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

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Race Set Before Us. "This is not close to Trent, this is Trent."

In early November Jerry Vines Ministries hosted the John 3:16 Conference in Woodstock, Georgia. For a tabulation of bloggers and their bloggings of the conference, see Timmy Brister's Provocations & Paintings.
One of the presenters was Ken Keathley, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. In 2002 Ken Keathley commented on The Race Set Before Us in his essay, "Does Anyone Really Know If They Are Saved? A Survey of the Current Views on Assurance with a Modest Proposal," published in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. Read the HTML version here or the PDF version here. I briefly commented upon Keathley's misunderstanding of The Race Set Before Us here, on this blog. Sadly, the lapse of six years has not corrected Ken Keathley failure to understand The Race Set Before Us. Sufficient numbers of individuals report the accuracy of Andrew Lindsey's summary of Ken Keathley presentation. Therefore, I will assume the accuracy of the report, and if proved otherwise, I will gladly correct any misstatement that I might make. I say this despite the claim of one, Peter Lumpkins, that Ken Keathley "said the teaching sounds like Trent. . . ." Andrew Lindsey's report concerning Ken Keathley misrepresentation of our view is in keeping with Ken Keathley published misrepresentation of our view. See the links above.
I do not provide Andrew Lindsey's full notes. You may read them here. Rather, I provide below only that portion of the notes wherein Ken Keathley addresses the view that Tom Schreiner and I present in The Race Set Before Us.
_____________________
Mediating views: Apostasy is genuinely threatened but not possible.
Dr. Tom Schreiner and A.B. Canneday [sic] teach that perseverance is the means by which we are saved. These warnings do not merely threaten believers with loss of rewards, but threaten Hell. The warning passages, however, only speak of conceivable, but not actual consequences. The threats of damnation produce assurance and confidence: they are signposts along the way as the believer runs the marathon of faith. Schreiner and Canneday say that perseverance is the basis of justification.
Critique of this view:
  1. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, was Paul concerned he may go to Hell? (If so, this does undermine our assurance.)
  2. Just how conceivable is the believer’s apostasy?
  3. In their model, what happens to those who don’t persevere?
  4. Are they not setting up the same problem that the Puritans dealt with?
  5. How is this view not works-based salvation?
Quote from Schreiner:
“Yes, works are necessary to be saved. No this is not works righteousness, for the works are hardly meritorious.”
This is not close to Trent, this is Trent.

A modest proposal:
  1. The only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ.
    a. Any model that begins with Christ but ends with man is doomed to failure.
    b. Christ and Him alone is the basis for assurance.
  2. Assurance is the essence of saving faith.
    a. Works provide warrant, but not a basis for assurance. Works are the buttress, but Christ and His work are the foundation.
    b. Assurance is analogous to how a Christian knows that God loves him even in times of suffering; the Christian may not feel loved, but the Bible reveals that God does love.
  3. Saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight.
    a. Perseverance should be viewed more as a promise than a requirement
    b. Faith necessarily leads to good works
    c. Indifference concerning godliness is more of a “red flag” than weakness in godliness
    d. The indwelling Holy Spirit assures that there is no such thing as a happy backslider
  4. There are rewards to gain or lose subsequent to faith
  5. Assurance comes from Christ alone.
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Response:
I am tempted simply to quote one of my favorite authors, Thomas Sowell, "Although I am ready to defend what I have said, many people expect me to defend what others have attributed to me." After all, Ken Keathley grounds his accusations in attributing to Tom Schreiner and to me beliefs that we do not hold but actually repudiate, yes, even within the covers of The Race Set Before Us, which Ken Keathley allegedly read.
However, this does not say as much as needs to be said. Thus, I am inclined to offer a paraphrased quotation from the apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans (3:8). "And why do we not say—as we are slanderously accused and as some claim we say—'Let us achieve our own righteousness before God by our own works?'" Dare I quote the apostle's next words—"Their condemnation is right"—as fitting?
Brief responses to Ken Keathley representation of our view:
Dr. Tom Schreiner and A.B. Canneday teach that perseverance is the means by which we are saved. These warnings do not merely threaten believers with loss of rewards, but threaten Hell. The warning passages, however, only speak of conceivable, but not actual consequences. The threats of damnation produce assurance and confidence: they are signposts along the way as the believer runs the marathon of faith. Schreiner and Canneday say that perseverance is the basis of justification.

Keathley's first statement is accurate, even if it is not precisely how I would express the matter. Instead, I would say, "The gospel's warnings do not threaten believers with loss of rewards; the gospel's warnings caution believers lest we perish."
The second, third, and fourth statements entail grotesque misrepresentations of our view.
Second, Keathley claims, "The warning passages, however, only speak of conceivable, but not actual consequences." Consider the following statement that I lift from the midst of a large paragraph that I cite in full below. "Warnings and exhortations project a supposition that calls us to imagine that a particular course of action has an unequivocal and inviolable consequence." How could any reasonable reading of The Race Set Before Us lead anyone to such a false notion as Keathley attributes to us? Nothing could be expressed more clearly. Could it? We insist that the gospel's admonitions and warnings caution against "actual consequences" not "fictional consequences," as Keathley's misrepresentation implies. Is this not what it means when we state that taking "a particular course of action has an unequivocal and inviolable consequence"? What, other than an "actual consequence" could we have in view when we write of "unequivocal and inviolable consequence"?
Indeed, we contend that the suppositional nature of the gospel's admonitions and warnings requires that we understand them as we do road signs that "caution against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences" (TRSBU, p. 208). Contrary to Keathley's grotesque misrepresentation of what we say, we do not contrast "conceivable consequences" with "actual consequences." We contrast "conceivable consequences" with "probable consequences."
Now, it may be that we do not adequately express our thoughts. If so, we are eager to correct any inadequacy or deficiency of expression, for our desire is to be clear and to be understood correctly. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to me that Tom Schreiner and I do adequately explain our terms. Ponder the following paragraph that leads up to the paragraph with the heading, "Road signs caution against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences."
Warnings and admonitions do not say anything about what is possible in the sense of "capable or likely to happen." The words possibility or possible are not suitable to capture the intention and function of conditional warnings and admonitions because they are too ambiguous. The words possible and possibility may denote something as capable of being anticipated, considered or imagined. However, as we have demonstrated, many theologians mean more than this. We have shown that advocates of both the loss-of-salvation view and the loss-of-rewards view insist that the warnings speak of possibility in the sense of something that is capable or likely to occur. Warnings and admonitions, however, express what is capable of being conceived with the mind. They speak of things conceivable or imaginable, not of things like to happen. In fact, this is the objective of warnings and admonitions. They appeal to the mind to conceive how actions have consequences. Warnings and exhortations project a supposition that calls us to imagine that a particular course of action has an unequivocal and inviolable consequence. Because they are suppositional, warnings and admonitions appeal to our imaginations. They fundamentally form a conception, because warnings and admonitions are conceptual. They project concepts that have not yet come to pass. They appeal to our minds to conceive of cause-and-effect relationships or of the relationship between God's appointed means and end. They warn us on the basis of God's inviolable promise and threat proclaimed in the gospel: salvation is only for those who believe to the end. Thus, all the warnings caution us concerning conceivable consequences. They do not confront us with an uncertain future. They do not say that we may perish. Rather, they caution us lest we perish. They warn that we will surely perish if we fail to heed God's call in the gospel (TRSBU, pp. 207-208).
Which part of the above paragraph is unclear? We are not speaking of "fictional consequences" or "imaginary consequences" as Keathley implies when he falsely depicts our view as speaking of "conceivable, but not actual consequences." It should be obvious that we are speaking of "actual consequences" of heeding or of failing to heed God's admonitions and warnings. The actual consequence of persevering in faithfulness to Jesus Christ will be eternal life. The actual consequence of failing to persevere in loyalty to Christ Jesus will be eternal perdition. These are very real and very enduring actual consequences.
Third, indeed, though we
do liken gospel warnings and admonitions to "signposts along the way as the believer runs the marathon of faith," we most assuredly do not claim that the "threats of damnation produce assurance and confidence." We say something much different and far more significant. We contend that the biblical evidence persuades us that the gospel's warnings and admonitions function as crucial means of salvation that God employs for our good, securing our persevering in faithfulness to Jesus Christ unto the end. Thus, not one of God's children in Christ Jesus will perish unto perdition but everyone will be saved unto eternal life. God elicits belief, obedience, doing good, etc. in us by warning us against laxity or turpitude lest we perish and by exhorting us to persevere in faithfulness to Christ in order that we might attain unto salvation in the Last Day.
Fourth, despite the confidence with which Ken Keathley seems to make the assertion, no where do "Schreiner and Caneday say that perseverance is the basis of justification." In fact, we repeatedly deny Keathley's assertion in the very book that Keathley claims to have read, The Race Set Before Us. For anyone who needs a refresher on this, read my eight plus installments in response to the same empty claim made by Steve Fernandez. I offer no further response, for I have already dealt adequately with the charge.
Brief responses to Ken Keathley critique of our view:
  1. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, was Paul concerned he may go to Hell? (If so, this does undermine our assurance.)

    The apostle's concern is to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus Christ lest he perish in perdition. For a full exposition of this passage see "Lest after preaching to others I become disqualified: Grace and Warning in Paul’s Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:23-27) (Testamentum Imperium, 2005-2007): 1-32."

    It is not as though Tom Schreiner and I have not given adequate thought to and exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:23-27, or as though we did concealed our thoughts and expressions in secret. Ken Keathley has full access to the essay as well as to what we published openly in The Race Set Before Us on the same passage. Paul's concern was that he not perish.


  • Just how conceivable is the believer’s apostasy?

    See comments above on "conceivable consequences" versus "probable consequences."
  • In their model, what happens to those who don’t persevere?

    Those who fail to persevere in faithfulness to Christ Jesus will perish eternally. We express this clearly and unequivocally.
  • Are they not setting up the same problem that the Puritans dealt with?

    No, we also make it quite abundantly clear in The Race Set Before Us that we offer correctives to the Puritans. Anyone who actually reads the whole book cannot miss this fact. The Puritans, in the main, expounded the warnings and admonitions in keeping with what we identify as the popular Calvinist view of the "tests-of-genuineness view."

  • How is this view not works-based salvation?

    Again, anyone who actually reads The Race Set Before Us cannot reasonably make such a claim. If anyone is still in doubt, I have already addressed this issue fully throughout this blog but especially in my responses to Steve Fernandez's same false accusation.

  • I close by paraphrasing the apostle Paul's words once again: "And why do we not say—as we are slanderously accused and as some claim we say—'Let us achieve our own righteousness before God by our own works?'"

    2 comments:

    ajlin said...

    I'm sorry I didn't spell your name correctly!

    bob said...

    First, I've written an apology to Tom Schreiner for the Trent comment, and I should have written one sooner to you, too. The remark was off-the-cuff and unscripted, but that doesn't excuse saying it. I should have never made such a statement without discussing my grievances with you personally.

    Second, my desire is that we have a civil debate. Our disagreements are real, but I still want us to interact as Christian brothers.

    Third, there are a number of point in which we agree. I listed those at the conference, but unfortunately that didn't get as much press as the Trent comment.

    Fourth, I don't think you are as clear as you could be or as you should be. Perhaps I am as dense as you think I am. Or perhaps you've argued some points rather poorly. And there is always the possibility that some of my points are valid.

    Anyway, I would like the opportunity to discuss this with you in a less inflammatory venue.

    Ken Keathley