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Thomas Marberry’s “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance”: A Review

Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Thomas L. Marberry, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Randall University, presented his paper entitled “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance” at the 2018 Theological Symposium held at Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma. The Theological Symposium is sponsored by the Commission for Theological Integrity of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

Free Will Baptists are not strangers to theological discussions related to the perseverance of the saints and the possibility of apostasy. Theological and exegetical discussions of the topic abound, yet most of the exegetical arguments have been confined to Hebrews, II Peter, and the gospel of John. In 2013, Dr. Robert Picirilli published his book, Discipleship: The Expression of Saving Faith (Randall House), in which he outlined the importance of perseverance in faith as a necessary characteristic of a disciple. While not dependent upon this work, Marberry’s paper, focusing upon the gospel of Luke, extends some of Picirilli’s important conclusions related to the concept of discipleship in the synoptic gospels.

Marberry demonstrates that the concept of perseverance is lexically important in Acts and therefore conceptually in view in the gospel of Luke. Luke presents a number of calls to discipleship by Jesus and warnings against falling away during “trials and temptations.” Unlike Calvinist interpreters who prefer to see such warnings as either hypothetical or instrumental; or, who see such language as reflective of temporary followers who had insufficient, faulty, or false faith, Marberry concludes that Luke never makes such concessions. Instead, Luke’s understanding of faith is that “even true believers can depart from the faith and that perseverance is necessary for all who name the name of Christ.” (p. 63)[1]

Through a review of a number of Arminian and Free Will Baptist statements of faith, Marberry shows that this tradition has consistently insisted upon perseverance in faith as a necessary component of discipleship. Marberry then reviews several places in Luke’s gospel that seem to lead to the same conclusion. He discusses the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21), the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8), and the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12). Marberry provides important lexical analysis of key terms and compendious references to commentaries on these texts from differing theological positions. His conclusion is that Luke makes no distinction in his usage of the word faith and that attempts to read these warnings and descriptions as hypothetical or the result of false faith are driven by theological assertions unsupported by the Biblical text. Instead, Luke’s warnings indicate a real possibility for the believer’s falling away.

Marberry then briefly discusses the narrative accounts of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. He posits that both examples contribute to Luke’s understanding of perseverance. Judas turned away from his faith whereas peter repented and returned. Marberry asserts that the parallel indicates that both Judas and Peter were “true and faithful disciples of Jesus.” (p. 74) Peter, even in his failure, becomes an example of perseverance; whereas, Judas serves as a trope for apostasy.

While Marberry recognizes that “faith exists in degrees” (p. 74), the warnings of Luke’s gospel against falling away teach two important lessons. First, true believers who have true faith, can and do turn away from the truth they once received.  Second, while God’s will is “that believers endure the testings, trials, and tribulations” of this life, only those who persevere to the end shall be saved.” (p. 75)

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[1] All page numbers are derived from Symposium Digest of Papers.

Matthew Bracey’s “The Institutional Good of Marriage, Family, and Society”: Review and Response

W. Jackson Watts

I was pleased to listen to Matthew Bracey’s excellent paper on marriage, family, and society at the 2018 Symposium in October. This is a subject of great interest to me, and I know one which Bracey has spent an extensive amount of time delving into. Some of his previous reflection on this broader subject can be found in a volume entitled Gender, Sexuality, and the Church (Welch College Press, 2016).

Review

In this presentation Bracey focused on what has been described as the “institutional good of marriage.” To speak of the “institutional good” of marriage is to speak to one of the ends or purposes of marriage. To state it in summary form, Bracey says, “the institution of marriage communicates a procreational good, a relational good, a spiritual good, and institutional good, each being the expression of love” (77).[1]  Each of these goods, then, could also be described as purposes for God’s gift of marriage.

The procreational purpose or good is fairly self-evident to most who have studied this subject. While not all marital relationships have the capacity to bear children (due to infertility, age, etc.), reproduction is tied to the complementary design of the two genders which God brings together in marriage. The design, we could say, gives rise to the good of procreation. Certainly in a world without sin nothing would hinder this good, but even in a fallen world this good purpose still often attains and blesses couples, and society.

A second purpose or good is the relational (or unitive) good. Genesis 2:18 describes the Lord making a helper suitable to the man whom He had made. Scripture then in numerous places unfolds the enrichment and beauty this one-flesh relationship brings, perhaps most notably in the Song of Solomon.

A third purpose is its spiritual good. The Christ-church relationship is uniquely pictured in Christian marriage. The husband’s sacrificial love serves to typify Christ’s supreme, sacrificial love for His people, while the wife’s willing submission and respect to the husband typifies the posture and attitude assumed by God’s people.

The remainder of Bracey’s presentation was focused on a fourth and generally neglected good: an institutional one.  Sometimes described as a public or formal good, marriage is not merely a private affair between consenting adults. Instead, marriage is a public institution whose blessings and benefits extend beyond the threshold of the couple’s home. Perhaps the best example of this larger social impact is the fact that couples will bear and nurture children who will in turn be citizens in civil society, contributing to its betterment or decline. The health and well-being, then, of the marital relationship has a direct bearing on the type of society we will become.

Moreover, rightly ordered sexual relationships contribute to the flourishing of human life, and by extension, the lives of those around us. Bracey summarizes this point best when he says, “The Christian ethic recognizes this reciprocal relationship between the soul and the state, and it places the family as an intermediary between them” (82).

As an aside, Bracey’s observation here feeds into a larger, growing body of literature that emphasizes the importance of mediating institutions between the state and the individual, such as the family, the church, neighborhood associations, civic organizations, and charities. Not only do these serve as a buffer between the state in the face of its tendency to overreach, but these mediating institutions enrich human life in countless other ways.

Bracey’s presentation is helpful as it introduces this fourth, crucial purpose for marriage, and then moves toward offering some practical implications for the institutional good of marriage and family in society. He highlights how marriage helps civil society to flourish and protects people (especially children, the most vulnerable) from harm. He then mentions several avenues for promoting the institutional good of marriage, moving from the individual to the family, the church, society, and government.

Response

Whenever people come to our churches looking for financial assistance, or a place to stay, it is no surprise that divorce and/or cohabitation lie somewhere in the background of the situation. This is not to be uncharitable to those who are victims, at least in part, of others’ bad conduct. Certainly churches must be places of mercy. Yet an understanding of the institutional good of marriage equips us to detect the impact of family breakdown. Perhaps it can also help us to offer marital counseling to people, who may also, along the way, require some help with rent or the utility bill.

Christians who have inhabited the story of Scripture understand the way marriage provides a safe, secure, and sustainable way of guarding the interests of men, women, and the children they bear. When they choose to honor God’s good design in joining together in legitimate marital union, and proceed to bring children into the world in that context, they are embracing a framework that, in the long run, has been proven to be for their good and the good of their neighbors.

None of this, to be sure, will guarantee marital bliss. Certainly we as Christians would want to say a lot more about the components to a healthy marriage. Perhaps as part of our ministries we can make marriage resources available to our communities, ultimately forming connections that can lead to evangelism and care. But Christians have robust biblical, theological, sociological, and historical reasons to contend for the institutional good of marriage.

As elected officials try to do more and more in the way of policy making to address poverty, might Christians lend a voice to the discuss and show where family order and stability is central to long-term wealth-building? Might we point out that those in intact families have better life outcomes by any measure than those who do not?

While we need to work diligently to not make the victims of cohabitation, divorce, and other destructive choices feel guilty for being victims, we do need to be honest about the good design of marriage and its positive benefits for the world.

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[1] Each page number is derived from the 2018 Symposium Digest of Papers.

Free Will Baptists Present at ETS in Denver

by Jackson Watts and Matthew Bracey

I (Jackson) have written several times in the past about the involvement of Free Will Baptists with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). I always like to take the opportunity to call attention to this important relationship, not least because scholarship does not exist as an end unto itself; it exists to extend the lordship of Christ over the minds of His people. This has significant implications for colleges and universities, schools, missions organizations, and certainly churches. So readers may expect to hear more in the future about ETS on this blog. I am joined now by Matthew Bracey, a colleague who attended ETS just recently.

ETS held its annual meeting in Denver on November 13-15. Once again Free Will Baptists were well represented on the program, and one in particular received a significant recognition from a leading evangelical seminary. Here we’ll give a brief overview of FWB involvement, and highlight one unique moment.

Overview

Welch College Provost and Professor Matthew McAffee participated in the Old Testament Backgrounds/Ancient Near East section of the program by presenting a paper entitled “Lexicography and the Comparative Method: Some Methodological Considerations.” McAffee also serves on the steering committee of the Old Testament Backgrounds/ANE study group.

Commission Chairman and Welch College President Matt Pinson presented a paper entitled, “The Holy Spirit in Seventeenth-century General Baptist Theology.” This was given as part of a section on Baptist Studies. Pinson also serves on the steering committee of the Baptist Studies study group and the Eighteenth Century Theology study group.

Welch College professor and MA program coordinator Jeff Cockrell presented “The Good Deposit in 2 Timothy: Its Content and Trust.” This was part of a section on the Pastoral Epistles. Cockrell also moderated a New Testament section on Pauline Literature, and a Church History section focused on Baptist and Puritan Theology.

It was in this latter section that Jesse Owens, church planter and PhD candidate at Southern Seminary, presented  “Matthew Caffyn, Thomas Monck, and English General Baptist Creedalism.”

Zach Vickery, a rising biblical studies scholar, had a paper read in the Septuagint Studies section entitled, “The Translation Technique of LXX-Ruth.” Vickery is engaged in doctoral studies at the University of Glasgow.

Finally, I (Matthew), Welch College Vice Provost and Professor, moderated a Church History section, featuring scholarship on the Church Fathers.

Among the other interesting aspects of the meeting were some of David Dockery’s remarks. Dockery is president of Trinity International University, and he gave a paper on developing a theology of evangelical higher education. These insights also underscore our work as a Theological Commission.

Dockery said that we want a full-orbed theological vision for our work. Certainly we aim to have one, too! Readers of this blog or journal, Symposium attendees, and attendees of our annual Convention seminar can see over the years the diverse subjects our Commission has sought to address theologically. This is not accidental, or for the sake of diversity. It is an expression of our understanding of the nature of theology. Christian truth touches everything.

Another of Dockery’s remarks that bears mention here is the communal nature of theology.  Theology is done best in community for the sake of God’s people. We agree. As a Commission, we want to hear from you! We want to be in touch with the practical challenges of everyday life and ministry so we might best bring the full weight of the Free Will Baptist and larger Christian theological tradition to bear on those challenges. We best fulfill our charge when others ask questions, offer input, suggestions, or even criticism.

While the Commission has oversight of the content we produce, several of our resources seek to draw on the best that others are doing or have done in theological scholarship. Naturally our Symposium program consists of presenters who represent different walks of life and ministry. But even our journal, Integrity, consists of articles and reviews solicited or submitted from our Free Will Baptist leaders and writers. All this is to say, your involvement is critical to who we are and what we hope to be.

A Special Recognition

At ETS many organizations, such as publishing houses and seminaries, often hold  a lunch or dinner event. Usually these are a type of banquet or reception. One such event is the Southeastern Theological Fellowship Dinner, sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). This is always an enjoyable and inspiring time (FD: I–Jackson–am an alumnus).

Each year at this dinner Provost Bruce Ashford recognizes a small number of scholars across the evangelical world for some notable contribution they have made to Christian scholarship. Past honorees have included scholars like Timothy George, Paul Copan, Scott Rae, and Douglas Moo. This year five more were honored for their contributions, including our Commission Chairman, Dr. Matt Pinson. He was joined by Kevin Vanhoozer, Peter Gentry, Nathan Finn, and Matthew Emerson. More on this event can be found here. Some images from the dinner can be found here, courtesy of SEBTS.

Congratulations to Dr. Pinson on this honor, and to all of our Free Will Baptists who are trying to be active on this important front.

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Audio recordings of any individual ETS session can be purchased for a minimal fee at http://www.wordmp3.com/. Other deals are also available.

Thanksgiving Wishes

by Theological Commission

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This Thanksgiving season, we members of the Commission for Theological Integrity are thankful for the privilege of serving the people of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

We only recently concluded our annual Theological Symposium in Moore, Oklahoma. We are thankful for such a great turnout and enlightening presentations.

We are thankful for the forthcoming edition of Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought.

We are thankful for readers of this blog.

We are thankful for those who attend our Convention seminar each July at the National Convention.

Finally, we are thankful for Christ and His gracious salvation.

Happy Thanksgiving.