By Bob Wilkin
I watch the news for a few minutes each morning before leaving for work. On Good Friday morning this year, I watched Brian Kilmeade interview Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York.
The ending of the interview struck me.
Kilmeade asked Cardinal Dolan if he hoped to become Pope.
Cardinal Dolan replied, “I’m seventy-three years old. I’m very happy here. And as I said earlier, all I want to do is get to heaven.”
Kilmeade smiled and said, “You are on your way.”
Cardinal Dolan’s response was sadly less than what we might expect: “I hope so.”
I’ve heard that before from Calvinist and Arminian pastors and theologians.
I’ve had debates with three or four prominent Calvinists. They all said they were unsure of whether they’d go to heaven or hell. They believe that only those who persevere in faith and good works will make it. And they aren’t sure they will persevere.
I’ve debated several Arminian pastors and theologians as well. Same answer. They are unsure of their final destination because they are not sure they will persevere until death.
Here are two examples of prominent Calvinists who say they are unsure of their eternal destinies:
Dr. R. C. Sproul. In a November 1989 Table-talk article, he wrote:
A while back, I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness that we have from time to time, and suddenly the question hit me: “R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?” Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.
He concluded that though unsure of his eternal destiny, he had learned that “being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option!”
Dr. John Piper. At the Desiring God website, in an article entitled “Helping People Have the Assurance of Salvation,” Dr. John Piper says that assurance requires “the painful work of self-examination” and that “assurance is a fight until the day we die.”1
Another prominent Calvinist is Dr. John MacArthur. While I’ve not found any example of his coming right out and saying he’s unsure, I’ve found plenty of quotes that show he must be.
At the Grace to You website, in a message entitled “Resting in the Assurance of Our Salvation,” he says that assurance is found in the objective promises in the Bible and in our subjective works. He adds, “What is going on in my life? Am I seeing a transformation in my life? because that’s essential, that’s essential.”2 Of course, no one can be sure that he will persevere in faith and good works (1 Cor 9:27). No matter how much good people see in their lives, they are imperfect and fallible. Falling away is always possible. But if your theology says that those who fall away will be eternally condemned, then you do not know your own eternal destiny.
MacArthur wrote a book about assurance called Saved Without a Doubt. Chapter 6 is entitled “Dealing with Doubt.” There he writes, “Some lack assurance because they are under strong preaching on God’s holy standard. Such preaching forces people to see their sinfulness and acknowledge that the holiness of God calls them to a lofty standard of living” (p. 95).
He continues, “Those who preach as they should will find some in their congregation plagued with doubt. Is that bad? No, the pulpit is rightly the creator of anxious hearts. How else can it unsettle those who have false assurance?” (p. 96, italics added).
If the people at the top of Protestant and Catholic ministries are unsure of their eternal destinies, how can any regular folk be sure?
The answer is simple: We need to disconnect assurance from perseverance. Our eternal destiny does not depend upon the level and continuity of our faithful service to Christ.
Of course, doing that requires personal involvement. If we follow a tradition that denies the promise of everlasting life to the believer, then we will not be sure. We must pray about this and study God’s Word, especially the Gospel of John.
I have written a new book titled The Gospel Is Still Under Siege. It is a sequel to Zane Hodges’s 1981 book, The Gospel Under Siege.
Brian Kilmeade’s interview with Cardinal Dolan reminds me that the gospel is still under siege.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Christian leaders who are unsure of their salvation intentionally attack the gospel. They don’t. They are genuinely unsure. They share their uncertainty with those who will listen. But regardless of their intentions, their traditions—whether Calvinist, Catholic, Arminian, or Orthodox—are all in conflict with the promise of everlasting life to anyone who simply believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m not saying that these leaders are necessarily unsaved. Dolan, Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur may all have believed in the promise of everlasting life in the past. If so, they remain eternally secure today despite having lost their assurance. But those who have never been sure have not yet been born again. If you believe John 3:16, you are certain you will never perish. You know you have everlasting life.
Are you sure you will be with the Lord and His people forever? It does not take great faith. It only takes faith. Take Jesus at His word and you settle the issue of your eternal destiny once and for all. Check out John 3:16. Pray about it. It really is quite simple.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.
1 Available here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/helping-people-have-the-assurance-of-salvation. Last accessed April 11, 2023.
2 Available here: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-286/resting-in-the-assurance-of-our-salvation. Last accessed April 11, 2023.