Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Such Is The Nature of Choice

“If Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, and yet we can somehow become unsaved – and therefore undo what Christ came to do – WOULD IT NOT BE WISE FOR GOD TO TAKE US ON TO HEAVEN THE MOMENT WE ARE SAVED IN ORDER TO INSURE WE MAKE IT? ISN’T IT UNNECESSARILY RISKY TO FORCE US TO STAY HERE?” – Charles Stanley

I’ve spent the last few posts writing on dispensationalism and covenantal theology, the new hot topic here at the blog. Today, though, I’ll provide a little intermission to the new topic with a post that places us back into the old---the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.

The above Charles Stanley quote is one that I found on a church website regarding the doctrine of eternal security. I’ve examined the doctrine itself here in over 30 posts, which I recommend my readership examine in great detail (see “Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security” and “Hermeneutics” as sections to the right of the main page for more information).

Stanley’s argument above is one used to argue for eternal security: that is, that if one could “lose their salvation,” God would not allow that person to stay here and throw away their security in Christ. Rather, He would take them before they threw it away because His mission was “to seek and save that which was lost,” meaning “people” or “individuals.”

There is a problem, however, with Stanley’s approach. He “stacks the deck” when he says that God wants to “insure we make it.” I can admit: God does desire for every single individual to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). However, will God ensure that EVERY SINGLE PERSON will be saved? In the end, will heaven be full of every human ever born and hell emptied of every single soul? I think not. And this is the issue: that God coming to save means that every single person will be guaranteed eternal life.
I’m sure that Charles Stanley believes that Christ came for all people, for every single individual---man, woman, boy, and girl. And because of this, all are given the opportunity to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. If this offer is genuine, and without force, then some will come to Him, such as the Samaritan woman, while others will walk away (such as the rich young ruler and some of the disciples of John 6).

But some will say to me, “Charles Stanley is not talking about those who are unsaved, but those who are saved, God’s own. Doesn’t God wanna insure that THEY are saved in the end?” I would then respond with the words, “What about the Israelites, the Jews? Were they not ‘God’s chosen people?’ Yes. However, not every ethnic Jew experienced the blessings of the Promised Land. In fact, only two Jews of the wilderness generation---Joshua and Caleb---made it to the Promised Land, while the rest of the nation died in the wilderness. Was God not committed to blessing them? No---HE WAS COMMITTED! The issue then, was not the commitment of God, but the faithlessness of the Jewish nation.

So, if God were committed to “insuring” the success of anyone, don’t you think we would see that guaranteed success with God’s own chosen people, the Jews? And yet, we do not see God “guaranteeing” the Promised Land for them. The reason is that God requires constant, enduring faith (Hebrews 4:2), something that the Israelites failed to possess. Instead, the Israelites “hardened their hearts” and refused to obey the voice of God (Heb. 3:8-11, 16-18).

Why then, won’t the Lord take us before we throw away our faith? Because “such is the nature of choice.” A choice involves two or more options, not one option that is determined in nature. Ken Keathley writes in his work “Salvation and Sovereignty” that the definition of perseverance is really “perseverance in faith”:

“After I wrote this chapter [‘E is for Eternal Life’, added chapter title], 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).

The problem with the Israelites is that they failed to “persevere in faith,” and Keathley (a Molinist) and Tom Schreiner (a Calvinist) agree on this point with me (a Classical Arminian). All three camps (Arminian, Calvinist, and Molinist) agree on the issue of perseverance as NOT being a perseverance in works, but a perseverance in faith (Heb. 11:6). I would say this to Charles Stanley in response to his question:

“Why would God not take a believer out before they failed to lose their salvation? Why would God not insure that all of His children endure to the end, but enable them to endure? Because such is the nature of choice. After all, God did not even spare the soil that believed ‘for a time’ (Mark 4:17; Luke 8:13).”

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