Afraid of the Gospel (11)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the February 1, 1954 issue of the Standard Bearer.
“The pedagogical approach.”
The apostle Paul never heard of such a thing!
How could he have heard of it? It is a twentieth century discovery. Indeed the apostle was not ignorant of pedagogy.* How could he be? The Holy Spirit, the all-wise and divine teacher who leads us into all the truth, the Master of all pedagogy, by means of organic inspiration, used the apostle Paul to teach the church the truth. A more able teacher, one whose pedagogical approach is superior to that of the apostle Paul, you will not find in the world today. But “the pedagogical approach”—please note the quotation marks—which requires conditional theology as its principle and method of instruction was not known to the apostle Paul. In his training by the Spirit of Christ, training in that subject was not given at all! “The pedagogical approach” which is based on the theory that to preach the gospel to man unconditionally will make him careless and profane, the apostle never used. And we refer you to our last article, that to use the conditional form in your speaking does not necessarily mean that you preach conditions and conditional theology. Do not rush for your Bible to quote all kinds of texts with “if” clauses in them and say that Paul not only knew but also used the “pedagogical approach.” Just read on a few minutes and carefully weigh the matter.
“The pedagogical approach.”
Or otherwise said, whenever God speaks concerning his elect, the promise is presented as unconditional, but whenever he speaks of the promise to his elect, he always—in the pedagogical approach—makes the promise conditional.
Such a “pedagogical approach” reveals nothing less than that those who practice it and maintain it are AFRAID OF THE GOSPEL! They dare not preach without resorting to that “pedagogical approach.”
The apostle Paul?
The Spirit who guided him and illumined him?
Listen to the very opposite presented to us by both the primary author and this secondary author in their epistle to the Philippians! We read: “Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,” Philippians 1:6. Paul is confident of that fact. The Holy Spirit is confident of that fact. And there is no fear in the heart of either one of them that now that the Philippians have been told that since God began a good work in them, he will perform it till the day of Christ, they will become careless and profane.
“The pedagogical approach,” which it is claimed, ought to be practiced in the Protestant Reformed Churches in this twentieth century, is sure that to tell people the truth of Philippians 1:6 is to encourage them into all manner of carelessness and profanity. “The pedagogical approach” insists that you have to tell people that there is something they must do, or else he who hath begun a good work in them will do no more until they once again fulfill the condition. Instead of God performing it till the day of Christ, it is presented as though God will perform it only if man first does something.
Conditional theology is based on the pedagogical principle that he who hath begun a good work in man will perform it further only after man has fulfilled God’s conditions. Yet the defenders of conditional theology hasten to add, when it becomes necessary for them to defend themselves as Reformed men, that we fulfill these conditions only by God’s grace. As we have pointed out before, that little addition overthrows their “pedagogical approach” by laying down an entirely different principle. By adding that we fulfill this “condition” only by God’s grace, they approach their listeners with the scriptural principle that God performs his work in us unto the day of Christ without conditions for us to fulfill, that he first gives us grace to believe, to convert ourselves, to sorrow for our sins and perform all spiritual activities. Because they want you to believe that they are Reformed, they will throw away their “pedagogical approach” when you begin to smell the evil in their conditional theology. But if you do not press them and criticize them, they will preach that there is something you must do before something God will do can happen. They will approach you in the preaching with the idea that even though God has begun a good work in you, he will continue that work in you conditionally. Let them not deny that as long as they defend the statements of Rev. De Wolf in their literal form!
The argument will perhaps be raised that Paul is writing to a congregation that is very strong in the faith, that to such a congregation you can say such things, but that to say it to those who are weak in the faith and wayward in their walk is to encourage them into all manner of carelessness and profanity. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Is it so (if this “pedagogical approach” is the right approach) that these Philippians are not in need of conditional theology because they are strong in the faith? Is it so that men strong in the faith do not need conditional theology and that it is only for the weak? Then, surely, we have no difficulty today as we look over those congregations, that were formerly federated as Protestant Reformed Churches, to determine which of these congregations were and are the weakest. They are the ones that left us because they are afraid of the gospel and feel the need of conditional theology (“the pedagogical approach”) to keep them in the faith and in the narrow way.
But is it so that these Philippians had no sin? And did they not need the conditional approach lest they stay in those sins for which Paul still rebukes them in this epistle? Does he not write in this very verse, which we already quoted above, that God had begun the work? It was not perfected yet. There was still much sin in these Philippians also. However, he is confident that GOD will perform it. And he presents no condition the Philippians must fulfill in order to insure the continued work of God. Is it so that the strong in faith stand by their own strength and therefore need not the “pedagogical approach?” What can possibly be the reason why the Spirit moved the apostle to write so confidently about God’s continued work of salvation in these Philippians? It is exactly this, that the work of salvation is not conditional but the sovereign, unconditional work of an almighty and unchangeable God.
Indeed, one does not come to those who are walking in sin and tell them that God will perfect the work of salvation in them. You do not come to those in whom there is no evidence that God has begun a good work in them and tell them God is going to begin that work in them sometime in the future. Paul surely does say in Romans 10:9, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” But are we to understand by this that believing is the condition we must fulfill before we are saved? Is this the thing we must do before God will begin that work of salvation in us? What then of that Reformed phrase which the defenders of unreformed conditional theology, when forced to defend themselves as Reformed men present, namely, that we believe and confess only by God’s grace? Is it not so very plain that if God gives us the grace to believe and to confess, that he has begun the work before we performed the act of believing and confessing? And will it not be that way all along the line as God performs that same work until the day of Jesus Christ?
Instead of the conditional pedagogical approach, what Paul writes to the Philippians, here in Philippians 1:6 and what he writes to the Romans in Romans 10:9 is essentially the same scriptural pedagogical approach which is based on unconditional theology and utterly void of all being afraid of the gospel. Romans 10:9 also says that he who hath begun a good work in the church will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. That we believe with the heart and confess with the mouth is to us the evidence that God has begun a good work in us, and therefore we have the confidence of that which is declared in the last part of the verse, we shall be saved. God will give us the full salvation when we shall be saved according to body and soul in the day of Jesus Christ. And though Paul uses the conditional form here, he does not present a condition man must fulfill before God will save him or even before God will give him the consciousness of his sure salvation. Let us repeat: Paul says here to the Romans that confessing with the mouth and believing with the heart is the undeniable evidence that God has begun a good work and that, therefore, since he will perform it to the day of Jesus Christ, the one who finds these in his life has also the testimony of God that he will be saved to the full in the glory of Christ’s kingdom. The conditional form, indeed! But not conditional theology. The conditional form, indeed! But here is no “pedagogical approach” that is afraid of the gospel.
Let us note well that Paul lays all the emphasis upon God. HE began the work. HE performs it to the day of Christ. Paul is not afraid to tell the Philippians that God does it all, and that salvation is sure because God does it all.
What is more, when you approach those who are walking in sin, who are walking contrary to their confession, as the Corinthians were when Paul wrote to them, then you do not discard this truth of Philippians 1:6 to have a different pedagogical approach. Paul rebukes, exhorts, warns, and admonishes these erring Corinthians exactly because he believes that the God who began a good work in them will perform it till the day of Christ, and that he will do it through causing those in whom he did begin the work—the rest shall remain careless and profane—to heed these admonitions and warnings. The very basis for all exhorting and admonishing is the unconditional theology that God, having begun a good work will perform it unconditionally till the day of Christ. The approach is the same to the erring as to those strong in the faith and upright in walk. You come each time with the gospel, with Christ and not with conditions.
* Webster tells us that “pedagogy is the art, practice or profession of teaching; especially systematized learning or instruction concerning principles and methods of teaching.”