Monday, September 2, 2013

Minimum knowledge for saving faith

Today I was disappointed by a statement of John MacArthur. On his Grace to You radio program a question was asked about what knowledge was necessary for salvation. The asker had debated with a friend who believed that even today people could be saved like Abraham by a relatively uninformed faith while he maintained that more extensive knowledge was also necessary (e.g., in light of Romans 10:14-15--how can they call on God unless preachers are sent?).

John MacArthur initially stated that the asker was correct, correctly pointing out that knowing God as creator was certainly insufficient (that knowledge of God's holiness, of one's falling short, and of God's providing a way of reconciliation was necessary) and that God was certainly powerful enough and providential enough to bring the good news to whomever he has chosen. Yet he later added that it was possible that God could bring saving faith to a person without natural transmission of the gospel.

While I recognize that he was answering spontaneously (and his knowledge and reason is impressive in this context), I would wish that he had rather said something like:

You are mistaken in fact, but your friend may be mistaken in spirit. Saving faith does not require specific information about the mechanism but only a proper awareness of the need for salvation--that God is holy and one is a sinner--and that God is able and willing to save.

However, anyone who has been made alive by the Spirit will long to look into such things and will rejoice in the truth of the gospel as it is revealed.

The question is like asking if a few scraps falling from the table at a great feast is sufficient to sustain life. While such dirty scraps may be sufficient, it is madness to suppose that one would be content to allow just the aroma of the feast to stir hunger and bring people toward the table and to allow such people to subsist on scraps. Like the aroma of a feast, the Spirit may directly make people aware of the need and draw people to salvation, and perhaps some such may not hear the gospel in this life--subsisting on dirty scraps.

However, focusing on what is barely sufficient denies the spirit of the feast--grateful joy and abundance--and presents the danger of coming to believe that merely eating dirt is sufficient for life.

Given that I am not really satisfied with the above suggested alternative (e.g., there is no mention of the necessary reaction to the minimum knowledge) despite having more time to work on it, it should not be surprising that even John MacArthur would not always provide a spontaneous and fully satisfactory answer to such a question. One might argue that the spontaneous nature of the responses was unnecessary, but this form of question and answer may have been helpful for the original askers (and replaying such might best exploit his limited time) and the form itself may remind listeners of the importance of being prepared in season and out of season.

While it is good not to be satisfied with anything less than perfection, it is also necessary to rejoice in every grace and trust in God's providence--that even imperfections are compelled to declare the glory of God.

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