I have two theological confessions to make. The first is that I am madly in love with the gospel. Seriously, I am. As an Adventist, a father and a pastor, the gospel is my everything. Jesus-only is my motto, my passion and my standard. After battling with legalism and perfectionism for many years, the good news of salvation is something that I don’t mess around with. Anything—and I mean anything—that even remotely reeks of human merit makes me recoil with disgust. This “what Jesus did + what I do” stuff gives me the shakes. For me, it’s either Jesus-only or it simply isn’t gospel.
The second confession I have is this: I love the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment (IJ). There. I said it.
The question now is, how? How can I be so passionate about the gospel and also love a doctrine that many consider anti-gospel? Allow me to respond with three simple points.
I love the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment.
My first point is this. The IJ most definitely contradicts the gospel. Confused? You should be, because I just contradicted everything I have said up to this point. But stick with me here. Yes, the IJ is anti-gospel. Like totally. But there is a catch and here it is: in the Protestant world, there is more than one “orthodox” version of the gospel. In fact, there are three different versions. They are:
- Classical Arminianism
- OSAS Arminianism
Sorry for the big words there, but don’t run away just yet. Calvinism is a Christian worldview that was organized by the reformer John Calvin during the early to mid-1500s. Classical Arminianism is pretty much its counter-thesis and was arranged by another reformer named Jacobus Arminius during the late 1500s. OSAS Arminianism is simply a tweaked version of classical Arminianism that came much later. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are an orthodox Protestant you fall under one of these categories whether you know it or not. These are the three versions of the gospel that exist and they have been at war with each other long before Adventists showed up. But what makes them different? Here is a brief explanation.
In Calvinism God basically chose who gets to go to heaven and who goes to hell before He even created the world. Those He chose to go to heaven are called the “elect” and there is nothing they can do to be lost because, after all, their salvation is God’s decision, not theirs. Sounds cool, except whoever God didn’t choose to go to heaven is irreparably lost and will burn in hell simply because God said so. Nothing they can do about it. This is the view held by denominations like the Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.
In Classical Arminianism God grants people freedom of will to salvation. So while man can’t earn salvation, he can choose whether to receive it or reject it. So in the end, salvation is available to everyone, not just an “elect” group. On the flip side, you are still free to turn your back on Jesus after being saved. So you can still be lost after being saved if you reject Christ at a later point in your life. This is the view held by denominations like the Methodists, Pentecostals, Arminian Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists.
OSAS is basically a hybrid of Calvinism and Classical Arminianism. It believes everything Classical Arminianism believes except for the thing about a person being lost after they are saved. According to OSAS, once a person is saved they can never be lost again, hence the OSAS bit, which stands for Once Saved Always Saved. There is no particular denomination that endorses this view, but it is typically found within any Arminian or non-denominational group.
Now that we have explained the three versions of salvation, I can clarify my first point. The IJ totally contradicts the gospel…if you are a Calvinist. In Calvinism, God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell and He owes no one any explanation. So the IJ simply doesn’t fit Calvinism. The IJ also totally contradicts the gospel…if you are an OSAS Arminian. In OSAS Arminianism, you can’t be lost once you have been saved, so there is no point whatsoever in God having an IJ for professing believers.
However, when it comes to Classical Arminian thought, the IJ makes perfect sense. In Classical Arminianism, a truly born again person can be lost if they turn away from Christ. So the idea of a judgment for professing believers that separates the faithful from the apostate makes perfect sense. Therefore, if you are one of these blue-in-the-face IJ “haterz,” the first thing to sort out is this: are you a Calvinist or an OSAS Arminian? Because if you are, then you need to just forget about the IJ. No point in talking about it if your view of salvation is totally different from that of the Classical Arminian. In that case, we would have to explore your gospel world-view way, and I mean waaaay, before we even start talking about the IJ.
…the first thing to sort out is this: are you a Calvinist or an OSAS Arminian?
So in conclusion to my first point, the IJ totally contradicts the gospel if you are a Calvinist or OSAS Arminian. But if you are a Classical Arminian, the IJ doesn’t contradict the gospel at all.
My second point is that the IJ most definitely contradicts God’s omniscience. Seriously, this doctrine is totally the weirdest and most unnecessary thing ever. I mean, why would God need to do some IJ if he already knows who is truly saved and who isn’t? But there’s another catch.
In the Protestant world, there is more than one way of understanding who God is and what He is like (his character). In fact, there are two different versions. They are:
- Arminianism (both the Classical and OSAS versions picture God’s character the same way)
Oh snap! It’s the same ones as before. OK, let’s get this over with.
In Calvinism, God is pictured kind of like a dictator. He is sovereign over all things and does things according to His inscrutable wisdom and for His own glory and we, as created beings, have no right to question or interfere with His infallible decisions. So when God chooses, before the creation of all things, who to save and who to reject, He does so based on His own wisdom and for His own glory. Created beings like angels and humans are offered no explanations. They simply have to submit to God’s sovereign will and decree.
In Arminian thought, God is pictured differently. Rather than seeing Him like a dictator, the Arminian starts off by seeing God in terms of love (other-centered, kind, self-limiting, etc.). Because God is love, He wants a creation that can love Him in return, not just serve Him. But the only way to accomplish this feat is to make creation free. So God does just that. He gives His creatures free will. But how do you make a free creature love you without coercing them? You have to reveal yourself. And in the Arminian worldview, God does so by being transparent. He reveals Himself completely, with nothing to hide, with the goal of winning our hearts to Himself. In a fallen world, this involves God being transparent in how He judges. It’s not that God owes anyone an explanation. It’s just that He wants to be loved for who He is, and He can’t do that if He is a total mystery.
Now that I have explained these two world views, it becomes clear that the IJ contradicts God’s omniscience, if you are a Calvinist. If you are an Arminian though, especially a Classical one, the IJ fits perfectly well. In Calvinism, God does everything according to His own perfect and immutable will. Arminians, however, picture God differently. He is perfect and all that other stuff, but all that is secondary to His love, or operates within the reality of His love. So while it is true that God knows everything, it is also true that He doesn’t run the judgment based solely on His all-knowing-ness. Rather, He runs it based on His love, which is demonstrated in His transparency throughout the judgment. The picture of God in Arminianism is one in which God welcomes questions and is not opposed to being investigated. So once again, if the IJ makes you want to puke, then the first thing you need to iron out is your picture of God. Is it a Calvinist picture? Because if it is, you need to take the IJ and pack it away somewhere. No point in discussing something that comes later if we can’t even agree on what comes before.
So in conclusion to my second point, the IJ totally contradicts God’s omniscience if you are a Calvinist. But if you are an Arminian, then the IJ doesn’t contradict God’s omniscience at all. In fact, it becomes necessary.
…the Investigative Judgment totally contradicts God’s omniscience if you are a Calvinist.
My third point is that regardless of what I have said above, it doesn’t change the fact that this 1844 stuff is beyond bizarre and we totally need to, like, toss it somewhere. The idea that God began judging professed believers in 1844 is legalistic no matter which way I spin it. But there is a catch, here, as well, and it is this:
Because Classical Arminians believe a true believer can still walk away and be lost, all Classical Arminians believe in some sort of judgment that separates the faithful from the apostate. However, most Classical Arminians also hold to the doctrine of the inherently immortal soul. This means that for them, the judgment takes place once a person dies. Yes, there is this sort of end-time judgment for the living who never died sort of thing, but for the most part people are entering into judgment every time someone kicks the bucket.
Again, if you are a Calvinist or OSAS Arminian, then anything remotely close to an IJ is sort of a no-no. In Calvinism, Billy goes straight into heaven at death if he is elect, or straight to hell if he is a reprobate (ouch). In OSAS Arminianism, Billy goes straight to heaven if he got saved at some point regardless of whether or not he was faithful to the end. But if Billy never got saved, he goes straight to hell at death (ouch). But if you are a Classical Arminian, then you naturally believe that once Billy dies his soul floats up to the pearly gates where he is judged. If he was faithful to the end, he is granted entry. If he was an apostate, then the judge hits the red buzzer and he goes to hell (ouch).
And here is the key. Adventists don’t believe that a person dies and goes straight to heaven or hell, because we don’t believe that the human soul is inherently immortal. So when a person dies, their soul “ain’t going nowhere.” Rather, their thoughts perish and they lie in the grave until the resurrection (this is soul sleep or mortal soul theology). But at the resurrection, which takes place at the Second Coming, the Bible says God already has the rewards and He’s ready to dish them out. Which means that the judgment took place before then. Does this prove 1844 as a correct date? No. That requires a different type of exploration (prophetic), which I am not dealing with here. But it does show how 1844 fits perfectly well in this worldview. For Adventism, the IJ doesn’t have to happen once a person dies because we don’t believe their soul goes anywhere. Rather, we are free to take the Bible at its word when it says that God has appointed a day for judgment to begin (Acts 17:31). What those who accuse our church of legalism have to prove, then, is how it is more legalistic to believe that the judgment of believers began in 1844 as opposed to taking place when each individual person dies. To this day, I haven’t found anyone capable of doing so.
So in conclusion, to my last point, 1844 is totally bizarre…if you believe the soul is naturally immortal. But if you reject this concept, then it becomes apparent that God has indeed appointed a day on which the process of judgment would begin. However, 1844 is actually not necessary to believing in the IJ. You can reject the entire prophetic thing, so long as you are a Classical Arminian that believes in soul sleep. Then the IJ is simply a natural outflow of your worldview. You don’t need Daniel 8:14, historicism, the start date of the 2300 days, the Day of Atonement, the book of Hebrews or anything else. All you need is Classical Arminianism + Soul Sleep, and voila! You have the foundation for the IJ doctrine. From there all the other elements add colors and can come together on the theological canvas, but they don’t make the core doctrine.
So there you have it. I love the gospel. And I love the IJ. I see in this doctrine a simple and powerful truth that lifts the cross of Jesus higher. It reminds us that Jesus is the only way, that God is doing His final work to get as many people saved as possible, and that He is a God of love with nothing to hide.