“I believe this is the best approach that can be made from a Calvinist perspective, and it is indeed impressive. Nevertheless, there are several weaknesses. Since Fanning has recognized the fact that the addressees are genuine believers and that Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-31 warns the addressees against apostasy, it is hard to conclude anything other than that THIS IS ANOTHER FORM OF THE HYPOTHETICAL THEORY, that is, ‘IF THIS OCCURS’ (BUT IT REALLY CANNOT OCCUR)…in the Greek the list of participles is framed by ‘it is impossible…to renew them to repentance’ (adunaton…palin anakainizein eis metanoian) for emphasis. It could not be more obvious that IT IS THE GENUINE BELIEVERS, not the unbelievers in the congregation, who are being warned of the danger of apostasy” (Grant R. Osborne, “Classical Arminian Response” from “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 225).
What does it mean for something to be “hypothetical”? Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary supplies the following definitions:
Conjectural: “given to conjecture.”
Conjecture:” c : a proposition (as in mathematics) before it has been proved or disproved.”
As you can see, a conjecture gives us a “possibility” without the possibility being tested or examined. In the case of Buist M. Fanning’s chapter on the warning passages in Hebrews, we find that Fanning paints the warning of Hebrews 6:4-8 as “hypothetical,” which means that, while falling away is a possibility, it isn’t a probability—it COULD happen, but it DOESN’T happen. The problem with Fanning’s view (as I’ve examined it here in a few posts at CTS) is that, if apostasy is a possibility, then there is a chance (if only a small one) that someone will commit it. However, if one treats the issue like Fanning, apostasy is only a possibility in the biblical text among the words; it stops being one when we discuss real life and walking with Christ.
Fanning’s argument above is, as Grant Osborne tells us, no different than the so-called “hypothetical” argument proposed by other theologians. The hypothetical argument says that “if” someone fell away, it would be impossible to renew them to repentance (not “when” they fell away). Fanning does the same thing when he says that IF someone falls away, then he or she was “never saved to begin with.” In other words, what Fanning is saying is that “true believers never fall away,” which means that for the genuine believer, apostasy is not a possibility (which makes Fanning’s argument the same as the hypothetical argument regarding the warning passages).
I think the above argument by Grant R. Osborne is probably the number one genius argument the Classical Arminian response could make to Fanning’s chapter and presentation.
Let’s look at the context of Hebrews 6. To see if genuine believers can turn away from the faith or not, let’s read starting at verse 9 of chapter 6:
“Even though we are speaking this way, dear friends, in your case we are confident of the better things connected with salvation” (Heb. 6:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Here in verse 9, the writer makes it clear that he (and another companion of his) are confident or assured of the “better things connected with salvation” (i.e., that the Hebrews wouldn’t do what is mentioned in vv. 4-8). Before we go on, however, I must ask this question: why is it that the writer is concerned with “better things CONNECTED WITH salvation” than “better things OF salvation”? If the Calvinists are right, then the “better things” should be “salvation” itself, for only those who are chosen by God to be saved persevere. However, we find that these “better things” are “connected with” or “added to” salvation. Clearly then, the writer PRESUPPOSES that the audience is saved!!!
Why is the writer assured of a far better situation for the Hebrews?
“For God is not unjust: He will not forget YOUR WORK AND THE LOVE YOU SHOWED FOR HIS NAME WHEN YOU SERVED THE SAINTS—AND YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE THEM” (v.10).
Here the writer is familiar with their service for God, how they have “served the saints,” and seems to believe that they are still doing so (“and you continue to serve them”). The writer, therefore, is quite familiar with the spiritual condition of the Hebrews, although Calvinists will state that the spiritual condition can’t be discerned in the Epistle. Their service for God shows that they haven’t lost their zeal for God’s glory or their love for God Himself.
But in verse 11, the writer and the companion state a serious desire for the final salvation of the entire congregation of believers:
“Now we want each of you to demonstrate THE SAME DILIGENCE for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become LAZY, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through FAITH and PERSEVERANCE” (Heb. 6:11-12, HCSB).
The writer and his companion believe that the Hebrews have been diligent in their work for God; now, they want the congregation to make the same effort to receive the goal of their hope—eternal life. Notice that the writer refers to “the final realization of your hope,” which means that the congregation, as do believers today, possessed the “hope of salvation” (Romans 8:24). They had a “present” realization of salvation, for the Spirit testified with their spirit that they were (at the time the letter was written) children of God (Romans 8:16). However, the fact that they had a “present” realization of their hope didn’t necessarily mean they were guaranteed a “final realization”—and this is why the writer and his companion encourage them to continue to work hard at making the final realization happen. In addition, the fact that they mention a “final realization of your hope” shows us the spiritual condition of the congregation as believers.
I think the details show us here that the warning of Hebrews 6:4-8 is more than just an impossibility—it is a real possibility addressed to real believers who are facing persecution. If the Hebrews are “holy brothers and companions in a heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), as well as those who “ought to be teachers” but “need milk, not solid food” (Heb. 5:12) and “have become slow to understand” (5:11), then we get the idea that the Hebrews are not those who are deciding upon whether or not to profess Christ, or babes in the faith, but those who have learned much about the faith they have professed and need to be warned about turning from the firm foundation in which they have placed their trust. The results then, surely do not match Fanning’s exegesis…