In his volume on perseverance, Run to Win the Prize, Thomas Schreiner declares: “The admonitions and threats in the Scriptures address the issue of eternal life. . . . They are addressed to those who have received the Holy Spirit, to those who are genuine Christians.” “I have argued thus far that the warnings in the NT are directed to believers, and they threaten final judgment.” Along with all Arminians who adhere to the doctrine of conditional security, I can give my wholehearted assent to these statements. Unfortunately, I cannot likewise endorse Schreiner’s understanding of perseverance and apostasy. Schreiner writes
[T]he elect and those in the new covenant always heed the warnings [of Scripture]. God loses none of those who belong to him. Just as all the elect believe the gospel when it is proclaimed to them, so too all those who are foreknown and predestined will certainly be glorified. God’s promise that all those who are his will persevere does not exclude the need to heed the warnings. As we have seen, heeding the warnings is the means by which believers are preserved on the last day.
According to Schreiner, all who have been initially saved will be finally saved. Any individual who has been united to Christ by faith will never become an unbeliever again. The inevitable conclusion is this: apostasy remains an impossibility for “genuine Christians.” Schreiner assures us that the various “admonitions and threats” contained throughout Scripture serve as “the means” whereby believers are infallibly preserved from condemnation on the day of judgement. As for those who may have appeared to have borne the marks of a Christian for a season but nevertheless defected from the faith, Schreiner informs us that such persons were never actually in a saving relationship with Christ to begin with.
Those who fall away were never truly Christians. . . . Perseverance is the mark of genuineness, and those who do not persevere reveal that they were not genuinely part of the people of God. . . . No one who is truly elect will ever fall away, for those who do apostatize reveal that they were never genuinely saved.
It is not enough to assert that “genuine Christians” will not apostatize. No, according to Schreiner’s strict Calvinist perspective, the possibility of apostasy itself cannot be actualized. For Schreiner, there is simply no possibility of such an occurrence. In the case of “genuine Christians,” then, apostasy is relegated to the hypothetical realm, for it is something that those who are “genuinely saved” neither will nor can commit.
The logical implication of Schreiner’s view is that the very means by which God’s people are said to be infallibly preserved from damnation via the Word of God are dubious at best and completely disingenuous at worst. Exhorting believers to do that which they cannot fail to do (i.e., persevere) and severely warning them against the impossible (i.e., apostatizing) with the threat of eternal condemnation if they should fail to continue in the faith — which, again, cannot happen according to Schreiner — naturally calls into question the wisdom, goodness, and truthfulness of God and his Word.
It is much wiser to accept the possibility of apostasy as real in the present age. Yet in so doing one would have to accept salvation as being truly conditional in nature and jettison the entire Calvinist soteriological paradigm as spurious. In my judgement this should be done sooner rather than later.
1. Thomas R. Schreiner, Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 113. Cf. also Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001).
2. Schreiner, Run to Win the Prize, p. 104.
3. Schreiner routinely uses the term “elect” as a shorthand designation for persons that God has unconditionally chosen for salvation before the creation of the world. As Arminians affirm conditional election to salvation, we take issue with Schreiner’s consistent use of the scriptural term “elect” as more or less synonymous with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.
4. Schreiner, Run to Win the Prize, p. 113.
5. Schreiner, Run to Win the Prize, p. 106.
6. Schreiner’s erroneous understanding of perseverance as inevitable and apostasy as impossible appear to stem from an a priori commitment to Calvinist double predestination.
7. Albeit unwittingly.
8. I am aware that Schreiner would disagree (that is, unless or until he should become an Arminian).
9. For Arminian perspectives on perseverance and apostasy, see e.g., Gareth L. Cockerill, “A Wesleyan Arminian View,” in Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007), pp. 257–92;I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away (reprint; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008); Robert Shank, Life in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Perseverance, 2nd rev. and exp. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1989).
10. Toward that end, see e.g., F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2011); Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2002); Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner, eds., Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation(Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015); Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell,Why I Am Not a Calvinist (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Lastest revision: 3 July 2015. (One noted added.)
Copyright © 2015 by J.D. Gallé. All rights reserved.
[Link to original post and comments. Please note that the author is not considered Arminian by SEA because he does not hold to the doctrine of total depravity.]