Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hey, Bubba, are you saved?

Al Kimel has started a thread on the assurance of salvation, using the exchange between Antonio Rosa, on the one hand, and Evan May as well as yours truly, on the other hand, as his point of departure.

This has triggered a lot of activity in the combox. Not surprisingly, Antonio has posted some comments.

Here I think we need to set the record straight. For some time now, Antonio has been spoiling for a fight with Reformed bloggers. He’s been spamming Reformed weblogs all over the place, trying to bait the Calvinist contingent into a fight over his antinomian alternative.

Given that he’s so eager to pick a fight with us, it’s very revealing to observe that as soon as Evan and I rose to the challenge, Antonio fled the ring faster than a cat with its tail on fire. Evan and I had only to land the first counterpunch before Antonio immediately disengaged any direct interaction with our counterarguments. Now he’s reduced to rear-guard bragging and sniping as he takes refuge in a safe, third-party venue to cloak his unceremonious defeat in the rhetoric of victory.

Perry Robinson has also posted a number of comments.


Perry Robinson Says:
January 17th, 2006 at 7:34 pm

On Assurance

Why is confidence the essential mark of faith in the first place? Why not loyalty for example? And even if we were to read Luther as saying that we need to trust Christ and his word, how does that not simply move the problem for assurance rather than solve it? Now I need to be assured that it is Christ speaking.

Why do we even require the kind of absolute psychological certainty that classical Protestantism seemed to be aiming for? It is because we don’t believe tha the voice in confession is really speaking for God because the church is just human. The irony is that Protestantism treated the Bible in the same way and now struggles with the same problem-is this really God speaking in these pages? They just relocated the problem.

While this is ancedotal, every single person that I have known that professed an absolute assurance of salvation fell into gross immorality, gross and explicit heresy or flat out disbelief. I am not sure why Christians need the kind of assurance that either the Lordship/non-Lordship Protestants are bickering about.

Certaintly (PUN!) talking about self authenticating experiences is useless since we can think we have the testimony of the Spirit and not actually have it. We then need a way to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic assurance which undermines the entire reason for appealing to self authenticating experiences in the first place.

The irony of Protestantism concerning assurance is that once you sever everything publically accessible from being united with the divine and turn it into a contingent tool, it becomes impossible to derive the kind of assurance that the Protestant conscience requires and subjectivism is the natural, if not logical consequence. The problem is ultimately Christological. (Like I haven’t said that before.)


These comments raise some serious issues which deserve serious attention.

1.As Robinson knows, the classic Protestant position was framed in reference to the conflict with Rome. Rome anathematizes the assurance of salvation, barring private revelation. The very nature of Catholic soteriology renders the assurance of salvation impossible. It was to this that Luther and Calvin were reacting.

2.When, to take one example, the Westminster Confession appeals to the promises of the Gospel, the inner work of grace, and the witness of the Spirit (WCF 18:2), it isn’t making this stuff up, as a polemical ploy to counter the opposing claims of Rome. This really is in Scripture.

3.What we have in Scripture is a conditional assurance, contingent upon conditional promises. It is necessary to do equal justice to both the conditional and the promissory character of assurance. Catholicism errs by accentuating the conditional aspect at the expense of the promissory aspect, while antinomianism errs by accentuating the promissory aspect at the expense of the conditional aspect. But a Scriptural doctrine of assurance must do equal justice to both the promiser (God) and the promisee (the believer).

4.Relocating the original problem is not always a false move. Let’s take an illustration. For centuries, the church of Rome used the Vulgate as its source of exegetical theology.

Now, when you switch from the Vulgate to the Greek and Hebrew, there is a sense in which you simply relocate the problem. There are text-critical uncertainties regarding our Greek and Hebrew MSS, just as there are text-critical uncertainties regarding the Vulgate. There are semantic ambiguities regarding the Greek and Hebrew, just as there are semantic ambiguities regarding the Latin. So there’s a systematic parallel between the uncertainties attaching to the exegesis of the Vulgate, and the exegesis of the original Greek and Hebrew.

Does it follow that a Protestant exegete is in the same sinking boat as a traditional Catholic commentator? Not at all.

You may be asking the same questions in each case, and the same uncertainties may attach to your answers, but asking the right questions of the wrong source makes a world of difference.

In the case of the Vulgate, this is a translation of the original. Hence, many uncertainties are the artifice of a translation, of a Latin text, of Jerome’s own usage—uncertainties that do not answer to the Greek and Hebrew. It makes no small difference to ask the right questions of the right source.

What is worse—there are two ways to go wrong with the Vulgate. For even when you get it right, you may still be wrong inasmuch as there may well be nothing in the Greek and Hebrew to back up the Latin. In this event, to be certain is to be certainly wrong.

Likewise, when it comes to the rules of interpretation, the traditional Catholic commentator endeavored to construe the text consistent with the unanimous consensus of the church Fathers, whereas a Protestant exegete employs the grammatico-historical method.

Does the grammatico-historical method solve all our problems? Does it clear up every ambiguity in the original text? Obviously not.

But, again, there’s a world of difference between asking the right questions, and asking the wrong questions—between applying a sound standard, and applying an unsound standard.

A correct standard doesn’t guarantee a correct application of the standard; hence, it doesn’t guarantee a correct result; however, to apply an incorrect standard pretty well guarantees an incorrect result.

5.Having a map of New York City doesn’t ensure that I can’t lose my way, but using a map of Cincinnati to find my way around New York City is a sure way to lose my way and to stay utterly lost.

Are there some circumstantial, person-variable complexities that arise when we try to relate the promises of salvation to the conditions of salvation? Yes, but at least we’re asking the right questions of the right source.

If we can’t give a uniform answer, that’s because the question of assurance is an inherently individual question which varies from one individual to the next. The driver can still make a wrong turn. But it makes no small difference whether he’s using the right roadmap or the wrong roadmap. There’s a difference between making a wrong turn in spite of having the right roadmap, for having the right roadmap enables you to detect and correct your mistake; and making a wrong turn because you were following the wrong roadmap.

1 comment:

  1. Another useless article. So who said your standard is the correct standard? Who said there isn't an apostolic tradition?