16 June 2010

He was glad

by Frank Turk

When I wrote last week’s piece sort of springing off of Ray Ortlund’s exhortation to love and be lovable, of course I knew a lot of people would find fault. Personally, when I read it I saw a few flaws in the exhortation myself – but the few flaws are in the intentional omissions. The great strength of this is that it really is a reliance on “Christ Alone” for the basis of your view of things.

I mean: there’s a reason that I said this last week --
Personally, I completely get what he’s saying here: given that Augustine didn’t believe everything we “reformed” folks believe, and Aquinas didn’t believe everything we believe, and frankly Calvin and I would have some robust disagreements, and Jerome and I would have some disagreements, and in the other direction Wesley and I would give each other the angry eyebrows, and Billy Sunday and I would probably not see eye to eye, and in the end Billy Graham and I would probably not agree, and Chuck Colson and I would probably disagree ... given all that disagreement, can I find in these men some kind of trace of their status as redeemed people?
With Augustine, I’d object strongly to his view of his the eucharist; with Aquinas, I’d object to his Platonism aristotelianism (thx, Bobby) and his extra-biblical musings; Calvin wants to baptize babies, and ultimately advocates for Presbyterian ecclesiology; Jerome was, well, Jerome – a monastic with a high view of Mary and a low view of marriage; Wesley – Arminianism; Billy Sunday & Billy Graham & Chuck Colson – the manner and mode of Ecumenism, up to and including a tacit disregard for the still-evident distinctions between Protestants and Catholics.

But here’s the thing: I think we are compelled to call all of these men Christians -- and I’m not speaking in some broad sociological sense, either. Some of them may be bad Christians – doctrinally bumfuzzled or worse: doctrinally indifferent. Some of them may be misguided – as I think Aquinas was – for intellectual or sociological reasons. But they are Christians.

Think about this for a second:
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. [Acts 11:19-26]
In considering the people first called “Christians”, maybe we should think about this: You are welcome to be someone who would say, “well, until they received a year’s worth of teaching from Paul, they were not called ‘Christians’, and I reserve the right to call someone who’s not that fully-informed ‘not Christian.’” You are also welcome to be someone who wears a tin foil hat and tuxedo made of newspaper.

I say that not to bait those of you who would choose such a thing, but to underscore what sort of choice you are making. The person making the above fashion choice is sort of flaunting their idiosyncratic choices in a grand way, and maybe they are tipping their hand a little regarding their fringe-element tendencies by wearing a tin-foil hat (the hat purported to protect you from cell phones, government-sponsored mind-reading equipment, and of course the aliens). The person who is willing to write off all of the people (I would be willing to say: any of these people) in my example is doing the same thing theologically: buying into an idiosyncratic view of the faith and those who have lived it historically that ultimately says, ”there were no Christians before there were people who believed exactly what I believe.” Which is to say: you yourself were not a Christian until you believed exactly what you believe today.

But that said, I’m going on a campaign to popularize the slogan, “everyone wants to be Paul, and nobody wants to be Barnabas.” John Piper named one of his sons “Barnabas,” but it’s not a common name – and Barnabas’ approach isn’t a common approach to the Christian life.

But look at him in this story from Acts: he gets sent by the folks in Jerusalem to Antioch to find out what’s goin’ on over there, and when he shows up and sees people who believe in Jesus Christ ... he was glad. After walking – what? 500km? 600km? It would take you two weeks to walk 600km – Barnabas finds a bunch of people in Antioch whom he personally did not teach, and when he sees they believe in Jesus, he’s glad!

And get his exhortation: Stay faithful! Not “get faithful” or “Geez – I wish you were faithful.” What Barnabas finds in Antioch is faithfulness, and he exhorts it, and it makes him glad.

And in the same way, at some point, the faithfulness of other people – that they have believed and turned to the Lord – ought to make us glad. The faithfulness of Jerome ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Augustine ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Aquinas ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Calvin and Wesley and Sunday and Graham and Colson ought to make us glad – and the faithfulness of people like them ought to make us glad.

In all that, we can’t ignore that, eventually, Barnabas does go and get Paul from Tarsus, just across the bay from Antioch. And even if the text didn’t explicitly say it, we can see that Barnabas needed more than just good feelings toward his new friends in Antioch: he wanted them to be taught well.

Which, of course, is more than fair enough – but look at the context of Barnabas wanting to see his friends taught well. It wasn’t that they were tumped over into heretical apostasy: it was that he had exhorted them to stay faithful, and Paul could put the legs under that in a way that merely loving people and being glad for them did not.

It seems to me that this is actually what Pastor Ortlund is talking about, and that it is what we ought to mean when we say quote Eph 4:15 and go on about the truth in love. We are not talking about a grave love which is so solemn that it is only didactic and corrective: it is also somehow glad for the other person that Christ is in them, and they have repented and turned to him.


zostay said...

Well said. Good doctrine is important, but we ought not, as I am sadly wont to do, sneer at Christian believers who disagree with us on non-essentials.

Frank, I tend to find more affinity with what Dan says, but your posts challenge me more in pointing out my weaknesses. Thank you.

Ed de Blieck said...

All the churches around our area do an annual pulpit exchange. We received the Roman Catholic priest this year, and the episcopalians got our man. The priest's message to us was: "You're stuck with me", but I imagine most of us were thinking: "you're stuck with us too..."

VcdeChagn said...

I am so tempted to take this off topic as the last two weeks have applied to my life, but I won't.

However, I will ask a question (and this might be upcoming)...

What does this look like in practice? We have the example of Barnabas' joy in Antioch and his practical application of the joy.

But what does it look like for the average Christian today?

Chuck Colson's prison ministry is a blessing, and I am "glad" for it....but I don't think I would want him teaching my kids in Sunday School.

For me, the latter application means far more to me than "Born Again" or "Life Sentence."

mikeb said...

Someone's gotta ask, so let me cut right to the quick of the matter, the doctrine of doctrines:

Can a person be a Christian (which is defined as someone who is justified by faith alone in Christ alone)if they do not believe and teach justification by faith alone in Christ alone?

We have Graham on video (youtube) implying other ways to heaven. Aquinas certainly wrote a lot on natural revelation as a path to salvation.

FX Turk said...

For the record, there's a mile-long difference between accepting any individual Catholic as a person saved by Christ and allowing a Catholic Priest into the pulpit of your church.

Someone who can't see that is, um, blind.

FX Turk said...

Of course someone's gotta ask, Mike: if we didn't ask, we'd have to just allow that Billy Graham isn't going to Hell and Thomas Aquinas isn't waiting there for him.

You ask:

Can a person be a Christian (which is defined as someone who is justified by faith alone in Christ alone)if they do not believe and teach justification by faith alone in Christ alone?

I answer:

If they have faith in Christ alone, they are most certainly saved. If they do not have faith in Christ alone, they are not saved.

Dan said...

But if they believe other people can get to heaven by other roads or "a wider hope", then they don't really believe in Jesus alone, do they?

So admittedly we can learn from Graham or Aquinas or whomever, but that's not the same as accepting them as Christian brethren. There's a minimum of what you must 'get right' in order to be considered a Christian, and I think we set the bar too low in many cases.

Leave room for Christian growth, yes, but if someone advocates other ways to God, they are preaching "another gospel." Paul would say to that person "You are anathema." And then he'd try to win that person to Christ.

FX Turk said...

For those who need to see it, here's a video of Billy Graham at his absolute worst. He could not have said something worse (unless he had said what Schuller says in the same video).

What Dr. Graham said there was, frankly, pretty unsupportable -- but I'd be careful not to interpret what he said as Schuller did.

Graham is saying something there which is hinged entirely on Christ's work. The problem that it is unhinged from faith. In Dr. Graham's view, Christ's work works. It saves people. But in his view it saves people who do not know they are being saved. Somehow Christ saves and no faith comes of it.

This is how Graham misses the mark: by essentially going HyperCalvinist in the sense that the effects of election and redemption are so far above or beyond man that he doesn't actually participate except as a chess piece or a collectable for Christ.

Would I ascribe to such a thing? There is no way I could. It simply ignores the entire Biblical report on faith and salvation. But to say that this statement means that Billy Graham does not have faith in Christ, I think, misses that Graham is clear that it is through Christ and by Christ that God is doing this saving.

It's a dangerous teaching, a dangerous elevation of Christ-centeredness to the place where everything else is obliterated. But does this make Graham an unsaved person?

I have a hard time believing it.

FX Turk said...

Dan --

I would not defend what Graham says in that video. what I would do, however, is make sure we're hearing what he is saying. He's doing something others before him have done -- which is a misreading of Romans 2.

You're familiar with it, I am sure: in Rom 2, Paul makes the case that it's not the presence of the Law which makes men righteous but their willingness to do what's right according to the revelation they have received. The Jew has the Law of Moses; the gentile has his consience which guides him to do right (sometimes).

This is over-leveraged by other people (William Lane Craig, for example) to say that God looks at faith according to the revelation people have received -- and they actually point backwards to guys like Namaan in the OT to say, "look: that's saving faith, but there's no triune naming there. But God is saying they have faith and are saved."

As I said above, Graham is saying that through Christ, all those who know they need savior are saved.

I think Graham has very care-free confidence in Christ, as opposed to careful (and biblical) confidence in Christ. Whether that makes him an unsaved person remains to be seen -- and that is the point of my post, not whether I would endorse him as a pastor or teacher.

mikeb said...

When I say "if they do not believe and teach justification by faith alone" I was not implying someone needed both to be saved, but simply that our actions show what we truly believe.

I see your point on Graham's statement being hypercalvinist, especially if he was implying Christ does the work for them. I had not thought of it that way.

Yet I'm not certain if he's talking of Christ's work or the person's work. The video you linked too gets cut off. Hearing John MAcArthur preach on it, he appears to imply Graham is saying those of other faiths will get to heaven based on their own works, not Christs.

Schuller: What, what I hear you saying that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?

Graham: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

Schuller: [R. S. trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, then says] I'm so thrilled to hear you say this. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Graham: There is. There definitely is.

mikeb said...

To cut out the part in which Graham seems to imply it's based on the person's work and not Christ's:

"believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

FX Turk said...

Honestly, it's a horrible thing to say. I really have nothing at stake in trying to say it's not horrible, because it is.

I'm not defending it at all.

What I am saying is that Graham does start his response with this:

I think that everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And that's what God is doing today -- he's calling people out of the world for his name.

It gets utterly indefensible after that, and I want no part in defending it -- but let's see that Graham is explicitly saying that it is Christ who wins them.

You know: this same thing happens at the end of Narnia when CS Lewis exposes his sloppy theology of salvation for the Calormine. It's salvation by Aslan (Christ) and from Aslan. but the Calormine has no idea that he actually was thinking of Aslan.

It makes absolutely no sense when we consider the Bible, but (it seems to me) the advocates of this are actually trying to make much of Christ in letting Christ and His Grace overcome ignorance in the same way He overcomes sin. I think it is driven by compassion and a personal desperation that the lost will not be lost.

It is not what the Bible teaches us, and we have to reject it.

Relating that back to my post, let me say it this way: the error here doesn't depose Christ, but it deposes faith -- man's responsibility before God to know and love Him specifically and personally. I think it deposes sola fide in spite of trying to widen the doorway of "fide". I think someone who sees Christ as that ultimate and irresistable has a place in the Kingdom, even if his work is burned up as hay, stubble and straw.

Jim Crigler said...

Quoth Frank: “John Piper named one of his sons ‘Barnabas,’ but it’s not a common name […]”

It's trivial to the point of vanishing, but I wonder whether Barnaby Jones, or any other variant, counts.

Rachael Starke said...

I appreciated how Ortlund himself clarified this -

Every Christian, every church, will articulate justification as best they can. Some expressions are better than others, and every conscience will draw the line of sufficient gospel clarity somewhere. As I assess how other Christians are saying that they trust in Christ alone, I will be drawn toward some more than others in personal affinity. But my unity with them all is established by the reality of our justification. God pronounces all believers just through Christ alone. I have no right to complicate that. If I withhold love from other true Christians because they don’t articulate justification my way, I am dividing the church on the basis of a self-exalting distinction.

FWIW, when I look back on my early Christian life, I was so ignorant of who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are that I used to wonder if I was truly saved. I've come to the conclusion that I was, but I understood very little of just Who it was that had saved me. My ignorance didn't last, because the One who was faithful to save me without my effort, was also the One who progressively, patiently guided me into the truth about who He is as I grew.

When you look back and see how patient and gracious God has been with your ignorant, immature self, you can't help but ask God for that same patience and grace with others, who no doubt are far less ignorant and immature than you.

But when you've spent your whole Christian life immersed in "us four, bar the door" teaching and practice, well, you haven't had much opportunity to be reminded of your ignorance and immaturity, because you're not ignorant or immature anymore...

zostay said...

I recently started reading MacArthur's The Jesus You Can't Ignore and am reminded of something he writes in the prologue:

"It may not always be easy to determine whether a disagreement is merely petty or truly weighty, but a careful, thoughtful application of biblical wisdom will usually settle whatever questions we may have about the relative importance of any given truth. ... The principle is clear: the closer any given doctrine is to the heart of the gospel, the core of sound Christology, or the fundamental teachings of Christ, the more diligently we ought to be on guard against perversions of the truth..." (pp. xii-xiii)

This follows after saying something he says similar to Frank here. While we ought to vehemently oppose any perversion of the core teachings of the gospel, not every issue is "an occasion for open combat."

olan strickland said...


You almost made me choke when I read your comment that Billy Graham was essentially going HyperCalvinist in his explanation of how men can be saved without even knowing the name of Christ. Actually if you'll listen very carefully to what he is saying you'll see that he is being true to his semi-Pelagianism and doesn't have a Calvinistic bone in his body be it hyper or not.

As to whether or not he is from God, I'll stick with these words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the rest of His Word that identifies the false teachers for who they are.

Terry Rayburn said...

Since Jesus was pretty clear about not separating the wheat from the tares, and since the Scripture says that the Lord knows who are His...

...I'm not sure there's any value in declaring who is or is not a Christian.

That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't decide whom we should or should not "fellowship" with.

That is easier to determine because it is based on observable or hearable data, including both doctrine and "fruit".

For example, I wouldn't typically "fellowship" with Aquinas, since he openly supported the Council of Trent, which taught salvation by works, sacraments and "faith", and incidentally declares "anathema" on me, a sola guy.

I'm not declaring Aquinas unregenerate, but I never have understood Sproul's (or his mentor Gerstner's) fascination with him, Gerstner even calling him a Protestant!

bp said...

Olan, that's one of the things (besides his universalist-type statements) that has always struck me about Billy Graham. That everyone seemed to love him, from Bill Clinton to Pope John Paul to the secular media. It's hard to reconcile that w/Scripture.

"If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." - John 15:18-19

mikeb said...

Zostay, this discussion is at the very heart of the gospel!

Frank, I agree with you, if Graham is truly speaking of Christ's work here and not the person's work. I'm not 100% certain he was, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt (unless someone can find other statements he made that would prove otherwise.)

FX Turk said...

Olan --

It's interesting you say that about semi-pelagianism, because Graham does sound stunningly-Catholic, stunningly-Lumen Gentium in his statements.

Here's why I don't think he's semi-pelagian: he frames the issues the way a fundamentalist would. Separation; knowledge of one's need; Christ & God calling. It seems to me that if he was driven by a semipelagian bias, he'd be more concerned with, for example, the active choice to serve Christ -- man's free will to choose God.

The work of the Spirit to call and draw seems evident to me in his framing of the issue. The way it gets tossed about by the likes of Schuller is another story.

FX Turk said...

Eventually I'm going to do a post about the hatred of the world, btw. If that were the gold standard of Gospel fidelity, Fred Phelps would be the epitome of Christian witness and Albert Mohler would have to be cast out.

Stefan Ewing said...


Thank you for this post. There are, after all, only two kinds of people in the world: those who are believers, and those who are not.

Every church and denomination and sect under heaven is invisibly divided into those who are believers and those who are not: in one church, believers may be in the majority; in another, they may be but a tiny remnant.

In some cases, it may be hard to discern whether one is truly a believer or not, but if he knows that he's a sinner, and she knows that her sins are forgiven by what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, then we should love them as a brother or sister in Christ.

Do they have sloppy theology, or lack assurance, or are backslidden into sin? Well, we too have sloppy theology; sometimes try to justify ourselves by our works; and stumble and sin as well. And we're not likely to ever meet a genuine believer in Christ who's any worse than what the Corinthians got up to....

And as for all of the world's non-believers—in our congregations, communities, schools, and workplaces; and halfway around the world as well—among them are some of Christ's lost sheep whom He has not yet called to Himself. So we must share the Gospel with them, and love them, and pray for their salvation.

Mike Riccardi said...

For example, I wouldn't typically "fellowship" with Aquinas, since he openly supported the Council of Trent.

Terry, help me out here. Aquinas: 13th century. Trent: 16th century. What am I missing?

bp said...

I'd be real interested in a post about the hatred of the world, because Jesus didn't say that the world "might" hate you, he said, "I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." They hated the prophets, they hated Jesus, they hated his disciples, why would it be any different now? And I don't even know who Fred Phelps is, but does "the world" really love Al Mohler? I'm curious where you see this.

FX Turk said...

bp --

Plase wait for my post on that topic.

bp said...

ahh, did a quick Wiki search on Phelps. Sad, very sad. But I don't think that since someone can be hated by the world for hating people in the name of Jesus, that we, therefore, can conclude that someone can be loved by the world for loving people in the name of Jesus.

bp said...

will do, thanks.

bp said...

what I proly shoulda said was: I don't think that since we cannot judge how faithful to the gospel someone is by whether or not they are hated by the world, we also cannot judge how unfaithful to the gospel someone is by whether or not they are loved by the world. Because Scripture doesn't state that all those who are hated belong to Jesus, but it does state that all those who belong to Jesus will be hated.

Just wanted to clarify.

James Scott Bell said...

Billy Graham is not any stripe of Calvinist. He's in the evangelistic tradition of Wesley and Moody. He believes in prevenient grace and unlimited atonement.

Dan said...

Stefan: Amen to your last paragraph particularly.

Rachael: I hear your concerns. We must love people 'where they're at,' but we still can say "You must believe at least ___" and not be arrogant in doing so.

Dan said...


Relating that back to my post, let me say it this way: the error here doesn't depose Christ, but it deposes faith -- man's responsibility before God to know and love Him specifically and personally. I think it deposes sola fide in spite of trying to widen the doorway of "fide". I think someone who sees Christ as that ultimate and irresistable has a place in the Kingdom, even if his work is burned up as hay, stubble and straw.

I appreciate you trying to be charitable to Graham, but I have some concerns.

Interpretations of Acts 17:30 aside, there is no other name (Acts 4:12) and no other way (Acts 16:31). Faith alone in Christ alone by God's grace alone = salvation. Even if you believe in regeneration preceding faith (another discussion), you would still say "All who are regenerate respond in faith to Christ".

So, if Graham says "You can have Christ without faith," that's not the gospel, is it? They're inseparably linked, right (faith + Christ)?

You also said:
Would I ascribe to such a thing? There is no way I could. It simply ignores the entire Biblical report on faith and salvation. But to say that this statement means that Billy Graham does not have faith in Christ, I think, misses that Graham is clear that it is through Christ and by Christ that God is doing this saving.

Per this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNCnxA91fHE, Graham said "if they turn to the only light they have, they're saved." They don't even "have to know the name of Jesus." This directly contradicts John 14:6. How can this be salvation 'through Christ' if they don't even know who Christ is?

Furthermore, regarding this:

Here's why I don't think he's semi-pelagian: he frames the issues the way a fundamentalist would. Separation; knowledge of one's need; Christ & God calling. It seems to me that if he was driven by a semipelagian bias, he'd be more concerned with, for example, the active choice to serve Christ -- man's free will to choose God.

He is not framing these issues the way a fundamentalist would. A vague sense of "needing something more" is not genuine salvation, or knowledge of one's need. It's the language of self-reforming drug addicts and adulterous politians/celebrities who get caught. Going back to the earlier point, how can Christ be calling if they "may not even know the name of Jesus"?

Dan said...

Terry: I know God ultimately judges the hearts, but we have to judge the fruits. See Matthew 7:15-23. By the 'fruit' of his statements, Graham is a false teacher, denying essential doctrine. I'm not sure how much more clarity we need on that point. Cf. 2 John 7-11, the heresy is a different type, but the principle is the same. Don't treat such a person as a brother. In other words, don't call him a Christian. If he believes what he says, he cannot be saved.

Fellowship (really lack thereof) can fall into at least two different categories: 1) ___ teaches false doctrine, 2) ___ practices things I disagree with. The first would be, say, a Roman Catholic priest, or Clark Pinnock, or any other theologian who denies key truth. The second would be, for me, a paedobaptist.

I can't call the first type of person a Christian because he denies the gospel. I can call the second type a Christian but still not fellowship with him because of practical differences.

So there is much value in deciding for ourselves if a person is living and teaching as a Christian. If he's not, we treat him as an unbeliever, i.e. witness to him (if possible) and pray for his conversion. If he is living/teaching as a Christian, but we still disagree, then we might not fellowship, but it's a whole different category.

Note I can still learn from, say, the grammatical contributions of a rank heretic, or even his books, with hesitancy. But that's entirely different from calling him a brother in Christ.

Dan said...

Frank: I also wanted to say I've been following this blog for a while and have been encouraged by various comments and posts you've made. Thank you.

I don't want to be solely negative, but I think this topic you raised is an essential discussion to have.

Sharon said...

MacArthur defines a Christian as a "person who has been, listen, permanently delivered from certain deadly, damming realities. This is what defines a Christian...we are people who have been delivered>'

He further states that at the top of his list of important issues is "the need to be discerning about who is a Christian. THE biggest problem in the church is its inability and unwillingness to distinguish true Christians from false. It's...it's literally killing the church."

"The issue of who is truly a Christian is at the very center of the church's life and ministry...and the greatest failure of professing Christianity in the English-speaking world in the 20th century."

Quotes are from MacArthur's sermon "Deliverance: The Neglected Doctrine" and seem relevant to today's discussion.

OAG said...

Coming from a parachurch ministry where I sometimes came to the hope that my colleagues would sometimes stop sharing their faith because of the Gospel they were preaching, I find this entry difficult but useful nonetheless.

FX Turk said...

Dan Lee asked:

So, if Graham says "You can have Christ without faith," that's not the gospel, is it? They're inseparably linked, right (faith + Christ)?

I am actually saying that; I think I have said that. If I wasn't understood as saying that, let me embrace that statement.

What Graham is saying in that video is simply not the Gospel -- but it seems to me that he has taken an important part of the Gospel too far. I think it is right to say that the Gospel calls all men. It's just no weher near right to say that it calls them in a way that they don't know who calls or why.

FX Turk said...

BTW, Dan, I don't think you're being negative. I think that you are asking honest and reasonable questions.

I hope my answers are worth your time.

FX Turk said...


Dr. MacArthur's point is well-made. I don't think require ourselves to treat people who are delivered by Christ with the same grace expect from our delivered selves is contrary to his point.

Bobby Grow said...

Aquinas relied on Aristotle, not Plato. :-)

FX Turk said...


Indeed. My mistake.

mikeb said...

I think Frank is saying (in my paraphrase) that Graham is saying Jesus saves his elect in spite of themselves and without their knowledge. So technically the work is still on Jesus, but the saved don't know it.

@ Terry: "wheat and tares" implies people in the world in general. Here we are trying to discern who is a Christian because they are teaching others. How else are we to discern who the "wolves" are in Matt. 7:15,10:16, Luke 10:3, and Acts 20:39?

Bobby Grow said...

Frank said:

. . . with Aquinas, I’d object to his Platonism aristotelianism (thx, Bobby) and his extra-biblical musings; . . .

Whaaat, I'm going to copy this, print it, and frame it; and then put it over my desk, as soon as I find some energy :-).

I have to say, Frank, this is the best little series I've read from you; I really like the emphasis!

Anonymous said...

This post, and especially the comments, are really interesting to me. I grew up in largely Baptist, Brethren and Lutheran circles, and am now in a non-denom church, so I've always been a son of the reformation, but never "reformed." All that's to say, I'd say I'm a Christian insider, but a "truly reformed" outsider.

From that perspective, the post was great, even if I was saying to myself, "Does this argument really need to be made?" Then I read the comments, and the whole post made more sense.

In fact, the fact that the faith of the men mentioned would even be debated in the way it was here has me sincerely hoping that this post or something like it will get repeated. As someone largely outside of thoroughly reformed circles, the comments were both surprising (though I've heard things like them years ago) and disturbing.

CR said...

The bible doesn't make a distinction between good or bad Christians. If you are a Christian you are declared righteous before a just and holy God. There is no such thing as a bad Christian. But the bible does speak of faith in varying degrees from weak or little faith to much and strong faith. The strength of our faith is determined by our knowledge of God and the application of that knowledge.

The problem I have with some of the men mentioned is that the best you could say about them if you wanted to be very nice is that they had very very weak faith. I find it troubling that men who claim to be Christian as long as they g
have, don't have much knowledge of some of the key tenets of the faith. Should we be glad for those with weak faith? Yes. Most of us started that way. And developing that faith once it has been given to us by God is a process and takes time. But I'm troubled with some of the aforementioned men who have been professing for decades.

Dan said...

CR: Excellent summary. Obviously since Paul recognized the Corinthians as true believers, there is a wide range of conformity to various aspects of Christlikeness. Not degrees of 'savedness' but of Christlikeness. Justification is binary (you are or you aren't); sanctification is a spectrum (progressive). We need to be gracious with people as they grow in faith. But...James 2 also says if your faith produces no fruit, it's not real saving faith.

If my life and what I teach doesn't match what Scripture commands teaches, then at a minimum I need to be confessing and repenting, if not converting as a starting point.

Aaron said...


First, thank you for this series. I live here in Houston, the home of Joel Osteen and various other preachers with questionable theology (to put it nicely). The question of fellowship and judgement of one's salvation is always a topic of discussion among fellow believers. Invariably, I run into many (and may sometimes fall into it myself) who not only require one to know the basics of salvation, but many other doctrines as well. For example, I run into many that will say that a true Christian could never believe in theistic evolution. The Holy Spirit will eventually move them towards a literal account of creationism. Of course, I'm personally not convinced of that since if we can differ on the sacraments, how is it we can't differ on Genesis (not to say it isn't a tremendously important issue).

Anyways, I'm thankful for your post since it has me reflecting on the issue.

Aaron said...

There is a distinction made in the Bible between a false teacher and people who just have false beliefs.

Anonymous said...

"the best you could say about them if you wanted to be very nice is that they had very very weak faith."

Wow! Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Billy Graham, etc. . . . the BEST you could say about them is that they had very very weak faith!? Wow. Wow!!

You guys that are saying this kind of stuff in the name of reformed theology aren't doing your camp (let alone the name of Christ generally) any favors.

I'm genuinely amazed.

Aaron said...


It would be helpful if you actually read the quote before making attacks. CR said "some of the men mentioned." From that you somehow glomb Calvin and Wesley into the same camp as Billy Graham. Maybe you should have asked CR as to whom he was referring before making such a pronuncement of judgment yourself.

Dan said...

Not sure about CR, but personally I'd see several categories here. 1) Jerome and Aquinas (Roman Catholic theologians), who may well have been trusting in Christ + works for salvation. 2) Graham and other ecumenical types who deny the Gospel by saying "other ways to God are OK/let's work with the Roman Catholics in evangelism". 3) Calvin, Wesley, Sunday, others who have differing theological convictions on non-gospel issues.

Calvin was a paedobaptist; Wesley believed in perfectionism/overemphasized man's will in salvation; Sunday sometimes focused more on moral reformation than conversion. Still, all three men seem to have gotten the core of the gospel right. Aquinas and others...I don't know, but if they subscribed to the teachings of their church, they were not Christians in the biblical sense. (Trusting Christ alone for salvation). And those who commit to ecumenism downplay the key differences between Protestantism and Catholicism: the Bible vs. the Pope/tradition as final authority, Christ alone vs. Christ + my good works for justification, etc.

The problem is in lumping all these examples together, Frank and others have given the impression that the differences are only a matter of preference vs. essential.

Categories 1 and 2 (see above), to me, must be treated as either not Christian brothers or questionably so. Category 3, yes, by all means let's show grace to them as Frank urged in his article. Not by trying to start churches together but by admitting, yes, they are Christians, even if we have significant disagreements.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about that, I missed the "some"--but I'm still amazed! And of course, there are several comments here, not just that one, that honestly blow me away, namely the ones that are convinced (some half-way, some wholly) that the bulk of the people on that list aren't Christians at all! I say again, Wow.

I'm sure we could find some bad things to say about anyone, these men included, but to say that "the best" we could say about even a couple of them is that they had very very weak faith is still shocking to me given that list. I'm all for saying, "I think Wesley (or Aquinas, or anyone!) had this wrong." But I have to tell myself that the more condemning comments here aren't representative of the reformed camp as a whole just to keep the right, hopeful attitude about what it means to be "reformed" and I'm guessing I'm not the only one, but I could be wrong.

Stuart Brogden said...

I think we should be careful to critique doctrine, not people. Most Arminians do not fully hold to all 5 points - which constitute heresy. Most Calvinists do not fully hold to all 5 points - which does not constitute apostasy.

I have close friends who claim to be Arminian but, upon close questioning, are not. I know no Calvinist who does not have some Arminian blood in him.

Most people are closer to Arminianism when they are regenerated, as that's what they're taught. By the grace of God they should be taught about the doctrines of grace, by which they were saved.

If not for Christ, nobody would be saved. And in the mean time, let's discuss grace with people who claim Christ but boast in their works - until each one of them understands grace or turns deliberately to his works, as did the rich young ruler in Luke 18.

Dan said...

Gettingfree: What would you say makes someone a Christian? How much can you "have wrong" and still be a Christian? I realize only God ultimately knows, but there are some pretty clear minimums laid out in the Bible.

I think we should be careful to critique doctrine, not people.

Doctrine is the basis by which we must judge people, right? See Matthew 7:15-23 and 2 John 7-11 re: false teachers. Jesus and John both said to "watch out" for specific people, therefore, we must critique people.

Obviously the tenacity and tone of your approach should vary between a confused unbeliever and a dedicated false teacher. And it's different when the person in your church vs. far away (in time or geography).

Anonymous said...


I think the test for whether a given person is a Christian is whether they acknowledge that he is (not was) Lord and generally act like it (i.e., do they generally have the fruit of his Spirit).

How much error about Christ is too much, to the point the person isn't trusting/serving the One revealed in the NT? I don't know. But I have a very hard time believing that any of the men Frank mentioned have such distorted views of Christ that they were/are really worshipping and serving someone else. Again, the fruit of their life says a lot about the person they most trust.

Katie said...

Excellent, thank you Frank!

CR said...

Yes, what Sir Aaron said, "some." Thanks Sir Aaron.

gettingfree: Here's how we can discover we are Christian: have we stopped altogether to look to ourselves and are we only looking entirely to Jesus and what He has done on our behalf for our salvation?

Do we realize we can do nothing to make ourselves Christians? Have we stopped trying to do anything to make ourselves Christian and accept that salvation is a gift of God given to the ungodly?

Do we believe right now at this moment that we are a Christian entirely from what Christ has done on our behalf.

Or, e.g., does the newly professed converted believe when he goes home after professing faith and repentance does he believe that he needs to stop drinking, clubbing or cussing and immediately start reading his Bible 2 hours a day and pray four hours day in order to be more acceptable to God. If he does then he doesn't understand the gospel. Because God only justifies the ungodly. (Sanctification makes him godly).

Anonymous said...


I think your questions are good, but I also have to admit that when John asks the same "how can we know if a person is in Christ" question several times in relatively short succession in I John, he asks a different set of questions than the ones you pose. I'd actually prefer he didn't, but what am I to do? Or when Jesus poses the issue on more than one occasion, he also tends strongly towards the criterion of fruit. And, as I said, even Paul says some of the same things (and of course James' opinion on this is also pretty clear--he'll show you his faith by what he does). That's a strong set of precedent to me that I can't just blow off.

Again, I think your desire that everyone understand the mechanism of justification by grace through faith is good, but I think we need to be open to the idea, based on the overwhelming number of NT arguments on this point, that if someone lives a life of agape towards others in Christ's name, they very likely do so because of their awareness and gratitude that God loved them first; i.e., that they live grace because they know they've received grace first, and that from Christ.

That's what's relatively obvious to someone like me about the men on Frank's list: both how the NT asks and answers the "how do we know if someone's in Christ?" question and how these men seem to pass that test pretty well, which was, I think, Frank's point.

FX Turk said...

There are some red herrings in the mix -- and I have put some of them there, so no blame on anyone but me.

Here's one: Billy Graham vs. Aquinas or Augustine. Has Billy Graham's contribution to the life of the historic church really been anything like either Aquinas or Augustine? Really? Influential in the last century, to be sure -- but I find it hard to believe that he has done anything which has impacted the long-term history of the church and its life along the lines of the Summa Theologica or City of God.

So one good distinction to make in my list is between the greater and the lesser men of historical note.

In that, we've seen Billy Graham's low point. Here's Augustines (IMHO):

For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prayers for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them on their behalf.

Augustine wrote this. It goes much farther to replace Christ than Graham's words do. Yet only the most obscure and idiosyncratic would say that Augustine was not Christian.

Consider it seriously. My point here is that men of good faith can be seriously and terribly wrong. On a daily basis, the people you run into all over the place may only be accidentally and vaguely wrong. Equating that with the grounds for excommunication seems to be enthusiastic, to say the least.

Dan said...

Frank: I appreciate your clarification. Aside from their status before God (which is settled, for most of them), the contributions of these men have been significant.

However, going back to both your first post last week, as well as Ortlund's, the question is "other Christian groups," right?

In light of that boundary, the trend in our day towards, for lack of a better description, doctrinal minimalism, is frightening. The discussion quickly turned to "Roman Catholics are Christians too" and/or "Saying Roman Catholics are Christians too is OK." Which I cannot biblically accept.

Overlooking serious error is not charity; confidence in what Scripture says is not arrogance.

You said:

Men of good faith can be seriously and terribly wrong

I think Ryken had a good clarification in his Communion of the Saints. There is a difference between error and heresy. From my perspective, the one describes a Christian who is untaught/wrongly taught; the second describes a non-Christian who needs conversion.

Greater and lesser contributions may serve as one distinction; evidence of biblical faith is a far more important distinction to consider.

There are people like Lot, who looks like a pagan in Genesis 19 yet is called 'that righteous man' in 2 Peter 2:5-7. But Lot should not be the pattern; experience/exceptions ought not shape our doctrine. I know Matthew 5:48-type perfection is not possible in this life. I just hope and pray that all of us keep striving toward that goal, both in doctrinal accuracy and personal holiness (Philippians 3:14).

Also, I know the Holy Spirit must change people, and we need patience as He does so. We also need at the same time a bold and unyielding commitment to the Word of God to draw our boundaries for Christian brotherhood and fellowship.

So we don't know for sure about many men in the past; for that matter, we don't know ultimately for anyone beyond ourselves, though we can have confidence based on what we observe.

We must be certain for ourselves that we are currently trusting in Christ alone for salvation. We ought to encourage those around us to do the same. The difference is heaven or hell, which in the end is far more important than whether we all get along here on earth. Furthermore, right doctrine will produce true unity.
There can be no true unity between those who trust in Christ alone, and those who trust in Christ + ____, whatever their denomination or sect. But for those who trust in Christ alone, we can show charity as we seek to know God better and grow in Christlikeness.

CR said...


Yes, obviously John asks those questions because he is asking how can we know if people are in the faith. There were a lot of people who gave a false profession. Similarly, Jesus gave His parables to show it is not the mere profession that saves you.

But here is the thing, and I'll begin to show my cards here. And I don't think Frank goes far enough. What Graham said is not merely "not the gospel." It isn't merely indefensible. It isn't merely Graham at his worst. It is a direct affront and attack of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we are to look entirely to Jesus and what He has done on our behalf, how could have Graham said, people, if they've never heard of Jesus and if they have lived a life that was a apart from the surrounding community, they can be saved. How can I put my trust, how can I look to someone that I have not heard, seen or know?

We've seen in our own midst, by some comments, how difficult it is even with the aide of the Spirit, to continually ad infinitum put our trust in Jesus even what we know now. We've read the comments. People wondering if God loves us. I mean, Satan, and our conscience is continually accusing us, and we must continually preach the gospel to us or we go astray and here was Billy Graham saying people can be saved even if they've never heard of Jesus. I think it's hard enough because we're wired in a way not to trust in God to believe and here was Billy Graham saying it's possible to be saved without even having heard Jesus.

Now, I'd like to believe maybe Graham said what he said because his mind was deteriorating and his Parkinson disease was beginning to onset. That he wasn't of full mind body and spirit. The problem though is he has invited Roman Catholic priests and I believe Mormons to his crusades to minister to people that respond to the altar call. So, if you were a Catholic and you came up and answered the call and you saw a priest, you would go to him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was invited by Graham to go to one of his crusades when Graham was in the UK. Lloyd-Jones gave him one condition, that he would disinvite Catholic priests. Graham refused to do that.

I use to be like you and Frank and defend Graham as a Christian but it wasn't until I realized how important the gospel is that I stopped doing that. I don't know whether Graham is a Christian or not. I'll leave that up to God.

FX Turk said...


For my sake, tell me whether Augustine's statement I cited is "error" or "heresy" -- and on what basis you choose to call it that.

I'm asking becuase I think I agree with you in most of the statements you have made in this last comment, but I think you're being inconsistent at best thinking this through.

FX Turk said...

CR --

As I said in the original post, I disavow entirely the broad ecumenism Billy Graham has practiced since early in his career. It's the same shoddy theological broadness behind ECT and behind Colson's ecumenism.

I have personally been called "anti-catholic" for my public reasoning in this matter on many occasions.

The fact that Billy Graham is wrong in that matter -- and indeed, on the matter of what faith is and who actually has it -- has to be put on the scales next to Augustine's promulgations about the Eciucharist.

Here's my thought: to be consistent, you have to say both Augustine and Graham are not Christians -- given that they both make clearly-grave errors in their theology.

Are you willing to disavow Augustine as a Christian?

Anonymous said...


It sounds like there is a fair consensus, from the reformed perspective, that the question of someone's Christianity comes down to whether someone trusts "Christ alone."

If so, it's probably important to discuss whether anyone always bets everything they are and have on Christ alone and how that's determined. It seems to me that we all put our trust (and hope and affection) on different things from time to time to various degrees. God's invitation to us to trust Christ is comprehensive, not isolated to our justification or forgivness alone, and none of us does that all the time with all things.

So the issue of whether these men (or any others) "trust Christ alone" needs the qualifier that none of us does, no matter the camp; at least not in the way that God clearly invites and commands us to do.

But significantly, the scriptures address the issue repeatedly of "saving faith" not by telling us it's the kind that professes trust perfectly (or professes perfect trust in Christ), but by telling us that saving faith in Christ and the grace he gives is the kind of trust that is big enough to steer the ship, resulting above all in showing others the kind of undeserved love/grace we claim to have received, the kind of agape that is the core of God's own character. In that way, our actions (more truly than our doctrinal confessions) reveal the strength of our faith as well as the central character of the One we say we trust. People who trust grace, who trust Christ, will be gracious to others in his name.

This is not doctrinal minimalism, on the contrary, I'm trying to answer the question of identifying fellow believers in the way the NT strongly urges us to do in multiple passages. And I don't see professing TULIP as the oft repeated criterion in the scriptures for identifying who really trusts Christ; rather it's love, showing mercy, that seems central along with a minimum of confessions (particularly Jesus' incarnation, lordship and resurrection) that explain this other-worldly behavior.

Is that congruent with the reformed view? If not, what is the explanation for the passages from Jesus, James, John & Paul that point strongly and often to that kind of evaluation for this issue? And, if so, isn't the point of Frank's post reflective of that view?

CR said...

What Augustine did is not the same thing as Graham did. Augustine's prayer for the dead is filled with doubt and hesitation. Naturally, he would have doubts because the Spirit of God would be convicting him of that nonsense. See his His book, De Cura pro Mortals Agenda. He can hardly be considered dogmatic on that issue. I think the death of his mother affected him greatly. But, he doesn't even come close to the more modern proponents of purgatory.

Even so, as I said, I would not base what I said merely on quotes of what people said. Like I said, if all we had was Graham's statement with Schuller that in of and itself perhaps would not be enough to convict him. But his practice of inviting Catholics to his crusades speaks volumes.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I'm referring to our love/mercy as a general pattern or way of life. Again, since no one trusts God completely all the time, no one reflects his character perfectly in love and mercy all the time---just to clarify.


I think Billy Graham's actions over the course of his life show how important he really thought it was that people heard about Jesus Christ. I doubt if anyone's actions in this thread demonstrate more faith on that very point. So, no, I don't think Jesus is on the fence about Billy Graham because he said what was quoted here. His life speaks volumes.

And on the same criterion I'm arguing is biblical here, many, many Catholics have saving faith, which is likely why Graham worked with Catholics. Even if he didn't share the particulars of their faith, he saw that they trusted Christ and loved others because of it, and was glad.

Dan said...


Regarding your question to me:

For my sake, tell me whether Augustine's statement I cited is "error" or "heresy" -- and on what basis you choose to call it that.

Were I to judge solely on the basis of that statement, it sounds very similar. Graham said "Salvation even without knowing the name of Jesus." Augustine apparently said, "Salvation by prayers of current saints for dead loved ones."

The question is "How are people saved?" My answer is "By the substitutionary atonement of Christ." Teaching that prayers for the dead have some effect, or teaching you can have faith without any knowledge of the one saving you, both seem to be deviations from the gospel.

My assessment would be "Their salvation is doubtful." With the implied caveat of "As best I can tell from my limited human finite perspective, not seeing motives, separated by significant distance (and time, in one case)." I think that's essentially what I said earlier; if not, please feel free to point it out to me.

CR may have a point about judging someone based on a single quote. We have much more information on present day church leaders vs. Augustine or anyone else before the Reformation. Both of what they said/preached as well as descriptions of character.

Dan said...


There are various ways of looking at assurance of salvation. For example, Paul often emphasizes the question of faith and repentance (cf. Romans 8:8-10). John emphasizes love for one another. James talks in similar terms. But I would see the Pauline and the Johannine/Jamesine (a word?) perspectives as complementary, not contradictory.

Actions (love for the brethren, doing good to the household of faith, and so on) naturally follow from real trust in Christ alone. But apart from that trust in Christ alone, they may be flawed attempts at working my way to God.

IOW, I can show love (to some degree) to my wife or children, even if I'm an unbeliever (Matthew 7:11). So love alone is not enough to make a call either way. At least not typical human love (cf. John 13:35).

What you do is critical, but what you believe is also essential. Belief is demonstrated both by actions and words, which flow out from what we think deep within (Luke 6:45). Since we don't know everything (or even most things), we have to focus primarily on what we see (actions) or what others seem to believe (words).

Ultimately, since God regenerates us and creates our faith in Him and sustains our salvation (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 10:25-30, etc), we don't have to believe or act 100% correct all the time. But a life characterized by both incorrect belief and/or by unbiblical action leaves two possibilities, in my mind.

1) That person isn't a Christian and needs converted, or 2) That person is a Christian but is untaught or needing to repent of major sin (cf. the Corinthian epistles). This ties into questions of church discipline, which has as its goal restoration, but sometimes involves treating a potential Christian as an unbeliever as a means to provoke repentance.

As I said earlier, you're either a Christian or you aren't, but assuming you are a Christian, there is a progression to spiritual maturity, which can ebb and flow but in true believers does trend toward Christlikeness.

Sorry it's so long, hope it clarifies where I'm coming from. Back to Frank's original point, we need to "love people where they are, and point them to where they need to be." But we need to try to figure out first whether the love needs to be witnessing, or whether it needs to be edifying a fellow believer.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I guess in light of that, I would say that it seems the reformed perspective puts more weight (and more specifics) on a person's "orthodoxy" and less weight on the "orthopraxy" than I tend to think is warranted from the total of the scriptures on this subject, but I guess that's to be expected given the camp's distinctives.

I agree with you that belief in grace and showing grace are complimentary realities and standards (of course!), but the sheer number of times the "walk/fruit" criterion appears in various forms on this topic, especially including Jesus' own statements, makes it hard for me to see it as less than the central mark of discipleship to Christ we are given. But, the point of this post is that such disagreements are inevitable, even intra-faith, and I'm down with that.

At any rate, peace to you and yours.

FX Turk said...

I think you guys aren't reading Augistine very closely: he's saying that the mass is offered as a sacrifice on behalf of the dead.

This isn't about prayers: this is about what is the sacrifice which saves.

Dan said...

Then that would be even more condemning. That particular quote is a little hard to follow without context. Sorry for misreading. Do you recall where you encountered it so I could look into it more (not for purposes of this forum but my own benefit)?


I would still stand by my earlier statement: if such statements (along w/ practices) characterize a person, whether Church Father or present day pastor or attendee at a church, I would be skeptical about that person's salvation. If that person were in close proximity to me, I'd urge him or her to study the Scripture (obviously in the latter two cases).

Jeremy Pierce said...

I'm a bit baffled here. I can think of several things a Reformed Christian might disagree with Aquinas about, but Aristotelianism? I would have thought that was where he was more often right. Or are you relying on Francis Schaeffer's completely off-base understanding of Aristotelianism and how Aquinas was influenced by it?