Welcome to the Mail Room for Present Truth Magazine! This is where we post some of the interesting letters which we receive 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!
I strongly support your call for a thorough reexamination of fundamental Christian questions in the light of honest scriptural search. One often senses from the church that everything is answered, the stores are in the barn. But I gather from Scripture that the walk of faith is always perilous and always requires attentive listening to the Master's voice in Scripture.
In particular I am pleased to read your thoughts on the need for renewed study of the Old Testament as the necessary light to understand the New. This is an area given much lip service but little action. Those who proclaim this doctrine most often are usually those who come up with the same theological views as before. Perhaps that is not dishonesty, but I doubt it is the result of truly heart-searching examination of the biblical text.
To accurately read the Scripture, I believe, we must approach the New Testament with the same expectation of encountering a "Hebrew mind" as when approaching the Old. Though Paul wrote primarily to Greek-speaking Gentiles, he was still a "Hebrew of Hebrews." The person immersed in the Jewish mind will recognize this in Paul's method of reasoning and understanding the Scripture.
We must, in a sense, set aside our non-Jewish backgrounds to immerse ourselves in the sourcebook of the Christian faith, the Hebrew Bible. The church has neglected to do this, almost contemptuously so. But we need not (and must not) be bound to mere human tradition. What defense can we give before the throne of judgment if we uphold the tenets of the church above the simplicity and truthfulness of Scripture?
In Paul's admonition to Timothy that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work, he did not leave the door open to new, subsequent revelations of "truth." None was needed. What Timothy had at hand was enough. In the Scriptures the living Message of God breathes His divine wisdom. And in these writings the servant of God will find all that he needs for teaching God's truths, for reproving sin, for correcting crooked paths, for instructing about the righteous ways of God. Indeed, these Scriptures are able to give anyone, any time, the wisdom which leads to salvation. So what doss this declaration mean for us? A rebuke. For these "holy Scriptures" are not the dissertations of holy churchmen or the creeds of the church or even the documents of the New Testament itself. Paul meant the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. The "Word of God" on Jesus' lips was that of the Book of the Covenant.
To take this at face value is rather unsettling in its implications, for Christianity is basically a New Testament religion. Though the apostle Peter elevates the letters of Paul to the level of "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:15, 16), the force of the argument is not lost: in apostolic thinking "Scripture" meant the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Heb. Tenach). There was no New Testament Christianity in the earliest decades following post-resurrection Pentecost and the rapid growth of the Messianic Assembly.
It is said, "We are not living in the past." Of course. But if we want to honestly discover our spiritual roots, we must look at the root of our faith as it is found in God's revealed truth, the ancient Scriptures. To initiate a second Reformation we must return to the Bible, not to Luther. The creeds and declarations of the church will not save us here. Only a return to the source will. And, inasmuch as we can piece it together, we must look critically at the history of the early Gentile church as it abandoned the influence of the Hebrew (biblical) mind and asserted itself as God's new-covenant people.
But whatever our verdict on the decisions of church leaders in the past, we ourselves are confronted with questions eternally timely. And the living Saviour asks them.
Paul once said, "The Scripture... announced the gospel beforehand to Abraham" (Gal. 3:8). Its contents had gone out to all creation, "the ends of the earth" (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:4). Isaiah had preached it repeatedly. Some believed it; many didn't.
What "gospel" was this? Was it only future prophetic? Or was it a present living challenge to God's ancient people?
We must search "Scripture" for this ancient message of good report. And in finding it we will have the power for a new revolution to turn the Christian world upside down and shake out its accumulated leaven.
Paul B. Sumner
At first I welcomed your journal as a corrective to popular "Protestant" theology. But you are beginning to sound like a broken record. Can't any of your writers think of something original to say?
I am also becoming suspicious of your unmitigated polemical tone, and in particular your repeated references to Roman Catholicism and the Pentecostals. I am beginning to think you are grinding a personal ax of some kind, and that smacks more of the flesh than the Spirit.
Further, while I too look for the "restoration of New Testament Christianity in this generation," this will not be accomplished by persuading Christians to toe a particular dogmatic line in regard to justification and the atonement. I fear another "Babylonian captivity" to dry formalism and orthodoxy such as the church fell into immediately following the Reformation. Your pages already reek of the kind of scholasticism that subordinates the gospel of Christ to the wisdom of this world.
The true restoration of the church must be a gift of God, sola gratia, solo Christo, sola fide. How could we recognize or accept such a gift if we were to continue to be absorbed in works of theological self-justification?
Harold E. Morgan, III
Your September 1978 issue was superb. However, I find the quotation from W. A. Koehier on page 8 a bit unbalanced. Everything it says is true, but it may leave some readers with the impression that God is arbitrary—one day declaring robbery right and it is right, the next day declaring robbery wrong and it is wrong. I cannot believe that taking that which is not mine and which I have no claim to is wrong only because God says it, or that tenderness and compassion are good and right only because God says so. Right is right because it is right. Like the laws of physics, God's moral laws are descriptions of reality, not mere statements of taste or opinion.
Of course, there are certain laws which God has given which we may call "good advice," but the fact that the one giving the advice is God makes His recommendation a law. Additionally, there are those divine decrees which are in a sense arbitrary, such as not eating of the tree of knowledge; but there certainly are reasons for God's making them. We must obey them whether or not we understand them, by faith believing God has excellent reason(s) for all His laws (including the testing of our devotion and loyalty), not believing we are bound to the capricious dictates of someone who is more powerful than we are.
You are right in what you affirm but wrong in what you deny. In the absolute sense all reality finds its basis in God. God did not create things to have intrinsic reality, but He set all things in certain relationships. God's Word (law) ordained and established those relationships, and His law is also a description of what His Word (law) has established as right. Therefore God's law establishes what is right and wrong as well as describes what is right and wrong. Unless God was there, there could be no reality to describe. So on the deeper level Koehler is right. —Ed.
In your September issue you tell what Martin Luther said about regenerated people—how they are totally righteous and totally sinners. You then state:
"The Reformation doctrine of total depravity is not just a description of unbelievers. It is what every man except Jesus Christ is by nature. Believers, of course, do not make their sinful nature an excuse for sinful conduct. The sinful nature doss not rule and dominate their lives as it doss in the ungodly (Rom. 6:14; 8:1-17). Yet because the flesh always hinders them from doing what they would (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), they perfectly fulfill the law only by the forgiveness of sins. Even their good is contaminated with human imperfection."
You are mistaken about Romans 7 being the experience of a Christian believer, for Paul definitely says that this was his experience while he was sold under sin and dominated by his sinful nature, before he became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Reformers, by their false doctrine of "total depravity," had to refer to Romans 7 as the experience of a believer in Christ because this chapter definitely shows that the man described in it, even while dominated by his sinful nature, had some "good" thoughts toward the law of God, which proves that he was not "totally depraved." Since Paul shows that this was his experience while he was still sold under sin, before he became a Christian, it is evident that no sinner, who is dominated by his sinful nature, is in a condition of "total depravity" as the Reformers falsely taught. Why should we today be led around by the false teachings of the Reformers when we have the Word of God as our standard of faith and practice?
Delmar H. Bryant
Creature / Person
Your August issue was of great benefit and edification to me. Your article on "Man" (Part 1) was good stuff. However, I would like to comment on your statement on page 22. You write: "Those who hold to a one-sided view of election may confidently ask, 'Who has the final say in whether a person is saved—God or man?' But like many either/or questions, this is really a non-question." I think it safe to presume that you figured this would trigger some reaction! While I agree that man is a creature, dependent on God for everything, and that man is also a person, yet your answer (quoting Verduin) misses the point. It is of great importance to ask; "Who has the final say?" The great danger of creatureliness / personhood is dualism. That is, God is autonomous in heaven only; man is autonomous in the more important sphere of the future of himself and, ultimately, the creation.
This whole question had the Schoolmen thinking through the issues very precisely. Let us consider the creatureliness / personhood of The Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. This entire debate centered around the two statements "posse non peccare" (able not to sin) and "non posse peccare" (not able to sin). Could the Lord Jesus sin? All the great theologians of the church (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin) have answered No—"non posse peccare." Otherwise, if you say that God ceases to be sovereign in the matter of the salvation of man in Christ, then it is possible for God's plan of salvation to fail. God ceases to be Lord of His own creation, and man can and doss rival God in effectiveness and power. In short, the doctrine of God is dragged down to the Mormon understanding of God.
No one denies man's responsibility, but you must be careful not to push the distinction between creatureliness and personhood too far. After all, man is not two entities but one—an animated being with one will and not two, as it were.
With Calvin we can say that the image of God in fallen man is marred and defaced. The will of man is not free; it can only act within the bounds of its nature, which is sinful. The nature of man controls the will, and not the other way around. This is why the Bible speaks about becoming a "new person." We are in need of a new nature which brings with it the willingness to be led by the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus says in John 3 that the "birth from above" is personal and our personhood is not violated, but the sovereign work of the Spirit is the ground and means by which we are made a new creature person in Christ by our own free decision which we make willingly (from the new nature in us).
We have to ask, "Where does our theology take us?" So it is fair to ask, "Who has the final say?" We must protect the glory of God and not give it to another. The conclusion from saying that man is (as I understand you) autonomous in his personhood is that God does not or cannot relate to man in a personal saving way. But He does, as Psalm 110:3 and other texts show. "The Lord has determined our path; how then can anyone understand the direction his own life is taking?" (Prov. 20:24).
Keep up the high standard.
Baptist Reformed Theological Student
Yes, I suppose if we use the term "final say," you're right. Perhaps we used the wrong term and should have just asked the question, "Who has the say?" We think there is a bilateral element here. —Ed.
Thank you for your very helpful article on "Man" (Part 1). I find your whole approach persuasive and quite appealing. Chapter three on "Man as Creature and Person" is especially intriguing. However, I feel you have not made extensive enough use of your excellent "creature and person" concept. Why not apply the principle which keeps in balance the tension between dependent legally-subject creature and independent morally responsible person to chapters one and two as well as chapter three? It seems to me that in your article the relational excludes the ontological in grounding man's significance or value. But a consistent use of the "creature and person" principle suggests that the importance of the relational should not be allowed to obscure the ontological. The absolute dependence of the human creature does not obliterate the significance of the human person standing over against God as well as in Him, uniquely owing his origin as animate being to the impartation of divine breath (Gen. 2:7). Your thinking seems to reflect modern process theologies rather than a strict return to the Reformers. For John, to be justified is to personally, individually and immediately possess Christ (1 John 5:12). Here the relation of the creature is the privilege of the person, not corporately or in "external" history, but personally in contemporary experience, albeit through faith.
If "the soul is the body" or if there is no significance for man except his relational value, what about Christ? Did Jesus of Nazareth have no ontological significance? Is Christ's importance to be explained only in terms of His relation to the Father and not in terms of His personal constitution? It seems to me that a more consistent use of the "creature and person" principle would allow the positive insights of wholistic thinking to be expressed without denying the ontological realities revealed in Scripture. Otherwise our Bibles may one day read, "I am related to the way, the truth, and the life."
Christ was both divine and human, both immortal and mortal and is therefore unique. Our personhood is grounded on God. There could be no reality unless God was there! Thank you for your thoughtful letter.—Ed
I find your journal a delight in that the great themes of the Reformation are clearly set forward. The Geoffrey Paxton article, "The False Gospel of the New Birth", was both timely and succinct. Although I am unable to concur with everything, particularly the latter portion of the article, it contained scriptural evidence against that which I constantly see around me. Your August 1978 issue is splendid in that the true Hebraic, biblical view of man as wholistic has been clearly declared. Thank you in particular for the Wendell Berry article, 'The Body and the Earth." Such scriptural teaching ought to be enunciated to the scores of folk who in these times are seeking a return to mother earth but who reject Father God.
Barry D. Dixon
Certainly we're fallible. Our readers correct us. We need them. —Ed
As a high-school junior, I think your journal is a bit on the intellectual side, which makes it all the more interesting to read. I was very impressed with your issue on "Justification by Faith and Eschatology". You seem to take the non-dispensational view, which does not make a distinction between Israel and the church. I'm glad this was done.
I was introduced to the non-dispensational view from my position on the latter times—amillenniallsm and by another subscriber to Present Truth. Also, I had a personal Bible study on Hebrews, using the Matthew Henry Commentary, which convinced me further of the fact that there is not division between Israel and the church. Each person is made righteous by the same standard—their faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross outside of ourselves. If my view is not correct, then we take away from the significance of Jesus Christ's one-time sacrifice. How can we revert to the Old Testament rituals and sacrifices when they were once and for all fulfilled in Jesus Christ's dying on the cross?
Thank you for doing a fine job on this controversial issue.
Kenneth J. Grady
Present Truth is not exactly a bedtime story. It is written for those who are used to reading serious theology. But we got a real bang out of your letter. We're tempted to send it to supposedly mature Christians who think Present Truth is too heavy, and perhaps suggest that they read the end of Hebrews 5. —Ed