Justified True Belief: (the EFCA Statement of Faith)

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

October 9, 2015

Free-Thinking Ministries is committed to getting our theology right. As a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) for nearly a decade and I think the EFCA has a pretty good statement of faith. If I had my druthers I would tweak a couple of these statements (especially the ninth statement on eschatology); however, I can affirm all ten of these as they are currently written. Here are the ten doctrinal points all pastors and members of the EFCA must affirm and my explanation and defense of each:

1. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.

There is one God. This one and only God is tri-personal, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each being a separate and distinct divine person. This is not a logical contradiction when one understands how to correctly think regarding substances, properties, the nature of the soul, and what it means to be made “in the image of God.” To make it simple: Just as a human being is one soul with one set of cognitive faculties, God is one soul with three sets of cognitive faculties.

I affirm the aseity of God and that he is the cause and creator of all things (Gen 1:1; John 1:3; Col 1:16) and all things are contingent upon and grounded in his necessary, and therefore, eternal existence (His nature, concepts in His mind, or in His creative acts). “All things” includes things like angels, mathematics, the laws of logic, the space-time universe and all of its contents, including everything from subatomic particles, quantum vacuums, and human beings. There is nothing you can think of which is not ultimately contingent upon God for its existence. The Bible makes this clear, but what’s amazing is that the logical and scientific evidence support the same conclusion: “creation ex nihilo” (a universe beginning to exist and created out of nothing)!

Since the universe (all of nature, time, and space) had a beginning, we can logically infer several attributes the supernatural cause of nature (God) must possess. As William Lane Craig has taught me, this “Cause of space-time” must be timeless, eternal (with no beginning), necessary, spaceless, immaterial, enormously powerful, an intelligent mind, volitional, and therefore, personal. Thus, based on natural theology and general revelation alone, we can conclude that it is possible for humans to have a personal relationship with the cause of the universe. This is exactly what the Bible affirms too (Rom 1:20; Col 1:15-23)!

Based on natural theology, I believe the same scientific data that proves God exists is the same data that demonstrates the universe is nearly 14 billion years old. This combined with my hermeneutical understanding of Genesis leads me to affirm Old Universe/Earth Creationism. I believe God’s word is silent on the age of the earth/universe, and therefore, we are free to follow God’s work (science) regarding this issue. Big bang cosmology, the study of entropy, and the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin theorem of 2003 all independently validate the Biblical data: “Creation ex nihilo” (a universe created out of nothing)! Therefore, I hold to a literal framework view of creation.

Based on Biblical theology, God is the maximally great being (Psalm 147:5; Isa 46:9; Eph 3:20-21), and therefore, He possesses all properties to a maximally infinite extent. This includes God’s perfect knowledge (a.k.a. Omniscience). Omniscience is typically defined in terms of truth. For any proposition that is true, God knows and believes that proposition and he does not believe any proposition that does not correspond to reality (Psalm 139).

“Omniscience is also defined in terms of God’s propositional knowledge: He knows only and all true propositions.”[1] Therefore, He knows the past, He knows the present, and He knows the future because each of these tenses includes true propositions. God knows every truth and he never gained this knowledge; rather, He has always possessed this knowledge from eternity past. Even “before” the creation of the world, God knew every motion of every subatomic particle that would ever occur in this universe if He created it (he could have created a different world). God knows your very thoughts before you even think them (Psalm 139:2); He knows our free choices before we make them, and He simply knows everything (1 John 3:20). God even knew our thoughts, beliefs, and the actions that we would freely make logically before His creative decree. God knows with certainty the truth-value to all propositions, and therefore, He can and has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself by actualizing a world in which He knows how we will freely choose.

In addition to God’s omniscience, He is also omnipotent (Job 11:7-11; Jer 32:17). Many think this divine property means that God can do all things. God is all-powerful; however, I must add that God cannot do ALL things. For example: can God draw a triangle with four corners? Can God make a “married bachelor?” Can God create a rock that is so big that even He can’t lift it? Can God sin (James 1:13)? Can God commit suicide and stop existing? The answer to all of the above is a resounding, “NO!” Consider the “married bachelor.” Why can’t God create a married bachelor? The answer is because if a man is married, he is no longer a bachelor. If a man is a bachelor, he is not married. Therefore, it is impossible for a married bachelor to exist. It is even impossible for God to create a married bachelor because God cannot do the logically impossible. Thank God that He can’t. God is omnipotent, and this means that God can do all things that are logically possible for God to do. This includes creating a universe ex nihilo, and acting in the universe (miracles) if he so chooses (Psalm 77:14; Acts 2:24).

2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

The traditional doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture is logically coherent, when considering God’s omniscient middle knowledge and omnipotence. Since God knew with omniscient certainty that Paul (for example), given his circumstances, would freely write epistles which God would validate as His authoritative word to man, He was able to create a world placing Paul in these specific scenarios where He knew with certainty what Paul would freely write. God created a “world containing just those circumstances and persons such that the authors of Scripture would freely compose their respective writings, which God intended to be His gracious Word to us.”[2] Therefore, in God’s providence, the Bible is the verbal and plenary word of God written freely by men.

As the inspired Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:21), the Bible says exactly what God wants it to say and is without error in the original writings. Although the Bible does not provide exhaustive knowledge of all things, it is the complete revelation of what is needed to fulfill our objective purpose is life: to know, love, and enjoy a personal relationship with God for eternity (Psalm 73:25; Matt 22:36-38; 1 Cor 10:31). Where the Bible speaks, it supersedes all other realms of human knowledge, but through the correct interpretation of the special revelation of God’s Word, human knowledge of all other things thrives! I believe that the Bible is inerrant in all that it teaches in the original writings, and therefore, as God’s commands, we ought to obey it in all that it orders, and trust it in all that it promises (Luke 11:28).

Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude toward the reliability and authority of the Bible (Matt 15:3; John 10:35), God’s inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice. God raised Jesus from the dead (we have historical evidence of the resurrection). This implies that God validated all that Jesus said, taught, and exemplified. What did Jesus teach? Jesus gave his divine stamp of approval to the “law and prophets” of the Old Testament (Matt 5:18), and the soon to be written apostolic New Testament via His omniscient middle knowledge (i.e. knowing what Paul would teach before choosing him to teach as an apostle). Therefore, we can trust the Bible you hold in your hands is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, just as 2 Timothy 3:16 makes clear.

I affirm that the Bible is the inspired word of God; however, not all interpretations of God’s word are created equal. With that said, I must confess, I do not take the whole Bible literally; however, I do interpret the entire Bible literarily. This is part of the science of hermeneutics where we must realize that the authors of the Bible write in different styles, such as, historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, sarcasm, etc. When the Bible speaks in historical narrative mode, I take every word literally. When Amos says: “Go and sin all you want!” (Amos 4:4), I do not take that literally because I realize he is using the compositional device of sarcasm to make a point that we should not miss.

We must be careful to recognize the literary genres and compositional devices the authors of the Bible are using, and when they change in style. This is very important when analyzing the creation account in Genesis. As I mentioned above, I do not believe the Bible is a scientific textbook. There are some things we can know from scripture that science must validate. The relatively recent big bang model, for example, finally caught up with what theologians have been proclaiming for millennia: “Creation ex nihilo!”

The Bible has a literary and theological flavor to it (as opposed to science textbooks). There are poetic elements that report historical material like in Psalms 106. The main thing to get out of Genesis is that God creates and brings order. The Bible does not tell us everything we need to know about science. God has given us two sources of divine revelation: 1- the Bible (His WORD), and 2- Nature (His WORK). Since God never contradicts Himself, we can be confident that if the study of His word and the study of His work (science) seem to contradict each other, humans are incorrectly interpreting either His word or His work. They will never contradict if interpreted properly. It is also presumptuous for either the scientist, or the theologian to guarantee they are not wrong, especially when Christian theologians are divided on the issue.

3. We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.

I believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image (Gen 1:26-27), but they freely chose to sin when tempted by Satan. It is important to note what “created in God’s image” means. Since God is the creator of matter, God cannot be composed of matter; therefore, God is not some physical humanoid. This would be akin with the logically incoherent statement, “Matter existed before matter existed!” God is best understood as an “unembodied mind” (John 4:24), similar to the immaterial soul of humanity (2 Cor 5:3-4). What’s amazing is that via the laws of logic and supported by scientific data (natural theology), we can prove that God exists as an immaterial mind, and that humanity possesses an immaterial aspect of our existence (a “soul”). This immaterial mind is not something that humans have; rather, it’s who we are. I am not a body that has a soul; rather, I am a soul who has a body. I can exist apart from my body (2 Cor. 5:8); therefore, I am not my body. This immaterial aspect of our existence is what we are, and it is how we are created in the “image of God.”

In union with Adam, human beings are metaphysical sinners by nature and moral sinners by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Humans are metaphysically sinful at birth (Psalm 51:5) as we are separated from necessary perfection. We are created to be God focused (our objective purpose in life), but due to this metaphysical separation, we are self-focused (selfish) and we therefore, sin, which is literally translated: “to miss the mark.” Only via the atoning work of Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed. If we accept his work as a free gift, we are justified (“just-as-if I’d” never sinned), and therefore, we can have a perfect relationship with God – the ultimate standard of perfection (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:1-18)!

The question is raised: Why do people suffer for a sin Adam committed long ago? This can be explained in at least two ways. The first option to consider is that of “federal headship.” God appointed Adam to represent humanity. This is similar to the President of the United States representing all Americans (if we like it or not)! If the President declares war, we are all in war, even if we oppose the war and the president himself. When Adam sinned, we were all accountable as he represented all humanity. As to Adam, Augustine wrote: “All are understood to have sinned, whereby sin is brought in with birth and not removed save by new birth.” According to this explanation, the all of humanity was convicted along with their representative, Adam. Therefore, humans can be pardoned by aligning themselves with Jesus, which The Bible refers to as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 47-49; Rom. 5:15-21). Just as Adam’s sin is imputed to his descendants, so Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who love and trust in Him.

One might object exclaiming this isn’t fair because they don’t want to be represented by Adam. Or perhaps they argue that if they were in Adam’s position, they would have obeyed God. However, we must remember God’s omniscient middle-knowledge. God knew with certainty that everyone would have sinned just as Adam did, if they were in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Adam is our “perfect” representative.

Since we are infected with sin, we cannot “mix” with necessary perfection (God)! This is a major problem for mankind; we are broken, and left to our own devices we will waste our broken lives for eternity (Rom 3:11). Broken things either get thrown away or fixed (saved). Humanity needs a Savior and the second person of the Trinity saved the day! Jesus provided a way for us to be fixed and restored in a marriage relationship with Him. Jesus is the only way to be saved and it is only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ that we can be rescued, reconciled and renewed (John 14:6).

Through his amazing grace, God created a world where He is able to provide a “bride” for His son, and our salvation. God is able to create and plan a world that will ultimately reach His plans through our free choices (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). God created a world in which He knew how I would respond, but He did not force me to follow Him. That would not be true love! He gave me a genuine choice to turn my back on my sin, or to turn my back on Him. So I believe that God directly causes certain situations to come into being, where then we genuinely make free choices that God knew we would and will make. This knowledge that God possesses does not stand in causal relation, thus, God does not force us to make our choices. This is how God can be completely sovereign and 100% in complete control, and how every human still has a free choice to follow Christ (Rom 1:25) or to reject Him. This is how I believe an act of faith can be free and still be fully secured by God who is completely sovereign and in total perfect control of all things (Acts 2:23; Eph 1:11).

4. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus-Israel’s promised Messiah-was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, the exclusive and sufficient revelation of the very being, essence, and purpose of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which salvation can be attained (Acts 4:12). I believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, one person in two natures. This is no logical contradiction as “The Logos” (John 1:1) is the soul (person that can exist separated from the body) of the hominid body of Jesus of Nazareth. This mind-body conjunction is what it means to have a human nature. When the soul is separated from the body, we no longer have a human nature, but rather a soul (“in the image of God”) and a corpse. The Logos, however, could experience an authentic human nature because He was not aware of his omniscience. Jesus was not aware that He was omniscient (or His other Omni-attributes) when He was in the manger, and the Bible affirms that He “grew in stature and knowledge” (Luke 2:52). This explains the term of the Greek word, “kenosis,” we find in Philippians 2:7. If Jesus “grew in knowledge,” then it logically follows that Jesus was not always aware of everything he knew about everything. Therefore, Jesus could experience a real human life; He learned from the Father and Holy Spirit, had real prayers (Mark 14:35-36), experienced real temptations (Mark 1:12-13) as He was unaware that He could not sin, and was even able to experience uncertainty with His Father (Matthew 27:46). Because the Logos experienced a legitimate human nature, He could redeem it!

I affirm that Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (Matt 1:18). He lived a perfect and sinless life (2 Cor 5:21), and was crucified by the Roman government. However, God the Father vindicated Jesus and raised Him bodily from the dead and He ascended into heaven to the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19).

5. We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.

Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, died on the cross as the all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His death and resurrection constitute the one and only way for salvation (John 14:6; Romans 6:23). Christ exposed and reversed the course of human depravity, died for our sins, redeemed us from the power of evil, took our sins away and forgave us (expiation), reconciled us to God and removed his wrath against us (propitiation), and continues to empower us (Acts 17:28). Jesus did all the atoning work; therefore, we bring nothing to our salvation. We obtain salvation exclusively by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).

This raises the commonly asked question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” Why is the wages of sin death (Romans 6:23), and not five bucks or seven years hard labor? Why was the cross necessary for us to have a restored relationship with God? The answer is found by dwelling upon how any relationship is restored. There are always two parties involved in a marriage relationship and therefore, in a damaged relationship: the offended party and the offending party. In order for the relationship to be restored, the offended party has to choose to bear the harm! The offending party must confess and repent.

God is the offended party – we sinned against Him (“missed the mark”), and therefore, we are the offending party. So, we are powerless in this situation; the offended party (God) must choose to restore our relationship, if it is going to be restored at all. God is “life” (John 14:6), and separation from him is “death” (2 Thes 1:9). Therefore, sin equals death, because sin equals separation from God because He is repulsed by our sin.

The “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) and therefore, to restore our broken relationship, God must bear the harm and die. That, however, is a big problem because God cannot die as God (that’s impossible as he exists necessarily and not contingently). Therefore, God needs to become a human to experience death (spiritually and physically). God cannot die spiritually as He is ONE substance (we believe in ONE God and thus, he cannot be separated from Himself)! God cannot die physically as he is immaterial and Spirit. Therefore, He had to become human to experience physical death and to experience what spiritual death was like during His supernatural suffering for three hours on the cross (Matt 27:46).

Considering what was needed to restore our damaged relationship, we can see why we need Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. Why do we need Easter? Because it took more than just executing Jesus, because if death is punishment, if Christ is still dead, then He is still being punished. Therefore, He had to be risen back to life to demonstrate that God is satisfied with the atonement. The atonement is complete (He has conquered death physically and spiritually). The resurrection is proof that God is satisfied with Jesus’ atoning work. Therefore, Christianity is true.

6. We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.

The third person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, and He is the other “comforter” Jesus spoke of (John 14:16-26; 15:26; 16:7). I believe the Holy Spirit reaches out to all people as no one seeks God on their own (Romans 3:11). However, the proposal of the Holy Spirit is not irresistible and can be freely accepted or rejected. Rejecting the Holy Spirit’s advances is the unforgivable sin of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:29). If one freely accepts the marriage proposal of the Holy Spirit, they are simultaneously saved (Romans 8:9), and permanently filled with his presence (Eph. 1:13-14).

Although Christians are indwelled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, we can still be “filled with the Spirit” as this is an ongoing process that occurs throughout our Christian walk (i.e., “rechargeable batteries”). The permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not just for a select few, but for all Christians, as this is what makes one a Christian. This is in contrast to being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).

The Holy Spirit gives all Christians different gifts. A natural gift could be, but not limited to: teaching, evangelism, hospitality, and encouraging. A miraculous gift could be, but not limited to: prophecy, tongues, healing, etc. The Holy Spirit is free to dispense any miraculous gift according to his will (1 Cor. 12:7-11). Therefore, I believe these gifts continue today; however, many Christians do not have a proper view of these gifts, and thus, they are often unintentionally abused and misused.

7. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.

The definition of the church is: The community of all true believers for all time.  Paul says “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Jesus is the highest authority over the church and has built it by calling people to follow Him (Matt. 16:18).

There are two ordinances given to the church from God: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are vital for believers. After the resurrection, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples and baptize all the nations (Matt 28:19-20). Baptism should be done via full immersion whenever possible as John baptized people (including Jesus) in the river. Moreover, there is scripture indicating the need for large bodies of water to conduct baptisms (John 3:23; Acts 8:37-38). If baptism simply involved “sprinkling” they would not have needed these big bodies of water.

Baptism is an outward sign of an inward spiritual marriage relationship with Jesus (like a wedding ring). Therefore, only true Christians should be baptized (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 10:44-48; 16:14-15). Baptism is not necessary for salvation; however, every true Christian ought to be baptized. Paul confirms this as he states: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor 1:17). Furthermore, to say that one must be baptized for salvation is in direct contradiction with Eph 2:8-9, where Paul is clear that we cannot mix faith and works to receive salvation. Finally, if baptism were essential for salvation, then the thief on the cross could not have trusted Jesus’s promise (Luke 23:43).

The second ordinance the church observes is that of the Lord’s Supper. Taking part in this ordinance does not provide salvation; rather, it is for those who are already saved to partake in. This is our regular communion with Christ; a constant remembering and proclaiming the atoning work of Christ. When celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the elements remind us of our forgiveness through His broken body and spilled blood.

8. We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.

Sanctification is the eternal evolution Christians experience as we become more like Christ (Romans 12:2). Justification is an instantaneous declarative change and sanctification is an infinite evolution of the Christian. As we experience this transformation, we are able to follow God’s commands (Matt 22:36-40) to love Him supremely above all, serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, always reaching out as he did to those who are lost, as well as to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, and the socially despised.

Every one of us in is the middle of a war zone; not against flesh and blood; rather, it’s a spiritual war (Eph 6:10). This war can be simply broken down between truth vs. lies. Colossians 2:8 says that we can be taken captive by deceptive philosophy (lies), but in 2 Cor 10:5 it says that we need to take every thought captive to obey Christ. We are commanded to take false thoughts captive before they take us captive! Jesus said that the very purpose that He was born into this world was to testify to the truth, and that those on the side of truth listen to Him (John 18:37). This indicates that there is another side – a side of lies! We must fight the lies of Satan with the truths of God’s word (John 8:31-32).

9. We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.

This world will come to an end and I feel fine; in fact, I am looking forward to it! The study of the end times is referred to as eschatology. There are three components to my eschatology: 1- the tribulation (Daniel 7; Luke 21); 2- the return of Christ (Dan12; Matt 24; 1 Cor 15; 2 Thess 4; Rev 19); and, 3- the Millennium (Rev 20; Isa 65:17).

I label myself as a “post-trib/pre-mill guy.” This means I believe the Rapture will occur simultaneously with the return of Christ at the end of the tribulation on earth (1 Thess 4:16-17; 1 Cor 15:52-55; Matt 24:29-31). I believe this event will usher in the Millennium, as Jesus will reign on earth for a “thousand years” of peace.

I have come to the “post-trib” conclusion for several reasons. In Matthew 24:29, it says, “immediately after the tribulation.” Verse 30 then goes on to describe Christ’s return, and verse 31 seems to describe the Rapture as we meet Jesus in the sky. Moreover, four different times in John, Jesus tells us when and who will be raptured (John 6:39-40; 44; 54). The who is Christians, the when is “on the last day.”

Here’s the critical point: 1 Thess 4:15 says, “… we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Thus, it seems that the dead in Christ will be raised bodily from the dead on the last day, and then those still alive in Christ will be raptured up to the Lord waiting for them in “the heavens.” Therefore, I believe that a “post-trib” rapture is a probability; hence, I have prepared myself for what I could possibly experience. I know that no matter what I go through, I will NEVER renounce Jesus Christ (so help me God)! I do believe in a post-trib rapture; however, I admit that I could be wrong, and I sure hope I am.

I believe the very presence of the nation of Israel today is something that demands our attention. God promised that He would bless whoever blesses Israel, and He would curse whoever dishonors Israel. He also promised that he would make Israel a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). When studying history over the past 2000 years and even recent history of the past century, these divine promises seem to have been kept. Especially when considering Hitler’s atrocities towards the Jews in the 1930’s and 40’s, and how the holocaust as horrible as it was, actually led to the nation of Israel being re-founded in one day (Isa 66:7-8), May 14, 1948.

10. We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.

Many people today think the doctrine of hell is logically incompatible with an omnibenevolent God. I disagree; in fact, I think the concept of hell logically follows and makes complete sense if God is perfectly good and loving. This is because God won’t force anyone into His presence that doesn’t want to be with Him. If God created humanity to know, love, and enjoy a personal relationship with Him forever, God would not force anyone to do something that was against his or her will. If God would “kidnap” someone against his or her will, it wouldn’t be true love. The best we could hope for is “Stockholm Syndrome!” That, however, is psychological trauma, not love!

C.S. Lewis said, “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” Why should we suppose that those who freely chose to reject God in this life would feel any different while completely separated from God in hell? Therefore, an eternal hell makes logical sense (if free will is really free), and hell is perfect justice for those who are eternally unrepentant (Revelation 16:8-11).

Many revolt against the concept of hell because of the problem of the unevangelized. It would seem that if Jesus is the only way (John 14:6), and that only those who hear the gospel have a chance to be saved, then, multitudes have been damned due to the accident of being born at the wrong time and place. At face value, this seems to be contrary to what we know of God’s Omni benevolence. Let’s dig a little deeper and reexamine two of God’s other “Omni attributes.”

If God is omniscient logically prior to his creative decree, He knows with certainty who will freely accept His offer of love, and who will freely reject Him in all possible scenarios in which He may place them. Since God knows who will freely choose to reject Him, why does He even need to let them hear the gospel, since He knows they are going to reject it even if they did hear it? Given God’s omnipotence (being all-powerful), He can make sure that those whom He knew would repent if they heard the gospel will live in a time and place in which they are guaranteed to hear the gospel. As an advocate of God’s perfectly omniscient middle-knowledge, I believe that God knows with absolute certainty who would freely repent after hearing about Jesus. Therefore, God can make sure that those He knows will accept Him will be born in a time and a place in which they will hear the gospel. This is not a problem for a maximally great God.

Since free will is really free, it logically follows that there is no guarantee that all people will freely choose to love Jesus and be saved. It is logically impossible to force someone to freely do something. Although God is omnipotent, this does not mean that He can do the logically impossible. Therefore, even if God created a world in which all persons did hear the gospel, He could not guarantee that they would all freely choose to respond in the affirmative and freely choose to love Jesus.

If one can freely choose to reject the flirtatious revelation of God and the advances of the Holy Spirit (“blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”: Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:31-32) it seems this is the kind of sin that could be of infinite gravity. If one is really free, and this isn’t some word game, then it is logically possible for this individual to freely choose to reject God into the infinite future. For this reason, an infinite separation from God – eternal hell – makes logical sense.

I hold to a metaphorical view of eternal hell similar to what C.S. Lewis offered in his legendary book, “The Great Divorce. In fact, there may be no other logical outcome available for God. As J.P. Moreland has suggested, if it is objectively wrong to extinguish a soul created in God’s image due to its intrinsic value (therefore, God won’t annihilate a human soul), and if these souls created in God’s image freely choose to eternally reject God, then it logically follows that these souls that eternally freely choose to reject God will spend eternity quarantined from him. This eternal separation from God, and therefore, all that is good, is the epitome of hell. We ought to take eternal hell seriously.

The Free-Thinking Theist,

Tim Stratton


NOTES

[1] William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s3-13 (Accessed 9-22-14)

[2] William Lane Craig, Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/men-moved-by-the-holy-spirit-spoke-from-god#ixzz3E5NrrAJs

[3] http://carm.org/questions/other-questions/did-jesus-and-paul-teach-same-thing (accessed 11-25-11) emphasis mine

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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