Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-B: Romans 8:38-39 and the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility Debate

I’m back today to continue our meditation upon Romans 8:38-39, what is known today as one of the foremost key passages in the eternal security/conditional security debate as well as the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate.

Both the security and sovereignty-responsibility debates run along the same lines. Depending upon one’s position on one of the debates, the person will hold the same stance in the other debate as well. As I demonstrated in the last post, Romans 8:38-39 holds problems with its so-called “eternal security” message since Jude 20 exhorts the genuine believers (those who he labels as “called, sanctified, and preserved in Christ”) to “keep themselves in the love of God.” This implies, then, that there are conditions by which one is kept in the love of God: if he or she also keeps himself/herself in the love of God. Jude shows us that there is a responsibility on the part of the believer.

I received a free book not too long ago, and the book is titled “All The Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Browsing through Lockeyer’s table of contents, I found the “Doctrine of Eternal Security” and just had to turn to it. Upon arriving at the right page, I noticed these words:

“What rest of faith is ours if we know that we are not only saved but SAFE! Alas, there are a good many who are so fearful because they feel that although they were saved at some time or another, they are not yet secure! They seem to think that although saved one day they may be lost the next. Thus, they must strive and struggle to keep their salvation. But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12)” (“All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

Now, Lockeyer’s statement above is pretty puzzling. First off, Arminians do not believe that salvation can be accepted and rejected in a matter of a day, or even a few days. Apostasy, or “falling away,” is something that occurs over time. After all, the “rocky soil” of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower “believed for a time” (Luke 8:13). Whatever amount of time it may have been, it surely wasn’t a day or a few hours. So Lockeyer demonstrates here that he has a very faulty view of the doctrine of apostasy altogether. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising to find that most of our eternal security friends (and Calvinistic theologians) misunderstand the doctrine of apostasy.

Secondly, notice that he said that “salvation is not something but SOMEONE...?” But the Scriptures tell us that salvation is what God has promised us (1 John 2:25). Christ was the promised seed (Galatians), but Christ was not all that was promised to the believer. Never are “eternal life” and “Christ” made synonyms in the Scriptures.

Next, Lockeyer does something that is a major blunder of eternal securitists: “Did He not say that the keeping is HIS RESPONSIBILITY?...John 17:12.”
There are two problems with Lockeyer’s statement regarding divine responsibility. First, let’s deal with the Scripture passage. Lockeyer references John 17:12, but he forgets that a few chapters prior to this, Jesus tells the disciples,

“Abide in Me, and I in you...I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5, NKJV). So yes, Jesus does preserve His sheep...but Jesus tells them to “abide in Him,” similar to John’s language in 1 John of “remain in Him.”

In addition, notice that in John 6, Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67) How does Peter respond? “Lord, to whom shall we go? YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE” (v.68). Peter states that eternal life is found only in Christ. But then he says something revealing:


As we see, then, the disciples came to “believe and know” that Jesus was the Christ. In other words, they refused to walk away because they believed He was who He said He was. However, there were disciples of Christ’s who heard His teaching and walked away (vv. 66). So what binds a person to walking with the Lord is continued faith in Him.

Lockeyer writes this in the same section:

“John Calvin taught that this doctrine stands proven, not only by its association with other doctrines like those of election, atonement, the intercession and mediatorial dominion of Christ, imputed righteousness and regeneration, but from those Scriptures declaring that ETERNAL LIFE IS ALWAYS CONNECTED WITH BELIEVING” (223).

If eternal life is connected with believing, then what about this statement is different from Arminius’s statement? Nothing at all! In fact, this statement sounds Arminian to the core.

Now, what about Romans 8:38-39 and Jude? We saw in my last post that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and yet, we are commanded to “keep ourselves” in God’s love. How does this all work together?

And this is where we arrive at the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate. This debate asks the question, “How does the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man reconcile?” Calvinist theologians call the two concepts a theological “tension” (Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance,” page 259). However, how can these two concepts be a real tension if they are in Scripture, and Scripture does not contradict itself? If Scripture itself must be reconciled, and Scripture contains these two concepts, then there is a way for the two to be reconciled. I will reveal how they can be reconciled, and how Lockeyer’s statement fits into all this, in my next post.

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