Q&A 15: What are your thoughts about perserverance of the saints?

Question: What are your thoughts about perseverance of the saints?

Reply:

This is the one area where all Southern Baptists agree! PTL! The doctrine affirms that those that God saves He protects and preserves their salvation to the very end. Sometimes this doctrine is also known by the phrase “eternal security.” There are many scriptures I believe that affirm this. Perhaps the clearest is John 10:27-29 which states, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The old Baptist preacher Vance Havner sums it up quite well when he states, “Faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.” We are saved by grace through faith alone, but saving faith never stays alone. Saving faith perseveres to the end. Perseverance of the saints is not so much a requirement as it is a promise. With Paul we can say, “…I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12).

Now, what are we to make of all of this conversation and concern about Calvinism? In my Building Bridges message I concluded with the following words which I think are appropriately noted here again, “The modern missionary movement was birthed out of evangelical Calvinism both in Great Britain with William Carey and in American with Adoniram Judson. Both drank from the well named David Brainard. He drew nourishment from Jonathan Edwards. Would it not be a remarkable providence of our sovereign God if a conference on Calvanism was the genesis and spark of a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists? Wedding a healthy, well informed and robust theology to a consuming passion for the evangelization of the nations, we come together as never before to carry out the final command given by King Jesus. I believe our Baptist fellowship is big enough, in all the right ways, to have room for William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John L. Dagg, Basel Manley Sr. and Jr., Lottie Moon, and Annie Armstrong. I believe it is big enough to include Al Mohler and Paige Patterson, Vodie Baucom and J.D. Greear, Adrian Rogers and Timothy George, Jerry Vines and Mark Dever, W.A Criswell and Hershel Hobbs, Buddy Gray and Johnny Hunt, Andy Davis and Steve Gaines, Danny Akin and Tom Ascol. We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.” I believed those words then. I still believe them today.

Q&A 14: What are your thoughts about irresistable grace?

Question: What are your thoughts about irresistible grace?

Reply:

“Irresistible grace” is as unfortunate a term as is “limited atonement.” A far better way to describe this teaching is “effectual calling.” Those who affirm effectual calling believe that those who are predestined by God to be saved are effectually/effectively called to salvation. This seems to be the clear teaching of Romans 8:28-30 for example. They are not forced to come but they freely and willingly do so. Again as with the doctrine of unconditional election, there is a tension here. Effectual calling works in concert with freewill and our human responsibility to repent and believe the gospel. Timothy George has stated this so very well when he writes, “God created human beings with a free moral agency, and he does not violate this even in the supernatural work of regeneration. Christ does not rudely bolt his way into the human heart. He does not abrogate our creaturely freedom. No, he beckons and woos, he pleads and pursues, he waits and wins.” This particular doctrine naturally raises the issue of the order of salvation. Which comes first: regeneration or repentance in faith? Personally, I believe the Bible says all of this takes place simultaneously or at the same time. I do not think the Bible addresses the logical ordering of the soteriological process, and therefore neither do I.

Q&A 13: What do you think about limited atonement?

Question: What do you think about limited atonement?

Reply:

This is the issue within Calvinism that causes the strongest emotional response. And, that is easy to understand. Let me say first of all that the phrase “limited atonement” is unfortunate. A far better way of identifying what classic Calvinist mean by this doctrine is “particular redemption” (or “definite atonement”). I have never been persuaded for the truth of this position though I do understand and respect the perspective. I think the scripture overwhelmingly teaches that God made a universal provision for which there is a limited application. Those who hold to particular redemption believe that the intention of the atonement was to both provide and purchase the salvation of the elect. While I think it does accomplish that, I am convinced that it was God’s intention also to make a universal provision wherein Christ died for the sins of all people. In part, that is the basis for their condemnation at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). However, I think to be fair we must note that all evangelicals limit the atonement in some manner. To do otherwise would be to advocate the heretical doctrine of universalism, that everyone will eventually be saved. I believe texts like Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4-6, 1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:1-2, and 1 John 4:9-10 make clear that there is a universal component to the atonement. This is the most natural and plain reading of these texts. Still, I think a way to move forward, while also acknowledging our disagreements, is that we can all affirm that the atoning work of Christ is “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.” There I believe is common ground on which Calvinist of the 5 point variety and others can stand together. We can look anyone in the face and tell them that the death of Christ is sufficient to atone for your sin. There is no lack or deficiency in His work on the cross. Repent and believe the gospel and you will be saved. On this we can all agree, and it is here I would want to give the greater attention.