In our recent discussion with Triablogue, we debated the issue of the possibility of a true saint falling away and several warning passages in scripture addressed specifically to the saints that warn against the same (from Matthew 5, Hebrews 4, Revelation 22, and to a smaller extent Romans 11). Paul Manata’s articles got exceedingly lengthy, and took on a rather odd and insulting tone, but didn’t prove very difficult to deal with. Steve Hays attempted to intervene and made at least an intelligible case for the warnings in scripture being only hypothetical, but hits other problems with the questions this concept raises. Listed are the challenge and our latest posts, some of which I quote below.
Let’s look at the practical implications of Hays’ argument first. While perhaps explaining a warning being given, the explanation can’t fully account for the consequences listed in the warning passages of scripture. Hays writes,
Suppose, though, the libertarian will object that while, as a matter of fact, no driver disregarded the sign, that unless a driver was free to disregard the sign, then the sign would be pointless.
But how does that follow in the least? Suppose the drivers have been brainwashed. Their psychological conditioning is so overpowering that every time they see a warning sign, they take the warning to heart. They are unable to resist their conditioning.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the warning sign has this coercively deterrent effect on the drivers, how would that render the stimulus pointless?
Translation: The warnings are divine shock value, their consequences mere coercion. I’d already factored in this defense into the challenge, concerning which I point out an obvious problem,
All inherent problems aside, even if this were the case and God were simply ‘putting us on,’ so to speak, for the sake of our living righteously, then is it not better to take the Lord at His word? If God’s purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God’s word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect?
In my latest reply, I add,
The view that the members of Triablogue espouse puts them in a rather awkward position, as when God states ‘heed or I shall revoke your part in my kingdom,’ their reply is, ‘Therefore having our part in God’s kingdom revoked is not actually possible under any circumstance by virtue of the fact that God has threatened to do that very thing.’ Perhaps as Hays’ parallel of stimulus suggests, God preserves the saints by fear of falling away. But if such fear or coercion is His intended purpose in these warnings, then why do Calvinists teach a doctrine that goes directly against any such fear or coercion, which tries to reduce it to no effect in stating that it is not possible for the saints to fall away? I agree that God does indeed spur we who are His on to glory with warnings, but not with hollow threats of Him committing things He would never actually do based on things He won’t let happen.
So if God’s purpose in issuing warnings with the worst possible consequences is to be compared to bogus, yet highly effective road signs, then how is saying ‘Don’t worry, those signs are feigned, they’re just made to scare you, it’s not actually possible for you to fall in’ not going against that purpose? Thus even if fear and coercion unto holiness were the sole intent of the consequences in God’s warnings to the saints, the teaching of a doctrine that absolutely no saint can fall away directly contradicts such an intent.
Hays tries to defend his view logically,
Even in this case, the sign is still meaningful. Indeed, what the sign says is true. If you were in a position to disregard the sign, and you did so, you would suffer the stated consequences. Conditional statements can be true statements, even if they’re counterfactual statements.
The fact that a hypothetical may never be realized hardly renders it either unintelligible or pointless. Indeed, counterfactuals are a basic feature of moral deliberation. It’s because a hypothetical course of action has certain consequences that we avoid it.
While the logic concerning conditionals is sound, his defense cannot deal with the ends being used to justify such means, since the possibility of lapse from grace is in the estimation of most Calvinists, a serious doctrinal error which they would equate with unfaithfulness on God’s part in preserving us. As I’d also stated in the original challenge,
If even the suggestion that a believer could fall from God’s grace is a ‘false doctrine’ or ‘Pelagian error’, then why does God’s holy word testify to that very possibility?
and added in the response to Triablogue,
The very fact that being cut off from Christ is listed as a consequence for not abiding in Him (which is not an obvious impossibility) suggests its possibility; so if scripture makes it so plain that our perseverance is not dependent upon us in the least, and God cannot fail to uphold His end, then why would scripture even bring up the contingency of His failure or unfaithfulness? Why tack on a consequence that plainly constitutes ‘heresy?’ That is quite beyond incredulity. Are we to seriously believe that God’s holy word is touting false and misleading doctrine for the sake of our good practice?
God isn’t mumbling crazy impossibilities, heresy, or idle threats into the air to keep us secure. His warnings are true and their consequences are real, for His word is truth (John 17:17). One need only look at the admonitions in scripture to see what the apostles taught concerning security in Christ; to those engrafted Paul writes,
“For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.” (Romans 11:21)
But by Triablogue’s logic (Triablogic?), folks like us now some kind of false teachers for plainly stating that very thing: “Yes, if you as a saint don’t abide, God can and will cut you off!”, instead of trying to explain it away with, “Well, while that conditional statement is true, He technically won’t ever really cut you off, God’s just saying that to deter you….” Apparently, warning actual saints against the possibility of falling away is gospel truth when the apostles proclaim it, but now our affirming the viability of that same truth constitutes deep doctrinal error.