Friday, April 24, 2015
Guest- Post & Response
[This is a guest post by Nathan Jowers, with commentary by me in italics. Nathan is commentary on a post found here: http://ljtsg.blogspot.com/2015/04/re-post-relying-on-grace.html]
The debate between universalism and conditional salvation interests me, so I'm going to try my hand at another critique.
In the post you say "For if what is required in reliance on God and God alone to save us, then that was possible before Jesus died." and then "So if people are even capable of "relying on God's grace" then this obfuscates the need for Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross." Against this I have three points.
1. If it was necessary that Jesus' death tear down the structures of sin before any criteria for salvation is exist, it is not necessarily the case that the criteria being reliance on God's grace means that salvation was possible before Jesus' death. It could be that Jesus' death was exactly the thing that set the criteria up in the first place. That said, the prophets do seem to indicate that salvation is possible through this method before Jesus' death, or at least that the people before the cross can be saved, so this argument is largely mute.
The question is why one should believe this to be possible. WHY do we think that Jesus’ death was necessary? If the answer is that this is because of God’s own justice, which is the most common Christian answer, one may ask whether such a God can, in any way, be love, as scripture says He is in 1 John. If the answer is because of satan, one can ask why a sacrifice is necessary to defeat satan. If God is all-powerful, then why not just, you know, defeat satan. Additionally, if God can account faith as righteousness, as both Genesis and Roman claims that He can, then why not just account faith as righteousness, and leave it at that? Why not just forgive us when we try to rely on His grace?
Of course one can say that God’s entry into the world leads inexorably to the Cross as such is God’s nature. But then that just brings up the very problem I’m pointing to. If sin simply IS the pain of God, if God’s response to sin IS the Cross, then what more is there to say about it than that? What is justice, or mercy, or anything else, against such a pain?
But, really, that is just a side note. It seems to me that Nathan has missed the central argument of the entire post he’s referring to, which is found here:
*The prophets and wisdom writers are ostensibly bringers of God's word. For plenary inerrantists, they literally spoke and wrote only God's word. Well those writers came and told the Jews that they were not saved by their own power, but by total reliance on God. The law was not some road map to receiving grace, and fulfillment of the rituals of the law accomplished nothing, according to the prophets. It was God's unearned favor that brought the hope of salvation, and God's choice to forgive sins and see His people as blameless. The idea that some payment had to be made to receive God's forgiveness flies in the face of almost everything the prophets and wisdom writers said. In other words, there was no 'payment of sin' that was necessary if one only relied in God's grace. So if people are even capable of "relying on God's grace" then this obfuscates the need for Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross.*The prophets and wisdom writers are ostensibly bringers of God's word. For plenary inerrantists, they literally spoke and wrote only God's word. Well those writers came and told the Jews that they were not saved by their own power, but by total reliance on God. The law was not some road map to receiving grace, and fulfillment of the rituals of the law accomplished nothing, according to the prophets. It was God's unearned favor that brought the hope of salvation, and God's choice to forgive sins and see His people as blameless. The idea that some payment had to be made to receive God's forgiveness flies in the face of almost everything the prophets and wisdom writers said. In other words, there was no 'payment of sin' that was necessary if one only relied in God's grace. So if people are even capable of "relying on God's grace" then this obfuscates the need for Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross.*
The point is that the prophets are saying that IF you rely on God’s grace, salvation is assured. They deny that anything else is needed. The point is that Jesus only becomes necessary if the prophets were wrong about God’s grace or if mankind was simply incapable of doing what the prophets asked them to do. Jesus’ sacrifice makes sense in light of the Old Testament when you look at the Old Covenant as having failed to do what it was intended to do. How did it fail? By the law being unable to save us? Uh-uh, that was already established by the prophets. They already KNEW that animal sacrifices and following every law wasn’t enough. The question is what does Jesus bring to the table? Where is the failure or limitation in the Old Covenant?
2. That salvation was possible before Jesus' death does not mean that salvation was possible without Jesus' death. Anticipation or promise of a future event can affect the conditions present. All of reality (or at least the parts involving salvation) was formed around Jesus' redemptive action, formed with the anticipation of it in mind. The anticipation of at least the general form of Jesus' death and resurrection would be enough to allow for some of the soteriological framework that would result from it to be in the place from the beginning. While our anticipations may or may not come to pass, because Jesus was God's anticipation, because everything was framed around it, salvation could proceed with surety that it would come to pass. Now, if it were to happen that did not come to pass, then stuff would have gotten really bad really quick, but because God was behind it there was a sureness to its occurrence. The prophets would be living in the "now and not yet" of Jesus' death and resurrection, even as we are living in the "now and not yet" of his enactment of the Kingdom of God. In other words, we act at time in ways that make it seem the Kingdom of God is already fully here, like evil has already been cast out. So they could have acted at times like the cross (or some similar thing) had already come to pass.
This does not mean that everything that is possible due to Jesus' death and resurrection was possible before it, that there is no before and after. It may have been sure in its eternal generality, but it was not sure in its temporal particulars (assuming open theism or something like it). The actualization of its temporal particulars would allow for some new possibilities that could not have been before it the death and resurrection, Pentecost being one of them.
I don’t really have a problem with this, but the question is about the content of the prophets’ message and the limitations of the Old Covenant. Where is all this stuff about the need for a sacrifice in what they are saying? If something other than reliance on God’s grace was necessary, why didn’t they say so? But taking what they say as the Word of God, then it seems to me that there is no reason to just stick Jesus in as a medical adhesive strip to bridge the gap. Either reliance on God’s grace is possible in any way, and God can just choose the bridge the gap as the prophets said He could and would OR there is no way we can put our faith in faith. It isn’t enough, and can’t be enough. Whence does this sense of an add-on come?
3. If, however, the above idea is completely bunk and we must assume that salvation was not at all possible before Jesus' death, we can still say that salvation for those people who came before still happens after the death and resurrection. The traditional concept of the judgement takes place at the end of days, with the resurrection of everyone. If it is at that point that salvation happens, those who acted in accordance with the salvation criteria even before the cross could be covered by it. Or, if there was some sort of cosmic waiting room for the righteous (which is more or less the Catholic interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 and the 5th article of the Apostles Creed) he could have then saved those who followed before the cross.
I don’t think there is any reason to think the above is ‘bunk’.
As for your assertion that we do not live like we truly believe the cross, that is somewhat true, though I do not feel to the degree you make it out to be. While we may have fallen from being the image of God, we still have something of it in us, however muddied and battered. While we may be hopeless to break the chains of sin ourselves, we are still enough ourselves to hold the chains out to be broken by the Holy Spirit. We still choose to follow Jesus, and while we may still believe only momentarily, we would have believed not at all without that decision.
I do not believe in total depravity. Nor do I think we are in all ways incapable of relying on God’s grace. I just think our reliance is too weak to support our salvation. If it were, then one would wonder why Jesus has to die. Why can’t our meager attempts simply be completed by the Will of God? Additionally, there is a paradox here. If I rely on my reliance on Grace as a feature of my salvation, then it seems to me that I am relying less on Jesus Christ, than if I simply accept Jesus’ sacrifice as full and sufficient unto itself. The irony is that the universalist, in my opinion, is relying more on God’s grace than the conditionalist.
P.S. While I may disagree with the man on many things, Kierkegaard can write.
I, of course, agree.