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

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Steve Fernandez on The Race Set Before Us: Eighth Installment

This entry builds upon the seventh installment and assumes that you have read it. In that entry I show how Steve Fernandez has misunderstood and has misrepresented what Tom Schreiner and I wrote concerning Matthew 10:22 and Mark 13:13. Now I shall continue by focusing upon pages 91-93 of his book, Free Justification, where he attempts to explain how we should understand what Jesus means when he says, "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22; ESV).
Fernandez explains,

The evidence indicates that we should understand the verse to mean something else. Rather, it teaches that perseverance is the inescapable experience that all believers undergo before they come into the glory of final salvation. There are at least three reasons for undertanding the verse in this way.

First, it is consistent with Paul's teaching on the finality of justification in the book of Romans. . . .

Christ's words in Matthew 10:22 are conspicuous by the absence of the language of conditional and instrumentality. Christ does not say "if one has endured to the end he will be saved." There is no conditional "if" clause. It must be read into the text.

In addition, there are no prepositions that indicate instrumentality either. That is, He does not say that endurance is that, "by which," or "through which," we will be saved. There is a glaring omission of prepositions such as, "by" or "on account of" or "through;" prepositions which express cause and instrumentality. In short, Christ does not say "it is the one who by enduring to the end who will be saved."

On the other hand, Paul regularly uses prepositions when he speaks of the relationship of faith to justification. . . . Paul is careful to use prepositions to indicate that grace and faith are the means and instruments of justification. Christ, in contrast, does not say we are saved "by" or "through," let alone, "on account of" endurance. He simply asserts, "it is the one who has endured . . . who will be saved."

and this is most significant, Christ does not say, "it is the one who has endured . . . who will be justified." Christ says "will be saved." There is a great difference! It is one thing to say, "it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." It is another thing to say "it is the one who has endured to the end who will be justified." While they often overlap, the terms are not synonymous or equivalent. Therefore, the terms must be carefully distinguished. Why?

Justification is narrow and specific in meaning. It means to declare righteous in relationship to the law. It is a verdict in relationship to law and justice. As a verdict, by definition, it is once-for-all. There are no phases or steps to a justifying verdict. Salvation, on the other hand, is comprehensive and all-encompassing. In general it means "to rescue or deliver" (Acts 27:31). It is the basic term for deliverance. It can include justification, sanctification, the future redemption of the body, as well as glorification and our final inheritance.

Therefore, because it is broad in meaning, salvation has both an 'already' aspect and a future 'not-yet' aspect. Justification, on the other hand, being narrow and specific, has only an 'already' accomplished aspect.

Since the terms do overlap, sometimes "saved" may refer to the 'one-time,' finished reality of justification. Ephesians 2:5, 8 is an example, Paul using the perfect tense says, "you have been saved." The tense of the verb stresses a past completed act, with a present unchanging, ongoing result. At other times salvation refers to a future, yet-to-be completed aspect, things such as; the redemption of our bodies and deliverance from judgment, etc. (Romans 13:11). However, the future aspect of salvation, although often prominent in Scripture, is never said to include justification.

The point I am making, that some fail to see, is this: Christ does not say, "justified," He says "saved." And salvation is not justification. It is deliverance which is the result of justification. This is evident in Romans 5:9, where Paul uses both terms. He says, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."

As he has done since verse one, Paul is pointing out the great blessing of a completed justification. One futher blessing of this "now" justification is that it guarantees our future salvation, and deliverance, from wrath. There is no mention of a future justification, for the simple reason that the verdict of justification has already been declared. . . .

All of this supports the conclusion that what Christ is saying in Matthew 10:22 (reiterated by Paul in Romans 5:9) is that believers can look forward to a future final salvation. But, of a future justification, Christ (like Paul) says nothing. Therefore, we must not read justification into Christ's words and teach what He is, in fact, not teaching. Like Paul, we must clearly distinguish the two terms. To confuse the two is to add works to justification, and undo the gospel of the grace of God.

We can conclude that the Scriptures do not teach that final salvation or justification is conditioned or attained by perseverance. There is no need. Christ has attained all. He has done all. We now stand complete and justified in Him; clothed in His perfect righteousness alone, imputed to us by faith. To Christ alone be all the glory.
So ends the book.

Before I offer any critical engagement of what Steve Fernandez asserts as quoted above, I observe that he states the following that in Matthew 10:22 Jesus "teaches that perseverance is the inescapable experience that all believers undergo before they come into the glory of final salvation."

I wonder how this substantially or materially differs from what Tom and I have affirmed in our exegetical discussion of the passage. Why does Fernandez contend against us? What is his complaint against us? Does he not affirm substantially the same thing that we affirm?

If perseverance in loyalty to Jesus Christ is the inescapable experience that all believers undergo before they come into the glory of final salvation, is this not necessarily saying that perseverance in loyalty to Jesus Christ is a necessary condition or means unto salvation in the Last Day? How does what Fernandez affirms differ from what Tom and I affirm in the very discussion Fernandez criticizes? What do we affirm when we contend that sustained belief in Jesus Christ (which is biblically depicted as perseverance, steadfastness, faithfulness, loyalty, endurance, remaining in, etc., etc.) is a necessary condition or means for the sustaining of salvation unto the end? We contend that sustained belief in Jesus Christ is a necessary condition unto eternal life as sustained breathing is a necessary condition unto life in this age. As breathing is a condition without which no one shall live, so believing (i.e., persevering faith) is a condition without which no one shall have eternal life either in this age or in the age to come. (For expanded elaboration upon distinguishing condition from basis or ground read this blog entry.)

Seriously, then, how does what we affirm materially differ from what Steve Fernandez affirms when he claims that in Matthew 10:22 Jesus "teaches that perseverance is the inescapable experience that all believers undergo before they come into the glory of final salvation"?

Now I turn to offer some critical analysis of Steve Fernandez's claims on the final three pages of his book. I could say much, but I will endeavor to be brief.

Fernandez exhibits considerable confusion as he presses his prejudiced conclusion that drives the entire book, namely, that justification can have no future aspect because if it were to have a future aspect, then justification would be grounded in our works. Besides not accounting for many biblical passages that compel us to acknowledge that justification does have a future aspect, as I demonstrate here, Fernandez's reasoning is fallacious. Indeed, many falter when they attempt to account for the future aspect of justification, as I have demonstrated in many places on this blog, such as here and here. However, to reason that if justification entails a future aspect, as salvation entails a future aspect, necessarily adds "works to justification" and obliterates "the gospel of the grace of God" is seriously flawed and exhibits an anti-Roman Catholic prejudice that blinds one to the fact that Scripture requires us to tread carefully lest we commit either Fernandez's error of suppressing biblical evidence to deny justification's future aspect or the error of viewing justification as grounded upon our deeds, as many have done.

I leave it to readers to sort out further Fernandez's general theological fallacies concerning justification and salvation. For my purposes, I turn your attention to a few considerations concerning how Fernandez has misunderstood, misrepresented, and hopelessly confounded what Tom and I actually say concerning Matthew 10:22.

Instead, I direct your attention to the second and third reasons Fernandez offers to explain why his understanding of Matthew 10:22 is correct and why ours is wrong. First, I will focus upon the third reason. To refresh your memories, he asserts, "Christ does not say, 'it is the one who has endured . . . who will be justified.' Christ says 'will be saved.' There is a great difference!"

Nowhere, throughout our exegetical discussion of Matthew 10:22, do Tom and I introduce the notion that when Jesus says that "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" he means to say, "the one who perseveres to the end will be justified." As I methodically demonstrate here, Fernandez, not Tom Schreiner and I, hopelessly confounds what we say because of his sloppy, selective, and elliptical quotations of our words that prejudices his understanding by ignoring what we say as he cherry-picks a portion of a sentence from page 154 and then leaps to page 160 to combine that partial quotation with two more partial quotations from an entirely new segment that is introductory to our discussion of admonition and warning in Paul's letters and then finally takes another leap to page 161 to connect his now utterly disjointed elliptically concocted quotation with another partial statement. As I have shown previously, here and here, Fernandez's distorted quotation reads,

"Conditional warnings and admonitions suspend God’s judgment in the last day on perseverance in this age . . . since the Reformation, many Protestant Christians have tended to overstate Paul’s doctrine of justification . . . with the effect that Paul’s orientation on salvation as not yet fully realized has virtually collapsed . . . for Paul, justification remains fundamentally the eschatological verdict. . ." (Ibid., p. 154, 160-161).

This convoluted elliptically concocted quotation confounds Fernandez, and well it should. As with Victor Frankenstein who despised his monstrous creation, Fernandez creates this sloppy, prejudicially selective, and freakish concoction that leads him to loathe what he fails to recognize that he himself has created which loathing, in turn, leads him to impute to Tom Schreiner and to me his wrong and unfounded accusation which reads,

This is clearly an interchangeable use of salvation and justification. In their system God's judgment on the last day [which is justification], is held in suspense. First, conditions must be met. The believer will then attain final salvation and the verdict of justification. For, in their words, "justification remains fundamentally the eschatological verdict." The problem they are correcting, is that "many overstate Paul's doctrine of justification." This "overstatement" it seems, is the historic teaching that justification is a complete and final declaration with no future element contingent on works.

Thus, by way of his own concoction, what Tom Schreiner and I have published in The Race Set Before Us becomes Fernandez's principal foil throughout his book to the very final pages which I have reproduced for you above. Of the two of us, Tom takes more hits that I do because Fernandez goes after his commentary on Romans spanning pages 77-80 when he returns to take us both on again on pages 81-83.

Now I offer a few comments on the second reason Fernandez offers for his understanding of Matthew 10:22. Keep in mind that Fernandez is addressing himself to what he thinks that Tom Schreiner and I have said concerning this passage. Once again, here is what Fernandez claims about our exegetical discussion of the passage.

Christ's words, "but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved" are interpreted to say, 'it is the one who has endured to the end, because he has endured, who will be save.' In other words, endurance or perseverance is seen as a condition, or means, of attaining final salvation and justification. Schreiner and Caneday, for example, commenting on Matthew 10:22 write,

The text says, the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. Jesus' words indicate that perseverance to the end is the necessary condition. Perseverance is a means that God has appointed by which one will be saved.

Nowhere, throughout our discussion of the passage, do we hint at the interpretation that Fernandez has attributed to us by interjecting the words he italicizes--because he has endured--which expresses causation. Even if we had done this, which Fernandez falsely claims we did, it would not have to be considered fatal theologically.

Nowhere, throughout our exegetical discussion of Matthew 10:22 do we introduce any prepositions into the passage, such as, "by which" or "through which." Nor do we pretend that the passage says, "it is the one who by enduring to the end who will be saved," as Fernandez implies. Again, if we had done this, it would not have to be considered fatal theologically. What is odd, however, is that Fernandez seems to presume that language depicts "condition or instrumentality" only by way of prepositions or by way of an explicit "if" clause. Consequently, he contends that we "read into the text" the notion of "condition."

It seems apparent that Steve Fernandez fails to understand adequately how language functions. He could have reviewed what Tom and I state on page 41 of The Race Set Before Us, in anticipation of readers such as he. Under the segment titled "Conditional promises and conditional warnings", we pose the question, "What do biblical warnings look like?" We answer,

Most biblical warnings use suppositional or conditional language to express a threat or a promise. It may be helpful to identify what conditional language entails. A condition expresses a contingent relationship. Ordinarily we express this contingency with a conditional sentence that consists of two clauses: (1) a dependent clause ("if"), also called the protasis, and (2) an independent clause ("then"), also called the apodosis. Another word to describe a condition is supposition. English readers usually think of the word if as the indicator of a condition. Though perhaps most conditional expressions in English do use the word if, there are other ways to express a conditional idea. We often use the imperative, a command, to express a contingency, such as, "Swallow arsenic, and you will dies." Sometimes we simply express a conditon by saying, "Suppose you swallow arsenic--you will die." But we also use other grammatical structures to express a contingency. For example, we regularly use a relative clause for this purpose: "Whoever swallows this bottle of arsenic will die." We also use a gerund: "Swallowing arsenic will kill you." Or we may rephrase it, "The one who swallows arsenic will die." What is true in English is also true in the biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek.

Now, reflect upon Matthew 10:22 in light of our helpful review of the varied ways language may express conditional or suppositional concepts. Once again, the passage reads, "and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22; ESV).

In our discussion of Matthew 10:22 and Mark 13:13 we painstakingly demonstrate that the pertinent portion of the verse presents a supposition that entails a conditional clause and a consequence clause. And, to make our point how and why so many Christians convert the conditional clause and the consequence/conclusion clause, we offered a diagram. Click on the diagram to enlarge it for easier reading.

Fernandez's grammatical error that leads to his theological mistakes should now be obvious. Why he fails to recognize that the passage clearly expresses a conditional relationship between persevering and being saved, I do not understand. Nor do I understand why he fails to acknowledge our helpful and clear explanation of the varied ways condition are expressed (p. 41). What I do know and understand is how tragically sad it is that Steve Fernandez has badly misread, misunderstood, and misrepresented what Tom and I have published for all to read and to assess in The Race Set Before Us.

Now, lest my series of responses become longer than Fernandez's book, I bring it to a close.

May God employ The Race Set Before Us for the instruction, encouragement, and salvation of all who read it, and may he protect all who read the book from drawing wrong and false inferences from whatever we may have poorly or inadequately expressed in the book that would impair their perseverance in faith and trip them up. May God also correct Tom and me to whatever degree what we have written is in error. Certainly, reading a book such as Steve Fernandez's Free Justification: The Glorification of Christ in the Justification of a Sinner brings to light how some read the book with significantly impair understanding. I pray that the Lord will give such individuals eyes to see and to read what is actually written in the book in order that they might benefit from what they read rather than lapse into making false accusations and engage in misrepresentation.

May the Lord enable us all to be sympathetic readers when we read others who labor in writing and in publishing for the good of Christ's people, the church.

Updated 8/08/2008.

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