Reflections on Christian Assurance -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: Reflections on Christian Assurance
Author: D. A. Carson


Reflections on Christian Assurance*

D. A. Carson

* This paper was first presented as the Annual Biblical Theology Lecture at Tyndale House in June, 1990.

I. Introduction

So far as I know, there has been no English-language, full-scale treatment of the biblical theology of Christian assurance for more than fifty years. There have been numerous dictionary articles and the like, along with occasional discussions in journals. There have also been sophisticated studies of assurance as found in the theology of some notable Christian thinker or period, such as the book by Yates that examines assurance with special reference to John Wesley,1 or the discussion of assurance that pervades Kendall’s treatment of the move from Calvin to English Calvinism,2 or the dissertation by Beeke that studies personal assurance from Westminster to Alexander Comrie.3 There have been countless studies of related biblical themes: perseverance, apostasy, the nature of covenant, the nature of faith, justification, and much more—too many to itemize; and there have been numerous popular treatments of Christian assurance. But although at one time assurance was not only a question of pressing pastoral importance but in certain respects a test of theological systems, in recent decades it has not received the attention it deserves.

This paper makes no pretensions of redressing the balance. My aim is far more modest. First, I shall identify a number of tendencies in contemporary literature that bear on Christian assurance. Then I shall offer a number of biblical and theological reflections—really not much more than pump-priming—designed to set out the contours in which a biblical theology of Christian assurance might be constructed.

II. Some Contemporary Tendencies

By “Christian assurance,” I refer to a Christian believer’s confidence that he or she is already in a right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation. This definition

of assurance maintains the future orientation that has dominated much of the discussion in past centuries, but there are two entailments: (1) This is a far narrower definition than might have been deployed. For instance, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the boldness Christians enjoy in coming before God, now that their high priest has entered into the heavenly tabernacle to intercede on their behalf. John writes of the confidence believers enjoy when they approach God in prayer. These, too, are dimensions of Christian assurance, important dimensions—but not the...

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