J. Matthew Pinson, ed. Four Views on Eternal Security. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

What’s nice about these four views books is that they give each person 50 pages to present the best Scriptural case they can make for their position. Each contributor then has the opportunity to write a 3-10 page rebuttal to the other views. Three of the four contributors to this book I easily recognized: Michael Horton (Classical Calvinism); Norman Geisler (Moderate Calvinism); and Steven Harper (Wesleyan Arminianism). I was not acquainted, however, with Free-Will Baptist writer Stephen Ashby (Reformed Arminianism). In my opinion, it was he who presented the most biblically persuasive case for conditional security and against unconditional security. Nevertheless, his essay still has some shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Let me comment briefly on the other merits of the other essays. I believe Calvinists will be disappointed with Michael Horton’s contribution. He provides the reader with only 19 pages on his position when each of the other contributors write almost 50 pages for their respective positions. Furthermore, Horton does not provide a single quote from John Calvin himself—the first major theologian to teach that it is impossible for believers to fall away. To better understand how Classical Calvinist’s interpret the warning passages, the reader should consult the book, The Race Set Before Us, by Thomas Schriener and Ardel Caneday.

Norman Geisler’s essay is an enlargement on the chapter he did in his book, Chosen But Free. The casual reader will notice that Geisler has relied heavily upon “proof-texting” to make his case for unconditional security. He presents the most popular version of “once saved, always saved” that is promoted by people like Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, and Charles Stanley. He tries to distance himself from Charles Stanley and some of the outrageous remarks he makes in his book on eternal security, but in reality, his view is essentially no different from that of Stanley’s—“continued belief is not a condition for keeping one’s salvation” [p. 109]. Like Stanley, Geisler argues that Christians cannot lose their salvation through sinful living. He agrees that 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 6:4-6; and 10:26-29 are warnings directed to genuine believers, but they are concerned with a believer losing out on heavenly rewards, not on losing ones salvation. Ashby correctly observes that such an interpretation for these passages “will not withstand the scrutiny of credible exegesis” [p. 128].

Steven Harper has a fine grasp of John Wesley and his teaching on eternal security. Harper demonstrates that Wesley taught conditional security and the possibility of apostasy for genuine believers from texts such as, Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; and 2 Peter 2:20-22. However, he says that Wesley believed “even the kind of people described in these passages can be restored to salvation—but not apart from their maintaining a sober assessment of their true condition and making appropriate repentance” [p. 239]. I do not believe this interpretation can be exegetically defended from these passages. Nevertheless, Harper asks an important question in this debate, “how much sin can lead to the loss of salvation” [p. 239]. Wesley and Wesleyan Arminians would reply that prolonged sin in the life of a believer manifests an eroding faith in Christ and can result in the loss of salvation. It is this view that Ashby disagrees strongly with and the major problem with his otherwise excellent essay.

Ashby says, “To understand the Reformed Arminian position, we must recognize that one is not saved by quitting sinning. Nor does committing sin or failing to confess sin cause one to lose salvation” [p. 172]. All Christians would agree completely with the first statement, but it is the second statement that Ashby makes that is troubling. God’s Word clearly warns believers that if they continue to participate in the same sins of the unbeliever they will share in their same destiny [1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 5:1-12; Gal 5:16-21; compare with Rev 21:1-8, 27; and 22:14-15]. This happens to be the interpretation that Reformed Arminian Robert Picirilli arrives at in his commentary on Ephesians 5:1-7 [see Randall House Bible Commentary, “Galatians through Colossians,” pp. 216-220].

Ashby’s problem lies with an inadequate definition of apostasy. He writes,
There is only one way for a believer to lose salvation: a decisive act of apostasy—departing from the living God through unbelief (Heb. 3:12). If a saved individual ever rejects Christ, he or she will at that point have cast aside the God-appointed instrumental cause of salvation [pp. 182-183].
What does a decisive act of apostasy look like? What does unbelief and rejection of Christ entail in a Christian’s life that results in a loss of salvation? Unfortunately, he never defines what apostasy or unbelief looks like so that we can avoid it. The Hebrew writer defined it as “sinning willfully” (10:26), and links a “an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (3:12), with the disobedience or sin committed by the Israelites that prevented them from entering into God’s rest (3:7-19). The sins that provoked God’s anger and judgment on Israel involved idolatry and sexual immorality, amongst other vices. Thus, the writer exhorts us to keep faith with God and to not follow the example of disobedience or unbelief that Israel displayed lest we fall short of entering God’s final rest (Heb 4:1-11). This is consistent with what the rest of the NT says concerning the consequences for persistent sin. Why does Paul command believers to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18) and idolatry (1 Cor 10:14)? Because those who do such things will not inherit or enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11). Jesus stated the same truth,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:44-48).
Furthermore, Ashby accused Harper of misrepresenting Wesley’s view on the atonement. Ashby assumed that since Wesley recognized the element of satisfaction in the atonement, that Wesley held to penal satisfaction. Penal satisfaction holds that Christ made the payment for sin and once the believer was forgiven he could never be held liable for future sin in his life. To say that a believer could forfeit his salvation through willful sin would be double jeopardy, according to Ashby. But it is Ashby who misunderstands the Wesleyan-Armianian version of satisfaction. Richard Watson distinguished between “full satisfaction” and “full equivalency.” Benjamin Field wrote that the death of Christ cannot be reduced to a commercial transaction. While his sufferings satisfied divine justice and vindicated the authority of the law, Christ did not suffer the precise amount of pain which sinners deserve to suffer. Thomas Ralston believed in the satisfaction of the justice of God, but not penal satisfaction — the exact payment of our penalty for our sins. R. S. Foster objected that “a penal satisfaction cannot be conditional.” Thomas Summers explained that if Christ paid the debt, either for the elect or for the entire race, then neither repentance, faith, nor obedience could be required, fir that would be a kind of double jeopardy. W. B. Pope warned against a concept of exact compensation, since some may perish for whom Christ died, and thus he would be defrauded of his payment for them [see this discussion in the Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Romans, pp. 145-151].

God accepts the work of Christ an equivalent satisfaction of the just demands of his law, for all who meet the condition he has decreed — trust in the blood of Christ. But those who believe are not only declared righteous, the justified are also empowered to live a new life of victory over willful sin. Harper does represent Wesley, and Scripture, when he warns that we cannot continue in sin and still maintain justification. The faith which saves is a continuous, obedient faith which brings assurance. Ashby, on the other hand, argues that since we cannot be saved by quitting sin, we cannot be lost by continuing in sin. Wesley would call this “antinomianism.”

Respectfully submitted Steve Witzki and Vic Reasoner

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