(this is the wandering, detail-oriented version for detail-oriented Christians. For the more “popular” version see Introduction B )
the “National Soul” is a new (to me at least) perspective on understanding God’s revealed truth in the bible.
I’ve always taken seriously the idea that the bible is wholly from God, especially the parts that I never understood. I believe there’s not one part that’s not there for a reason. Sometimes I’d wonder how much of it we’d even understand at all this side of eternity, or even how much any one person could understand.
As I write this I still don’t really understand it a fraction of what I hope to one day, but I’m starting to get a glimpse of something that seems to keep popping up all over the place in the bible, and I can’t find anyone else talking about it. I thought I’d better write a book about it. Maybe this will only end up a booklet. Anyway, either I’ll only get so far and realize I had it all wrong, or hopefully, make some contribution to some reader’s understanding that will help them see God and their own place in existence more clearly.
I’m a bit reluctant to write this in the sense that I’m compounding a few ideas some would call heterodox (do 3 heterodox stances make one heretical view?), and yet making a firmly orthodox stance too. In the end, this will probably please neither the right nor the left, but regardless of whether I even finish & publish this, I’m hoping it will plant a seed for people in the middle who will say “this is what I’ve been waiting for – this makes sense!”
So far I think there are two main components to the idea: 1) the “National Soul” concept, and 2) a constellation of specific “isms”, viewpoints from Christianity, namely Calvinism, Post Millennialism (including partial or orthodox Preterism) and Annihilationism. In the end I think we’ll end up as well with a different sort of Inclusivism (ed: which I’m now calling Particular Inclusivism). I’m also 75% leaning towards Physicalism over Dualism. All the “isms” seem to work well together with the National Soul concept.
Wait! Before you write this whole blog off because of all these red flag words, read a little further and hopefully you’ll see some of the nasty “stuffing” attached to these scarecrows come off. Maybe you’ll realize you’ve actually have had issues with “straw-man” concepts and not the real arguments.
Michael wrote a long and thoughtful comment on “The National Soul – 4) problems“, so I thought it would be better to reply to his questions as a separate post. His comments are shown as quotes:
I think at the bottom of it, we don’t stand a chance under your “inclusivism” either. It is a question of degrees. A lot like poor Dances with Bears, is he to be excluded from salvation? I think Calvinism is saying that he would not be excluded if God had predestined him to be saved, or excluded if he was foreordained to damnation. What role then does living a righteous life play in his day to day affairs? If all is preordained, how does morality fit into the picture? Without personal autonomy, I don’t think morality is possible.
The connection between predestination/election (the Calvinist / Reformed positions) and morality in my view of the bible is how one defines “belief in Christ”. Yes, belief in Christ does include believing that he died and rose again, but the real emphasis on belief in the bible is “if you believe it, then you’ll act on it”. Even more, the emphasis is on “repentance”, i.e. resisting the selfish impulse to do what you know is “the right thing to do”. That’s how Jesus is defining belief in the passage about the people who visited others in jail and fed the poor when they didn’t know that would be considered salvific faith. Same with the Dances with Bears example.
…The point of morality is that it serves as a guide for people’s actions. Because of this, moral judgments are made about actions which involve choice. It is only when people have possible alternatives to their actions that we can say those actions are either morally good or morally bad…
This has important implications because if the existence of God is incompatible with the existence of free will (other than the will to sin), then none of us have any real choice in what we do…
It depends on how you define “free will”. I personally think that libertarian free will (the one most people are talking about when contrasting free will with accountability to God) is an impossibility in that it seems to be saying that a person can actually make choices that are truely random, i.e. wholly apart from their inner conflicting desires. Perhaps thats a topic for another blog one day…
and, therefore, cannot be held morally accountable for our actions.)
In my view (which I suppose would have to be in the “compatiblist” camp) our choices are derived from one or more of the “citizens of the soul” choosing a thing. What I mean is in any situation we have conflicting desires that must be sorted through, one overcoming another, and after the internal conflict is over (whether an actual conscious conversation or subconscious processing) we may end up having chosen an obviously moral or immoral path. Seeing as my point of view of the afterlife is one whereby unbelief is destroyed and not tortured for eternity, I have no problem with God creating persons that have no belief in Christ (a.k.a imputed righteousness) at all (although I can’t imagine there are many of those). In the end if we are saved or lost, it is God who is accountable for whether we are saved or not. Yet, paradoxically, we, being “along for the ride”, witnessing our own inner struggles and progress, do in fact, by observation in a sort of Heisenberg uncertainty principle kind of way, do participate in our own sanctification. That’s basically a lot of words to say “its a mystery”.
Dances with wolves (ed. actually its Dances with Bears – I don’t want to violate copyright, ha ha) would also be worshipping false gods, I presume, too, which you would say is a lie that can’t be reconciled with God.
Yes, if Dances is saved, its by the gift of grace depositied in him – his willingness to self sacrifice for the benefit of others – that saves him, and not the false beliefs in this or that god of his religion. That said, remember that the Christian worldview also includes the idea that all people groups originated from Noah’s family, and just as every tribe on earth has a flood story because it actually happened, every people group would also have remnants of truth left in their otherwise faulty systems.
You mention that under Calvinism, a true Christian can’t lose his place in heaven, but to the Arminians, free will can cause man to lose his salvation. This, by the way, is a one-way risk. It doesn’t work the other way around, that one who is not one of the elect, can win their place in heaven.
I agree, (and good point – I’ve read a lot about this subject and no one’s brought that up before) that’s partly why I think Arminianism is false.
God may allow for some people to possess a shred of His Grace and thereby be elected, but for some others, God may choose to create people with no redeeming value at all….But at the bottom of it, there is nothing you can do for a person who is not earmarked for salvation.
Right. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
And, as a last point, it is unfortunate, to me, that the followers of other religions cannot be saved. At all. End of story. There really is an “us” and “them”.
No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that anyone can be saved (just as anyone can cook – see the movie “Ratatouille” ;)). The only way to “know for sure” in this life is to knowingly embrace faith in Christ, but I would think that many from other religions will be saved, but never consciously or verbally profess Christ. Think of this analogy: the “saved” are like all humans, vs. the unsaved as animals (no I’m not trying to be insulting – just go with it for a while). The “real” Christians (i.e. not the fake ones that Christ tells “I never knew you”) are analogous to humans that are actually born physically. In contrast, the “saved” group of my version of inclusivism correspond to the unborn in the womb. They’re still human, still have the DNA of the saved, but don’t reach “consciousness” in this life, but do in the life to come. The point is, if they are saved, its through Christ, not through whatever religious or anti-religious background they come from.
Also, I appreciate and find compelling the idea of equating the nation of Israel with one’s character as a whole, while the kings and generations of Israel over the centuries represent our personal characteristics. From a literary point of view, this is indeed intriguing. And your arguments are well made and clear about this. The National Soul idea is a good one. I like your idea of the one/many pattern in the bible correlating with the individual person, the one, and the many–the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes which collectively make up a “soul”. There is room here for discussion! It seems quite beautiful an idea.
Thanks! I can only make a claim to the idea as a discovery from what I see to be already there in the biblical story. As well I think the kernel of the idea came from leafing through the book “The Society of Mind” by Marvin Minsky. I never actually read it apart from a cursory skimming as I lost it before getting the chance to sit down and read it thoroughly.
(To the members of the RethinkingHell facebook group)
I have a hypothetical new position on the final punishment triangle that I’d love some feedback on, somewhere between classic Annihilationism and Universalism. For sake of just having a name to refer to it as, I’m for now calling it Reconstructionism. (This probably already exists as a view somewhere, but as I’m not very well read I don’t know about it – I’m probably just re-inventing the wheel)
I haven’t actually made up anything out of whole cloth, but I do think this view does answer some persistent conundrums in Christianity that no other views I know of do as a whole.
I’m submitting this knowing that no one will agree in total, and many will probably tell me I’m off my rocker (but at least my experience with this group indicates that you will tell me that in a polite manner😉. This is not //about// conditionalism, but as you will see it //requires// conditionalism. It may also require physicalism.
I think this view solves (or at least goes towards solving) the Calvinism vs Arminianism debate, as well as the unpardonable sin, and many others.
This is mainly a different view on the nature of man. That’s what I’d love feedback on.
I call the entire concept regarding the nature of man the “national soul” model, and to put it’s hiddenness in perspective, I think it is found in a similar way that the trinity is found, i.e. not through direct statements but pieced together from the whole. Also, it is based upon a figure of speech I see used in the bible a lot (and even in modern life) but I’ve never seen anyone else talk about. I call it “spiritual equivocation”.
Usually equivocation is bad, i.e. You don’t usually want to use the same word in two different ways in similar contexts and mean different things without being perfectly clear. I think, however, that God is actually doing that in scripture . He’s in charge and he gets to reveal things however he wants.
Before I explain exactly what I mean, I want to point out as an example another similar figure of speech that God does often use (and about which there is at least some agreement on) : the judgment imagery of clouds. (here’s where the preterists may get on board)
I can paste a section on “coming on clouds” imagery following this posting for people into the details if needed. Short version is this: the bible uses the imagery of coming on clouds to mean an earthly government or ruling institution coming to an end by way of God’s destructive judgment.
It is a literary device that is unique to the bible and has a specific function that is hidden unless one is well versed in what’s gone on before in the bible, kind of like how the older humor in Bugs Bunny is hidden from the children viewing it.
So, the bible contains literary devices that, although aren’t always apparent at a surface level reading, are actually there and convey real and important concepts.
The figure of speech I’m calling “spiritual equivocation” is likewise somewhat hidden, but I think both real and important.
Spiritual equivocation in general, and in the bible, is when you talk about / to a person using normal language like “you are this”, or “he is that”, but what you are actually talking about is the current “spirit” or attitude, or set of assumptions that is directing that person’s current words or actions.
Take, for example Jesus’ conversations with Peter :
Mat 16:15-17 NET v 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” v 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” v 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!
Mat 16:21-23 NET v 21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. v 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” v 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
So which was it? Was Peter blessed or was he the devil? I think Jesus was obviously talking towards Peter’s stance on correcting him. He was talking to Peter and not actually to Satan directly, although he was pointing out that the attitude was ultimately of satanic origin.
I think that a lot of scripture may do that, leading to many seemingly contradictory stances that different people take, like Arminianism vs Calvinism.
So how does my view solve the Calvinism/Arminianism problem? I see the human soul to be like a nation, specifically, the nation of Israel as described in the bible. When a Calvinist insists that once a person is saved they are always saved (I’m simplifying the argument for brevity), that means that if God has deemed fit to give that person the gift of the desire to be obedient to Christ, that is like the presence of one righteous person in a nation that God would otherwise bring to judgment.
The following verses are very similar and suggest at first glance that one can lose their salvation.
Eph 5:3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
1 Cor 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b]
Rev 21:7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Although it doesn’t actually say you can be saved, then start acting like this and lose it, we all know people who were apparently Christians and then fall away, living like the world.
The following verses suggest that you can’t lose your salvation:
John 6:39, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”
John 10: 7-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”
And this one suggests that you can’t lose salvation, but you appear to.
1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.
Spiritual equivocation solves the dilemma by saying a person can, like OT Israel, consist of God honoring parts (based on repentant belief in Christ), and evil (selfish/self oriented) parts. From man’s perspective, the person is like one coherent nation (Israel) that can ebb and flow, be ruled righteously and unrighteously. But from God’s perspective, each attitude (each individual Israelite) can be talked towards and judged individually. That’s why a person can sin against Christ and be forgiven (outward actions that others can see) when one repents when true faith takes over, but the individual attitude or action that a person does (a true rebellion against the holy spirit inside them) cannot be forgiven and won’t escape destruction in the end.
Basically, Reconstructionism is the view that for those who are chosen (have varying degrees of belief in Christ), the parts of them that are not honoring to God will be annihilated, and their soul will be “reconstructed” out of their Christ-believing parts, filling out their God given personality and talents. The varying degrees coincides with the varying degrees of punishment until all the sin is annihilated. At first this may sound like a form of universalism, but of course there’s no guarantee that Christ has acted in everyone’s souls. It’s probably more like a form of inclusivism, although one that blurs the line between the church and the “unchurched”.
Here’s the pragmatic difference as seen in the “backslider”: Arminianism holds that the backslider is saved, then unsaved (and some might then get saved again etc – I’ll have to write something about Hebrews 6 here). Calvinism holds that if the backsliding is bad enough, maybe you really weren’t saved when you thought you were. Reconstuctionism holds that, while you were faithful you were making progress on your soul, and now that you’re backsliding you’re wasting your talents, but when you become actively believing again, the progress resumes (from a new unique perspective).
The benefit as I see it (if it turns out to be correct) is it prevents us from theologically “resting on our laurels” seeing as each of us will experience the “burning away” of our sins (as per Isaiah’s coal to the lips), and it prevents us from “writing off” the adamantly non-Christians in our lives, as they may inadvertently possess faith in Christ that just needs to be encouraged to help them combat their predominant sinful attitudes and beliefs.
Anyway, this is just an idea in progress… there’s more about it from a couple years ago here: https://thenationalsoul.wordpress.com/
What do you think? Should I be on the lookout for crowds with torches and pitchforks?
You are a unique individual. You are not, however, indivisible, and that is a good thing.
The bible speaks of the human soul and spirit, and this book will pull back the curtains to see the distinction between the two concepts, drawing from both scriptural and commonplace life examples. For those who are followers of Christ I hope to light up the bible anew for you as passages that used to be unclear will now come into focus, or rather clarify to become the lens through which you will better see God and his will and character. For those who remain skeptical of the Christian religion, I hope to give you a new perspective that can change for the better how you interact with both your own thoughts and the people around you.
If this book’s lofty ambitions are fulfilled then Christians everywhere will see their own hearts and those around them with new eyes and take hold of their role in shaping history through Christ. Some former unbelievers will discover evidence that God has actually marked them for His greatness. Unconvinced non-Christians seeing through Christendom’s recent misguided fumbles will nevertheless begin to understand that what the bible is actually staying is no reason for alarm nor ridicule, but rather reason to engage along side Christians in our broad areas of mutual concern.
The human heart and mind is such a mystery, even as we experience them every waking moment. What if we could understand and clearly see how it is that we think and feel and fail and succeed? What if there was an obvious clear model to study so we could stop sabotaging our selves and others and instead become better at loving others the way we were designed to? There really is a model of the human soul, and it is the biblical nation of Israel and its resurrected body, the Church.
The national soul is the notion that we are to see ourselves not as one indivisible blob of thoughts and feelings, but a little nation inside of ourselves – one with an indivisible national personality and unchanging characteristics and traits, but also with many different mental/spiritual “citizens”, i.e. thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that ebb and flow like history, sometimes presiding over times of great blessing, and sometimes running the nation (our lives) into the ground. If we agree to entertain the idea, we certainly have a lot of material to work with: all of human history. In addition, the Christian will recognize that God has written his thoughts on the subject extensively in the form of the bible. In it He outlines the creation and purpose of Israel, its special place in history, its rescues and successes as well as its horrible mistakes. I believe that the purpose of all of what was recorded in the bible was not only the obvious shaping of actual history, but also the shaping of our souls, which in turn will shape the soul of our nations.
Next: chapter one – how on earth did I get this idea from the bible?
“Should I Come Up With a Different Term Than ‘Inclusivism’?”
I Just listened to Greg Koukl’s talk about the list of non-negotiables that should prevent your sending your child to various bible colleges. In it he specified that (among all the other things I agreed with) they should not hold to inclusivism. Here’s the link. The topic is at about 2/5 of the way through (I think at around the hour mark or more).
The question he wants you to ask about the school is “Do they think that Jesus is the only way of salvation, or are there other ways?” He’s talking here about pluralism (different religions can save people) and inclusivism as well, but I think he’s blurring the line between the two. He does this by describing inclusivism as a straw-man depiction (at least in my eyes), meaning he’s including an obvious flaw in the argument that I don’t consider part of inclusivism in order to be able to knock it down.
He continues: “inclusivists hold that Jesus is the only way but God will put up with your belief in another religion as a show of good faith and forgive you through Jesus even if you got the details wrong”. So far, so good…
Here’s where I think he starts making stuff up (or at least getting thinks wrong):
“…but they’re really included by God’s grace and under the blood of Christ because they’re good Buddhists, or good Jews, or good Hindus, or good Muslims, so it amounts to the same as pluralism, but they get there in a little different way, but in both cases the great commission is undermined, because if people can get to God without the gospel, then there is no pressure to get the gospel out and fulfil the great commission. There might be value to it, but its not essential. That’s the distinction. Most of these groups, or at least inclusivists will say ‘gee the gospel’s valuable but its not essential – people can be saved without believing in Jesus. And that to me undermines the great commission.”
Now, I don’t know if he’s accurate that this is what some bible colleges hold when they say they allow teaching on inclusivism, but its certainly not what I mean.
Lets break this down:
…but they’re really included by God’s grace and under the blood of Christ because they’re good Buddhists, or good Jews, or good Hindus, or good Muslims, so it amounts to the same as pluralism, but they get there in a little different way
When I say that the bible seems to be teaching inclusivism, that means all of the bible still applies and I think that exclusivists have actually made a mistake. Its obvious that no one will be saved because they’ve been good at being bad. All of the above mentioned religions teach things that contradict God’s word, so if the kind of inclusivism I’m thinking about is correct, its not for this reason. I think that if a professing Muslim dies without professing Christ and still ends up in eternity (and not entirely destroyed, remember I’m an annihilationist) its not because of anything to do with Mohammed. It entirely has to do with Christ. If that person has repented from selfish reflexes to do a real (objectively virtuous) good deed, something to help someone around him at his own expense, there is no possible way he or she could have done that on their own without the movement of the Holy Spirit. He could have heard people talk about that virtue at some point earlier in his life…
and remember that the first person in existence to speak was God himself, and we know that:
Isa 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
What I’m trying to say is that just like “innocent” humans born in abject circumstances can suffer due to the sins of previous generations through no fault of their own, so too might people eventually be blessed by the preached word of Christ (the personification of truth) implanted into their (otherwise deranged) culture as little bits of moral truth were told to their forefathers in the past and made it through to them. Christ wants us to be front and center with our faith, but He can still work at the fringes.
It may seem as you read this that I’m emphasizing inclusivism as a main pillar of my view of the Gospel, but its only so because its in such contrast with the current state of the majority of evangelicalism. Its really (in my current interpretation) at the perifery of Gods intension for how God’s people are to participate in the conquoring of the world for Christ, just as those innocent human persons (aborted babies) that never make it into active society today are still human persons nonetheless. Likewise I persist in this line of thought about inclusivism because to sweep it under the rug has a similar effect to just ignoring the problem of abortion. Its been 30 odd years since Roe v. Wade and society hasn’t collapsed in the states yet, right? But its still an outrageious abomination and some would argue that that may have some part of what’s happening in the states today as their society does seem to be reeling now. In the same way, the reason I seem to be harping on inclusivism here is that I think (if I’m right in my hypothesis) it can be part of what is ailing evangelicalism in the world today. If its true, then its true and truth will prevail. The faster we get more truth glorified in more areas of life, the sooner the blessing of God can begin to reach new heights in building the kingdom of God
but in both cases the great commission is undermined, because if people can get to God without the gospel, then there is no pressure to get the gospel out and fulfil the great commission.
This just follows from my argument above. As always, Christ is the only one who can save, however (and this may be a major dent in the armor – I’m not sure about this next statement (time for research)) I don’t think it says “the gospel saves” but “Jesus saves”. I think the gospel makes people into Christians, i.e. when they comprehend the good news, the Holy Spirit comes upon them in such a way as to awaken them to new life – the conscious awareness of Christ working in their life, and the beginnings of their participation in that. They become born again, born from above over top of their life in the flesh (meaning their bare biological life and all that that entails). So if I’m right that God can choose to bring some people into eternal life by the finished work of Christ on the cross without their knowing it outright within their lifetime, that has no bearing on the great commission other than to possibly enhance it.
Here’s the implied argument in the statement “no pressure to get the gospel out”: “inclusivists say that God doesn’t really care about the overall health of his kingdom here on earth let alone glorification, He’s really just wanting numbers – pew sitters in heaven. Therefore if we know that some, or probably many, non-christians will get to heaven, what’s the rush to get all excited about talking about the gospel. In fact why bother even praying…” You know the argument, its just like the old “Why do Calvinists bother praying or doing missionary work” argument (because Calvinists are serious about the belief that God chose all believers before they were even born, some Arminians argue that for a Calvinist to be consistent, they shouldn’t bother to try to “convert” people – more on this in the chapter on that debate). I think inclusivism actually demonstrates that God does care about the overall health of the kingdom. I think its part of his providence. He takes care of us in a minimal sort of way by acting in grace through non-churchy and perhaps even “anti-religious” people doing actual (objective) good when the church isn’t doing what it should be doing well enough. I think this method of providence may even be to shame the church onto action – I don’t know.
I think its safe to say that every Christian yearns for perfection – both their own perfection and the perfection of the church. The great commission says that we are to make disciples of all the nations. I believe we are in the spiritual millennium (1000 figurative years of Christs kingdom on earth as he rules from the right hand of God) that was foreshadowed by the actual millennium (1000 literal years of the kingdom from Solomon to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD). History will unfold by the nations eventually becoming fully Christian (disciples), and just before the end (in 100, 500 or maybe thousands of years from now) Satan will be released to deceive the nations against the church briefly one last time before the end of this age. That said, how does the fact that some people might get to heaven without being a conscious christian dampen that yearning to strive for christian perfection , i.e. maturity in Christ on the personal and international levels?
In fact I think that if this kind of inclusivism was widely accepted, that would make it easier to disciple the nations and bring all these “pre-born” christians into the world as it were. Again its like the abortion problem. If everyone agreed that it was wrong to sacrifice innocent human persons to the pagan god of our convenience (acknowledge that fetuses of any age are human persons) then more of them would make it into life alive and ready to join in with the glorification of God. Picture yourself on a plane next to someone who’s not yet a believer. What’s harder to do, trying to convince them that the straw-man Jesus they have in their head is not actually the true Jesus and that they should start believing what you believe about him, or trying to steer the conversation towards what’s good and bad about the world and perhaps where that goodness comes from or maybe fan the flames of that righteous attitude? I don’t know, but I just think inclusivism is helpful in the evangelism department rather than a hindrance. Besides, like I said before, it doesn’t reallly matter if its good or bad for evangelization. Its either true or its not true, and if it is true, I’m just saying it’s not to the detriment of the discipling of the nations.
Lastly, Greg says:
inclusivists will say ‘gee the gospel’s valuable but its not essential – people can be saved without believing in Jesus.
The gospel is essential. There is nothing good in this world that wasn’t either created by God or originated in something said by God. In fact, everything created in the physical universe was through the word of God anyway. The fact that society continues to proceed forward in spite of the church dropping the ball for the past 100-200 years is because of the residual effects of the word of God living in the hearts and minds of individuals throughout all those years, and against the buffeting winds of scientism and secularism and relativism etc. The world needs the gospel for the kingdom to grow however – it is the spirit of the kingdom. Saying the gospel is not essential to christianity is like saying consciousness is not essential to living a human life. Sure you can be human and unconscious, but that’s not what we’re made for, and a christian who’s an inclusivist certainly doesn’t think the gospel is in-essential to the church or to those who end up with eternal life either way.
Greg’s last sentence there (people can be saved without believing in Jesus) is the crux of his making inclusivism a straw-man to be knocked down. I’m not saying here that people can be saved without believing in Jesus. I’m saying that believing in Jesus includes a lot more than what many evangelicals today say that it means. Every statement in the new testament concerning how one can be saved (I think that may be the next real “chapter” I’ll have to write about – going through all the salvation passages) describes examples of the many ways that a person can exercise faith in Christ. They are examples of the underlying theme (only Jesus saves), not an exclusive list of items that you have to check off to “make the grade”.
So now that i’ve differentiated what I mean from what Greg means by “inclusivism”, how should I proceed here? I don’t want to drive readers away from learning something potentially valuable just because I use a red flag word. I think I’ll start using the term “particular inclusivism” This is mainly because it emphasizes this book’s main thesis – the national soul. If God grants immortality to someone at the fringe of Christendom – someone many of us might be surprised to see in eternity, he’s granting it purely because of the “parts” of that person he identifies as the work of his son. The other “parts” of that person not glorifying Christ will be destroyed. For further discussion, see here.
The topic of heresy is a natural one to come up when we start thinking in terms the human soul as national. If the saving or damning parts of a person are their heart-felt, deeply ingrained beliefs, and specifically the saving part being beliefs in Christ, then does that leave room for the concept of heresy? I think the answer is no (edit: or a qualified “yes”, depending on your definition of heresy – read on…). Before we go any further, let’s first define the concept…
Well, I just looked it up (wikipedia and google dictionary) and it appears I may have a different definition of heresy than the orthodox definition. That makes me a heretic on the definition of heresy😉. It seems the wikipedia article focuses mainly on the political ramifications, I.e. Around the 300s when the distinction between church and state became blurred, heresy was a reason to put someone to death if the church didn’t like what a competitor was claiming about Christianity. The dictionary definition was mainly focusing on a certain belief being “not orthodox” or “not the mainstream view” and emphasizing the change of ones viewpoint away from the former orthodox view.
Somehow, perhaps with my Christian experience being in the Evangelical realm, I’ve come to define heresy as “having a belief that destines one to hell”. Perhaps it is a slightly different thing I’ve had in mind all this time – the “damnable heresy”. The view that I will eventually explain should not be very controversial, at least among Calvinists, as the Calvinist view is that we’re all heretics (so to speak) unless we have been elected by God the Father to be saved by Christ, and there really is no such thing as a damnable heresy because we believe that nothing (not even a false belief) can take the elect out of the hands of Christ. I’d imagine (correct me if I’m wrong) Arminians would believe in a damnable heresy that causes one to lose one’s salvation as it (losing one’s salvation) is a possibility in their eyes.
Let’s look at the scripture that seems to talk about this:
2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgement from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
When I was googling this topic, all the scripture references were to this passage. Some used the phrase “destructive heresies” and some used “damnable heresies”. I have 4 bibles on my phone and all of them use the phrase “destructive heresies”. As I write this the thought crosses my mind that perhaps I’m making a straw-man argument that I can then knock down. Maybe I’ve misread people all this time… Is it only the cultists that talk of damnable heresies? I’ll have to look into it.
Anyway, what is 2Peter talking about here? Well, the first chapter seems to say something along the lines of “even though you know you’re saved because you’re a Christian, you really ought to keep making sure by adding to your faith the right way, all the time”. It talks about constantly building oneself up with the things Christ has taught the apostles, then switches gear to talk about how that building up can be reversed, ie damaged or destroyed by these false teachers and their “destructive heresies”.
A little later on right at the end Peter writes this:
2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Now, even though the unprincipled men teaching these heresies don’t appear to be saved (although you might argue its possible they are “as a man escaping alive from his burning house” as some of them at least once did believe, but now their situation is worse than before they first believed), the one being duped by them is certainly saved, but they’re just not having grace and peace being multiplied to them as much as they would if they were following chapter 1 correctly. In other words, their belief in the heresy has not damned them to hell.
So now that we’ve sort of already “established” that there’s no such thing as a “damnable heresy”, it shouldn’t be so hard to see how that fits in with the national soul idea. Let’s say that the heresy in mind is Arianism. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to [Arius] ( [ca.] AD 250–336), a Christian [presbyter] from [Alexandria] , Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the [Trinity] (‘God the Father’, ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit’) and the precise nature of the [Son of God] as being a subordinate entity to God the Father. Deemed a [heretic] by the [First Council of Nicaea] of 325, Arius was later exonerated in 335 at the [First Synod of Tyre] , and then, after his death, pronounced a heretic again at the [First Council of Constantinople] of 381.
So let’s say you believe that Christ did not always exist in “eternity past” as us good trinitarians believe, but that he was created when he was born. Let’s say that you also believe that he was crucified and thereby paid for our sins and rose again on the third day. Just for good measure, let’s say that you also help the poor, not because you feel guilted into it or because you think it will get you ahead in the eyes of your peers, but because Christ said you should and besides, deep in your heart you know (and this belief may have been planted by Christ himself) that its just the right thing to do. Are you a Christian? Yes, although some Christians would deny that, and you wouldn’t be accepted as a member in the church I attend. Are you saved? Yes, because you have faith in Christ. Is your Arian view of Christ a heresy? Yes, and I believe that when you are resurrected for eternal life in the new heavens and new earth that that false belief will no longer be a part of you. Will the heresy be a “destructive heresy” in this present life? Yes, because any anti-Christian beliefs, whether its Arianism, or garden variety greed or lust, will have its consequences due either to the direct consequences of sinful behavior / beliefs, or perhaps the absence of other supportive Christian beliefs and attitudes that the heretical belief undermines. It will also adversely affect to varying degrees the lives, both now and in eternity, of others inside your circle of influence.
Okay, reality check: why am I writing this? Well besides the fact that I’ve just been thinking about this lately, I have come across in various places, but specifically at one blog that is associated with a podcast I value (I don’t feel the need to say the name) this attitude of “so-in-so (let’s call him Chuck) is failing to delineate “belief A”, a correct belief, from “belief B”, a clearly heretical (read incorrect) belief and we have to call him out on that”. Now I’m not saying that these people are saying that Chuck is going to Hell, but I’m pretty sure they’re saying anyone who is a “belief B” person is probably headed there unless they repent of it. So what’s’ the difference between my view and this podcaster’s view? We both believe that “B-ism” is wrong, heretical and damaging to the church. Well, first, I’m less likely to use inflammatory language in dealing with them, thereby undermining my own correct beliefs (ie the ones that are actually objectively true). Second, I’m not going to differentiate between this “hyper-bad” view over here and that “just plain bad” view over there. If something is anti-christian, its not any more wrong than another anti-christian belief. We should stop bashing people and instead bash bad ideas. ( End of rant)
To me these two concepts – the gospel and repentance – on the surface, seem incompatible. “Huh?” you say, “but Dave, that’s basic Christianity…” Let me explain. “the Gospel” means “good news” and I think we are to take that seriously. What I mean by that is its not a declaration that we only have one thing to do to “get to heaven” because if that were the case we are saved by Christ plus our works, meaning our personal superiority of being smart enough to recognize Christ and “invite him in to our heart”. No, the gospel is truly good news – its an announcement of something that’s already happened.
Picture all those black and white photos and newsreels of New York when it was announced that World War II was over – Streamers and confetti falling from above, everyone smiling, people hugging and kissing in the streets… That was a good day! I wasn’t alive then, but I can still feel the sublime joy and relief 65 years after the event.
The Gospel is like that. So when you hear the phrase “preach the gospel” it should be accompanied by a knowing and feeling of great relief – almost to the extent of something like “you know all the rotten stuff we have to put up with and the worry in this life? Well, don’t worry – its all taken care of – we won! It’s over! (Yay!)
Now wait a minute. If that’s true, what about repentance?
Acts 26:16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.
So we’re back to the same old conundrum: is it really a gift, faith alone (i.e. the faith itself is the gift)? Or do we really have to perform? Is it really just a good deal that’s offered to us, but we have to take it? Spiritual equivocation doesn’t negate the fact that Christians are to separate themselves from the rest of the world by their behaviour. As Christians we are to behave a certain way – that’s what repent means – “don’t just talk about it – do it” But if we look inside ourselves, before we can repent, the Spirit must open our eyes to see the contrast between what we believe in Christ, i.e. the truth that Christ has placed in us, the need for self-sacrifice, and what we have believed or bought into that is of the devil (whether rooting back to Adam or some new instance) – the selfishness that lies in all of us (pun intended🙂 The fact that Christ is in us in the first place is the good news. To know if it really is Christ, to know if we’re really saved we have to act on that belief – to really do something for someone else that is by definition a turning from selfishness – a repentance. This is a process that has to be repeated over and over again throughout our lives and each time we see the victory we should give thanks to God and “party in the streets!”
Mat 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
My initial reason for writing this post is the observance that it does not say “get all the nations to ‘say the prayer’ or ‘ask Jesus into their hearts'”. Yes, making a conscious decision or acknowledgement that Christ has done a saving work in their lives is implied by the “baptize them” part, but I’m convinced the great commission is about more than just a “head count” – numbers of people in the pews and numbers of people baptized last year. No churches I know of actually put it in those words, but functionally that’s how a lot of churches behave. I also think its more than getting to know our neighbors so that we can relate to them and pray for the moment we can tell them about Jesus.
The main emphasis here is teaching. We are to teach the people of all the nations how to obey all that Christ taught us. My question is, “does it matter the order that we do it in?” That is, do we resist the teaching to obey part waiting until they are baptized? Can we not teach people as if all those we are teaching are part of the elect (even though they may not know it), and the baptisms that arise from it are a sign that we’re doing a good job teaching?
What might this look like in real life? Picture someone from a church teaching a group of people who have responded to a community ad about learning to be a better parent or succeed in university or high school, or learning how to take control of finances. There are aspects of all those things that Christ has taught about. If we take seriously the idea of the national soul, we can teach any truth that Christ taught about for any reason to anyone who might never have thought about it in that way before and we are obeying the great commission. Instead of doing a “community service seminar” as some sort of bait so we can “give the gospel message” at the end hoping that a portion of those people will attend our church and make a commitment to the Lord, I think it would be more appropriate to state something at the beginning like this: “As you know, this seminar is sponsored by my church, but I’m not going to ask you to become a Christian at the end. That’s because we believe that you can’t chose to follow Jesus – He has to choose you, and if what I’m about to teach you concerning keeping healthy (or whatever) is objectively right and true, and you see its value and desire to stop doing all the wrong things and start doing what is right, then that may be your sign that Christ has chosen you already. If you’re already a Christian, then this is also for you because you know that you are to do whatever is right and strive for excellence in all aspects of your life, including this one.”
I think the teaching to obey part of the great commission is valid before the baptism part in the same way that a fetus is as much a human person before birth as after.