January 15, 2021

The Day of Salvation?

By Chaplain Mike.

I remember the day I changed my thinking about when I was “saved.”

I had grown up in a mainline Protestant denomination, was baptized and confirmed, attended worship and Sunday School, and dabbled with youth group. However, in my teen years, I was not deeply involved.

Then the big change came.

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, our family moved across the country, an event that precipitated a personal crisis in my life. The foundations were removed from beneath me. For a time, I struggled with depression, drugs and alcohol, loss of meaning, purpose, and direction.

In the midst of my wandering, God graciously brought me into contact with some fellow students who attended a local Baptist church. I saw a real difference in them, and their joy was attractive. I became part of the group, though I hesitated to come forward and confess my faith as a Christian. Eventually, however, I responded to an altar call, went forward and expressed my desire to be baptized as a new follower of Jesus. From that point on, through his gracious preserving power I have never turned back.

For many years, in true revivalist theological fashion, I marked the day I “went forward” as “the day of my salvation.”

Then I met Joe.

This was during my seminary days, when I pastored a Bible church in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Joe worked at the college affiliated with our seminary and started attending our church. One day in my Sunday School class he shared his testimony. To my surprise, he said he had attended a United Methodist church in one of the towns where I had lived. He shared how the pastor helped him become a Christian, enter the process of living as Jesus’ disciple, and discern God’s calling for his life.

The story shook me, because I had attended that church and had sat under that pastor in worship and confirmation classes. After my experience at the Baptist church altar, I had always looked back upon that Methodist church and its minister and considered them “liberal,” not faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. Now here was someone giving testimony to how he had met Jesus there!

As I pondered this dissonance between the narrative that Joe spoke and the one that had been running through my head for years, a few memories began to resurface. In particular, I recalled the night before our class was confirmed in front of the congregation. The pastor gathered us in a small chapel and led us in a service to prepare our hearts for the event. To this day, I don’t remember a word he said. However, I do recall that he shared a personal story of his own encounter with Jesus and that I was deeply touched. Specifically, what I remember was a sense of great weight and seriousness descending upon me as I participated in that service.

“It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer” (Isaiah 65:24). It was several more years before I answered the Baptist invitation.

From the day I heard Joe’s story, I began to think about my “salvation” differently.

  • Who knows how many times God had gotten my attention, spoken to me, touched me, blessed me, or helped me in the past?
  • Who knows how many times my heart had been impressed and had responded with a form of faith consistent with my age and understanding at that point in my life?
  • In the midst of all my wanderings, who knows how many times I turned in the right direction at the hidden impulse of the Spirit’s voice? God had been savingly active in my life long before I answered an altar call.

American revivalism insists that we pinpoint a date, a time, a moment of decision — “the day of your salvation.” But is the Bible this reductionistic?

  • Did all the disciples have sudden conversion experiences?
  • Even those believers who did — say Paul — was his a matter of a “personal decision”?
  • What about many of the other extraordinary experiences of Scripture, when God meets a person and changes his or her life in an instant? Are all these stories necessarily about “salvation” being transferred in that moment from darkness to light, from one eternal destiny to another?
  • You may ask, what about the Gospel preaching in the Book of Acts? Though Acts reports many “at the moment” transformational experiences, we must remember that Acts is a book of missions, dealing with first generation Christians, many of whom had no background in Biblical teaching whatsoever. Is their experience meant to be the template for everyone who comes to believe in Jesus?
  • What about all the people of faith who are simply presented to us in Scripture as such, with no reference whatsoever to a moment of decision or conversion (Mary, Simeon, Anna, etc.)?
  • And what do we do with the story of someone like John the Baptizer, of whom it is said he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb?

Revivalist theology cannot adequately explain the intricacies of God’s dealings with us. The revivalist mindset wants it simple and clear. We want it black and white. We want to know who is in and who is out. We want to mark the sheep and goats now. We want to be able to define, distinguish, and properly deal with the haves and the have-nots. We want it to be as clear as the “I do” of a wedding ceremony. We want to collect the forms and know precisely who has checked the right boxes. We want to have and give assurance of salvation based on something we can see with our own eyes and measure with our own tools. We want to be able to give the clear testimony, “Yesterday I was lost, today I’m found.”

For example,

  • The revivalists among us don’t like to think that God can work through infant baptism, as the pastor applies the Word of the Gospel mixed with water, to bring that child into his family and begin the process of “by grace through faith” that brings us salvation. (Infant baptism is NOT the focus of this post, so forget about it if you want to make that your issue in the comments!)
  • We can’t grasp salvation as something that occurs over time, not in an identifiable “moment,” and that its workings may be entirely mysterious to us in terms of specific dates, times, and experiences.
  • We don’t like to admit that a person might have several “conversions” over the course of a lifetime, and that we may not always be able to define exactly what each one entails.

One weakness of the revivalist approach is that it separates a person’s life into two distinct periods, one “without God” and one “with God”. It cannot tolerate nuances in that black/white division. God’s work before that “day of salvation” is discounted, especially if “conversion” involves moving from one form of Christian faith to another, as happened with me.

In a post on Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight writes,

Converts develop an anti-rhetoric for their former theology and faith. This anti-rhetoric denounces their old faith and forms into an apologetical defense of their new narrative.

Ask a strong evangelical who was formerly Catholic what Catholics believe and you will often hear something that has little do with what you find in the Catechism or in the official statements. Instead, you will get a powerful rhetoric that caricatures RC theology and beliefs: you will hear terms like superstition, magic and popery. You will get terms about worshiping Mary and idolatry and works salvation. Sometimes this anti-rhetoric is vile. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. You can try but you will rarely succeed at getting such folks to see the positive gospel within Catholic theology.

With me, it wasn’t Catholicism, but my mainline Protestant roots that I rejected as anti-Gospel. Of course, every branch on the Christian tree has its problems, some more serious than others, but I didn’t criticize from the standpoint of a theologian. I had developed the “anti-rhetoric” syndrome McKnight describes above. My “conversion” experience led me to denounce the whole of my life before that day as “B.C.” (before Christ). It was only upon deeper, more mature reflection later in life that I understood I had never lived a day without God, and that he was savingly active long before I recognized it, had an experience, or made a decision.

This is one reason I identify myself as a “post-evangelical” today. American evangelicalism has its roots sunk deeply into the ethos of revivalism. It’s about preaching for decision. And it’s the decision that gets it done. In a moment.

In my humble opinion, it is God that gets it done, and his ways are not our ways.


  1. Very well said. I’ve been to churches where a specific date of conversion was a requirement on application forms for membership. If you couldn’t provide a date, they were happy to have you pray The Sinner’s Prayer then and there in their presence.

    Revivalism seems to value the sensationalism of immediate transformations. Quick fixes make for good inspirational anecdotes.

    Water can transform a landscape immediately in a rapid flood or tsunami (revivalism), but it can also have mind-blowing transformational effects over long periods of time just by slow, steady action.

  2. Amen.

  3. I used to think that my childhood Roman Catholic church didn’t preach the Gospel. Now I see that it’s not that they didn’t preach it but that I didn’t get it. I eventually “got it” in a different context and drew all sorts of wrong conclusions about my Christian upbringing.

  4. Well said JeffB. I remember thinking it was heresy when my teen level sunday school class teacher said that “we are being saved.” In the revivalist ideology of my deeply independent baptist roots, I had never heard a sermon that allowed God to be anything but instantaneous in a life.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And what if you Say the Magic Words and nothing happens? No Damascus Road? No lightning bolt from the sky? No heaven opening up and Holy Spirit descending like a dove?

      And what if you’re still as messed up “after” as “before”? Your problems — internal and external — are still there? No Instantaneous Utter Perfection?

      Christian Monist (J Michael Jones in these comments) regularly blogs on this subject.

  5. Can someone clearly state what Roman Catholic soteriology is? (not looking to pick a fight, but asking an honest question.)

    I think there is a point of crossing from death to life, but it is part of a process.

    • I might ask what elements of redemption are you refering to. In regards to grace and justification it is transformative, that is without an interior response to the Catholic it is not real. What you might call sanctification we might call salvation, without sanctification there is no salvation happening to the individual. To live in Christ is salvation, to walk by His Spirit is salvation, to participate in the sacraments is salvation, to do spiritual and corporeal acts of love is salvation,to behold the face of God revealed in Jesus Christ is salvation. Grace as stated in the Catechism is ,” a participation in the life of God” Christ finished work redeems us to new life. No new life in Christ we have recieved Him in vein.

      I think the great divide lies in the in the way it is recieved, grace is all pure gift that we can agree, but Catholic soterieriology is fundamently incarnational. Salvation is not postitional, but rather faith working through love that makes us just. This is buy no means a perfect answer, nor am I a authority of any kind. Read the Catholic Catechism for a pure guide to the Churches position.

    • Buckaroo,

      While I can’t use the theological terms like Steve, I do have several images to help. One is that Catholics make little or no distinction between justification and sanctification. They are just steps on the journey. Because as an evangelical, I couldn’t figure out the differences. (Other than the fact that sanctification wasn’t emphasized as much); I was quite relieved to discover that Catholics knew what I had sensed.

      The other set of images is from an essay in “Jesus Girls”. The author is talking about studying religion, and her teacher drew two pictures. One has God in the center with a large ring about Him. Dots representing people are either inside or outside, and in different places in the circle. That is more the evangelical version.

      The other diagram had God in the Center, but the dots all had arrows on them; some pointing toward God; some away. That is closer to the Catholic view.

      • Steve, it appears that RC more resembles Jesus’ teaching on The Kingdom as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and less like the Pauline teachings in the epistles. It is not that Paul was wrong, or that Kingdom preaching is not clear enough, it is just that God reveals Himself in manifestly different manners to separate groups and individuals.

        As a former RC I can clearly point to certain instances where I actually heard the Gospel, but for some reason it just didn’t “click” in my mind. It wasn’t until I was desperately depressed by my inability to be a “good Catholic” that I was presented with “simple” salvation and said that “magic” prayer. Even THEN it wasn’t till the Holy Spirit descended on my that I had the internal evidence that I was known by God and, conversely, knew HIM!

        When a person actually has that “I know God” experience is highly subjective and frustrates modern evangelical assumptions.

        • bobbym you make a good point in drawing attention to an interior subjective experiece, Saint Symeon a great mystic in the East dared say,” can a man put on a coat and not know it? How much more if we have put on eternal life.” Acts 2 is the deification of humanity, new resurrected life in Christ. As far as the Synoptic gospels, I personaly am more drawn to Paul and John’s writings. Obviously I think the church embraces hole heartedly the Pauline letters but my church gives the four gospels a place of special honor. I think Pauline thought is the mind oif the Catholic Church. Now if all we had was Romans chapter 3 and Romans 10 taken in isolation from the entire letter I would still be outside the Roman camp, but if the letter is read in honesty as a hole I don’t care if your Catholic, Buddist, Protestant, or even an Atheist, a rendering of the text has nothing to do with sola, sola , sola.

  6. Amen and Amen. Well said. We will all do better as believers together when we stop creating expectations and requirements that simply aren’t there in scripture.

  7. David Cornwell says

    Very well put. Thank you.

  8. Chaplain Mike writes, “In my humble opinion, it is God that ‘gets it done,”’and his ways are not our ways.”

    Your humble opinion is mine, too. And I agree that people have trouble with nuances…they want things in black and white.

    JeffB…great analogy of fast water vs slow, steady water to the various works of the Holy Spirit.

  9. Thanks for the post. As one raised Roman Catholic, I too cannot point to one “moment” of salvation. I can point to moments where God was more visible, or had a bigger impact. But I do not consider these as moments of “conversion.”

    This reminds me of something I read a while back, but for the life of me cannot remember where. May have been the Farmstrong blog, but that is a guess.

    The gist of what I read is that our spiritual awakening, or conversion, is not a creation event. It also is not us inviting God into our lives. The spiritual awakening is a “Eureka” moment, because God isn’t doing anything different. Instead we are realizing that what we have been searching for is right there with us. Our eyes are opening to something that has always been true.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Mike, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t Revival theology a relatively recent development in church history (say 100-200 years)? If so, then the liturgical traditions of Christians churches are probably going to outlast this sensational trend. While I respect the desire to have a lively zealous faith, the electrified atmosphere prominent in so much of evangelical Christianity has the weakness of eventually burning out and leaving dead ashes in its wake.

    “You did not choose me, but I chose you …” – John 15:16

    • Revivalist theology that includes such “innovations” as the altar call, etc., may be traced back to Charles Finney in the 1800s.

      One fact that is interesting to me is that the great Gospel preacher Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist, rejected the use of such means, thought they merely stirred up people’s emotions, and gave them false assurance based on an “experience” rather than a genuine trust in Christ.

      Even in a liturgical setting, I am all for calling people to respond to God’s grace in Christ by faith. Good gospel preaching invites folks to do that. I just don’t think it wise to limit my understanding of God’s work in a person’s life by that person’s response on one particular day or moment.

      • There were, however, great traveling missionaries/evangelists in the Church for many centuries. Think of Saint Columba, Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and you think of great preaching and, yes, wholesale conversions and repudiation of Druidic backgrounds. Although, there is one interesting legend of Saint Patrick planting his staff into the ground and beginning to preach and visit at a certain village. It supposedly took so many days to convert them that the staff had supposedly taken root!

        (I am feeling slightly Gaelic today.)

  11. Thanks for carrying this on for Michael and for us. I’m moved that iMonk is still here.
    Thank you, Jeff

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Overemphasis on the “Year/Month/Day/Hour/Minute/Second of Salvation” sets up for stagnation. Everything centers on That One Moment, with no concept of preparation beforehand or growth afterwards. Sour fruits of this:

    * Once Saved, Always Saved.
    * Altar Call Uber Alles.
    * “Say-the-Magic-Words” concept of Salvation. Including walking the aisle again and again and again in case the previous times didn’t take — maybe you didn’t say The Magic Words exactly right or use the proper posture/spell gesture.
    * Spiritual One-upmanship — “I can tell you the Year/Month/Day/Hour/Minute/Second when I was SAVED and You Can’t!”
    * Tunnel vision that the Altar Call and Magic Words are the ONLY way to “get Saved”, and no other way (like gradual catechism) is valid.
    * Wretched Urgency trying to get EVERYBODY into the Altar Call.

    Been there, done that, became a notch on half a dozen Bibles that way.

    I believe in the IMonk archives there’s a series on Altar Call tunnel vision titled “Leave your seat, Leave your sin.”

  13. I think that there is another aspect that needs to be considered here. Our salvation has both past, present, and future elements here.

    Our salvation ultimately depends upon Christ’s work on the cross 2000 years ago, and will not be complete until we see him face to face. While I believe that I am in the minority on this blog on the question of “eternal security”, there are certainly elements to “finishing the race” that come into play as well.

    • I think an underappreciated aspect of salvation is the “will be saved” part. Not often you hear us evangelicals saying “when I get saved…” yet that’s a completely valid statement, when balanced in the understanding.


    • Thank you. My understanding of salvation (from an outsider’s point of view) was that it was a binary condition. Seeing it as a future tense suddenly makes this entire conversation make sense to me.

  14. A hearty amen ! It’s funny how the evangelical perspective ( and I consider myself one for lack of a better Label) on things seems to be an evolution (and they hate that word too) of theological ideas. Not that I think their theology is wrong but often their nuances of how things like this work seems to come more from assumtions than actual scriptural teaching.

  15. Chaplain Mike,

    Even in the Calvinist belief system, which repudiates revivalism, alter calls and decision making, there is a strong belief that you can pinpoint “the moment.” It’s just that it was a precise moment of *God’s* decision, and a resulting instant conversion.

    For me, I had two distinct periods of Christianity in my life, then my ultimate “conversion” happened over the period of about a year during a six year period of hearing the gospel. There was no exact moment for me. I’ve always been bothered about the notion that it always is. Not only that, but it wasn’t that “joyful, sudden change that makes you want to go tell everybody” either. It was confusing and terrifying and took a long, long time to work through.

  16. KR Wordgazer says

    “Whether at once, as once, at a crash, Paul–
    Or as Austin [Augustine], a lingering out sweet skill,
    Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
    Mastery, but be adored, be adored King.”

    – Gerard Manley Hopkins

  17. Behold! The problem with the so called gospel that is proclaimed more often than not these days!

  18. Donald Todd says

    For the infant who is baptised, the sacrament confers grace. That child cannot pinpoint that day and hour unless he or she is told when it occurred.

    For the youth or adult, there may be a pinpointable time, but I have a suspicion that grace was active long before the youth or adult had the experience or made the use of the sinner’s prayer. I suspect that there were people praying for that person, perhaps for years, ala Monica praying for Augustine.

    There are cloud of witnesses. There are guardian angels. There are the numerous attempts that finally find fruition. Grace pops up unexpectedly. There is still some residual Christianity in the culture. There is an appeal to conscience, or to right and wrong. There is, as CS Lewis noted, the Way (or Tao) that has lived in all sorts of cultures and which finds common expression in the morality of different places in different times. God did not abandon His creation.

    There is the wonder of creation, of a blue sky with fleecy clouds, and the green of the grass and trees. There is a Standard of Beauty which appeals to most of us, correctly.

    There is a cacaphony that shouts or whispers for our attention. Being closed in, we don’t see things the way we might.

    There are those luminaries who light creation in their imitation of God. Mother Teresa of India was such a person. A little tiny woman who was huge and bold for the Messiah and His mother. She saw Him in the people He put in her path. We would get little glimpses of her and what she was doing and move on, but she was there for a long time, doing the right thing for the worst off. She pushed her cart, finding and washing the dying, and feeding them and giving them a drink. If they were dying, she prayed with them and for them as they entered eternity, leaving their judgment to God.

    There are lots of missionaries who have given generously of their time. I suspect that we’ve all seen and heard them, and at some point what we heard comes home to roost, forcing a recognition and a decision.

    I think all of those things and probably a host more that I am not privy to or aware of right now contributed to however one gets drawn to Jesus. While I’ve admired the preaching of Billy Graham, he was not involved in my own conversion, but many others have. As the adage goes, success has a thousand fathers. God bless each and every one of them.

  19. Cynthia Jones says

    I do not have a problem with someone not being able to pinpoint a date and time. However, I do have a problem with someone who states s/he has always been a Christian because they’ve been to church all their lives. A very dear friend of mine once told me, “My dad’s a preacher. I’ve been a Christian my whole life.” She honestly believed that her dad being a preacher was what made her a Christian! Simply going to church or having a parent in the ministry does not make one a Christian.

    • You’ve stated two quite different propositions, Cynthia.

      Those who hold to a covenantal or sacramental view of the church have no problem with saying someone has been a Christian “her whole life,” because such traditions recognize the grace of God working in that person’s life from the beginning.

      These views also do not deny the necessity of personal faith, which will be confirmed many, many times as the person participates in the life of the church.

      This is different than thinking because I go to church or my dad is a pastor that I’m a Christian.

      • Cynthia Jones says

        I’m not sure I see the difference. Don’t we have to ACCEPT that grace? If I offer you $1000 (don’t get excited here! I’m a teacher and don’t have that kind of money lying around!) and you refuse to take it, do you actually have it? If I put that same $1000 in a bank account for you to access freely and you never touch it, do you really have it?

        • To use your analogy, Isn’t grace more like God putting that money directly in your bank account rather than leaving it out for you though? Isn’t that the whole absurd-awesome point about God being generous with grace? It’s not about how we spend it (or even if we spend it!), it’s about how we didn’t earn it but it’s ours because God is our Father and he can do that.

          • Cynthia Jones says

            But, if you don’t spend it, it’s not doing you any good. If I have a $1000 debt and someone gives me $1000 with which to pay it and I don’t write the check (or go online) to pay it, I’ve not accepted the gracious gift and my debt is still there! If it were true that we are saved simply because Christ gave the gift of salvation, then everyone would be saved automatically, which is not the case. We must accept that gracious gift, or it goes unclaimed and we are not saved at all.

          • Whether or not it is applicable to your friends situation Cynthia, I have run into a few people who in their own mind have “always belived”. They are not able to point to point in time at which they first decided to believe, perhaps they were too young to remember it. Yet there faith was very much as real as my own.

            Now, I have also run into people who assumed they were Christian because they grew up in a Christian home, but they showed no evidence of living faith.

          • The problem with all of this analogy is that we are trying to see the whole salvation process from our side of things. When we claim salvation we acknowledge God’s grace toward us. If we don’t acknowledge it, does it mean it does not exist?
            I go to a Southern Baptist church where “once saved, always saved” is preached and an alter call is made at every service. It has always bothered me that the “magic words” are never mentioned in the scripture. Did my salvation begin when I prayed “the prayer” and got my name on the church role? Or did it began when I first acknowledged my need for Christ?
            I’ve been baptized 3 times, as a Lutheran baby, as a Christian Missionary Alliance (where there was no time to think about whether it was what I wanted or not), and in the Southern Baptist church. Which one was the real one?
            Paul writes that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. To me, that sounds like a process.

        • I think kids who grow up in church, Protestant or Catholic, tend to have to really work out their own salvation, in a sense. Very rarely is a kid born into a Christian home going to really peg a date. They can probably remember a minute where it clicked, or maybe several moments, but for the most part, a kid who grew up in church and has always followed Christ is simply going to continue to mature in their faith.

          The kids who think they’re grandfathered in, however, are the ones I’d be concerned about.

          The Protestant version kinda goes like this: I know I prayed, alone, in my room one time. I was probably five. Parents were out of town, and I said nothing about it for a week. That’s just the type of kid I am. So my ‘altar walk’ came over a week later. My baptism, still later. God and I have wrestled some things out over the last couple decades (I’m twenty-six), but I have belonged to him, body and soul, from a very young age. And believe me, it’s been a long, rough journey to get through some of the things the Accuser likes to do to said church kids. God is faithful. God is gracious. His hand is steadfast upon his children. A few years ago, I’d have told you I didn’t have “a testimony.” But mine is his hand upon his children.

          People who come in later, at least in my experience, seem to not have as many issues with the “when” problem – largely because it’s a bit challenging to see an abrupt change in a five year old (really, what’s the worst they can do?).

          I think our beloved chaplain is just saying that there’s a difference between a person growing up serving God (think Samuel in I Samuel 3, or the very young David) and a kid who expects brownie points because his daddy’s a deacon.

          To use myself again, I don’t bank my salvation on my parents’ heavy (and I mean heavy) involvement in church leadership, or that I’m at least fourth-generation in the same church, or or that I am the church brat of church brats. I bank my salvation, rather, on Christ’s work on the cross, on my faith, trust, and relationship with him.

          That’s the difference, I think.

        • I don’t believe scripture tells us to “accept” the gift but states that we are to repent and believe on Christ alone for salvation. So, your later statement is true, “If it were true that we are saved simply because Christ gave the gift of salvation, then everyone would be saved automatically, which is not the case”. If Christ died for all then universalism is correct, if he died for all and some go to Hell, he failed. Christ did not die for all, he died for those who repent and believe. The check is not deposited by God into our account, He causes us to realize that the debt was paid already.

      • David Cornwell says

        My youngest daughter, who was baptized as an infant, has always believed. She lives a very vibrant and active Christian life each and every day. She cannot pinpoint a time or place or a decision where/when Christ came into her life. This is just the way it is with her.

        Now her 17 year old son struggles with faith, has many doubts, and struggles with questions of good and evil. He isn’t one who has an easy time with faith. But I’m absolutely sure that God is dealing with him and he does not need an altar call or pressure from another person to be saved. God will do the work.

        • Same here. My daughter was baptized as an infant and has always believed, as has my wife.

          (My wife has awful stories of being told by other kids that she was going to hell because she wasn’t saved at an alter call.)

          I think being born into the Christian faith and working at it every day is the exact opposite of being grandfathered in. A one-time saving experience is the ultimate grandfathering, IMHO because after that you’re done and good to go. On the other hand, a child born and baptized into the faith can backslide and turn away from God just as easily as they stay turned toward Him / confirmed in their faith. It takes daily hard work to grow.

      • That’s actually something I’ve recently had to wrap my head around, Mike.

  20. Sprockett says

    I had a father in an Episcopalian church explain salvation was a ‘process’, being Canadian the ‘o’ was long, we all got a good laugh out of it (we still chuckle with joy everytime we say it now). BUT he was right and I’ve come to realize over time that salvation sometimes takes time, I was ‘saved’ when I was 19. But only recently have I really considered it real, it didn’t happen at that one point, but has been a long ‘process’…

    We so often try to make the divine fit into our tilted view of the world, and as I get older I more and more realize how much we have screwed this whole thing up.

    Good Article Mike….


  21. Interesting post coming from a Lutheran who professes to believe in the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

    • We need to be careful here Mark. The error that people often make in their thinking goes along the lines of:

      1. I believe in justification by faith alone.
      2. Person X has a different view of salvation to me.
      3. There person X does not believe in justification by faith alone.

      Whether or not salvation is “punctilier”, occuring at a point in time, is a completely different topic to whether or not it is by faith alone.

      I believe Chaplain Mike is questioning the first, but not the second.

    • And what do you find interesting about it, Mark?

      • Correct me if I am wrong, but the traditional Reformational view of justification by faith alone – which in technical phrase means a believing sinner being imputed with Christ’s perfect righteousness and declared completely righteous before God’s judgment seat AT A SINGULAR POINT in time – seems to go against the grain of what you wrote above. Honestly, I don’t know you can square what you wrote with what your own confessional statements declare regarding justification (and many other evangelical Protestant confessions on this doctrine).

        • Mark, I’m saying those who practice revivalism usually base their identification of the “point in time” in terms of some human action or decision, such as praying a prayer, walking an aisle, or signing a response card.

          My point is that we may not really know the point in time, nor should we necessarily identify it with these human actions. What I am criticizing is our human tendency to want to define what God is doing on our terms, ultimately (I suspect) so that we can manage it.

          As to Reformational Confessions, if you understand Lutheran theology, you will know that the “point in time” that Luther and his followers would look to is the moment of baptism, for that is when God acts through the Word mixed with water to save by grace through faith. And that infants as well as converts are to receive baptism.

          As the Augsburg Confession states: “Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace.”

          If this is Biblical theology (and I’m guessing you don’t hold that it is), then to a Lutheran it would be perfectly appropriate for someone to say, “I have been a Christian my whole life, for I was baptized by God’s grace.” Of course, that would not eliminate the need for conscious personal faith throughout the course of life, nourished and confirmed by participation in the sacramental life of the church. But it would certainly change one’s view of the “point in time” with regard to salvation.

          There are differences in “Reformational Theology” too.

          • There was a lady (Catholic) who described it in the sense that while there may be several points of various epiphanies, we don’t know, necessarily, how often we’ve been going along with the quiet promptings of God’s guidance and remaining unaware of it. (I butchered what she said quite nicely – but Samuel came to mind again. Longer post above.)

            I dunno. In that broad-stroke sense, it doesn’t sound much different from the idea of irresistable grace (well, only in the sense of responding to God before really being aware of it; from that point forward there’s no resemblance, I don’t think–offhand). It’s late. Chalk any incoherency up to my need of sleep (in heaven, I will never sleep).

  22. Mmm. I can point to a specific date, time, and place, I can tell you what was going on with me before and after, and for dramatic effect I can certainly slip into anti-rhetoric. In some ways my story is black/white. But scarcely in all; God has been working in me in ways both traceable and un- since I was baptized, and He hasn’t stopped because of a single moment years back. Even after we accept the grace offered to us as a free gift by Christ, it’s still our job to unwrap the gift. To peel off the paper, look at what’s inside, take it out and make the intended use of it. We can do it slowly, stopping to play with the pretty wrapping paper (all that feel-good emotion of received grace that is not the grace itself), or we can tear it away to get at the gift. Or, we could go the other direction: decide we don’t want the gift after all, stuff it back in the box, and kick it out of sight under the tree. God won’t take back the gift once given, it’s still ours, but it’ll just sit there ignored.

    One recent biography of Mother Teresa goes into some detail about that grace and call she received on the Darjeeling train (there was evidently quite a lot contained inside her vague phrase about “a call within a call”). The biographer makes the comment that her entire life from then on was a return to that grace of the train – constant return to it, but also a constant deepening and delving further into what she received that day. It can be a single moment; but the moment we sit back satisfied ourselves, there’s a problem.

  23. Thanks for this post Chaplian Mike! This idea of the alter call has always given me mixed feelings. I made an alter call at the age of 13 at a youth camp on the big revival night with the camp fire & all the works. it was very special to me & I called myself “saved” probably till my early twenties. As a shy kid, to stand up & walk in front of everybody really took an act of God. I had for years earlier asked God for his salvation & to fill my heart, but my limited understanding of salvation & maybe a few mis-guided Sunday school lessons led me to believe that I had to make an alter call to truly have salvation. Now I know that Jesus was always with me & when I seeked his presence I was filled with his salvation. Today I have a “low church sacramental view” of salvation – I confess daily & recieve his salvation as often as I can. I consider my alter call at 13 as my “public confession” of being a beliver & follower of Christ. am I “saved”. Yes , over & over again, every minute, every hour of every day!
    you said revivalists – ” want it to be as clear as the “I do” of a wedding ceremony. ”
    the irony is that the mainline churches make their public confessions seem the most like offical weddings. while the alter calls seem more like one night stands ;-). peace

  24. “You can try but you will rarely succeed at getting such folks to see the positive gospel within Catholic theology.”

    Ain’t that the truth!

    The RCC preaches ‘another’ gospel – which according to Galatians 1 is anthema.

    They have such a weak view of justification it is absurd that anybody who believes in justifcation by faith would align themselves with the RCC.

    What a silly notion it is to think that one can fall in and out of grace by not performing up to the standard the RC sets up for itself, with its extra-biblical teachings.

    Any look into RC theology reveals a weak and wrong view of justification [being declared legally right before God] and that I believe is one of the biggest causes for the RCC being anathema.

    • Matthew, of course the situation may always be different “on the ground,” but several years ago, Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic church came to some new, mutual understandings of the doctrine of justification.

      Here is one point on the statement: “In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

      • Correction, some Lutheran churches agreed with the RCC. Some Lutherans still believe that the RCC still needs a reformation.

        • Point taken. I didn’t mean to say that all Lutherans think this statement is sufficient. Nevertheless, it does represent some progress, and it seems to me that Catholics came much farther toward the Protestant position than vice versa.

          • Donald Todd says

            I believe if you go back to the Council of Trent, you’ll note the Catholic position. That is that grace is given at baptism. The Church has recognized that man could not undo original sin or its effects on subsequent generations. Man was culpable (guilty) but even the best of us could not undo the issue for him- or herself, let alone the human race.

            God became a Man because only God could pay the penalty due for sin but God was not guilty so He took humanity through His mother to free us from our fate. It had the benefit of being great enough to lift all of humanity, should we all respond to that good news, and of displaying the awesome love of God for His creation.

            As the early part of Acts, notes. Peter’s preaching cut them to the heart, and they were baptised. Not ritual bathing. A one time event (ala circumcision) later broadened out to include children in a time when infant death was more prevalent than it is now. Since the people Peter was preaching to were Jews, familiar with circumcision on the eighth day, the idea of the baptism of infants then being raised in the faith was not a novelty but rather a straight forward connection to what they understood from Abraham through Moses.

            You are saved by faith through grace is the Catholic position and that grace is initially given at baptism, and then given additionally through the reception of the sacraments and as needed (actual grace) in various situations. Does God give grace to non-believers? I believe He does, but that is a separate issue.

            There is a related item, usually misunderstood by non-Catholics, involving works. Jesus was quite clear about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, et al. Paul recognized that when he wrote that we were to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Of all the apostles, he was the most literate in scripture and recognized the failures of the Chosen People repeatedly, warning us against those failures. Grace has to be met by a repeated response.

            His recognition is met by James’ statement that he would show us his faith through his works. James was with Jesus at the various sermons and for the various miracles that Jesus worked on behalf of the people He came to save.

            Jesus, Paul and James were appealing to believers. Faith is meant to manifest itself. If I see Jesus in the next person who is in need and do nothing, what does that say? Jesus did something for me, and I am supposed to be doing something for the next person, out of obedience to and in imitation of Jesus. It was Paul who told his congregation to imitate him as he imitated Christ.

            One of the writers above noted getting a $1000.00 toward a bill, and then not paying the bill. My impression is that faith bottled up and unresponsive to the various needs one meets falls into James’ description that faith without works is dead.

            We cannot earn Heaven, but we can certainly avoid it. If prostitutes and tax collectors are going to Heaven, then maybe we need to lower our impressions of ourselves, and participate in that same redemption that the prostitutes and tax collectors are participating in. If Jesus could put on an apron and wash the feet of the apostles, perhaps our hands need to wash someone’s feet as well.

            Practice makes perfect is an old adage. I do not know if that is true, not being perfect at anything, but I do know that practice with some training or direction creates and builds a skill. The imitation of Christ seems to me to be worthy of such an effort.

      • The JDDJ is a watered-down compromised convictionless document. I have studied this doctrine and only those who don’t allow for strong convictions from their own tradition’s perspective will say that this is a grandiose piece of agreement.

    • Christopher Lake says


      I was a convinced, enthusiastic Reformed Baptist for years and was a member of a fairly well-known Reformed Baptist church in Washington, D.C. (Mark Dever preaches there), so I know well how Reformed people view the RCC’s stance on justification and (as you put it) “falling in and out of grace.” The problem that I have come to see is with the Reformed understanding is, there are many passages that are very, very difficult to fit into traditional Reformed soteriology.

      For example, there are the warnings in Hebrews about “falling away from grace” and “falling away from the living God.” These verses can obviously be “harmonized” with others (that appear to teach eternal security) by saying, “Well, these ‘falling away’ verses are speaking of people who were never actually saved. Their falling away is simply the *evidence* that they were never saved.” The problem with such “harmonizing,” as I now see it, is that it reads things into the verses that are not there. How can one “fall away from the living God” or “fall away from grace” if one has never truly known God and never truly been in His saving grace? One cannot fall away from what one has never truly known and experienced.

      For years, I accepted the Reformed explanations of these verses (if I had not done so, my whole “Reformed Baptist paradigm” would have fallen apart!), but now, those explanations no longer seem to make much sense. Quite frankly, the warning passages in Hebrews make much more sense from within a Catholic or Orthodox understanding.

      As for Galatians, justification, and “preaching another gospel,” when I began to look, not just at isolated verses in Galatians, but at the surrounding passages in the epistle, I started to see that by “works,” Paul is referring to circumcision and other Jewish rituals that Jews were attempting to require of Gentile converts– not necessarily good works in general.

      The second chapter of James also makes sense in this regard. Faith without works is dead– it cannot justify and cannot save. True justification, in the RCC understanding, comes NOT through works (“earning one’s way to Heaven”) but by grace, through faith, lived out in *continuing* faith and works. If both faith and works do not continue, then one can legitimately be said to have “fallen away from grace.”

  25. Very well said Mike. My personal experience is very similar to yours. At one point, I used to pinpoint the first Thursday night in September, 1993 as my “Day of Salvation.” But like you, I went to a liberal Lutheran church growing up and one thing even a liberal church can do is well preach the gospel of Christ. And I believed it, always have. Today I run around with evangelicals overseas, but I’m not ready yet for the firestorm to say that I was saved the day I was baptized as a baby.

  26. Cynthia Jones says

    In reply to Eclectic Christian, who said,
    “Whether or not it is applicable to your friends situation Cynthia, I have run into a few people who in their own mind have “always belived”. They are not able to point to point in time at which they first decided to believe, perhaps they were too young to remember it. Yet there faith was very much as real as my own.

    Now, I have also run into people who assumed they were Christian because they grew up in a Christian home, but they showed no evidence of living faith.”

    As I originally stated, I can live with that. As a loose comparison, I cannot remember a time when I did not know how to read. That, however, does not mean there WASN’T a time when I didn’t know how to read. It simply means I do not REMEMBER it. Just as it would make no sense to say, “I’ve always known how to read, because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to read,” it would also make no sense to say, “I’ve always been a Christian, because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian.”

    • Cynthia, I take your point. I don’t deny the importance of personal faith or of a person knowing his position before God and having assurance of salvation.

      I’m wondering how you respond to some of the Biblical allusions I made. There is a remarkable lack of “before and after” emphasis in the depictions of many, many Biblical characters.

      • Cynthia Jones says

        I respond to those allusions by saying that not every fact about every Bible character is recorded in the Bible. You mentioned Anna and Simeon. In literature, they are what would be referred to as “flat characters,” because we only know one thing about them. That does not mean they were not important. I recall a children’s sermon Denise did many years ago using Anna and Simeon in which she said, “Can you imagine waiting your WHOLE LIFE for Christmas?” In essence, that is what Anna and Simeon had done, and we can learn much from their faithfulness to wait their entire lives for Christ to come. Just because a “before and after” experience was not recorded in the Bible for them does not mean it did not happen. Someone’s next statement might be that it doesn’t mean it DID happen, either, and I can submit to that. The fact is that we don’t know. I don’t believe we can use the lack of a “before and after” experience being recorded for them to say that there is no “before and after” experience for someone who is a Christian. I also would not argue a person’s salvation with him/her, because that IS personal and is between that person and God. It is not for me to say.

        • Cynthia, I think you and I largely agree and are now debating emphases.

          What I’m suggesting in my Biblical references is that the Scriptures do not pound the constant drumbeat of “before/after” emphasis that revivalism does. There are many, many saints in Scripture who, like Timothy, knew the Scriptures from the moment they were conscious, grew up in Christian homes, and can’t recall a day they didn’t respond to the message of Jesus. And what about John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb? That certainly doesn’t fit the revivalist categories!

          There are others, like me, who were taught to identify something they did as marking the point in time when God saved them—something like praying a prayer, walking an aisle, or signing a response card. I now think it’s a little more complex than that.

          Is it possible God’s grace was active in my life from the time of my baptism (as an infant) through my confirmation (when I had some sense of God and the seriousness of a relationship with him) to the day when I went forward to publicly express my need of Christ? Should I think that it is necessary to pinpoint a single moment when everything changed?

          • RE: John the Baptist – though not a trained theologian, I’ve heard it taught that JtB, though recounted in the New Testament, was actually (as the “forerunner”) the last of the “Old Testament” prophets. In the Old Testament/Covenant, there was arguably a different dynamic between the Holy Spirit and people than that which operates in the New Testament/Covenant age.

            For example, the Holy Spirit “coming upon” Saul but later forsaking him, and David asking God “not to take His Holy Spirit from Him”. Whereas in the NT, there seems more permanence to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (“I will never leave you nor forsake you”, God gives “the Spirit without limit”, the Spirit being a deposit “guaranteeing what is to come”).

          • –Sorry, yes I know the “never leave or forsake you” is a quote from the OT. 🙂

          • Cynthia Jones says

            I do not debate the necessity of pinpointing “a single moment when everything changed.” However, if I adhere to your principle that “God’s grace was active in my life from the time of my baptism…through my confirmation…to the day when I went forward to publicly express my need of Christ,” then that sends the message that you don’t have to accept Christ’s gift to be saved. That means everyone is automatically saved. What, then, would be the point of Christ commanding us to go into all the world teaching and baptizing in his name? The Bible is very clear that there is a literal burning Hell for those who reject Christ. With that knowledge, how can one believe that they are automatically saved without deciding to accept God’s gracious gift of Salvation? As I stated before, I would never debate a person’s salvation with him/her. Your salvation is something that only you and God know for sure, just as my salvation is something only God and I know for sure.

    • I’m going to go think on your analogy. It makes sense to me, because I don’t remember learning how to read, either (I could read by the time I started school).

  27. Cynthia Jones says

    On a related note, I once had a conversation with a young lady who was convinced that, if a person were on his/her way down the aisle during altar call and dropped dead before they got down front to shake the preacher’s hand and pray, they were a lost soul bound for Hell. I tried to tell her that God would know that person’s heart AND that s/he had already decided to follow Christ at that point, but she would not hear it!

  28. Unless you’re Orthodox or Roman Catholic you cannot say that justification happens progressively over time. I would also say that there is no such thing as pre-conversion salvation that some churches espouse. Justification happens at one point in time and has both an already and not yet aspect.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648, Mark.

      And the only reason you have your SCRIPTURE (TM) is the Bishops of my church (and OrthoCuban’s — they were one and the same at the time) kept all the Shirley MacLaines from rewriting it in their image back when years AD were in the low three digits.

  29. Cynthia, that’s a quite Catholic thought! We get it already, Matthew.

  30. .

    Here’s an excellent sermon (Michael Spencer highlighted it on his blog a few years ago) on just how we come to salvation:


    The trouble with Lutheran, R. Catholic, (and others) agreements on doctrine (where you have them) is the different definitions of the same word.


    • I totally agree with you that “defining our terms” is a big, big problem.

      • I wholeheartedly agree. Theologians (like Aquinas) tend to define their terms very precisely and so quoting “sound bytes” from them often give the wrong impression because the quoter is not really fully understanding or appreciating the technical definitions at work.

  31. Cynthia Jones says

    Which of my thoughts was a “Catholic” one????

  32. After glancing at a lot of the comments on here, it’s interesting to see how many different definitions we have for “Day of Salvation” (whether a day is a day or a day is a year, who knows?). I personally had a “season of salvation” as it were. I accepted Christ into my life at the age of 23 (in what was literally a come-to-jesus moment), but was more interested in him taking care of some issues for me than actually following him. Fast-forward 5 years later, and I am on my knees, literally and figuratively, telling God “ok, i give up. I can’t do this anymore. I’ll do what you want me to do.” Not to minimize the 5years in between these moments, but it was the latter of the two that really took me in a different direction with my faith. Of course, I realize that the second moment was set up by the first. 😉

  33. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating (I think! 🙂 If salvation is paying the traffic ticket of our sins, then it can be dated to a single point in time, and it is a once and for all transaction. If salvation is the life of restored oneness with God, of the branch being connected to and receiving its life from the vine, then it is ongoing — we are being saved. And if the branch wrenches itself away from the vine, it begins again its process of death. The concern I have with once-and-for-all salvation is the antinomian temptation that I’ve been forgiven at a point in time, I can do anything I want and I’m still saved. I do think the Bible images support more the idea of daily living in union with Christ. This is still salvation based on grace, not on our works, but it is a life-long healing and restoration of the relationship we were created to have with God..

    • The concern I have with once-and-for-all salvation is the antinomian temptation that I’ve been forgiven at a point in time, I can do anything I want and I’m still saved.

      Not necessarily, and that’s why I find analogies like parking tickets and a bank account a bit lacking — in part, anyway. God isn’t a banker, and he’s not a traffic cop, either. The traditions, at least that I’ve come from, that argue for ‘once and for’ all stress against “fire insurance” rather strongly. Abused grace is not received grace, to put it bluntly. It’s one thing to struggle. It’s another matter entirely to slap God in the face. Loving our sin is something the NT wrote against.

      So while I suppose someone could think they can do whatever they want, I think, in the end, it’s a very ignorant thing on their part.

      Now I’m going to hit “submit comment” and hope I worded that right.

      • Kaci,

        I think I understand your point. In a sense I accept the once-and-for-all idea of salvation — in fact, I live my life in the comfort of believing I have salvation. But I try to remember that salvation is the ongoing result of a life lived with God. It is certain assurance of God’s grace as we participate in it, and God’s grace is always available and always effective. I like your term “abused grace.” I don’t ever want to abuse grace.

        • Now that I’m coherent…

          I’m not sure I can lay claim on the ‘abused grace’ phrase; it likely came from somewhere. It seemed to suit–glad you like it. 0=)

          Just to be clear, I do believe in ‘once and for all.’ I just had a friend distinguish between ‘losing’ in the traditional sense (which I don’t agree with) and walking away for keeps (which Scripture seems to indicate possible), and it sort of made sense. In my head there’s a sense of ‘we are saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved’ going on.

          Key thing with me is: I’m very, very hesitant to call someone’s salvation into question.

  34. In Pentecost (or at least among that bunch into I was planted over 38 years ago), they asked the question of whether it was possible for one to be “saved” more than once, equating the term to the Biblical statement of being “born again”. Different denominations have different theologies, of course, and a subject like this opens up debate; so I can only say my own views have risen from the journey thus far and, personally, while I do believe there was that day, that point when Jesus set up residence within me, I also can look back on either side of the event and find God’s Spirit within my life as a whole. That day I surrendered, I knew nothing of Scripture, nothing of Christ other than a name some took in religious practice. I stood at the edge of a mental cliff knowing who I was, who I had been, was a mess; and I was ready to jump trusting whoever, whatever was out there willing to have me. The woman who took me into that prayer said “Jesus”; I cried out “Jesus” and leaped. When I came up off of my knees, she asked me if I was “saved”. I had never heard the phraseology before and answered “no”. She then asked if I didn’t feel any different and I told her, in truth, I had never felt like this, so clean, so weightless, so “not guilty” . From that point, though, it became a walk, from “faith to faith” as Paul put it, a stagger in following Him, and many times has He proven Himself yet my Savior…..

  35. The revivalists were probably trying to accomplish a good thing, but went around it in a very wrong way. Emotionalism achieved mass appeal, but emotions could not achieve the awakening to God they were hoping to inspire. There is nothing intentional about emotions; there is no act of the will. When the emotions wear off – in many cases very raw, excited, even terrified emotions – what was left is what historians rightly called “scorched earth”. The “American Experience” documentary on the Mormon church pointed out that it is out of that scorched earth that Mormonism took root.

    There was a deliberate attempt to downplay doctrine in the revivals and an emphasis instead on emotions. It also made a false conflict between personal piety and organized church. People traded church tradition and authority for enslavement to the emotional manipulations of revivalist preachers.

    • All those characteristics continue, only sometimes in more sophisticated ways, in modern evangelicalism. “Scorched earth” can also produce the “post-evangelical wilderness.”

      • Good point. I think the other problem with the Great Awakenings is neglecting to recognize that it is God who awakens us, through word and sacrament, and not our efforts to goad people into conversion. So much emphasis was placed on conjuring a response. This is still very true today.

        I grew up in the Methodist church with a grave fear of death and God. Nothing I heard on Sunday really cured that. Eventually, at a Christian coffee house I heard about the grace of God through His Son, Jesus, and that God indeed loved me. This lead to a transforming moment that I can more or less narrow down – 30 years ago this month. Why did I not hear this message? Was it there and I just didn’t get it? Hard to say.

        I think back then the UMC was already struggling with liberalism, and grace is not a concept that fits with liberalism – as ironic as that may sound. Liberalism is about the great “moral imperative”; although the definition of “moral” may shift, it is still an emphasis upon legalism – man saving himself through his own actions without God’s interference. Revivalism’s emphasis upon personal decisions and actions really is a product of that same liberalism. Churches which bought into revivalism in the nineteenth century eventually adopted liberalism theology.

        • “Revivalism’s emphasis upon personal decisions and actions really is a product of that same liberalism.”

          I don’t know that I’d agree with that when you get into the historical details, but I know exactly what you mean and I think the point you’re getting at is very true. Faith itself has been made into a “work”—YOU have to take this action, YOU have to step forward. It’s all about human endeavor rather than grace.

          Protestants will rail against Catholics for thinking that if they just have this letter from the Pope, or if they just carry out this program of penance, they’re all set and nothing else they do will affect their getting into heaven. However, contemporary evangelicals promoting do-it-now revivalist attitudes make the same mistake, in my opinion, that they claim Catholics make. All you have to do is sign this certificate that you prayed a certain prayer professing “faith” and then anything else you do after that doesn’t matter. You can claim salvation and the church or evangelist can claim you as another successful sale (oops, conversion).

          The more we emphasize pure grace, the less I think we’d have to worry about whether it was MY faith that saved me or MY works.

          • I know it’s a hard case to make. That is why problems in contemporary evangelicalism are so difficult to unravel – like peeling a rotten onion. One problem resulted in an imperfect reaction or fix, and so on and so on. But the elephant in the middle of the room of American evangelicalism still seems to be Immanuel Kant, who taught that graceless religion is a reasonable religion. He was reacting against medieval mysticism which had become enslaving superstition, but he went too far; he cut God completely out of the picture, leaving us to manage alone. What was left when he was done butchering spirituality was merely moralism. Despite how the word has been redefined, classic liberalism is that man can act autonomously without the intervention of God to progress himself and society. Many who call themselves “conservative” because they preach moralism but neglect God’s grace, forgiveness, and the new life in Christ are actually textbook liberals. If you told them that, they would probably come unglued.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            He was reacting against medieval mysticism which had become enslaving superstition, but he went too far; he cut God completely out of the picture, leaving us to manage alone.

            Equally out-of-balance, just in the other direction.

            1) The Hopi have a word (which I’m not even going to try to spell or pronounce) for “Life Out of Balance”. That’s a good description of this.

            2) “The Devil sends error in matched opposing pairs, so in fleeing the one we commit the other.” — C.S.Lewis (from memory)

        • Dumb Ox: your post after this one is fascinating to me; I’d never thot about the similarities between “conservatives” and “liberals” reg. taking GOD out of the picture via some kind of moralism. I think you are very much on to something. The pity is: moralism is like carbon monoxide: it’s kind of a colorless (maybe not odorless) kind of error, it LOOKS like the real deal, and is easy given some kind of scriptural support.

          I would love to see this theme fleshed out somewhere. Any suggistions ??

          Greg R

          • Perhaps Chaplain Mike can put it in the queue to be discussed here.

            This has been my soapbox issue for over five years, but others have touched on it. Most notably would be Franky Schaefer who in a recent interview called the “religious right” a mirror-image of the “new left”.


            I would love to discuss if further, but it is somewhat on the fringes of this thread.

            But anytime one puts confidence in something he or she did or experienced on a particular date, grace is being pushed out of the picture. Grace can’t be tamed; it can’t be locked in time by nostalgia. It is dynamic, free, and as Michael Spencer wrote, it is dangerous. That’s why liberals – for all of their talk about acceptance and tolerance – hate grace. Grace means that humanity is ultimately dependent upon God, that no amount of social evolution or utopia-building will relieve us of our need for God’s loving intervention. Grace implies that there is a standard which we have not met and will never meet. It also means that no matter how many rings on the ladder of sanctification a Christian climbs, he or she never rises above the need for God’s grace.

            Grace is for the now. Forgiveness for past sins is powerless if we do not living in the assurance of grace in the present.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      There is nothing intentional about emotions; there is no act of the will. When the emotions wear off – in many cases very raw, excited, even terrified emotions – what was left is what historians rightly called “scorched earth”. The “American Experience” documentary on the Mormon church pointed out that it is out of that scorched earth that Mormonism took root.

      And Spiritualism.
      And Millerite Adventism.

      “The Burned-over District” of 19th Century Upstate New York, with its This-is-It-Revivial-of-the-Year mentality. According to one Jesuit sermon I heard (during the “Harmonic Convergence” mania), “The Southern California of the 19th Century”, i.e. Weird Religion Granola Bowl, crawling with 19th Century Shirley MacLaines and Fred Phelpses.

  36. JeffB: What if “faith” and “grace” and other such terms are not a matter of our giving definition to them, but rather “who He is within us”? While my journey of 38 years in this has not been some experience of 24/7 assurance of His inner presence within me (as noted above-there continues to be that interim wherein one indeed walks by a trust in what has been proven unto him), yet it is up out of that inner well, from time to time, that He has reinforced the relationship and given reason to take the next step believing He is in it whether I “feel” Him or not. I refer to it as an “anchor-line stagger” down the path with a heart hungry to know Him as I go…..

    • Not sure why you mention my name, but your description of your experience sounds like a net positive thing to me.

  37. steve schromm says

    The Gospel message, of course following on the heels of understanding our need for it as seen through the message of the Law, is maybe not intended to help us so much know that we are saved but that we have a Savior that we can trust. Slight difference maybe but puts the focus on Him and not me.

    So “when were you saved” is not the question but rather, “Keep growing in your trust of the Savior in the daily challenges of life”. If our preaching is simply to get people “saved” how do we help those in the Church (me) not to be choked out by thorns and thistles and other perils of life. That seems to be what the epistles are mostly about, doesn’t it?

  38. Growing up as a child in very revivalistic baptist churches this idea always seemed perplexing to me. I always considered myself a Christian, but I, because of expectations hoisted upon me, was looking for some great Damascus Road type experience, even at a very very young age.

    My take is this. There is a moment, often known only to God, where we pass from death unto life, however, there may be many “conversion” experiences in our lives where we are made keenly aware of God’s forgivness or our own sinfulness.

    The thing that has drawn me more towards a more sacramental/Reformed view point has been my own children. I look at them and ask myself, “Would I consider them Christian children?” Are they no better off being born in my house to beleivers, taken to church to participate in the life of the church than the children born to pagans around the world, or non-believers down the street?

    I read a great paper, and I wish I could quote it but the paper quoted I think another baptist, I’m not sure, but it ask bascially this, “How can we raise our children that God loves them, teach them to sing Jesus Loves me, and then around ten years old thrust them, by our own standards, outside the Kingdom and removed from the Family of God and demand they have a public emotional expereince?

    That said, we may never know the moment that God saved us individually, therefore I think it is a wise practice for a person to date their public walk with God on their date of baptism.

    • That said, we may never know the moment that God saved us individually, therefore I think it is a wise practice for a person to date their public walk with God on their date of baptism.

      That’s how I wound up baptized twice. I was baptized at age five, but got tired enough of the personal mind games that at 18 I decided to be rebaptized and tell Satan to shove it.

  39. JeffB: I just took note of your referencing “faith” to have been turned into a “work” and I would agree that is indeed where many have taken it. There are several places within Scripture I could point to, but like Ephesians 6 and 1st Thess 5 for a foundation beneath my own perspective. In the first, Paul speaks of a breastplate of righteousness, a helmet of salvation, and a shield of faith; but, in the latter, he now, in referring to the helmet as our “hope” of salvation, changes the breastplate to one composed of “faith and love”. Explore for yurself and form your own opinion, but verses like these tell me that, in the same manner that the “righteousness” is His, so also the “faith and love”. He comes up from within me, at times, to reinforce such items unto me. My faith, however, is as the shield, produced by those things He has already proven unto me and utilized to face the enemy in that interim walk…..

    Austin: I was speaking with my former pastor’s wife the other day and made mention that each time my “knees hit the floor”, my prayers are for my kids and my grandkid to “know the reality of who He is”, not just a doctrinal format, an existence within the church obtained along the way (not that I’m not thankful for the benefits of church-just that I’ve also come to realize there are some stumbling blocks in there as well). She asked me “How can you know when that has been achieved?” My answer was something like: “I can’t know; but knowing it is a journey and an on-going salvation, I never want to lose a passion for them to maintain theirs as well”…..

    • thanks jim

      sounds like the spring of living water is flowing well within you, even when (from your words) sometimes it doesn’t “feel” like it

  40. The problem with revivalist/decisionist theology is that you have to depend on yourself to know if your decision really “took” or not. Did I pray with enough sincerity? Were my motives pure? Maybe I didn’t have enough grief over my sins. Should I do it again just in case?

    In all these we’re looking at how sincerely we performed whatever task we had to do to “pass from death to life”. Much better to look at what Christ has done perfectly on our behalf and trust – however imperfectly – in what he has accomplished.

    • very, very well said, sir; and so I’d say that , unintentionally, revivalist thinking takes us away from being gospel and grace centered. Over the long haul, this can have seriously bad side effects (again, unintentional, but nonetheless real)

      Nice post
      Greg R

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Are You Sure? Are You Certain? Are You Sure You’re Certain?”
      — Internet Monk (probably in “Wretched Urgency”)

      Because that way (of constant second-guessing) lies paralysis and madness.

  41. I understand the idea of growing in salvation and salvation being a process. However (and this is personal experience) there actually was a time in my life (summer 1973) when I became keenly aware of my sinfulness and the love and forgiveness of God in Christ and was “saved”. It just so happens this experience was in a small Baptist church, during the “invitation” as “Just As I Am” was being played on the piano. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, probably not even my children’s experience but at that point in time I became a child of God and heir of eternal life. I too am not always a fan of evangelical alter calls and know this method of inviting people to Christ is often abused, but God worked in this way to call me to Himself.

    • To be honest, I’m not convinced one is “better” than another. For the kid who grew up in church and has never served another, it seems to be more of a ‘refining fire’ situation. The kid who was raised in it, left, and came back; or who simply came back later; or who didn’t consciously follow Christ until later–those are different stories, and I think there you’ll see something more defining.

      When God speaks, he speaks. Turning salvation into a math formula just doesn’t seem his type.

      Just thought I’d toss that out there. Pointed moments of repentance shouldn’t be called into question either.

      Abuse can run both ways, to be honest.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Why not do what us Romish Papists do and accept BOTH types of conversions as valid?

      Spectacular Moment AND Gradual Process?

      Isn’t God big enough to do both?

  42. I really believe this will be a helpful read – regarding this topic as a whole


  43. Karen Case says

    When the Bible speaks of conversion, what terms does it use??? Most of the analogies are things like removing a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh, going from death to life, being transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, being blind and being given sight, being born again… So, one thing we can ask ourselves when pondering our own salvation is how the Bible refers to that experience. None of these are things that are done through a process. Neither are they things I can do for myself. I had nothing to do with my own birth. I can’t remove my own heart of stone. If I am spiritually dead, how can I give myself life? Also, how can live in a long process of becoming alive? The Bible speaks in depth about our growth in Christ and in the faith after conversion. But, the weight of scripture refers to conversion as an action God takes on our behalf that requires the incomparable power of God at work in each individual life. Being raised a good Baptist, I went met with a pastor, prayed the appropriate prayer, went forward at church, and was baptized. For years, I doubted my salvation (with good reason) and at times I would go forward at the invitation time to rededicate my life because I knew something was wrong. When I was 25, God revealed my need for his regenerative work in my life. I repented and fell on Him in faith. That was truly “one moment” that changed my life. The process of growing is like the dawn of the sun growing brighter with each passing day. But, my conversion was an act of almighty God upon my life.

    • Even the metaphorical “moments” you speak of may be part of processes. No baby is born at the moment of conception, yet there is life before anyone ever realizes it.

      • “No baby is born at the moment of conception, yet there is life before anyone ever realizes it.”

        I like that, Chaplain Mike.

  44. “…Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…”
    …I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved…

    Just my way of trying to assimilate something that is way beyond my comprehension


  45. Hmm. I’m not sure I can remember when I was saved, but I think it was about 33AD, plus or minus a few years.

    I’m not trying to be a smart alec (well, maybe I am), but salvation is God’s work in us, so perhaps a more relevant guide to our decisions is not what they look like to us, but what they look like to the Ancient of Days who created time.

    Some things are pretty easy to pin down in time: I can decide to post this or not; clicking on “submit” or on the little X. Others are a little fuzzier: I can decide to write this comment, and it takes a few minutes to do it. I have to sustain that decision for more than just a moment. I wed my wife one day almost 30 years ago, but I’ve married her for 30 years–is that one decision or a construction of many?
    If I walk the aisle and pray with the pastor and attend a pastor’s class (on symbolism in Revelation, of all things!) and then do my own thing for the rest of my life, what kind of acceptance of grace does God see?

    • “I’m not sure I can remember when I was saved, but I think it was about 33AD, plus or minus a few years.”

      I think you’re on to something. I recently heard a revivalist-bent preacher for the first time in a few years, and I couldn’t help notice how everything was focused on his life, not on the cross: “I used to be like this…I did this…I said this…I experienced this…now my life is wonderful.” Testimonies surrounding conversion dates tend to be narcissistic. There are the rare exceptions.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “I used to be like this…I did this…I said this…I experienced this…now my life is wonderful.”

        And usually a dull drab letdown from the juicy & exciting previous life, what James Michener in Hawaii called “The grey, drab, joyless path of Salvation.”

        And as another book put it, describing this sort of Revival Testimony, “I Grew Up Immersed In a Sinful Life of Booze and Dope and Sex, and Boy Was It Fun! But I Tell You This Only to Keep You From Commiting the Same Fun-filled Mistakes!”

  46. If one thinks that they enter into a relationship with God by any other means than Jesus Christ, he is a fool. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me. Personally, I was 6 years old when I went forward in my church and proclaimed that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior. For me, and most others, their turning point towards following Christ, occurs, not in a service, but some other place and time during the week. For those that believe there are magic words one can say and voila, you are automatically born again, I can assure you there are not. If you claim to have accepted Christ as your Savior, imho, all Christians are obligated to give you the benefit of the doubt. The authenticity of your decision and conversion will be played out in your life.

    If one thinks they are going to enter the Kingdom of God because they attended church every week, or because they completed the sacraments, or because they take communion everyday, or because they say certain prayers, this is foolishness also.

    The problem with the Catholic religion is they teach and propagate so many untruths. Catholicism teaches that they are the only true church established by Jesus. This is the same stupidity that leads people of the Jewish faith to believe that they are the only chosen people of God. In fact, Catholicism is the Christian version of Judaism. Just studying the history of the jews and romans around the time of Christ gives insight into why Catholicism and Judaism are so similar. They have a million rules and regulations. Teach you that you have to fulfill all sacraments as part of your salvation process, a completely foreign concept to scripture. In fact, this type of thinking is what Jesus so diligently fought against with the Pharisees and Saducees. They teach that Peter was the first pope, which is hogwash, though it is true that Peter was seriously reprimanded by Paul for getting offcourse with some very Catholic-like teachings. They worship idols they have deemed as saints, though the bible is clear that all who know Christ as their Savior are referred to as a ‘saint’. There is a patron saint for almost every problem and affliction known to man for which they pray to for guidance or relief or riches. Idol worship runs rampant in their teachings. They teach that Mary is the mother of God instead of the earthly mother of Jesus, a distinctly different concept and in doing so have made Mary a god herself though she clearly stated her need for a savior in Luke Chapter 1. She has been elevated to a deity role who committed no sin and remained a virgin, though the bible is clear that Jesus had siblings, one of them being James (book of James). And, honestly, on and on and on one could go. The truth is that if it weren’t for the age of the Catholic religion, it’s teachings would easily qualify as a cult these days. In the end, christianity is not a religion, for religions are man-conceived. Christianity is the one and only true faith.

    One person in their comment stated that Christ did not die for all but for only those that believe. This inference is seriously wrong. The bible is clear that Christ died for all of humanity. Just because a person chooses not to accept the eternal life Jesus offers does not mean that Jesus did not offer it to that person. A person rejecting a gift does not mean that the gift was not offered. You know how the old saying goes…you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Free-will is the cornerstone of God’s design because it is necessary for true love to exist.

    • “If one thinks that they enter into a relationship with God by any other means than Jesus Christ, he is a fool.”

      Yup. Good thing no one here is thinking that, then!

    • “If you claim to have accepted Christ as your Savior, imho, all Christians are obligated to give you the benefit of the doubt. The authenticity of your decision and conversion will be played out in your life.”

      You were sort of an equal opportunity critic in your post (Catholics, those believing in limited atonement, etc), but I would just suggest that you consider your own words above. In many cases, there will be both Catholics and Protestants of all ilks whose authenticity is fairly brought into doubt. But giving the same benefit of the doubt across the board and then looking at how their lives play out will also in many cases (Catholic and Protestant of every ilk) confirm authenticity even when theologically one may doubt certain aspects of this or that person’s beliefs.

    • Troy, I’m going to let your post stand, but only as a stellar example of really bad thinking, OK?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648, Troy.

      Too bad you didn’t get the word. Or rejected it when you did.

  47. Mike, I agree with you; but my problem is I don’t know how to “fit” the alter call scenario into the fact that that scenario is what got your attention.

    – Craig

    • It was one important step in the process, Craig.

      • But that’s what I mean. As you said – it was an *important* part. So, how do we draw out what was good about that context while not taking on the entire theology behind it? Clearly something within that context got your attention, and we wold both say that was a good, “important” thing; and something that, at least at that moment in your life, was what it took to get your attention – and something that you (probably) would not have been confronted(?) with within a different tradition. Anyway, that is my problem. I agree with you. But something seems missing from the overall analysis.

        – Craig

        • My point was that traditional revivalistic thinking cannot account for the intricacies of God’s working in our lives. My view of what God had done in my life was defined solely as a before/after experience, when in reality God had been at work in many other ways I had not previously appreciated.

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