Oct 07

Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace, by Richard Lee Spinos ★★

Rick Spinos requested that I read and review this book for him, and I have agreed to do that for him. So I offer my review. Rick and I grew up in the same denomination together, which was in the Anabaptist (Amish-Mennonite) tradition. They held to an “Arminian” type of theology, with a strong emphasis that one could lose their salvation. Rick went on to be a missionary sent from his Richland, WA congregation to Brazil, and since has become a pastor to a Charismatic church in south Florida with a focused ministry to those of the Portueguese language.

The introduction to the book defines the nature of the book. Spinos sees the Calvinists as a “once-saved-always-saved” group, and thus offering an antinomian license to live as one pleases, and the Arminians as legalists constantly fearing losing their salvation, and thus living with multiple codes and rules in an attempt to obtain holiness. Spinos wishes to clarify issues with an appeal and case for holy living.

The first chapter discusses the nature of grace, and introduces the idea that all Christians have eternal security. Chapter 2 provides a further argument that through grace, Christians indeed have security, and that they need not fear losing their salvation. Chapter 3 discusses the kingdom, and he seems to suggest the millenial kingdom, where Christians obtain the reward for the good things they have done. Chapter 4  and 5 elaborates further on this, but run together. The fundamental idea of these chapters is that we are saved by grace, but our reward for works will be received in the Millenium, and are gained by our actions in life.

Chapter 6 continues elaboration of obtaining rewards, and ends with a discussion of crowns. At one point, it is mentioned that the number of converts we win decides the nature of crown we have. There are also a limited number of crowns, and so, it is possible that somebody else is super-good (and persuasive?) and will take our well-earned crown from us. These are the crowns that will be worn during the millenial age. Chapter 7 furthers elaboration on holiness in the millenial age. Spinos does not make it clear, but it sounds like the saints are still sinful, and yet absolute and strict perfection is now demanded of them. He doesn’t explain how this will happen. He mentions that  the not-so-holy saints will suffer some of the fires of hell in order to be purified. Pope Benedikt would concur. Chapter 8 develops the holiness theme by a discussion of cosmology in Genesis 1 and with the question of God’s purpose. Ultimately, Spinos concludes that God’s purpose is to populate a earth with godly people. Besides the liberties taken to expand upon the “gap theory” (the time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2 where Satan hypothetically ruled the earth until God destroyed earth), he takes liberties to explain God’s ultimate purpose. Contrary, the bible clearly delineates man’s purpose or chief end (to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever), but never places God in dependence upon man or defends a purpose for God as Spinos does. Spinos, like Scofield, will unabashedly admit that mankind can alter the plans of God, quoting him from this chapter “God’s will and central plan was temporarily delayed”. Living for God generates those who are more successful than others, and become “overcomers”. Such a theology cheapens grace, and minimizes the nature of sin. Spinos does not paint man like Isaiah who responded while in God’s presence, “Woe is me, For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”. Spinos’ godly man has notches on his belt from the souls saved and victories won. He has done God a favor, and God rewards him for that.

Chapter 9 is a short encouragement for evangelism and discipleship in order to grow the church. The assumption is that we are responsible for converts, i.e., we, and not God, calls people to faith in Him. Chapter 10 is a question and answer session. Here, the author affirms his stance on eternal security, suggests (insufficiently in my estimation) that his teaching is not synonymous with purgatory. Spinos ends with the 21 questions to ask a pastor before joining a particular church. This is a deviation from the thesis of his book and a terrible distraction, and so will not be commented on.

SUMMARY & DISCUSSION:

There are a few problems that I will discuss. Spinos’s fundamental thesis is based on a dispensational eschatology. I realize that to many, dispensational premillenialism is a litmus test for orthodoxy. Yet, the church had no idea of such thinking until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Worse, the millenium becomes for Spinos as a protestant form of purgatory where the bad saints spend time in outer darkness where the good saints reign with Christ and are improved to the point of being able to enter eternity. Dante, as well as most Catholics would agree heartily with this. Spinos counters this unconvincingly later in the book, since the theological ground for his thinking is identical to the Romish purgatory. Regarding eschatology, I happen to be an amillenialist, a poor name for the doctrine, since every amillenialist believes in a millenium, just not the same millenium that the dispensationalists teach. For Spinos, this is so important, the last statement in his book is regarding details of the tribulation/rapture. Again, the church had no concept of dispensational premillenialism until JN Darby fell off of his horse in 1830. Popularizers like Hal Lindsey are now up to their twenty-whatever revision of their eschatology books, as they tend to change every year. Lindsey does not give me a doctrine that I wish to adhere to.

Spinos contrasts Calvinism and Arminianism, and discusses how both can be correct. Yet, the Calvinism that Spinos describes in nothing like the Calvinism that I know and which is taught in most conservative Reformed Christian circles. Rather, it is like the pseudo-Calvinism of the dispensationalism camp of Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, Chafer, Walfoord, and Dallas Theological Seminary that confuses Calvinism with antinomianism.

Spinos does not seem to flinch at all when speaking of the doctrine of merits, failing to remember that the Reformation that brought us back to a biblical form of Christianity was fought largely over merits. To say things another way, quoting Paul, Gal 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Calvinists as well as Lutherans would argue that we have an imputed righteousness, as our own righteousness (and merits) remain as filthy rags. We stand before the judgment seat, as the old hymn says, “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne”. This is a righteousnes that is not partly Christ’s and partly ours through the good works that we have done.The hymn writer could not have said it better.

Perhaps, Spinos needs to ask what he means by salvation. Salvation is presented in Scripture as past, present and future. In the present, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation includes many aspects, including our call, justification,  faith in Him, adoption into God’s family, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. I presume that although he never uses the work “justification” in the book, he is using “salvation” as solely referring to justification, and that salvation is (quoting the Westminster shorter catechism) referring to an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. In like manner, our pursuit of holiness would be termed sanctification, and again quoting the catechism, is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. It is not an infusion of righteousness, nor is it the acquisition of merit.

Spinos may find it odd, that after sitting under the pulpit of a strict “Calvinistic”- (i.e.Reformed – 5 point Calvinist) preacher, I never once yet heard the phrases “eternal security” or “once-saved-always-saved” except to speak against such concepts. I’ve heard many sermons on hell and our need to walk holy lives, which happens typically every Sabbath day. I’ve never heard a sermon telling me about the secret formula or second blessing that can make me holier. The sermons I hear are regarding the heinousness of sin, and need to live in covenant with God. I also hear that once we stand before God, we will have no merits to claim, no works of holiness will be good enough to satisfy the heinousness of even the most trivial sins that I’ve committed. We have nothing to give God but what he’s given us already. Luther knew that, which is what drove him away from the system of merits and start a reformation in the church. Sadly, it is human instinct to want to have something to attribute to ourselves, and we sink back into the semi-Pelagianism of the medieval church. This unfortunately is the state of the church today, as we have forgotten the heritage of Luther and Calvin.

Why should we live holy? I offer three short reasons. 1. God commands it. Read “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by JI Packer, who is also, if you wish, a “5-point Calvinist”. 2. God prescribed a holy life as ultimately offering us the greatest joy and best life here on earth. 3. We are in covenant with God, Him to be our God and us to be His people. The assurance that we have that covenant is in our desire to serve Him and live holy. If we lack that desire, even though we also desire strongly to sin, then we should doubt the possibility that we are even saved. The fifth point in Calvinism is often misquoted as “perseverance of the saints”, which is transformed into some strange antinomian doctrine of eternal security. It is everything but that, but is more accurately stated as “perseverance of the saints in holiness”. God will keep us, but He will keep us in holiness, sinful though we may be throughout life. Spinos’ answer that holiness accrues merit that gives more blessings in the millenium results in a very cheap form of grace, that can easily be passed on and still ultimately make it to heaven. This is fundamentally the doctrine of the Roman church, which is why the Catholic church is in the pitiful shape that it is.

Spinos senses a tension in theology, which is proper. Most of Scripture has tensions. We are saved by grace. We are saved by works. Both are true. God calls us. We “accept/believe” in Him. Both are true. God predestined everything that ever had and will happen in the universe through all eternity. Yet, we have have free will and responsibility to choose on our own. It doesn’t make sense to finite minds, but both are true. Most doctrines of Scripture have this tension. It is not good to attempt reconciliation of the two polar truths. To over-emphasize salvation by grace is to lead to the antinomianism of the dispensational school. To over-emphasize salvation by works is to lead to legalism and to underestimate the depth of our depravity. Such tension in life is spoken of by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and covered most adequately in the book by JI Packer referred to above.

I laud Spinos for his deep desire to walk according to Scripture and live for God. He writes in a clear format, and the book was fun to read. I hope that some of these comments will not be viewed in any way as malicious but simply to point out the doctrinal issues that I encountered in the book.

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One Response to “Why Be Holy if Salvation is by Grace”

  1. Onkel Dennis says:

    One of the great areas of confusion from our ACC background is that of the topic you so ably expounded in your review, Ken. It is not an easy fog to come clear of, and while some sense that they are in a fog and want to move out of it, this is in practice not usually a trivial exercise. I am glad that we had some copies of Present Truth magazine (www.presenttruthmag.com) to provide some clarification of soteriology in the 1970s, from Adventists who were influenced by the Reformation and had a clear grasp of the issues.

    The Anabaptists also understood and accepted the Reformer’s teachings on soteriology, though they also had an advantage in that they were not compromised by the politics of the time (as was Luther, in particular) and they consequently had a more biblical view of God and government, church and state, and the Christian and the world which the Protestants have yet to rediscover and recover. Too many of them make little distinction between service to fallen human government and the government of Jesus the Lord.

    However, the Anabaptist movement is in no spiritually healthy state nowadays, and many within it have become “Christian Zionists”, following that Zionist infiltrator, Scofield.You will know them by their works: today, millions of these beguiled evangelicals confuse the kingdom of the Lord with that atheist-inspired (Theodore Herzel) movement of the turn of the 20th century that was supported by the Zionist banksters like the Rothschilds (ever wonder why Communist flags are roth, auf Deutsch?) for the purpose of having their own Zionist state from which to take over the world. (Hitler slowed down their madness, bless him, and is consequently vilified by those who benefit from the delay.) The Israeli AIPAC owns much of Congress, they come close to controlling Washington, and they are not even descendents of Judah for the most part, but are the false Jews – namely Ashkenazi Jews, descendants of Ashkenaz, the father of the Turks, who are Khazars – that John repeatedly mentions in his eschatological tour de force.

    Yet millions of evangelicals politically support the war criminals in charge of Israel behind whom are the Devil’s finest – “the rich” mainly in Europe – in The City in London. James prophetically refers to the Jewish Zionist banksters who are now attempting to consolidate their control of the world for the sake of bringing in the Devil’s idea of what the world order should be. These beguiled “good Christians” have been duped into fervently supporting their enemies. You got to give the Devil his due; he truly is good at the art of deception.

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