Mailbag

The Mail Room
Letters from Volume 45


Welcome to the Mail Room for Present Truth Magazine! This is where we post some of the interesting letters which we have received from our viewers. All of our viewers are invited to E-mail us your comments and views and we will post these views for all to consider!  

Excellent

This is to commend you most highly for the excellent chapters 9-13 on "Christ, the Meaning of All Scripture, Life and History" in volume 41.5 of Present Truth Magazine . Most timely and courageous, besides being scrip­tural, was your treatment of the gospel as judgment on reigning views of the doctrines of God, the Bible, man, salvation, ethics and last things.

Robert L. Whitelaw
College Professor
Virginia

Terrible Incongruity

I was incredulous when I set eyes upon "The Historical Framework of the Gospel" in your volume 43 issue, and I can scarcely believe that the statements in it are those of anyone who is committed to "the time-honored verities of the Christian faith."

I cannot help but point out the ter­rible incongruity of blaming Protes­tant rationalism for liberalism. Liber­alism, if it began anywhere, began as an Enlightenment reaction against rationalism, and you have only to read Rousseau's Emile or Voltaire to see how curdling was the hatred of the religious liberal for rationalism. Schliermacher, after all, took as his hero, not Beza or Turretin, but the heart-happy pietist, Zinzendorf. And I tremble now to see you recommend­ing the subjectivism of pietism's offspring, such as Cullman, Ladd and Wright.

Allen C. Guelzo
Reformed Seminary Lecturer
Pennsylvania

"Reasoning Together"

In your volume 43 issue you sounded a warning against evangeli­cals' making biblical inerrancy the "watershed" of Christian orthodoxy. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the message of Scripture, not the doc­trine of biblical inspiration, should be seen as what really unites or divides us. I also have very, very much appreciated your emphasis on the salvation-historical structure of divine revelation. But inasmuch as your journal does hold to the authori­ty of Scripture for all doctrine and practice, it seems to me that the debate going on in this area presently in (American) evangelical circles is not one you can afford to avoid. (Men who have done some good "spade-work" in this area, from a perspective somewhat similar to your own, are Clark Pinnock of Canada and Donald Bloesch here in the States.)

Regarding your use of Karl Barth: Despite Barth's lack of popularity among English-speaking evangeli­cals, he is a true heir and exponent of biblical and Reformation theology. He has really helped the Christian church in the areas of epistemology, Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity. However, because of the shift he made in the '30's from "dialectical theology" (the so-called neo-orthodox "theology of encoun­ter") to the Christocentric theology of his Church Dogmatics, I believe he is much misunderstood by American Christians. In the preface to the first volume of Church Dogmatics, Barth eschews his older "existentialist" orientation and progressively moves toward an objectivistic soteriology (which, by the way, seems to be very similar to your own). Barth goes too far, I think, in averring that we are "in Christ" by dint of the cross and resurrection per se, even apart from or prior to faith in Him. But in Church Dogmatics IV:3(b) Barth distinguishes between two forms of union with Christ: ontological (which is fact for all men) and relational (which is only true of those awakened to faith). It is because of the distinc­tion Barth draws between these two forms of union, and because he holds to the necessity of relational faith in Christ (as awakened by the Spirit through the gospel) as the only means of access to the fullness of salvation, that Barth should not be called a universalist (as, I recall, some of your readers asserted after your issue on "Election"). In fairness to Barth, he did not live long enough to write the projected volume 5 on "The Doctrine of Redemption," which would have dealt with the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, Donald Bloesch, a stu­dent of Barth's, has worked out a "Barthian" understanding of hell as the ongoing relational rejection (in eternity) of one's ontological union with Christ. For Bloesch it is precise­ly God's refusal to stop loving us in Christ that makes hell "punishment" and "suffering" for the impenitent sinner. (Please see Bloesch's second volume of Essentials of Evangelical Theology ­[Harper and Row], in the chapter "Heaven and Hell"-The Twofold Outcome.)

Regarding your emphasis that the ground of our acceptance with God is entirely "outside of us": This is true if by that is meant that atonement for sins is something to which men and women as individuals cannot and need not contribute by their own ef­fort (not even by "the decision of faith," though as you and Mr. Paxton point out, that decision is essential to our appropriation of Christ's atone­ment for us). However, since Jesus Christ is both God and man-and rep­resentative man, the "Son of Man," at that-then we must be careful lest we exclude the significance of Christ's humanity in the work of divine atonement. "Man" is, in a sense, involved in the securing of justification, then, "in" his Head and Representative, Jesus Christ. The point is, however, that "man's part" has already been taken care of, once and for all, and can neither be in­creased nor diminished by our own in­dividual actions or omissions. This, if I understand it rightly, is Barth's interpretation of Anselm's view. God alone actually initiates redemption, but it needs to be accomplished in and through mankind as the recip­ient. And so the latter is part of Christ's work "for us" as well.

Two separate comments on the doctrine of regeneration in the "order of salvation":

1. If humanity's "rebirth" is to be located first and foremost in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then there is an important sense in which the work of the Holy Spirit-through preaching and also, perhaps, through baptism-(which calls us to faith in Him) may be called "regenerative," even though initial regeneration of the believer is not yet established un­til the actual surrender of faith. In this limited sense, then, insofar as the work of the Spirit (to lead us to rela­tional faith in and union with the risen Christ) must precede faith itself, one may speak of (the beginnings of) regeneration preceding justification. However, you are absolutely correct in your repeated emphasis that justi­fication is grounded in the finished work of the cross itself and not in the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. Both regeneration and justification are based on the work of Christ "for us.

2. Theological consideration of re­generation and justification would seem to me to belong together in the same way that you have called us to consider man's creaturehood and per­sonhood together. Such a treatment might help to eliminate certain im­balances and false dilemmas in both of these doctrines.

I hope that these "reasonings" prove sound, in the main, and helpful and thought-provoking even where you disagree. Yours is presently my favorite Christian journal.

Lance A. Wonders
Presbyterian Student Pastor
Iowa

Dangerous Trait

Thank you very much for Geof­frey Paxton's article, "The Gospel and Testimonies," in volume 42 of Present Truth Magazine . Paxton has isolated a dangerous trait of evangelical Chris­tianity. I went to a denominational college where there was tremendous, subtle pressure to be able to give the kind of testimony Paxton describes. There was great peer pressure to be the kind of Christian that the peer group had decided was a "good" Christian. The model we were to follow was one made by others-not by Christ. And if we didn't testify to a message for God today-as if we might say, "My good buddy God told me ...," then we were not spiritual and were quickly informed that prayers would be made for us. Well, we can thank God for the prayers, though I fear they may have been misdirected.

The reasons that the "my-Lord-spoke-to-me-this-morning" testimony is dangerous are many. Paxton right­ly noted the danger of the super-Christian model. The testimony model Paxton describes is dangerous also because it is so hard to shed. Our relationship to and with God is geared to "hearing a message for to­day" instead of seeking a transform­ing of our minds. I know that it is a hard model to break from and not feel guilty about how "unspiritual" we are. Life then becomes a negative soul-searching or spiritual navel-gazing.

Paxton has helped me to deal with the move from the old model to a new model. Thank you for this article, which is strengthening me in the faith.

Terrance R. Trites
Canada

Complicated

Sir: In responding to a letter in volume 42 of your magazine, you said that your magazine "is written for those who are used to reading serious theology." Perhaps your journal's purpose needs to be reformed so as to include those readers who are not indoctrinated in theological jargon. A journal can be intellectual without being intellec­tually complicated. Some of the best journals I have ever digested were those that were intellectually simple. If your journal's messages bypass the simple but intellectually-minded, your noble efforts will have been in vain. And if your attempts are directed toward the clerics and theologically-minded only, you are simply adding to the already com­plicated and confused mess the clergy and theologians have created. If ever there is to be a healthy reformation, it will make its genesis among "lay­men" (I detest the term).

Buff Scott, Jr.
Iowa

Comprehensible

Sir: I was raised in a Christian home and educated in Christian schools, and I found that so much of the ter­minology regarding religion, Bible study, etc., was utterly confusing. Even the Bible teachers seemed un­able to state things in a clear and comprehensible manner. Your publi­cation has been like a light in a dark room. Texts that I have always read with a "perfectionistic" slant are now seen in a new, clear and powerfully Christ-centered way. I can really see and understand why Christ is to be our joy and our song! Thank you for standing for Bible truths. We have so much need of this.

Carolyn Ottman
Washington

Common Sense

Sir: I feel that Present Truth Magazine is probably the best religious journal I've ever seen. It doesn't present the gospel in the form of fairy stories, as some church publications do, making grown adults feel like pre-schoolers, nor does it go over the heads of most people, making them feel like ig­norant slobs. Present Truth Magazine uses common sense and talks to normal adults like normal adults, and it uses Scripture to back up what it says-something other religious publications hardly ever do.

David L. Maze
Oklahoma

Acceptance in Christ

I am writing to tell you how much your journal has helped me to see that my righteousness before God is in Jesus and not in myself.

I have been involved for the past three years in a community of over two hundred people in Western Eu­rope which goes by the name of Lutheran. However, this is in name only. Their practice is most definitely Catholic. They speak much of "bridal love" and of leaving justification for the deeper life of sanctification, upon which they base their acceptance with God. When I began to discover all this, I began to read in God's Word-especially in Romans-and the Lord showed me the error of it all. Praise His name, I am now back in America , studying His Word at a Bi­ble training center.

Interestingly enough, I had read one issue of your journal just before I left for Europe and the community there. It was an issue in which you had endeavored to show how Greek thought has penetrated the church. In it you mentioned the term "bridal-love" metaphors. As I read that, there was a moment of doubt about the step I was about to take. But I went ahead and left for Europe and three years of unbelievable inner tur­moil.

I can't thank the Lord enough for freeing me from that situation. I now know that my acceptance with God is in a Person, who stands before the Father in heaven as my great High Priest. This is more glorious to me than any subjective experience any­one could offer.

You are doing a wonderful work. Thank you!

Rick Speck,
Tennessee


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