My friend and co-author Carlos Lara kept telling me about this really intense Bible study at his church, in which they work through the Westminster Confession of Faith. To give you a flavor of how hardcore this stuff is, consider what we studied today, from Chapter XI:
4. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.
I am pretty sure we spent the entire class (about 45 minutes) on just this sentence.
What I’ve been doing is going to Carlos’ (Presbyterian) church for this class, then I go to my church (which is a Fellowship Bible church where Dave Ramsey happens to go, I just found out…) and we sing really awesome songs and hear a sermon that is much more “let’s get out there and live like Jesus!” than the Presbyterian study sessions. It’s makes for a really interesting Sunday, sort of like going to the Rothbard Graduate Seminar in Auburn and then PorcFest.
Anyway, the thing that is really striking me as we go through the Westminster Confession is that you can’t push some of the “tough” doctrines of predestination, Original Sin, etc. only halfway. If you pull back from their implications, then you actually end up with something monstrous.
The most recent example I can give, concerns whether infants might die and not be elect. The pastor leading the study group said that yes, of course they can; there is nothing in Scripture that would lead us to believe otherwise. Then he mentioned how other sects had some type of “age of accountability” doctrine (see somehow who apparently endorses this doctrine, writing about it here). The idea is that if, say, a 3-month old dies, then obviously he must go to heaven, because after all he never got a chance to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
So to be clear, the Presbyterian pastor leading our study group, completely rejected this concept and said humans had just made it up, because the alternative sounds like it’s not fair. But, he pointed out, the very idea of election isn’t “fair” either. After all, the group had been studying–in painstaking detail for months–that humans are sinners who don’t do anything to earn their salvation. On this most hardcore of interpretations, it’s not even that you are saved by your faith in Christ, per se. Rather, God decided from before time began that He was going to save you, and then when He effectively called you (working through the instrument of someone on earth sharing the gospel with you, perhaps), then the Holy Spirit began regenerating you from your spiritual state of death, and as a result of your re-birth, you exhibit faith in Jesus and repentance for your sins. (I hope I’m accurately recapitulating what he was teaching; this is all new stuff to me.)
So, if this is how one views the process of salvation, then in a sense it’s just as “unfair” that some other adult doesn’t believe in Jesus (and hence goes to hell), as it would be for an infant. It’s not that you distinguished yourself from the hell-bound sinner because you freely chose God while he didn’t. No, God chose you, and God rejected that guy.
Now admittedly, things do seem even more unfair in the case of the infant. With the sinning adults, at least you could limit the “unfairness” to the grace God gives to the one guy. In other words, the sinning adult does deserve to go to hell, but for some reason God decides to effectively call a subset of these sinners (who deserve damnation) and redirects them to heaven. But does that really work for a little baby…?
At this point, the guy discussed what happened with Adam, and how every human since him has a “sin nature.” I’m not going to dwell on this, because I know it will just set off the atheist libertarians.
The point I want to make in this post, however, came a bit later. Now I should stress that this Presbyterian pastor is not only extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, but also a “real guy” who understands perfectly well why a lot of people would have trouble with the idea of infants not “being saved.” Yet if we push that view, inventing doctrines such as the “age of accountability,” you run into trouble, as he pointed out.
The pastor said look, if you are going to say that an infant in the Bible belt gets a pass, because he was never old enough to understand the Scripture being shared by his neighbors, then you also have to give a pass to the people who have never heard of Jesus. After all, how could they possibly be sent to hell for failing to accept Jesus, if they don’t even know who He is?
And now the coup de grace: If it’s true that people can’t go to hell if they never really had a chance to accept Jesus, then the obvious thing for all Christians to do is to stop sharing the gospel, cancel all mission trips, and indeed burn all the Bibles as fast as they can. In just one generation, if we all work together, we can ensure that nobody ever goes to hell–we just have to wipe out all evidence of Jesus.
In conclusion, I realize the atheist readers are going to be amused or horrified at how much mental energy Bible-believing Christians spend, trying to reconcile what seem to the atheists as blatantly contradictory doctrines.
However, I would suggest to the actual believers, that you push your doctrines to their logical conclusions. If you think the Bible clearly says something, but you dismiss it because “that can’t possibly be right,” I would encourage you to suspend your disbelief. I bet that the passage in question is leading to “problems” only because you are also “helping” some other beliefs with your own earthly interpretation. The Bible definitely teaches us to transform our minds and stop thinking as mere men and women. If we pull back from this Godly perspective because a certain part doesn’t seem to fit, and substitute something more “reasonable,” then the whole thing will come crashing down.