Q187 : Depravity, Salvation and Security

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Q187 : Depravity, Salvation and Security

Hi Tony,

I follow the teachings of both you and Jack Kelley. I was surprised to see the differences of opinion concerning the assurance of salvation of Tribulation believers, so I emailed Jack to inquire about the matter.

I emailed the following: “Is Tony Garland's premise of eternal security for all believers of all agesa valid, or is his logic flawed?”

Jack responded:

Obviously I think his logic is flawed. By his answer you can tell Mr. Garland is taking a Calvinist position on salvation. They believe God chose some to be saved and mankind has no say in the matter, and that those who God has chosen cannot be lost no matter when they get saved. I believe salvation is man's choice and that eternal security is a blessing given only to the Church. I also believe the Bible clearly supports my position.

Is Jack's assertion concerning your Calvinist viewpoint correct, thus explaining the differences of opinion concerning assurance of salvation?

A187 : by Tony Garland

I'll respond to your question in two parts.

Is Jack's assertion concerning your Calvinist viewpoint correct . . .

As is typical in conversations concerning the role of God and man in salvation, oversimplifications seem to be the rule. Although I would classify myself as being more Calvinistic than Arminian in what I see the Bible to teach concerning salvation, Jack's description of what Calvinists believe (below) is so simplistic that it could be misleading. This is one reason why the Calvinism/Arminianism debate seems to produce more heat than light—in that both sides continue to grossly oversimplifying what the other side actually is trying to say about what the bible teaches. So when a person like myself says that they are “Calvinistic” in what they see the Bible to teach, there are all sorts of shades of “Calvinism” involved and the stock oversimplification of Calvinism which critics employ is rarely accurate (even Calvin himself doesn't clearly qualify as the oft-cited “5-point Calvinist”). This is one of the dangers of taking a label upon oneself (e.g., “Calvinist”, “Dispensationalist”). As helpful as they can be to give an approximate idea of where a person is coming from, there is always an attendant oversimplification of what the person actually believes which is less than helpful.

Jack is correct in that I do hold a Calvinist viewpoint. At the risk of oversimplification I typically say my position is close to that of a 4-point Calvinist. (I don't believe the Bible teaches limited atonement. More on my views about salvation can be seen herea.) For a more nuanced understanding of traditional Calvinism—and some of its problems from a dispensational perspective—I would recommend a series of articles by Paul Henebury which are available on our website:

When reading the above articles, it is important to recognize that the thrust of Dr. Henebury's treatment is showing that a Dispensationalist, following a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic, will not arrive at the same understanding of Calvinism's 5-points as often set forth by those within the Reformed camp. Although Dr. Henebury is pointing out problems with the 5 points of Calvinism as typically taught by Reformed theologians, Dr. Henebury—along with all instructors at the SpiritAndTruth.org website—is in agreement with our doctrinal statementg, originally drafted for the Society of Dispensational Theology. This doctrinal statement discusses The Sovereignty of God:

Though God is Absolute Sovereign over all creation and history, He is not the author of sin. Yet in some mysterious way, His decrees include all that takes place in the universe. God has a 'determined plan for the whole world' and no one can alter His purposes (Isa. 14:26-27). What He has planned that He will do (Isa. 46:11). And, He 'works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will' (Eph. 1:11); 'Surely as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand' (Isa. 14:24). Sovereignty also extends to the providence of God whereby He sustains all creatures, giving them life and removing life as He pleases (Deut. 32:39). In sovereignty, all things were created for the glory of God and all things exist for Him (Rev. 4:11). The sovereignty of God also extends to the doctrine of divine election whereby those chosen by the council of the Lord's own will, shall come to Him in faith (Jn. 6:37, 39, 44; Eph. 1:3-18; 2 Thess. 2:13). And yet, even though difficult to reconcile in human understanding, the sovereignty of God does not remove the responsibility of man (Habakkuk 1:6, 11; Acts 2:22-23, 36). [emphasis mine]

All the instructors at our website are in agreement with this basic view of God's sovereignty in salvation—including Dr. Henebury.

Does your Calvinist viewpoint explain the differences of opinion concerning assurance of salvation?

In part. But I do not believe Jack's and my difference of opinion concerning the security of non-Church saints is completely explained by differences in our respective Arminian or Calvinistic viewpoints. It is my view that Jack incorrectly limits some passages to Church-age saints in his attempt to show that only they are secure—when other passages, cited both by Andy Woodsh and myselfi, indicate a similar security for saints of other ages.

Regardless of how a person comes to salvation, the question remains whether passages which are very strong on security apply exclusively to the Church-age (e.g., John 10:27-30)—the only Saints which Kelly believes are secure? A companion question is whether passages which appear to teach loss of salvation by Tribulation saints (e.g., Rev. 16:15) are essentially any different from similar passages directed at Church-age believers (e.g., Heb. 6:4-6)? My position is that promises of security extend more broadly than just to Church-age saints and that passages which appear, at face value, to teach the possibility of a true believer being lost can be better understood in other ways—such that there is no essential difference in security for saints of any age. Jack is the first person I've encountered teaching that only Church-age saints are secure. From his article and response to your question, it appears he does not share Calvinism's understanding of depravity (man's inability), predestination, and election—and thus does not see security as being necessarily linked with these other doctrines: all of which I believe hold for saints of all ages. In my view, this is a key weakness in his position that Church-age saints are a special class in regard to security for, prior to salvation, they are just as unable and in need of predestination and election as people in any age.

I would also challenge you to search the Scriptures concerning passages which uphold God's sovereignty in salvation and see whether Jack's description (“I believe salvation is man's choice”) is an accurate reflection of what the Bible teaches in toto. We must ask this question: why did Paul write Romans 9 if those who are saved are merely those who—by their own choice—respond to God? Paul asks the question, “Why does He [God] find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19). This question makes no sense unless Paul is teaching that only some are saved by God's will—and others are not, by that same will. The Arminian view on salvation holds that all men are equally drawn by the Spirit, but that some resist His call and remain unsaved. But this doesn't square with Paul's statement because both groups—those saved and those hardened—are within God's sovereign will. This is also why Paul hazards the related question, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14a). If all men are drawn equally and only some respond (while others remain able to resist the Holy Spirit's 'prevenient grace') then there is no need whatsoever for Paul to recognize our tendency to accuse God of unrighteousness in salvation. These difficult questions concerning the character of God are completely unnecessary if salvation is simply a matter of “man's choice” as Jack puts it. This passage of Scripture (as well as numerous others) teaches that it is God—rather than man—Who is ultimately sovereign over salvation.

The details pertaining to predestination, calling, election, and so-forth are worthy of a lifetime of study, but to simply say that “man chooses God” is a great oversimplification of what the Scriptures teach concerning this topic (e.g., John 15:16-19).

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