Every once in a while, I find that I need to remind myself that what I do is important. This is not some existential crisis of faith but simply a thought experiment as to the importance of what I am investing my time in, with and for.
As Solomon, with prescient insight, promised and predicted, the writing of books is endless and worrisome to the soul. And sometimes it is not so good for your theology either.
In a new book that is attempting to articulate a theological remake of Covenant Theology called “Progressive Covenantalism,” one of the foundational questions asked is, whether it is possible for Christians to have certainty that they are saved, i.e., the Doctrine of Assurance. In answering this question one of the authors puts it this way as he explains the theology of the famously difficult Hebrews warning passages:
“This view argues that the warning passages of the NT ‘are addressed to believers, and they are threatened with eternal destruction…if they commit apostasy’. But genuine believers will not apostatize. Truly, believers must heed the warnings to be saved. But the warnings are themselves a means of preserving grace God uses to ensure the perseverance of his saints.
According to the broad NT witness, believers in Jesus – both new converts and experienced Christians – are never assured they will inherit the kingdom of God regardless of their actions. Rather, apostolic teaching regularly includes exhortations to persevere in order to obtain eternal life. This is not a denial that Christians now possess eternal life; instead, it is an acknowledgment that the NT presents salvation with both present and future dimensions. This ‘already-but-not-yet character of salvation’ is a reality because the cross and resurrection of Christ ‘constitute the invasion of God’s end-time work into the present age.’ While the letter to the Hebrews primarily presents salvation as a future reward, the letter also reflects the ‘inaugurated eschatology’ of the rest of the NT… How does one obtain the prize of salvation? The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is the objective basis of salvation, but the subjective means of salvation is the individual exercise of faith in Christ. Christians must persevere in faith to the end; they must ‘run the race’ to finally receive eternal life.” (Christopher W. Cowan, “The Warning Passages of Hebrews and the New Covenant Community,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies (ed. Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 199-200.)
This is what is called “the means to salvation view” that Drs. Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday first articulated in their book; The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Doctrine of Perseverance and Assurance (IVP 2001).
I think the reason this view has come into existence is that it seems obvious that the author of Hebrews is writing to Christians. But Reformed Theology demands that there be faithfulness to prove that a person is a Christian, i.e., “perseverance of the saints.” Therefore, they conclude that these warnings are the means that God uses to ensure that the saints will persevere to the end. If a person does not persevere to the end, that proves that they never were “genuinely saved.” As long as you are obeying and submitting to the Lordship of Jesus you know you are saved. But if you do not then you know you are not!
I am very sure that what Grace Theology Press and Grace School of Theology are doing is quite important and needed. I am also sure I have eternal life – right now!
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Grace Theology Press