While reading Dr. Ken Keathley’s chapter titled “Eternal Life,” in his book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” some confusing theological issues (in my mind, at least), started coming together. Things that never quite made sense to me began to make sense. One of those issues concerns “OSAS Arminians,” called “Once-Saved-Always-Saved Arminians.” OSAS Arminians stand out from their fellow Arminians because, unlike the remaining Arminians, OSASers believe in guaranteed perseverance of the saints. In other words, those who believe, the elect, will infallibly persevere. For the Arminian system, however, this is an inconsistency: in the five-point Arminian system, since grace is resistible and election is conditional upon faith, then perseverance is conditional upon the continued endurance in the race of life set before us. In other words, perseverance is conditional in that it is based upon the commitment of the believer. If the believer decides to fall away due to temptation (as did one of the soils in Luke 8), then that person has forfeited their inheritance in Christ (i.e., eternal life). To use biblical terminology, like Esau, they have forfeited their “birthright” to eternal life and “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Heb. 12:23, NKJV).
But there may be a slight possibility that OSAS Arminians have not thought through their theological system carefully enough: for, if the saints infallibly persevere, then ultimately, grace is “irresistible,” in some sense. Dr. Keathley would label grace in the Molinist system as “overcoming grace.” And I think OSAS Arminians should look into it. If the saints infallibly persevere, then God’s grace can only be resisted FOR SO LONG. There comes a time when God’s grace will win out, no matter how stubborn or self-willed a person’s heart may be...and at that point, they will want to do the things of God that they may be fighting against in this very moment. In short, OSASers may really believe in “overcoming grace,” not “resistible grace.” There is a difference between these two types of grace, and they need to be carefully distinguished.
OSASers then, by virtue of their views of perseverance (infallible) and grace (overcoming) could no longer identify themselves as “Arminians,” but as “Molinists.” But four-point Arminians should consider this: if grace is “ultimately” irresistible, and perseverance is infallible, then election is “unconditional” (those in the actualized world that God selected who believe WILL NECESSARILY BE SAVED). Arminians cannot become Molinist without paying a theologically high price for so doing.
Ken Keathley introduces in his chapter on eternal life what is called “The Means-of-Salvation view”:
“The Means-of-Salvation position contends that the New Testament is always referring to the gift of salvation when it speaks of the believer’s reward. Passages that exhort the elect to pursue crowns of life, glory, and righteousness are making reference to salvation itself, not to any subsequent reward that the believer may earn in addition to salvation...they also argue that obtaining eternal life requires not only continuing faith but also great effort from 2 Pet. 1:5-11...but Schreiner and Caneday argue that though the threats of damnation addressed to the saints are genuine, THE POSSIBILITY OF APOSTASY IS NOT...God uses means----including the warning passages---to fulfill His promise to save all who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pp. 180-181).
Arminians take the warnings passages very seriously; but OSASers believe the same thing that Schreiner and Caneday do: that the warnings are simply to keep us in line when we look as if we are about to drift. According to the “Means-of-Salvation” view, the warnings are real, but a true believer can never fall away. However this works out for the OSASers, the bottom line is that their views very much match those of Molinists. According to Keathley, William Lane Craig argues that the “Means-of-Salvation” view is the Molinist view of perseverance:
“He [Craig] argues that the Means-of-Salvation position IMPLICITLY EMPLOYS MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE. Craig asks that if the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace, then why does God give the warnings at all? And if the warnings themselves bring about perseverance, does this mean that the believer is capable of apostasy, even if he does not apostatize? HYPOTHETICALLY, at least, THE ELECT CAN FALL AWAY, BUT GOD, using middle knowledge, HAS CHOSEN TO ACTUALIZE A WORLD IN WHICH SCRIPTURAL WARNINGS WILL OPERATE AS MEANS TO KEEP HIS CHILDREN FROM APOSTASY. This is a novel understanding of perseverance, but it appears to be the view argued by those who hold to the Means-of-Salvation position” (186).
I think that the means-of-salvation view shows us the conflict believers and theologians have when it comes to interpreting the warning passages while upholding the preservation promises. As the Molinist view of perseverance, this view states that, since “God meticulously ‘sets the table’ so that humans freely choose what He had predetermined” (152), then believers will “freely choose” to persevere in the way God planned for them to. Since God has selected the world in which the elect would live (and God desires to preserve the elect), then God will see to it that humans persevere as He wants them to.
In all honesty, I can truly say that, before studying the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, I clearly held to a Molinist view of perseverance (although I didn’t know that view was the Molinist view). In fact, when a friend attempted to discuss the issue with me, I said, “Well, if a person is a believer, and God has changed their lives, then THEY WILL WANT TO REMAIN IN CHRIST.” Notice in that statement that I placed responsibility on the individual to persevere---while not arguing that God would “persevere” them. It is my belief that most Christians are Molinists and don’t even know it. As distinct from the Calvinist idea of perseverance, the Molinist view retains responsibility on the person. Calvinists such as Edwin Palmer, however, believe that believers will persevere because perseverance is really “the perseverance of Christ” (Edwin Palmer, “Five Points of Calvinism”). To the Calvinist, they will persevere BECAUSE CHRIST DID. Christ does not serve as the example of perseverance (Heb. 12:1-2), but as the ONE CHOSEN TO PERSEVERE FOR BELIEVERS!
Is it really possible, then, that OSASers could be true Molinists in disguise? I think so. Well, at last, I am relieved; four-point Arminians finally have a name by which to identify themselves...