by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary
Evangelist with Trinity Crusades for Christ
Visiting Professor of Philosophy & Apologetics at Trinity
Former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists
FLASH — Just Released! “Core Facts: The Strategy for Understandable and Teachable Christian Defense,”
by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
More info, HERE.
I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to Tom Hicks for the time and thought he put into interacting with my article on the free will of man. I greatly admire and share his dedication to proper soteriology and his enthusiastic investigation into the relationship between divine providence and human freedom. What follows are my thoughts regarding his post, “A Brief Response to Braxton Hunter’s Article on Libertarian Free Will.”
1. On soft-libertarian freedom
Hicks begins by familiarizing the reader with the terrain of the discussion, as I did in the original article. There is not much with which to quibble contained in these opening paragraphs with one glaring exception. His first point closes with a definition of Libertarian free will that contains the statement, “The man is free to choose against all influences and causes such that there is no determining or governing reason for his particular choice.” This betrays a serious misunderstanding on Hicks’ part concerning the nature of freedom as I explained it in my article. This fact became more obvious as he built his case against libertarian freedom with this definitional comment in mind. He seems to believe that when I and other Traditionalists say “undetermined” that we mean “determined by no one, including the free agent himself.” This creates no small misunderstanding for Hicks. As a result he finds himself imagining that, for libertarians, free will is some whimsical external agent that flies in unannounced and forces the individual to do arbitrary and random things. That this is his understanding of the position could not be more clear than in his fourth point wherein he describes how libertarians might act on the day of judgment. He says, “When they meet God on judgment day, they may object, ‘But God, I often wanted to choose Christ but this libertarian free will that you gave me chose against me. It changed my wants without any sufficient or determining reason and caused me to choose to reject Christ. I am not guilty or responsible.’”
Yet, how Tom Hicks arrived at this understanding is hard to imagine since that would make free will an external force that coerces the agent (something that I clearly reject in my article as quoted by Tom Hicks himself). Instead, “undetermined” as I use the word means undetermined by anything outside of the agent. Furthermore, as a soft-libertarian (and again, as his quote from my article firmly establishes), I maintain that we are influenced by outside factors.
With this in mind, I see nothing in his first or fourth point that remains problematic for the soft-libertarian. Moreover, the conclusions he makes in his third point regarding God’s freedom are based upon this same misunderstanding. Hicks argues, “We might expect that at any moment, without any determining reason, God may sin.” Again, choices are not determined by anything outside of the individual. Hicks describes free will as an arbitrary outside force. He then builds on this problematic definition of freedom by pointing out that Jesus, “ . . . is the image of the invisible God.” Thus, for Hicks, what he has said of the Father attains for the Son. However, what he has argued for the Father is problematic, and so the case for a compatibilist Jesus is problematic as well. Making the same misstep twice does not improve the point.
2. On biblical data
For his second heading, Tom Hicks takes issue with my use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a supporting piece of biblical data for libertarian freedom. One would wonder why Hicks is concerned that I offer no personal exegesis of this one text when he swiftly follows with at least fourteen passages under eleven bullet points for which he offers no exegesis. Nevertheless, my intention was not to thoroughly exegete 1 Corinthians 10:13, but merely to use it illustratively to show that, if there is indeed a “way of escape,” then there is a genuine freedom to take advantage of it. Because compatibilists ultimately do maintain that man’s decisions are determined because his desires are determined, the way of escape is merely illusory. To parody Hicks’ assertion that libertarians import their views into the text, I submit that the greatest problem facing compatibilism is that it isn’t easily established from the text of Scripture, but seems to be a philosophical presupposition and imposition on the Bible.
Regarding the biblical data that Hicks gives us from Bruce Ware, the presupposition of compatibilism is underscored. Many compatibilists seem to have the impression that because God determines to do something or act in a given way that this amounts to determinism qua determinism in a philosophical sense. I view this as a common Calvinist hermeneutical error, and it strikes me as simple eisegesis. How God brings about that which he determines to do is central to the issue at hand. God brings about favor, the hardening of hearts, a military invasion, the execution of Jesus, etc., by using means other than removing the genuine freedom of the individual. In other words, these passages that Hicks seems to view as the basis for, “. . .the best biblical arguments for compatibilism,” beg the question of how God brings these things about.
3. On evil and human responsibility
Finally, it is worth mentioning that, while I appreciate the attention given to much of my article, Tom Hicks neglected to deal with the most difficult issues implied by compatibilism. Aside from the fact that the assertion, “God’s determination of what people do is compatible with their carrying out those determined actions with genuine human freedom and responsibility” would be an explicit contradiction were it not for the redefinition of the term “freedom” in compatibilist terms, there are further problems. He did not deal directly with my argument against compatibilism from the impossibility of human responsibility in a determinist system. Nor did he respond to my case against compatibilism from the problem of evil. He did however confess that, “The biblical compatibilist doesn’t claim to have a tidy philosophical system to support his views.” Respectfully, it may be that the items I just referenced are some such “untidy” issues that compatibilists have yet to iron out. Still, I invite compatibilists to embrace a soft-libertarian view of human freedom because I believe that it is both biblically and philosophically sound.
In closing, I want to reiterate my humble appreciation for Tom Hicks and his contribution here. He is clearly a man who loves the Word of God and is passionate about the truth. For more information, I would encourage readers to listen to my debate with Joe Mira here. It is my hope that this exchange has been fruitful for readers.
Braxton Hunter, PhD
Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary
 Hicks, Tom, A Brief Response to Braxton Hunter’s Article on Libertarian Free Will. (http://theblog.founders.org/braxton_hunter/?utm_campaign=twitter&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitter). Internet. Accessed on 28 March 2014.
 Colossians 1:15
 Tom Hicks says, “He necessarily chooses in accordance with his greatest desire, and the desire itself is causally determined.”
 Hicks’ original statement was, “I submit that the greatest problem facing libertarian freedom is that it isn’t easily established from the text of Scripture, but seems to be a philosophical presupposition and imposition on the Bible.”
by Preston Nix, Ph.D.
Professor of Evangelism and Evangelistic Preaching/Roland Q. Leavell Chair of Evangelism.
Director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health
Chairman of the Pastoral Ministries Division
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
(Ed.’s note: SBCToday sought permission from Dr. Nix to post a portion of his essay below, and in his emailed reply granting that permission, Dr. Nix stated:
“My prayer is that the Lord will use the essay to challenge both traditional Southern Baptists as well as Calvinists to share their faith boldly and consistently with the lost. If all of us as Southern Baptists, whichever side of the theological fence we are on, do not get back to basic evangelism and missions, our theological debates will continue to be a distraction from our purpose as the church and an indictment to our denomination. May the Lord bless your work of speaking to Southern Baptists on the issues of our day.”
Not only did God provide the means whereby lost humanity can be saved, but also God ordained the method whereby the message of salvation is to be communicated to the lost world. Of all the methods that the Lord could have employed to communicate the gospel to a lost and dying world, God in His sovereignty chose to use the method of human instrumentality to accomplish that task. Jesus commissioned the church to communicate His saving grace to all peoples in all the nations of the world throughout all time. This call in Scripture to join the Lord in reaching the world with the message of salvation is known as the Great Commission. The term itself indicates that followers of Jesus Christ are expected to partner with the Lord in His mission of reaching the world with His message of salvation, hence the word “Commission,” indicating a joint mission effort between God and man. Continue reading
by Steve Horn, pastor
FBC, Lafayette, La.
Dr. Horn has served in various denominational roles,
including president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
One afternoon a few years ago, a couple who lived down the street from the church came to see me. The woman pulled out a copy of Charles Stanley’s Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? and asked, “Do you believe what’s in this book?” I confessed that I had not read it but was reasonably sure that I believed what was in it. The couple went on to tell me that they had bought the book simply because of the title. The woman had read the whole thing in one evening, and her husband had read enough of it the next morning to get the essential idea. Seeing on the book jacket that Stanley was a Baptist, they decided to go to the nearest Baptist church to get more details. Coming from a religious tradition that had taught them that it was impossible, even perhaps sinful and certainly arrogant, to claim assurance of salvation, this couple was eager to know the peace and joy that accompanies eternal security.
The doctrine of the eternal security of the believer is of great significance for Southern Baptists and is central to the way we do the work of evangelism and discipleship. One might suppose that all Southern Baptists agree on this matter and that, therefore, this is not one of the contested doctrines in the current Calvinist debate. Indeed, the idea of eternal security is stated unequivocally in Article 5 of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM).
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
The language of Article 12 of the Abstract of Principles is quite similar. The issues of greatest concern in both of these documents are the genuineness of conversion, the impossibility of apostasy, and the inevitability of some continued sin in the life of the genuine believer. Any Southern Baptist confession seeking to aver salvation by faith through grace alone must also have this kind of strong statement concerning eternal security. Millard Erickson gets to the crux of this issue. On one hand, a theology that does not affirm eternal security leads to anxiety about one’s spiritual condition. On the other, a view of eternal security that does not point to genuine conversion leads to “indifference to the moral and spiritual demand of the gospel.”
Calvinists and Traditionalists agree about the reality of eternal security, but this does not mean that there are no serious issues to unravel in the discussion. First, what is the basis of assurance? Second, can one affirm perseverance without necessarily committing himself to all of the other “doctrines of grace”? Third, how does each perspective deal with the difficult passages which seem to hold to some form of apostasy? Fourth, can the wrong view of assurance lead to “false conversions”?
What is the Basis of Assurance?
Even though the differences between the Abstract, which is more Calvinistic, and the BFM appear to be slight, they illustrate a challenging dynamic even within this supposedly uncontested doctrine. The BFM begins with the declaration, “All true believers endure to the end,” which inserts the language of the New Hampshire Confession’s article on perseverance before the first sentence of the Abstract. The BFM, therefore, begins the discussion of perseverance with an emphasis on belief, which is muted in the Abstract. The clear implication is that the BFM seeks to make clear that believing is the basis for security. Additionally, the BFM makes specific that it is “believers” who are the subject of God’s preserving power. The direction of Southern Baptist soteriology as it moved into the twentieth century was toward an emphasis on the centrality of belief as the basis for assurance, buttressed by the reality of sanctification.
While most Southern Baptists tend to use “perseverance of the saints” and “eternal security” interchangeably, nuances in the terminology also reveal the differences in the bases of assurance. The Calvinist view of “perseverance of the saints” places the emphasis of assurance on the evidence of the believer’s activity rather than the believer’s faith in the provision of Christ. The danger, of course, is that such thinking can slide inadvertently into a works-oriented basis for security. Consider this example from the popular and prolific John Piper: “It’s true that Paul believed in the eternal security of the elect (‘Those whom [God] justified he also glorified’ [Rom 8:30]). But the only people who are eternally secure are those who ‘make their calling and election sure’ by fighting the good fight of faith and laying hold on eternal life. Such reasoning complicates the issue of eternal security and potentially leads to more doubt than assurance by making the works of obedience the basis of eternal security rather than promises of Christ that belong to the believer by faith. There is, to be sure, a tension in Scripture due to its exhortative nature.
Ken Keathley, however, manages the tension between faith and works in this way: “Good works and the evidences of God’s grace do not provide assurance. They provide warrant to assurance but not assurance itself.” Therefore, to avoid confusion about what is meant about our view of assurance, it may be better to speak of “security of the believer,” rather than “perseverance of the saints.” Security of the believer emphasizes a present state-of-being based on faith that persists into the future rather than the continual manifestation of certain actions in the future. Eternal security is the companion of salvation by grace. One of the reasons that Baptists have overwhelmingly believed in a doctrine of eternal security is the strong belief in salvation by grace. Belief in the work of Christ for salvation results in the assurance of salvation. As Keathley notes, “Assurance of salvation must be based on Jesus Christ and His work for us—nothing more and nothing less.
Can Someone Affirm Eternal Security
Without Affirming All Five Points of the TULIP?
Eternal security revolves around two significant questions. First, can one know with certainty that he is saved? Second, can the one who knows with certainty today that he is saved trust that he will never fall away permanently? Southern Baptists of all stripes want to answer with a resounding “yes” to both questions. Either individuals have the promise of eternal security or they do not. The discussion is often framed as if there are only two options—the Calvinist position that says “yes” and the Arminian position that says “no.”
If Calvinism is the only option for a strong view of eternal security, then the real possibilities for dialogue among Southern Baptists will be at impasse. In this arrangement, it is supposed that the non-Calvinist cannot affirm assurance of salvation because agnosticism on the issue of assurance is fundamental to Arminianism. Though he certainly cannot speak for every Calvinist, the language of Erwin Lutzer is the sort of tone that creates potential for heated and unhelpful debate. Lutzer says, “Whether or not you believe in eternal security depends on where you stand on the free-will controversy…The free will that accepts Christ is the same free will that can reject him.”
Tom Ascol follows Lutzer at this point. In a blog post criticizing the Tradtional Statement, Ascol writes:…*
Charles Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990). Stanley tells the story of how he came to reject the erroneous view of apostasy that he had learned in a Pentecostal Holiness church.
See as an example the Roman Catholic View as presented in Kenneth D. Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. Da- vid L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 168.
For example, the 2013 document Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension: A Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee does not include any reference to the understanding of eternal security in the list of tensions.
Noticeably absent from both is the language of the Westminster Confession, XVII, 2, which states, “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election …”
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2d. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 997.
John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2d. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 46.
Keathley, “Perseverance and Assurance of the Saints,” 186.
Keathley has succinctly presented the issues at hand. See “Perseverance and Assurance” in Whosoever Will and “The Word of God: Salvation,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Aca- demic, 2007), 760–1.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 985–7. This criticism notwithstanding, Erickson does a superb job of succinctly describing the two opposing views, supplying the important Scriptural texts that support each view and drawing the conclusion that the majority of Southern Baptists will affirm the certainty of eternal security.
Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 225.
*Click HERE to read the rest of this post by downloading the FREE, 2-volume NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
SBCToday reprinted with permission the above excerpt.