On his website, Arminian Perspectives, Ben Henshaw has a questions page at which he answers questions about Arminianism and Calvinism that visitors to his site pose in the comment section of the page. The following is a question and answer interaction between Ben and a commenter named William:
Question: a quick question about the prodigal son. In looking for books on the arminian perspective I stumbled upon a book online called “The Believers Conditional Security,” by Dan Corner. I looked up the reviews on amazon.com and saw 45 5 stars and two 1 stars so I naturally looked at what the one stars had to say. Something that stood out was a critic on how the author and arminians use the prodigal son story to say salvation could be lost and then be gained back. I’ll quote him here:
Another example of logic would be his position on the prodigal son. Here is a parable that pictures the love of God as well as a rebuke to the Pharisees that stood there complaining that Jesus receives sinners. I love setting up Dan Corner disciples when I come across them as I ask them if the Pharisees were saved people in that chapter and they all answer no to that. My question then is if they realize that the hateful son in this parable is Jesus referring to the Pharisees standing there? Surprisingly, Dan Corner disciples say that they know that Jesus parable was referring too to the Pharisees standing there to rebuke them. However, they fail to think through this one as well. If Dan is going to argue his logic then we are going to have problems in interpreting this passage. Just a minute ago, I had a Dan Corner disciple admitting that Pharisees are not saved and then telling me that the hateful son was a rebuke to the Pharisee standing there. How then is the one son picturing salvation as he comes running home and the unsaved Pharisee standing with him in the same kingdom? Confused? Well, according to Dan, this shows a man that was saved and then lost it and was saved again later. Let’s use that same logic and see if you can spot the problems. 1st, both sons are always referred to as “sons” and never was he described as anything other than a son. 2nd, if you pay attention to that passage then you notice that he got it better the second time he supposedly got saved. He got a ring and a robe and new sandals and God kissed him and prepared a fatted calf for his return. Wow! I say that we all lose our salvation so that we can have it better the second time around!! This is why reading logic into Scripture can be dangerous.
Sorry Dan, the prodigal son parable is not a picture of how God saves a man twice but to expose the hearts of the Pharisees who professed to be righteous and strict law abiders. It showed the Pharisees how they were hateful and against God’s love, mercy and grace. This passage is dealing with Jewish people who were in a covenant relation with God, which made THEM ALL children of the covenant (covenant children and not children of grace) as this was not the case for Gentiles at this time. This is why an unsaved hateful Pharisee during this time was called a son (by covenant and not by grace). Remember, arguing by Dan’s theology, no man that hates his brother is saved as he abides in death according to 1st John, but he conveniently doesn’t point out that the Pharisee here was referred to by Jesus as a son. Keep this in mind those of you that believe you can lose your salvation so that you can tell someone that asks you why Jesus referred to the Pharisees as sons as referring only to the covenant made to the children of Israel that today is put aside for an age.
This kind of threw me off because as a backslider myself, I found comfort in the fact that the prodigal was a son like me who then left and backslid but then was able to come back. How do you view this verse?
Answer: I read Dan’s book and thought that much of it was excellent in refuting unconditional eternal security. Some of his arguments are not as strong as others, and some of them may be simply wrong. All in all, he does a fine job in defending conditional security.
I personally do not reference Dan or his book on this site because I think he can be a little extreme in viewing those who hold to eternal security as unsaved (some of what he writes, especially at his site, would at least suggest this).
Anyway, I don’t necessarily disagree with him on this parable. I think the reviewer, and some of “Corner’s disciples”, have made some assumptions that are not supported by the text. He assumes that no Pharisees were ever saved. It is true that much of the opposition Christ faced came from the Pharisees, and many of those Pharisees were not saved because they did not do the will of the Father, but this text doesn’t seem to be dealing with those Pharisees.
Notice the conversation between the father and the elder brother at the end of the parable,
“Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends…And [the father] said to him, “My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:29-32)
So in this context the elder brother is pictured as one who is in right relationship with his father. He obeys the father’s commands, enjoys his presence and relationship, and shares in all that the father possesses. That is not a picture of someone who is unsaved.
Now this guy might try to say that the elder brother was just reporting his view of things, but really didn’t have a right relationship with his father. But that doesn’t work since the father doesn’t challenge his sincerity, service, obedience or his relationship, but rather affirms it. All the father does is point out that his present attitude is out of line, in not rejoicing with the father in the return of his brother. There is nothing in this text to suggest that the elder brother represents an unsaved Pharisee.
The further comments about how we should all lose our salvation so we can get more is just ridiculous. If someone turns away from God, there is no guarantee that he will return. The point of the parable isn’t getting more (after all, the elder son gets the greater inheritance and the prodigal squandered his in loose living). Rather, it is rejoicing in a restored relationship and the right of the father to receive back the sinner who repents, all of which serves to highlight the wrong attitude of the Pharisees in Luke 15:1.