Friday, May 14, 2010

Confirmation of a Non-Calvinist: Assurance of Faith

I enjoy writing on Calvinist confessions. When I did the work on the warning passages in Hebrews (see the Hebrews section to the right), I found it thrilling when Classical Calvinist Buist M. Fanning admitted that certain passages of Hebrews posed problems for his theology. As hard as it was for him to make that confession, I’m so thankful he did. As an old saying goes, “Confession is good for the soul.” It is good for all of us when we can come to the table and confess our faults, our short-sightedness, our need for correction and criticism from others.

I have done that here at the site: I have accepted correction. Prior to this past year, I knew nothing of middle knowledge; and when I learned what middle knowledge was, I initially shunned it and tossed it aside. However, reading Open Theist arguments (from Bruce Ware’s work, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism”) convinced me that in a sense, if all God knew was one option of a range of choices, then the Open Theist must be right. If God only knew that I would turn right, but didn’t equally know that I “could” turn left, then God determined that I would go right, without any regard for my choice whatsoever. God only knew what He had predetermined (in that system). I talked with the owner of the blog “Classical Arminianism” at blogspot, Billy Birch, some months ago at lunch about this subject. His response to the Open Theist claim was, “We Classical Arminians have always affirmed God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.” I told him that his statement was true; however, we Classical Arminians have failed to incorporate our belief into our theology. And when we come to passages like 1 Samuel 23:11-13, in which God tells David an outcome that isn’t actualized, we find Classical Arminian theology facing a dilemma...until we incorporate middle knowledge. Once we do, we find that God tells David (at that moment) what will actually happen; however, David takes the words of the Lord and flees from Keilah, thus preventing the prediction from coming true. The Lord’s words, then, were conditional upon David’s decision.

Incorporating middle knowledge into the Classical Arminian system does not hurt the system itself; rather, middle knowledge boosts God’s divine foreknowledge. It is truly “exhaustive” in that God even knows the options that you and I never choose that were “potential” selects in our day-to-day decisions.
Middle knowledge taught me how to incorporate my view of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge with the extent to which God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive (via the Scriptures). To say it best, we have to be able to subject ourselves to learning...and allow ourselves to be challenged by the Word of God. If we refuse to do so, we might end up with a theological system we can live with...but it won’t be the correct one. As for me, I’ve been on a pursuit for the most biblical theological system existing; and I hold out hope that maybe I’m wrong and that there is more learning in-store for me in the future. However, I will say this: If I’m wrong, at least it can be said that I am truly seeking the truth. And if I’m seeking the truth, the Lord will honor my seeking and grant me knowledge of the truth...for He desires that we earnestly seek Him. All good things, including knowledge of the truth, come from Him.In any case, I think it’s admirable when theologians make statements that show the inconsistencies in their theologies (like Buist Fanning).

However, there are times when those who do not hold to a particular type of theology make statements that seem to confirm a particular theology. One such example is Dave Hunt, and he makes this grand confession in his debate with James White, published in a book titled “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views”:

“Our assurance is not in baptism, good works, or denial of choice. John declares, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13). BELIEVING IN CHRIST IS OUR ASSURANCE” (Dave Hunt, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 399).

I have argued here at CTS that faith is the “birthright to the inheritance of salvation,” that, just as Esau threw away his birthright (Heb. 12), so can believers throw away their faith. I’ve also discussed Luke 8, the Parable of the Soils, and the rocky soil that “believed for a time” and then fell away due to temptation (Luke 8:13). I’ve walked the readership through Romans 11 to see that the Gentiles differ from the Jews in that they stand by their faith (Rom. 11:20ff). I’ve made it clear that faith is the condition by which one “stands” or “falls away” from the faith. Dave Hunt, in his debate with James White, states this: that faith is the assurance that we have as believers. Our assurance is present due to our faith.

But when most Christians say the above statements (as Dave Hunt does), they rarely think about what this means: if our assurance comes because of our faith, then our assurance is CONDITIONAL: as Paul told the Gentiles in Romans 11, “You stand by your faith” (Rom. 11:20). Dave Hunt argues against unconditional election in his debate with James White; however, if election is not “unconditional,” then what else can election be but “conditional”? And if election is conditional, then what can security be but “conditional”? This is why I’ve taken time here at the blog to go through the Scriptures: because I think so many ordinary believers are Classical Arminian in their theology, but don’t know it. I went to a local coffeeshop some time ago and met a gentleman who stated that he could see “general and particular atonement” in a certain passage of Scripture. I looked at him and said, “You believe, then, in the singular redemption view, which states that Christ died for all, but only grants salvation ON THE BASIS OF FAITH.” What is shocking is not that the gentleman didn’t know that he was holding to a Classical Arminian view---but that he claimed to be Calvinist!

Hebrews confirms Dave Hunt’s view:

“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).

The Greek word for “confidence” (v.35) is “parresia,” which can also mean “assurance.” So when the writer tells the scattered believers, “do not cast away your confidence,” he tells them not to throw off their assurance. And then he tells them, “you have need of endurance.” So assurance is key to endurance. At the end of chapter 10, the writer quotes Rom. 1:17: “Now the just shall live by faith.” Faith is the possession of the just, or the righteous.

An earlier portion of Hebrews 10 discusses this idea of assurance (confidence) and faith:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water; let us hold fast the confession of our hope WITHOUT WAVERING, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:19-23).

The key words in this passage involve the phrase “full assurance of faith” (v.22) and “without wavering” (v.23). The phrase “full assurance of faith” in the Greek is two words, “plerophoria (full assurance) pisteos (of faith).” William Lane Craig writes regarding “full assurance of faith” in his work, “Reasonable Faith”:

“Paul uses the term ‘plerophoria’ (complete confidence, full assurance) to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth as a result of the Spirit’s work (Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Rom. 4:21; 14:5; Col. 4:12). Sometimes this is called ‘ASSURANCE OF SALVATION’ by Christians today, and assurance of salvation entails certain truths of Christianity, such as ‘God forgives my sin,’ ‘Christ has reconciled me to God,’ and so on, so that in having assurance of salvation one has assurance of these truths” (William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics,” Third Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, page 44).

Because a person has assurance of their salvation, they know certain salvific truths: that God has saved them, that God reconciled them through Christ, that God is returning for them some day to give them salvation, etc.
This is why the writer of Hebrews 10 tells the scattered believers to draw near to God with a “full assurance of faith”: because the believers know certain salvific truths, such as those in Hebrews 10:19-21---the blood of Jesus has given us access to “the Holiest” (that being the throne of God), the veil, “His flesh,” has provided this access to the throne; Christ is our High Priest over the house of God (that house being the believers, Heb. 3:6). The writer of Hebrews exhorts the believers to let their actions be application of the spiritual truths they already possess. They know the truths of the faith; they just need to act on them now, even in the face of persecution.

Notice, however, that the truths of the faith should move the believer to draw near to God with full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:23), encourage other believers (v.24), and assemble with fellow believers to worship and encourage (v.25). Today’s believers have been given the same instruction, so that we too, might inherit the promises.

Dave Hunt is not alone in his statement that assurance comes through faith. Ken Keathley states this as well when he writes in a footnote about Thomas Schreiner (author of “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance”):

“After I wrote this chapter (titled “E is for Eternal Life,” my emphasis), Dr. Schreiner was kind enough to send me a draft of his upcoming book ‘Run To Win The Prize’ (InterVarsity). In it he clarifies his position and provides a helpful response to many concerns expressed by me and others. Most helpful is HIS DESCRIPTION OF PERSEVERANCE, which he defines as ‘PERSEVERING IN FAITH’----A DEFINITION WITH WHICH I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 185).

Both Thomas Schreiner and Ken Keathley hold to “perseverance in faith.” This is an interesting phrase by Schreiner; in fact, perseverance in faith is exactly what Arminius himself held to in his “Works”:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH;’ and (2) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, CAN SCARCELY BE ADMITTED;---It being impossible for believers, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, THAT POWER OF GOD WOULD BE CONQUERED WHICH HE HAS DETERMINED TO EMPLOY IN SAVING BELIEVERS. On the other hand, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, PROVIDED THEY STILL CONTINUE UNBELIEVERS” (James Arminius, Works 1:741-742).

Arminius found the biblical answer to reconciling the promises and warnings: and that was faith. In the same way, Keathley’s concession of he and Schreiner’s belief is very telling indeed. If it does nothing else, it at least shows us that Arminius may not have been as “off his rocker” as most people presume he was.

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