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When the Salt Loses Its Savor

Is There Still Good News for Postmodern Man?

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Imagine founding a church on sound doctrine only to receive reports that the body had become seduced by a group of self-appointed leaders who had perverted the Gospel itself. This was precisely the plight St. Paul faced in nearly every church organized under his apostolic supervision. No more pathetic is the pastoral grief of the Apostle to the Gentiles than in his Galatian epistle, probably written between 49-55 A.D. as a circular letter to a cluster of congregations in the region of what is now central Turkey. A mixed group of Jews and Gentiles, the Galatian church seems to have cheerfully embraced the Gospel of God's free grace in Christ, but like the Corinthians, who wanted to add pagan wisdom and signs and wonders to the Gospel, the Galatians were now under the spell of certain "agitators." These men wanted to return the Christians to legal bondage, even to the point of requiring Gentile converts to be circumcised in addition to their baptism. Paul himself was hardly without Jewish credentials, as he reminded the Philippians, but he gave up his own claims to righteousness in order to be clothed in Christ's perfect holiness (Phil. 3:1-9).

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1 [ Back ] Heiko Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought Illustrated by Key Documents (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), pp. 127, 126.
2 [ Back ] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Beginnings to 1500, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 362.
3 [ Back ] Oberman, op. cit., p. 130.
4 [ Back ] Ibid., p. 135.
5 [ Back ] Ibid., pp. 175-195.
6 [ Back ] Ibid.
7 [ Back ] Ibid., p. 125.
8 [ Back ] George Barna, Marketing The Church (Ventura: Regal, 1992), pp. 41, 145.
9 [ Back ] Newsweek, December 17, 1990, p. 50-56.
10 [ Back ] H. Richard Niebuhr, op. cit., p. 193. Niebuhr adds, "For an Edwards divine sovereignty had been a hard truth to which he had slowly learned to adjust his thought and life; for liberalism it was an untruth. It established continuity between God and man by adjusting God to man." Consequently, "Christ the Redeemer became Jesus the teacher or the spiritual genius in whom the religious capacities of mankind were fully developed" (p. 192).
11 [ Back ] George Barna, op. cit., p. 51.
12 [ Back ] Ibid., p. 89.
13 [ Back ] Ibid., p. 80.
14 [ Back ] Newsweek, February 6, 1995, p. 23.
15 [ Back ] Charles Finney, Revivals of Religion (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1968), pp. 2-5.
16 [ Back ] Clark Pinnock, ed. The Grace of God and the Will of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), p. 27. Further, Pinnock questions the doctrines of original sin and substitutionary atonement for reasons similar to Finney's (pp. 22-23), adding: "It is my strong impression, confirmed to me even by those not pleased by it, that Augustinian thinking is losing its hold on present-day Christians" (p. 26).
17 [ Back ] Newsweek, November 28, 1994, p. 55.
18 [ Back ] Charles Finney, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1976). On original sin, Finney takes a great deal of space attacking "...the anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma of a sinful constitution" (p. 179). Concerning the substitutionary atonement, he writes, "If he obeyed the law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation?...Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted" (pp. 206, 209). He strongly denies the view "that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt" (p. 217). On the New Birth, he insists, "Original or constitutional sinfulness, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence; and should be laid aside as relics of a most unreasonable and confused philosophy" (p. 236).
19 [ Back ] Finney, Systematic Theology, op. cit., pp. 320-1.
20 [ Back ] Russell Spittler, in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, ed. by Donald L. Alexander (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), p. 43.
21 [ Back ] Clark Pinnock, in Four Views of Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), pp. 122-131.
22 [ Back ] Stanley Grenz, in Revisioning Evangelical Theology (IVP, 1993), argues for a definition of evangelical in terms of shared experiences, stories and piety rather than in terms of doctrine. Kenneth Kantzer endorses it as a volume that "redefines evangelicalism as focusing, not on its doctrinal commitments, but on a type of spiritual experience or piety. In so doing he says many things that ought to be heard and heeded by all Christians." Cf. The Openness of God, by Pinnock, et. al. (IVP, 1994); Robert Brow and Pinnock, Unbounded Love (IVP, 1994); The Grace of God and the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (Zondervan, 1989), edited by Pinnock with contributors such as respected New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall, Terry Miethe and Grant Osborne. A symposium on the "megashift," with Clark Pinnock,et. al., is available on audio cassette from Christians United for Reformation (CURE), Anaheim, California.
23 [ Back ] Ray S. Anderson, The Gospel According to Judas (Co. Springs: Helmer and Howard, 1991), p. 99.
24 [ Back ] Newsweek, August 9, 1993.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "When the Salt Loses its savor" July/August 1996 Vol. 5 No. 4 Page number(s): 18-25

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