Monday, January 24, 2011

Eternal Security Debate - Nick’s Concluding Essay

Eternal Security Debate - Nick’s Concluding Essay

This final essay of mine will consist chiefly in analyzing Vocab’s Rebuttal Essay as well as his Cross-Examination Answers to my questions.

Vocab’s Rebuttal Essay.

He began by claiming I cited too many proof texts (21) and “often without an adequate justification.” I would respond by saying that I believe I commented adequately upon every text I cited, showing the main idea behind why I cited it. I was be open to seeing which texts didn’t have “adequate justification,” but, unfortunately, Vocab avoided most of my texts and didn’t really give my texts a fair look in the first place. His reasons were as follows:

(1) First, he said: “Many of them are parables or metaphors.” I honestly don’t see how this makes as big of an impact as he claims. Christians have always understood they are to draw the principles and lessons from Christ’s parables and metaphors, without taking everything in a “wooden-literalist” fashion. Vocab even says “many” of the texts I cited “are not dealing primarily with issues of salvation,” yet if anyone looks at my list they will see salvation is indeed a very clear theme (even if only a secondary theme in a few of them). The only passage he examined here was Matthew 5:13, but even as Calvin notes in his commentary: “After having reminded them to what they are called, he pronounces against them a heavy and dreadful judgment, if they do not fulfill their duty.” The phrase “thrown out and trampled” has no other significance than to cast off into hell (as even your link indicates).

(2) Second, he said: “Many of his interpretations assume Roman Catholic dogma.”
I would deny this is relevant in the same way my Rebuttal opened by addressing how my rejection of Sola Scriptura is irrelevant. The only passage Vocab cited in this section was Matthew 26:33, of Peter’s denial of Christ, which I called “a cardinal sin.” Vocab responds by saying: “Note the assumptions ... where did ‘cardinal sin’ come from in regards to this passage?” I only used the term “cardinal” to emphasize the monstrosity of denying Christ! If Vocab wants to claim denying Christ is a minor sin and has no bearing on one’s salvation, I think that puts him in a far more dubious position (e.g. Mat 10:33).

(3) Third, he said: “The use of the present tense does not prove his case.” He seems to have missed my point, which was that it simply corresponds to what is currently a reality, not a completed/finished one. Thus his alleged proofs from John 6 and John 10 that salvation is “secured” is a grammatic-fallacy, since at most they are saying salvation only currently exists as long as certain conditions are currently being met. As for the claim John speaks of “the false faith of counterfeit believers,” the very notion of “false faith” is a Reformed invention. (Astonishingly, Vocab says the believers in John 2:23 and 8:30 are “counterfeit believers”!)

The next proof text of mine Vocab addresses is Matthew 10:28, which he says is non-salvific. While the context certainly is of God’s Providential care of disciples against persecutions, the very point is that though God allows this, He puts a check on them (i.e. loss of earthly life) - where as the contrast is made to God’s punishment for turning to sin is destruction of body and soul in hell - clearly speaking of salvation.

In addressing John 13:8, Vocab correctly understood me. While I do not deny any deeper meaning, the plain, literal account of the event is none the less true: unless Peter (note this is after Mat 16:16-17) submits to Jesus literally washing his feet, Peter would have no share with Christ. Either Jesus was serious in His warning, and thus contradicted the notion salvation is eternally secure, or He was making a false threat. Clearly, only the former is possible.

The last proof text Vocab analyzes is John 15:1-10. He claims the individuals of verse 2 and 6 were never saved to begin with. The two key points in this lesson is that (a) Jesus is speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper (after Judas left), and (b) the text speaks of branches “in” Christ, which makes no sense if they never really believed. How can someone be “in” Christ and be “thrown away and wither” if they never were truly connected to the Vine to begin with?

Vocab goes onto defend his appeal to John 6 and John 10. First, in regards to “snatching” from the Father’s hand, Vocab fallaciously argues that “no one” must logically mean literally everyone. That’s simply ignoring context and making a leap of logic. Just the way the passage is worded, “no one is able to snatch them” indicates the “no one” and “them” are two different groups. Reading verses 10:26, 10:10, and especially 10:12b (it's the “wolf” who “snatches,” using the same Greek word as 10:28f), Jesus is cleanly speaking of external forces, principally Satan and persecutors. Next Vocab speaks on Judas’ salvation, specifically John 13:18, noting that Judas was not among the “elect” in that passage. This is irrelevant, for that in itself doesn’t mean he was never saved at any point. In short, I am not conflating the the term “election” with 13:18 and 6:70. (Also: see my answer on Vocab’s question about Judas.) Lastly, Vocab focuses on the term “eternal life” (as John uses it) but he seems to miss my point that while yes it is a current possession, it’s not in itself a securing of entrance to Heaven. Thus, I agree largely with Vocab’s analysis and proof-texts on the phrase, but he seems to not realize that he’s reading more into the phrase than what is actually true. To highlight my point, which he apparently doesn’t see, John typically speaks of having “eternal life” now, while the other three Gospel writers speak of receiving “eternal life” in the future. Thus, the term is being used two different ways, one speaking about ‘final salvation’ and the other about one’s current (intimate) relationship with the Trinity - and the two cannot be conflated without causing exegetical problems.

Vocab’s answers to my cross-examination questions.

In the first question, I asked him how he can believe in “perseverance” if salvation is eternally secure. His first comment was merely a restating of my question, not a response, while his second comment is non-sequitor. If someone is entitled the race trophy before they finish the race, then how does it make sense to say they must finish the race to be worthy of the trophy? This is an accurate analogy to my question. And my question wasn’t about making God “absent from the equation” as Vocab insinuates, since it’s a given that God is always part of the equation. The issue is whether God allows some not to Persevere, which I maintain the Bible clearly teaches (just as God allows Christians to still fall into sin). In all he says, I think he failed to grasp my point: the question was strictly on logical grounds, not on theological ones. I was trying to see whether he had a logical foundation before applying this to theology, and after his response, I maintain that Vocab’s position has no answer to this plain logical contradiction.

In my second question, I asked Vocab to list one passage from Matthew, Mark, and Luke that he believed most strongly teaches Eternal Security. His first text was Matthew 7:21-23 (which I’ve addressed elsewhere), yet this is merely speaking of someone never saved in the first place. How can this be “strong proof” for being eternally saved? As for his appeal to Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, there are various ways it can be interpreted since it leaves many questions open. For example, it doesn't account for the fact everyone starts off unsaved. One generally accepted reading (e.g. Calvin's) is that this is speaking of those inside the Church. The question is, then, are the weeds those who never believed to begin with (similar to Mat 7:21-23), or are they Christians who became corrupted? If the former, then the parable isn’t focused upon persevering and/or losing salvation in the first place. If the latter, then Eternal Security is refuted, since the theme is the devil sneaking in to corrupt the good (which is my interpretation).

His second text was Mark 10:29-30, but astonishingly, I actually referenced this very passage in my opening essay since I believe it actually strongly refutes Eternal Security.

His third text is Luke 6:47-49 and Luke 15:3-7. I don’t see how the first text supports eternal security at all, and in fact suggests conditional security since the individual must always be keeping Christ’s commandments. The second passage truly cannot suggest Eternal Security, else how is it possible the one sheep got ‘lost’ in the first place? The moral is focused upon a stray Christian needing repentance to get back into the fold, which is illogical and impossible in an Eternal Security theme.

All in all, I believe Vocab failed significantly to show strong and solid proof for Eternal Security in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and is basically hanging his hat on the two passages from John (which I believe I’ve adequately explained a few times already).

The third question I asked Vocab was concerning Our Lord’s command to pray to God to “forgive us our trespasses,” which Vocab explicitly (and rightly) affirmed is part of the Christian’s regular prayer life. He said: “The reason we must regularly ask for forgiveness is because we regularly sin. We would be wise to remember that our personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses and not salvation from sin.”
If the Christian still sins, and needs forgiveness for those sins, then how is salvation secure? That’s impossible, and a contradiction Calvinist theology has always had trouble with. This is compounded by the fact Protestants don’t believe in the distinction of mortal versus venial sin, and thus all sins are equally serious! If a person is before God with unforgiven sins, then they cannot be saved, much less secure. I don’t understand how Vocab can separate “salvation from sin” and “personal fellowship with God,” since the two are directly related.

The fourth question I asked was how he interprets Matthew 18:23-35. The most basic question is: was the first servant really forgiven by the king in the first place? The plain reading of the text indicates yes. This parable isn’t that complicated, and Vocab’s own quote from My Blomberg confirms the gist of the parable. Thus, Vocab is still left answering how that forgiven man ended up damned.

The fifth question I asked him was how he interprets Luke 8:13 and Matthew 24:12-13. He begins by quoting Luke 8:18, not realizing Jesus is on a different lesson by that point! More importantly, he believes the person never really believed in the first place, but what point is there in the text saying someone “believes for a while” if in fact the person never believed even for a while? That indicates a “never-really-believed-in-the-first-place” reading is impossible. Vocab says: “This group displays a nominal, superficial, emotional, and non-saving faith.” But where does the text, or the chapter, or the NT ever speak of a “non-saving faith”? Vocab’s comments on Matthew 24:12-13 is essentially the same fallacy. If they never had true love, then it cannot ‘grow cold’. Ironically, he goes onto say: “If one does not persevere then they will not be saved no matter what they professed because they were never saved anyway.” Note the failure to distinguish between present and final salvation (as my thesis does do) here and throughout his comments. Without this distinction, Vocab’s comment results in a blatant logical contradiction (since future and past salvation are conflated).

Concluding thoughts.

In conclusion to this debate, I would like to thank Vocab for persevering with me in seeing this debate to the end (pun intended). We both have been busy these last few weeks, but we’ve managed to find the time to talk on this important subject. In consideration of all the evidence provided, I would sum up my case as follows: (a) I’ve provided Scriptural texts that confirm my thesis, (b) I’ve asked questions that Vocab’s thesis couldn’t sufficiently answer, (c) I was able to sufficiently address his rebuttals and questions, and (d) Vocab’s prooftexts essentially consisted in special pleading on two passages in John’s gospel. Thus, I think the audience will see that, from logical and Scriptural standpoint, my thesis is found true: the doctrine of Eternal Security is false and unbiblical.

(p.s. Since these are the final Essays, the Comment Box is now open - with the hope that those commenting have read the entire debate)


scotju said...

This little exchange of ideas shows Calvinism is intellectelly, morally, and spiritally bankrupt. If the scriptures that it's based upon are viewed in isolation from the rest of the scriptures and 2000 years of tradition, then Calvinism and every other heresy that has afflicted the Church seem to make sense. But when you place those scriptures in context with the book, Gospel, or epistle that they are taken from, Calvinism or any other heresy falls flat on it's face. In the end, only the Catholic interpetation is true.

vocab malone/jm rieser said...

Scotju -

If you are correct in saying that only the Catholic interpretation of Scripture is true, I sure do wish the Vatican would interpret some more verses for us infallibly!

Nick said...


I wrote about that very subject a few months ago (here).

John Thomson said...


I have quickly skimmed the two concluding essays. I must read the others. Nick will realise that my sympathies are with Vocab who expresses well what I believe.

I would thank Nick for presenting the Catholic view.

I am not convinced the issue of eternal security is a good starting point. Undoubtedly both groups have to find a way of reconciling what seem to be two different strands; e-life is certain when given by Christ yet for e-life to be gained faith must be persevered in.

To my mind what is apparently hard to hold together here philosophically (God's determining sovereignty and man's full responsibility) is not so hard to hold actually or experientially.

Faith is the confident certainty that God has/will achieved my salvation in every way, including keeping me from falling (keeping me in faithful faith). Faith looks to God steadfastly for all of salvation including the grace continue and power to conquer. Faith looks for and to this saving grace sourced in God 'existentially' that is moment by moment, day by day. By so doing faith nourishes itself/is nourished by God and so perseveres. Faith by its very nature does not turn in on itself for security and confidence but looks out to God in Christ.

This seems to me the psychology of a text like:

Phil 2:12-13 (ESV)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We do but know by faith it is God doing (therefore we have an assured confidence, humble but not presumpuous)