Wednesday, January 09, 2019

God has outliers. Deal with it. (Or: There be False Negatives!)

This will be an unsophisticated post related to election (as in Calvinism). It is unsophisticated because I’m not trained as a theologian. I’m one of those self-(mis)trained know-just-enough-to-be-dangerous Calvinist-lites whom I sure are something an embarrassment to the academic Calvinists. Most likely they wish we would stop talking/blogging and just listen. But where’s the fun in that? 

Please see this disclaimer. 1

This post is a follow up to my previous post on whether knowledge of creation can ever be necessary/sufficient for salvation. 3 I took the minority position that it can be; that there may be outliers who are saved having never heard the gospel but come to know God through creation. 

However, I don’t actually believe that. What I believe is more nuanced. Consider:

P1: Some knowledge is necessary/sufficient for salvation.
P2: If P1 is true, then knowledge of creation could, in outlier cases, be necessary/sufficient, from the “without excuse” argument I made in the previous post.

In that previous post I argued as if P1 = true. But now I reveal that I actually believe: 

P3: P1 = false

No knowledge is sufficient for salvation. No knowledge is necessary for salvation. A theology that argues certain knowledge is necessary/sufficient for salvation is not Calvinistic. It is not Arminian. It is not even Christian. It is Gnostic.

We confuse ourselves on this point, 3 and it is especially odd for Calvinists who love (I do!) the aphorism: we contribute nothing to our salvation except our sin. We don’t follow through. We teach that yes, we contribute our sin, but add a mix of knowledge into the requirements.

It must be the case—for every person who argues that the knowledge of God’s attributes made obvious in creation is not necessary/sufficient is either arguing “because no knowledge is necessary/sufficient” (but they aren’t arguing that are they?—however I am!) or that there is some other knowledge, generically “the gospel”, that is necessary/sufficient.

That’s a Gnostic argument, plain and simple. It may not be by-intent True Gnosticism ™, but it is “effective” Gnosticism. Knowledge is not necessary/sufficient for salvation. However in most (but I have no scriptural reason to demand all, lest I tell God whom He can and cannot save) cases God, through His Providence, supplies gospel knowledge (via secondary means e.g., missionaries) before, during, or after conversion. That this knowledge is not supplied to “all” is tacitly accepted if you believe that the elect includes children dead in infancy (even in the womb) and people with cognitive disabilities. 4

To summarize, my admittedly primitive Calvinistic theology screams this at me:

1) The mantra is correct. We contribute nothing to our salvation. Not our good works, and not our knowledge, even knowledge of the gospel.
2) The normative process includes that God, through secondary means, will ensure that the elect receive (and accept) gospel knowledge.
3) Some elect are incapable of comprehending that knowledge.
4) Some elect are not reached by secondary means. They are outliers.

I can’t prove 3 and 4 are correct. But you can’t prove that they aren’t. (Go ahead, I double-dog dare you!) So I’m going to run with the assumption/hope that there are outliers (and elect infants and disabled), but then work (inefficiently, as it were) to minimize the need for outliers.

1 DISCLAIMER: I absolutely agree that all salvation from Adam and Eve until the end of history is achieved by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Nobody goes to the Father except by the Son. However, I believe that in many instances the bible describes the normative process (hear the gospel, accept the gospel, profess Christ) but not the only process: we cannot and should not put God in a box.  I am not a hyper-Calvinist. (At least I don't want to be.)  I believe we must behave (because we are commanded) as if everyone in the world must hear the gospel (and assume they are capable of accepting) and (although we are not explicitly commanded) have the scriptures in the vernacular. That said, I believe many times when we successfully evangelize (including missionaries) we are not teaching something from which conversion then occurs, but rather giving someone God has already converted a context to understand what God has done to them. They are already saved, through Christ, even if they don’t fully understand. Again, this is not the normative process. But if dead infants are ever saved (as are we all) through God’s mercy yet without comprehension, as well as the intellectually handicapped, then I don’t find it crazy that another set of exceptional circumstances (outliers) are the elect in places that haven’t heard the gospel. But they, I believe Romans is telling us, would at least come, through grace, to grasp something of the true God from His creation.

2 The necessary or sufficient requirement on General Revelation is interesting. The majority position is that General Revelation is not sufficient. But I think it is also implied that it is not necessary. At least I’ve never heard anyone truly argue that while recognition of God’s attributes through creation will not save you, it is required that you seek God not just in scriptures but also in nature. The most I ever hear are side comments of the “isn’t creation marvelous?” variety. It’s not treated so much as important but as, if you will, a bonus.

3 Or more likely, I’m the only one confused.

4 However, since we have nothing else to go by, it is proper that we use a person’s knowledge of the gospel along with their works (fruit) to decide whether we should regard them as Christians. We all recognize that this process is fraught with false positives. In a sense my argument can be super-summarized that there may also be an occasional false negative.

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