In Response to Hans Bischof Regarding Decision Theology and Silly Arguments

decision pageWhen you publish your writings on the internet, you must be prepared to be criticized. I mean, it’s not like anyone asked me to do this, I just enjoy it. Writing is also a good way for me to work through questions and ideas. If others can benefit from my mental exercises, so much the better. The internet can, however, be a brutal place. Thankfully, as a hateful jerk, my interactions with others in my personal life have more than prepared me to weather, and also to defend myself against, people with whom I don’t agree. This approach to life, while satisfying in the individual moments, generally tends to feed into the whole “hateful jerk” paradigm and causes one’s total life experience to be, over the long term, rather disagreeable. The police academy, however, taught me a valuable life lesson. I try to live according to it every day since I learned it, and apply the principle in every situation. Doing so has proved to smooth things out, so to speak, and by a great deal. I pass that lesson along to you all now: If it feels good, don’t say it.

I mention this here because internet comments make it not so easy to keep the proverbial mouth shut. On the advice of a friend, I have generally made it a practice to simply ignore comments on my writing. This practice has made life a lot more enjoyable. Ignorance is, after all, bliss. Once in a while, however, there comes along a comment which simply must be addressed because, to let it go without response might give the wrong impression to other readers, and perhaps lead them to think that I have no appropriate rebuttal. It’s like when the guy on the traffic stop refuses to give you his driver’s license because he read online someplace that he didn’t have to (FYI – in Illinois it is a class A misdemeanor to refuse to hand over your license to a police officer on a traffic stop), and now he is going to show you that he knows his rights. A traffic cop can’t let this go. There is an appropriate response to the driver’s erroneous assertion. He needs to be educated so that he won’t cause himself further trouble and embarrassment in the future. And, this is one of the few times where we’re allowed to say the thing that makes the other person angry but feels so good.

I recently received the following comment on my article, “Why I Quit the Gideons.” After reading it, I knew that I had to open my mouth. I’ll present the entire comment to be digested, and then address it in smaller pieces:

It’s the heart that matters. The bible [sic] may not mention anything about asking Jesus into your heart but so what. Do you really think that Jesus cares if we do? I’m sure He does care and probably with a smile on His face. As His children we should never be afraid to ask. Many of us don’t receive because we don’t ask. So why make such a big religious issue out of it. It’s these silly arguments that divide us and that prevent many from coming to Christ. Why don’t we celebrate and discuss the things we do agree on. For all the other things, let’s simply ask for God’s wisdom and agree to disagree if necessary.

I certainly think that we Christians should celebrate the issues on which we agree. I don’t advocate fruitless arguments. And, of course, God instructs us in the book of James to pray for wisdom and promises that he will answer our prayer (James 1:5).

The general message seems to be 1) so what if people want to believe that they are asking Jesus into their heart? and 2) lets all just get along. If I am getting this wrong, Hans Bischof, I apologize. It is not my intention to create a straw man to tear down. This is how I understand your comment. If I am mistaken, I apologize.

Holy Scripture teaches that we take no part in our conversion and salvation. We are dead in trespasses and sins. I won’t dwell on this too much here; if anyone is interested in reading more about our spiritual state, let him go to the original article. Sufficient for our discussion here are these three passages of St. Paul:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned… Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (Ephesians 2:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

That being said, no, it’s not all about the heart, if we are talking about a person’s salvation, unless you mean that the heart is the problem. Scripture is clear about the state of a person’s heart. It says a man’s heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Consequently, our heart (that is, our will) is the thing which needs to be converted, and would not turn to Jesus on its own. We also can’t submit our will – “give our heart” – to Jesus. Why, to paraphrase Bo Giertz [1], would he want such a wretched thing in the first place? The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, describes it this way:

This is certainly true: in genuine conversion a change, new emotion, and movement in the intellect, will, and heart must take place. The heart must perceive sin, dread God’s wrath, turn from sin, and see and accept the promise of grace in Christ, have good spiritual thoughts, have a Christian purpose and diligence, and fight against the flesh. Where none of these happen or are present, there is no true conversion. But the question is about the effective cause. Who works this in us? How does a person have this? How does he get it? Therefore, this teaching informs us that, since the natural powers of mankind cannot do anything or help toward it, God out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes first to us. He causes His Holy Gospel to be preached. The Holy Spirit desires to work and accomplish this conversion and renewal in us. Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Spirit’s gifts and works alone (FC SD II 70-71).

So, in conversion, God makes willing people out of unwilling people, by the power, working, and drawing of the Holy Spirit, by means of His word. We play no part until after conversion. After such conversion, in the daily exercise of repentance, a person’s regenerate will is not idle, but also cooperates in all the Holy Sprit’s works that He does through us [2] (McCain, et al. 2005).

As for the statement, “The bible [sic] may not mention anything about asking Jesus into your heart but so what?” I say, that is the whole point. Not only does the Bible not mention that we should ask Jesus into our heart, it teaches that we are incapable of doing so. How can we, who call ourselves Christians, be so flippant as to dismiss Holy Scripture in this matter? Such cavalier treatment of God’s Word is a sin for which we must repent.

As I wrote in the original Gideons article, the problem with the idea of decision theology is that it puts the decision in man’s hands rather than God’s. It gives people the false idea that their own work of making that decision is what saved them, rather than Christ’s holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. To call rebutting this false teaching with what the Scripture teaches about how God has saved us through the person and work of Jesus Christ a “silly argument” that divides and hinders people from coming to Christ is simply untrue. We are not supposed to simply agree to disagree and have some kind of false unity. Christians in general and pastors specifically are to teach sound doctrine and to rebuke false teachers. St. Paul instructs Timothy and Titus to do this in his letters to them. In fact, St. Paul says that the man who teaches contrary to sound doctrine is the one who is guilty of being “puffed up” and craving controversy, not the one who answers him:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive…If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain…He [the pastor] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:9).

The fundamental misunderstanding betrayed by this position is one of who, in God’s saving work, does the verbs. If mankind is the actor in conversion, by doing the work of making a decision, or anything else, then salvation depends on man. If this is the case, a man must be convinced, and in many cases manipulated, to commit an act of will and declare himself for Christ. I understand how we can be seduced to believe such a thing. It seems logical. As logical and reasonable as this may seem, however, Scripture says otherwise. To maintain this Pelagianism is to take Christ’s work away from him.

If, however, God is the one who does the verbs – who chooses, who converts, who saves, who declares righteous – we can have tremendous comfort. We should marvel at how God deals with us. As I wrote in a previous article, not only has he redeemed us by His grace, through faith alone in Christ, He has given us his external word, by which we can be certain of God’s promises of forgiveness and eternal life, even when we feel the weight of our sin, and do not feel “saved.” That can sustain and comfort us when our bosoms cease to burn, our inner illumination goes dim, and we remember what kind of rotten sinners we are, undeserving of God’s favor. In those times we can look to God’s external word; whether in Scriptures, in the preaching of a faithful pastor, or in the Lord’s Supper or remembrance of our Baptism, and have assurance that though we are sinners, God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and is faithful[3].

Works Cited

Giertz, Bo. The Hammer of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005.

Klotz, Joseph D. “The External Word.” The Hodgkins Lutheran. December 4, 2014. http://hodgkinslutheran.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-external-word.html (accessed April 24, 2016).

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and  Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

End Notes

[1] Giertz, Bo. The Hammer of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005. See pages 122-123 for the exchange between Fridfeldt and his superior regarding “giving your heart to Jesus.” The passage can be found online here: http://gnesiolutheran.com/giertz-on-giving-jesus-your-heart/

[2] FC SD II 88

[3] Klotz, Joseph D. “The External Word.” The Hodgkins Lutheran. December 4, 2014. http://hodgkinslutheran.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-external-word.html

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