Addressing the Withering Assurance of Salvation Among the Saints: From a Position of Christ Concentration

I once wrote something on assurance of salvation for publication, you can read that here. Assurance of salvation has always been an important soteriological locus for me; primarily because my dad struggled with this issue in very deleterious ways. I experienced struggles with this myself for a season of dark nighted soul, but came to experience denouement as I came to internalize what a genuinely Christ conditioned notion of salvation implied. Unfortunately, my dad never personally experienced this, and the enemy of our souls was able to effectively torture my dad with this for decades. Far from being an academic issue for me, it is highly personal. I know my dad wasn’t unique, there are many who struggle with this issue; although probably not to quite the extent that my dad did.

My “way out,” as I alluded to previously, was to come to a concrete understanding of who God is pro me in Jesus Christ. Once I saw myself in and from God’s Yes and Amen for me in His Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ, it was at this point that I started down a trajectory wherein the smiling face of Jesus shown through everywhere; even when the enemy would attempt to toss his darts my way. This trajectory first started with learning Martin Luther’s theology, and then into John Calvin’s. As I gained their respective foci on a Christ concentrated theology, it was in this reality that the dogged days of lack of assurance eviscerated into the thin air of the devil’s nothingness. Beyond that, I immersed myself in the study of Puritan and Post Reformed Orthodox theology; this was guided by my mentor and seminary professor, Ron Frost (a Puritan expert). Once I realized the role that Federal (Covenantal) theology played in concocting the mercantile categories that funded things like experimental predestinarianism, the practical syllogism, the divine pactum, so on and so forth, my assurance issues took on new light. I realized that much of what I was thinking about salvation was grounded in a Monsanto-like ground poisoned with ingredients that had no rootage in God’s Self-revelation in Christ; but instead in philosophical categories that led to thinking God in terms of a decretrum absolutum (or in terms of an impersonal deterministic decree that was grounded in a forensic rather than love relationship within a God-world relation). Once all of these things, and more, came to blossom in my understanding, it was at this point that I was able to quit straining under false-pressures that were not induced by the revealed God whatsoever. Once these pressures were depressurized I was finally able to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ, as that had been fully actualized in His vicarious humanity pro me; and particularly as that was and is grounded in the triune bond of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Once I knew this was the reality the enemy no longer had a topos or foothold of fear in my life in this way. I had hoped to encourage my dad with these truths, and I did. At a level it did come to help him, but not fully because these seeds remained unwatered and uncultivated in his life.

Karl Barth, whilst working constructively with the categories he had received from the Post Reformed Orthodox theologians (of the 16th and 17th centuries) came to the focus that I have been broadly describing above. He was no fan of the Remonstrant or Arminian theology, and says so bluntly; and he would side with their counterparts in the Dortian Post Reformed theology. But again, because of Barth’s wholesale reformulation of a doctrine of election, seeing Jesus as both the object and subject, and thus sum of the Gospel, he was able to receive the Post Reformed Orthodox theology, but from a recasted vistapoint that genuinely offered a truly Christ concentrated ground that neither the Remonstrants nor Dordtians were able to present. He writes:

Now obviously we can only affirm and adopt this intepretation of the matter. It is palpable that what the Remonstrants brought against it was unspiritual, impotent and negligible—a feeble postlude to the Catholicism of the late Middle Ages, and a feeble prelude to rationalist-pietistic Neo-Protestantism. Since God—”the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1.3)—cannot deceive Himself, cannot be conjured, and cannot be unfaithful either to Himself or to us, it is of the essence of election that there can be no fundamental, eternal reversal. The Yes of God to His elect cannot be transformed into an absolute No. Because, then, they have the absolute divine Yes in their ears and in their hearts, they both may and should be assured in faith of their election, and therefore of eternal salvation—not in harmony with their evil human No to God, but in spite of it, and in this way in genuine and successful conflict with it. Even the objection of the Lutherans is valueless, and hardly worthy of Luther himself. If the faith of the elect lives with Jesus Christ as its basis and with Jesus Christ as its goal, it is impossible to see how it can be absolutely lost. A faith that can be lost is as little comfort in ultimo vitae puncto [at the last point of life] as it is relevant in the rest of life. Does not faith, both in life and death, consist in the fact that—non quoad nos [not from our point of view] but respectu Dei [with respect to God], trusting in His Word, His decision behind and before us, and armed on this account for the good warfare of faith—we know continually, and not merely occasionally, that our case is sure. Can we more effectively cheapen faith than by denying its constancy? We cannot be sufficiently grateful to Calvin for presenting the statement of perseverentia [perseverance] in this manner, and advancing beyond both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.1

And likewise, we cannot be sufficiently grateful to Barth for advancing beyond Calvin for offering a revised Reformed theological framing wherein Christ genuinely and actualistically is the centraldogma of the whole cake of theological endeavor.

For Barth, and for anyone interested in inhabiting a concretely Christ conditioned soteriological understanding, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the whole salvation all the way down. The Logos enfleshed starts salvation, and has finished it for us in His risen life of recreated bounty. This is where I rest, and I commend this as a place of refuge for all the bruised reeds among us. Solo Christo

 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition Vol. 11 (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 138-39.  

7 thoughts on “Addressing the Withering Assurance of Salvation Among the Saints: From a Position of Christ Concentration

  1. I rest in Christ alone… and in all else is nothing… “concretely Christ conditioned soteriological understanding “all the way the way ‘up’ “… through “His risen life of recreated bounty!” Amen!

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  2. No, I use “all the way down,” to signal the unilateral direction of movement through which assurance is grounded. It isn’t an abstract humanity, or Christology from below, but one from above that comes down, all the way down, into our squalored status and elevates us to His place by grace.

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  3. Indeed and amen, Bobby! Yet I, along with others, whether dead in Christ or remaining alive, will be raised up, meeting the Lord in the air, so to be be with him evermore!

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  4. Indeed, but there is a methodological critique being made here beyond just material considerations. That’s what stands behind Barth’s point, and in fact what helped me as I’ve come to think God through Christ (rather than speculation).

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  5. Yes,! And I am indeed thankful for all that you contribute to a sound theological understanding…an explicit, necessary and skillfully honed example of his workmanship manifest in and through you.. but sometimes what you serve to us just makes me want to jump and shout in an unreserved doxological sort of way… you know what I mean, Bobby? ; )

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  6. Well thank you, Richard! I do understand. I’m just hung up on what TF Torrance calls the logic of grace or what he also phrases as “God’s grace all the way down.” He says it that way for specifically theological reasons, but you’re certainly not wrong in regard to the rising up. Indeed, this is the whole point of the wonderful exchange, of God’s humiliation, and humanity’s exaltation in the resurrected and ascended humanity of Jesus Christ.

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  7. Yes it is! A wonderful and sublime exchange… in which precise expression through language alone is frankly, elusive; and that is why I enjoy (and joyfully receive) that upon which you’ve focused your labor…to our benefit.

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