What difference does it make, really, to be either Calvinist or Arminian in one’s interpretation of the Warning Passages of Hebrews? There are lots of ways to talk about “difference,” but at the level of concrete Christian living does it make all that much difference?
I begin with this observation. It makes a huge difference for the contemporary Evangelical who believes in eternal security, assurance of faith, and that anyone who has received Christ cannot genuinely fall away. The slogan “once saved, always saved” is put into deep threat by the view of Hebrews I have offered.
For the classical Calvinist and the Arminian — and I know this may sound like a bundle of hooey to many — there is precious little difference in this regard: both believe that perseverance is necessary. Which means that both believe that only those who do follow through in their relationship and obedience will find that eternal rest.
But, I have given you a bit of my own journey. Here’s what I noticed.
First, I sensed a renewal of the fear of God that is so prominent in Hebrews. Once I came to the conviction that a person, yea that I, could believe and fall away, sin became more important and the prospect of falling away more realistic. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some morbid fear. Assurance accompanies faithfulness for both the Calvinist and the Arminian. Both, at least in my case, knowing that redemption is rooted in the saving powers of Christ and that faith — in the sense of faithfulness and trust — is required.
Second, it influenced how I presented the gospel. However one wants to present the gospel, through some tract or through personal story or through some piece of rational logic, the summons to believe for me is a summons to become a believer — not just to believe once and for all in a singular moment. It is a summons to live under the rule of King Jesus. The summons to perseverance is part and parcel of the summon to believe.
Third, I am persuaded that holding to this view does not mean that I (or anyone who shares it with me) believes that I contribute to my own salvation. Instead, what this doctrine encourages me to do is to believe, to watch, and to persevere. It makes me more conscious of the need of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, and here I ask for your indulgence in a question I have asked for 20 years: is it possible that some biblical writers are more Arminian and some more Calvinist? If so, we’d have to ask in what the unity of Scripture consists. Does it consist in a systematic theology that somehow is behind everything said or does it consist in the essence of the gospel and the summons to live before God in the community of faith? That’s for another time, but this is an area that deserves to be explored.
Before signing off, let me mention two pieces of reading that differ with me.