Technically, sin IS still the issue.
Before any angry Calvinists start throwing rocks at Dr. Price personally…
As I begin this post, I would like to point out that there are many important ways in which Dr. Nelson L. Price has positively impacted the state of Georgia and the world for the cause of Jesus Christ. To focus attention on just one set within the many examples that could be given, take his contribution to Christian education. In his 35 years as senior pastor at Roswell Street Baptist Church, Dr. Price led his congregation in establishing a Christian preschool and elementary school to educate students according to a biblical worldview. Dr. Price was a leading figure in promoting the establishment of a North Georgia campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary so that ministers in Georgia pursuing biblical and theological education could receive training without having to leave their home church and move out-of-state. Desiring to reach the largest audience possible with biblical teaching, Dr. Price helped to establish a Christian radio station, WFTD 1080 AM, which broadcast many sermons that were of personal benefit to me (sadly, the radio station as begun by Dr. Price has more recently ceased operation as has been replaced by a Spanish-language secular music station on 1080 AM in Atlanta). Last October, Dr. Price became the chairman for the board of trustees at Shorter College in Georgia. In this position, Dr. Price has been instrumental in helping to bring the conservative resurgence to a Baptist school that had previously neglected its foundational principles. For Dr. Price’s views on what must be the heart of Christian education, I would like to refer Strange BaptistFire readers to the October 16, 2000 article of Baptist Press News, in which Dr. Price quoted the original purpose statement of NOBTS as published in 1918, “this institution shall center around the study of the Bible as the Word of God,” and he followed this with the exhortations, “That should be the foundation of your life and my life,” and, “I appeal to you to study the Scripture. [There you’ll find that] the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the foundation for our lives.”
If only he’d stuck with that foundation in his recent sermon…
Given what is stated above, it truly grieves me to be in the position of critiquing a recent statement by Dr. Price in this post, especially as I believe his statement to touch the most crucial aspect of the biblical message– the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On November 26, 2006 at 6:00 PM, Dr. Nelson Price spoke at First Baptist Church Woodstock, Georgia on the subject of those who never hear the Gospel– specifically those who live in countries with no access to the Gospel message. Certain portions of this sermon were dedicated to mischaracterizing and assaulting the doctrines of grace, commonly nicknamed Calvinism. Dr. Price’s zeal in attacking Calvinism led to him repeating the now-infamous “bus illustration,” which he had first published three days earlier in the November 23 edition of The Christian Index, and for which he has now been called into account by Reformed Baptist apologist James White.
Dr. Price seemed particularly interested in trying to refute the “L” of Calvinism, that is, the doctrine of limited atonement (more accurately referred to as “definite atonement”). Now, whenever a Southern Baptist preacher attempts to argue against the doctrine of definite atonement, they run up against an immediate problem. For the confession of faith that the Southern Baptist Convention adopted at the annual meeting on July 14, 2000– the current version of the Baptist Faith & Message– very clearly affirms the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement (see BF&M II.B). This is a problem for Southern Baptist pastors such as Dr. Price because historically the doctrine of substitutionary atonement has been solidified in Christian thought due to the biblical exegesis of pastors and theologians within the Reformed, or Calvinist, tradition. And theologically the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement is bound up with the doctrine of definite atonement. For to be a substitute means to stand in the place of another, and if Christ was a true substitute on the Cross, bearing God’s wrath for sinners so that they would be saved, then all those for whom Christ provided substitution will certainly not bear God’s eternal wrath against their own sins. Therefore, in order to consistently hold to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, one must either embrace the teaching that Christ died as a substitute for a definite number of elect individuals– that is, one must accept the limited atonement view– or else one must become a Universalist, in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Lord Jesus.
In an attempt to avoid this conundrum, Dr. Price presented a view that would, at first glance, seem to allow for Christ to provide atonement as a substitute for the sins of every individual throughout the history of creation, and yet would still guard against Universalism. Dr. Price articulated this view at the conclusion of his mini-presentation against limited atonement with the following statement:
Technically, sin is no longer the issue. Jesus took care of that. He died for all the sins of all the people of all the world. That does not mean that all are saved. What it means is, anybody can be saved. The issue is what will you do with Jesus Christ? That’s the point.
My problem with the quote above is two-fold. First, the idea that “sin is no longer the issue” is in direct contradiction to the biblical text. Second, the idea that “sin is no longer the issue” is in direct contradiction not only to some secondary issue found in the Bible, but, indeed, in contradicts a biblical presentation of the Gospel message itself.
Technically, sin IS still the issue according to the text of Scripture.
Biblically, sin IS still the issue for at least two reasons. First, sin is still the issue because we are commanded to confess our sins in order to receive forgiveness and cleansing from sins. Second, sin is still the issue because God holds everyone accountable for the sins committed in life.
1 John 1:8-10 reads as follows:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
If one takes Dr. Price’s view and comes to believe that “sin is no longer the issue,” then it would follow that confession for sin would be deemed is unnecessary– it’s ‘technically not an issue.’ But the biblical text is clear that forgiveness of sins is contingent upon our confession. And if we entirely deny the issue of sin, then, according to the Apostle John, “the truth” and “the word” [both of which are used by John as terms referring specifically to Jesus] are not in us. So to encourage sinners with the message that “sin is not the issue” is to cut off their only hope for salvation.
Furthermore, as Dr. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his article, “The Man on the Island,”
The sinner will be judged at the holy tribunal of God, not based merely on the absence of faith, but based on the ‘deeds done in the body’ (2 Cor. 5:10), namely his own refusal to abide by the law etched inextricably on his heart.
The Bible is clear that everyone will give an account before God for his or her actions. Therefore, we should take sin very seriously. A pastor giving a message that would lead people to overlook this fact is acting in a way that is in gross contradiction to his role as a shepherd over the souls of God’s people.
Technically, sin IS still the issue in presenting the Gospel to sinners.
In Revelation 21:8, the Apostle John prophesies,
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Notice that in this list “the faithless” are but one category of sinners that are consigned to Hell. So people do indeed go to Hell for their sins. This seems to strike at the heart of the point Dr. Price was trying to make, as he seemed to be asserting that “technically” unbelief or faithlessness is the only issue between God and those outside of Christ. But unbelief is itself a sin, which must be paid for by either Christ’s death on the Cross, or else by the sinner himself in the second death. John Owen irrefutably addressed this issue in his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647):
Why are not all free from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’ But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins? Let them choose which part they will.
It is with these truths in mind that we come to the conviction that we must first present sinners with the reality of their sin in order to call them to seek forgiveness for their sins in the Savior. But how are people who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3) and complacent going to be convinced that they are sinners in danger of God’s wrath? How can people who do not naturally think on spiritual things be made aware of what sin is and what we mean when we speak of God’s holiness?
In order to answer these questions we must turn to God’s Law. The Bible declares that “sin is the transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4) and that “the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Therefore, before we preach the Gospel to sinners, we must first lead them in self-examination by means of God’s Law as found in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), exegeted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and summarized by Him in the two Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
Though much of modern preaching has forsaken the use of the Law in evangelism, there has been a recent push to emphasize the commands of our Holy Lawgiver in convincing sinners of their need for repentance. In 1982, evangelist Ray Comfort realized the great need for the preparatory work of the Law before preaching the Gospel message and since then he has been working diligently in broadcasting the message of “Law to the proud and Grace to the humble” through the Way of the Master ministries. In that same year pastor Ernest C. Reisinger published the book Today’s Evangelism, in which he wrote,
Where is the preaching of the law [in modern evangelism]? Paul said, “… by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). And in his testimony he acknowledged the law as the means that brought home the knowledge of sin. “… I had not known sin, but by the law…” (Rom. 7:7). Where is the evangelistic preaching of the Law? [Emphasis in original.]
If the Church is going to continue in recovering the “evangelistic preaching of the Law,” then we can only do so based on the foundational convictions that sin IS still the issue between God and all of those outside of Christ and that God has dealt decisively with sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). For it is only in this context that sinners can understand the biblical message of the Gospel. As Reisinger also made clear when he wrote,
Probably the verse in the Bible that best describes the work of Christ is Isaiah 42:21: “… he [Christ] will magnify the law and make it honorable.” Christ magnified the law in His life by keeping it perfectly, and in His death by suffering its penalty for His people. The very base of the cross is Christ satisfying divine justice (the righteous demands of a Holy God) for sinners. At the cross, God the Father sheathed the sword of divine justice in the bosom of His Son in order that sinners might have an honorable pardon: not just sin overlooked, but sin paid for; not only expiation, but also propitiation.
“…and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)