Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Four Views of Eternal Security

I am a fan of the 'Four Views' series - the give a reader a quick glimpse into different approaches to thorny issues - theological, biblical, practical, etc.  These books are not, nor are they intended to be, full treatments of the topics in question. Instead, they introduce the reader to various viewpoints which they can investigate more through further reading.

While I'm a fan, the series does have some drawbacks. For one, after reading a brief overview, some may feel they have a 'handle' on all the issues. That's usually not possible in the few pages given. The bigger drawback is, however, that the chapters are only as good as the authors, and sometimes you get some really weak sections in an otherwise good book.

That was the case with Four Views on Eternal Security . The book offers a Classic Calvinist view (written by Michael Horton), a Moderate Calvinist view (written by Norman Geisler), a Reformed Arminian view (Stephen Ashby), and a Wesleyan Arminian view (J. Stephen Harper).

Few readers will be surprised that I follow Horton and the Classic Calvinist view.  Horton articulates well the difference between the classic calvinist approach and the 'eternal security' approach that is common in evangelicalism.  In addition, he highlights the major disagreements between his view and a Wesleyan/Arminian view (though he doesn't really differentiate the two, and he should).  Horton's contends the way to make sense of the 'eternal security passages' and the warning passages is from within a covenantal framework.  For Horton, covenant theology succeeds because it introduces a third (biblical) category in addition to 'saved' and not saved, namely 'those who are in the covenant but not regenerate'.  These people experience the goodness of God, taste of the new age (the Supper?), are under the ministry of the Spirit who works through word and sacrament, yet are not regenerate and do not have faith.  For Horton, the question isn't 'will those who have entered God's kingdom and perfect rest be kicked out' but instead 'will those wandering in the desert persevere and find God's perfect rest and enter the kingdom in the end.

The Moderate Calvinist view was represented by Norman Geisler. This chapter was beyond disappointing; in fact, it was almost insulting. Dr. Geisler so badly misrepresented the Calvinist view it was almost laughable (kinda like Dave Hunt in What Love is This - the single worst book I've ever read in my whole life).  Geisler's 'moderate calvinism' is actually far more Pelagian than either of the Arminian chapters. I'm not going to waste my time critiquing it...I'll just say skip it. His understanding of Calvin, Arminius is actually no understanding, only misunderstanding (at the best, intentional misrepresentation is also possible).  His views of original sin and man's ability is bordering on heresy, and his teaching on eternal security lacks proper nuance (and his charts are awful).  The good thing about this section is that there were three others in the book that weren't awful.

The Reformed Arminian view was articulated by Stephen Ashby. This was my favorite section of the book, not because I agreed with all of it (but I agreed with Ashby far more than Geisler), but because it was so informative. I hadn't read of this viewpoint before and my understanding of Arminian theology is shaded by Wesleyanism and Finney (yuck).  There are many points of similarity between a Reformed Arminian approach and a Calvinistic one. For example, both affirm that man is incapable of responding positively to God or his offer of salvation apart from a prior work of grace (effectual calling/regeneration for the Calvinist; prevenient grace for the Arminian).  Also, both affirm the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer is the basis for justification. I do, of course, differ with some of his presuppositions and then, consequently, conclusions; but, I put down Ashby's section with a much greater appreciation for Arminian theology and their commitment to God's sovereignty and glory.

The final section, written by J. Steven Harper, represented the Wesleyan Arminian perspective. Other than the Reformed perspective, this is the one I was the most familiar with. I do like Harper's emphasis on the need for prevenient grace, but was troubled by Wesley's understanding of the atonement. Harper contends (contra Ashby) that Wesley did affirm imputation of Christ's righteousness; however, Wesley's words seem to betray a view that is more akin to 'infused' or 'implanted' righteousness (he uses horticultural language) that is closer to a Roman Catholic understanding than a traditional Protestant one. So while he uses the word 'imputation', he seems to redefine it in unhelpful ways. Harper did a commendable job in explaining the differences between apostasy (both species of it) and backsliding, as well as the differences between voluntary and involuntary sins. I have greater clarity on the Wesleyan position.  Harper's contribution is helpful, though I wish it was more concise. Reading the first section I kept thinking, 'get to it already'. I understand theology 'can't be chopped into pieces', but brevity in the introductory section would have aided his cause.

If you are interested in this doctrine, this is a good starting point.

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