I decided to step back from my series on Open Theism a bit in order to get some breathing room. I am constantly thinking of you, my dear readership, knowing that for some of you, I’ve probably worried you sick with this series on Open Theism I’ve been doing. I’m sure that for many of you, reading these posts on Open Theism is as insane for you as it has been for me to write on it. My friend Nicole (who is a follower of the blog) and I have spent much time out for dinner reading and rereading Clark Pinnock’s words. Her eyes “pop out of their sockets” (just kidding!) everytime I read a rather “heterodoxical” quote from Pinnock’s work. Believe me, it has been hard for me to digest Openness Theology these last two weeks or so. I ask that you pray that the Lord would smile on the work done here at the Center for Theological Studies and grant me the energy and strength to finish the series well. We’ve come through a great deal of the series...but there’s still some more to endure. I will finish the series soon.
For now, though, I’d like to place an intermission in the series, starting today. For the day (if not for a day or two following, maybe more), I’d like to focus on an issue that I’ve spoken and written much about here---that being, the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security.
It’s amazing how familiar themes of theology continue to revisit me when I least expect it. I am studying New Testament Theology this semester, and was given an enormous assignment of 350 pages of reading (for this one class alone) that was due today. All of this reading was added to reading for another class---which consisted of an entire book (150 pages) and 65 pages of reading from two or three other books. All in all, my total of reading for this week was 565 pages (almost 600). Pray for me about school. I need all the supernatural strength I can get.
Our New Testament Theology class started reading the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Since Matthew comes first in the canon, all of our beginning reading was on Matthew’s Gospel. Robert Gundry writes the chapter on Matthew in Kevin Vanhoozer’s edited work, “Theological Interpretation of the New Testament.” He points out perseverance as a recurring theme in the Book of Matthew:
“Because of double mention by Matthew, it bears emphasis that under persecution one must persevere to be saved: ‘But the one persevering to the end---this one will be saved’ (10:22; 24:13). In contrast is the one who hears the word and receives it immediately and joyfully, but because of tribulation and persecution turns out to be ‘temporary’ and stumbles into sin rather than bearing the fruit of good deeds (13:20-21). MATTHEW’S STRESS ON THE NECESSITY OF PERSEVERANCE IS NOT BALANCED BY AN EQUAL STRESS ON THE COMFORT OF ETERNAL SECURITY, so that a systematic theology must supplement Matthew with John and Paul” (Robert H. Gundry, “Matthew,” from “Theological Interpretation of the New Testament: A Book-By-Book Survey, Second Edition" by Kevin Vanhoozer, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pages 34-35).
If we take a look at Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Sower and the Soils, we discover that the difference between the seed on stony (or rocky) ground and that on good ground is that the seed on good ground “bears fruit and produces” (v.23). In other words, the seed on good ground produces fruit, matures in its walk with Christ. The seed on stony ground is the one who “endures only for a while.” When hard times come, “tribulation or persecution arises because of the word,” the seed itself “stumbles.” As I’ve constantly asked here at the blog, how then, can persecution arise “because of the word,” if the seed on stony ground is not saved? After all, did not Paul and Barnabas preach to those in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “exhorting them [the people] to CONTINUE IN THE FAITH, and saying, ‘We must THROUGH MANY TRIBULATIONS ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD’” (Acts 14:22, NKJV)? Did not Barnabas encourage the people of Antioch that “they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23)? Did not the apostle Paul write to the church at Ephesus that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12)? Did not Paul himself write to the Thessalonians, telling them that their faith and endurance in persecution and tribulation was so that they would be “counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thess. 1:4-5)?
There are so many other verses I could point out, but Robert Gundry’s quote above provides something for us to think about. Systematic Theology consists of pairing up seemingly paradoxical verses together, side-by-side, and reconciling the two verses or teachings. For instance, systematic theology answers the question of, “How do we reconcile Paul’s words in Romans 8 about ‘nothing separating us from the love of God’ with Jude’s words to ‘keep yourselves in the love of God’?” For those who desire to see verses paired up side-by-side like this, see my “Hermeneutics” section as well as my “Doctrine of Perseverance” section to the right side on the main page.
Does Matthew’s account of the Parable itself undermine “the comfort of eternal security,” as Gundry calls it? Yes it does! One cannot have “necessary perseverance” and “eternal security” exist side-by-side.
Let’s take the example of a job. Why do you get up and go to work each morning? Chances are, you go to work because you need the money...and therefore, you need the job. You go to work each morning in order to provide for yourself or a family; and you know that if you fail to report to work and do your job, you may not keep your job very long. By getting up and going to work each morning, you consent to the idea that your job has a “conditional security” about it---that is, as long as certain conditions exist (your personal commitment, great performance, dedication, good health, company’s financial strength, etc.), you have a job. Let’s say one day, however, your company decides to take your job from you. Does the pain of losing a job hurt? Yes. However, the question becomes, what can be done? The company itself never promised you that you would be “eternally secure” in your job, did they? Chances are, no one on earth has gotten that good of a job. If you have found an eternally secure job, let me know so that I can sign up tomorrow...
If your job is eternally secure, though, why do you need to work so hard and stay so committed? Doesn’t the idea of daily commitment to your work “undermine” the so-called eternal security of your work? If your job is guaranteed, why not take longer vacations than you should? Why not skip coming in to work most mornings? Why not call in sick at least once every week? Why not blatantly defy your boss, if you have eternal security? If your security is “eternal,” and that eternal promise comes from your boss (“I will forever maintain your job, as long as you live”), why must you continue to work as though YOU are keeping your security? If my security is eternal, then I don’t need to keep it. By working to keep it, I am working AGAINST the eternal security I have (instead of working with it).
Why do I use this example in this manner? Because, with Gundry’s quote above regarding necessary perseverance and eternal security, we find that both of these theological concepts are opposites. If God has granted eternal security, then why would He give us commands to follow and urge us to persevere as though we must keep ourselves on the right road? Why must we “keep ourselves in the love of God” if God is going to keep us in His love? To argue that “perseverance is necessary” AND “eternal security is true” is to argue a contradiction. Both cannot be right; otherwise, God’s Word affirms contradictions (which means that there is contradiction in God, since the Word reveals the character of God).
If both are to coexist, there must be some conditions provided. Perseverance is necessary regardless. This, then, becomes a biblical rule. What about eternal security, you may ask? Eternal security can only exist WITHIN PERSEVERANCE. Therefore, eternal security exists AS LONG AS an individual eternally perseveres in the faith! For the individual that endures to the end (Matthew 10:22; 24:13), that individual experiences “eternal security”; for the seed on stony ground that falls away, that seed was only “conditionally secure” in Christ.
Calvinism has provided eternal security as the all-defining idea in Scripture; but Matthew’s Gospel poses problems to the doctrine itself. Most Christians, in response to Matthew’s stress on human responsibility, have unconsciously placed necessary perseverance and unconditional eternal security side-by-side. But if eternal security is “unconditional,” then how can perseverance be mandatory (since it is a “condition” for eternal life)? One cannot have an “unconditional” eternal security beside a “condition.” Security in Christ is either “unconditionally eternal” (forever without condition) or “conditional” (with condition). One cannot have it both ways...