I just finished another one of those Four Views books. This one concerning the subject of baptism. “Understanding Four Views On Baptism”, Zondervan Publishing, 2007, copyright by John H Armstrong.
Although the book presents its readers with four different views of baptism, it also presents them with only one view of faith – the all too common faith-is-not-mere-intellectual-assent view. John D Castelein sums this up best in his Churches of Christ view chapter. He writes:
“It is vitally important to understand that saving faith does not refer merely to mental assent to certain propositions. For the apostle Paul, for instance, faith is understood as involving understanding the gospel that is heard, trusting God’s promises, and actively obeying the Lord’s commandments. The entire NT, in fact, consistently unites faith and repentance as correlated actions. On the other hand, the book of James appears to conceive of faith more narrowly in terms of mental activity not necessarily connected to active behavior. This is how James can make these remarkable claims – ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’, ‘even the demons believe that and shudder’, ‘Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did,’ ‘a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.’ Working with James’s definition of faith, in contrast to Paul’s definition, salvation by ‘faith only’ is simply impossible.” (pg 132)
I must admit it is refreshing to hear one of these works righteousness guys finally come right out and tell the truth about what they are preaching. “Salvation by faith only is simply impossible; implying, of course, that salvation by works is entirely possible.
What does Richard L Pratt, Jr have to say about this? Writing from the Reformed perspective, Pratt writes in his rebuttal to Castelein:
“In distinction from Roman Catholicism, the Reformers insisted not on ‘salvation by faith alone’, they insisted on ‘justification by faith alone’. In the technical vocabulary of the Reformed tradition, justification is but one step in the process of the much larger category of the process of salvation. Justification is that initial forensic declaration by God in which people passively receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is a once for all legal declaration in the heavenly court, securing for all eternity the righteous standing of a person before God in Christ. Salvation, however, includes not only justification but regeneration, repentance, faith, adoption, sanctification, and glorification (just to name a few) . . . We should grant that sanctification (the process of living by God’s Spirit throughout life) is a necessary dimension of salvation. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that ‘without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ We should also grant that baptism is a central act of obedience to be observed by those that who are in Christ. Yet the list of holy acts that are necessary for salvation in this broad sense is very long, involving all kinds of holy activities. Baptism is not unique in this regard. It is but one of many things the faithful believers are to do to demonstrate the grace of God at work in their lives. Yet baptism and all these other acts of sanctification are the fruit of regeneration, saving faith and justification that secure our eternal destinies in Christ before we act in obedience, even the obedience of baptism. We should applaud Castelein’s emphasis on the centrality of baptism in the process of salvation in many respects. Many contemporary Christian communities see little need for baptism, because they reduce the entire process of salvation to justification by faith alone.” (pgs 151-152)
In other words, justified by the objective work of the Son, but saved by the subjective work of the Spirit. No wonder these guys redefine faith as “more than mere intellectual assent.”
Intellectual assent is the only thing I can do with the eyewitness testimony of an objective work that occurred nearly two-thousand years before I was born. However, were I to turn the object of my faith into something subjective and occurring inside me, then faith would certainly be made more than “mere” intellectual assent.
Pratt is right to note a difference between justification and salvation. Salvation does indeed include bodily resurrection as much as it does justification and regeneration. The problem for Pratt is he thinks the fruit of imputation is the grounds for salvation. Note what he wrote: “baptism and all these other acts of sanctification are the fruit of regeneration, saving faith and justification that secure our eternal destinies in Christ . . .” Since when did faith ever secure anyone’s eternal destiny in Christ? Arminians think that way.
Pratt doesn’t want to be caught saying salvation by faith alone is simply impossible even though that is exactly what he’s arguing. So he has redefined faith in an effort to protect himself from saying directly what he is saying in circles.
A favorite phrase echoed by all four authors is, “saved not only from the punishment of sin, but saved also from the power of sin.” Speaking from the Baptist position, for instance, Thomas J Nettles writes:
“His (Castelein) care in distinguishing between faith as mental assent and faith as consent of heart and soul is also important.” (pg 145)
What is that supposed to mean? Mental assent versus consent of heart? I am convinced none of these guys have the foggiest notion of what “assent” means. I am convinced they think it means simply “to know.” It doesn’t. It means to agree with; to give consent. What is mental consent versus soul consent?
We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:56 “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.” How in the world can a person be saved from the law by “actively obeying the law”, as Castelein puts it? The Spirit saves His people from the law by granting them the power to obey it? Tell me how that is not a false gospel of works righteousness.
Sin needs fuel to survive. The fuel sin uses to survive and even thrive is the law. Romans 7 tells us this.
I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. 8 And sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. For apart from the law sin is dead.
Let’s suppose for a moment that guys like Pratt and Nettles really are seeing improvement in their efforts to obey the law. If that is the case, then they are still not obeying the law, because the law does not require improvement. It instead demands perfection! So in effect they are not seeing any improvement at all.
We can’t obey the law. The law requires perfection from the moment of conception. It requires perfection in every word, thought and deed, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred sixty-five days a year. One instance, one momentary flash of disobedience in either word, thought or deed, and the entire law is broken, AND BROKEN PERMANENTLY. Keep in mind, the law can’t forgive!
Jesus did not come to save His people from a life of law disobedience. What He came to save His people from was the just and righteousness punishment due them for all their law disobedience. Death is what He came to save them from. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.
The Spirit tells us in Romans 7 that those who have been baptized into Christ’s death died to the law so that they might be married to Christ. Yet here these guys are telling us that even though we are married to Him who died and rose from the dead, yet we are still saved by our obedience to something we have died to.
4 Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead—that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.
Pratt and all three of his fellow authors must read this passage as though it refers to law improvement. That is, “we have been released from the law so that we can obey the law with the Spirit’s help rather than in the old way of trying to keep the law in our power.”
Excuse me, but that is not what the text says. The new way of the Spirit is not a new and improved way to obey the law. Rather, the new way of the Spirit is a new way of being judged – not by our performance of the law, but rather by Christ’s satisfaction of it. That is how God saves His elect; not by the power of sin, but rather by the cross of Jesus Christ.
I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:2 HCSB