On Pastoral Eschatology

I vividly remember the first funeral I officiated: A twenty-six year old engaged to be married whose parents were desperate to know his eternal whereabouts. “Was his childhood faith sufficient?” they asked. “Did his lifestyle in the intervening years represent a ‘falling away’ or lack of genuine faith? How do we know?”

In a recent post on Pastoral Eschatology Stephen Holmes registers several of the theological and pastoral issues that attend such questions and offers a few practical suggestions. Rather than appealing to decisions of faith, by moving the issue of eternal fate “back” into the doctrine of God, it seems to me Holmes offers a more productive and theologically secure place from which to minister to grieving families.

I am fully convinced-and became so in pastoral ministry, performing funerals-that we cannot and should not speculate about the eternal fate of any particular person. God will judge, and…when we see God’s judgement we will be astonished by the depths of His mercy, and by the heights of His justice.

…Too many Evangelical accounts of personal eschatology are simply Pelagian: I make decisions, and God responds to them. This has to be wrong. If salvation always coincides with visible faith, then it is because God decides to save, and as a result grants faith (see Edwards’s sermon on justification by faith for some very close analysis of this), not because I decide to have faith and thereby force God to do something different. (Almost no-one ever held that salvation always coincides with visible faith, though; the 10-20% mortality rate amongst infants in pre-penicillin Europe & America saw to that.) What determines the outcome is not what goes on in my heart, but what goes on in God’s heart, and what God does to my heart.

All of which is to say that my hope of salvation for myself, or any other human being, is primarily based on what I know of God, not on what I believe to be true about me, or about them. If our level of eschatological questioning is ‘where’s grandma?’, this will not be a helpful perspective, but-as I want to keep saying-that is almost certainly not the right place to start.

(How, though, in pastoral ministry to answer it? Point to the gospel promises, of course; point to the passages of Scripture that speak of God’s desire that all may be saved; and then stand with Abraham in the face of the deadly serious threats of God’s severity and ask ‘will not the judge of all the earth do justly?’ – Abraham understood doing justly as showing an astonishing level of mercy.)

Thoughts or reactions?

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19 thoughts on “On Pastoral Eschatology

  1. In the absence of any clearcut testimony of faith on the part of the one who died, it seems to me that Holmes’ approach to grieving families would most likely result in eyes tightly squeezed, fingers crossed , and the desperate whisper “Oh God, I sure hope you had mercy this time,” much like rubbing a rabbit’s foot or some other talisman for “divine” favor. It predisposes to fideism rather than confident, rational faith (see last paragraph).

    Given Holmes’ allusion to Abraham, the Scriptures also repeatedly attest that he “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Whether one openly confesses their faith or not, they can be assured of eternal life if they truly believe. To theologically finesse ourselves out of the Pelagian dilemma by dismissively claiming that “God grants faith” plays fast and loose with the abundant Scriptural testimony of those who demonstrate faith in response to the promises of God—God still initiates.

    Regarding our pastoral concern for the mourners, was Jesus crude or insensitive in the face of inexplicable death when he answered (twice), “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5)? When there is no clearcut testimony of belief, the best we can say to grieving families is that faith is not always outwardly evident, but the only condition for eternal life is whether the departed one believed in Jesus (1 John 5:11-12). The testimony is that God invites all to faith in Christ and to those who believe he grants the secure right to become full-fledged sons of God (John 1:12).

    Holmes’ approach is hypercalvinistic—it leaves no one with assurance of salvation, hence robbing us all of the confidence we need as believers to obey God’s call in the face of serious discomfort or even frank persecution. We are then motivated to “obey” in order to keep assuring ourselves of salvation, rather than because there is no better way for assured believers to live than to respond to God’s voice as his confident agents on earth before we die.

    Are we still friends, Kent?

  2. A couple questions for people out there, from a first-time poster:

    “If salvation always coincides with visible faith, then it is because God decides to save, and as a result grants faith . . . , not because I decide to have faith and thereby force God to do something different.”

    It seems to me that this is setting up a false dichotomy. It assumes that either God is working, and so the faith is consonant with God’s free willing, or that man is working, in which case man’s will is necessarily discordant with God, but forces God anyhow. Why can’t we say (at least as a possibility for discussion, to be refined, defended, and/or rejected through Scripture) that God has freely willed that all who exercise their will toward faith will be saved? In this case, man wills, but has not forced God’s hand.

    “All of which is to say that my hope of salvation for myself, or any other human being, is primarily based on what I know of God, not on what I believe to be true about me, or about them.”

    I rather like this point; however, I think we need to work through what salvation consists of as well. Would a sinner in heaven actually enjoy heaven? Does God simply go “poof” and make us righteous after death, or must there be a continual growth to fit us for fellowship with Him? Given that God has decided to work with clay, isn’t the clay an important factor in what He is creating (and so, our own natures are relevant to the question of salvation)?

    And Jim – here’s a question that’s been bugging me concerning assurance. What is it that is giving the assurance? If it is a certain experience, why is the Christian’s certain experience veridical, while that of, say, a Muslim or a Hindu (which going by what has been written, appear in many cases to be qualitatively identical) deceptive? If it is through reason, why is our reason automatically gifted beyond that of everyone else in looking at the historical and logical evidence? In summary, why should we assume that we are the blessed, instead of the deceived? It would appear that we always have a defeater for any assurance which arises from within ourselves (whether we say it comes from God our not, the assurance is our assurance, in our minds and souls), and so always have a reason to be humble about our own perceived certainty. I admittedly have not looked much into these issues; since you do not seem to esteem fideism much, how have you dealt with these issues?

  3. Thanks for stopping in M. Anderson!

    Your comments on the “false dichotomy” raise at least one of the relevant issues with that line of reasoning. I am not at all opposed to your suggestion and wonder if you may be putting your finger on another way to conceive these issues. It seems that you are pushing back against the assumption (feel free to correct me) that human and divine agency exist at the same ontological level and, therefore, operate competitively. To put it another way: God has willed that human beings possess the gift of freedom, the gift of spontaneous self-movement that God could override only at the price of destroying what is most authentically human about the human being.

    Versions of divine and human agency that run along the same lines can be seen, for example, in the work of the Eastern Orthodox theologian Sergius Bugakov, some versions of Molinism such as R.W. Gleason’s Molinist congruism, the Protestant Arminian version in the Wesleyan tradition, and most recently in the movement loosely called ‘openness- theology’ as articulated by Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd, and John Sanders. In each case, though human freedom is neither total nor infinite, it is in its created condition the freedom of genuine spontaneous self-movement. At least in N. American evangelical circles, the openness theology group has been reacting against what they see as a version of exclusive agency they find in Calvin and Luther. As they interpret them, either God acts or human acts but the two operations exist at the same level.

    From my perspective, at least one limitation of this portrayal is that divine and human agency are cast at the same ontological level – thus in competition with one another. Its failure, then, seems be in distinguishing God, on the one hand, and everything else, including human freedom, on the other.

    But what if divine and human agency simply don’t exist at the same level? Let me simply suggest that there are other ways of conceiving the relationship between divine and human agency, one of which being that God’s agency is understood to be completely and utterly trasncendent to human agency. On this account, divine and human agency stand in a differentiated unity of infiinite qualitative difference: two comprehensive, mutually non-exclusive, and non-competitive causal agencies. Let me quote a short summary by Reinhold Hütter: “Divine, creative causality, that is providence and predestination, operates also by way of free human causality. Because the whole matrix of secondary causality (including the genuine contingency of free human causality) relates instrumentally to the divine transcendent cause, human causality is infallibly directed by divine providence. Moreover, and more importantly, God as the ultimate good, acting by way of final causality, can draw the creature infallibly to himself without diminishing, curbing, or destroying the human being’s free will. What is most significant about his…construal of divine and human causality is that is allows for a profound and constant impact of the Holy Spirit upon the Christian life without undercutting a coherent account of human agency” (Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 293-95).

    I would welcome your interaction on this, M, and let me suggest some reading if you are interested: Kathryn Tanner (God and Creation in Christian Theology (1988); Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity (2001)) and John Webster (Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation (1995)) develop this from a Barthian perspective. Bernard Lonegran (Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St Thomas Aquinas (2000)) and D. B. Burrell (Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions (1993)) work it out from a Thomist tradition.

    I humble submit that these issues simply can’t be solved by appeal to scripture because all parties do so. Rather, there are some underlying metaphysical assumptions up and running in each case that we need to first put our finger on, and second, decide if they are viable.

    Cheers

  4. Great comments by all – I will freely admit that some of this goes a bit over my head, but that is a good thing – thinking is always good.

    My comments are not as much to do with the varied theological approaches to agency or any apparent or inapparent ( I don’t know if that is even a word) dichotomies.

    My comments are simply on the pastoral side of this great blog topic (a big thank you Kent!). If funerals present the greatest tangible display of human frailty and mortality, what is the role of the pastor at this time? Obviously comfort is needed as well as loving and kind words for the grieving families. In Holmes response to the family’s “where” question, is it enough to simply place final soteriological assurance in the character and agency of God and leave it there? Or should we also be forthright (to some extent with all sympathy, tact, and dependence on the Holy Spirit) to open up the conversation about, as Jim puts it, “a demonstration of faith in response to God’s promises”? It seems that Holmes solution might not be a fully adequate answer to the grieving family. Is it possible to hold in tension both Holmes and Jim?

    I have never officiated a funeral but I will be heading into church leadership so any wisdom that I can glean from any of you would be helpful.

    Thanks for all of your thoughts and hard work.

  5. Hello all, great discussion! I haven’t had the time to sit down and really process this discussion to the extent that its level demands, so please excuse any remarks that may appear too shallow (or may actually be too shallow!).

    I think it would be important to talk about the nature of belief in regard to the revelation of God. It seems to me that this is where our questions about dichotomies, or our disagreements, will ultimately show themselves to be mutual exclusive or merely semantic confusion.

    Because of the pastoral nature of the original question, I think it would be important to start here. I think this issue often takes a pragmatic turn too quickly, pushing the discssion into less fundamental questions (e.g. assurance), without dealing with the more fundamental issues (e.g. the nature of belief in regard to the revelation of God).

    Once our responses to the question about the nature of belief is revealed, I wonder if it would reveal why we tend to lean one direction or another in regard to the more pastoral concerns. Holmes’ concern seems clear – that our assurance needs to be in the promises of God, because the issue of belief is grounded in God’s action in uniting us to himself (his use of Edwards, for instance, is telling, in that Edwards talked of faith being the “closing” of ourselves with God – a hugging back if you will allow such an oversimplification).

    Belief then, to stick with Edwards compatibalist model, is based on a will that is guided by an aesthetic that opposes God (e.g. the cross is foolishness to the world – and therefore the unbeliever has inescapably misordered loves). So Edwards pastoral dilemma was to deal with a people who were “sermon proof” as he called them, and were intrinsically connected to the church in every aspect of their lives, but didn’t seem to have a divine sense of spiritual things.

    In other words then, it is not surprising to see Holmes making this move based on where his prior convictions has led him. So, I think it will be helpful to temporarily move the discussion to the nature of belief. Am I off my rocker here? Any thoughts?

  6. This is a very interesting discussion and the comments. Hard to handle a family or a loved one in answer to these sorts of questions. Lots to think about – but the reality that the person or the family has or had seems to be the answer as there is not a definitive one that can be proven – being faith based.

  7. A couple of resources to stimulate further thinking on the nature of belief that I have found helpful, Kyle: The first is a theological study addressing the issue raised by Kent’s quotation from Holmes concerning God “granting” faith. The second is an exegetical study of the use of the Greek words and Hebrew roots for the concepts of “faith” and “believe” in the New Testament.

    Rene A. Lopez, “Is Faith a Gift of God or a Human Exercise?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164:259-76 (2007), also available as a downloadable pdf at: http://www.scriptureunlocked.com/pdfs/IsFaithaGift.pdf

    Fred Chay and John Correia, The Faith that Saves: The Nature of Faith in the New Testament (Schoettle Publishers, 2008), available by e-mail request at:
    gracelineministry@cox.net

  8. Jim – Many thanks for the vigorous discussion and the resources!

    Perhaps I could offer just one thought regarding your comment about “competition”: Might it not be better to think about TF as an opportunity for “collaboration” rather than competition, for working together rather than against one another? I wonder if just such a subtle shift of emphasis might better retain our shared purpose – cultivating the theological craft for the life of the church – and all the while maintain the development of a healthy online community.

    Please stop by often! Cheers.

  9. There seems to be too much here to adequately respond to, and I doubt that I could contribute too much more without rambling, so here’s just a couple things that come to mind.

    Jim – Thanks for the stuff on assurance. I’m not quite sure that I’m following your answer, but it’s really getting into apologetics and epistemology and stuff, so I’d rather not hash it out on this post.

    Kent – Also, thanks for your response. I’m all for a view of God in which God is on an ontologically different plane than us; I just am still trying to work out how that avoids the problems associated with the free will debates. It seems to me that most “solutions” really just end back at compatibilism of one sort or another (although whether or not this is itself a problem is another concern), or unite the levels of being through vagueness (and therefore do not explain how things work, or even if they could work). In particular, both instrumentality and final causes quite easily lend themselves to a disguised determinism. I am currently trying to work through the thought of Duns Scotus, though, since if his plan is coherent, I think it would succeed.

    In general – While I’ve seen many people talking about simply trusting in the promises of God concerning the state of the person, I would like to know more specifically what these may be. Now, I would think that we could trust God’s justice, in that whatever God does will be just, and according to Biblical notions of justice unopposed to mercy. We could also trust God’s goodness, that whatever God will do will be maximally good. Beyond this, however, the more specific promises concerning salvation seem to rely on the individual’s actions (whether brought forward by the individual, or by God, or by both), and so we seem to end up back where we started. Are the promises of God his general nature as outlined in Scripture, or something more specific?

  10. You have no argument from me, James: Faith and assurance are indeed of the same substance, both grounded in Jesus Christ, and not in anything we have to show for our faith. When one believes in Jesus s/he need look no further for assurance of salvation. I apologize to Michael et al. for having so skilfully obfuscated my intended meaning.

  11. Good to hear again from you too, James.

    I think that this is my problem with the claims of assurance and trust in God: they seem (at least to my heathen philosopher ears; I’m probably not exactly the ideal test case for pastoral counseling issues) to be avoiding the problem, rather than solving it. So, Jim, when I claim to have assurance in Christ, what grounds that assurance? In other words, how do I have assurance in that assurance, without taking the fideist road out and saying that it’s simply true, and that since it’s true I can trust it? Of course, I can say that is actually grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but unless I take the fideist leap, my own assurance is only as strong as my claims that JC actually died for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day.

    And similarly with the promises of God: as long as they have anything to do with our belief (again, even though that be the work of God in us rather than our own work), that belief is relevant. Even if Christ as the object of that faith is the most important part, the conditions which bring it about that Christ is the object of faith are essential. So, we’re either back to hoping in God’s more general goodness and justice, or we’re struggling over whether we ourselves are part of the covenant and so part of the redeemed; the function of the statement “Look to Christ” would seem to be merely perlocutive, that is effecting a greater faith in Christ without solving the intellectual difficulty for those who have trouble taking that step.

    The alternative would seem to be that for assurance, Christ alone irregardless of our faith is what matters. But then, this ends up either in divine arbitrariness, where there is no correlation between life and judgment (and so, a cause for fear and dread), or in universalism (which appears to me to be substantially more attractive, though not without problems).

    Anyhow, that’s where I’m coming from right now. I’d looking forward to hearing everyone’s insight into the matter; I’m probably overlooking something.

    P.S. James – I’ve started Beauty of the Infinite a couple times, but never finished it. Is that where Hart talks about the whole ontological thing? While I find him to be an interesting read, I don’t think that my analytical side would be quite satisfied with his approach, other than as a starting place.

  12. Michael,

    Thanks for your persistence on the issue of assurance….I believe it is critical, and not just a “secondary” issue.

    You did throw me a curve, however, with your aside about “heathen philosopher ears”; since I don’t know you like James does (from your TEDS days together), I’m not sure how to “digest” that comment (!).

    So, let’s try a philosophical tangent: You posited,
    “Of course, I can say [my assurance] is actually grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but unless I take the fideist leap, my own assurance is only as strong as my claims that JC actually died for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day.” [emphasis added]

    I’m not sure if you were alluding to Kirkegaard when you used the phrase “the fideist leap.” Perhaps a good “lay” definition of fideism would be, the mindset that “If I believe strongly enough in a given proposition, it is true.” It was Kirkegaard who made famous the phrase “leap of faith” to characterize the existential crisis that confronts the individual who has traversed the “aesthetic” and “ethical” stages of life yet still cannot find lasting meaning beyond the grave. However, I do not at all equate Kirkegaard’s “leap of faith” with the notion of fideism, which is not rational faith and therefore cannot be accompanied by true assurance.

    My understanding (and I am not an expert on K.) is that his “leap of faith” denoted releasing one’s trust in the inauspicious “aesthetic” or “ethical” promise of lasting significance in favor of believing the promises of God. Kirkegaard’s ingenious way of sharpening this distinction was his legendary thought experiment about the various hypothetical responses of Abraham to the promises of God when he was instructed to sacrifice Isaac (I believe it was entitled Fear and Trembling).

    Romans 4 is the biblical counterpart of Kirkegaard’s thought experiment; it explains the relation between faith and assurance in Abraham’s case, and how that then becomes paradigmatic for all those who believe after Abraham’s pattern—it clearly is a rational faith based on a real communicative act of God and accompanied by assurance: When Abraham “believed God, it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:4), “and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness'” (Rom 4:22-23). Faith and assurance are both spoken of as the human counterparts of Abraham’s justification in the eyes of God.

    Abraham was asked to believe in the promises of a God who speaks—it wasn’t a matter of how “strong” his faith was but rather what he believed or didn’t believe. Once he believed in the “what” of God’s promise he was assured. The promise of a “seed” in Isaac who would propagate Abraham’s line was “backed up” by God’s implied promise of resurrection if Isaac should die (Heb 11:17-19). God’s promises to Abraham were later followed by his unprecedented deliverance of Israel from death through the Passover and Exodus—a tangible picture of death and resurrection.

    As far as I know there is nothing comparable to these kinds of communicative acts by a divine being in the study of comparative religion. Now that Christ has died and been raised by God from the dead, we have another unprecedented and unparalleled communicative act in the person of Jesus that we can believe or not. When we truly believe—yes or no—we have assurance, because it is the Spirit who at once regenerates and assures us the moment we believe. That doesn’t mean we can’t subsequently lose our assurance when we don’t “walk according to the Spirit.”

    I see in this construct neither divine arbitrariness nor universalism. We are trusting in a promise of a God who has acted, not in some “character attribute” like justice that may or may not also be seen in Buddha or Allah or some other deity. We are not trusting in “my claims that JC actually died for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day.” We are trusting in a speaking God’s claim to provide eternal life in His son. Once we believe that, we then come to recognize God’s attributes through his spoken revelation and that we have been comissioned to exemplify his love and mediate his redemptive purposes to a fallen world, just like Abraham and the nation Israel.

    Have I again committed “obfuscation”? I pray not.

  13. James and Jim,

    Thank you guys very much for continuing to interact with me on this important issue. I think that we may be differing on what is the problem when one is confronted by doubts and shaky faith. I’m not talking about someone who merely has trouble believing that they are fit to receive the Gospel promises; I’m talking about someone who has significant doubts about the truth of the Christian story at its roots, who really wonders whether a God exists, whether Christ was our Saviour, whether God has spoken (and if God has, then what God has said). Given this, what could help this person come to assurance (and you’re right, James, in saying that the theologian and the philosopher are coming from different ngles here).

    Jim – So, my problem is this: when one is concerned over whether God has even spoken in the first place, what can be said? I guess I would define fideism not as holding that belief makes something true, but as assuming the Christian message to be true in the first place in order to show that it is true, and that assurance is warranted. So, S.K.’s leap of faith does this to an extent (there is a gap between eternal truths and truths of history which reason cannot bridge), although he does significant work showing why one should make that leap (in particular, everyone else is victim to despair).

    In order to escape this, however, I would need to see that there is a rational basis for believing that God has spoken, that not only is God faithful to His promises, but that God has given them in the first place, and the the rational evidence for this beats out evidence for other faiths. Perhaps this is not possible, but if it is not, then one really does have to make an irrational leap for assurance’s sake.

    P.S. – Concerning the comment about being a “heathen philosopher,” I was simply noting my different stance on these issues from the theologians in the room, and my training largely in philosophy rather than theology or biblical studies.

    James – You said, “What counts it seems is not our knowledge of whether we have met certain criteria, but ultimately whether God has in fact saved us.” I’m having trouble getting beyond the “us” part in that last statement; as long as that is there, I’m not sure how we can escape knowledge of self as part of assurance. And it would seem that although assurance is not reducible to propositional knowledge (a point against which I have no argument), it still must rely on some content. If, for example, I were to believe propositionally that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet, I would assume that I would not then be able to have assurance in Jesus Christ (though if we were to take an “anonymous Christian” approach, perhaps this could be possible).

    There then always seems to be a set of “us,” which contains the saved, and the complementary set which contains everyone else. So, the set of “us” might be saved completely in virtue of God, but my assurance still is dependent on whether I am in that set. Maybe my being in that set is dependent on whether I simply look to God for my assurance, but in order to have assurance in this assurance, to know that I can take this step, I need more grounding. Does this make sense?

  14. Very good points, James; I think that you’ve brought out the key area of miscommunication. So, let’s get the nature of assurance hammered out a bit more before discussing it’s possibility and entailments.

    I take assurance to be certainty in one’s faith, where that faith is in the gospel promises of salvation. One can have faith without assurance: such a person would have doubts, but on the whole would be better considered as a believer than not.

    Now, it seems that you consider assurance to be the following: someone confident (and certain?) in her faith is certain of salvation through God’s promises and covenant relationship. Someone without assurance would be someone who has a stable (and even possibily certain?) faith in the overall Christian message, but lacking it with regard to their own salvation. Is this correct, or how off am I?

  15. James,

    It seems to me that assurance in your definition, then, necessarily entails assurance in mine. Here’s my position:

    (1) Assurance means that “someone confident (and certain?) in her faith is certain of salvation through God’s promises and covenant relationship,” as agreed in the last post.

    (2) One can only be as confident in God’s promises as one is that these promises are actual.

    (3) Assurance means that one is certain of God’s promises, from (1).

    (4) Assurances entails that one is certain that God has promised, from (2) and (3).

    And so, assurance implies that I am certain (and not merely that I believe, but with doubts) that the truths of Christianity are real. This is the point at which I am stuck. For this reason, I consider it a pastoral problem as well as an intellectual one (in general, intellectual problems are for me practical ones; I wouldn’t really be struggling with it if I didn’t care about the answer). Now, perhaps many people in the church do not have to worry about these issues, and for them what you have outlined is enough. But is assurance only for those who stay ignorant of the competing truth claims, and the force behind them? For these, we are not bringing in Pelagianism; the problem is already there, and telling them to look to God’s promises is only covering over the issue rather than solving it, and asking of them an impossible work, one possibly even immoral insofar as it asks them to deny what they see of the truth for some peace of mind. (Side question: would a view of assurance in which it is granted in inverse proportion to ignorance render it suspect?)

    I guess the alternative would be that someone has existential certainty in God’s saving grace; this person would know that there are competing views, other people with as much in the way of rational backing, other people who feel just as certain with as much grounding for their own views, and yet this person would have subjective certainty. I guess this would be possible, but it seems to throw up the spectre of fideism. At this point, I would have to ask as an outsider who does not enjoy such assurance, why your view instead of something else? Or, why hold to any view of assurance at all?

    Coming from my standpoint, then, telling one to look to God when a loved one dies, could be just plain cruel without more said. The way much of the church runs with regard to this matter effectively shuts many out of its life, which is why I talk about this as a pastoral problem. The assurance of the faithful, if it is only fideistic, effectively renders that faith unshareable, ungiveable to those seeking help, unless God waves his hand and makes everything better (which brings in the charge of arbitrariness, as well as raising the question of why any of the natural struggle of life has a point).

    So, that’s why I think that the question concerning certainty of faith is important to the question concerning assurance, and why this is an issue for the practical life of the church as well as professional philosophers. Of course, I’m not terribly keen on the Reformed perspective and its cousins, so we’ll probably simply disagree; even so, however, I would like to hear your perspective on these matters.

  16. James,

    Here’s why I think that my concern is relevant: we are talking about a believer who is struggling with her faith, one who has accepted Christianity, but has some doubts for one reason or another. I’m not so much concerned with the specific arguments for Christianity, as what doctrines of assurance could possibly offer this person. This person, in starting to doubt Christian claims, would also thereby doubt her salvation. She might see herself as possibly part of the reprobate, but without being able to simply look to God for relief because of the specific problem besieging her.

    Also, while I have been separating out general Christian truth claims from claims about salvation, this is not really how it is; the truth claims entail certain things about this believer and her own salvation. Therefore it seems that either a) we’re getting the doctrine of salvation wrong (which we won’t get into here), or b) doubting one’s salvation simply is a doubting of certain Christian truths. Therefore, I don’t think that it is a different kind of problem, merely a different degree of doubt.

  17. Thanks as well for the discussion, James; I have had some wrong assumptions about assurance which you’ve helped to clear up. I do think that the part of rational truth claims is important in one way or another, though you’ve shown me that I’ll have to do a fair bit of work to get that ironed out.

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