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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:29 PM

IF YANCEY IS WRONG, THEN WHY IS IT SO HARD TO TELL?

(A review by Brother Jonathan Burke)

When I first opened What’s so amazing about Grace?, I approached it rather skeptically, concerned that I may be confronted with complete error right from the start. It was much to my surprise, and even to my concern, to find myself agreeing with Yancey on a number of points. As I continued to read, I felt increasingly puzzled - I agreed with some of his arguments, but could never agree with his conclusions.
The question which many of us may be asking ourselves is 'If Yancey is wrong, then why is it so hard to tell?'.

THE PROBLEM IS A DOCTRINAL ONE

Andrew has rightly said that Yancey's book is a subtle combination of truth and error 1, but it is not until his work is compared with sound Scriptural principles that some of these subtleties are revealed. The key principles at stake are:

The process of forgiveness
The meaning and purpose of grace
The character of God
The process of salvation
The atoning work of Christ
The doctrine of God manifestation

It is obvious that these principles comprise the very foundations of our faith. Any error in one of these principles will fracture the entire gospel message. Inevitably, and ultimately most seriously, it will lead to a way of life which is a complete departure from God. This is no overstatement. If we acknowledge that the principles listed above are of utmost importance to our relationship with God, and our eternal salvation, then we will be rightly alarmed when we realise that in Yancey's book these fundamental principles are either distorted or else omitted completely. Such an inadequate and inaccurate presentation of these principles, will have a serious destructive influence not only on our understanding of God, but also on our very way of life.

So how does Yancey present these principles, and to what extent is he accurate to their Scriptural definition? It is an unalterable fact that we become what we worship. If we truly believe the doctrines we profess, our lives will be shaped by them. These doctrines determine our understanding of our relationship with God, and determine the life we lead as a result of that relationship. Philip Yancey has grasped the truth of the fact that our doctrine determines our way of life in this way. The doctrinal position of Philip Yancey results in a certain way of life, and that way of life is unjustifiable without that doctrinal position.

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:29 PM

It is obvious that his understanding of the relationship between the Creator and the human creation, has been derived from his doctrinal position, and this finds its expression in his exposition of grace. Thus we can accept Yancey's particular definition of grace if and only if, we are prepared to accept the doctrines on which that definition is based. These doctrines are:

The trinity
The substitutionary model of the atonement
The personhood and indwelling of the Holy Spirit

It is an inescapable fact that Yancey's definition of grace and the manner in which it directs our way of life is predicated on these 3 core doctrines. Unless you believe in them, you have no access to the kind of 'grace' of which Yancey speaks. These doctrines must be true if Yancey's definition of grace is to 'work', so to speak - without them, together with a number of assumptions derived from them, Yancey's definition of grace has no support whatever, since it is contrary to the Scriptural definition.

The danger therefore with Yancey's definition of grace is not merely that it is wrong, but why it is wrong.
It is wrong because it is entirely founded and utterly dependent on three wrong doctrines - doctrines which are the very mainstay of the theology of almost every apostate church from the Roman Catholics to the Charismatics. Let us be clear on this - it is simply not possible to agree with Yancey's definition of grace unless we agree with these 3 false doctrines at the very least. Many readers of Yancey's book will find this statement surprising - perhaps disturbing. They may have found themselves in agreement with Yancey's definition of grace, whilst deliberately 'skipping over' what they recognised as his false doctrine - doctrine they vigorously and rightly reject.

This merely demonstrates the dangers inherent in reading a doctrinal work by a non-Christadelphian, Christian author. We are so quick to ignore the false doctrines which we cannot accept, that we read over them without appreciating that they are being used as the whole foundation of the author's arguments, the very authority from which his case is derived.

Remember also that this is a book about THE WAY OF SALVATION. This is supposedly “the grace of God that brings salvation” (Titus 2v11). We are not dealing with some obscure or insignificant subject here. Despite the nice sounding words and stories he presents, Yancey’s whole philosophy about “the grace that brings salvation” is founded upon wrong doctrine.

#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:30 PM

THE UNDERLYING DANGERS OF EVANGELICAL BOOKS

If we decide to read a book by a non-Christadelphian, christian author, the very best method of doing so is to read it thoroughly, diligently, and with great care. Read that book, if you will - but read it well. It is pointless to attempt to understand the argument if we are not going to read the proofs submitted, fruitless to 'skip over the wrong doctrine' if by doing so we fail to realise the importance of that wrong doctrine to the author's case. The result is that we are in danger of reading the author's words and projecting onto them our own Scriptural understanding of the matter - we take his case, and see how it could agree with what we believe: 'I would have expressed it differently, but I can see what he means'. But the author is not even thinking in the same way we are, because he does not share our doctrines. The result is that we have given him the benefit of the doubt, even when there is no doubt.

Philip Yancey is an Evangelical. We know what Evangelicals believe. We should be ready to understand his comments in the context of Evangelical doctrines - in fact, we must, for his theological position is the context of his argument.

The next question to be asked, naturally, is 'To what extent does Yancey develop his argument from his doctrine? Just how essential are these wrong doctrines to his understanding of grace? Is it possible to come to Yancey's understanding of grace from the position of correct doctrine?'.

The answer to this is that Yancey builds his argument exclusively on these three doctrines, and uses them as the authority for his case. However, the process by which he does this is not immediately explicit, and because of this we may find ourselves reading through the work with a sense that something is wrong, without being able to determine precisely what is wrong, and why.

The reason for this is that Yancey does not start by expounding these three doctrines, nor does he appeal to them immediately. He has no need to, for the audience to whom his work is directed is an audience which already believes these doctrines, and understands their effect on the topic. Whilst the Christadelphian may be confused as to where Yancey is deriving his argument, feel uneasy at the direction the book is taking but uncertain as to why they are uneasy, the Evangelical reads with understanding, appreciating with his shared doctrinal point of view, the message which was obviously written with him in mind.

#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:30 PM

WE NEED TO GRASP THE KEY PRINCIPLES OF GRACE AND FORGIVENESS

In order to clarify exactly how Yancey builds his argument, to what extent it is founded on three of the most critical wrong doctrines of the churches around us, and precisely why it cannot be supported without them, it is necessary firstly to examine the key principles involved in the issue of grace and forgiveness.

The word 'grace' is today so overused as to be practically meaningless. The principle cause of this evil is that the Scriptural definition has been replaced, in common usage, by a rather simplistic and profoundly inaccurate English definition.

In English the word 'grace' is used in an extremely broad sense. Typically, the meaning commonly used implies some kind of general favour, both unmerited and unconditional - something nice someone does for you whether you deserve it or not.

The Scriptural definition of grace, however, is far more profound and sophisticated. Firstly, God's grace is the means by which we are saved:

Ephesians 2:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

The fact that God's grace is the means by which we are saved elevates it immediately above the common meaning of the term.  This is not merely something nice He does for us, what we might call 'a gracious act', this is the moment at which and the means by which sinners worthy of death become justified and are imputed righteous:

Romans 5:
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.


Secondly, whilst the saving grace of God is always unmerited, it is never unconditional.

If this seems contradictory, let's remember that this is the very basis on which we are saved. We are talking about finite beings performing a finite work, imperfectly, and receiving an infinite reward. The reward received is indeed unmerlted, but it is certainly not unconditional. God commands us to obey Him, and although He knows we will never be capable of perfect obedience, He is certainly looking for a response which demonstrates a loving willingness to try to serve with heart, soul, and mind.

Our salvation will certainly never be secured by our works, but it will certainly be denied by our willful disobedience.

In fact, if there were no need of works, there would be no need of grace - grace is the means by which incomplete service is deemed perfect:

Luke 17:
10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Philippians 1:
6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

2 Corinthians 3:
4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
6 Who also hath made us sufficient servants of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.



#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:30 PM

The Evangelical model of 'free grace' by which we are forgiven, justified, imputed righteous and saved all prior to any confession or repentance of sin, is clearly unScriptural, as is the insistence that we need the Holy Spirit in order to even repent.

See Appendix A for a more thorough discussion of these concepts, and a powerful contrast between the Scriptural definition of the process of repentance, and the Evangelical model.

Never do we find in Scripture an example of unconditional grace or forgiveness - the very concept simply does not exist in the Divine Word. The following passage declares the necessity of confession and repentance, and the conditional nature of forgiveness and justification, beyond all possibility of dispute:

1 John 1:
7 But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


We are 'cleansed from all unrighteousness' when God bestows upon us His grace. This is the moment in which unmerited righteousness is imputed to us.

It is undeniable, however, that this grace is utterly conditional - we must 'confess our sins', as John tells us. That grace is the moment at which we are justified, conditional on being right in God’s eyes, is evident from the following passages:

Genesis 6:
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

Exodus 33:
13 Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight: and consider that this nation is Thy people.

Proverbs 3:
32 For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but His secret is with the righteous.
33 The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but He blesseth the habitation of the just.
34 Surely He scorneth the scorners: but He giveth grace unto the lowly.


The word 'grace' there is the equivalent Hebrew word to the Greek word for grace. To whom is it extended? To the unrighteous or the repentant? Examples could well be multiplied, and it is interesting to note how many of them contain the phrase 'if I have found grace in Thy sight', proving utterly that this 'grace' is conditional.

God's offer of salvation, as we have seen, His extension of forgiveness, the fact that He is prepared to forgive all who repent, is unconditional – but this must not be confused with the grace which is only granted to those who are pleasing in His sight. This difference is absolutely critical to understand. It is this difference which Yancey has abandoned entirely. A classic example of this is on page 171 where he cannot see any difference between unrepentant homosexuals and repentant believers. We are all supposedly “God’s pride and joy” whether repentant or unrepentant, faithful or unfaithful. Again, the underlying problem here is his doctrinal foundation, a substitutionary atonement.

#6 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:30 PM

GOD’S GRACE IS CONDITIONAL

Yancey’s definition of the process of forgiveness is the exact reverse of the Scriptural definition. For Yancey, grace is extended to us by God regardless of our state (sinful or obedient, faithful or unfaithful), and repentance is then just the moment in which someone chooses to receive God’s grace. As Yancey says,

‘{Grace} must be received, and the Christian term for that act is repentance, the doorway to grace.’  (What’s so amazing about Grace?, page 182).


This statement may appear correct on the surface, and in fact it may even appear to be a either a counterbalence or contradiction to much of what he has said so far. But just think about it. Isn’t repentance the moment in which a believer seeks God’s grace rather than just the moment when any person decides to receive it? This is not some mere technicality. Again, it is a problem which has its foundation in the doctrine of substitution. God’s grace is conditional on far more than any person (regardless of their beliefs) just simply choosing to receive it! Yancey’s definition of repentance is completely different to the Scriptural teaching about repentance. His understanding of God’s forgiveness is therefore unscriptural also. As Bro Harry Tennant says in “The Christadelphians, What they believe and preach” (p.70):

“The blessings of love and forgiveness flow to us through the channel of faith in the message of the Gospel of Christ and by God’s acceptance of us through Jesus.  Forgiveness comes to the believer when he personally seeks and asks for it in the way appointed by God.  Forgiveness is certain: but it is not automatic.”  (The Christadelphians - What they believe and preach)


The moment we receive God’s grace is therefore the moment we are forgiven of our sins. The Bible teaches that repentance must come before forgiveness, before we can receive God’s grace. The receiving of God’s grace is conditional on a believer repenting and seeking God in the way God has appointed. God’s grace is conditional also on FAITH (Eph 2v8). It is conditional on believing the things concerning Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God and upon being baptised (Acts 8v12). But where does Yancey ever say that these are necessary? Not once. Yancey’s doctrine (at least when you finally get to page 182) teaches that God’s grace is conditional only on us supposedly “receiving it” (no matter what our beliefs or attitude of mind), and he decides to define this as “repentance”. No wonder he comes to the conclusion that God “accepts me Just As I Am” (p. 185). But this is not repentance as taught in the Scriptures.

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:31 PM

Look at the example of the prodigal son in Luke 14. The moment when the son received the grace of forgiveness from his father was the moment when he returned to his father, and declared his sin. His decision to do so had been made well before the moment when he received grace:

Luke 14:
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,  19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.


This is the attitude of repentance. This is not the attitude of one approaching God and ‘receiving’ that which he believes to be his right. The attitude of the prodigal was the attitude of one who knew he had done wrong, who knew he deserved nothing, and who threw himself on the mercy of his father – and who knew he deserved rejection. This is not the attitude of the Evangelical.

The Evangelical attitude is expressed with abundant clarity by a quote from C.S. Lewis which Yancey uses:

‘C.S. Lewis said repentance is not something God arbitrarily demands of us;  “It is simply a description of what going back is like”’  (page 183).


This statement could not be further from the truth. To say that repentance is in any way something which God does not require, is simply false. The truth of the matter is that God requires repentance in order for us to receive forgiveness. No one in Scripture ever received grace through forgiveness without first repenting.

The apostle John insists that repentance is required by God if we are to be forgiven – and it is required in the most dogmatic and commanding terms:

1 John 1:
8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


This is the true moment of grace, the moment of forgiveness – a forgiveness absolutely dependent on our repentance. A principle difficulty with Yancey's argument, therefore, is that it equates God's grace (the forgiveness extended to those who repent), with God's willingness to forgive (the state of mind He has prior to the repentance of the individual). By implying that God's grace is the same as God's willingness to forgive, Yancey disrupts the Scriptural process of forgiveness. It is utterly vital that we understand this, and it is utterly vital that we reject it.

#8 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:31 PM

WHAT IS TRUE REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS?

Just as the effects of sin are mental, moral, and physical, so the process of forgiveness must address itself to all three of these principles (see ‘The process of Repentance and forgiveness’ in Appendix B). To demonstrate the mental, moral, and physical process of repentance, let's examine the response of the individuals to whom Peter preached on the day of Pentecost:

Acts 2:
37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?


Mental - 'When they heard...' - this was the mental comprehension of a law, and the intellectual realisation that this law has been broken.
Moral - '...they were pricked in their heart...' - this was the emotional and moral response to the realisation of our sin - a remorse, a humility and a repentant attitude.
Physical - '...what shall we do?' - this was a demonstration of their understanding that the process of repentance would not be shown without a change of life, the result of a change of mind.

1 John 1:
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


In summary, therefore, the process of forgiveness is as follows:

Mental - an intellectual recognition that we have sinned.

Moral - the development of remorse and humility in our conscience. An awareness of our separation from God, and a willingness and determination to restore the relationship on His terms.

Physical - the demonstration of our repentance by at least honestly resolving to live a life which repudiates temptation, and sins no more.

This process of repentance is only truly complete when we have reached the final stage, the resolution to try to change our lives. Before then, it is incomplete.

#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:31 PM

DOES GOD REALLY HAVE TO CHANGE OR DO WE?

The depth and profundity of the Scriptural process of repentance is entirely lost on Yancey. Not once does he describe the threefold process which is the Divine model. Not once does he suggest that forgiveness involves such a complete change of ourselves, in order to be reconciled to God. Not once in his treatment of grace does he examine the full process of forgiveness in Scriptural terms.

Instead, Yancey substitutes for it a superficial doctrine which involves God making all the changes, in order to accommodate our sin:

‘In 'The Art of Forgiving', Lewis Smedes makes the striking observation that the Bible portrays God going through progressive stages when He forgives, much as we humans do. First, God rediscovers the humanity of the person who wronged him, by removing the barrier created by sin.  Second, God surrenders His right to get even, choosing instead to bear the cost in His own body.  Finally, God revises His feelings toward us, finding a way to 'justify' us so that when He looks upon us He sees His own adopted children, with His divine image restored.’  (What’s so amazing about Grace?, p. 106)



The suggestion that the process of forgiveness involves God changing on our behalf, rather than us changing in obedience to Him, is clearly flawed. It is founded, naturally, on Yancey’s own wrong doctrine – a doctrine which insists on a God who was utterly unable to forgive His creation until He had become one of them:

‘It occurred to me, as I thought about Smede's insights, that the gracious miracle of God's forgiveness was made possible because of the linkage that occurred when God came to earth in Christ.  Somehow God had to come to terms with these creatures He desperately wanted to love - but how?  Experientially, God did not know what it was like to be tempted to sin, to have a trying day.  On earth, living among us, He learned what it was like.  He put Himself on our side.’  (What’s so amazing about Grace? p. 106)

“From the Gospel accounts, it seems forgiveness was not easy for God, either… Only by becoming a human being could the Son of God truly say, 'They do not know what they are doing.'  Having lived among us, He now understood.”  (p. 107)


It is impossible for us to agree with Yancey’s concept of the process of forgiveness, for the simple reason that it requires a Trinitarian Godhead which is utterly alien to Scripture. The result is a complete inversion of the principles upon which we are truly forgiven.

The reason why Yancey's argument disrupts this process is that for Yancey, both the willingness to forgive and the very action of forgiveness itself (grace), have already taken place well before the sin of the individual, let alone their repentance. That moment at which all the sins of men, past, present, and future, were forgiven without any repentance on their behalf, was, for Yancey, the atonement – because he believes in a substitutionary atonement.

#10 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:31 PM

A DILEMMA FOR WHICH THERE IS NO SOLUTION

The result of Yancey's reasoning is that he finds himself inevitably caught in a dilemma for which he has no solution. By equating our forgiveness of each other with God's forgiveness of us, Yancey places himself in the unfortunate position of making the forgiveness of God both unconditional, and pre-emptive: not only are there no conditions for forgiveness (not even true repentance according to the Scriptural definition), but the grace and forgiveness of God becomes available to you even before you sin.

This is no exaggeration of the dilemma, and not only does Yancey express it in almost precisely these terms, he recognises it as a critical challenge to his very own argument. When taken to its logical conclusion, Yancey's understanding of grace must be rejected even by its author. To his credit, Yancey attempts to address this dilemma. His efforts to do so, however, are hesitant. Well aware of the fact that this very problem has the potential to destroy his entire argument, and well aware of the fact that the problem is one of his own making, he spends time on 'damage control', and seeks not so much to solve the dilemma as to limit the destruction it causes to his argument.

His options are either to minimise the strength of his argument for the power of grace (which would result in the unravelling of his entire case, and the premature end of the book), or minimise the circumstances in which his definition of grace can be extended. Yancey is clearly reluctant to take either path. But choose he must, and it is the lesser of the two evils on which he decides - he will inform us that despite having told us 'there is no loophole, no catch, no condition', in fact, there is.

#11 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:32 PM

HOW DOES YANCEY DEAL WITH THIS DILEMMA?

In order to overcome the credulity of the reader, on whom Yancey has been impressing the idea that there are no circumstances whatsoever in which grace cannot be extended, Yancey must make an appeal to extraordinary circumstances. Very carefully, he chooses to illustrate the principle that there must be some limit on what he defines as grace (a principle he has denied vigorously to this point), and the illustrations he draws are deliberately extreme. Yancey needs to appeal to the sympathy of the reader, he needs to present circumstances so severe and uncomfortable that the reader will forgive him for arguing that grace should not be extended in these cases. It is for this reason that he presents firstly the case of a friend of his who intends to leave his wife for a younger woman, and another friend who is an active homosexual seeking ordination to the priesthood.

Both men are unrepentant. Both ask Yancey for his support and blessing before performing an action which they cannot justify. Yancey is apologetic, but refreshingly uncompromising - he cannot justify the actions of his friends, nor can he grant them grace and forgiveness for the sins they are about to commit, wittingly and deliberately.

#12 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:32 PM

However, close inspection reveals that Yancey's laudable dogmatism in this regard both undermines his own argument, and still fails to address the dilemma he himself has caused. Whilst giving the appearance of addressing the issue, Yancey has in fact neglected the principle at stake. The simple issue is this: 'Is the grace of God extended to the presumptuous, deliberate, and unrepentant sinner?', and the only answer provided by Yancey is, in effect, 'Not if the sin committed is particularly grave'.

In this way Yancey reduces the power of a Scriptural principle unconditionally applied, to a mere stricture applied only in exceptional circumstances. Superficially, it may appear that Yancey is insisting that grace is only available to the repentant, but the entire aim of his argument to this point, for some 176 pages, has been to reject this idea, and he has insisted on this consistently:

“The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity…. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”  (What’s so amazing about Grace? p. 45)

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus' stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God's grace… How different are these stories from my own childhood notions about God…” (What’s so amazing about Grace? p. 52)

“Ask people what they must do to go to heaven and most reply “be good.”  Jesus’s stories contradict that answer.  All we must do is cry “help”!” (p.54)

“Grace baffles us because it goes against the intuition everyone has that, in the face of injustice, some price must be paid.  A murderer cannot simply go free…  Anticipating these objections, Paul stressed that a price has been paid - by God himself.  God gave up his own Son rather than give up on humanity…”  (p. 67)

“Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more... And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less - no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.  Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.” (p. 70)

“By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted.  Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation...”  (p. 71)


Having made such a dogmatic and vigorous argument for the case that there are no circumstances in which grace cannot be applied, Yancey needs to present a very good excuse for arguing that there are in fact circumstances in which grace cannot be extended. This is why the circumstances he presents, in these examples of when grace is unavailable, are deliberately extreme. The sleight of hand which Yancey performs in this regard is entirely misleading – and entirely unScriptural. If his comprehension and description of forgiveness was Scriptural in the first place, he would not have been reduced to this kind of semantic conjuring.

#13 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:32 PM

ONE DILEMMA LEADS TO ANOTHER

What is even more dangerous about Yancey’s argument, is that in effect it subtly attempts to ‘grade’ sins, implying that there are ‘big sins’ and ‘little sins’, and that only the ‘biggest sins’ can prevent God’s grace from being extended to us. Let us be clear on this – there are no ‘big sins’ and ‘little sins’. To God, a sin is the transgression of His law, it is ‘missing the mark’.

The particular manner in which this is done is obviously irrelevant –a sin is a sin. Unrepentant sinners are not forgiven. They do not receive grace, the Divine favour of God bestowed on those who are justified in His eyes - those who are declared righteous (Rom 3v24).

Yancey’s efforts to extricate himself from the dilemma of his own making ultimately results in a flawed argument. His conclusion is, in effect, that grace is only refused to those who fail to repent of very grave sins. This is based on the following erroneous premises:

- That grace is extended to those who have not yet repented in the true Scriptural sense (this is founded on Yancey’s unScriptural definition of grace)
- That there are some sins which are more ‘sinful’ than others, some sins which God views as ‘more worthy of death’ than others (reason alone should tell us that if the wages of sin is death, then all sins receive the same punishment – you can’t be ‘more dead’ than dead)
- That some sins are forgiven by God without the need for true repentance (according to God’s commandments)

#14 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:32 PM

The attraction of this doctrine is obvious – repentance is only necessary for the very worst of sins. While he may not express his argument in exactly this way, this is clearly what he is doing. The sleight of hand he performs in this regard presents a doctrinal problem which is very difficult to discern on the surface. Inevitably, this leads to a degradation of the principle of repentance.

We have seen from Scripture that grace is the conclusion of the process of forgiveness, the moment when God forgives us to the extent that we are free from the penalty we have incurred. By contrast, Yancey holds that grace is in effect extended to the unrepentant (at least according to the true Scriptural definition). In a confrontation between the sinner and God, Yancey tells us that, in effect, it is God who blinks first, and who then extends His grace (the fulfillment of the process of forgiveness), even before we have changed our ways, or even resolved to. Yancey’s God rather hopes that we will change later, in gratitude to His accommodation of our sin, but does not require it. This is clearly the result of his Evangelical doctrine.

This teaching is uncannily similar to the early Gnostic beliefs. The Gnostic believed that flesh was evil, but the mind (being spirit), was intrinsically good. It was also argued that nothing done 'in the body' could possibly affect the mind in any way. The analogy used was one of a gold ingot placed in mud. 'Ah, you see,' the Gnostic said, 'The gold is covered in the mud, but it remains gold! When you take it out of the mud, you can see that it has been completely unaffected by the experience!' Unfortunately, the simplistic model of the Gnostic is false. Our minds are not naturally ‘gold’, and they are undeniably affected by the environment to which they are exposed. A similar analogy is provided by Yancey:

‘As Helmut Thielicke wrote:  “(Jesus) saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath… Jesus was able to love men because he loved them right through the layer of mud.”  (What’s so amazing about Grace?  p.175)


Yancey's understanding of the relationship between God and men is thus both humanistic and Gnostic. The clear and obvious aim of Yancey's argument is to provide a means by which Christians can live a life unfettered by restraints, access a forgiveness which does not require repentance in the true Scriptural sense, and prove that grace is the means by which God is persuaded to agree with us.

Yancey’s doctrine is also founded on the original doctrines of Calvin. See Appendix C for further detail on the links between Yancey’s doctrine and the doctrines of Calvinism.

#15 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:33 PM

DOES GOD REQUIRE OBEDIENCE?

For the Evangelical, the bottom line is that obedience is not necessary for salvation. We are supposedly saved by “grace alone” or “faith only”. Faith is often defined as just believing in God and Jesus. Obedience is often described as something that the Spirit will enable them to do or something that they will ‘just do naturally’. Salvation is supposedly not conditional on obedience to the commandments of Christ and the Apostles. Philip Yancey recognises that this is a dangerous element about his teaching on grace:

‘Consider this pointed reminder from the grand old preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones: ‘There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of “justification by faith only” can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace… This is the kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.’ Grace has about it the scent of scandal.’  (What’s so amazing about Grace?  p.178)


There is nothing new in this. Bro Robert Roberts deals with this problem in his book, Christendom Astray:

‘Christendom, which has gone astray from the doctrines, has also forsaken the commandments of Christ, if ever it made them a rule of life.  It has probably left the commandments as the result of losing the doctrines; for the force of the commandments can only be felt by those who recognise that salvation is dependent on their obedience.  Popular theology has reduced them to a practical nullity.  It has totally obscured the principle of obedience as the basis of our acceptance with God in Christ, by its doctrine of “justification by faith alone.”’  (Christendom Astray, ch. 17, p. 241)


In Scripture, obedience is our reasonable service to God – it is our very reason for being. For Yancey, obedience to God is simply something we do in response to His forgiveness, as a sense of gratitude – but only if we want to. It is not required of us for salvation, says Yancey, it is merely something nice we do if we want to show we love Him:

‘We will strive for holiness not to make God love us but because he already does.  As Paul told Titus, it is the grace of God that ‘teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.’ (What’s so amazing about Grace?  p. 190)


This is similar enough to the truth of the matter to be convincing but misleading. Our willing obedience to God is certainly an expression of our love for Him, and a grateful response to His love for us, but obedience is more than that - it is termed by Paul our 'reasonable service'. This takes obedience beyond a mere response to God, it is revealed as the very purpose of our existence:

Ecclesiastes 12:
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this the whole of man.



#16 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:33 PM

There is a very important reason, however, why Yancey not only avoids dwelling on the principle of obedience, but also why he suggests that it is purely an act of gratitude rather than a requirement of our service to God. The reason, like all of Yancey’s arguments, is to be found in his Evangelical doctrine. We must give Yancey credit for being true to his doctrines, even if they do lead him to make the most unScriptural arguments. Being an Evangelical, Yancey is thoroughly opposed to any suggestion that obedience is required for salvation. Strange as it may seem, to the Evangelical this is heresy – what they call ‘works righteousness’. Examples from earlier in the book make this point abundantly obvious:

“Ask people what they must do to go to heaven and most reply “be good.”  Jesus’ stories contradict that answer.  All we must do is cry “help”!” (What’s so amazing about Grace? p.54)

“By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted.  Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation...”  (p. 71)

“In one of his last acts before death, Jesus forgave a thief dangling on a cross, knowing full well the thief had converted out of plain fear.  That thief would never study the Bible, never attend synagogue or church, and never make amends to all those he had wronged.  He simply said 'Jesus, remember me', and Jesus promised, 'Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It was another shocking reminder that grace does not depend on what we have done for God, but rather on what God has done for us.” (p. 54-5)


You may even hear this Evangelical attitude expressed amongst us today, when it is said by some,

‘I also believe that I am saved by grace only, not by any works that I do.  But many Christadelphians, while giving lip-service to salvation by grace, actually teach that there are several works which are essential for salvation. These include baptism and 'purity of doctrine'…  but might also include such things as women wearing head coverings.’



#17 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:34 PM

The fallacy of the Evangelical is in thinking that just because our works cannot earn us salvation (and we must remember that they cannot), we need perform no works at all. Scripture tells us otherwise. Obedience to the commandments of God is not ‘works righteousness’, and it is very obviously necessary for salvation:


John 14:
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 15:
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.     
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

1 John 2:
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep His commandments.
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

1 John 3:
22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.   
23 And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.

1 John 5:
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.


The Bible says that we will not be saved purely because of our obedience. However we cannot hope to be saved without our obedience either. We cannot choose to worship God in our own way (Gen 4v3-7; 1 Sam 12v15, 15v19; Rom 6v16; Heb 11v4 etc.) Salvation is therefore conditional on obedience. When Jesus Christ comes back to the earth, it says he will “in flaming fire take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 1v8). Yes, obedience is essential.

If obedience was not required for salvation, there would be no need for grace, for grace is the unmerited favour of God bestowed on those aspiring to a Divine ideal which they recognize is beyond them.

#18 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:34 PM

The reason for requiring our obedience is that obedience to God’s commandments is what shapes us in His image. Without obedience to God’s commandments, our unregenerate mind would never incline us to live a life which was the reflection of His character. We are not naturally inclined towards doing what is right and reflecting God’s character. We need guidance - but from His Word, not from the Holy Spirit, as the Evangelical would have us believe. Only through the renewing of our mind, according to His commandments, are we in a position to reflect His character:

Romans 12:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.


This is the doctrine of God manifestation. The fact that obedience is required of us is abundantly obvious from these two verses alone. Furthermore, the level of obedience to which we are intended to aspire is extraordinarily high:

- A living sacrifice
- Holy
- Acceptable unto God
- Transformed (literally, ‘changed in shape’)
- Renewing of your mind (literally ‘to make different to, and other than, that which had been before’)

Nowhere do we find such a level of service even mentioned by Yancey. According to Yancey, obedience to God is relegated to an ‘optional extra’, a mere token gesture which we may choose to extend to God, but which we are under no obligation to perform. Sure, he might say that that obedience (or as he says, “being good”) is a nice thing to do and it is what God likes, but the truth is that he believes it is not necessary for salvation. This is a true manifestation of the natural end result of his doctrines and his argument – we do not have to change fundamentally, if we do not want to.

As Andrew has already demonstrated, this is seen nowhere with greater distinction than at the very conclusion of Yancey’s book, where a drunken and dissolute crowd take some time out to experience what Yancey describes as ‘grace’, but which is in reality a superficial moment of sentimentality, which even Yancey does not suggest will have a life changing effect.

It is the doctrine of God manifestation which Yancey is abandoning here – the fundamental doctrine of Scripture, to which all other doctrines are related. Refer to Appendix D for a more detailed discussion on God Manifestation.

#19 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:34 PM

CONCLUSION

We have seen how Yancey has distorted the process of forgiveness, in reducing it to a shallow and superficial arrangement by which God accommodates our sin.

We have seen how Yancey’s definition of grace is the complete opposite to that recorded in Scripture, suggesting that the favour of God (which is His grace), is extended prior to true repentance, rather than after.

We have seen how Yancey’s understanding of the character of God is seriously flawed – a curiously fickle and vengeful being, who underwent a necessary change of heart in the New Testament.
Furthermore, his understanding of the Godhead is utterly false.

We have seen how Yancey’s understanding of the process of salvation perverts the Scriptural account, not only denying the necessity of obedience towards God, but placing immortal souls in heaven, rather than making us ‘like unto the angels’, and ruling ‘on the earth’ as kings and priests.

We have seen how Yancey’s doctrine of substitution not only makes a mockery of the atoning work of Christ, but is one of the foundations of his entire approach to forgiveness and grace – we have seen also that this false doctrine is itself predicated on the heresy of the trinity.

The abandonment by Yancey of the absolutely fundamental principle of God manifestation is the most critical of the list of first principles which he assaults and destroys.

#20 Fortigurn

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 08:34 PM

Any way of thinking which denies, diminishes, distorts, or otherwise alters this foundation doctrine of Scripture, challenges the express will and purpose of God Himself, and must therefore be rejected outright.

Evangelical doctrine is reflected in what it promotes:

A mental attitude which sees no necessity for repentance in the true Scriptural sense, which justifies self rather than justifying God, which excuses sin rather than convicting the conscience.

A doctrinal position which on the one hand elevates heresy to the position of truth without which one cannot be saved, but on the other hand disregards fundamental doctrines of the Word of God, and dismisses the Scriptural principles of fellowship.

A necessary and inescapable result of these two, a way of life which sees no necessity for personal holiness and purity, which scorns obedience as ‘salvation by works’, and self-restraint as ‘self-righteousness’, a way of life which will never reflect the character, will, or purpose of the Creator.

Evangelical doctrine cannot save. It separates us from God. It can only lead to eternal death. It is impossible to argue otherwise.

It is this Evangelical doctrine which is so attractive to the flesh – and which is taught so thoroughly and persistently in Philip Yancey’s book ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’.

The consequences of brethren and sisters reading this work have been devastating – and are undeniable.
We cannot deny that we are susceptible to such endearing heresy – the facts are self-evident.

It is symptomatic of a weakness in the Body of Christ that such books as these are tolerated, their reading encouraged and widespread. It is not merely that brethren and sisters wish to divert themselves with something new, it is also that many of them do not know the value of what is old - the ‘old paths’, or fundamental doctrines of the Scriptural faith have not been taught clearly, or have been given a dangerous lack of emphasis, and the vital connection between our doctrine and our way of life has been disregarded.




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