I. Howard Marshall’s article “The Problem of Apostasy in New Testament Theology” was part of a symposium in honor of Dale Moody and serves as an epilogue to Marshall’s book Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and falling Away. Marshall presents the three reasons Calvinists reject the idea the true believers fall away: 1) they regard the texts which appear to teach the final security of the believer as the clear and central teaching of Scripture, 2) unconditional election and definitive atonement logically lead to perseverance of the elect and 3) the sense of security provided by perseverance of the saints is important to the Christian life.
Marshall associates perseverance of the saints with determinism: “on the Calvinist view, the possibility of a return means that the Lord himself must so work in my life that I am preserved from the possibility of falling away by his overruling of my sinful will. Thus we find that perseverance depends on a divine determinism that overrules what I myself apparently do in freedom.” Marshall identifies 5 problems with this view: 1) if true, why do believers sin at all, 2) God’s secret will rather than preaching or reading God’s Word or any other external means is the ultimately the reason people persevere, 3) this denies freewill and makes it illusory, 4) this appears to make God capricious and 5) this seems to limit God’s freedom.
Marshall sees Luke 8:9-15 (the Parable of the Sower) as a clear warning against the danger and therefore the possibility of accepting the Word and falling away. Some people respond by saying the warnings are a means God uses to keep believers from falling and the cases of people apostatizing are hypothetical. Marshall responds: “But where is the evidence that this is the actual intent of Scriptures such as the present one? And is it not unreal to paint a picture of the fate of hypothetical apostates when such people do not and cannot exist?” Other people say the people in the passage were never truly believers. But Marshall points out verses 12-13 say they were temporary believers. Viewing the passage as talking about a temporary, half-hearted, non-saving faith is practically the same thing as Marshall’s view, since the passage commands believers to persevere, and they are told that, if they do not, they will be lost, just like those people who never believed at all. This implies “that at any given moment it is impossible to say of a person that he has saving faith; the only proof of saving faith is that the person persevered in the faith and died believing.”
Marshall also discusses the warning passages in Hebrews and dismisses the idea that they are hypothetical as theologically driven and the idea the they deal with nominal believers based on the language in Hebrews 6 and 10. He also explains some security passages such as John 10:28: “It is surely one thing for the Devil to snatch the sheep away against the sheep’s will—that cannot happen. It is another thing for the sheep to yield to temptation.” Marshall gives a brief corporate view of election. In the end Marshall finds some tension in the scripture regarding security and the possibility of apostasy and warns against over systemization.