Many an eyebrow was raised in Flowers’ defense of Billy Graham’s Universal(istic) statements and his ecumenism when Flowers boldly claimed that someone could be saved without faith in Jesus. He made the remark at the 46.30 mark…
Would God show Cornelius grace even prior to when Peter showed up with the Gospel? Of course…why…of course He would. He obviously showed him enough grace to send him the Gospel. Why wouldn’t He show him enough grace to save him if he perished prior to hearing the specifics of Jesus’ work? Again, I don’t think that’s unreasonable and that’s not beyond orthodoxy to hold to that worldview.
As though affirming the Roman Pontiff as a legitimate and saved Christian believer wasn’t ghastly enough – and startlingly at odds with virtually every Protestant or historical evangelical confession under the sun – Flowers claims that Cornelius would have been saved for being God-fearing, even if he died before having heard of or believed in Jesus. As you’ll note in the hyperlink above or in the original post by Pulpit & Pen, we cited Flowers’ words accurately and provided the video and timestamp of him speaking such heresies (a word that while often abused, is not so abused in our application here to Flowers. Denying Sola Fide or Solus Christus is certainly heretical in the classical definition of the term).
Providing evidence and verbatim quotations from Flowers wasn’t enough to keep him from threatening in his video response that followed to sue us for defamation of his character and alleging that our actions were criminal. (That’s not how America works, Leighton). Not surprisingly, Flowers didn’t back peddle in this follow-up video, which would have been the disappointing but predictable measure one would expect. Rather, however, Flowers doubled-downed on his claim that someone could be saved without ever hearing of or believing in Jesus.
We’ll provide the video below, and then pertinent timestamps along with our commentary.
Flowers – whose podcast is called “Soteriology 101” – erroneously defines the Gospel at the 1:29 mark. saying…
I wanted to give some clarity because people are asking a few honest questions about that, how do you explain those things with regard to those who don’t hear the specific news about Jesus Christ, his death, burial and resurrection. Some people have called that, in itself, the Gospel. Now, the Gospel is more generally speaking the news that God is good, and that he desires mercy over justice, that he desires to show mercy, that he’s a good God, and that if you believe in the Lord, you will be saved. That’s the basis of the Gospel.
Flowers exact words are that the Gospel is not the death, burial and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, but “generally speaking” it is that God is good and desires to show mercy. Contrast this with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15…
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
According to Paul, the elementary “generally speaking” Gospel that was of first importance is that Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and according to the Scriptures arose again. One would think that someone known for “Soteriology 101” would know this, and for sure not contradict it. What Flowers has to do, however, is change the Gospel to provide a means of salvation for those who do not know or believe it. And so, throughout the course of the video, Flowers attacks Sola Fide, one of the benchmark Solas of the Protestant Reformation, that we are saved by Sola Gratia (grace alone) through Sola Fide (faith alone) in Solus Christus (Christ alone).
What you will witness in the video is Flowers beating his chest and throwing a hissy fit that we characterized his semi-Universalist statements as allowing for salvation outside of Jesus. Flowers will deny this, insisting that everyone who is saved must be saved BY Jesus, and he furthermore upholds (so he says) that we are saved by grace, but he will absolutely, categorically deny that we must be saved by grace THROUGH FAITH in Jesus. What Flowers posits in the video above (should you watch it) is that grace can be detached from faith and still save, which is closer to hyper-Calvinism than anything I’ve seen in my short life up to this point. Even the most ardent of Calvinists would argue that God saves via grace through the means, of faith.
After all, all Scripture under the Covenant of Grace bears witness that not only is there salvation exclusively in Jesus, but people must believe in Jesus. Consider Romans 10…
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
And yet, Flowers’ contention is that Cornelius – as well as others today – could be saved without ever hearing of Jesus, responding to Jesus, or trusting in Jesus. He says…
…these people who take this Gnostic approach who say you have to have full knowledge and affirmation of all these doctrinal points in order to be shown grace by God, I don’t know you hold to Grace Alone if you affirm this concept and idea that you have to hold to this doctrinal checklist for God to show you any level of grace and mercy. It seems pretty clear to me from Hebrews 11 that the people in the Hall of Faith were people who had a very small, child-like, mustard seed type faith…I don’t believe we’re saved by affirmation of all the correct doctrines…
Of course, no one is arguing we are saved by a doctrinal checklist, but this is a far cry from arguing someone can be saved without hearing of Jesus or his accomplished work. Flowers begins to explain his view, that because the Old Testament saints were saved without having knowledge of Jesus, today God saves people who don’t have knowledge of Jesus.
There are several problems with this. First, Flowers needs to read again Hebrews 11. The Hall of Faith does not curate for us tales of Old Testament saints with “mustard seed faith,” but with great faith, as its author writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” The Hall of Faith closes with, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Clearly, these were saints commended on account of their great faith in all of God’s promises. Flowers neglects to understand that their faith was perfected or made complete (the word is “telios” in Greek) by that which was provided in Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, the entire point contended for by the author of Hebrews, is that we must have faith in Him, who was the same object of faith held by the Old Testament saints.
The second problem with Flowers’ heretical interpretation of the passage is his apparent assumption that these saints had faith in something other than the coming Messiah that was accounted to them as righteousness. Jesus was the promised seed of Genesis 3, in Whom they placed their faith. Although they saw through a glass even more darkly than our own, their trust was in Christ. Selah and Amen.
Flowers claims that today, people may be saved by ignorance at the 5.11 mark…
“I’ll just say that once we affirm that God can and has in the past shown grace and mercy, salvific grace and mercy, to those who did not have a full understanding and knowledge of who Jesus was and in the death, burial and resurrection…then the question is, does he still do that today.”
Flowers explains that the theory he’s proposed is that God shows grace to those who have been faithful to the light they’ve been given. This, however, does not undo Flowers’ previous statement that Cornelius would have been saved without having received additional “light” (that is, the Gospel).
Amazingly, at about the 8.15 mark, Flowers claims that Romans 1 and 2 teaches that we can be saved through Natural Revelation, by the “light” God has given through nature and without special revelation, so that we can “trust and believe” in Him. He says at 8.36 that “We are not saved by revelation at all, people are saved by grace through faith in whatever revelation they have been given.”
Crazy, right? Indeed.
Flowers then contrasts his beliefs with what he calls “Calvinism” (but in fact, this is the position of the historic Christian church), which is that one cannot be saved without having heard of Jesus and believing in Jesus. He calls this view “detestable, blasphemous,” and “heretical.”
The bait-and-switch committed by Flowers is that he iterates one must be saved “through Jesus,” but they can be saved without knowledge of or faith in Jesus. Of course, this is the exact position of the Christian Universalits who argue no one is saved outside of Christ, but that even those who don’t embrace the Gospel are still saved in Christ – even if they haven’t heard the Gospel. Flowers affirms Solus Christus, but denies Sola Fide…explicitly.
Flowers’ anti-Sola Fide position – again – is premised upon the salvation of saints under the Old Covenant. He says at 14.51…
“…But people have been, in the Old Testament times, have been saved apart from knowing Christ personally in the sense of knowing who he was and what he did on the cross, that has happened, that’s just a fact of the matter. Now the question is, in New Testament times, how does God handle those who have never heard the specific revelation of Jesus Christ. Does he judge them purely based upon the light of revelation that they’ve been given, and therefore showing them grace, either just saving them…or does God show grace by giving them more light, more revelation?”
This transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant is clearly settled in the Book of Acts, in which the Apostle says in Acts 17:30…
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…
Flowers goes on to call the belief that one cannot be saved without faith, heretical, “gaslighting” and “preposterous.” He claims this is the belief of Calvinism when in reality, that’s even the position of Arminians who aren’t Universalists. That’s just plain normal Christianity.
Flowers claims to not be a Universalist (he IS however an inclusivist for certain) because he believes you must be saved through Jesus (18.01 mark), but again, all the Christian Universalists claim that God will save the ignorant through Jesus, and they can be saved through Jesus without faith. Flowers, at the 18.41 mark begins to claim that critiquing his theology makes us liable to lawsuit, that it is criminal, and he is encouraging attorneys to help him sue.
“Shame on them. And it’s liable. It’s actually, I actually have a case that I could sue these individuals for defamation of character. That’s how horribly slanderous this is. It’s not only unchristian, it’s against the law what these guys are doing because they’re hurting my reputation as a minister of the Gospel…People like this probably should be sued…if any lawyers are listening and would like to sue these people, please go ahead. They need to be sued…”
Well, ‘Murica. Welcome to Free Speech, pal. I’m glad Flowers doesn’t teach Civics or Government.
In the meantime, consider again that Leighton Flowers is a leading Arminian in the Southern Baptist Convention group Connect316, and a professor of theology. Most ironically and again, his podcast is called, “Soteriology 101.”
Keep listening to the video. He goes on to say at about the 23 minute mark that if you believe an “inclusivist” is someone who believes God has already given sufficient knowledge to everyone so that they can be saved (even without the Gospel), then you can call him an inclusivist.
So then, he’s an inclusivist. Now sue me. Or don’t. Whatever.