Am I Saved? A Brief History of Assurance

By Obbie Todd

There’s hardly a more relevant question in the Christian life than that of assurance. Peter affirms that the telos (the end) of our faith is salvation. (1 Pet. 1:9) So the stakes are pretty high. Yet for a question of such ultimate importance, it’s hardly ever asked. In the church today, there are often more assumptions than answers. And that can be dangerous. In reality, the simple question “How do I know I’m saved?” seems to be one of the best indications that someone takes their faith, and thus their salvation, seriously. So let’s be serious for a moment. How do we know? Can we know? Let’s go back to the first Protestant. To a man plagued with the question of assurance.

It could be said that the entire Protestant Reformation was an issue over assurance. Much of the Reformers’ critique of the old church was leveled precisely against those features of the Roman Catholic system that left people doubtful and anxious about their salvation. This is why Martin Luther deemed the doctrine of justification by faith “the central article of our teaching.” It helped him to reconcile the obvious tension between God’s holiness and persistent human sinfulness. For Luther, theology wasn’t an exercise in scholasticism. It was a life-and-death matter. His extremely tender conscience couldn’t bear the weight of God’s impending judgment, nor could it find sufficient assurance in the Catholic system of penance and priestly absolution. The system of indulgences not only failed to engender the necessary repentance that came with sincere faith, it also left the sinner without any real spiritual security. Was God up there? Was he pleased? Was he angry? The troubled young Luther was plagued with such a sense of panic under God’s wrath that eventually his supervising monk, Johann von Staupitz, ordered him to stop concocting sins in his head! Luther had too many transgressions to confess! This sense of foreboding dread and despair was what Luther called Anfechtung, a sense of doom before God’s watchful eye: “I did not learn my theology all at once, but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations (Anfechtungen) took me…Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living, nay, rather dying and being damned make a theologian.” Here in his anxiety-ridden state, Luther found the mercy of a God who was both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) What abbots and bishops could not furnish for Martin Luther, Christ could. Because of assurance, young Luther became disillusioned with the fabricated religion of Rome: “No man can be assured of his salvation by any episcopal function…because the Apostle (Paul) orders us to work out our salvation constantly in fear and trembling.” Luther continued, “the first and only duty of the bishops, however, is to see that people learn the gospel and the love of Christ.” Therefore to be Protestant, to some degree, is to be certain of one’s salvation. But as we’ll see, that hard-fought assurance became more difficult to define.

Luther’s discovery of assurance and subsequent break with Rome coincided with his new understanding of the ‘justice of God’ in Romans 1:17. For years, the word δικαιοσυνη had struck fear into the heart of the sinful Augustinian monk. The ‘righteousness’ of God was a divine attribute that Luther dreaded, as he knew himself to be wholly unrighteous, and worthy of a righteous punishment. Luther’s conversion, however, came with his eventual re-interpretation of Romans 1:17: the ‘righteousness of God’ was in fact an “alien righteousness” given to sinners. “For He Himself is our sole righteousness until we are conformed to His likeness.” Christ had satisfied the righteousness of God by supplying His own to sinners. Where Augustine had interpreted the verb δικαιοω as “make righteous”, the former University of Erfurt law student interpreted it as “declare righteous.” Justification was a legal action performed by Christ on behalf of the sinner, not worked from within, but declared from without. This is how sinners could remain sinful and have certainty that they were indeed saved. Christians were “simul justus et peccator”: simultaneously just and sinner. Thus the Protestant doctrine of assurance was born. To have faith in Christ is not to achieve salvation personally, but to personally accept Christ’s salvific work done on our behalf. To Luther and to all of his spiritual offspring, Christ Himself is the assurance of sinners. Unlike Roman Catholicism that teaches that grace must be conferred and infused via physical sacraments, Protestants boast in the finished work of Christ via faith. And the result isn’t infused righteousness, but imputed righteousness! We receive the credit for the perfect life of Christ. This of course is modeled for us in the ‘man of faith’ Abraham. (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:9)

After the formative years of the Reformation, the pastoral application of the doctrine of assurance became a growing issue. How did classroom teaching translate into pulpit preaching? How exactly did sola fide fit inside of a church? How could Christians balance the assurance of their salvation with Gospel perseverance? Luther had placed Law and Gospel in distant theological corners. But not everyone saw it that way. To answer these questions, many post-Reformation Protestants engineered a system of Christian practice known as covenant theology (traditionally attributed to Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Huldrych Zwingi). After the rise of Protestant thought, the threat of Antinomianism became an ever-increasing reality in Reformed communities. Antinomianism teaches that the believer is completely free from all obligation to the law, and that any concession to legal duty was an infringement upon free grace. In short, once the Reformation principle of sola fide took shape, Protestant churches faced the new temptation to dispense with all works whatsoever and indulge in licentious, worldly behavior. As a result, pastors were forced to balance the comfort of assurance with the divine mandate to finish the spiritual race set before the church. Endemic to covenant Puritan orthopraxy is what many scholars have called the “third use of the Law.” The first use of the law was civil, guiding magistrates and leaders in rewarding good and punishing evil. (Rom. 13:3-4, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) According to Luther, “The first understanding and use of the Law is to restrain the wicked…This civil restraint is extremely necessary and was instituted by God.” The second use is evangelical, driving sinners away from their own righteousness to trust in Christ alone. (Gal. 3:10, 24) John Calvin wrote, “The law is like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both – just as the mirrors shows us the spots on our face.” Finally, Puritans exercised a third use of the law: directive or normative. In this light, Christians looked to the Law as a “rule of life” to guide them in ways pleasing to God. While Luther never explicitly developed such a use, Calvin did reference the Law as a “rule of life”, though not with the same drawn-out, conditional requirements of Puritan covenant theology. (Calvin, for example, was not a strict Sabbatarian)

From Geneva, John Calvin aided the Elizabethan Puritan movement by serving as a refuge for Protestant exiles during the reign of ‘bloody Mary.’ He also wrote important letters to critical leaders during the incipient years of Puritanism. However, Calvin differed from traditional Puritanism in one significant way: assurance. While Calvin defined assurance into the essence of faith, many Puritans (including the Westminster Assembly) did not necessarily equate the two. For this reason, many scholars through the years have posited that Puritans fundamentally departed from classical Reformed theology, compromising the sola fide principle that Protestantism was built upon. (R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649) Christopher Hill even suggested that English covenant theology was a means of “smuggling works into Calvinism,” due to its seeming conditions upon God’s grace. (Hill, Puritanism and Revolution)

Such false assertions reflect the tension that exists in biblical soteriology. One way or another, all theology must be wrapped in ecclesiology. Pastors are called to balance the beautiful assurance that believers possess in Christ with the call to persevere to the end of the Christian life with holiness and love. The Holy Spirit that comforts the church with the words “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” also exhorts that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Rom. 8:1, Matt. 24:13) Christians carry promise and perseverance hand-in-hand. The spiritual imbalance of these two crucial principles has become the avenue for some of the church’s most dangerous heresies. Antinomianism itself is the certainty of God’s promises without the observance of His commands. This is in essence the sin of Hyper-Calvinism. Antinomians will correctly affirm Romans 8:16 as cause for godly assurance: “The Spirit Himself bears witness without our spirit that we are children of God.” However, without a proper Christian ethic, it’s not difficult to see how Antinomian assurance easily translates into direct divine revelation, the likes of which America witnessed in its first major heretic: Anne Hutchinson. Sydney Ahlstrom has called the Antinomian Controversy “the opening chapter in American intellectual history.” Today we see the spiritual offspring of such extra-biblical revelationists in the Pentecostal movement. On the other hand, to carry perseverance without God’s sovereign promise is the foundation for legalism, the sin of Arminianism. Arminians correctly affirm John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” However, without a correct understanding of God’s sovereign grace, Christianity tends toward moralism, the likes of which America witnessed in Deism and Unitarian virtue. Puritans, in their obsessive quest for conversion, cultivated a means to confirm salvation called “practical syllogism,” a mode of observing one’s holiness as practiced in everyday life. However, without a proper sense of the Spirit’s witness and the inherent human temptation for self-trust, this ‘syllogism’ could often lead to legalism masked as Reformed covenant theology. (Theodore D. Bozeman explores the connection between Puritan covenant theology and the Antinomian controversy in his The Precisianist Strain)

The question of assurance is perhaps the most necessary question in the Christian life. And in an age when many evangelicals tout “once saved, always saved” only to live a life identical to the world, a biblical view of assurance should be restored. An unbeliever who was baptized when he or she was eight years old needs a biblical model of perseverance as badly as the thief on the cross needed the sweet words of assurance. Pastors are called to balance both. And when sinners are baptized and then told that they “can’t lose their salvation,” something else is missing. By the same token, no Christian should ever walk through this life thinking they must add something to the finished work of Christ. If there is no assurance, there is no Christ. And if there is no race, there is no faith.

Am I Saved? A Brief History of Assurance

Your Sunday’s Best

By Colton Corter 

The Lord’s Day is the most important day of the week. Jesus has placed the authority of representing the Kingdom of God on earth in our gathered assemblies (Matt 18:20). So God’s glory is put on peculiar display when we meet as local congregations to worship our gracious Triune God. We meet to hear the Word of truth and so be set free (John 8:32). We come together to instruct one another by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).We gather to reaffirm our covenant with Christ and one another – based on the finished work of Christ – by taking the Lord Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). Moreover, God actually commands us to meet with one another each week (Heb 10:25).

The life of our church is found in our Sunday morning gathering (or Friday if you live in the Middle East!). We meet to see and savor the glory of Christ for the purpose of delighting in that glory together and display our satisfaction in the overflow of worship. Sunday morning is the key battle our congregations’ fight for joy in God. And that battle begins, at least, on Saturday.

What are some things that we can do to put ourselves in the best position for God, by His sovereign Spirit, to maximize our Lord’s Day?

Go to Bed

One way to fight for Sunday morning joy is to receive adequate Saturday night rest. For some with jobs that require them to work late, this may not be an option. But to the extent that you are in control over how much rest you get, it is wise to forsake a few hours of TV or hanging out to be at your best the next day.

Brothers, you will never regret being fresh for Sunday morning. I know all too well how easy it is to stay up late (even doing edifying things) when I should be sleeping. My joy in God has only increased as a result of getting some sleep the night before. The battle with myself that morning seems easier when I am more alert and clear headed. For your joy: get some rest.

Meditate Over the Sermon Text 

Scripture meditation is the key to Christian maturity. Saturating our minds in glorious gospel truth transforms our lowly hearts as we are subjected to the beauty of God. A good time to practice this spiritual discipline is the day before a particular text is preached at you church. If you can, try to get the text for the next week early so that you can spend a week or even just your Saturday preparing your heart for the preached work. Preaching is a monologue but it is nonetheless a dialogue. We are hearing from God and responding to Him with our minds and hearts.

Pastors, might you consider making your sermon schedule available ahead of time so that your people can be tilling their heart soil for the seeds you will drop? Encourage their diligently searching the Scriptures so that they might be in a frame to better understand God’s Word as you teach them.

Pray for the Preacher

Our pastors have the hardest job in the world. Especially our senior pastors who have the duty and the privilege to stand before God’s people and exult in the Scriptures together with them. To take the name of God on our lips is no light thing. Their weeks have been dominated by their pursuit of the point of the text – applying the double-edged point to their hearts and laboring to try and pierce yours too.

Take some time the night before to pray for your pastor or whoever is preaching the next day. His task is an impossible one in his own strength. His meager sermon will not sustain the godly or save the ungodly without the supernatural work of the Spirit to attend His own Word. He is a desperate man standing before desperate man. Pray for his heart, that preaching for him would be the overflow of His joy in God.

Pray for the Members 

Garrett Kell has recently written that the Christian’s membership directory is the second most important book they own. One of the things that our church promises to do for one another as members of Third Avenue of Baptist Church is to not forsake praying for ourselves and one another. Surely, we are never in more prayer than before our Sunday morning service. Their hearts, quite like your own, is often times dull. They need the work of the Spirit tomorrow morning, just as you do, so that their hearts might radiate the glories of free grace together will all the saints. Some brothers and sisters need to be comforted by the truth that their righteousness lay ever outside of them. Some people need to be warned, reminded that justification is unto life and that without the fruit of sanctification the grace of justification may be feigned.

See if your church has membership directories and if they don’t then maybe you could suggest it to your church staff. Regardless, we could start today praying for the church at large – that she would be affected by the Word of God in such a way that reflects the character of God to the watching world

Warming up the Oven 

Of course, none of this promises a perfect Sunday. Our hearts may still droop. Our minds may still wander. God and God alone gives the growth. But it is important that we position ourselves in such a way to try to maximize the means of grace that God has provided for us.

George Swinnock entreats us, saying, “If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on Saturday night, thous shouldest find it with him in the Lord’s-day morning.” For our joy, brothers, lets do what we can to do be at our best on Sunday morning.

 

 

 

Your Sunday’s Best

A Tale from the Perilous Realm

Kill-the-Dragon

By: Cade Campbell

“There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Speaking of the Gospel in his essay “On Fairy Stories”

I love good stories. I love the epic journey of the Fellowship of the Ring to defeat the evil Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I love the birth of a “new hope” to defeat evil with the emergence of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love the magical power of sacrifice and love to destroy Voldemort and all his horcruxes in Harry Potter. I absolutely love these tales. And you probably do too; maybe not these particular ones (although they’re great) but we all love good tales. From childhood we’ve fallen in love with stories where the danger is great, the stakes are high, the enemy is ruthless, the hero is an underdog, and evil is defeated. We love stories where good triumphs and the bad guys lose. We long for stories that really do have a “happily ever after.”

That’s one reason I love reading Revelation. It’s a cosmic drama, an intergalactic multi-dimensional thriller about the defeat of evil and the triumph of the most unlikely of heroes…a crucified carpenter from a no-place bumpkinville named Nazareth. The book of Revelation can be divided and outlined in a number of ways but one of my favorite ways of summarizing the book’s structure is simply to present it as a two act gospel-opera introduced by a prologue (chapters 1-3). Act I (chapters 4-11) portrays believers triumphing in Christ as Christ, the sovereign ruler of all things, completes his plan, fulfills his promises, and unleashes the totality of his wrath on his enemies. We’re shown a vision of all of history (past, present, and future) in which Christ is victorious and his people triumph through the persecutions and sufferings they endure at the hands of God’s enemies, being assured of their final victory and vindication as those same enemies endure fierce judgment at the hand of Christ.

Act II (Revelation 12-22) rewinds and restarts the story and portrays that same drama from a completely new vantage point. Readers are given special 3D “glasses,” by which we are allowed to see the true but veiled expanse of the story we find ourselves in. Reality is shown to be far deeper, far deadlier, far scarier, far larger, and far grander than anything we could ever expect. The story that we’re caught up in spans all of heaven and hell, the physical and spiritual dimensions, earth and space, all creation. The veil is lifted to show us the truth about reality. We’re caught in the middle of a truly worldwide war.

That means the truest thing about your life isn’t what it appears to be. The most fundamental facts about who you are and why you exist are not limited to chores, deadlines, commutes, bills, school, housework, meals, and sleep. All of these parts of our lives are merely the environment in and through which a much larger story is unfolding. The truth about who we really are is epic. We are real-life, living characters in a story far older, far stranger, far deadlier, far more dangerous, and with an ending far more delightful than anything we could ever imagine. Knowing this helps us identify our greatest enemy. Your greatest enemy isn’t you spouse, boss, job, kids, parents, teachers, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our greatest enemy is far worse than Sauron, Darth Vader, and Voldemort combined. And Revelation unmasks him. Our greatest enemy is “He Who Must Be Named.” He is the emperor of evil. He is the devilish dragon of demons. He is Satan himself.

And he wants to destroy everything good and bend it to his evil purpose. Allied with him is a host of forces: demonic spirits, sinful desires and rebellion, the power and prestige of the world, and the blindness that so often keeps this true story hidden from everyday view. This dragon and his allies are warring against his enemies, the people of God. They have invaded God’s creation. They have flourished under creation’s curse. They are rabidly seeking to steal, kill, and destroy everything that God has created good.

But God, the good king of all that is or ever will be, will not let the dragon win. Standing against the serpent is a Lamb, not a small and timid farm animal, but a wild and roaring warrior: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Lamb and his Army assemble against the forces of evil. They array themselves in bloodstained robes of Calvary’s clothing and they charge into the mighty throngs of demonic dominion.

And the Lamb wins.

That’s the story Revelation 12-22 narrates, and that’s the story we find ourselves living in as participating characters. That is the reality behind all that lurks outside (and inside) our windows. That is the truth about who we really are and where we really are. Listen closely and you will hear the sound of tumult and feel the rumble of the battle that is raging all around us. The most ordinary moment of a Christian’s life is a battlefield.

Awake from your drowsed stupor, the spell that you’ve been put under. Christians find themselves in the midst of what is truly the greatest story ever told. We find each day of our calendar to be another page in a tale from this our perilous realm. We find ourselves living among forces far more powerful than comic book heroes. We are in league with a company, a community of men and women far larger and far greater and far more victorious than the Rebel Alliance or the Fellowship or Dumbledore’s Army. We find ourselves in the ranks of martyrs and missionaries, suffering saints, ordinary yet faithful believers all over the world who are allied with all creation into the Lamb’s Army.

Our universe is more compelling and more spectacular than anything Marvel or DC could ever conceive. The gospel is the heart and core of all story. In fact, all other stories (The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Avengers, etc.) are merely fictionalized and faint echoes of the deepest depths of reality, reflections that point us to the True Story, the Real Story.

And that real story is no imaginary fiction, although it did begin once upon a time and will definitely have a happily ever after.


Cade Campbell (M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and his wife are originally from Mississippi. He serves as Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.

A Tale from the Perilous Realm

The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

By Mathew Gilbert

It’s always difficult to see someone you really respect fall deep into sin. Even the slightest accusation of moral failure in someone you respect changes the way you look at them forever. When we see crucial authority figures in our lives fall into sin, we struggle to trust not only that person, but that position in the future. If you catch one of your parents having an affair, you will struggle to ever trust them again. And you will also have a negative view of marriage, which likely means it will affect your own marriage if unchecked. If you hear about your pastor, teacher, or coach indulging in sin, your trust in them and their position will be shaken. It is so hard to think about people you respect sinning so deeply. It’s one thing to know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but it’s quite another to see sin creep out of the hearts of those we most respect.

I think about popular pastors who have recently been relieved of pastoral duties due to moral or leadership failures. There was a literal shockwave that ran through my social media feeds when Darrin Patrick and Perry Noble were outed for deep, latent sin in their lives and ministries. In our celebrity pastor culture, it is easy to forget that even the most charismatic leader is not immune to sin. I have lamented the number of times I’ve seen “This doesn’t surprise me” or, “I told you so” in response to the meteoric fall of evangelical leaders like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, Noble, and others. There is no place in the church for this kind of proud posturing. The shock of sin has drastic immediate and long-term effects on a church when one of her leaders falls.

I believe the life of David is a testament to the shock of sin and grace in the life of a leader. There are many lessons to be learned from David’s fall into sin, but two that help us when leaders in our lives sin revolve around the shock and awe of sin and grace.

David was a man after God’s heart and handpicked by the Lord to lead Israel as king. God even promised that David’s kingly line would culminate in a kingdom that would never end. One day, a Davidic King would sit on his throne and never give it up. David was righteous and desired to obey the Lord. But, David surprised his own people and even us by falling into a deep spiral of sin. He fell for a woman who was not his wife, and was in fact someone else’s wife! Then, in an attempt to cover his sin, David had the woman’s (Bathsheba) husband (Uriah) killed. David gave in to temptation and brought everyone around him down with him. Failing to kill his sin led him to continue in his sin. Instead of confessing his sin and trusting God to cover it with his grace, David tried to cover his sin by killing another man.
Despite David’s shocking downward spiral into dark sin, God’s shows him tremendous mercy. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin to God and received his compassion. David shares what this experience was like in Psalm 51. There are a couple things that do surprise us about David’s sin and God’s grace that really shouldn’t.

First, we are surprised that a man like David can sin the way he did. While we should expect to grow in Christlikeness throughout our Christian life, sin remains in our hearts until we die or Christ returns. Anyone is capable of dreadful sinful actions, because the dreaded enemy of sin has invaded the heart of every person. So, don’t be surprised when you or people you respect sin. Sin should always be unwanted, but it should never been unexpected.
It is a sign of either a healthy or deceived church when the people are shocked when a pastor falls into sin. It is healthy, in one sense, to be shocked at deep sin in the life of a pastor. Christians are on a path of righteousness. They are being conformed into the image of Christ. Day by day, sin is being rooted out of their hearts. However, sanctification isn’t an overnight process. It is a lifelong process. There are many battles–some won, others lost. But, we fight knowing the war has been won by Christ on the cross as he defeated the dominions of darkness and death. While we should expect sin to still be in the heart and life of ourselves and our leaders, our hearts should be broken and in one sense shocked by unrepentant sin in the life of leaders.

Second, we are surprised that God would show David such compassion in the midst of his deep and dark sin. But, we know the character of God. He is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6). We should never be surprised at God’s grace, but we should always be amazed by it. Learn from David’s sin and God’s grace that covering your own sin with more sin will never satisfy. However, trusting God’s grace in the cross of Christ to cover your sin will always satisfy.

As deep as sin goes in the human heart, the grace of God in the gospel goes even deeper. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Perry Noble, and any other Christian leader who has fallen into deep sin has not exhausted the riches of God’s grace in Christ. The tank of God’s benevolence toward them isn’t on empty. It is as full as it has always been. And assuming these men are in Christ, there is a fountain of mercy and forgiveness for the mountain of sin they have allowed to grow.

The fall of leaders in our lives is devastating. It is detrimental to the influence of a local church and the Church as a whole. No one is helped when a pastor bullies his way to power, commits an affair, or launders money from the church fund. We should guard our hearts from the treacherous lure of sin, knowing that none of us are beyond a Davidic descent into a pit of sin. But we should always marvel at the grace of God, which he bestows on unworthy and fallen sinners like us. As devastating as the fall of broken leaders is, the restoration of repentant leaders by God’s grace is an incomparably sweet reality. Whenever you see a leader in your life fail morally and fall into sin, don’t point your fingers and shake your head in arrogant self-aggrandizement. Instead, bow your head in humble prayer that God would restore these men to himself and their people.

God pursues us in his grace like a relentless mother searching for her lost son at the mall. He will not rest until his children are found! And for those of us in Christ, he will bring to completion the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

Starting the Semester Right

 

 

Cade, Colton, and Evan talk about starting the semester/seminary right while also being involved in the life of the church.

Starting the Semester Right

Summa Ignormaus: How the Book of Job Confronts Theological Arrogance

whirlwindBy Cade Campbell

I love the Old Testament book of Job. It has a lot to say about a believer’s perseverance and about God’s wise and sovereign rule over all things. And of course it says a good bit about suffering. It also says a lot about not being an insufferable know-it-all masquerading as a theology nerd – or a disembodied (i.e. apart from life in the local church) discernment blogger. In other words, it’s a book of wisdom that seems tailor suited for seminary students. And, if we’re honest, it may be tailor made for students like myself who identify as Calvinists. We don’t, unfortunately, have the best reputation for humility with those we disagree with.

I’m saying all this in love. I’ve sometimes gotten all A’s in being a little brat; ask my wife. I know that all too well. The problem is I oftentimes want to think I know all, all too well, and I’ve found that Job is a book that’s really good at knocking the know-it-all out of me. That’s because Job had the know-it-all knocked out of him, or whirlwinded out of him; God did show up in a tornado after all. God’s work in Job’s life was an act of merciful humbling. Job had (or at least thought he had) all of life (especially his life), including the hidden decrees, ways, and works of God all figured out.

But Job was wrong, he just wasn’t wrong in the way we might expect. He wasn’t wrong like his three moronic friends who had been listening to too many prosperity preachers’ podcasts. He wasn’t wrong in the details of his diatribe. Technically he really was right: He hadn’t sinned. He wasn’t being punished. God was the one behind and overseeing his suffering. All of that was right on the mark. Job just made the mistake of using his theological precision as a pretext for calling him to the carpet, demanding God give an account of himself, to defend himself, to report in for a Job-evaluation (pun intended). In other words, Job’s problem wasn’t theological error; it was orthodox idiocy. He didn’t have a problem with heresy; he had a problem with humility. He was right. He was just right in the worst sense of the word.

You remember the story. Job had everything: He was rich. He was powerful. He had a picture-perfect family. He was a gazillionaire. And he was righteous, really righteous. He was the most pious man on earth. He loved God. He obeyed God. There was literally no one else like him in all the world.

Then he lost everything. All his property: Gone. All his money: Gone. All his kids: Gone. All his health: Gone. In a moment he went from being a godly billionaire of impeccable integrity with a picture perfect family and no worries to being diagnosed with terminal cancer at his kids’ funeral while reading an eviction notice from the bank informing him of his bankruptcy, his complete financial liquidation, and the imminent foreclosure and seizure of his home and properties. Then just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, his wife walked in the room and told him to go kill himself. She was a nasty little nihilist. Seriously, she made Jack Kevorkian look like a candy striper.

Job was having a bit of a bad day.

And then, just when you really thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, he heard a knock at the door and opened it to find his three golf buddies feigning pity while holding lukewarm casseroles their wives had defrosted and sent over with a sympathy card. Job let them in and they wouldn’t leave. They camped out on his couch for a week, only to then decide that it was time for an intervention. They had been reading up on the latest theories on the intersection of disease, disaster, and doctrine, and they were pretty sure their divinity degrees qualified them to diagnose what was wrong with Job’s life. He needed to have a Bible study, and so for over thirty chapters these three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) unloaded theology lectures on their “friend.”

This was their take: God blesses good people (outwardly and always). God punishes bad people (outwardly and always). Job used to be blessed, therefore Job used to be good (with the emphasis on “used to be”). Job was now being punished, and so therefore according to all the rules of the universe Job must be a rotten, filthy pervert who secretly indulged in sin leaving him open to God’s retributive justice. These cheery grief counselors unpacked a theology of karma with a sadistic saintly-smile.

But Job would have nothing of it. He insisted they were wrong. He insisted they didn’t know what they were talking about. He insisted that he was innocent – wrongly accused. He wouldn’t give an inch. He wouldn’t confess to a transgression. He pleaded not guilty. His conscience was clear.

And he was right. But that’s where he took a wrong turn. The whole experience started to get to him. He came dangerously close to saying God made a horrible mistake. He didn’t know what was going on, but he believed that God was punishing him and he insisted that he was being punished unfairly.

Up until then he had maintained both his innocence as well as his total trust in God. Yet in the fury of the theological debate with his friends, Job overplayed his hand. He made a jump from insisting on his innocence to implying God’s guilt. So he demanded God give him an audience. He crossed his arms and dared God to have the almighty gumption to come and face him like a man. He essentially screamed to the heavens with a raised fist and said, “You get down here! You’ve got some explaining to do!” He aimed to put God on trial, and he intended to be the judge. He wanted to take the ruler of the woods to the woodshed. He thought the Almighty needed an attitude adjustment. If God was going to run the world, then he better check in with Job over at the HR Department to make sure he was doing it right. Job is the ultimately frustrated theology student. He thought of himself as an expert on God, but God wasn’t playing by his rules.

Then Job gets what he’s been asking for.

But instead of getting what he deserved, he got grace.

God showed up in the form of an EF-5 tornado and gave Job an education he never forgot (Job 38-42). Instead of God in the dock, Job finds himself pummeled under a blistering cross-examination. Job is forced to endure an oral examination that puts every doctoral program in the world to shame, and in that exam Job’s life was transformed, not by being able to explain God but by being given the mercy of encountering God. Instead of giving Job an answer to his questions, God graciously gives Job a revelation of his majesty. Instead of answering for himself, God condescended to display his glory, sovereignty, strength, love, and wisdom.

So Job repents. Job replies to God, “I have spoken once…but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:5). Job basically says, “I made the big mistake of opening my big mouth and talking about things I have no business lecturing on. I’m an idiot. I won’t do it again.”  Job learns the lesson that Orual learned at the end of C.S. Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces, where she whispers, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” God utters no answers to Job. God just shows him that he is the answer, and in seeing God Job is miraculously and radically redeemed as he moves from a life of theological theorizing to deeply theological worship. In the process he teaches us how to avoid his errors through living in the light of theological humility.

Humility is something we all desperately need. Don’t misunderstand me. Theological humility is not doctrinal cowardice. It is not the antithesis of conviction or confidence. It is not sniveling or shallow. It is not tepid or trembling. It is not acceptance of false-teaching. It is not politically correct ecumenism. Theology must be robust. Doctrine must be biblical. And yet as a new semester begins, and as college and seminary students step back into the classroom, we all need the reminder from Job’s tragedy that true knowledge of God is not necessarily affectionate adoration of God. We need to be reminded that knowing God is not synonymous with knowing about God. Instead of merely having the right answers and reading the right books, theological study and theological precision should always lead us to be wholly/holy captivated by a grand vision of God’s glory.

That’s why Job’s story is so valuable. It teaches us that theological orthodoxy is never an excuse for theological snobbery.

Job confronts theological snobbery by teaching us to resist the temptation to relish in someone else being called to the blackboard, especially if that someone else happens to be God.

Job confronts theological snobbery by grounding our daily lives not just in theological debate but in theological doxology – even when theological disagreement and debate are absolutely necessary.

Job confronts theological snobbery by warning us against using our Bibles as a pretense for self-justification, of arguing ourselves out of an argument.

Job confronts theological snobbery by displaying to us the grandeur and power of the God we know through his self-revelation.

Job confronts theological snobbery by insisting that a calling to proclaim God’s truth is never a calling to coordinate God’s plan.

And finally, Job confronts theological snobbery by turning both our theological astuteness and our God entranced worship away from ourselves and away from our own circumstances and to the mission of being God’s witness to a watching world.

That’s the surprising twist at the book’s end. God isn’t satisfied with just showing up and showing off, and he doesn’t just leave Job in the dust of humility. He pulls him into the ministry of theological education for the purpose of missiological passion. He turns Job’s eyes back to the theological thorns in his flesh…his friends.

And God doesn’t tell Job to pummel them. He doesn’t tell him to gloat over the glorious vision he’s been given. He isn’t to puff out his chest and pridefully proclaim, “I told you so.” He’s called to the ministry of reconciliation, to serve God in seeking and praying for their salvation. God confronts the theological sins of his friends but uses Job as an instrument of their redemption. Job is called to pray for them and God’s mercy is granted in response to Job’s request (Job 42:7-9).

Let’s be like Job. This school year may we all be known not merely for a commitment to theological truth, but may we also be known for our God-entranced lives. And may we also be known as men and women who respond to theological error not just with Facebook comments, blog posts, and deriding comedy. May we, like Job, respond to theological error (whether it be in the form of outright heresy or unintentional or immature ignorance) with passionate pleadings to God to powerfully save those who are his. That is, after all, part of what it means to speak the truth in love.


Cade Campbell (M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and his wife Amy are natives of Mississippi. He serves as the Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.

Summa Ignormaus: How the Book of Job Confronts Theological Arrogance