This isn't really his challenge, it's more of the same. Plus ca change. Plus c'est la meme chose. Thibodaux issues this challenge to any and all of us T-bloggers; and were marching to Bastille day, la guillotine will claim her bloody prize, barks Thibodaux. Well let my head role with the rest of the men!
The Challenge to Reformed Theology by Scriptural Fact
"When in any field of study a hypothesis arises, it must fit the established and indisputable facts. If new facts come to light that collide with the hypothesis, the theoretical must be adjusted to fit the factual (often in the form of making exceptions), or if that fails be scrapped altogether."
Before we begin, we can at least pause and point out the dubious nature of this claim. Apparently Thibodaux hasn't read much on the philosophy of science. Many times "the facts" are accepted and given their status by virtue of the dogmatic hypothesis ruling the day. There are paradigm shifts which allow certain "facts" to be accepted as facts. Or, the idea that there are no theory-independent observations. Perhaps this isn't the case, but it is hotly debated and Thibodaux just asserts one side of the story, without apologetic.
"While in some fields relevant data are harder to produce than others, Christian theology has no shortage of facts about God, man, sin, and redemption as delivered to the saints in its sacred collection of scripture: The Holy Bible. And just as in any other field, any doctrine that arises among us must fit the facts that are clearly established (from the word of God in our case), else be rejected as errant."
And just what are these "clearly established facts?" He assumes below that his understanding of the warning passages are among the "clearly accepted facts" of Scripture (see fact 3). But this isn't the case, at all. For starters, one could point out Four Views on The Warning Passages in Hebrews, for starters. One could peruse the multifarious commentaries on the book of Hebrews for a glimpse at just how "unclear" about these "facts" scholars are.
Let's note Thibodaux's "facts."
"Fact 1: A doctrine that is sound must be congruent with all of scripture"
The seems unproblematic enough.
"Fact 2: Any teaching that would make any passage of scripture meaningless or of no effect is a false doctrine"
Again, this seems fairly obvious. But before we look at fact 3 we should pause and note the facts 1 and 2 weren't exegetically demonstrated from the Bible.
"Fact 3: The scriptures provide multiple warnings against believers falling away from God and into condemnation"
As I noted above, a brief survey of the Christian literature on the subjects of the warnings seem to indicate that this is not something that is among the "established and indisputable" facts. If Thibodaux wants to say, "Oh but it is, and that all those theologians debate it vigorously is of no consequence to me," then we must point out that reformed theology is an established and indisputable fact of Scripture, and so Thibodaux's theories must make nice with that particular biblical teaching. This (fact 3) is also vague. What is meant by "believers?" Is it a mere "professing" believer? Is it one of God's elect? Is "falling away" taken to mean "apostasy." The sin from which it is "impossible to restore them again?"
"A doctrine that has been circulating in the church for some time now is the belief that it is not possible for one who is redeemed in Christ to fall from God's grace and thereby be lost, the formal name of it being 'Perseverance of the Saints,' and often called, 'Eternal Security of the Believer.' While enjoying some popularity in past and present, this doctrine, just as any other must consistently and at all points stand up to scrutiny from God's word, else be rejected with the multitude of other errors."
Note the inherent assumption that this doctrine isn't "biblical" but has simply been "circulating in the church" before this "impartial" and "objective" look at the evidence has even got under way. If Thibodaux is going to stick to his opening story, then let him not get out of the taxi any time he so feels like it. Ride it all the way to your destination. When "scientists" evaluate a new hypothesis they are supposed to be neutral, following the evidence wherever it leads. No pre-disposed opinions allowed. Open-mindedness. Other than that, let's look at Thibodaux’s inquisition.
"I then present the following pieces of evidence against the doctrine of the guaranteed Perseverance of the Saints: Three clear and indisputable warnings against falling from the grace of God and into eternal damnation. While I believe there are more 'kinks' in Calvinism and unconditional security than just these, I chose these particular passages for their conciseness and unambiguity."
Three evidences (allegedly) against it are produced, none of the evidence for it is allowed to speak. Does this feel like an honest evaluation of a "hypothesis?" Like a fair trial? Or more like a Kangaroo court. A travesty of justice? We're obviously reading a biased report masquerading as honest and open inquiry. The initial comments were just the obligatory fluff one must stuff his readers with so as to give the appearance of "scholarly" work.
"Exhibit A: Matthew 5:27-30/// 'Jesus gives a very extreme solution to the problems of sin with the intent of communicating that a believer is to do whatever it takes to escape its deceitfulness and corruption. The end result and consequence of said iniquity is hell fire, and in contrast, entrance to life eternal awaits all who escape it. Some have tried to misconstrue this passage, saying that Christ is speaking not to believers but to those not in the grace of God. Of course for one who's hand or eye has caused him to sin, no amount of avoiding iniquity or even cutting the offending part off will atone for his sins and afford him eternal life and escape from hell, for he who believes not is condemned already (John 3:18), this passage therefore would be utterly moot if applied to the unbelieving. Christ is speaking the words of life, which if a man hears and does he will be like the man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24). Additionally, Mark 9:43-48 holds an almost identical warning, with verse 41 plainly indicating that Jesus is speaking to His own disciples.'"
i) Is Thibodaux's interpretation of this text "established and indisputable?" C. Blomberg notes thirty-six different interpretations (Blomber, Matthew, 1992, 94).
ii) We should define what a "believer" is. When the reformed speak of a "believer" in the context of "perseverance of the saints" they distinguish said person from someone merely professing belief. There were both here.
iii) If Jesus is giving the full (or correcting the abuse of) meaning of the law of God, then that law holds for believer and unbeliever alike. Thus Jesus would be giving an objective basis in terms of which God's judgment on the law-violator is carried out.
iv) A "believer" escaping corruption by battling sin is called "sanctification." The Bible implies that those being sanctified will be sanctified. That if they're battling sin, truly, then they will end in heaven, with Christ:
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which His loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1-7).
"Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Heb. 10:13-14).
"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phi. 1:6)
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Pet. 2:24)
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:1-14).
v) God uses verses like this as a means to bring believers to their end, life everlasting.
vi) As a hypothetical, this can be said to believers and be a true statement, yet nevertheless fail to undercut perseverance of the saints. Thibodaux tries to say Jesus' claims would be pointless if this could not actually happen to an elect Christian. I take it as undisputed that: if you tell someone the truth, you've been sincere or genuine with them.
Jesus is stating that "IF" you do such and such, then this and that will happen to you.
Before an answer is given, let's note something about conditionals. A conditional statement is, "an “if p, then q” compound statement (ex. If I throw this ball into the air, it will come down); p is called the antecedent, and q is the consequent. A conditional asserts that if its antecedent is true, its consequent is also true; any conditional with a true antecedent and a false consequent must be false. For any other combination of true and false antecedents and consequents, the conditional statement is true."
So a conditional statement, taken as a whole statement, has a true truth value just in case the consequent is not false while the antecedent is true. To use the above example, if I say If I throw this ball into the air, it will come down, then I have made a true statement, irregardless of whether or not I in fact throw the ball into the air or not.
Therefore, going back to the issue at hand, it is true that IF the true believer does such and such, he will go to hell. This can be a true statement qua conditional statement, and this can be true even though no elect person would ever do such and such.
1) If you tell someone the truth, you have been sincere with them.
2) When Jesus says what will happen to someone IF they do such and such, he is telling the truth.
3) Therefore, When Jesus says what will happen to someone IF they do such and such, he has been sincere with them.
4) If you've been sincere with someone what you've said isn't pointless.
5) Jesus was sincere.
6) Therefore what Jesus said wasn't pointless.
vii) One could make the case that Jesus is providing instruction that will keep the believer out of hell. Keep him from continuing in a life of sin.
"Exhibit B: Hebrews 4:9-11/// 'The 'rest' the passage speaks of is quite evidently eternal life through Christ. For the author states at the beginning of the chapter, "the gospel was preached to us as well as [the Israelites who came from Egypt], but it did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it; for we who have believed do enter into that rest" (vs 2-3). A major idea expressed here is that many of the Israelites who came from Egypt did not get to enter into their rest because of unbelief, but that there was a greater rest that they were denied for their faithlessness besides just the land of Canaan (for Joshua did not give the Israelites the true rest - vs 8), which we who believe enter into. Therefore we should be diligent in the faith of God to enter into that rest, lest we fall after the Israelite's example of unbelief, and be like those of whom the Lord swore that He would not permit to enter His rest (quoted from Psalm 95 throughout chapters 3 & 4). For though they did indeed drink of Christ, with many of them God was not pleased and He destroyed them in the wilderness; therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:4-5, 12).'"
i) Where in any of this do we have an example of an elect person not persevering?
ii) In the broader context we find that those who fell away were never "in Christ." "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first" (Heb. 3:14). So Thibodaux must show that someone was "in Christ" who "fell away." "Metochos" [partaker] is used in the sense of having a saving interest in Christ since, even as Thibodaux points out, the context is the "rest"/salvation God brings.
iii) Where is the idea in Hebrews that those who "fall away" are ever of the same kind as those who "truly" believe? Heb. 6 draws the contrast: "7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." We therefore see that there are two kinds of soil, not one kind. The latter never produced crops. It's of a different nature.
iv) Who enters that rest? "We who have (past tense) believed" (v.3). How do you enter the rest? "For anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his" (v.10). How does one "rest from his work?" He trusts in Christ's work. The work of another person. So, those who have truly put their faith in Christ are not trusting in works, they "have believed" and thus "entered his rest."
"Exhibit C: Revelation 22:18-19/// 'The warning is clear, its implications unmistakable. If anyone dares detract from the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lord will take away his part in the kingdom of God. I've repeatedly presented this evidence to Calvinist authors and theologians, but none can answer it adequately or make it fit with their doctrine, if they can even answer it at all.'"
i) I addressed this above. Thibodaux hasn't shown "someone who was saved not persevering." Thibodaux has also misunderstood the nature of conditionals. The Calvinist can happily agree that IF ANYONE does those things, what is said will follow. That is TRUE. The point is, WILL ANYONE do those things. For Thibodaux to say that it, "makes no sense to say that IF someone S does an action A then X will result, if S cannot (where "cannot" means "given this current decree) A." But this is false. IF we are perfect, we will go to heaven. But, no one can be perfect. Or, it would be true for me to say, "If I could pull money out of thin air, then I'd be a rich man." That doesn't mean that I ever will be able to do that. The point is, a condition can be true if the antecedent is always false. That's juts a point of logic.
The unavoidable fact derived from the above passages is that the scripture warns believers against being ensnared by sin and unbelief unto eternal destruction, thereby coming short of the reward of eternal life. This fact squarely contradicts any doctrine that states that such any occurrence is not possible. The challenge I present then is for any believer in unconditional eternal security or guaranteed perseverance of the saints to reconcile their doctrine with the warnings given in these passages. I don't mean change the scriptures to suit your doctrine, I mean change your doctrine to fit the scriptures.
i) This is absurd since no Calvinist has denied that believers cannot be warned. Being warned doesn't imply that you won't persevere.
ii) Since there's no logical problem (see (i) above), there's nothing to reconcile. We need to see a passage that says that someone didn't persevere who was saved.
iii) The warnings are means God uses to bring his elect into his eschatological kingdom.
iv) Since we've never denied the "warning of the saints" then there's no "doctrine" we have to "bring in line with Scripture."
"To try to salvage their case, many will claim that the warnings are addressed to those who are as of yet unsaved. So if the consequence of the warnings given is forfeiture of eternal life, but it is spoken to the unsaved who do not have the Son and hence do not have eternal life, then the end result if they violate the commands is that they won't have eternal life, making the commandments of God completely redundant and of no effect at all."
i) I hold that some of these people warned are external covenant members. They will be judged more harshly than Joe Shmoe unbeliever. Hebrews 10:30 - The Lord will judge His People. They are false professors, they will not enter God's rest. But, some of them have been graciously put into the administration of the covenant. It is hear that they will hear the warnings and tremble at the threatenings, and flee to Christ. So, even for unbelievers, the warnings can serve as means to bring them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. For the elect, it will (among other things, like answering Arminians) be used as a means for keeping them in their saving relationship.
ii) You can never be too redundant in telling people that they'll miss out on eternal life.
iii) Telling imperfect and unable people to "be perfect" is, some would say, "of no effect at all."
"Yet another route some take to make scripture fit their doctrine is asserting that God did indeed address these warnings to believers, but only for the purpose of making them fear Him and live worthy of His calling. He would never actually take their eternal inheritance from them despite the dire warnings given (even John Calvin employed this defense when commenting on Romans 11:22). All inherent problems aside, even if this were the case and God were simply 'putting us on,' so to speak, for the sake of our living righteously, then is it not better to take the Lord at His word? If God's purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God's word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect?"
i) "Putting us on" is a question begging epithet.
ii) Yes, we should all take the Lord at his word. For if we do "fall away" then we were never saved in the first place and all is lost. So, as Hebrews points out, we need to "stand firm to the end." Since I am not infallible, and do not know for certain whether I am fooling myself, then I need to run to Christ and hide under his blood stained robe, every day of my life. Every hour. Every minute. This doctrine should, as in all of Reformed thought, drive us outside ourselves and into the arms of Christ.
iii) Thibodaux beats up on a straw man by implying that we believing in "the presumption of perseverance of the saints." We believe that Jesus will cause us to persevere. We do not have a presumption. We do not believe that if we've said "the sinners prayer" then we're "all good in da hood." We believe that we will persevere as long as we trust in Jesus Christ. The moment we stop trusting in Jesus, and trust in the presumption of perseverance, then we've been side tracked. We've given an evidence indicator that we don't really belong to Christ in the first place.
"Any way you slice it, any theologian that attempts to deny or explain away the real possibility of a believer falling away makes either the warnings against apostasy listed above or their consequences of no effect for the sake of his tradition."
Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn. 6:44). Thus if we've been drawn by the Father and we come to Jesus, he WILL raise us up on the last day. Thibodaux needs to square his doctrine with Scripture.
"28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Thibodaux needs to square his doctrine with Scripture. After all, I'm just squaring his hypothesis with the indisputable and clearly established facts of Scripture.