Monday, June 05, 2006

A Debate on Salvation

Previously I responded to some questions about my born-again experience here on the blog. That led to some interesting discussion. I have continued that discussion on my website.

21 comments:

LorMar said...

He made some pretty good points. However, I see no biblically based evidence for eternal security. Why do people feel the need to question your born again experience? Again, I feel it all boils down to fear. The concept of eternal security is a security blanket that releases them from responsibility of surrendering all to God. I cannot tell you how many christians feel that they can sin all they like; "for they are eternally secure." Just face facts, it is very possible to have been born-again to later reject Christ altogether. One thing I noticed about the response is the claim that the Holy Spirit will not force us to believe the truth. I would also add that the Holy Spirit will not force one who once became born-again to remain as such if they insist on rejecting God (for whatever reason).
People who believe that one can never be "unborn-again" sometimes accuse those who believe differently as living in fear of losing their salvation. That has nothing to do with it for me and not for the majority of christians who agree with me. One will remain born-again if they so chose to remain as such.

SpeirM said...

That was pretty much my view of things as a Christian, LorMar.

I think the reason a lot of Christians can't abide the notion of a genuine "fall from grace" is that it has implications about the genuineness of their own experience that they find uncomfortable. I know I used to insist that if anyone ever experienced the things I experienced, they would be so overwhelmed that they could never abandon their faith. Ergo, anyone who did abandon their faith must never have experienced the kind of thing I did. Pretty sorry reasoning.

But there are any number of quite plausible explanations for those experiences that have nothing to do with the supernatural. In light of the manifest deficiencies in Christian claims, those begin to look a lot likelier than than the explanations that come of belief.

LorMar said...

Just trying to understand. Are you now an atheist or an agnostic? I am asking because I pondered something that I read in a previous post by Merle. He mentioned that others accused his born-again experience as bogus. If one does not believe in the bible, wouldn't they then classify the born-again experience as bogus? (not just their own, but all born-again experiences). In other words, there couldn't be any such thing as a born-again experience if one no longer believes in it (as it is a biblical concept). I am not speaking of how christians view your experiences, but how you view it. Why not just call your experience bogus if you no longer believe? Not trying to challenge, but trying to understand.

SpeirM said...

But it's okay to challenge! Makes life interesting.

Atheist or agnostic. There are many of us who will tell you that agnosticism is a position on knowlege that atheists and others hold. In the current context, it simply means that we can't say for sure whether there's a God or gods. The evidence isn't conclusive one way or the other. I think you'll find most atheists are agnostic in that way. (A few do try to insist categorically that there is no God. I find that position untenable. They'll disagree, of course.)

Still, I realize what "atheist" means in common parlance. Thus, when I apply the term to myself I'm going to be misapprehended. There's probably no winning that war.

In line with the definition of "agnosticism" above, there's no way I can rule out that some people could conceivably have had genuine experiences of God. I just know that I was in a sect (Assemblies of God) that puts a great deal of stress on direct experience with God. The experiences I had mirrored those of others, at least by description. (Not being able to read minds, there's no way I can say with 100% assuredness that mine were the same as theirs. But the best evidence, in my estimation, is that they were.) They were certainly real to me.

"If one does not believe in the bible, wouldn't they then classify the born-again experience as bogus? (not just their own, but all born-again experiences). In other words, there couldn't be any such thing as a born-again experience if one no longer believes in it (as it is a biblical concept)."

Well, sure. I'll let Merle speak for himself. As for me, as I said, I thought my experiences were real. But, then, I've lived among the Buddhists and Shamanists in Korea and the Muslims in Turkey. They have their experiences, too. Those experiences, like those of most Christians, are interpreted within the confines of a worldview impressed upon them before they even know how to think properly. All light in the entire world comes to them through a lens constructed by others. They don't know how to see things any other way. (Obviously, I'm speaking broadly. I'm not necessarily trying to swab every believer with that brush.) My position was that I was right and they were deceived. Why? Well, my experiences spoke for themselves, at least as far as I was concerned. I found it uncomfortable to entertain the idea that their experiences had been real, too. I didn't want to deal with that straight on because of the obvious implications. I found excuses. In retrospect, I understand that I was defending me a lot more than the Faith. (No, I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, because I wouldn't have believed it.)

I find the claims of Christianity incredible. It asserts things to be true that really aren't demonstrably true. These are things that no one would believe in any other context. (For instance, common experience is that when people die they stay dead. If there's ever been an exception to this rule, the burden of proof lies on those who believe it. Thousands-years-old documents just won't answer. Attempts to support the resurrection of Jesus rationally are, frankly, laughable. Even as a Christian I saw that, and it shook me.) Then it tends to insist failure to agree with these outrageous things will buy one an eternity of punishment. That's nervy, to say the least.

"Why not just call your experience bogus if you no longer believe?"

I do think it was bogus in the sense that it didn't imply what I was led to believe it implied. In light of what I just said about the claims of Christianity and that people in contradicting religions have also had their experiences, the easier-to-believe explanation is that those experiences had more to do with the mind (read, "brain") than the spirit. Indeed, they always seem to happen around times of intense emotional pressure, such as at revival meetings or during long prayer sessions when I was yearning desperately for "a touch." (Revivalists are skilled at manipulating the emotions, even though I'm convinced most of them don't realize what they're doing and don't intend to.) Ever notice how "the Spirit" seems sweetest during a song? And yet, songs are a surefire way to bypass our intellects and head straight through to the emotions. I remember how, as a kid, I was always so touched by the Oakridge Boys singing "Jesus Is Coming Soon." (They were exclusively Gospel back then.) Interestingly, I get that same rush of feeling nowadays when they sing "Elvira," a thoroughly irreligious work. (Although I loathe C/W music.) That's telling.

Does this go any distance toward answering you questions? Maybe I missed something, but I haven't deliberately sidestepped any issue you raised.

Merle Hertzler said...

Was my born-again experience real? It seems that I had a born-again experience which was every bit the same as the born-again experience that others have had. But as Speirm has indicated, these experiences are probably just something that happen in the minds, and are not proof that a God was at work.

LorMar said...

But it's okay to challenge! Makes life interesting.

The reason I mentioned that it was not a challenge is because of my years of experience with people whose views differ from mine. People, atheists in particular, have become quite combative with me; I would not even have to do anything to provoke them. I have found that self-described agnostics and even pagans were a lot more respectful.

Ever notice how "the Spirit" seems sweetest during a song? And yet, songs are a surefire way to bypass our intellects and head straight through to the emotions.

Honestly, I don't find any difference in the Spirit "seeming sweet" during a song any more or less than at any other times. Although I come from a Pentecostal background, I am not a seeker after the emotional experiences that often go on there. I do agree that music heads for the emotions as you say. It is my opinion that this can be both positive and negative, but that's another story.

Does this go any distance toward answering you questions? Maybe I missed something, but I haven't deliberately sidestepped any issue you raised.

I am beginning to understand your point of view a bit more. I think the problem is that I may classify the born-again experience differently from how you and Merle classify it. I was referring to the born-again experience as a way of life or mind-set (for lack of a better way to put it) rather than the moment one becomes born-again. Is that what you were referring to?

SpeirM said...

"People, atheists in particular, have become quite combative with me;"

I've found the same to be true of Christians so often. But that's inevitable, on both sides of the aisle. When our fundamental worldviews--those principles and beliefs upon which we've founded our lives--are challenged, it's natural to get a little hot under the collar. An attack on our beliefs is an attack on us personally. Offense is often taken merely by reading or hearing an opposing viewpoint. Even if it wasn't written or said with any malignant intent, it's common to interpret it that way. If everybody will just realize what's happening, we can keep from being quite so bad about it.

Another problem, of course, is that when we believe something deeply we somtimes think a harsh response is justified or even mandatory. I wish I could say it's just believers who are this way.

"Although I come from a Pentecostal background, I am not a seeker after the emotional experiences that often go on there."

Yes, I used to teach the same thing in my adult Sunday School class. We were not to seek after experience. Still, we tend to feel experiences ratify our faith even while we deny their desirability and efficacy in that regard. That's one tiny thing that makes the New Testament just a bit more unbelievable to me. On the one hand, Jesus chided people for relying on signs. On the other hand, the entire corpus flaunts miracles for no conceivable reason other than that they lend credence to the message. (The writers could have left those accounts out. Why didn't they if the accounts were unpersuasive or even counterproductive?)

"I think the problem is that I may classify the born-again experience differently from how you and Merle classify it. I was referring to the born-again experience as a way of life or mind-set (for lack of a better way to put it) rather than the moment one becomes born-again. Is that what you were referring to?"

Are you keeping up with the correspondence between Merle and Scott? You appear to be taking about the same tack Scott is.

But as I myself told Scott in an earlier thread, I, like most A/Gs was Arminian. I didn't believe in a once-for-all experience. I believed one could fall from grace, and the proof of the pudding, so to speak, was how it all turned out in the end. Once could say one was "saved." That was a term we used often. We believed a real state of grace was entered at the moment of conversion. But our salvation was still subject to our own will. Belief--continuing belief--was always required for salvation. Consequently, a loss of faith was a loss of salvation.

I moved on to the Methodist church later. (Standard disclaimer for Evangelical/Fundamentalists on the outside: Many, many Methodists are Bible-believing Evangelicals. Just by reading the press--even the church press--you might not ever realize that. I was one of those.) Methodists are, by tradition, Arminians, too. But there's a lot of flexibility there nowadays. Tolerance is the order of the day. I had some in my class of the once-saved-always-saved variety. Although we would debate it, it wasn't considered a critical doctrine. Indeed, when you examine the two side-by-side, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference. One camp generally believes that one can fall away from the faith and miss heaven because of unbelief subsequent to "salvation." The other believes that if you miss heaven you were never really under grace in the first place. In the final analysis, the end result turns out to be about the same.

But I'm rambling now. (How unlike me! :) )

LorMar said...

"Although I come from a Pentecostal background, I am not a seeker after the emotional experiences that often go on there."


"Yes, I used to teach the same thing in my adult Sunday School class. We were not to seek after experience. Still, we tend to feel experiences ratify our faith even while we deny their desirability and efficacy in that regard. That's one tiny thing that makes the New Testament just a bit more unbelievable to me. On the one hand, Jesus chided people for relying on signs. On the other hand, the entire corpus flaunts miracles for no conceivable reason other than that they lend credence to the message. (The writers could have left those accounts out. Why didn't they if the accounts were unpersuasive or even counterproductive?)"

On second thought, I don't think I understand your point of view. I'll try to though. I didn't realize that you classified miracles as part of the "experiences" we were speaking of before. Perhaps I should clarify what I meant. I don't seek after a "touch from God" or any type of internal scenario that leads to emotional manifestations (like crying, dancing, etc). I wasn't speaking of miracles. At the same time, I don't believe we need to seek after miracles. If I witness one, I'll acknowledge it. It is my belief that miracles just wouldn't be miracles if they occurred every single time we asked for them or sought after signs so to speak.

"Are you keeping up with the correspondence between Merle and Scott? You appear to be taking about the same tack Scott is."

Yes, I anxiously await Scott's next reply. There were some things that I agreed with, others I did not. What similarities do you find between Scott and I? I personally don't believe in the OSAS doctrine. My question was how you two now view your former experiences as born-again christians. I am on the outside looking in. I see that technically, you, Merle and Scott can find common ground. You and Merle believe that you experienced what many say is the born-again experience. I will not doubt that because one can indeed experience it (the state of being) and later reject it. Although you feel that it is impossible to prove that God does or does not exist, there is no such thing as being born-again. I think that is what you two believe, correct?

SpeirM said...

"I didn't realize that you classified miracles as part of the "experiences" we were speaking of before."

Actually, I didn't mean it that way. But they're all part of the broad category of "signs." I've never seen a bona fide miracle, even though I was raised in a fellowship that believes in them.

"It is my belief that miracles just wouldn't be miracles if they occurred every single time we asked for them or sought after signs so to speak."

I have a different definition. To me, a miracle is an occurence that couldn't (emphasis on "couldn't") have a natural explanation. Whether such things occured once in a thousand years or many times a day they would still be miracles.

"What similarities do you find between Scott and I?"

Perhaps I misread you. You wrote this:

"I was referring to the born-again experience as a way of life or mind-set (for lack of a better way to put it) rather than the moment one becomes born-again."

Scott seems to read that way, too. (Although, frankly, he appears not to want to be nailed down. Maybe that's just me.) I haven't seen enough from you yet to decide if the similarities go deeper than that. I'm guessing that you think not.

I, too, am going to be interested in his next installment. I think Merle's right that he seems to define his beliefs one way and then, when cornered, finds another way to define things. But maybe what he writes next will clear all that up.

"Although you feel that it is impossible to prove that God does or does not exist, there is no such thing as being born-again. I think that is what you two believe, correct?"

Again, I'll speak for myself.

Certainly, if I have no active belief in God and therefore am not a Christian, I don't believe in the Christian doctrine of being "born again," a la, John 3. I suppose if I did believe in that, I would be a Christian, no? In doctrine, anyway, if perhaps not in practice.

LorMar said...

"What similarities do you find between Scott and I?"

Perhaps I misread you. You wrote this:

"I was referring to the born-again experience as a way of life or mind-set (for lack of a better way to put it) rather than the moment one becomes born-again."


I don't see what you see. Perhaps I should clarify what I refer to as the born-again experience. You say that you were a christian from age 14-48. Therefore, your born-again experience, from my p.o.v., began at 14 and ended at age 48. That is pretty much how I viewed it since the beginning of our exchange.

When you said this:

I just know that I was in a sect (Assemblies of God) that puts a great deal of stress on direct experience with God. The experiences I had mirrored those of others, at least by description.

Well, sure. I'll let Merle speak for himself. As for me, as I said, I thought my experiences were real. But, then, I've lived among the Buddhists and Shamanists in Korea and the Muslims in Turkey. They have their experiences, too.

I assumed that you were then speaking of various experiences with God (while pointing out that you don't see a difference between christian claims and the claims of others), not about being born-again. It was then that I concluded your definition of the born-again experience differs from mine. Before we go any further, would you define specifically what the born-again experience means to you?

SpeirM said...

"You say that you were a christian from age 14-48. Therefore, your born-again experience, from my p.o.v., began at 14 and ended at age 48. That is pretty much how I viewed it since the beginning of our exchange."

That's pretty much the way I would have seen it as a Christian. Now, of course, I don't buy into the "born-again" thing at all.

"I assumed that you were then speaking of various experiences with God (while pointing out that you don't see a difference between christian claims and the claims of others), not about being born-again. It was then that I concluded your definition of the born-again experience differs from mine."

I was speaking of what I took to be various experiences with God. I took for granted that without a bona-fide born-again experience under my belt God would not have manifest himself in those ways. Therefore, although they were not necessary for salvation, per se, they did serve as additional confirmation that I had connected with God. Now, you might disagree with that, but you'll have to do it on the basis of your version of Christian teaching. I don't accept Christian teaching, so that provides us no common ground.

As to "difference between christian claims and the claims of others," that's not exactly what I said. I merely wanted to point out that they, too, have experiences that they take as confirmation of their faith. Those experiences are as real to them as mine were to me. I'll go a step further and suggest that they are probably as real to them as Paul's were to him.

"Before we go any further, would you define specifically what the born-again experience means to you?"

May I assume you mean "meant" to me? Perhaps I already answered above. Let me be more specific. Being "born again" was a purely by-faith thing. One didn't need to do anything or feel anything. Faith alone was what was necessary to turn the key in that lock. However, the lock analogy fails quickly. Unlike a real key and a real lock, continuing faith was necessary to keep the lock open. Failure to believe would cause the lock to snap closed again.

Faith? Belief? Christian faith, I taught, has two components, comprehended most succinctly in Scripture in Hebrews 11:6. There, we're told that if one is to come to God he must

1) believe that he is and

2) [believe] that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

It's ever so evident that 1) is nothing more than "belief" as in common use: a mental assent to a proposition. That proposition is that God exists. 2) is trust. We can't come to God unless we trust that our coming will be rewarded.

Incontrovertibly, 2) is predicated upon 1). You can't trust God unless you believe there is a God. The bottom line? If one wants to come to God, one must first believe there is a God (and, further, in those qualities Christians say God has) and then trust that God will reward the belief. "Come to God" is a metaphor for the salvation event (by which I do not mean to limit to a single point in time), if I may coin a term.

That's it in a nutshell. Does it look like I have a basic grasp of the subject?

But let me be clear. I've said it before on this site. Let me make it plain again. I don't deal with particulars of Christian dogma in debate. Christians can believe what they want. But when they try to suck me into quibbles over details, I bow out. I don't see any sense in being up on the roof arguing about the shingles when its the foundation that's crumbling. Be the house ever so beautiful, if the foundation is crummy, it won't stand.

Now, if you want to talk about the foundation, I'm all ears. (Basically, what evidence for Christianity is so compelling that one should have to buy into it on pain of hellfire [or whatever brand of eternal discomfort you subscribe to]?) So, while I don't mind answering questions about my former beliefs, I'm not interested in debating your particular version of soteriological dogma. Do that with other Christians. Or Merle. Apparently, he's into that sort to of thing.

LorMar said...

So, while I don't mind answering questions about my former beliefs, I'm not interested in debating your particular version of soteriological dogma. Do that with other Christians. Or Merle. Apparently, he's into that sort to of thing.

I apologize if it seemed like I was arguing or debating about any issue. I've done enough of that over the years. As much as I've questioned the Bible or faith in general, my views in favor of it are no longer open for debate (as I have pretty much made up my mind regarding evidence that is good enough for me). I am certain that you feel the same way about your views. For me, the exchange with you was simply a discussion to find out your point of view and to make sure that I understand it. Again, it wasn't my intention to debate. As usual, things tend to take a turn for the worse. If you no longer want to discuss that particular issue, I respect that. I would like to ask more questions as I have no doubt that you'll let me know if you are not interested in discussing the answer. Would you mind elaborating a bit more on why you have decided to take the position you did on the following:

In line with the definition of "agnosticism" above, there's no way I can rule out that some people could conceivably have had genuine experiences of God.
Again, not to debate, just curious.

SpeirM said...

"I apologize if it seemed like I was arguing or debating about any issue."

No, no! Nothing to apologize for. Arguing and debating are fine. I just wanted to make sure you realized that if you wanted to debate salvation, other, more foundational things would have to be dealt with first. And, in my experience anyway, those are so impossible to support compellingly that salvation would probably never have a chance to come up.

"As usual, things tend to take a turn for the worse."

I think it must have been my words that led you to think that. I was being frank, but not at all peevish. Seriously, nothing has "taken a turn for the worse." Again, it just appeared to me that you wanted to debate the mechanics of salvation which, though interesting in itself, is hardly meaningful until such things as the following are well established:

1. Is there a god?
2. Does the Bible have anything at all to do with this god?
3. Is this god the Christian God?
4. Did the Biblical stories upon which the Christian faith rests really happen?
5. If they did, must we infer the same things from them that Christians do?
6. Does God really expect of us the things the Bible says he does, and do the consequences it outlines for failing to meet those expectations have any basis in reality?

"I would like to ask more questions as I have no doubt that you'll let me know if you are not interested in discussing the answer."

I don't mind answering questions. In fact, I don't mind debating, subject to the above.

"Would you mind elaborating a bit more on why you have decided to take the position you did on the following: 'In line with the definition of "agnosticism" above, there's no way I can rule out that some people could conceivably have had genuine experiences of God.'"

I don't know how much more there is to say about that. What I wrote was just an admission that I don't know all and haven't experienced all. If there is a God, what's to keep him from genuinely revealing himself to people if he wants to?

But, of course, I believe my own experience (And don't get hung up on that word. I'm probably using it just because I can't fish a more precise one out of my stale brain) seemed to so mirror those common to the Christian faith that I have to assume I was as much "under grace" (to use Christian terminology; not that I buy the concept anymore) as other Christians. That further leads me to suspect that Christian experience, as a rule, is probably no more valid than my own was.

LorMar said...

I don't mind answering questions. In fact, I don't mind debating, subject to the above.

I think I'll "be quiet" for a while so that I can "hear" you. In other words, I need to just actively listen for now. What do you feel is the purpose or desired outcome of a debate on this issue.

If there is a God, what's to keep him from genuinely revealing himself to people if he wants to?

How should God genuinely reveal himself?

SpeirM said...

"I think I'll "be quiet" for a while so that I can "hear" you. In other words, I need to just actively listen for now. What do you feel is the purpose or desired outcome of a debate on this issue."

Huh? What's this trying to say? Why are you going to be quiet so you can "hear" me? I hadn't scheduled a lecture or anything. As to the debate, I don't know there needs to be one. Frankly, I wasn't expecting to get into one. I thought maybe you were? 'Splain.

--Confused in SA

"How should God genuinely reveal himself?"

I guess that'd be up to him, but I imagine he'd want it to be believable. Personally, if I were God, I wouldn't whisper into people's ears while they dreamed and then expect them believe I'd spoken when they woke up and put them under threat of eternal punishment if they didn't. If I were the kind to punish people for not believing in me, I'd at least provide evidence they could take to the bank and show around and convince other people to believe. Man, I sure wouldn't punish anybody eternally without proof positive! (Wouldn't anyway, really.) And, being omniscient and omnipotent, I'd be able to cook up just such proof up for them--something nobody could doubt. But maybe that's just me.

SpeirM said...

I really need a proofreader.

LorMar said...

"I think I'll "be quiet" for a while so that I can "hear" you. In other words, I need to just actively listen for now. What do you feel is the purpose or desired outcome of a debate on this issue."

Huh? What's this trying to say? Why are you going to be quiet so you can "hear" me? I hadn't scheduled a lecture or anything. As to the debate, I don't know there needs to be one. Frankly, I wasn't expecting to get into one. I thought maybe you were? 'Splain.

I am a teacher. Active listening is an educational concept where one listens to what another has to say without offering his/her personal opinion on what was said. The active listener only acknowledges what you say. I am doing this because I am the type who gets too pleasantly excited and tries to dominate a conversation. This isn't limited to conversations about religion. I am one of those people who is asked to stop talking so that another will have a chance to speak or finish their statement (christians and non-christians). Since I started this to hear your point of view, I should try stop offering my opinion for a while and hear what you have to say. Nothing more.

SpeirM said...

"I am doing this because I am the type who gets too pleasantly excited and tries to dominate a conversation."

There's something vaguely recognizable to me in that. Can't quite put my finger on it.... :)

"Since I started this to hear your point of view, I should try stop offering my opinion for a while and hear what you have to say. Nothing more."

Don't really know what more to say without prompting. I'm not here to pontificate, this being Merle's site and all. (Okay, I know. Hasn't stopped me before.) I could direct you to some good sites. Merle's obviously. I like Ebon Musings (http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/index.html). But I suspect you're not asking for that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. To be honest, I am getting a little disinterested in atheistic thought at this point. I have already explored Merle's site (which is where I discovered this blog). I have a blog here myself. Don't get the wrong idea, I am not knocking anyone...just didn't hear what I thought I would. But you're right. I am not sure what else there is to hear. I started at Islam and all the way to Zoroastrianism and atheism. I don't know if there is anything left to explore.

Anyway, Merle has started a new thread. Which probably means he wants to end this one, I don't know.

LorMar

Merle Hertzler said...

You are welcome to continue the conversation. I use this blog to inform readers of new material at my site, and to respond publicly to emails where I think the response may benefit others. I read comments that are added, and am always interested in hearing what others think about my writings.

SpeirM said...

Thanks, Merle, but I think our little talk had pretty much run its course. We'll have other chances on other threads.