Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eternal Security Debate - Vocab’s Concluding Essay

Eternal Security Debate 
Vocab’s Concluding Essay (link)

As I reviewed the debate between Nick and I on the very important question of "do the Gospels teach that salvation can be lost", I felt a sense of sadness creep over me. I didn’t think “Oh, look how great I did” or “Nick was untouchable” or anything like that. No, the main thing I kept on thinking is how tragic it is that so many people for so long have been utterly confused about the very nature of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. I sincerely wish that Rome was *not* utterly confused about salvation. Yet, I must admit that this is indeed the case.

We can see Nick’s faithful adherence to the teaching of Rome in his opening statement, when he makes it clear how he feels about the idea that God promises to preserve and uphold those whom from all eternity he has set his gracious love upon:
“Among the various heresies that arose at the time of the Reformation, one of the most notable was the doctrine of “Eternal Security” - the teaching that the Christian cannot lose his salvation.”
Nick, as a faithful follower of Roman dogma, is barred by his presuppositions from accepting the biblical teaching on the nature and efficacy of God’s salvation. For example, Rome conflates justification and sanctification and confuses adoption with regeneration.  Nick, whom I honestly do respect and like, is obliged to follow suit and be confused, conflated, and confounded as well when it comes to soteriology in general and the ordo salutis (order of salvation) in particular.  

Here is one place I where  think we saw this: Nick aptly and accurately describes Rome’s view of salvation as being analogous to “getting hired in order to eventually become worthy of a paycheck.” Props to Nick for being frank but we are left wondering how this framework meshes with the grace-based salvation found in the pages of Scripture … the answer is that it does not. Anyone who has read both opening statements, rebuttals, and cross-examinations will discern we are dealing with classic merit theology versus grace theology in this debate. Does Nick truly think any human would ever be “worthy of a paycheck” from God? I just can’t get away from the fact that much of Nick’s presentation is intensely man-centered in its outlook.

Another frustrating thing I found in re-reading through our respective essays was that Nick assumes Roman Catholic theology left-and-right. This handicaps his exegesis in a way I do not think he appreciates. This may be why he makes rather bold and sometimes overconfident statements to the effect of “my exegesis clearly shows how passage A is in line with Roman Catholic teaching on subject B and Vocab’s interpretation is impossible” (note, this is not a direct quote from Nick but rather my paraphrase of several of his statements and attitudes).

Nick regularly reads Roman Catholic doctrine into his interpretations and this may explain his tendency to list large numbers of passages, give a two-sentence opinion on them and then say “see, this proves my point!” Then he quickly moves onto the next passage and repeats the process. Depending on how one counts the passages, in his opening statement Nick listed at least 21 passages in such a manner. Now a person inclined to agree with Nick may think, “well, that just proves how many times the gospels teach us that we can indeed lose the salvation God has given us.” But stop for just a minute and reflect that each essay has a 2,000 word limit. How much space does this leave for serious exegesis? Not much, and that is why all Nick can often provide us with is a brief opinion on each verse. Does he assume we just automatically agree with all his mini-commentaries?

Let me provide one demonstration of what I mean from Nick’s opener:
Matthew 7:13f. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” This states that to enter Heaven, one must persevere on the “narrow” and “hard” road. This indicates Salvation is not secured until one perseveres and thus falling away is possible.
Where in the text are Nick’s claims found? Nowhere! It seems he has selected a proof text text that offers no proof. It’s not the text’s fault, of course, it simply is not speaking about the issue of eternal security (or insecurity) but rather describing the path to heaven, as it were. Barnes comments:
"Few go there. Here and there one may be seen - traveling in solitude and singularity. The way to death, on the other hand, is broad. Multitudes are in it. It is the great highway in which people go.” 
The text simply doesn’t lean one way or the other when it comes to eternal security because it is speaking about something else. Remember, Nick’s opener has 20 more “proof-texts” similar to this one! In his future debates, I humbly suggest that he list less passages and spend more time galvanizing his position by thoroughly exegeting each one. Furthermore, it is not impressive to list 21 passages in favor of one’s position unless, well, they are actually in favor of your position! This means it is not enough for a basketball player to attempt a high number of three-pointers, he must actually make some for them to count towards a victory.

One key issue that Nick never satisfactorily dealt with was his incomplete definition of eternal life. If a person goes  back and reads they will see for the most part Nick just tells us what it is supposed to mean and he also tells us that the true definition of eternal life is that no, it is not eternal when you get it (because if it was, how could you lose it?) but  becomes eternal when you die; that is, if you make it. Now I am not 100% sure if I am explaining his position on this correctly and I apologize if I am not. 

The reason I am having trouble in this regard is because I am confused how he can have eternal life not be eternal, especially when believers are said to possess it already it in this life numerous times in the gospels. Instead, it seems as Nick is telling us that Jesus basically says, “Here is a great gift (for some reason called ‘eternal life’), now good luck holding onto it and not breaking it up, because once you do, that’s it. I’ll give you another one if you like but you’ll have to try really hard to get it – and keep it, for that matter. Oh, and by the way, there’s not a whole lot I can do to help you out, so it’s mainly up to you.”

The testimony of the gospels also seems to contradict Nick’s understanding of “eternal life”: One such place is John 10:26–30 (another is John 5:24), where Jesus says, “you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Note how Jesus defines eternal life here: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Nick’s claim that this actually means only that Satan and the Pharisees have no snatching power does not stand up to scrutiny and further has no basis in the text; in fact, it seems to contradict the text directly: “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” One more consideration from John 10:29 is that "any man" is an indefinite pronoun in Greek. This means it could accurately be translated as "anything" or “anyone.” This of course would include Pharisees, the Devil, or the person themself.

Does John 6:36-40 Really "Fit Nicely" w/the Roman Catholic Position As Nick Claims?
I also think John 6:36-40 was never dealt with in a meaningful way: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 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.”

One big thing I must remind the readers of is Nick’s dubious claim about how the present tense in John 6 and related passages proves the Roman Catholic point. Nick essentially tells us that this means John is saying “yes, you can lose your salvation.” He brought it up a number times as if it was a knock-down argument and yet you will notice he never really substantiates the claim, rather he simply states it as a matter of fact. Worst of all, the last he brought it up was after I had already dealt with it and he simply ignored what I had written in my response and made the claim again. This is not the way to conduct a profitable debate! If all this was not problematic enough, we have the fact that his idea about the present tense use is simply wrong. What do I mean? Simply that every time John refers to false believers, he differentiates them with the aorist tense. I encourage Nick to go back through John’s gospel with a reverse-interlinear that has a parsing code and he will see this most certainly is the case. This tells us John has already included a grammatical cue for his readers when he speaks of false belief and it’s the aorist tense, not the present. This fact alone renders Nick’s idea moot.

I add this next paragraph as a "side note": during this debate I have cited from a number of scholarly commentaries (I am not saying that makes me "right" but rather I am just stating a fact from our debate). However, there is one more ‘commentary’ I have not cited: John’s. In 1 John 2:19, John wrote this: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” This would seem to function as a help in understanding what John meant when he wrote his gospel.  

In my rebuttal and cross-ex I wrote on Matthew 7:22-23 and John 10:14 and asked Nick a question about these two passages. I really hope that our readers and yes, Nick himself would go back and re-read Nick’s answer to this challenge (Question #5) and honestly weigh if his answer during the cross-examination is a satisfactory response derived from a straight reading of the passage. I humbly submit to you that his answer fails on all counts. Once again, I pray the Lord is holding me back from debate showmanship here – I sincerely desire that the truth be heard and received by God’s people and would feel ashamed if my own defects got in the way. With that being said, re-read the question and answer in relation to this passage, I implore you.

It is interesting in our debate that Nick misused Matthew 5:13, attempting to make it a “you can lose your salvation text”, when the real meaning packs quite the theological punch: if those calling themselves the church in the world no longer act as salt and light, then what good are they? The answer the Reformers were forced to give was that those claiming to be salt and light during their day – Rome –  were no longer fulfilling Jesus' commands and therefore were not following Jesus. We needed a Reformation because the institution claiming to be salt and light … was not. Many 16th century European scholars and peasants would have agreed and we have seen that so do the gospels.  

In closing, I would like to rewind back to the concept of adoption in the New Testament. I have studied this concept in detail (and hope to do more so in the future) and have learned a great deal from these studies. Why? One reason is that my wife and I have been called to illustrate this truth of the gospel message by adopting several children here in the Phoenix area. So when the New Testament talks about adoption … well, as a real-life adoptive parent, I can ‘get’ this: when my wife and I adopted our son, Malachi, we chose to make him our own – and we could never un-adopt him. His former identity has been expunged and he has new privileges, new responsibilities, new allegiances, new family members, and a new identity. It is a permanent and wonderful gift we are pleased to give him – just like how God bestows upon all those he makes his own all the wonders of being in His family. 

God never kicks out his children, so to speak, so I praise God that I have been made eternally secure in the sustaining power of the triune God. Praise God for making his people secure in his strong Hand! Praise God for his eternal security and Praise God for adoption! 


costrowski said...

1. Adam, the son of God - (Luke 3:38)
2. When he [God]EXPELLED the man [Adam] - (Genesis 3:24)
3. God never kicks out his children - (Vocab’s concluding essay)


vocab malone/jm rieser said...

After mentioning 'adoption' twice in Romans (8:15 and 23), Paul writes this:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 8:29–30.

Nick said...


In the past I've actually started to see Romans 8:29-30 in a different light. My theory is that this text is not speaking of God saving from A-to-Z so to speak, but rather focused on one aspect of salvation, the conversion.

Many think the term "glorified" is in reference to Heavenly Glory and Resurrected Glorified Body, but that doesn't seem certain by any means to me. Here are some reasons why:

1) Nobody has been "glorified" in the full and final sense yet, so to read "he also glorified" in a past-tense way renders it a chronological error.

2) The "calling" and "justifying" are both things that take place at or near the conversion, while "glorified" in the eschatological sense is centuries separated. In other words, there is a huge 'gap' that doesn't really follow, and it's interesting that factors such as Adoption and Sanctification are not mentioned.

3) It seems to me that "glorified" taken in the past-tense applies to the here and now, and thus it must correspond to something like Adoption. This easily solves the issues of #1 and #2 above. In fact, using what I believe is a parallel in Ephesians 1, the Ephesians 1 chapter speaks of "predestined to adoption" and the language is further very similar to "conformed to the image of his Son", all speaking of the here and now, particularly the conversion stage.

In short, I see the mainstream interpretation of eschatological glory largely based on assuming this is what the term 'glorified' means, while 'my' (for lack of better classification) view seeks to interpret and harmonize the text with the context and parallel scripture.

I'm certainly open to hear alternative thoughts or criticism.