The “I was never lost” doctrine of Stanley C Phillips

a review of The Eternal Vital Union, by Stanley C. Phillips, (Gospel Mission)

First, because he makes so much fun of others who attempt to write books, I want to ask Stanley if he thinks he is a baby-doctor
that God needs his help to write a book to explain the gospel? Doesn’t Stan know that God can teach this stuff even to infants without us having to pay to get help from Stan?

Stan is a big advocate of “experience”, in which “God visits
you” and we then have “the mind of Christ” and all this before and
without any doctrine of the gospel. So why did he write this huge book of doctrines? If we disagree, he’s simply going to say we don’t get it because we are “inexperienced”.

The book has a lot of preacher soundbites which don’t hold up very well if you ask questions. Stan writes: “Life does not start at conception, because life starts at creation”. Sounds neat, doesn’t it? But when did creation begin? It turns out that Stan believes in the pre-existence of human “souls” and thus he doesn’t think that the elect “souls” ever started to have eternal life. Stan thinks the elect were never lost.

Stan doesn’t deny the resurrection of the physical body (as the
preterists do or as the old “two-seed-in-the-spirit” teaching of Daniel Parker did), because he says there is “interstitial” interacton between the “two men”. In other words, there is internal “warfare”.

Stan works with the assumption that regeneration is not a change or a renewal but an ontological “implanation” into the container of the body of the “new self” which of course is not new but which has eternally pre-existed. I am not going to use the word “gnostic” here because that word has come to function mostly as an insult. And I don’t want to be impolite to Stan. Indeed, I rather like him, and I want to understand what he is saying with which I so much disagree.

There is a old-new schizophrenia happening here, and if you question the assumptions about what is “old man” by saying that old man is the old legal status of condemnation, you will be accused of denying that Christians continue to sin. But don’t forget that this theory of the Primitive Baptists operates in the interests of eternal justification or “justification at the cross”. In other words, even though you are still sinning, you were never lost! You were never guilty, and you never had the wrath of God abiding on you in history.

In some respects, Stanley sounds a lot like the “exchange theory of
sanctification” identified with some folks from Dallas Seminary. After justification, supposedly, there is a second step of “identification”. The Keswick view agrees that the “addition” of a new self inside the person is not by our act of will but says that the consciousness of this “new man” does depend on our wills. Stanley agrees with the distinction between the ontological reality and the “reckoning” of that reality, but he doesn’t think the recognition is the result of human decision.

But the result is nevertheless two men (or two minds, old and new) inside of another man. There is  some ambiguity, because sometimes he writes as if the old man is the body (the flesh) on the outside, but at other times he’s saying that there is an old mind inside. So nothing has changed before the second coming, except there has been an addition of a new nature which does not change. Stan misreads I John 3 in the interests of assuming an ontological biological addition, and never seriously considers the idea of two legal states for Cain and Abel.

This speculation is not new To Stanley Phillips and he
quotes several other older Primitive Baptist writers who agree with
his thinking. One important question I have about this is what they
think of Christ as incarnate? Do they still think Christ is still incarnate, with a physical body? Do they think Christ had (or has) two wills, two minds “two men on the inside”? How would that work?

Even more importantly, do they think that Christ Himself was under the guilt of the elect and under the wrath of God, and that Christ’s death was a “propitiation” and a reconciliation toward God? Did Christ himself pass from wrath to favor in history? Or heaven forbid, does Stan think tht Christ passed from being an “old man” to becoming a “new man”? Did Christ himself become “by experience” regenerate? Or does Stan agree with Harold Camping that Christ was “eternally dead” and that the cross over there back then was only for the sake of the elect recognizing what was already true.

When you begin saying that the elect were never lost, you should expect to have to answer some questions! I am glad that Stan does acknowledge that he doesn’t know what happens to the “soul” of Christ between death and resurrection. That is way more humble than most of those who endorse the Roman Catholic tradition of the immortality of the “soul”.

The Primitive Baptist is correct to object to telling a person who may not be elect that Christ died for them. But the Primitive Baptist is wrong to think that our experience tells anybody that they are “sensible sinners” now born again because they are “struggling with two natures” and thus “hopefully” elect.

The gospel says that the true Christ died for the elect alone. The gospel does not tell you to first found out if your are regenerate because you are “mourning for your sins” and thus likely to be elect (before and without the gospel, the power of God which causes the elect to hear it).

The justified elect pass over from being part of the old creation to being legally part of the new creation. II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, new creation! The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The justified elect are not two men inside of another man. The justified elect are not two minds inside of a body “container”. When the elect are justified, they become part of the larger “new man” Galatians 6:15 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but new creation.”

When I think of the “new creation”, why do I think of justification, and not only about regeneration? Well, I ask, why do most Calvinists draw the line between two natures? Where does the Bible talk about the new creation being a new nature? Where does the Bible talk about union with Christ being a new nature? Why don’t we draw the line between the justified and the condemned?

I am not denying the new birth or the absolute necessity for it. I am only saying that the new birth is not “union with Christ” and that it does not result in something called “the new man” on your inside The “new man” has to do with a change in legal state.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh”.

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about an implantation and/or addition of a “seed substance” but about an imputed legal reality.

The new man is not gradual transformation; it’s an either or—- this legal state or that legal state. The new creation is a legal result of God’s imputation in time of what God did (for the elect alone) in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Only for those now in Christ legally has the old has passed. For some of the elect, God has already declared the legal verdict. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict.

Carol Hoch Jr: “The background of the “new creation language is Isaiah 43:16-21, Is 65:17, and Is 66:22…Should “he is” be supplied in II Cor 5:17a? No–if any person is in Christ, new creation. To insert “he is” in 5:17 wrongly narrows the scope of the new creation to an individual.” , p161, The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology: All Things New, Baker, 1995

John R. W. Stott, Men Made New: An Exposition of Romans 5-8 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 45: “This is the crucifixion of our our ‘old self’. What is this ‘old self’? Is it not the old nature. How can it be if the ‘body of sin’ means the old nature? The two expressions cannot mean the same thing or the verse makes nonsense.

The ‘old self’ denotes, not our old unregenerate nature, but our old condemned in Adam life—Not the part of myself which is corrupt, but my former self. So what was crucified with Christ was not a part of us called our old nature, but the whole of us as we were before we were converted. This should be plain because in this chapter the phrase ‘our old self was crucified’ (verse 6) is equivalent to ‘we…died to sin (verse 2).”

The crucifixion of the “old man” refers to a definitive break with the past in Adam and is something God declares to be true of the elect when God justifies them by imputation. God transfers the justified elect from the age of Adam to the age of Christ. The justified sinner is separated legally and positionally from the community of Adam by being placed into the death of Christ to sin.

Colossians 3:9– “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices 3:10 and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it. 3:11 Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.” The “new man” in Colossians 3:10 is not something inside an individual.

In Ephesians 2:15, the Jewish elect and the Gentile elect have been justified and reconciled, and together in Christ they form the “new man” which is a new redemptive-historical society in which all have free and equal access to God and are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (2:5-6).

Romans 6:6 is still thinking of the two humanities (and their heads) as in Romans 5:12-21.15 The “old man,” then, must be who the elect were “in Adam,” that is, in the old age of guilt, death and judgment. The focus is corporate.The “old man” is not a sinful nature, and it’s not our corruption.

Romans 6 says that the old man “was crucified with Christ.” But how can that be? We were not there at Golgotha. Stan reads II Tim 1:9 (who has saved us, according to his purpose given us in Christ before the ages) as saying that the “has” means the past, but to him, this “past” has no before and after. Stan argues that life did not begin at conception but at the creation, but to him there is no creation, because life is eternal “in the seed”. And so the past is really eternal and the “He saved us” comes to mean “we were never lost”.

My Answer: the “ crucified with Christ” language is talking about imputation by which God legally places the elect into the death of Christ which for them alone, and was for their sins alone. Romans 6 is about the legal relationship of the elect to to the redemptive history of Christ, the last Adam. Romans 6 is NOT talking about new birth or Christ indwelling us individually, even those events result from justification. Those positionally joined to Christ’s body are “dead to sin” in the same way that Christ became “dead to sin”, by means of legal union, justification.

All well and good, Mark, and we like your emphasis on justification. But we also like Stan’s emphasis on regeneration and ontological transformation, and what does it seriously matter if he uses some language about that (old man/new man) that we would rather he didn’t use?

My answer is that those who teach eternal justification always end up making the gospel about something else than what Christ did at the cross. They always end up focusing on what they think (“experience”) Christ is doing in them. In Stan’s case, he thinks Christ is making him more humble by causing to doubt and hope instead of resting in assurance.

I quote from p 105 of Stan’s “The Eternal Vital Union”. “The mediatorial work of the last Adam met all the claims of the law and satisfied divine justice in behalf of the chosen seed. BUT as the transgression of the first man Adam did not disqualify his family for heaven, neither did the obedience and death of the last Adam impart to his chosen seed qualification for the enjoyment of heaven.”

Again, I am not denying the need for regeneration and glorification for the justified elect to be able to live in the new heaven and earth. And Stan is not denying the need for Christ to have died to satisfy justice for the elect, even though Stan cannot explain how Christ was ever under the wrath of God, and even though he denies that the elect were ever condemned.

So why is all this important? Stan has a “more than”. He does not deny the doctrine about Christ’s death, but a. he thinks you can be regenerate apart from ever hearing that gospel. and b. he thinks the gospel is about being getting a “new man” inside of you. So do the Roman Catholics. So do the self-righteous puritans who base their assurance on their change of behavior and attitude. (Even when they “slip into sin”, they don’t want to and they mourn about it.)

Instead of focusing on what Christ did in history, Stan focus on our inward selves, because history to him is about what happens in us inwardly. He can make no sense of a propitiation, or a legal justification from wrath to favor, because his gospel is not about what Christ did but about his searching inside himself to find the person of Christ there, as evidenced by his own struggle with two natures.

from Glad Tidings, by Abraham Booth

p 182, “If by ‘an awakened sinner’ it is taught that no one is
commanded to depend on Christ for pardon and peace unless possessed of a more holy disposition, he must necessarily be more solicitous to
find evidence of that prerequisite existing in his own heart, than to
understand and believe what the gospel says concerning Christ.”

p 223, “The Scriptures will not permit our concluding that any pious
affections are possessed by sinners before they receive the truth and
believe in Christ. If we really love and revere God, it is because He
first loved us, because there is forgiveness with him, because that
love for the elect has been revealed in the glad tidings of
reconciliation.”

p 228–”For sensible sinners to think that they dare not and ought not
to believe and embrace Christ, till they be more deeply humbled, and
do more thoroughly repent of their sins, and be “more fit’ to receive
him; this is but a gilded deceit and a trick of a false heart.”

p 238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in the work or regeneration, the salutary and important
change being produced entirely without it…To imagine that a
preparation of the mind, merely to receive the truth, is a change so
great as to describe the expressions ‘born again’ or ‘born of the
Spirit’ or ‘born of God’ is unwarrantable”

p 247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that
the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an
immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the
gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of
sin. When the commandment came, sin revived and I died.”

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6 Comments on “The “I was never lost” doctrine of Stanley C Phillips”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Justification in Perspective, Bruce McCormack, editor, (Baker, 2006)

    For Barth, there is no imputation in time: the only transition from wrath to forensic favor takes place in the history of Christ.

    The good thing about Barth’s doctrine of justification is that Barth
    does not make the Holy Spirit the agent who puts the elect into union with Christ. The bad thing is that Barth makes the gift of faith to the elect to be only the recognition of a transition from wrath to
    favor that took place in Christ; there is no passing from death to
    life by imputation in the life of the individual elect person. Of
    course this goes with the idea that all sinners are elected in Christ.

    While avoiding Adam’s guilt imputed, Wright again caricatures his critics. But the clear reason he’s so comfortable discarding justification based only on Christ’s finished work is that Wright has confidence in the water of “the church” to make Christians by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. What this watery birth has to do with “the covenant” is less clear.

    I quote from Wright on p 260: “This declaration, this vindication,
    occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis
    of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit, that
    is, it occurs, on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense…just
    as the final justification will consist not in words so much as in an
    event, namely the resurrection of the person, so the present
    justification consists not so much in words but in an event, the event
    in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him. In
    other words, baptism. I was delighted to rediscover…that not only
    Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with
    me.”

    NT Wright has come to the place in his life when he can only keep
    rediscovering how he is right. But some of us critics still insist
    that the water regeneration of Luther and Augustine (and NT Wright
    Anglicans) is in competition with the biblical good news about
    justification in Christ.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    I am surprised that you think that most Calvinists agree with you about all the elect being justified. Only a small margin believe in eternal justification, and even fewer believe in “justification at the cross”. As I said, that doesn’t prove it’s right or wrong, but you should know that less people believe what you believe. I am not sure we need to get into names and books. But to name three you might know, John Owen, AW Pink, and Abraham Booth were very clear about there being no time gap between imputation and regeneration. They denied that any of the elect were justified before they heard the gospel. On the eternal justification side, there is of course John Gill. But even some primitive baptists disagreed with MR Gill on this.

    I agree that there is a time gap either way. You have all people being justified at one time but then them being born again at different points after that (or in the case of the OT, before that). But I, on the other hand, say there is a gap between God’s purpose to justify and when God does that. Also I have a time gap between the time the sins of the elect are imputed by God to Christ and the time when those elect are placed into the death of Christ (Romans 6) , or as Paul said to some others, you were in Christ before I was (Romans 16). That IS a gap.

    If you think the justification was at the cross, do you deny what Romans 4 says about Abraham being justified before he was circumcised? On the other hand, if you think that justification was before the ages, do you think there is a time gap between God imputing the sins of the elect to Christ and the time when Christ died for these sins? I ask these questions for information’s sake. I don’t want to talk to you as if you were the last person I talked to about this question. And I am sure you don’t want to talk to me as if I were a bait and switch Arminian who conditions salvation on the sinner.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    we don’t find out if we are elect until after we are justified

    and we don’t find out if we are justified until after we have repented
    of false gospels

    and we don’t find out if we have repented of false gospels

    until we know what the true gospel s, and until we believe that true gospel

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Steve Garrett has some good stuff, but over-reacts towards agreeing with Spurgeon

    http://hardshellism.blogspot.com/

  5. markmcculley Says:

    was Adam duty-bound to believe the gospel, when he was created, before he sinned?
    answer–no. 1 before sin there was no grace and no need for the gospel
    but 2. the Primitive Baptists thinking is that nobody should be required to do something Adam was not required to do, which comes down to “ability decides responsibility”
    which makes the Primitive Baptists agree with Arminians—-the Arrminians saying ability, the Primitives saying no ability therefore no duty
    on the other side, the “modern question” (is faith a duty?) raised by Andrew Fuller
    Fuller, like Edwards and Marrow, said yes duty because 1. a there is ability
    making a distinction between “moral ability” vs other ability, the old “you cannot because you will not” soundbite vs the “you will not because you cannot”
    but 2. also Fuller said that Christ in some sense dead for all sinners, not dead for all to give them all new birth (tricky) but dead for all to make them a offer, dead for all to make a governmental “propitiation” possible
    so, now which side am I on?
    definitely not on the Fullerite side
    but also I don’t agree with Primitives on going back to what Adam could have done, the ability question
    two summary points
    1. the main issue is what is the gospel, not the duty question–people on both sides of the duty question are getting the gospel wrong, with both saying that “Jesus died for you”, the Arminians meaning “died for everybody” and the Primitives meaning that the gospel itself tells you that you are burdened, regenerate, prepared, elect, with no “faith seeking life” necessary.
    2. but if I have to answer, is it the duty of the non-elect to seek salvation by graceby believing the true gospel, I would say yes
    BUT, what are the Bible texts to support “duty”?—where does the NT exactly say, More punishment if one hears and reject gospel—I have an open mind on this specific question, but I don’t there are a lot of texts
    we are born already condemned, nobody is born regenerate


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