Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Change of Mind about Repentance: Do you Dare?

By Dr. Fred Lybrand
Repentance has been a sticky issue and has been around as a major conversation piece since the Reformation. I know, because ‘my view’ (which I found out I share with Dr. Elliot Johnson of Dallas Theological Seminary) has been labeled an error by those involved in the Marrow of Divinity Controversy way back in the 1600s! Of course, no need to get excited, every view on the planet and throughout history is an error to someone or some group.
So, the issue of concern here --- is repentance necessary to get saved (as in from-hell-to-heaven)? If it is necessary, then is it a part of saving faith? These are the essential questions. There are many views, often being represented as repentance meaning the necessary turning from all known sin (and interest in future sin, usually) to ‘believe’ in Christ. In this regard, some purveyors of salvation make repentance as much of a part of faith as they do works (see http://www.backtofaith.com).
I have a bit of an uncommon solution, and I’d like your thoughts on the matter. Here are the two parts of my thinking---
1. Repentance is a precursor to faith, but is not a part of faith.
2. Repentance is not causally connected to faith.
Of course, I mean ‘saving faith’ here; the kind that delivers the faith-in-Christ-alone soul from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col 1:12-13).
When I say it is a precursor, I mean that repentance is necessary-but-prior to faith alone in Christ alone. In a similar way to hearing the Word is repentance’s role in the process (Romans 10:17). Said differently, one must hear before he believes…so too, one must repent before he believes. I really don’t want to exhaust the references in a blog post, but I will make a simple observation. Repent and Believe are different words…that’s a clue! People are always attempting to merge these things, but they don’t need merging they need sequencing. John Calvin saw repentance as FOLLOWING faith in Christ (a little publicized fact). I believe the Bible is clear, but only if you rightly understand repentance to mean “a change of mind.” Of course, each context dictates the nature of the ‘change’---sometimes it is a change of mind about sin, but sometimes it is a change of mind about the object of our faith. Zane Hodges proposed it was a change toward God, but that is just a theological imposition. Hermeneutically, all we can do is take the ‘change’ element and look to the context to understand repent-from-what-thing (?). Simply put, we turn from whatever we have been trusting (self, works, or our admiration for Gandhi *see Rob Bell*), and turn to trust in Christ and His finished work on our behalf. If one does not turn from a failing object of faith, then one cannot put faith in the right object (Christ alone). Sorry.
That repentance is not connected to faith should be obvious, but it is not, of course. To prove this we only need to show that the excluded middle (as it were) is being ignored. Here’s what I mean--- If one is saved only by faith in Christ, then we can know that if one is unsaved he does not have faith in Christ. Like “love and marriage,” you can’t have one without the other. Right?
Well, repentance does NOT work that way. People can repent with great conviction and fervor, but it means nothing without faith alone in Christ alone. Otherwise, what could Hebrews 6:1 possibly mean when it denigrates “repentance from dead works?”
Try it this way:
Just because you repent, why does that meant you have believed?

If you can repent without belief, then you can’t be sure that you have believed just because you have repented.
This really is the crux (pardon the allusion) of the problem! People are actually putting their faith in their repentance (so called), instead of in the Savior. The reason they do that is that they have wrongly co-mingled faith and repentance.
Far better to keep the ideas separate just as the words are different. I encourage you to call people to repent when you share the gospel…but call them to repent from the misguided objects of faith which obscure their vision of the no-addition-needed Savior. Repentance is before Faith, just as hearing is before repentance. It is in this way that we can maintain Faith-Alone-In-Christ-Alone.
Please share your thoughts!
God bless,
Fred Lybrand

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Education or Indoctrination?

I am getting to that time in my semester at school where my students are nearing turning in research papers.  They just wrote a test for me which needs to be graded, but looking at it reminded me of the real difference between education and indoctrination.

1 : to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments : teach
2: to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle
Education: (technically educating but education is defined as “the art of educating”)
1 a : to provide schooling for <chose to educate their children at home>b : to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession
2 a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction b : to provide with information : inform <educating themselves about changes in the industry>
3: to persuade or condition to feel, believe, or act in a desired way <educate the public to support our position>
So of course in a grace-centered way, which are we trying to do with those who we are trying to train to see God’s grace in salvation and sanctification?  Are we trying to indoctrinate or are we trying to educate?
To me, the difference in approach is critical.  The Pharisees spent a lot of time indoctrinating.  In Acts 15:5 some believers who were Pharisees argued that all Gentiles needed to get like them in every respect before they could be acceptable in the church.  They had a very narrow idea of what it meant to be a believer and they wanted everyone to be exactly like them.  In other words, they focused on indoctrination!  Their “sectarian opinion” was that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses to be part of the church.  The Apostles, though, said no way.
The counterbalance to this approach is found a couple of chapters later, in Acts 17.  As Paul traveled on his second missionary journey he encountered some opposition to his teaching, but in Acts 17:11 Luke speaks approvingly of the people of Berea. When Paul came and preached to them, they searched the Scriptures for themselves.  Paul gave them information and appealed to them to believe in Christ, but he didn’t browbeat them.  He focused on education, not indoctrination.  And as a result, these noble Bereans believed in the grace of salvation by faith alone, both Jews and Greeks.
So within the span of a couple of chapters of Acts we can see the difference between a desire to indoctrinate and a desire to educate.  It seems clear that the grace of God is served when we pursue the latter rather than the former.  I firmly believe that if we teach people good Bible interpretation skills, educating them on the need for a literal, grammatical, historical approach, and then give them the options on how to view the biblical text then many if not most will see it from a Free Grace perspective.  We won’t win the hearts of all, but we will help many see the true freedom of eternal life in Christ by faith alone plus nothing in Christ alone plus nothing.  The alternative, to me, just doesn’t work and in fact seems to go against the grain of Scripture.
What do you think?  How do we best help people see the grace of God?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

President's Letter - April 2011

In the world of theology and ministry there seems to always be something going on, and it is imperative that we be aware so that we can beware of such goings on.
All of us are theologians of one stripe or another. Some of us are paid to think and teach theology and others are not. But it is imperative that we all have and hold a biblical theology. It is essential that our theology be clear, coherent, consistent, comprehensive and complete. However, on this side of heaven it also means that there is the need for balance, living with some tensions and being willing to know that some things we cannot know or at least not know completely.  As Calvin said, “We must as go as far as Scripture and no farther”.
The latest challenge to the evangelical world comes from the hand of Pastor Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”.  Many having read the book feel that Bell is articulating a view that could be called Universalism, in which hell will one day be empty. This is not simply annihilation theology where people go out of existence. This actually articulates that all will be saved because “God’s love wins in the end.” In a sense this is actually creating a hierarchy of God’s attributes. It is placing love above God’s justice.  God is love and a whole lot more, but He is all of them and one does not trump another.
We of the FGA are in no way Universalists and yet we do believe in the grace of God and His expression of that grace through His love.  But we must make sure that we do not project an image of grace on steroids and thus eliminate the fact of a future judgment and the final justice of God.
The glorious grace of God provides eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone, but that does not cancel out eternal judgment.  For those of the FGA, we are to lead feed and protect the people of God as we also reach out to a lost and dying world.
FGA members have been busy in preaching, proclaiming and training leaders in the grace of God. To mention only a few; Dr. Charlie Bing along with Dr. Roger Fankhauser and Todd Mathis continue to train pastors around the world in free grace theology. Dr. Jerry Burnett, John Correia, Sam Sacco, Brian Fergus, Jeff Bauer, Dr. Ed Clavell, Dr. Paul Benware, and Brian Reed are teaching free grace theology in Bible, theology and psychology departments at Arizona Christian University as does Dr. John Hart at Moody Bible institute and Dr. Gary Derickson at Corban College. In terms of institutions, Free Grace Seminary, Grace School of Theology, and Chafer Theological Seminary continue to offer a free grace theology degree program to the next generation of leaders. Dr. Larry Moyer and the EvanTell team continue to train thousands in how to do evangelism as they seek to keep the gospel free and clear. Bret Nazworth, Bob Tebow, Steve Johnson and many others who provide leadership in mission agencies, and the missionaries who bring the good news to a variety of fields around the world, continue to hold to the free grace message. Add to this the hundreds of pastors involved with FGA who diligently teach and preach the Word of God week in and week out as they seek to feed, lead, and protect the flock of God.
The purpose of the FGA is to Equip, Encourage, and Connect Leaders in Free Grace Theology. It looks like we are still on target. In order to help you stay on target, let me invite you to put on your calendar the FGA National Conference October 10-12 in Phoenix, Arizona.  This is an event designed entirely for the instruction, edification and building up of Free Grace Alliance members. Please see our website for more information.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
Dr. Fred Chay
President, Free Grace Alliance