When Conversion Is Joy And Death Victory: Historical Foundations Of The Doctrine Of Perseverance -- By: Jan Henzel

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:2 (NA 2003)
Article: When Conversion Is Joy And Death Victory: Historical Foundations Of The Doctrine Of Perseverance
Author: Jan Henzel

When Conversion Is Joy And Death Victory:
Historical Foundations Of The Doctrine Of Perseverance

Jan Henzel


Once people become converted one of their major existential concerns will be whether and how will they persevere in their right standing with God. As this concern is as old as Christianity, it is illuminating to see the historical developments of the doctrine of perseverance. Foundations of the doctrine may be found in the writings of Aurelius Augustine. There are to be found the four distinguishing approaches to the doctrine of perseverance developed in the course of history: (1) perseverance is necessary for believers’ salvation and that it is a gift of God but they are uncertain whether this gift was given to them; (2) perseverance is necessary, God determines who perseveres and the believer may be certain of this gift; (3) perseverance is a necessary gift but God does not determine who perseveres and the believer is uncertain of his final state; (4) perseverance is necessary for obtaining final rewards but not for believers’ salvation.

We shall start our journey in the post-biblical period. One has to remember that despite the historical continuity with the New Testament the Apostolic Fathers stepped into a different world regarding soteriology. Not that the idea of salvation was foreign in the Graeco-Roman world, but it was quite different from the Jewish mindset of biblical writers. The first centuries of Christianity literally proved Jesus’ prediction to his followers: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (Jn. 16:33). They did have trouble, but the blood of martyrs became the seed of the Church. However, not all Christians were victorious under the pressure of

persecution and other temptations. Thus very early the Apostolic Fathers had to deal with issues of post-baptismal sin and second repentance.

I. Salvation Is Based On God’s Grace

After the vision of the Emperor Constantine I in 312, when the alliance of throne and altar started to cement, the spread of Christianity began to have completely different reasons. In this decisive transitional period, the most influential thinker was Aurelius Augustine. His theological reflection has left a permanent mark on Christian theology of subsequent generations and also on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Famous is Augustine’s controversy with Pelagius and his followers. Augustine, in the second book of De peccatorum mentis remissione, continuously discusses the question why people sin and why some people turn toward God. It is decided that it happens by divine...

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