I appreciate S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.’s valiant attempt to explain the “Lordship Salvation” debate in “How Faith Works” [Sept. 22], but I wonder whether it will change anyone’s opinion. It is a classic and flawed example of attempting to shed light on Scripture through the use of systematic theology. A statement he made in describing Charles Ryrie’s position reveals either a misunderstanding of Scripture or a confusion of terms or both. He wrote that Ryrie was misunderstood and “What he was trying to say was that a genuine believer might not always be walking in the light,” an obvious allusion to 1 John 1:7.
“Walking in the light” is biblically a salvation description. It is to walk where God, who is light, is. It does not describe how one walks. Those who walk where God is have the finished work of Christ on the cross continually applied so that they experience fellowship with one another and forgiveness without interruption or fail. To say “a genuine believer might not always be walking in the light” is a blatant contradiction of 1 John 1:7.
Rev. Arlie D. Rauch
Redeemer Baptist Church
I was seriously disappointed by Johnson’s article. Although claiming to state my views, he failed to reflect them accurately. For example, he claims I insist “there is no necessary connection between saving faith and works.” Yet I have never said this orally or in print. Obviously there is a necessary connection between faith and works in a believer’s experience, for all of our good works are the fruits of our faith in Christ. Perhaps he has in mind his charge that I deny the inevitability of good works in the life of the believer. But Johnson himself does not clarify what he means by “inevitable.” Does he mean, as Ryrie does, that “somewhere, sometime, somehow” the Christian will bear spiritual fruit? Or does he hold the Reformed view that lifelong perseverance in good works is guaranteed by regeneration? I am comfortable with the first view, but not with the second. A careful reading of my book will show that I am not addressing Ryrie’s view at all.
Additionally, Johnson treats the Westminster Confession as “a standard of reference that evangelicals as a whole will accept.” But it is precisely in the area of the nature of saving faith and the doctrine of assurance that recent Calvin scholars have argued that the confession departs significantly from Calvin’s own view of faith and assurance.
We cannot hope to bring clarification and illumination to this debate unless we bring to light the real issues and are scrupulously fair in stating the views of other individuals. In that spirit, there would be no room for a rhetorically loaded statement like Johnson’s when he writes: “Professor Hodges seems bent on discovering how sparse the faith that justifies can be.” Naturally, I am not “bent” on discovering any such thing.
Zane C. Hodges
Redención Viva Publishers
Choosing Public School
Thank you for the editorial “An Apple for the Parents” [Sept. 22]. Too long have those who have chosen to stay with the public schools been labeled “unspiritual” or “unconcerned” or even “uncaring” in regard to their children’s education. You bring to light a perspective not often regarded. The choice of schooling must be an individual family decision; your honoring of those who choose to work with a system, imperfect as it is, is commendable.
Rev. Richard Reigle
Bethel Evangelical Congregational
Church, Dixon, Ill.
Another Verse of “Kum Ba Yah”?
For the past 27 years, “Uncle” Mearl Fedler has taken the seventh-grade boys camping. But this year’s excursion may have been his last.
For one thing, seventh-graders have changed over the years. Try as he might, he couldn’t get even one boy to bite on the old snipe-hunt gag. And for the third consecutive year, no one would touch his famous Hunter’s Stew, even after he bribed them with S’mores. When he told them to gather sticks for the fagot service, they nearly died laughing.
And so it went. His devotional on the beauty of God’s creation was peppered with questions about pollution and “killing animals with high-powered rifles.” No one knew the words to “Pass It On,” and “Kum Ba Yah” went over like a stewardship sermon at Christmas. But what really got to Mearl was something that didn’t happen: the ol’ “let’s put cornflakes in Uncle Mearl’s sleeping bag” trick. The boys used to get such a kick out of that.
On the way home, Mearl was too depressed to try a round of “99 Bottles of Coke on the Wall.” Wasn’t it in ‘66, he thought, that they got through the whole song? After dropping the kids off at the church, he unpacked the tents and sleeping bags he’d bought over the years, then spent a sleepless Saturday night wondering if he’d lost his touch.
“Mearl, come quick!” his wife called as he was shaving the next morning.
Shuffling into the living room, he joined his wife at the picture window, took one look at their front yard, then spun her over his knee in one of those slick, just-like-in-the-movies embraces.
“Looks like we’re going camping again next year!”
The two large maple trees beside the driveway were draped with toilet paper.
Shame On Eutychus!
I was disappointed to see “Eutychus” wallowing in self-adulating sarcasm about so serious an “issue” as abortion [Sept. 22] (as if genocide is just another “issue”). By using faulty analogies, he casts abortion in the category of a personal moral issue, on the level of fornication, drinking, gun ownership, the lottery, buying furs, fast food, donuts, and cash machines. What he fails to realize is that the above-mentioned vices (and “vices”) are not the willful, premeditated taking of another person’s life. The act of abortion in itself is the willful, premeditated taking of another person’s life. God calls it murder. The goal of Operation Rescue is not protest, it’s rescuing innocent persons from being murdered. Eutychus sounds suspiciously like the status-quo German religious mentality of the 1940s.
Melrose Park, Ill.
Faith In A Hostile Climate
Thank you for the excellent cover story “Christians in the cocaine fields” [Sept. 8]. My prayer is that it will give considerable pause to Christians who are tobacco farmers in the U.S.
It is almost impossible for Americans to understand the extent of poverty in that part of the world and to realize how few options people have. Such is not the case with American tobacco farmers who can convert to different crops and still receive various subsidies from the federal government. While any change in life has difficulties and complications attached to it, I find it indefensible for Christians to continue to wink at the deaths caused by tobacco use. Surely God has a special place for South American peasant farmers who make the sacrifice to live out their faith in a hostile climate.
Dr. Don Nichols
Oakland Community College
Royal Oak and Southfield, Mich.
I was stirred by your informative report on the dilemma of Christian peasant farmers in Bolivia and Peru, forced to grow the only crop with a profit—coca—in order to support their families.
This summer I was part of a work team in Mexico in an area in Sonora province where the economy is also dominated by the production and sale of drugs such as coca and marijuana, and where Christians, trying to keep food on the family table, face similar pressures, and even danger to their lives, from the district’s drug runners.
We worked on a pilot project to begin cultivation of an alternate crop—chiltepines—a very small, hot pepper, until now harvested only in the wild, which has great profit potential in U.S. markets. This project is the result of creative vision on the part of Allan Voelkel, a Christian agronomist whose goal is to help the local people at several levels—spiritual and economic. Similar creative planning in other drug-infested localities could broaden the options for local Christians.
Harold Shaw Publishers
The courageous Christians in South America who have stopped growing coca for the cocaine cartels for conscience’ sake should be reminded that they stand in a long line of heroes of the cross. The gospel has always resulted in radical economic dislocations, often great suffering, both for the believers who have had to change their means of livelihood and for unbelievers who have been adversely affected by such change. A prime example was the upheaval in Ephesus (Acts 19). It was costly for the new converts to burn their sorcery paraphernalia, and equally costly for the silversmiths to lose their trade.
But the early church refused to temporize in spite of the economic cost. And if the modern church winks at the current evil out of false pity, the gospel will be diluted and the redeeming influence of the church neutralized.
Richard S. Taylor
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Kansas City, Mo.
What’s the difference between peasant farmers in Peru or Bolivia raising coca because they can’t earn a good living by raising fruits and vegetables and impoverished young city dwellers in Los Angeles or Denver selling cocaine because they can’t survive on what they can make at McDonald’s?
First Friends Church
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Learning From The Past
Thank you for Tim Stafford’s article “Angel of Light” [Sept. 8]. This explains the statement I have heard over the years from Jewish people, “The Christians killed the Jews during World War II.” I hope someday they will realize the ones truly serving Jesus Christ were not guilty.
The thought we must walk away with is that “The German church struggle teaches us that a church needs a clear, robust theology based on the revelation of God in Christ.” Sadly, often today’s churches’ “positions are vague or sentimental, based on the spirit of the times more than on Scripture.”
America certainly is ripe for a Hitler today. Our institutions are devastated; our economy is not as good as we are being told and many people are hurting. We do carry shame for the demise of our great culture. So, prewar Germany is not far from America today. Our institutions and traditions do not protect us from the likes of Hitler.
Dr. Everett Sileven
American Coalition of Unregistered Churches
I detected a glaring oversight in one of Stafford’s conclusions. He noted that, for the church to avoid such failures in the future, “careful, theologically and biblically astute thinking is essential.” But careful, astute thinking had little to do with the valor shown by citizens of Le Chambon, France, a Protestant community of 5,000 farmers and peasants who—incredibly—hid 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation.
Contemporary North Americans have never known life—and fear—under totalitarian or occupational rule. In such circumstances we very probably would occupy ourselves with the task of “careful, theologically and biblically astute thinking.” But, unfortunately, we will have wrongly prepared for the one thing that is necessary in unthinkable times: To have Christ’s Spirit alive within us.
Stafford asks: How did Germany come to be so dominated by evil? Where were their “good people”? and, Where, particularly, were the Christians in this “land of Luther”?
Martin Luther was strongly anti-Semitic. For nearly 400 years his anti-Semitic doctrine prevailed in the religious thinking of generations of Germans. By the time Hitler rose to power, his anti-Semitic sentiments were more of the same to the ears of German Christians. Nowhere in Stafford’s article do Luther and his teaching receive responsibility for the Holocaust. I felt the article should have brought this out.
Waving flags can lead to waiving biblical distinctions as Rich McKinnis earnestly cautions [Speaking Out, Sept. 8]. It is alarming that Christians will address issues of national esteem and preservation with the same vigor and vocabulary commonly prescribed to the Great Commission. McKinnis’s article does indeed focus the “blurred … line separating church and nation.”
L. N. Vargo
Obviously McKinnis has never served in the armed forces to protect those freedoms we uphold and do hold sacred. If he had, maybe he would have a different attitude towards our flag. If we don’t prevent the burning of the flag, what would McKinnis have us do when someone decides to burn the Bible or all Christian books in general? The flag could just be the beginning.
Your report about the Free Methodist General Conference implies that some wanted to “introduce the language of inerrancy” into the denomination’s doctrinal statement about the Bible, but were defeated [News, Sept. 8]. This understanding of the event is false and misleading. All we did was shift the focus of our statement from the nonexistent original manuscripts to the present Bible. Accordingly, we now confess that the Bible “bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ” and is “completely truthful in all it affirms.” The only purpose of our lengthy discussions was to find the words to express most strongly our absolute commitment to the Scripture.
Charles Edward White, Ph.D.
Delegate to General Conference
Spring Arbor College
Spring Arbor, Mich.
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