Wonderfully Made? A Response to Doug Pagitt

Back in 2008, Doug Pagitt wrote a book titled, “A Christianity Worth Believing“. In the book he undermines the biblical notion of depravity by contrasting it with the biblical mention of being “wonderfully made”, as if the two concepts are somehow contradictory. Normally it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie, however Pagitt’s work has been reprinted in a recent article from Faith and Fitness, which can be read here. Understanding the concept of man’s sinful condition is paramount to understanding and receiving God’s salvation by grace through faith. Furthermore without such a condition, words such as “grace” and “mercy” are redefined and concepts such as “redemption”, “atonement”, and “salvation” take on different subjective meanings. So there’s a lot riding on what the bible has to say about man’s sinful state and the idea of depravity.

In true emergent fashion, the article kicks off with an emotional story about bullying. Pagitt recalls a time back in junior high when a young girl was bullied and ridiculed while riding the bus to school. Of course we’re all appalled at the bully’s behavior and we all feel for the girl. This story seems like an odd way to intro until you continue reading and realize the story is the backdrop for Pagitt’s comparison of man being wonderfully made vs. man’s sinful depravity. Guess who gets to be the bully in Pagitt’s comparison…the church of course.

As ridiculous as this false dichotomy Pagitt attempts to draw is, it’s a good question and it deserves a discussion. I should say it deserves a look at the biblical text, free from nonsensical stories which attempt to pull the reader into emotion and out of what the verses actually say. Does the fact that man is “fearfully and wonderfully made” as Psalm 139:14 puts it, contradict or undermine the biblical assertion of total depravity? Not only does it not, but contextually it’s not possible. Let’s take a look.

Psalm 139:14 is about man’s physical form, not his nature.

Pagitt makes a mistake a lot of people tend to make which is importing their own definition of what they think a word or phrase means rather than looking at all the verses in context. “Hey look everyone this verse says we are wonderfully made, this must mean we’re all genuinely good people, we aren’t depraved.” A simple look at Psalm 139:14 and the verses after it confirm that the psalmist is speaking about God’s craftsmanship in relation to creating man’s physical being, not man’s inward nature. How do we know this?

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Psalm 139:14-16

So contextually speaking it’s not possible for Pagitt to compare and contrast “wonderfully made” vs. “man’s depravity” and pit them against each other because they’re two different subjects dealing with two different aspects of man, namely man’s physical form and his inward nature. Pagitt spends much of the article speaking about a “bully” kind of Christianity where we are taught that we live with a sin nature and comparing it with the notion of being wonderfully made, which presents a false dichotomy that isn’t possible if the reader simply keeps reading past verse 14. This should be enough to establish the idea that man can be crippled with a nature to sin and yet his physical form be wonderfully made by God’s purposeful hand, however since Pagitt wants to speak about the church as if we have depravity all wrong, lets simply take a look at what the bible has to say about depravity and man’s sinful nature,

Is man’s inward nature bent towards good or evil?

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3

for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Genesis 8:21

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23

just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” Romans 5:12-13

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19

Are all men sinful in nature or just a few?

For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Romans 11:32

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

What about man’s heart and mind? Is that depraved too?

Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9:3

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Colossians 1:21

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Romans 7:18

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Titus 1:15

Apart from Christ, can man change his sinful inward nature?

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:34

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Titus 3:3

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” Galatians 4:8

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Romans 6:6

These verses are just a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to the biblical description of man’s depravity towards himself, others, and to God. Furthermore if Pagitt wants to compare and contrast wonderfully made, he can’t even make it out of the same book he misinterprets from without it contradicting his premise.

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Psalms 58:3

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5

Man’s depravity, God’s power.

Man’s depravity is the backdrop by which God displays his power unto salvation and is the precursor by which we begin to understand his grace, mercy, and love towards us. Isaiah 53:10 says the Lord was pleased “to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt…“. It was the Lord’s will to offer Christ as a what? A guilt offering. How do we know God loves us? As Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Guilt, sin, love, offering…these are inescapable terms.

Pagitt claims man’s true destiny, “has been papered over by a version of the creation story I like to call “From Very Good to Really, Really Bad.” Other people call it “The Fall.” However he never presents anything other than a piece of one verse to make his point. And even then his interpretation of that verse contradicts the following verses making it impossible for it to mean what he claims it means. So who is doing the “papering over” here? On one hand we have verse after verse describing man’s sinful and depraved state and 2000 years of orthodox interpretation and on the other hand we have a piece of one verse taken out of context and a lot of pictures and stories of irrelevant issues such as bullying and children. Pagitt then ends by saying, “But the deeper I go in my Christianity, the more I feel compelled to be the bus driver. I can’t sit by as someone tells me, my children, my friends, that they suck, that they are evil to the core. And I certainly can’t stand to have that perverted message be the imposter of the gospel of Jesus. I need to be someone who steps between the abusive accusations and the victim. I need to be someone who whispers the truth.

What Pagitt seems to miss is all throughout the scriptures God himself is the one telling us we are evil to the core. Verse after verse of God describing man as fallen, wicked, alienated and in need of a new nature. Can anyone turn on the news or take a simple honest look at themselves without acknowledging that something is terribly wrong within man’s own heart? Pagitt calls the notion of Christ’s redemption of man’s depraved nature “a perverted message of the gospel of Jesus“. However, Paul says in the intro to Galatians the true message of Jesus is that he, “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father“. So not only is the gospel of Jesus salvation from our sin, but it was God the Father who ordained it. Paul has strong words for whoever seeks to pervert this message. “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Pagitt claims that the notion of depravity perverts Christ message, but Paul condemns and curses those who try to undermine it because they distort God’s plan of redemption through salvation. Pagitt goes on to play the victim/hero card by saying, “I need to be someone who steps between the abusive accusations and the victim.” I wonder if Pagitt has thought through the blasphemous implications of his statement and worldview considering the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives is to, “prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.

So who’s the real victim here? You? Me? Pagitt? According to Psalm 51:4 the real victim in all of our depravity is God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” The whole premise of this article is Pagitt’s insinuation, “hey we’re not so bad after all”. Ironically the article only underscores man’s depravity by highlighting the depths that man plunge in order to get out from under God’s truth. Those who can’t bring themselves to reject God outright, seek to redefine him.

1600 Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermons Available for Free

Don’t pray for healing, don’t try to hold me back from the glory.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

1600 Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermons are now available for free to download. Incredible resource. Click here.

This is probably the biggest announcement the MLJ Trust will ever make. Starting from tomorrow, April 12th, all 1,600 recorded sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones will be available to download, at no cost, to anyone who wants to listen to them! There are no exceptions, so the Ephesians sermons, Romans sermons, etc. will all be available (it will take a few days to make sure that they are all included in the library). All one has to do is join the MLJ Library (membership is free of course) and start to download! Simply go to our newly updated site at http://www.mljtrust.org and click on “MLJ Library”.” – Jonathan Catherwood

HT: The Gospel Coalition

Themelios: A Free Evangelical Theological Journal

Three times a year The Gospel Coalition publishes a free journal discussing important theological issues titled, “Themelios”. It’s edited by D.A. Carson, Charles Anderson, Michael J. Ovey, and Andrew David Naselli. The newest issue is a 180-page PDF, includes 3 essays, columns by Carson and new regular contributor (Michael Ovey), and 66 book reviews. This journal is a great resource.

Click here to view the current issue of Themelios, as well as back issues of the Themelios Journal.

Themelios is an international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. Its primary audience is theological students and pastors, though scholars read it as well. It was formerly a print journal operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008.

Themelios is published three times a year exclusively online at The Gospel Coalition. It is presented in two formats:PDF (for downloading and citing pagination) and HTML (for greater accessibility, usability, and infiltration in search engines). Themelios is copyrighted by The Gospel Coalition. Readers are free to use it and circulate it in digital form without further permission (any print use requires further written permission), but they must acknowledge the source and, of course, not change the content.

Can I Lose My Salvation?

Salvation is a sovereign act of God given to us by bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. Gen. 2:17, Rom. 6:23, and Eph. 2:1 make it clear that before salvation occurs, we are spiritually dead. In the act of salvation, God gives us grace (2 Timothy 1:9), God gives us faith (Rom. 12:3), and God awakens us to the knowledge of who Christ is (1 Cor. 2:11-14), bringing us from spiritual death to life. To imply that you “lose your salvation” means you have to go from spiritual death to spiritual life, back to death, back to life, then death again, and so on.

Ephesians chapter 1 is a brilliant summary of salvation being given to us by grace through faith so God alone is glorified. Why would God save mankind in this manner?  According to Ephesians 2:9 and 1 Corinthians 1:29, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” In other words, it’s God’s gift and God’s process so that no one can look at their salvation and say, “I did that.”  You were spiritually stillborn in the line of Adam, a child of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), alienated and hostile in your mind because of your evil deeds (Colossians 1:21), but through God’s grace you have been born again into the Kingdom of his beloved Son Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). Simply put, dead men don’t possess the capacity to save themselves and the bible is more than clear, nor do we want to. But God through his Son Christ, graciously intervenes on our behalf as was predestined for his glory and our joy, “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:30

Not only does God sovereignly give you the gift of salvation by raising you from the spiritually dead, but he keeps you in his Kingdom. John 6 and John 10 say,

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me“, “and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand“, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Two things are clear from the above texts: 1) It’s the Father who gives; and 2) Jesus will not lose even one of those given to him. Jesus is not a liar. Jesus keeps his promises and he will not lose any the Father has given to him. John chapter 10 speaks of salvation in terms of Christ being a gate we enter through, our Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

On the basis of the above texts, you can’t lose your salvation. The real question is, “were you saved in the first place?”

What about Hebrews 6?

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

The key to understanding why this text isn’t talking about losing salvation, but rather the falling away of those who were never saved, is to notice the word picture the author uses. He does not say, land that drinks the rain produces good crop and then after a season it also produces thorns. He is telling us sometimes land tastes rain and produces good crop. Other land tastes the same exact rain and produces thorns. He’s talking about two different results from two different kinds of land that experience the same rain. He uses this description to say salvation is the same way with believers. Two different people can share in the same spiritual experiences, one produces genuine salvation and the other does not.

Also notice the temporal terms used, “have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God“. Tasted not eaten, shared not possessed. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” The Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing that we are God’s possession.

Which is why 1 John 2:19 explains apostasy this way, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.”

These people looked like they were believers. They were in the same church, they tasted of the same word, sang the same songs, shared the same Holy Spirit, then they left. They were land that drank the same rain and produced thorns, whereas the people who stayed were land that drank the same rain and produced good crop. Jesus didn’t lose whom the Father gave him, 1 John is saying these people were never saved, which is why they left. This is also why Ephesians 6 says it’s impossible for them to be brought back to repentance, they never knew him in the first place.

Same rain, same spiritual experience, one produces salvation, one does not.

What about all of the warning verses in the bible about apostasy?

The warning verses in God’s word are one of his chosen methods by which God keeps his children. “…and the sheep listen to his voice”, “They too will listen to my voice…“. If we are truly saved and are truly God’s sheep, we listen to God’s voice, we heed his warnings, we hold firm. His word is the method by which we hear him and follow him. When we wander off in seasons of dryness or confusion, the Good Shepherd comes to our rescue as John 10 promises.

and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” John 10:4-5

A true believer hears God’s words of warning and are saved by them, someone who isn’t a genuine believer ignores those warnings or listens to another voice.

Hebrews 3:14 says it this way, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

Salvation and Perseverance is not a Works Based Phenomenon

The very act of salvation means that you are no longer judged according to your righteousness but Christ’s. To believe that salvation can be lost, you would have to believe that after salvation you are still judged according to your own righteousness which clearly violates 2 Cor. 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin FOR US, so that IN HIM we might BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of God.

Well did we become Christ’s righteousness or not?

Simply put, people think their salvation hinges on their behavior, so they are constantly trying to earn or keep it. The good news is that your salvation isn’t about your behavior but Christ’s. If it was about your behavior, then it would be called the bad news. When people are “doing great” and things are going well, they think they are in God’s good graces and salvation is intact. When they screw up or do something they shouldn’t, they automatically think they have sinned themselves out from underneath God’s grace and their salvation has been lost. Which is why they’re down at the altar after every episode of their life, “getting saved again”. Salvation is not a works based phenomenon, it’s a resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life phenomenon.

To believe you can lose your salvation, you have to explain away numerous biblical promises from God to the believer. How can we go from spiritual life back to spiritual death? How can we be judged by Christ’s righteousness only if our salvation is conditional upon our righteousness after salvation? How can the Holy Spirit be a guarantee of eternal life if the promise of eternal life is conditional and not guaranteed at all? How can we rest in the promise of being sealed with the Holy Spirit if that seal can be broken? How can God lose one to whom the Father gave him? How can the Good Shepherd who promises to leave the ninety nine sheep to rescue the wandering one, not save the one? How can land that produces good crop, simultaneously produce thorns? How can we truly become the righteousness of Christ if our righteousness unto salvation rests in our after salvation works? God says even our good works are filthy to him, how can that be good enough to keep me in my salvation? How can our works really keep salvation if salvation is a free gift of grace so that we can’t boast about our works in it? If our works play any part in salvation, albeit minimal, does God truly get all the glory for that? Can a spiritually dead man raise himself back to life? Is God truly sovereign in bringing about salvation to his people, or does he fail in that endeavor?

The real issue isn’t “can I lose my salvation”, but rather “can Jesus lose those to whom the Father gave him?” The biblical answer is clear, absolutely not.

After God sovereignly raises you from death to life, makes you a new creation, and bestows upon you salvation, you are going to screw up, have seasons of dryness, have seasons where you question your sanity, etc. For his true sheep, those who share in Christ’s inheritance, and have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of eternal life, God promises to redeem and use these times for your spiritual development (Rom. 8), to conform you into the image of his Son for his glory (Romans 8:29). These are the times when your roots should grow deeper into the Gospel. In these times a true Christian perseveres and continues to walk towards Christ, a non-christian who is just caught up in church culture will walk away from Christ (Hebrews 3:14). God’s promise to bless you and keep you in his Kingdom should be a catalyst to holy living because you live from a place of eternal gratitude for his grace and mercy. You are truly free from having to earn your place because Christ has done that for you. Perseverance of the saints is a promise that brings deep comfort to those who truly know him.

Your behavior and wandering away from the faith isn’t an indication you might be losing your salvation or that Jesus may be losing his grip on you, but rather that you may have never known him in the first place. You simply were a partaker, not a possessor, you tasted but never ate, you heard the knock and never answered, you sat in church, learned the culture, and sang the same songs and never knew him.

Resource: The Forgotten Trinity

The Forgotten Trinity by Dr. James R. White

This book is one of, if not the, standards regarding sound biblical teaching on the Trinity. Reading through this book just once will transform the way you read scripture and how you look at the Triune nature of God. It’s worth every penny.

You can purchase this book on Amazon Kindle for $9.99 by clicking here. You can also purchase a paperback copy of the book on Amazon for $11.43 by clicking here.

Sam Shamoun vs. Farhan Qureshi – “Is the Trinity found in the Old Testament?”

Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam presents the Trinity from the Old Testament against Farhan Qureshi of Faith Freedom. Farhan has since renounced Islam. Please pray for our friend, that he may come to know Christ as Lord and Savior.

This video will help you understand the Triune nature of our God and also to see the Muslim argumentation against this truth.

“Commentary on Ephesians” by Robert H. Gundry FREE

“Commentary on Ephesians” by Robert H. Gundry is available for FREE on Amazon Kindle. Click here to download the book.

“Verse-by-verse explanations with a literal translation

Shouldn’t a Bible commentary clarify what God’s Word actually says? Going beyond questions of authorship, date, sources, and historicity, respected linguist and teacher Gundry offers a one-volume exposition of the New Testament that focuses on what is most useful for preaching, teaching, and individual study–what the biblical text really means. Providing interpretive observations in a “breezy” style that’s easy to read and adaptable for oral use in pulpit or classroom presentations, Gundry directs his book to an evangelical audience. His crisp translation of the New Testament inserts various phrasings of passages in brackets, allowing for smooth transition from original text to alternative and contemporary readings.”

“Knowing God” by J.I. Packer FREE

This month Christian Audio is making J.I. Packer’s classic, “Knowing God” available for free. Click here.

A lifelong pursuit of knowing God should embody the Christian’s existence. According to eminent theologian J.I. Packer, however, Christians have become enchanted by modern skepticism and have joined the “gigantic conspiracy of misdirection” by failing to put first things first. Knowing God aims to redirect our attention to the simple, deep truth that to know God is to love His Word. 

What began as a number of consecutive articles angled for “honest, no-nonsense readers who were fed up with facile Christian verbiage” in 1973, Knowing God has become a contemporary classic by creating “small studies out of great subjects.” Each chapter is so specific in focus (covering topics such as the trinity, election, God’s wrath, and God’s sovereignty), that each succeeding chapter’s theology seems to rival the next, until one’s mind is so expanded that one’s entire view of God has changed.

Author Elizabeth Eliot wrote that amid the lofty content Packer “puts the hay where the sheep can reach it–plainly shows us ordinary folks what it means to know God.” Having rescued us from the individual hunches of our ultra-tolerant theological age, Packer points the reader to the true character of God with his theological competence and compassionate heart. The lazy and faint-hearted should be warned about this timeless work–God is magnified, the sinner is humbled, and the saint encouraged.

Why Did Jesus Say, “The Father Is Greater Than I”?

It’s common for skeptics of Christianity to claim, “Jesus never said he was God”. To support this bogus argument, they conveniently miss a mountain of textual evidence by ignoring context. One verse skeptics use is found in John 14:28.

You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “the Father is greater than I”? Apologist Sam Shamoun explains…