Thursday, April 03, 2008

My own theological position

I thought it might be useful to lay out exactly what my own theological position is. I have said repeatedly that I am a monergist or Calvinist, but I should probably define a little better what I mean by that.
  • The basics: I believe in One God revealed in Three Persons eternally distinct; I believe God created the world by His word and sustains it by His power; I believe God the Father has planned all history and superintends it, and has a will and plans for all history; I believe Jesus is fully God and fully man, was born of a virgin in Israel around 1 CE (give or take a few years); I believe Jesus suffered and died on the cross as a substitutionary atonement (or expiation), paying for the sins of myself and all believers throughout history, both before and after the cross; I believe that on the third day He rose again and ascended into heaven; I believe the Holy Spirit is God and is given to all believers as a Seal and a Sign of salvation; I believe the church consists of all believers throughout history from the Garden of Eden through the end, and God saves each one of us in the same way (solely by His grace, solely through faith); I believe that only through personally repenting of our sins and exercising faith in Christ's atonement can we be saved, although the body of believers has a real part to play in not only the discipleship and growth of Christians but also their conversion itself (e.g., loving others, preaching the Gospel, teaching God's word, holy living);I believe Jesus is coming again in righteousness to judge the living and the dead and to usher in the fullness of His kingdom, and that He will create a new heaven and a new earth (though at present we cannot really imagine what that will be like). In short, I believe what historic orthodox Christianity teaches, because I think that's what the Bible teaches.
  • As regards soteriology, I am a monergist (aka five-point Calvinist). I take the first point (man's total depravity due to the influence of sin) very seriously, and I believe that if you do take that point seriously, the only conclusion you can draw is the monergist one.
  • As regards eschatology, I don't have any dogmatic position. I believe the Bible is (intentionally) unclear on eschatology, and I think we should not be any more dogmatic than the Bible gives us warrant to be. I think the Bible generally teaches pre-millenialism, but I generally lean toward a post-tribulational understanding rather than the popular pre-tribulationalism of the "Left Behind" series and the dispensationalists. It seems to me the pre-trib position is plausible, but neither required by nor does it explain best the Biblical text.
  • As regards baptism, I believe the Bible indicates believer's baptism. I understand the arguments for paedobaptism but the lack of real examples or mandates for it in the Bible leans me toward credobaptism.
  • As regards pneumatology, I certainly believe that every believer in Jesus is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and also believe that as believers we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do God's will. I do not believe there is any specific "second blessing" (e.g. speaking in tongues as at Pentacost) but rather the daily empowering by the Holy Spirit to do what God wants us to do. I am not a cessationist in the strict sense, since I believe the spiritual gifts (including sign gifts) have a place today as in all church history. However, I do not believe certain people have specific sign gifts - tongues, healing, etc.; that sort of individual gifting ended with the apostles, the foundation of the church. Now, I believe God can (and does) endow certain people with certain sign gifts at certain times; yet I don't think that any person can say "I have these sign gifts, you don't." I've found that this middle-of-the-road position ends up putting me at odds with both cessationists and continualists.
I lay these out because you have to have specific positions on specific points. Anybody who says they don't (and who is sincere) is not being truthful with themselves. However, I am also a great believer in "mere Christianity": that we are not saved by this or that theological position, but by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on Calvary, and that is more important than any particular theological position one may hold. I greatly respect many people whose theology I would differ with, and I confidently expect to see many of them in heaven one day. This is because the Bible says that to be saved we must repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; not that we must be Calvinists or Arminians or Pre-Tribulationalists or Process Theologians.

In fact, I think it is a very interesting question exactly how much you must know to be a Christian or, to put it more properly, how much error God will allow you to hold to after He saves you. I have discussed this with my friends, but I do not pretend to have an answer; in fact, I think nobody does. That will have to be another blog posting. What I do know is that if we really realize our sinfulness, confess that sinfulness to God, and cry out to Him to be saved, then He will save us; this is why I believe so strongly in evangelistic methods like the Way of The Master and why friendship evangelism without conviction of sin is just friendship, not evangelism. That I believe the Bible teaches that at that point He has already saved us, and we are appropriating that salvation through our repentance and faith is rather less important. Important, but not That Important.


bethyada said...

Hi Gary, I found your blog via parchment and pen. I agreed with many of your comments over there. I think that orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy too, but like you I would argue how can you do what is right unless you know what is right?

This post you say I think it is a very interesting question exactly how much you must know to be a Christian or, to put it more properly, how much error God will allow you to hold to after He saves you.

You like Ray Comfort and rugby so perhaps this kiwi may have somthing of interest to offer.

I have thought of this question in the past but have changed the way I see this question. I don't think it is about a list of criteria, the way someone may define a noun (an apple is ...). I think the answer is more along the lines of a process and a direction. Perhaps a map to a destination.

The problem with the definition type is it makes a certain distance along the map to be the criterion, rather I think it is what direction the traveller is going. So being saved is about following Christ even he you don't yet believe all the right stuff. And those who start with good beliefs (eg childhood Christian teaching) may be further along on the map but they are walking away from Christ: they are unsaved. I discuss this in some of my salvation posts.



Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Thanks for your comment. I had a brilliant, witty response almost done but unfortunately my system chose that moment to give me a BSOD. So this one will have to do. :-)

I largely agree with you (although you may not share my enthusiasm for my Brumbies :-). I would not, however, say that orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy: I think they have to go hand-in-hand. The problem is, once one of them gets elevated, the other one tends to recede into the background. Look at all the churches preaching primarily orthopraxy today and, though many would say they care about orthodoxy, there's little to be found there - so little you wouldn't know it's there without looking extremely hard.

As an example: I have friends, a wonderful Christian family, who is at a seeker-sensitive (and no doubt orthopraxic) church nearby. They lead "in-depth" Bible studies in their small group, which are practically the only orthodoxy a listener will ever hear at that church. Now, I greatly respect both the family and what they are doing: I even appreciate their pastor's heart. Still, people should not have to attend a special small group just to hear from the word of God. (I have listened to a number of sermons from that church, and in none of them do you hear the word preached in church.)

I agree with you in that the most important thing is our direction. I think C. S. Lewis's examples of "nearness by proximity" and "nearness by approach" apply here as well. One can know all the orthodoxy in the world, but be as far from Christ as possible. The Bible says the demons hold orthodox theology - they just refuse to bow down to that God, and shudder as a result.

I very much look forward to reading the posts on your blog. Sounds like we have the beginning of a promising friendship.

bethyada said...

Thanks Gary, while you still may not agree with me I need to be a bit clearer. I think it is important to God how we act. He rewards us for obedient behaviour more than correct knowledge. That is the way in which I mean that orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy.

However people need to know what is right in order to do what is right, so while I think God wants right behaviour, I don't think that means that we should preach orthopraxy over orthodoxy, rather we should preach orthodoxy (and application). The articles on my blog are predominantly along the lines of orthodoxy. See this post:

I very much look forward to reading the posts on your blog. Sounds like we have the beginning of a promising friendship.

It does have an Arminian flavour. If it is any consolation much theology I read is authored by Calvinists!

I have enjoyed your writing on parchment and pen recently so will try and get back here but make no promises as my wife thinks I spend too much time on the computer anyway! I will add you to my blogroll which will help.