Thursday, April 3, 2008

Misgivings Concerning "Open-handednesss"

This post consists of comments on:

An Open-Handed Gospel
We have to decide whether we have a stingy or a generous God.
Richard J. Mouw (Richard J. Mouw is president and professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary.)

Kent will comment in bold. The rest is excerpts from this article. You can read the whole thing at

and I will say up front that the author says much that is not quoted here. Also, I am not attempting to defend any group of evangelicals, of which group I am not a member. I want to comment on only some of the ideas presented. Away we go.

Richard J. Mouw:

Many evangelical commentators these days insist that salvation is closely tied to doctrinal clarity. Here, for example, is how one prominent evangelical leader criticized those of us who have endorsed the various "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" documents: "What those signers … are saying is that while they believe the doctrine of justification as articulated by the Reformers is true, they are not willing to say people must believe it to be saved. In other words, they believe people are saved who do not believe the biblical doctrine of justification."

I am passionate in my agreement with Martin Luther on justification by faith alone. But do I believe that a person can be confused about this doctrine and still be saved? Absolutely.

I sympathize with the plea to avoid thinking that everyone who doesn’t understand all of Biblical teaching is headed for hell. My gut instinct is to want to throw the gates of heaven wide open to everyone who wants to come, no matter what they think or do. But my instincts do not count for anything here. There are beliefs, according to the Bible, that we must hold in order to be saved. For example, the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9 informs us that one belief required for salvation is that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” Many people simply do not believe that, and if they do not, I can offer them no reassurance about salvation.

While it sounds a bit harsh, I don’t make up these rules, I just report them. Does this make God "stingy"? It makes God a God of truth. Beyond that I will not venture.

Richard J. Mouw:

And the truth is that we evangelicals often give the impression that we have decided to be a spiritually stingy people. A recent Barna Group survey, for example, offers evidence that many young people in the larger society think of evangelicals primarily as "judgmental" types, hostile toward folks in other religions and mean-spirited in our attitudes about homosexuality. Even many young evangelicals share some of these assessments of the older generation. A leader at an evangelical college said it this way: "A lot of our students worry about typical evangelical attitudes toward people who have different belief systems and lifestyles. It's not that they don't take the Bible's teachings seriously. It's just that they have gotten to know Muslims and gays, and they are embarrassed by the harsh spirit toward such folks that they see in the older generation. If we don't do something about this negative image soon, we could easily lose them for the evangelical cause."

Let’s not worry about Muslims just now. This matter of how Christians (or other people in our society, for that matter) should deal with “gays” is something that some Christian “leaders” have been harping about for some time now. (Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are worried sick about this very matter.)

Project with me for just a moment. Suppose those who enjoy the sin of having sexual relationships with animals suddenly decided to demand social recognition. (It will happen - it’s just a matter of time.) Suppose if you took your family to Cape Cod, instead of seeing men walking around draped around other men, you saw men (or women) and their “animal partner” of choice, the human now and then kissing or showing signs of affection/perversion to the animal. (I’m not sure how the animals might react, so I won’t explore that!)

Suppose the beastiphiles (yes, I made that one up) were all very sincere. Suppose they believed they were “born that way” and that their actions were something everyone else should “respect.” Suppose most public figures and media outlets began to treat the beastiphiles as a persecuted minority deserving some special legal protection. Suppose the beastiphiles began to demand that their employers cover their “significant animal other” under a healthcare plan. Suppose the beastiphiles began to demand legal recognition for human-beast marraige.

How should a Christian react to all that? Would not a bit of an it’s-time-to-draw-a-line-in-the-sand attitude be justified? The only real difference between this senario and the current matter of “gay” things is that the “gay” propaganda has been force-fed to everyone in almost every venue (see a sample from the New York Times) for many years now. (And anyone who says otherwise simply has an anti-beastiphilia prejudice.)

I will stop there, but you get the idea.

Richard J. Mouw:

I have spent a lot of time trying to promote convicted civility. I have to confess, however, that I sometimes get a little nervous about that project. It is so easy . . . to err on one side or the other; holding both up simultaneously takes constant effort. And I would hate to have assisted the cause of a freewheeling sense of divine generosity that does not maintain vigilance in protecting and defending the truth of the gospel.

But the effort to keep this marriage together needs to be made. The proper antidote to relativism and universalism is not a retreat into a stingy spirit. We must be clear in telling others about the hope that lies within us, the apostle Peter teaches; but he quickly adds that we must always do so "with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15–16).

We need to be careful not to read into “gentleness and respect” things the Biblical writers did not intend. For example, some anti-Christian assertions make the one who makes them worthy of “condemnation” - this according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:8. (For other examples, examine the public pronouncements of John the Baptizer.)

Because we live in a culture that itself condemns any view that does not pretend to tolerate every view, almost anything Christians try to say or do is going to be falsely branded as “intolerant” and thus lacking respect. “Respect” has come to mean that we must never seriously critique anyone’s view of anything.

So while some Christians can be overly vitriolic, what we lack more than anything today is a clear statement of truth in a world wedded to relativism. In that context, charges that we lack “gentleness and respect” will often mean that we are stating some truth some members of our culture would rather not hear.

Sometimes, perhaps often times, the problem is not with what we are saying or how we are saying it. The problem is with listeners who needs to repent.

Richard J. Mouw:

[regarding some kind words exchanged between a Jewish rabbi and the king of an Islamic country]

As an evangelical Christian . . . I believe with all my heart that the God I worship, the God of Abraham, looked down on that scene, where a descendent of Isaac gave a blessing to a descendent of Ishmael, and smiled and said, "That's good! That's the way I want things to be!" I'm not entirely clear about how to work this into my theology, I confessed, but I'm willing to live with some mystery in thinking about that encounter.

I find I need to live with some mystery about what God is doing in the Abrahamic religions. At the same time, I cannot fail to proclaim the John 3:16 message that God has sent a Savior, and that those who believe on him will not perish but have everlasting life.

We serve a God whose generous ways with others are beyond our capacity to grasp. But that same generosity has been clearly displayed in the marvelous grace that sent our Savior to Calvary—an abundant grace that is greater than all of our sin. The proclamation of that overwhelming generosity must not be muted, even as we live in the presence of mysteries we cannot comprehend.

There is a pervasive and perverse tendency for those who want to avoid coming to any definite conclusion to hide in “mystery.” In Biblical terminology, what God has revealed is no longer a mystery. There is no “mystery” about “what God is doing in the Abrahamic religions.” He has done and is doing the same thing there as in every other religion. That program is nicely summarized by the Apostle Paul who said (by the way, to a hostile audience whose religious views, Paul had just informed them, were incorrect):

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." (Act 17:30-31 ESV)

Need I say more?

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