Perseverance and Assurance: A Survey and a Proposal -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner
SBJT 2:1 (Spring 1998) p. 32
Perseverance and Assurance:
A Survey and a Proposal
Thomas R. Schreiner is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a position he accepted after a decade of teaching at Bethel Theological Seminary. He is the author of Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law, Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary, forthcoming), and several other scholarly publications. This article was adapted from invited lectures given at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997.
One of the most difficult issues in reading the scriptures is explaining the tension between warning passages and texts that promise assurance.1 On the one hand, the warning passages, such as are found in Hebrews, James, or Revelation 2–3, are incredibly severe, even frightening. They seem to warn believers that if they abandon the faith, continue to do what is evil, and fail to persevere until the end, the only prospect is eternal judgment and hell. On the other hand, the texts on assurance, such as John 10:28–30, Romans 8:28–39, and Philippians 1:6, seem to guarantee that God will continue the good work that he has started in believers, and he will see to it that those whom he has elected to salvation will make it to the end. Believers will persevere to the end, not by virtue of their own strength, but due to the power of God.
The tension between these two kinds of texts is immediately evident, though the resolution is not. Nor can we say that the issue is of little importance and avoid the whole discussion. One’s understanding of these texts has tremendous pastoral implications. For instance, should we warn people that if they fall away they would go to hell? Or, should we assure them that God will keep them until the end and that nothing (including their own choices) will prevent them from enjoying their eternal destiny? If we focus upon the warnings in preaching and counseling, we can be confident that we have taken seriously the threats contained in the scriptures. But then we wonder if we have robbed people of the assurance needed to live the Christian life. Conversely, if we focus upon God’s promises to sustain his people, then our hearers will likely have a robust confidence in the God who called them to himself and will sustain them to the end. And yet if we concentrate on God’s promises, have we done justice to the severe warnings found in the scriptures? Have we given our people a false assurance, one t...
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