The last post of this series has generated well over 300 comments — which I think is a record for One In Jesus. I had no idea! I have to conclude that if perseverance is determined by argumentative tenacity, the Calvinists and Arminians are both sure to perservere to the end!
Now, speaking purely personally, I have no interest in debating the Calvinistic doctrine of election. I mean, any argument that descends to “Why did God kill babies in the Flood?” is fraught with speculation. Besides, the answer is obvious: so innocent babies wouldn’t be raised by evil parents, allowing them to be with God rather than damned by bad parenting! Or I can think of a few dozen alternative explainations for either side.
You see, the Bible doesn’t say, and we’ll gain much more wisdom and truth from the text then from the silences. Been there. Done that. Ain’t a-going back.
The readers should understand by now why I say the Churches of Christ are heirs to the Calvinistic culture. All the founders of the Restoration Movement came from Calvinist traditions — as did most of their converts. And while we rejected Calvinist atonement theology, we kept a lot of the attitude and culture — including a love for arguing from silence. The Regulative Principle found its way from Zwingli and the Puritians into American Calvinism, and we expanded it.
Any way, while I respect many Calvinists (I enjoy John Piper’s books, for example, and have profited from them) and certainly don’t think they’re damned for their views, I very strongly disagree with Calvinistic election theology. And I covered some of that earlier in the Election series and have no interest in pursuing it further at this time (although the readers are welcome to continue their discussion in the comments. It’s just that I won’t be participating. Probably.)
You see, this is how I’ve got it figured. If Calvinistic election theology (CET) is true, then the Perserverance of the Saints (POTS) is true. However, the converse does not hold. It’s entirely possible to accept POTS and not accept CET. Ask most Southern Baptists. Most accept POTS. Few accept CET, although Piper is trying to push them that way.
In the contemporary Churches of Christ, there is a movement (small but significant) toward POTS. There is much less of a movement toward CET. I think the reason for the move toward POTS is along these lines —
* The 20th Century atonement theory (every sin damns until you confess, repent, and ask forgiveness for that sin, leading to DAISY, that is, “He loves me, He loves me not …) is plainly anti-scriptural.
* The progressive Churches of Christ have argued vigorously against DAISY but have not done a good job of expounding an alternative theology.
* The Baptist POTS theology is plainly closer to true than DAISY, and we have a lot in common with the Baptists.
In short, unless the progressive Churches do a better job of presenting a non-DAISY theology, we’re going to wind up with POTS. And I think POTS is wrong. It’s not end-of-the-world wrong. I mean, for all the accusations people level at POTS, the reality is that the Baptists are, on the whole, quite mission minded and have done many things better than we have. We can hardly argue that POTS leads to a lack of evangelism when the Baptists are better evangelists that we are!
But I still think it’s a discussion worth having for at least these reasons —
* If POTS is wrong, then so is CET. Logically, disproving POTS disproves Calvin’s notions of election, and I’d be quite happy to see that happen.
* I think God warned us against falling away repeatedly because we need to be warned against falling away repeatedly. And these warnings are the foundation of other important doctrines — such as why and how to handle church discipline. And they tell us how to make our calling and election sure. Shouldn’t we teach that and do so in Biblical terms? And how can we teach that unless it’s possible to have an unsure calling and election?
* If you don’t believe you can fall away, then you won’t understand Galatians as a warning against falling away. And if you get that wrong, you miss the Bible’s strongest warning against legalism — and we really, really need that warning.
* Finally, as I noted earlier, what I consider the true doctrine of falling away gives greater comfort than POTS. And we need that comfort, I think.
Now, these are the possibilities —
* Once saved, always saved (OSAS): If you’re saved, you’ll never be damned no matter how far you rebel against God.
* Perserverance of the saints (POTS): If you’re saved, you’ll continue to live as a child of God should until the end. If don’t, then you were never saved at all.
* Every sin damns (DAISY): God charges all sin (or all doctrinal sin, or all sin that the editors are upset about) to your account, and so you are damned until you specifically repent, confess, and ask forgiveness (some add: make restitution; some add: go forward if it’s a public sin). Thus, you fall away and are restored repeatedly, perhaps several times a day. But then God may be patient with you for a while, but we don’t know for how long. And God continuously forgives some sins, but not the sins the editors rail against. (It’s not a well-defined doctrine.)
* Saints perservere until they fall away by rebellion, that is, by deliberately continuing to sin (Revolutionary Grace). I call it Revolutionary Grace because that’s what I called it when I wrote a book on the subject quite some time ago — and because I can’t think of a better term. (I’m open to suggestions.)
Under this theory, rebellion is both easy and hard. It’s easy in that it’s a state of the heart — a decision made to reject Jesus as Lord. It doesn’t take long. It’s hard because the Spirit strives to keep me from making such a foolish decision and because God will be remarkably patient before he gives up on me. Indeed, if I ever repent and return to Jesus, in my radical view, I was never lost at all. I was, rather, in a state of unsure salvation.
But Christians can and normally have a sure salvation. It’s not that hard. But it’s also really hard. It’s really hard because it requires that I become a slave to righteousness and to God (Rom 6:18, 20). It’s like the pearl of great price. It costs me everything — so much that I have to sell myself into slavery. But it’s not that hard because God lives in my heart to help — and God’s help is all the help I need. And it’s not that hard because God’s grace goes with me, to cover my sins with the sacrifice of Jesus. And that makes the impossible not that hard at all.
Now, one element of Revolutionary Grace I like is that, like all of Christianity, it places me squarely in a paradox. I am both under law and not. I am both already saved and not yet saved. I have free will and yet have God influencing my will. I work mightily in God’s service but I don’t work at all to be saved. I’ll go to be with God when I die, and yet I’m already with God. I work to bring the kingdom — which has already come.
God seems to like paradoxes. We in the Churches of Christ love dichotomies. We love to argue that either it’s all X or all not X. God likes to teach us that it’s both. And this drives us just nuts. And so when I find the scriptures pointing me to a both-and conclusion, I figure I may well be headed in the right direction.