I have linked a two part YouTube debate below between Dr. James White (Alpha and Omega Ministries) and Trent Horn (Catholic Answers) on whether or not a believer can lose salvation. This was an exceptionally good debate and I highly recommend watching it. I have blogged on the topic in the past, you can find that post HERE. Before getting started, I just want to point out that Dr White clearly won in the category of awesome bow-tie.
Below I am going to present some of the passages and arguments that both of the debaters used along with my own analysis. I am not going to attempt to represent the entire arguments of any of these debaters. If you want their whole presentation you will have to watch it yourself.
There are some other passages that I either didn’t notice him reference or that he simply chose not to bring up. For example I didn’t hear Dr. James White mention Romans 8:38-39 KJV as that is frequently cited as support for Perseverance of the Saints. That being the case, the ones he brought up instead make his case better in my opinion. Specifically John 6:39 as it is very compelling.
Dr. White emphasized many times that Jesus loses nothing, nada, zilch. He also emphasized that Jesus doesn’t fail in what he has been given to do. Finally, he ties this in to Romans 4 with the Blessed Man who is not imputed sin.
I actually don’t disagree with Dr. White on this at all, he is absolutely right in that the elect are predestined and that none go to hell in the end. My understanding is that Trent even agrees with this as well. I found that Dr. White’s arguments missed their mark here as nobody is arguing that anyone of the elect go to hell. Maybe an open theist would but none were represented in this debate. It’s possible I simply misunderstood him and am open to correction but that’s how his argumentation came across to me.
By presenting more verses from Trent I’m not implying that his case was stronger, I just heard him cite more specific passages. I also noticed that he left some out entirely which I think would have been helpful, specifically Hebrews 6:4-6. He makes the same argument though with Romans 11 so perhaps he felt it would be redundant, I don’t know.
If you deny that a true Christian can lose their faith then you remove all meaning from passages like Rom 11 above. The text plainly states that those part of and partaking of the tree are cut off. If they were never truly Christians then that means nobody is and there is no elect because that which they were cut from cannot be Christ.
The same reasoning applies to Hebrews 6:4-6. How can an unbeliever fall away? If you assert such things the text loses it’s meaning.
Also look at 1 Tim 1:19 above. How can you have no faith and make a shipwreck of your faith? Such a notion is ridiculous. It is plain as day to me that one who holds to perseverance of the saints has some very uncomfortable passages that they must tap dance around. A more extreme example of this would be the way Seventh Day Adventists do backflips around Col 2:16-17.
Analysis – Methodological Error
I firmly believe that the most honest approach is to accept all teachings from scripture as true. I will freely admit that I am appealing to the Lutheran tradition here so discern for yourself if you believe it is the best approach or not.
Thus it is most certainly true that Jesus desires to save all, ends up not saving all, but still loses none. All of these are taught from scripture and we are free to attempt to reconcile but not to abrogate. If this means you end up believing something paradoxical then so be it.
So, I would say that the elect are foreknown in eternity past and all of them will be in heaven. But means of grace is still just as efficacious and accessible to all in the present. Even those who are reprobate in eternity future. A category of people are truly saved now in Christ but will fall away and damn themselves in Adam. A sacramental understanding of means of grace is very helpful with this but not required as evidenced by the fact that many Zwinglian based protestant traditions still hold that a believer can fall away.
Analysis – Prescriptive vs Descriptive
During the debate White called out Trent for using descriptive passages prescriptively. He then gave some examples of what he meant by that. Trent then called out White for bending the meaning of prescriptive vs descriptive with his Calvinist tradition. I have to say, I found White’s application of this distinction arbitrary as it relied too heavily on a subjective analysis of the texts rather than an objective one.
A fair objective definition of descriptive would be a story, like the book of Acts for example. In a descriptive text we are seeing a narrative play out. There are themes and principles that can be drawn out but they must be interpreted through prescriptive texts. Romans would be a good example of that. Some books have a mixture of the two like the Gospels for example. But a degree of objectivity can be applied with that. Dr White is taking verses like Matt 6:15 and saying they are descriptive.
I’m sorry, but you don’t get more prescriptive than Matt 5, 6, and 7. Those are some of the heaviest law passages in all of scripture and to assert otherwise waters down your terms to the point where they have no meaning. Any tradition that tries to make that descriptive is special pleading at best in my honest opinion. Because of this I think that Trent was right to point out White’s appeal to tradition here.
In my opinion on this topic White is magisterially bending the text to keep it in line with his tradition. Because of this I don’t find White’s handling of apostasy passages compelling as I don’t have a Calvinist tradition to defend.
Analysis – The word “He”
This verse came up during the debate and during the question answer portion. I agree with Trent that the plainest referent to “He” is the apostate not Jesus. White brings up a good point with Leviticus 16, in how the priest also receives atonement. But in my opinion this interprets the new testament with the old rather than the other way around. Also there are other fair ways of understanding that, not least of which is the fact that the Aaron was a sinner.
If “he” is read as Jesus this ends up turning the sanctification of the cross into an ordinance, which confuses law and gospel. Even if I am wrong though, even if “he” is Jesus, the last phrase at the end would negate irresistible grace. Given the frame of the debate and the focus on this verse I find that interesting.
I do not believe I am wrong, I am convinced that “he” does refer to the apostate. I think anyone who says that it does is assuming their theology going into it. But even with that understanding I wouldn’t use this verse to prove apostasy, it’s just extra evidence.
Overall I would say that I enjoyed this debate a great deal. Like most of Dr. James White’s debates we are given a fair representation of both sides and how they interact against each other. To get this perspective without a good debate one would have to extensively study the works of Catholics and Calvinists for years.
I must say that I agree a great deal more with Trent Horn here. Particularly in the manner of his presentation. In this debate we saw a Calvinist use tradition against a Roman Catholic who was using Sola Scriptura. Heaven help us when the papists are doing that better than the protestants are, but that’s what happened here.
Please don’t take away from this that I disrespect Dr. White, I actually enjoy his debates and podcasts a great deal. In the future I’ll try to make up for this by reviewing one of the debates he clearly won.