“The difficulty for this approach is the specific description in Hebrews 6:4-5 of those who fall away. These verses in their specific wording seem to reflect A TRUE EXPERIENCE OF CHRISTIAN CONVERSION, rather than a description of false profession. Also as noted earlier, the language of ‘renewal to repentance’ implies A GENUINE TURNING TO GOD. The answer to this problem is, I think, that the writer is portraying the PHENOMENA OF THEIR CONVERSION, WHAT THEIR CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE LOOKS LIKE OUTWARDLY. He portrays them in distinctly Christian terms to emphasize HOW CLOSE THEY HAVE BEEN TO THE FAITH AND WHAT THEY ARE REJECTING IF THEY DEPART. I think the same approach makes sense of Hebrews 10:29 (‘profaning the blood…by which he was sanctified’), ALTHOUGH THIS IS A MORE DIFFICULT REFERENCE FOR ME” (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 217).
I have been probing Fanning’s argument for a Classical Calvinist argument that would really trump the Classical Arminian response to Hebrews 6; but, as always, I’ve searched in vain.
Here, Fanning’s dilemma becomes very evident: although he sees that the descriptions of Hebrews 6 look like they refer to genuine believers, he just can’t believe it to be true. We are given no sufficient reason (or any at all) why Hebrews 6 cannot refer to genuine believers. The only thing remotely along the lines of a defense of the Classical Calvinist position is in Fanning’s discussion of Hebrews 3:6 and his “Evidence to Inference conditional” (pg. 214). He uses this to say that when we arrive at Hebrews 6, we must reinterpret the literal meaning of these descriptions and say that those mentioned in Hebrews 6 only “appeared” to be believers, although they were not.
I would like to say two things: first, to say that those described in Hebrews 6 were never believers to begin with requires us to also acknowledge that “God never saved them.” This only makes sense if you’re in a Calvinist system and God “picks” some and not others to be saved, while damning others. Secondly, why would God allow them to have the experiences mentioned in Hebrews 6 if He never intended to save that person, but damn them instead? Calvin argues this in his “Institutes”:
“…there is a special call which, FOR THE MOST PART, GOD BESTOWS ON BELIEVERS ONLY, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to THOSE WHOM HE ENLIGHTENS ONLY FOR A TIME, and whom afterward, in just punishment for their ingratitude, HE ABANDONS AND SMITES WITH GREATER BLINDNESS” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” Book 3, chap. 24, paragraph 8, page 643).
Here John Calvin says that God “enlightens” some “only for a time.” Once enlightened, and having rejected it, “He abandons and smites with greater blindness” those who reject it. What is more puzzling about Calvin’s view is that he believes that even the special call can fall on some who reject it (“a special call…for the most part…God bestows on believers only”). What’s weird about this is that the Spirit “enlightens” even some who will ultimately reject Him; but this goes against EVERYTHING Fanning and the Classical Reformed position affirms!
In addition, the word preached is allowed to “take deep root” in the hearts of some who will reject it. Sounds like Calvin believed in Luke 8:
11 "This is the meaning of the parable: (L) [b] The seed is the word of God. (M) 12 The seeds along the path are those who have heard. Then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the seeds on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing. (N) 14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, (O) and produce no mature fruit. 15 But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, [c] having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, (P) bear fruit.” (Luke 8:11-15, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
But there is a problem with Calvin’s affirmation of this text: it eliminates his view of God’s arbitrary selection completely! Notice that in verse 13, that the seeds that fall on the rock “believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.” And to say that the rocky seed “believes” then, is to look at Hebrews 6 with new lenses. If the rocky seed believes, then the rocky seed is “enlightened,” does experience “the powers of the age to come,” has “tasted the good word of God,” and has “tasted of the heavenly gift” (that being salvation). Last but not least, that person who “believes,” even for a time, becomes a “companion of the Holy Spirit” upon belief and profession. And then, the rocky seed “departs in a time of testing,” which means that the seed does what the writer of Hebrews discusses in Hebrews 6—he “falls away.” And then, the writer of Hebrews 6 says that, for those who fall away, “it is impossible to renew them to repentance.” To “renew” means “to make new again.” In other words, the only persons who can repent for “a second time” are those who have REPENTED ONCE BEFORE!!! The writer of Hebrews says, however, that if they believed on the name of Christ once, and then depart from that, they cannot come back to repentance and faith again. So here the writer is discussing those who are saved and then turn from their salvation (“neglect such a great salvation,” Heb. 2).
I say all this because Fanning gets to Hebrews 6 and attempts to justify Hebrews 6 as referring to the “outward appearance” of those who are really phony Christians. The problem with this is that the presence of the Spirit resides temporarily in some who eventually will go to destruction (as Calvin believes) because they reject Him. If this is so, then Fanning’s analysis even rejects Calvin himself!!
And then, in Fanning’s quote above, he gets to the difficult part: “…Hebrews 10:29…is a MORE DIFFICULT REFERENCE FOR ME” (217). What does Hebrews 10:29 say?
29 How much worse punishment, do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane [a] the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:29, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
According to Fanning, the phrase “regarded as profane the blood of the covenant BY WHICH HE WAS SANCTIFIED” is a hard reference for him. I’ll be honest—the reference is a “more difficult” one for him because his theological system is based on presupposition instead of the biblical text. Who was sanctified by the blood of the covenant? The person who fell away (Heb. 10:30). And the person who fell away is called “the Lord’s people” in Hebrews 10:30. And indeed, as the verse says, “The Lord will judge His people”!!
Fanning goes on to admit:
“This approach does require an ADJUSTMENT TO THE STRAIGHTFORWARD READING OF HEBREWS 6:4-8 and 10:26-29 (and similar texts; these are the most problematic) based on implications from other texts in Hebrews (3:6, 14; 6:9-20; 7:20-25; 8:10-11; 9:11-14; 10:11-18, 32-34, 39)” (218).
The problem with Fanning’s listing of proof texts such as Heb. 6:9-20, for example, is that it FOLLOWS Hebrews 6:4-8 and has to be interpreted in light of that which is written in the preceding verses. Second, notice that his first proof text above, Heb. 3:6, 14 BYPASSES Hebrews chapters 1 and 2 (especially Hebrews 2 which states, “for if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if WE NEGLECT SUCH A GREAT SALVATION?”—Heb. 2:2-3, HCSB).
Because Hebrews 2 is the first chapter to reference the issue of Hebrews, we must approach the text from Hebrews 2. The writer was writing a coherent letter to the Hebrew believers; surely, then, he had a message that made sense in the order the material was written!! We cannot just flip Scripture around and rewrite it the way we want to. Fanning seems to be doing that with his lists of proof texts. Notice as well that he is leaving off most of the ones that deal with “neglecting salvation” such as Hebrews 2:2-3 and Hebrews 6:4-8. Letters must be interpreted word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line of the epistle.
Fanning finds himself in doubt with several passages of Hebrews that he cannot explain. No need to be alarmed though—for this is what happens when one holds to a theological system that is not scripturally supported.