The Bible and "Eternal Security"? An Interview with Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight has never been one to shy away from a debate. In 2010, he challenged Brian McLaren's "new kind of Christianity" through a fiery Christianity Today article and a debate with McLaren at the Q conference entitled, "Conversations on Being a Heretic." In 2012, he questioned the way many Christians understand the meaning of the term "gospel" in his book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. He's also advocated for women in ministry and challenged Christians' thinking on how to read the Bible. Whether you agree with the positions he has taken, he has proved himself to be a first-rate Bible scholar. In McKnight's new e-book, A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance, the professor and author tackles the controversial topic of "eternal security," which is the idea that once someone becomes a Christian they can never be lost. Here we discuss his position, the Biblical basis to his view, and why he thinks some Christians have gotten it wrong.
JM: When I first saw this book, I thought it was a general Christian living book on faithfulness. But you're really wading into a contentious debate in this book, aren't you?
SM: Yes, the title might lead one to think that, but fairness will also admit the book is a plea to recognize the reality of apostasy and, at the same time, to walk on faithfully behind our Lord. So, it is about faithfulness because it’s about the gravity of unfaithfulness.
You are right, it is a contentious debate. I tell my story in the e-book of how I was reared in eternal security – frankly, for having made the right decision regardless of how I lived – and then in college I was surrounded by some godly and intellectually challenging Calvinists. So I became a reader of high Calvinism, including folks like John Owen, whose volumes I drank in. Somehow I managed not to read Edwards, but my favorite of all was the Baptist Puritan, Charles Spurgeon. I read his autobiography twice and read a sermon a day for two of my years in college.
As a seminary student I was pushed by mentor, Grant Osborne, to think about the other side of this argument because he assigned me to update his Calvinist-Arminian handout. I began by reading I Howard Marshall’s published dissertation, Kept by the Power of God, a book that plods through the Bible on this theme. Over and over I thought his exegesis surpassed and was the more plain reading than what I read in Calvinism. By the time I put that book down I had inwardly surrendered to a Wesleyan form of soteriology. Then when I was a young professor I was asked to teach Hebrews, I spent the summer working the book but especially the warning passages, and I came up with a journal article that is completely reworked and expanded in this piece.
It is contentious, but good Christian theologians ought to be able to sit down with the Bible and sort things out like this. I’ve given my best attempt here; I offer it to the other side to explain the evidence of Hebrews. This ebook does not sort out what all the Calvinist responses might be to each issue for I wanted to present a positive case for what the text says (in my view). If some want to counter my views, fine, but the only thing that interests me is if they can show that the audience is not genuine believers. If they can, I’ll listen but if they want to show how they can explain the text as Calvinists … well, been there and done that. Explanation of something through a grid does not count as proof; what matters is what that text says.
JM: Hebrews 6:4-6 is a much debated passage that you address in this book. How do you think some Christians have misunderstood it?