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On Saturday, July 2, 1966, as a six-year-old boy, I told my mom that I would like to “get saved.” She replied that the next day following the sermon I should go forward during the invitation. That next morning my dad and I walked down the aisle of the First Baptist Church, and he helped me accept Christ. On Monday, we celebrated with fireworks.1 Seven or eight years later while at a youth retreat I felt the urge to re-pray the sinners prayer, but that didn’t end my occasional struggle with doubting my salvation.
The decade of the seventies brought a great fascination concerning the rapture.2 I remember discussing with my friends that many people believed Jesus was coming back in 1976. I hoped it was at least late in the year so that I could first get my driver’s license. The reason for this small reminiscence is that in my early teen years I would come home from school and find the house empty. I immediately feared the rapture had taken place and I was “left behind.” I, however, had a sure-fire solution to this dilemma. I would call the church office, and if someone answered I knew I was safe! (Thankfully the congregation had a number of employees, so someone was always there to answer.) Since I would immediately hang up when I heard a voice, they probably wondered who kept making the prank phone calls.
How can we as believers in Christ be sure of our salvation? In this book Matthew Hoskinson deals with the historical and contemporary schools of thought on assurance of salvation. This book is the published version of Hoskinson’s 2005 dissertation. I approached this work with trepidation, not having read too many dissertations (although I realize many books start out as dissertations). However, Bob Jones University Press has produced a fairly readable edition.
Hoskinson first surveys the history of assurance. He discusses the opinions of Thomas Aquinas (representing the Roman Catholic position), Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley. “From this backdrop of church history will emerge the contemporary picture” (p. 16).
The author finds that the majority of the differences concerning assurance of salvation can be grouped into three main views. Not finding any standard titles for these views, he has given each view a name. These are the “Present Only View,” the “Time of Conversion View,” and the “Composite View” (p. 51).3 By choosing these titles he has attempted to “describe each position as accurately and succinctly as possible” (p.51). A very helpful chart (Table 2-2) on page 71 helps readers see the contrast among the three views.
Basically the “Present Only View” represents the belief that assurance is possible based upon current faithfulness only and that future apostasy is always possible. It denies therefore, that any assurance of future salvation is possible. The “Time of Conversion View” represents the belief that God’s promises are the sole basis for assurance. It holds that regardless of how one may be living, “once saved, always saved.” The “Composite View” of course synthesizes parts of the other two views. It affirms the objective means of assurance (God’s promises), yet allows room for the subjective (walking in holiness) as a secondary source of assurance. In other words, “by their fruits you will know them.”
“The rest of this dissertation seeks both to evaluate these three positions against a biblical theology of hope and to identify the one that most closely patterns itself after Scripture”4 (p. 71-72).
He begins his “biblical theology of hope” by looking at the New Testament passages that feature Abraham, particularly Romans 4 and Hebrews 6. “These are the only New Testament passages that demonstrate the relationship between faith and hope in Abraham’s life” (p.73). After analyzing these passages, Hoskinson draws five conclusions (p 106-107):
- Justifying faith initially springs from hope generated by the promises of God.
- Justifying faith continues to believe the promises of God, even in spite of circumstantial opposition.
- Justifying faith remains confident that God’s promises will come to pass for the believer.
- Full assurance of hope is possible in this life.
- Full assurance of hope is to be the objective of the believer’s diligent pursuit.
He postulates that the implications of these five points require the Composite View.
He continues unfolding his biblical theology by looking at hope in the New Testament Historical books, the writings of Paul and finally the General Epistles. Throughout, tables are used to categorize each New Testament reference of the word hope. While acknowledging that the narrative nature of the Historical books makes it impossible to draw firm conclusions, Hoskinson believes that both Paul and the writers of the General Epistles also require taking the Composite View. This view “sees no contradictions in affirming both the objective (i.e., the faithfulness of God) and the subjective (i.e., the endurance of the believer) means of assurance” (p. 194).
Originally a dissertation, this book is not written on a popular level. I had to reread passages often. The footnotes were sometimes the majority of the page. However, I believe the author covered the material thoroughly. Having come to the same conclusions myself years ago (which he dubs the “Composite View”), I was encouraged to see a scholarly approach. If this topic is of interest to you and you have more than just a basic knowledge of the issues, this book would be a profitable addition to your reading list.
1 Monday, July 4, 1966
3 Thomas R. Schreiner refers to these as the “Loss of Salvation View,” the “Loss of Reward View,” and the “Test of Genuineness View.” See http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journal-of-theology/sbjt-21-spring-1998/pe….
4 “Biblical Theology approaches the Bible as an organic drama of God’s unfolding revelation through history. In distinction from doctrinal or systematic theology, biblical theology follows the progressively unfolding revelation of God’s words and deeds through history.” http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Biblical-Theology/