Thursday, September 24, 2009

Buist M. Fanning and the Classical Reformed Response, Part I-A: Hebrews 3:6

I started reading a new book today called “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV (general editor).
There are four writers on the subject: Gareth L. Cockerill (Wesleyan Arminian), Buist M. Fanning (Classical Calvinist), Randall C. Gleason (Moderate Calvinist), and Grant R. Osborne (Classical Arminian).

Grant Osborne wrote the first chapter, devoted to proving the Classical Arminian interpretation (or the Reformed Arminian position, according to Robert Picirilli and Steven Ashby). Buist Fanning’s response to Osborne’s chapter is the first response I’ve read. Fanning writes in response to Osborne:

“In his [Osborne] exposition of Hebrews 3:6, Osborne quotes the verse as follows: ‘We are his house (the church as the house of God), if indeed (Grk. ‘eanper’) we continue…’ He then cites Lane’s comment that this ‘implies that the outcome is contingent upon the response of the hearers.’ By this Osborne means to say that maintaining their present relationship with God all the way through to final salvation is dependent on the readers’ continued faith in Christ. But he deals with the conditional sentence too simplistically and fails to consider other possible senses for this statement. I AGREE THAT THE ‘OUTCOME IS CONTINGENT,’ but I maintain in my essay that the verse explicitly points to a different ‘outcome’ condition on continued faith. The outcome is not whether they WILL MAINTAIN their current status all the way to the future consummation, but whether they ARE his house even now (note verb tenses in 3:6). Lasting faith is the evidence of genuine Christianity; failure to continue in faith is evidence that a person is not genuinely Christian” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed Response,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 138).

Fanning’s analysis is a total reversal of Osborne’s argument. Osborne argues that the end will tell all, while Fanning believes that the end is really a manifestation of the beginning. Does Scripture support Fanning’s view? The answer is no.

Within the book of Hebrews, the writer seems to be focused on the end result. Because the writer views salvation as “final” and future, he urges the Hebrews to remain strong in their faith in the here and now. This is important because what happens in the here and now will determine the end.
For example, look at Hebrews 2:2-3—

“For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2-3a, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Look at the words “how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation”—you will notice that the attempt to escape is future (“will escape”), but the abandoning of the salvation is done in the present (“if we neglect”). Since the word “neglect” is a present tense verb, then the abandonment of the faith is done in the here and now. In other words, the end will tell all. Contra Fanning, Scripture doesn’t make everything as predetermined as Classical Calvinists would like to believe.

Let’s look further in Hebrews, to Hebrews 4:

“For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (for we who have believed enter the rest)…” (Heb. 4:2-3, HCSB)

The writer states here that Israel heard the good news in the wilderness, but they did not receive the good news they heard because they failed to believe. The only two of the old group out of Egypt that entered the Promised Land was Joshua and Caleb.

Now I have a question: do you believe that the Lord determined from the beginning that most of the Israelites He delivered from Egypt would die in the wilderness? Do you think the Lord intended for them to die in the wilderness? The evidence for this is small to nonexistent. After all, the Lord that took Joshua and Caleb into the Promised Land is the same Lord who told Moses,

“I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites” (Exodus 3:7-8, HCSB).

The Lord intended to take the Israelites (the ones He delivered from Egypt, NOT just Joshua and Caleb) into the Promised Land. However, their unbelief is what kept them out of it. The Lord was faithful to keep them, but God’s faithfulness did not cancel out their responsibility! Read these words of Moses’ conversation with God:

“The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, THIS IS YOUR GOD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ The LORD also said to Moses: ‘I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’
But Moses interceded with the LORD his God: ‘Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with a great power and a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘HE BROUGHT THEM OUT WITH AN EVIL INTENT TO KILL THEM IN THE MOUNTAINS AND WIPE THEM OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH?’” (Exodus 32:7-12a, HCSB).

Moses told the Lord that if He killed the Israelites, the Egyptians would speak ill of Him and His character. While the Lord decided not to kill His people, He did tell Moses,

“Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about; see, My angel will go before you. BUT ON THE DAY I SETTLE ACCOUNTS, I WILL HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR SIN’” (Exod. 32:34). And the Lord then struck the Israelites with a plague for worshipping the golden calf (v. 35).

The Lord did not destroy them in the mountains, as He had planned to do; but He did keep their sin on their record. The Israelites paid the price for their idolatry—they died out in the wilderness, and Joshua and Caleb were the only two from the group to enter the Promised Land.

So when the writer of Hebrews talks about not having “an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God” (Heb. 3:12), he is telling them that by so doing, they will end up like the Israelites, who “were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19).

Regardless of Fanning’s take on all of this, it is clear from Scripture that the God who had planned for those freed from Egypt to enter the Promised Land was the same God who killed them off in the wilderness (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) for their sin, their apostasy. So while the Israelites were originally God’s people who should have entered the Promised Land, they ended up being carcasses in the wilderness to be eaten by vultures—while a new generation entered the land in their place. God still took “Israel” into the land—just not the “Israel” He brought out of Egypt.

Now, does this mean that, because they did not continue in faith, that they were not His people? NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! As we’ve seen in the Lord’s conversation with Moses, they WERE His people, in every way!! However, their sin is the reason why they failed to enter the Promised Land.

And the same goes for those who believe. Does it mean that, because they fail to obtain eternal life, that they did not have a serious profession of faith? No, of course not! They could be very serious about their profession—but they could also fail to live up to their profession. Making the profession is the first part of being a Christian; the rest is living up to “the name of Christ.” Living up to being a Christian involves battling sin on a daily basis. This is why the writer of Hebrews seems very concerned that “none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb. 3:13, HCSB). Although the power of God is strong, we are engaged in daily spiritual warfare (Eph. 6), and without using the armor God has given us, we can fall prey to the enemy and be defeated. But even in our defeat, God is not responsible: for He has given us the tools by which we can defeat Satan. If we fall prey to Satan and are destroyed in the end, it’s our own fault.

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