Michael Halcomb Clarified

I am quite enjoying the diablogue with James McGrath, Ken Brown and Drew Tatusko. It has been fun so far. I feel that at this point, I need to clarify some of my statements and perhaps, in the process of this crystallization, make a few more arguments concerning the topic at hand.

Firstly, I never accused James of being a Universalist. Instead, I was arguing that given what he's said in the diablogue up to this point, he appears to be on the "fringes" of Universalism.

Secondly, I have never argued against Abraham's salvation. In fact, I've noted a few times that he probably was saved. This becomes even more clear when I note that in God's mind, it is quite possible (theologically speaking) that the cross was as good as done before the foundations of the world. This is, of course, a debatable theological tenet that I'm proposing. More will be said about this in point 11.

Thirdly, I disagree with both Ken and Drew that one can worship Christ or be a Christ-follower and thus, be saved, without knowing it. What Paul says in Acts 17 is surely not along the lines that those I'm conversing with have suggested. Read the last verse of that story!!! In the end, people believe in Jesus and begin following Him. Paul is being evangelistic. I'll say more about this in another post.

Fourthly, I do not believe, like James, that the "righteousness" or "righteous acts of a person" in God's eyes is the same thing as saying they are saved or in complete right standing with Him. It seems to me that the only person in the world whose righteousness can set them totally right before God is Christ, the sinless one. To take the view of those mentioned above is to, in my eyes, demote the righteousness of Christ. I will allow that, logically, if one were perfect, their righteousness might render them saved or in right standing with God but this cannot be said for Abraham, Melchizedek or anyone else. More on "righteousness" in piont 11.

Fifthly, I have maintained from the beginning and I continue to maintain that Christianity is at once, inclusive and exclusive.

Sixthly, it is my contention that where Christ offers salvation, the second step is that one must accept it. It is not applied, unknowingly to persons. Faith in Jesus--post resurrection--is a MUST. This faith is to be believed, confessed and lived out. I do not see how, in any way, this is going beyond the claims of the NT.

Seventhly, if my interpretations end up seeming like the "typical evangelical" readings, I am fine with that. I do not read with some modern-day evangelical proposition in mind that is all-determining. It quite works the other way around for me.

Eighthly, I find it odd that James can accuse me of modern-day, typical evangelical readings (in a pejorative sense) but then, he goes with the "scholarly consensus" on things (e.g. the authorship of Hebrews; by the way, there are a number of modern scholars who hold that Paul is the author, see Witherington's new commentary). I guess I could use that in the same sense, against him. We all know how much scholarly consensus wanes and to rely on that as an argument has always been and still is rather shaky and weak to me.

Ninthly, I do not think the lines were/are already as blurry as James is leading on. I think that they can be discerned in a rather straightforward way.

Tenthly, I never said that Christ's coming makes it harder to attain God's grace. In fact, I said it just causes some people problems and for certain individuals, it may, in the end, be harder. Lest you think I am alone in this, it is Paul's idea. He is quick to say that salvation in Christ is a stumbling block, that it is foolishness, etc. Paul's argument is that if persons could get their theologies out of the way, or their philosophies, they might wind up seeing the simplicity of salvation in Christ.

Eleventhly, it should be made clear that the recurring appeal by James and Drew to Abraham, I think, is a bit off. When Paul cites Abraham, he does it as a means to an end. He tells the story of God's promise to Abraham so that he can finally say, "It has come to fruition in Christ, whom has been among us." So, placing the focus on Abe's righteousness is to not only miss the point but to not focus on what Paul was focusing on. To be even clearer, I shall state again that, at this point, I do not think Paul thought righteousness and salvation were the same exact thing (though, there is a relationship between them). Look at 1 Cor. 1.30, for example. There, Paul says that Jesus has become our "wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption." σωτηρια is not the same exact thing as δικαιοσυνη. From a theological perspective, it seems to me that the latter can be a result of the former or even a preface to the former. That is, God can begin to work righteousness in someone (e.g. prevenient grace) before they are saved but that righteousness may grow cold and thus, salvation not attained. However, the righteousness can also lead to salvation. Or we can even say that the same righteousness that worked in a person before their salvation can still be accounted to them once salvation occurs. Acts 13.26 may be a good example where Paul refers to persons as "children of Abraham" and "God-fearing Gentiles" who he does not necesarrily view as "fully saved". Clearly, in this passage, Paul wants them to go the extra step and trust in God. He doesn't doubt that they've had experiences of God but for him, that's not enough. Christ must be in the equation.

These are my positions in the diablogue thus far. I just thought I should clarify my views before we go any further.


  1. Thanks Michael (and everyone else) for the discussion so far. I have tried to follow from the beginning, though I'm not sure I've caught everything. I want to offer a few reactions.

    First, You maintain that Christianity is both inclusive and exclusive. This is a useful way of framing things for you since it keeps you from being pushed into pure exclusivism, which smacks of barbarism and intolerance. But the way these terms have been traditionally used is specifically in reference to who can be saved: if non-Christians can be saved apart from an explicit knowledge of Christ, that is inclusivism. If they can't, it's exclusivism. The fact that salvation in Christ is offered to everyone universally does not make your position inclusivistic in the sense that the term is usually employed. Of course you've defined your terms and you're free to use them however you want, but as far as I can tell you are an exclusivist if we stick to the usual sense of the terms. I might point out that many exclusivists have rejected the term in favor of particularism, which highlights the fact that salvation is universally offered but attained only through a particular faith, i.e. Christianity.

    Second, You routinely speak pejoratively about Universalism as if it were a bad thing. You questioned whether James was on a "downward spiral" to universalism, and suggested that inclusivism tends to "degenerate" into universalism. While I do not think there are sufficient grounds to construct a universalist doctrine from scripture, I would be thrilled if I could. The notion that billions of people will be eternally damned is one of the least compelling aspects of Evangelical Christianity.

    Third, With Quixie, I am curious about your definition of salvation. Tom Wright has argued that the gospel is not about going to heaven when you die, but rather it is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. It seems to me that James, Ken, Drew, and you have some sort of unspoken consensus that salvation means you will go to heaven when you die instead of being damned to hell, though I doubt any one of you would sign on to the definition quite as I've given it here. I would like to see some clarification on this point.

    Finally, I think this is the first time I have ever seen the word "eleventhly" used, at least in a blog. :)

    Please continue this diablogversationalogue. I am quite enjoying it.

  2. I think we'll be able to get past 'eleventhly' in this 'bloggersation' if we keep this up! :)

    I have posted a contribution to the conversation, composed almost entirely before you posted this one, Michael...

  3. Just to touch on a single one of your points . . .

    Witherington is easy enough to refute at almost every turn, as his "scholarship" is transparently apologetic (evangelically so even), and he seldom makes a persuasive objective (keyword: objective) argument. I haven't read his latest, but I am familiar with his work, so I'm basing my assesment on what I HAVE read of his. But that aside—let me add that it's not enough that Witherington agree with you. Your analogue won't work because Witherington's defenses of an "orthodox" acceptance of the traditions as prescribed seldom rise above the level of exegetical over-reaching.

    In short, you can't bring Witherington (or even Wright, arguably) into a tit for tat against consensus, not because you are excersizing restraint, but because he essentially brings nothing. I'm not trying to be mean; this is simply my sober assesment of Witherington's writing as I read it.

    I'll keep following the blog-a-log.


  4. Q,

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I see your point about the "apologetic" nature of Dr. W. I can also see, from reading your blog, where you would be unimpressed with him. That said, I must once again, disagree with you. First, let me state that I wasn't "JUST" appealing to Witherington. I said to see his commentary. There you will find others he engages in the discussion. Second, I've read at least half of W's work and I own at least half of everything he's written. I don't always agree with him and even when I had courses under him, I debated and disagreed with him. There are a number of things I think he is fundamentally wrong in, even when it comes to the rhetorical studies (which he has made much ground in for biblical studies). But to ban his voice from the conversation is an error and sounds quite like something "Bob Funk" would say. He is one discussion partner among many and what I see you doing is trying to capitalize the conversation on saying who can and who cannot contribute. I wholeheartedly disagree. If it is a question of modern sources, let everyone have their say, even if it means in the end, you disagree.

    On a final note, just because W. brings nothing to the convo. as you see it, may only mean that it's not relevant to you. Perhaps you've studied some issue top to bottom and know the ins and outs. And perhaps in some of his work, he relays the same findings and therefore it seems un-novel to you. That doesn't mean it is nothing new to others. Part of what it means to be a reasearch sometimes is gathering and divulging the information, not necesarrily adding into it or, I might add, taking away from it, as I feel you are doing.

  5. To clarify, before I do another post, I am trying to hold two things in tension. It is not so much that one does not have to submit to the Lordship of Christ, it is when. I am not so sure that maintaining an assertion that such a submission must occur in the midst of time and space - a confession as it were before death. On the other side of this, it is also quite clear that what the cross means is an act of justification that goes beyond any particular human response to it. It is an event that saves regardless of human response. These are both well represented in Scripture and where we continue to run in circles at this point it seems.

  6. Nah. I have no wish to ban anyone from any discussion. To suggest that I do is not only inaccurate, but silly, as I made it clear that I've taken the time to actually read his work. To be fair, I'm sure Witherington is a very nice gentleman—I don't want to demonize anyone.

    But while I would never "ban" anyone, I think it fair to point out when I find a scholar is being disengenious or apologetically circular or consistently closed in their approach to the materials.


    I'll put it another, more humorous way:
    Bring the Witheringtons and the Wrights to the arena if you will. My money's on a first-round K.O.

    Do I get to pick their two adversaries? :D

    If so, I'd pick . . . . hmm . . . . Paula Friedricksen (her knowledge of Origen is impressive) and . . . . . hmm . . . how about another lady . . . A.J. Levine . . . knowing me, I'd probably bring Robert Price along . . . just to be a shit-stirrer . . . (he's a big dude too! - good for any tag team) - laughs

    (just a moment of levity there- :)

    But seriously, I guess that I have faith that things that are brought to light cannot be concealed, faith that resistance to a loosening of the formerly inviolable approach is indeed futile in a post-Bultmann, post-Nag-Hammadi, post-post-modern world.


    Other than that, I appreciate your point that "novelty" and "originality" are not criteria by which to rightly judge one's N.T. acumen. I'm cool with that.



  7. Although I've never explored it as fully as I'd like, I am aware that the Eastern Church has a strong emphasis on the incarnation as salvific, uniting the divine and the human ontologically. And so this gives Drew's view some serious street cred as far as the orthodoxy of his views - regardless whether the initial 'O' is big or small! :)

  8. Drew,
    This is surely the crux of the matter for me. I'm quite sure you know where I stand. I'm not aware of how the latter view (the one you're close to or that you hold) is "well represented".

    I find it quite interesting what you say. I have to be honest, I see humor in it because guess who Mrs. Levine calls when she needs someone to teach her courses? You guessed it, Dr. Witherington. Isn't that something? Evidently, she sees enough in him! I think you are completely wrong about the 1st round knock-outs, completely. Btw, I also found it fascinating that you mentioned Mrs. F. I just downloaded 3 lectures by her yesterday and read a few chapters out of her book Jesus of Nazareth. :)

    I have to admit, I'm not too versed in Eastern Incarnational Theology, so, I can't say much there.

    As it stands, it appears that the other 4 or 5 people engaging in the conversation so far, quite disagree with me. At this point, I am the only one holding exclusive views. I stand behind my claim that a confession in Christ is a must.

    Anyway, I'm going to go. The Simpsons are on and it's the episode where Homer predicts the rapture---hilarious stuff!!!

  9. If I could, I would like to ask those participating what they do with the mandate to confess (e.g. Rom. 10.9-10, among many other passages)? I've been answering a lot of questions and clarifying, I'd like some to respond to this. By the way, I just read an awesome post (which gives some great examples of this) over at Parchment and Pen. Check it out:


  10. I wonder to what extent Paul's interpretation of Deuteronomy 30 in Romans 10 is something that one can assent to today, based as it is on such a different way of bringing meaning out of a passage. But I also wonder if the point is moot - Paul affirms "if you believe/confess you will", not "if you don't, you won't". :)

    On another note, I will say that of the conservative scholars around today, I certainly am very appreciative of Ben Witherington's work in particular. He does do scholarship in a "conservative way", but (like F. F. Bruce in the generation before him), he does it very well, and offers a lot that is valuable even to those who are at different points on the theological spectrum. But perhaps this different perception between Quixie and I may be because I've read Witherington's exegetical work, and nothing more theological or popular that he has offered...

  11. James,
    good question about Dt/Rom. as for the 2nd question i couldn't figure out if you were asking if my point was moot or if the one you were attempting to make is?

    as for witherington,
    the guy is a great exegete but like everyone else, has flaws. he has contributed much to NT studies that others haven't, namely the rhetorical stuff he's done. (yes, i know rhetorical criticism is a large field and he's not the pioneer but he may be the first to have completed practicaly a whole set of NT commentaries on it!!!)

  12. " . . . perhaps this different perception between Quixie and I may be because I've read Witherington's exegetical work, and nothing more theological or popular that he has offered... "

    That's a good point, James, and I would like to add that I can recognize someone's intellect and expertise—Witherington's, Bauckham's, Wright's . . . these guys are walking encyclopedias, s%#t, even Wm Craig and J White are eloquent scholars. I don't think they are devils or even scoundrels . . . just "apologists" in the end. That's all.