In an ongoing debate about what it means to be a Christian, Chris Redford, a former Assembly of God youth-turned-atheist, is trying to make the case that the view of salvation held by Pentecostals today is more akin to his own view than the one held by the entire Protestant church since the Reformation. He in particular cites my Calvinism and suggested “‘saved’ means “something different (to me) than what it means to Pentecostals”.
I will summarize his position, which is found in a comment on another post.
Calvinist (Protestant Reformation View): Metaphysical Salvation, Salvation and the Gospel Message with Metaphysical Implications, Focused on Who is Saved and Who is Not, and an Emphasis on Being Saved From God’s Wrath After Death.
Pentecostals: Commitment to Christ, Experiencing God, Salvation Experience, and a Connection with God Here on Earth.
Where Redford is Definitely Wrong
First, he misunderstands Calvinism, especially as viewed by Calvin himself, the Reformers, the Puritans, and many who still call themselves Reformed, Presbyterian or Calvinist today. Experimental religion, testing one’s experience against the Word of God both in Salvation and Sanctification, has been the Hallmark of the Reformation.
Even in my little Assembly of God church in Byesville, Ohio, the preachers were always asking us to test ourselves to see if we were in the faith: “Are you really saved?” they would ask. Indeed, every aspect of Christianity put in the first list above has been a major part of Christianity from the beginning. The doctrine of the Incarnation means God is with us. “Being saved” means not only being given Peace with God, but having the Peace of God. The Christian who knows God’s wrath was upon him also knows the joy of Salvation.
Commitment to Christ is not just an abstract concept for the Christian, who has truly been born from above. Not only are we saved from God’s wrath but we are given new life. And that is not just eternal life after death. It is also the power of God to aid us in overcoming sin. The Law of God has been placed upon our hearts. We are new creatures in Christ. We love God because he first loved us. And that Love was a Real Love, coming from a Real God, evidenced by the death of Christ on the Cross. God gave His Son.
Every aspect in the 2nd list above has also been a part of historic Christianity as well. It is not an either/or proposition as Redford says. Salvation has never been an earthly experience alone. It is not just a way of thinking or something “experienced”. It is God’s work. He draws men unto himself. He gives him new life. He opens the eyes of the blind. He saves, grants repentance and gives faith. And salvation itself is a gift of God.
If there is no God, Christianity is a sham and a fraud. The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:
14. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Where Redford May Be Right
Many would challenge my presupposition that Chris was never saved. Well enough. However, it is not okay to accept the premise that Christianity without God can be called genuine. Yet, I fear Chris is right on one point. Many professing Evangelicals and Pentecostals have accepted a miracle-free, man-centered religion that is a scam and therefore rescues no one from hell.
Charles Finney is the spiritual ancestor of Chris. He held virtually the same views that Chris says Pentecostals hold today. But Finney’s false gospel has wreaked havoc on the church for 175 years. The first serious error to point out is Finney’s denial of the biblical doctrine of imputation. He denied that we are all sinners by nature, and that Christ took upon himself the guilt of our sins, and imputes His righteousness to us in salvation. That is a denial of the gospel.
By denying the spiritual fall, Finney essentially taught that salvation is a work of man. The Cross became virtually unnecessary. The atonement was a fiction. Salvation was not a miracle, but a choice made by men to obey and serve God. Conversion is only man turning himself around, perhaps with a little help from God. Salvation comes by making a commitment to Christ. Young people like Chris might easily believe the “gospel” Finney preached, but would just as easily become an atheist.
Finney also used psychological methods to get people to accept Christ rather than relying on gospel preaching alone. It is not surprising that Chris at one time claims his Christianity was genuine while at the same time decrying the preaching of the gospel as tired old stuff.
Like Chris, Finney also emphasized the subjective over the objective:
“Protestants have historically insisted that justification is a purely forensic declaration, giving the penitent sinner an immediate right standing before God on the merit of Christ’s righteousness, not their own (cf. Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:9). By forensic, we mean that it is a legal declaration, like a courtroom verdict or a marriage pronouncement (“I now pronounce you husband and wife”). It changes the person’s external status rather than affecting some kind of internal change; it is a wholly objective reality.”
“The subjective transformation of the believer that conforms us to Christ’s image is sanctification—a subsequent and separate reality, distinct from justification.”
In spite of this, there is good news in there for Chris. He may have never heard the gospel. He certainly doesn’t understand it. Maybe God will graciously grant him new ears to hear, and new eyes to see.
A Brief Challenge to Pentecostals
Chris has implied that the Pentecostal view of salvation is closer to his view than to mine. I was an Assembly of God minister for 12 years and I hope that he is wrong but fear he is right. Please participate in the forum. We’d both love to hear from you.
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David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.
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