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Passing the exam

November 6, 2013

Several days ago I wrote a post where well-known Christian pastor John MacArthur held a seminar in which he essentially taught that Charismatics, all 250,000,000 of them, were not Christians.   As you might guess dozens of Christians, including any number of non-Charismatics, were quick to criticize him.  The primary charge was that he was causing division in the Body of Christ.

Happily, he was quick to respond that he did not want to divide the Body of Christ.  Unhappily, his stated goal was to “identify” the Body of Christ.  In other words, to make it clear that the quarter of a billion people mentioned above are not Christians.  Rather than rethinking his position, he has doubled down on it.

It almost appears as if, at the gates of heaven, there is going to be some sort of theological entrance exam.  Indeed, a quick reading of Matthew 7:23 seems to confirm that something like this will actually take place.  If so the question is, what is going to be on the exam so I can start studying?  This is where things get a little confusing.

MacArthur is sure that we need to nail the correct understanding of charismatic gifts.  His fellow Reformed pastor, Mark Driscoll, disagrees that charismatic gifts will be part of the entrance exam but does seem to say that Christian pacifists are going to flunk out.  John Piper is a little more gracious to Christian egalitarians.  He admits it is possible that they may pass the exam but expresses concern that, since they are so wrong on egalitarianism, they are probably wrong on other things too.

Given enough patience, which I don’t have, I could probably find examples where someone is warning fellow Christians on just about everything that they are in danger of failing the heavenly entrance exam.  All this has me pondering a question about God and the Bible.  Is it possible that the list of “Things Important to God” may be a lot shorter than we think?

OK, we get hung up furiously debating issues like charismatic gifts, pacifism, gender roles, end times prophecy, predestination and a host of other issues.  We take them seriously, we want to honor God, and we sincerely want to know His will.  It does however seem as if a given issue is critical at the gates of heaven then we really should not be seeing evidence that thousands, if not millions, of us get it wrong after diligent study of the Bible.

Pick any issue; say the charismatic gifts MacArthur is so certain about.  If it is indeed on the entrance exam to heaven, how is it that so many can get it wrong?  Is God simply a poor communicator, not making Himself clear on an essential issue?  Or, worse, is the exam sort of like a college entrance exam, designed to weed out those who aren’t theologically clever enough?

There are some issues that the Bible seems quite clear about.  There is no serious doubt that the Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross; no serious doubt that it also teaches He rose from the dead.  We can choose to not believe it, and indeed many do, but we’d be hard pressed to try and justify the position “that’s not what the Bible says.”

When I look around and see the confusion about what different scholars teach as critical issues; when I read lengthy and erudite expositions of these critical issues and equally fine ones with the opposite conclusion, I am left with only two options.

  1. The Bible is confusing and unreliable; freely letting us get important things wrong.
  2. The list of important things is not as long as we thought.

I think I am going to go with “b”.  I am still going to read my Bible; still seek to understand and follow it.  But I am going to base my entrance to heaven on my assurance that Jesus has already passed the exam and will welcome me, and a host of fellow believers who might differ on a bunch of things, because He loves us.

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