Understanding What Evangelicals Believe About Salvation
The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from anti-Christian systems. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Mohammedanism [or] Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace the life of Christianity. Why make much of minor points of difference between those who serve the one Christ? Because a pure gospel is worth preserving; and is not only worth preserving but is logically the only saving gospel.” – B.B. Warfield (Selected Shorter Writings)
What most evangelicals believe about the historical facts of the gospel (i.e. Christ’s death and resurrection) and its significance to justification is correct (1Co 15:1-4; Rom 4:25). According to Scripture however, there is more to the gospel than just ascent to the historical facts (e.g. Galatians 1:6-9). It is here that the evangelical severely digresses from the path of Scripture. It is here that we find not minor – but major points of difference with what the bible teaches. So much so that what many evangelicals ultimately believe about the gospel – or salvation, renders them a sect (i.e. cult) within Christianity, or another religion entirely.
- Who are the evangelicals?
1.1. “An evangelical is anyone who likes Billy Graham [and]…has a general disregard for the institutional church.” – George M. Marsden (American historian)
1.2. The majority of those claiming to be Christian in America today. Per a 2017 survey, upwards of 50-80 million Americans identify as evangelical Christians. As such, they represent the largest Christian group in America (24% of the professing Christian population). To be American is to be an evangelical.
- What others (incl. evangelical scholars) have said about evangelicalism that shows concern is shared even by those in their own camp:
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” – Mark A. Noll (The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind)
“Scholars [have questioned] whether evangelicalism [has] any substance beyond vague and warm affirmations about a personal relationship with Jesus. The goal of evangelicalism is to find a lowest common denominator faith [or] form of Christianity. Evangelicalism has emerged as the single most powerful explanatory device to account for the distinctive features of American society and identity. Everything from American bigotry to the American Revolution [can be attributed] to the stupidity of evangelical Protestantism. A faith once dismissed as backward or rural [has] become one of the most important. [Its] strength lays precisely in its appeal to individual choice rather than patterns of ascription or inheritance, which characterizes traditional religions. Unlike older forms of Christianity [which finds its identity in the church], evangelicalism locates the primary mechanism of religious identity in the sovereign individual. Through the popularity of evangelical celebrities and parachurch organizations, [evangelicalism] forfeited the authority the church possesses.” – D.G. Hart (Deconstructing Evangelicalism)
“This is the disturbing legacy of [evangelicalism]. A generation brought up on guitars, choruses and home group discussions. Educated, not to use words with precision because the image is dominant, not the word. Equipped not to handle doctrine but rather to ‘share’. A generation suspicious of definition and labels, uneasy at, and sometimes incapable of, being asked to wrestle with sustained didactic exposition of theology. Excellent when it comes to providing religious music, drama, and art. Not so good when asked to preach and teach the [orthodox Christian] Faith.” – Michael Saward (Evangelicals On the Move)
“Religion in the United States is something subtly other than Christianity, though to say that we are a post-Christian country is misleading. The better term is ‘post-Protestant’, which suggests that Americans live with such a persuasive redefinition of Christianity that they refuse to admit that they have revised the traditional religion into a faith that better fits our national temperament, aspirations and anxieties [It’s called evangelicalism].” – Harold Bloom (American historian)
“Wrong belief is as dangerous as unbelief…The decay of [true] Christianity in the west is not the result of sociological or secular pressures…It is the result of the presence of falsehood [within evangelicalism] where there should be truth.” – Ian Murray (Evangelicalism Divided)
- What evangelicals believe about salvation/gospel
If we are going to reach evangelicals, we need to understand what they believe about salvation that makes their gospel false.
3.1. Salvation is works-based.
Argument # 1: Covenant Theology’s Covenant Of Works (In the garden, God made a covenant with Adam and Eve that promised them immortality if they did not sin for a certain/probationary period of time. This same covenant is reinstated every time the Law is preached and represents the original way a person could attain to eternal life.,
Rebuttal: Though God did make a covenant w/Adam (Hos 6:7; Gen 2:4 “LORD God” [יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים]), never is there mention of a probationary period of works/obedience whereby Adam (and Eve) would earn their immortality.
Argument # 2: The Lutheran/Reformed view of the Mosaic Covenant (The generation under and after Moses until Christ were saved through their adherence to the Law. This covenant was a “re-publication” of the prior covenants – most especially, the covenant with Adam [the Covenant of Works]).,
Rebuttal: There exists no legitimate support for viewing the salvific covenants of Scripture (including those of the OT: Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic and Mosaic) as works-based. The evidence instead clearly points to them as marriage covenants (e.g. Jer 31:31-32) which function according to the marital principles of gain (by grace through faith/observance of God’s sabbath rites – e.g. Gen 17:1-10; Exo 24:1-8 w/1Pe 1:1-2) and maintain (through faithful obedience to God’s moral commands – Deu 28:1-2).
Argument #3: Scripture supports a works-based salvation.
Rebuttal: Understanding the marital paradigm and/or what Paul meant by “works of the law” immediately diffuses the need to view their supporting Scripture verses as promoting merit:
(Mat 19:16-19; Luk 10:25-28) = The RYR and lawyer were both Jews who had already gained covenant relationship w/God. Their similar inquiries (“Teacher, what good deed must I do [what shall I do] to have [inherit] eternal life?”) are not an allusion to works-based salvation, but rather a question regarding maintenance – i.e. what did they need to be faithfully obeying, to secure the eternal blessing promised to them by the covenant? Hence the reason Jesus’ answer in both cases pertains to the Law (Mat: “If you would enter life, keep [be faithful] to the commandments”; Luk: “What is written in the Law, how do you read it?”) followed by a recitation of the ten commandments (Mat 19:18-19) or an affirmation of its summary: the greatest commandments (Luk 10:27-28).
(Gal 3:12 w/Rom 10:4-9 w/Rom 11:6) = To gain justification/righteousness (salvation) under the Old Covenant required performing the sabbath rites of circumcision, and sacrifice (“the law”, “works of the law” or “works”) which are now accomplished through faith in Christ who has become our circumcision and our sacrifice (Col 2:11-15). Jesus is the new application of the sabbath rites which now “by (such) grace” allows even Gentiles (those who were once “without hope and without God” – Eph 2:12, those not given the Jewish sabbath rites for entrance – Rom 3:1-2, 9:4) to enter God’s salvific rest (Heb 3:1-4:16). Hence the reason Paul can speak of faith as upholding the law and at the same time – refer to it as the “end of the law for righteousness.” The old application is gone, while the principle remains intact (Rom 3:31 w/10:4). That what Paul means by reference to the law (or again, “works of the law”) are these various sabbath rites is confirmed by the overall context (e.g. Gal 2:11-16, 5:6; Rom 3:28-30, 4:11-12).
3.2. You must be perfect to get to heaven (and no one is perfect).
Argument: Scripture supports the need to be perfect to get to heaven (Mat 5:48).
Rebuttal: The context of this verse makes clear that Jesus’ use of the word “perfect” is in reference to the scope of our love (or righteous treatment of others) and not the standard required to enter heaven (or be saved) (see vv43-47). As already mentioned, that standard is not perfection, but faithfulness, something achievable by all human beings (Deu 30:11-14).
3.3. Jesus was perfect and so obeyed/earned our way to heaven for us.
Argument #1: The doctrine of the Active Obedience of Christ (Besides dying on the cross for [Christ’s “passive obedience”], Jesus also perfectly obeyed the Law for us as the means to earing our way to heaven),
Rebuttal: Christ’s perfect obedience was only for the purpose of becoming the sinless sacrifice required by God to die for our sins – never for the purpose of obeying on our behalf. The Scriptures refer only to Christ’s passive obedience (i.e. that He died for our sins) when it comes to securing our salvation (e.g. Heb 10:14-18).
Argument #2: Scripture supports Jesus obeying/earning salvation for us (Mat 5:17).
Rebuttal: Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus did not come to abolish or excuse the Law away, but rather see that it was fulfilled. As such the point Jesus is not making, is His fulfillment of the Law on our behalf. It is instead His solemn promise – and identification as God’s promised Mosaic prophet (Deu 18:15-19), to make sure that it once more becomes plumbline for the people of God. The context supports this interpretation (v1 = Like Moses ascending Mt. Sinai to give the people God’s Law, Jesus also ascends a mountain to give God’s people His Law, v18 = If Jesus fulfilled it for us, then “heaven and earth” should have “passed away”, v19-20 = Why such warnings if He is taking care of the Law for us?, vv21-48 = Why make such corrections if [once more], fulfillment is His concern, not ours?).
3.4. Obedience to the Law is nice, but only faith (or faith alone) is necessary (the Law no longer has any authority).
Argument #1: This is the basis of the Sola Fide gospel discovered by Martin Luther and the foundation of all Evangelical-Protestant doctrine.
Rebuttal: Martin Luther rejected four books of the New Testament (because they taught directly against the Sola-Fide gospel – e.g. Jam 2:24).
Argument #2: Scripture supports faith as the only thing necessary to salvation and the Law as canceled (Rom 3:28; Rom 10:4).
Rebuttal: As discussed, Rom 3:28 and 10:4 are both in reference to the “works of the law” or sabbath rites (circumcision and sacrifice) not the Law in its entirety. If Paul were claiming the Law no longer possessed authority in the life of a believer (or was necessary as maintenance and faithfulness to get to heaven), then not only would he be in direct contradiction to Jesus’ instruction to others (consider again Mat 5:17-20; Mat 19:16-19 and Luk 10:25-28), but also himself (Rom 13:8-10 = Why would he call for believers to fulfill the Law if it is no longer in force? Or if Jesus already fulfilled it for us? See also 1Co 7:19). Additionally, believing the Law to no longer possess authority was the sure sign you were in a sect/cult (Act 21:19-24 w/24:14-16).
3.5. Once saved always saved (no loss of salvation or apostasy for those truly saved – i.e. they are eternally secure).
Argument: Scripture supports eternal security for the truly saved/those who have believed.
Rebuttal: Numerous verses make clear the dangers of loss of salvation as well as apostasy, for those truly saved. This means that such verses must be reconciled with those which seem to promote eternal security (e.g. Gal 5:4; 2Jo 1:8; Heb 10:25-30):
(Joh 3:16) = Like all verses which speak in a similar fashion, the operative term is “believe”. Which according to Jesus (or John), includes obedience (Joh 3:36). Hence if a person fails to faithfully obey – or continue to faithfully trust Christ, they will “perish” since the condition to eternal life is no longer being met.
(Joh 6:37-39, 10:28-29) = The emphasis in all is the same: Jesus will not fail to protect His people from external enemies and resurrect them on the final day. These verses do not, therefore, preclude those who of their own volition choose to apostasize.
(Rom 8:30, 35-39) = According to (Joh 17:22 and Eph 2:6), to be “glorified” refers to exaltation into the fellowship and family of God/Christ on earth. IOW: to become a member of the church (the natural consequence of being justified). Like the previous verses in John, Paul is promising Christ will protect us by not allowing external enemies to separate us from His love/eternity. Us becoming the enemy is a different story (Heb 10:29).
(Jud 1:24-25) = God is able. The question is, are we willing to “keep ourselves” in His “love” (v21)?
CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: “It is not persecution alone that we ought to fear. It is easy enough to be on one’s guard when the danger [of the Enemy] is obvious. There is more need to fear the Enemy when he creeps up secretly [and] steals forward by those hidden approaches which have earned him the name ‘Serpent’…The Enemy seeing his idols abandoned [has] devised a fresh deceit, using the Christian name itself to mislead the unwary. He invented heresies and schisms to undermine the faith, to corrupt the truth, to sunder our unity. Those whom he failed to keep in the blindness of their old ways he leads up a new road of illusion.” – Cyprian (The Lapsed)
 “If we know what made us fall we can heal our wounds” – Cyprian (The Lapsed)
 “The first covenant made with Man, was a Covenant of Works, where Life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” – Westminster Confession (VII.2)
 “When the law is preached…the covenant of works is re-instated….It says ‘do this and live’” – R. Scott Clark (“Reconsidering The Covenant Of Works”, Heidelblog.net)
 See Zachary Garris, “Was The Mosaic Covenant A Republication Of The Covenant Of Works?” (knowingscripture.com)
 “Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works. We indeed are justified by works, but the works that justify us are the works of Christ” (Getting The Gospel Right, p.160)
 “Rites” as in rite(s) of passage (def): The means to gaining entrance into a specific community or covenant.
 “If this article [of justification by faith alone] stands, the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses.” – Martin Luther (WA 40/3.352.3)
 So aggravated was Luther by Jam 2:24 and its strict denial of the gospel he claimed to have discovered that he wrote in the margin next to it, “It is false”.
 Conscious faith in Jesus is not always necessary according to the “father of modern-day evangelicalism”, Billy Graham, “I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have gospel preached to them. I no longer believe that…I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. [That includes the Catholic Church]. I have no quarrel with the Catholic Church…[God] is calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the [Catholics], the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.” – Billy Graham (Transcript from 1997 interview with Robert Schuller; 1977 address at Notre Dame)
 “The Law has no authority over Christians because it has been fulfilled by the death of Christ.” – William Barrick (“The Mosaic Covenant”, Master’s Seminary Journal)