Category Archives: Theology

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.

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.

A Theory about Theory?

W. Jackson Watts

Recently I was preparing a sermon from Ephesians 3:1-13 as part of a series on Ephesians at my church. During my study I consulted several commentaries, including the NIV Application Commentary on Ephesians, authored by Klyne Snodgrass, now professor emeritus at North Park Theological Seminary.

Each volume in this commentary set is divided into three sections for each passage: (1) Original Meaning, in which the text is exegeted; (2) Bridging Contexts, in which the key themes and issues that arise from that exegesis are discussed; and (3) Contemporary Significance, in which some application is provided. Hence, the sub-theme of the entire set: “From biblical text…to contemporary life.”

I do sometimes scratch my head a bit with where the authors go with application of passages. For example, on this passage, Snodgrass says:

“In urging that we value the treasure of revelation, I am not urging focus on a particular theory of revelation. Theories are fine, as long as we do not forget that the revelation is unsearchable and inexhaustible and that our theories are always inadequate. People do  not have to use the same words—such as ‘inerrancy’—to value the treasure. To set up a particular expression as a necessary description canonizes the wrong material and only detracts from the revelation. What people need to know is that the gospel is truth  from God (1:13). While some theories are inadequate, several others are legitimate and useful. But our theories must not become substitutes for the revelation itself. We study the revelation, not our theories.”[1]

Criticisms of inerrancy abound, and it seems Snodgrass is at least implicating himself in that body of criticism. However, I’m interested in the larger criticism about theories of revelation which he offers.

What Does He Mean by “Theories of Revelation”?

First, Snodgrass is especially anxious about theories of revelation. Most Bible students learn about some such theories in the course of study. These concern how the Bible came to exist in its present form, which belongs more properly to studies of canon. Then there are ideas about the nature of biblical inspiration, which deal with the nature of the text and how it may or may not convey truth to the reader.

Right off hand, I cannot think of any evangelical theory of revelation that claims our understanding of revelation is not unsearchable, or inexhaustible. This includes our ability to apprehend all biblical texts to the point of 100% certainty and clarity, or our ability to be able to retrace with minute precision every revelatory moment in history. So Snodgrass’ claim about the adequacy of our theories makes me ask, “Does adequacy require comprehensiveness?” In my experience, the adequacy or sufficiency of a model or theory about the Bible does not require inexhaustibility to be faithful or legitimate.

I also wonder if theory, for him, includes any account or idea itself about revelation. As a former professor of biblical literature, I have a hard time imagining that in Snodgrass’ 40+ years of teaching he never utilized models, categories, or perhaps theories about textual composition. If the biblical text is somehow connected to what he means about revelation, then I wonder how he carefully avoided “inadequate theories” of revelation. It would be helpful for readers to know which ones he considered “legitimate and useful,” and what criteria one might employ to make that determination.

Which Revelation?

It would also be useful to know what Professor Snodgrass really means by revelation. The institution he taught at is a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which affirms the centrality of the Word of God. Their website does not explain, however, what this means. What counts as the Word? The written, canonical text? The message the text gives rise to? Surely some explanations or accounts (or theories?) might prove useful in helping us make sense of this.

The revelation that Paul speaks about in these passages seems to be the Damascus Road experience, through which the risen Christ called him to salvation and to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Yet when evangelicals typically speak of revelation they either mean general revelation available to all human beings (via creation, conscience), or special revelation (namely, the person of Christ and canonical Scripture). Categories or distinctions then become essential for helping us move from the revelation Paul speaks of, to the larger question of how we steward God’s revelation, namely, the Gospel of Christ for Jew and Gentile alike.

Does our attempt to distinguish, categorize, and perhaps even theorize about the relationship between these forms of revelation inherently diminish our stewardship of it? Or does it actually bring more clarity into how we ought to be handling the revelation? I opt for the latter.

A Question of Discipleship?

One aim of Snodgrass that I do appreciate has to do with discipleship. In the preceding paragraph he points to the fact that when we truly value the revelation of God we focus on the Gospel, which has implications not only for conversion, but discipleship.

In the context of Ephesians 3:1-13, the passage he is commenting upon, Paul is under house arrest for fulfilling his ministry to the Gentiles. His passion for the “mystery of Christ” compelled him to share, even emboldening him in the face of adversity. Snodgrass argues, “The value we place on something determines the hardship we are willing to endure for it. We will expend enormous energy and resources to care for a person or a prized possession we value a great deal. Paul valued the gospel enough to go to prison for it.”[2]

The larger point is well taken. We can intellectualize and become overly theoretical about biblical truth or principles to the point that we devalue actual lived obedience. But again, the question is whether theories or accounts of revelation inherently do this.

Perhaps Dr. Snodgrass could have served the reader better had he said something like this: “We must never substitute our theorizing for the glory of God itself. Our theories are only good insomuch that they find Scriptural support, for insomuch that they find Scriptural support they are able to bring the minds and hearts (that God’s Spirit indwells) into contact with God’s own mind and heart.”

In the end, Snodgrass seems to have a theory about theory. I’m just not persuaded that this theory, embedded ever-so-slightly in a biblical commentary, will help us to avoid the speculations that don’t promote “the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Tim. 1:4). We need a more careful account about how theological models, categories, and theories can best point us to the Lord.

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[1] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 170.

[2] Snodgrass, NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, 171.

2018 Symposium Program and Additional Details

by Theological Commission

Randall University

October 22-23, 2018

 Monday Evening

 6:00 – 6:15       Welcome & Prayer – Matthew Pinson,  W. Jackson Watts

6:15 – 7:05        Jeff Blair – Cultivating a Culture of Wisdom in the  Local Church 

7:05 – 7:20       Refreshments and Discussion

7:25 – 8:15        Christopher Talbot – Practicing Theology in Youth Ministry

Tuesday Morning

 9:00 – 9:05      Welcome and Prayer

9:05 – 9:55       Cory Thompson – The Lord’s Supper as Meaningful and Open

9:55 – 10:10      Refreshments and Discussion

10:15 – 11:05      Thomas Marberry –The Lucan Concept of Perseverance

11:05 – 11:15       Break

11:15 – 12:05      Matthew Steven Bracey – The Institutional Good of Marriage and the Family

Tuesday Afternoon

12:05 – 2:00      Lunch at Randall University Campus

2:05 – 2:55       Phillip Morgan – Thomism to Augustinianism: Free Will Baptist Bible College and the Hybrid Christian Education Model

2:55 – 3:10        Refreshments and Discussion

3:15 – 4:05        Derek Cominskie – Was This What Watts Would Have Wanted? : An Analysis of Isaac Watt’s Rationale and Method for Reforming English Metrical Psalmody with Application for Contemporary Trends.

4:05 – 6:30       Dinner at Area Restaurants

Tuesday Evening

6:30 – 7:20       Matthew McAffee – Creation and the Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8: What Can We Learn?

7:20 – 7:35       Refreshments and Discussion

7:40 – 8:30       Ronald Callaway – Post Tenebras Lux

8:30 – 8:35       Closing Remarks & Announcements

This event is completely free, and no advance registration is required. You simply need to make a reservation at either Holiday Inn Express or Spring Hill Suites in Moore. Dining options are available in the area, but Randall University has generously planned to provide lunch on Tuesday on campus for any Symposium attendee.

The event will be held in the Mabee Auditorium, located in the Barber Center. This is the main campus building on the front part of the campus, visible from I-35.

For more questions, just email fwbtheology@gmail.com.