Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Irony of Christian Radio

The hosts of a Christian talk radio show, which I shall leave unnamed, lamented and derided so-called Evangelicals for their cavalier attitude toward the nature of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ and the reality of Hell. So far, I was glad for these men who spoke with such boldness on these issues, but even as I did so, it was with a casual nod, for their simplicity regarding the aforementioned issues raised by evangelical scholars and pastors didn't even scratch the surface.

For example, many Evangelicals believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but not in its inerrancy. Secondly, the citation of Acts 4:12, John 14:6 and other texts does not resolve the issue of the exclusivity of Christ and the eternal state of those who never made a conscious "decision" to follow Jesus, for the main reason that many Evangelicals assert the nature and existence of the Triune God and still hold for a wider mercy beyond those who have never heard a preacher of the gospel (which view, I think, lacks exegetical warrant, but there are some strong cases for the view). Third, while it is obvious that one's view on the nature and reality of Hell commands one's world and life view, grabbing texts out of context without dealing with the exegetical, theological and philosophical issues --at least at a surface level on a radio show with limited time--is a disservice to the listening audience. But the main point here is that the talk show hosts, for all their bolstering and boldness about the authority of the Bible "It means what it says, and it says what it means," and for all their guffaws against pandering pastors behind pansy pulpits (pansies are actually a resilient flower, but you get the idea), and for all their galloping charges declaring the glorious gospel, they fell short by succumbing to their own tradition.

Which tradition? The following: "You have to accept Him," and "You need to accept Jesus as your personal Lord n' Savior, and "You need to accept Christ" and "You need to accept what He did for you (dying on the cross for your sins)", etc. This is a mere tradition speaking, and not the Holy Scripture. One does not find this kind of language in the Bible when the gospel is preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, or the Apostles in the gospels, in Acts, or in the epistles. Such language of "accepting Jesus" is just not there. The men on this radio show want to hold forth the inerrancy of Scripture, but when it comes to preaching its most important message--the gospel--they don't do it. So, what should they be telling their listening audience then?

For some readers here, the answer will be obvious, but it's not beyond warrant to repeat what Scripture lays down with absolute clarity: repentance and faith. Here is just the book of Luke-Acts from Bible gateway.

1. Luke 3:3
And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 3:2-4 (in Context) Luke 3 (Whole Chapter)

2. Luke 3:8
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
Luke 3:7-9 (in Context) Luke 3 (Whole Chapter)

3. Luke 5:32
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
Luke 5:31-33 (in Context) Luke 5 (Whole Chapter)

4. Luke 10:13
[ Woe to Unrepentant Cities ] "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
Luke 10:12-14 (in Context) Luke 10 (Whole Chapter)

5. Luke 11:32
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Luke 11:31-33 (in Context) Luke 11 (Whole Chapter)

6. Luke 13:1
[ Repent or Perish ] There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
Luke 13:1-3 (in Context) Luke 13 (Whole Chapter)

7. Luke 13:3
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Luke 13:2-4 (in Context) Luke 13 (Whole Chapter)

8. Luke 13:5
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Luke 13:4-6 (in Context) Luke 13 (Whole Chapter)

9. Luke 15:7
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:6-8 (in Context) Luke 15 (Whole Chapter)

10. Luke 15:10
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:9-11 (in Context) Luke 15 (Whole Chapter)

11. Luke 16:30
And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
Luke 16:29-31 (in Context) Luke 16 (Whole Chapter)

12. Luke 17:3
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,
Luke 17:2-4 (in Context) Luke 17 (Whole Chapter)

13. Luke 17:4
and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."
Luke 17:3-5 (in Context) Luke 17 (Whole Chapter)

14. Luke 24:47
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Luke 24:46-48 (in Context) Luke 24 (Whole Chapter)

15. Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:37-39 (in Context) Acts 2 (Whole Chapter)

16. Acts 3:19
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
Acts 3:18-20 (in Context) Acts 3 (Whole Chapter)

17. Acts 5:31
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:30-32 (in Context) Acts 5 (Whole Chapter)

18. Acts 8:22
Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
Acts 8:21-23 (in Context) Acts 8 (Whole Chapter)

19. Acts 11:18
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
Acts 11:17-19 (in Context) Acts 11 (Whole Chapter)

20. Acts 13:24
Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
Acts 13:23-25 (in Context) Acts 13 (Whole Chapter)

21. Acts 17:30
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
Acts 17:29-31 (in Context) Acts 17 (Whole Chapter)

22. Acts 19:4
And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus."
Acts 19:3-5 (in Context) Acts 19 (Whole Chapter)

23. Acts 20:21
testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:20-22 (in Context) Acts 20 (Whole Chapter)

24. Acts 26:20
but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
Acts 26:19-21 (in Context) Acts 26 (Whole Chapter)

So, that is twenty-four uses of the word "repentance" in Luke/Acts. The concept of repentance is laid bare to the Apostle Paul by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in a personal revelation on the road to Damascus that Paul retells to King Agrippa. Paul explains that Jesus says to him regarding his ministry to the Gentiles,

"'I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me,'" (Acts 26:16-18). Notice that Jesus tells Paul that the Gentiles must "turn" from darkness and the devil to light and to God? This is what "repent" means: it means to turn from sin and start living for God in newness of life in righteousness and holiness. Turn away from sin, turn to God, be forgiven, and live a new life. It all happens at once, by God's grace, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit; but it is we who are commanded to turn from sin and live a new life by faith in Jesus. Did you see anything about "receiving Jesus" or "accepting Him" here? "Receiving" and "accepting" are passive, whereas repentance is active. Human beings are commanded to act, and the act is repentance and faith. Anything less than that empties the commands of God of their power and authority!

Moreover, a close look at Acts 20:21 shows that faith and repentance are conjoined in one act. "Testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Also, try to find where John the Baptist, Jesus or the Apostles speak of "accepting Jesus as your personal Savior" and such traditional phrases. Not found in Scripture! Rather, the message of the New Testament is that God commands all people everywhere to repent and turn from sin and place faith in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and the right to eternal life.

Perhaps the reason why the radio talk show hosts don't preach repentance is because it doesn't fit with their theology of "faith alone" where "faith" is either 1) an intellectual assent, or 2) some passive "acceptance" of facts about what God has done in Christ, or 3) some kind of emotional state of being where we "let Jesus into our hearts." But such notions are completely foreign to the Bible, and they don't accomplish the command of God, which is that people turn from their wicked ways, stop living lives of sin, and start living lives of righteousness. It seems to me that the reason these men don't even mention repentance and a new life in godliness is that it doesn't fit their theology of faith and works. "We are saved by faith," they may say, and works come afterward. But the message of the New Testament is contrary to their teaching: we must turn to God in repentance, and place faith in Jesus Christ, and prove our repentance by our good deeds. This, dear reader, is the message. Place no trust in the message of "accepting Him," as such a message is not found anywhere in the text of the New Testament, and it sure isn't found in the Old Testament, either. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age," (Titus 2:12).

If you want to preach the gospel, tell people they must repent of their sins and place faith in Jesus Christ, proving it by their good deeds. But enough of this "accepting Jesus as your personal Lord n' Savior" stuff. Stick with the clear message of Scripture!


Anonymous said...

Great post, Chris. I appreciate your insights here. I've been thinking about some of these very things.

A few thoughts, have I....

First, it seems important to couple the language of repentance in Luke/Acts with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit seems to be what ratifies and validates the repentance commitment. In Paul's epistles it seems clear (to me at least) that the Holy Spirit is the agent that brings about change. It is further clear (to me!) that repentance results in "the fruits of the Spirit," which are inner spiritual qualities (the most important of which is love/charity/agape/compassion) that manifest in an openness, kindness, patience, and gentleness to others.

Along this line of thought, as I read the New Testament, I find that there is scarce evidence for the assertion that believers should use the scriptures as a foundation for guiding their lives. Certainly the scriptures can instruct us in righteousness because they are God-breathed, as we read in 2 Timothy; but the real agent for change is the Holy Spirit, not looking for direction from the Scripture. Scripture is helpful, but only the Holy Spirit produces the intangible and almost non-linguistic virtues listed in Galatians 5.

I wondered if you have picked up the same thing, from your study of the Bible. (I used to think that I couldn't qualify as an Evangelical anymore, but I'm starting to think that I'm more evangelical than many Evangelicals, because I don't overstep the Scripture's own witness to its role in the spiritual formation of the believer.)

Second thing....Luke/Acts strikes me as a text in line with the prophetic tradition. When Jesus comes in his incarnation, he comes to "preach good news to the poor." The prophetic tradition stood against inequality and economic exploitation. The Mosaic Law itself was an equalizer: forgive debts periodically, never charge interest, leave the gleanings at the edges, etc. The community was meant to protect the poor and keep the rich from getting rich and powerful. (Cf. James' extraordinarily harsh language to the poor.) Would you say that the "repentance" mentioned in Luke/Acts is primarily directed toward bringing social and economic justice?

Chris Van Allsburg said...

Hi Jon, how are you?
You raise two good questions, and I'll offer some brief answers.

First, I'd say that Word & Spirit are inseparable. The Spirit communicates with his creatures, and he does so with language. Thus, "blessed are those who hear the word and God and keep it" Jesus says. Paul says, "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing of faith?" In the context of Galatians, Paul means by "hearing of faith" the message of the gospel. And we shoudn't forget the noble Bereans, who searched not the Spirit, but the Scriptures. Descriptive or prescriptive here? Not the point, but telling, nonetheless.

Now of course, in the ordo salutis, there is a logical, if not even temporal distinction between the Spirit's activity in the life of the sinner whom he regenerates. This much I think you and I agree on: the Spirit is the one who brings about the new heart in regeneration and makes repentance, faith and the fruit of repentance/faith even possible. Current Evangelical trends are not privvy to this, or they want to flat out deny it, because of its implications with regard to election, predestination, and free grace. But I agree that the Spirit is the one who brings this about. John 3 is a clear exposition by the Lord Himself on this. But with respect to the actual preaching of the gospel message (which I take to be "Jesus is Lord"), and the commanded response of the listener, I'm not concerned with whether or not the listener has a correct doctrine of the Holy Spirit's activity in the soul of such a listener. My main concern here is that the radio talk show hosts who preach "The Bible, The Bible, The Bible" don't actually preach what it says to preach, according to the apostolic message! Sigh...

Now, your second point regarding the poor, I cannot really take in full, because I think it's reductionistic. The main concern of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and the Apostles in Luke/Acts (and the rest of the NT)--it seems--is that God is concnered with the forgiveness of sins, and the right to eternal life. Now of course, the remission of sins is not done in a vacuum, and when the Holy Spirit makes a new person aftert the image of Christ, the inevitable consequence should be a concern for the poor, the widow and the orphan. This testimony is clear from Isaiah 1:16-17 where the Lord chastizes Israel and tells them to do righteousness, justice and mercy by pleading the case of the fatherless and for the widow.

But I wouldn't say the primary call in God's command to repentance is to repent of one's attitude toward the poor, but rather of one's attitude toward one's own sin and toward God. This is why Acts 20:21 speaks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I suppose we all come to some fairly different impressions of the Word as we read her.

One impression I have of reading the prophetic books is that they often go back to the works we do rather than simply the form. James, I think, picks up on this in his epistle. The idea seems to be that we are transformed not just by a bare act of "faith" apart from works but by "works" together with faith. So, it seems to me that privileging an experience of salvation or any other form of spirituality over that of the work of righteousness seems to conflict with my understanding of the prophetic tradition.

As I understand the prophetic tradition, it is not an either-or scenario. Doing the work of God (i.e., caring for the poor, oppressed, and exploited) can itself be a salvific work within us. I picture it as a spiral. Works can soften and deepen our spirits, a deeper spirit can lead to more works, etc. Whether a spiritual experience (regeneration, being born again, etc.) precedes works or whether works precedes the experience is not something I am comfortable commenting on. My sense of scripture and my own experience suggest that either route is possible.

Are you fairly committed to regeneration preceding works?

Chris Van Allsburg said...

Yes, I am committed to regeneration occurring prior to faith and repentance. I've written about this in my review of "Trust and Obey" by Norman Shepherd. You may get a good feel for the reformed understanding of justification by faith alone as it differed from Luther in the writings of Calvin.

Luther saw "faith" as a type of "bare" belief, devoid of any works. His understanding of "alone" in "faith alone" was adjectival: the faith that justifies is an "alone" faith.

Calvin understood the "alone" in "faith alone" as an adverb. He understood that it was only faith that justifies, but that the faith that justifies is a living, working faith.

So, I don't see a contradiction between James and Paul. Rather, James is teaching that faith without works is dead, and Paul is teaching that works without faith is dead.

You are correct, I believe when you say that works are like a spiral, forming Christ in us. For example, Ps 18:20 & 24 says, "The Lord has rewarded me according to MY righteousness." This means that David's works were done in faith in covenant relationship with the Lord. Scholastic traditions within Reformed theology don't know how to handle these texts, but originally the Reformers held to a stronger notion of justifying faith that was living, active, and worketh by love (Gal. 6:16).

Good thoughts, Jon!