Thursday, September 9, 2010

When "John" and "Paul" Meet "Matthew": Systematic Theology and Eternal Security

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...


Set Free said...

you could not pick a better analogy to teach salvation by works. I meet the conditions at work and they owe me a check. I thought Paul already dealt with that.I work for minimum wage, I love the people I work for. I don't go to work every day because I am afraid of losing my job. I go because I love my work, and I don't wont to let them down. I don't want to leave them short staffed ect. Happy employees go to work, miserable ones call in sick,and goof off because they don't care. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.[I John 4:18] Jesus says if you love me you will do what I say, You just reduced salvation to do what i say or else. No one will work for a boss like that. People who just work for a paycheck are not happy employees.

Deidre Richardson said...

Set Free,

Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that we are saved not by works, but that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works (v.10). What most believers fail to understand about the Christian life is that God has given us His righteousness, grace, faith, and armor (Eph. 6) so that we can withstand the trials and tribulations that will come our way.

The job example was to make the point that if the Scriptures teach that we must endure to the end, it cannot also teach eternal security because to do so would be contradictory.

In regards to working for a check, salvation is not earned. However, we are workers in Christ's vineyard and we are told to go and work, and He would pay us (Matthew 20). Jesus said that "the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard" (Matthew 20:1, NKJV). Jesus thought the analogy of work and pay was a fitting one to use. However, notice in context that Jesus is talking to His disciples (Matt. 19:25). One cannot understand the parable of the workers until one is a disciple of Christ. Only those who are in Christ will receive a reward from Christ. Those who are unsaved cannot do any good towards God. And why? because they have not the Spirit of God.

Btw, you DO go to work because you fear losing your job. Everyone does, whether they admit it or not (even if they love their jobs). The point of the analogy was to say that having to endure to the end doesn't fit with an "eternal security" mentality.

And speaking of your saying that "No one will work for a boss like that," Jesus is Master. He is commander of the lives of those who follow Him. No, He is not a dictator...but He is also not "one of us." He is the Sovereign Lord over all creation, and as Creator, Sustainer, Lord, Savior, and Commander, He will not be replaced on His throne. He does make the rules, and we will either follow them, obey His Word, or not. The rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-24) had to learn that; and Jesus said that any one who desires to follow Him must obey His rules (Luke 9:23-26).

Set Free said...

I do not go to work because I fear losing my job. I went there to volunteer. They asked me to work. I also worked part time for a friend of mine he asked me to work for him because he knew he could trust me to not take advantage of him. I have also worked for him for free because I knew he was short on cash. I could go on but this is not about me. Yes Jesus is Lord and is worthy of our praise and obedience, because of the wonderful things He has done. My point is that the reason we do things is as important as what we do. Let me try this analogy. You ask me to go with you to witness to a friend and I say yes I would love to tell your friend what mighty things God has done in my life how He set me free from a porn addiction (true by the way) and changed my life and I"ll never be the same. Response 2. I will go with you because the Bible clearly commands me to and I will go to hell if I don't. Response 2 does not come from faith. Your work analogy had no mention of faith. There are a lot of people who work who don't have to. They may be retired and want to keep busy. Rush Limbaugh says He doesn't have to do anything he does not want to do. You don't have to agree with him but he is passionate about what he does, if he wasn't people would stop listening. Faith without works is antinomianism. Woks without faith is legalism. Sorry i just feel like your work analogy does nothing to promote faith, and could lead to a works mentality. Peace.

Deidre Richardson said...

Set Free,

Thanks for commenting once more.

I understand what you are saying; however, are you implying via my issue of necessary perseverance and eternal security that I am arguing for "a works mentality"? That does not answer the question of my post. My post was based on the issue of these two seemingly contradictory views in Scripture: one says that endurance until the end (necessary perseverance) is required, while the other says that perseverance is not required (eternal security). The question is, which of the two is correct? They both cannot be right.

It's perfectly fine to disagree with the example I provided (examples all falter at some point); but it's not okay to consume all the time attacking the example. That still does not answer the question of the post itself. I am interested in you tackling the issue at hand, which is, "Do the Scriptures argue for perseverance or no perseverance?" That is the question that I desire answered.

It's fine to disagree with the example, but that still does not eliminate the truth that Scripture does argue for a necessary perseverance. If Scripture does not say this, please write back and show me where I err in studying the Scriptures.

Set Free said...

Sorry if this posts twice.

I didn't mean to attack your example. You asked questions about why do people work so hard at the jobs if they think they have job security. I told you why I work, and you told me that I was wrong, and that I work because I am afraid of losing my job. So in regard to that you attacked my integrity.I am just saying that alot of people are not motivated by fear, and that I hope my pastor preaches on Sunday for reasons other than fear of losing his job. Arminians are often accused of teaching salvation by woks, and your job analogy adds fuel to that fire. I know that you are not teaching salvation by works, it just distracted me from whatever your greater point was. My bad, sorry.

Steve Finnell said...

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Deidre Richardson said...


Thanks for the invite. I am rather pleased with what I saw at the site just now. I'm adding you to the list of links that I want my people to check out. I see God has graciously blessed you with quite a following of believers. That is awesome, and I rejoice with you!

Deidre Richardson said...

Set Free,

Arminians are accused of teaching works-salvation; however, the issue is not the impression given but the misunderstanding of those who fail to read Arminian theology. In my time here at the Center, I've learned that one could use a dozen good analogies, but the truth is that, at the end of the day, I'm still an Arminian. For most non-Arminian believers, I'm still one who teaches "works-salvation," even when I don't.

You should read a lot of other stuff I've done around the blog. I've had to combat the Calvinist notion that "faith is a work." Recently, I had to refute J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul's ideas of Arminianism as "a return to Rome." I attempt to show Calvinists that they are wrong about Arminians, but many continue to write as though they hear nothing of what Arminians are saying. We Arminians listen to them...they, however, don't listen to us. And because more Calvinists own the major printing presses and pastor churches (and have radio ministries and the like), more believers listen to them than to good solid Arminian theologians.

Whether or not you like the job example doesn't take away from the fact that Jesus uses it in Matthew 20 to refer to the kingdom of heaven. Whether we like it or not, we are required to be servants and do work in God's service in order to hear Him say, "Well done." If that appears to the Calvinist or non-Calvinist Christian as work, then I challenge them to read the other stuff I've done here at the blog. "Work" as a term has different connotations: while work is something we "do," salvation does not come by "merit." Does this mean then, that we do "nothing" in salvation? If so, then Romans 10:9 has no meaning (since it tells us to "confess" and "believe"). Works are defined in Scripture as "merit," not "action." Believers must persevere in the faith, but without the persevering grace of God, no man can stand. We persevere "because" of the grace of God; but the presence of God's persevering grace does not cancel out my responsibility. 1 Cor. 10 tells us that in every temptation, God gives a way of escape. Whether we choose that or not is up to us...

The attacks on Arminian theology will come; but at the end of the day, I challenge non-Arminians to look at passages on perseverance and Jesus's words in Matthew 20 before they decide that to believe on Christ and to persevere in the faith is "works-salvation." I think the problem lies more with their fears of responsibility than it does with the Arminian fear of eternal security.