Can You Lose Your Salvation? Greg Boyd and Mark Driscoll in Dialogue

Can You Lose Your Salvation? Greg Boyd and Mark Driscoll in Dialogue October 13, 2011

This is the age old question: Can a person lose their salvation? Of course, two broad schools of thought emerge in theological discourse.

On one end of the spectrum are the 5.5 point Calvinists (not really sure what the .5 is all about). This is representative of Mark Driscoll’s perspective (and basically most of the Gospel Coalition folks). This group of thinkers believe that God not only preordains all things (yep, every last event in world history) but that God ordains some to eternal life and some to eternal torment. They would then contend that all people deserve eternal torment and therefore the fact that God chooses some demonstrates his infinite mercy and wisdom.

And no, lets be fair to this perspective: they don’t believe that evangelism is void (as many on the free will end of the spectrum often accuse). Rather, they believe that the truly elect will hear the message (through evangelistic efforts) and will awaken to their right standing before the Father (upon repentance and a belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus). Evangelism matters here still because we are the heralds that God uses to summon sinners into their elect-ness. Those who refuse persistently to believe the message must not be elect. Here is what Mark Driscoll has to say about this issue:

In this next video, Mark Driscoll (although biased toward Calvinism [like I’m biased toward ‘free will’]), he describes the contrast between the two views fairly well:

On the other side of the spectrum are the “free will theists” who believe that human choice cooperates with the wooing of God toward salvation. In other words, we are lost in our sinful condition without Christ. But, in God’s grace, he has enabled humanity to rise above their sinfulness to freely choose or reject Jesus Christ as Lord. This camp (which I have always identified with, even in my more “conservative” days) believes that we can have absolute assurance of our standing with God through the process of sanctification. The more we know God, experience the Spirit, and follow Jesus; the more we are assured that we are in fact “in Christ” and therefore part of the “elect.” But, lets add one more interesting twist.

Many in the “free will” group are becoming convinced that the way we’ve appropriated the words “elect” “predestined” etc have been too individualist in nature. In other words, the more I read the New Testament through the lens of “community” the more I think that the “elect” is synonymous with “the people of God.” The Church is the elect of God! Individuals are invited to join in that “elect-ness” that indeed was “predestined.” God always knew that he would “elect” a special people. It started with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all the way to Jesus himself and then the body of Jesus! You are not elect… WE are the elect. An individual can choose to remove him or herself from amongst the elect (people of God) by choosing the broad road of destruction and through the blatant refusal to follow (and believe in) Jesus. We need enough humility to not “guess” who those “un-saved” people are, because God’s grace and wisdom transcend our categories. Here are some thoughts from Greg Boyd (with Paul Eddy):

Here’s one more video that’s part of the same conversation:

What are your thoughts?

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  • Wow, I think I’m a Greg Boyd fan now. Nailed it. It makes me exited to share a gospel like this.

    • @dareyoutomove:disqus … Greg Boyd books are awesome as well as his podcast at Woodland Hills Church.

  • Jason Elam

    I definitely come down on the Greg Boyd side of this argument. There was a time in my life when I would have more closely identified with a the Calvinist view that Driscoll and Piper espouse, but I heard one too many “God hates you” messages (like the one Driscoll preached recently) which didn’t seem at all representative of the Gospel to me.

  • David Buckham

    This is great. I have listened to and read both Driscoll and Boyd. Great job pairing the two. I will have to repost this now. 

    • @google-a8b6f9513d78dd17d5c40619c893833d:disqus … thanks for being willing to spread the word!  And yes, I’m a Boyd guy and a free will theist for sure…

  • David Buckham

    Oh yeah, and I’m totally with Boyd and Eddy on this!

  • Andy J. Funk

    I find myself wanting to cooperate with both views. Being an Anabaptist Mennonite in my thinking, I lean to “free will”, but I have seen that swing too far on the pendulum, where “everything” is a matter of personal choice. Is there room for God choosing us? Christ said, “I have chosen you, you did not choose me”. I still find that when we engage in talk of where we will end up after we die, we are not addressing the issues Jesus confronted. What about getting to heaven before we die, and what ought that to look like. I have truly appreciated the wisdom of N.T. Wright on matters of Christian character and how that shapes our lives leading up to the full realization of the Kingdom of God. I don’t by any means have all this pegged down, but I think we can gain certain wisdom from “Arminianism” and “Calvinism”. Personally, I thought Mark Driscoll articulated much better the significance of each camp and I appreciated his acknowledgement that people in either camp are welcome at the table. 

  • Andy J. Funk

    I find myself wanting to cooperate with both views. Being an Anabaptist Mennonite in my thinking, I lean to “free will”, but I have seen that swing too far on the pendulum, where “everything” is a matter of personal choice. Is there room for God choosing us? Christ said, “I have chosen you, you did not choose me”. I still find that when we engage in talk of where we will end up after we die, we are not addressing the issues Jesus confronted. What about getting to heaven before we die, and what ought that to look like. I have truly appreciated the wisdom of N.T. Wright on matters of Christian character and how that shapes our lives leading up to the full realization of the Kingdom of God. I don’t by any means have all this pegged down, but I think we can gain certain wisdom from “Arminianism” and “Calvinism”. Personally, I thought Mark Driscoll articulated much better the significance of each camp and I appreciated his acknowledgement that people in either camp are welcome at the table. 

  • I love Eddy’s description in the 2nd video. And I loved your take on it. I have been thinking that exact same thing for a while now and it is great to hear other people articulate it so well.

  • JM

    I’m definitely a Corporate proponent.

    Here’s a great concise summary of  the corporate view (which I believe, unlike classical Arminian and classical Calvinist positions does justice to the communal nature of all passages regarding election) and a number of resource links at the bottom:

  • Michelle

    I would suggest that this is the wrong question, “Can you lose your salvation?”. Or I suggest that this question makes no sense. Salvation is a person. Salvation is Christ. How can you “have” Christ that you might lose Him in the first place? He is transcendent. No. You can only receive Him, always be recieving Him, for he is without bounds and the reception of Him is eternal. It is union, Holy Communion. But only those who are without sin can receive Him in this way, hence the gift of the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. Peace in Christ.

  • JM

    I like the way one of my OT profs at GCTS used to frame the discussion: 

    “Can you ‘lose’ your salvation? No. But you can throw it away.” -Jeff Niehaus

    It keeps salvation from being an object we possess…like our car keys…which can be “lost” inadvertently.

  • I’ve often thought the argument of assurance by rigid Calvinists doesn’t make sense.  This thought exercise will illustrate:  A man lives–to outside appearances and to his own belief–a life faithful to Jesus for many years.  He testifies to having “acknowledged Jesus as his savior” and to his own personal assurance of salvation throughout this time.  For some reason (visible or not), in his middle-age years, he abandons faith.  He continues to testify that when he DID believe, he was sincere to the best of his own understanding of himself and the faith, but for whatever reason he has now found himself denying what he formerly preached.  He dies an atheist, still believing that his original faith, though sincere, was incorrect.

    This story is true in every respect for a personal friend of mine, except for the part about dying…he still lives.

    The Calvinist will say my friend must never have been a believer, because he did not “persevere” to the end of his life.  But if this is true, none of us can have “assurance” of salvation, because what we think of as “assurance” may one day be proven false by our apostasy.  There is, in the predestinarian view, no true assurance one way or the other until one is dead and being evaluated by God, because until that point we have no idea what our final status will be.  Logically, if God unilaterally picks the winners and losers, no one but God can know the winners and losers except in retrospect, and that includes us about ourselves.

    Of course I do not hold to this view of “salvation” at all…I’m just pointing out what to me is an intractable inconsistency in the doctrine.

    • If somebody has truly been born again in Christ… he/she cannot fall away. To experience the Holy Spirit would enable you to no longer view the things of God as foolish and it is not a temporary, fleeting experience followed by atheism. If you are able, later in life, to become a non-believer, you never truly had the faith that is followed by eternal life. Eternal life is eternal and you cannot lose it. If you can, you were never saved.

      • Well, yeah, I’ve heard that before.  Problem is, it’s logically impossible to have assurance of salvation under your model, because the only time one can be (mostly) sure someone hasn’t fallen away is once they’re dead.  Until that moment, we won’t know if they will persevere to the end.

        If you disagree, then how do you propose one can know whether or not he/she “has truly been born again in Christ?”  I tell you without reservation that every criterion I’ve ever heard, my friend believed when he was still a believer.

        • AndrewF

          How can we know whether or not the person dies in unbelief? Perseverance would say that an elect would ultimately be held by Christ. I don’t know that we should put apparent experience before revealed truth. But the bigger problem comes in talking about others – that’s not the point. The point and context of scriptural teaching on the issue is for personal perseverance. That is, it’s written to us to tell us to persevere because we’re safe in Christ’s hands. We get into trouble when we stop thinking bout how it is meant to encourage us and instead talk about who is and isnt saved.

          • The key in what you’re saying, Andrew (to me anyway) is this:  That is, it’s written to us to tell us to persevere because we’re safe in Christ’s hands.

            If by this, you mean “stop worrying about whether every little transgression is going to cost your salvation, but trust Christ and get about obeying him,” then I’m 100% with you.  But frankly, this is true whether or not one can theoretically lose their salvation.

            The problem with the “can’t lose” doctrine in my experience is that all too often it leads to two very harmful outcomes.  The first is a form of evangelism that tries to get people to make a “decision” at all costs, because if God ever gets his hooks into them they’re “saved” no matter what happens.  This is a watered-down and ultimately anti-biblical form of salvation, but it’s preached all the time and all over.

            The second outcome is a failure to grasp the centrality of discipleship to Jesus.  Because we’re taught that we’re saved by grace (which is true) and not by our works (still true), and because we can’t actually lose salvation (not so sure it’s true, but I’ll go with it for this argument), then it doesn’t really matter whether we obey Christ’s commands or not as long as we “believe” in him.  This is heresy, and it is also the direct cause of a lot of the “Christianity” that drives honest, inquiring people away from Jesus.

      • H. L.

        Interestingly enough… John MacArthur, who holds your same viewpoint, has a video on the end times. In it, he states that the False Prophet will claim to be the “real” Jesus. He will convince the “Christians” that HE is the true Jesus. The Christians will then believe him and turn from the old (Real) Jesus, and follow him instead (the false Jesus). Right there, he admits that Christians are falling away when they are deceived. Contradicts his own beliefs/words.

  • Eddy

    I thought this was a wonderful post and a great topic! you obviously had a bias but you were fair to the topic you don’t quite agree on and that was incredibly respectable! Thanks for this post!

    • @f2c2e1b06f23aea80ccd7a380b2c8ac2:disqus … thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, I tried to be clear about my bias while being fair to the other side… I appreciate that my intent came though!  Peace.

  • Good stuff, Kurt. I like how you present truth in a balanced way. I’m a free will believer but also understand why some people embrace Calvinism. One thing I have to say though, if one travels around the world as a missionary church planter as I have had the chance to do and experience several cultures, it’s hard to accept that entire societies are being lost simply because God chose to limit HIS GRACE to a few suburban folks while willingly ignored the majority of the 6 billion people around the world who in some cases can’t read the Bible, have no freedom to visit a church and others who don’t even have choices at all in life: Thailand, India, South Africa, Middle East, China… Just a few places that I have seen it at first hand.  

    • Flip Chipper

      I’m 5 years late, but here’s my answer to that. God made it quite clearly that everyone outside of Israel (the first elected nation), and even more, everyone outside of Christ are “lost and without hope in this world” – Ephesians 2:12. Furthermore, if we are to go and make disciples of all nations, but “how can they believe without hearing….and without hearing a preacher” (Romans 10:14), it will take many centuries for the Gospel to fan out from Jerusalem/Israel to all the nations, which means whole people groups will remain lost. Fact is, we’re all lost in every century until someone brings us the Good News. Calvinists believe that God has designed how and when that flame will spread across the globe, and that wherever it touches will be some people He has called and elected to His wonderful grace. Even in an Arminian/Wesleyan worldview whole nations must remain lost until the Gospel gets to them. God may wish that all would be saved, but even if “free choice” is true, He would be heartless to take so long to get the Gospel out for people to make a choice. So let’s stop accusing Calvinists of being more heartless.

  • Thanks for sharing these. I appreciated both Driscoll’s analogy, and Boyd’s point about framing the question correctly. The problem is often that we rip these issues out to debate them as ideas, when the NT writers talk about the pastorally (which is I think the kind of thing Boyd was saying)

    For that reason, I certainly don’t want to pick a fight, but I am interested, as someone on the more reformed side of the team, about this:

     we are lost in our sinful condition without Christ. But, in God’s grace, he has enabled humanity to rise above their sinfulness to freely choose or reject Jesus Christ as Lord.

    How would you scripturally support this idea of a kind of common grace that revives the spiritually dead and heals spiritual blindness enough to make a ‘free’ choice? Do you mean ‘free’ as in free from the influence of our sinful rebellious nature, or that God ‘woos’ us just enough to balance that? And if so, how is that neutrality then not lead to the choice essentially being arbitrary?

  • Mary Anne

    Hi Kurt,  This post is timely for Canadian MBs who are heading to Kitchener for a study conference on the atonement.  I resonate with your comments about reading through the lens of community, not only the individual perspective.

  • Free will and assurance of salvation are two different animals. It’s possible to ascribe to free will but also believe we cannot lose our salvation. I personally believe both Boyd and Driscoll compliment each other in these two videos. However, I am much more a Boyd fan and never cared much for Driscoll and his neo-Calvinist buddies.

  • It shows who’s the theologian and who’s the preacher. Not that Greg isn’t a great preacher – he is! But his nuance and learnedness cannot be denied. Whereas Mark simply answers no to whether someone can lose his salvation, Greg brings out the ambiguity of the Biblical witness and situates the problem in history. While I come from a Reformed background and my own opinion is much closer to Marks, I cannot help liking Greg’s answer much, much better.

    I’m a fan of Greg’s. Can you tell? 🙂

  • Lawyatt

    If salvation is something we possess by responding appropriately to God’s offer, then salvation is secure.  God is bound to honor his offer. 

    If salvation is a way of life in relationship to Jesus Christ, the possibility of betrayal (from our side, not God’s) exists though doubtless that possibility lessens and lessens as that relationship grows and matures.

    Whatever we make of God’s election in this matter, if we follow the story scripture tells, both divine and human freedom are integral realities, both of which matter, though the story never tells how they are related nor does it evidence discomfort about holding the two together.

    At least that how it seems to me.  Thanks.

    Lee Wyatt

  • Bobfreeman00

    How could I possibly lose what I did not earn? Jesus died once for sin. For “all” sin for “all” mankind and for “all” ages. God is not a man and He can not lie. He does not give the gift of eternal life and communion with Him to those who accept His perfect sacrifice of His only Son on Calvary. I had nothing to do with His perfect plan of salvation. All He asked me to do is repent (acknowledge and turn from) my own sinful ways. It was by His grace that I have been saved. As long as Heaven shall stand I can stand on His promises. Therefore, I submit that I can not lose my salvation.

  • PB

    I see his Shepherdly concern, but… I don’t see how checking my own life gives me any assurance of salvation. All of us sin, alot, every day. At least I do. How can I gain any confidence from looking at myself? Many Muslims are more consistent in prayer than me. Even the good I do, I can see (or imagine) an evil motive in there somewhere. 

    I think Boyd misunderstands the main motive behind the “eternal security” question. It is NOT “how much sin can I get away with and still have fire insurance? I want to sin more!” Rather it is “How deeply does God love me? Will He deliver me from the fire even if this frail human being fails him at the end? If I break under the world’s pressure, or the atheists fill me with doubt, or my girlfriend/boyfriend go too far, will He still honor his promise to save me if I have believed beforehand in the grace offered at the cross?” I have no more confidence that I will repent after some sinful deed down the road than that I won’t commit it in the first place. Shouldn’t assurance be in God and His perfect word itself, rather than our imperfect keeping of his word? He promises those who believe in Him “have eternal life” and “will never die” (John 3.16, 11.25). There is no caveat “except if you stop believing or don’t live consistently with grace.” It’s not about me, it’s about how grand and faithful God is. And THAT is a motivator beyond anything to do good and shun sin.Has anyone heard of “Free Grace Theology”? It’s a mediate view between Calvinism and Arminianism advocated by Fred Chay, Charlie Bing, Charles Stanley, Michael Eaton, Chuck Swindoll, etc. It takes the warnings variously as eternal and temporal rewards, temporal judgments, or a call to leave trust in works to trust in Christ alone. 

    That said, totally agree on the corporate election concept.

  • Gosh, I love Boyd.  I’m a fan of Driscol, too.
    I’ve been looking into the emergence of evangelicalism in the 1700’s and the Calvinist / Armenian controversy was a big deal then.  It split evangelicals from time to time.  What is most interesting to me about the differences in theology from that time period are the consequences on political action.  Often the different sets of theologies (e.g. Dispensationalism and Baptists were closer to Boyd on some issues and closer to Driscol on others) don’t line up with where things have landed today.  This leads me to believe that *politicized* theologies often shifted with the winds of political change to build coalitions for particular reforms and changes.  
    This can be damning upon most of current theology.  Maybe rightfully so.  If theology bent hither and yon in order to influence power, or rather to manipulate power, then we ought to heavily discount the validity of those theologies.
    Getting at truth, and I think Boyd would buy this, along with Yoder, etc., is to find those doctrines, or better yet *practices*, which embody subverting the power-overs through sacrifice.  Assigning this constraint, or setting this standard, to how we evaluate theologies past and present seems to be the right path.  It steps on lots of toes, however, and requires the kind of cross-bearing most of us, and much of theology, seek to avoid.
    Nathanael Snow

  • The issue is here is the definition of salvation. If we make salvation synonymous with profession then we have a major problem. If we understand salvation as a way to get out of hell then we have another major problem. I think both of these issues are rampant in the American church today. However if we develop a deeper understanding of salvation as- the repentance of our sin and surrender of our lives brought on by the conviction of the Holy Spirit followed by the indwelling of the Spirit in order to bring about the process sanctification so that we may be reconciled unto the relationship with God that He intended us to have which is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ- then we have a different discussion altogether. What Lloyd seems to be speaking of is the attitude of people who hold the former view of salvation, a very incorrect view.  Of course these people will fall away because they have not truly embraced salvation.  It doesn’t mean that they aren’t elect just ignorant to the true gospel. If one holds the latter view of salvation then Driscoll is also correct because with this deeper understanding comes a salvation that is genuine and is truly transforming. Once saved the believer may waver and wander but the Spirit is quick to convict and to discipline and that is what “keeps us”. Just a few thoughts from a nobody. Thanks for listening

  • I actually just posted on this very subject not too long ago.  As an apostate with friends on both sides of the debate, I sure to received some interesting responses.  As the results of studies in cognitive neuroscience showing that free will is an illusion continue to move out into the general culture, I think eventually Arminians will have to admit there is no God, or they’ll have to abandon the notion of free will and become Calvinists.  At this point, the Calvinists have science on their side, at least as far as the free will argument goes.  As a fairly strict determinist, I hold that free will is an illusion, but I don’t think there is a god pulling the puppet strings.  

    You can the post I mentioned above here:

  • Awesome1539

    I always figured if God wanted me to be a Calvinist, I probably would have been.

    • Mennoroxie


  • Kurt, Thanks for posting this issue in an easily accessible manner. 

    I wonder if Paul saw the handing over of the sinner to Satan as a temporal punishment for his sins, yet not compromising his eternal salvation. 1Cor. 5:5
    I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.I agree that Calvinism’s doctrine of perseverance is based on a faulty foundation of election. I liked Boyd and Eddy’s description of salvation as first of all focused on our life now in Christ with the resultant eternal hope of everlasting life with Him. 

  • OK, I’m late to the party, but I’m especially glad you shared the second video. It took me several years to work myself through (and ultimately out of) a Calvinist reading of the Bible, so I can relate to Paul Eddy’s story at the first part of the video. Probably the best 8-minute summary of corporate election that anyone could come up with. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Jehulimma

    Woh.. Mark Driscoll view is right. Calvinism is God centered.

  • There is no such thing as free will. If your not calvanist as I am then you would still contend that your “will” is affected by your sin nature and therefore not free.

  • Gary

    Salvation is actually a much simpler event that what many evangelicals make it out to be. Lutherans believe that salvation occurs solely due to the will and work of God. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. The sinner DOES nothing.

    The Lutheran interpretation of Scripture on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is often confusing to evangelicals. Why? Because understanding or not understanding the Lutheran position depends upon your world view.

    Most Christian evangelicals, and all other world religions, come from the viewpoint that: “I must do SOMETHING for God to love me and want to save me! I can’t believe that God would just give me his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace, his forgiveness AND eternal life…based on absolutely nothing that I do. Can it really be true that God gives me all that, in addition to the fact that he gave his only Son to die for me…not based on any good quality, trait, or deed that I can provide to earn his good favor, and not even based on me making a decision that I want his gift??

    That is INCOMPREHENSIBLE, illogical, unreasonable, and makes no sense!

    But that is what the Bible says that God does: He gives us the free gift of salvation based on his love for us …alone.

    “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

    So if you are able to remove YOU from the act of salvation, here is how the Bible says that GOD does it:

    Salvation occurs by only one means: the power of God’s declaration of righteousness/the power of his Word. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”

    In the New Testament, God says that he uses his Word to save and forgive sins in two situations: when the Word is preached, and when the Word is spoken with the application of water…Baptism.

    It’s that simple.

    Who do Lutherans baptize? Answer: We baptize anyone who comes to us, or is brought to us, seeking God’s free gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Do you have to be baptized to be saved? No. But why would you refuse this beautiful act of God? Why would you refuse God’s gift of the forgiveness of your sins?

    If you neglect, reject or despise this command of Christ, do you really have true faith?

    As Christ says in Mark 16:16, it is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief/the lack of true faith that damns.
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelical
    an orthodox Lutheran blog