Monday, January 3, 2011

Eternal Security Debate - Affirmative Rebuttal Essay

Eternal Security Debate
Debate Resolution:
Do the Gospels Teach that Salvation Can Be Lost?
Affirmative Rebuttal Essay
by Nick

In this Rebuttal Essay I will address the three main sections which Vocab wrote upon.

The first section dealt with addressing important distinctions and approaches to our respective theologies. While I as a Catholic do not believe in Sola Scriptura, and thus would probably be considered by some as not accepting Scripture’s full authority, I don’t think that is as critical a factor as it could be. The reasons are as follows: (a) despite not accepting formal sufficiency, I accept material sufficiency and thus hold to a very high view of Scripture; (b) I don’t accept Sola Scriptura / Formal Sufficiency primarily because I don’t believe such is even taught in Scripture in the first place, meaning I simply refuse to accept an unbiblical doctrine(!); and (c) a large percentage of (conservative) Protestants, likely even the majority, do not believe Scripture teaches Eternal Security, and they base this conclusion on Scripture Alone, even using some of the very texts I’ve already appealed to. Thus, my rejection of Sola Scriptura has no direct impact on the debate thesis.

The next two points Vocab made in his first section are worth quoting in full: “The correct interpretation of any given scripture can not result in any real contradictions with the correct interpretation of another scripture” and “It is necessary to interpret less explicit passages in light of more explicit passages.” I wholeheartedly agree with this, and this is precisely the approach I took when examining this issue. In fact, I think I took these ideas more to heart than Vocab did, since I examined every chapter of all four of the Gospels when looking at and presenting the evidence. In my Opening Essay, I quoted from all four of the Gospels when coming to my conclusions, where as - as far as I can see - Vocab focused essentially on two passages in John, while virtually ignoring all of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This, to me, is an implicit concession that the doctrine has no reasonable testimony in the Synoptic Gospels, implicitly confirming my thesis.

The only inaccurate part of Vocab’s presentation of my position is when he said:

In short, it is not an option for Nick to believe the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which places the emphasis on God’s doing, not on man’s merit.

I as a Catholic believe in perseverance of the saints, and this can be seen as easily as examining the same Catholic documents Vocab quoted from. I believe the Bible teaches this as well, especially in texts such as Matthew 24:12-13, which says the one who perseveres will be saved. In reality, it is Vocab who denies the concept of Perseverance, because in his view there is nothing for the Christian to persevere in in the first place since he is Secure from the moment he believes. To persevere means the danger of falling away always exists, and you (with God’s grace) must endure those trials to the very end. Just like in a race, you persevere when you complete the race, despite any trips and falls along the way, while the potential of failing to finish the race always exists. In Vocab’s theology, the runner is awarded the trophy at the very start, and doesn’t base it on his performance in the race. That might be Eternal Security, but it’s not perseverance. Note the Scripture I quoted above, it says only upon persevering is one (eternally) saved, not before. Thus, based on Scripture and logic, Vocab’s theology is incorrect on what it means to be saved and persevere.

The second section of Vocab’s Opening Essay addressed the evidence for eternal security as found in the Four Gospels. Unfortunately, his entire case virtually rested upon a particular reading of two passages in John (6:37:40 and 10:26-30). The rest of his texts he quoted were simply
tangential to his reading of those two passages. He didn’t quote a single texts from Matthew or Mark, and only a single brief quote from Luke. For a doctrine so important, we would think Scripture strongly testified to it in all Four Gospels, and not just two passages in John.

In my Opening Essay, I anticipated these two passages would be appealed to, and briefly touched upon them, since in my experience they are virtually the only Gospel texts appealed to for Eternal Security. As I noted originally, those texts need to be examined on a few key fronts:
  • Context: the context is that of heard-hearted Jews who dislike the notion of Jesus being the Messiah. Their nation has a long track record of disobeying God, and this rebellion culminates with their rejection of God’s Final and Ultimate appeal through the Incarnation. It is not speaking of sinners in general or unbelievers in general, which is why particularly harsh language is used at times. The protection Jesus is offering is not that of protection against personal sin, but rather against outside forces like Satan and persecuting Jews. Given that, we cannot jump to the conclusion this is protection from personal sin, which it is not, as other passages clearly indicate.
  • Grammar: many of the important Greek terms used are in the present-tense, indicating the action must continue for the benefits to continue. Thus, it is not speaking of past-tense-already-completed events, such as believing at a single moment in the past and being fully awarded eternal life at that moment. Given just this, it’s clear the Protestant notion of Eternal Security is grammatically impossible. Instead, it’s teaching a notion of Perseverance, and thus one is only saved so long as they are persevering. Further, terminology such as “believe” and “eternal life” are also not used Scripturally the way Vocab is assuming.
  • Consensus: the Gospels as a whole give strong consensus for personal sin leading to a loss of salvation, thus we would not expect two texts to over-turn this consensus. Ultimately, if Vocab is going to base his entire case on these two texts, he is engaging in the fallacy of special-pleading, in which one examines only part of the available evidence and ignores any contrary evidence.
With this firm-footing established, there can be no reasonable objection to the Catholic interpretation of these passages. The Catholic interpretation is essentially this: Jesus gives life to, protects, and preserves those believers who remain united to Him, while those believers who turn to sin lose these benefits to some real degree. This is why passages like John 15, when Jesus is speaking to his disciples, say to abide in Christ (and thus receiving the fullness of His blessings) believers must keep His Commandments and that those believers who turn to sin are like branches cut-off and withering.

Vocab then spends some time talking about the line “I will never cast out,” interpreting this to mean the believer wont be rejected by Christ for turning to sin. As noted earlier, I believe a key distinction is being overlooked: Jesus will never abandon the faithful Christian, giving comfort to them, telling them he wont abandon them when things get tough, but this is distinct from the believer turning to sin (e.g. as the Prodigal Son was not cast out, yet chose to leave).

In wrapping up his focus on John 6, Vocab says:

we see at least three distinct evidences of the Triune God preserving believers:
  1. Jesus will never cast them out
  2. Jesus will not lose any that the Father has given
  3. Those who believe will be raised
Jesus summarizes it this way in 6:40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” We could even add one more evidence here if we simply realize that eternal life is just that: eternal. How can you be given something that lasts forever and then have it not last forever?

As I’ve stated throughout: the first two points above refer to Jesus not abandoning the believer nor letting Satan or persecutors over-power Him, but nothing at all about the one given to Him leaving and turning to sin (as Judas is explicitly said to have done); the third point, along with quoting 6:40, properly understood is speaking of persevering in believing, not that anything is secure, since the present tense verbs “looks,” “believes,” and “have,” indicate continuous actions and benefits, not completed ones.
The terminology “eternal life” - as John tends to use it - is often misunderstood, which is speaking of a present relationship with God, not legal entitlement to Heaven: as John 17:3 virtually defines the whole essence of it: “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” and 4:14, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” and lastly 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Notice that “eternal life” is a transformation in the individual’s soul when united to the life of the Trinity. Think about it, John is saying the epitome of eternal life is Jesus dwelling in your heart hear and now as a believer! Thus, properly understanding the grammar of the text, John 6:40 beautifully becomes: this is the will of the Father, that whomever continues to look upon Jesus and continues to believe in Jesus, will continue having personal unity with the Trinity in their soul.

Another important point Vocab focuses upon is Jesus’ intercession for protection for his disciples, arguing this indicates eternal security. I think this is assuming too much. Jesus can and does intercede for disciples for various needs at various times, and His intercession is efficacious. That doesn’t necessitate Jesus always intercedes at all times for every protection (else you’d have to argue Jesus totally abandons believers when they are martyred or that when a believer turns to sin Jesus failed to stop them). A good example of this principle - that Jesus doesn’t interceded for every protection or blessing at every time - is the very passage Vocab cites, Luke 22:31-32, where Jesus prayed singularly for Peter (using the singular ‘you’) in the midst of all the Apostles abandoning Christ when the soldiers came to crucify Him. The Apostles truly turned away at that point, including the infamous account of Peter denying Jesus three times! Yet Christ’s intercession was so that Peter would be converted again and in turn bring back his brethren. Jesus did not protect Peter from gravely sinning and (temporary) apostasy, but He ensured Peter would repent and re-unite Himself to Christ and thus salvation. This getting back up when the believer falls is what Perseverance is all about!

In the third and final section of his Essay, Vocab focuses on the accounts mentioning Judas’ falling away. But note carefully the very first passage he quotes: In John 17:12 Jesus says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Here Jesus is speaking of all 12 Apostles, which he says He “kept” and which were “given” to Him, and that He protected and lost none - except one, Judas. This clearly confirms the Catholic interpretation: Jesus protected them under certain conditions, and this never included or guaranteed protection from personal sin, which is precisely how Judas was lost. The only way to harmonize the fact Jesus lost one of the 12 He was to protect is the Catholic interpretation. From the way the Gospels speak, Judas actually was a genuine believer up until he began to become disillusioned with how Jesus was fulfilling the Messianic role, hence the reason the Bible says Judas “betrayed” Jesus (you can’t betray someone you never were loyal to).

I firmly maintain the Catholic view is the only one that both takes all the Scriptural evidence into account as well as the only view that is able to harmonize all Scripture.