Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Reply to Mark Horne's Post

Mark Horne graciously replied to my post yesterday to clarify his views on perseverance and apostasy. I am thankful for his clarification. He wrote to say that he does not believe that the non-elect are ever regenerated, justified, and adopted (in the Westminsterian sense, though he may use those words differently in different contexts). Thus, those who are regenerated, justified, and adopted never fall away from those graces but always persevere to the end. I am grateful that Horne affirms this wonderful biblical truth.

However, Horne made a couple of comments in his post on Hebrews that led me to some wrong inferences about his beliefs.

Horne wrote, "One [the writer of Hebrews] encourages to continue to run and warns against giving up the race, the other [the experimental pietist] asks for self-examination to determine whether or not one has already been put on the train."

But, why would the writer to the Hebrews encourage unregenerate, unjustified, and unadopted people to "continue?" It would seem that such people need to do more than "continue." They need to move from death to life (1 Jn 3:14). They need to be born again (Jn 3:3). The writer of Hebrews addresses his hearers as "repentant" (Heb 6:6), "sanctified" (Heb 10:14, 29) "enlightened" (Heb 6:4), and under the "blood of the covenant" (Heb 10:29). I interpret the author's terminology to be a judgment of charity. The author is taking the Hebrews at their word, charitably granting that these confessors (Heb 3:1; 4:14; 10:23) are truly what they confess to be: regenerate, justified, and adopted (even though they may not be).

In contrast, Horne evidently believes that in Hebrews these terms refer to the "common operations of the Spirit" (WCF 10.4; WLC Q.68), which come short of God's eternally saving graces. He'll have to correct me if I'm wrong about that. But, why would the writer to the Hebrews urge mere continuance in graces that fall short of regeneration, justification, and adoption? Why wouldn't the author urge those who partake in common operations of the Spirit to make certain that they have come all the way to sincere repentance and faith in the Spirit, and that they have come to Christ for justification, and to the Father for adoption? My own view is that the author's references to the graces given to the Hebrews aren't references to common operations at all, but to genuine conversion (charitably granted).

When Horne sets continuance in opposition to the need for self-examination and conversion, I'm at a total loss because it implies that continuance alone is necessary, when in reality, both conversion and continuance in faith are necessary. Though it's not my position, I can understand how the warnings of Hebrews could be interpreted to be the "common operations of the Spirit." That's a fairly standard view among Reformed theologians, and I'm not objecting to that view. Many good men hold it. But I don't understand how anyone who holds that view can pit the need for continuance (for those who are both regenerate and have the common operations of the Spirit) against the need for self-examination, regeneration, conversion, justification and adoption (for those who are unregenerate and have the common operations of the Spirit) the way Mark Horne does.

It makes no sense to interpret the writer to the Hebrews as telling the church to continue in the common operations of the Spirit. That's far too weak an exhortation because what is needed to inherit the future blessing of eternal life is regeneration, justification, adoption and perseverance in faithful obedience to the end. Because that doesn't make sense to me, I assumed it doesn't make sense at all, and I inferred that Horne must believe that sincerely repentant, sanctified, enlightened, and blood covered Christians (who are regenerate, justified, and adopted) can fall away from the faith and go to hell. Thankfully, he has now said otherwise. Perhaps he can clarify further and help me to see the sense of it.

Horne also wrote, "For the same reason Hebrews doesn’t threaten Calvinism, so it can’t prove Arminianism–even if we grant them their exegesis. Claim that Hebrews is about 'genuine Christians' all you want, it still won’t prove that God does not preserve his elect."

These are probably the sentences that threw me off the most. Horne claims that Arminian exegesis of Hebrews is no "threat" to Calvinism. But, Calvinism has never merely taught that God preserves His elect. It has always taught that God preserves His saints. Arminian exegesis of the book of Hebrews claims that genuinely repentant, justified, and adopted people (i.e., saints) can and sometimes do fall away from those graces and go to hell. Thus, Arminian exegesis most definitely "threatens" Calvinism, though it may not threaten "monergism." Horne doesn't say that he has granted them their exegesis, but his willingness to say that "if we do, then Calvinism isn't threatened" made me think he was sympathetic to their exegesis and may even embrace a version of it. He has since clarified and asserted otherwise. I am grateful for that because the Arminians do teach that those who are regenerated, justified, and adopted fall away and go to hell.

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