“How can these elements [five elements] of the warning passages be combined in a coherent way? 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, “A Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages In Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, page 205).
In his chapter on the Classical Calvinist position, Fanning takes time to assess five important elements or features of the book of Hebrews. Upon doing that, he comes to the crossroads of the quote above.
It does seem contradictory that Christians CAN FALL, but then they CAN’T FALL because Christ preserves them! Fanning’s chapter continues to answer this question in the way Fanning believes it should be answered: Christ’s eternal priesthood guarantees an unconditional eternal security; and the passages discussing a potential “falling away” are for the person who “was never saved to begin with.”
I just finished reading I. Howard Marshall’s book “Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away,” and as a result of reading this book, I have come to the belief that the two concepts above (man’s perseverance and God’s preservation) will ALWAYS engage in an exegetical “tug-of-war” when studying theology.
But here’s what it comes down to: considering that most believers consider the Bible to be consistent in its message (according to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy), God’s preservation and man’s perseverance must work together somehow. As a Classical Arminian, I’m gonna argue that as God supplies strength to persevere, man perseveres because of God’s strength. But what is Fanning gonna say? Well, you see it above—he is gonna argue for the unconditional security of God’s preservation, every time!
But both the Calvinist and Arminian are operating with two different trains of thought. The Calvinist is operating with the view that, since he believes God’s preservation prevails, then man’s perseverance, while important, doesn’t add or take anything away from God’s preservation. And because God WILL persevere us, our perseverance is really “the perseverance of God” (according to Edwin Palmer in his book, “The Five Points of Calvinism”). The Arminian, in contrast, is operating with the view that man’s perseverance is required; as a result, God’s strength doesn’t add or take anything away from man’s perseverance. While God supplies the strength needed for perseverance (without which man cannot persevere), God does not FORCE man to persevere unto salvation or fail to persevere and reap eternal damnation. God’s strength is there, but it is neutral—it doesn’t dictate the eternal security of a believer, either way.
Both of these systems are mutually exclusive, so both of them CANNOT BE RIGHT! Which is the most correct?
This might sound funny, but I don’t recall reading Hebrews and seeing anything about Christ’s eternal priesthood sealing the eternal state of any believer!! What Hebrews 7:25 tells me is that Christ is “ABLE” to save those who come to Him by faith. But the word “able” in and of itself is a neutral term.
The word “able” demonstrates the difference between “can” and “will.” For instance, I “CAN” take out the trash—but this only stresses that I possess the POTENTIAL. I MAY carry out the trash, and I may NOT carry out the trash. The word “can” signals to me that there is a choice to be made—but it doesn’t tell me the EXACT choice I will make.
Christ being “able” to save all those who come to Him shows that Christ CAN do anything (He has the potential, the power)! But this doesn’t mean that Christ WILL save those who come to Him. Some will come to Christ and believe “for a time” (Luke 8:13), but they will not “endure to the end” and will not “be saved” (Matt. 24).
So, if you’re Buist M. Fanning, you have to hold to a presupposition in order to endorse his view—that God’s preservation CANCELS OUT man’s perseverance!!
Think about the consistency issue for a moment. How can a system, labeled as “logical,” actually balance the ideas of Christ’s perseverance and MY perseverance? Both me and Christ cannot persevere for me at the same time. If Christ is going to persevere for me, then there’s nothing I need to do. Telling me to endure to the end when Christ’s endurance will win me eternity in Heaven is like asking me to “play-act”—do it for the sake of having something on earth to do. But if that’s the case, then we’re all just “marking time” until Jesus comes…
No—I think there is a better system. The Classical Arminian (and all Arminians) can balance God and man in relationship. Why? because Arminians understand the nature of relationships. Relationships only work when both parties cooperate (especially marriage relationships). When the wife, for example, allows her husband to excel at the things he is talented in, and the husband allows the wife to excel at her areas of giftedness, then a happy home results. But when the wife spends time trying to tell her husband how to do his duties, and the husband does the same for the wife, nothing but tension prevails.
And I think this explains the created “tension” of the Classical Calvinist system. The tension occurs when two things cannot exist at the same time. And if God is responsible for my endurance, then I need to do nothing.
With the Arminian though, God and man work together in perfect harmony. God supplies the strength, and man serves God based on the divine strength God gives him. Peter tells us this when he writes about using our differing abilities in the body of Christ:
10 Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, (A) as good managers of the varied grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, [his speech should be] like the oracles of God; if anyone serves, [his service should be] from the strength God provides, (B) so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-12, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Notice that “if anyone serves, [his service should be] FROM THE STRENGTH GOD PROVIDES…” So every believer is called to serve in the body of Christ; but even when we do serve, we are only serving because of God’s strength! Even the strength comes from God! The text doesn’t tell us that God supplies the strength and then GOD SERVES! Instead, God gives the strength needed, and He requires man use His strength responsibly and bring glory to God Himself!
The only way that the Bible will ever make sense on the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is if Calvinists stop trying to place God in control and then make Him responsible for man’s choices. I pray that one day, we will wake up and understand that dodging responsibility, as Cain did, only brings judgment from the Sovereign Lord—the One we believe will judge all things.