Mechanics: How does it all work?

About a year or so ago, I spoke with J.D. Faust about kingdom exclusion as part of my research. Faust is the author of The Rod, Will God Spare It?, a text which purports to recount the history of exclusion theology (it’s decidedly not that, but rather a presentation of his own theology). Within five minutes of the conversation, we were debating the topic. I did not make secret my reservations about KE, and posed several challenging questions. Faust, liking a good argument, posed several challenging questions of his own. Essentially the argument rested on the question of what we are to make of sin committed after ones conversion. Sins committed before conversion are obviously forgiven — a person can do nothing to absolve ones sins except rely on the grace of God. But what are we to make of sins committed after conversion?

My position is that we are to rely on the grace of God, not to excuse sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-4), but to overcome sin. Essentially, Faust countered, my position allows people to sin without consequence. Faust’s contention, that people can sin without consequence, however, does not accurately represent my position. There are consequences to sin. Our point of departure is how and when those consequences are realized.

Briefly, my position is this: (a) consequences are realized in the present — most people can attest to this, (b) consequences are realized at the judgment (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15), and (c) and this is the most important point, consequences are realized at the Cross. That Paul poses the question in Romans, and replies, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”, suggests our answers to the question sometimes miss the point entirely. Paul’s position is simply one of astonishment: People actually contemplate such things? They miss entirely the point of the Gospel. But, to be fair, the question is real, and Paul does dedicate much of his preaching to it. Simply consider how most of his letters end.

Faust’s position is that unfaithful Christians will be subjected to temporary chastisement in the millennial kingdom. He calls this branch of theology, kingdom exclusion. His reading of Revelation is quite literalistic, so he envisions separation from God for 1,000 years, and punishment with a rod of fire proceeding from Christ’s mouth. In a sense, this quite neatly answers the question of what we are to make of sins committed after conversion, but in another very real sense, it is really problematic. What must one do to be faithful? Here, Faust acknowledges, one cannot be certain. “You cannot draw a line,” Faust answered.

What happens is that exclusionists resort to the “old” gospel message they are so fond of criticizing. You have to be faithful to God’s word, they say. You have to obey his law. You have to run the race, etc. That’s all fine and good, but what does that mean? If the consequences of sin are 1,000 years of separation and chastisement with a rod of fire, what precisely must one do to be saved from that fate? What are the mechanics?

Reading the work of another exclusionist, Arlen L. Chitwood, I am quite surprised to find only generalizations. In Run to Win, Chitwood asserts that we must “run the race” according to a “set of instructions.” He does not describe these instructions, except to imply one must read, understand and practice the things of the Bible. Again, what’s utterly remarkable about that? Is that not what most evangelical churches teach?

There are still more difficulties. For example, is anything less than absolute righteousness acceptable to God? I posed this question to Faust, and he bristled. Absolute righteousness is indeed an impossible standard, but what other is there? If, as Faust argues, there will be two classes of Christians in (or out) of the millennial kingdom, one that reigns with Christ and another that is excluded, how different will their lives have been from each other? How is it that Christian A is more righteous that Christian B? Certainly, we can all find examples of people whose faith is more remarkable than ours, but is the faith of Christian A absolutely greater than that of Christian B? In my 21 years of Christian ministry, I can attest that there is none that is absolutely righteous, no, not one. There are many who are blameless, but none who are absolutely righteous. That’s stark.

So the question of mechanics remains. What must one do to inherit the kingdom?

© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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