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    "You are really cool you are married to an European!! How cooler can you be??"
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Promise Only? Jesus, the One-and-Only, is the Promise

Part of a series of articles by Dr. Jim Reitman

I must confess I just don’t get it. Some opponents of the so-called “Promise-Only gospel” seem to fear that just inviting people to “believe in Jesus” somehow blasphemes the Gospel. Yet some of its advocates seem to fear that inviting people to “accept (or receive) Jesus” won’t get the job done, either. The former insist that unless the “promise” is filled out with enough “content,” you don’t have a genuine “offer” of the Gospel. The latter are concerned that the idea of “accepting” or “receiving” implies more than simple belief in the proposition that “Jesus gives eternal life.” IMO Zane Hodges did not help the case in proposing his infamous “Desert Island Scenario,” which left some with the impression that all anyone needed was to believe in some “unspecified” Jesus with no other information available to that person than two verses (John 6:43, 47). Charges of heretical “reductionism” on the one hand are traded with charges of “theological legalism” on the other.

Building on my previous post “The Gospel in the Garden,” I would like to propose in this post that if in fact conscience is instilled by God in all humanity from Adam on as an “internal repository” for intuitive awareness, then there are three “things” or “tenets” that people are at least “intuitively aware” of as soon as they have a mature conscience. Short version:

  • 1. They are dead in trespasses and sin.
  • 2. There is some form of life after death.
  • 3. This life can only be “redeemed” by some external “Source” revealed in Creation.
When you think about it, this all makes intuitive sense; I would submit that people who patently deny any of these are lying or have a seared conscience. A 3-D gospel posits that “death” and “life” in these three tenets comprise more than just our positional destiny after physical death alone. What human hasn’t tried to replace some form of “death” with “life” from a false source? It’s simple idolatry. They have all “seen” the self-revealed God of the universe yet twisted Him into some form of idol so “they are without excuse” (Rom 1). If there were no such thing as “intuitive awareness,” most people would have an excuse because most throughout history, including now, have never heard the name of the “named” Messiah.

The “Promise-Only” is the Only Promise worth Believing for Life
The problem I have with both sides of the so-called “Crossless Gospel” debate is that IMO they ignore the Biblical principle of “judgment according to light received,” which is thoroughly intrinsic to the Gospel of John. In my last post I proposed that the “bare minimum” for light received is intuitive awareness of the three tenets above, found in narrative form in the Gospel in the Garden. In that gospel we have a “promise” from God that is not some unspecified “pie in the sky,” but rather the one and only “seed” (Gen 3:15) who can restore access to the Tree of Life through blood atonement. Paul makes this notion annoyingly clear in Galatians 3 with respect to the Abrahamic covenant: For first-century Jews, the connection of the promised “seed of Abraham” to Genesis 3:15 was completely transparent (see Gal 3:8).

Thus, from the beginning we have always had a specified “Promise-Only” gospel as the only viable alternative to idolatry for human access to the Tree of Life. So, Jesus’ allusion to the snake-on-a-stick episode in John 3:14-15 as the narrative conduit for Nicodemus’ understanding of the Gospel was the ideal way to specify a “Promise-Only” Gospel for a devout first-century Jew! For any concerned that the gospel should always present the “work” as well as the Person of that Promise, this work has always been specified in the Gospel from Genesis 3:15 on. We will find that John 3:16 is that same specified promise, even though neither the Cross nor the Resurrection nor the Deity of Christ is explicitly mentioned.

Jesus the One-and-Only
If we “think like a Rabbi” we will immediately see why this is the case in John 3:16. Let me reproduce my own translation here:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one-of-a-kind [or unique, or one-and-only] Son, that everyone believing in Him might not perish but have life everlasting (John 3:16).
We have gotten so used to “born again” (3:3, 7) and “only begotten Son” (3:16) that Jesus’ double entendres in the narrative are all but lost on us. But if we read the terms in John 3:16 against the theological backdrop John has already provided in the Prologue (1:1-18), the confusion over the intended referents is promptly clarified. I posited in the “snake-on-a-stick” post that the notion “born from above” is Jesus’ corrective when Nicodemus misconstrues it as a second “natural” birth. If we recognize Jesus is offering a new birth “from above” by “water and spirit,” then the significance of a “one-of-a-kind” Son begins to make all the sense in the world. Indeed, “only begotten Son” doesn’t make nearly as much sense when we realize that Jesus is offering everyone “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) by being “born of God” (1:13); if that is true, why then does John represent Jesus as the only begotten? Rather, John 3:16 specifies the unique nature and work of the promised Seed in Genesis 3:15, so that those who “receive” him—who “believe in His name” (i.e., his specified identity)—can also become “sons of God” (1:12).

Seen in this light, using this verse alone is anything but a “reductionistic gospel.” Even if the evangelist is clueless about narrative theology or first-century Jews, they are offering the promise of life in a specified—indeed unique—Person. That’s why the best translation of the Greek adjective monogenēs is “one-of-a-kind.” But even if we say “only begotten,” how can any rational person come away thinking anything other than that this “Son” is one special (read “unique”) dude? This is not some “Jesus” you can find on the streets of Mexico city (or Laredo, Texas, for that matter, where I was born and raised with lots of Jesus’s around), as feared by some who oppose the so-called “Promise-only” Gospel from single verses in John. Rational people are not as stupid as they are willfully ignorant, and sincere evangelists will be attentive to people misconstruing the message, clarifying as much as they themselves understand and time allows. Plus, the Holy Spirit must be involved, so those who think we send people to hell if we mess up out of ignorance are just “half-pelicans” (with a tip-o-the-hat to KC and our very own Little Miss Missy :-). I will deal with “half-pelicans” later; it is seriously disturbing.

In what respect then is this Person “one-of-a-kind”? (An excellent resource for the ensuing discussion is Köstenberger and Swain, Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity in John’s Gospel, IVP 2008.)

The Deity of Christ
When I began to study John 3:16 in light of the so-called “Crossless Gospel” debate I was surprised to find that the most explicit thing about the verse is not the Cross but the Deity of Christ. In context, the Greek specifier monogenēs is essentially framed in neon lights, making it unambiguously clear that Deity is what John is alluding to with that term. Right off the bat, the Prologue equates the Word with God (1:1-3) and concludes, “the one-of-a-kind God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained Him” (1:18). That this is exactly the same person as the “Word made flesh” is undeniable, since he is also described as “the one-of-a-kind from the Father” (1:14). Wow. So anyone familiar with Biblical narrative (e.g., any first-century Jew) who read or heard the Gospel of John from 1:1 to 3:16 would have absolutely no doubt that John depicts Jesus first and foremost as God incarnate and Son of the Father. Will they believe John…that is to say, John’s testimony about Jesus? This is the whole basis for the imagery of the Light in 1:4-12 and what people do with Him—the subject of our next post.)

The Cross of Christ
Where then is the Cross? We have already broached this in the “snake-on-a-stick” post, where I suggested that the notion of blood atonement inheres in the imagery of 3:14-15 as it taps into Torah from a Rabbinic mindset. Now in 3:16, the specifier monogenēs makes yet another unambiguous connection to Torah. Why did John use that pesky word anyway—one that takes four English words to translate accurately? The answer is rooted in the narrative of Genesis 22. Any first-century Jew worth his salt would have been intimately familiar with the sacrifice of Isaac, where God tells Abraham to “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering….” And any first-century Jew would have known that “There Will Be Blood” (with a tip-o-the-hat to Easygoer), because that’s how Torah describes the preparation for a burnt offering (Leviticus 4—not for the faint-hearted!). The point for original readers is not that Isaac’s sacrifice foreshadowed the Cross (which it did), but that he was to be a ransom of blood atonement for sin.

It would be obvious to any first-century Jew that Isaac was not Abraham’s “only” son. The word translated “only” in Gen 22:2 literally means “unique” in context—he is the unique son of promise (21:12), exactly like Jesus. There is simply no other OT image one could conjure up as an appropriate referent for the descriptor in 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18. John used the one word in 3:16 that could designate Jesus as both God and the unique Son of the Father, while also setting apart that same unique Son, who is in the “bosom” of the Father (1:18, a clear image of deep paternal love for the Son, cf. 13:23) as a blood sacrifice with the same tangible sense of foreboding conveyed in Genesis 22. The same love of Abraham for his unique son is attested in the Greek (LXX) of Gen 22:2, which reads “beloved” instead of the Hebrew “only.” There can thus be no doubt that John intended 3:16 to scream both Deity and blood atonement with the monogenēs Son. But what if the evangelist using 3:16 doesn’t know this?

What We Do with “Half-Pelicans”
My facetious allusion to Semi-Pelagianism is only partly tongue-in-cheek. There are plenty of “half-pelicans” on both sides of the so-called “Crossless Gospel” controversy. What I mean by invoking this theological “label” is the pejorative sense it implies: A Semi-Pelagian is someone who allegedly diminishes God’s sovereignty in determining the destiny of humans of by over-emphasizing human responsibility within God’s sovereign decree. (Please correct me, KC and/or Bobby, if I am not less than completely accurate in my definition, but it won’t matter to the point I’m attempting to make here.) I like “half-pelicans” for this reason: They are not very likely to underestimate the importance of human free will in the saving transaction that occurs when someone believes in Jesus for eternal life. But here is the problem, as I see it:

On one side of the controversy, they tie heavy loads on people who don’t get the Gospel “exactly right” because “we are sending people to hell.” This is absurd. What they are claiming is that someone’s eternal destiny is contingent on including exactly the precise elements of Person and Work in the Gospel presentation, because people can’t be saved unless they know the details of Christ’s Deity and/or the Cross or Resurrection. Other than terribly confusing the object of faith with the basis of salvation, the faulty logic here is that “God can’t use that” and it completely ignores the importance of the drawing efficacy of Jesus (John 12:32) and—after his ascent—the Holy Spirit (16:8-11)! People are still held accountable by conscience for what light they have received, regardless of “how good a job” the evangelist has done. God does use this routinely, as his megaphone, the Holy Spirit, speaks into human conscience. People are either willing or they are not—God honors human free will, and his sovereignty is never jeopardized by any “failure” of the evangelist. This is the subject of my next post.

On the other side, we have people who bite their nails out of fear that a three-dimensional gospel (“receiving” Jesus) will lead to Lordship Salvation in one form or another. This is equally absurd. If we preach a “real” gospel, the message will be faith alone in Christ alone, no works of our own. That means no works. Even if the evangelist is an Arminian, a hyper-Calvinist or some other kind of “LS-er,” the person who trusts in [the Biblical] Jesus alone by faith alone has eternal life. I believe they should hear a 3-D gospel, but that depends on where the person is who receives the message. I believe our focus has been heavily skewed towards imputation by the legacy of the Reformation and that the clear responsibility of the Body of Christ is to present a 3-D gospel in line with all the iterations of the Great Commission, which is rooted in identification with Christ. Why not immediately present the implications of our identification—Christ “working” in us by “mutual consent”? What did Jesus offer?

So, when confronted by “half-pelicans,” try to assuage their anxiety, keep telling people about Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit do his thing with God-given conscience. In what may be the most important guide to evangelism in the NT, we hear this regarding the “heart” of the evangelist: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).


Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Jim you said:

. . . God honors human free will, and his sovereignty is never jeopardized by any “failure” of the evangelist.


. . . I believe our focus has been heavily skewed towards imputation by the legacy of the Reformation and that the clear responsibility of the Body of Christ is to present a 3-D gospel in line with all the iterations of the Great Commission, which is rooted in identification with Christ. Why not immediately present the implications of our identification—Christ “working” in us by “mutual consent”? What did Jesus offer?

On the first quote:

1.) What do you mean by 'free-will'?

2.) And 'how' does God honor it?

On the second quote:

1.) I agree that we need to frame imputation talk with participation (your identification) language.

2.) BUT, I see a missing link in your theologic; viz. between what you're saying on 'free-will' and what you're saying on 'identification'.


I think what's missing, christologically, in your points is that you're not grounding your focus in Christ --- you are still speaking of humanity 'apart from Christ', you are still thinking 'forensically' and 'imputationally'.

I think you need to take more seriously the implications of the homoosion, hypostatic union and spiritual union. I think that you need to ground discussion on 'free-will' and such in Christ's identification with us, and to take serious what it means for Him to have assumed humanity. I think until you do that, even with good intentions, your desire to reframe salvation discussion through 'identification' grammar will not fly.

My 2 cents.

10/30/2009 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Jim, I appreciate your explanation of the half-pelican. :)

I think I understand this post perfectly, but completely miss the points Bobby is making. But I'm still looking up some of those words, Bobby. ;)

I look forward to every comment notificiation!

10/30/2009 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Whoa, hi Missy! You slipped in just as I was about to push the "publish" button.

Well, Bobster, let's see how committed you are to your own "theologic." ;-) It sounds like you question the standard notion of human free will. That would be consistent with the doctrine of irresistible grace, to which I do not hold. I have always felt a little of that tension in your responses whenever the question of our identification or participation in Christ has come up on other threads. Give me some Scripture, Bro.

I implied what I mean by "free will": "by mutual consent." This is clearly depicted in terms of identification/participation in John 14:21, 23 ("Christ in you") and then fleshed out in the Vine and the branches ("you in Christ"). The branch has a choice of whether to abide or not to abide in just about everything John writes regarding our identification/participation with Christ, especially in the First Epistle, which is of course addressed throughout to believers.

Every Greek imperative in the NT (as well as the entire OT metanarrative) is based on the premise that believers have a choice of whether to respond to the lead of the Holy Spirit or not. And He is the voice of Christ in us, speaking into our consciences in response to our choices, especially how we treat the brethren (cf. esp. 1 Jn 3:18-22). (The latter point is the clear implication of Tim's ecclesiological reflection last night in the previous comment thread.)

I think the test of whether it will "fly" is not whether I take more seriously the theological constructs you listed, but rather: (1) Scripture, contextually understood; and (2) [some will call me a heretic, again] our experience in the community of the Body of Christ. These two are "mutually informing," as Tim implied in that same post, and this has certainly been my own experience in "understanding" the true telos of Scripture: our progressive conformity to the image of Christ as we fulfill His Creation commission. Now that's something I can "identify" with. :-)

10/30/2009 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Forgot to answer the "How does God honor it?" question.

God graciously grants those whom he calls by his own name the privilege of participating in His Kingdom [PD, :)] purposes. We can choose to participate or not. When we do so, especially if it involves suffering, he "honors" us with more glory (2 Cor 4:16-18) which is evident in our increasing "confidence before him" both now and at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Jn 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14; 2 Cor 5:10).

When we choose not to participate, he leaves us to suffer the consequences of our own choice, which is always some kind of "death" or other. Since God is not bound by time or space, he is not bound by human choices in the accomplishment of his eternal purposes: They will be accomplished and they will involve the free participation by humans throughout "salvation history, simply because that's how he designed it.

Viewed from the human standpoint, bound by time and space, we see contingency. Viewed from God's sovereign "position," there is no contingency, so the monkey is off our "half pelican" backs, and we can live in Christ with full freedom of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17).

10/30/2009 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Rose~ said...

Hi Jim, KC, Bobby and Missy.
What a great group and awesome discussion! I have only skimmed the other articles, but I took the time to read this one. It is great! You are a good writer; I look forward to giving your book a more complete reading.

Two things:
you said:
When I began to study John 3:16 in light of the so-called “Crossless Gospel” debate I was surprised to find that the most explicit thing about the verse is not the Cross but the Deity of Christ.

This has been something that has glared at me a bit too for a while. John's gospel overall and in this verse gives me the chills for this reason and always has. It presents Christ in His awesome Person and it is amazing!

Also - you talk about "receiving" Christ and you know you are speaking my language. I have been accused of being too nebulous in that by both sides of the debate. It isn't specific and concrete enough and there is a fear that someone will question whether they have done the right thing. I am sensitive to those concerns.

I did enjoy reading your post. I think all could learn from you in your doctrine and the way you conduct yourself in this venue. I respect you a lot.

I think if you had a chance to say this at the other blog it would have been a great discussion there too. Thank goodness for friendly places.

Thanks, KC!

10/30/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Thanks, Rose; I was wondering when you'd recover from your Beach Boys Beach Blanket Party over at your place.

As to the "other blog," it has sure been nice here to give my undistracted attention to such a crucial issue in the hands of the gracious KC, but I do plan on posting a note over there when I get close to concluding. No theology worth its salt can last very long without weathering the opposition, and I appreciate what Bobby is doing, because it can only sharpen us when it comes from a trusted friend.

There's certainly still more to be said about "receiving" Christ in a 3-D gospel, as I will probably do in a couple more posts, and I intend to wrap up with the notion of "reigning in righteousness" as it relates to this same gospel.

10/30/2009 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Okay, Jim,

I've read your response; I'm on my way to get a CT scan (fun). I'll formulate my response as I'm getting radiated ;-); and then provide you with a nuclear rejoinder when I get back :-).


10/30/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

That don't sound good :(

Maybe all they'll find is "sponge"!


;-D )))))))

(I can use gallows humor like that, because I'm a doctor, u c :-)

10/30/2009 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

No, no good!

I'll let you know more about it via email.

And I'll be responding to your response here later; I'm late for work.

Thanks Doc.

10/30/2009 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Well, folks, who's up for some prayer?

10/30/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Many prayers here Bobby.

10/30/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

You got 'em from me, too, Bobby.

10/30/2009 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger David Wyatt said...

Me too, bro. Bobby.

Bro. Jim, thank you for taking the time to formulate these conepts. I believe there is merit. Certainly something to think on. Praise God for Jesus!

10/30/2009 11:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Tim Nichols said...


You lost me, brother. Not sure what aspect of Christ's assuming humanity it is that you think is missing. Seems Jim knows where you're coming from, though, so I'm hoping as the discussion continues I'll be able to catch up.

Praying for an accurate test, and good news from it.


The half-pelican thing is just killing me. I laugh every single time it comes up again -- thanks!

10/31/2009 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...


I’m sorry I’ve not been able to participate this week, as I would have liked. I’ve really been blessed in all your articles and the discussion. This is a great work brother. I’m truly grateful for your effort in this and in all you’ve been doing here online these past months and I look forward more.

I trust Bobby will correct me if I’m wrong but I think he’s identified the point where Scottish theology plugs into your soteriology, which IMO will provide an extremely solid framework around it. Most here know I detest Systematic Theology for its use as a rule for fellowship but I have to admit that I’m really warming up to what I’ve learned of this so far. The BIG difference is that it begins with, ends with, and is totally centered on Christ. As I see it Scottish Theology rises above the fray in much the same way your soteriology does.

Missy, Tim,

I hold that being “half-pelican” is like being “half-pregnant”. ;-) In truth I agree with Bobby in spirit on this I just find the term semi-Pelagian a misnomer.

10/31/2009 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

I’m going to go out a limb and try to address the ”free will” issue. ;-)

It seems to me there are two terms in use here that might be misleading. The second of the two brought out in this article is the term “free will”. The first pertains to the meaning of ”intuitive” and was addressed in the first article of this series.

Jim stated that, “… humans are capable of such awareness [of the three basic tenets] at the level of conscience, but that the content of such awareness depends on God's revelation, which is consummated in the Word Himself.”.

Here we see that human capacity lacks the impotence (read “content”) to “mutually consent” (read “freely will”) to do God’s will apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ (the power of God to salvation). We are able to believe God but apart from the Truth we can only believe lies until when, by His grace, God reveals Christ. (From here all arguments concerning to whom Christ is revealed are disposed quite nicely within Scottish Theology, IMO, based on a valid understanding of election).

From this I would say the term ”freed will” better expresses our situation and that ”capacity” might be less confusing than using intuitive to describe our God given ability.

10/31/2009 04:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Thanks for your prayers, y'all; I'll give an update when I find out more . . . I'm hoping that I'm over-reacting (which would be within my normal mode of operation ;-).

And I'll be back to answer Jim. Nice points on free-will, Kc. There has been a distinction made, historically, between 'free-will' and 'choice'; I think your points allude to this distinction, Kc . . . and I agree. Sweet 'Scottish Theology' ;-)!

10/31/2009 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Thanks for the explanation, KC.

I am assuming that Scottish Theology is reference to Torrence?

10/31/2009 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...

Bobby, thanks. I'm looking forward to your reply and trusting God for a good report.

Missy, I'm just thankful it somehow seemed to explain! ;-)

From what I get from Bobby and others it would seem Torrence was one of its strongest advocates.

10/31/2009 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

KC et al.,

Let me say first that I think God has answered our prayers for Bobby, at least in part. Thank you all for the most important part of the discussion, at least for now.

As to the distinctions being made concerning "intuitive awareness" and "free will," I think you are reading more than I intended into what I was referencing. That's one problem with communicating at the theological level: Certain terms "bring" with them a whole range of nuance that may or may not be intended by the "speaker."

My basic thesis regarding "intuitive awareness" has to do with the God-given "capacity" of conscience as a "repository" or "vessel" that contains the "content" of revealed truth in one form or another. And in this regard, I think theologians have made too much of the distinction between "general" and "special" revelation and who can get saved by what "content."

The question of what revelation ("light," in Johannine terms) we can "know" within our consciences ("intuitive awareness") is separate from the notion of "free will" in the way I am using it. My next post will be dealing specifically with the two notions of "light" and "volition" and thus what we are "willing" to "do" with light when it is presented to us. I hope my conclusions will come more from GJohn than my own theological preunderstanding.

But I think I see the problem I inadvertently introduced when I used the term "mutual consent." I was not referring to the implications of "mutual consent" in the "saving transaction" but rather the implications as a result of the "saving transaction": the role our free will plays after we are saved. While I do believe that free will does play a role in "receiving" Christ (next post), my point was that if we present a 3-D gospel "up front," we are inviting people to full participation in what Christ is up to in the world and not just to "populate heaven." Remember, the name of the series is "A 3-D Gospel for a Promised 3-D Redemption."

So, when KC talks about a "freed will" he seems to be referencing a notion like Luther's "Bondage of the Will," and I completely agree with his take on that. The will can never "do good" until it is "freed" to do so by Christ in us. I see that as separate from what happens when we are invited to "receive" an offer, especially according to the narrative in John. Hence, the issue of "mutual consent" has only to do with the "Vine" and "branches"---a Messiah who invites believers as "centers of volition" to participate with him in fulfilling his commission to redeem the world.

I doubt that clarifies the whole thing, but thanks for raising the issue, KC. On what happens with the "will" in response to the gospel invitation, I am trying my best to stick to the concepts that emerge from the text in GJohn and will attempt to do so in my next post.

10/31/2009 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger Kc said...


Thanks so much for the update. I thank God that what’s known on Bobby is good so far. Our prayers will continue.

I trust your word that I’ve read too much into your terms and I’m confident I’ll gain a better understanding as you progress. I totally agree with your thoughts on special and general revelation and especially on the “content” of “light” required for salvation.

I’m anxious (as always) to read your next article. I don’t yet see any distinction regarding our will at any point in our 3-D salvation. I would understand that from the time we first do the work of God (John 6:29) and believe (1-D) on throughout this life (2-D) that we are “being” saved by grace through faith up until we are fully united with Christ (3-D) and that our faith is not imposed but rather incumbent on us.

10/31/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Okay! Jim, I think I'm beginning to more fully grasp what you are meaning here by "3-D Gospel."

This is the potential I saw in the beginning of my foray into FG, an appeal to LS that seemed to actually deal with the rest of scripture. Other teachers seemed to ignore some of scripture that really does appear to carry requirements of works to most laymen. I needed more than fluff and feelings to reconcile faith and works in relation to one another. When it came down to it, though, FG seemed to implode (just believe IN eternal life and you got it) or explode (there's some "works" required, just not as many as you thought).

What I appreciate most in this discussion is that some terms and concepts that carry weight in certain theologies aren't being tossed out simply because it's from "the other side." These things are being considered and even accepted when found to be in line with scripture. I appreciate that it appears to this theo-ignorant girl that your (communal) every-word is not crafted to dispute the other simply because they camp in a different theological park.

Keep it up!

P.S. - Just as I was beginning to envy you theo-experts, I realized I'm really happy to be theo-ignorant. I think I'm gonna come up with "alternative" names to some terms like half-pelicans.

10/31/2009 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Yes, KC. That's substantially where I'm headed. The issue of the "exercise" of free will in an unbeliever (as you aptly alluded to John 6:29) and how that relates to the exercise of free will in a believer (I would point to places like John 14:21, 23) is of interest to me theologically, but it is crucial in GJohn as we explore John's "language of volition," including terms like "receive," "be willing," and "come" (next post).

And yes, Missy, it is so freeing to take a "neutral" stance toward the insights that people bring from their different theo-camps and search them for "goodness" through "narrative" lenses (not exclusively, as Tim pointed out, but very importantly nonetheless).

As to the terminology you have brought to the table, bless you for shaking things up with your "half pelicans." At least no one can accuse us of reading tired old theology into the terms we use! Maybe we all need to keep mindful of our tendency to defend a particular theology at the risk of viewing Scripture through those same [smudged] lenses.

10/31/2009 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim Nichols said...


In keeping with your latest, don't forget, half-pelican is also half Australian.

Thanks for the clarification. I had noticed as I was reading this article that it was framed in terms of the believer's relationship to Christ. But by the time I got down into the comment thread a day later, it had slipped my teflon mind.

10/31/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Thank you all for your prayers. Jim is right, I think they have been answered (and Jim, MD was apart of that). Anybody who says blogging is a waste of time (although it can be) is in the wrong 'sphere'.


With Jim's further clarification on free-will as relative to believers, I am 'free' to move on from that (I think he is right on that).

As far as what Jim is saying on intuitive knowledge, this sounds very similar to John Calvin's sensus divinitatis (Sense of the Divine). In theology this is a source of much debate, esp. between folks like Barth/Torrance and Emil Brunner (the debate has to do with "how much" we can know about God from nature [natural theology]. For further study I have two guest posts up by Dr Myk Habets over at my other blog on this very issue: Torrance on and Beyond Barth and Thomas Torrance's Framing of Natural Theology through John Calvin & Karl Barth. If you read these, just put your thinking caps on; and you'll be fine :-).

10/31/2009 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

**continued comment**

Jim said somewhere back up there:

. . . It sounds like you question the standard notion of human free will. That would be consistent with the doctrine of irresistible grace, to which I do not hold. I have always felt a little of that tension in your responses whenever the question of our identification or participation in Christ has come up on other threads. Give me some Scripture, Bro.

Okay, Jn 1.14;18; 14:7ff; Jn 17; Rom. 6.1-4 & 8.3ff; II Cor. 5.17,21; Heb. 2.10ff; Col. 1.15ff; I Cor. 6.17; Eph. 2.1ff; Rom. 5.6,8 etc.

I see two unions with Christ in all of these passages. One union is objective ('carnal union') and the other is subjective ('spiritual'); and both unions are fully realized in Christ for us. The Incarnation and hypostatic union in Christ, respectively, imply that Jesus became real humanity (or assumed it); and that He did this as man's representative (better, man's mediator I Tim. 2.5). If this is so, then since there is only one kind of humanity for Christ to assume, then he assumed all of our humanity (universal and objective -- carnal union). Beyond this, he also had spiritual union by the Holy Spirit with the Father (he was truly reconciled to the Father as true man the 'image of God'). It is as we participate through faith by the Spirit that we also experience this 'spiritual union' which is totally grounded in the 'firstborn over all creation' (Col. 1.15). So the first union with Christ, carnal, is true of all humanity (all humanity is oriented to God through Christ as the firstborn over all creation --- He is supreme); but not all are so oriented spiritually. This leads to the point by Jim on irresistable grace.

I don't really like that language either --- because it makes grace sound like its a quality and not a person. I believe grace is a relational reality personified in Jesus (i.e. as God's gift to man, like truth Jn 14.6 and Jesus). Here's where the tension, that Jim perceived comes in; I think in one way all can be said to be elect, since Christ died for all [carnal union] (i.e. tied to Christ's election, remembering the centrality of His humanity for us); the question then becomes why some reject what Christ has done --- and all I can say is that 'we don't know' (it's as inexplicable as the Fall). Those who reject spiritual union are the 'reprobate'; the important thing to bear in mind here is Col. 1.15ff, and what it means for Christ to be the firstborn of the dead. When people reject Christ it's not outside of Christ, but within Christ and the judgement of His Christ. The wrath they experience is directly related to what some have called 'Gospel-wrath'.

So the tension is resolved by my just pleading ignorance on 'why' people reject Christ; but pleading insight on 'why' folks don't --- which is to say, we know people do experience full union with Christ (carnal and spiritual) because of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16).

Instead of creating a dichotomy between God and humanity (as is typically done, which is what I was getting at before); I think we need to ground all of this kind of discussion in the 'single-person' of Jesus Christ (this way we have the divine-human in communion in Christ). It is in this way that we can frame this whole discussion "In Christ" (a la Paul); if we don't do this, then we aren't really taking the supremacy of Christ over all of creation seriously.

I hope that helps clarify further. It is hard to communicate this all in a combox.

10/31/2009 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Thanks, Bobby, that helps a lot, although the jargon is kind of difficult (not blaming you, man, it's part of the legacy of dogmatics---what KC decried above in the term "systematic theology").

This may sound surprising to some, but I think I actually agree with you here. It is not yet the place to more fully develop the concept of what you are calling our "carnal" union in Christ, but it has everything to do with universal atonement, and I intend to try my best to flesh this whole thing out by tying it to a specific text, Romans 5:12-21, which is where I wanted to leave us in this series, anyway.

I've spent literally hundreds of hours on this passage in the last 27 years, and I think it proves Bobby's point better than any other I can think of. I'm hoping we can come up with a better nomenclature, though. :-)

10/31/2009 04:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Cool, I look forward to seeing your work on Rom 5.

I'm more concerned, really, with the concepts than nomenclature; so no problems with that. Although I would suggest that any nomenclature we choose to use will still be something that folks will have to learn and adopt/own for themselves. The lang. I used was borrowed from Torrance, of course (and he borrowed it from Scottish guys);-).

The interesting thing about vocab and language, to me is; is that whether its systematics or biblical studies (or the Bible itself) there are sets of technical terms that all must be learned. So in some sense nomenclature can be reduced to style and personal preference --- albeit some can be more staightforward and thus explanatory than other lang.

I look forward to the unfolding of the series.

10/31/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

Hey Guys, and Gals!

I'm really thankful Bobby that your situation is not dire. I really enjoyed reading your blog last night too: It really hit home.

I have been enjoying the articles (Jim) and discussion (all). I've been studying Hebrews 12 and Romans 5-8 lately and Galations is always a channel buoy for me. I had to go back to the beginning of this project to review what is meant by "3-D".
I appreciate what KC had to say:

I would understand that from the time we first do the work of God (John 6:29) and believe (1-D) on throughout this life (2-D) that we are “being” saved by grace through faith up until we are fully united with Christ (3-D) and that our faith is not imposed but rather incumbent on us.

On this All Hallows Eve, I called Galations a channel buoy:
Oh foolish Galations, who
hath BEWITCHED You [sound effects-ghost]that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ Hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
This onely would I learne of you,
received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Gal 3

Now against this I get this from Romans 7:24-25
O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? [more ghosts]
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, with mind I myself serve the Law of God: But with the flesh, the law of sin.

This and nearby passages in Paul's Romans discourse display the impotence of the law to produce Godliness, yet still He says "with the mind I serve the law of God"
I guess this would fit into a discussion of the second dimension to the Gospel.

Bobby, in your blog "AFFECTIVE DEVOTIONS", you open with this:
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11. For we who are alive always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. ~II Corinthians 4:10, 11

Wow! This passage never struck me like this before.

I don't know if this posting is in the right thread but I know that the power of the 2nd D Gospel is in those words. By the Grace of God, I intend to find out.

Peace I give unto. My Peace I Leave with you... John 14:27


10/31/2009 08:44:00 PM  
Blogger Rs Sanchike said...

Nice Blog.

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