Even though I’m writing this post in the morning, I couldn’t help but get to Schreiner’s biased exegesis today. I’ve been anxious to get to it for the last few posts and will now do so.
I’ve told you, the readers, that Schreiner disagrees with the OSAS crowd (“Once Saved, Always Saved”); however, his exegesis will always come to the conclusion of “Always Saved,” no matter what! Schreiner’s bias of “unconditional eternal security” will come to the surface, and it’s important to expose such bias for what it is.
I respect Schreiner as a theologian; and throughout his book, “The Race Set Before Us,” I will examine good things that Schreiner has to say (particularly concerning the “loss-of-rewards” view propagated by Zane Hodges and others). However, Schreiner and all theologians have certain presuppositions that they bring with them to the biblical text. Because we as believers and theologians are so prone to distorting biblical interpretation to fit our theological systems, we have to always aim to examine opposing views and be able to declare reasons why those views are wrong. It should never be enough to say, “I don’t believe this...because I just don’t...” We should be willing to subject our own views to scrutiny and see if they can stand on their own. This is how one gains assurance that his or her view is correct—by allowing those views to be “tried by fire,” genuinely tested so their true worth can be revealed.
Now, first, let’s read Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13—
“And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, NKJV).
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13, NKJV).
Regarding the words of Matthew 10 (verse 22 quoted above), Schreiner writes,
“Jesus spoke these words to his disciples when he sent them out to preach the advent of God’s kingship. He extends this consolation and promise to them because he has just announced that they will face persecution and hatred on account of him and the gospel. Jesus formulates his promise as a proverb, which explains why these words adapt well to other settings, such as the Olivet discourse [Matthew 24]. The function of this verse is like the conditional promise of Revelation 21:6-7 that we considered in chapter one, for Jesus promises salvation, but he conditions the promised salvation on perseverance ‘to the end’” (Thomas Schreiner, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 147).
Jesus words to the disciples in Matthew 10 are words concerning the persecution they will face. Notice that Schreiner says that Matthew 10:22 is like Revelation 21:6-7. If Revelation 21 involves a “conditional promise,” and Matthew 10 is like Revelation 21, then Matthew 10:22 itself is a “conditional promise.” In addition, reread Schreiner’s words on salvation: “Jesus promises salvation, but he CONDITIONS the promised salvation on PERSEVERANCE TO THE END.” Here, Schreiner and I agree. Jesus’ words give a promise, but a promise based on a fulfilled condition: IF a person endures and remains, then at the end, after “having done the will of God,” he or she will “receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:36, NKJV). If Jesus’ promise of salvation is conditional, then there is no unconditional eternal security, but instead, CONDITIONAL eternal security! The fact that Schreiner labels Matthew 10:22 as a “conditional promise” refutes his belief in “unconditional eternal security.”
Schreiner has discussed I. Howard Marshall’s reference to Matthew 10:22 as concerning eschatological salvation: “a physical sense would give a tautology: he who endures to the end shall not die before the end.” And Schreiner applauds him:
“Not only does Marshall properly acknowledge that Jesus’ proverbial words concern eschatological salvation, but he also correctly observes the conditional nature of the promise. He states, ‘The condition for salvation is that ‘steadfast endurance’ which does not give way under temptation but remains loyal to God and His will. This is accented by the phrase ‘to the end’” (“The Race Set Before Us,” 149).
But here is where Schreiner’s bias shines:
“Again, Marshall is correct to note, ‘There will be no salvation FOR THE PERSON WHO GIVES UP.’ However, Marshall takes both a GIANT LEAP and a FALSE STEP when he says, ‘Although this possibility is a slight one on the whole, nevertheless IT IS A REAL POSSIBILITY, and we have no right to deny its existence in the interests of a PRECONCEIVED THEORY.’ Without any explanation, Marshall converts Jesus’ conditional promise of salvation INTO A DECLARATIVE ANNOUNCEMENT OF POSSIBLE APOSTASY. MARSHALL HAS INVERTED THE FUNCTION OF THE WORDS JESUS DESIGNS TO CONSOLE HIS FOLLOWERS WHO FACE PERSECUTION AND DEATH ON HIS BEHALF. His inversion turns them into words that EXPRESS UNCERTAINTY AND DOUBT ABOUT THE OUTCOME. We believe that this is an unwarranted conclusion from the text, for suppositions in themselves do not function to indicate anything about possibility. We also believe that SUCH A READING OF CONDITIONAL PROMISES IS SUBVERSIVE TO CHRISTIAN FAITH AND CONFIDENCE, not affirmative or consoling, as Jesus intended his words” (149, 150).
First, Marshall says that, since the promise is conditional upon perseverance, then to fail to persevere indicates apostasy—or loss of salvation. All Marshall says is that “it is a real possibility,” not that it is a PROBABILITY! There are a number of things in life that it is “possible” to do, but not very likely to occur.
All Marshall does is affirm the implications of Jesus’ conditional promise, and now, he’s accused of “inverting the function of the words” of Jesus, and “subverting the Christian faith and confidence...” If Marshall is guilty of “subverting Christian confidence,” then so is the writer of Hebrews, for he exhorts the congregation:
“Therefore do not cast away your CONFIDENCE, which has great REWARD. For YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, YOU MAY RECEIVE THE PROMISE” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NKJV).
Here in the Hebrews writer’s words, we see that “confidence” is connected to “endurance,” which leads to the “reward.” By virtue of the Hebrew writer saying, “do not cast away your confidence,” we see that the readers could easily lose heart and run back to Judaism and its religious rituals. Marshall is simply confirming the words of Hebrews: that assurance in the Christian faith comes through endurance. How then, is Marshall guilty of undermining the Christian faith?
Another claim made by Schreiner is,
“MARSHALL HAS INVERTED THE FUNCTION OF THE WORDS JESUS DESIGNS TO CONSOLE HIS FOLLOWERS WHO FACE PERSECUTION AND DEATH ON HIS BEHALF.”
Schreiner believes that Jesus’ words are to encourage His followers to remain strong despite persecution; in his view, Marshall has “inverted the function of the words,” or changed them around to create a different meaning. What Schreiner seems to forget, however, is that, if promises are conditional and not guaranteed, then conditional promises come with a warning as well as an exhortation.
I’ll prove this with a simple passage we all know—Genesis 2. In the Garden of Eden, God gives Adam an encouragement and a warning, all rolled into one:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17, NKJV).
The Lord told Adam that he could eat of all the trees of the Garden. This, then, is an exhortation. God made Adam and Eve as humans and built within them a biological desire for food as nourishment to provide strength for their bodies; so He knew they needed food to eat. He encourages them to enjoy the good food He has provided.
However...Adam and Eve were warned about ONE tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God told them, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Let’s look at God’s warning. If we take Schreiner’s view of this (as in his take on Matthew 10:22), God was only encouraging Adam and Eve to resist eating from the forbidden tree. I would say that God did want them to do the right thing, make the right choice. Everything God made was good, so He wanted man to do what was good (and by so doing, imitate his Creator). However, God also gave them a serious warning—that they would die if they disobeyed Him.
We know this warning is serious because, right after Adam and Eve sin, God declares man’s death:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread TILL YOU RETURN TO THE GROUND, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN” (Genesis 3:19, NKJV).
Adam and Eve sinned, and God made good on His warning—they literally began to die that day in the Garden. We know that death came to them because we read in Genesis 5,
“So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died” (Gen. 5:5, NKJV).
Genesis 5 is what is known as “The Graveyard Chapter.” It is so named because it shows us that God’s sentence of death came to all of mankind, starting with Adam and continuing even to the present day.
So when God made a warning to Adam and Eve, He meant it; and when they sinned, He implemented the punishment He promised. Why then would it be any different with Matthew 10:22? Why is it that God was only trying to “encourage” them?
It becomes twice as problematic when you read the rest of Matthew 10 itself. What about Matthew 10:28?
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28, NKJV).
These words are encouraging in that Jesus is telling them not to fear physical death; but it is also a warning that they should fear the one who can cast them into Hell, eschatological damnation. Once again, we see exhortation and warning together.
In verses 32 and 33 of Matthew 10, we see exhortation:
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, HIM I WILL ALSO CONFESS BEFORE MY FATHER who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32).
But we also see warning:
“But whoever denies Me before men, HIM I WILL ALSO DENY BEFORE MY FATHER who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33).
Matthew 10 is full of exhortation (encouragement) and warning. Marshall’s analysis then, is consistent with Matthew 10 and the rest of the canon. Schreiner, then, attacks Marshall without any backing at all.
The truth is, all believers would like to have an unconditional guarantee to heaven; but we are not promised it. The only unconditional promise we have is, “and lo, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NKJV). The Lord Jesus promises to be with us and supply the strength we need to persevere. But we are still responsible for persevering in the faith:
“For YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36, NKJV).
I will tackle more of Schreiner’s exegetical and theological comments in future posts. Keep reading...