Augustine on Perseverance and Trent Horn

Had a enjoyable little Twitter chat with Trent Horn today regarding his debate with James R. White on perseverance. I accused him of only partially quoting Augustine and he and I went around and round mostly about free will, predestination and compatibilism.

Horn is a nice fellow, and in the end I asked him to provide me resource that expressed his viewpoint on Augustine best, and he gave me a link to a JETS article in which he said the author, “a Calvinist” agreed with him.

[ It’s come to my attention that this same article is reposted (without permission?) on the website.  This really shows you one problem Protestants and Roman Catholics have in discussing these matters, we can read the same material and come away with completely different understandings.]

So I read the article, I come to the end and find this:

“God’s sovereignty in election and predestination, then, is the basis for Augustine’s understanding of final perseverance. The grace of God… Like Augustine, Aquinas and Luther before him, Calvin grounded the understanding of final perseverance on the doctrine of election… Calvin, Arminius and Wesley agreed that if election were unconditional, then final perseverance would logically follow as a matter of course. Augustine and Aquinas affirmed unconditional election but taught that believers did not enjoy infallible certitude of their election and hence of their final perseverance.”  The Perseverance Of The Saints: A History Of The Doctrine, John Jefferson Davis, JETS 34/2 (June 1991) 213-228

So basically, Augustine affirmed unconditional election – and since election is unconditional, final perseverance logically follows. This resource says the opposite of what Trent claimed.

One caveat: Augustine’s and Aquinas’ use of the terms justification and regeneration differ from the modern Reformed understanding and therefore it is possible to find Augustine saying that some “justified” will fall away. But this is different from the elect. Augustine views election as unto perseverance.

Next I went to a primary resource, Augustine – On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Choice, and Other Writings edited and translated by Peter King.

Here Augustine writes:
“Anyone who has been elected has no doubt also been called. But anyone who has been called has not thereby been elected. The ones who have been elected, then, as is often said, are those who “are called in accordance with His plan,” who also are foreknown and predestined. If any of them perishes, God is in error. But none of them perishes, since God does not err. If any of them perishes, God is overpowered by human vice. But none of them perishes, since God is not overpowered by anything. Furthermore, they have been elected to reign with Christ, not the way Judas was elected for the work to which he was suited. Judas, of course, was elected by Him Who knew well how to use even evil people, so that even through his damnable work He might bring to completion the work for which He came (which we hold in reverence). “

Basically, Augustine is commenting on John 6, and in agreement with James White states: “The ones who have been elected… If any of them perishes, God is in error. But none of them perishes, since God does not err. If any of them perishes, God is overpowered by human vice. But none of them perishes, since God is not overpowered by anything.”

This is the opposite of what Trent Horn was saying, and the opposite of what he claimed Augustine said in his quoting tiny snippets of another document.

Elsewhere in the same document, Augustine writes:

“On the other hand, those who are not going to persevere, and so are going to fall away from Christian faith and conduct – and as a result the end of this life finds them such – then even while they are living well and religiously they should undoubtedly not be counted in the number of the elect. For God’s foreknowledge and predestination has not singled them out from the mass of perdition,35 and hence they are neither “called in accordance with His plan” [Rom. 8:28] nor, for that reason, “

Again, Augustine’s view is that those who are not going to persevere “should undoubtedly not be counted in the number of the elect”. Again, the complete opposite of Horn’s claim.

White / Strawbridge Debate Review – Part 1

I’m starting with Dr. James White’s opening statement. I found little in Strawbridge’s opening worth commenting on, except I do not understand the paedobaptist insistence on pushing the household argument.  In my opinion it ignores the much greater issue of the nature and consistency of the Covenant throughout God’s Word, and fails to address the Baptist’s weakest arguments.

“Promise of New Covenant comes about by faith not by family lineage.”

Yet the Apostle Peter states in Acts 2:39 – “the promise is for you and for your children…” If the New Covenant promise NO LONGER comes about by family lineage at all, Peter was wrong to quote the prophecy he did, yet Peter uses the “you and your children” formula seen throughout the giving of the covenants in the Old Testament.

While it is true that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise who are considered offspring” (Rom 9:8), but this proves too much for the Baptist if they’re assuming that all of one’s offspring are specifically not included in the promise.  Every one who is baptized is promised that if they embrace the sign meaning of baptism by faith, they will enjoy the full benefits thereof.
“Reformed Baptists insist that only the “New Covenant documents” can properly interpet and apply the Old Covenant prophecies about the New Covenant.”

Herein is Dr. White’s first major presuppositional problem. While we would all agree that the “New Covenant” ‘documents’ are to interpret “Old Covenant” prophecies, to suggest that the New Testament alone is “New Covenant” is to wrongly divide the Scriptures. Like the Law and Gospel, the New Covenant echoes throughout the text from beginning to end. It is therefore wrong to assume that the only relevant texts to the New Covenant are found in the New Testament. This is a minor point however. A larger concern is how the line of reasoning that reads Hebrews 8 in this way and and makes it the governing hermeneutical lens for the rest of what even Hebrews says effects the larger intent of the author of Hebrews.

Hebrews 8… the supremacy and present reality of the New Covenant… no amount of Old Covenant sameness argumentation can be allowed to undo the author’s primary point.”

I would argue that the author of Hebrews primary point stated time and again throughout the book is not that the New Covenant is completely different from the old, but rather: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… and “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The author’s point is not that the New Covenant is made up of professing adults only, but rather that because the New Covenant is the final fulfillment of the Covenant promised to Abraham, we have a greater responsibility to be obedient to it by faith. There is a real commonality between the Old and the New Covenant, namely the reality of apostasy from the faith and a falling away from the covenant people of God and being cut-off by God from the promises found therein.

This is one of the reasons Baptists have such trouble with the warning passages in Hebrews. If the New Covenant is only spiritual covenant, made only with those who are truly regenerate and truly faithful, then the warning passages in Hebrews must be interpreted around that grid and the power thereof lost. This is why some Baptists have taken to calling the warning passages “hypothetical” or speaking of “false professors” rather than genuine members of the Covenant under wrath of God for their failure to fulfill the condition of the covenant.

We must remind Dr. White that the contrast between the covenants brought up in Hebrews 8 is not between the Covenant of Bethel and the New, but rather, and most specifically the covenant made when God “took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.”

“You don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and then reason from there to the nature of the covenant, you start with what the Bible teaches about the covenant and then move downward from there.”

I would argue that we don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and application by listening only to one part of God’s Word to the exclusion of the rest of His testimony and creating an idea about them in the absence of a majority of God’s testimony.

It would be fine if there was clear text in the “New Covenant documents” specifically discounting the rest of God’s testimony regarding how he commands covenant signs applied, but God has provided us vast testimony of how HE applies covenants and it is error to ignore them.

“We cannot begin with Old Covenant paradigms and applications and the force them onto the fuller New Covenant reality…”

Again, Dr White confuses all of the Old Testament with “Old Covenant paradigms.” The Old Covenant, according to the author of Hebrews, Paul and others, began with the Exodus from Egypt and not with Abraham in Bethel. This is the fatal flaw in the Baptist argumentation and a presupposition that must be questioned at every turn.