Issues ETC.’s Todd Wilken on “Once Saved, Always Saved” via Hebrews 6: 4-8

Issues ETC.’s Todd Wilken on “Once Saved, Always Saved” via Hebrews 6: 4-8 December 8, 2016

issues etcPost by Nathan Rinne

One of my favorite internet talk radio shows – which I absolutely recommend to everyone along with Pastor Cooper’s Just and Sinner podcast – is Issues ETC.

“Issues” has been running for over twenty years now, and its current host, LC-MS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) Pastor Todd Wilken has been at the helm for about the last fifteen. It’s a smart, guest-driven show that covers issues like church history, Christian doctrine, current social and political events, Scripture studies, classic hymns, apologetics, etc. It’s un-apologetically and confessionally Lutheran, even as its guests are often not (and Pastor Wilken is always pleasant and irenic to all – perhaps to a fault!).

Here’s a sampling of some of the “taglines” the show and its audience have used to describe the show over the years:

  • Christ-centered, cross-focused talk radio
  • For sinners only
  • It’s not about you ; it’s about Jesus for you
  • Real Reformation Radio
  • Evangelical and Catholic
  • Contending for truth in an age of anti-truth
  • A voice in the wilderness of American Evangelicalism
  • Were churchmen, not company men
  • Only our listeners can cancel us now (see here)

What follows below is an example of the kinds of clear and helpful answers Pastor Wilken provides on one of my favorite parts of the show, the “Listener Email”, “Issues ETC. Comment Line” (its an answering machine), and “Open Lines” segments where they deal with questions from their audience. On the August 31st show, Pastor Wilken dealt with the question of Hebrews 6:4-8, and the following is essentially what he said that day:

If Lutherans reject Once Saved, Always Saved, do they therefore teach Once Lost, Always Lost?

The answer is no. The passage I cited above is particularly instructive in this regard. Hebrews 6:4-8,

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”

Now, at first glance it would seem that this does teach Once Lost, Always Lost. But it doesn’t. The problem here is a less than accurate English translation. The word “since” (since they again crucify…) does not appear in the Greek, but is often provided by the translators to make sense of the passage.

While this translation is possible, it is not the only possibility. In fact, there is one that is far better in my opinion. This is going to get a bit technical, but…. The participles avnastaurou/ntaj (they are crucifying) and paradeigmati,zontaj (they are putting to public ridicule) are in the present tense. Present tense active participles often denote continuing attendant action or circumstance.

So the best translation here is probably, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, as long as they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame”, or, “while they continue to crucify to themselves the Son of God again, and put Him to open shame. Note the difference this makes. The passage isn’t saying that a person who falls away can never be restored to repentance. It is saying that a person who falls away cannot be restored as long as they continue to crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

The immediate context of this verse indicates the same thing when it warns that those who have fallen have indeed fallen away, but are not yet cursed, but are close to being cursed. It then warns of a final judgment on those who continue in apostasy by saying, it ends up being burned. In addition to this, there is simply no other passage of Scripture which teaches that repentance is impossible.

This passage is a warning to believers to not presume upon God’s patience, and a warning to apostates to repent. If it is up to me, I would fall. But it is not up to me. It is up to God to keep me faithful through His Word and Sacraments.

If I forsake these, I am “going it on my own” and will certainly fall away. But if I remain with those things by which God sustains faith, He will never fail me.”

Check out Issues ETC. – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Pastor Wilken in the studio with a couple guests.
Pastor Wilken in the studio with a couple guests.



Images used with permission from Issues ETC.

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