Debate With Turretin Fan, Opening Statements

[This debate was in response to a challenge by Turretinfan over an article I wrote, challenging the idea of inevitable perseverance with facts from scripture]

[My Affirmative Constructive Essay]

I wrote a challenge to Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints some time back to show that the concept of eternal security was incompatible with several key warning passages in scripture. An important principle of scriptural interpretation is that passages that are clearer should guide our understanding of those which are not as clear. Though many places in the Bible warn against falling away, I chose these particular three for two main reasons:

1.) Clarity of address, and 2.) clarity of consequence.

Matthew 5:27-30 – Escaping the snares of wickedness is not advice that would benefit one who was unregenerate, much less allow him to enter into life (see the parallel passages in Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:47). Christ’s words were plainly directed at those who follow Him. The consequence of being overcome by sin is hell fire, it doesn’t get much clearer.

Hebrews 4:9-11 – The context of the whole discourse pertains to those who believe, notably where the author states that “we who have believed do enter into that rest,” and when he concludes his call to perseverance by stating of himself and those he addresses, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The rest being spoken of can only be eternal rest given the context. Note that it is not something achieved when one believes, for we who have believed are entering it (verse 3), further indicated by verse 10, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”

Revelation 22:18-19 – The consequence of having one’s part in the holy city taken being only applicable to those who possess a share of the heavenly inheritance, who is being addressed specifically isn’t hard to determine. Having one’s part in the holy city taken can realistically amount to nothing else than eternal separation from Christ.

Unlike many of the warnings in scripture which Calvinists write off as applying only to the unsaved or speaking of loss of tertiary rewards, these warnings with eternal and damning consequences are addressed to the regenerate specifically, eliminating any possibility of chalking them up to the “almost saved” or “false professors. Such clarity also renders the eternal securist arguments of violators getting their ‘potential’ eternal reward taken from them rather weak, such arguments made even more ridiculous by the Calvinist position, which effectively has God threatening to revoke an inheritance that He never planned on giving them.

The clarity with which these warnings are delivered has driven many Calvinists to view the passages as entirely hypothetical. Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms ‘hypothetical’ and ‘possible.’ This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it’s ‘possible,’ but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur).

With that in mind, it would be much easier for Reformed theologians to reconcile their views with just a command to persevere, but the consequences given with these divine warnings (especially Revelation 22:19, which pertains directly to the possession of the believer) pose a major problem in that the Reformed view of Perseverance turns them into absurd impossibilities contingent upon more absurd impossibilities. If a genuine believer falling into damnation would imply a change in the very nature of God (as was stated at Dordt), and hence God Himself ensures that such warnings can never be violated by believers, then Calvinism essentially makes these divine warnings say, “Don’t do something God won’t allow, or He’ll do something He would never do,” putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness.

It’s true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth. In contrast, these warnings are not at all framed as anything speculative or hypothetical, nor does anything in the text suggest as much. Hence reinterpreting, “If you take away from this book, God will take away your part in His kingdom” as merely, “If God were to allow such a thing (which He won’t), then you would lose your part in His kingdom” is naught but wholly unjustified filtering of scripture through a dogmatic lens. The absolute negative of those consequences being, in the Calvinist view, due to and absolutely necessitated by the very faithfulness of God, one can only wonder as to why God would cast doubt upon His own faithfulness by proclaiming such consequences upon the redeemed who violate His command, without even a hint of the “but that could never happen” qualification that Calvinists are so quick to add.

The eternal securist defenses against the clear implications in these passages then fall far short of being either sound or convincing. Many instead like to point to assurances of salvation given in scripture as evidence against its conditionality, but a promise does not negate its own conditions — assurance with accompanying conditions is still conditional assurance. Bottom line, the Calvinist view of perseverance cannot be soundly reconciled with the scriptural warnings against believers falling into damnation:

Scripture says, “Be diligent lest you come up short!”

Calvinism adds, “But you can’t possibly come up short!”

Scripture says, “Take heed lest you fall!”

Calvinism counters, “You never can and never will fully fall away.”

Scripture says, “Do not be high-minded, but fear.”

Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there’s no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect.

[Turretinfan’s Negative Constructive Essay]

Negative Constructive – Perseverance of the Saints is Consistent with Scriptures
By TurretinFan

This debate is ultimately about whether the Reformed Doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” can be reasonably reconciled with three passages of Scripture. I’ll address each in turn and provide at least one reasonable alternative, thereby demonstrating that the passages can be understood consistently with that body of soteriology commonly called Calvinism. Afterwards, I’ll address miscellaneous points identified by JCT.

Matthew 5:27-30

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Matthew 5:27-30 is that it is teaching that regenerate people can sin badly enough that they will be cast into hell-fire. An alternative explanation is that Jesus is explaining that lusting after a woman is a sin of sufficient gravity to merit eternal damnation, and that consequently merely abstaining from physical acts of adultery is insufficient to fulfill the law of God. After all, if we repent and trust in Christ not only lusting after a woman but also the physical act of adultery will be forgiven.

Hebrews 4:9-11

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Hebrews 4:9-11 is that we do not have eternal rest yet, and consequently must keep on believing/working in order to obtain that. We agree that we do not yet have eternal rest, for that is a reference to heaven. Furthermore, the point of the passage is that since we have not reached the fulfillment of the Sabbath, we must continue to work. Nevertheless, as verse 9 indicates, the people of God have a future rest coming. JCT’s objection seems to confuse a condition of Christian life (to live on Earth is to work) with a condition for Heavenly Life (as though we receive heavenly rest not by grace but works). Verse 16 of the same chapter dispels this misconception.

Revelation 22:18-19

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Revelation 22:18-19 is that people can only have a part in the holy city if they were regenerate. An alternative explanation is that those are being addressed who think they have a part. The elect will heed the warning, and the rest will be warned of what awaits them. After all, the command is – in essence – a command to believe the Scriptures. Those who willfully subtract from Scriptures refuse to believe what it says. Such an action is inconsistent with Faith in the Word and the Spirit.

Miscellaneous Issues

JCT acknowledges that some folks have interpreted warning passages in Scripture as entirely hypothetical. JCT responds that the “Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms ‘hypothetical’ and ‘possible.’ This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it’s ‘possible,’ but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur).”

JCT seems in this objection to confuse “will” with “could.” For example, it will not happen that genuine believers will eventually go to hell, but we could imagine how it may be that they could do so, if a different set of circumstances were present. For example, if genuine believers were not loved by God, God could let them separate themselves from Him. Objecting that such a description is “strictly speculative” or not a “genuine possibility” may or may not be accurate, but it is not a rebuttal.

JCT parodies the hypothetical interpretation this way, “‘Don’t do something God won’t allow, or He’ll do something He would never do,’ putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness.” But the response is to turn to Genesis 15:8-18, where God in essence swears that he will do what he promises, or that he will be divided. One could parody this is as, “God promises not do something that he says he won’t do, or He’ll do something that he would never do.” Is that for the accommodation of “doctrinal silliness”? Surely not.

Indeed, JCT acknowledges that “It’s true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth.” JCT goes on to contrast these to the warnings discussed above, and properly so. These are not examples of hyperbole. Nevertheless, warnings for believers – even if they are warnings of dire consequences can have more than one purpose.

One purpose would be prophetic: you will do this, and you will fall. Another purpose, however, is pastoral: if you do this, you will fall. A pastoral warning can have use in the form of preventing the warned person from ever doing the “this.” The usual analogy is one’s child playing by the fire. We may properly warn the child that if they fall into the fire, they will be burnt to a crisp, without having the least intention of letting that happen. Why does JCT seem to want God from treating us like children?

JCT makes a final appeal to ineffectuality: “Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there’s no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect.” It is interesting that JCT would make this sort of claim. Yes, the fear of Calvinism is not the sort of servile fear in which man fears that he will do something that will separate himself from the love of God. No, it is a recognition of the power and majesty of the Most Holy God.

Sola Deo Gloria,

-Turretinfan

Source

Cross-exam, my questions
Cross-exam, TF’s questions
Rebuttal Essays

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: