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Set Forth Your Case – Paper #8

Part 8 of a 16 part series…

To catch you up, my father, Dr. Michael Ruth (an author, family therapist, and pastor since the late 70’s) gave me an assignment to read the book Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock and to write a 1-2 page response to each of the chapters.  It might be a little difficult to fully understand my responses to or summaries of the chapters without reading the book, but I wanted to share my work anyway.

Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock
Chapter 8: The Inadequacy of Experience Alone

In his last chapter, and indeed throughout this book, Pinnock has espoused the truth that the saving work of Christ is a recipe with two key ingredients: it takes the exposure of the Gospel to the would-be Believer, as well as the super-natural calling of the Holy Spirit.  Given the weight and meaning of a calling to Christ, it could be said that such a call to Grace is perhaps the most personal experience an individual can undergo; however Pinnock takes this chapter to rightly criticize how, in our day, the “personal experience” of God’s saving Grace has become elevated to an inappropriate and unwarranted position.

Pinnock says, rather courageously I think, that “God exists” cannot rightfully follow the statement, “I had an experience of God.”  It is a brave statement because, in our post-modern world, experience is king.  In such cases, the emphasis can easily – even unintentionally – switch from the actual redeeming work of Christ to the meaning the convert wants to give their experience of “god”.  In this way, the one with the faith becomes the one extolled and not the object of that faith.  And herein we see another potential problem…if your faith experience is all that matters, then what you put your faith in becomes less important.  The object of your faith could be Christ, but it could just as easily be Zeus, Mohammed, mother earth, or political correctness for that matter.  All that matters is that you believe it!

Clearly, however, we know this is not enough.  Christ Himself told us in Matthew 7, “…narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  In other words, it absolutely is about the object of your faith.  Pinnock summarizes the glaring errors with this experience-based approach quite well, “Justification does not come at a certain degree of existential temperature.  It is a legal declaration about the status of a man properly related to the Savior, whatever he may feel like.”  As apologists, ministers, and witnesses for Christ, we must reach out to those who are under the illusion that the voracity of their faith experience is all that matters.  It may be an unpopular message, but it is essential to true salvation that the convert understand they are a sinner utterly separated from God unless they accept the salvation available to all through the sacrificial death of the Son.

However, we see once again that, to those whose eyes are open, Christianity makes the most compelling of arguments.  As Pinnock puts it, “Faith is not believing what you know to be absurd.  It is trusting what on excellent testimony appears to be true.”  Many of us are also familiar with that wonderful definition of faith from Hebrews 11.  It is, “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Our faith is confident and sure because we trust in the promises of God found in his Word and the historical evidence of the resurrection of Christ.

The problem with this “faith in faith” movement, as Pinnock puts it, is that all of this historical evidence and divine revelation is tossed out the window.  That is very unfortunate indeed because the Gospel is able to stand up to all criticisms and examinations, and in matters of faith, we rest all of our hopes in the proof of the resurrection of Christ.  No one states this better than Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:13-14, 16-17, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”  You can tell from the words of Paul that he is not concerned with the intensity of our faith; he is focused quite rightly on the object of our faith – Christ – and not only Christ, but the fact that Christ was indeed raised from the dead as the Gospel claims.

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth


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