Thursday, May 11, 2006

Questions About my Born-Again Experience.

A reader writes with questions about my born-again experience. He writes that he is not "trying to argue the truth of the Christian world view" but is rather trying to see if Christianity is "coherent and predictive with respect to your experiences."

His questions are shown in bold.

First, you state you were "born again". Would you describe what that meant to you?

When I was a fundamentalist, being born-again meant that I had put my faith in Christ alone for salvation. Before that I had lived with a horrible fear of hell which dominated my life. I was constantly accepting Christ into my heart, begging for forgiveness, confessing my sin and my faith in Christ, etc., but never quite sure if I had done it right. After reading the tract What Must I do to be Saved I determined that faith alone was sufficient, and put my faith in Christ alone. This greatly relieved the fear of hell, for I now believed that I was safe from the torment.

Later, after fundamentalism had failed me and I had spent years in apathy, I had a second experience in which I determined that I needed the help of God, and set out once more to live in fellowship with him in a close relationship with Jesus Christ. I thought that the God of the universe was now with me, guiding me and talking to me on my way.

Second, in light of your answer and in conjunction with your "change of mind", how did that change your concept of being "born again"?

I now see the first experience as a natural result of the relief from the immense fear of hell that I had experienced in early life. Having lived with that fear, and then later finding relief, it gave me a tremendous boast in life. I now see that this experience was nothing more than a relief from artificial fears.

The second experience is harder to explain. I was in despair before my "walk with God", and had great hope afterward. I now see that the reason for that hope is because I was committing myself to something, and was working to make a better world. I now think that I could have had the same experience by committing myself to many other views. I tell more about my story here.

Third, you obviously have a reasonable grasp of the Christian worldview. Do you believe that within that view, there is an explanation for your experiences?

Christians have a wide range of views about my experiences. I have had many people express their opinions about my experiences in my past debates. And they can't seem to agree.

Some think my experiences were bogus because the true Christian experience comes from the Catholic church, and I was not there. Others think my fundamentalist experience was the correct one, and that since one cannot lose salvation, I am still saved. Others think my fundamentalist experience would have been correct, but they will tell me I never really believed (even though I know I once sincerely believed). Others would think my fundamentalist experience was bogus, but that my later evangelical experience was real, and that I was therefore a child of God and am still a child of God (but backslidden). Others think my evangelical experience was real, but they think one can lose salvation, so they think I lost mine. Still others think my evangelical experience was an ersatz replica of true evangelical experience, and never valid. And some think that neither the fundamentalist nor the later evangelical experience were valid, but that Christianity is instead about following the Sermon on the Mount, and not about born-again experiences. One Christian even told me I was not "saved" back in my Christian days, but I am now! (see this thread, post 294).

So are one of these Christian views the "coherent and predictive" truth about my experiences? If so, which one?

To see more of the confusion about what is required for heaven, see Requirements for Heaven.

22 comments:

Scott Ellard said...

Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.

You stated "being born-again meant that I had put my faith in Christ alone for salvation".

While those are certainly good words, the complete equation according to my understanding of the Christian world view is that something else needed to happen, namely that God then imparted spiritual life to you such that you were actually born again.

I am not challenging your belief that you put your faith in Christ alone, but is it possible that the kind of faith you put in him is not the kind of faith necessary for him to impart spiritual life?
Is it possible that you weren't born again?
(I am not playing word games here.)

In your response to the third question you list many possible interpretations of your experiences from other people and you ask, "So are one of these Christian views 'the coherent and predictive' truth
about my experiences?".

At a macro level, yes. Doesn't the Christian model declare that there will be many false believers claiming to be Christians and speaking for him. Doesn't it predict
the hypocrisy, deception and false teachings and false teachers? (I am not saying all of those folks are "false".)

You provide a link to a Requirements For Heaven" poll. I find it interesting that being "born again" is not explicitly on that list in light of John 3:1-8.

Thank you again for your time. May we both continue to seek the truth no matter where it leads.

SpeirM said...

I was an Evangelical Christian from age 14 to age 48. So I know how unsettling it is to even entertain the possibility that someone who once truly possessed a Christian faith might no longer have it. What are the implications for current believers themselves if someone has found what he thinks are compelling reasons not to believe after all? Is it possible the apostate really did have a "saving faith" at one time? Could it be that any believer--no more sure his of own beliefs than the "lost sheep" was of his at one time--might someday find reasons to follow the same path? Is there an outside chance that he's not quite so convinced even now as he tells himself he is? If he is, why does he take such pains to avoid considerations that might lead to uncomfortable conclusions? (I did, even though I would have denied it vehemently.)

For instance, is the evidence for Christianity really substantial enough to justify assaulting people with dire, but unprovable forecasts as to their eternal destinies? Would the quality of the evidence for any of the Faith's metaphysics meet the high standard required to get a man sentenced to death in a court of law? In other words, would a believing jurist vote to condemn a man to the gas chamber after being presented with no better evidence than that upon which his own faith is founded? (Who would execute a man on the strength of such as "the Bible says Paul said God says"? What kind of grounds would that be?) Yet each Sunday thousands of pulpits across the land resound with grave warnings that the unbeliever faces a much, much worse fate, floating upon just such foamy evidence.

What implications does this have for all of Christianity's bold claims? Is it wrong to notice how gauzy the rationalizations are? Isn't it just possible for a genuine believer to look at such things and eventually conclude--honestly--that there is no sturdy basis for his belief, no matter how much it might grieve him to do so? (I'd dare say there are few things more painful than deconverting from a worldview upon which one's whole life has been established!)

It is possible to disbelieve after having once truly believed. For many of us, any other course would now be dishonest.

Merle Hertzler said...

Scott, you question if I was ever born again, and had that spiritual life imparted to me. Let me assure you that, as far as I can tell, I have experienced the same born-again experience that my Christian brothers experienced. As a born-again Christian I felt a peace with God, an assurance of salvation, an intimate relationship with Jesus in my heart, and an intense desire to serve Christ out of gratitude for what he had done for me. I certainly thought I was experiencing the same thing that all of the other born-again people around me were experiencing. And yet you question if I had spritual life imparted to me? What is it that I was missing?

And if I had not been given spiritual life--as you imply--why not? I sincerely begged God to save me (over and over again). I asked Jesus into my heart (many times). But somehow you suggest that my faith was not the kind of faith that imparts spiritual life. Do you mean to tell me that God refused to hear my pleas because I had the wrong kind of faith? What exactly was wrong with my faith?

You say that the "Christian model" declares that there will be hypocrisy. But how does that have anything to do with the question at hand? Are you inferring that I was a hypocrite? Gosh, what would ever make you think that? None of my born-again friends ever questioned my sincerity when I was a born-again Christian. I was known for my sincerity and extreme--even fanatical--devotion to Christ.

No, I am not a hypocrite who was finally exposed. I was a sincere born-again Christian who changed his mind.

Scott Ellard said...

Whoops, that last anonymous was mine.
Scott Ellard

Scott Ellard said...

Merle wrote: "Are you inferring that I was a hypocrite?"

No of course not. Please forgive me for not being more clear. I was referencing the numerous and varying comments from others you mentioned in your response to my third question and was trying to get across the point that the fact that there were all those different opinions shouldn't be surprising but expected.

BTW, this is one of the reasons I tend to avoid writing in these kind of forums. I don't write very well
and I always seem to mislead folks with what I am really trying to say.
Please presume only respect and good intentions in what I am trying to write here.

I was touched by your story more than most of the deconversion stories I've read. I don't know why.

Merle wrote: "And if I had not been given spiritual life--as you imply--why not? I sincerely begged God to save me (over and over again). I asked Jesus into my heart (many times). But somehow you suggest that my faith was not the kind of faith that imparts spiritual life. Do you mean to tell me that God refused to hear my pleas because I had the wrong kind of faith? What exactly was wrong with my faith?"

Very valid questions on your part.
Again I *cannot* prove the truth of the Christian model. However, assume for the moment the model is true, then if spiritual life had been imparted, not only would you know it but you would still have it. Logically then the question needs to be asked what else is God looking for from you. What is true saving faith, where does it come from and what is your part in it.

Again, I apologize for my lack of writing skills. That offer for lunch holds anytime. Best Regards.

Scott Ellard said...

speirm wrote: "I was an Evangelical Christian from age 14 to age 48. So I know how unsettling it is to even entertain the possibility that someone who once truly possessed a Christian faith might no longer have it."

And: "It is possible to disbelieve after having once truly believed. For many of us, any other course would now be dishonest."

Actually for me it isn't unsettling but to be expected. The issue isn't whether someone possesed a Christian faith or not or believed properly or not. The central issue is whether they are born again or not.
(John 3:1-8)

I would like to suggest that having "faith" and being "born again" by having spiritual life imparted by God are two different things.
In fact that is where the rubber meets the road. Lots of well-meaning sincere folks will tell you about their "faith". As I mentioned in my previous comment, that is only half the equation. Whether God imparted spiritual life is the other.

For those who care to, a study to see the difference between the two may be helpful.

For the record, I have been a "Christian" based on culture, then a non-Christian based on "growing up",
then I met my first real "born again" believer and so I became an "intellectual" Christian that had a *lot* of knowledge but no "life" and now I am "born again" with life.

I can't prove any of this of course and one possibility is that I could simply be the victim of self-deception. But is my experience consistent with and predictable within the Christian model? And for that matter is yours?

Thank you for taking time to comment.

Merle Hertzler said...

Thanks for clarifying, Scott. I see that I misunderstood your comment about hypocrisy. My apologies.

You write, "I *cannot* prove the truth of the Christian model. However, assume for the moment the model is true, then if spiritual life had been imparted, not only would you know it but you would still have it."

Which "Christian model" are you asking us to assume? My debates at the Christian Forums indicate that Christians are far from united on issues such as eternal security, how to get to heaven, and the value of faith. So can we take one of those many Christian views and call it the Christian model?

You write that many Christian views should not be surprising but expected. But if all Christians go by a common inspired book, why are not the differences confined to minor issues? Why are there major disputes on the way to salvation? Is it possible that the various Christians are all sincere, but that the Bible itself is not giving clear guidance?

For instance I am familiar with the writings of the Christian man who told me I was not "saved" in my born-again days but I am now. He is a fine (liberal) Christian man, but his opinions differ greatly with conservative Christians. I do not think this man is a hypocrite. He just sees the Bible from a different "Christian model".

Thanks for the lunch invitation. I would be happy to meet with you if I am in your town (per your email).

SpeirM said...

"I would like to suggest that having 'faith' and being 'born again' by having spiritual life imparted by God are two different things."

Of course they are. However, according to Christian teaching the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former. "Eternal life begins at the moment of belief," is what you hear all the time. If genuine faith is there, so will be eternal life:

Joh 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Now, if you're an Arminian, like I was, this doesn't speak of a once-for-all event. Salvation is a potential thing. I may be "under grace," but I'm not finally "saved" until I'm in heaven. (Although we used "saved" as virtually synonymous with "conversion.") While here it's always possible to "believe not" and once again and wind up not seeing "life." Still, a work of grace is supposedly done at the moment of belief. So long as faith persists, salvation is essentially a done deal.

It's this kind of believing that really, really did exist in Merle and me. It supposedly gave us access to the same "enlightenment" as it does to any other believer. We have since come to see this as not enlightenment at all.

"I can't prove any of this of course...."

And that was the point I was trying to stress. You can't prove it. You feel you have the proof within yourself (as did I), but you can't export that proof to anyone else. And yet you'll tell others that if they don't believe a dire eternity awaits them. Can't you see the audacity in that? Christianity makes hard claims that it can't back up with commensurately hard evidence. You can't go around telling people they're going to hell unless you can come up with something a lot better than "they Bible says..." or "I feel such and such." Where do you get the right? How can you establish that right without the proof you admit you can't provide? The implications of that are devastating to the Christian faith.

I allude to the doctrine of hell because it's such an outrageous example of hard doctrine unsupported by hard evidence. I could just as easily speak of any number of other Christian teachings that are equally poorly substantiated. And yet, Christians go around insisting that everyone must swallow these whole on pain of, well, hell. And so, we're back at the beginning of the circle again, ready for another go-around.

Scott Ellard said...

Merle wrote: "Which "Christian model" are you asking us to assume? My debates at the Christian Forums indicate that Christians are far from united on issues such as eternal security, how to get to heaven, and the value of faith. So can we take one of those many Christian views and call it the Christian model?"

Exactly, Christians are far from united. That begs the question, are all of them Christians? I don't believe they are. So then how do we resolve what is and is not part of the model? Can we agree that simply because something or someone is labeled "Christian" doesn't make it so?

Merle wrote: "But if all Christians go by a common inspired book, why are not the differences confined to minor issues? Why are there major disputes on the way to salvation?"

Ok, let's cut out the middle men.
Lets go to the Bible and let it define the model. (again not trying to prove the model is true but rather is it coherent and predictive)

A simple word study on "false" will reveal that not everything that is called "Christian" is "Christian".

There are lots of references to false brethren, false apostles, false teachers, and false doctrine.

There is also mention of spritual warfare that is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.

If that is true, wouldn't you expect to see major controversies on major issues? The model says there is a *war* going on! I don't think most folks take time and think about that. (The fact there is a war is another subject.)

So for someone seeking to understand the model, they must understand that there are those deliberately trying to mislead and deceive them. Lots of well-meaning sincere people are deceived. In Acts 17 we are told of the Bereans who searched the scripture daily to see if what *Paul* said was true.

Merle wrote: "Is it possible that the various Christians are all sincere, but that the Bible itself is not giving clear guidance?"

Yes, I believe there is a lot of sincerity and a lot of deception.
Most people let others do their thinking for them -- so they are sincere but sincerely deceived.

You have to judge for yourself whether the Bible is giving clear guidance or not based on your own personal study.

Merle wrote: "He is a fine (liberal) Christian man, but his opinions differ greatly with conservative Christians. I do not think this man is a hypocrite."

I have no way of knowing. Anything he says has to weighed by you against the Scriptures. Within the model, you are ultimately responsible for "rightly dividing the word of God" and for studying to show yourself approved.

(There are gifted teachers out there. But anything said must be tested by you against the scriptures.)

So to bring this back to where we started. If you believe the Bible says you must be "born again" and that being "born again" is having spiritual life imparted by God and that your part of being "born again" is to exercise/call/trust/believe (choose a verb) and you have done that,
then you are either born again or not.

If so, my contention is that you would know it -- and know it in such a way that it is impossible to deny.

If not, either the model is not coherent or what you did wasn't what God says was required on your part.

Note that the model does predict that there would be people who considered themselves true believers but were not. (references upon demand)

I have encountered many "Christians" who believe that since they did what they understood God to be requiring, that by definition they must be born again. And thus they consider themselves to be and act like they are. But can you see that doesn't make it so?

The good news is that if what the model says is true, God is actively pursuing you as His will is not that any should perish.

Scott Ellard said...

speirm wrote: "Eternal life begins at the moment of belief," is what you hear all the time. If genuine faith is there, so will be eternal life."

See my comments to Merle with respect to what you may have heard from others.

speirm wrote: "It's this kind of believing that really, really did exist in Merle and me. It supposedly gave us access to the same "enlightenment" as it does to any other believer. We have since come to see this as not enlightenment at all."

I believe you are sincere when you say that you believed as best you understood that to mean. Therefore either the model is wrong or your understanding is wrong.

I believe that when the Bible (and specifically salvation references) are considered as a whole, either there is more to belief than simply accepting certain facts about ourselves and Jesus as true or the Bible is non-sense.

For the record, I am neither an Arminian nor Calvinist. Those are man made labels that create a false dichotomy. Frankly Calvinism denies God the very sovereignty it seeks to protect.

speirm wrote: "And that was the point I was trying to stress. You can't prove it. You feel you have the proof within yourself (as did I), but you can't export that proof to anyone else."

Agreed. But respectfully, I don't believe I am supposed to prove it to anyone else. My understanding is that within the model, only the Holy Sprit himself can prove it to you. (and if the model is true, is constantly trying to do just that.)

speirm wrote: "And yet you'll tell others that if they don't believe a dire eternity awaits them"

No, I will tell them that the only way to spend eternity with God is to be born again. Otherwise you will spend an eternity without God. The exact nature of an eternity without God is subject to much confusion.

speirm wrote: "Can't you see the audacity in that? Christianity makes hard claims that it can't back up with commensurately hard evidence. "

I don't believe it is possible to prove, (I could be wrong) as any "proof" could be explained away within a naturalist model. But simply because it can be explained doesn't make the Christian model false nor the explanation true.

speirm wrote: "And yet, Christians go around insisting that everyone must swallow these whole on pain of, well, hell."

Again, I don't insist anyone swallow anything. The right to choose what to believe is sacred.

speirm wrote: "And so, we're back at the beginning of the circle again, ready for another go-around."

True, no doubt it appears circular.
I appreciate your frustration.

SpeirM said...

Scott: "See my comments to Merle with respect to what you may have heard from others."

Please don't sell me short. I was an Evangelical Christian from the time I was 14 until age 48. While I never had the advantage of seminary, I was considered something of an amateur Bible scholar in local circles. I taught an adult Sunday School class for years. I was the one who had to come up with answers to the hard questions. Bottom line: I'm not depending on what I "may have heard from others." I know the teaching.

Scott: "Therefore either the model is wrong or your understanding is wrong."

No, I assure you my model wasn't wrong. (One bald assertion's as good as another, yes? :) )

"I believe that when the Bible (and specifically salvation references) are considered as a whole, either there is more to belief than simply accepting certain facts about ourselves and Jesus as true or the Bible is non-sense."

And so I taught, too. So I believed.

Scott: "For the record, I am neither an Arminian nor Calvinist. Those are man made labels that create a false dichotomy."

I understand that, But unless we're going to dig far deeper into theology than I'm willing to go here, we're going to have to use shorthands. "Arminian" conveys the significance I intended well enough.

Scott: "My understanding is that within the model, only the Holy Sprit himself can prove it to you. (and if the model is true, is constantly trying to do just that.)"

I understand what you believe. I believed the same. I had to. It was the only way I could make the notion of eternal punishment seem just. And I had a desperate need for it to be just. Obviously, if the system Christianity purveyed was not just, that would damage the religion irreparably. Either the God it proposed didn't exist or, if he did, he wasn't worth worshipping.

I am familiar with the "witness of the Spirit," not only by theology, but by experience. But I can no longer buy that it was anything but a corpus of feelings that can be engendered in any number of ways, by any number of things. If you'll excuse me, I'll save a little time with a couple of excerpts from a letter I wrote to my parents:

"Can we use emotion in this examination [i.e., the search for ultimate Truth]? I used to say the emotions make up a kind of vestigial spiritual sense organ. Of course, that was an altogether fabricated supposition. I had no proof to offer. But even granting the assertion could be true, what reason do we have to suspect this organ would be any more reliable than our other senses? Even at best our emotions would only allow us to grope uncertainly through the murk of the spirit world; a realm in which we are foreigners and, therefore, singularly unskilled. Would the results of this fumbling confer the right to utter otherwise unqualified pronouncements as to people's eternal destinies? If we wouldn't threaten another with Hell, for instance, because of something we've seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, why would we do so because of something we've felt? Why should anyone believe us if we were to try?"

and

"Neither is the subjective inner witness of the believer adequate to make Christianity believable. In the first place, that kind of thing is not exportable. You have to take the 'experiencer's' word for it. Is there any good reason to accept his interpretation of it? Isn't he likely to stage it within the confines of a cherished world view? That's not necessarily dishonest, but he could very well be wrong. I myself have had mystical experiences that I thought were very real and that upheld my faith. It was disconcerting to learn that those of other religions have too. Naturally, I dismissed these as deceptions, but for the life of me I couldn't justify that. Basically, they were deceived because if they weren't, I was. I wasn't defending the Faith. I was defending me."

Scott: "No, I will tell them that the only way to spend eternity with God is to be born again. Otherwise you will spend an eternity without God. The exact nature of an eternity without God is subject to much confusion."

This is a dodge. The particulars don't matter. What matters is that Christianity uniformly teaches that the eternal state of unbelievers will be eminently unpleasant. That is unjust in light of the paucity of evidence for the Faith. If God really wanted us to avoid this unpleasantness, he would make the fact of our impending doom indisputably evident.

Scott: "I don't believe it is possible to prove, (I could be wrong) as any 'proof' could be explained away within a naturalist model. But simply because it can be explained doesn't make the Christian model false nor the explanation true."

But aren't all things supposed to be possible with God? Don't you suppose he could contrive a way to prove it, I mean, if our belief really was that important to him?

But in light of the fact that he doesn't seem willing to do that, let me say it the way I always do: You can't make hard claims with only "my reality's as good as yours" as an undergirding. Even supposing the arguments for your faith were every bit as good as mine are against it, that couldn't possibly justify such a thing as hell. It would be unjust to render that kind of sentence upon the grounds of an honest difference of opinion. No, you'd have to have evidence for your Faith conclusive enough to trump all that to the contrary.

Scott: "Again, I don't insist anyone swallow anything. The right to choose what to believe is sacred."

And so is justice. Don't expect me to believe the kind of outlandish metaphysical claims Christianity maked without a lot better evidence than is provided. To consign me to eternal unpleasantness because I insisted on strong evidence for such things would be unjust.

Scott: "I appreciate your frustration."

No, this doesn't frustrate me in the least. Merle's "The Mind Set Free" is as apt a description of my peace with all this as I could think up myself.

Scott Ellard said...

Hello Speirm, Thank you again for taking time to comment. Last things first.

speirm wrote: "No, this doesn't frustrate me in the least."

I apologize. I thought I sensed frustration from your final thought in your last comment where you said: "And so, we're back at the beginning of the circle again, ready for another go-around."

Ok, fair enough. Let's jump off the merry go round.

speirm wrote: "Merle's "The Mind Set Free" is as apt a description of my peace with all this as I could think up myself."

It is obvious from your comments that you have spent much time and energy over many years to be where you are now, at peace.

I appreciate the excerpts from the letter to your parents. They are well written.

speirm wrote: "Neither is the subjective inner witness of the believer adequate to make Christianity believable."

Agreed. Not in an absolute sense,
but I don't ask anyone to believe based on my inner witness. Rather I ask them to consider the claims of the model. They are free to accept it or reject it as they see fit.

speirm wrote: "In the first place, that kind of thing is not exportable."

Agreed. But are you saying there are no truths that exist for an individual simply because they are not exportable?

speirm wrote: "You have to take the 'experiencer's' word for it."

Only to the extent that it is something they believe -- not necessarily something that then requires you to believe.

speirm wrote: "Is there any good reason to accept his interpretation of it?"

Short of a deep personal relationship, probably not.

speirm wrote: "Isn't he likely to stage it within the confines of a cherished world view?

Yes.

speirm wrote: "That's not necessarily dishonest, but he could very well be wrong. "

This is the central issue. One or both of us could very well be wrong. However, does that mean we shouldn't share what we believe with each other?
Especially if we truly believe there may be eternal consequences.

I would never go where I am not invited nor would try to force someone to believe as I believe, but I do seek opportunities to share what I believe in a manner that is respectful and courteous.

scott wrote: "I don't believe it is possible to prove, (I could be wrong) as any 'proof' could be explained away within a naturalist model. But simply because it can be explained doesn't make the Christian model false nor the explanation true."

speirm wrote: "But aren't all things supposed to be possible with God? Don't you suppose he could contrive a way to prove it, I mean, if our belief really was that important to him?"

Good question. Yes I believe all things are possible with God.
And thus while I can't prove it, He can. I believe (and stated earlier) that the Holy Spirit is doing just that. (but that's old ground :))
That is His basis for proof and if you do appear before him on Judgment Day, I shall be watching as you make your case that it wasn't enough for you -- He should have done more. (I don't mean that to sound flippant or dis-respectful.)
You are looking for external proof, he is only giving internal proof.

speirm wrote: "What matters is that Christianity uniformly teaches that the eternal state of unbelievers will be eminently unpleasant. That is unjust in light of the paucity of evidence for the Faith. If God really wanted us to avoid this unpleasantness, he would make the fact of our impending doom indisputably evident"

For me, there was/is enough evidence. I believe you when you say that for you it is not indisputably evident. But it seems by definition that it is at least as evident as all the other things scripture teaches. And it is that level of evidence, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to create the means to be "born again". Ultimately this would seem to fall into the same category as internal vs. external proof mentioned immediately above.
Again, I respect your right to say that is not enough.

In my original questions to Merle, I stated my goal was not to prove the truth of the model, but rather to see if it was coherent and predictive with respect to his experiences.

I hope we both continue to seek the truth no matter where it leads.

SpeirM said...

Well, I think it might be best to leave it here.

Believe me, it's never been my intention to convince you to stray from your faith. Unlike many atheist/agnostic/whatever's, I am not evangelical in my disbelief. The people I love most in this world are Christians. And I'll tell you this: if all Christians were such as they, my disagreement with that Faith would be little more than a technicality. They're some of the finest people I know.

Likewise, I'm impressed by the way you've conducted yourself here. You may not like to hear it, but few Christians with whom I've had to do in discussions such as this have expressed themselves with grace equal to yours. You're to be commended for that.

No, my only goal here has been in line with the tenor of the thread. You see, I really was a Christian. I really was once "under grace," according to the Christian concept of it. I wasn't an outsider looking in. I was on the inside, out in the water, swimming among myriad others of like faith. Some of those taught me. Others, I taught. Many of such as these ended their course with their faith stronger than ever. We weren't part of some wierd sect holding to unorthodox notions of what it took to be "saved."

Nothing in my experience of the Faith differed materially from that of those who persisted until the end. It's only that I found reason to end my association with that faith that sets me apart. Now, you can look at the effect and infer the cause of your choosing, but your reasoning will be built altogether upon the foundation of your beliefs. Your conclusion will be that which your faith demands. Obviously, you can't really know, because you weren't there. You can insist you stand on the "Word of God" in reaching that conclusion, but even that would rest entirely upon your faith.

So, ultimately, we're not going to accomplish anything by your continued insistance that maybe I never quite understood and my equally hardheaded averrings that I did indeed understand.

All I'll ask is that you consider the possibility that I'm "telling it like it is," and, furthermore, that you let the ramifications of it have a chance to germinate. Yes, that will mean opening up yourself to the insidious doubt Christians are always railing at. But, in my experience, there's nothing to fear from that.

So, I'll let it go for now. Maybe we'll chat here again. I've been checking in on Merle's place lately and posting from time to time. I like it here because he, too, expresses himself without the kind of calumny you find so commonly in sites that deal with things that lie so "close to home." That's not an easy thing to do, but he manages to pull it off. And (Sorry--can't help myself ;) ) he somehow does it without the gentling breezes of God's Spirit.

Scott Ellard said...

Speirm, Thank you for your kind words regarding our discussion.

speirm wrote: "All I'll ask is that you consider the possibility that I'm "telling it like it is," and, furthermore, that you let the ramifications of it have a chance to germinate."

I believe that you have been sincere in everything you have said about what you know and your experiences and that your only motivation was the free exchange of information between reasonable people.

I assure you I will carefully consider all that you have written.

speirm wrote: "Yes, that will mean opening up yourself to the insidious doubt Christians are always railing at. But, in my experience, there's nothing to fear from that.

Agreed.

speirm wrote: "So, I'll let it go for now. Maybe we'll chat here again."

Agreed. I will also spend more time seriously studying the doctrine of hell. I understand your two points
regarding the apparent injustice and the apparent lack of evidence to convince considering the ramifications. While I believe my response was true, there may be a more rational view that could be articulated.

Thank you Merle for the website.

Merle Hertzler said...

Scott: "Wouldn't you expect to see major controversies on major issues? The model says there is a *war* going on! "

And so you explain away all the Christian views of salvation by declaring that a war is going on? That's odd. In the thread I referenced, people had widely differing views of salvation. And all those people thought they were on God's side, and were following the Bible. Are those who disagree with you on salvation in a war against God? No? Then why are there major differences on salvation? "War" doesn't explain that, does it?


Scott: "So for someone seeking to understand the model, they must understand that there are those deliberately trying to mislead and deceive them."

I have discussed the plan of salvation with many Christians in many threads on the internet. Never did I meet a person who I thought was deliberately trying to mislead and deceive me by deliberately teaching a false plan of salvation. It seemed to me that the people I dealt with were sincere. And they had widely differing opinions.

Can you seriously suggest that those who differ with you are trying to deceive?

I explain the differences because people are basing their view of salvation on a contradictory book.

Scott: "In Acts 17 we are told of the Bereans who searched the scripture daily to see if what *Paul* said was true."

I'm curious. Have you ever searched the whole scriptures? Have you ever read it from cover to cover?

Note also that Acts 17 is referring to the Old Testament, for that is the only scripture that would have existed at that time. And the Old Testament does not support Paul's sayings, does it?

If one believes the Old Testament, then it seems to me that one would conclude that Paul was false.

Scott: "Most people let others do their thinking for them -- so they are sincere but sincerely deceived."

Okay, and nobody does the thinking for you? Great! I do hope you are free to explore wherever the facts lead, even if they lead away from your current views.

Scott Ellard said...

Merle wrote: "And so you explain away all the Christian views of salvation by declaring that a war is going on?"

No not all, but more than most suspect. The model clearly states there is an adversary Satan and that there is a spiritual war going on.

Are you saying there is no spiritual war going on?
Are you saying there are no false apostles, false teachers, and false doctrines?

Merle wrote: "And all those people thought they were on God's side, and were following the Bible."

Again many are deceived. John wrote of the "antichrists" that are already here. Jesus tells some during Judgment that had thought they were doing many things for him to depart, that He never knew them.

Merle wrote: "Then why are there major differences on salvation? "War" doesn't explain that, does it?"

War explains much of it. Some directly from the enemy, some indirectly from unregenerate men trying to be regenerate. (I was one of them.) The scripture also states that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, although I know many natural men that try to interpret scripture without the Spirit.

Merle wrote: "I have discussed the plan of salvation with many Christians in many threads on the internet ... And they had widely differing opinions."

Merle wrote: "Can you seriously suggest that those who differ with you are trying to deceive?"

Most deceive indirectly via the false teachers and false doctrines they have been exposed to, but don't be so naive to think that there aren't spiritual forces at work as well. The root cause of non-truth is the father of lies. Many sincere folks are sincerely deceived.

Merle wrote: "I explain the differences because people are basing their view of salvation on a contradictory book."

That is certainly one possibility. However, I don't believe there are contradictions with respect to salvation when the Bible is taken as a whole and "rightly divided".
(I cannot emphasize that last point enough.)

I believe that most doctrinal differences come from three areas:

1. Not rightly dividing the Word.
For example, it is entirely too common to see people taking verses meant only for the nation of Israel and applying them to the body of Christ. (not to mention the use of the Western mindset vs. the Hebrew and Greek mindset)

2. Not understanding that all of the attributes of God are infinite and in balance with each other. For example, while God is love is true, it is also correct to say that God is hate. (The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord -- The fear of the Lord is to hate evil -- God hates evil.) God is sovereign but our Calvinist friends rob Him of the very attribute they so desperately try to protect. God is Holy and what God's justice requires, God's love supplies in Jesus.

3. Misunderstanding the persons and roles of the Godhead.

Satan works (at least) within these three areas.

Merle wrote: "I'm curious. Have you ever searched the whole scriptures? Have you ever read it from cover to cover?"

Yes I have. I am also studying Hebrew and Greek as I have become increasingly disappointed with most of the translations and paraphrases I encounter. Do you realize that Jesus turned the entire Sadducean model on its head by the tense of single verb?

Merle wrote: "Note also that Acts 17 is referring to the Old Testament, for that is the only scripture that would have existed at that time. And the Old Testament does not support Paul's sayings, does it?"

You are partially correct. So follow the logic. Paul is using the Old Testament to declare that Jesus is the Messiah. Unless he is a total fool, then there must be support for the messianic claims of Jesus in the Old Testament.

Of course, Paul goes on to write of the mystery entrusted to him. And I suspect you are familiar with that.

Merle wrote: "If one believes the Old Testament, then it seems to me that one would conclude that Paul was false."

Come on Merle, we are both more intelligent than that.

Merle: "Okay, and nobody does the thinking for you? Great!"

A wise man may be instructed but ultimately I bear the responsibility of and for what I believe.

Merle: "I do hope you are free to explore wherever the facts lead, even if they lead away from your current views."

I am, and I hope the same for you.
I try not to be too dogmatic on issues that I have not personally investigated.

I do not claim to understand all things. But of course the model states that there is such a thing as spiritual growth.

Thank you for this discussion. It has helped me sharpen my thinking on how to better present what I believe and why. I have a long way to go.

Best Regards.

Merle Hertzler said...

See my response to Ellard's comments at this link.

SpeirM said...

"Ah yes, 'the model'. What exactly is 'the model' you keep referring to?"

This is why I try not to get bogged down in the particulars of theology. It's like trying to get a firm grip on wet mud: the more you squeeze, the less you have. The more cogent your reasoning becomes, the more they'll insist you just don't "get it."

No, I am reluctant to allow myself to be lured up into the branches to inspect the leaves. I'd rather stay on the ground and hack at the root. When that goes, the leaves will come down, too.

No matter how internally coherent a Christian "model" (pick one) is made out to be (and I've yet to see one that's very coherent), it matters not at all if it's founded on vapor. It's like a bubble of gas rising into the atmostphere: it remains a mass by virtue of its own weak internal gravity, but there's nothing underneath. It rises only because it's less subtantial than the air around.

It's like a building begun on the third floor. The apologist stands at that level and interdicts those coming down who would try to go below with assurances that there are indeed not only two other floors, but a large basement as well--all sitting upon a deep and massive foundation. The innocent inquirer, thus assured, turns about and resumes his ascent, buoyed by the good news that it was his doubt that was ill-founded.

Occasionally, though, there are those who won't be deterred. We must see those lower floors for ourselves. But, lo and behold, when we open the door at the landing, there's nothing there. We're floating twenty feet up in the sky.

Then we turn about, sure that others will want to know, but find ourselves greeted by a crowd of angry faces. We never really were one of them, they hiss. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed," they tell us. We cock our heads and give them a funny look, suddenly struck with how silly that sounds. Exactly why should we believe until we've seen; or, at least, until we've got better evidence than the empty assurances of a lot of awfully nice people? Just what's so evil about expecting something approaching proof, especially in the light of the fantastic claims?

After that, we'll never quite be the same again. The first time it happened to me was a lot of years ago. I returned to the faith mostly because of peer pressure--those I loved were all Christians. I had to believe to be a part of their world. I would make myself believe! But it couldn't last. I'd seen too much. The dissonance was tearing me apart inside. If there's one true verse in all the Bible, it's this: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). I decided to quit kidding myself. I'm much happier for it.

Merle Hertzler said...

Yes, it is hard for many Christians to admit that we were once Christians. But we once really did share the same faith they have.

The difference is that we changed our minds.

TheCrossOver said...

I quote: Jn.3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

Being born again in this verse does not directly imply salvation but it directly implies "seeing the (spiritual) kingdom." Although salvation is a given, the point is if someone has seen the spiritual kingdom he knows it in himself, not needing external evidence or proof of what he believes. He may have questions, but God has answered the major ones in the believers heart. God does not post His answers on billboards to show evidence. God confirms it within the believer (Romans 8:16). God is spirit and His major work is not external but through His Holy Spirit upon hearts, causing the believer to see what unbelievers can never see.
It's either you see it or you don't. I understand those who speak against biblical Christianity, because I don't expect them to see what born again believers do. It will never really be that clear to them, in fact it would be foolishness to the natural man without the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:14).

The key is the Holy Spirit. It never was and never will be the intelligent reasoning, logic, or questioning of men that will make them see the spiritual kingdom.

Even understanding the Bible "mentally" only is not evidence that you see the spiritual kingdom. The Pharisees understood much of it yet missed out on the vital issue of what being born again is as in the case of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Jewish ruling council.

And just in case we misunderstand, not all who claim to be born again are truly born again. But one who has truly experienced the new birth will continue to the end.

Mat 24:10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
Mat 24:11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Mat 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Mat 24:13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

TheCrossOver said...

I quote: Jn.3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

Being born again in this verse does not directly imply salvation but it directly implies "seeing the (spiritual) kingdom." Although salvation is a given, the point is if someone has seen the spiritual kingdom he knows it in himself, not needing external evidence or proof of what he believes. He may have questions, but God has answered the major ones in the believers heart. God does not post His answers on billboards to show evidence. God confirms it within the believer (Romans 8:16). God is spirit and His major work is not external but through His Holy Spirit upon hearts, causing the believer to see what unbelievers can never see.
It's either you see it or you don't. I understand those who speak against biblical Christianity, because I don't expect them to see what born again believers do. It will never really be that clear to them, in fact it would be foolishness to the natural man without the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:14).

The key is the Holy Spirit. It never was and never will be the intelligent reasoning, logic, or questioning of men that will make them see the spiritual kingdom.

Even understanding the Bible "mentally" only is not evidence that you see the spiritual kingdom. The Pharisees understood much of it yet missed out on the vital issue of what being born again is as in the case of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Jewish ruling council.

And just in case we misunderstand, not all who claim to be born again are truly born again. But one who has truly experienced the new birth will continue to the end.

Mat 24:10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
Mat 24:11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Mat 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
Mat 24:13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

TheCrossOver said...

Merle said and I quote: "Yes, it is hard for many Christians to admit that we were once Christians. But we once really did share the same faith they have. The difference is that we changed our minds."

I agree totally that they were Christians "in title" and "in profession" and all the external manifestations but not how the Bible describes a genuine believer - Ezekiel 36:26-27 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."