Friday, September 25, 2009

Buist M. Fanning and the Classical Reformed Response, Part I-B: When Presupposition Prevails

“It is certainly true that, in isolation, a verse like Hebrews 3:14 (according to my view of it) could be taken to deny any assurance until the end of life is reached: ‘We have become partakers of Christ [inference], if in fact we hold the beginning of our confidence firm until the end [evidence].’ If continuance is the test of reality, then we cannot know our real status with Christ until we continue to the end, or so the charge goes. But as I have tried to show throughout, we must not read any of Hebrews in isolation! We must couple the meaning of Hebrews 3:6 and 3:14 with the astonishing statements of what God accomplishes in the lives of those who ‘have become partakers’ of Christ’s high priestly work. IT IS GOD’S POWERFUL, TRANSFORMING, AND LASTING WORK OF SALVATION THAT IS THE PRIMARY BASIS OF ASSURANCE FOR CHRISTIANS. The beginnings of assurance gained by seeing this saving work begun and furthered in my life are reinforced immeasurably by the realization that Christ is completely able to bring me through to final salvation, not because of my continued response to him but because of his eternally effective high priestly ministry” (Buist M. Fanning, from “Four Views On the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 142).

I’m back to continue examining Buist M. Fanning’s response to Grant Osborne’s chapter on the Classical Arminian View on the warning passages in Hebrews. We see from the last post on Fanning I wrote, that Fanning seems to argue that if a person is a Christian, he or she will not depart from the living God; however, as I’ve shown with Hebrews 3 and the Israelites in the beginning of Hebrews 4, the Christian life is a process—which is why the Israelites had a “journey” through the wilderness. The journey in the wilderness was to be the time of sanctification and growth for the Lord’s people; however, every test God gave them, they failed miserably…until finally, God told Moses that, despite his prayers, the people would be held accountable for their sin (Exod. 32).

Tonight, I’m back to explain Fanning’s reasoning. The quote above shows us that Fanning’s analysis of a Christian is not based on that person and their effort, but on what God has done. But the problem here has to do with the examples to strive to imitate Christ. For instance, what do we do with Hebrews 11?

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain [did]. By this he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through this. (C) 5 By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. (D) For prior to his transformation he was approved, having pleased God. (E) 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, after being warned about what was not yet seen, in reverence built an ark to deliver his family. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (F) 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going. (G) 9 By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. (H) 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:4-10, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

As an excerpt from Hebrews 11 shows us that faith is not just a mental assent, but an ACTION-BASED belief. It is “belief in action.” So even though Fanning says that his assurance is found in Christ, he should qualify this sentence: in other words, what do you mean by “assurance found in Christ?” I think he means, as most believers agree, that our assurance is found in the fact that “the one who draws near to Him [Christ] MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS AND REWARDS THOSE WHO SEEK HIM” (Hebrews 11:6).

In other words, our faith brings assurance when we understand that IF we seek the Lord, we will be rewarded. We must believe God when He promises to reward us for our faithfulness. And the fact that we believe God rewards those who seek Him shows us that we cannot expect to receive the reward of eternal life IF we fail to seek Him. If this is what Fanning means by “assurance,” then he should clarify this. There are many people in the world who feel “assured” that Christ will grant them eternal life even though they’ve only had a one-moment confession followed by moments of immoral living ever since.

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I’ll say this here now: I don’t think Calvinists truly understand the effects of the atonement. I say this not to attack them for no apparent reason, but because it seems to me that they think so little upon what it means to become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). After all, didn’t Christ become “sin” for us when He hung on the cross, bearing the sins of the world? If this is true, then He took upon Himself our sin and gives us the opportunity to have His righteousness. Upon professing faith in Christ, we receive His righteousness and we become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). What then, is the goal of becoming a “new creation?” If the Lord wasn’t concerned with our sanctification, then why would He spend so much time communicating that in His Word? It seems that once we become this “new creation” in Christ, the idea of living as old creation should cease. While we are still in human flesh and struggle with sin every day, shouldn’t we have ALL WE NEED in Christ to overcome our sin? Don’t we receive the WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD once we become a Christian? Why do we need it if Christ intends to fight EVERY SPIRITUAL BATTLE FOR US?

It seems as if Calvinists like to endorse the idea of “once old creation, always old creation” in Christ; but this is contradictory to the biblical text. The biblical text tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a “new creation”; the OLD has PASSED AWAY and the NEW has come (2 Cor. 5:17). If this is true, then, because we have Christ, aren’t we held to a HIGHER STANDARD of GODLINESS than the rest of the world, who doesn’t know Christ?

Jesus Himself said in Luke 12 that the servant who knew His will and didn’t do it will be eternally damned (Lk. 12:41-48), but the one who didn’t know his Master’s expectations will be beaten lightly. And why the difference in punishment? Because of the knowledge of truth. And Hebrews 6 tells us that if we continue to sin WILLFULLY, meaning IF we DELIBERATELY choose to sin even knowing that it is wrong, there is no sacrifice for our sin. In many ways, we will end up like the Israelites, whom the Lord held accountable for their sins (Exod. 32).

Scripture tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13, Acts 2:21, 7:59). This is where a person has to begin in terms of Christ and salvation—that He calls ALL to come to Himself. If a person doesn’t believe that Christ calls ALL MEN to Himself, then that person will not understand the struggles Christians have in their walk with God. If God picks those who will be saved, then they cannot struggle. However, I don’t think the Bible endorses this view; why? because the Scriptures spend way too much time revealing to the modern-day reader the struggles of the early church, those who were “in Christ,” just as we are.

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