The Mail Room
Letters from Volume 17
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!
The Evangelical's Substitute
Geoffrey J. Paxton is playing a word game in his statements about new-birth centered preaching. In the November issue he writes, ". . . the new birth is a necessity and a reality. . . . A man is not saved by being born again."— p. 8. If the new birth is not necessary to being saved, to what then is it necessary at all? Is a man saved if he is not born again?
Jesus' words to Nicodemus concerning His being lifted up subtract nothing from His first words to this Pharisee, "Ye must be born again." They simply clarify the provision made in Christ's death as the ground of faith for the new birth. Jesus simply explained to Nicodemus that, while His being lifted up was the ground of faith for the new birth, it is not the new birth itself, in which work of the Spirit a man is made a new creature. His meaning is clear. Because of His being lifted up on the cross, a man who believes in Him need not perish, but should have eternal life. It is by the new birth that a man is saved, through the lifting up of Christ on the cross. Christ's being lifted up was a historical event outside the believer, and the new birth is a work of regeneration inside the believer by the Holy Spirit. The weight of the new birth is on the cross, where Christ died. The work of the new birth is in the believer, where spiritual life is given.
Paxton, like all imputation-substitution advocates, endeavors to move the believer's salvation outside himself, centering it solely in the historical Christ, with no admission to the indwelling Christ. But regeneration, or the new birth, is one aspect of a believer's salvation which does not take place on Christ's cross. Christ was not regenerated for the believer or in place of a believer. Christ died for our sins, suffering the penalty for sin. He is the substitute Sufferer, and in this suffering He made provision on the cross for the believer's forgiveness and regeneration. The provision for regeneration was on the cross. The impartation of new life is in the believer.
Paxton says that "Let Jesus come into your heart" is not a biblical way of preaching. Christ's indwelling is declared not biblical! A mystery, certainly. But not biblical, never!
". . . God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Gal. 4:6. Nicodemus couldn't understand this either. He asked, "How can these things be?" Paxton seems to be asking the same. The indwelling Christ of eternal life is not a subject to be explained, but to be believed. If God says He will send the Spirit of His Son into a believer's heart, He will. Galatians 4:6 says He has! "Marvel not ...," Jesus says.
New-birth centered preaching is Christ uplifting preaching. It touches man's need. It opens the pathways of the mind to the cross. That's what Jesus did with Nicodemus. He told him of his need to be born again, and then led him to the uplifted Christ. Thank you, Jesus, for the lesson in preaching technique!
In your November issue you say, What we do repudiate is that a man is saved by the new birth." — p. 8. How are we saved if not by the new birth? I realize that the new birth is just the door to the Christian life; it is only the beginning. But it is a start, and Paul does say, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Also, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again."
You also say, "Although the new birth is a necessity and a reality, the new birth does not save a man. A man is not saved by being born again. . . . A man is saved by the once-for-all coming of Jesus into the world . . . . —Ibid., pp.8, 9. If a man is not saved by the new birth, then how is he saved? I believe that man must make a choice; otherwise the birth of Christ means nothing. Unless we avail ourselves of that birth and take it into our lives by faith, then it means nothing. How can a man be born again unless he does accept Christ and then the Holy Spirit works in him from then on. In order to be new, we must be born anew, because we can't better ourselves. That is why Christ died for us—to come in and do for us what we could not do. I realize that we have to look to Jesus to be saved, but there is a taking Him into our lives.
Do you think that there might be a tendency to see the age of Luther as "the golden age" in some ways, and to remain there in thought? I am familiar with much of Luther's teaching, and am aware that he came to see the Roman Church as "antichrist." I can accept this as a truly prophetic insight of Luther in his day, for so it was then to all appearances. But of course the message of the Revelation has an eternal message, and we have to ask, "What is now beast and antichrist"—and every generation sees some new expression of the unseen spiritual enemy. I think it is possible that Protestantism too could become antichrist, unless it is true to its own spirit of constant self-criticism and recognizes that it is an ambiguous church amidst all the other ambiguous churches in terms of its own holiness and infallibility.
Beware of Men
Recently I came upon a copy of Present Truth Magazine and was deeply impressed. I am trying to keep the "faith" and "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." We know that in these last days we have so many false teachings. I am not pleased with much I hear, see and read—even coming from some of our great leaders and scholars.
Thank you for your excellent articles in Present Truth Magazine. I have found them very stimulating and well worth pondering. I was formerly on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, and have been very troubled by the content of much of the gospel witnessing tools that I have used and trained others to use. The emphasis was seldom on repentance and almost always subjective. I have felt for some time that the focus of our evangelism is the key issue facing evangelicals. It seems clear that the objective message of repentance, atonement and resurrection is the irreducible minimum for a true witness. This ought to be followed by a challenge to faith and trust in that message. Experiences, fulfillment, etc., must be understood as byproducts of faith, not the content of it. Your magazine has done much to encourage me to persevere in this emphasis in the face of much opposition.
Your issue on "Justification by Faith and Eschatology," was outstanding. I have long wondered when a publication would come along refuting the wild speculation of some of the current millennial prophets. Your article, "Eschatology in the Light of the Gospel," was the clearest statement of the biblical perspective I have seen. It will take me some time to digest the other articles, but I thank you for the publication. While the proposition you state is clear to me, I find it takes almost volumes to explain and prove this position to men of the opposite persuasion, for they are so steeped in a literalizing of Old Testament prophecies that they cannot even see how New Testament teachers saw their fulfillment to the true Israel of God.
Your "Bibliography" was excellent and might well be expanded and widely published, for I find that most Christians in this country are of the opinion that there is only one view of the second coming, and that that is one of two second comings, i.e., a "rapture" and then the true coming of the Lord. Little is being said these days of things to transpire on the last day and the last hour.
Church of God Pastor
You did a great job in your issue on eschatology. You will get some flack from the Fundamentalists, but as a former premil, I think you handled the subject very well.
As of now I am through with your publication and mission in the cause of truth. Your issue on eschatology is enough to turn any evangelical off. I am sorry to say that my confidence in your theology is a thing to be regretted, good as it is in many respects.
Congratulations on your special issue, "Justification by Faith and Eschatology". I have never heard eschatology presented in a historical context before. It certainly offers a plausible alternative to the much publicized "futurist" approach that is presented virtually as orthodoxy today.
Although I am a moderate dispensationalist and am solidly premil, and therefore do not always find myself in complete agreement with your doctrinal positions, I praise God that one of my prayers is being answered—that the people of God are being awakened to the evil of subjectivism which has for too long permeated the evangelical scene. May God continue to bless Present Truth as in concert you seek to redirect the church's attention away from man and toward God and all of His works.
Your material has proved to be both refreshing and stimulating. In the midst of so much easy-believism and experience-centered thinking, to come aside and read your material is a great joy. Particularly helpful at this time for me has been your recent issue on eschatology, which has helped me consolidate that which hitherto suffered from not having an overall unity. To write of any differences we might have is trivial in the light of the great truths which unite us in the gospel.
Church of England Minister
For most of my Christian life I was hardly even aware that an evangelical alternative to dispensationalism's system of eschatology existed. Worse yet, as I felt that dispensationalism failed to appreciate the spiritual nature of the true Israel (Gal. 4:21-31; Rom. 4:13-17; Luke 3:8, 9) and the end of the Old Testament sacrificial system (Heb. 9:13), I found myself almost loathing any mention of our Lord's second advent.
Fortunately, I joined a Reformed Presbyterian Church, and in order to understand my new church home's doctrinal standpoint, I read a manual on the Westminster Confession, in which a discussion of various eschatological systems was included as commentary on the sections related to the last judgment. Although the discussions were brief and not very detailed, my being awakened as to the existence of nondispensational viewpoints provided me with a much broader perspective and a new appreciation of what the Lord's second coming involved. Your issue on eschatology has also served to—for the first time—awaken an interest in eschatology in me.
Present Truth Magazine has helped me to take my eyes off of my own inward experience and look to Christ's victorious life. My ideas on eschatology have been completely changed.
Your eschatology special was really special. I will now need to completely rearrange my thinking about Bible doctrine. I thought it was Christ centered, but I see now that it must be much more so.
Your views on eschatology certainly merit the most serious consideration—of that I am persuaded—even though they may produce some fundamental alterations in my viewpoint. That is to say, their acceptance would produce such alterations. I'm not fighting or balking. I just wish a bit of time and opportunity to look at this and think about it. My first reading of your eschatology issue has left me with some quite profound impressions.
The "Ordo Salutis"
After reading most of your article on "The Ordo Salutis" I am completely dumfounded that you, of all people, would subscribe to the false doctrine of predestination. Could it be that you, while exposing the false doctrine of man's saving himself, have gone to the other extreme? God's election is based on His foreknowledge, not of Christ, but of man.
D. H., Student
I find that there is something doctrinally incorrect with your article, "The Ordo Salutis". Your error comes at the end of the "Faith and Election" section (p. 21), where you say, "We have seen that God has elected one Man [Christ] ." It is true that only those who receive Christ in faith are joined to Christ by faith, but this does not effect their election. Rather, their election has been made sure "from the foundation of the world." We are chosen, we are elected, before we are even born. We do not enter the elect once we believe. All of God's chosen will come to believe.
I read and study your magazine with a great deal of interest and find that it has reflected the Reformed view in the past. I was disappointed in the article on "The Ordo Salutis," in that the writer's view results in a circuitous distortion of the Reformed position on limited atonement.
D. K., Attorney
I appreciate the emphasis of your magazine—the objective gospel. The November issue was, in some respects, an affirmative answer to my prayerful desire that the magazine might take up, for a moment, the subject of the plan of salvation. I think that you have some real problems concerning your view of election. But though I believe you have gone wrong on your view of election, your heart is right in trying to find the meaning of it in the cross of Him who bore our sins.
Your magazine is a breath of fresh air! Having come the experience-centered route, I find it so helpful. I feel you may overreact at times to "subjective experience," for I am sure you have "experiences"—but the difference is that they are solidly based on "objective truth"! That is the issue I feel you bring out so well.
The November issue was the best! "The Ordo Salutis" answered questions that I have had since seminary. It fired my spirit for the preaching of the gospel of grace. What a privilege to offer God's mercy to all men and to exhort them to repent. Keep up the good work.
Present Truth Magazine puts forth great biblical truths, and I thank God for that. I'm also thankful for your battle against subjectivism. I am 16 years old, and I have seen so many of my Christian friends ruined because of their reliance on feelings. I hope many young people will come to see the objective Christ through your magazine.
Your November issue was great! I especially liked "The Ordo Salutis." It made me rethink my ideas on what a person has to "do" to be saved. The section on election made me very thankful to God. I would like to see more on the relationship of election and free will. Also, if you will, I think an issue on the sacraments would be a worthy, if daring, endeavor.
Accepted in the Beloved
I am happy to see that you put the emphasis on God's Son and His work and experience, rather than the believer's. This biblical emphasis turns the believer's heart to look upon Christ, the all-sufficient One, and His accomplishments, rather than upon the believer and his insufficiency and lack. As Ephesians 1:6 declares, we are "accepted in the Beloved."
On John Wesley
I recently received your reprint of "Protestant Revivalism, Pentecostalism and the Drift Back to Rome." Although I had earlier read the article, I enjoyed reading it again. I do enjoy the well-informed, scholarly writing which appears in this article and the many others which come from Present Truth Magazine.
I am an admirer of John Wesley and found your treatment of Wesleyanism to be interesting, and demonstrating a better understanding of Wesley himself than most "Wesleyans" today can claim. Your distinction between Wesley and Wesley's followers is an important and needed distinction, as many of Wesley's followers today are completely unaware of how far they have strayed from the beliefs and spirit of Wesley. There is now, at least in the Church of the Nazarene, a refreshing breeze of rediscovery of what Wesley has to say—an awakening to the fact that much Wesleyanism, including the "Nazarene variety," has fallen victim to many of the excesses to which you allude—losing sight of the all-sufficiency of justification by subordinating it to sanctification, and placing an undue premium on emotion.
While I am aware that the purpose of your article is to trace the drift toward Rome, which must be traced to some of Wesley's overly zealous followers, I am somewhat disappointed that you did not clearly point out that these errors resulted from a distortion of Wesley's message.
The single implication which most bothers me is the implication that Wesley himself subordinated justification to sanctification. The statement that Wesleyanism tended to do that, plus the brief quotation from Wesley that entire sanctification was "a still higher salvation," would tend to leave the impression with your readers that Wesley considered entire sanctification as one step higher than justification, and that since sanctification was Wesley's "long suit," he considered the doctrine of sanctification to be more important than the doctrine of justification.
If you are as familiar with Wesley as you seem to be, you are aware that Wesley encountered these same distortions of his doctrine during his own lifetime, and tried to correct them. Perhaps it would have been more fair to Wesley to point this out—that some of Wesley's followers, rather than Wesley, were the source of these errors.
As you point out, "Wesley believed in justification by faith and taught it with power." It can never be justly said of Wesley that he ever preached justification by works, or justification as a result of sanctification. For Wesley, justification by faith always was man's only hope of being saved.
What then did Wesley mean when he called entire sanctification "a still higher salvation"? Was he referring to the objective? Was he saying that somehow the work of justification was incomplete and now needed to be completed? Of course not. What he was saying was that the sanctifying work (regeneration) which takes place at the moment of justification does not completely sanctify.
I am not willing to argue at this point for a "second blessing." I have suspended judgment until further study on the subject. I merely want to point out that Wesley's strong belief in sanctification, when properly understood, does not subordinate justification.
Of course, Wesley would not agree with your statement that justification is the whole truth of the gospel. Wesley would say that Christ's telling us to be "pure in heart," to "be perfect," Paul's urging to "perfect holiness," our "being changed into the same image from one degree of glory to the next," and the many, many other references to being made holy, made by Christ, Paul, and other writers in the New Testament—that these are a glorious part of God's good news just as justification by faith is. It is gospel. It is good news that God forgives our sins, justifying us. It is just as surely good news to be a new creature. It is good news to know that God not only saves us from the results of sin, but can actually do something about the sin problem here and now, empowering us to live without being controlled by sin's power.
Wesley says in his sermon, "Justification by Faith," "that, although some rare instances may be found, wherein the term 'justified' or 'justification' is used in so wide a sense as to include 'sanctification' also, yet in general use they are sufficiently distinguished from each other, both by St. Paul and the other inspired writers." If you stipulate that you are using "justification" in this wider sense, Wesley would have no quarrel with the statement that justification is the whole truth of the gospel. If you use it in the usual, narrower sense, Wesley would disagree, insisting that God's plan of salvation includes not only justifying us, but saving us from our sins, or sanctifying us. Can any informed person say that Paul did not say the same thing many times?
I do not claim that today's "Wesleyans" maintain Wesley's perspective, but some are rediscovering it and finding that it liberates them from the damaging false ideas of holiness which were excesses of the American holiness movement.
My request is, first, that you not blame Wesley for the errors of his followers. Second, that you be aware of the danger of depreciating sanctification to demonstrate the all-sufficiency of justification. Both truths are gospel. Neither should suffer for the sake of the other, as God's will is that we be both justified and sanctified (not meaning here necessarily a "second blessing"). The doctrine of justification is strengthened, not weakened, by giving sanctification the place in our salvation which God intends.
I am probably almost as aware of the excesses of the holiness movement as your writers are, having grown up in it amidst legalism, and in an environment where emotion and spirituality were easily confused. I, too, have had a tendency to overcorrect by going to the other extreme from these errors.
You state, "Holiness-type books can generally be detected by titles that major on experience rather than on the gospel." What you seem to be saying is that books which deal primarily with sanctification rather than justification do not deal with gospel. But if Christ says to be holy, if Paul says to be holy, who are we to say that books about being holy are not gospel? Though, admittedly, many such books contain errors, can we say that a book about the experience of "walking in the Spirit" has no place? Of course not. When Christian experience has an important place in Scripture, it should have a place in my theology and in my reading. Experience is not a dirty word. The solution to the excesses of experience-oriented fanatics is not to discount God's sanctifying work in my life, but to restore justification and sanctification to a proper balance in our theology and practice.
Nazarene Youth Leader
I am now in the process of reading carefully your brochure called "Protestant Revivalism, Pentecostalism and the Drift Back to Rome." I would like to know where you find support for the idea that Wesley confessed that he had never attained the "second blessing." Always you bite off more than you can chew and show that you are lacking in both your homework and understanding of what great men said and meant.
Your summary of Finney on page 12 defies all argument because it is so ignorant. Why must you be an expert on everything? Your narrow biases show so badly that it is difficult to accept the good that you do say.
Do you think that the average Lutheran church member is a New Testament Christian? The Lutheran presentation of justification by faith is damning millions of souls. It is not salvation of faith at all, but salvation by baptism and confirmation. Why not speak out against this lie from hell? You trap mice while lions devour in the streets.
As a religious newswriter with a medium-sized daily, I have gained much insight into several issues through reading your magazines. Although you have maintained a strong stand against Catholicism, I find no rancor in your works. Professionally speaking, your scholarship has helped me to be a more objective writer and a more thorough reporter where the complex issues of the modern religious scene are concerned. Personally, I have come to grips with God's Word as never before.
I have been confused for some time over the many sincere "approaches" to Christ which I see in others. Some of these are broad enough to include behavior in violation of God's commands. Others are so narrow as to define a man's position before God on the basis of highly questionable tenets. Through reading your articles I have been humbled again and again to the point of realizing that, after all is said and done, I am but a creature of God whose wisdom is greater than I can possibly imagine. I submit to His rule as it is revealed in His Word. Your articles have been strong meat for me!