Spiritual Perspectives


“TETELESTAI” (A REVIEW)

Gary W. Summers

      The book with the above name has been passed out on the campus of the University of Central Florida by Campus Crusade For Christ.  Much of the material is good—both inspirational and thought-provoking.  The book, however, overly emphasizes the Holy Spirit.  For example, a man on death row “knew” that he would not be executed.  The reason is that he “heard God’s quiet inner voice tell him he would not be electrocuted as promised, but could continue to share his faith” (14).

 

     This type of thinking leads to subjectivism; people begin to imagine that the Holy Spirit is telling them all sorts of things.  These “instructions” may involve what daily decisions to make, to whom to speak about Jesus, or life-altering matters—such as where to live, whom to marry, what career to pursue, etc.

 

     The author, Dr. Joe White, lives in Branson, Missouri, and has worked with “Christian” athletes.  The book is published by After Dark Press.  The word tetelestai applied to those prisoners convicted under Roman law, who served out their sentences.

 

For the fortunate ones who…completed their debt to the court, a guard would inscribe the word “tetelestai” (paid in full) across this certificate of debt. As the person was set free the clay tablet would hang around his neck and accompany him wherever he would travel as proof of his freedom (13).

 

     The point, of course, is that Jesus paid in full our debt on the cross.  The author, however, does not specify how people today can take advantage of that sacrifice—until much later in the book as part of a devotional section titled “Understanding God’s Salvation.”  In these pages there is not one word about repentance or baptism, which is an interesting omission, considering the author’s familiarity with the day of Pentecost.  The book of Acts is filled with stories of con-version, but Dr. White does not mention them. 

      Ironically, he teaches people to pray by first ex-pressing adoration, then by confessing their sins to Him, followed by voicing their thanksgiving for the good things they receive, and capped off by a time of supplication—making requests of God.  For these items he uses the acronym of ACTS.  How strange, then, that he does not use a single verse from Acts when discussing salvation!  Although Acts contains several accounts of conversion in the New Testament, he referenced none of them; they are conspicuous by their absence.

 

     So what are college students who read this book going to be taught?  He presents what he calls the “Old Testament Viewpoint” and cites Genesis 15:1-6, in which God promises Abraham he shall have an heir from his own body.  God has him count the stars in the heavens and says that Abraham’s descendants would be just as numerous.  “Then he believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (86).

 

     The problem is that the quotation of this text implies that Abraham just believed and he was saved, although the text has nothing to do with salvation whatsoever—the word not even being mentioned.  Abraham already had a relationship with God.  God had called him out of Ur of the Chaldees, as well as out of Haran, and Abraham had obeyed God (Gen. 11:31-12:5).  In addition to the nation promise, God also assured Abraham that he would possess the land of Canaan and that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed.  In other words, Abraham already believed in God and had already been obedient to him, thus indicating his faith.  Genesis 15:6 is not, therefore, a conversion experience and is not parallel to one in the New Testament.  It was a different era (what we usually call The Patriarchal Age) with a different law.  Not even the Law of Moses was in effect at this time (or would be for 400 years), let alone the one we live under in the Christian Age.  Abra-ham simply trusted that God would keep the promise that He had made to him concerning a son.

New Testament Viewpoint

 

     As this “Understanding God’s Salvation” section moves to the New Testament, Dr. White quotes from Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 10:9-11, 17.  The first of these emphasizes God’s grace in the process of salvation.  The second centers on the importance of believing and confessing Christ.  That is as far as the lesson in salvation goes: grace, faith, and confession.

 

     The questions that follow these texts begin with: “1) How does one obtain salvation (eternal life) ac-cording to God’s Word?”  Dr. White has not provided enough information to answer that question.  He has not said a word here about repentance.  Jesus said: “…unless you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).  Repentance is an essential in order to be saved.  Nor has he mentioned baptism.  Jesus said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

 

     So why are these not mentioned?  On the day of Pentecost Peter preached for the first time publicly after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ into heaven.  Having presented powerful evidence that proved that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, he was asked by the crowd what they should do (Acts 2:37).  Peter did not tell them of the grace Paul would later mention in Ephesians 2:8-9, which is not a passage designed to tell someone HOW to become a Christian.  Neither did he tell them to only believe and confess Christ—and they would be saved.  (Ro-mans 10:9-11 is likewise not written to tell someone how to become a Christian.)

 

     Peter told them: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” (Acts 2:38).  The two things that this multitude was told by the inspired apostle are the two things that Dr. White fails to mention in regard to salvation.  The young people who receive this book should ask, “Why does this deliberate omission exist?”  Furthermore, there is no mention of the Ethiopian eunuch’s baptism (Acts 8:35-39), those of the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:34-48), the Philippi-an jailer (Acts 16:31-34), or even the final step of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:16).

 

     A person must wonder, “Have people like Dr. White never read the book of Acts?”  Surely such an alternative is unthinkable.  When he quotes from so many parts of the Bible, he surely must have at some time read Acts.  Then why does he fail to cite even one instance of conversion?  The only other answer is that he knows what it says, but he has rejected the part that repentance and baptism have in salvation.  If they are involved, then it is impossible to preach “faith only.”  Dr. White writes: “Our salvation comes when we give our total heart to Jesus and His Spirit comes into and takes control of our life” (87).  No one in the entire book of Acts ever became a Christian in such a manner.  And he knows it! 

The Holy Spirit

 

     Since Dr. White enjoys discussing the Holy Spirit, let us consider briefly his theology.  He quotes John 14:16 but does not provide the context.  In fact, all of the verses he cites from the New Testament are from the conversation Jesus had with His 11 faithful apostles on the night He was betrayed and taken prisoner.  Much of what He said applied only to the apostles and not to all of us.  Consider two of these verses:

 

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you for-ever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

 

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you”  (John 14:26).

 

“However, when He the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak of His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). 

 

      Jesus had helped the twelve; now there would be another Helper—the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is not in this verse promising the Holy Spirit to all believers; other passages do that: Here He is promising help to His apostles to carry out their work.  The Holy Spirit will remind them of what Jesus said to them.  He will guide them into all truth.  Obviously, these do not apply to all but only to the eleven present with Him.  We did not hear Jesus speak for three years.  How can the Holy Spirit remind us of things we never heard? 

 

     The only way to apply these Scriptures to us is to say that, when we read the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will remind us of those things when we need them.  In that case, we should only have to read the Words of Jesus once.  After that, we ought never have to look up a passage of Scripture to see what it says.  Yet who would affirm such?  If we cannot do so, then it is wrong to apply the Lord’s words in this way.

 

     Likewise, does the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth?  Or did He not rather guide the apostles into all truth (2 Peter 1:3)?  If Jesus means us (the way Dr. White thinks), then truth becomes subjective—what we feel—rather than objective, what the Bible says.  Question number 4 asks: “When have you experienced His ‘com-fort’?” (84).  Dr. White makes religion experiential.

 

     How unfortunate it is that many of the efforts being put forth to teach young people involve subjective experience rather than objective truth!  How sad that “faith only” is probably the message to which they will find the most exposure!  Do we not owe it to them, brethren, to find a way to get the truth into their hands and minds?        

 

 

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "Whatever the article name from above is (12/14/04)."

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