The Apologetics Group's Weblog (TAG)

June 2, 2011

Truly Reformed… and Truly Wrong

Truly Reformed… and Truly Wrong

by Eric Holmberg, The Apologetics Group

“Those who defend or excuse God-haters such as (John) Wesley show themselves to be God-haters. I am not saying this to be mean or unloving; I say this hoping that you will believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone and repent of dead works and idolatry, including repenting of speaking peace to those who worship a god who cannot save.” ~~ An online posting by a “truly Reformed” dude who will remain nameless.

I have been blessed (though a few have said cursed) to have had interacted with all kinds of Christians over the last thirty years of ministry. I have prayed and worshipped with them; evangelized and ministered, stood against child-killing (aka abortion) and other injustices; cared for the poor and sick; (I could go on but you get my drift). And these believers have run the gamut in age, nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic groupings, faith traditions, on and on.

As you might imagine, during this time my own beliefs on all manner of things have experienced some “diversity” as well. After becoming a Christian during the “Jesus Movement,” for example, like many of the new believers from that era I was rapture happy; enthralled with the end-time predictions of books like The Late, Great Planet Earth. But it wasn’t long before I jettisoned that belief (I felt it made Jesus too small and Satan too big) and my eschatology (study of “last things”) has undergone a couple of other attenuations since. In many areas of theology I have benefited greatly from “iron-sharpening-iron” conversations with devout, epistemologically self-conscious Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Roman Catholics (as opposed to just “Catholics” – which I consider all Christians to be), Orthodox… all manner of faith traditions.

Now, the purpose of this article is not to talk about all that I have come to believe or where precisely I find myself, metaphorically speaking, woven into our patriarch Joseph’s “multi-colored” coat. Rather, it is to point out and briefly critique a rather curious phenomenon that takes place far too often within one of those distinct, primary colors.

I am speaking here of the world of Reformed theology.

Anyone familiar with me or our ministry knows that I landed in the Reformed world many years ago and have produced a couple of videos, articles, and study guides on the subject. I very much believe in the doctrines of grace as expounded by many early Church fathers and re-introduced to the world by Luther, Calvin and others.

But those who know me best also know that I still esteem and work with men and women who process the mystery of God’s grace in election and salvation differently. While I have attempted to, in a sense, “systematize” this mystery from a Reformed perspective so that it can be understood and effectually applied in people’s lives, I also understand that it remains, at its deepest foundations – like all the deeps things of God – a mystery. Far better men and women than I have believed differently about these things. To just write them off as necessarily ill-informed, stupid, deceived, heretical – or worse unredeemed – is not something I can or will do.

Sadly, however, there are more than a few truly (or hyper) Reformed people (TRs as they have come to be known) who will.

Now let me be very clear: valuing love and charity over the understanding and wisdom of God’s own angels, while obviously Biblical (1 Cor. 13:1), does not mean that we should check our convictions and distinctives at some touchy-feely, ecumenical door. No, we should study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim.2:15), to be convinced in our own minds (Rom. 14:5) and then take the iron sword of our conviction and wield it with boldness and humility. (Ah, the inevitable tension of walking in the Spirit.) Iron sharpens iron…and this is one way that we as well as the greater Church learns and grows.

So again, I have no problem with boldly defending the truths that one has come to believe and embrace; disagreeing (agreeably) with other brothers and sisters in the household of faith.

But please, can we forgo calling the people who disagree with us heretics or, worse, unregenerate?

Now people in all manner of camps can do this to people outside their camp, though from my experience rarely as frequently as the TRs. But there is a profound irony in the latter judging people in this way because of the particular soteriology (doctrine of salvation) that, as much as anything, defines what it means to be Reformed; that is:

that the Fall has ruined all men in regard to their natural state, leaving them unable because they are unwilling, on their own steam, to seek after and serve God; that from among the world of fallen men, God elects (chooses) some of them for salvation and “births them from above”, regenerating them spiritually that both the choosing (election) and work of regeneration is unmerited; it is a gift from God that regeneration produces true contrition and faith, enabling the believer, with a now born-again heart, to repent and believe unto salvation.

In other words, regeneration (being born again) is a monergistic act – a unilateral move of God on behalf of fallen men – rather than a synergistic act of cooperation between fallen men and God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 11:18

Now after one has been brought back to life by God, that life will inexorably change for the better over time. The redeemed, cooperating or working synergistically with the Holy Spirit in a process called sanctification, will become more and more like the LORD who regenerated them. And if they don’t – if there is no change – then the non-changeling should be concerned whether they yet remain dead in their trespasses and sins. (James 2:17).

And part of this change should evince itself in one’s beliefs as well as in their actions. (For truly, one’s beliefs and words are very much actions.)

But how perfect do one’s beliefs have to be to be proof of their being saved? And because no one, besides the One who is the Truth, will ever get it all exactly right on this side of the veil, how right in their beliefs does someone have to be before they can be secure in the confidence they have properly “believed unto salvation.”? And who is qualified to do judge this, particularly in regard to someone else’s heart and conscience?

All this is further complicated by the existence of feedback loops and ignorance. (Acts 3:17; 17:30) (Some have called it in its most extreme form invincible ignorance, although I don’t like the qualifier because nothing is invincible before God.)

Allow me to explain.

Humans are incorrigibly social creatures; in fact we were designed that way by God to the end that we be formed into a many-membered, many-splendored Bride for the Son. For that reason, all of us inevitably find ourselves in groups, often more than one of them. These groups are made up of like-minded, shared-experience individuals. This commonality can be rooted in a many things: nationality, family, hobbies, faith tradition, language, vocation, sexual interests and “orientation”, culinary tastes, sports, etc. Thinking (group-think) that is both the cause and the result of this communal dynamic cycles into and is reflected back by all the members of the group. A feedback loop is born.

And we all live in them; including, and perhaps especially, the truly Reformed.

And if we are not very careful, these feedback loops can produce presuppositions and frames of reference that inure us to the truth of God’s Spirit and Word. Ignorance, often completely unintentional and embraced without the victim’s awareness (or it would be rebellion and stupidity and not ignorance), is the result.[1]

As an example, consider a 17-year-old Slovenian who is exposed to the Gospel through a scripture reading during a service in his Roman Catholic church. The message of “Christ-crucified” is mercifully anointed by the Holy Spirit, the grace of the new birth breaks out in his heart, and he repents and believes. “Great!” the TR says. “God is sovereign in election and regeneration and this (simplified) is the ordo salutis (the order of salvation). So far so good! Hallelujah!”

After the service the young man goes home. Through no fault of his own he remains in the same feedback loop of his Slovenian, family-oriented, Roman Catholic culture. (Thankfully, he does leave the carousing, blaspheming, fornicating group he used to hang with on weekends.) He genuinely loves the LORD and follows him as best as he knows how within what I would humbly submit are the errors endemic to the Roman Catholic tradition (cue the TRs shouting, “Amen!”) mixed in with all the wonderful truths that also survive and thrive. (And the TRs now shout, “Compromiser!”) Christians from the Reformed tradition would hope that someone would come into his life, like Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos, and “explain to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26b) It was, in fact, for this very reason that I produced tools like Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism.

But what happens if he is never introduced to these doctrines? What happens if he continues to process the energy of this new life within him through the lens – through the feedback loop – of his Roman Catholic tradition? Well according to TRs – like the one whose quote opens this article – he is simply proven to really be a “God-hater;” a slave to “dead works and idolatry.” He remains on the proverbial highway to hell.

Why? Because he has not added to his regeneration the “good work” of believing the right doctrine! And herein lays the irony I mentioned early: that the group that preaches the doctrines of grace louder than anyone, now says that we are saved on the basis of believing the right things about man, God and the way He saves. To boil it down even further: we don’t benefit from salvation until we can first thoroughly understand it!

I for one am glad that the first birth we experienced in and through our mothers didn’t carry the same requirements! None of us would be here.

Now I can hear the TRs objecting. Yes, I know doctrine is important. I have dedicated my life, in part, to teaching and defending right doctrine. Yes, I know that there are many people who have been deceived and have embraced a false Christ – one that can’t and won’t save them.

But to say that the converse isn’t true – that there are people who have been saved by the true Christ, but because of feedback loops and the ignorance they produce, end up believing in and following a Messiah who is out-of-focus to them – is to fall into the other side of the same ditch.

Another more nuanced example of this phenomenon can be found in a video produced by an old friend that examines some of the false teachings and humanistic methodologies of the famed 19th century evangelist Charles Finney. No problem there. I would agree that Finney fell into error in a number of areas and that some of the bad fruit from it continues to this day. (At the same time, I personally believe that it is proper, indeed Christi-like, to also consider the good fruit that in turn has inspired Winkie Pratney, Leonard Ravenhill, Keith Green and my friend Michael Brown to do some great things for God a century and more later.) But I believe the video goes too when it sets out to prove that Finney “was not and could never be a born-again Christian.”

As a product of a number of unfortunate feedback loops – his vocation (lawyer) and more notably the zeitgeist of his time: humanistic, hyper-pragmatic and individualistic; there was also the tragic fact that the traditional and largely Reformed church of the time had failed to deal effectively with an issue (slavery) that would lead America into a holocaust and thus inspired a great deal of mistrust for the old ways of doing church – it is completely understandable how Finney could have been powerfully converted by God (and there is much evidence in both his testimony and other places that such, in fact, was the case) but unfortunately remained under the “spell” of the ignorance woven by all this feedback. Whatever errors he taught and modeled through his new measures were the result.

Again, I agree that these new measures need to be examined and critiqued in the spirit of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and the damage they have wrought in the evangelical world exposed. But to insist, to judge, that Finney was unregenerate, a child of the devil and is now burning in hell is unfortunate, hurtful to both the Church and the Gospel and, again ironically, a back-handed denial of the very grace in which we all stand.

Last year I spoke at a conference to some young radical, reformed, street-preacher types; my favorite kind of people. In one of my messages I touched on this issue because I had heard a number of them opining about several popular Christians pastors and teachers, how they were not only teaching errant doctrine (in many cases I would agree they were and are) but judging them to be false converts, as unregenerate. Now again, we should ever be “searching the scripture to see if these things” (whatever anyone teaches) are true. (Acts 17:11) And qualified leaders – in the right context and in the right spirit – should be ready to challenge error when it appears and threatens to take others captive.

But having spent some time myself in the same feedback loops in which some of these men live and operate, I have seen first-hand how a born-again person who loves God can fall prey to some of the errors these leaders have embraced and taught. But there, except by the grace of God, go all of us. In fact, in that we all see to one degree or another through “through a glass darkly,” there are all of us. And that is precisely why James warned us as Christians:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1

A parallel to this warning can be found in the words of our LORD:

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

Am I vouching for each of these leaders’s salvation? No. It’s not my place or responsibility.[2] Do we have a responsibility to reject – and in the case of qualified leaders – challenge their errant teachings? Absolutely. Is it possible that one or more of them are false prophets whose final lot will be in the lake that burns with fire? Sure. But it is also possible that some of the people that TRs love to mock – to paraphrase the famous quote by Whitefield concerning Wesley (possibly apocryphal and also more probably said by Wesley concerning Whitefield) – will be closer to God’s throne in the Resurrection than they will be.

Only God knows. And only God can judge such things.

A number of the attendees were very thankful afterwards, vowing to never again dare to be the judge of another’s heart and eternal soul. I pray that all Christians will follow their lead.

I close with this observation from my friend, one-time-pastor and fellow Reformed minister, Ray Ortlund:

The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] This is why the Bible cautions us, among other things, to not lean to our own understanding (Prov. 3:5); to avail ourselves of multiple, wise counselors (Prov. 11:14); to pay heed to “the democracy of the dead”, Chesterton’s insightful metaphor for tradition (2 Thess. 2:15) and to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8)
[2] Personally, I am of the mind that if someone is Trinitarian and believes that Jesus was raised from the dead and confesses that He is LORD, we should take them at their word and treat them as a fellow Christian.
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© 2011 The Apologetics Group – All rights reserved.

For more on the reformed doctrine, visit the page on our official website: Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism

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September 26, 2010

The Apologetics Group and Go, Stand, Speak Ministries presents “Go, Stand, Speak – The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel” – Now available on our Website!

Get ready… Get set… Go, Stand, Speak – The Forgotten Power of The Public Proclamation of the Gospel is now available!

Go Stand Speak

Go Stand Speak - The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel

The long-awaited project was the collaboration of veterans of Christian apologetics media, The Apologetics Group and a growing group of street evangelists headed by Pat Necerato, founder of Go, Stand, Speak Ministries.

In a culture where speaking out about any subject in public has both been lauded as patriotic (“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”, Howard Zinn, during an interview with TomPaine.com) and discouraged (Ohio Town Violated Pro-Life Advocates’ Free Speech Rights, Federal Court Rules), street evangelism has all but disappeared from the public forum… but that could be changing.

“I’m as excited about this project as any other we have done for one big reason,” says Eric Holmberg, founder of The Apologetics Group. “I believe God will use it to spark the enlistment of hundreds, if not thousands, of public preachers to proclaim His gospel of the Kingdom… It will definitely ruffle a few feathers.”

Evangelist and business owner Pat Necerato, who co-produced this film with Holmberg, states, “The film tackles many questions that need to be answered about public preaching or open air preaching….and about the preachers themselves. Even Christians are asking, is public preaching biblical? Is it legal? Who should be doing it? Why should we do it? How it should be done? What should the message be? This film attempts to biblically answer these and many other questions. It’s our prayer that God will use this film to not only cause an insurgence of new preachers to flood the streets biblically, ethically and lovingly, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but to also move Christians to encourage public preaching within their own churches.”

So many of our nation’s greatest spiritual revivals have been preceded by the fervent and godly activity of publicly preaching Jesus and him crucified, which begs the question – Why should today be any different?

We encourage you to share this compelling production with your pastor, your family, your church, and get ready to Go, Stand, Speak.

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The Apologetics Group – Home

September 13, 2010

The Apologetics Group – Amazing Grace DVD Product Issues

It has come to our attention that a recent version of Amazing Grace – The History and Theology of Calvinism with Spanish subtitles added has quite a few mistakes in the translation from English to Spanish. These mistakes are substantial enough as to change the meaning of the doctrinal message for those who do not speak English.

Please be advised that The Apologetics Group studio located in Nashville, TN. that produced the Amazing Grace DVD (2004) did not produce or authorize the DVD Spanish subtitle version with all the mistakes. The DVD in question was released by one of our ex-coworkers who now runs a separate company doing business as Apologetics Group, Inc.

We at The Apologetics Group will be exploring the addition of Spanish subtitles to our Amazing Grace DVDs and will make an announcement as soon as one becomes available.

Thank you and we apologize for any confusion about this.

(This is a rush transcript and may not reflect the final draft or message. ~~ The Apologetics Group WordPress Blog Admin.)

August 1, 2010

Go, Stand, Speak and Jeremiah Cry – 2010 Conference in New York Aug 6-7

Why preach in public? Why endure the humiliation, the heat, the cold, the hecklers, etc. When you can just sit in the nice, comfortable pew and enjoy a sermon on the story of John the Baptist for the umpteenth time. Or, why not stand in the pulpit on Sunday and preach to the same crowd as you have for as long as you can remember? Why preach to those who obviously don’t care a whit about what you have to say, and even may be hostile to your message?

“With the public proclamation of sin being openly promoted, taught, practiced, (and celebrated in the public forum, in schools, on television, in every realm of media, in every aspect of our culture, and even in the so called church among so called carnal Christians,) the scriptures call for the message of Christ to be brought to the streets and proclaimed.”

Go Stand Speak 2010 Summit

Go, Stand, Speak Ministries together with JeremiahCry Ministries will be working together to equip others to preach the word to those who are lost during the 2010 Evangelism Conference in Brooklyn, New York August 6-7.

Speakers will include:

Jeff Rose – JeremiahCry Ministries
James White – Alpha and Omega Ministries
Eric Holmberg – The Apologetics Group
Mark Spence – The Way of The Master
Michael Marcavage – Repent America
Jon Speed – The Lost Cause Ministries
Tyler Mcnabb – JeremiahCry Ministries
Pat Necerato -Go, Stand, Speak

If you have a heart for the lost and would like to learn how to reach them with the public proclamation of the Gospel, come join us for this wonderful time of equipping, fellowship, and outreach.

Register here: JeremiahCry.com

To order the DVD, go here:

May 9, 2010

Eric Holmberg of The Apologetics Group to air War of the Worldviews on the NRB Network

The Apologetics Group is happy to announce our new television program, “War of the Worldviews”, hosted by Eric Holmberg, founder and National Director of The Apologetics Group. The show will air beginning on Monday, May 17th on the NRB Network, and will feature many of The Apologetics Groups most well known productions such as Hell’s Bells 1 & 2, The Real Jesus, Amazing Grace – The History and Theology of Calvinism, and more, as well as commentary from Eric. If your service provider doesn’t carry NRB Network, please call or write them to ask them to carry it. There will be some great ministries featured during the prime time hours – We’ll be on at 9 pm Eastern Time/8 pm Central. Hope you will join us!

Info Link:
NRB Network Press Room – Apologetics in Primetime

May 3, 2010

R.C. Sproul Jr. – Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue

Why does the church not go after the issue of abortion more aggressively? Where is the passion in regard to the genocide of a large segment of our population from those who are supposed to biblically lead the nation in social issues? R.C. Sproul gives probably the most accurate view of the reasons behind the churches silence on this subject.

R.C. Sproul Jr. On Abortion

March 26, 2010

How Can They Hear? The Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel

Go. Stand. Speak… delves into the doctrine of public preaching with experts such as Dr. George Grant, Paul Washer, Greg Gordon, Pastor John Reuther, Rusty Lee Thomas, David Legge, Ray Comfort, Stuart Migdon, Michael Marcavage, Jeff Rose, Shawn Holes, Sean Morris and other Christian leaders and uncovers the big question – Is this quiet, new move of public preaching something that is simply a trend, or is it again the beginning of a move of God where He is simply doing what He always has done, calling His ministers to go and preach His message of repentance and faith where the people gather in the public, regardless of culture, current trends, or the popularity of the message and method? The Apologetics Group and Go, Stand, Speak Ministries presents this Brand New DVD to be released in the summer of 2010 about the forgotten power of public preaching.

I’m as excited about this project as any other we have done for one big reason: I believe God will use it to spark the enlistment of hundreds, if not thousands, of public preachers to proclaim His gospel of the Kingdom…
Eric Holmberg

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14

November 26, 2009

Check out our interview with TRFW! (The Reformed Faith Weblog)

Eric just did an interview with The Reformed Faith Weblog (TRFW) – go check it out!

The Reformed Faith Weblog Interviews Eric Holmberg, The Apologetics Group

October 28, 2009

TAG’S Product Recommendation for November 2009 – How Should We Then Live? with Francis Schaeffer

How Should We Then Live? with Francis Schaeffer

How Shall We Then Live-b

‘I have been working in the field of biblical and cultural apologetics for over two decades and I don’t know of any other modern production that is more essential for the thinking Christian to own, watch, absorb and pass on to others. It was worth hundreds of dollars to me when it was released on VHS. And here it is re-mastered on DVD with convenient chapter points and a Study Guide. Wow!’ Eric Holmberg – video producer; Founder and President of The Apologetics Group

This is Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s spectacular series on the rise and decline of Western culture from a Christian perspective. This special edition includes an intimate in-depth interview with Francis and Edith Schaeffer, which is available only in this package.

How Should We Then Live? presents profound truths in simple language and concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s biblical absolute: the Truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures. Each episode focuses on a significant era of history while presenting answers to modern problems. (Twelve 30-minute episodes. Study guide included.)

Section 1: The Roman Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Reformation

Section 2: The Revolutionary Age, The Scientific Age, The Age of Non-Reason, The Age of Fragmentation

Section 3: The Age of Personal Peace & Affluence, Final Choices, and the two-segment interview with Francis & Edith Shaeffer: Living with Suffering & Sickness, God’s Leading in L’Abri & Our Lives.

About the Author and Narrator:
Francis A. Schaeffer – an American Evangelical theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor, is most famous for his writings and his establishment of the L’Abri community in Switzerland. Opposed to theological modernism, Shaeffer promoted an orthodox Protestant faith and a pre-suppositional approach to Christian apologetics, which he believed would answer the questions of the age. A number of scholars credit his ideas with helping spark the rise of the Christian Right in the United States.

Link: How Should We Then Live?

Product Details

Length: 12-30 minutes episodes
Type: DVD-Multi region
Language: English

Please visit our website: The Apologetics Group

June 2, 2009

TAG’s Product Recommendation for June, 2009

Guide to Christian Apologetics-b.jpg

Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics

Finding the right angle from which to approach an unbeliever can be tricky without guidance. Some people simply disbelieve God’s existence, some believe in a different deity (or more than one), and some think that who they worship and who you worship are the same when it is plain to you that they are not. Unbelievers have problems with the reliability of the scriptures, the historicity of Jesus or the problem of pain and suffering. Knowing the basics of these issues and their biblical solutions can greatly enhance your introduction of evangelistic basics, tailored to each person’s mindset. While apologetical arguments are not evangelistic techniques in the strictest sense of the words, the information presented here can go a long way in both your understanding of the worldview of the unbeliever and building your faith to accurately stand up to assaults of modern religions.
Chapters include:
1. What Is Apologetics?
2. The Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence
3. The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence
4. The Axiological Argument for God’s Existence
5. Which God Exists?
6. Where Did the New Testament Come From?
7. Is the New Testament Reliable?
8. ExtraBiblical Evidence for Jesus
9. Is the Old Testament Reliable?
10. The Fulfillment of Prophecy
11. What About Miracles?
12. Was Jesus Raised from Death?
13. Did Jesus Claim to Be God? Is He the Only Way?
14. How can God allow Evil, Pain, and Suffering?

About the Author

Doug Powell has a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He combines expertise in apologetics with professional skills in graphic design and music to create video and internet resources for discipleship and evangelism. His work also includes design of online medical education courses, corporate Web sites, flash animation, and more. Doug’s music is featured on record labels including Mercury and RCA. Rolling Stone magazine said, “Powell makes music that’s larger than life.”

“This guide is exactly what you would expect from Doug: clear, concise reasoning and rhetoric coupled with a flare for design and artistry…an invaluable resource.” Eric Holmberg, The Apologetics Group

For more great products like this, Go to our website, The Apologetics Group.

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