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Feedback archiveFeedback 2011

Can compromisers really be saved?

Published: 29 January 2011(GMT+10)

Illustration by Caleb Salisbury

young Christian milk doctrine mature Christian solid fod doctrine

At CMI, we often make the point that even though creation is an important doctrine, one can be an evolutionist and be saved. In response to our re-affirmation of that in the recent article critiquing BioLogos, Randy S. wrote in. His letter is printed in full, with a response from Lita Cosner.

You said this: "We have affirmed over and over that a person can be saved and an evolutionist. One’s stance on the first 11 chapters of Genesis does not affect whether one’s name is in the Book of Life." But why did I not know this about you? This is shocking to say the least. How do you know that one’s name can be in God’s Book who holds to biological evolution? By what authority do write your statement? In fact, you cannot be sure of this. You will not be able to convincingly support your view. You would do well to point us to the apostolic injunction, "Do not go beyond what is written," and leave it there. You absolutely do not have enough understanding of the justice and judgment of God to maintain that He will not in fact condemn every soul who so counter-confesses to the literal written text of the opening chapters of Genesis.

Dear Randy,

I don’t know why you would not have known our stance on whether an evolutionist can be a Christian; we’ve said this for years, as documented in the article. The content that one has to believe to be a Christian is very, very basic; one can be saved and be wrong on a lot of very important doctrines. See the very basic conditions in 1 Corinthians 15:1–4:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Faith in Christ saves, not belief in creation, as important as we think the latter is.

One would hope that, as a person’s faith matures, these wrong views would be corrected, but faith in Christ saves, not belief in creation, as important as we think the latter is. We have a forthcoming article on this, pointing out that new Christians don’t automatically have the knowledge of the whole Bible implanted in their brains [ed. note: now published as Can Christians believe evolution?]. We have also pointed out that the founding chairman of CMI was a saved theistic evolutionist for 40 years before realizing the truth of Genesis as history (see From (theistic) evolution to creation).

I don’t have enough data to say with certainty "This particular theistic evolutionist is saved," but then I can’t say that about any specific individual. I can look at a person’s life and the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in his life, but I can’t make a certain pronouncement. What I can say is that since creation is not a cardinal doctrine (regardless that it is logically foundational to the Gospel, crucially important, and so on) one can conceivably be a Christian and an evolutionist. I would not venture to make statements about the authenticity or lack thereof of any professing Christian evolutionist’s faith based on his compromise alone, though.

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

Randy S. replied:

You said: one can be saved and be wrong on a lot of very important doctrines.
But I am curious about your list of “very important doctrines” that we as Christians are allowed to gloss over.
You said: faith in Christ saves, not belief in creation,
We possess an apostolic warning: "Do not go beyond what is written." How long will you let a convert rebuff the apostles and still be saved? When does a convert cross the line and hold on too long to “I still do not believe man was created in God’s image?” Actually, his contrary belief system is rebellion, plain and simple. Are you painting SAVED across a rebellious heart?
You said: the founding chairman of CMI was a saved theistic evolutionist for 40 years before realizing the truth of Genesis
But how are you certain that he was saved in the interim? How will you convince me and others of this?
You said: I don’t have enough data to say with certainty "This particular theistic evolutionist is saved," but then I can’t say that about any specific individual.
Your inability to label ones ‘saved’ or ‘unsaved’ does not help secure salvation for the theistic evolutionist, nor does it help your argument.
You said: since creation is not a cardinal doctrine, one can be a Christian and an evolutionist.
But what if you are dead wrong? How will you convince God that He must accept those whom He rejects?

Lita’s response is interspersed below:

Dear Randy,

You said: one can be saved and be wrong on a lot of very important doctrines.
But I am curious about your list of “very important doctrines” that we as Christians are allowed to gloss over.

The correct belief that one needs to be saved is that Jesus Christ (the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity) died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, according to 1 Corinthians 15. This implies correct belief about the person of Christ (because if you don’t believe He is both fully God and fully man, you don’t believe in the biblical Christ), correct belief about hamartiology (we’ve sinned against God and need an atoning sacrifice, and Jesus is that sacrifice), and that Jesus was raised from the dead (confirming the acceptance of His sacrifice, and ensuring our own resurrection).

I believe that Jesus mercifully lets us be saved even if we’re wrong about some very important things, and that is a good thing for all of us!

Let me emphasize that other doctrines are very important, and any true Christian should want to know the truth about every doctrine. But no Christian is fully-formed the moment he is saved. Since I’ve been saved, my views on nearly every doctrine have been refined, and some of my positions have changed 180 degrees from what I believed then, including on some very important issues and some important doctrinal errors were corrected. But just because I was in error, was I less saved, or simply less mature? There is a reason the Bible talks about ‘milk’ doctrines and ‘solid food’ doctrines (Hebrews 5).

Also, there are some important differences of belief on important doctrines (like Calvinism versus Arminianism, eschatology, etc). No matter what stance one takes on these matters, at least one side has to be wrong. The necessary implication is that a lot of genuine Christians who love God are wrong on some issues, even after carefully studying and considering the issue. If complete doctrinal correctness saves us, I don’t think any of us would have a chance.

We certainly differentiate between these doctrines and creation, because all of the others are disputes that presuppose the authority of Scripture, while the creation debates are about whether Scripture or “science” is our authority about the history of God’s creative acts (see also End-times and Early-times).

You said: faith in Christ saves, not belief in creation,
We possess an apostolic warning: "Do not go beyond what is written." How long will you let a convert rebuff the apostles and still be saved? When does a convert cross the line and hold on too long to “I still do not believe man was created in God’s image?” Actually, his contrary belief system is rebellion, plain and simple. Are you painting SAVED across a rebellious heart?

I won’t “let a convert rebuff the apostles and still be saved.” I don’t “let” anyone be saved; Jesus does that. And I believe that Jesus mercifully lets some be saved even if we’re wrong about some very important things, and that is a good thing for all of us!

You said: the founding chairman of CMI was a saved theistic evolutionist for 40 years before realizing the truth of Genesis
But how are you certain that he was saved in the interim? How will you convince me and others of this?

I think that one doesn’t have to prove their salvation to anyone; every person will be judged by God, who knows everyone’s heart. But be careful how you judge others, because Jesus warned that we will be judged with the same measure by which we judge others. I don’t want to be judged based on complete doctrinal accuracy, and I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t want to either. [Ed. Note: In regard to the late Prof. Rendle-Short (who was known personally to several of us in CMI-Australia): as far as his family, friends and his church were concerned, in fact everyone who knew him, he was a committed Christian both before and after becoming convinced of Genesis as history. It seemed only that his passion and motivation for sharing his faith deepened and strengthened. His book The Green Eye of the Storm, which is partly autobiographical, gives a greater insight into both his and his late father’s struggles with this issue. His father (whose story also features in the book, now out of print) was renowned as a great preacher and deeply committed evangelical, and yet felt he had no option but to make some concessions to long-agism, until later in his life turning to simple acceptance of Genesis as written. But there may be one thing worth adding, namely that, even when accepting evolution (probably reluctantly) at no point did he lightly or cavalierly dismiss the authority of the Word of God. When presented with the evidence and arguments, he received the information joyfully, not attempting to find ‘loopholes at any cost’ as do many theistic evolutionists today.]

You said: I don’t have enough data to say with certainty "This particular theistic evolutionist is saved," but then I can’t say that about any specific individual.
Your inability to label ones ‘saved’ or ‘unsaved’ does not help secure salvation for the theistic evolutionist, nor does it help your argument.

Your apparent willingness to label people as “saved” or “unsaved” can be unsettling, especially if it consigns people to unbelief simply because they are not creationists. If you mean simply that one does not know it about anyone for sure, we are both in agreement.

You said: since creation is not a cardinal doctrine, one can be a Christian and an evolutionist.
But what if you are dead wrong? How will you convince God that He must accept those whom He rejects?

I am almost certain that I am wrong about some things, and that my positions on some issues might change and become refined as I have the opportunity for deeper study and interaction with other mature Christians. But I do not think I am wrong about this issue. (Note, too, that I am not saying whom God “must” accept—the difference is that God knows the heart, knows whether belief is real or just a profession of belief.) There are a lot of important doctrines where a lot of sincere Christians logically must be wrong because of the difference between positions. The number of theological positions available means that every Christian is probably wrong on a very important doctrine or two, myself included. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a correct position, or that we shouldn’t strive for it. But as noted above, the correct doctrine required for salvationis very basic. You say “we should not add to what is written” and I agree with you! We should also not add to what is required for salvation, or we are no different from the Pharisees, who loaded people up with burdens they themselves couldn’t handle. Should we be less merciful than Christ?

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

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Readers’ comments
Robert A., United States, 31 January 2011

Yes compromisers can be saved. Certainly the thief on the cross had no theological background.

But how many people are going to end up in hell because of the tainting of the Holy Bible by these reckless, ignorant individuals?

I believe the numbers will be monstrously large. They will counter that those who stick to the Word of God are chasing people away. However the scripture says “the truth shall set you free”, not compromise will set you free.

Brian C., United Kingdom, 29 January 2011

I too struggled with the creation issue as a young Christian BUT only after I became a Christian. It wasn't an issue before I encountered Christ and received the gospel. I received Christ on the grounds of His promise not on the strength of my understanding a list of doctrinal points—that would be to make salvation a work of the intellect.

I later saw the need to resolve many issues, including a biblically consistent view of Genesis.

I was converted when I encountered Christ, I grew in faith when I accepted the biblical account of Creation.

Yours in His Name

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