An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton

Excerpt:

It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most…Isn’t this ironic? I have never had a call from an Arminian (or any other believer in conditional election) about this. In my experience, it is only Calvinists who doubt their faith in such a way with such traumatic devastation. Why? (Doubting Calvinists)

This article is interesting in a lot of ways and should be carefully considered by all Calvinists.  I have always maintained that Calvinist doctrine undercuts Biblical Assurance.  Patton finds assurance in his present belief (though he admits that assurance is not total).  However, Calvinist doctrine makes present assurance impossible, while Arminian doctrine fully comports with that possibility:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Ironic And Telling Tweet by John Piper on Waking up in The Morning as a Believer 

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance, and Anxiety?

[some of the material below was recently added]

Not only that, but the Calvinist cannot even have assurance of final salvation as he cannot be certain that his faith will endure to the end until it in fact endures to the end.  Only when his faith endures to the end will it prove to be a genuine saving faith.  Since the Calvinist cannot know that his faith is genuine till he endures in that faith till the end, he cannot have even present assurance of salvation as mentioned above.  But the Arminian has a strong basis for present salvation assurance.  Not only that, in knowing that God desires his salvation and will give him all the power he needs to continue to trust in Him, the Arminian has a strong basis for assurance in final salvation as well.  A commenter in one of the posts linked to above, put the matter well when he wrote,

But I would add that Arminians do have substantial assurance of future final salvation, simply not absolute or unconditional whereas Calvinists, as you point out, can have no present assurance and therefore no future assurance whatsoever and be consistent with their own doctrine. In everyday life, people have substantial assurance of future benefit which is nonetheless conditional on their continuing to meet the condition for that future benefit, for example continuing to consent to receive it. So Arminians can have solid assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation, which is contingent on them continuing to meet the condition, which is faith. Put another way concerning future salvation, we have full assurance of future salvation on the condition of faith. And wonderfully, God promises true believers the ability to persevere in faith and that nothing can tear them away from him. So with present salvation we have the absolute assurance that God will enable us to persevere unto final salvation and that God is for us. He simply does not gaurantee that he will *make* us persevere. Arminian theology gives far more assurance than Calvinism: In Arminianism, full assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation (i.e. full assurance on the condition of faith) vs. in Calvinism no assurance period.

Now it is important to note that many Calvinists have assurance *despite* their theology. But the important point is that it is despite their theology, which puts their theology at odds with Scripture, which teaches that we can know that we are saved….let me restate one of my points in stronger language: in everyday life, assurance of a future benefit is almost always conditional on at least the continuing free consent of the receiver of the benefit. Hardly anyone ever thinks of such assurance as minimal or meaningless. It is simply a given that receiving a future promised benefit remains contingent on consenting to it. Here’s an illustration: if one is on a train that the company assures will get you to your destination (and it has never failed a customer), one can have assurance that one will arrive at the destination (and assurance is accordingly greater with the reliability of the one promising the result; in salvation it is God, so assurance is certain). But that does not mean that one cannot decide to jump off the train. The company’s assurance to take you to the destination does not include forcing you to stay on the train. So saying Arminians don’t have absolute, unconditional assurance for final salvation verges on being a red herring or perhaps irrelevant instead. It is not the type of assurance people ever normally have with respect to future promised benefits. We have seen that Calvinists don’t have such assurance from their theology anyway. But it is good to underscore the very real and profound assurance of future salvation that Arminian theology gives in harmony with biblical teaching from which it is draw and that Calvinistic theology can never deliver. [link to comments]

As noted above, a believing Calvinist could still have salvation assurance based on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that their fundamental doctrines negate the Biblical basis for salvation assurance.  But as Patton’s post reveals, it can serve to put the knowledgeable Calvinist in great tension between what the Holy Spirit might be communicating to him and what are the unavoidable implications of the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.

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12 Responses

  1. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is our ONLY assurance of salvation. The biblical verses which do so are always in the plural, and in no scripture I’ve seen is my (full) name mentioned. These verses can only refer to us all. Could Richard Dawkins, or a Jehovah’s Witness or any other rabid atheist quote a verse and be assured of salvation? You gotta be kidding!

  2. I should have added that the word ‘could’ in: “Thankfully, a believing Calvinist could still have salvation assurance” should be ‘should’.

  3. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is our ONLY assurance of salvation.

    But that inner witness will always be consistent with Scripture. John makes it clear that he wrote the bulk of his epistle so that his hearers could know that they have eternal life (presently) and that assurance is grounded in a present relationship with Christ (1 John 5:11-13).

    The problem for the Calvinist is that he can have no confidence that his present faith is real since he acknowledges that his faith might fail; and if it does, his faith was not real after all, but a self-delusion (or worse yet, a delusion caused by God as Calvin believed). So to be consistent with their doctrine, they can have no confidence that they are saved “now” since they cannot be sure that their faith is real or genuine until it endures to the end. That means that the Calvinist can have no real assurance at all since they cannot know that they will endure to the end and since they cannot know that, they can’t even know that their present “faith” is a real and saving faith. So their doctrine kills assurance for both present and final salvation.

    Thankfully, many Calvinists are good at living inconsistently with the doctrines that they hold to and often refuse to follow the implications of their doctrines to their inevitable conclusions. And since the Spirit can give assurance to any believer (Calvinist or not), they can thankfully have assurance despite their doctrines. But Calvinists who have a harder time not following the implications of their doctrines to their logical and inevitable conclusions will certainly struggle with assurance, as Patton has illustrated.

    I don’t understand your comments about Dawkins and the like, so I won’t comment on those.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  4. Absolutely, it will always be consistent with scripture as the Holy Spirit inspires both. I like 1 Jn 10: “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself” (NKJV) which is what I was saying.
    The point about Dawkins et al is that they, everybody else who does not have the Son of God, cannot just quote verses and ‘expect’ an inner witness. Sorry to be a bit opaque here. I agree with you, Ben.

  5. Ben,

    Doesn’t the real problem with assurance for the Calvinist stem from the fact that nowhere in the Bible really covers how the ‘elect’ know they are elect! As a Christian I know that it doesn’t depend on how I feel but I need to trust in God’s word which is true. My faith is based on God’s ability not my own. The Calvinist ‘knows’ in his heart that his only hope is if God elected him before he was even born. If he doesn’t feel elect, then there is nothing he can turn to for support. You are either elect or non-elect. Perish the thought, but I understand how some Calvinists must feel.

  6. Well, Calvinists can go by the fact that Scripture says we are saved by faith. So if they believe and do things that show that belief (like good works), then they can claim assurance that way. The problem is that in their system faith that looks no different than true saving faith can in fact be false and one can only tell if the person perseveres till the end. Therefore, their system can give them no assurance (there is more to why this is in unconditional election, but I am just focusing on a particular part of it here). That does not mean they can;t have assurance, just that it is at odds with the logical implications of theology.

  7. I left out a “their” by accident. It should have been (now with emphasis to highlight what was missing): “That does not mean they can’t have assurance, just that it is at odds with the logical implications of THEIR theology.”

  8. A very telling admission on the part of Patton…but not all that surprising as you highlighted. To put it bluntly a Calvinist must “sweat” to the very end wondering if he got the “short or long stick” for eternity. Many of the journals of the old-time Puritans show great fear and trepidation as they reviewed their life and saw episodes where they…AGHAST…didn’t persevere so well.

  9. Reblogged this on Arminian Today and commented:
    Good post that I recommend reading.

  10. Pervasively doubting Calvinism is a contemporary phenomena fueled by the tragic poisoning with impurities from other incompatible schools of mostly modernist theologies. Reformation Calvinism (the gospel) lives or dies as a system and is quite intolerant of syncretistic pollution. All this doubt is the result of an overt embracing and proclamation of uncertainty as the mistaken best this undernourished god of modern calvinism can provide for us.

    Some of these men (and women), Patton included in my view, are much better than they are presently giving us.

    This will likely be my only post here.

    “kangaroodort,” is a very clever handle btw. I like it 😀 Of course I disagree, but I like it.

  11. Pervasively doubting Calvinism is a contemporary phenomena fueled by the tragic poisoning with impurities from other incompatible schools of mostly modernist theologies.

    So you deny that many early Calvinists, like the puritans for example, struggled with the issue of assurance? That would seem to put you at odds with some fairly well established Calvinist history.

    All this doubt is the result of an overt embracing and proclamation of uncertainty as the mistaken best this undernourished god of modern calvinism can provide for us.

    Why not explain how your view can do better than this “undernourished god of modern calvinism”?

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. […] Related: An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance From Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton […]

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