This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Monday, June 12, 2006

Miscellanea--Responses to Further Questions from Alex

In Alex’s initial sequence of questions, he had raised nine. I have responded to four thus far here. Here are responses to the last five questions. Questions are set off with italics.

  • What does 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 mean and what relation does it have, if any, to our present discussion?

  • For the sake of convenience, here is 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (ESV).

    But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

    I think I would be mistaken to suggest that this passage has no relation to our discussion, particularly concerning "assurance of salvation." I think, however, that we would equally be mistaken to take this passage as suggesting that Paul is saying that he does not assess himself with reference to his standing before God.

    It seems to me that Paul's point, within context, is that he is neither flattered nor withered by the judgments of others. From 1 Corinthians 1:10 through 4:21 Paul addresses the Corinthians concerning the serious misunderstanding many of them have concerning the role of Christian ministers. The divisions (I am of Paul. I am of Apollos. I am of Cephas. I am of Christ.) among them originate from their flawed notions concerning the ministers of the gospel who have come among them. Some of the Corinthians welcomed them as though they were itinerant philosophers, becoming "groupies" of their favorite minister, boasting of following individual ministers and viewing them as though they were competing with one another. Paul is aware that his speech is not eloquent, perhaps in comparison with that of Apollos (cf. 1 Cor 2:1ff). Thus, he knows that some view him as inferior. Yet, evidently some Corinthians boasted, "I am of Paul" (1:12). So, as he moves toward the close of his extended portion in which he offers correctives concerning the role of Christian ministers (1:10-4:21), Paul applies all that he had said in 3:5-23 to himself and to Apollos (4:6). As for himself, Paul is neither flattered nor withered by the judgments of others. In the matter of Christian ministry on behalf of others, he does not even judge himself. This is for the Lord alone to judge as sketched by Paul in 3:10-17.

  • Is what you are calling the "preemptive question" completely invalid to ask of the warnings in Hebrews, or is it only a secondary question that we should ask only after we have asked about the function of the warnings? I would tend to the latter. I, with you, believe that we distort the passage if our first and programmatic question is, "Are the people described in these verses saved?" And yet, it seems to me that at some point we must ask this question if we are to synthesize the message of Hebrews with the rest of the New Testament. In formulating a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, it seems that we must eventually incorporate passages like Hebrews 6. When asked as a secondary question, then, in the interest of our theological concerns, I would have to agree with Grudem et al. that this passage is not describing GENUINE believers. Am I still approaching the passage in the wrong way? Should we try to synthesize Hebrews 6:4ff. and 1 John 2:18-19?

  • No, the "preemptive question" is not invalid. It is simply that when it, as a secondary question, is given the pride of first place that it becomes preemptive. Whenever we allow the preemptive question (Does this passage imply that it is possible for genuine believers to apostatize and perish eternally?) to govern our exegesis concerning gospel warnings, we will be misled to embrace one of the four views Tom and I reject as being inadequate attempts to explain warnings and admonitions.

    I do not think that we need try to synthesize Hebrews 6:4ff and 1 John 2:18-19. Scripture itself places such passages side-by-side. Their placement, as it were, synthesizes them, if we are willing to live with the biblically framed tension, tension that is not antithetical. This is the point Tom and I make in The Race Set Before Us when we say,

    As intense as the warnings are in Hebrews, they do not nullify or contradict equally strong admonitions to bold confidence. In fact, Hebrews intermingles admonitions to bold confidence with warnings against eternal perishing. This is particularly noteworthy in both Hebrews 6 and 10. In Hebrews 6, after warning the audience against falling away, the preacher concedes that there are grounds to believe that they have not taken the fatal step of departing from Christ because God is not unjust to abandon his people (Heb 6:9-10). Then we read, "We want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb 6:11-12 NRSV). The preacher follows this by assuring the readers that when God made his promise to Abraham he swore an oath in order to show "the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose" (Heb 6:17). We who are Abraham's heirs have God's promise and oath to assure us that the promised salvation is a sure hop, "a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" (Heb 6:19). Clearly, the preacher expects us to take to heart both the warning against perishing (Heb 6:4-8) and the admonition to confidence (Heb 6:9-20) without any sense of contradiction (pp. 202-203).

  • At one point you state, "The interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, that I once held and which John presents in his sermon, calls into question our assurance of salvation." Could I modify this to read, "The interpretation of Hebrews 6:4ff, that I once held and which John presents in his sermon, calls into question our FUTURE BUT NOT PRESENT assurance of salvation"? In other words, in fairness to Pastor John, if you were to ask him if he believed that he is saved, I am sure that he would say "Yes" with all confidence. And yet I think that he is also saying that it is conceivable to him that if his passion for the Lord began to cool, he could fall away from God. When asked, "Do you THINK your passion for God will cool," he might say, "No! By God's grace I will press on and finish the race well." But if asked, "Do you KNOW FOR CERTAIN that you will not apostatize," he would probably say, "No, and that is why I need to continue to seek the Lord with all my heart and beg for his grace." If I have presented Pastor John accurately (with whom I presently agree on this particular matter), do you still think that he has undermined the doctrine of assurance?

  • You properly corrected my wording. I should have been more exact in how I made my statement. If I may, I will explain my inexactness. To me, "assurance of salvation," biblically conceived, is assurance that reaches to and lays hold of the Last Day, not just for today but for all time, from today forward to the Last Day. In other words, biblically conceived, I believe that assurance of salvation that reaches to and lays hold of the Last Day runs through all the contingencies of tomorrow and every tomorrow that stands between now and the Last Day. Is this not precisely what the apostle means when he says the following?

    For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Paul is confident that salvation in the Last Day will be his despite every conceivable contingency that stands between the now and the not yet. Nothing today, tomorrow, or the next day or next decade has the power to separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing! This kind of assurance is quite different from being assured of salvation today but uncertain of one's eternal destiny tomorrow.

  • What is the appropriate response to Matthew 7:21-23? "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" Doesn’t this prompt one to ask of himself, "Am I a phony?" Is this a bad question to ask? Does it undermine one's assurance?

  • This is not a bad question to ask oneself, since, after all, the apostle made sure to include it in his gospel. The issue is not whether Christians should ever subject themselves to such questions or be subjected to them by preachers. The issue is how we subject ourselves to these questions. Precisely because such passages are not frequent should caution us that these kinds of passages should not have large roles in our living the Christian life. Paul, almost with tongue-in-cheek writes to the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Such admonitions are rather rare in the New Testament. Even when they do occur, the thrust of the admonition is to test oneself with a view toward approval not toward disapproval.

  • You can probably see, then, that I am leaning toward a mediating position between you and Grudem. I acknowledge, with you, that we must first seek to understand the function of the warning passages and their forward-looking focus. But I am also inclined to read the description of Hebrews 6:4ff. as a description of "impressive frauds" among whom I might count myself if I do not make my calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Is this a tenable position?

  • I do understand why you are trying to straddle the fence between Grudem's view and the view Tom and I offer. Actually, if you adopt our view, you will have the best of Grudem's view anyway. Keep in mind that Tom and I disagree with Wayne Grudem only concerning warnings and admonitions. We agree with him concerning passages such as Matthew 7:21-23 or 2 Corinthians 13:5. We agree with him concerning 1 John 2:18-19. We disagree, however, that any of these passages should govern how we understand a passage such as Hebrews 6:4-8. Warnings must not be subverted. Warnings must be allowed to retain their full import. When warnings address believers as believers, let's not modify the warning so that it addresses pseudo-believers because we feel some constraint to do so from our theological formulations. The point Tom and I seek to make is that Scripture must govern our theology, not our theology govern Scripture.

1 comment:

Alex Kirk said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thank you for these helpful answers. One follow-up question: if the preemptive question is not invalid, how would you answer it with reference to Hebrews 6? Thanks again for your investment in this blog.