Making the race purposely difficult

Years ago, a friend suggested I read Arlen Chitwood’s Run to Win, which I did. I was not impressed. He begins appropriately with the idea that Christians are running “a race of the faith,” borrowing language from Paul and the unknown author of Hebrews. It is an apt image: Christianity is a race, hard, but ultimately rewarding. The effectiveness of the metaphor in evangelism became apparent the year I spoke at a Bible camp in Northern California many years ago. I told stories of my experiences in track, relating those stories to my faith. Several campers visited me afterwards in the cafeteria and told me about their own experiences in sports, connecting those experiences to faith with an enthusiasm that quite overwhelmed me. They believed they were running the race. They were excited. Only then did I realize how wonderful the metaphor is.

But Chitwood wants to make the race purposely difficult, almost burdensome. The following paragraph from the introduction of Run to Win serves as an example:

The race in which Christians presently find themselves is, in the light of Heb. 11:1ff and other related Scriptures, a race of the faith (cf. II Tim. 4:7). The “saving of the soul” is in view (Heb. 10:39), which is what Peter in his first epistle referred to as “the end [goal]” of the Christian’s faith as he runs the race — “Receiving the end [goal] of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:9). And the saving or losing of one’s soul has to do with occupying or being denied a position with Christ in His kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:24-17:5; 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27).

First, Chitwood wants the scriptures to say that the soul is saved distinctly from the spirit. (He believes man consists of three parts — spirit, soul and body — and that each part is saved separately.) He wants the scriptures to say that the spirit is saved unconditionally, but that the soul is saved conditionally (if you find it hard to believe that a Christian theologian would say such a thing, read Salvation of the Soul, page 13). Only scripture does not say that. Salvation is by grace only.

Second, he convolutes scripture. Chitwood would have the reader believe that Peter is speaking of a race in his first epistle, a race that is conditional. Only Peter never mentions a race nor does he mention conditional salvation. He never claims that human effort saves the soul. He says quite the opposite. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:9). Chitwood cleverly cites 1 Pet. 1:9, but he does not quote it. The reader is well-advised to check out each of his citations to see what the text actually says.

Third, Chitwood’s interpretation of the metaphor is anachronistic. An anachronism is “something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time.” Chitwood writes, “The race in which we are engaged is not one to be run over a short period of time but one to be run over the long haul. It is not a race for sprinters, though one may be called upon to sprint at times in the race. Rather, it is a race for marathon runners, set over a long-distance course. This is the reason one must run with patient endurance” (Run to Win, p. 19). First, apologies to sprinters, how Chitwood conceives of a sprint — the training, the preparation, etc. — as less difficult than a marathon, I’ll never understand. More importantly, a marathon is probably not what Paul had in mind.

As near as I can tell, the first marathon was run in 1896, at the first Olympics. It was invented for the Olympics, and based on the legendary run of the Greek messenger Pheidippides (this first historical reference to Pheidippides “marathon” dates to the second century). No doubt, man has run long distances — the Zulu warrior is known to have covered 50 miles before engaging in pitched battles — but that man ran these races competitively in Paul’s time is doubtful. Descriptions of ancient races do not include marathons. Problematically, Chitwood does not cite a source for his claim. (One imagines he is making it up as he goes).

A person might excuse this anachronism is a mistake, but one suspects darker purposes. A race, any race, is no doubt difficult, but Chitwood takes it a step further. He wants to increase the difficulty. Not only is it a race, it is a marathon. It is more difficult than previously believed, and you might fail because you did not know this. Psychologically, Chitwood heaps enormous burdens upon the reader. He accepts that we are saved by grace, but then asserts that salvation, in some forms, is conditional. This is utterly contradictory. Salvation is either entirely by grace or it is not. Faith is sometimes difficult, but it is never conditional.

Chitwood’s problem is that he extends the metaphor beyond its meaning, so much that he redefines what it is. It is a marathon, not a sprint (most likely historically inaccurate). It is conditional, not unconditional (certainly heretical). It is something other than what the scriptures present. This sort of teaching simply cannot be tolerated.

© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Making the race purposely difficult

  1. I can’t stand how Arlen acts as if he’s got a corner on the truth just because he makes faith harder. Life is tough enough without him heaping this guilt trip on people. And before anyone rants at me about how I just don’t want to believe, explain how salvation is conditional. Do that, and I’ll listen. Otherwise, its a lot of noise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *