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Friday, October 16, 2009

Can one be "saved" by just reading the Bible?

Another reason for my de-conversion from evangelical Christianity was my realization that the Bible is a very ambiguous book, i.e., subject to many different interpretations.

Kevin Bauder, the President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, would certainly disagree with me. He has written an article on the Perspicuity of Scripture available online. Perspicuity, which means “clearness or lucidity, as of a statement” was a major tenent of the Reformation. The Reformers argued that one could read and understand the major teachings of the Bible without any help from the Roman Church. The RCC, on the other hand, maintained, that they, and only they, could properly interpret the Scriptures.

So which is it? Is the Bible unambiguous or is it open to a variety of opposing interpretations?

In the article, Bauder makes the following admission:


In some circles, one finds a naïve belief that a solitary individual, given no prior instruction, can simply sit down with a Bible and discover the entire Christian faith. The problems with this view are manifold. The first and most obvious is that no one has ever actually done this. The second is that God never intended anyone to do so—God’s plan was for those who had been taught to commit what they had learned to faithful people, who would in turn teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). The third is that wherever people have tried to start from nothing and interpret the Bible for themselves, they have (almost?) invariably produced error and even heresy.

I applaud him for this honest admission. However, prior to this statement, he writes:


In other words, the aspect of Scripture that can be understood by anyone is its saving message. Any truth that is essential to salvation is clearly and comprehensibly revealed "in some place of Scripture or other." Anyone can learn the way of Salvation by reading the Bible.

It is no small matter that the way of salvation has been revealed in language that any person can understand. We do not have to rely upon sophisticated intellectual tools. We do not have to rely upon specially-endued ecclesiastical spokesmen. If we can read the Bible in our hands, then we can know how to be saved.

So, while he would not say that the entire message of the Bible is perspicuous, he does believe that the basic message of “how one is to be saved” is crystal clear.

I completely disagree with his contention. If the way of salvation is so clear and obvious in Scripture, then why is there not unanimous or at least nearly unanimous agreement among those who accept the Bible as the Word of God on how one is to be saved?

I think you could make the point that the New Testament says clearly that one needs to believe (have faith) in Jesus in order to be saved (e.g. John 3:16). But there is still a host of questions:

1. What exactly is faith?

a. Is it merely intellectual assent? Members of the Grace Evangelical Society answer in the affirmative. On their website, one reads:


Faith is the conviction that something is true. To believe in Jesus (“he who believes in Me has everlasting life”) is to be convinced that He guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him for it (John 4:14; 5:24; 6:47; 11:26; 1 Tim 1:16).

No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life (Rom 4:5; Gal 2:16; Titus 3:5). This saving transaction between God and the sinner is simply the giving and receiving of a free gift (Eph 2:8-9; John 4:10 ; Rev 22:17 ).

b. Is it intellectual assent plus submission to the Lordship of Christ? John MacArthur and many strict Calvinists would say, Yes.

MacArthur writes that faith
‘encompasses obedience,’ and that obedience is ‘an integral part of saving faith.’ Indeed, obedience is bound up in the very 'definition of faith,’ being a constitutive element in what it means to believe.’ Thus any ‘concept of faith that excludes obedience’ must be rejected because obedience is ‘indivisibly wrapped up in the idea of believing.’ In fact, ‘the character of true faith’ is nothing less than the ‘higher righteousness’ of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-11.8. MacArthur even suggests that obedience is ‘synonymous with’ faith. (See The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?, pp. 173-176)


2. Is faith alone enough for salvation?

MacArthur and the Grace Evangelical Society and most evangelicals would say, “Yes.” However, other Protestant groups, such as those who trace their lineage to Alexander Campbell (including the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, and the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]) would say, “No.” Campbell, a former Baptist, became convinced that the Bible demanded baptism in order to receive forgiveness of sins. So faith alone was not enough. Listen to the churches of Christ website:


You should know that by baptism:
•You are saved from sins (Mark 16:16 1 Peter 3:21)
•You have remission of sins (Acts 2:38)
•Sins are washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21)
•You enter into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 2:41,47)
•You enter into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3-4)
•You put on Christ and become a child of God (Galatians 3:26-27)
•You are born again, a new creature (Romans 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17)
•You walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-6)
•You obey Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 10:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

These groups believe they are following the clear teaching of Scripture. Campbell’s maxim was: Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.

In addition to the Campbellite churches, many Lutherans believe that baptism is an integral part of what is required for salvation.

3. How does one acquire faith?

a. Calvinists (monergists, i.e, salvation is solely God’s work) say that it is a gift from God. "Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.(See here.)

b. Arminians (synergists, i.e., man cooperates with God in salvation) say that faith originates in man. "The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God's Spirit and be regenerated or resist God's grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man's act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner's gift to God; it is man's contribution to salvation.”. See here.

c. Lutherans as alluded to above, say that the seed of faith is implanted in the infant at the moment of baptism and that seeds need to be nurtured until it blossoms into saving faith. See here.

4. What is the necessary object of faith?

In other words, must one have faith in God or must that faith be specifically in Jesus Christ in order to be saved? Evangelicals for the most part would answer it must be in Jesus Christ although many of them leave the door open for “those who have never heard the gospel” to have some type of belief in the God of nature and thus be saved. As one author put it:
Most evangelicals believe that conversion involves explicitly recognizing Jesus Christ as God's Son and the mediator of salvation. Thus one's loyalty and trust is properly placed in Christ himself as the one true locus of faith. An alternative model, however, suggests that the key to conversion is not the conscious recognition of who Jesus is and what he does, but rather has to do with the heart's disposition toward the true God, however God is apprehended. And according to this model, since God has revealed Godself in a variety of ways throughout the world, one can hope and even expect that many will enter eternal life without ever hearing of Jesus Christ.

Clark Pinnock has argued for this position in A Wideness in God's Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions.

5. If one has to believe specifically in Jesus Christ in order to be saved, the next question is what must one believe about him?

a. Must one acknowledge that he is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father or may one believe that he is somehow a notch below God the Father, albeit still divine. Virtually all evangelicals would say the former because this debate was fought in the early church and Athanasius defeated Arius(see here ).

But why was there a dispute in the first place if the Scripture is perspicuous? And was Arius some evil man who denied the Bible? No, he was following what he honestly thought the Scriptures taught.

b. While evangelicals pretty much insist that one accept the full deity of Jesus in order to be saved, there is still disagreement among themselves as to what happened to the deity of Christ during the incarnation. Some say he laid aside some of those attributes, which in effect would make him not deity during his time on earth.

Other evangelicals would insist that he merely laid aside the use of those attributes, albeit, still possessing them. Granted, the more educated evangelicals seem to agree that he did not lay aside any of his attributes, but the popular exposition of the subject by many preachers claim that Jesus did all of his miracles not by his own power but as an ordinary man aided by the power of the Holy Spirit (for example, John R. Rice, Commentary on Luke and many charismatic preachers). Can a person be "really saved" if he/she has that view of Jesus Christ?

So, there you have it. The Bible is crystal clear on how one is to be saved. Anyone can just pick up a Bible start reading and “get saved.” Yeah, right. I have to agree with the Ethiopian eunuch when Philip approached him in Acts 8:30-31:
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?"

It seems to me that if the Bible were really the Word of God, it would be clear and unambiguous throughout but at the very least it would be plain on how one is to be saved.

18 comments:

  1. The famous American agnostic of the 19th century, Robert G. Ingersoll, said it this way:

    Every [Christian] sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed His will to man. To each reader the bible conveys a different meaning. About the meaning of this book, called a revelation, there have been ages of war and centuries of sword and flame. If written by an infinite God, He must have known that these results must follow; and thus knowing, He must be responsible for all.
    I’ll not argue God is responsible for it all though. I need only to establish God is at least partially to blame.


    Friedrich Nietzsche likewise noted this problem when he wrote:

    A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention – could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth?....Did he perhaps lack intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? Must he not then…be able to help and counsel [his creatures], except in the manner of a deaf man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or dog?

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  2. John,

    Thanks. I especially like the last line of Nietzsche. "A deaf man making ambiguous signs" when danger is approaching. That hits the nail on the head. If there really was a hell to avoid, what a pitiful attempt the Bible is at warning man.

    I also like these from Mark Twain:

    "It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies."

    "A God who could make good children as easily a bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave is angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice, and invented hell--mouths mercy, and invented hell--mouths Golden Rules and foregiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people, and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites his poor abused slave to worship him!"

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  3. Another good one:

    Robert Heinlein, the dean of science fiction writers, said: "One man's religion is another man's belly laugh."

    Its strange how people have a "blind spot" when it comes to their own religion being ridiculous. They can see clearly how ridiculous other religions are but not their own.

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  4. Forgive the redundancy, but this issue is one of the reasons I de-converted.
    If there were an objective reality behind religion in general, and Christianity in particular, there would not be such a wide divergence of belief.

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  6. Ken said, "why is there not unanimous or at least nearly unanimous agreement among those who accept the Bible as the Word of God on how one is to be saved?"

    There is unanimous agreement that one must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and he will be saved.

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

    How can you miss it?

    Your argument is not very convincing because you would have to demonstrate that the Bible itself is not clear. You have failed to do this. You simply state that man's expression of the Biblical truth varies.

    Does the fact that people are not able to properly express how we know reality mean that reality does not exist?

    Your logic is killing me...lol

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  7. Lots of good points here, I'd like to make an attempt at one...

    "We do not have to rely upon sophisticated intellectual tools. We do not have to rely upon specially-endued ecclesiastical spokesmen. If we can read the Bible in our hands, then we can know how to be saved."

    Of course, whenever anyone reads the Bible, she *is* relying on a set of intellectual tools held by ecclesiastical spokesmen, since the modern Bible is a translation of copies of copies. To read the modern Bible is to rely upon the qualifications of scholars who have studied ancient languages, who in turn rely upon manuscripts copied by ancient persons reading other manuscripts written by their contemporaries who read other manuscripts written by...

    Furthermore, there is hardly "the Bible," so much as bibles, given the issue of cannon between Protestants and Catholics, and the multitude of translations available.

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  8. Wow, this is excellent. Thank you for all the work. Great outline and salient points !

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  9. This is right on the money. Most people seem to receive their basic views about salvation from their family, their teachers, or their friends. Then they learn which parts of the Bible clearly support their view (let's call them proof texts). If they dig a bit deeper, they learn how to explain away the parts of the Bible which seem to contradict their view (let's call them sticky points). Thus, they feel that the Bible clearly supports their view.

    The problem is that every side of the debate does the same thing. The Calvinists do it. The Arminians do it. The Protestants do it. The Catholics do it. And so on, and so on. All that changes is this: One side's proof text is the other side's sticky point.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. The Bible is like an elderly senile citizen who is usually incoherent and out of touch with reality.

    However, because of the love of her children (the believers) who are driven on by the denial of reality along with some creative ingenuity (theology), she (the Bible) is lovingly taken by the arm and apologetically helped to shuffle along.

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  12. Objectively:
    If ANYONE who accepts Jesus atoning death is a Christian, then Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Orthodox, along with all Baptist and Protestants, are ALL Christians - all are brothers in Christ.

    But, based on my own personal conversations with the above (and many more), they not only reject each other, but attack each other and even label other Christian sects / groups as under Satan and, even contorlled by the anti-Christ (as Martian Luther did just this with the Pope). All except the Moonies (The Unification Church) who claim Jesus was given over to be crucified by God because Satan had taken over his body (See the Moonies’ holy book: The Divine Principle).

    So here now is the problem: Christianity is subjectively defined. Now couple this with freedom of religion, and any personal belief where by a person which has some new doctrine / truth (in a day where heresy can not be enforced), facts now prove that there are now millions of Christianities.

    If you want to have some fun, simple go up to people and ask: Can you tell me what Christianity is? And notice that you will get some vague “It’s a believe in God.” or “It’s a belief in Jesus.” Then follow their answer up with: Well, why did Catholics and Protestants kill each other as heretics?

    Now you’ll find that life long church going Christians don’t real know what Christianity is either!

    Put another way, my point is that if you placed literate non-religious people each one on 500 different islands with only a Bible, you would come up with 500 different Christianities.

    In fact, it would be a great idea for someone to create a blog entitled: What is Christianity? (A Blog to Definitively Define Christianity!) and simply sit back and watch as everyone posting comments attacked everyone else who did not agree with them as non Christian.

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  13. Ken great work!

    [Below is my conclusion to a chapter I had originally written for John Loftus’ forthcoming book (Unfortunately it will not be included).

    Human Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

    Conclusion:
    It is now almost universally accepted among objective scholars of the Hebrew Bible that the so-called Exodus from Egypt never happened based on both archaeology and textual
    evidence.(12) The fact that the language of the Israelites is a direct descendent of Canaanite Ugaritic in the family of Northwest Semitic along with the Hebrew Bible’s ancient pagan motif of Chaoskampf (the conflict with chaos and creation) has been noted by both Oxford University’s John Day(13) and the University of Edinburgh’s N. Wyatt (14) as the same literary style is also noted by Harvard University’s Frank Cross (15).

    Although the religious rhetoric from the Deuteronomistic Historians to such prophets as Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel denounce human sacrifice and places it in the context of Israelite apostasy to the Canaanite god Molech, there is little if any textual evidence that the Canaanites ever practiced human sacrifice as noted by Susan Ackerman: “At Ugarit evidence for child sacrifice is surprisingly sparse.” and, after surveying current scholarship of the subject in 1992, she states about the Canaanites: “And even if the correct reading is bkr, the ‘first-born’ referred to could just as easily be animal as human. Again, we must conclude that no certain interpretation is possible.”(16)

    Plus, the fact that of the 8 verses in the Hebrew Bible which relates a god of human sacrifice to Israel (blamed for its fall 2 Kings 17:17)and Judah (where a sacrificial practice was restricted to areas near Jerusalem) by worshipping a Canaanite god, there is no evidence that mlk is to be vocalized in Ugaritic as Molech.(17)

    In the final analysis, the Hebrew Bible is the result of an editorial process whereby history is rewritten to reflect perceived Israelite monotheistic orthodoxy and to keep her god (Yahweh) relative to changes in religious traditions. (18)

    It is my personal view that Yahweh was originally a fringe god of the poor hill country Israelites who was associated with and worshiped by the Canaanites along with the other gods of the Ugaritic pantheon. This entire pantheon of gods (along with the god Yahweh) was originally worshiped by the rich and educated Canaanites of the low country coastal areas.

    Though not the only god the Israelites worshiped, Yahweh was the Divine Warrior king god who is depicted as leading the Israelites into victorious battles. It was Yahweh who protected the early Israelites in Holy War and, like the Canaanite gods El and Baal, Yahweh could both create and control the weather and fertility for those who served him.

    But like the pre-Columbian Mayan god in Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto, in return Yahweh demanded and received human sacrifice. Though the earliest traditions of this epic are now obscured under layers of redacted material of orthodox religious tradition of the Hebrew Bible, they nevertheless were to remerge once again in the demand for human blood and death in the atonement that Christianity gave to their God (Yahweh) in the theology of the sacrificial slaughter of Jesus.

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  14. End Notes (to the above):

    12. The most authoritative work that supports this thesis are the two volumes in The Anchor Bible series by W. H. C. Propp on Exodus (Exodus: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, New York, Doubleday (now Anchor Yale), Vol. 1, 1999; Vol. 2, 2006). See also the excellent study by William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006). This view is also accept by European scholars: J.C. De Moor, The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (Belgium, Leuven University Press, 2 ed. 1997) especially his chapter on The Crisis of Polytheism pp. 41 - 102. Also the major work by John Day: Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) see his conclusions as to Yahweh having a wife and acting in the same manner as the gods of the Canaanite pantheon in his Conclusion: The Canaanite Gods and Goddesses and the Rise of Monotheism, pp. 226 - 233.

    13. John Day, God’s Conflict With the Dragon and The Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament (Cambridge University Press, 1985) especially pp. 1 - 61.

    14. N. Wyatt, Myths of Power: A Study of Royal Myth and Ideology in Ugaritic and Biblical Tradition (Munster, Ugarit-Verlag, 1996) as the history scholarship for the creation myth is fully discussed in his chapter on The Chaoskampf Myth, pp. 117 - 218.

    15. F.M. Cross, The Epic Traditions of Early Israel: Epic Narrative and the Reconstruction of Early Israelite institutions in R.E. Friedman, ed. The Poet and the Historian: Essays in Literary and historical Biblical Criticism (Harvard Semitic Studies 26, Scholars Press, Chico California, 1983) pp. 13-39.

    16. Susan Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah (Atlanta, Scholars Press, Harvard Semitic Monographs 46, 1992) pp.122 - 123.

    17. Again see the discussion by Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree, pp.
    126 - 143. Secondly, Molech is not even discussed in N. Wyatt’s chapter The Religion of Ugarit: An Overview in W.G.E. Watson and N. Wyatt eds., Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (Leiden, EJ Brill, 199) pp.529 - 585. In fact, the Index of Divine Names (843 - 844) has no reference to Molech at all in this massive text of 892 pages.

    18. As a case in point here, one can see how a revision of the life of King David is refined in the work of the Chronicler. One reason David is such a wonderful king in Israelite history is the strong PR editing readers are fed in the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, such as in who really killed Goliath (Elhanan 2 Samuel 21:19 or David 1 Chronicles 20: 5 9 (here Elhanan only kills Goliath’s brother Lahmi) or who cause David to number Israel (God 2 Samuel 24:1 or Satan 1 Chronicles 21:1).

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  15. Sorry Ken.

    I should have posted these comments to the above topic on human sacrifice.

    Harry

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  16. Harry,

    I like your idea: "In fact, it would be a great idea for someone to create a blog entitled: What is Christianity? (A Blog to Definitively Define Christianity!) and simply sit back and watch as everyone posting comments attacked everyone else who did not agree with them as non Christian.
    "

    I agree wholeheartedly. Christians cannot agree among themselves on even the most central of doctrines and when they argue with one another they often show anything but the "love by which all men will know you are my disciples" that Jesus spoke of.

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  17. Evangelical Christianity is kept alive by though the use of so-called Gospel Tracts which are comparable in the secular world to what legal enforcement agencies call Fishing.

    Blacks Law Dictionary defines fishing as: An attempt, through broad discovery requests or random questions, to elicit information from another party in the hope that something relevant might be found.

    Thus, in the criminal world, the enticement (bait) is created by offering a random individual (in a news paper ads or on the internet) a large amount of money should this individual provide his or her private banking information. Once this information is given, the unsuspecting fish is hooked and taken for all they are worth.

    People fall for this simply because of wanting something for nothing that is built on faith and trust. The criminal sees them as being greedy or sinful and he uses this knowledge to fish with.

    Likewise, church signs, street preachers along with randomly left Gospel Tracts fish by asking such questions: If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity? This question is a teaser question used to get the individual to .Open Up and call the phone number, printed on the last page of the tract.

    In both the criminal and religious fishing expositions, the faithful and trusting individuals are taken for their money and given only a false sense of security.

    In light of the modern legal term (such found Black’s Law Dictionary), it is truly ironic that the term fishing is use by both Jesus and the criminal element as a way to manipulate individual’s faith and trust for only illusionary gains that will cost the unsuspecting large amounts their of time and money in return for only hope.

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  18. I think we all underestimate the human capacity to rationalize, distort, misrepresent, misinterpret, etc etc. Then we blame God, blame the Bible, pidgeonn-hole and villianize others for pigeon-holing and villianizing.

    I once saw a 5th grade band attempt Mozart and it sucked. Does that mean Mozart sucked? That logic doesn't work. In the end we are all 5th graders attempting Mozart and I am thankful God gives us more grace than we give each other or him. Because if he gave us a Bible that met your standards we would STILL make a mess of it. But what do I know I don't have a bunch of letters after my name. Peace.

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