- On the flawed soteriology of the “sinner’s prayer”(published )
Recently, Daniel Heck made this statement: My problem with the sinner’s prayer really is that it is functionally super-Pelagian, even though it acts all anti-Pelagian. Funny the way we tend to become what we hate. When I’ve heard people use the sinner’s prayer for evangelism, they usually say a bunch of anti-Pelagian stuff about how nothing you do can set you right with God, etc etc etc, and then they say, actually, you know, there is exactly one thing you can do. Say this prayer. I responded thus: Regarding the sinner’s prayer and its associated problems, the underlying issue is the warped concept of salvation that it rests on. If one thinks that “being saved” means God saying “OK, when you die you’ll get to go to heaven,” and therefore that one “gets saved” in some punctiliar event—whether that is saying a certain prayer, or being baptized, or whatever—then this problem inevitably arises. Either we are in some irreducible sense responsible for causing that all-important event to occur, or else we have no role or responsibility because God just does it all himself. (Evangelicals are used to thinking of this dilemma as Arminianism vs Calvinism, but that is just one among the many permutations it has taken.) In contrast, things get much better when one recognizes that salvation means “everything being made good.” In one real sense we are still looking forward to our salvation, when Jesus returns to raise the dead and renew all things. In another real sense our salvation has already been won for us, because everything Jesus did the first time he came has enabled and initiated the salvation we are looking forward to. And in another real sense, we are in the midst of being saved now as the Holy Spirit acts among us today bringing specific instantiations of transformation and renewal into life now on the way toward the final transformation. In this past-present-future structure, there is no single moment when a person moves from a state of being unsaved to a state of being saved. There may be moments of conscious decision, of course. But those are moments where one decides to become an active participant in God’s ongoing project of saving the world and therefore becomes part of that group of people who reasonably expect to see salvation coming to pass in their lives and world now and ultimately in the future. They are moments of consciously entering into the ongoing salvation story. But if this is the case, then no one event is the cause of anyone’s salvation. What Jesus did is the cause, what Jesus will do is the cause, and what the Spirit is doing now is the cause. Our actions are caught up into this process and contribute in real ways to the result as he weaves them in, but our actions do not cause the process to occur any more than the threads cause the weaving to occur.
- On hearing God(published )
Hi Chris. Reading your thoughts and questions here and thinking back to our conversation the other night, I think I’m starting to get a better sense of where you are coming from and what you are trying to wrestle with. Hopefully this will be helpful. :) In Western culture (meaning, basically, European and European-derived culture), we have tended for the last several centuries to think of our world as having two “levels” or “spheres” or whatever: the natural and the supernatural. Some people think of these two spheres as overlapping or interacting a lot, some think that they do so only a little, some think that virtually never do, and some even think that the supernatural level doesn’t exist at all (this would include atheists, for example). In most Pentecostal and charismatic circles, this two-storey view of reality is the starting point for understanding how God interacts with us. Pentecostals and charismatics will insist that there is lots of interaction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore that we should seek to interact with God supernaturally as much as we can. In this way of thinking about things, revelation from God obviously needs to be categorized as a supernatural event, an intervention in which something crosses over from God’s side into our side. Hearing God, therefore, should be a strange experience. One should be able to recognize “the real deal” in part by the how it is weird and doesn’t feel like our natural ways of perceiving, thinking, knowing, learning, etc. The Pentecostal understanding of receiving the gift of tongues, in which it is thought of as a distinct event when a person has this spiritual ability bestowed on them that they would not naturally have otherwise, is an example of how this plays out. However, this two-storey view of reality is actually very problematic for Christian faith and practice. Among (many!) other problems, it creates a relentless pressure towards expecting that God’s interactions with us will be rare and fleeting. If we consider God’s actions to be essentially alien to the natural world, then they are by definition abnormal and unusual. But Jesus didn’t think that God’s interactions with people were unusual. He taught his disciples to expect that God would interact with them, and that this would be NORMAL for them. Why? Because material and spiritual were not two separate sorts of reality existing in different realms or planes of existence or whatever; rather, they were simply aspects of one, single, unified reality. The Holy Spirit’s coming to the disciples was remarkable not because it indicated a metaphysical change, but because it indicated a relational change. The God from whom we had been estranged by our sin was now no longer a stranger to us. He has begun interacting with us all with a new intimacy and closeness, and so his people have begun to experience his Spirit with us in a way unlike before. This isn’t an incursion of the supernatural into the natural world, but a reconciliation with the God who has always been all around us. So, God’s interactions with us, including the sorts of interaction that we usually describe as him speaking to us, are how things are supposed to work. We human beings were made for this sort interaction from the very beginning. Our physical and mental processes are designed precisely AS the way for us to interact with God. He always intended to interact with us using the equipment he gave us, and as we become reconciled to him, he does that. So, imaginative impressions (e.g. visions and dreams), reading and pondering (say, the Bible, but also other things), experiencing stuff for ourselves, listening to the stories and wisdom of those who have gone before us in the Christian journey, and all the other human things we do to learn are EXACTLY how we learn from God. Heck, even when God does some astounding thing—burning bush, dramatic healing, pillar of fire in the desert, whatever—we still have to perceive and understand it with the same physical and cognitive faculties that we use to perceive and understand the presence and meaning of a hamburger on a plate. It is based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that the Vineyard adopted the practice of using expressions like, “I’m seeing this image…” or, “I think God wants to say…” when sharing what we feel God is revealing to us. We know that we are all of us in the process of learning to hear him well, and that even though he speaks infallibly we are fallible listeners. It is also based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that we say, “Everyone gets to play,” meaning that everyone can hear from God, pray for God to act, and participate in whatever God is up to. All human beings have the natural capacity to interact with God. We need only be reconciled with him and start relating to him in an interactive way. The upshot is that learning to hear God isn’t about him overriding or bypassing our normal ways of knowing, but about learning to recognize his guidance, direction, and revelation in what we see, think, imagine, hear, and feel. It is a matter of the content, not the form.
- Holy Spirit
- image of God
- Vineyard sacramentality in relation to other Christian traditions, updated (published )
I loved a recent article on Not the Religious Type. The author (who appears to have left the Vineyard for an Anglican church) states that the Vineyard, like the Anglican church, has two sacraments... but they’re not baptism and eucharist. They’re prayer ministry and worship. He defines sacrament as something like an experience of the divine that transcends words, if I remember correctly. It’s an interesting proposition (full of problems depending on how you use the various words in there). I’ve enjoyed thinking about it. – Peter Benedict, 2012-01-05, in Facebook discussion (now available on the SVS forum) Peter, I have thought similarly myself about our Vineyard practices, in that worship and prayer ministry function almost sacramentally for us. This is interesting, given that officially we don’t have any sacraments, but rather describe baptism and Communion as ordinances. It seems to me that due to our being charismatic, we’ve actually moved from the Zwinglian view that we inherited, in which there are no sacraments, to something more akin to the Eastern Orthodox view, in which almost anything could function sacramentally. It is almost as though we’ve taken the normal spectrum of theology on this matter (Orthodox: undefined number of sacraments -> Roman Catholic: seven sacraments -> Lutheran: two sacraments [consubstantiation] -> Reformed: two sacraments [real, but perichoretic presence] -> Zwinglian: no sacraments, but rather two ordinances) and bent it around in a circle. We don’t consider anything inherently sacramental, but because the Spirit can do as he pleases, almost anything can become a means of operative grace. For us, worship and prayer ministry are chief modes of that operation of grace, but by no means the only ones. This is remarkably like what the Eastern Orthodox would say about baptism and Eucharist. It is perhaps not coincidental that the Orthodox traditionally have a much stronger pneumatology than most Western churches.