on March 28, 2003
The four views books compile arguments from different authors representing different theological viewpoints on a selected topic. From the title of the book anyone can probably guess that this particular book deals with the controversial and heavily debated issue of Eternal Security.
The first author, Michael Horton, represents the traditional Calvinist view; In other words he defends the traditional five points of TULIP associated with Calvinistic theology. The TULIP acronym stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limted Atonement, Irresistable grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. For the purposes of this book, Horton attempts to concentrate on the last point, but his arguments often require digressions and tangents that deal with the other four points. I believe that Horton's arguments are strong, but there are several areas where his defense is lacking. First, Horton strongly advocates a system of covental theology, and then uses this system to explain problem passages such Hebrews 6: 4-6. Although his system has it's merits, it also has it's weaknesses. Arguing that the members of the church being discussed in Hebrews were only sacramental participants can be a hard sell since he is arguing from such a defined sacramental system that exists today, and then superimposing that system on the earliest church. Second, Horton doesn't do enough to support the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. He needed to illustrate that a believer's security does not rest on one instance of faith, but on a lifetime of continually growing in knowledge and coming to Christ. Overall, Horton's section was strong, but could have been better.
Second, Norman Geisler presents his system of Moderate Calvinism, or as some people have dubbed it, his Calminian theology. Geisler's arguments are very weak and his proofing is strained and repetitive. Geisler resorts to rapid fire proof-texting and attempts to deal with every verse that strengthens his position, and then discredit every verse that harms his position. The lack of any serious exegesis or sound Biblical reasoning make Geisler's arguments less valid. Furthermore, Geisler begins his section by claiming that he is a bonified 4-point Calvinist, saying he only eschews limited atonement. The problem with Geisler's claim is that he redefines all of the old terms from the TULIP acronym to meet his standards. Instead of having depravity be internally corruptive, it is only externally corruptive. Geisler doesn't even clarify what he means by this change and doesn't use scripture to bolster his claim. Salvation is still Unconditional from the standpoint of the giver, but conditional from the standpoint of the receiver because the receiver has to accept the offer of salvation. These alterations to traditional terminology in Reformed theology are unwarranted and practically untenable since Geisler doesn't support his claims. Finally, Geisler believes that the believer can rest assured that once he is saved, he will always be saved. Geisler argues that it takes only one instance of belief to receive eternal life, and once you receive the gift of eternal life it is yours forever. This argument has serious flaws though; Geisler completely ignores scriptures that speak of salvation in both present and future tenses, while also ignoring the fact that our salvation is predicated on our continually coming to Christ. A perfect example of this is found in John 3:16. In the original Greek the verb believe is rendered as a present participle which is best translated as believing; Therefore, it isn't whoever believed in the past that has eternal life, but those BELIEVING that have eternal life. More could be said on this issue, but needless to say Geisler's section was throughly uncovincing.
Third, Stephen Ashby delievers his defense of Reformed Arminianism. Ashby begins by differentiating his school of thought with that of the Weslyan tradition, which is the tradition followed by most Arminians today. Ashby is a follower of the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his body of followers known as the Remonstrants. Ashby also begins by discussing what tenets are shared by both Reformed Arminians and Reformed Calvinists. Both strongly believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity and that man cannot do anything to merit salvation or the grace of God. The difference arises in their beliefs on the grace of God. Whereas Calvinists believe that God's grace is irresistable and is only offered to the elect, Reformed Arminians believe that God's grace is prevenient and offered to every man and woman. Ashby uses scripture passages such as John 1:14 and 12:32 to support his assertion. Furthermore, Asbhy argues that election is not based on any intra-Trinitarian decree, but on the foreknowledge of God. God knows who in advance will respond to His gospel and then elects them based on that foreknowledge. Finally, Ashby strongly advocates the position that it is possible to apostatize from the faith and that once that decision has been reached it is irreversible. This is what distinguishes Reformed Arminians from Weslyan Arminians, who believe that a person can apostasize and return to the faith repeatedly. Ashby argues from the oft-quoted passage in Hebrews 6 and strongly supports the view that the individuals who have turned their backs on the faith have sealed their doom once and for all. Thus, Ashby's system does allow for some semblance of security because the believer will know he or she is saved as long as they haven't conciously and willfully renounced the faith. Ashby's position was strong and tenable, but still plagued by a few inconsistencies.
Finally, J. Stephen Harper argues for the traditional Wesleyan Arminian position. I believe that Harper's section was the second weakest section behind Geisler's disastrous section on Moderate Calvinism. Harper constantly resorts to the writings of John Wesley and not so much to scripture to support his views. Using Wesley to support your claims isn't a bad idea, but I think the combination of Wesley plus Scripture would have been more effective. Anyways, Harper argues that Wesley's movement sprung from the need for Reform in the Reformed churches of his day. Wesley saw the corruption and lack of practical rightouesness in so many men of God that he felt reform was necessary. Harper uses many sermons delievered by Wesley to support his ideas, and ties those in with reflections from John Wesley himself. He argues that Wesley strongly believed that a person can sin seriously or on several occasions and in doing so separate himself from the grace of God. Harper uses Wesley's sermon, A Call to Backsliders, to bolster this claim. In this sermon, Wesley used the biblical example of David to argue that salvation could be lost. Wesley argued that David committed adultery and murder, thus sinning so seriously that he cut himself off from the grace of God and lost his salvation. Nevertheless, David could still renew his relationship with God through contrite repentance and reestablishing a right heart before God. Although Harper argues passionately for the possibility of losing salvation, he doesn't do nearly enough to deal with the passages of scripture that do serious damage to his theological beliefs. Although interesting and informational, Harper's section doesn't do nearly enough to satisfy the reader that his position is both scripturally plausible and correct.
on June 25, 2002
This book follows the usual practice in the "Counterpoints" series of having a different author present his view on the topic and then have it critiqued by the others.
Michael Horton presents the view that Eternal Security and Perseverance of the Saints are one and the same doctrines. To him, it is both certain that a true believer cannot lose his salvation and that a true believer will certainly perseve in faith and good works to the end. Accordingly, Horton obviously disagrees with the view that it is possible for someone who was once a true believer to lose his salvation. Horton is equally clear to distance himself from the Antinomian views of people like Zane Hodges, Charles Stanley, Charles Ryrie and Norman Geisler by stating that many of those who defend "eternal security" do not take the calls to perseverance seriously, and water down passages that speak of damnation to make them read as if they only speak of loss of reward (e.g. Heb 6:4-8; 10:26-29,36; Mt. 24:13). Horton argues that salvation does not merely result in the believer being saved from hell, but also results in the believer's life being transformed so that those who abandon the faith prove that they never truly believed in the first place. While Horton deserves praise in recognising that there are a number of passages which appear at first glance to teach that a true believer can lose his salvation, and in recognising that the defender of perseverance of the saints needs to take those passages seriously, he is too quick to suggest that Perseverance of the Saints can only be defended through a belief in Covenant Theology and the other four points of Calvinism. In doing so, he does a disservice to his defence of Perseverance of the Saints as he identifies it too closely with full-blown Calvinism while passing over the fact that conservative Dispensationalists like Ironside and MacArthur could reject Calvinism (in Ironside's case) or Coveanant Theology (in MacArthur's case) and still hold to Perseverance of the Saints. For example, Horton too easily assumes that if grace is resistible at the point of salvation, that the new birth must be reversible after salvation. After all, it seems logically possible to argue as follows: (1) man's will is free to resist and reject the saving grace of God, (2) Although man's will cannot come to God on its own, God's enabling grace can work on the will to the point where the will is able to receive God's saving grace, and (3) once this saving grace is accepted, God transforms the will to make it unable to subsequently reject salvation. Horton may want to attempt to argue against that position on the basis of his understanding of God's Sovereignty and more specific passages of Scripture, but it is difficult to see how he could think the above position is not logically consistent. If the above view is an error, it is not an error that is logically related to the Perseverance of the Saints question. Simply put, while someone who believes in Irresistible Grace will necessarily believe in Perseverance of the Saints, one who rejects Irresistible Grace will not necessarily reject Perseverance of the Saints.
Norman Geisler's article is disappointing. He persists in using the deceptively inaccurate label of "Moderate Calvinism" when describing his own views even though he is really either a 1-point Calvinist (as Ashby argues) or a 0-point Calvinist (as Horton demonstrates). And, while he deserves credit in attempting to distance himself from the nonsensical views of Charles Stanley and Zane Hodges, he ends up following the liberal Antinomian strand in Dispensational thought that relegates warning passages like Mt. 24:23; Jn. 15:4,6; Col. 1:23; 1 Tim. 5:15; 2 Tim 2:12; Heb 6:4-8; Heb 10:26-29; and Rev 3:15-16 to warnings of the possible loss of rewards. Simply put, that type of analysis leaves the reader with the feeling that Geisler is robbing the passages of any sensible meaning. And while someone more sympathetic to Geisler's position may think he defends it well, one would hope everyone would agree that he should drop the deceptive "moderate Calvinist" label.
Stephen Ashby's article rivals that of Horton's as an able defence of his position. In Ashby's view, a true believer can lose his salvation, but only through "a decisive act of apostasy", and if this happens he cannot be saved again. Ashby candidly concedes that the Calvinist position is "logically tight" and thereby concedes that if the first four points are correct, Perseverance of the Saints must be true as well. Ashby rejects all Calvinist points other than Total Depravity, however, and naturally interprets the "warning passages" as referring to salvation (contrary to Geisler's position) and being directed at true believers (contrary to Horton's position). Although Ashby rightly criticizes Geisler's deceptive use of "moderate Calvinism", and generally accurately represents Arminius' views on depravity, election, grace, justification and the will, he fails to mention that Arminius himself "sat on the fence" on the perseverance of the saints issue. Perhaps as a result of this, Ashby repeats Horton's error of thinking that if the will has some role to play in salvation, then one must conclude that the "falling away" position is correct.
Steven Harper is the last author and he unfortunately presents the weakest contribution to the volume. Although the level of civility in the discussion would have undoubtedly been reduced with Dan Corner contributing this chapter, one is left wishing that a stronger representative could have been found for the view that a true believer can lose his salvation either through abandoning the faith or through sinful acts, and that a true believer can also be saved and lost repeatedly. Far too much time is spent on the historical views of John Wesley and far too little time on Scripture, with the result that the reader is left wanting something more.
All in all, though, the book is well worth purchasing as an introduction to the various views on Eternal Security.
The topic of eternal security generates quite a bit of emotions from believers. Most fall into the Calvinistic camp of eternal security for all the wrong reasons such as sinful living, laziness, and out right disbelief. Many Arminians equally fall into their position by wrong motives such as legalism or dogmatism. However, the topic of eternal security always generates a tough debate.
This book expresses that argument. The book is best described as one long argument without any clear conclusions. Exegesis of the texts are ignored and instead the book is full of proof-texting (especially by Norman Geisler). I thought that Michael Horton and Stephen Ashby did the best jobs of presenting their views. I was highly impressed with the "Reformed Arminian" view of Ashby. His arguments are worth getting this book.
Overall, while I did not feel that the writers dealt enough with Scripture, the book is fun reading. You will enjoy the debate albeit it does little for the debate itself.
on December 27, 2012
This is my second book in the Counterpoints series, and I appreciated it almost as much as the first (Two Views on Women in Ministry).
The authors views are listed on the cover, and while it covered the spectrum in viewpoints in theory, in practice I didn't find the authors matched the titles given.
For instance, the Classical Calvinism was written mostly about Covenantal Theology and less like Calvin's teachings on predestination/election. I didn't feel the contributor accurately represented C.C. as well as a John Piper or a Mark Driscoll would.
Secondly, Norman Geisler is incredibly articulate and thoughtful, but he doesn't really represent Moderate Calvinism in my opinion--he plays word-games and Point-of-View references to create an articulate but fantastical theology that I just don't see is supported biblically. Such a shame from someone who has done such works as I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (along with Frank Turek) or Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Disappointing contribution but he was still respectful and thoughtful.
Third, the Wesleyan Arminian contributor quoted less of Jacobus Arminius than either the Reformed Arminian or even the Calvinist contributors, focusing on Wesley himself. While I have no doubt he represented Wesley's theology well, he neglected where Wesley got his ideas from, and therefore left his own contribution standing on eggshells.
Finally, the contributor I found the most composed and complete was the Reformed Arminian, who's view probably resembles mine the closest--for me, he articulated what I believed in a rational, biblically-consistent way, with respect for his colleagues and with the most attention to detail surrounding the person from whom his position originates--Jacobus Arminius.
I think all four authors were well-written, well-spoken, though some were more convincing in their arguments than others, and certainly all were respectful towards opposing viewpoints.
I also really appreciate the Responses that happen after each contributor, where the other contributors get a chance to respond to the chapter with cross-examination style mini-chapters.
All in all, a satisfying experience--very balanced & fair, but generally limited in scope for the topic at hand.
on July 16, 2011
J. Steven Harper, in his response to Michael Horton's article, said that he could answer with the goal of winning or with the goal of learning. He wisely chose the latter, as did the tone of the book. If you want a book to back up your bias, go elsewhere. (The two one-star reviewers both reflected that attitude). But if you want to know why your brother or sister in Christ disagrees with you and to learn to love one another, this book is great.
Could it be better? Well, yes. For example, Norm Geisler's "Moderate Calvinist" view best reflects mine, but I would agree with Stephen Ashby's one point Calvinist designation for my views or even Horton's zero point. (By the way, while that best represents my views, I spent some time being a "Reformed Arminian" like Ashby). Geisler in his article lumped all Arminians in one basket, where I knew some points Ashby would be more in agreement with Geisler than with fellow Arminian Harper (and comparing this with Ashby's article, I think Geisler just reworked what he already wrote on the subject). Ashby also pointed out that Harper may have misrepresented Wesley.
Two notes. First, the views are designated either Calvinist or Arminian. Ashby did deal with Jacobus Arminius' views, while Harper focused on Wesley. But neither Calvinist appealed to Calvin. This is not a complaint, just a note of interest.
Second, I find it interesting that the four took different approaches. Horton's Clasical Calvinist article was very theological. Geisler's Moderate Calvinst took a more Biblical approach (meaning that he appealed primarily to Scriptures, pointing out what he believed backed his views and answering verses that could be used to counter it; I'm commenting on his approach, not on what he wrote.) Ashby Reformed Arminian seemed to be the apologist, making a case for his view while countering the other views. Harper was more biographical, focusing on what Wesley taught on the subject more than presenting his own take on the subject.
Yes, there are faults. This is not a perfect book. But I found it very uplifting to read, encouraging to my faith. In fact, while I disagree most with Harper I found him the easiest to like. Thus, this book is great to learn how fellow believers who love God and His word no less than I do view things.
on December 24, 2014
Dr. Stephen Ashby's chapter was the most impressive in this work. I love how this work differentiates between the Calvinistic, the Traditional Baptist, the Reformed Arminian and the Wesleyan Arminian perspective.
on May 27, 2002
This book is a "must read" for those who want to objectively study the doctrine of eternal security. You need this book if you aren't sure what you believe about eternal security and won't rest until you've arrived at your own informed conclusions based on scripture. It's also a great reference tool if you want a better understand of opposing viewpoints on this issue. Matthew Pinson's introduction alone is worth the price of the book (I'm not kidding). Four historical Protestant positions, two Calvinist and two Arminian, are defined and distilled in a manner that brings distinct clarity to this debate. I have to agree with Pinson when he states, "...seeing four views on perseverance compared and contrasted with each other will help clear up muddy thinking that too often characterizes popular evangelical teaching on this subject." In the following chapters, four scholars each state their case for one of the four prominent views on eternal security. Each view is presented by its proponent and then critiqued and defended. This book is a fair and unbiased treatment of a "hot button" issue in the church today. Every pastor needs a copy of this book in his library.
on November 30, 2007
The book brings some sanity to this important topic which, as we all know, too often is treated haphazardly.
The contributors lay out their argument, and then each has a turn at criticizing the others' arguments, and to offer rejoinders. This is a delightful and helpful feature.
The book is worth its price simply on the basis of the editor's (J. Matthew Pinson) historical/theological overview of the theological systems represented in the book. A part of this essay is a much needed discussion of Arminius' Arminianism which is much closer to Calvin than Wesley's Arminianism, but is much less known.
Horton, in good Covenantal fashion, ties eternal security to infant baptism. I'm not a Covenantalist, but obviously, I must not have enough theological or exegetical expertise to understand his argument. Perhaps, a Reformed Baptist might have better argumentation for a consistently Calvinistic view of eternal security.
The one point Calvinist, Geisler, gives the impression that he threw together a bunch of prooftexts on eternal security at the last minute, the exegesis of which is questionable. He really doesn't give a good sustained argument as to how this doctrine fits into any system of theology, nor does he show in good exegetical fashion how these prooftexts fit into the contexts of their authors' larger argument.
Ashby's article is welcome relief after the almost esoteric chapter by Horton and the superficial treatment by Geisler. Ashby briefly fits eternal security into the system of Reformation Arminianism, and provides good exegetical analysis of the texts, as well as a treatment of texts which might be difficult for his position.
Harper gives the impression that his urgency is to cite Wesley as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is done outside a framework of systematic theology, and one is left looking for a serious discussion of biblical texts.
There probably is no other book which will challenge your view of eternal security as much as this one.
Amazon needs to change its presentation of the book to give explicit credit to Pinson as its editor. The book is not "by" Horton, Geisler, Ashby, and Harper, as suggested in various places in Amazon's pages; rather, it should present the book as "edited" by Pinson in the first place.
Each of four differing theological systems struggle here with the issue of eternal security/perseverance/apostasy. What each of the four views essentially struggle with is the problem of original sin and the solution of justification by grace through faith.
I say this because this fascinating read deals with these two huge issues, which directly affect one's outcome on the eternal security/perseverance/apostasy issue. What one gives up on depravity one will try and make up on justification. Grace is a huge topic impacting predestination and conditional or unconditional salvation.
Each of these four differing views struggles with the question of how one is saved. Solving this with election or lack of it, free will or lack of it, resistable grace or irresistable grace. These dilemmas are caused by each of the four's primary hermeneutic being logic. Harper insightfully states: "Logic becomes a substitute for mystery; explanation a substitute for wonder." Then he turns around himself and works his way out of a theological dilemma by logic.
Interesting as these four views here articulately represented is letting Scripture speak to the issue. What is missing is the Lutheran view, which oddly enough does exactly what Harper proposes Scripture in fact does: lets the mystery of it all rest with God, and doesn't give us any logical out. Total depravity, justification by grace through faith alone; resistable grace by the unbeliever; apostasy is a definite possibility for the believer. Logically this doesn't jive, but the Bible does make this case. When logic seeps in to solve this "mystery", then one of these cases will capture man's following as here demonstrated.
One could see Francis Pieper's appropriate section in his four volume Christian Dogmatics translated into Engligh.
on July 3, 2002
In this concise volume, the theological framework for the four prevailing views of the eternal security of the believer are given. Each writer delivers his opinion with clarity and humility illuminating one of the most difficult questions with which evangelicals grapple. The result should be an end to caricature and the beginning of real dialogue between those in different camps. At the very least this work should lead to a more realistic assessment of the various views. I highly recommend it for the serious student.