Friday, October 2, 2009

A Created Tension

“The straightforward results are disparate enough that we have a problem coming to a consistent synthesis. The passages seem to say that genuine Christians should persevere in faithfulness but may instead repudiate Christ and so fall into eternal condemnation, but Christ’s work in and for them will ABSOLUTELY NOT FAIL to bring them through to eternal salvation! This synthesis is, of course, less than satisfying, and it is not credible that our author’s theology contradicts itself so blatantly within the same passages addressed to the same situation” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman, IV. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 205).

Amidst studying Calvinism and Arminianism, I delved into the study of the foreknowledge of God this summer. The issue regarding God’s foreknowledge first involves omniscience: does God know ALL, or SOME? And if He knows everything, does He then CAUSE everything to happen, or is His foreknowledge simple in that He knows something will happen but doesn’t PUSH it into motion (allows it to unfold)?

After all my study, I came to the conclusion that the foreknowledge controversy is a “created” controversy over Calvinist doctrine. Guys like Clark Pinnock and John Sanders, who are “open theists,” engage in an argument that involves the presupposition of theological fatalism (as William Lane Craig states it in his book, “The Only Wise God”). If one believes that everything happens because GOD CAUSED IT, then choice is an illusion. Open theists like Pinnock and Sanders advocate openness theology simply because they believe that in order for a real choice to occur (meaning, “a choice without God’s knowledge”), then God must be ignorant of their decisions until AFTER they make them. Openness theology itself begs the question that, if my choices are real, then is it possible for my choice to be real AND God know everything? I think it’s very possible for both to work well together. And therefore, using logic, openness theology doesn’t look any more impressive than Calvinist theology does. Calvinism and Open Theism are just two extreme solutions to the question of divine predestination and human responsibility. However, I think there is a third solution that finds middle ground.

Moving to Fanning’s comment above regarding what he takes as the “contradictory” affirmations of the Book of Hebrews, I find that the “contradictory” statements are the same problem as God’s foreknowledge above: for, it two, involves a presupposition—which is, that of unconditional eternal security.

Where does Fanning get his idea of unconditional security from? One of the places would be Hebrews 7:25. He writes in his chapter on the “Classical Reformed View”:

“And so Hebrews 7:25 tells us in a very significant statement, ‘He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them’ (NIV, NET). Jesus’ eternal priesthood is said to provide complete and lasting security for his people. What obstacle could prevent their salvation from coming to complete fulfillment IF HE IS EVER VIGILANT TO INTERCEDE FOR THEM AT GOD’S RIGHT HAND?” (Buist M. Fanning, “Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 198).

Now the text of Hebrews 7:25, as quoted by Fanning, tells us that God is “able to save completely” those who come to God through Christ; however, the text says that God is “able,” not that God “will save completely” those who come to Him!! The idea that God is “able” means that God has the POTENTIALITY within Himself to do something, not that He MUST do it. While it is true that the Lord is able to save someone, He will not save that person UNLESS they “come to God through Him.” There is no salvation without the condition of coming to faith in Christ. Salvation itself, then, is conditional.

Next, look at Fanning’s quote regarding Hebrews 7:25—

“Jesus’ eternal priesthood is said to provide COMPLETE AND LASTING SECURITY FOR HIS PEOPLE.” The problem with this statement is that, while Christ’s eternal priesthood provides assurance of faith, it isn’t assurance of faith ALONE that does justice to Christ’s priesthood; no—Christ’s eternal priesthood is to provide us with an assurance of faith that motivates us to endure despite suffering. Read the words of the writer of Hebrews in Heb. 10:19-23:

“Therefore, brothers, SINCE WE HAVE BOLDNESS TO ENTER THE SANCTUARY THROUGH THE BLOOD OF JESUS (we have boldness because of assurance), by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD (Christ’s eternal priesthood), LET US DRAW NEAR WITH A TRUE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. LET US HOLD ON TO THE CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE WITHOUT WAVERING, FOR HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL.”

As Christians, we should have “blessed assurance” because, as the writer of Hebrews said, because Christ gave His life for us, and now serves as “high priest over the house of God.” Because Christ is “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1), we can go to Him and confess our sins at any time. But Christ’s sacrifice and service as high priest are to drive us to Him, not give us license to live in sin.

Regarding Christ’s eternal priesthood, we have the following words from Hebrews 4:

“Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—LET US HOLD FAST TO THE CONFESSION. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but ONE WHO HAS BEEN TESTED IN EVERY WAY AS WE ARE, yet without sin. Therefore, LET US APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH BOLDNESS, so that we may receive mercy and find grace TO HELP US at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:14-16, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The knowledge of Christ as High Priest should drive us to push forward in our walk with Christ, to continue to endure. Christ’s eternal priesthood is good for a few reasons: first, because He understands our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15); secondly because He is the only One who can help us (Heb. 4:16). There are others, but I’ll only mention the ones involved in Hebrews 4.

We are to draw near to Christ, to cling to Him, because He is our High Priest who can be touched with our infirmities (weaknesses). As High Priest, Christ not only makes intercession for us, but also offered the only sacrifice for sin that was needed—Himself (Heb. 7:27). However, in regards to the security of the believer, the Lord promises that “by one offering He has perfected forever those WHO ARE SANCTIFIED” (Heb. 10:14). The word “sanctified” here is a participle in the Greek (“hagiazomenous”). The participle here is a present passive participle; as a “present” participle, the word implies a CONTINUOUS action—which means that those mentioned here are “continually being sanctified.” It is “passive” in that it shows the Lord is the One who “perfects,” not us.

I wanna say another note about these verses. I looked up Hebrews 10:14 and found something interesting in the Greek text. The word for “forever” here in the Greek is “dienekes,” which can mean “forever,” but can also mean “continuous” or “uninterrupted.” Therefore, those who are continually being sanctified, or purified, are the ones who are continually perfected until they reach complete sanctification and glorification. This idea of perfection then, while accomplished by Christ, is a continuous process in the life of the believer until he or she reaches glory. We are daily being “conformed to the image” of God’s Son.

Because sanctification and perfection are involved in a continuous process, one is never guaranteed the promise of eternal life based on their one-time confession. The only guarantee involved is the guarantee that Christ is faithful and is there to aid us whenever we need Him. As far as our perseverance, only time will tell.

So when Fanning gives an “unconditional” speech regarding Christ’s eternal priesthood, he is imposing his view on the text. The fact that Christ has an eternal priesthood guarantees that sin has been covered through one sacrifice of Christ—Himself. However, it doesn’t guarantee anyone final salvation—including those who repented once. For, of those who do not experience final salvation, some only believe for a time (Luke 8:13).

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