J.C. Wegner on Apostasy: An Important Warning

You can find the article at SEA here.

Here is an excerpt that addresses a common complaint about the idea that a true believer can become an apostate.  I think it is something most of us can relate to as many of us have, at some point, begun down that road to varying degrees.  It should also serve as a strong warning for those who may be in this dangerous downward spiral of rebellion and slowly turning from God and becoming more and more hardened to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  If that’s you, get out and repent now.  Don’t buy the lie that sin cannot harm you or threaten your eternal destiny.

Excerpt:

Those who teach a doctrine of unconditional eternal security sometimes object to the possibility of apostasy by holding that a regenerated person would never wish to return to a life of sin and to become an apostate. This fact is of course altogether true. The answer to the objection lies in the fact that believers can grow cold little by little, and ultimately find themselves with but little desire to return to Christ in penitence and renewed obedience. The steps in apostasy undoubtedly are somewhat as follows: first of all, the individual becomes too busy or unconcerned to maintain a faithful devotional life of Bible meditation and prayer. This results in a certain state of lukewarmness in which it becomes easy to harbor, if only briefly, a sinful desire or attitude. This attitude may be one of envy, pride, hatred, sensuality, or avarice. The unsanctified state of attempting to cling to a “minor sin” for a time in turn promotes the very neglect of Bible reading and prayer which brought about the state of lukewarmness to begin with. As the individual becomes more and more cold spiritually his zeal for the Lord’s cause slackens. After a time overt acts of sin begin to occur in his life. These falls into sin are accompanied by a decreasing concern about sin and its guilt. There comes also a determination, and this is something new, to continue enjoying sin for the time being; the first intention was merely to indulge briefly. There is less and less interest in returning to a holy Christian life as time goes on and the apostasy becomes more severe. All this takes place in spite of fierce inner struggles of conscience, repeated chastisements of God, and generally the warnings of other Christians.

We are again reminded of Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-67) description of the downward progress of the apostate: “First it startles him, then it becomes pleasing, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, then obstinate, then resolved never to repent, then damned.” [Strong, Systematic Theology, 651]

Muppet Calvinism

A puppet representing Calvinist thought seems about right to me…

MUPPET

Better than TULIP?

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

Is Philippians 1:6 A Good Proof Text For Eternal Security?

Matt O’Reilly takes a corporate view of the passage and concludes that Paul did not intend to teach individual eternal security in Philippians 1:6

The Question of Perseverance in Philippians 1:6

For a post I wrote a while back that takes a slightly different approach, but also concludes that Philippians 1:6 fails as  proof text for eternal security see:

Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Philippians 1:6?

A Telling and Ironic Tweet by John Piper on “Waking up in the Morning” as a Believer

Calvinist John Piper recently gave the following Tweet:

 I fall asleep quietly confident that I will be a believer in the morning not because of my free will but God’s free grace. 

This is an obvious attack on Arminianism and those that reject Piper’s Calvinistic presuppositions, though it is misplaced.  While Arminians do believe that our will plays a part in our continuing to trust God and remain a believer, it is inaccurate to suggest that Arminians believe our wills are the only factor.  Our wills must be continually empowered and enabled by God’s grace in order for us to continue to trust, obey and remain in Christ, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Thankfully, God has provided us with everything we need in order to continue to trust in Him and strengthen our faith so that we will not “stumble.” (2 Peter 1:2-11).  But it is also true that God’s empowering us to believe and continue to believe can be resisted.  While we cannot believe or continue to believe unless God empowers us, we are still capable of walking away and resisting the abundant grace He provides.

Piper seems to see this fact as some sort of reason for insecurity.  But that is not the case at all.  It is similar to the security that would accompany any relationship that involves a level of commitment.  Marriage is a prime example.   I acknowledge that I need to guard and protect my marriage by the choices that I (freely) make that will either strengthen that relationship or weaken and harm it.  I must concede that it is possible for me to neglect that relationship, even to the point of infidelity.  It would be presumptuous to assume such a thing were not possible.  However, I don’t live in fear and terror and insecurity over my marriage, always thinking about how it might not last, and I certainly don’t go to bed at night fearing that I might wake up and no longer love my wife or want anything at all to do with her.

Does Piper really think that those who fall away go to bed believers and suddenly wake up “in the morning” as hardened unbelievers?  It is hard to even imagine such a case.  Such a scenario presents a rather silly, simplified and unrealistic way of speaking about  someone leaving the faith.  Nobody who falls away just wakes up one morning an unbeliever after having gone to bed a believer.  The road to unbelief is gradual, at least to some degree, and it typically involves many (free) choices along the way.   But of course, since Piper rejects the possibility of apostasy from genuine faith, he can only hold that deluded hypocrites can go to bed thinking they are saved and that their faith is real only to apparently wake up in the morning in a more honest frame of mind, finally embracing their unbelief instead of clinging to their false fleshly hypocritical faith that was never real in the first place.  And that leads us to the most problematic difficulty in Piper’s trite little Tweet: As a Calvinist, John Piper can have no assurance that he is saved when he goes to bed or assurance that he will be saved when he wakes up!

Calvinists, like Piper, believe that those who have been truly regenerated will inevitably persevere to the end in saving faith.  But how does one know that he is regenerate?  The only true test is to persevere to the end in saving faith.  If one fails to persevere, that person only reveals that while he may have thought his faith was real, it was only a case of self deception, or even worse, divine deception.  John Calvin called this divine deception “evanescent grace”.  It was his answer to the problem of so many real life cases of those who lived for many years seemingly loving and trusting in God and producing godly fruit, only to eventually fall away and abandon the faith.  According to Calvin, God gave such people a delusion that made them think they were saved, and even feel like they were saved, only to eventually remove this fleeting grace and reveal that they were just deluded hypocrites that God had never regenerated and whose faith, while it seemed very real to them, was not real faith at all.  For a more detailed look at Calvin’s evanescent grace and the way that Calvinism undercuts Biblical salvation assurance, see the first link given at the end of this post.

So for Calvin and Piper, confidence of perseverance is tied up in being regenerate, and it is not at all clear how one can be sure she is regenerate unless she perseveres (to the end) in the faith (a problem of circularity that effectively kills assurance).  So the bigger problem for Piper is that he cannot be sure that he will wake up every morning as a believer because his faith may, in fact, be spurious.  The only way that he can have confidence that his bedtime faith is not spurious and that he will wake up each morning as a [true] believer is if he in fact wakes up each morning as a [true] believer.  So he can have no real confidence at all that he will wake up tomorrow morning, or any other morning, as a believer.  In short, he is guilty of wishful thinking and nothing more. Again, the main problem for Piper is how he can know that he is even going to bed a true believer and not a deluded hypocrite.   There is simply no way to be sure of this if Calvinism is true.

The irony is obvious.  While the Arminians that Piper wanted to discount can have significant salvation assurance while going to bed and in day to day life, Piper’s theology effectively undermines and makes such assurance impossible and, in so doing, nullifies the promises of Scripture that we can indeed know that we presently have eternal life (1 John 5:13).  While the Arminian could rightly say what Piper says in his tweet, John Piper cannot.

For more on the problems with Calvinist assurance in contrast with the strong basis for assurance that Arminians possess, see the following posts:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

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

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

The Arminian Magazine: Getting Acquainted With Arminius, Part 2 (by John S. Knox)

In the years preceding the Declaration of Sentiments’ creation, Arminius frequently defended his position as a minister and theologian in the Reformed church and as a supporter of Calvin. His Declaration is the summary compilation of that defensive effort against the Supralapsarians and high Calvinists. As such, each section of the Declaration will be inspected as to its topic(s), thesis statement, and supportive assertions.

The Declaration consists of ten chapters on a variety of topics, but Arminius did not dwell equally in consideration on each of them. With clear purposes in mind, he gave appropriate attention to the aspects of doctrine crucial for a better awareness of his position, and in order to obtain a fuller understanding of the relationship between humanity and God. As such, he hoped his presentation would serve a dual purpose in his endeavors for biblical truth and in his defense of Supralapsarian charges.

SECTION I – “ON PREDESTINATION”

This is by far the most complex part of the Declaration. Nearly 15,000 words long, this exposition has three purposes. First, Arminius describes the Supralapsarian understanding of predestination and explains how it is harmful and wrong. Second, he presents other views of predestination with their finer points of understanding and benefit. Lastly, Arminius presents his own views on predestination.

Arminius’ depiction of the Supralapsarian understanding regarding this topic is unflattering, to say the least. He begins his examination with a blunt statement of dismissal of their assertion that God has predestined some to salvation and others to damnation. He points out the fact that it is a belief “… espoused by those [Supralapsarians] who assume the very highest ground of this Predestination.” So begins his condemnation of their extremist doctrinal interpretation of Calvin and the Bible.

He then goes on to detail their arguments and later provides the grounds for his rejection of these theological opinions. The main reasons for his denunciation of the Supralapsarian position are: (1) “it is not the foundation of Christianity, of Salvation, or of its certainty,” (2) it “comprises within it neither the whole nor any part of the Gospel,” and (3) it “was never admitted, decreed, or approved in any Council, either general or particular, for the first six hundred years after Christ.” Supplementing this, he adds, it “neither agrees nor corresponds with the Harmony of those Confessions which were printed and published together in one Volume at Geneva, in the name of the Reformed and Protestant Churches,” it is “repugnant to the Nature of God,” it is “opposed to the Act of Creation,” it is “injurious to the Glory of God,” it is “hurtful to the salvation of men,” and it “is in open hostility to the Ministry of the Gospel.”

Apparently, Arminius has little trouble pointing out the defects of the Supralapsarian approach to predestination. He backs up each of these criticisms with proof of their flawed foundations. This long list is a testament to his personal disdain for the doctrine promoted by these high Calvinists.

Arminius then goes on to describe two other incorrect ways of conceptualizing predestination other than that of the Supralapsarians. First, God irreversibly decided in eternity,

to make (according to his own good pleasure,) the smaller portion out of the general mass of mankind partakers of his grace and glory, to the praise of his own glorious grace. But according to his pleasure he also passed by the greater portion of men, and left them in their own nature, which is incapable of every thing supernatural, [or beyond itself,] and did not communicate to them that saving and supernatural grace by which their nature, (if it still retained its integrity,) might be strengthened, or by which, if it were corrupted, it might be restored – for a demonstration of his own liberty. Yet after God had made these men sinners and guilty of death, he punished them with death eternal–for a demonstration of his own justice.

The crux of this complex passage is the suggestion that Arminius finds no logic or love in God predestining some people to salvation and others to damnation whether it is before or after the Fall of Adam–both seem incongruous considering God’s expressed plan in Scripture for humanity.

Arminius rejects this understanding because it makes God the author of sin, which he cannot and will not affirm. Furthermore, this concept suggests an understanding of predestination that is “a palpable and absurd self-contradiction.” It does not fit into any logical understanding of the nature of humanity nor does it accommodate God’s biblical plan of redemption.

Arminius describes a third understanding of predestination in which, “God acts without the least consideration of repentance and faith in those whom he elects, or of impenitence and unbelief in those whom he reprobates.” Arminius condemns this third understanding of predestination because it suggests that God does not care about the moral behavior or authentic faith of His followers-a concept not found in Scripture. This concept conflicts with the image of the God of justice accepted by early church fathers. God carefully judges the world and all its inhabitants, suggesting that He would not arbitrarily send certain people to heaven and hell, regardless of their good or bad faith in Him.

Finally, Arminius presents his own understanding of predestination. Rather than the lengthy exercise used earlier to invalidate the Supralapsarian view, Arminius offers a short and concise argument for his beliefs in this matter. He points to four decrees of God as evidence for his standpoint.

First, God “decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.” Jesus Christ is the ultimate sin offering used to appropriate the complete salvation of all humanity. Second, God “decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and Believers as persevered to the end.” Remaining in a sinful state only leads to death and to eternal damnation, but turning from sin leads to personal salvation. Third, “God decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means which were necessary for repentance and faith.” The resources for finding one’s salvation are always available to everyone because God is ultimately wise, merciful, and just. Fourth,

He knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.

This is not the same as ordaining some to salvation and others to perdition. Rather, it is a supernatural ability to see into all possibilities of humanity and the future. It speaks of the power of God, which, conveniently, Arminius discusses in the next section in his Declaration. Predestination was perhaps the most serious misjudgment of the Supralapsarians according to Arminius, but his high Calvinist peers also embraced other extreme distortions of biblical interpretation and application, dangerously manifest in their rigid doctrinal positions not explicitly found nor supported in Holy Scriptures.

From: The Arminian Magazine, Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29

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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