Attacking God’s Plan of Salvation
Norman Geisler (1932-2019) was a widely known Bible student who produced a number of books, several of which I consider quite valuable. Unfortunately, however, some of the gentleman’s compositions are seriously flawed—and dangerous.
When reflecting on this matter, I am reminded of a poem I learned as a child.
There was a little girl;
who had a little curl—
right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
she was very, very good;
but when she was bad, she was horrid!
Some errors of biblical comment are unfortunate, though not fatal. To contend that Jesus prophetically was to be born “at Jerusalem” (Book of Mormon, 212) is a careless blunder (cf. Mic. 5:2; Mt. 2:5-6), but it does not compare with corrupting truth regarding God’s plan of salvation from sin! Tragically, this was precisely Professor Geisler’s problem.
In his book, Systematic Theology (Vol. 3, 489-504), the professor has a section titled: “The Church of Christ View on the Condition(s) For Salvation.” Observe the parenthetical “(s).” This emphasizes the writer’s allegation that there is only one condition in the plan of salvation—faith alone. (Note, however, the contrast to James 2:24 [KJV, ESV].)
In the fifteen pages of the professor’s narrative, there is a regrettable demonstration of disrespect for certain portions of the New Testament. This misguided writer asserted that neither repentance, confession of one’s faith, nor baptism are conditions for pardon.
But What Is the Testimony of the New Testament?
New Testament teaching on forgiveness of sin is as clear as anything in the Bible. It is unbelievable that it has been so distorted, as done by so many theologians. Note the following biblical data.
The apostles of Christ were charged to "make disciples [later called “Christians” (Acts 11:26)], baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19-20). The charge “make disciples” constitutes a command (imperative mood), with a companion participle phrase expressing the manner of achieving this spiritual relationship with the triune Deity. When one rejects this sacred procedure, he is not promised pardon. How is it possible to miss this point?
Mark’s record of the Great Commission clearly states: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who disbelieves shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). The term “and” is a coordinating conjunction that joins words or phrases of equal value or responsibility. Both belief and baptism are companion requirements for salvation. [Note: Some modern writers dismiss verses 9-20 of Mark’s record, though most every ancient edition contains them. For a non-technical yet scholarly defense, see McGarvey (377-382) and Lenski (1961, 750ff).]
While the baptism administered by John the Baptist was temporal, it also resulted in the “remission of sins” (Mk. 1:4). Luke commented on this ritual when condemning the Pharisees and lawyers, who “rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him” (Lk. 7:30). If refusing John’s baptism was a rejection of divine counsel, what would a rejection of the baptism commissioned by Jesus Christ be? Doesn’t common sense provide the answer?
In Acts 2:38, the inspired Peter commanded the Jews on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized ... in the name of [i.e., by the authority of] Christ unto [for; Greek
eis denoting purpose] the remission of your sins [‘so that sins might be forgiven’ (Danker, 290; cf. Thayer, 94)].”
The clear implication of this statement is this. In refusing baptism, one has eliminated a major element in the sacred plan of salvation. No other conclusion may be drawn. Geisler’s claim that in Acts 2:38, forgiveness comes before baptism (499) is stunning!
Ananias charged the penitent Paul: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Several things should be noted here.
(a) Clearly, Paul’s sins had not been washed away on the road to Damascus, as claimed by Geisler (498).
(b) Paul’s baptism is grammatically joined to the washing away of his sins.
(c) The expression “calling on his name” constitutes a phrase describing the nature of the immersion. Hence, when one refuses baptism, he has rebelled against “calling upon” the Lord’s name. Is this not serious?
In his letter to the Roman saints, Paul declared that one walks “in newness of life,” i.e., in a state of redemption, after he has been “raised” from the burial (immersion) of baptism (6:3-4). Quite transparent!
Elsewhere the apostle argued that one becomes a child of God through “the faith” (the article is in the Greek text) and “in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). Both the means and the sphere are emphasized. The apostle gets more specific. “For as many of you as were baptized into
eis Christ, did put on Christ” (v. 27). What should be said then of those who reject baptism? Is it acceptable to refuse putting on Christ?
In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul contended that these souls had been “sanctified” and “cleansed” by “the washing of water” with “the word,” i.e., the gospel message. Even the prominent Baptist commentator A. T. Robertson conceded this to be a reference to baptism (545). It necessarily follows, then, that those who resist the washing of water have neither been sanctified nor cleansed!
In his Colossian epistle, Paul reminds his Christian kinsmen that they had “been buried with [Christ] in baptism” and likewise “raised with him through faith” (2:12). Lightfoot noted: “Baptism is the grave of the old man, and the birth of the new” (182).
It is difficult to understand how anyone who identifies himself with Christianity would argue it is possible to be raised with Christ in the working of God without having been buried with him in baptism, as affirmed by the inspired apostle.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he spoke of that glorious time when God’s kindness and love had appeared. This sacred benevolence was not due to human righteousness. Instead, in exercising his divine mercy, the Lord “saved us.” The means of this deliverance was identified as the “washing of regeneration.”
A large company of scholars identify this expression with water baptism, which also is paralleled with being “justified” by grace (3:4-7; cf. Jn. 3:3-5; see also Jackson, 478). How can any responsible Bible student ignore such compelling evidence?
The writer of Hebrews mentions that in the conversion process, the “hearts” of God’s people had been sprinkled (a figure suggesting the application of Christ’s blood [cf. 9:13-14; 1 Jn. 1:7]) and their bodies “washed with pure water” (10:22b). A great variety of expositors concede this is a reference to water baptism (cf. Eph. 5:26; Tit. 3:5; Lenski 1966, 350).
The apostle Peter did not mince words when he declared that, by means of the flood, Noah and his family were transported from the ancient world of corruption into the cleansed post-flood environment of deliverance (1 Pet. 3:20-21). In this connection, the inspired writer does not hesitate to emphatically state that this ancient event was a type (i.e., a symbolic preview) of our salvation (the reality being the antitype). In like fashion, “baptism now saves you” (v. 21a).
Baptism moves the penitent believer from an out-of-Christ relationship to an “in Christ” fellowship (cf. Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; 2 Tim. 2:10). This clear affirmation of the essentiality of baptism drives the faith-only advocates crazy.
Professor Geisler contradicts the apostle Peter when he contends that baptism does not save the penitent believer!
The composition of this review has not been a pleasant task for this writer. As noted initially, I have in my library a number of valuable volumes authored by the gentleman under consideration. Some of Geisler’s books in defense of the Bible are excellent and to be commended.
The material cited in this review, however, is a classic example of how one may excel in a certain area of information, even a more difficult one, and yet, due to theological bias, be void of exegetical skill in another area.
- Book of Mormon. 1950. Alma 7:10. Salt Lake City: Mormon Church.
- Danker, F. W. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago.
- Geisler, Norman. 2004. Systematic Theology. Vol. 3. Minneapolis: Bethany House.
- Jackson, Wayne. 2011. New Testament Commentary. Stockton: Christian Courier Publications.
- Lenski, R. C. H. 1961. Mark’s Gospel. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
- Lenski, R. C. H. 1966. Interpretation of Hebrews. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
- Lightfoot, J. B. 1892. The Epistles of Paul. London: Macmillan.
- McGarvey, J. W. 1875. Commentary on Matthew & Mark. Des Moines: E. S. Smith.
- Robertson, A. T. 1931. Epistles of Paul. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.