to withhold His mercy from Satan himself would be evidence against God's omnibenevolence—and what a grand absurdity that would be.

God is benevolent in allowing human beings to live life with a modicum of enjoyment at all—to eat, drink, marry, love, have sex, study creation, raise children, etc.—these are all inestimable gifts from God. This is what is frequently termed "common grace." Yet none of these is salvific; in themselves, since the Fall, they only reveal the depravity of man who does not obey God even when He has showered him with good things. They show that man is rebellious and ungrateful, and as such worthy of death. Even man's complaints about his estate are sinful, for he must rely on the sustaining hand of Divine Providence to make complaint against God! And all of this man does, not under any compulsion, but out of the freedom of his own nature.

Why, then, is it incumbent upon God to show mercy unto salvation to such creatures as these? And if it is indeed incumbent, then it is no longer mercy, but justice—for mercy can never be made obligatory on the benefactor, nor can it be deserved by the beneficiary. In which case, God is no longer merciful and just, but only just.

I don't see how one could hold on to omnibenevolence without revelation avaliable to all. This is the only scenario wherein the responsibility falls upon man, not God.

There is general revelation available to all, through the created world. This revelation would be sufficient for a man in Adam's created estate, who was not spiritually dead, and who could perfectly obey God's commandment—for creation reveals that man are obligated to obey God. (Prelapsarian Adam didn't need to be "saved.") But in the fallen estate, wherein man is corrupted in all aspects of his being, all that such general revelation can do is condemn him: he knows that he is obligated to obey God, and that the just penalty for failure to do so is death, but he does not obey God—and he does not obey God because he does not want to.

This is what general revelation, and even the special revelation of the Law leaves us with: the just condemnation of God.

Romans 3:23 identifies our "own" sins - not Adam's.

Adam's sin is our own, much as Christ's righteousness belongs to those in Him; read Rom. 5.

If I am to be condemned for my own actions, I must have the opportunity to be confronted with knowledge of the consequences of my actions, otherwise I should be held as innocent.

Paul's point in Rom. 1 and 2 is precisely that: through the created world and their own consciences, all men are confronted with their rebellion against God and suppression of the truth concerning Him, leaving them justly condemned. Consider once more my discussion of the effects of general revelation above.

It is precisely at this point that the Gospel becomes important—not because God would somehow be unjust in not providing for our redemption, but because it is beyond human comprehension that the holy, righteous, and just God would love a sinful world in such a way that He would give His only-begotten Son to die for believers.

Salvation, and the things necessary to it, are the results of God's mercy. They must never be conceived in any terms that would make them an obligation upon God or the due reward of men. Men do not deserve to escape their condemnation, and God is under no obligation to provide them with the option of escaping.

H.C. Ross said...

MW,

I think you're under the impression that you can work out God's plan and counsels BY logic -- but you can't. Notice that the Apostle notes, very conspicuously, the parts of God's plan that SEEM, in human estimation, unjust. And he dismisses the conclusions that man comes to by logic with a response many have found unsatisfactory -- but there it is (Rom. 9:20-21):

"But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"

Romans 9:13-23 is especially relevant to this conversation.

John H said...

I'm not quite sure what you're saying in your post, Dan. Are you saying that the answer to, say, the fourth of your point-blank questions is, "Yes, of course your mother's in hell", or is the answer, "Never mind your mother, let's talk about you, and what will happen to you if you don't repent"?

I'm not sure I can think of a single example in the NT, other than Judas, where Jesus or an apostle specifically says, in so many words, "This specific, named person who died without faith is now in hell". The emphasis tends to be more to: "If you do not repent, you too will perish". (Admittedly, both Graham and Wright fall well short even of this response in the quoted paragraphs.)

The Law tells each of us that we face damnation for our sin; the Gospel tells each of us that Jesus has died to bring us forgiveness, life and salvation. It tells us how to make sure we are on the right side of the line; it tells us the criteria which will determine whether others are on the right side of the line; it does not enable or warrant us to make that determination for ourselves.

As Aslan puts it, "No-one is told any story but their own".

Kyle said...

Translation: An unknowable and undeserving elite are divinely "picked" to receive mercy while others in exactly the same predicament are left to eternal torment without having any choice in the matter?

They already made their choice: they chose to hate God. No one is condemned because he ended up on the losing end of some divine lottery and never heard about Christ; he is condemned because he is a sinner, and as a sinner he hates God and loves wickedness. That is what makes the regenerating work of the Spirit and the hearing of the Gospel of Christ necessary for anyone to be saved. If some do not hear, that is God's prerogative—they never deserve to hear because they were sinners. Those who do hear have been shown mercy by God—and if they do not then repent, they have earned a double condemnation for themselves. The Jews, who had the special revelation of the Law, were the more condemned for their failure to obey, than were the Gentiles who had only the general revelation.

Hmm, sounds like the kind of justice extended to African Americans pre-civil rights.

If you think blacks were all justly deserving of death at the hands of whites, then yes, it would sound similar. But I don't think that, and I'm willing to bet no one commenting here does, either. However, in the case of God and man, man IS justly deserving of death at the hand of God. So the scenario is rather different.

Actually this reasoning looks like a fairly typical Calvinist problem - that of begging the question:
Q: "So, how do you know that God's children will all have the opportunity to hear the gospel?"
A: "Because God's children are always among those who will have heard the gospel."
Uh, yeah...that's just the question spit back at me.


Christ, through His death redeemed a people whom God chose, and God established means by which those people would be brought back to him in time: namely, through the preaching of the Gospel. If God wishes to save anyone in accordance with His own plan, He must ensure that that person will hear the Gospel—and since God cannot fail at anything He sets out to accomplish, there can be no doubt that all whom God has chosen for salvation shall certainly hear the Gospel.

There is, in short, no such thing as a person whom God wants to save, but who never hears the Gospel.

Kyle said...

The emphasis tends to be more to: "If you do not repent, you too will perish".

I dare say "too" is an important word, here. That presupposes that some other entity, to whom "you" are being compared, has already perished, does it not?

It tells us how to make sure we are on the right side of the line; it tells us the criteria which will determine whether others are on the right side of the line; it does not enable or warrant us to make that determination for ourselves.

And if someone dies who can only match the criteria for the "wrong side of the line," we can determine—

Well, I guess we can't determine anything, because such a determination strikes at the heart of a comfortable agnoticism which doesn't offend those in grief over the death of a loved one.

Hell is a reality. There are real, particular, and specific persons who are going to end up there, just as in heaven. It isn't tactful or kind to tell someone that their recently-deceased relative has only hell to look forward to, but in my estimation, it is no better to hold out the hope of heaven for the dead where no such hope is warranted.

Apart from faith in Christ, damnation is all that remains. And we ought not to be ashamed of that truth, though it offend the whole world. The death of a sinner is far less offensive than the sins of a sinner.

H.C. Ross said...

[Is there such a thing as 'comment fatigue'? We may need to create that term if we continue ...]

Actually, I just wanted to thank you, Phil, for the wealth of info you left on Billy Graham above in the comments. All your experiences in ministry and publishing have proved to be a great blessing for us all.

A great blog this. God bless.

donsands said...

hc ross,

I appreciate you bringing in those verses of Scripture.

"What shall we say then?" Rom. 9:14

It sounds like God is unjust. On the contrary, God is infinitely merciful.

We are totally undeserving, and incapable of doing anything except being selfish and unthankful. And God has mercy on people who hate Him, and don't want His mercy.

What an awesome Lord to save me from myself!

Billy Graham is a man I admire in so many ways.
But his weakness, in my way of seeing it, was, and is, his over-emphasis on compassion. He genuinely loves people. And we should all be like him in this regard.
But his theology was weak because he would not let the truth rule his heart, but it seems he let his heart rule the Scriptures.
And this is a lesson for us all. And it is certainly a stuggle for me. I have a tendency to take the truth and make it fit my personality.
However, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through the Church I am kept in check by so many brothers and sisters in Christ, as we read, study, and meditate upon the Bible together.
Thanks be to God.

H.C. Ross said...

Hi Don,

I appreciate your comments and agree wholeheartedly. The hardest part of the Gospel for folks seems to be the premise that everyone is starting out short of the glory -- not just 'flawed' with innocent 'shortcomings' -- but possessing real guilt. None of us deserves anything.

That's what makes grace amazing, no?

I'd perhaps nuance what you said about Graham by saying he didn't temper his large sense of compassion with an equally large sense of truth/justice. I think what we all need is to max out in both, like our Lord. I'm sure this is what you had in mind too.

Mark W. said...

Thanks guys for fielding my questions. I promise I do not comment to be an irritant, but I felt the "tribesmen" case was important to talk through. I appreciate all the responses.

craigs -
Mark, perhaps you can answer a question that no synergist has been able to answer - according to your scheme, *why* is it that some accept and some reject God's grace?

Honestly, as I said before (holding to Dr. Craig's view of general revelation in nature), I believe that everyone acknowledges and desires some sort of spiritual "grace"; however, I think that those who don't accept it are put off by how the often dogmatic theologies in religion conflict with observed realities (i.e. science). Whether people are conscious of these conflicts, or have simply adopted popular views, I believe that people are swayed by what is now considered scientifically impossible. I believe that everyone is quite serious about their place in the universe, and, consequently, very cautious of getting "duped." Accepting a God who gives mercy discriminately as opposed to giving mercy to all free agents who choose to accept it, I'm sorry to say, comes across as a dupe to modern man.

H.C. Ross said...

Hey Mark,

'I believe that everyone acknowledges and desires some sort of spiritual "grace"'

I'd like to believe this, but aside from Romans 1-2, I've seen evidence that some people really don't (with the knowledge or 'light' they're given) desire grace. I'll mention just two:

* I once saw a teenager with a Marilyn Manson shirt on, and it said something to the effect of, "Are you gonna let eternity in hellfire keep you from having any fun?"

* An unbelieving couple we've gotten to know here in the UK were planning on getting married and were getting marriage counseling at the Church of Scotland church where they would be having their ceremony. They thought agreeing to this would be a gesture of appreciation to the church. The guy once joked as we were talking about their experience in counseling, "We'll just be going for that ... it's not like we want them to save our eternal souls or anything." He said this in jest, and I don't know how much he really knows about the Lord (we've shared a bit), but given the light he has, at present he isn't interested in hearing about God's love for him.

Sad, but true.

Suziannr said...

donsands, I too appreciate your comments. Its a struggle I've had with BG for a while now. Mostly I come down to that we will err anytime we believe our compassion to be greater than, or as great as His. And to clarify...that's what I think those like BG and Osteen do.

DJP said...

CraigS -- your input on this comment-thread, to use an Americanism, rocks.

My favorite: But we can't abstract the attributes of God from the scriptural revelation of them

I'm using that.

CraigS said...

Cheers DJP, thanks mate

CraigS said...

I believe that everyone acknowledges and desires some sort of spiritual "grace"; however, I think that those who don't accept it are put off by how the often dogmatic theologies in religion conflict with observed realities

I take it you are a universalist then?

Does it strike you that this is the same attitude that the guilty always take in earthly courts? That is, they first deny they are responsible for their own actions, then they challenge the authority of the court to judge them.

Tim said...

Phil Johnson said:

Meanwhile, the confusing statements--which go back to the 1970s--add up to very troubling evidence that Graham himself is a committed "inclusivist" (though I would grant that Graham is probably not a full-fledged universalist).

Why would a "full-fledged universalist" even bother to preach the gospel?

Boerseuntjie said...

Religion is Futile, even for Billy Graham.
See the PUBLIC Confession or Apostacy of Mr graham and trace it back to his early days with Rome and the works religions of men. along with the fear of men:

http://boerseuntjie.multiply.com/video/item/2

http://apprising.org/2006/07/evangelical-inclusivism-is-older-than-you-think/

http://apprising.org/2008/09/roman-catholicism-billy-graham-we-are-brothers/

The day my idolatry was shattered was when Mr Grahams comments in PUBLIC became known to me, without any refuting from him. I do not take any joy in sharing these links; but have a very confusing comment from Mr Graham's office:

http://www.billygraham.org/MyAnswer_Article.Asp?ArticleID=1651

Then we MUST consider the Qualifications of an Elder, which includes being BLAMELESS... I sMr Graham still QUALIFIED as an Elder?