Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Necessity of Conditional Perseverance

“Does the means-of-salvation view inadvertently abandon the traditional Reformed understanding of divine sovereignty and instead hold a Molinist position? William Lane Craig believes that it does. He argues that the means-of-salvation position implicitly employs middle knowledge. Craig asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all? And if the warnings themselves bring about perseverance, does this mean that the believer is capable of apostasy, even if he does not apostatize? HYPOTHETICALLY, AT LEAST, THE ELECT CAN FALL AWAY, BUT GOD, USING MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE, HAS CHOSEN TO ACTUALIZE A WORLD IN WHICH SCRIPTURAL WARNINGS WILL OPERATE AS MEANS TO KEEP HIS CHILDREN FROM APOSTASY” (Kenneth Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.” Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010, page 183).

Craig’s position above is one that Calvinists think is too serious and Arminians think is too spiritually complacent. But in today’s post, I desire to show why Craig’s analysis doesn’t go far enough. The warnings are more than just “hypotheticals,” since they are a portion of the Word of God and should be treated as infallible and authoritative for the Christian life.

First, note that Craig views the warnings as “hypothetical,” while stating that God has chosen a world where believers will not fall away. This poses problems according to Scripture:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, FOR REPROOF, FOR CORRECTION, FOR INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).

When we see the words “all Scripture,” we know that this phrase is referring to every word of Scripture, not just chapters, verses, and concepts. Each and every word of Scripture we believe to be intended by God for our edification in godliness. If all Scripture, EVERY WORD, serves a purpose for our lives, then we cannot look at the warnings and assert that they are not as serious as they sound. And this is where I disagree with Craig. If the warnings are merely “hypothetical” and believers cannot fall away, then why are they even included in the Bible? Don’t you think that the Lord would tell us the truth in His Word, since He claims to be truth (John 17:17)? So if the Lord tells us something in His Word, then it pays to listen and heed the warnings rather than consider them to be “hypothetical.”

Next, to consider the warnings as hypothetical poses problems in other Scriptural texts. Consider 1 Samuel 23, regarded as a significant text for middle knowledge. In this passage, we find God telling David, “He [Saul] will come down...They [the men of Keilah] will deliver you” (1 Sam. 23:11,12), although neither event happened. What do we do with this passage? According to Craig, we should just treat God’s words about Saul and the men of Keilah as just mere “hypotheticals,” despite the fact that “Saul halted the expedition” (v.13). Saul’s halting the trip demonstrates that Saul was very much in the process of heading to Keilah to capture David, so the possibility of David being handed over was not hypothetical at all!!!

In addition, notice that, if David being captured was not a possibility (but a mere hypothetical), then God lies to David (because, as a hypothetical, it wouldn’t be an actual possibility). However, this too, contradicts Scripture (Romans 3:4), for God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).


First, Craig says that the warnings are “hypothetical”; but secondly, he states that “God, using middle knowledge,” has created a world where the elect will not fall away. This poses problems for theology. Craig, in his book “The Only Wise God,” argues against “theological fatalism,” or the idea that everything in life is determined. However, when it gets to his idea of salvation, Craig’s view emphasizes determinism. In his belief, God has chosen a world where the elect will “infallibly persevere,” as he notes it. Unfortunately, Craig has not thought about the implications of his view upon the issue of reprobation; for, if the believers will INFALLIBLY PERSEVERE in godliness because God has so determined the world, then what about the unbeliever? Logic must follow here, so now, the unbeliever is “determined” to INFALLIBLY PERSEVERE in his damnation. And I don’t think Craig or any Molinist for that matter, argues necessity. Molinists emphasize “possibility,” or “contingency,” so Craig has to incorporate that in regards to the world in which we find ourselves. But if God has so determined the world, then there is no contingency (which explains why Calvinists like Terrance Tiessen have given up middle knowledge in their Calvinist theologies---see posts on middle knowledge).

Last but not least, Scripture itself shows us how serious the warnings really are---in the words of Paul. In Romans 11, we find Paul writing to the Gentiles in the Roman congregation:

“You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF THEY WERE BROKEN OFF, AND YOU STAND BY FAITH. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: ON THOSE WHO FELL, SEVERITY; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF.

And they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in, FOR GOD IS ABLE TO GRAFT THEM IN AGAIN” (Romans 11:19-23, NKJV).

These words from the apostle Paul show us that, although the Jews had been “cut off” as branches are cut from the vine, God could still bring them back. The Jews were not permanently cast off from God---but they were unless they ceased with their unbelief (Rom. 11:23).

But what about the Gentiles? If the Jews were not “guaranteed” to remain in the vine, what about the Gentiles? The Gentiles were not guaranteed to remain, either: “consider the goodness of God...toward you...if you continue in His goodness. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Rom. 11:22).

Whoa! Wait a minute! The common perception is that, once the branches are grafted in the vine, they can never be removed; but that’s not what Paul states here. He says that the “natural branches,” being the Jews, were “broken off” because of unbelief. And that, if the Gentiles lose their faith, they too, will be “cut off” and broken. It doesn’t sound like God has “determined” that either Jew or Gentile “infallibly persevere,” does it? Evidently not. If that had been the case, then Paul would have never mourned the state of Israel (Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1-3), or given such a stern warning to the Gentile. Remember Keathley’s words about William Lane Craig:

“Craig asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all?”

I agree with Craig’s thought here. The problem with his Molinist belief, however, is that he then turns around and says that God has chosen a world where the elect will infallibly persevere. And that nullifies what he said just before, about God giving the warnings. Why does God even need to give them if the believer can never fall away in the present world? And I anxiously await the day when Molinists can provide an adequate response.

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