Theology Month continues here with a short ebook by Scot McKnight A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance.
Can we choose and un-choose God? Or does he choose and un-choose us? In The Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance, theologian Scot McKnight examines what the Bible says about human salvation. Inspired in part by a resurgent Calvinist movement and its particular emphasis on God’s meticulous sovereignty, McKnight invites us to a clear and captivating discussion about securing the way to eternal life–the role God plays, the role we play, and the key Bible passages that illuminate the mystery of salvation.
I have followed Scot’s blog for a while now, and had read a couple of his books, so picked this up mainly because of its subject matter. It is an up interesting essay that explores the possibility of apostasy and how it undercuts meticulous sovereignty and thus a popular form of Calvinism today. McKnight shares his own “journey” and interaction with Calvinism and Hebrews before analyzing the passages and drawing his conclusions.
Basically, McKnight argues that Hebrews clearly allows for apostasy (giving up the faith, falling away, accepting Christ and then renouncing that belief, etc.) and therefor the type of sovereignty that certain Calvinists argue for is unbiblical.
McKnight on “meticulous” sovereignty (from the preface):
The aim of A Long Faithfulness is to cut the central nerve—the sovereignty of God—that informs a dominant theme in the resurgence of Calvinism in our time. Mind you, I affirm God’s sovereignty as the foundation of our faith, so my aim is to defeat one particular but pervasive conviction about God’s sovereignty in the resurgent Calvinism.
That particular but pervasive understanding of God’s sovereignty is what might be called “meticulous” (or “exhaustive”) sovereignty. In regards to this subject, there are only two real options: either God determines everything (meticulous sovereignty) or God does not determine everything.
Since I don’t hold to the views he is targeting I didn’t struggle much with his conclusions. I think Scot’s view of human freedom is correct and biblical. Despite my agreement, I did find these arguments rather ahistorical and decontextualized; something that is admittedly not uncommon for theology of this sort.
It seems to me that the churches under discussion were under great pressure (cultural, political, spiritual, etc.) and persecution to give into the pagan idolatrous ways of the Roman Empire. It seems clear that some buckled under that pressure and gave up on following The Way. This was not just a theological issue for the early church but one of survival for the people of God. Either the church would follow the narrow path of Christ and His example or be destroyed. The warnings make more sense in this context, it seems to me, but McKnight never mentions this context but instead thinks about apostasy in today’s terms.
Of course, modern people of faith in the West face temptations as well but most of us do so in more subtle and less immediate ways. We face not death but social ostracism and perhaps mockery. The problem is that the line is less clear in this case as most don’t publicly reject faith and begin to worship idols and begin cultist practices. Instead, many simply quietly stop practicing an active faith.
I believe that God has willingly relinquished his sovereignty by giving humans freedom and choice. So yes, I think you can intentionally and willfully reject God and his call after having professed faith. God, through the faithfulness of Christ, has opened up the family of God to all peoples. But while we in the West may not face the martyrdom and trials of the early church, we too can choose to reject that call and turn our backs on God even after having accepted the invitation.
If you find these theological debates and discussion interesting, this essay will likely be worth a read. Obviously, if you have a strong opinion about the issue that will color your reaction. if you haven’t thought through the issues these passages in Hebrews raise, McKnight offers and good introduction in the course of his argument. Those who want to dig deeper will want to seek out others sources but this is an engaging conversation starter on the subject.