Robert Shank on Calvinist Pastors and the Warning Passages of Scripture

, posted by Steve Noel

In 1960 Robert Shank published a book called Life in the Son. This book was written to refute the teaching of eternal security. At the time of it’s publication Robert Shank was a Southern Baptist minister. The book caused no little stir among the Southern Baptists and it led to the author eventually leaving the Southern Baptist denomination and joining the Churches of Christ. In this book Shank writes about the way Calvinist Pastors preach and teach the warning passages in Scripture. Though a bit polemical, I found it expresses well the way Arminians view the Calvinist understanding of the warning passages. Following the quote by Shank I will give an example of what he’s talking about from popular Calvinist Pastor John Piper. Shank writes,

“Completely absurd is the assumption that men are to be sincerely persuaded that apostasy is impossible and, at the same time, sincerely alarmed by the warnings…

The fallacy of Calvinism’s absurd assumption, essential to the defense of its doctrine of perseverance, is constantly demonstrated in the tragic inconsistency in the personal ministry of pastors who entertain it. They profess to believe that, while all true believers will inevitably persevere, it is only within the context of the dynamic exercise of faith that the perseverance is unfolded. They profess to believe that the warning passages are designed of God to effect this perseverance by motivating believers to continue in faith and to fear apostasy, and that the perseverance is realized only as believers take solemn heed to the warning passages. These things they profess to believe (at least, when pressed to account for the presence of the warning passages). But their preaching and teaching seem designed to prevent the warning passages and ‘alarming admonitions’ from accomplishing the purpose which they profess to believe God intends them to serve. They never miss an opportunity to ‘explain’ the warning passages in such a way as to dispel any concern which their hearers might have for them, and they continually assure them that they are unconditionally secure for all time and eternity, with no contingency whatever. They constantly do their utmost to destroy the concern of their hearers for the warnings and admonitions which they acknowledge to be God’s means of motivating believers to persevere. Those who do preach the warnings with earnestness and conviction they accuse of being ‘confused’ and ‘doctrinally unsound,’ and of not believing in salvation by grace. Wisdom is justified by her children; but only eternity will reveal the full measure of the tragedy of this popular fallacy and the inevitable inconsistency of all who embrace it.”(1)

In a sermon entitled “Better to Never Have Known the Way” on 2 Peter 2:11-22 John Piper says this,

“The whole New Testament is agreed: there is no salvation apart from persevering faith. And persevering faith always works itself out in the way of righteousness. Therefore, to abandon the way of righteousness is to exclude oneself from salvation.

But this can never happen to God’s elect. If it could, verse 10 of chapter 1 would be nonsense. There Peter says, “Be the more zealous to confirm your call and election.” If the elect could be lost, there would be no advantage in confirming our election. The point of verse 10 is that the elect will never fall but will enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And therefore we should be utterly earnest about confirming our election.

And 2 Peter 2 was written to help us do just that. It aims to help us confirm our election by warning us not to deny the Master who bought us (v. 1) , and by strengthening us to resist the temptations of spiritual pride and self-sufficiency (11-13), the love of money and all its destructive tendencies (14-16), and the summons to unbridled sexual license (2, 7, 14, 18). It’s not the kind of chapter we enjoy reading. But not all medicine tastes good. God, the great physician, knows our need. And every word is profitable. If it increases our earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end, it will have succeeded. May God make it so. Amen.”(2)

Notice that Pastor Piper makes it clear that the elect will never fail to persevere and yet he says Peter’s warning to the elect not to deny their Master is the very means God uses to preserve them. I have to agree with Shank here:

“Completely absurd is the assumption that men are to be sincerely persuaded that apostasy is impossible and, at the same time, sincerely alarmed by the warnings.”

1. Robert Shank, Life in the Son 2nd ed., pp.172-173, Westcott Publishers, 1982.
2. John Piper, May 30, 1982 Sermon: “Better Never to Have Known the Way”.