November 19, 2015

Bad Doctrine vs. Heresy: An Exercise in Theological Triage

by Mike Riccardi

TriageMore than ten years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!), Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others. In what can be the chaos of an emergency room, medical professionals need to know how to weigh the urgency of various patients’ needs against one another; that is, a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world, Christians must understand the difference between (a) “first-order” doctrines—where to hold an errant position actually precludes one from being a true brother in Christ—and (b) “second-” and “third-order” doctrines—issues on which two genuine Christians can disagree and nevertheless be truly saved. In other words, we need to be able to discern the difference between bad doctrine and heresy.

All biblical doctrine is important. I would go so far as to say all biblical doctrine is essential. It’s difficult to put any doctrine into a second or third tier, because it somehow feels as if to do so is to say it’s not important. But employing theological triage doesn’t mean that everything that’s not first-order is unimportant, any more than a doctor prioritizing a gunshot wound means that he necessarily thinks a sprained ankle is unimportant. But the fact remains: genuine Christians can disagree on things like the mode and recipients of baptism; but if two people disagree on the triunity of God, one is a Christian and the other isn’t.

The Reality of Damning Error

Some people reject the very notion that disagreements about doctrine could preclude someone from salvation. After all, no one has perfect theology, and we’re saved by believing in Christ, not by believing in doctrine, they say. And it’s true, regeneration does not promise protection from all error. But it does promise protection from some error—that is, the kind of error which, if believed, indicates you’re not a child of God at all. We know that that kind of theological error exists because the Apostle Paul wrote Galatians 1:6–9:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Paul wrote that about the error of the Judaizers, which, if you think about it, by some evaluations was quite a fine point of doctrinal disagreement. Think about everything the Judaizers shared in common with the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. They believed in one God, who exists eternally in three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believed in the deity and humanity of Christ. They believed that He was Israel’s Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament. They believed in penal substitutionary atonement—that Christ bore the punishment of God’s wrath against the sins of His people when He died on the cross, so that they might be free from sin’s penalty and power (and one day its presence). They believed that He was buried, and that He rose on the third day. And they believed that repentance and faith in Christ was absolutely necessary for forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God in heaven. That is a lot of really important doctrine that they got right!

No Other GospelTheir one issue boiled down, basically, to whether good works were the cause or the result of salvation. Was law-keeping the ground or merely the evidence of saving faith? Are we saved by faith alone, or by faith in Christ plus our religious observance? Now, that point of disagreement is an admittedly fine distinction! And yet Paul still employs the harshest language of condemnation for their error. “A different gospel” (Gal 1:6). “No true gospel at all” (Gal 1:7). “Let him be anathema”—condemned to hell (Gal 1:8, 9). “Severed from Christ” (Gal 5:4). “They will bear their judgment” (5:10). “I wish they would emasculate themselves” (Gal 5:12). Strong words for a disagreement on the ordo salutis! What it teaches us is, at the very least, there are certain things which, if believed, preclude someone from salvation, because to believe those things is to believe a different gospel, which is really no true gospel at all, and therefore which cannot save but can only condemn.

What Are the Fundamental Doctrines?

That brings us to the natural question: How much can one get wrong and still be a true child of God? Or said another way: What are those false doctrines which, if believed, by definition indicate that someone is not truly saved?

I think we get a clue by understanding why Paul so severely condemned the Judaizers’ doctrine. It’s because there was something fundamental to that teaching that denied—was mutually exclusive to—the Gospel of grace. That’s how we answer the question of what’s bad doctrine versus what breaches the bounds into heresy. The wrong beliefs that indicate someone is not saved are those teachings, which believed, necessarily undermine or deny the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for the glory of God alone.

But what are those wrong beliefs? I think we answer that question by asking a number of questions that span several categories of Christian doctrine.

1. Soteriology

Acts 4;12We have to start here, because the question, “What false doctrines preclude salvation?” is a fundamentally soteriological question. We should ask: Does this teaching instruct us to trust in ourselves to contribute to our righteousness before God, even in part? Does this teaching encourage us to trust in anything else other than Christ alone for righteousness? Does this teaching teach us that salvation is something other than our redemption and deliverance from sin through the work of God in Christ?

The Roman Catholic Church’s denial of sola fide is a false doctrine that requires an affirmative answer to those questions. By denying that sinners are declared righteous through the instrumentation of faith alone, Roman Catholicism actually makes the very same error as the Judaizers (they just advocate adding different works to Christ’s righteousness). See this post for more on this.

But the Wesleyan Arminian’s doctrine of synergism, though unbiblical and rightly labeled as “bad theology,” is not a damning error. Perhaps the logical implications of it are—and if a synergist was truly consistent with himself it would lead to heresy. But Wesleyan Arminians avoid the damning errors of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism by confessing that the source of their faith in God’s grace alone, and not anywhere in themselves. Their doctrine of prevenient grace is not to be found anywhere in Scripture, and they can’t consistently account for why one believes in Christ while another doesn’t, but they are in a manner saved by their inconsistency, as they nevertheless look to Christ alone through faith alone for salvation.

2. Theology Proper

Because God Himself is the Author of salvation, we cannot be truly saved if we are trusting in anyone but the true God. Many people—even those who would call themselves Christians—profess faith in the God of the Bible. But some have transgressed so far that they have recast the true God into a god in their own image. There is something about their god that is fundamentally different from the true God. So we should ask: Does this teaching affirm something about God that is so false—so antithetical to His nature—that to believe it is to truly believe in a different God, and not the God of Scripture?

I think we have to answer “yes” to that question in consideration of the God of Open Theism, who suggest that God is “in process,” is learning, and does not know the future. This is an outright denial of the omniscience of God—the One who insists that He declares the end from the beginning, and brings to pass all the plans of His heart (Isa 46:9–10; Ps 33:11; Ps 139; Heb 4:13). This isn’t simply a misunderstanding about the God who is; this is a fundamentally different god.

But we would answer “no” to the above question with respect to the doctrine of the order of the divine decrees. Infralapsarians believe that God’s decree to create and ordain the fall of man logically (note: not chronologically) preceded God’s decree to elect and accomplish salvation. Supralapsarians believe that God’s decree to elect and save was logically prior even to the decrees to create and ordain the fall. Neither of these positions so distort the person and character of God as to make Him a different “god” than what Scripture reveals; neither does it undermine salvation in any way. So this is not a first-order issue.

3. Christology

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul tells the Corinthians that the false apostles are proclaiming to them “another Jesus,” i.e., different from the One who exists. He also pairs that designation with the concept of teaching “a different gospel” (2 Cor 11:4). Since salvation comes only through the work of Jesus Christ, we must be sure to be trusting in the Christ who exists, and not “another Jesus” whom we’ve concocted according to our own understanding. So we must ask: Does this teaching affirm something about the person or work of Christ that is so false, so antithetical to His nature that to believe it is to truly believe in a different Jesus?

Arianism Theology FailArianism is such a teaching. Arians believe that Jesus is not of precisely the same substance (or essence) as the Father, but that He is of similar substance. Jesus is not truly divine, but neither is He merely human. He is god-like, but He is not God. Of course, the Christ of Scripture is God Himself—God the Son, the Second Member of the Trinity (John 1:1–3; 8:58; 10:30; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1). And there cannot be a more fundamental difference between One who is God and one who is not. Therefore, the Arians believe in a different Jesus than the Christ of Scripture—a Jesus who doesn’t exist, and thus a Jesus who cannot save.

But the doctrine of incarnational sonship is an example of a Christological error that is nevertheless not heretical. Those who hold to this teach that Christ did not relate to the Father as Son from all eternity, but rather that He became God’s Son at His birth (still others say only at His resurrection). But the distinction between ontological versus functional subordinationism (i.e., subordination in role, but not in essence) eliminates any concern of inequality in the Godhead. And when one understands the “begetting” of Psalm 2 and Hebrews 1 as an eternal begetting, not one that takes place in time, confusion subsides. God sent His only Son (John 3:16); He did not send One who became His Son. In any case, those who hold to incarnational sonship do not intend to undermine Christ’s deity or eternality in any sense; it’s a question of the roles or functions that Christ has undertaken, not something that is essential to His nature. Thus to believe incarnational sonship is not to believe in a different Christ.

4. Pneumatology

We cannot forget about the Third Member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God just as the Father and Son are God. Thus, to hold to error with respect to the Holy Spirit is to have a false view of God, and warrants the same concern as issues of Theology Proper and Christology. Therefore, when evaluating pneumatological error, we must ask yourselves: Does this teaching affirm something about the person or work of the Holy Spirit that is so false, so antithetical to His nature that to believe it is to truly believe in a different God?

We ought to answer “yes” with respect to the Jehovah’s Witness’s doctrine that the Spirit is not a Person but merely a force. They must teach this if they insist upon denying the Trinity. But the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3–4), speaks (Acts 13:2), sends missionaries (Acts 13:4), prophesies (Acts 21:11), knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor 2:11), and can be grieved (Eph 4:30). A force can do none of these things; only persons can. To deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit is to deny something fundamentally true about the Spirit’s nature. It is to deny that the Spirit is God, and that God eternally exists in three coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial Persons. Thus, this is an error that crosses the line into heresy.

But we’d have to answer “no” to this question if it were asked about the continuation of the miraculous gifts. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a convinced cessationist, and so I regard the redefinition of the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and healing (as is done even in the conservative continuationist movement) as a prime example of “bad theology.” But it’s not heretical, because I don’t think the case can be made that it makes a different God out of the Holy Spirit. It simply says the gifts that He once gave He is still giving today. That’s not to say that there aren’t Charismatics who aren’t heretics; far from it. But those who cross that line do so for reasons other than the bare concept of continuationism.

5. Trinitarian

The_TrinityWe’ve spoken about Theology Proper, Christology, and Pneumatology—discussing doctrinal errors related to each Person of the Godhead. But we also need to speak about doctrine that relates to the three-in-oneness of God. The God who is One in His essence and being eternally exists in Three co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial Persons. To deny any aspect of this is to deny something so intrinsic to the very nature of God Himself that we would end up with a fundamentally different god. So we must ask: Does this teaching so distort the doctrines of either (a) the Trinity or (b) the unity of the Godhead, that to believe it is to undermine God’s Triunity, and thus to cause us to believe in a different God?

An example of a Trinitarian heresy would be Modalism, which denies the essential “three-ness” of the Persons of the Godhead. Modalists teach that there is One God who can be designated by three different names (‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit’) at different times, but that these three are not distinct persons. As mentioned above, this issue of personhood cuts to the very heart of what it means for God to be God. To say He is something other than One God eternally existent in Three Persons is to speak of an entirely different god. Thus, Modalism (the contemporary version of which is Oneness Pentecostalism) is heresy.

But a Trinitarian issue on which there can be disagreement between true believers is the Filioque controversy—the issue of whether the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son (note: filioque means “and the Son”). While this issue was important enough to split the Eastern and Western churches—and has implications for the person of the Father or the divine essence conceived generally is the ground of the personal subsistence of the Son and the Spirit—nevertheless it does not undermine the unity or identity of the Three-in-One.

6. Bibliology

The authoritative basis for all theological discussion is Scripture. Therefore, to believe something about the Bible that undermines its authority in any sense is to surrender a truly Christian epistemology and worldview, and exalt one’s own reasoning above God’s revelation. That means we have to ask: Does this teaching so distort the doctrine of Scripture that it undermines biblical authority? Does this teaching deny that authority in such a way as to invest that authority in oneself, another man, or a tribunal of men?

A denial of the inspiration of Scripture would clearly place one outside the bounds of orthodoxy. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). To claim that any portion of Scripture is not the Word of God, or to treat it such a way as to impugn the character of the God whose Word it is, is to exalt one’s own reasoning above God’s revelation. It is to extricate oneself from the authority of God and make one’s own understanding the measuring line of truth. This is no longer truly Christian, but humanistic, and as such it crosses the line into heretical doctrine.

But there are some bibliological debates upon which true believers may disagree. One example would be the debate over the manner of inspiration. Some Christians rather naively believe that inspiration implies dictation only—i.e., that God dictated revelation to the human authors and they simply transcribed what they heard. Now, there were certainly times where that was the manner of revelation (e.g., Exod 34:27), but it was not the only one. In general, Scripture is said to have been inspired by the superintending work of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20–21). The Spirit did not override the thoughts, intentions, and personalities of the authors of Scripture, but so sovereignly superintended them and worked with their thoughts, intentions, and personalities that they wrote precisely what the Spirit intended. Nevertheless, the dictation-only model of inspiration does not so undermine the character or authority of Scripture so as to preclude one from genuine Christianity.

Conclusion

The charge of heresy is a serious one. We cannot be trivial or frivolous in throwing around the term. But Paul’s response to the Judaizers (among many other passages of Scripture) teaches us that there are times when we must draw clear lines of separation, even among those who would call themselves Christians. If faithfulness requires that you do so, it will be important for you to ask the questions outlined above. If you believe a particular teaching warrants affirmative answers to those questions, you need to make a clear case for why that’s so.

And at the end of such an exercise, it’s important for me to say that I understand that we’re not saved by believing in sound doctrine per se, but by believing in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. We are indeed saved by faith alone, not by merely confessing faith alone. Nevertheless, the moment we ask, “Saved by faith in what?” we must respond with a doctrinal answer. We’re not saved by believing sound doctrine, but the faith by which we are saved must of necessity be doctrinally sound.

May we be found faithful stewards of the pattern of sound words entrusted to us as a treasure (2 Tim 1:13–14), for the purity of the Gospel, and for the glory of Christ.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Nicki Ann

    Question: How do you explain radical life change when someone is “saved” in a “heretical church,” such as Oneness Pentecostal?

    • Don Smith

      My example doesn’t answer your question, but I will offer an example that may inform it. When I trusted Christ (at 9 years of age) I had no understanding of many theological issues. For instance I had never imagined the bodily resurrection. However when i was taught I grasped that truth with great happiness. Perhaps acceptance of biblical doctrine after profession is evidence of the reality of the rebirth that has been given.

      • Nicki Ann

        Don: While I agree that one fruit of regeneration is the Spirit’s illumination of biblical truth you are correct that your illustration does not answer my question. A radically changed life is a primary evidence of conversion that possibly was less evident in the nine- year-old lives of you and me when we came to Christ. However, the testimony of Kim Davis, KY Clerk of Courts and Oneness Pentecostal, is that her life radically changed when she came to Christ (i.e. putting off immorality). Likewise, the testimony of Dr. Ben Carson (Seventh Day Adventist) is that in a matter of a few hours in the bathroom crying out to God his life consuming anger and violence vanished. How do we explain that change if we say their claim to conversion is invalidated by their heretical doctrine?

    • Karl Heitman

      Nicki Ann, I’m sure Mike can answer your question more clearly and eloquently, but I would just like to point out the truth that outward change alone does not always mean an inward change (regeneration) has occurred. Some of the most religious and outwardly pious people are some of the best actors in the world. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:27: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

      • Nicki Ann

        Karl: Good point about the Scribes, Pharisees, and dare I say Baptists who are hypocrites, but that still is not exactly on point. Those people have likely always lived at some level of human “righteousness” and have not laid aside drug addiction, prostitution, etc. I am speaking of those who have had serious sin issues and dramatically change at the time of some sort of religious experience at the minimum if they have not truly experienced conversion.

        • Karl Heitman

          I understood. To be more clear, just because someone ceases to be a prostitute and attributes that change to Jesus, doesn’t mean true regeneration has occurred. I experienced a “radical” conversion, being saved from a life of sin, and I know my conversion was genuine not because my changed life alone, but also because I first understood the fundamentals of the Gospel resulting in good works.

    • Gabriel Powell

      How do you explain it? In the same way that people can radically change when they become Muslims, Mormons, or Buddhists. Whenever one alters their worldview and embraces new views on spirituality, eternity, purpose, etc., their life is bound to change.

      Not all change is sanctification. That is, not all change is empowered by the Spirit and glorifying to God.

      In other words, external change is the result of internal change, but that external change does not validate whether the internal change is of God.

      • Ira Pistos

        Well said. Reality is spiritual. What we don’t see out there is vast and very real. As humans we are drawn and without God we are lost.

    • Hey Nicki. That’s a good question. I think Don, Karl, and Gabe have combined to give you a really good answer.

      The key issue is that “a radically changed life” is not necessarily evidence of conversion to Christ. Gabe gave the example of converting to Islam, Mormonism, or Buddhism, which I think are helpful illustrations. The example that immediately came to my mind was Alcoholics Anonymous. There are plenty of testimonies of “radically changed lives” as a result of people who have gone through that program.

      But, as the others have said, external reform is not always indicative of internal regeneration. The radical change in a life that is evidence of true regeneration is not merely a moral turnaround, but a genuine hatred for sin and a genuine love for God in Christ as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Which is to say a genuine love for the only God who exists — namely, the Triune God of Scripture.

      I also think it’s right to make Don’s point, namely, that ignorance and active denial are two different things. This allows for the reality that there may be people in heretical churches like Oneness Pentecostalism or Roman Catholicism, who — because they haven’t intensely studied their church’s authoritative documents, and perhaps because their particular congregation does not clearly teach their church’s authoritative doctrine — actually are true believers. There have been Roman Catholics that I’ve spoken to who are appalled to learn that their church denies sola fide. They had always believed it and understood their church to be teaching it; they were just ignorant of the implications of what was being said.

      So, there may be truly saved individuals even in heretical/apostate churches simply because of ignorance. But I should also say that if those people are truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, it won’t be long before He exposes that error and leads them to a true church.

      I hope that helps some.

    • Nicki – Satan is more crafty and subtle than we all are. He is quite capable of washing the outsides of a person; I suppose he’s happy as long as the True God isn’t worshiped.

      I was in Alcoholics Anonymous for several years before I came to Christ…and I saw many life transformations there…few of which could be attributed to Christ. But I saw people put away drugs, alcohol and a lot of bad behavior.

      People traded one form of hedonism for another for whatever reason. Some because the old way stopped working. Some out of fear of consequence. I suppose many, with the help of evil spirits.

      Good question. I think Karl answered it best, but I wanted to throw my 2 cents of experience in there to help as well.

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  • Jason

    We all agree that if a person could score 100% on a theology test and
    trusted in that knowledge for their salvation than they are not redeemed. Then we turn around and try to decide what score a person does have to have to be saved. If 100% doesn’t always cut it we may not be looking in the right place to begin with.

    Humanity is more than capable of double-mindedness. In the case mentioned above it looks like white-washed tombs (the most recognized one), but I’ve also seen what seems to be the opposite.

    Two people may place so much doctrinal value in human will that they minimize God’s sovereignty. However, one still (admittedly, hypocritically) lives life in the conviction that God is in control of all things while the other lives consumed by the concern of maintaining control of their own life. One is living by faith and the other is not, though both intellectually check the same box.

    The sovereignty of God is possibly the linchpin on the whole worldview for the one living with an overinflated view of their own importance. For the other, there are likely more pressing matters. Each certainly has a list of primary and secondary issues, but they are not the same, even when the same doctrines are considered.

    • Hey Jason, I’m having a really hard time understanding your comment. At first I thought you were disagreeing with the entire premise of the post, and then later I thought you were agreeing wholeheartedly.

      Could you try to clarify a bit? If you’re responding to something specifically, it may help to provide a particular excerpt (whether from the original post or a comment) along with a clear statement of agreement or disagreement.

      Thanks man.

      • Jason

        I feel uncomfortable with categorizing ideas into bad doctrine versus damning/heretical because often what one person considers “bad doctrine” I have personally seen completely consume a person to the point where they are incapable of having a relationship with God.

        All doctrinal errors can serve to prevent people from really placing their trust in God. For instance, in the signs and wonders movement, I’ve personally seen a lot of people terrified of death, poverty, etc… who, instead of trusting Christ, are completely consumed with promises of worldly comfort through supernatural powers.

        In that case, this is a primary issue, though there are also mature believers who error in the same way to far less determent.

        On the other hand, as you noted with Wesleyan synergism, it’s entirely possible for a person to live with conviction contrary to their expressed beliefs. This, to me, means it is possible that nearly any doctrine could be believed and a person could still be sealed with the Spirit. At some point, maturity will demand that it get sorted out, but that point may not be a “primary” one for some, while it will be the major stumbling block for others.

        I guess I agree with what you have to say about the dangers of various beliefs, but disagree with the premise of the article itself. All bad doctrine is potentially damning, and it takes a personal commitment to a fellow believer (beyond what we normally have, especially today) to know which issues are hurting a person’s walk most of all.

        • Thanks for explaining, man. I hear what you’re saying, and agree with a lot of it. I don’t think we’re far off from one another.

          I feel uncomfortable with categorizing ideas into bad doctrine versus damning/heretical because often what one person considers “bad doctrine” I have personally seen completely consume a person to the point where they are incapable of having a relationship with God.

          I understand that, for sure. But that’s why I tried to be very careful in the definitions I used. I think your example of the signs and wonders movement is great. I wouldn’t disagree for a moment that there are people in that movement so “consumed with promises of worldly comfort through supernatural powers” that they wind up being outside of the true church of God. I was just trying to say that continuationism, while wrong, is not in and of itself something that precludes someone from salvation. In the case of the “signs-obsessed” person, the error isn’t really continuationism, it’s something else entirely. So continuationism doesn’t really “become primary;” it winds up leading to something else that is primary. Does that make sense?

          This, to me, means it is possible that nearly any doctrine could be believed and a person could still be sealed with the Spirit.

          I don’t think this is true. I chose Wesleyan Arminianism as an example because they specifically ground prevenient grace in the cross. They say the only reason they believe is because of Christ’s work on the cross. But as I mentioned, this is inconsistent, because if every man receives the same grace, why doesn’t everyone believe? The difference winds up being something in man, and that’s grace-plus. But they won’t affirm that. The logical conclusion of their position may be heresy, but if they deny that logical conclusion, how can we call them heretics if they deny the heresy?

          But the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian variety of synergism denies the total depravity of man altogether, and explicitly makes God and man dual sources of saving faith. In this case, it’s not a matter of logical conclusions, but explicit affirmations. I think the same is true with the other heresies I mentioned, especially with the denial of sola fide, because that’s the very issue that Paul anathematizes the Judaizers over. If nearly every doctrine could be believed while a person could be saved, why did Paul respond to the Judaizers the way he did?

          All bad doctrine is potentially damning…

          I think that’s true in a sense, but not in other important senses. Anyone can be so obsessed about a particular doctrine that they hold to it in a heretical way, sure. But then the issue seems more to be their obsession than the bad doctrine itself. For example, I hold to infralapsarianism. But I have a hard time conceiving of the circumstances in which holding to supralapsarianism could be potentially damning. If it gets to that level, someone must, of necessity, leave the infra/supra discussion and move on to other issues, like the character of God, etc.

          and it takes a personal commitment to a fellow believer (beyond what we normally have, especially today) to know which issues are hurting a person’s walk most of all.

          I agree with this, and I think the point is well-made.

          I guess I agree with what you have to say about the dangers of various beliefs, but disagree with the premise of the article itself.

          The premise of the article is simply that there are certain doctrinal errors that preclude one from being saved (like Arianism or denying sola fide), and yet there are others which can be held without jeopardizing one’s salvation. I doubt you’d disagree with that, right? That’s really all I was trying to say, and then trying to give some examples of how that works itself out in certain cases.

          Anyway, thanks for reading. I appreciate your interaction.

          • Jason

            “The premise of the article is simply that there are certain doctrinal errors that preclude one from being saved (like Arianism or denying sola fide), and yet there are others which can be held without jeopardizing one’s salvation. I doubt you’d disagree with that, right?”

            The example you just gave is a great one. I’ve heard Roman Catholics explain why they believe sola fide is wrong but, when pressed to explain how their life could be righteous enough, claim that when they are standing face to face with Christ they are going to hand over their life, which they know is not good enough, and trust in Christ’s mercy to work out their huge shortcomings.

            It’s certainly clear that they don’t have a proper perspective of justice or the significance of imputation, but they are trusting in Christ’s mercy and not their own righteousness even as the doctrinal position they hold ultimately demands the opposite.

            It reminds me of Romans 2:15. This verse says nothing about salvation but does, in a sense, speak toward innocence. Specifically, the part about their conflicting thoughts excusing them.

            Galatians 1 is another interesting point you bring up. It’s clear here that the people coming in and deliberately corrupting the gospel message in that church were subject to some pretty extreme condemnation, however it seems to indicate that the church was buying it too.

            That means that true (though probably quite immature) believers were accepting doctrine that was just cause for some of the harshest language in the Bible. I don’t think that proves that every one of them wasn’t saved. In fact, if believers would have recognized it as bad doctrine out of hand Paul never would have wasted the ink.

            When a person’s will demands a doctrine and that’s why they hold (or invent) it you can be sure that they aren’t walking with Christ. However, sometimes the Spirit is quenched and a person’s mind betrays them.

            That’s why it’s so important for us to speak the truth to each other in love and renew our minds (Romans 12:2) so we don’t contradict the will of God.

          • I keep on agreeing with you on your conclusions, but disagreeing with how you’re getting there. 🙂

            So let me start by affirming the distinction you make at the end of your comment. I agree, and have said, that there’s a difference between consciously believing in false teaching on the one hand, and ignorance on the other. Certainly I wouldn’t say that anyone who can’t articulate an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity isn’t saved; but those who deny Trinitarian orthodoxy are another story. In the same way, in instances where “the Spirit is quenched and a person’s mind betrays them” (which is well-said), we ought to be patient with them and explain the significance of the disagreement. We shouldn’t break out the H-word unless there is determined and insistent rejection of fundamental biblical teaching.

            So we agree on that. But I do take issue with some of the other things you said on the way to coming to that conclusion.

            The example you give of the professing Roman Catholic who, though formally rejecting sola fide, nevertheless believes sola fide in the heart, is a good example. But the idea of “trusting in Christ’s mercy to overcome their shortcomings” is not an example of sola fide, or of saving faith. Perhaps it’s just the way you worded it, but someone who looks to Christ to basically pick up the slack for their good works is still not trusting in Christ alone for salvation. They’re trusting in themselves, perhaps even predominantly in the example you gave, and then Christ to put the icing on the cake of their righteousness. I would warn someone with this understanding of salvation that they are dangerously close to denying a fundamental tenet of the Gospel, and I’d try to instruct them in a sound understanding of it.

            Another troublesome comment was what you said about Romans 2:15. Here’s Rom 2:14-15:

            For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

            This is not speaking about innocence in any sense. This is simply saying that even Gentiles, who don’t have the Law of Moses, nevertheless know God’s standard of righteousness because it’s been stamped on their heart. They have a conscience — an innate sense of justice, which, though marred by the fall, is not wholly lost. And that means that there are times when even those who don’t have the stipulations of the Law (e.g., thou shalt not steal) do things in accordance with the Law (e.g., they don’t steal); thus their conscience excuses them. And that there are times when even those who don’t have the stipulations of the Law violate the law (e.g., they steal something); and thus their conscience accuses them — they know it’s wrong. So, I would say your use of Rom 2:15 in this discussion is invalid.

            Regarding Galatians 1, yes, the church was in danger of receiving as credible a particular teaching that was out of accord with the Gospel. But not just the immature ones; remember that Peter was acting out of line as well, and he received a sharp rebuke from Paul (Gal 2:11-14). Nevertheless, I agree with what you say here: “I don’t think that proves that every one of them wasn’t saved.” That’s true, but that’s only because they hadn’t fully embraced it. But that was a possibility that was on the table. And that’s why Paul says things like, “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal 4:11), and “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law” (Gal 5:4). That’s Paul saying in plain language that if you receive this doctrine that you’ve begun considering, you will demonstrate that you are not a true follower of Christ.

            But to come full circle, I do appreciate your conclusions — that we have to be super careful about throwing the term “heresy” and “heretic” around, super careful about writing people off as unsaved when they’re just ignorant or confused and in need of patient instruction. The guidelines posted above are not intended to be a means of being dismissive of people, but of cutting a straight course in the Word of truth and serving those who need to be exhorted in sound doctrine.

            Thanks again Jason.

          • Jason

            Your last paragraph here is really the important thing. We can never “write someone off” based upon their professed doctrine.

            My point from Romans 2:15 is that these people may not steal because they innately know it’s wrong even if they belong to a culture that teaches them that stealing is fine. If asked, they may profess that stealing is okay (because it’s what they’re taught) and still their conscience would prevent them from doing it.

            Similarly, a person could be held, by saving faith, from living according to doctrinal error even as they profess it (and possibly even defend it by citing sound bytes they’ve heard before). A temple with rotting siding as opposed to a whitewashed tomb, if you will.

            If we could get them out of defensive mode they would probably be grateful for the correction (presuming they are spiritually alive, otherwise it’s just going to be foolishness to them), but even believers can be pretty guarded when someone comes along and starts questioning everything they “know” and we live in a time when most people don’t even trust their own neighbors. It takes time, patience, and God working in their lives.

            If that’s our response (and it should be) I don’t know how beneficial dividing false teaching into “bad” and “too bad” actually is. All of it is deadly if a person allows it to dictate their relationship to Christ and not just for them (Galatians 5:9) given enough time, and if not (however hypocritical it may be) it is another thing that needs to be worked out by the Spirit in fellowship with other believers.

            The other side of the line becomes problematic as well. When the church splits up into groups to preserve bad doctrine against contestation, and then says it’s okay because it’s not “bad enough” to be a matter of salvation it’s contrary to Biblical unity.

            We come together to help feed people in third world countries and call it unity, and then lament that a person we know attends a congregation that teaching false doctrine that we don’t consider “false enough” to be non-Christian. If we are all united, than we should be happy they are fellowshipping with the church.

            I realize I have a tendency to be zealous for the ideal. It’s probably the nature of working in an environment where an extra parentheses destroys everything! I just think we need to be more personal and patient, and less quick to isolate and label.

          • We can never “write someone off” based upon their professed doctrine.

            Well, I didn’t say never. I think Paul certainly got to that place with the Judaizers — enough to call them dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh (Phil 3:2). Surely the Nicene fathers did this with Arius and his followers, and the post-Nicene fathers with Pelagius. There are times where both the New Testament and historic post-Apostolic Christianity had to draw the lines in the sand.

            My concession isn’t that we should never draw those lines, but just that we must be super careful about doing so; we have to be sure that they are holding to teaching contrary to the Gospel (i.e., a wrong view of salvation [point 1], of the Triune Savior [points 2-5], or of the Scriptures [point 6]).
            Perhaps you’re onto something when you speak about idealism. The reality is: there is such a thing as the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith (Jude 1:3). We are commanded to retain the pattern of sound words, and guard the sacred trust of apostolic teaching that was entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 1:13-14). The body of sound teaching that the Apostles gave us — that’s what I want to believe and teach others to believe. Unfortunately, there are disagreements. But not every disagreement is created equal. On issues like mode of baptism, Baptists and Presbyterians can disagree and yet still be Christians. On issues like sola fide and the Trinity, disagreement places one of the parties outside the bounds of historic orthodoxy. We must accept this, even if we don’t like it, and aim to shepherd the sheep accordingly.

          • Jason

            Do you think they drew the line based on the topic or the quarreling, anti-Christ spirit behind the people who supported it?

            Perhaps I’m just creating a situation that would never actually occur, but it seems like it’s at least theoretically possible for someone to really have been sold nearly any bill of goods when “tossed by every wind of doctrine” and still be a believer.

            Obviously, if they come in intending to produce divisions with their doctrine, regardless of what it is, they ought to be rebuked.

          • Alex

            Jason, why are you suggesting that Paul’s condemnation in Galatians is based on divisiveness and not false teaching? It seems to me that if Paul’s primary concern was divisiveness he would address it directly (as is the case in 1 Corinthians 1 or Romans 16). But instead, Paul focuses on the content of their teaching more so than the contention it produced.

          • Jason

            My suggestion was that his condemnation was based on the fact that they
            were teaching falsely out of a desire to warp and distort the gospel
            instead of simply that they had a wrong understanding on a topic that demands a specific understanding to be saved (we know better than to believe that people should place any hope in their own understanding), and further that we ought to treat people clearly at odds with the gospel the same when they come with the same ungodly spirit even if they say all the right words.

          • Jason

            My statement about idealism wasn’t intended to imply that “I wish we could all just get along”. Instead, my idealism *depends* upon Jude 1:3. If we don’t have one hope, one faith, one Spirit, one Lord, and one body(Ephesians 4:4-6) than how I picture the church behaving ideally is just an exercise in fitting a square peg in a round hole. That Spirit that we share is what leads us into *all* truth.

            Discernment beyond the surface of professed understanding would be impossible without the Spirit. Biblical unity would make no sense if we weren’t all intended to be following the same Lord or operating as part of the same body. etc…

            The ideal I’m talking about is not that we incorporate Seventh Day Adventism and Mormonism as denominations 5000 and 5001. Instead it would be to call Christians *only* that and stop leaving safe ground for error on truths we consider “not as important”, while reaching and teaching believers who currently aren’t in good fellowship and lack a solid understanding with gentle correction (regardless of how bad that understanding is).

            I call it idealism because I’m not sure that, even if we could get to the point where we practiced church discipline diligently, we are mature enough to handle this much openness and dependance on the Spirit. Though it would be beautiful to see.

            It just bothers me a bit that, as I look around, I see a church that does little to confront the spiritual gangrene of people who understand orthodoxy and are clearly living for the things of this world, while at the same time finding comfort in decrying certain “other groups” as though we are doing a good job of discernment (even if some of those caught up in these groups are people trying to live for God who are being tossed around by the same false doctrines that keep us from coming alongside them).

  • Jason Beasley

    Where would you place the doctrine of eternal security? If we can lose our salvation, we did about 2 minutes after we were saved, if that long. It comes down to sola fide, vs. sola fide plus my own works to sustain that salvation. That was something not covered in your section on soteriology and I was curious on your thoughts.

    • I would put the denial of eternal security in the “bad doctrine” category. One of the things we have to be careful about in this discussion is to distinguish (a) the teaching itself from (b) the logical conclusion(s) of the teaching.

      In my soteriology example, I put Wesleyan synergism in the “bad doctrine” category, but I think the logical conclusion of synergism is a denial of sola gratia. After all, if we all get the same prevenient grace, why does one person believe and another not? The answer has to be because of something in man. That’s not grace alone. But because they explicitly embrace and affirm sola gratia, even though I find that to be inconsistent, I feel like it’s unfair to condemn people as heretics for denying that which they explicitly affirm.

      In the same way, in your example, it may be true that if we took “denying eternal security” to its logical conclusion we’d wind up denying sola fide. But because there are people who deny eternal security and yet explicitly affirm sola fide, it’s hard for me to call them heretics for not believing in sola fide.

      Does that make sense?

      • Don Smith

        Mike, that certainly makes sense to me. How can a Christian believe in organic evolution? They do. Inconsistent for sure, but not damning.

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  • tovlogos

    Great rudiments, Mike. Reworking these concepts keeps theology fresh.

    This essay is required reading for me as well as my son — good sources like this one are an excellent way to challenge each other and spend useful time together. We constantly compare examples of “exegesis”, and, “not-exegesis”.

    “a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world,” Thanks.

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  • LP Dion

    Mr. Riccardi, with respect, you quote: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! Galatians 1:6-9
    But what was the good news(gospel of Christ) that Jesus proclaimed?
    The gospel of trinitarianism or the gospel of pneumatology? We can make the case for the fact that the Judaizers ‘should’ have been Christian trinitarians, but it appears to me that in Jesus’ day they were Shema affirming monotheist.
    And what was the ‘gospel’ that Christ preached to them? Luke 4:43 – “but He said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

    The gospel wasn’t solely about the hypostatic makeup of the King and such, but about the coming kingdom of God and the call to enter it.

    • Thanks for your comment, LP.

      Your comment isn’t the clearest, but it seems that you’re saying that you believe soteriology is the only legitimate category for crossing the line into heresy, since Paul is dealing with a soteriological heresy in Galatians 1. But that basically ignores what I said under each of the other headings. Specifically:

      Because God Himself is the Author of salvation, we cannot be truly saved if we are trusting in anyone but the true God. Many people—even those who would call themselves Christians—profess faith in the God of the Bible. But some have transgressed so far that they have recast the true God into a god in their own image. There is something about their god that is fundamentally different from the true God.

      And:

      In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul tells the Corinthians that the false apostles are proclaiming to them “another Jesus,” i.e., different from the One who exists. He also pairs that designation with the concept of teaching “a different gospel” (2 Cor 11:4). Since salvation comes only through the work of Jesus Christ, we must be sure to be trusting in the Christ who exists, and not “another Jesus” whom we’ve concocted according to our own understanding.

      So, when you ask, “But what was the good news (gospel of Christ) that Jesus proclaimed? The gospel of trinitarianism or the gospel of pneumatology?” I would answer: the Good News is the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ alone (Luke 24:47). But immediately we have to answer: who is this Christ whom I am to trust in for righteousness and forgiveness? And the most fundamental thing we can say about Christ is that He is the Second Member of the Trinity, God the Son, coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So no, the content of the Gospel message (the Apostolic kerygma) isn’t “Believe in the Trinity.” But the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is inherently Trinitarian.

      We can make the case for the fact that the Judaizers ‘should’ have been Christian trinitarians, but it appears to me that in Jesus’ day they were Shema affirming monotheist.

      Christian Trinitarians are Shema-affirming monotheists. Trinitarianism does not contradict monotheism; it contradicts unitarianism. And we know that the Judaizers were not unitarian because they called upon people to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation, and were never upbraided by Paul or other Apostles for not confessing the Deity of Christ.

      The gospel wasn’t solely about the hypostatic makeup of the King and such, but about the coming kingdom of God and the call to enter it.

      This is a straw man. I never said the Gospel was “solely” about the Person of Christ or the nature of God. What I said is: soteriology is not the sole area of doctrine that can truly undermine faith in the true Gospel. Because faith in the true Gospel necessarily implies and requires faith in the true God — the true Father, the true Jesus (not “another Jesus,” 2 Cor 11:4), and the true Spirit.

      • LP Dion

        Thanks Mike 😉
        My comment isn’t the clearest because I’m just a pewsitter who can’t interact with you at a meaningful level. But generally folks are told that the true Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of
        Jesus Christ. “God came to do three days work” Billy Graham.Then they launch into complex trinitarianism as the key to availing yourself of the benefits of that work. But, with respect, that’s not the Gospel that Christ proclaimed. Trinitarianism is a gospel ‘about’ Christ. The gospel ‘of’ Christ ought to be the good news that He preached.
        Who Christ ‘is’, is as you rightly say “a fundamental thing” but the propensity churches have of making the gospel about Christ as opposed to aligning with the gospel that Christ preached, namely the gospel of the kingdom of God separates the ‘Man from the message’ (please don’t jump all over that one, it’s a figure of speach)
        Severed from Christ, in a sense.
        I’m not a Modalist, not Unitarian (not yet anyway) But I’m a confused Trinitarian who is truely seeking the kingdom of God. Surely there’s room for me at the table.

        • My comment isn’t the clearest because I’m just a pewsitter who can’t interact with you at a meaningful level.

          I don’t think that’s it, friend. Plenty of pewsitters interact wonderfully here at the Cripplegate!

          But generally folks are told that the true Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          Again, that’s the work of Christ that is the foundation of the Gospel; as I said, “the Good News of repentance for the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ alone.”

          “God came to do three days work” Billy Graham

          That’s a really bad quote. If Christ came to do three days’ work, He should have showed up on Good Friday. God came to do 33 years’ work, because we not only needed our penalty paid by a weekend of suffering and death, we needed our righteousness earned by a whole life of perfect obedience (Rom 5:18-19; cf. Matt 3:15). Praise God that Christ provided both!

          Then they launch into complex trinitarianism as the key to availing yourself of the benefits of that work.

          I wouldn’t say anyone teaches that affirming Trinitarianism is the instrument of justification. We teach that faith is the sole instrument of justification. The problem, again, is: “Who is this Christ who has lived, died, was buried, and rose again? How could He be a suitable substitute on behalf of man, and yet a faithful high priest with respect to the Father?” Answer: He is the God-man. “What do you mean? If He’s God, how can God send Him? How can He be both God Himself and with God at the same time (cf. John 1:1)?” Answer: God is Triune, eternally existent in Three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

          I’d refer you to this post as you work through Trinitarian issues.

          But, with respect, that’s not the Gospel that Christ proclaimed.

          Again, as I said in my previous comment:

          No, the content of the Gospel message (the Apostolic kerygma) isn’t “Believe in the Trinity.” But the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is inherently Trinitarian — planned by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit (Eph 1:3-14; cf. John 6:44; Acts 2:33; Eph 2:18; 1 Pet 1:2).

          Paul’s gospel of grace ought to align and not negate Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom. If Paul’s gospel overpowers Jesus’ gospel then Paul places himself in a heap of trouble.

          There is no distinction between the so-called “gospel of grace” and “gospel of the kingdom.” See here for a good defense of that. The fact that you even allow for the possibility that Paul’s gospel could “negate” or “overpower” Jesus’ gospel is wildly problematic. “All Scripture is God-breathed.” All of it. Which means the Holy Spirit is the author of the evangelists’ Gospels and Paul’s epistles. They can no more contradict one another than God can contradict Himself.

          But I’m a confused Trinitarian who is truely seeking the kingdom of God. Surely there’s room for me at the table.

          There’s room for those who are confused, who nevertheless humbly submit themselves to what God has revealed in His Word. But be assured friend, the doctrine of the Trinity — the teaching concerning the very heart of the nature and character of God — that’s no mere trifle. It is not something you can deny while remaining at the table. It is a first-order doctrine, because the Christ you believe for forgiveness of sins must be the Christ who is, and not “another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4). I would strongly recommend speaking with your pastor about your confusion with Trinitarian theology, and pray that God gives you grace as you humbly seek Him.

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  • BruceS

    It is fascinating that in exercises such as this, the person who ends up as not the heretic, nor the Christian, but mistaken, one looks remarkably like you and me.

    • What?

      Man, I wish the snarky drive-by commenters would do a better job of explaining themselves.

      • BruceS

        OK let’s look at the headings one by one:
        1. Soteriology: denying sola fide = heresy; synergism (Arminianism)= bad theology
        2. Theology proper: open theism = heresy;
        3. Christology: Arianism = heresy; incarnational sonship = Christological error
        4. Pneumatology: Spirit not a person = heresy; continuation of miraculous gifts = bad theology
        5. Trinitarianism: modalism = heresy;
        6. Bibliology: denial of inspiration = heresy; dictation as means = naive theology.
        So a person who is not a Roman Catholic or an Arminian, who disagrees with Kevin Giles, who is a cessationist, who does not believe in modalism, who affirms inspiration (inerrancy?) is a sound Christian? Like I said, this looks remarkably like some evangelicals. You? Me? Sad that this isn’t what Jesus said would mark his followers.

        • Right. Because Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to be indifferent about all that I have commanded you. Just make sure you really really wuv one another.”

          Oh wait.

          And the “Your conception of sound doctrine looks awfully like you” objection got old in 2007. It reminds me of all the hand-wringing conversations during the emerging church debacle. Of course my perspective on what is sound doctrine looks like what I believe; if I thought what I believed wasn’t sound, I’d change my beliefs to believe in what was sound!

          The key question is: Do I call certain doctrines sound because I believe them (and thus just want to get everyone who looks like me into a holy huddle, and exclude everyone who isn’t like me), or do I believe those doctrines because they are biblically sound? For your objection to stick, you have to (rather uncharitably) assume the former about me. I would testify to my own motives that the latter is true.

          • bs

            Or, Mike, I could be treating you as a fellow human being who has the humility and potential to grow in their knowledge/love of God. Have you not yet found that loving God means more or other than ticking theological boxes? What would you need to understand about God for your beliefs about him to _actually_ change?

            Incidentally, wasn’t what you caricatured (“really really wuv one another”) among the things which Jesus commanded?

            Peace

          • Have you not yet found that loving God means more or other than ticking theological boxes?

            Of course I have. I’d love to know what I’ve said that’s led you to think I believe loving God means nothing more than ticking theological boxes. I suspect it’s an a priori commitment in your thinking to the false dichotomy that if someone insists that sound theology is important — indeed, necessary — to be in a right relationship with God through Christ, then that is all such a person believes is necessary. But that is, as I said, a false dichotomy. One can be spot-on in all six theological areas addressed in the original post, and yet still be destitute of vital communion with Christ — indeed, even destitute of a saving union with Christ. But it does not follow that because sound theology is not the sum-total of a relationship with Christ that it is unimportant or non-essential. Both/and, not either/or.

            What would you need to understand about God for your beliefs about him to _actually_ change?

            I would simply need to understand how my beliefs have been contrary to Scripture. I would need someone to accurately interpret Scripture to me, and explain how a particular belief of mine was inconsistent with what that passage said or implied. By God’s grace, that’s happened plenty of times.

            Incidentally, wasn’t what you caricatured (“really really wuv one another”) among the things which Jesus commanded?

            No. Jesus did not command His followers to be marked by a substanceless sentimentalism that was indifferent to the whole body of teaching that He announced to His disciples, and then spoke through the Holy Spirit in the rest of the New Testament (cf. John 14:26; 16:12-14). He commanded them to love one another — to be marked by the kind of genuine affection for one another that overflows in acting unto the practical benefit of each other. But treating Christ’s teachings (i.e., biblical doctrine) as unimportant, and mocking those who do treat them as important, is not love, because it does not actually bring any objective benefit to His people. Love is always characterized by a commitment to the truth (Eph 4:15; 2 Thess 2:10; 1 Pet 1:22; 2 John 1:1, 3; 3 John 1:1), and the preservation of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace requires a common commitment to that truth, first of all.

          • BruceS

            “I would simply need to understand how my beliefs have been contrary to
            Scripture. I would need someone to accurately interpret Scripture to me,
            and explain how a particular belief of mine was inconsistent with what
            that passage said or implied. By God’s grace, that’s happened plenty of
            times.”
            That’s great Mike. But will you allow say Greg Boyd, Roger Olsen (and Kevin Giles) or any non-cessationist to do the same? Which is what the original post was about. Or are you saying that they are not reading scripture rightly? How do you know?

            Peace

          • “Will I allow them”? Have they been waiting for my permission?

            I’d be the first to rejoice if Boyd or Olson responded to the tens of thousands of pages demonstrating their theology proper (in Boyd’s case) and soteriology (in Olson’s case) is entirely out of accord with Scripture, and repented. But since they have been so faithfully and patiently confronted by multiple able scholars and thinkers, and yet have not forsaken their teachings (which, the cases of these two men particularly, I regard as heretical), I have no choice but to believe that these are sincerely-held doctrinal convictions for the both of them, to mourn over their defection from sound doctrine, and to pray for their salvation.

            Regarding whether I’d say they’re not reading Scripture rightly, yes, that is what I’m saying. How do I know? Just like anyone else does: Because I compare their teachings and arguments to what Scripture says, and I find them to be plainly at odds.

          • bs

            But Mike, I could say exactly the same things as you say in your last paragraph about your beliefs.I think the difference is that I would not label these ‘heresy’. So where does this leave us?
            Peace

          • You could say that, but then you’d be obligated to substantiate your claim by demonstrating from Scripture where you believe I’ve erred. That would then leave us in what is potentially a very fruitful conversation about the teaching of Scripture, sharpening one another with the Word of God. And hopefully — depending on the faithfulness and clarity of the one doing the correcting, and the humility and teachability of the one being corrected — it would lead us to true Christian unity as one is convinced of his error and turns to the truth as revealed in Scripture.

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  • Daniel Herndon

    Interesting article and interesting discussions in the comments. I am afraid that you’ve created a paradox though. You’ve stated that we are saved by faith alone, however if in the process one has the wrong understanding of God and theology they are no longer saved – therefore it is not faith alone but also proper understanding of theology.

    • It’s not a paradox at all.

      The faith that saves is a faith in Christ. It’s not as if the generic concept of “faith” — just believing in something saves. Saving faith has a particular content. It’s saving faith in the truth, faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And as I said in the previous comments, the moment you begin to answer the question, “Who is this Christ in whom I must believe?” the answer is some sort of doctrine, in one form or another. If you get that answer wrong enough, you don’t have saving faith, because you’re not trusting in the Christ who is, but an imaginary Jesus you’ve conjures in your own image.

      Just like the Reformers said: “We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone,” that is, saving faith is a repentant, working faith; so also would we say that saving faith is a doctrinally sound faith. It’s the faith alone that justifies, but that faith is of a particular character — it is faith in Christ, and thus must conform to the biblical teaching concerning Christ.

      Hope that clarifies.

  • Chris Nelson

    The Canons of Dort consider Arminianism a heresy, they seem wise on this.

  • Chris Nelson

    What do you think of creation? It seems that any old earth mythology corrupts the nature of God, since God called everything good and if old earthers are correct then death is good which we know is a lie.

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