Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dennis Rokser, Duluth Bible Church, and Incongruity

Recently, someone who attends Duluth Bible Church wrote to me with his/her concerns about some recent preaching from Dennis Rokser. He/she wrote these things:

I'm a believer who attends Duluth Bible Church, pastored by Dennis Rokser... I really feel the need to share and discuss some things. If you are willing to have such a dialogue, I'd be grateful. I've been observing your blog and others for some time and I've come to get a feeling for who has a spirit of grace, though I must say I'm undecided about where I stand on some of the doctrinal controversy.

The thing that prompted me to write to you is the proclamation of two recent messages at DBC by Dennis Rokser. They address specifically the issue of the [current controversy], and Bob Wilkin and Zane Hodges are referenced and quoted extensively. Not only is the spirit of the messages caustic, I also have some problems with the content and conclusions.

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Antonio,

Thanks so much for responding. I'd really be appreciative if you could give me your feedback on the two recent messages. I think I see some things that are contradictory... I will tell you this. Prior to the whole [current controversial] fiasco, we at DBC were taught that the gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, but we were never before taught that there are exactly five things a person must believe to be saved (as outlined in the Grace Family Journal articles). In fact, I bet if you took a survey at the door at DBC, very few people would be able to name the five things that are supposedly essential to the salvation message.

I'm not claiming to have a handle on this whole issue... However, I'm as concerned (or more) about how it's being handled. I don't like the name calling, the caustic attitude, and the pride that goes along with being on the attack in this way.

First, I would like to say that this person will remain anonymous at his/her request. I do not wish there to be any consequences to this person for having the guts to investigate and question.

Next, I must note that I believe it to be shameful to use a pulpit to bully people into doctrinal conformity, as it seems to be the case at Duluth from this anonymous member's perspective. This person is not the first member of Duluth Bible Church to email me with concerns. In reality, I have had several members of this church email me about the goings on there.

In my writings, I have dealt with the arguments of that group of fundamentalists and traditionalists that require the lost to become faithful adherents to their creeds before they can simply rely on Jesus to be saved from condemnation. I believed that there really wasn't much more to say on this. Yet, recently, from this anonymous member of Duluth, I received this email describing for me a new line of argumentation coming from the doctrinal legalism and checklist evangelism of the Duluthian Antagonists, that I wish to comment on. Here this member of Duluth describes it:

Antonio,

I have one question. In the two recent messages, Dennis Rokser continually used the term 'incongruity' in his effort to show that the message preached must be the message believed. In other words, because the message was preached and believed, as indicated in several Scriptures, therefore all of the message must be mandatory.

This concept of 'no incongruity' is completely new in our church. Do you know where it comes from?

One of the first things you notice when reading sermons, messages, and discourses in the bible, is that it will only take you a matter of minutes to read them. I wish it were the case with some of the lectures that I have had to endure in school that they would only took a few minutes to listen to! From all experience and logic, we must conclude that these discourses transcribed for us are merely condensed versions of the actual event. The authors pick and choose what they wish to include, and take liberty in condensing the information for space sake, in line with their purposes and intentions in providing the material in the first place. Of course, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what remains for us is accurate and authoritative. But what must first be recognized is that many of these sermons recorded for us in the Bible (whether it be from Jesus, Peter, Paul, etc) are major truncations of the actual speaking engagement. The summarizations (or if you'd rather, truncations or condensations) that require but a few moments to read may have taken the actual speaker dozens of minutes through hours to verbally articulate!

The fundamentalists already have a hefty size checklist of creedal statements (along with their implicit sub-points that must be assented to in their minutia) that they require to be believed before the lost can have eternal life. Now it is being said that the entire messages that the apostles (how can we actually know all that they said in their evangelistic messages?!) and the checklist evangelists give in evangelistic settings must be believed in order to be saved! This could potentially include many more dozens of assertions and affirmations.

When I evangelize, I am trying to persuade the lost that Jesus Christ is authoritative, qualified, and uniquely able to dispense eternal life to all who simply believe in Him for it. I am prepared to discuss a wide range of things, from very simple affirmations, to very complex doctrinal considerations.

I don't expect the lost to believe every thing that I say to them concerning the bible, God, or Jesus Nor would I ever imagine to require that they believed everything I say. Some things concerning Jesus and soteriology are not the milk of the word, but the meat, and therefore may be doubted by the lost, who are not trained to digest such. Yet I will include anything that I think is helpful, tailored to the individual I am addressing.

To require that one believe everything that is said in an evangelistic message spawns a world of problems and confusions. Furthermore, it is simply bad logic to conclude that because men and women are described for us in the bible as having believed a message that was spoken that the assent to the entire message is an actual theological requirement from the perspective of God, mandated from God, for the reception of everlasting life. It is simply non-sequitor.

To this anonymous member of Duluth, I wrote back:

Let us say that you were a juror in a court of law, and in the course of all the testimony, because of the star witness, you were persuaded that the defendant was indeed guilty. Yet, it is not precluded that you may not be convinced of everything that the witness said. You very well could disbelieve or doubt many things that she said. But if something(s) she said convinced you that the defendant was guilty, then you would have to send in your verdict of guilty, regardless of those items that you doubted (in other words, disbelieved). So, in a sense, you believed and were convinced the defendant was guilty in spite of some of the testimony that you couldn't believe.

Let us say that I said many things about Jesus in an evangelism setting. I really want to talk about Jesus, and answer all the lost's questions. Why? I am trying to persuade them that Jesus is authorized, able, and willing to guarantee their eternal destiny by faith in Him alone.

But let us say that in the course of this conversation that I had with a lost person, that some of the things that I said he had doubts about, in other words, did not believe. But what if I came to the part where I said John 3:16 or John 5:24, or John 6:35-40 or John 6:47 or John 11:25-26 and at that point the lost person believed in Jesus for the everlasting life that He alone offers in those verses.

This lost person has believed in Jesus even though he may doubt some of the things that I said.

But when this person places all of his trust in Jesus for the gift that only He offers, he will be born again and have the Spirit of God. In time, with prayer, the word of God, and the Holy Spirit, all of this person's doubts can be cleared up.

But one thing is for sure, a man can place all of his trust into Jesus for everlasting life and not believe everything that he has heard about Him! Some things are the meat of the word that are difficult to understand!


The anonymous member of Duluth wrote this in response, showing me he/she understood what I was saying:

I see what you are saying in your response. Just because something is included in a message doesn't mean it's part of the essential core of the message, right? Otherwise, we'd have to take every doctrine or truth that is part of every message/sermon/passage on salvation and make all of them mandatory. That doesn't make sense. If Paul touched on creation in one of his sermons in Acts, that was for his intended audience and not a universal required element of the message. Am I on the right track here?

The thrust of the two recent messages and the 'no incongruency' theme seemed to me to be saying that because Paul preached something, it's an essential element of the message of salvation. I think that's what is meant by 'There is no incongruency between the message preached and the message believed." But taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean that everything that Paul preached or wrote about in salvation passages must be part of the essential message.

I was very pleased to read this from the member of Duluth. It meant that he/she is investigating, questioning, and thinking these things through. Yet, at the same time, I am concerned by what the members of Duluth are being spoon-fed. From some of the correspondences that I have had with members of Duluth, I get the unmistakable impression that strong consequences are in store for those who question the teaching from that fundamentalist pulpit.

In conclusion, I wish to state that the incongruity lies not in the fact that Free Grace theology does not require the lost to assent to everything that is preached in an evangelistic message. The incongruity lies between the requirements that these fundamentalist traditionalists impose on the lost and the promise of eternal life by the Lord Jesus Christ: "Most assuredly I say to you, whoever believes in Me has everlasting life" (Jn 6:47). This incongruity creates a large divide between the way that these traditionalists evangelize and the way Jesus Christ did.

13 Comments:

Blogger Antonio said...

The following is something that I have previously written:

Facilitation of “believing in” Jesus

This brings us to the question: Why would anyone become persuaded that Jesus could be relied upon for one’s eternal well-being? In a nutshell, understanding that Jesus is authorized, qualified, able, and willing to impart eternal life to all who simply “believe in” Him for it can persuade someone to believe in Jesus in the manner as we have so described above. No one can (or will) put their faith in Jesus unless they are first convinced that what He has promised He can and will indeed perform. Therefore, those who are the objects of our evangelistic conversations must be apprised of information that substantiates Jesus’ ability to impart eternal life to all who entrust themselves to Him. Pragmatically speaking, there may be a wide range of things that are absolutely necessary for the objects of our evangelism to understand and assent to in order to come to faith in Jesus. Therefore it behooves us to be liberal with information.

Let me make a simple illustration.

Imagine that I am in need of a reliable, qualified, and appropriate nanny. The simple testimony of a friend’s firsthand experiences with a particular person may be sufficient to persuade me to trust that specific nanny, but then again, it may not. I may need to see lists of educational credentials and employment references, and hold a few interviews with the candidate before I entrust my little ones to this person. Such will depend on my psychological makeup, the subjective factors of my personality, and other variables. But as soon as I am convinced of the qualifications of this nanny, I will believe in her, in other words, trust her.

A single doubt about this person has the potential to preclude me from trusting her. Several doubts will make it even harder. If I don’t believe that she actually graduated with a child development degree from Harvard, as her resume states, trust in the person is precluded.

The same goes with believing in Jesus for eternal life. Men and women will need to be persuaded and assent to a varying number of preliminary and supportive facts about Jesus and themselves before they will become convinced that Jesus’ promise is sure. The amount of information psychologically needed to become persuaded of Christ’s authority and ability to execute His promise is different with everyone. But just as someone can become convinced of the reliability of a nanny with the simple testimony of a friend, so it is possible that there are people out there who can become convinced of Christ’s reliability based upon a small amount of evidence, though we can confidently say that this is not the norm.

An illustration of such a thing is found in John 4:


“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” – John 4:39 (NKJV)


Many of the Samaritans of Sychar “believed in” (pisteuw eis) Jesus based solely on the testimony of the immoral and adulterous woman, who stated, “Can this be the Christ?” and said, “He told me all that I ever did.” I admit, again, that this is not a normal occurrence, and that an average person will need to necessarily understand and assent to a varying number of preliminary considerations, in other words, psychological requirements.

May 04, 2008 8:29 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

This is another comment I made on Rose's Reasonings tonight, that I feel goes along way to show the insufficiency of the logic in Rokser's "incongruity" argument, especially the bolded statements.
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From the point of view of God, there is only one requirement for eternal life. This one requirement is the only and essential element in the invitation we are to give men to receive everlasting life. Precisely, this requirement is to entrust one's eternal destiny to Jesus; or in other words, believe in Jesus for the purpose of receiving eternal life.

From the point of view of God, this is the only requirement. It is devoid of any and all ideas of submission, commitment, repentance, confession, and contrition.

From the standpoint of the lost person, he may need to be brought to assent to several realities before his mind could be persuaded that Jesus guarantees his eternal destiny by faith in Him. There may be few, there may be many. But these are not theological requirements from the standpoint of God to receive everlasting life.

What many (dare I say most) people in Christendom do is to sit in the seat of God and pronounce a myriad of requirements, said to be mandated by God Himself, for the expresss purpose of salvation. In the bible, there is but one condition for eternal life, believing in Jesus. But for many Christians, simple faith in Jesus is not enough. To this they must add theologically required conditions. One unnammed person here is on record in his writings demanding the lost jump through at least 18 hoops, as required steps by God, in order to have salvation.

There is no checklist at the invitation phase of my evangelism. There is but one condition and one condition only, from the perspective of God, mandated by God, to receive everlasting life. You won't have me saying you must do this, and this, and this and this, to have eternal life. Most people do. For the bible, and thus me, there is only one condition: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Here is a snippet from a discussion I wrote on repentance which should provide more understanding of my view:

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The local grocery store sells a Twix candybar for 75 cents. As far as the grocery store is concerned, the the sole requirement for the acquisition of that candy bar by the customer is to be imbursed 75 cents. This fact cannot be overstated!

The requirement for the payment of 75 cents is all that is necessary for the customer to acquire said candy bar. Yet there may be other necessities from the point of view of the customer. He needs to acquire for himself 75 cents! He may have to beg, borrow, steal, ask, or work for the money, or even possibly he is already prepared for it by having found the 75 cents on the ground. It will be necessary for him to be in possession of the payment for the candy bar. So seen from another perspective, any process by which he acquires the money that is necessary for the purchase of the candy bar may be an essential step in the appropriation of said candy bar.

The only theologically necessary condition for eternal life is to believe the gospel promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. There may be few or a great number of psychologically necessary conditions in order to get to the point of faith, depending upon the subjective nature of the mind and personality to which the gospel message is addressed, but we must not confuse them with the sole theological necessity: faith alone into Christ alone.

In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus, sensing that the man would not come to faith in Him for eternal life because of the ruler’s characteristic reliance and trust in riches, tailored a conversation with him that revealed the man’s failure to obey the whole law, and identified to the crowd “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24). The man’s mind needed to have a paradigm shift as a psychological requirement for faith. As long as he relied on his riches for everything, he could not come to the point of trust upon Jesus for entrance into the kingdom.

There are psychological necessities. Just think for a moment. Would not a person have to understand language or symbols in order that he might comprehend the communication of the gospel? Therefore he must be able to read with comprehension, hear with understanding, or decipher Braille, etc. Does not a person have to have the mental capabilities to understand the communication as well?

As long as a man remains an atheist, it will be impossible to convince him of the saving message. There may be an assortment of preparations necessary in order to set the mind in the right subjective environment for faith. These are the psychological necessities. Repentance may be a necessary logical requirement for salvation in the same way that belief in the existence of God would be.
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So to recap:

There is only one theologically necessary condition to receive everlasting life: believing in Jesus for it. Nothing else. There is no checklist from God, nor do I require one.

There may be several (or not any) psycholical preparations necessary in order to place the mind in a subjectively ready state to be persuaded that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to the believer in Him.

When a person wishes to persuade someone of something, there is no one correct way to go. There may be several routes that one could take to persuade someone. There is no exact formula or checklist of things that must be said. For instance, I would be persuaded that my son is getting poor grades if I were to be told it by his teacher, or by reading his report card, or by examining his graded, returned school work. The bar of evidence may be high or low, depending on the individual.

The prosecution in a court case wishes for a guilty verdict of the defendent. Certainly they would want all of the testimony of their witnesses to be believed. But it is not necessary for the jury to believe all the testimony in order to be persuaded that the defendent is guilty. They, indeed, could doubt many avenues of evidence and testimony that the prosecution presents. But so long as something persuades them that the defendent is guilty, it is sufficient for the prosecution.

Furthermore, the judge, when addressing the jury, does not ask them if they believed this or that or the other or did this or that. He asks them whether or not they find the defendent guilty; he asks them what their verdict is.

The judge does not require any checklist of things done or believed for him to hand down a sentence. From the perspective of the judge, the only requirement for a sentence given to the defendent is a verdict of guilty.


Antonio

May 04, 2008 8:40 PM  
Blogger Kevl said...

Hello Antonio,

You said I must note that I believe it to be shameful to use a pulpit to bully people into doctrinal conformity,

1 Timothy 1:3-11

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.


Maybe I'm one of those "fundamentalists" or "traditionalists" but I think it's a good tradition to obey the fundamental truth that all of Scripture is inspired, every nuance of it, with the scribe taking no liberty. That my thinking ought be conformed to it, and not the other way around.

Kev

May 05, 2008 2:46 AM  
Blogger Another Voice said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 05, 2008 8:35 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

AMEN Brother Antonio!!!
You said it so very well~!

I feel so bad for those dear people who are sitting under that kind of preaching. But it's also heart warming to hear that some of them are recognizing that there's a problem.

Here's the preaching I love to hear, and it's from One with authority...
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
John 3:16

Thanking God tonight for His most wonderful gift!!!

Diane
:-)

May 05, 2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Another good contribution.

May 07, 2008 12:15 AM  
Blogger Peggie said...

Thank you Antonio for being willing to make up the hedge, and stand in the gap.
God bless you.

May 07, 2008 8:45 AM  
Blogger alvin said...

Hi Antonio

That just goes to show we need to check out what our Pastor's are teaching, even if they are called free-grace. They can be free-grace and still have the Calvinism confusion going calling themselves 3 pointers. Or they can be on the free grace Church list and be confussed about eternal security. So it's best to be Bereans and test what they say to the word.
A good article to read on "The Gospel" is Bob Wilkins last article on it. He shows the broad meaning of the "good news." And also he shows the salvation that is spoken of in 1 Cor 15 (if you hold fast)spoken to ones that already have eternal life has to do with sanctification and not the free gift of eternal life that anyone can take freely (John 4:10;Rev 22:17).

alvin

May 07, 2008 3:51 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

You all are too nice.

Thanks for your patronage here at Free Grace Theology Blog.

Your FG host,

Antonio

May 25, 2008 6:31 PM  
Blogger Katherine Gunn said...

Antonie~

Hmm... I am confused by the passage quoted by Kevl - that is concerning what his purpose is in quoting it? Does he agree with you or disagree with you? The passage, to me, seems to support your position.

"6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm."

Honestly, this seems to me to describe what THEY are doing...

"8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person..."

Hmm... this is a powerful truth that seems hard for us to grasp.

BTW - who is a righteous person? Well, 2 Corinthians 5:21 - there is no righteousness except His - and He has freely given it to us. So, belief = righteousness of God = out from under the law. YAY!!!!

May 26, 2008 12:24 AM  
Blogger ronno said...

As someone here in Duluth who has had the occasion to have to deal with some of Rokser's disciples, a couple of things consistently has stood out. The first being is an almost cult like adherence to whatever he or his father in law taught, and an antogonism to anything "outside" of their churches here in the Northland. A "bleive" in Jesus, and an hysterical renunciation of what the describe as Lordhsip Salvation advocating by men like John Piper and John MacArthur. quite honestly theoligically speaking Rokser is no match for their minds that God has gioven them, and their messages have brought the Body of Christ an amazing view of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, or duty and our privelage of being called out of our sin and into His marvelous light for the purpose of enjoying Him now and eternally. Scripture is more than clear that those who our found transformed, are holy, annd endure will be saved, not some mere "intelectual assent." Listening to Rokser one will find essentially two primary things in almost every message I have listened to, salvation is through grace, and a tacid slap at evangelical's, and charismatics, Lutheran's or Catholic's. He tragically learned these "techniques" from his father in law Leonard Radtke, both of whom have been essentially contnetious, divisive minister's in this area, and have a staunch position of spereating themselves from anyone outside of the movement, which I find truly grieves the Holy Spirit.

June 11, 2008 8:24 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Antonio,

I want to state at the very beginning of this comment that I am writing all of this in the spirit of love and hope that none of it is taken wrong.
However, it appears from what you have written, that you don't know and have not communicated with Dennis Rokser.(Please correct me if I am mistaken) I also want to point out that I am not a member of his church although I do live in south Central Minnesota, and even though I have met him personally on a few occasions, I don't know him personally very well at all. However, I should state that as a person he is very warm and friendly, and seems to really care about people.

There are a couple of things about your replies that are very saddening to me. I don't see a lot of Scripture verses, although you talk a lot about it. You rely on illustrations to make your points. Where is the proof of what you are saying from God's Word? The other thing that saddens me is that you are talking to people who are obviously discontented with Dennis Rokser and the church, and on their word you are condemning him. Is that right? Your comment, "I get the unmistakable impression that strong consequences are in store for those who question the teaching from that fundamentalist pulpit." is a pretty strong statement and even inflammatory. How do you know this? Have you talked with him, have you been to the church to hear him preach. Have you met the people that aren't discontent, but are trying to do a work for Christ?

I would like to challenge you to call him, or go to his church and find out for yourself, instead of this 2nd hand, behind the back talking. I do believe Scripture tells us that we are to take a matter to our brother directly, does it not?

You are so dogmatic about your free grace position do you feel the same way about the rest of Scripture, about the whole counsel of God?

Thank you for taking the time and post this to your blog.

For our Savior,

Dan

July 07, 2010 2:39 PM  
Blogger ME said...

I am just curious why the people that "attend" Dennis Roekser's church did not first sit and talk with him.

January 02, 2011 9:31 AM  

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