Daniel D. Corner, The Believer's Conditional Security(Washington, PA: Evangelical Outreach, 1997), 761 pp.
The Believer's Conditional Security is probably the most important contribution to the debate over the security of the believer since Robert Shank wrote Life in the Son over 35 years ago. Not only does the author trace the historical development of the doctrine of perseverance and exegete the passages cited by both sides, but he demonstrates the practical consequences of a false view of this important subject.
I am particularly pleased that the author does not throw out the baby with the bath water. He is able to acknowledge positive contributions made by those with which he disagrees. I am also grateful that he does not promote Christian insecurity. The first sentence in the "Foreword" frames the debate properly. "Scripture makes it clear that a person may be eternally secure with God, but the question is: Is that security conditional or unconditional?"
Corner begins by tracing the doctrine historically. Unconditional security had its origin in the logic of Augustine. The doctrinal inconsistencies of Augustine are documented in this book. Every theological position quotes Augustine at some point and disagrees with him at another. Paul Bassett observed that "Wesley himself, and most of his theological progeny, have gone first to the Bible and then to Augustine and found him to be of two minds." Wesley himself said, "When St. Augustine's passions were heated his word is not worth a rush." The ambivalence of Augustine, however, is not enough to discredit his doctrine of perseverance. Some theologians think that is the only part he got right!
It was John Calvin who systemized Augustine's teachings. Corner devotes an entire chapter to "Calvin's dark side," the execution of Servetus. Although this incident cannot be glossed over, in my opinion the author goes too far by questioning the motives and even the salvation of Calvin on this basis. John Wesley, who opposed Calvinist theology, said concerning Calvin, "I believe Calvin was a great instrument of God; and that he was a wise and pious man. But I cannot but advise those who love his memory to let Servetus alone."
Again, there are many who disagree with Calvin at every point of his teaching except his doctrine of perseverance. Calvinism was developed by Theodore Beza and the Synod of Dort which met 50 years after Calvin's death. This counsel was convened to address the teachings of Arminius. Following the pattern provided by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent, Calvinism seated only Calvinists, declared itself orthodox, and then proceeded to persecute Arminians. The information Corner provides on the Synod of Dort is most helpful. One appendix gives the actual statement of the Synod of Dort on perseverance. Another appendix gives the Westminster Confession of Faith on perseverance. Although Corner would accept neither statement as scriptural, it is to his credit that he does not misquote his opponents. I also commend Corner for reprinting Wesley's "Serious Thoughts upon the Perseverance of the Saints" and the Articles of the Remonstrance in the appendix section.
There is a renewed interest in the older Calvinistic doctrine which I believe is an indictment against the anemic doctrinal condition of Methodism and her offspring. Classic Methodist doctrine triumphed over Calvinism at an earlier point in American history. All that is necessary to rebut the Calvinist renewal is to reread John Fletcher.
Yet most evangelicals and fundamentalists who preach eternal security today do not believe the Calvinistic foundation upon which the perseverance of the saints is built. In A Right Conception of Sin, Richard S. Taylor evaluated this inconsistency.
Quite frequently, however, we find Calvinists who seemingly have repudiated some of their doctrines while clinging to others. For instance, they pride themselves that they have gotten away from the hyper-Calvinism of a limited atonement and the predetermined damnation of the non-elect. "We now know," they say, "that the gospel is for 'whosoever will.'" Going a step farther, they preach as though the responsibility rested with man as well as God by telling sinners to repent, to act. Thus in one stroke they cut away the foundation of Calvinism, and apparently believe in two good Arminian doctrines: the free will of man and the unlimited provision of the atonement. Now, however, they turn around and tell the babe in Christ that he is eternally secure and under no conditions can ever be lost. Thus, having removed the foundation, they rush beneath the superstructure of "imputed righteousness" and "eternal security" and hold it aloft by force of sheer theological courage. Logic could never so uphold it, for logic shows that all the implications of "imputed righteousness" and "eternal security" have their structural girders firmly and inseparably fastened in the foundation of hyper-Calvinism. . . . And any attempt to construct these doctrines without this foundation is like trying to build only the five top stories of a ten-story building. It becomes evident, therefore, that the old hyper-Calvinism is after all more consistent with itself than is this milder, more modern type.
Corner cites statements which deny that the final perseverance of the saints is the same doctrine as eternal security and he also cites statements which equate the two teachings as the same. Sometimes it is claimed that if one does not persevere in the faith he was never truly regenerate. Those who claim to be more Calvinistic tend to say, "If you ever had true faith, you're saved, but you can never really know until the very end of your life that you had true faith to be saved." In one chapter Corner gives eighteen biblical examples of people who were once saved, but were finally lost.
The modern eternal security teaching is a bastard doctrine which neither true Calvinists nor Arminians will claim. Corner is at his best in documenting the absurdities and bankruptcy of this position. His chapter on "The Carnal Christian" documents the modern teaching that a believer cannot be distinguished from a lost sinner. The popular teaching is that "carnal" Christians can steal, lie, be addicted to pornography, commit adultery, get drunk, commit suicide, fall away from the faith, cease believing, become an agnostic, a professed atheist or an "unbelieving believer" and still be eternally secure. Corner is absolutely right in declaring, "This carnal Christian question is a watershed issue, since it really affects the definition of a Christian and, therefore, who will ultimately be saved." Corner concludes that both varieties tend to produce the same practical result even if they do not have the same theological basis.
Wesley did apply the term "carnal," as found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 to Christians. In "The First-fruits of the Spirit" he describes those who walk after the Spirit. They are filled with the Holy Ghost and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, yet inward sin still remains in them. He calls them "carnal." Yet he teaches that while they feel sin they do not yield to it; while they have sin they do not give way to it. While Wesley and Adam Clarke did not interpret 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 alike, Wesley's use of the word "carnal" cannot be equated with the later development of the "carnal Christian" doctrine by dispensationalists.
Approximately half of the book is devoted to scriptural interpretation. Eternal life is received at the moment of the new birth, yet it also described as a hope for those who persevere. God is faithful, but we must also be faithful to the point of death.
Eternal security teachers claim there are no degrees of sin and lump unintentional sin together with deliberate sin. They conclude, therefore, that we are all sinners and deny that we can be set free from sin (Rom 6:18). They claim that all of our sins, past, present, and future have already been forgiven and that no sin can cause one who has had a moment of faith to lose salvation. The true doctrine of grace, however, teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and live godly lives (Titus 2:12).
One clear condition is all that is necessary to disprove the doctrine of unconditional security. In an appendix on "The Conditional Word If" Corner compiles six pages of conditions. Corner also catalogs and refutes 110 arguments used by unconditional security teachers. Another helpful section analyses twelve ways in which eternal security teachers mislead their hearers.
Corner does not use technical exegesis to interpret scripture, but tends to rely on cross-referencing and the larger context to make his point. Even though there are some references to the Greek language or grammar, the lay reader will not get lost. The author has been involved in evangelism for over twenty years and pastored for almost seven years. Because of the harm caused by the eternal security teaching and because of his concern for souls which are deceived by it, Corner spend over ten years in researching the issue.
Ultimately the question must be answered by the teaching of Scripture. We are losing the doctrinal battle on this subject because we have withdrawn from the battle ground. Corner finds leaders within Arminian denominations who themselves teach "once saved, always saved." Our side is not known for its doctrinal preaching; the other side has produced most of today's well-known "Bible" teachers which dominate the media and publish most of what is written on the subject of security. This massive handbook is a virtual reference book for Arminians and its needs to have a wide circulation.
We will not see revival until there is first a reformation. God is too wise to revive a lawless Church which believes it can sin with impunity. This book is an ax laid at the root of the problem. May God use it to start a reformation.
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