“Good Fruit” from the “Unbaptized”
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 1:32pm
QUESTION: “The idea of the visible and invisible church was a mystery to me until I read your book ‘Baptism: A Biblical Study’ (ch. 8). This includes the idea that only God knows who is truly justified. I was wondering though, how we can explain the tremendous fruit by such scholars of the day that don’t believe and have not been baptized for the forgiveness of sin, e.g., John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Norman Geisler.”
MY REPLY: This is not an easy question, but let me suggest two things. First, the nature of the Bible is such that any human being has the potential of being able to understand its truth and set forth sound doctrine based upon it. This is true because we are all made in the image of God for the very purpose of fellowship and communion with God. That God reveals himself to us in human language is a main factor in that purpose. The whole point of the Bible is that human beings are intended to read it and understand it. It is not some kind of mystical volume with some secret key to understanding that is possessed only by saved people. Thus even unsaved people who are truly seeking to understand the Bible, and who are striving to be objective, can formulate a lot of good solid Bible doctrine. Among those who are unsaved, some are more motivated than others to search the Scriptures with a sincere desire to please God. Men like MacArthur, Sproul, and Geisler, even if they are unsaved (which I am not affirming), would certainly fall into this category. Sometimes, even those who do not accept the full inspiration and authority of the Bible are able to understand it better than some who do accept its full authority, since they have no pet doctrines they can defend only by twisting Scripture. E.g., when I was writing my book on God the Creator, the two authors I cited most often were Emil Brunner and Langdon Gilkey, neither of which was an Evangelical Bible-believer.
Second, though men such as MacArthur, Sproul, and Geisler have indeed produced a lot of “tremendous fruit” in terms of Bible exposition, theology, and apologetics, they have also produced a lot of rotten, wormy fruit by propagating some serious false doctrine and influencing many to accept it. E.g., all are ardent defenders of the Zwinglian concept of “sola fidei” (faith alone), dismissing baptism from the salvation process. MacArthur and Sproul are also strong Calvinists; no defender of Calvinism today is more evangelistic for this cause than R. C. Sproul. Thus I would guess that as many people have been led astray by such men as have been influenced toward God by them.
We should make every effort to learn all we can from such scholars, while filtering their works through the Bible itself. Augustine (another name in the same mold) is credited with advancing the “gold from Egypt” concept. I.e., when the Israelites escaped from Egyptian slavery, God providentially touched the hearts of the pagan Egyptians and made them willing to share their wealth with the departing Israelites. Thus we should be willing to accept true ideas from any source. The gold is valuable, no matter where it comes from.