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February 25, 2008

Gospel Urgency

In another post, Pointificators were in general agreement with the apparent positions of Chuck Colson, Cardinal Dulles, and Rick Warren regarding the destiny of those “who have never heard the gospel”: namely, that salvation is possible for those who earnestly seek to know God and follow him. By the way--great comments, all! And, in the interest of full disclosure, I agree that people are ultimately judged "by the light that they've received."

Of course, that begs a question suggested by one Pointificator: Is the need or urgency of the Great Commission diminished? In other words, if a person can be saved apart from hearing about Jesus or receiving the gift of his atoning sacrifice, why is sharing the gospel important, especially when it would make a “saved” person accountable for more than he (or she) may be willing to sign on to?

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Comments

LeeQuod

Just last night I recounted to my daughter the story of D. James Kennedy as a young minister, visiting unsaved new church attendees with the senior minister of his church. As I recall, the senior minister told D. James to lead the very first man they met with to Christ. He tried, but the man resisted, and Dr. Kennedy said "Suddenly I realized - this man was not elect!"

The senior minister then took over and easily let the man to salvation.

And the resulting emotional conflict was the basis for D. James Kennedy founding Evangelism Explosion.

As I was taught them, EE had two questions to pose: If you died tonight, what would happen to you? and If God asked you "Why should I let you into Heaven?", what would you reply? The first question certainly demonstrates urgency.

So my thought, Regis, is that for some Christians there is already little urgency for the Great Commission. The elect are elect, and what you do makes no difference - unless you have an experience like D. James's.

But to answer your original question, I would say yes - why should my friends be missionaries, raising small children, in a dangerous place like Uzbekistan if the Uzbeks could possibly get to heaven anyway? Or another friend's sister, trying to get back into Myanmar?

Of course, there's that whole "Jesus told us to!" issue - can we question, and selectively obey, the orders of the one who died for us and rose again?

Jason Taylor

Well, Calvinists send lots of missionaries and manage to live with the paradox.

Be that as it may I don't think speculating that there might be mercy for others is incompatable with sending missionaries. If such exists it is like a Mae West, and a missionary is more like the Coast Guard. In any case we are ordered to send missionaries.
It is an argument against being pushy in missionaryness but that can actually make a missionary more effective.
And it is an argument that one need not feel too guilty for not being as effective as one thinks one should be. God is not bound by your weakness.
And I did not say one could be saved apart from Christ's atoning sacrifice. I think saying that is certainly heretical tempting though it is in some ways. I did say that scripture does not exactly say that intellectual assent within ones lifetime is necessary. If someone is saved in such circumstance it is because his spirit was ready and because God saw fit to heal that intellectual fault after someones death. How that would work out I don't know. For all I know such a person would recieve a vision in his last momment of life. Be that as it may sending missions is necessary. Because He said so.

Steve

Well, for starters:

1. The great commission, is not to "win converts" but to make disciples. Someone who may get saved in the end, but is not practicing Christianity, can hardly be considered a disciple. Moreover, according to the "Unchristian" book from Barna we're doing a lousy job of making disciples right here at home.

2. Where the church has gone, social transformation, material improvement, peace, reconciliation, and justice have followed. Laboring for three decades in obscurity among the Kipsigis in western Kenya, Dr. Ernest Steury and fellow missionaries not only brought Christianity, but economic improvement, peace between tribes, the end of female genital mutilation, and freedom from superstition and fear.

3. We are, of course, commanded to share the gospel, which is reason enough. This isn't some kind of game where the score is determined by the number of "decisions." Everything is for the glory of God, and Christ is exalted when His name is proclaimed and lifted up.

Steve

PS:
Cardinal Dulles remarks sure sound like salvation based on works to me (which is an oxymoron, by the way). "Sincerely seek"? "Strive to do His will"? "place their lives at the service of truth and justice"?

Shouldn't it rather be "throw themselves upon His mercy"?

Rolley Haggard

Jumping in late....

“Is the need or urgency of the Great Commission diminished because some may be saved apart from hearing the gospel?” No. Consider an analogy. A child growing up in a dysfunctional non-Christian home MIGHT just turn out “all-right” in spite of growing up in a godless environment, but that does not mean it would not have been infinitely better for the parents to have been Christians and to have “raised the child up in the way he should go.” The real question is, what does God command and expect us to do? It’s pretty clear that even as we are to raise up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so we are to preach the gospel to every creature. Happily, God is not strictly limited by what frail human beings can do. On the other hand, “woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” - 1 Cor 9:16. Father knows best, and He says, “do it My way.”

“Why is sharing the gospel important?” Perhaps some of the more obvious reasons:

a) it is the typical way in which most of us are brought to faith. Paul says the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is reprehensible to stand around watching a house burn down, speculating about “other ways out” when you have the ability to go in the front door and rescue the occupants. Sharing the gospel is “the front door”;

b) because Christ commands it (as others here have duly noted); and

c) because “salvation” is a package that includes more than just pardon/forgiveness/justification. Salvation includes sanctification – the refashioning of the believer into the person God always intended him/her to be. Sinners hurt themselves and others. God doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves and others. He wants us to be cared for and to care for others. So He transforms us from hurters to lovers. How does He do this? By giving us assurance that our sins are forgiven. And how does that assurance come to us? Via the gospel. Jesus said that “the one who is forgiven much loves much” (Luke 7:47). The woman taken in adultery (John 8) was enabled to “go and sin no more” precisely because she heard the Savior say, “neither do I condemn you.” (v. 11) Those words, “neither do I condemn you” comprise the very assurance we need to have the moral strength to quit hurting and start loving. Love is the natural, spontaneous fruit of knowing our sins are forgiven. “Faith worketh by love.” (Galatians 5:6) The dynamics of sanctification are captured in the song that says, “I am loved; I am loved; I can risk loving you. For the One who knows me best loves me most.” That’s one reason why all – the saved, the unsaved, and the questionable – need to hear the gospel: so that we all might be transformed into lovers by the renewing of our minds that comes from the good news about God’s love for us.

And as for “mak[ing] a “saved” person accountable for more than he (or she) may be willing to sign on to”, consider John 6:45 where Christ says, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” If a person has responded to whatever pre-gospel light he/she has been given, this verse seems to say he/she will go on with the Lord if and when that gospel encounter finally transpires. All of us who accept the Lord sign our names on the bottom line before we get a chance to read the small print. In this respect, we are just like father Abraham who, “when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, NOT KNOWING WHITHER HE WENT.” Hebrews 11:8

Jason Taylor


Another way of putting what I said is that admitting that God has the ability to pull people's chessnuts out of the fire, does not deny us the duty of attempting to save them. God for whatever reason uses human agency to assure that His will is done perhaps because that is an increase in Human Dignity and so glorifies God(I know Steve would rightly remind us to be careful of the term "Human Dignity" but in some form it exists). Even humans can have machines and animals as servants and the fact that God has some isn't as great a glory as the fact that he has humans as servants.
Imagine if the question is applied to other areas of human life? God can feed five thousand so we should not have agriculture? God can calm the storm so we should not have meteorology? God can heal lepers, so we should not have medical science? God decides victory so we should not have West Point(I actually did hear that one)? God appoints rulers so we shouldn't vote?
God's power should not be denied. At the same time it should not be an excuse for sloth. Now to be sure that leaves us with a paradox. But we habitually accept that paradox in most of life.
As for whether Cardinal Dulles is overworking works, to coin a pun, well I am really not relating my own speculations to the good Cardinal's who from what little I remember of him does sometimes go to far. I will say that that The Ancient Controversy is so sticky a wicket that it is as well to cut each other some slack in that area.
Steve's point about Earthly improvements is well taken. Though of course that really is somewhat ambiguous as many have noted. There are bad things that happen too. And if some of the objections are simply aesthetic distaste at changing their vision of the "noble savage" some objections are legitimate. However there are good things that come. Certainly taking away the terror that comes from paganism is good. It is also a good seldom recognized to Westerners for whom paganism was long chiefly remembered as harmless fairy tales whose chief attraction comes from the fact that one has the protection of disbelief. A protection we our straining in the Postmodern era-but that is another story.
However using Earthly good as an argument for missions is ultimatly limited as it is using the fortunate by-product as an excuse for the objective which is ultimatly illogical.
As a side note, I would like to ask a rather gross question but one I am curious about. Why is female genital mutilation an atrocity and male genital mutilation not so? Is the method used simply more painful? It is a minor curiousity and no one need answer if they feel it inappropriate.

Anna

I've also struggled with this paradoxical mystery in the question of prayer. Why pray when God is not dixtated by anything I do and is sovereign? Because for some reason He's decided to work through a finite, flawed human like me. And He commands me to. Same issue we're talking about here in evangilism.

Steve

Male genital mutilation? What the h*** is that?

Steve

Good point, Anna. Your are referring, of course, to prayers of petition. The most theologically sound answer I have heard is that even though God foreordained "whatsoever comes to pass," His eternal decrees are based in part on foreknowledge of our free acts, such as the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers. His eternal decrees could thus be influenced by foreknowledge of our prayers, so they don't exactly change His mind (God is immutable and transcends time) but could still affect His plan. (I can't tell if that came through clearly or not?)

Remember that prayer is not petition only but includes confession, adoration, and worship. All three are expressions of our dependence on Him and recognition of His glory. Petitionary prayer too is an admission of our total dependence upon Him, and is thus an act of humility and acknowledgment of His glory.

Steve (SBK)

(my apologies to the thread gods if this is too off topic):
"male genital mutilation" would be "circumcision"... and it depends on who you talk to whether it's an atrocity or not. (Search the web for 4 minutes).
However, as Jason mentioned, fgm is universally condemned (in the "West"), while not so circumcision.
I'm not well-versed in this problem, though, and can only speculate.
Some likely reasons are:
- age of the 'operation'
- affect on sexual enjoyment/functionality
- control (fgm) vs. solidarity (circ.)
Or something... but, I'm sure someone is better versed in the problem.

Rolley Haggard

God’s sovereignty does not mean that everything works out exactly the way He wants in every particular – for He desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and yet clearly not all men are saved (Revelation 20:15). Nor does it mean that nothing ever happens that God does not want to happen. (Otherwise we would have to say that He wanted evil to enter the universe – a position which, I am happy to report, few are willing to maintain). God’s sovereignty means that no matter what happens, He will nevertheless “cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and will “overthrow the wicked for their wickedness” (Proverbs 21:12).

Thus, to answer the question, “why pray?” James has the answer: because “it accomplishes much” (James 5:16). Why do evangelism? Again, James has the answer: “Let him know, that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (5:20). The point is, our actions count. Life is real. We are not droids. We are members of His body. We are “fellow laborers with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). God’s being sovereign does not diminish the awesome responsibility we have to do what we know is right. In fact, such obedience honors his sovereignty by acknowledging that He is Lord in every area of life.

One day everything we’re groping at here will make perfect sense. Like someone has remarked, the first thing we will do when we get to heaven is slap our foreheads and say, “of course!” In the meantime we walk by faith knowing sight is shortly to follow.

P.S. I believe the mutilation Jason is referring to is circumcision. See Galatians 5:11,12.

Steve

Speaking as a physician, the difference between circumcision (which I actually did in med school) and female genital mutilation is like the difference between apples and arsenic.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, a loyal defender of the health of children, is neutral on the subject of male circumcision, citing both the potential benefits (that are small but real) and the miniscule risk.

Female genital mutilation is universally condemned, dangerous, fraught with complication, and often forced on much older and unwilling victims.

I hope this ends the diversion, but there's a crucial distinction to be understood here.

Jason Taylor


Thank you and yes I was referring to circumcision.

Dave

I don't agree that people "seek after God" on their own, but I don't want to get into a discussion about a book I have not yet read. And I was one who questioned why missions would be so important if people didn't need the gospel for salvation. But, in another blog I read, they just mentioned a book that is an answer to inclusivism. I haven't read that book either but I am passing on the link for those who may be interested:
http://theologica.blogspot.com/2008/02/response-to-inclusivism.html

Steve

We do eventually find ourselves having to figure how God's will and God's sovereignty relate.

What has helped me is the understanding taught by R.C. and others that when the Bible speaks of God's will it can mean three possible things:

There is His preceptive will - His commands and ordinances - which humans are prone to disobey and thus His will is clearly not sovereignly enforced.

There is His decretive will ("decretive" derived from decree) which describes his sovereign will by which He decreed whatsover comes to pass, either by causing it to happen, or allowing it to happen. Thus sin is a violation of His preceptive will, but could never happen without His permitting it, so does not violate His decretive will.

In yet a third way the "will of God" refers to His disposition, according to R.C. "what pleases Him." God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, but he certainly decrees it. Classically, passages like "it is not His will that any should be lost" are interpreted as falling into this category.

This has helped me develop a perspective on some of the issues above, I hope others find it helpful as well.

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