I was a first-year student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1983 when Professor Dale Moody was called on the carpet by certain influential leaders in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. The issue at hand was the chapter on apostasy in his systematic theology textbook, The Word of Truth.
Moody was a man of immense intellect and astonishing Bible knowledge. He also was a debater – tenacious as a bulldog, relentless as a bulldozer. But while his critics may have been overmatched in knowledge, they certainly were no less tenacious or relentless.
The meeting, unfortunately, turned out to be a debate, rather than a dialogue. Neither side listened to what the other was saying. Neither made any real effort to understand the other point of view. It was what one author has called “duologue” – picture two television sets facing each other, both blaring their message, neither listening.
When Moody’s critics heard him talk about apostasy, they understood it to mean “losing your salvation,” an unbiblical notion rightfully opposed with all diligence. Moody, however, was not arguing that a Christian could “lose” his salvation. His position was more akin to “throwing away your salvation,” though he did not use those words.
Dale Moody was not a man inclined to keep explaining himself to people who insisted on arguing with him. His opponents were not the sort of men to give quarter to anyone who disagreed with them. Neither side thought there was any ground on which they could stand together. The result that day was a resolution demanding Moody’s termination, to which the seminary responded by pressuring the professor into retirement.
The tragedy of that conflict – and of the division on this issue that has persisted among multiple generations of evangelical churches – is that there is a place to stand together. There is no contradiction between the biblical doctrine of apostasy and the equally biblical teaching that Baptists and others call “the security of the believer.”
I’ve wrestled with these thoughts for years. I’ve read the commentaries – and been frustrated with the theological gymnastics many writers resort to when they try to put a “once saved, always saved” spin on passages that warn about taking God’s gift of salvation too lightly. The notes I’ve made go on for pages and pages and pages. I’ve finally come to the point where I want to put it all down in writing.
And, like my old editor used to say, “You never finish unless you start.”
So, the thesis is that:
(1) Christians who genuinely seek to follow Jesus – I call them “believers” – have no reason to worry about their security in salvation.
(2) Christians who are ungrateful for the costly gift of salvation, who insist on living their way instead of God’s, have no reason for confidence about their eternal destiny.
(3) Believers who resolutely turn their backs on Christ can expect nothing better in eternity than any other enemy of God.
I already have telegraphed the metaphor I believe opens the door for understanding what apostasy really is – and how it differs from mere backsliding – by tagging these posts “Divorcing Christ.”
We’ll see where this takes us.
Although these chapters originally were written as a series of blog postings, this is an online book, not a random collection of thoughts. The chapters were written in a particular order to present these difficult issues in a way that promotes understanding.
Please read through the chapters in sequence. Jumping into the middle of the series is likely to be confusing and leave you with questions that were answered in previous chapters.
To assist you in reading straight through, a link to the next chapter is posted at the bottom of each page. The categories at the right list each chapter in sequence.
I’m leaving these entries open for comments because I think the Holy Spirit teaches us better when we are in dialogue than when we muddle about in isolation. Constructive critiques are welcome; uncivilized excretions will be flushed. If you have questions, they may be addressed to divorcingchrist(at)gmail(dot)com.
Other essays on this subject are posted at divorcingchrist2.wordpress.com.
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