Is Salvation a Decision?

John Piper recently told a group of college students that “salvation is not a decision.”

Reactions here at SI were, shall we say, mixed. Some understood Piper to be saying something horrible for the worst of reasons; others took him to be saying something great for the best of reasons, and a few in between suggested that while the statement itself was likely to cause confusion, it is not hard to imagine good reasons for saying it.

In all of the flying feathers, the most important question seemed to get lost: is “salvation” properly characterized as “a decision”? Let’s table the “What did Piper mean?” question and consider the bigger one.

How we answer that question depends on two vital factors: (1) how we define the terms (“salvation” and “decision”) and (2) what we believe about salvation. Sadly, a third factor seems to drive most of the discussion: (3) how much pent up hostility we have toward Reformed or non-Reformed views of the human and divine in the saving of children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Intense passion against “Calvinism” or “Arminianism,” or “monergism” or “synergism” (quotes intentional, since understandings of these terms vary widely) results in haste to blame one “ism” or the other for every point of disagreement in the doctrine of salvation.

In reality, most who care at all about a question like “Is salvation a decision?” believe nearly all of the same things about “salvation,” but have strong opinions about which features ought to be emphasized and how they ought to be expressed. But because we’re so passionate about them, these relatively small differences lead us to misconstrue what others are saying—and, too often, lead to conflict over what words mean rather than about the substance of our differences.

Depending on how we define the terms, “salvation” both is and is not “a decision.” Since both “salvation” and “decision” are ambiguous terms (they may be defined in more than one way), many combinations of meaning are possible in the statement “salvation is not a decision.”1

Some ways salvation is not a decision

What is salvation? It’s hard to improve on J. I. Packer’s introductory definition in Concise Theology:

The master theme of the Christian gospel is salvation. Salvation is a picture-word of wide application that expresses the idea of rescue from jeopardy and misery into a state of safety. The gospel proclaims that the God who saved Israel from Egypt, Jonah from the fish’s belly, the psalmist from death, and the soldiers from drowning (Exod. 15:2; Jon. 2:9; Ps. 116:6; Acts 27:31), saves all who trust Christ from sin and sin’s consequences.

Though Packer’s theology is Reformed, nothing in this description of salvation is contrary to non-Reformed views. Regardless of how a sinner comes to be a saved person, all Christians believe God does the actual saving.

So if we define “salvation” as a delivering act of God, how do we define “decision”? We can easily group the possible understandings of “decision” under two headings: decisions of God and decisions of man.

If we start with the latter, we arrive at this:

In the sense that God is the one who saves and man does not decide for Him, salvation is not a decision.

Some non-Calvinists may object at first to the phrase “man does not decide for Him,” but there is really no objection to this in Arminian theology or even Pelagian. Though views of salvation vary regarding the sequence of events and what conditions trigger God’s decision to save, no serious student of Scripture teaches that God’s will is replaced by man’s in the saving moment and God saves like some sort of puppet.

God decides to save and then saves. Salvation is certainly not a decision if we mean that God’s deliverance is a decision of man.

Here, even the definition of “is” becomes important.2 If we’re being sloppy, we might say “is a decision” when we mean “results from a decision.” A whole lot of doctrinal confusion would be cleared up if we’d say what we mean (and then if people would read and listen precisely!).

But even if we change “is” to “results from,” there is a sense in which salvation is not (does not result from) a decision (of man).

Suppose one of my kids leaves a toy (or, more likely, a book) in a poorly lit place where I tend to walk early in the morning, and I stub my toe. What caused me to stub my toe? Under those conditions, I’m likely to identify the child who left the book “where it doesn’t belong” as the cause of my pain. But is that entirely true? Someone might say the cause was the impact of my toe on the object, or the laws of physics, or the firing of neurons in my body—or even my own decision to put my foot in that particular spot.

You could accurately deny that any one of these things was “the cause” of my pain. It depends on what you want to emphasize.3

What’s certain is that there is no reasonable way to construe God’s deliverance of a sinner as being fully caused by the sinner, and to the extent that this is what’s being denied, even a Pelagian could say “salvation is not a decision.”

If we define “decision” a bit more narrowly, the truth that “salvation is not a decision” in this sense becomes even more clear.

Suppose that by “decision,” we mean what sinners do on their own as they wisely see the truth of the gospel and the reality of their need. Most (though too few!) would say such decisions do not exist. Most would deny that salvation is that kind of decision. And suppose we use “decision” to mean something impulsive and superficial a person does only in response to a series of sad or scary stories or dramatic appeals (or long, pleading invitations) and later gives little thought to. Who would say “salvation is a decision” in that sense?

One way salvation is a decision

It’s important to see how “salvation” and “decision” (and “is”) can be defined in ways that accurately deny that salvation is a decision. It’s also important to see some ways in which it’s true that salvation is a decision.

What if, by “salvation,” we mean “conversion”? Depending on how far back you go into the history of theology, “conversion” refers either to the same thing as regeneration, or specifically to the human element in regeneration. I imagine some shouting at their screens right now: “Human element? There is no human element!” But consider the observations of a couple of respected authorities.

The first is from the glossary of William G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. Though added by editors, the entry accurately summarizes some important distinctions from a Reformed point of view.

conversion Latin converse, viewed by the older theologians as either passive or active. Passive conversion (conversio passiva) refers to the habit or disposition, implanted by God, to repent and believe in Christ as Savior. Active conversion (conversio activa) is the actual turning of the sinner in repentance and faith in Christ. Passive conversion is also termed “regeneration” because it involves the renewal of the sinner’s will. Active conversion, or the actual turning of the sinner to Christ, is often termed simply “conversion” without any additional qualifications. Shedd himself adopts the distinct terms regeneration and conversion in his own discussion of the matter, believing that the separate designations are less prone to confusion.4

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seems to agree.

What do we mean by conversion? It is the first exercise of the new nature in ceasing from old forms of life and starting a new life. It is the first action of the regenerate soul in moving from something to something. The very term suggests that: conversion means a turning from one thing to another. The term is not used very frequently in the Scriptures but the truth which the word connotes and represents appears constantly.5

Earlier, Lloyd-Jones observes,

So as we consider what we mean by regeneration, the one important thing, it seems to me, is that we must differentiate it from conversion. And yet how frequently they are confused. But regeneration is not conversion and for this reason: conversion is something that we do whereas regeneration, as I shall show you, is something that is done to us by God.6

Charles Hodge’s discussion is lengthy and fascinating. A small sample will have to do here. After quoting a portion from Turretin, Hodge observes,

Here as was common with the writers of that age, Turrettin includes under “conversion,” what is now more frequently distinguished under the two heads of regeneration and conversion. The former including what the Spirit does in the soul, and the latter what the sinner, under his influence, is induced to do. With his usual clearness he refers what is now meant by regeneration to the physical operation of the Spirit; and all that belongs to conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, to the mediate influence of the Holy Ghost through the truth.7

How exactly conversion relates to repentance is another discussion. My point is that even in genuinely Reformed soteriology, there is a moment when a sinner does something, and it would be absurd to argue that he does it without making a choice to do so. Regardless of how “free” or “not free” we see that choice, it remains a choice. In the Reformed understanding, God ensures the decision, but the sinner is still the subject who performs the action of some verbs. The sinner repents. The sinner believes.

In the sense that “salvation” is a sinner’s turning to God in repentant faith, salvation is a decision.

Arguably, this is the only sense in which Scripture allows us to affirm that “salvation is a decision.” But let’s not neglect the point or qualify it to death.

Though the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of what happens in the moment one passes from death to life (John 5:24) is often caricatured as a sequence of events in which an automaton is remote-controlled from the broad road of destruction onto the narrow way (and those who hold that view often beg for the caricature by overstating their own position), we can’t reasonably understand the NT to teach that the sinner coming to Christ never actually does anything.

Clearly, he does not “work” (Eph. 2:8, Rom. 4:5), but he does repent. He does believe. He does “decide” in that sense.

My plea to all of us who have an interest in salvation doctrine (and there ought to be many more than there are) is that we reflect thoughtfully on these questions and seek accurate understanding, not only of Scripture, but also of what the people we disagree with really believe.

Notes

1 Even if we suppose each of these terms can only be understood in only two ways, that produces four possible meanings of when the two are combined (S1 and D1, S1 and D2, S2 and D1, S2 and D2).

2 Seems Clintonian, I know, but he was not entirely wrong to suggest that people mean different things by “is.”

3 Aristotle would divide the possibilities into formal cause, material cause, efficient cause and final cause. These are well worth reading up on for thinking clearly about causes and results.

4 Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.) (953). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

5 Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (117–118). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.

6 Lloyd-Jones, 77.

7 Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 2: Systematic Theology (686). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Hodge continues with a discussion of Owen on this point also.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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There are 98 Comments

x_delete_jhowell's picture

Thanks Aaron, and again, as usual, you have carefully, succinctly and LOGICALLY caused me to think with a desire to become more precise in my expression toward others and in my listening to others.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks. This is helpful. "Salvation" is a big word, and needs to be defined more carefully. It is often used as a synonym for regeneration (or the new birth), but the Bible uses it more broadly. Are we talking about: 1) Salvation past? (regeneration) 2) Salvation present? (progressive sanctification) or, 3) Salvation future? (final redemption, glorification)

Is salvation a decision? No. Does salvation include a decision? Yes. Does salvation include many decisions? Yes, if, you are using salvation in the broader sense.

Does a decision cause regeneration? No. Does regeneration cause a decision? Yes.

Great subject. Thanks, Aaron, for keeping us thinking Biblically.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron, this is well written and makes some valid points. But the problem with Piper's presentation and, to a lesser degree yours, is a failure to distinguish between truth and whole truth.

To say that salvation is not a decision will be understood by most as saying that we make no decision. If we said, "salvation is not only or mostly a decision," that would be correct.

I believe it is correct to say that regeneration is not a decision, as you quote Jones above.

When a partial (and even mostly true) idea is presented as the whole truth, that is sloppy at best.

What really disturbs me, however, is the growing idea that we are saved by FAITHFULNESS (how we subjectively obtain the benefits of the atonement). We are saved by true faith, and that true faith issues forth faithfulness, but it is not the faithfulness that saves us. It only indicates or makes clear that we have experienced a punctiliar genuine faith. Faithfulness helps distinguish between true and false faith.
While Piper clearly embraces salvation by faith, his recent comments almost suggest otherwise, or could be interpreted as moving in that direction. By saying that salvation is not a decision, he is weakening the punctiliar concept.

"The Midrash Detective"

ChrisS's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Does a decision cause regeneration? No. Does regeneration cause a decision? Yes.

So then, can ANYONE receive regeneration? (Or does that question go beyond the scope of this thread?)

DavidO's picture

ChrisS wrote:
So then, can ANYONE receive regeneration?

Chris,

In the year 532 AD there was born a native american in the region of North America we now call Wyoming. He lived and died without ever once hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could he have received regeneration? What decision should he have made?

ChrisS's picture

DavidO wrote:
ChrisS wrote:
So then, can ANYONE receive regeneration?

Chris,

In the year 532 AD there was born a native american in the region of North America we now call Wyoming. He lived and died without ever once hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could he have received regeneration? What decision should he have made?

Exactly, great questions. Off the top of my head, I would say 8 people exited the ark, with the responsibility to follow God, and having clearly seen Him work. AD 532 is a long time from them, yet the responsibility of that native American traces back to that native American's father, and his father, and so on back. If an unbeliever would honestly ask me that question, my reply would be "What about you?", seeing that the opportunity to share Christ had come about. If that person's salvation depends on a complete and full understanding and acceptance of what happened to that native American, then I will need to do a better personal job of making sure Christ is the clear scandalon.

If I never ever tell my son about Christ, and he lives in a box (with air holes, of course) ;0 , and is forever prevented from hearing the Gospel, is he responsible to God and the appointed Hebrews 9:27 judgment? Does God really desire him to be saved? Will He do something about it if I won't?

JD Miller's picture

I loved this quote from Aaron:

"In reality, most who care at all about a question like “Is salvation a decision?” believe nearly all of the same things about “salvation,” but have strong opinions about which features ought to be emphasized and how they ought to be expressed. But because we’re so passionate about them, these relatively small differences lead us to misconstrue what others are saying—and, too often, lead to conflict over what words mean rather than about the substance of our differences."

These are important issues to discuss, but I get frustrated at how people often talk right past each other because they have such a strong bias that overemphasizes one side over the other. Though the terms Arminian and Calvinist can be useful they also can become a distraction because of how they have been defined by strawmen on the extremes. In Bible College, I remember sitting at the lunch table with with a die hard Arminian who was arguing with a die hard Calvinist. I encouraged them to quit trying to defend their positions and actually listen to what each other was saying. Then I asked them both a series of questions (I wish I could remember them) and their answers showed that they really were not that far apart, but they were not willing to admit it because the Calvinist could not bring himself to admit he might hold common ground with the Arminian, and the Arminian felt the same way about Calvinism.
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I know I am dealing with a divider on this issue when they get upset with me because I am not willing to take the label of either Calvinist or Arminian. In full disclosure, I am willing to admit that I am calvinistic (small c) in the sense that I appreciate some of the points (though I am not a 5 pointer and it depends how you define the points Smile ).
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Instead of taking either of the common titles I say that I strongly believe in the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Further I believe in the limited freewill of man. Man has a freewill but that freewill is limited by God. There is room for a lot of discussion about salvation within that framework, but in all honesty, much of it must be relegated to the realm of theological theory lest we become heretics (dividers).
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William L Pettingill wrote:

"There is no doubt that God's absolute sovereignty is taught, and clearly taught, in the Word of God, and just as clearly is man's responsibility also taught in the Word. Our difficulty comes when we seek to "harmonize" these two doctrines. Such a task seems to be beyond the power of the human mind. Let us believe all that God has said on the subject and be content to wait for further light as to the harmony between these things. We may depend upon that "the Judge of the earth" will "do right."" (Bible Questions Answered pg 208)

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My fear is that the division on this subject has ended up actually limiting the discussion. Some end up getting so frustrated that they say it doesn't even matter (but the doctrine of salvation does matter). Others have taken the position of defending their preferred theology against an extreme strawman that is actually the exception rather than the rule. Thus they refuse to even listen to any points beyond their bias. I am thankful when I read an article like Aaron's that brings some balance to the discussion. His article may not have all the right answers or even all the right conclusions (I do not think I claimed it did), but it does help us to step back and look at the issue from multiple perspectives. In that sense it cannot help but challenge us to improve how we articulate one of the most important of theological positions. Thank you Aaron.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Good article, well written.

In the case of Piper's statement, I don't believe most of the objections stemmed from misconstruing what Piper said, rather what the larger context implied but more importantly how is articulation with its descriptive rather than definitive language, could easily, itself, mislead vulnerable minds or be used by others to mislead weaker minds.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Hmmm. I don't recall anyone using the terms "Calvinism" and "Arminianism" on this thread until JD told us we need to be careful about using them. I guess when certain people post, labels just pop into people's minds, whether they are used or not. Smile

G. N. Barkman

Lee's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Hmmm. I don't recall anyone using the terms "Calvinism" and "Arminianism" on this thread until JD told us we need to be careful about using them. I guess when certain people post, labels just pop into people's minds, whether they are used or not. Smile

I thought the one thing that was settled from the previous thread of note was that the terms were now Calvinist and decisionalist.

Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

In a lot of ways, seems like words are shorthand. The problem with these hot button words/terms is that the contents represented by the shorthand are not the same for large numbers of people using the shorthand.
In computer script languages you see a lot of use of variables: "Let A=[ big long formula or function ]" Then later, you have stuff like "Let C=A+[ another formula or function or whatever ]," and so on.
If there is a problem in the process of assigning value to A, the whole program breaks... because you (the programmer) think you've got a certain value when you get to "Let C=..." but you really don't have that value.

A rambling way of saying that the variable "A" is really not what is important. The important thing is the content of the variable A, the "value" of A... what A means.

I've tossed this idea out before but maybe it has some value here: what if we all stopped saying "calvinism" or "decisionism" or whatever and used the longhand instead of the shorthand... or, to put it another way, what if we used the content/value instead of the variable?

It makes for longer sentences and slower conversations (but maybe slower is good on hot topics!)... but maybe there is more mutual understanding.

It's best to oppose something after we fully and accurately understand it so we're not wasting our energy dismantling a view nobody really holds.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

In the present-day church we are addicted to announcing the numbers of salvation decisions that are made and have very little concern about seeing if there is any fruit that those claims are true.

Not too long ago, I visited a man in jail on a regular basis. Duing the course of our visits, he told me he made a decision to turn to Christ and trust him. Later, I told the church that this man made a profession of faith. I did not declare he was saved. After this gentleman got out of jail, there was no fruit of salvation in this man's life. Today, I got a call that he was arrested again and this time, he is headed to prison for a long while. My heart breaks.

So, I am little concerned about the debate over whether or not it is a decision. It is a mighty work of God that does involved man's response is what I know. What I am concerned about is all of the claims about salvation decisions without any confirmation. While some of the claims may be true, there are too many people that go away from those decisions deceived that they are truly born again becuase they recited some prayer even though there has never been any evidence of regeneration in their lives, which the NT writers say is a great cause of concern.

What bothers me even more is the religious leaders who are proud to announce all of those "souls saved" and actually look down their noses at other religious leaders who wish to exercise greater care of souls.

JD Miller's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Hmmm. I don't recall anyone using the terms "Calvinism" and "Arminianism" on this thread until JD told us we need to be careful about using them. I guess when certain people post, labels just pop into people's minds, whether they are used or not. Smile

My problem is not so much with the labels as it is with that fact that depending how we use the terms, I could be neither or both. Smile It kind of makes me sound fickle, but I think you understand my poor dilemma. (BTW, I do not think we should stop using the terms, I just realize how easily they can be misunderstood).

G. N. Barkman's picture

I believe the well articulated concerns of Joe Roof are excacty what John Piper was addressing in his message to young people that started this discussion. He was not being theologically precise, but was applying bible truth in language that would have been understood by his hearers to mean that just because one has made a decision does not mean that one has been saved.

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

It would be pretty easy to demonstrate from the ministry of Jesus that when you're speaking in response to problems you say things differently than you do when you're just teaching them to people who want to learn--or when you're writing systematic theology.
Jesus talks about would-be disciples who are "not worthy" of following Him. He talks about hating your father and mother. He talks about not coming to bring peace but a sword.
None of these statements stand alone and all of them are powerful responses to problems among His listeners.

But if you take something He said to confront a problem and read it like systematic theology, you'll get pretty confused.

And pastors know they do this, too. When you're counseling someone about a problem or "preaching against" a problem, you don't articulate with same emphasis or even necessarily the same terms.

So is there a problem of superficial "decisions" in evangelical and fundamentalist (and every other flavor) of Christianity? Always has been. Until the eschaton, always will be. When we confront these things we have to use language the people in front of us will understand. This sometimes means the people who pick it up second or third or 27 millionth hand will think we're saying something terrible. Especially if they were out to get us in the first place.

Lee's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:
In the present-day church we are addicted to announcing the numbers of salvation decisions that are made and have very little concern about seeing if there is any fruit that those claims are true.

Not too long ago, I visited a man in jail on a regular basis. Duing the course of our visits, he told me he made a decision to turn to Christ and trust him. Later, I told the church that this man made a profession of faith. I did not declare he was saved. After this gentleman got out of jail, there was no fruit of salvation in this man's life. Today, I got a call that he was arrested again and this time, he is headed to prison for a long while. My heart breaks.

So, I am little concerned about the debate over whether or not it is a decision. It is a mighty work of God that does involved man's response is what I know. What I am concerned about is all of the claims about salvation decisions without any confirmation. While some of the claims may be true, there are too many people that go away from those decisions deceived that they are truly born again becuase they recited some prayer even though there has never been any evidence of regeneration in their lives, which the NT writers say is a great cause of concern.

What bothers me even more is the religious leaders who are proud to announce all of those "souls saved" and actually look down their noses at other religious leaders who wish to exercise greater care of souls.

Dr. Barkman is being a little more gracious than my take on this. This comes across to me more of a rant born out of frustration than a clear assessment of issues that can and should be addressed. Statements like "the present-day church [is ] addicted to announcing the numbers of salvation decisions...;" "have very little concern about seeing if there is any fruit...;" and "...look down their noses at other religious leaders who wish to exercise greater care of souls..." give me great pause to understand this as ought but a rant.

I still fail to realize why that which Scripture has clearly communicated as the expectation of the ages should elicit such frustration so as to reconfigure our theology, in terminology if not immediately in practice, in order to accommodate our frustration. The verbiage that Piper was spouting (that I don't think any of us on this particular board have understood yet), the new nomenclature of "decisionalism" as the current terror on the block of evangelical fundamentalism, even the rise of the "New" reformed movement seem little but an expression of this frustration.

Yet Christ made it crystal clear that the wheat and tares would co-exist until He separated them (Matt. 13:25-40); that significant numbers would respond to the Gospel message but fail in true faith due to persecution, the cares of this world, the "deceitfulness of riches," etc. (Mark 4:1-20); that "many" would pass as believers being self-deceived when in actuality He "never knew" them (Matt. 7:21-23); that the church would routinely face those within its midst that would need to be cast out of the assembly and labeled as "heathen" (Matt. 18:17); that observable conviction would not always result in true repentance (Acts 7; Acts 22; Acts 26); that professors in service would not always be possessors of the Savior (II Tim. 4:10); and any number of other scenarios.

Personally, instead of standing in ready judgment on the motive of other preachers of the Gospel as indicated in the above quoted snippets, I think our time would be better spent in getting out the simple Gospel message. After all, "it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth...." I am painfully aware that every decider is not a true believer. Anyone who ministers at all to children should fully understand that. But every individual that responds to the Gospel in true faith or false decision is a testimony to the truth of Scripture concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment and reveal Jesus Christ. As far as I know that is all that Scripture ever promised anyway.

Let's concentrate on our role as Gospel witnesses and let God concentrate on who is a true convert and who is yet in need of redemption. Frankly, I have all the confidence in the world that the Holy Spirit through the Gospel can reveal the truth of their lost condition to the unbelieving heathen that has never previously heard, or to the kid that may be self-deceived clinging to some decision he wrote down in the 2nd grade. I don't have to accommodate my theological paradigm to any of these scenarios.

Lee

G. N. Barkman's picture

Lee,

You are exactly right. There have always been false professions of faith, and there will be many more until Jesus comes. That said, it is also true that the Bible isssues many warnings addressed to professing Christians to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. The Bible does not follow a "live and let live" attitude. The Bible does not encourage us to be content with false professions, and let God sort it out at the end. Rather, it warns church members about the dangers of empty professions without spiritual fruit.

That's what I believe Piper was doing. Warning those who are comfortable and content with an outward profession, when they should be sobered by the paucity of evidence of Holy Spirit wrought new life.

Furthermore, it is one thing to acknowledge the reality of false professions that occur during the course of Biblical evangelism. It is quite another to pursue an unbiblical style of evangelism that multiplies the number of false professions. When our message and methodology are solidly Biblical, we can rest content that false professions are not the result of our careless and shoddy evangelism. When our message is weak, and our methods are extra-Biblical, we must bear a major responsibility for deceiving people about the true condition of their souls.

G. N. Barkman

Alex Guggenheim's picture

So we now have a "criminal conviction" or "jailhouse" formula for determining who is and is not a genuine believer? That is a difficult one for me to swallow which is precisely why faith in Christ is always the center of our confession and confidence.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Lee wrote:

Dr. Barkman is being a little more gracious than my take on this. This comes across to me more of a rant born out of frustration than a clear assessment of issues that can and should be addressed. Statements like "the present-day church [is ] addicted to announcing the numbers of salvation decisions...;" "have very little concern about seeing if there is any fruit...;" and "...look down their noses at other religious leaders who wish to exercise greater care of souls..." give me great pause to understand this as ought but a rant.

I'm not seeing how these two statements indicate a rant.
In any case, whether something is "a rant" or not doesn't determine whether it's true or not. In other words "it's just a rant" is not really a counterargument.

Lee wrote:
I still fail to realize why that which Scripture has clearly communicated as the expectation of the ages should elicit such frustration so as to reconfigure our theology, in terminology if not immediately in practice, in order to...

Who is "reconfiguring theology"?

Lee wrote:
The verbiage that Piper was spouting (that I don't think any of us on this particular board have understood yet), the new nomenclature of "decisionalism" as the current terror on the block of evangelical fundamentalism, even the rise of the "New" reformed movement seem little but an expression of this frustration.

Piper was spouting, eh? Sounded to me like he was pretty much just saying.
I'd be interested in seeing you interact a little with the point of view I posted a couple of posts ago: that you don't say things the same way when you're dealing with a problem as you do when you're talking in a different situation. Evidence: Jesus.

As for the expression of frustration thing... really? So your argument is A. All frustrated people are wrong, B. The folks I'm dismissing are fustrated, C. Therefore, they are wrong?
I think you won't convince many with that one.

Lee wrote:
Let's concentrate on our role as Gospel witnesses and let God concentrate on who is a true convert and who is yet in need of redemption. Frankly, I have all the confidence in the world that the Holy Spirit through the Gospel can reveal the truth of their lost condition to the unbelieving heathen that has never previously heard, or to the kid that may be self-deceived clinging to some decision he wrote down in the 2nd grade. I don't have to accommodate my theological paradigm to any of these scenarios.

"Concentrate" is an interesting choice of words. Who is "concentrating" on who is a true convert and who is not?
In any case, we cannot ignore that problem. As Barkman pointed out, the epistles do not ignore it.

Larry's picture

Quote:
Let's concentrate on our role as Gospel witnesses and let God concentrate on who is a true convert and who is yet in need of redemption.
Whatever the case with Piper's choice of words and his meaning, this does not seem to be a biblical option.

First, we are commanded to evangelize. Therefore, we must some means of determining who needs to be evangelized since we do not talk to all people the same way. With some, having been convinced by some means of their salvation, we disciple them. With others, having concerns about their salvation, we evangelize them. With some, we may do both because we are unsure.

Second, church membership requires us to pass some sort of public judgment on someone being a "true convert." We are not permitted to "let God concentrate" on that. We are commanded at times to declare people to be outside the church because they bear no marks of true conversion. All the biblical witness concerning churches testify to the fact that it was known who was believed to be in the church and who was believed to be out of the church.

Third, we do a great disservice, a great act of unlove (to coin a word), when we fail to speak to a professing Christian whose life does not bear the marks of true conversion. We allow them to continue down a path that may in fact be false assurance. Again, the Scripture has many references to this, and we cannot disregard those in the name of "letting God concentrate" on it.

Lee's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Lee wrote:

Dr. Barkman is being a little more gracious than my take on this. This comes across to me more of a rant born out of frustration than a clear assessment of issues that can and should be addressed. Statements like "the present-day church [is ] addicted to announcing the numbers of salvation decisions...;" "have very little concern about seeing if there is any fruit...;" and "...look down their noses at other religious leaders who wish to exercise greater care of souls..." give me great pause to understand this as ought but a rant.

I'm not seeing how these two statements indicate a rant.
In any case, whether something is "a rant" or not doesn't determine whether it's true or not. In other words "it's just a rant" is not really a counterargument.

OK, I'll recant the "rant" as long as you don't push for this being a rationally objective assessment of the majority that make up "the present-day church."

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Lee wrote:
I still fail to realize why that which Scripture has clearly communicated as the expectation of the ages should elicit such frustration so as to reconfigure our theology, in terminology if not immediately in practice, in order to...

Who is "reconfiguring theology"?

As I stated in the previous thread:
"Seeing and savoring Jesus...." and "trusting Jesus [for salvation ]...." are NOT equivalent realities! Piper has provided a whole new definitive description of salvation which is NOT text driven, but paradigm driven. His penchant against "decisionalism" has clouded the simplicity of the Gospel message;"
AND:
"...I have come to a conclusion. Actually, to state things more accurately, I should say that I have come to a realization. Decisionalism is Calvin-speak for anything that does not absolutely affirm pre-conversion regeneration. I'm liking it! It simplifies things. You are either a Calvinist, or you are a decisionalist. And since decisionalism is equivalent to baptismal regeneration, which is equivalent to Judaism, which is equivalent to heresy, you are either a Calvinist or a heretic."

Salvation to "re-configurists" (as equally valid a term as is "decisionalist") is no longer a point in time when a lost person comes under conviction of sin, recognizes via Holy Spirit illumination that Christ is the only solution for that sin, and calls out to Him in faith for salvation. Rather it has become a process of believing recognized as possibly complete when one is "seeing and savoring Jesus" or other such. Yeah, I'm pretty much gonna stick with "re-configuring theology."

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Lee wrote:
The verbiage that Piper was spouting (that I don't think any of us on this particular board have understood yet), the new nomenclature of "decisionalism" as the current terror on the block of evangelical fundamentalism, even the rise of the "New" reformed movement seem little but an expression of this frustration.

Piper was spouting, eh? Sounded to me like he was pretty much just saying.
I'd be interested in seeing you interact a little with the point of view I posted a couple of posts ago: that you don't say things the same way when you're dealing with a problem as you do when you're talking in a different situation. Evidence: Jesus.

Maybe we could all take a page from the Apostle Paul, who had more varied spiritual gifts than most, when he stated "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?...So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?...in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (I Cor. 14:6-19)"

Aaron Blumer wrote:
As for the expression of frustration thing... really? So your argument is A. All frustrated people are wrong, B. The folks I'm dismissing are fustrated, C. Therefore, they are wrong?
I think you won't convince many with that one.

If you will suffer me to indulge my cynicism, I don't think that you really think that A,B, and C was my argument.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Lee wrote:
Let's concentrate on our role as Gospel witnesses and let God concentrate on who is a true convert and who is yet in need of redemption. Frankly, I have all the confidence in the world that the Holy Spirit through the Gospel can reveal the truth of their lost condition to the unbelieving heathen that has never previously heard, or to the kid that may be self-deceived clinging to some decision he wrote down in the 2nd grade. I don't have to accommodate my theological paradigm to any of these scenarios.

"Concentrate" is an interesting choice of words. Who is "concentrating" on who is a true convert and who is not?

In answer to your question I'm going to go with Piper and me, in that order.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
In any case, we cannot ignore that problem. As Barkman pointed out, the epistles do not ignore it.

And Piper didn't write the epistles.
There is world of difference between the inspired writers of the epistles penning "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves [Paul ]"; "...brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure....[Peter ]"; or "These things have I written unto you...that ye may know that ye have eternal life...[John ]" with "Believing in Jesus is a soul coming to Jesus to be satisfied in all that he is. That is my definition of faith on the basis of John 6:35. This is not...a decision...[saving faith is ] Seeing and savoring Jesus, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus, and trusting Jesus...[those three things are ] equivalent realities...,” I think one of the glaring differences is the apostles directive to the individual towards self-examination on very objective terms (II Peter 1; I John) whereas the current thrust seems to be towards some sort of relational depth like Piper's "seeing and savoring Jesus" whatever that may be.

Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

Lee, you seem to have lost focus. Much of what you're arguing against here are things nobody is saying.

It might be better to refocus on some simple, solid truths.

1. Nobody truly becomes a Christian without a profound and deep change of heart. (IOW, salvation is not a superficial, merely mental decision)
2. God is the one who saves (IOW, salvation is not a human decision)
3. In salvation, sinners do repent and believe (IOW, in a way, salvation is a decision)
4. The church has always had superficial/false converts.
5. Believers, pastors especially, have to concern themselves with confronting that problem
6. When you are speaking correctively to a problem, you often say things differently in order to emphasize important distinctions.

JNoël's picture

Is it possible for a human to desire salvation but not get it because he is not one of the elect?

For example, what if the aforementioned prisoner heard the Gospel, sincerely desired salvation, but isn't one of those God gave to Jesus to save?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Jay's picture

JNoël wrote:
Is it possible for a human to desire salvation but not get it because he is not one of the elect?

For example, what if the aforementioned prisoner heard the Gospel, sincerely desired salvation, but isn't one of those God gave to Jesus to save?


Whosever will may come. If they hear the gospel and desire to repent, they will become a Christian.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Greg Long's picture

JNoël wrote:
Is it possible for a human to desire salvation but not get it because he is not one of the elect?

For example, what if the aforementioned prisoner heard the Gospel, sincerely desired salvation, but isn't one of those God gave to Jesus to save?


No, because the non-elect will never "sincerely desire" to repent and believe the Gospel because they have not been enabled to do so by the Spirit.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Lee's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Lee, you seem to have lost focus. Much of what you're arguing against here are things nobody is saying.

It might be better to refocus on some simple, solid truths.


OK, I'll try and stay focused

Aaron Blumer wrote:
1. Nobody truly becomes a Christian without a profound and deep change of heart. (IOW, salvation is not a superficial, merely mental decision)
And I don't think anyone from the Reformed on this board to the decisionalists here have argued differently.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
2. God is the one who saves (IOW, salvation is not a human decision)

Salvation is all of God--conceived in the mind of God; executed by the Son of God; brought into application by the Spirit of God through conviction and regeneration; communicated and empowered by the Word of God; effectuated through the Triune work in regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Yet throughout the entire inspired communication of the mind of God to man there is not a single narrative, didactic, or implication in either the Old or New Testaments that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the "all of God" presentation. "By faith Abel..."; "...choose life..."; "...repent..."; "...believe on the Lord Jesus Christ..."; "...call upon the Lord Jesus Christ...". It is disingenuous for us to attempt an effort that Scripture does not.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
3. In salvation, sinners do repent and believe (IOW, in a way, salvation is a decision)

It is more than "IOW...salvation is a decision." There is a specific point in time when one passes from death unto life, and that point can be identified because it coincides with belief, faith, repentance, or some other of the Scriptural vernacular of salvation.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
4. The church has always had superficial/false converts.

True, and Scripture has communicated specifics to the church for addressing this problem. Coming up with a new vocabulary of salvation is not one of them.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
5. Believers, pastors especially, have to concern themselves with confronting that problem

Scripturally from beginning to end.

Aaron Blumer wrote:
6. When you are speaking correctively to a problem, you often say things differently in order to emphasize important distinctions.

As one of my mentors often stated: "Go as far as Scripture goes, but stop where Scripture stops." This is my #1 concern through this entire exercise. In a generation past well-meaning people re-defined salvation down to praying the magic words (extra-biblical, but sincere). I fear we are in danger of creating an equally dangerous backlash by re-defining the Biblical presentation of salvation into some philosophical mumbo-jumbo that does not have the power of the simple Gospel behind it.

God chose what words He would use to define salvation and in what exact terms He would couch it. Maybe our best bet to combat any distractions to the Gospel is to limit the great majority of our debate to the best translated terms that accurately communicate the originally inspired writ (the terms of Scripture, if you please). Frankly, I don't think that "seeing and savoring Jesus..." fits the criteria.

Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

Lee, you seem to agree with pretty much everything that would require a person to see "seeing and savoring Jesus" as one way to describe a genuinely repentant faith. But then you reject it... because Scripture never uses those terms? But it does come pretty close.

Of course that kind of description can't stand alone... but it's still true that nobody believes who does not see and savor, and nobody sees and savors who does not believe. The sinner turns to Christ with the affections/will as well as with the intellect.
And the intellect is not enough.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. All over the OT, true believers are characterized as those who "seek" God.

In one of his letters, Augustine writes:

"The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed. .... The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruits. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him alone who is able to give it."

I'm sure plenty of see and savor type language can be found in Bernard of Clairvaux as well.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name, O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art! How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is, None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou, As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now, And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart, Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart, Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below, Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know, And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name, Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless, Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart, Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed, Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries; To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night; And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee, The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be, While endless ages run.

Sure sounds like seeing and savoring to me.
Here's a bit more Bernard:

Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.

We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.

.... seeing and savoring. What a radical new idea?

JNoël's picture

Greg Long wrote:
JNoël wrote:
Is it possible for a human to desire salvation but not get it because he is not one of the elect?

For example, what if the aforementioned prisoner heard the Gospel, sincerely desired salvation, but isn't one of those God gave to Jesus to save?


No, because the non-elect will never "sincerely desire" to repent and believe the Gospel because they have not been enabled to do so by the Spirit.

So then perhaps when we see analytical/intellectual people who appear sincere about their deduction of the Gospel, or emotional people who appear overwhelmed by the truth of Redemption, and yet, in due time, it becomes clear that there was never a life-changing decision due to a lack of fruit, that possibly their analysis or emotion was still just human/fleshly and wasn't enabled by the Spirit because they weren't one of the elect.

Maybe they are those who were among the stones or the thorns.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

JT Hoekstra's picture

Gen 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
Gen 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

Emphasis added...

DavidO's picture

Lee wrote:
"Go as far as Scripture goes, but stop where Scripture stops."

Adhering to this dictum, one could never clearly or succinctly affirm same substance trinitarianism, as has recently been demonstrated, and under that same dodge.

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