Thomas Schreiner on warning passages and perseverance


Yesterday I went to the annual Oak Hill school of theology where Tom Schreiner was speaking on the nature of warning passages in the New Testament. His four accessible and pastorally applied lectures were entitled:

> How to understand the warnings in scripture
> Persevering in faith is not perfection
> Persevering in faith is not works-righteousness
> Faith and assurance

Here’s my palmpilot notes from the day:

Lecture 1 – How to understand the warnings in scripture
Herman Bavinck – Reformed Dogmatics (Vol ?) – p266 does God uphold the gift of grace he began or can sin destroy grace? (full quote needed)

Often said “Once saved always saved? No matter what happens, no matter what you do you’ll always be saved.”
This statement is not helpful.

Passages exhorting the believer to persevere:
Acts 11:23 – be faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose
Acts 13:43 – continue in the grace of God
Acts 14:22 – encouraging them to continue in the faith
1 Thess 3:1ff – there will be troubles on the way

It’s not how you start but how you finish.

More passages exhorting an ongoing practice:
1 Pet 5:12 – stand firm in the grace of God
Jude 20,21 – keep yourselves in the love of God (balanced with v24,25)
Heb 12:15
1 Cor 6:1 – do not receive the grace of God in vain

Various views of these sorts of passages:
Arminian – passages addressed to believers, concerning salvation, apostasy is possible.
Grace evangelical society view – passages addressed to believers, not concerning salvation but rewards. Salvation secure. Rewards at stake.
Tests of genuineness view – passages addressed to almost believers, concerning salvation, those who fall away never had real faith.
Federal Vision – passages addressed to almost believers, concerning salvation, elect and non-elect members of covenant “believers” those who fall away not elect.

Passages relating the life of the believer to saving faith:
Matt 10:32 whoever denies me before men I will deny them.
Matt 10:22 persevere to end
Matt 10:37 love me

John 15:6 abide in me or be burned
Gal 5:2-4 turn to the law and you severed from Christ.
Rom 11:19ff provided you continue in his kindness
1 Cor 6:7ff – warning about wrongdoing.
Rom 10:12 – take heed lest he fall
Gal 5:
2 John 7,8 – watch that you don’t lose eternal life, abide and remain
Rev 2:7,11, – conquer or die
Heb – if we go on deliberately sinning we will not be saved

There is an undeniable link between how we live after conversion and salvation. So, Schreiner’s view is that the warnings are addressed to believers, concerning salvation and salvation is at stake.

Lecture 2 – Persevering in faith is not perfection

perseverance is not perfectionism because
1. we pray for forgiveness
none of us reach the point where we don’t need to pray this prayer (cessesionists believed in perfectionism 1 John 1:8 )
2. perfection is ours at the resurrection (Phil 3:12) Christ has made me his, so I persevere (no presumption of inability). Romans 8:10 – we are righteous yet in the flesh.
8:23 – first fruits (assurance) + groaning as we wait (perseverance)
3. exhortations to abstain from powerful desires of the flesh (1 Peter 2:11, Gal 5:17, Rom 7:21-23, 8:13)
4. even the best Christians can do better – Jas 3:1-2 we all stumble in many ways – tongue. Do not give excuses for sin (tired etc), just confess.
1 Thess 4:1 – do it more and more! Affirm people where they are an encourage them to do better
5. Perfection will be ours on the last day. Eph 5:27, Col 1:22, 1 Thess 3:12ff, 1 John 3:2
6. biographical examples – Zechariah in Luke 1:6 (blameless not sinless, sin = unbelief, he goes on sinning
Gal 2:11 – Peter sinned by pulling back and mixing only with the circumcision party (Christian law party), even Barnabas sins!

Lecture 3 – Persevering in faith is not works-righteousness

Persevering in faith is not works-righteousness.
Obedience is necessary for salvation.

Gal 6:8 – sows to the Spirit
Romans 15:18 – obedience
Jas 2: – works are necessary for salvation

obedience of faith (Romans 1:5)
obedience flows from faith (Romans 16:26)
Romans 2:6-7 – render according to works, 25ff inward circumcision done by the Spirit. This is the obedience of faith. Not hypothetical.
1 Thess 1:3 labour of love
Gal 3:3 – begun by Spirit (believing, trusting, resting in Christ) do not move on.
We disobey if we disbelieve Christ is our Saviour
Faith, faith, faith will always produce works (root and shoot)
Perseverance is not a call to try harder, focusing on our works, but to go on believing in Christ.
Apostasy is turning to the law and depending on it for salvation (legalism) rather than depending on the cross.
Heb 10:17ff Perseverance is a call to faith in the blood of Christ shed for sin.

The obedience of faith is an ongoing, day to day, humble dependence on Christ which is nurtured by the both the gospel and the warning passages.

Romans 8:33ff – assurance
John 10:29 – assurance

Lecture 4 – Faith and assurance

Warnings are not declarations nor are they descriptive of what is happening or what will inevitably happen. They are prospective not retrospective.

A coach shouts at the runner during the race urging the runner to keep going to finish the race. The runner will keep going and finish. Warning passages are not retrospective commentary “you didn’t finish because you…”

Warning passages are like marriage counsellor saying to a couple he is aiming to help “divorce would be disastrous for you as a couple”

A friend parked car on Tom’s drive. Unthinking and in a hurry, Tom reversed toward it, his friend shouted “Tom, stop”. Tom stopped and avoided crashing into the parked car. Warning stopped the accident from happening.

Acts 26:22-24 promise no one will die
Acts 26:31 warning to stay on board
warning functions as a means of fulfilling his promise

Mark 13:22-23 not possible for elect to be lead astray, but must be on guard.

Matt 7:21 – i never knew you
2 Tim 2:18 –
1 Cor 11:19 – retrospectively

warnings not to develop an attitude of introspection but action. “kids, don’t run into the road” designed to produce action not for the kids to ask “am i still alive? Does my daddy love me” Warning passages to exhort believer to go on hating sin and trusting, loving, obeying Christ NOT ask “do I still believe, am I a Christian, have I sinned too much, have I renounced Christ?”

Heb 6 addressed to believers to keep them in the faith not to generate introspection or judgement.

Warning passages a means of perseverance for the elect. Like the message on a bottle of poison “do not drink, this poison will kill you” I have no intention of drinking, so the warning passages say “do not abandon Christ and turn to other ways of salvation or you will die” I have no intention of turning from Christ but the warning is real.

Post-script: Please read James Oakley’s comments on this post and Matt Mason’s comments and Neil Jeffers’ comments on the new covenant and the elect.

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6 Responses to Thomas Schreiner on warning passages and perseverance

  1. James Oakley says:

    So is he saying that the warnings are hypothetical? That they are addressed to real believers, who cannot fall away, and the means of ensuring they do not fall away are the warnings?

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Yes and No. John Hobbs and Mark O’Donaghue asked the question; doesn’t this view blunt the warning?

    His answer, I think, is that the warnings are real, not hypothetical, and that the only way of knowing who is a real believer is by whether or not the warnings keep turning us to Christ.

    The issue then is assurance. Might I fall away someday? Again, the warnings function to turn us to Christ and God’s promises such as Romans 8:33ff and Phil 1:6 and we find assurance in the promises.

    Does that answer your question?

    I didn’t agree with everything Tom said, especially his anti-FV stuff on the covenant; all true believers are members of the new covenant by the work of the Spirit which cannot be undone (Jer 31). There’s lots of stuff I want to think through, starting with Grudem in Still Sovereign, which Schreiner disagrees with.

  3. James Oakley says:

    His answer, I think, is that the warnings are real, not hypothetical, and that the only way of knowing who is a real believer is by whether or not the warnings keep turning us to Christ.

    We need to distinguish carefully. There is a difference between saying that “the warning is real” and “the thing warned of is real”. In other words, the way I put it above is that you could have a real warning that nevertheless warns of something that will never happen.

    Once you say that a real believer will never fall away, you need to say either:

    (a) this warning is addressed to real (big B) believers, and so warns of a hypothetical reality, or

    (b) this warning is addressed to a wider group, and so warns of something that will happen to some within that group.

    The reason why I resist (b) is that the promises are addressed to believers, as the NT texts you refer to Schreiner citing show.

    That leaves us at (a). Unless: What the NT means by “belief” in those warning passages is something other than capital B, real, effecting faith-union with Christ BELIEF. In other words, may forced choice of (a) versus (b) above should force us to say “distinguish please – what do you mean by believer”.

    Which is where I think he misrepresents the FV case (from how you’ve reported his argument)

  4. neilrobbie says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I believe Tom spoke of the latter, the thing warned of being real yet our assurance is always in Christ so cannot happen, yet that the warnings serve a real purpose.

    Putting it in my own descriptive, non-logician style, big B believers are walking along an arête with warnings which say “don’t go near the edge, you’ll fall off” (the thing warned of is real). And as we stumble and trip along we should not ask “am I about to disappear into the abyss?” but rather “God will you save me?” At every point of the journey we turn to him and see that he is holding the other end of our climbing rope and has promised never to let go and so we keep inching, stumbling along aware of the thing warned of but trusting in Christ to see us to the summit.

    His point was to focus on the function of the warnings as to serve big B faith as a means of grace, rather than as an explanation of what happens to those who fall away, which is a subject he didn’t address. I think this point was helpful.

    Yet, his definition of covenant = elect exposed an elephant in the room; what happens to the baptised who fall away? He’s also antipaedobaptist and so presumably can’t baptise anyone, as David Field pointed out on his blog on Tuesday.

  5. James Oakley says:

    And the really helpful thing in all of that is: It’s easy, with any passage on any topic, to be so concerned with what it’s saying that we never get to the “what’s this passage designed to do” question?

  6. Pingback: Great minds, thinking alike. | Shir Hashirim

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