Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hermeneutic of Reconciliation: How Apostasy Fits With Divine Fidelity

This post is somewhat of a break from what I’ve been doing at the blog, seeing that it recalls an old subject that I’ve studied in much detail over the past two years. I read Leroy Forlines’ book, “The Quest for Truth,” some months ago; now, Forlines’ book has been revamped into a systematic theology for Classical (Reformed) Arminianism, titled Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. While reading his chapter on “The Perseverance of the Saints,” I noticed that Forlines tackles a text that is often used in favor of eternal security. I desire to discuss that here. The issue of apostasy and one of its many proof-texts is the topic of this post.

The proof-text on display (a text in favor of Once Saved, Always Saved, known as “OSAS”) is 2 Timothy 2:11-13---

“If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

See the statement underlined in the passage just above? This statement has been interpreted to mean that, should a Christian become unbelieving and live his/her life in sin, that person will still be saved because “He remains faithful,” which, in this context, refers to God continuing to promise the wayward individual that he or she will inherit eternal life. Even if that person should decline in faithfulness, God will not take back His promise. That person will still inherit eternal life, even if they lived as heathenish as the rest of the unbelieving mass of humanity.

Forlines names Charles Stanley as one who advocates this view. As Stanley himself once said, “If Christ took upon Himself every single one of your sins, what is going to cause God to reverse His verdict of not guilty? Hallelujah, not a thing” (Charles Stanley, quoted by F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House, 2011, page 307).

Such a statement is also made by others, chief among them being Norman Geisler. In his chapter in the book Four Views on Eternal Security, Geisler uses the same prooftext to argue in favor of eternal security. He argues that one could “lose rewards,” but one will not lose eternal life itself (see my other posts on the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security to see the Geisler quote).

Yet and still, there are numerous passages that seem to disagree with both Charles Stanley and Norman Geisler. Before I get into one of these passages, I will tackle 2 Timothy 2:11-13. The statement above, as I said a minute ago, seems to indicate that a believer could live an unfaithful life and God in His faithfulness “must” still grant eternal life (unconditional promise). However, Forlines responds to such an interpretation with these words:

“Stanley does not deal at all with the statement, ‘If we deny Him, He also will deny us.’ In fact Stanley is saying that a person who is a Christian could deny Him, and He will not deny that person” (Forlines, “Classical Arminianism,” page 307).

Notice that, to agree with Charles Stanley, one has to admit to a contradiction within the text itself. If Stanley’s words regarding the Lord not denying the unfaithful believer are true, we end up having one statement opposing the next statement. Here is what 2 Timothy 2 would look like:

“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him;
 If we deny Him He also will deny us;
 If we deny Him, He will not deny us.

The two phrases underlined in the above text are contradictory. How can one deny God, and be both denied and not denied all at the same time? And yet, if we agree with Charles Stanley, we have to posit “tension” in the text---or, as I like to say, “tension” is a code word for “contradiction.”

I think that the Lord’s faithfulness in human unfaithfulness refers to something else other than the assumption of Charles Stanley; rather, the Lord’s faithfulness in this text refers to His character, His justice, etc. Forlines again:

“With regard to the last part of verse 13, ‘If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for he cannot deny Himself,’ I would give the following explanation: If we become faithless, Christ will remain faithful to His character and will deny us. What I have said is in agreement with the explanation given by M.R. Vincent: ‘True to his own nature, righteous character, and requirements, according to which he cannot accept as faithful one who has proved untrue to him. To do so would be to deny Himself’” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism, page 307).

Christ’s faithfulness, His constant character, is such that, for the person who denies Him, Christ must deny him or her. This fits with Paul’s statement that “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”

However, I would be remiss if I did not show that such a statement of Paul’s is not only a New Testament affirmation, but an Old Testament one as well. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 18. Ezekiel is proclaiming “The Word of the Lord” (Ezek. 18:1, NKJV) to the Lord’s people. This is what Ezekiel has to say about the righteous man that turns to unrighteousness and unfaithfulness:

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV).

Yahweh poses a question: if the righteous man turns from his righteousness and lives in wickedness, will he still have life? Jesus’ answer is clear: “all the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered.” In other words, the Lord will treat the individual as though he or she never performed any acts of righteousness: “because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty...he shall die.” The individual will not only suffer for his/her sin, but also for the unfaithfulness. In the eyes of the Lord, then, unfaithfulness is as much a sin as wickedness. For the Christian who doesn’t struggle with drinking, smoking, sexual perversion, etc., but just does not attend church, read Scripture, pray to the Lord, grows lax in their spiritual walk with God, such a person is also subject to eternal condemnation. Another thing I’d also like to point out is that Ezekiel connects unfaithfulness with wickedness, which is something Jesus Himself does in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4:17, Luke 8:13). Unfaithfulness and wickedness go hand-in-hand.

We’ve seen in this post that God’s faithfulness to His character demands justice upon the head of the unfaithful individual. However, those who adhere to the Doctrine of Eternal Security will ask the question, “Is it fair? Is God fair to do such a thing?” This is the question I will tackle in my next post. Stay tuned.

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