Dr. Craig Keener is a leading New Testament Evangelical scholar. He has published commentaries on Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Revelation. He is a Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is an Evangelical Arminian.
A friend recently sent me a link (see here) to his April 28, 2015, article entitled, “Once-Saved-Always-Saved? Maybe Not.”
In the article, he indicates that we all know people who were once zealous Christians “who no longer even claim to be Christians; some, in fact, claim to be something else.”
He points out that “Calvinists and Arminians may disagree on whether a person was provisionally converted or not [emphasis added], but they both agree that only those who persevere to the end will be saved [emphasis added].” Notice the future tense in will be saved. Keener distinguishes between present provisional salvation and future secure salvation. He then says, “But ‘once-saved-always-saved’ as it is commonly taught in many churches is neither Calvinism nor Arminianism.”
Notice that Keener speaks of being saved provisionally. The word provisional means “providing or serving for the time being only; existing only until permanently or properly replaced; temporary” (dictionary.com).
Keener is saying what I’ve maintained for years: neither Calvinists nor Arminians believe in once-saved-always-saved (OSAS), at least as it is “commonly taught in many churches.” Free Grace churches say that once a person believes in Jesus, he is saved once and for all. He cannot lose his salvation even if he fails to persevere. But that is not what Calvinists or Arminians say.
Most Evangelicals say that only those who persevere in faith and good works will make it into glory.
Keener alludes to Free Grace people when he writes, “Many teach a cheap version of ‘Once-saved-always-saved,’ wherein anyone who professes conversion remains in Christ no matter what happens.” Of course, we do not speak of “anyone who professes conversion” or even “anyone who professes faith in Christ.” We speak of anyone who believes in Christ for everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; 1 Tim 1:16). But Keener rejects that, too. He later says, “The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false” (emphasis added). He equates being a “believer in Christ” with “professing conversion.” Keener’s issue is not with whether one professes faith in Christ but does not actually believe in Him. His issue is that believers will only gain final salvation if they persevere to the end of their lives.
After discussing warning passages in Hebrews and 2 Peter, Keener then says, “For some people with less self-confidence (sometimes including myself), such warnings are unnerving.” I think that anyone who believes that we must persevere in faith and works to avoid eternal condemnation will find the warning passages in the New Testament unnerving. I wonder how anyone could be confident in his eternal destiny if he believed that falling away from the faith would result in an eternity of torment in the lake of fire.
Keener begins the last paragraph of his article by sashaying around the issue at hand: “The warnings are instead for those tempted to fancy that we are saved by a single act of prayer or physical washing rather than by Christ, who treat salvation only as a cheap fire escape instead of rescue from being alienated from God.” Of course, the issue is not a single act of prayer or baptism. The issue whether a single act of believing in Christ for everlasting life guarantees that one is secure forever, as Jesus promised in John 11:26 and many other texts. But Keener rejects that, too.
He calls such faith “a cheap fire escape.” He contrasts that with “rescue from being alienated from God.” What he means there is that if we live in fellowship with God, we keep the provisional salvation initially given to us. But if we become alienated from God once again, then we lose that provisional salvation.
His penultimate sentence is misleading: “It is God’s act in his Son’s death and resurrection that saves us, provided that we accept his gift, i.e., believe this good news.” Where is perseverance in that statement? Evidently, the reader is to understand that statement in the context of earlier statements Keener made.
The final statement is a rather obscure summary of what he said in the article: “His gift is eternal life in his presence, an eternal life that begins when we truly believe—welcoming a new life in Christ.” Notice “when we truly believe,” which is defined as “welcoming a new life in Christ.” Based on what he wrote earlier, the person who will be finally saved at the end of his life is one who perseveres in welcoming a new life in Christ. The one who will gain final salvation is he who lives out the kind of godly life that Jesus wants him to live.
OSAS is true. The Lord Jesus guaranteed it (John 5:24; 6:35; 11:26). At the very moment of faith, the believer has everlasting life, is guaranteed he will not come into judgment regarding everlasting life, and he has passed from death into life (John 5:24). Perseverance is not required for OSAS to be true. The fact that most Calvinists and all Arminians don’t believe that shows us that the fields are white unto harvest. We have work to do.