Once Saved, Always Saved. By R. T Kendall. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985. 238 pp. Paper, $4.95.
R. T. Kendall, minister of the well-known Westminster Chapel, London, gained considerable notoriety in Puritan studies with the 1979 release of Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649. In this Oxford monograph Kendall argued that English Puritanism’s doctrinal development of saving faith found its origin in John Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, rather than in Calvin himself.
With Once Saved, Always Saved Kendall examines another important subdivision of salvation doctrine: the eternal security of the believer. Unlike Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, which is a piece of erudite historical scholarship, Once Saved, Always Saved is written at the popular level as an encouragement to the believer who is struggling with personal assurance of salvation and with the concept of eternal security.
As a fitting groundwork for his study, Kendall provides a brief testimony regarding his doctrinal pilgrimage from Arminian theology to a settled conviction of the biblical teaching of the eternal security of the believer.
The author launches into the doctrinal section of his book by clarifying key salvation terminology and by delineating the biblical propositions that are indispensable for salvation. Kendall suggests that saving faith has two aspects: belief in the resurrection of Christ, and the verbal confession of the deity of Christ before men (p. 35ff). The author draws this conclusion from his interpretation of Rom 10:9–10. (Kendall discusses this topic at length in Stand Up and Be Counted: Calling for Public Confession of Faith, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984. )
Exception may be taken to Kendall’s understanding of confession on the basis of several factors. First, Kendall admits that salvation occurs at the moment of faith (p. 25). Yet, this admission is inconsistent with his statement that public confession of belief in Christ makes one a believer (pp. 41, 45). Second, the author acknowledges at one point that good works are subsequent to faith and not a condition of salvation (p. 25). However, a public confession of faith, to this reviewer, at least, would qualify as a good work. Third, a confession of faith before men may not be immediately forthcoming even in meetings where “public pledges” are sought. One could conceivably affirm the deity of Christ and fail to publicly express this affirmation on account of fear or other factors. Finally, a more favorable interpretation of Rom 10:9–10 is that Paul speaks of the conditions necessary for the believer’sdeliverance from the wrath of God presently active in the world (cf. Rom 1:18; 5:9–10). Rom 10:13–14 demonstrates that believers are in view and that belief in Christ precedes public confession.
In the chapter titled “A Sweet Clarification,” Kendall maintains that one who has believed in the resurrection of Christ and who has confessed the deity of Christ before men “… will go to heaven when he dies no matter what work (or lack of work) may accompany such faith” (p. 49). His argumentation in this and the ensuing chapter, “Why Believe This Doctrine?,” deals a death blow to the Arminian notion that continued good works serve as a condition to obtaining final salvation.
Kendall devotes a chapter apiece to the biblical doctrines of justification, adoption, and sanctification. He demonstrates that these doctrines add to the certitude of one’s salvation inasmuch as it is God who effects the results of salvation and not man. A novel feature in Kendall’s discussion of sanctification is his concept that carnal believers who continue in sin will forfeit spiritual sensitivity and intimacy in the present age. The author argues that this concept is the driving force behind the Pauline warnings given in 1 Cor 6:9–10, Gal 5:21, and Eph 5:3–5. In this same connection, it is observed that the oft-neglected doctrines of the Judgment Seat of Christ and the believer’s rewards play heavily in Kendall’s eschatological understanding.
The author is quick to dispel the long-standing Calvinistic interpretations of Hebrews, James, and 1 John. Kendall points out that these NT books deal with erring believers rather than “professing believers.” For the most part, the exegesis offered for select portions of these NT books is cogent and plausible.
True to his amillennial theology, Kendall sees “the kingdom of God” in the Pauline warnings (1 Cor 6:9–10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:3–5) as “the conscious presence of God” in the present age. However, this reviewer, as an avowed premillennialist, believes that a better case can be made for “the kingdom of God” as having reference to the eschaton. Kendall himself admits that godly living pays off, not only in this age, but also in the kingdom age to come (p. 169).
Other points of dissent with the author would include: his ordo salutis which is typically Calvinistic, i.e., regeneration before faith, and then the witness of the Spirit (pp. 107, 110-11); his statements concerning the essence of saving faith (pp. 24–26); his threefold dissection of the Mosaic Law (p. 93); and various interpretive nuances presented in his theological argument (passim). Notwithstanding, these points of disagreement do not detract from the overall superiority of the book.
By and large, Once Saved, Always Saved is a commendable text seasoned with salutary pastoral and theological insight. Kendall effectively assuages any doubts concerning loss of salvation and personal assurance of salvation. Perhaps the most refreshing feature of Once Saved, Always Saved is the non-perseverance approach Kendall takes in his exposition of difficult NT texts. In brief, Once Saved, Always Saved is a welcome presentation that magnifies God’s gracious capacity to provide everlasting salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gary L. Nebeker
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society