I’ve been reading on the subject of Calvinism and Arminianism for the last four months now. And in all my reading, I’ve RARELY found a moment when a Calvinist could admit that he or she wrestles with certain biblical texts, like Hebrews 6:4-6. However, reading Buist M. Fanning’s chapter on the “Classical Reformed View” was rather refreshing in that sense—because he makes some honest concessions regarding interpretations of passages in Hebrews.
The first concession Fanning makes is thus:
“Another approach to the descriptions of Hebrews 6:4-6 that leads to a similar result is to see these phrases as ALLUSIONS TO THE NATIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE WILDERNESS GENERATION and therefore as NOT SPECIFICALLY CHRISTIAN. The Exodus generation experienced God’s blessings corporately as part of the covenant community. When most of them fell due to rebellion and unbelief, it was evident that they were not inwardly and truly members of God’s people. In addition, the use of first person pronouns, calling the recipients ‘brothers,’ and so forth may be the sort of charitable and pastoral gesture COMMON EVEN TODAY OF SERMONIC FORM (cf. 13:22) that identifies with the audience and treats them in keeping with that self-profession without presuming to know the true salvific status of every person present” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 179-180).
And then Fanning goes on to say,
“Nevertheless, A STRAIGHTFORWARD reading of these descriptions leads us to understand them TO REFER TO FULL AND GENUINE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE” (180).
Fanning performs what I call “honest admittance” here—while he retains the suggestions of the text, he comes forward and tells us that such interpretations don’t do full justice to the text.
First, the idea that the text would refer ONLY to Israel is ridiculous. When we read of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find that God’s promise to Abraham to “bless the nations” through him (Gen. 12:3) was, in actuality, a blessing upon the Gentiles as much as upon the Jews (Galatians 3:8-9). So any text referring to Israel in some way also involves the Gentiles who come to faith. Why would there be an “Old Testament” in the Christian canon IF we didn’t believe that these “Jewish” texts offered something vital for our instruction as “Gentile” believers?
The next suggestion given above had to do with the writer of Hebrews referring to the community as “brothers” and “partakers of a heavenly calling,” although some may not have been genuine believers. The belief is that, just as preachers do this today, so may the writer have done this in the first century. But here’s the mistake: to ASSUME something in the biblical text that stems from “today.” The idea of reference to a church group as “brothers and sisters” involving the unsaved and saved today is not necessarily what happened in the early church. To read back such an idea into the Hebrews text is anachronistic (“out of time”).
Last but not least, who in the world would call an unsaved person a “partaker of the heavenly calling”? Paul tells us in 2 Timothy that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12, Holman Christian Standard). Only those who endure the race of life with Christ “rule with Him” in Heaven; therefore, this CANNOT be a title or label given to the unsaved—for the unsaved WILL NOT reign with Christ, but will spend an eternity apart from Him.
While Fanning confesses that the adjectives and participles of Hebrews 6:4-6 imply a genuine believer, I still think that such ideas above are insane (even if Fanning agreed with them). Such suggestions, however, serve to show us the despairing and desperate nature of Calvinists who will do anything to “save” their presuppositions, even when such views are on “sinking sand.”