Posts Tagged ‘Robert Peterson’

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The Necessity of the Word to Salvation: Inclusive vs. Exclusive…

September 2, 2012

 

One of the enduring mysteries of the Christian faith surrounds the nature and rational behind God’s revelation of Himself to His Creation.  “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork,” (Ps. 19:1) and yet God’s action of revelation did not cease with the heavens and the earth.  Nor did God rest solely on the bearers of His image in creation.  God spoke this creation into existence by His Word.  He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden, issuing commandments from day one, precepts to secure the prosperity of His creatures within His creation to and for His Glory.  When that creation fell, God spoke the words of both judgment and promise.  Pain would come and toil would increase with enmity toward the speaking serpent, but salvation also was declared from the inception of sin.  God continued to speak directly to His creation, revealing callings, covenants, and commandments for His people with an eye toward their salvation and end toward His Glory.  That we know any of these facts in detail is due to their record written in the Word of Holy Scripture.  The testimony is clear that these things were written so that “we may know that we have eternal life.” (I John 5:13) God chose the Word  displayed, spoken, and written as the means of revelation of purpose and glory to those who bear his image.

The issue here in this effort shall be to focus on the extent to which, in light of natures testimony, the scripture is necessary to salvation. Due to the immediacy of spoken and written word, the objection has often been made; How can souls be saved who never hear?  In accordance with God’s declared will that none should perish but all should have eternal life, has He not engineered creation to speak of not only His glory but also His salvation?  We are told that there is no place where natures voice, “day to day pouring out speech,” is not heard.  The stars, planets, streams and mountains cry out “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature,”  If creation speaks it speaks of God; what it says and to what extent its testimony is effective for salvation shall be our focus here.  We shall examine the two most prominent positions on the issue:  The inclusive position which appeals to the efficacy and need of “general” revelation for salvation vs. the exclusivist position which holds to the necessity of special revelation to a chosen people for the purpose of salvation.  We shall attempt to address how each position differs in form and purpose, and to what end each works consistently within God’s plan of redemption.  It shall be our position that; while creation declares His Glory, it is His word and His word alone which must be received for Salvation.  The belief must be affirmed that Jesus alone is the way to the Father, and that no other road, path, or revelation exists by which one may be saved.  While the word is implanted within our conscious and witnessed in creation, it still must be received with meekness, for it and it alone is able to save men’s souls. (James 1:21)

POSITIONS

INCLUSIVISM

God sent His son so that those who believe in Him should not perish but should have eternal life.(John 3:16)  The gift of His son came as a result of His love for the entire world.  Would God love the world, send His son for that world, provide salvation for those who believe and not give that same world, in its entirety, the opportunity to believe?  This question frames the problem Inclusivism attempt to address.     That God has prescribed a method for salvation is not up for debate among ‘inclusivists.’  The question, rather, is absent access to that method, can salvation occur?  Inclusivism is an attempt to address the issue of the un-evangelized, those who will never hear.

When one considers further the nature of salvation one is instinctively drawn to the apparent hurdles that exist in its path.  There is the immeasurable gulf of sin that has separated man from God since the fall; and the effect of that sin on the human mind, both in terms of comprehension and the will to listen.  There is the issue of access to the message by which one is saved.  If it is God’s desire that all be saved, has he not provided the means for salvation to all, regardless of location or access to the gospel?  Not surprisingly, believers and non-believers approach these questions differently, and reach diverse conclusions often from the same texts.  Even within the Christian community opinions as to these questions differ.  Inclusivism agrees that “Jesus is the only way to salvation,” only “one does not have to believe the Gospel to be saved.”[1]  They simultaneously affirm Jesus’ claim to exclusive access to the Father, but solve the dilemma eluded to above by allowing multiple and even “extra-biblical” routes to Jesus.

On the conservative side of this spectrum there are inclusivists who claim general revelation in addition to special is salvific.  Broader definitions of salvific intent can be found on the liberal side, which can and has affirmed, in addition to general and special revelation, the ability of other religions to lead to the one God able to save.[2]

Scripturally Inclusivists point to certain key texts to bolster their case for broad salvation.  First and foremost are God’s declarations of “universal love” for the world.  John 3:16-17 provide a fitting example of God’s intent; God loved the world, he gave his son that those who believe in Him shall not perish.  According to verse 17, God did not send the revelation of his son to Judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him.

Psalm 19, a psalm of David which begins by extolling the act of creation as it bears witness to its maker God.[3]  Key to their understanding of this psalm as it relates to the efficacy of general revelation is verses 2 through 4; Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. [4]

These heavens and sky are said to be revealing knowledge, and that knowledge proceeds throughout the entire creation, “to the ends of the world.”  Inclusivists claim that in accordance with God’s mercy and His love he provides a “witness in creation and providence that God uses for human good.”[5]  This witness is echoed in Psalm 8 in which David declares that the works of God in the heavens and throughout the earth makes His name majestic “in all the earth.” (Psalm 8:9)  Jesus seems to allude to such a witness in Luke 19:40.  When approaching Jerusalem, the crowd began to proclaim His Lordship as they did the Pharisees demanded Jesus rebuke them and he replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Any attempt to limit general revelation to merely a means of rudimentary knowledge or a testimony to render one without excuse and thereby eliminate the defense of ignorance, is flatly rejected by inclusivism.  General revelation is on par with scripture in its ability to provide saving knowledge and both testify of the saving love of one God.  “saying that the God known through creation condemns while the God known through the Bible saves, sounds as though there are two Gods– one damning, one saving. There is one God [however] whose Holy Spirit is actively seeking the lost wherever they may be.”[6]  Greater than the apparent proclamations of the Gospel’s necessity to save, God’s love seeks to save those who are lost regardless of their access.

EXCLUSIVISM

In contrast to inclusivism, those who subscribe to a belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel and salvation see the questions surrounding these topics as present but not particularly troublesome in light of scripture.  God’s method of salvation is exclusive in terms of means as well as in terms of scope.  Exclusivists claim that God created the world and is displayed throughout that creation.  That He loved the world, and sacrificed His Son for the world. They differ however in the method and means by which one obtains salvation.  They would agree that, “scripture nowhere indicates that people can know the gospel, or know the way of salvation, through such general revelation.”[7]  Jesus alone is the way to the Father, unto salvation.  Therefore knowledge of Jesus, and belief in Him, even confession of Him as Lord is essential for Salvation.

Scripture correspondingly proclaims that there is a particular method of revelation, designed by God, that leads to salvation.  Romans 10:9-15 demonstrates this in typical Pauline directness.  There is an individual task for personal salvation but that task is in response to a particular subject and specific method of revelation:

9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heartthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;for the same Lord is Lord of all,bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

4How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hearwithout someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Those who would believe, must first hear; and those who hear, to be saved, must confess; moreover they must confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  These components of God’s plan of salvation do not seem up for debate according to scripture.  “God has prescribed the way of salvation which is faith in Jesus Christ in special revelation ordinarily through the hearing of the gospel message through a human messenger in this life.”[8]   Scripture affirms that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Furthermore, Jesus while on earth, proclaimed the exclusivity of God’s salvation in that “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

God’s salvation is not only exclusive in terms of means, but also in scope. God, through special revelation, by his eternal will, has revealed himself to a select group alone.  That this is the case is not troublesome for those who subscribe to an exclusivist position.  Rather God’s special revelation to some and not all is demonstrated and defended throughout the entirety of scripture.  God chose one man to form a nation, one people out of many.  They were to worship one God, and by Him be saved.  God sent one son, a shepherd to a particular ‘special’ flock.  God said of Israel, “you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ezekiel 34:31)  Jesus proclaimed that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  These passages stand in start contrast to the idea of universal access to Christ apart from His revealed ordained will in His Word.

Further proof of the differentiation between those who simply know of Him and those who have received revealed knowledge of Him unto salvation, is found in Matthew 7.  This text attests that mere knowledge of God from whatever the source is not adequate for salvation.  There will be those who will come to Christ on the last day and claim to have known Him and acted in His name; but it will be made clear that while they had a ‘general knowledge’ of God and even Christ, Jesus will be right in saying depart from me for I never knew you.  (Matthew 7:23)  We maintain that while general revelation and special revelation work in concert to proclaim God’s glory and testify to His existence; the special revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the same, is the divinely chosen exclusive method that God has ordained to effect salvation among the lost.

In the next post we shall focus on the scriptural support for this position.


[1] Peterson, Robert A. and Christopher Morgan ed. Faith Comes by Hearing. (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press. 2008.) 12.

[2] Catholic Scholar Hans Kung demonstrates this in “The World Religions in God’s plan of Salvation,” in Christianity Revelation and World Religions, ed. Josef Neuner (London: Burn and Oates, 1965.)  Stating “Since God Seriously and effectively wills that all men to be saved…A man is to be saved within the religion made available to him in his historic situation.”

[3] “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

[4] Emphasis mine.

[5] Pinnock, Clark, “An Inclusivist View” in Faith Comes by Hearing, ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (45)

[6] Sanders, John cited in Faith Comes by Hearing.46.

[7] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. 1994) 123.

[8] Strange, Daniel. “General Revelation Sufficient or insufficient.” In Faith Comes by Hearing. 54.

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On Eternal Conscious Punishment…

August 31, 2012

On the topic of Eternal Conscious punishment:

“Then [there] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and the will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[1]  Jesus spoke these words on the road to Jerusalem, and hence they have been the source of great anticipation and great apprehension for almost two thousand years.  Jesus spoke to His disciples about an impending moment of time, a moment impending still.  Most who read this text can detect the tension, the glorious and awful day of the Son of Man’s return.  We read this text confident with the knowledge that, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but (His) words will not pass away.”  The day is coming when; the trumpet shall sound, the elect shall be gathered, the wicked cast aside and the kingdom of God will endure forever more.  Then what? You might ask.  What is next?  What of the wicked?  Shall the wicked endure in punishment as the righteous in delight?  Can God’s kingdom, where the corruptible has become incorruptible, exist?  With the wicked present, suffering torment in light of God’s justice?

From the first Easter on these questions persist.  Christ’s resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples and community secure our faith’s belief in the like-resurrection awaiting the righteous; this belief is fundamental to that faith.[2]  His resurrection serves as a first-fruit of the promise, that for the saints, there is victory in death; “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]  Death’s sting shall not be removed for all however, for some will be raised not to inherit the kingdom, but to reap eternal punishment.  Our aim will be to address what shape that eternal punishment will take.

This view can be described as the orthodox position or traditional position within the church.  Throughout the history of the Church, many diverse individuals have found common ground on the profession that “the wicked will suffer the pains of hell forever.”[1]  “It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it.”[2]  To dissect this position let us take it word for word.

Eternal:  This means that the wicked that are cursed by God and have rejected His grace shall face punishment forever.  Jesus himself foretold that He shall declare to the wicked on the Day of Judgment: “depart from me in to the eternal fire…” and to the condemned He shall say, “…go away into eternal punishment.”[3]  This is furthermore declared in book of Christ’s Revelation, “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”[4] The torment that awaits the wicked shall not end but shall endure eternally.

Conscious:  The conscious in Eternal Conscious Punishment denote that those who exist in torment and punishment forever will be cognizant of the punishment they receive and shall react with all the attributes of consciousness.[5]  In the previous passages mentioned, when Christ addresses the Day of Judgment, those who are cast into the outer darkness shall, “weep and gnash their teeth.”[6]  This is powerful imagery in that when one gnashes teeth it is in response to the infliction of pain.  There are no unconscious individuals who weep, none who knowingly gnash their teeth.

Punishment:  For those who hold the belief that the wicked shall suffer Hell eternally and consciously also believe that there shall be punishment.  Indeed just as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard… what things God has prepared for those who love him,” so too what has he prepared for those for do not love him.  “Hell is torment beyond comparison, the outcome of marvels, wrought by the greatest marvels of divine omnipotence, torment beyond any we could conceive.”[7]  These are strong words and powerful images, not the substance of joyous thought.  Those who cannot bear the thought of any suffering in such a manner, for such a time, have sought different interpretations of the same texts sighted.  Their conclusions hold that the future which awaits the damned is just as permanent but far different in experience than the one listed above.

I support the position of eternal conscious punishment; and I shall briefly outline the justification for said support.  My argument is really two-fold: one that ECP represents the majority and orthodox position and this fact is by no means incidental.  Two, I believe that ECP belies a consistency both biblically and theologically, which has accounted for its support throughout the development of Christianity and Christian Doctrine.

Orthodox for a Reason

The adoption of ECP as the orthodox view within Christianity was not an arbitrary choice.  Its support is first detected within the proclamations of Christ which lie at the very heart of the Faith.  Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims the fate of those who fail to heed the call to follow Him.  Matthew 25:30, 41, 46 all speak to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, in the “eternal fire” for the purpose of “eternal punishment.”  Jesus affirms in Mark chapter 9 that the same fire is “never quenched.”  We see in Luke 16 He tells of the rich man and Lazarus, and the torment of the rich man.  Jesus first raises the dichotomy of eternal reward mirrored by eternal punishment.  “Matthew, as D.A. Carson notes, ‘uses the adjective aionios… only for what is eternal.’ The punishment that the lost suffer in hell is parallel to the bliss that the righteous enjoy on the new earth.”[1]  Like ripples in a pond Jesus’ testimony of future eternal punishment was adopted and perpetuated the apostles.

The apostles expanded and added interpretation to the gospels’ record of Jesus’ teachings.  While the word hell is not mentioned in Paul’s writings[2] there can be no doubt that from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, Paul proclaims that God’s judgment awaits the wicked.  The author of Hebrews considers eternal judgment to be a “foundational elementary teaching.[3]” James, Peter, Jude and John, in their letters, all allude to coming torment for the wicked apart from Christ.  The pinnacle of this commentary comes in apocalyptic narrative form in John’s Revelation of Christ.  We have mentioned some of the passages previously, suffice it to say, Revelation chapter 20 stands as a vivid picture “emphasizing that hell is just [and eternal] punishment for the wicked.”[4]  As the church developed and strengthened, so too did the affirmations of this doctrine by the early church fathers.

By the late second century the theologian Tertullian arguing against the Gnostic heresy and the denial of physical resurrection argued that the enduring punishment in view is akin to “never-ending killing” the continual conscious penalty for those who die in sin.[5]  Tertullian led to Augustine in AD 400; Augustine to the Council of Constantinople in AD 553;[6] from Constantinople to Aquinas in AD 1270; on through to Luther and the Reformation in AD 1553.[7]  In fact, “from Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material hell.”[8]  ECP, as a doctrine of the church, maintained almost unparalleled loyalty throughout the churches history, this loyalty springs from its consistency with biblical theology.

 


[1] Matthew 24:30

[2] I Corinthians 15:14-19 “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

[3] I Corinthians 15:57

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04.

[2] Beale, Christopher W. contr. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Pub. 2004.) 139.

[3] Hebrews 6:1-3 (Beale, 140.)

[4] Beale, 141.

[5] Peterson, Robert A. contr. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL. IVP, 2000.) 119.

[6] Constantinople declared that “whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end… let him be anathema.” Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. (New York, NY. Simon and Schuster, 1976) 340.

[7] Peterson, 119-122.

[8] Johnson, 340.

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04. Indeed Peterson goes on to list 11 prominent figures from Christianity History who subscribe to this doctrine; among the 11 listed we find: Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Millard Erickson.

[2]  Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (USA, Hendrickson Pub. Inc.

1999.) 870.  Hodge also attests that the broad reception of this view among the church is due to more that simply church authority in protecting doctrine, “it was universally received before the external church had aggregated to itself the right to dictate to the people…what they must believe.”  The churches teaching on this was not upset or challenged by the reformation rather the reformation continued and affirmed the doctrine of ECP.

[3] Matthew 25:30 (emphasis mine), and Matthew 25:41 respectively.

[4] Revelation 14:11

 [5] The most chilling account of this conscious torment is found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here Jesus tells the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus; both die and head into eternity, the rich man to Hades and Lazarus to Heaven.  The Rich man Begs Abraham to dip the tip of his finger in water to quench the burning of his tongue, and even to send Lazarus back so that the rich man’s brothers might be warned.  Both requests end in denial and the realization that such torment is irreversible and permanent.

[6] Matthew 25:30

[7]  Winklhofer, Alois. The Coming of His Kingdom: A Theology of Last Things.

(New York, NY. Herder and Herder. 1966.) 86.